Thursday, September 30, 2010

REVIEW: Lightroom 3 for Digital Photographers

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – this is the real users guide for Lightroom that Adobe never got around to writing. I use this book and its predecessor as the text book in my Lightroom 101 classes because it is the most in-depth, easy to follow and technically accurate book on Lightroom 3.0 – period.

If you are unfamiliar with this series by Scott Kelby, then you should know that Scott does a great job of breaking things down into easy to understand topics filled with images to illustrate the points he’s trying to make in each chapter. When you follow along using the original unprocessed photos he provides, you really learn the subject rather than just reading a bunch of words. Scott does a great job of having screen shots with the things you need to input highlighted so you know exactly what to do to get the same results as he would if he were doing a demo for you in real life. This technique makes the book thick, which can be intimidating to some, but realize that it’s mostly pictures and reads very much like a transcript of a video so it is very easy to follow. Each chapter ends with some useful tips and either hard to discover or undocumented feature usage recommendations.

If you’ve followed my blog, you know that I’ve been singing the praises of Scott Kelby’s 7-Point System book for quite sometime, and that it has been on my What Photoshop books should I read? list since day one. We’ll I’m very pleased to announce that Scott has finally got around to writing his 7-Point System for Lightroom book that he mentions in my interview of him, and you don’t need to buy or read another book to get it – it’s included in the last chapter of this book! That’s right, Scott has incorporated this system into a new chapter inside of this book so that you can follow along editing some before and after examples – using real world images. This makes this book the one-stop, must read book for those for whom Lightroom is the only tool that they need to get the results that they want. This is a great improvement, and it makes this a no-brainer addition to my popular Which books should I read? article. If you own a digital SLR, you owe it to yourself to own Lightroom and if you own Lightroom, then this is the book you’ve gotta read to get the most out of it!

“But I know Lightroom inside out, why should I read this book?”

I use Lightroom nearly every day of the year, and I teach Lightroom classes throughout the year. I’m quite confident that I am an expert user and that I’ve probably mastered nearly every feature of the product. With that said, after reading this book on a flight to and from New York, I found myself putting 21 post-it flags on the pages for things that I never knew or wanted to make sure I revisited and committed to memory. This is nuts because I have used this product every day since version 1.0, but there’s tons of new features and Scott does a great job of providing new tips and discussing things that I didn’t discover while using the beta.

Even if you think you are the biggest Lightroom guru in your circle of friends, you need this book!  You won’t find a lot of these things I’ve flagged anywhere else like dust spot removal trick where you can use the page down button in the navigator panel (and its undocumented support for column wrapping) to efficiently search an entire image for dust spots. This is great stuff that you don’t find anywhere else (and if you do, they probably got the idea from Scott our his sources).

Chapter by Chapter Comments

In keeping with the tradition of my newer book reviews, I offer a peek inside of this book by listing out the chapters and offering my two cents on each one.

Chapter 1 – Importing

If you are coming from a previous version of Lightroom and you are wondering if you need this book, let me say right now that this is the chapter that you need to read. So much has changed in the Importing feature of Lightroom in version 3 that much of what we’ve become accustomed to in the past is very hard to rediscover. In addition this new dialog (which I initially hated with a passion) has several hidden features that once you discover them, you’ll start to warm up to this new design. In typical Kelby fashion, there’s loads of good stuff here that’ll make you say “wow, I didn’t even see that feature until he pointed it out!”.  Scott has also added sections on video and tethering, both of which are new additions to Lightroom 3.

Chapter 2 – Library

This is mostly a carryover from the previous edition. If you’ve read the previous version, it’s still worth re-reading this chapter so you can rediscover some features you’ve forgotten about and to become familiar ones you’ve never used before. However, if you are crunched on time then this is one that you can just skim as not a lot has changed in the library in this release.

Chapter 3 – Customizing

Once again, this is worth the refresh read if you have the time but otherwise not much new here either.

Chapter 4 – Editing Essentials

The first section of this chapter is the most important because it talks about the update process version feature of Lightroom 3. This is super important so you can understand the benefits and ramifications of this powerful new feature when using your older catalogs with this release. The rest of the chapter has been nicely refreshed so that familiar topics are still fresh enough to keep you following along. Tethering white balance is also included, so those who use this new feature will want to pay close attention to this new section.

Chapter 5 – Local Adjustments

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
Click to see the History Panel of changes made to this image
Copyright 2010 – Ron Martinsen – All Rights Reserved

From a casual glance, nothing has changed in Lightroom 3 over version 2 in this area. However, when you use the controls you can see that they’ve been improved to not be so damn slow, auto mask better, and not crash anymore. I’m happy with the new changes, and it’s always fun to see Scott put these powerful features into use so I highly recommend you don’t skip this chapter.

