Sunday, March 8, 2009

REVIEW: Lightroom 2 for Digital Photographers

So if you’ve followed this blog, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of Scott Kelby books. The reason why is simple Scott Kelby knows his stuff and even better he knows how to get to the point and describe things in a way that the average schmoe can understand. His books are filled with pictures and well organized which makes them some of the easiest books to read on the planet.

Do I really need this book? I already know everything about Lightroom!

I thought I knew Lightroom very well. I’ve used it nearly every day since it first came out, and I’ve even taught classes to show people how to use it. It is for this reason that I’ve delayed getting around to reading this book and writing a review because I quite simply thought there was little to learn from it. In fact, I thought this was pretty much an idiots guide for the mentally challenged as Lightroom is a pretty easy product to use (which is why I love it so much).

If you’ve read my previous reviews, you’ll notice in some I talk about my post-it flags that I mark on cool and noteworthy points in a book (i.e., stuff I want to be able to jump back to quickly). Well, in this book I had 31 and that’s  A LOT for me – especially for something I thought I knew backwards and forwards! Well done Mr. Kelby for opening my eyes to some really cool stuff I never knew existed in Lightroom 2!

Chapter by Chapter Comments

Here's my thoughts on each chapter of this book:

Chapter 1 – Importing

ImportRenameThis chapter starts off with the mind numbing obvious stuff that I thought would fill this book. However, for the sake of discovering something new I always force myself to read every word of every page rather than just skipping to chapter 2 (or realistically chapter 3). However, I only had to get to page 10 before I learned something new - you can edit the names in the import photos dialog as shown in the blue highlight above.

Of course, I was still skeptical that’d I’d learn much from this chapter, but then page 19 comes along and BAM – he’s done it again! Scott actually took the time to show some performance data on how long the various “Initial Previews” take so you could see the cost of doing Minimal versus Standard, etc… It really makes you think about switching from the default of Minimal so I can say this little nugget of info will definitely save me some time.

Other great tips included in this chapter are the Filename Template Editor which I didn’t even know existed (and honestly don’t need), tips on tethered shooting and more. Overall, I was quite surprised and glad that I hadn’t just skipped this chapter. With this in mind, I was more determined to pay close attention to every page of this book.

Chapter 2 – Library

I live in the the Library and Develop modules of Lightroom, so I know them pretty well. Once again, I found myself pretty surprised when I learned about a VERY COOL feature I never realized existed on page 63 – you can drag and drop photos onto the keyword list and that keyword will be assigned to them – SWEET! I had no idea! Page 64 was even better when it showed how you could nest keyword groups (i.e., think Travel keyword has keywords under it for locations you’ve travelled) – AWESOME! This entirely changes the way I plan to do keywording now and makes me less intimidated about how to fix my stack of photos that still need good keywords.

Another cool thing I learned in this chapter is that if your photos have been geotagged (i.e., the GPS field in the Metadata pane has coordinates) then you can click the arrow in the field and it will take you to Google Maps to show where the photo was taken – useless, but cool!

Last, but not least, if you hold the Alt (Option) key when clicking the plus (+) button in the Create Smart Collection dialog, it will allow you to further refine your sort criteria – sweet!

Once again, this ended up being a much better chapter than expected and definitely worth the read.

Chapter 3 – Customizing

This is the chapter where I expected to learn some cool new stuff, and to my surprise – I didn’t. This was mostly a chapter on the meaningless customization you can do in Photoshop (i.e., changing the identity plate, flourishes, etc…). Oh well, Kelby keeps me guessing again!

My recommendation – this is one chapter you can skip unless you REALLY care about rebranding your copy of Lightroom (i.e., you frequently show clients your Lightroom window).

Chapter 4 – Editing Essentials

This chapter dives into the Develop module and this is where Kelby starts showing how to do some really cool stuff in Lightroom that most of us would typically make a visit to Photoshop to accomplish. I strongly urge you to follow along with his samples for this chapter as you’ll be amazed at what you can do when you follow along.

Dublin-214

The first really cool thing I learned in this chapter is a trick where if you have blue skies and you crank your recovery up (say to 100) it will add more detail to your clouds and slightly darken your blue sky as shown above in the picture of Dublin Castle I took last Fall.

The next really cool thing was to see how to do what Kelby calls the “Gritty Portrait” look from within Lightroom (whereas I would normally go to Photoshop to do this). As you can see from the example below it creates an effect that you don’t typically see people getting from just using Lightroom!

North Cascades-456-Edit

One feature that blew me away that I had never heard of before was Auto Sync. Let’s just say that if you find yourself taking lots of similar shots (i.e., wedding photos, studio shots, etc…) then page 158 will introduce you to a very cool non-discoverable feature!

