Top 10 Ways to Improve Adobe Lightroom 2.6 and Beta 3.0

Top 10 Ways to Improve Adobe Lightroom 2.6 and Beta 3.0

I’ve been using Lightroom very heavily on a daily basis over the past year or so. While I absolutely love the software, I think that there is room for improvement and thought I’d jot down some of my ideas on the best ways to improve the software.

I took a brief look at the new Lightroom 3.0 beta and my initial impression was lukewarm. Many of the features like watermarking, printing features, and online publishing from Lightroom, I didn’t really care about. Some of the architectural changes that have been mentioned didn’t feel all that powerful to me based on my initial testing. I found that in many regards, LR Beta 3.0 performed much slower and worse for me than LR 2.6, so I’ve largely abandoned using the beta at this point.

The final LR 3.0 product, of course, will likely be much more robust (hopefully) than the beta and ought to be a stronger product. And many, especially performance based, improvements that I mention in this post may actually be included in the final product. That said, here are the 10 most significant ways I think Adobe could improve the Lightroom product.

At present I am doing all of my Lightroom processing on a MacBook Pro running Snow Leopard with a 3.06 GHz intel Core 2 Duo processor and 4GB of RAM.

1. Performance drag when keywording (possible memory leaks?).
One of the things that I’ve found with LR 2.6 is that keywording seems to be especially taxing on the system. If you keyword a photo, maybe 60% of the time after keywording it you get the little beach ball and have to wait several seconds before LR will free up and let you keyword the next photo. Keywording is already a horribly mundane chore, but having to do it with beach ball delays in Lightroom is especially frustrating. If I restart LR I’ll be able to keyword seamlessly again, but typically within 5 minutes the delays between keywording photos begin again. This is my number one biggest gripe with Lightroom today.

2. Improving keyword autocomplete. When you keyword photos it is nice that LR uses your keyword list to auto complete possible keywords. As you start typing it searches previously used keywords and offers them up to you. You can highlight the word you are intereseted in and press enter, saving you time and typing. For some reason LR treats both the apostrophe and the enter key as one in the same. So, for instance, when you are keywording Joe’s Pizza, It might actually autocomplete the keyword as Joe’s hamburgers as soon as you hit the apostrophe in Joe’s. Apostrophes are commonly used in keywording and it is counter intuitive to have the apostrophe trigger an auto-complete entry. Auto-complete should be restricted to the enter key.

3. Importing large numbers of photos from your memory card into LR can be horrendous. I’ve stopped using LR to import photos directly altogether. Sometimes the import will take place reasonably quickly, but many times it can take literally an hour to import what should take 5-10 minutes. I’m not sure why it takes so much more time to import photos into LR directly from a card, but it is *much* faster if I actually copy my images from my cards from the Mac finder and then synch the folder up manually with Lightroom later. When you are offloading images from a card you want this done very quickly. Adobe should optimize this import process focusing only on first copying the files and then adding them to the catalog or whatever else is slowing imports down after the copying is done, freeing up your memory card faster.

4. Lightroom’s adjustment brush needs work. One of my favorite features with Lightroom 2.6 is the adjustment brush, you can use this brush to burn and dodge and affect key areas of a photo including exposure, contrast, brightness, clarity etc. by selectively painting an area of the photograph and then adjusting the sliders. Unfortunately though, I have found the adjustment brush to be much weaker than the general development tools in Lightroom. If I use the exposure slider for the entire photo (for instance) I have a wide latitude of exposure range with my RAW image. If I have a photo that is too dark in areas and too light in other areas I can use the total photo exposure tool to get either part (the too dark part or too light part) properly exposed. But when I try to use the exposure slider on the adjustment brush to treat the area not exposed to my satisfaction I find I frequently get pixelization if crank it up or down too hard. It would be good if Adobe could use the same technology that they are using to adjust, say, exposure at the entire photo level, with the adjustment brush to get better results when using it.

5. Lightroom needs more ways to stimulate the imperfection of film.
One of my favorite recent ways to shoot has been using Hipstamatic with my iPhone. Hipstamatic does a tremendous job of creating a lofi film like aesthetic with digital photos from my iPhone. The only problem is that they are digital photos from my iPhone. I’d love to be able to have similar options that incorporate to a much greater degree the vintage effects of film from within lightroom. Scratches on photos, old polaroid borders, smudges, and other imperfections can create an entirely different photograph. While I’m sure some of these sorts of effects can be implemented in Photoshop, Photoshop is much more difficult to master. Adobe should follow the trend of Hipstamatic and make very easy to apply vintage film effects for Lightroom. While the LR 3 beta does include a way to sort of get a bit more grain to effect a vintage look in photos, this is a far cry from the effects that a little $1.99 app like Hipstamatic can provide.

