Sunday, November 30, 2008

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2: Initial configuration

Ok, it's official: I'm hooked onto Lightroom 2. The sheer power of this program, its slick interface, and brilliant attention to user interface makes this the best imaging application I've ever used for my photographs. If you haven't read my initial experience with Lightroom 2, you'll find it here.

The groundwork 
Lightroom 2 offers several methods to help you streamline your photo processing workflow. The following steps will help you set up your Lightroom 2 environment with pre-defined settings that will lift the quality of your photographs during the import process, even before you begin tweaking them! This will let you reach your final result faster. You only need to perform the following actions once--they will subsequently invoke automatically each time you import your photos:

1. Define a camera profile: When I first started using Lightroom, I noticed something strange while importing photos--when each photo first flashed on the screen during the import process, it appeared to have nice, vibrant colors. But after getting imported into Lightroom, they appeared rather dull and faded. I needed to do a fair amount of tweaking with the saturation, highlight and black level settings before I was satisfied with the result. I later discovered that I wasn't using my camera's profile. Lightroom lets you define a profile that is specific to your camera model. Using this profile delivers a significant improvement in color rending, resulting in more vibrant and balanced images, so you'll need to do lesser work to bring your photos to the final satisfactory level.

First, head over here to download the camera profiles installation file from the 'Downloads and Installation' section (free registration required), then install this file. You will now be able to see the camera profile in the Camera Calibration section from the Develop module of Lightroom 2. Click the Profile drop-down at the start of this section, and select Camera Standard beta 2 (I found this delivers the most natural colors). capture_29112008_170943

2. Assign default settings to your specific camera and ISO:
In Lightroom 2, click Edit, Preferences..., and select the Presets tab. Ensure the 'Make defaults specific to camera serial number', and 'Make defaults specific to camera ISO setting' are selected. The significance of these settings will become apparent in the following step.

Lightroom settings_Make default

3. Define sharpening presets: Lightroom 2 features powerful sharpening and noise reduction tools to help you bring out image detail and clean up photos shot at higher ISO settings. The cool thing about Lightroom 2 is that you can create setting presets and bind them to specific ISO settings for your particular camera. This means you could define noise reduction presets for each ISO setting (where you would generally apply more noise reduction for photos shot at higher ISOs), and you can automatically invoke these presets while importing new images: the appropriate sharpening levels are automatically applied to photos according to their ISO. Cool, huh? This capability saves you the time you'd otherwise require for applying noise and sharpening tweaks to your newly imported photos. Here's how you create these presets:

Start by opening a photo shot at ISO 400, for example. Apply the sharpening and noise reduction settings until you are satisfied with the reduction in noise in your photo. The adjacent screenshot shows the settings I use to reduce noise at ISO 400 for my D40. View the photo at 1:1 zoom to be able to see the effects of the noise reduction. capture_29112008_171620
To to save this sharpening preset, click the 'plus' symbol from the Presets section on the left panel. In the box that pops up, make sure to check only the relevant sections that you have modified. Note that besides the Sharpening and Noise Reduction settings, I've also selected the Calibration option so that the camera profile will also be saved in this Preset.
Finally, to set this preset as a default camera setting, press the [ALT] key, and click the Set Default... button at the bottom of the Develop panel. A box pops up verifying your camera model number, serial number and ISO setting. Click the Update to Current Settings button.
Now repeat this step for photos shot at different ISOs, each time saving your Sharpening, Noise Reduction and Calibration settings to a new Preset for each ISO setting, and updating the default settings.
Create preset

That's it for the initial Lightroom 2 configuration. From now on, each photo you import will be automatically processed with the selected parameters according to your specific camera, and the photo's ISO setting. When working with tens and hundreds of photos, you will save significant amounts of time with these settings. Note that these are only presets: you are free to modify these settings while working on individual photos later on.

In my next post, I'll be talking about the basic settings and workflow I use while processing individual photos. Stay tuned!

Update: Click here for the Lightroom 2 development workflow I use while processing RAW images.


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