Chapter 6 – Photo Problems

This chapter is pure gold because Scott is basically telling you how to fix all of the things we face all of the time in our own photos. Read and learn from the master, and definitely work along on these examples. The lens correction and watermarking sections are especially useful as these are new improvements in Lightroom 3 that I think many will want to use, so don’t miss it!

Chapter 7 – Exporting Images

The big news here are the new publishing features are added to the already solid export feature set. While Scott does cover the subject, I suspect he was a victim of this feature not being fully baked while he was writing the book because he doesn’t cover it as well as he typically does. As a result, I’m still a bit confused about this feature (especially the publish to the Hard drive feature, and comments). This is an area I’d love to see Scott expand upon in the next version of this book as this is one of the great new features that I think everyone is going to love. I know that once I get the hang of “publish to Smugmug” (my favorite photo hosting site), my workflow will be much more streamlined.

Chapter 8 – Jumping to Photoshop

This is a nice informative section for those who are also using Photoshop and who wonder how Photoshop and Lightroom should be used together. Arguably some of the same concepts here for Photoshop could also apply to third party add-ins by Nik Software, onOne Software, etc…, so it makes sense to apply some of the logic here to those as well. Definitely take a moment to read this chapter.

Chapter 9 – In Black & White

Okay, I’ll admit that once you’ve had the photo processing crack that is Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro, you can’t use anything else for you black & white images. With that said, if you can’t afford the Nik products yet (even with my discount coupon codes) then the next best thing here is the process that Scott describes.

Chapter 10 – Slideshow

If you were to sit down with me at the bar and talk to me about Lightroom after I’ve tossed back a few drinks, you’d get an earful of my opinion of the tabs to the right of the develop tab in Lightroom. My comments about the Slideshow would be less than politically correct, but despite that fact Scott has managed to show the beauty of this pig. In fact, this section is so cool that I find  myself following along so I can see it working as Scott does it. In both this and the previous book I think, “wow, this thing isn’t so bad”, so I think that says a lot about the cool example Scott does for this “feature”.

Chapter 11 – The Big Print

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
Click to see the History Panel of changes made to this image
Copyright 2010 – Ron Martinsen – All Rights Reserved

My printing series, is my life right now, so I care a lot about this subject. In fact, I’m printing quite a bit from Lightroom these days as part of my Canon and Epson printer paper and product testing. This chapter was an invaluable tool for me when I began to curse like a sailor at the screen because Lightroom wasn’t doing what I wanted. While some of my specific questions weren’t answered here, there was always enough to get me unblocked which made this an important chapter to me. Now I still dislike Lightroom for printing due to its lack of support of the wonderful Canon Export Module and its lack of soft-proofing support, but if you follow along as Scott suggests your odds of getting a decent print are certainly within reach. With that said, I still say that if you own something better – like Photoshop, then you should do your printing there instead of here.

Chapter 12 – Web Galleries

Children cover your ears when you are around me and you mention Lightroom’s Web Galleries. I have patents on work I did on Internet Explorer, so I have strong opinions on web galleries. Put quite simply, I’ve seen great web galleries, and the stuff Adobe provides isn’t it. However, they have improved over the last few releases and like with the Slideshow chapter, Scott shows some good examples of how to make the most of what Adobe provides. Score: Adobe 0 – Scott Kelby 1.

Chapter 13 – My (Scott Kelby’s) Portrait Workflow

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
Click to see the History Panel of changes made to this image
Copyright 2010 – Ron Martinsen – All Rights Reserved

This chapter is a big upgrade from the previous book. This time around a great step-by-step walkthrough of a studio portrait shoot of a pretty woman versus a flash gun umbrella shoot of a dude in the last book. Call me old fashion, but the pretty woman always wins in my book! In this iteration he goes through the whole process from tethered shooting, to image enhancement to output to DVD and print on a Epson R2880. I love this chapter because it proves how powerful Lightroom is and shows what can be accomplished from end-to-end. This is the “if you only read one chapter, read this one” chapter of this book. Great stuff!

Chapter 14 – 7 Point System for Lightroom

Instead of Travel Workflow chapter like Scott did in the last book (which is a reason not to toss out your old copy), this is where Kelby introduces his new 7 Point System fro Lightroom in four end-to-end examples. While these aren’t as in-depth and solid as what you’ll find in the 7 Point System book, they are very helpful. I highly recommend that you read this chapter, despite it being located at the end of the book.

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 for some, indefinitely) and that alone makes it worth the cover price.

As you can see from the examples I’ve done in this article – all of which have been edited ONLY in Lightroom 3 with no third party software, the changes can be quite impressive. If you hover over the images in this article you’ll see what I started with, and I think in all three cases I took a blah image and turned into something worth showing the world. I encourage you to read this book and apply what you learn so you can do the same!

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

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