Monday, February 15, 2010

Lightroom Article Part 3: the Develop Module: Editing Your Images

Today is part 3 of the Lightroom article, dealing with the “Develop” module, where you edit your photos. But before we get started, let me deal with a near disaster, and then talk about the preparation for the Dogsled shots I took yesterday.

Oops, I screwed up!

On Friday, I shot some headshots for some business colleagues who needed some pictures on our LeTip Networking website. New members get a page to briefly tell what they do, a little bio and a photo. For reference, the site is here. and it’s interesting what a range of services are available through this group.

On Saturday, I went to the PetFunFair. I had intended to introduce my Doggie First Aid kits (your dog’s a person too. He or she deserves to be safe, don’t you think?) Click here to see what’s available and if you mention this Blog in the comment field when ordering from the FAC First Aid website, I’ll give you a 20% discount off any regular priced item on the site. Anyway, I thought I’d shoot some pictures of dogs at the show but I was not in the right ‘place’ and my results were mediocre.

Sunday, I was up North and heard that the Sled Dog Derby was running at Pinestone in Haliburton, and I bundled up warmly and headed out to shoot some pictures. I was there last year and got some very cool images then as well, so I thought I’d try again. I shot over 250 frames, some of which were quite interesting, in my humble opinion.

I had 3 days of pictures on the compact flash card in my camera. When I started to upload them to the computer, I decided I wanted to see the sled dog images first (I'm into instant gratification!), and I wanted to keyword them separately so I switched off the other groups and uploaded the February 14th pictures. I completely forgot about the other ones.

You know what’s coming, right? I forgot. Later, I put the card back in the camera and hit “Format”. Bye bye headshots and funfair pictures. Why did I format it? Well I wanted to shoot a few shots of a bread I actually baked myself (pre-made dough, though, and frozen. Still it came out great!)

No, that's not on my diet. Unless I don't swallow. Hot and fresh, how can I not eat it! Thanks to Alison for telling me about these breads!
Also, it’s better to reformat these flash cards rather than just deleting the files. Less problems with the cards. Anyway, I posted a note about my screwup on the RHCC newsgroup and I got a couple of answers and suggestions.

Generally when you reformat computer memory, you’re not actually erasing files. Normally, you are erasing the index that tells the computer where to find the files, and telling it that the space where the files are is not occupied, it’s available to be reused. Using fancy software and sometimes expensive techniques, you can often recover some or maybe all of the files you thought were gone. That’s a good lesson if you have stuff on a hard drive you don’t want anyone to be able to see.

Anyway, both Jim and Harvey pointed me at recovery software. I used the one Harvey suggested: it’s designed to work with SanDisk CF cards. There are some limitations on the free version, but it works. I was able to recover all but the first few images (which I had overwritten with pictures of bread). Thank you, Harvey. Here’s the download site for that software:

So almost a big “oops”. Hope you don’t need to do the same thing!

Be Prepared

When you’re going out to shoot an event, you should do at least a little pre-planning. Otherwise when that perfect shot opportunity comes up, you may miss it. Or even worse, get home to discover that you blew it because the camera was set wrong.

For example, I was shooting on the tripod the other day and had turned off the VR (lens stabilization) because it actually messes up the focus when you’re shooting longer exposures. If you’re shooting marginal shots – and everything is marginal when you have the 400mm lens on – the VR is almost essential. So I don’t want to forget to turn it back on again.

The same thing is true of many of the other controls on the camera. I wouldn’t have to think about this if I were using a point-and-shoot but I have a DSLR so that I can adjust things. Other controls that I frequently change are metering method, ISO, exposure compensation and autofocus control. A mistake I’ve made is to have bracketing set on. I think I’m shooting proper exposures but only one out of 3 or 5 is correct.

So the message is, have a “default” setting for all your camera controls. Then be sure to set everything back to normal at the end of every shoot. That way you know exactly where you’re starting from next time out.

