Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is an essential component of any digital photographer’s toolbox. As with all post-processing software, Lightroom is a program that photographer’s can use to improve and organize their visual art. Yet, Lightroom is unique in many ways. Unlike other popular post-processing software, Lightroom is a modular program and has the advantage of non-destructive digital editing (in other words, the original files are never altered within the program). The program is designed in such a way, so that each module found in Lightroom, can be used to accomplish different tasks in an efficient manner.
Another unique feature of Lightroom is that the software is designed to handle many images at once, so it’s equipped to deal with the fast paced workflow of many digital photographers. This is due to the fact that with Lightroom, your images are separated into different catalogs, where Lightroom handles only a specific set of images at one time.
Finally, with less of a learning curve than Photoshop, Lightroom is the best choice for amateur photographers who are just starting with post-processing.
Lightroom 3 is broken up into five major modules: library, develop, slideshow, print and web. With the recent release of Lightroom 4, new map and book modules were also added. Regardless of which version of Lightroom you’re using, all of the major modules are displayed on the right side of your identity plate.
The identity plate, as a default, is displayed at the top of Lightroom. In case the plate is not visible, you may need to click on a tiny, downward facing arrow, that’s positioned in the top-center part of Lightroom in order for the plate to pop-up.
Since each module is designed to help you accomplish specific different tasks, they all have a unique set of tools and options for you to use.
Library Module – The library module is the heart of the post-processing workflow. The library is where you import and export photos; organize your files into stacks, folders and collections; compare various images, flag, rate, and color code photos; search and filter images; add keywords; adjust metadata and decide which images are to be kept and rejected (this is a process called culling. An excellent video tutorial on culling can be seen here.).
In addition, the library module can be viewed in four different formats: grid (shortcut- G), loupe (shortcut- E), compare (shortcut- C) and survey (shortcut- N).
Each view mode allows you to accomplish different things: For instance, if you wish to quickly scroll through every image in your catalog and complete actions on multiple images at once, the grid view (pictured above) may be best suited for your needs.
Develop Module – Once you’ve assessed which images needs to be edited in detail, the develop module is where you process them. In the develop module you can crop or straighten your images, make red eye corrections, use various brush tools, sharpen images, reduce noise and distortion from lenses, use tone curves, adjust exposure, brightness, contrast, clarity, saturation, white balance and even convert the images to black and white, among other things. Similar to Photoshop, you can create presets to apply numerous changes to a photo or a group of photos in just one click.
Slideshow Module – After organizing your edited images into a collection or folder, you can create a slideshow within Lightroom using this module. Lightroom provides many options for customizing your slideshow, whether it be adjusting the music, the duration of the show, the background color, the positioning of the images or whether or not the photographs are watermarked or include EXIF information. Lightroom will even provide you with a list of templates for quickly creating slideshows (or you can create your own templates). The slideshows you prepare can also be exported for use online.
Print Module – In the print module, as the name suggests, you prepare your photographs for printing. First, size and position the images you plan on printing and decide whether to include watermarks or any EXIF data. Next, specify the size and type of paper you’re printing on before sending it off to your printer.
Web Module – For website owners, the web module is an excellent feature where you can easily create high quality photo galleries. First, choose a layout style for your gallery and pick from one of Lightroom’s many excellent templates (of course, you can also create your own). Lightroom allows you to fully customize the gallery by selecting a color scheme, choosing the size of the thumbnails and the full sized images, and deciding whether to watermark the photographs. You may also include image captions or provide descriptions and titles for the gallery. Finally, you can upload the ready-made web gallery to your FTP server for use online.
Map Module- (a feature new to Lightroom 4) – Now in Lightroom 4, you can organize your photographs geographically. If you use a newer camera where GPS information is embedded into your EXIF data, by simply uploading the files your images will be organized on to a world map. For those with older cameras, you will have to manually assign geographic locations to your photographs.
Book Module- (a feature new to Lightroom 4) – Also in Lightroom 4, you can create, design and order your own photo book from within the program.
As you can see, Lightroom is a powerful, modular based program where you can satisfy the majority of your post-processing needs with just a few clicks of a button. Also, with the recent release of Lightroom 4, you'll have more options and features at your disposal than ever before.
Chase Guttman is the winner of Young Travel Photographer of the Year 2010, and a Grand Prize winner, in his age group, in National Geographic's 2011 International Photography Competition. His photography was also exhibited at the prestigious Royal Geographical Society in London. Be sure to follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ (where he's currently offering a free photography eBook) and subscribe to his blog.