Adobe Lightroom for the Hobbyist

Adobe Lightroom has a lot to offer to the photography amateur. Here, some reasons why Lightroom might be right for you.

If you are an amateur photographer, you take a lot of photos. You might shoot in RAW rather than JPEG, and you are willing to go through the extra work that RAW requires because now and again, or maybe more often than not, RAW gives you the latitude to adjust your photos and bring them from “so-so” to “wow.”

Whether you shoot in RAW or JPEG or both, the software you use to manage, organize and adjust your photos is very important. Well-designed, capable software can make or break your desire to sit down and go through your latest round of photos, deciding which to keep, which to delete and which to crop and “fix” to your liking.

Whether you have no money to spend on photo software or you have a substantial budget, there are many options to choose from. I won’t attempt to outline the many options here, but I do want to bring to your attention a piece of software called Adobe Lightroom.

At almost $300, the price of Lightroom can be prohibitive, but if you are able to get the student/teacher discount, the cost drops to about $80. At this price, and even at full price, Lightroom might be just what you need to take your photography to the next level. Here’s why.

Dealing with Incoming Photos

Lightroom is designed to help you effectively deal with large numbers of incoming photos. Once you have imported a group of photos, Lightroom has tools that enable you to easily keep the good ones and let go of the not-so-good ones. The simplest way to do this is to scroll through your photos and tap “P” to mark a photo as a “Pick” and “X” to mark a photo as rejected. Next, you do a simple filter to show all of your rejected photos, then “select all” and delete.

There are also ways to mark photos with stars (1 through 5 stars) and color codes.

For a casual photographer who takes 20 photos per month, this might not be so important, but if you take 50 or 100 or more photos per day, as many hobbyists do, the ability to quickly and easily sort the wheat from the chaff becomes increasingly important to your productivity and sanity.

Organizing the Photos You Have

Lightroom allows you to tag photos, either as they are “coming in” or one by one, and also to put photos in what are called collections. So you might tag photos with certain people in them (“Grandpa,” “Billy”) or put photos in collections such as “Billy – Best Shots.” Note that collections do not remove photos from the actual folders where they live, but they give you an easy way to view certain groups of photos that you have created.

Fixing Your Photos

Lightroom is designed for professionals, so the options available to fix your photos are top-notch. Removing “image noise,” the speckled look that photos get when you use a high ISO, is as easy as adjusting a slider. There are the usual tools for cropping and adjusting things like saturation and white balance, and also more advanced tools that remove blemishes or lens spots.

Keep in mind that if you want to do things like take a face from one photo and put it into another photo, you’ll need Adobe Photoshop or a similar program, but for many tasks, Lightroom is very capable.

There are too many options and tools to mention here, but suffice it to say that if Lightroom doesn’t have it, you — as a hobbyist photographer – probably don’t need it.

Presets, Presets, Presets

A Lightroom preset refers to a specific effect that you apply to a photo (or multiple photos at once) simply by clicking a button. Lightroom comes with 20+ presets, including several black-and-white effects, “aged photo” effects, and split tone effects.

You can also create your own presets, which is very handy for times when you have a group of photos that were all shot under the same conditions. Once you adjust white balance, noise correction, exposure correction and so on for one photo, you can apply those settings to multiple photos at once.

In addition, there are many sources of free Lightroom presets to help you achieve almost any look you can think of.

After I started using Lightroom and Lightroom presets, both those that come with Lightroom and some that I found for free on the Web, the number of compliments I got on my photos increased dramatically. It is possible that my improving photography skills had something to do with this, but I am also confident that presets had something to do with this.

Quite simply, careful use of presets can easily give your photos a professional look. For this reason alone, I think that Lightroom should be considered by any amateur photographer who wants to take his or her work to the next level.

Ease of Dealing with RAW Images

Many hobbyist photographers choose to shoot in RAW format rather than JPEG, but the downside can be the additional time and hassle required to deal with the RAW images. I personally used a combination of Picasa and UFRaw for GIMP for quite some time before I decided there must be a better way. It turns out that Lightroom is, in fact, a “better way,” because you do all of your edits directly on the RAW file before, one way or another, exporting as JPEG.

I won’t go into all of the details here, but also note that Lightroom uses what’s known as “nondestructive editing” for either RAW files or JPEG files. This means that you don’t have to constantly remind yourself to “Save As, Save As, Save As,” in order to preserve your original image.

Final Thoughts

If you don’t currently have $300 (or $80, in the case of the student/teacher edition) to spend on Adobe Lightroom, you might choose to save up for it. Or, you might look into one of the many other photo software options that are available.

Either way, it helps to be aware of how the tools you use affect your commitment to your photography hobby. If one particular tool seems to be cramping your style, do some research and talk with other shutterbugs to find out what else is out there.

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