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Software Review – Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 From Adobe Systems

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 is the latest version of Adobe’s complete, end-to-end, photo management and editing solution for both amateur and professional photographers. With version 4, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom adds a number of new features while at the same time, continues to make itself the premier software product directed at photographers who want to bring the best out in their photographs.

Lightroom is a software based digital darkroom that is used for developing your photographs, managing your photographic library, and creating great presentations whether for printing or for the web. For a complete list of requirements to run Lightroom, check out the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom system requirements page

For those who are not familiar with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, I find that there is still some confusion between what the difference is between Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. The fundamental difference is that Photoshop is an image editing program that has big guns to do just about anything to an image. Many times, at least for most traditional photographers, it has too many things. While Photoshop comes with Adobe Bridge and Adobe Camera Raw, they are more challenging to use and really do not provide the same kind of management that you get with Lightroom.

With Lightroom you have everything that is needed to perform photographic processing (it contains the same camera raw engine that comes with Photoshop) but it has the ability for the management of your images that is far easier and, at least to me, more superior than is available with the Adobe Bridge.

Does that mean that you no longer need Photoshop? For some that answer would be yes. In fact, Lightroom is the better choice especially for those who do not do a lot of advanced processing. For others, Lightroom is a better way to get to that point where they send their file to Photoshop for more enhancements. It really comes down to what you do with your images beyond primary processing.

The first thing that you will notice when you fire up Lightroom 4 is that there are two new modules that have been added. The first is a ‘Map’ module that gives you the ability to organize your photos based on the location of at which they were taken. The second is the ‘Book’ module that provides you with the tools to build photo books and export them to PDF files or send them directly to the photo book printing service blurb.

So what is new with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4?

• Highlight and shadow recovery – represent a significant change in processing in this version of Lightroom. The Recovery and Fill Light sliders are gone and are being replaced by the Highlights and Shadow recovery sliders. The fundamental reason is that Recovery could result in muddy highlights and Fill Light could cause visible halos at high-contrast boundaries and neither of these could be used for local adjustments. The Highlight and Shadow tools are optimized for very high contrast images, produce much smoother highlight and shadow gradations, are available as local adjustments, and minimize halo artifacts. As with prior versions of Lightroom, if you convert existing catalogs that were imported with an earlier version of Lightroom, the Recovery and Fill Light sliders are still there until you update the processing to convert to Process Version 2012.

• Additional adjustment brush options – now give you the ability to adjust noise reduction and moiré which will give you more control over local areas of your image. This is most useful when you want to, say, reduce noise in specific areas of your image without softening the entire shot.

• White balance brush – now gives you the ability to adjust your white balance to specific parts of an image. Before Lightroom 4 you could only adjust the white balance to the image as a whole. Now by simply painting the area that you want to adjust, you can balance the lighting in a specific area to the rest of the image.

• Photo book creation – has become more popular and Lightroom 4 now has the ability to create photo books. These can be books for a client, to preserve memories, or just about any other reason that you want to see images in print. It is contained on a separate panel, and like the print module, it has a lot of presets that you can start with. Once you have completed your book, it can be printed to PDF or uploaded to Blurb Books for printing to hard copy.

• Location-based photo organization – gives you the ability to GPS track where your photographs were taken from. With many smartphones and GPS-enabled cameras that record the location data automatically, you can track your photos. If your camera does not have that capability, you can add by hand just by typing the information in the search box and applying the information.

• Extended video support – now lets you import and make simple edits without having to learn a separate video editing software program. You can catalog your video clips alongside your photos, organize, view, make adjustments and edits, play and trim clips, and extract still images from video footage. Video clips are handled like still images, so it’s easy to make adjustments so your clips match the look and feel of associated photos or reflect your own personal style.

• Soft proofing – lets you easily preview how an image will look on color-profiled printers— right down to the printer, paper, and ink combination—or in color-managed web browsers.

• Enhanced online sharing integration – now adds the ability of seeing the comments made on social networking sites appear back in your Lightroom library. You also have the ability to share your video much in the same way you have had the ability to share your photos in the past to social sites like Facebook and Flickr.

Outside of the added modules there isn’t a lot of changes to the interface overall within Lightroom 4. You can, by right clicking on the module bar, turn off modules that you don’t want to see, which is very useful if there is a module that you never use like say the slideshow. This could become more important in the future if more modules are added.

The mapping feature is really nice especially for landscape photographers and others who take a lot of pictures in a wide variety of locations. Now granted you have to have a camera that is capable of recording the information otherwise you will have to manually apply the information. I also like the Book Mode and its ability to layout, create, and send it off for publishing to Blurb. This makes it so very easy for photographers to create alternative output for clients as well as for the creation of personal projects and portfolios.

The enhanced video capabilities are also a nice addition especially since many of the newer cameras have video recording abilities. I would like to have seen more basic editing features – such as you can trim off the beginning and ending of a clip, but you cannot split in the middle. But along with trimming from beginning and end – as with all editing in Lightroom, are non-destructive edits, you can set the poster frame – the one you see in the video thumbnail, you can select a still image from the video, as well as some limited image adjustments from within the Library mode.

When you add all of this to the other additions like soft proofing, the local adjustments and shadow and highlight adjustments, there is something for everyone. Because of this I think that Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 is a must have upgrade for anyone who owns a prior version, and for those photographers who don’t have Lightroom, now is really the time to get on the bandwagon because they have also reduced the price to $149 for new purchases and $79 for upgrades. I very highly recommend Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4.

About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.

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