Holiday 2012: Tools for a Successful Lightroom Workflow

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Since the workflow concerning the primary use of digital cameras differs greatly from traditional film methodologies, new technologies exist to greater benefit this rapidly changing and evolving means of image production. With film-based photography, keeping an archive of your work meant physical, archival storage and required space and hands-on working means. With digital imaging, the majority of the process, outside of image acquisition, takes place on a computer. This is generally viewed as a good thing in regard to a faster, more time-efficient means to image production and handling.


On the other hand, digital imaging has brought along with it the consequence of having a much higher amount of production compared to film; it is fairly common to return from shooting with upwards of 1,000 recorded images. With such a bulk of imagery being produced, it is paramount to have an effective digital workflow to maintain a concise and clear file-organization system to best reap the benefits of digital production.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 (also available in a student and teacher version) is at the forefront of workflow-oriented software and provides numerous tools for file organization and management as well as image manipulation and processing. Lightroom is a descendant of Adobe Bridge, but differs in that it is not purely a file browser. In combining both non-destructive editing capabilities and file management, Lightroom can serve photographers as a tool to handle the bulk of their process. Management tools that improve navigation and sourcing include the ability to rate images and label them according to preference, location info and a variety of other data structures you wish to implement as an organizational template. 

Beyond creating this simple infrastructure for management, Lightroom also enables image manipulation up to the point at which the full-fledged Photoshop program is needed for intensive manipulation and retouching work. Tools included in Lightroom to perform image enhancements include the ability to make general color, contrast and value corrections; apply filters and use brushes such as sharpening, noise reduction, grain and moiré removal; and video file adjustments including light editing and trimming of clips. Lightroom is also an apt tool for performing RAW-to-DNG conversion, tethered shooting and editing of metadata fields.

Lightroom’s non-destructive editing environment is one major point that differentiates it from other editing programs in that it truly encourages experimentation with imagery. Enhancements and corrections are applied to imagery when working in Lightroom in a way that never affects the original file—rather, it is saving the process and system of editing you have created rather than a finished image. This benefits photographers in numerous ways: it ensures that your original, unmodified files are always available; it allows you to try out several ways of editing an image without the need of saving multiple files; and it is possible to apply the exact same image modifications to a group of images, which is especially helpful for a series of photographs all made under identical lighting. When processing images in this manner, you are creating snapshots of your work, rather than saving distinct image files. These snapshots contain all of the editing you have applied to imagery, which can then be readily applied to that image for exporting or can additionally be applied to other imagery to maintain a consistent look or style throughout your work.

Lightroom 4 builds upon these tools that have been established in previous versions by incorporating new tools for more powerful image modification and handling. Improved highlight and shadow recovery helps to bring a greater dynamic range to images, giving you the ability to bring out more detail from the shadow areas while still maintaining tone and texture in the highlights, without artifacting or overly muted mid-tones. Local editing through the use of brushes has also been improved, with a number of selective-editing tools providing the ability to apply noise reduction, color balancing and other techniques to only select regions of an image.  In regard to sharing imagery, Lightroom avails you a transparent workflow for uploading images directly to sharing sites such as Flickr or Facebook, to your own website, or through email using the account of your choice. You can also lay out and order photo books of your work directly from Lightroom.

Tools for a Successful Lightroom Workflow

While Lightroom in and of itself is a highly efficient program, there are some other tools recommended to better enhance use of Lightroom. Lightroom’s compatibility with standard computer configurations is adequate; however, utilizing other devices, such as color-calibrated monitors, editing tablets, additional memory, photo-quality printers and scanners and backup solutions, will greatly increase productivity and overall quality.

Monitors and Calibration

A properly calibrated monitor is an essential tool for ensuring that your photos look as good as possible. By maintaining accurate colors for your monitor, your printing is benefited, as well as making sure your images appear the best on a wider variety of monitors and displays. While you can only control the color of your own monitor—and unfortunately the appearance of your imagery is at the mercy of how others monitors are set—it is a good idea to keep as many constants as you can in your own workflow for greater productivity and output.

