Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is a must-have program for any serious photographer either amateur or professional. It has a vast range of features and added extras that are head and shoulders above the competition, but despite this, it is still a friendly and easy to use program. You can post process, sort, rate, manipulate and publish your photos to virtually every medium and these are just a sample of what you can do.
This blog is my attempt to demystify Camera RAW and Lightroom a little and help my readers who own it now or are contemplating using it.
The RAW File Format
*The first thing you should understand about Lightroom is that it’s basically a RAW file converter. Someone new to Lightroom Software and digital cameras, in general, may find the statement is not all that clear. That is why it’s best to say something first about RAW file format and what RAW is. It may sound a bit complicated, but actually, it is really simple to understand.
What is a RAW File?
A RAW image file is also known as digital negative and this can give you a pretty good idea of how RAW can be compared to old-style film photography. Simply put, a RAW file is information gathered directly from a camera’s image sensor without any sort of digital adjustment. Just as in the past a film was first of all developed chemically to form a negative (Colour or Black and White) which was then further processed to create the final print. So too, the RAW file taken from the camera’s memory card needs to be adjusted and enhanced to create a final digital image that can be printed or shared online etc. To photograph in RAW format, you need to set it in your camera settings, usually, you can find it among image quality settings in the camera menu (refer to the camera’s manual for instructions).
So too, the RAW file taken from the camera’s memory card needs to be adjusted and enhanced to create a final digital image that can be printed or shared online etc. To photograph in RAW format, you need to set it in your camera settings, usually, you can find it among image quality settings in the camera menu (refer to the camera’s manual for instructions).
RAW isn’t a file extension, like *.jpg or *.png files, different manufacturers use different file extensions. Nikon has *.nef, Canon uses *.cr2, Fujifilm has *.raf and Adobe has the widely popular *.dng format. DNG is universal and can “store” any other file format inside it.
The key word is information because RAW files are not images, they are files containing information just like any other computer file. RAW files need to be decoded by specific software or codecs to be viewed as actual photographs. In short, RAW files carry a lot more information inside them and are more flexible than say JPEG images. More information means a little bit more resolution and lots more dynamic range (colour information and detail is hidden in dark and light portions of an image). Flexibility means taking control into your hands. Instead of allowing your camera to choose how much sharpening, noise reduction, contrast, saturation, etc., to apply to a photograph you just captured as in JPEG, you make those decisions yourself. RAW files when opened look flat but you can convert them to exactly how you want them to look as JPEG images.
What is a RAW File Converter?
A RAW converter is a program that decodes the information stored within the file so that you can see it as an image. Secondly, it allows you to tweak the RAW file, manipulate all the information stored within it and save it as a simple graphical image file, such as JPEG.
Now you might say that even after you’ve set your camera to RAW file format, you can still see the image on your camera’s LCD screen no problem. Moreover, it’s not “flat” at all, but has quite vivid colours and decent contrast. That’s because often a RAW file has a JPEG preview stored inside so that you can view it quickly on the back of your camera.
A Summary of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (which I will simply call Lightroom or LR) is a RAW image converter, simple as that. However, in addition to providing the basic functionality of a basic RAW converter, Adobe has built Lightroom to be the only post-processing application many photographers will need nine times out of ten. With each new version, Lightroom gains more and more new features. These features allow photographers to use it from start to finish. So if you plan to make a photo album, Lightroom has that functionality. With all its tools and no-nonsense user interface, Lightroom lets the photographer organize, post-process, print and share photographs, all in one environment. Lightroom’s party piece is its focus on speed when working with multiple images (think hundreds or even thousands). This is made easier by the simple process of copying and pasting all of the available adjustments into plugins known as presets. Presets can be downloaded or created by the user very like recording a set of adjustments and applying the same to other similar files. Another great feature is none-destructive editing. It helps make sure original files remain intact and allows you to tweak, set or cancel any adjustments at any time. Such sophistication makes it pretty special for aspiring photographers.
The images below show the three main lightroom screens of Library, Develop and Map
Who is Lightroom for?
Well, if you’re the kind of person like me who takes a lot of images, particularly, but not exclusively, in RAW format, Lightroom is just right for you too. It’s very good for photographers with professional aspirations. It’s also good if you just want better control over the look of your images. It doesn’t even matter if you only photograph your family and friends as long as you keep in mind that Lightroom is a professional tool for photographers. That means there’s quite a steep learning curve which is very much worth it in the end.
Please note that LR supports regular image formats as well as RAW files, such as TIFF and JPEG but, understandably, many of the available RAW settings will not work or will not work to their fullest potential. Still, it can be extremely useful to JPEG and RAW shooters alike, especially those who want to process a large number of images quickly.
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