Finally he finishes with yet another cool preset called the Desaturate with Color Snap on page 161. I tried it out on one of my recent photos I took this February on my honeymoon and I was very happy with the results:

Honeymoon-94

Chapter 5 – Local Adjustments

If you know anything about Lightroom 2.x, you know that the big new feature is local adjustments. This is huge too because you can actually do a lot of work now that would have required Photoshop in the past. For example, Kelby shows how to use a –100 saturation brush to create the popular desaturated background look(a.k.a., Sin City movie look) as I’ve done here with my photo:

Honeymoon-94-3

This was done entirely in Lightroom using an adjustment brush (with the handy “Auto Mask” feature turned on around the edges of the car and sign) in about 5 minutes.

While reading this chapter it was also great to discover that you can press the letter ‘O’ as a shortcut to show the mask being applied while painting – that alone was nearly worth the cost of this book in my mind!

This chapter is great for those new to Lightroom because it shows other popular examples of how to soften skin, fix eyes, fake a Graduated Neutral Density filter, and much more.

This is definitely a chapter that every Lightroom 2 reader should read carefully.

Chapter 6 – Problem Photos

This chapter was a bit disappointing given the title because I expected more cool stuff like I had seen in the previous chapter, but it ends up being a lot of Develop tab 101 stuff. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good chapter for those unfamiliar with Lightroom, but for seasoned vets this is old news.

One cool tip mentioned is Kelby’s secret recipe for his Sharpen – High preset (Amount: 125, Radius: 1.0, Detail: 75, Masking: 0) which I found to be quite nice. If you have a noisy photo, then you’ll want to boost Masking from 80 to 100 to avoid sharpening the noise.

Chapter 7 – Exporting Images

Again, we’ve got another Lightroom 101 chapter, but worth reading none-the-less. An interesting note here is that no matter what Kelby does with sharpening in Lightroom, he always turns on the Output Sharpening with Glossy/High for prints and Screen/Standard. I’ve found that this rarely results in oversharpening, so I agree with his recommendations.

Chapter 8 – Jumping to Photoshop

For those who own Photoshop, you’ll find this chapter to be handy but once again it’s Lightroom 101 stuff. The good news is that he’s got some cool Photoshop tricks, so if you haven’t read his other books then you’ll love this chapter.

The cool discovery for me in this chapter was the “Synchronize Folder” feature which I didn’t realize existed. The gist of it is if you’ve done file management to a folder outside of Lightroom, then you can use this feature to get Lightroom back in sync (without re-importing).

Chapter 9 – Gorgeous B&W

Honeymoon-39

This was a fun chapter because Kelby shows some neat tricks for getting great black and white photos. Both of the photos shown here were processed entirely in Lightroom 2.3 using the methods that Kelby describes in this chapter.

North Cascades-481

Chapter 10 – Slideshow

The rest of the chapters of this book were less helpful to me as I tend to avoid the last three modules, but once again Kelby does a great job of showing how to build a cool template which I now intend to use from time to time when showing people photos on my computer.

Chapter 11 – Print

I have long given up on printing myself and outsource my photos to Smugmug for fantastic prints. However, I gained a new appreciation for the improvements Lightroom 2 has made. I enjoyed creating some useful templates for sending to PDF’s or JPEG’s for other purposes. Seriously, this is good stuff even if you don’t own a printer!

Chapter 12 – Web

Okay, I’ll tell you now that this is the most useless feature of Lightroom but Kelby does a decent job of trying to make the best of it. The reality is that this feature just flat out sucks, so I say ignore it and go use Smugmug.

Chapter 13 – Portrait Workflow & Chapter 14 – Travel Workflow

I grouped these together because they are fairly similar. Again, Kelby tries hard to use all three modules, but the reality is you should use use Smugmug instead of the Web module. I found these chapters to be interesting, but not extraordinarily useful.

Here’s how I edit my workflow. I’m not saying mine is much better (and honestly it is a little outdated on the web site), but it offers an alternate viewpoint.

Bonus Chapter – Wedding Workflow Video

This is excellent because you get to see a real workflow from capture to completion. It ends up being a video of much of what you’ve read in the book, so it acts as a great reinforcement for new Lightroom users.

When Scott moves from the shoot to Lightroom it is a little more tricky to hear him because the audio isn’t that great, but just turn your speakers up and pay attention!

I found it is best viewed at 100% in Quicktime which makes the text a bit small, but at 200% the text gets a little jaggie.

Conclusion

Skill Level: All
Value: Excellent
Recommendation: Must Own. Everyone who owns a DSLR should own Lightroom, and if you own Lightroom you owe it to yourself to own this book. It’s simply fantastic, even for those like me who thought there wasn’t much more to learn about this awesome photo management software. You can learn enough from this book to delay purchasing Photoshop a bit longer (and some indefinitely) and that alone makes it worth the cover price.

For those who follow my blog, this book is now being added to my popular Which Books Should I Read article. It’s that good!

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