A good monitor to begin with is the NEC MultiSync P221W-BK 22” LCD monitor. This monitor offers a native 1680 x 1050 resolution, 1000:1 contrast ratio, 300cd/m2 brightness and 96% coverage of the Adobe RGB color space for accurate reproduction of imagery. Additionally, this monitor has a wide 178° / 178° viewing angle and four-way adjustment design for a variety in placement options. You can also connect this monitor to two separate computers and toggle back and forth between sources without the need of an auxiliary switchbox.

A bit larger in size is the Dell UltraSharp U2410 24” LCD monitor, which offers a full HD-sized 1920 x 1200 native resolution and VGA, DisplayPort, DVI-D, HDMI, Component Video and Composite Video connections for extended compatibility. Like the previous monitor, this one provides 96% coverage of the Adobe RGB color space, 178° / 178° viewing angle, and 1000:1 typical contrast ratio, but also provides a greater color depth of 1.07 billion colors, faster response time of 6ms and higher brightness of 400cd/m2

For even greater breadth in color representation there is the LaCie 324i 24” LCD monitor, which covers 102% of the NTSC space and 98% of the Adobe RGB color space. This wider color gamut offers even greater color fidelity with respect to image handling and printing capabilities. The 324i also has a 1920 x 1200 native resolution, 178° / 178° viewing angle, 1000:1 contrast ratio, and 400cd/m2 brightness. Additionally, this monitor is backlight stabilized—meaning it will automatically adjust the luminosity of the screen to suit the environment in which you are working. For improving the quality and representation of colors on any monitor, a display hood, such as the NEC LCD Display Hood, is an indispensible accessory for blocking stray light and preventing reflections on the surface of the monitor. This helps to ensure greater accuracy when color correcting files for Web or print, and maintains a more consistent environment regardless of the surroundings.

For even greater control and refinement of how your monitor depicts your imagery, it is highly recommended to color-calibrate your own monitor. While manufacturers can do their best to provide the truest colors, monitors will change and fade over time. It is essential to calibrate your monitor with some regularity to ensure consistency between all aspects of your production. 

The Datacolor Spyder4Pro Display Calibration System helps to do just this by setting color profiles for matching prints and also by offering the ability to account for ambient light changes that can affect the appearance of your monitor. The process of using this tool is simple in practice but effective in result: once the software is installed, you attach the colorimeter to your monitor and follow the steps through a wizard. Once the process is completed, a reference profile will be created that allows you to view before and after results of your calibration, to allow for any other fine-tuning you wish to do.

A more thorough calibration option is the X-Rite ColorMunki Photo color management system. This tool has a similar workflow as the Datacolor Spyder4Pro, but extends its reach to include profiling options for projectors, RGB/CMYK printers and digital cameras. By controlling color profiling from the origin of the image to the end result, a print or projection, the likelihood of color accuracy is greatly increased. Included with this system is the colorimeter, for display calibration, a 50-patch chart for printer calibration and a 24-patch ColorChecker target for use with your digital camera. The intuitive software will analyze the data gathered from all sources to create matching profiles that you can apply to all aspects of your workflow.

Mice and Tablets

As simple tools as mice and tablets are, having an effective way to navigate your computer’s interface is necessary for the greatest productivity. Wireless mice are the most convenient tools for basic navigation: they are obviously free of a cord to get in the way and have a range much greater than most corded mice will provide (but do remember to keep spare batteries on hand).

Apple’s Magic Mouse is an ideal solution when using Mac OS X 10.5.8 or later. This mouse provides a smooth, multi-touch surface that facilitates clicking, swiping and scrolling all directly from the same area. These gestures enable you to scan quickly through images in a similar fashion to an iPhone or other touch device. The Magic Mouse also wirelessly connects to your computer via Bluetooth, which allows you to keep a USB port free instead of having to occupy it with a transceiver.

