By Paul Queneau
Once you unlace your hiking boots and sit down at your computer, the delight of the digital age starts to sour. A Nickle-size media card can crush you under a thousand images or more at a single go, with every image needing to be sifted and tenderized before it can be monetized.
Luckily this is a universal problem among active photographers, and so has ignited a race among software developers to create the ultimate tool for taming our messes of megapixels into tidy, well-tuned catalogs.
There are a number of good options out there, but the current frontrunner is Adobe Lightroom. I began using it three years ago and haven’t looked back since. Here are some reasons I feel it is an oasis of hope for overwhelmed outdoor photographers everywhere:
Fire up Lightroom, pop in your media card, and it immediately launches an import window with thumbnails of all the images on your card, along with autokeywording tools, auto-develop settings and auto-back- up options. It cross-references new images against your existing catalog and automatically dims and unchecks for import any duplicates it finds—very handy if you ever forget to clear off your card before shoot- ing new photos. I’ve become a huge fan of the “Copy as DNG” option. I only shoot raw files anymore, which coming from my Canon 7D push 25 MB each. By allowing Lightroom to convert them to DNG files — Adobe’s Digital Negative standard— I sacrifice no image quality but trim upwards of 5 MBs off each a file. That adds up fast when you’re taking hundreds or even thousands of images. Plus, DNGs are more likely to remain a viable format for generations to come.
ORGANIZATION FOR THE INDECISIVE
I’ve gone through more photo-organizing schemes in the past five years than I’ve had hairstyles in my lifetime — and I’ve got less hair now to show for it. Lightroom gives perhaps too many options to organize your images, but I’ve settled on having it import my images into a date-based folder structure (year-month-day). I then take the time to ap- ply keywords to every image I keep — and usually apply the same keyword to multiple images at once.
These keywords then act as pseudo subject folders. Place your cursor over any key- word in your master list and an arrow shows up next to it. Click the arrow and Lightroom instantly displays every image with that keyword. This is so handy that I’ve abandoned organizing my images any other way (collections, subject-based folders, etc.). Lightroom also lets you create nested key- words. So for instance, if I apply “bull elk” to an image, once I export it Lightroom will attached all the keywords that it’s nested within, i.e. “elk,” “big game” and “wildlife” as well as synonyms I’ve created (such as Latin names for species). Awfully handy.
Lightroom’s Editing tab is a force to be reckoned with. Now that it includes lens correction tools to fix distortion as well as chromatic aberration and vignetting, I liter- ally haven’t opened Photoshop ever since. My favorite tools, though, have to be the Graduated Filter and Adjustment Brush, which let you apply exposure to portions of your images that are under or over ex- posed, as well as adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, clarity, sharpness and even white balance. You can bring up shadows, put the blue back into the sky and generally match your images to how your own eye experienced them in person. Or you can also go hog wild into the realm of exaggerated high-dynamic imagery, if that suits your fancy. Lightroom employs powerful noise- reduction that will blow you away with how much detail it can retain as you tweak images.
Lightroom also exceeds with its export settings. You can apply unique file names as you export; choose a variety of formats, file size and dimension limits; sharpen for print or Web; and apply easy-to-create custom watermarks — all within a single window. Similarly, Publish Services allows you to drag any image or sets of images from your library to icons for Facebook, Flickr, Smug- mug and other online sharing sites to upload images directly out of Lightroom using your own settings.
THE OTHER STUFF
Slides, Prints and Web: Three tabs I practically never use are Slideshow, Print and Web, though all three are very powerful. Slideshow let’s you make elegant photo presentations with borders, watermarks, text overlays, soundtracks, etc., all of which can be exported to PDF or Video. The Print tab is everything you’d expect with gorgeous previews and print settings close at hand.Think photographing a grizzly bear sounds scary? How about organizing and processing 10,000 photos of a grizzly bears? Now there’s a true terror. Finally the Web tab let’s you create and upload stylish flash-based and HTML galleries via FTP or other means.
Even with Lightroom, editing hundreds of photos at a go is still a bear. But what you get from your labor is highly organized, searchable and beautifully developed images, making it truly the one-stop shop for professional photographers. The full version sells for $149, upgrades for $79 — considerably cheaper than Photoshop. Apple’s Aperture is a close competitor with similar features, and right now is available through Apple’s App Store for $79.99 for the full version, a comparative steal. ◊
Paul Queneau grew up in Colorado hunting, fishing and backpacking. He started with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Bugle magazine as an intern and is currently the conservation editor. Contact him at pqueneau@RMEF.org.
By Paul Queneau