6. Improved vignetting control. While Adobe has improved the post crop vignetting available in the 3.0 beta, it is still seriously lacking. In post cropped photos the vignetting is applied perfectly on photographs. With 100% precision and accuracy. The problem is that when people want to add vignetting, they are frequently doing so to give the photograph a more natural film like feel. In camera vignetting is never 100% precise, it is subtly different in every area, in some ways random. LR’s vignetting control pre crop is much more natural feeling than post crop. While the 3.0 beta gives a touch more flexibility in how you can vignette it still does not provide for the sort of natural random vignetting that occurs naturally in camera.

7. Better preset directories. I love my presets. I use them constantly. I’ve got some really good ones. But damn they are hard to find. And there are so many bad ones out there floating around. Presets are a great place to start with your photo editing process, I’ve just had a hard time finding a very strong database or collection of the best ones.

8. When selecting multiple images in the film strip Loupe view, Lightroom should apply keywords to all images. Right now the only way to keyword multiple images in Lightroom is to use the Grid view. But if you want to keyword as you select images looking at them full size (grid view can only get you to half size) then you have to keyword them one at a time. Lightroom should allow me to select multiple images from the film strip in the Loupe view and apply keywords to all images selected.

9. A good in Lightroom geotagging feature that uses Google Maps.
At present I am using Geotagger for the Mac and Google earth to geotag my images. It would be nice if Adobe could as seamlessly interact with Google Earth. Some external app might be out there right now that I’m not aware of for this yet with Google Earth, but nothing that I’ve seen.

10. Color analysis. One of the things that I’ve done on Flickr is to create sets of images based on primary colors in the images. It would be nice if I could filter my images in LR by color. I’d like to be able to filter all of my finished images by dominant color, blue, red, pink, etc. This would better allow me to select these images and keyword them selectively.

So those are my top 10 requests for Lightroom. My views of course are only mine and while my desire for things like more natural post crop vignetting etc. may be important to me and maybe a small minority vs. features like watermarking, web publishing and printing, I certainly recognize that Lightroom is built for a much larger audience that may be much more interested in some of the new features in the LR 3.0 beta than I am.

What are the features that you would like to see in LR 3.0? What would be the killer features for you. Are there ways to get some of what I want out of the existing product that I’m just not aware of? Are they ways to better optimize for performance with keywording, for instance. Do you have any good Lightroom tips that you’ve uncovered worth sharing?

Spending an Afternoon With Adobe’s Lightroom Team

Reinventing Popular Photography

On Monday May 18, I spent the afternoon and early evening down meeting with the Lightroom team at Adobe’s headquarters in San Jose California. At present there are about 30 individuals directly related to the production of Lightroom, the software that I use to process my images (you can see many of their names on the splash screen for the product when Lightroom loads). There are many additional people beyond the 30 that contribute to the product in some way, shape or form and you can click on full credits to see an even larger list of names. Most of the team lives and works in Minnesota with about 30% at the offices at Adobe’s headquarters in San Jose. The following article is based on my visit.

Tom Hogarty is the Senior Product Manager for Adobe’s popular Lightroom imaging software. A proud new father and photography enthusiast, Hogarty started working for Adobe back in July of 2005. Prior to joining Adobe he worked as a consultant in New York City helping professional photographers make the big leap from film photography to a digital workflow. Like most of the people I met at Adobe Tom was as passionate about photography as he was about working for Adobe.

“Is that the 50mm f/1.2,” Hogarty asked me as I arrived and we sat down, immediately wanting to look through my camera bag. “How do you like it,” he asked. Later on another Adobe employee told me that he had been using Adobe’s staff Canon 50mm f/1.2 — that was until Tom’s wife had her baby and now Tom had it. Of course baby pictures of your first born child might trump other photography, so that’s certainly understandable.

As we made the rounds visiting with various members of the Lightroom team I was struck by how much beautiful and amazing photography was on the walls everywhere we went. It seemed like everyone on the team was a photographer. The photography on the walls that we walked by was done by various team members Hogarty told me. Explaining that the team had recently had a contest where employees could submit photos and the results were what we saw on the walls around us. Individual offices were full of amazing artwork as well.