Set all your controls back to their normal settings after every shoot.

Plan Ahead

So I’m going out to shoot the Haliburton Dog Sled Derby at the Pinestone Inn. I’d been there last year and got some good shots, so when I heard it was on this weekend, I headed over. Now I’m shooting outdoors, against the snow, in (luckily) overcast conditions (shooting in bright sunlight sucks). Your camera meter wants to make everything 18% grey, not white so generally your shots are going to be underexposed. So I set my exposure compensation to +1 stop knowing that I could compensate to a certain extent in Lightroom if I did happen to blow out some highlights.

I just uploaded an edited version of this image. When I looked at the Blog, I thought the blacks weren't strong enough, so I went back into Lightroom, changed it, and uploaded the new version. Took me 30 seconds. That's the beauty of Lightroom, which I'm going to address in my next article on outputting images.

By the way, I wish there were more space – some space – at the front of the sled. I saw this guy kick his leg up like that and swung the camera up just in time to see him do it again, just once. I was shooting with the 400mm lens and I had no time to zoom out or try to reframe the image. There's extra negative space behind the sled, but none in front.
It’s pretty bright out. I like to shoot at f/11 if I can since it gives me the sharpest images. With my normal lens on (24-120), ISO 200 gives me around 1/250 second or faster. Not bad, since I have VR in that lens and have been known to handhold even down to 1/10 second. But what if I want to use my 200mm, with the telextender for a net of 400mm? The rule of thumb is to shoot faster than 1/the focal length, in this case, 1/400 second. Even that is marginal with that lens. How do we achieve that at f/11? By setting the ISO higher. A little experimentation and I settled on an ISO of 640.

With dog sleds coming right at me, I needed to set my autofocus to ‘continuous’. But I discovered that with the normal lens, set up about 10m from the start line, my autofocus couldn’t keep up with my 6 frame per second high speed burst mode. Only one shot in three was in focus. So I moved back and put the 70-200mm lens on. It has a faster focusing motor anyway. That worked. And with the longer perspective, focusing was nowhere near as critical (stopped down. Even at that distance, shooting at f/2.8 gives you very little depth of field).

Here are a few more images from yesterday. To see more, go to my February Smugmug gallery on line here.

Lightroom Article part 3: Editing your images in the Develop module


What we’re doing here is documenting my conversion to LR, with a focus on “WHY” one would make certain choices, not “WHAT” or “HOW”. For how to use the program correctly, pick up Scott Kelby’s book “The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 book for Digital Photographers” which is available at You don’t have to be a NAPP member to buy the book, but if you do join NAPP, you’ll get a discount and all kinds of other benefits, including a subscription to Photoshop User magazine which is worth its weight in gold. If you decide to join NAPP, use this link so I get my brownie points!

You might also consider contacting Jim Camelford at Jim is the local LR guru and not only does he teach LR courses but he imparts a great deal of wisdom about the right way of doing things.

This series of articles looks at three of LR’s strengths: “Organizing your pictures”, “Editing your Images” and “Creating Output Files”. LR does many things well, but these three were the factors that convinced me to convert to LR. Combined with Photoshop (PS) LR provides an elegant way to handle your workflow, whether you’re a high volume user or just starting to delve into the world of Digital Photography.

These articles are intended for those who have converted to LR or are considering doing so and want to start it the right way from the beginning. Or those who might need a little convincing!


Summary of Part 2: Importing your images

Last time I talked about the concept of LR as it relates to importing your images. Here’s a summary:

  • Automate your import procedures by setting LR as the default program whenever you plug a flash card or camera into the computer
  • By setting up the import dialogue correctly, you can virtually eliminate any manual intervention during importing if you wish. However you may want to direct your images to a particular folder or add some master keywords at this point.
  • Wherever possible, create a backup automatically
  • Get rid of rejected images right away.
  • Create a scheme for flagging, labelling and rating images. By following it immediately after import, you can save a lot of time.
  • Save the “keepers” in a Collection, and keyword them logically right away.
 Part 3: Editing your images

This article presents an overview of the photoediting strengths and capabilities of LR.