Another compact option, this one designed for portable use, is the Logitech Anywhere Mouse MX. This mouse features a more standard shape and feel, incorporating a physical scroll wheel and integrated thumb buttons for navigating web pages. This mouse requires the use of the Unifying receiver (included), which is a small USB receiver that will additionally provide connectivity to other wireless devices, such as keyboards.

Also designed for portability is the Microsoft Arc Mouse, which has a folding design that lends itself to carrying on location or use away from the studio. The arc design of this mouse also provides more comfortable ergonomics for prolonged use while editing photos.

A unique option compared to other wireless mice is the Gyration Air Mouse GO Plus. Providing similar controls and desktop functionality of the aforementioned mice, this mouse also allows you to use it in the air. Without the need of a surface beneath it, this mouse is highly functional in a variety of situations, ranging from giving presentations to clients to working on a computer on location without plentiful tabletop space available.  It has a 100’ range and three programmable buttons for customized commands.

The other option for navigation of programs and your interface is through the use of a tablet. Tablets are largely favored for image editing and retouching due to their control scheme that more 

closely aligns with drawing. With the use of a pen (or stylus) and a touch-sensitive area, you can essentially draw onto your images and vary controls and functions through a system of buttons and by varying the amount of pressure you exert onto the tablet. Wacom is a popular maker of tablets for photo editing use and offer two different tiers of pen-based tablets. Their entry-level Bamboo tablets are available in two sizes, either 5.8 x 3.6” or 8.5 x 5.4” (active area), and three models depending on your needs. 

The Bamboo Splash is the most straightforward option, providing you with a simple interface and 1,024 pressure levels for accurate control over your pen. Adding more functionality in regard to controls, the Bamboo Capture has a multi-touch input for using your tablet to navigate through ima

ges and use gesture controls to control how you edit imagery. The next tablet in this series is the Bamboo Create, which features the same controls as the Capture, but gives you a larger 8.5 x 5.4” active working space.

The next step up in Wacom tablets is their Intuos series that features greater sensitivity and more intuitive multi-touch gestures. The Intuous5 series is available in three sizes—small, medium and large—that have active areas measuring 6.2 x 3.9”, 8.8 x 5.5” and 12.8 x 8”, respectively. These tablets have 2,048 pressure levels, a 5080 lpi resolution, and up to four user-defined control functions. Additionally, there is an even larger Intuos4 Extra Large tablet with an active working space of 18.2 x 12” and the same resolution and number of pressure levels.

Memory

Working with Lightroom can be performed on any computer with at least 2GB of RAM and 1GB of hard-disk space; however, if you are working with large batches of images or RAW files, it is certainly beneficial to upgrade your computer’s memory to improve performance. Installing memory on your own is not a difficult process, but it does require care and attention to ensure everything works as expected.

First, you should determine how much RAM your computer already has, then figure how much it can accept, as well as other variables such as if you can only utilize one RAM slot, what the maximum amount of RAM you can use is and whether each slot needs to contain the same amount. Second, you should determine the type of memory your computer will accept. Crucial Technology has developed a Memory Selector tool to help you determine the kind of memory your computer will accept and then provide specific products compatible with your system.

Once you have acquired the specific RAM desired and needed for your computer, installation begins by locating your existing memory modules and removing them if necessary. Notebooks’ memory is located on the underside and towers’ is beneath the side panel. If there is a free slot available, you can likely insert your memory there; however, if both slots are occupied you will need to remove at least one of the modules. The installation of the memory varies by computer type and model, but it is usually a form of simple insertion; sometimes straight into the sockets or sometimes at an angle before locking down. Once installed, you should notice a faster response time from your computer and it should also handle more programs and files in a smoother manner.

