Lightroom 5: A fast plan for fat photos

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Giddy. That’s how I felt two hours after my laptop spent the better part of three days with its fans howling as it busily created “smart previews” for more than 70,000 of my raw images. I actually feared my Macbook might catch fire.
But boy, did it turn out to be worth it.
Smart previews are one of the headline features of the new Adobe Lightroom 5, allowing you to edit your entire photo catalog without being tethered to the hefty external hard drives holding all your master images. It sounded too good to be true going into it, but sure enough, as advertised, I was able to sort, keyword, post-process and even pixel-peep my images using these 2,500-pixel previews. It also transformed 1.5 terabytes of my master photos into a 90-gig archive file that I could keep on my laptop’s internal hard drive. No cables required to edit my catalog.
Yet that wasn’t the half of it.
My goofy grin widened after I started to edit. I soon realized it was doubling or even tripling the speed of my workflow. As nice as the mammoth megapixel raw images from newer DSLRs are to have, they not only fill up hard drives but also flatten the racing tires of even the latest, greatest personal computers.
Ever since I upgraded to Canon’s 7D three years ago, comparing dozens of similar raw images to find the sharpest quickly gets excruciating when each takes 10 seconds to load, viewed at 100 percent. And they are only 18 megapixels. I can only imagine what it’s like to deal with 36 megapixels from the latest cameras.
Lightoom 5’s smart previews, though, load almost instantly on my Macbook Pro, allowing me to choose the sharpest images at a gallop, while marking all my many lemons for deletion. It sounds minor, but for me it’s been huge. I cleared off more than 50 GB of lousy images in less than an hour’s time editing. That normally would have taken me multiple hours.
Version 5 also sports a new advanced healing brush that allows you to remove dust spots and other distractions in far less time than it took in previous versions. It can also identify the horizon of your image and straighten things out in a single click if you tend to see the world at a tilt, as I often do. Highlight and shadow recovery tools have also improved.
Lightroom long ago revolutionized my photo workflow, becoming my one-stop shop for organizing, keywording, enhancing, watermarking and exporting all of my images. It replaced Photoshop, Bridge and iPhoto in one fell swoop. In fact I no longer need Photoshop for anything except merging panoramas. Lightroom is completely nondestructive, meaning I can make as many edits as I want to any photo without ever actually touching the master image. And forever more I’ll be able undo every step of every edit I ever did, ever. I can create multiple versions of the same image (“virtual copies”) without using any extra hard drive space (think black and white and color versions, etc.). Then it applies all my processing upon export. It has advanced keywording and watermarking features, the ability to cut and paste complex edits to multiple images all at once, and the best noise-reduction tools to be found anywhere. It can organize and do simple edits to your video files right alongside your photos, then upload them to YouTube, Facebook and Vimeo. And you can find Lightroom on sale for $100 at times.
So yes, I’m totally sold on it. If you’re a photographer, take a closer look and go download the trial version — your “smart preview” for all it might be able to do for you, too. ♦
— For the past 11 years, Paul Queneau has worked as an editor for Bugle magazine at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in Missoula. He is also a freelance writer and photographer with credits in Outdoor Life, Montana Quarterly and other publications.

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