Ode to Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom 5 allows you to manage, edit and archive your photo and image library

Adobe Lightroom 5 allows you to manage, edit and archive your photo and image library. (Screen capture courtesy Bill Ferris)

I’m exhausted and my brain is numb. Numb like your lower lip after a visit to the dentist, like your foot when it falls asleep, like, well…like I’m feeling after finishting a two-month long project to archive a photographic collection dating back more than half a century.

I don’t even have a large collection of images. Some photographers shoot hundreds of thousands of exposures a year. My image library tips the scale at a relatively small 40,883 images. Not all are photo’s I’ve taken. The oldest dates back to 1962. It’s a shot of me–probably taken by my father–sitting in a high chair wearing a big grin and Hershey’s chocolate all over my face. The most recent were taken last week when I went up to Lowell Observatory to shoot the removal of the historic Clark Refractor from its dome on Mars Hill. The 120-year-old telescope will be fully refurbished and return to service in 2015.

So, what in the name of rational thought possessed me to take on this project? Hmm, that’s a good question.

Clicking on an image folder in the Lightroom 5 Library displays previews or thumbnails of the images in that library. The panel to the left of the preview window lists the directories and sub-folders in your library. The panel to the right is where keywords are assigned.

Let me begin the answer by asking another question: of what value is a 40,000-image collection? In simplest terms, it depends on the value of those images to other people. Of course, that answer is predicated on one huge assumption: that you can easily locate an image in a timely manner. If you’ve inherited a million dollars but it’s locked in a trunk at the bottom of the deepest trench in the Pacific Ocean, of what real value is that inheritance? In other words, if you can’t find anything in a 40,000-image library, of what real value are the images?

Now, in fairness, my archive wasn’t a complete disaster. All the photos were collected on my computer’s hard drive in directories labelled by the year in which the photos were taken. Each directory contained a collection of sub-folders identified by the subject matter of the photos within. For example, the 2007 directory contained folders for the family vacation to Disney World, my spring backpacking trip in Grand Canyon and so on. All the photos were there but the amount of time it would take me to track down a specific image was substantial…if I could find the image at all.

So late in 2013, I decided to get my photo archive in order.  A 40,000 image collection may not be sizable by some standards, but it was all I had.

Think of Lightroom as a photographic version of a library catalog. Most people, when looking for a specific book at a library, don’t just wander the aisles hoping to catch a glimpse of the author’s name or the book title. The smart ones head straight for the computer catalog system. They enter the title and maybe the author’s name, then click the “Search” button. This produces a list of actual books stored in the library along with their respective locations. It may take a few minutes to track down the specific aisle, shelf and section. But it’s pretty easy to find the book you seek, even in a library housing tens of thousands of volumes.

Lightroom 5 features a powerful search tool. A search for the keyword, Yosemite, displays all photos assigned that keyword. So, whether an image is tagged by location, subject, weather conditions, people shown or other factors, keywording is central to taking full advantage of Lightroom’s capabilities.

Lightroom is your photo archive’s catalog system…and so much more. To begin the archiving process, I first imported all my photos into Lightroom, There is no physical moving of images involved. Ligthroom simply built a list of 40,000+ image file names, and the directories and sub-folders in which they are stored on my computer. The Lightroom library is basically a data file identifying where images can be found. Next, I worked in Lightroom to assign keywords to each image in the archive. With 40,000 images to keyword, I figured it would be simplest to start with the oldest and work forward in time to the most recent.

The 1962 directory contains one sub-folder titled, “1962 Bill Baby.” This sub-folder contains one image. In the Lightroom keyword window, I typed my name, the word “baby,” the city and state where the photo was taken and the name of the street where we lived. A more recent folder might contain a hundred photos from a day hike at Grand Canyon. Lightroom allowed me to select a group of images that will share the same keyword, and type that word just once to apply it to all one hundred photos. Lightroom even builds a keyword collection, automatically adding each word the first time it is used. If the word is, sunset, typing the letter “s” prompts Lightroom to display all the keywords in its collection starting with that letter. To select, click on the word or keep typing until it moves to the top of the list. Then, hit “Enter.”

Keywording photos in Lightroom is relatively easy. This is one user-intuitive application. The volume of images to be keyworded will determine the sheer volume of time required to complete the task. After all the images in a sub-folder had been keyworded, I reviewed the images to identify the selects. Lightroom allows you to rate images by flagging them, assigning a color code or giving a rating of one-through-five stars to a photo, To keep things simple, I assigned a five-star rating to any image i consider to have potential commercial value.

Lightroom also includes a “Collections” tool. A Collection contains photos sharing the same trait. For example, one of the default collections is for images given a five-star rating. Any image given that rating is automatically added to the collection. And here’s the brilliance of Lightroom: it doesn’t make a duplicate copy of the original image. It simply includes the data for all five-star images in that collection. Think of it as a national park with multiple pathways leading to the same view.

Lightroom 5 comes with a full-featured suite of image editing tools. Much of what you currently do in Photoshop and other image editing aps can be done both easily and quickly in Lightroom 5.

Lightroom also features a suite of image editing tools. When you double-click on the thumbnail for an image, the image expands to fill its window. Click on the “Develop” tab to begin editing the image. There are adjustments for white balance, exposure and contrast; noise reduction; tools to correct for lens distortion; masks and healing brushes allowing specific areas within an image to be tweaked; straightening and cropping of images. These are just some of the image editing features and, oh by the way, Lightroom is non-destructive. The original RAW file remains fully preserved.

Another of the default Collections in Lightroom is for images assigned a red color. I apply red only to the best of the best. All are five-star images that have been polished in post. At present, of the 4,699 five-star images, just 46 have been colored red. Eventually, I’ll work through the full collection of five-star images and add more selects from that group to this special collection. When an image is ready to be shown to the world, Lightroom’s publishing tools that allow it to be sent directly to Facebook, Flickr and other social media sites.

I’ve only touched on a handful of the features and capabilities of Adobe Lightroom 5. It would be difficult to overstate how impressed I am by this product. As I continue to explore its capabilities, I will share the good and bad of what I find. But for the present, suffice it to say that I enthusiastically recommend Adobe Lightroom as an image management, editing and archiving tool.

Now, get out there and shoot!

Bill Ferris | February 2014

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