Card Readers

A card reader is a simple tool that allows you to extract the files from your memory cards to your computer or directly to an external hard drive. Card readers have a few benefits over just simply connecting your camera to your computer, including speed, reliability and greater convenience. Both the SanDisk ImageMate All-in-One and the Transcend Multi Card Reader feature a USB 3.0 interface that is backwards compatible to USB 2.0 and they support a wide variety of memory card types, including CompactFlash, SD/SDHC/SDXC, microSD/SDHC, miniSD/SDHC and Memory Stick, among others. Aside from faster performance and compatibility with multiple memory types, card readers also save space and do not require the use of a battery the way your digital camera does.

Backup Solutions

With a faster computer and efficient ways in which to navigate your operating system, it is now crucial to instill a system for backing up and organizing your imagery. Lightroom will help with this dramatically by giving a more intuitive interface through which to import files, create folders and rename, copy, or move files. This file system is important for maintaining clear records and a sound archive of your work, which in turn creates more efficiency and transparency for your workflow.

While this system should exist to a point on your computer, it is even more important to back up your files to an external hard drive in the same manner. Storing files on an external drive provides more insurance, as it is a secondary record of your original files to access, barring any accidental deletions or loss of files from your computer. By developing and adhering to an organizational system throughout both your computer and external drives, you can source files from either location and work in such a manner that you will always have records and copies of your files regardless of anything happening to either your computer or external drives (it is even more advisable to create multiple external backups on several drives or even to CD/DVDs for further safekeeping).

Two recent backup solutions from G-Technology are the 2TB and 4TB G-DRIVE external hard drives, which both utilize USB 3.0 or FireWire 800 connectivity for fast transfer speeds. These drives offer 7200 rpm speed, a 64MB cache and an integrated heat sink for silent and cool operation. When used in conjunction with Mac OS X, these drives also support the Time Machine function for more seamless, orderly backing up of files. Western Digital also offers a number of backup solutions, including their portable My Passport line of drives as well as the more robust, RAID-capable, My Book series. RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) drives offer greater insurance in regard to drives failing or losing their data, because they store the same data across multiple disks. Regardless of make or model, it is crucial to back up your files consistently on a regular basis in order to prevent any kind of accidental loss of data or images.

Scanners

For working with analog materials, such as prints or film, a scanner is an indispensible tool for reaping the benefits of a digital workflow while still maintaing the quality of film that is often highly desired. Scanners are also ideal for those who wish to convert old family photos or archives into digital files for future keeping and sharing with others. Generally speaking, scanners are divided into two categories: film and flatbed. Flatbed scanners have a large scanning surface that is helpful for scanning prints, papers, and other opaque objects. Numerous flatbed scanners can also scan film, albeit not with the same quality one can expect from certain film-dedicated scanners.

A film scanner is, just as its name suggests, a scanner made specifically for scanning both negative and positive film. These scanners tend to be more compact, since they do not require a large scanning bed, but they do vary in size depending on the sizes of film accepted. All film scanners are able to scan 35mm film, but few are able to scan medium and large format film. This differs slightly from flatbed scanners—many of which can scan medium format film, and some can scan 4 x 5” or even larger large format films; albeit at a lower resolution than a film scanner can produce.

For the greatest versatility concerning most applications, a flatbed scanner is the preferred choice unless your workflow is specifically related to only scanning film. The Canon CanoScan 5600F and Epson Perfection V300 are both ideal entry-level scanners capable of scanning 35mm film and prints or documents up to 8.5 x 11.7”.  They both have a hardware resolution of 4800 x 9600 dpi and support 48-bit RGB color depth. A step up in quality and functionality are the high-end flatbed Canon CanoScan 9000F and Epson Perfection V700 scanners. Where these scanners differ noticeably from the entry-level models is their larger transparency-scanning area. This gives them the ability scan both 35mm and medium format film, and in the case of the V700, up to 8 x 10” large format film. These scanners also provide a greater Dmax than smaller models, resulting in a better separation of darker tones and overall richer blacks. 