The first thing I noticed when visiting with Adobe Sr. Director of Engineering Winston Hendrickson was (i am not a) photographer Merkley’s book 111 on the shelf behind him. Hendrickson also had fantastic nature photography of his own on his walls along with large photos of his daughter playing softball.

Interestingly enough, when I told my pal Merkley, a former painter, after my visit that I noticed his art book down there at the Adobe offices, he could not have gushed more about the team. Merkley’s own art is much more than photography, it is largely based in digital imaging as much as anything.

“I can’t even imagine going back to painting now, said Merkley. “I could never organize my brushes the way Adobe has. Everything is always in the right spot where i can find it. If they can figure out a way to implement keystroke shortcuts for every day life I might revisit painting. I always extol the magic of Photoshop. the people who created it have no bigger fans on the planet than yours truly.”

“I’d give them all a kiss on the lips if i could,” added Merkley.

Tom Hogarty-2Drawyer Full of CanonsBasketball in the SkyDown Left Right, Plate 2
photos, clockwise starting upper left: Tom Hogarty, Adobe Lightroom’s Senior Product Manager, Drawer full of Canon camera bodies that Adobe uses for testing, Adobe’s San Jose headquarters at dusk, and Adobe HQ basketball court in the sky.

When I visited with Adriana Ohlmeyer (who was testing Lightroom support for the new Canon Rebel T1i which will be out shortly), I noticed the fantastic paintings in her office. She told me that they were done by a co-worker of hers. He thought that they looked great in her office so he let her have them. All around the offices you can’t help but notice how personally important photography, and more specifically fine art photography, seems to be to the various team members working on the software that has taken digital photography to a new level for artists and everyday photographers alike.

Part of supporting all of the cameras that Adobe does means having all of those cameras on hand to constantly test and refine. Ohlmeyer and Hogarty took me to a room at Adobe which would be a dream room for any digital photographer gearhead. Unlocking one drawer, Ohlmeyer pulled out a large oversize file cabinet drawer full of Canon camera bodies, another full of various Nikon bodies. Another cabinet was stocked full of Canon (yes, L series too) and Nikon lenses. While another whole cabinet was dedicated to many other camera manufacturers. Sony, Olympus, Fuji, they were all there. It’s easy to see how the Lightroom team would be so excited about photography having such a great line up of equipment constantly at their disposal.

But writing great software is more than just about a love for photography and cameras. It’s about paving the way to make the digital photography of the future even better and better, and at present Adobe seems to be leading this charge more than any other company both in terms of technology and market share. While Adobe doesn’t publicly release the number of copies of Lightroom or Photoshop that they have shipped to date, there is some data out which points to their dominance in this market — especially in the pro market.

Adobe’s John Nack recently blogged about research out based on North American pro photographers usage of Adobe’s imaging products vs. perhaps their largest rival Apple’s Aperture product. On all computers Adobe products dominated that market. Even specifically on Macs alone, Adobe’s Lightroom product still appeared to outsell Apple’s own Aperture product by more than 3 to 1 margin, and that’s not even counting their other camera RAW products like Photoshop.

Hogarty took me down to the Adobe labs area (one of the areas that I couldn’t photograph) to show me some of the new research that was presently going into the Lightroom product. While what I saw down there was off the record, I will say that Adobe is constantly working to refine their products and make Lightroom better and better and consistently more and more reliable with all of the camera gear on the market today. Part of that involves constantly testing all of the equipment out there.

While visiting the lab, Hogarty talked about another technology that he was excited about. Adobe’s DNG file format, A royalty free RAW image format that Adobe created in 2004.

While each camera manufacturer has their own proprietary RAW format, Adobe wanted to make a free format for everyone that could become a RAW standard. Adobe offers a free conversion program for people to convert their RAW images from whatever RAW format that they are using today to DNG. The advantages of DNG are not only that the file sizes are smaller, but that Hogarty said he felt that the format has a better chance of being around in the long term as an archive format 10, 20, 30 years down the road.

The DNG format also allows the metadata associated with your images to be included in the file itself, rather than as a sidecar file attached to your existing RAW file. I have to say that although I currently don’t convert my RAW files from Canon’s CR2 to DNG, Hogarty makes a compelling argument for the Adobe technology. Especially with images sizes getting larger and larger (on my 21 megapixel Canon 5D mark 2 for instance) having smaller RAW files when multiplying the files times thousands begins to make sense. It’s something I’m going to look into.

