Out of the dark and into LightRoom

From club member Anne Ramus:

I was a person unfamiliar with the digital world when I took up “art photography” upon retirement about two years ago. A huge part of that journey has been coming to grips with post-processing using LightRoom software.

And what a buzz it is! I’m hoping my experience inspires others to plunge into this editing software and to keep swimming – even though at times, like me, you might feel you’re drowning and are tempted to give it all away. Persist – be stubborn about it. It hasn’t been quick or easy for me, but the benefits of finally nailing a reasonable level of digital photography and post-processing have been huge.

Accustomed to making things up as I go along, including leaving the reading of instruction manuals till last, I found LightRoom a challenge. I was impatient, with a bull-at-a-gate style. I’ve learnt that staying cool and methodical and being organised are much better options.

Firstly, you have to get your head around the way LightRoom stores your images: it catalogs the changes you make, not the whole image. In that way, it takes up much less precious space on your hard drive. Every time you bring up your amended photo on the monitor, LightRoom takes the original photo stored on your computer, adds the changes you’ve made, and shows your latest version of it whenever you access it.

It’s therefore critical where and how you file your original photos. And don’t meddle with them after importing them into LightRoom, creating chaos like I did initially. Once you’ve imported them, moving photos on your HD breaks the link that LightRoom originally established and needs to operate. It won’t find your photos, and you’ll be tearing your hair out trying to locate them and re-establish connections. Establishing an organised filing system to work out of, then getting into the rhythm of a methodical LightRoom workflow, are first critical steps. And tag your photos with keywords. I didn’t for a while: I thought it was a waste of time. Instead, I wasted countless hours wading through mountains of images looking for photos …

Secondly, with your filing system nicely established and operating well, you’re free to explore LightRoom’s exquisite capabilities for making your shots look even better and more competition-worthy. It’s a creative process, but it’s also very technical. As a (right-brain dominant) oil painter accustomed to free-wheeling with paint on a blank canvas, I found it a challenge to have to “stop, think, read, follow, do” according to a manual and a merciless left-brain computer.

A side-benefit to me of this learning was an understanding of how computers behave, their language and their protocols. LightRoom learnings translated across the board into other digital areas, like my iPhone and iPad. I’m learning faster and better by being much more confident and effective in searching out all sorts of information on the internet. I am now clearly more knowledgeable than my 4-year-old grandson!

There’s a goldmine of photo gurus and teachers out there that you can tap into – for free. Explore to find the ones that suit you best. You’ll refine your list down to the ones that align with your learning style and level of expertise. I have 5-6 favourites and by subscribing to their websites, I receive alerts of tutorial topics available.

Talking of experts, if you still (like me) feel comfortable seeing words, diagrams and pictures on paper, Scott Kelby’s LightRoom Manual is a “must have”. He is the very consumer-friendly god of LightRoom and also offers excellent free internet tutorials on an endless array of photography topics and techniques.

Whether you have a point-and-shoot camera or a big black DSLR, if you’re struggling to get your photos to look like you want them to, consider LightRoom. I’ve been told it’s more user-friendly than Photoshop, yet if you want to progress to Photoshop, it’s an easy bridge to cross. Along with a range of other photography software, there are also elements of Photoshop that you can use via LightRoom.

At this point in my photography career, I’m content with LightRoom, aware that I still have lots to learn about this software as well as my camera and lenses. When (or if) I’m ever feeling creatively or technically constrained by either LightRoom or my equipment, I’ll move onwards and upwards. But at the moment, the joy of continually discovering more of what LightRoom can do for me seems boundless!

Anne Ramus
February 2014