The advantages of Lightroom 4

Updated March 5: Lightroom 4 has shipped and it’s well worth the upgrade. Here are some of the reasons I use it and why I recommend switching from LR3 to LR4 right away.

Using LR4 is like getting a camera upgrade.

First of all, I teach a Lightroom workshop at Lúz Gallery in Victoria. Lúz offers the LR workshop for asset management because LR is cross-platform and because I approached them about teaching. So, in order to keep abreast of the latest developments in the product, I use it for my own personal and professional work.

However, this is putting the cart before the horse.

I use Lightroom because it’s a great product that serves my needs. I have only dabbled with Aperture and Capture One. And, I won’t apologize for not giving a more thorough analysis of the three products. I’m happy for you if you use either of these other products or some other unnamed RAW development/management tool. Good for you.

I started to use LR because I have a long history with Adobe applications and in particular with Photoshop. That history includes working for Adobe as a graphic designer and art director in the late 80’s and early 90’s. While designing packaging for the initial Photoshop product, as well as Illustrator, Streamline and Premier, I used the products to both produce print-ready artwork but also to experiment and give product feedback. Along with working in creative services for Adobe, I also evangelized and taught workshops for their products. So, this teaching people how to use software also has a long history. Once I started to use LR for my own photography, I also started to teach others how to use the product.

Adobe has always produced professional quality tools for creative professionals. And with each new version, they have tried to improve their products. That holds true for LR, and with the new version of LR 4 beta, Adobe’s engineers have made a number of improvements over the previous version. This is one reason I continue to support Adobe products.

With the release of this new version of LR, a number of new features have been added. The more apparent additions have been given their own modules, such as the book and map modules. Fortunately, users can now hide any modules that they may not find useful. The map module comes to mind. The book module promises to be a nice addition to LR. Particularly useful for non-designers, users can now create a Blurb or PDF book from within LR. The book tools are still fairly basic, but I’m sure that it will be popular with many users.

Far and away, the most exciting and powerful new features in LR aren’t readily apparent.

One new feature that will be a major improvement for those of us who print regularly from LR is the ability to adjust brightness and contrast on the print without having to make virtual copies for printing and fiddle with these adjustments. Now, users can develop their photo to their liking and then, when printing, adjust the brightness and/or contrast to compensate for a printer that might print too dark (we know which printers those are, don’t we?).

In LR 3, when printing to my Epson 2200 and 3880, I saved a printer profile for each paper, which included an adjustment to media density. This was a great fix and produced prints with which I was very happy. I look forward to producing many new prints from LR 4 without having to resort to this work around. Also, for teaching purposes, adjusting the brightness and/or contrast in the print module will be universally understood no matter what type of printer a student owns. Of course, some experimentation will be needed to determine how much to adjust B/C for each type of paper used. Fortunately, that setting can be saved with each print template.

The most exciting new development in LR 4 is, well, in the develop module. The engineers have produced a new process version (2012) that is fabulous! Really!!

The new process version has a new set of tools in the basic panel and has led to a number of comments about where this or that control has gone. People. Get over it. The controls may have changed, but you can still do everything that you could before AND you are starting from a much better place. That’s right. An unprocessed RAW file opened with the 2012 process version found in LR 4 produces a better image that reveals much, much more detail in the highlights and shadows. You will see detail, particularly in the highlights, that you won’t see in the previous process version.

I have always been thrilled with how LR allowed me to rescue highlight detail in areas that looked blown out. Now, you will have even more detail without moving a slider. Couple the process version with the ability to eliminate chromatic aberration with one click, soft proofing and a more powerful clarity control, and the processing power of LR 4 appears to be nearly perfect!

OK, nothing is perfect. LR will continue to improve, add new modules and features to react to perceived advantages in other applications. Hopefully the engineers won’t feel like they need to add every conceivable feature to the application, because more modules won’t make it a better application. Please stick to the core demands of photographers: good data management, amazing image processing and beautiful prints. Oh, and, I guess, the web module is pretty handy (I use it a lot!).

I look forward to working in the LR 4 release version and teaching many more workshops where you can learn about using all of the modules. Really. I promise.