Designing great products for Adobe is part of what the Lightroom team does, but getting the message out about their software is important as well. Hogarty told me that recently a number of the team members had joined Twitter (I gave him my own personal pitch for FriendFeed as well and hopefully well see some Lightroom team members there soon too). These are definitely some of the people that you should consider following if you are interested in the Lightroom product. You can check out a list of the Lightroom team members that are currently tweeting away here.

Anne YehGo Green For Better Photographic Opportunities, Plate 2Melissa Monroe Itamura
Photo’s l to r: A&R Edelman’s Anne Yeh, silhouette shot of Adobe’s Tom Hogarty down one of their dimmed “green” building hallways, and Adobe’s Melissa Monroe Itamura.

Also part of getting the word out is the responsibility of Adobe’s Lightroom Digital Imaging Evangelist Julieanne Kost. Over the past 10 years, Kost has spoken at hundreds of industry events around the world talking about Adobe products. In addition to live events she is also active with her own website at and on her blog. She’s also frequently on AdobeTV.

As a company evangelist, I asked Kost what the most rewarding part of her job was.

“Sometimes it’s when I watch someone nod slightly in the audience, and I know that they just ‘got it,’ said Kost. Other times it’s when someone comes up to me after a presentation and exclaims how they will now be more efficient/productive because of Photoshop and Lightroom and, as a result, they will be more successful — personally, financially or however they define success.”

“But the biggest reward is when you see someone using the tools that Adobe makes, and that I speak about, to create images that allow them to communicate and express themselves in exactly the way they intended. If I can play even the smallest role in helping with that process, then it makes all of the travel and late nights completely worthwhile.”

Kelly Castro is another Adobe employee who finds working on Adobe products rewarding because of what it makes possible for serious photographers today. And Castro personally is one of the most serious fine art photographers around. Castro is presently working on a book of amazing black and white portraits for a series he calls “exeriors,” and is also very active on Flickr publishing under kelco . He’s been a longtime Flickr contact of mine, well before I’d ever even heard of Lightroom. Castro works as a Lightroom Quality Engineer, mostly working on the part of Lightroom that probably matters to my own production more than any other, the develop and export modules.

I asked Castro what he liked most about working on Lightroom.

“There are many things I like about working on Lightroom,” said Castro. “But probably the main thing is being involved in the development of what I feel is the best overall photographic workflow application available today. Many of the people on the team are serious photographers, and we are all completely invested in creating the greatest and most bullet-proof application possible — because we use it ourselves on a daily basis, in and outside of work.” Castro’s office also was pretty much a dream setup. Multiple computers (Macs and PCs) and huge oversize monitors. Check it out here.

All in all my vist to Adobe was a fantastic opportunity to meet so many of the team on a one on one face to face basis. I really appreciate having the opportunity to visit their offices and visit with their team. I also want to thank Anne Yeh over at Edelman for helping me provide access to the team and who made my visit with Adobe possible.

I put together a set of about 45 images from my visit at Adobe that you can check out here. One thing I especially liked about their offices were that they are now certified green. What this meant practically speaking for my visit, was that I was able to find lots of super cool long hallways where the lights were dimmed to save energy where I could shoot interesting silhouette shots, like the one above. Their basketball court in the sky was super fun to shoot as well. Adobe’s offices were a great place to shoot and I’m looking forward to getting back down there again in the future to shoot and write more about the important work that they are doing.

Adobe Releases Lightroom 2.3 and Camera Raw 5.3 Release Candidates

adobe-lightroomYesterday Adobe released the latest version of Lightroom, Lightroom 2.3, as well as Camera Raw 5.3.

From Adobe:

“The ‘release candidate’ label indicates that this update is well tested but would benefit from additional community testing before it is distributed automatically to all customers. The Lightroom and Camera Raw teams would like the community to help verify the quality of this update through normal usage as this will ensure that the application is tested on a wide variety of hardware and software configurations not available internally at Adobe.

Both release candidates provide additional raw file support for the Nikon D3X and Olympus E-30 cameras. In addition, the Lightroom 2.3 Release Candidate provides a solution to a memory leak that affected some customers of the Lightroom 2.2 release.

Adobe is also pleased to announce the availability of Lightroom in eight new languages, including Dutch, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Korean, Chinese (simplified) and Chinese (traditional). The Lightroom 2.3 Release Candidate available on Adobe Labs includes these additional languages, and Adobe greatly appreciates any feedback the community can provide the Lightroom team.”

You can download both Lightroom 2.3 and Camera Raw 5.3 from Adobe Labs here.

You can submit feedback on the new version of Lightroom here.