How Lightroom 4 is better at everything.

Having spent more time than I care to admit lovingly crafting my pictures in Photoshop and filling my hard drive with enormous non-destructive edits of all my photos, I was browsing around seeing what's new in the world. It's upgrade season after all, that magical time every year when all the software houses start bragging about their new little buttons and redesigns.

Now, some things in life rely rather heavily on a leap of faith. Because the practical understanding and explanations just fall flat after a while and then a massive gap in understanding between the parts you understand and what you see opens up. For me, one such example is how screens work, and not those lame LCD ones, the real, honest, logic defying greatness of good old CRTs. Here's a breakdown: Graphics card splits a video signal into red green and blue values, cool, sends them through a VGA cable, gotcha, electron cannon fires streams of energy through a deflection yolk painting a chemical phosphors to produce pictures, redrawing them 75 times a second... Wait, what? Its a damned lie, just go: Graphics card > Magic > Picture, and be done with it.

This week, I saw some of that magic again, and it has a dark blue cape of awesome and they call it Lightroom, the 4th.

Honestly, I thought Lightroom was a rebrand of the older "Photoshop Elements", from the same school of thinking as that technological gem "Premiere Elements". "Elements" of course referring to Adobe making a less powerful version of one of it's powerhouse software packages, and then marketing it to house wives and the rich stupid people - putting in place an upgrade path when those saps finally realize that the elements they want don't come in the capital E versions. It's not a rebrand. Not even close. That would be like calling Mayonnaise re-branded eggs.

If you have ever "fixed" a photo in Photoshop, you know the tediom associated with large parts of it. Because it's a modular and insanely powerful pixel pusher, it's bordering on doing brain surgery with a sledge hammer. In many ways, it's fantastic, you get to structure your workflows around your needs.
You can create scripts for repetitive tasks, have dedicated workspaces for various tasks... and if you suddenly change your mind, you have the full arsenal of dedicated tools to bring your vision to life. This doesn't change the fact that it is actually overkill for a quick grade, but the alternatives are not really anywhere close to solving the same problems and like I said, you don't want to go plod around in Elements unless you are really desperate.

So what makes it so great? Let me show you. I went to Mozambique last year and apart from large volumes of rum, beaches and afternoon naps, there were sunsets a plenty. Rich orange and red eulogies that ripped open the horizon. So one afternoon I climbed the water tower behind our house to get a picture, camera strap clenched between my teeth and a graduated neutral density stuffed into my swimming trunks. Even with the filter the best I could coax out of the situation was this:

That's the beauty and power of the African sun, and it's own special way of telling you to give up any hope of having some foreground detail. I was about to try and cheat a few more stops into the exposure when the sun quickly dove over the horizon, probably sensing my intentions. Oh well.
Getting home, I convinced that little jpeg that it had more to give than it believed it did. It took a while but I got what I wanted. And now, a year later, I'm going te same with lightroom.

Here is a super quick breakdown of both.

Step 0.
Foreground separation. (aka, the boring bit.)
I'm lazy, so quick selection goes to the rescue for those pesky leaves, not perfect, but good enough. Quick selection tool is still one of those wow tools.

Total time: about 45 minutes of aimless clicking, probably around 20 minutes earnest work. Bottom line... not the kind of thing you want to be doing for every picture. Take that Sun!

That is the best slider that man has ever made.

That's like 5 stops, brought back from the dead. No detail lost. No mattes, no selections. No mess, no fuss. Honestly, the first time I saw this in action I just played with it for a while. I was like a kid playing peek-a-boo, laughing like a lunatic. I felt like a god. Pitch black to detail. If that doesn't impress you, you're dead inside.

And before the RAW kids out there start making a ruckus, ignore them. Don't trust people who carry around uncompressed sensor dumps, that's just plain weird. This is a simple jpeg, turned HDR. Air punch!

Another awesome inclusion is lens profiles. Even the best glass has some distortion. This was taken with the Nikon 18-200 VR, and it's got some personality quirks when it comes to the telephoto range. The only lame thing is not all lenses are included... yet. My 35mm f1.8 has more barrel distortion than a drunk pirate, I would very much to see that disappear with a click as well. Until then, I'd still recommend Dx0 if you have glass problems.

So you see. This is some serious grading muscle. And the nice thing about Lightroom is that you don't even have the option to do those more heinous manipulations that make people not trust your pictures. Liquify, clone stamps, content aware fill and scale. To heck with them I say! If someone tells you that they edit in Lightroom, you are free to picture them huddled in a dark room staring at developing trays, you have just about the same toolset... except with sliders. Because:

This is revolutionary. I haven't been this blown away by sliders since chicken licken opened up... If I were to high 5 the person that made this, I would take their arm right off.

So that's my opinion of Lightroom 4. I approve, if you haven't noticed. It's good, for oh so many reasons. The main one being time saved, and file management, I can once again use my hard drive for the really important things in life.

I went back into my archives and took the most high contrast pictures I could find and slid them to comprehension. Remember that even magic sliders can't undo poor decisions when your pressing the shutter button, nothing can save a crap picture, but I'm proving a point here. Roll over for the lightroom corrections. (Blogger won't pre-load images so just hover for a few seconds.)

With great power comes great responsibility. Shadows are good. You want them, this is just a godsend for those times when you really don't have a choice or you lose just a little too much of those yummy details in the dark bits. I expect this to be rightly abused for a long time, just like every other filter Adobe introduced. (I'm looking at you poster edges)

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