Adobe’s Big Push: Make Lightroom Easier to Learn and Use
Whenever I’m teaching Adobe’s Lightroom to photographers in a workshop or on safari, the most common question I get isn’t about some missing feature. It’s about getting a good understanding of the tools that are available and how best to use them. For 2019, Adobe has put that concern front and center in its May 2019 updates to Lightroom across all platforms. There are differences in specific capabilities and timing, but Lightroom Classic (aka the old Lightroom CC), Lightroom Desktop (aka the new Lightroom CC), and Lightroom Mobile (for iOS, Android and ChromeOS) are all getting plenty of love in the help and education department.
Hands-On Examples and Tutorials in Lightroom Mobile
The mobile versions of Lightroom gain two new types of educational assists. Discover is a new section where you can see images as edited by a select group of Adobe staff and professional content creators. It allows you to step through the effect of each of the edits, from the original capture to the finished result. Discover is divided into categories so you can quickly plunge in by looking for some great animal photos, portraits, or landscapes, for example.
Playing with Discover in a pre-release version of the Lightroom app, I found it both fun and informative. Especially if one of your favorite photographers or creatives is featured, the ability to step through their edits one at a time and see the effect of each is helpful.
Tutorials are deeper, lesson-based editing sessions that guide you through the editing thought process by an experienced Lightroom educator. The tutorial might include having you try several different ways to achieve the desired effect, with commentary on how each one works or doesn’t. The goal here is that instead of just learning a single cookie cutter recipe but not knowing how to adapt it or when to use it, you’ll get a sense of which tools to try for a particular situation.
One big advantage of taking the time to work through a tutorial instead of just stepping through one of the Discover examples is that you get insight into the actual creative process and decisions made by the photographer. That type of knowledge is much more broadly applicable as you capture your own images. So, while Discover may be the quickest way to learn how to deal with a specific situation, the Tutorials will help improve your overall image processing ability.
Completely Overhauled Help System
I was particularly excited when Adobe revealed that it has implemented an entirely new, powerful, context-sensitive help system. Frankly, over the last few years, it seems like Adobe has gone backward in online help, with it increasingly just launching you off to some community-contributed site with semi-random content. This new system is both more powerful than most classic help systems and highly context sensitive. So you’ll get advice about what Adobe thinks is most relevant to you at the time. Speaking of classic, the new Help system isn’t yet available in Lightroom Classic.
Improved Album Sharing and Contribution Capability
You can now invite users to view your albums by email address, providing a more secure form of access control than simply passing a link around. In addition to looking at your images, you can also allow them to contribute photos of their own. This can provide a nice way to collect photos after a trip or special event. Everyone participating will need an Adobe account, although it can be a free one. I don’t know how popular this feature will be with the general public, as most people who aren’t Adobe users don’t have an Adobe account and may not want to create one. But at least you’re in control of your images, which isn’t the case with many social media album sharing alternatives.
Somewhat concerning to me is that sometime recently, Lightroom Classic is no longer able to sync with the folder hierarchy on my NAS. Admittedly, I’ve got the better part of a million images, but until now it has always been able to catalog them successfully. But now it goes haywire, adds folders I didn’t ask it to, and loses track of my image locations. I haven’t been able to figure out what’s causing the issue, but I suggest making a backup of your catalog, if it is a large one, before launching into the most recent updates.
For the first time in years, Adobe has found a slider worth adding to Lightroom’s basic image editing controls. The new Texture slider is designed to enhance areas with midrange detail — ideally the happy middle ground between high-frequency noise and low-frequency background areas. Adobe suggests a variety of uses for it, including on skin and fur. For me, it makes an interesting alternative to one of my favorite Nik filters — Tonal Contrast. I use Tonal Contrast a lot on wildlife photographs, brushing it on areas of an animal I want to pop. Unlike Tonal Contrast, though, the new Texture slider doesn’t also have a warming effect, so you’ll need to accomplish that separately if you want it. Of course, the advantage is that you can use it without also further warming an image, which might be the right approach for skin tones, for example.
Compared with some previous annual updates, this year’s additions to Lightroom don’t include as much in the way of additional image processing power. But, since few actually know how to use what it can already do, it makes a lot of sense for Adobe to have spent more effort on the discovery, education, and help-system aspects of the products. It’s also possible that having to drive three versions of the product forward at the same time (Classic, which should be called Desktop in my opinion; Desktop, which is really Cloud; and Mobile) takes a toll on the pace of adding new features.
Is the Adobe Cloud the Future of Your Photo Storage?
The Cloud-centric and Mobile versions are also clearly becoming the flagship versions of Lightroom. The core of both offerings is a reliance on Adobe’s Cloud storage as your primary photo repository. When I think about that prospect, I break it apart into two issues: First, whether the Cloud is the right place to host your photos, and second, whether Adobe the right Cloud solution. For the first, those of us with massive photo libraries notwithstanding, the world has voted yes in overwhelming numbers. With smartphones automatically uploading images to your favorite cloud, it is quickly becoming harder to store them yourself than in the cloud.
However, that means that almost everyone has photos in some cloud already, and percentage-wise, hardly any are in Adobe’s cloud. So, from a customer perspective, versions of Lightroom that worked well with Google, Amazon, and Apple cloud solutions would be incredibly attractive, but not all that profitable for Adobe. So Adobe is hoping it can get you to pony up $10 per month per terabyte and sync your photos to its cloud. They’ve been market testing the concept by trial ballooning various new subscription bundles and prices, so I suspect it is only a matter of time until the lowest price Adobe offerings are all Adobe Cloud-centric.
We’ll see how that works out for them. I’m sure it will be a financial success overall and provide a slick multi-platform ecosystem for those who buy in. However, I suspect it will also cause a resurgence of interest in some of Adobe’s more traditionally oriented image processing competitors like Capture One, Cyberlink’s Photo Director, and Skylum’s Luminar. Don’t count Adobe’s own Elements Suite out either.
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- Hands On With Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Elements 2018
- PCMag’s full Adobe Lightroom Classic CC Review
- PCMag’s Best Photo Editing Software of 2019