One of the largest flatbed scanning options is the Epson Expression 10000XL, which has a huge 12.2 x 17.2” scanning area. This printer also includes a 12.2 x 16.5” transparency unit, which, when used in place of the reflective lid, gives you the ability to scan large format films up to 11 x 14” at 2400 dpi with a 3.8 Dmax.  This large-scale scanner is a noteworthy solution for archiving and creating records of large art books and other printed material that regularly extends beyond the letter size that is more common to most scanners.

Printers

The final step in many photographers’ workflow is outputting prints; either for hanging, framing, placing in albums or any other applications that exist outside the computer. Printers cover a wide spectrum of options, ranging from something small and convenient for producing snapshots and small prints, to rather large fine art printers for creating museum-quality prints.

One of the most compact printers available is the Canon SELPHY CP900, which produces 4 x 6” prints in as little as 47 seconds and can print directly from SD, miniSD or MMC-sized memory cards. This printer also supports Wi-Fi printing for wireless printing directly from your smart phone, tablet or wireless-enabled camera. No computer connection is required with the SELPHY CP900 and you can even preview your images on the 2.7” flip-up LCD. 

Similar in functionality, but a bit larger in size, are all-in-one printers. The major benefit of these printers lies in their combination of photo printing, flatbed scanning and copying abilities. The Epson Artisan 730 offers up to legal-sized printing capabilities and can produce a 4 x 6” print in as little as 10 seconds. It supports Wi-Fi printing technologies including AirPrint and Google Cloud Print, as well as printing directly from most memory card types. Similarly, the Canon PIXMA MG6220 printer can produce 4 x 6” prints in 20 seconds, automatically print two-sided documents and print directly to CD, DVD and Blu-Ray discs.

For higher quality, larger printing, Canon offers the PIXMA PRO-1, which can handle media up to 13 x 19”.  This printer is known for having one of the widest printable dynamic ranges possible, providing an impressive separation of tones in the darker regions, due to its 12-color LUCIA Pigment Ink System that includes five separate monochrome cartridges. This printer also utilizes a Chroma Optimizer for maintaining a consistent ink droplet height to give prints an evenly brilliant appearance, reduced metamerism and greater visual depth. Even larger still is the Epson Stylus Pro 4900 that can accept media up to 17” wide, including roll papers. The Epson 4900 utilizes an 11-ink system, called UltraChrome HDR Ink, which provides an extremely wide color gamut that has been certified by Pantone to cover 98% of the Formula Guide Solid Coated. This level of accuracy and printing breadth is necessary for producing prints of the highest quality for galleries, museums and collectors.

All of these tools certainly aid the overall experience when using Lightroom and help you to garner the full benefits of the whole program. From keeping an accurate backup and archive of your files to inputting and outputting to various media, Lightroom has quickly become an efficient tool for use in almost all aspects of digital production. The productivity afforded by Lightroom is the greatest benefit, which is closely followed by its close integration to the fully fledged version of Adobe Photoshop for more intensive fine-tuning and retouching of imagery.

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Currently, all my photos are uploaded and managed in iPhoto. All of the books I've read started with creating in Lightroom the same, as best I can tell, photo file management features that exist in iPhoto. Do i need to utilize Lightroom file features in order to achieve good results with its photo processing features?

This article does an inadequate job of discussing Lightroom. It seems its objective is to sell additional products after acquiring the program.

I hate that Lightroom wants to immediately import the images somewhere. What if I want to edit immediately off of my media card? Fortunately, ACDsee allows me to do this. Lightroom has too many cumbersome startup features to be effective when you need to edit fast and on the fly like after a major sporting event.

good article, I noticed the article did not recommend scanners for film/slides.

It would be great to have an article only about scanners.

this article is worthless for what it misleadingly led me here for from the bh email...this has absolutely nothing to with an efficient lightroom workflow, it's all about selling me crap. Had it been titled, "tech and tools to aid in your lightroom workflow" I wouldn't be ticked at wasting my time clicking on the link.