Newsflash: Lightroom is not Photoshop.

LR will not replace PS as a high end photoediting program. That said, it will replace most of the other programs you might be using. I was astounded to realize how much less frequently I use PS now that I’m a LR convert.

A little history here. If you read my introduction, you know that I’m not a formally trained anything. I’ve dabbled with PS ever since it first came out in the early 90’s, but I really have no clue what I’m doing! OK, well maybe a little… I understand the concepts, I can work out how to apply them to images and achieve what I want (correct or otherwise) and I spend a Hell of a lot of time working on images in PS. I’ve been criticized for that: and rightly so. Instead of being diligent about what is or is not in a picture, or making sure of the exposure or composition (not much you can do about focus – yet!), I take pictures with the idea, “oh, I can fix it later in PS”. When I come in from a day’s casual shooting, I’ll probably spend 6 or 8 hours in PS on images I like and I may spend that long on one single image if I really like it and I get anal about doing the best I can.

The extensive background editing in this image is obvious. This kind of work cannot be done in Lightroom. There was also some dodging done on the student's face and the instructor and student were slightly enlarged to increase their presence in the image. If you want to learn to ride a motorcycle or scooter, there's no better place in the world to take the course than Humber College in Toronto. Click here to link to their website.
LR has changed my mindset. Now what I do is classify my images (read the previous article), then I work on the ones I like the best or that bubble to the top as being the most important. One of the things that LR does really well is to let you work in batches – on more than one image at a time.

Here’s an example: you shot a whole bunch of pictures out in the snow and everything is dingy and gray because you forgot to set your exposure compensation (come on, you know what I’m talking about. Your camera meter wants to set everything to 18% gray, not white). So you can pick one typical shot in the bunch, change the exposure values (and other stuff, we’ll see soon), and then apply those changes to ALL the pictures in the group with what, 3 keystrokes?

“But”, you say, “They’re not all exactly the same. What if I blow out some highlights? What if I WANT that image to be high key?”

That, dear reader, is the beauty of LR. You’re not actually changing your image files: you’re changing an instruction set of changes attached to your image. And you could easily throw out or just as easily change those instructions after the fact. You knew that. I told you that before. More than once. Weren’t you listening?

So not only does LR let you make changes to a single image or a whole batch of images, but it does it NON-DESTRUCTIVELY. Let me repeat myself: NON-DESTRUCTIVELY. Everything you do in LR is reversible. You can’t make a misteak. You can always fix it (did you catch the humour? Sure you did).

Nice segue, huh? I went from, “you can work on batches of images” to “NON-DESTRUCTIVE EDITING”. Here’s an example of DESTRUCTIVE Editing. You’re working on a picture in PS or some other editing program and you decide it would be cropped a certain way. Say as a portrait orientation 8x12. You crop it (actually you’re “Reframing” it, which is why the shortcut for that function in LR is “R” not “C”, something Jim Camelford pointed out to me the other day!). You spend HOURS retouching it. You go into PS, you create layer after layer, you paint, you burn and dodge, you clone, you heal, you create layer masks, you make a whole new sky or redraw eyes completely. You love it. You put the picture up somewhere on your gallery or on the NAPP members site and it gets chosen as the “Image of the Week”. Two weeks later you get a phone call from the editor of National Geographic who says, “I love your image, we’d like to use it for a two page spread pano pullout for an upcoming issue. But we need it in Landscape format”.

Uh-oh. You have to go back to the original image to re-reframe it. And you lose ALL those changes and artistic hours you put in. Can you even remember what you did? Can you recreate it at all?

