I do most of my “darkroom” workflow with Adobe Lightroom (version 3). Adobe Lightroom is a very powerful and cost effective application that manages your photo library (think database), and also has very effective photo editing capabilities.
Let me break down the application into it’s five modules, and I will also quickly describe my workflow with Lightroom. The five modules are: Library, Develop, Slideshow, Web, Print.
My workflow always starts with Import to Library, Library workflow, Develop workflow, and optionally Web or Print functions.
If you don’t use any software to manage your pictures, and you take as many pictures as I do, relying on your Operating System to find pictures is not an option. For example, let’s say I want to find all the pictures of my son, or all the pictures of people that I like enough to put into my portfolio. With thousands of pictures on your computer, browsing folder by folder would be daunting.
Lightroom manages your files both at the Operating System level (file system), and at a logical level via Collections. Let me illustrate. After taking pictures, I put my SD memory card into my computer (via card reader). I then go to Lightroom’s Import Dialog. The dialog allows me to tell it where to put the files, auto naming it by date if I desire (I do), and allow me to quickly choose development presets and keywords.
Keywords are key to finding pictures again, as you can search by keyword (eg. “River”, “Model”, “Daughter”, “Sunset”), and you can even create smart collections based on keywords.
In the Library module, you can see a tree view of your computer’s folders and images; you also see the Collections, which are the logical folders you create. A photo can be a part of one or more collections, and collections can be “smart” – i.e. find photos based on criteria you provide it.
In my workflow, I have a Collection set called “Complete”, and a Collection set called “Work in progress”. These “sets” contain my collections. (Collections can be hierarchical, like folders in your computer file system).
When I add a large quantity of photos, I will create a collection under the “Work In Progress” set. Within that collection, I will make a sub collection called “picks”, which will contain all of the pictures I have flagged to indicate that I like them.
I then go through the pictures I like, and choose my favourites amongst the ones that are similar (or near identical). These go into my “selects” sub collection.
I then start developing the “selects”.
The keys to the Library module are the different representation of your photo storage: physical (file system) versus logical (collecti0ns, collection sets and smart collections).
The Library module manages your metadata (keywords and camera settings). It also allows you to tag images by colour flag, by rating (1 to 5), or by “pick” or “reject”. I mostly use “pick” or “reject” to sort through my images, and I use the colour flags to indicate “processed” and “exported” (e.g. to web).
The develop module allows you to do common photo development and correction, such as converting to black and white, fixing colours and exposure, minor blemish touch up, etc. This description definitely understates how powerful the develop module is; however for advanced editing, such as the need of a “clone brush” for certain photos, or if layers are required, another photo editor, such as Photoshop, is required. Lightroom integrates with Photoshop naturally.
In my workflow, for serious editing, I export photos to Photoshop Elements. Once I am finished editing in Elements, I will re-import the adjusted image back into Lightroom.
Other external editors that I export to from Lightroom include Photomatix, for HDR images (merging 3 images of different exposures), and Topaz plug-ins. I’ve discussed Photomatix in a previous post. Topaz plug-ins are very powerful plugins that provide “filter” effects, such as detail enhancement, colour modifications, and noise reduction. Oh did I mention that Lightroom 3 has superb noise reduction capability too?
Lightroom allows you to specify external editors, and being able to open a photo for editing in other editors right from the Lightroom interface is invaluable to my workflow.
The slideshow module allows you to create slideshows of your pictures. I don’t use this much, but it’s a cool feature should I ever want a slideshow. 😀
This module allows you to publish photos to your website for your portfolio or for customers. This is so easy and powerful, you have to see it to believe it. There are a few templates you can choose from, and Lightroom will automatically create the webpage and upload it to your website (provided you give it the right login information).
There are other great web templates you can download for free and for purchase. I personally like the templates from the Turning Gate (http://theturninggate.net/)
The print module is a powerful print engine that allows you to layout and print (with many options) your photos. Since I mostly outsource my printing, this module is rarely used in my workflow.
While this isn’t a module per se, exporting is a huge part of my workflow. With many available plugins available for Lightroom, I can easily export photos to Flickr (a photo sharing site) or Facebook, with my favourite settings remembered. You can see many of the images I have exported from Lightroom in my Flickr stream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/focusonottawa/.