Even the best photographers need a little help to make their photos shine in the digital world. We are coming closer and closer to the day where photo-editing software actually can auto-correct almost any image. Adobe’s Photoshop Lightroom 5 gives users the power to enhance their creations at a reasonable price.
Lightroom’s workflow is divided into seven key areas: library, develop, map, book, slideshow, print and web. On startup Lightroom prompts you to import all the photos from your computer into its Catalog, and it is fully compatible with iTunes so all your images and tags should import with minimal issues.
Photos can be organized into collections. You can create these collections manually by physically dragging and dropping photos, or you can create smart collections based on different criteria including ratings, date photos were taken, location, size, etc. Lightroom supports most standard photo and video file types. I haven’t found a format yet that it doesn’t like, other than WMV (but no one other than Microsoft likes Windows Movie Format).
Smart Previews is new to the library. It gives users the ability to generate smaller “stand-in” files so that you can add metadata including geotagging without having it impact your originals. In Lightroom you rarely work with the original files, and this feature allows you to play with your photos in a non-destructive environment.
The drawback to this approach is it leads to duplicate images and large databases that can slow things to a crawl. Of course you can always overwrite your originals, but you probably don’t want to do that. iPhoto works essentially the same way and my library grew to 300GB. My imported photo database runs a little snappier in Lightroom.
Lightroom includes several new tools to help photographers, including a new Healing Brush that corrects blemishes, an Upright tool that straightens images, improved noise reduction, and enhanced reproduction of picture shadows. The Radial Gradient tool lets you create different types of vignette effects.
Slideshow and book creation have become standard features in most photo editing applications, so it is no surprise to see them finally come to Lightroom with a lot of power and control. To speed up productivity you can set filters and tags to automatically apply to selected photos. Various automatic filters, including the black and white tool, have been improved. This helps normalize your slideshows and make them look a little more consistent. You can also add an audio track and video clips for some pretty nifty results.
The mapping function is pretty neat. You can geotag all your photos and then view them on an interactive map. The web module can be used to export your slideshows in a format (HTML and Flash) that can be used on the web.
There are a lot of under-the-hood improvements that certainly make the application feel more stable and seem a lot faster, but I would have liked more attention to be paid to improving the UI. It is still pretty obtuse for new users. Once you spend time with Lightroom’s intimidating interface, you start to really see the deep level of power and control that it actually provides.
At some point all software reaches a point where it feels like it’s reached a limit to what you can do. This feels like a maintenance release and may not be worth an update if you have last year’s installment. For new users it is still one of the best photo editing tools around.