Suppose this was your final image, but you wanted to go back to the one on the bottom and still keep all your edits, changes, etc. You can do it in LR, even 6 months after the fact. Closing the program does not lose the history!
OK, that was the best spur-of-the-moment example I could think of. Oh, and National Geographic? My contact info is at Call any time.

A bit of a weak example because we all know (we do, don’t we?) that cropping is one of the LAST things we should ever do to an image, but maybe I got my point across anyway. What is the actual LAST thing, by the way? Output sharpening. To find out why, you’ll have to wait for my next article. Or you could research it on your own!

Anyway, here’s my point: EVEN CROPPING IS NONDESTRUCTIVE IN LR! You can change it at any time. And the stuff you cropped out ARE STILL THERE! (I use caps when I’m excited).

Again: You did a lot of work on this image. You cropped the one on the top out but now you want to go back to the one on the bottom. One click of the mouse in LR.
Okay. I’m not going to tell you HOW to edit your images in LR. Kelby, or Camelford, or someone else can tell you about that. I’m not the greatest at it anyway, but I’m pretty good on the concepts. So let’s talk concepts.

Up to version 2 of LR, everything you could do to an image affected the whole image. Exposure, contrast, black levels, white balancing, all that stuff, was “Global”. In Version 2, LR introduced the adjustment brush and a couple of other tools that worked on a portion of your image. Now we have some “Local” adjustment capabilities in LR. They’re pretty damned good. As I said at the beginning, I go into PS much less frequently now.

What I like about LR’s tools is that they’re much more subtle than the ones in PS. You can go nuts in PS. You can change that red ‘vette to a chrome yellow one. The best I could do in LR was to make it more of an orange colour. I guess the operative word in my mind, describing the controls in LR, is “soft”. Somehow the resulting image is a little more believable than the one you went crazy with in PS.

You can do both, of course. Using the same example as the picture above, I wanted to get rid of some of the stuff that took away from the image, like the sign on the pole, the post just left of centre, some stuff on the ground, the branch at the left edge… so I opened the image in PS (through the LR menu), created a new layer, did all that editing on the new layer, while I was at it, I used the burn tool to darken the wood of the pole and bring out the dark foreground branches and greenery.

Now if you simply save the edited image as a .psd file, and you return to LR, you would see both the original and the new version there. Opening the .psd in PS again, you’d see all the layers, although the history is gone. That’s why I work on layers in PS – I could just delete the layer and I’d be back to the original image. LR will, by the way, offer you options about which version of the image to open when you go to PS.

This was an example of using both programs to edit an image, choosing the best tools from each one. I got away from concepts, didn’t I? Well yes and no. The concept is, edit first in LR, then go to PS for the niggly little stuff and the off-the-wall creative, then take it back into LR to finish it.

One caveat: when you bring an image back into LR from PS, it creates a separate file. That new file does NOT contain all the LR history, it's a fresh copy imported from PS. So here's where the concept breaks down. You can get back to the original LR file with all it's changes, you can get back to the PS file as it was when you imported it to PS and of course if you worked in layers, you can roll back by deleting layers, but you do not have a continuous reversible history.

If you're very sneaky, suppose you wanted to backtrack to some point in LR and change or remove some sort of adjustment, then do the same edits in PS. The only way would be to open BOTH documents in PS (the new snapshot from LR and the original with all the PS edits), and then drag layers from one to the other. That doesn't always work unless you were really careful.

If you’ve used Adobe Camera RAW, the tools in LR will seem familiar. Actually, they’re the same. LR uses the same engine as ACR. Non-destructive editing is also available in ACR, but there’s no history. No way to go back part way – if you don’t like what you’ve saved, you can simply throw out the sidecar file – the .xmp file – and you’re back to the original.

Let’s look at some of the editing tools in LR. This is by no means an exhaustive or detailed look, just a few highlights.

Starting at the top in the Develop module, there’s the “Basic” tool set. These sliders determine the overall look of the image – exposure, contrast, black and white recovery levels and white balance. There’s a “Presence” section which you should not overlook: these three sliders can have a huge effect on your image. Look what happens when you pull the clarity slider to the left:

Seriously. That's all I did. Just the clarity slider.

