Photography and Art

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Lightroom and Fashion Photography

This is a continuation of my last post, where I recounted my experiences as a newbee fashion photographer taking pictures of the beautiful models at the L'Oreal Fashion Week in Toronto in March.

When you take around 1,500 photos in two days and have to get them ready for web galleries overnight, a heavy duty tool is called for.

I've been using Lightroom 1.0 for a few weeks and watching the tutorials that I'd purchased from Luminous Landscape (see the LL tutorial site here). If you are not familiar with Luminous Landscape, it is a site created by Michael Reichmann, a Toronto-based photographer who has created a virtual industry around educating photographers through tutorials, a quarterly DVD and master class trips to exotic photogenic destinations like Antarctica.

Michael collaborates on the Lightroom tutorial with Jeff Schewe of Photoshopnews fame. The tutorials are terrific, with lots of tips and tricks balanced with photogeek repartee. Imagine two Santa Claus lookalikes exchanging photography humour and you get the picture.

My experience with Lightroom had been limited to processing my usual attempts at fine art photography and I'd discovered several things that endeared the product to me:
  • The database that underpins the Library module allows photographs to be categorized to the nth degree. Not only can you import photos following their original folder structure, but you can also assign them to collections (very much like Flickr sets). You can also create virtual copies of your photos and stack them. This is very useful if you want to have multiple crops of your pix. Best of all, there is only one master copy of the original raw file, so disk space is conserved. All editing changes are stored in the database as metadata.
  • The Development module is very easy to use. All the screen panels that contain information about the photo can be hidden so that the photo can occupy a lot of the real estate. The development controls for things like exposure, saturation, vibrance etc. are very intuitive and, given enough memory, seem to perform in real time.
  • Cropping is very intuitive. You can also easily touch up dust spots and blemishes.
  • For more advanced processing, it is very easy to undertake a round trip to Photoshop for things like noise reduction, local contrast and sharpening. Lightroom creates a copy of the image for Photoshop, passes any changes done to-date and stacks the resulting photo with the other versions of the photo.
  • Printing with Lightroom is very easy. You can create custom profiles for each type of paper and image placement.
All this was fine, but how would Lightroom support the processing of 1,500 photos as rapidly as possible?

This is where the software really shines. Here are some highlights of my experience:
  • It was very easy to set up Lightroom so that I could zip through all the photos using the arrow key to advance to the next image and the numeric key pad to assign a rating to each one.
  • After assigning a rating, I could filter the photos to select the 5 star versions and create a collection of selects.
  • I could further subdivide the selects into collections for each fashion show (each show had its own lighting characteristics that needed separate processing).
  • After building the collections, I was able to go through each photo and crop out extraneous stuff. I was shooting with a 24-105 lens and sometimes was unable to zoom in close enough to the models.
  • For each fashion show, I was able to edit the first photo and adjust white balance, exposure, brightness, contrast etc. I then selected all the photos in the collection and was able to synch my adjustments and apply them to the entire collection.
  • I then went through each photo to fine tune all the development settings.
  • Since these were going to be displayed in a gallery on the web, I exported each collection to a folder as JPEGS. I was able to specify the compression level and restrict the size of the exported photos so that they would fit in the gallery. All this was done as one batch operation.
All this went very rapidly and smoothly. The results were very good, especially considering my experience level.

In conclusion, if you are a working photographer with a need to process thousands of images in a short time, take a look at Lightroom. It has lots of features that make batch processing fairly easy. It also allows the flexibility to fine tune individual photos.

What would make Lightroom 1.0 even better? My wishlist would include a plug-in API like Photoshop's so that the Noise Ninjas of the world can be invoked without a round trip to Photoshop. It would also be nice if there was some way to increase local contrast. But, I was pleasantly surprised with the level of functionality in the 1.0 product and with the general stability of the product.


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