Below that is the “Tone Curve”. Like curves in PS, you can control different areas. The steeper the curve is, the higher the contrast. But this one is soft and you can’t adjust stuff as much as PS. By the way, the “Targeted Adjustment Tool” – the little doohickey at top left beside the curve – allows you to adjust the curve by dragging in the image itself. Try it – it’s cool!

You can make subtle (and maybe not so subtle) colour adjustments in the “HSL” and “Split Toning” areas. Sharpening, Noise Reduction and Chromatic Aberration are dealt with in the “Detail” area. You can create vignettes in the next section – two different ways: for the image as a whole or applied dynamically to whatever your crop area looks like. This is a real breakthrough because in the past you had to come back to do this after you reframe your image (crop). Then there’s a “Camera Calibration” section so you can make the edited image you’re looking at match what you see on the back of your higher end camera.

All of the adjustment tools I just mentioned work Globally. On the whole image. In practice, if I were editing a picture, first I would adjust the colour balance and exposure, then tweak the curves, add some colour adjustment, sharpen it and then do the other stuff. All exactly in the order that LR presents it to you. Now I’m ready to work on individual spots in the image. The toolbar just below the histogram shows you a handful of tools. The one on the right is the “Adjustment Brush”. What you do is paint an area (use the “O” key to see what you’re painting) then you can apply a bunch of different adjustments to the area you just painted. The graduated screen’s good for skies and the like, although I had great luck using it as a “fill” light in a portrait. The spot removal took is effective too. Click it, don’t drag it. Check it out, or R.T.F.M. (read the F’in manual!).

You can selectively adjust clarity. Think “portraits”. Think about smooth skin without blemishes, but retaining the sharp pinpoint focus on the eyes and the detail in the hair. Like this:

You need to blow these up to see the difference. And I wouldn't output an image like the one on the right, I was just using it to illustrate the effect of the tool.

By the way, if you don’t like the “O” thing (everyone likes the “O” thing. A little humour...), just pull the exposure slider to the left when painting and you can see the areas you select darken as you paint. Then set it back to zero when you’re done.

World’s greatest portrait? Nah. But that’s just me. How long did it take? 30 seconds. Did I have to create fancy PS layers and change blending modes and use Gaussian blurs and select fancy brush sets? Nope. Adjustment brush. Press “O” to see where you’re painting. Paint the areas I wanted to soften. Hold down “Alt” to un-paint the areas I shouldn’t have painted. Pull the clarity slider to the left. Click the adjustment brush or press “Enter” to finish. If I can do it, think how great you would be!

We come to the crop tool. I love how it works, but it’s different from the one in PS so you have to get used to it. You’re cropping to an aspect ratio, not to an actual size or pixel count. You choose the actual size later, when you export your images. Oh, and if you can’t figure out how to change from a portrait to a landscape orientation, you’re not alone! Drag along the longer dimension and it’ll flip the other way for you. I found it disconcerting that you drag the image around behind the cropping borders rather than dragging the cropped area around the image, but that took only a few minutes to get used to. The little angle tool and slider lets you rotate the image to straighten it up, or you can choose a vertical or horizontal surface in the image itself.

So. Convinced yet? Here’s the thing. You can do probably 90% of your photo editing without ever leaving LR. Everything reversible. Everything done live, without ever looking at the histogram (well… you really should. Especially look for those two little triangles at upper left and right. If they’re lit up, you’re either blowing out some whites, or filling in some blacks and losing detail. Use the “recovery” and the “blacks” sliders to fix it).

What do I do now? I hit “8” on the keyboard to mark the image “ready to export” and go on to the next one. When I’m done, I gather all the pictures I want to output and, well, you’ll have to wait until next time!

Next: Creating Output Files.