Photography and Art

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Speculation on Lightroom 3.0

Adobe Lightroom 1.0 was released on January 29th, 2007. Release 2.0 was born on July 29th, 2008. The beta appeared in April. It's hard to discover a pattern with so little data, but let's do some speculation for fun. Let's say that Adobe, a company that likes money and depends on new releases to generate some, wants to sell a new release of Lightroom every 18 months or so. This means that version 3.0 ought to be available on January 29th, 2010. Let's also surmise that the beta will appear four months before the official ship date. That would bring the beta announcement back to October, 2009. So, in just over six months, we'll have some excitement in the Lightroom universe.

Now for some more rampant speculation. What's going to be in the new release? Here are my predictions, based on what I've seen in the blogs and what I'd like to have:

  • Better performance. We've seen the introduction of graphic card acceleration in Photoshop and I'm sure the Lightroom guys are hard at work bringing this set of tricks into their product. I've now installed a fast graphics card and the impact on some aspects of Photoshop is amazing. Lightroom badly needs a shot of this lightning in a bottle.
  • Print Proofing. The print module in Lightroom is terrific except for one thing -- you can't proof your work to see if the conversion to the output ICC profile has resulted in something pleasing. Either this is a conspiracy between Adobe and the paper companies to force you to keep printing out proofs or this is something temporary that was waiting for quality developer time. I suggest we'll see this feature soon.
  • A Networkable Version. Knowing Adobe, there will be a "Pro" (i.e. expensive) version of Lightroom that will allow multiple users to share a catalog. This is a challenging project because it means that Adobe will have to find a database that they can ship inside their product that supports all the robust features needed for a multi-user environment. As someone who has tried to open a catalog on a network drive, I can also testify that the application is extremely chatty -- the database is continually being read from and written to. This chattiness will have to be damped down if the application is to be ported to a network. Some sort of local caching might be the solution. However, this is a huge opportunity for Adobe to grab some money from photographers who have a collaborative workflow, so look for it in the next release.
  • Improved masking. Local adjustments were a very welcome addition to Lightroom 2.0 and they generally work well. However, the masking capabilities of Lightroom are restricted to an automatic mode that doesn't suit all applications. It would be nice if there were ways of selecting elements of a photo (e.g. marquees, lassoes, colour pickers etc.) that would allow the setting of a manual mask.
  • Image Stretching. When taking photos of buildings with wide angle lenses, I frequently find myself reaching for that round trip through Photoshop to do a little bit of perspective adjustment or similar image stretching exercises. I'd like to see this capability inside Lightroom.
  • Expanded API. The current way of integrating third party applications into Lightroom sucks to put it mildly. Does anyone really want to chop their workflow into three distinct stages? Let's say you want to apply a third-party sharpening tool. Right now, you have to do your pre-work in Lightroom (e.g. import into the catalog, add keywords, ranking etc.), export the photo to the sharpening tool and then re-import the photo before you can apply the rest of the editing changes to it. The benefits of working on the raw file go out the window as soon as you export the file to the sharpening app. What's needed is a way for third-party tools to be able to operate on the raw file inside Lightroom via a safe API that allows the third party developer to see the internal data model of the image. I'd like to see the Lightroom panels to be expandable so that third-party applications can be added in just like you can add user-defined presets. Let's make it possible for a scenario like this to happen: I move to the develop section of Lightroom to start working on my image. On the right-hand panel, there is a new section called Plug-ins. I expand that section and click on Noise Ninja. The Noise Ninja control panel expands and allows me to fine-tune the noise reduction parameters before I apply them. Once I click on the "apply" button, Noise Ninja does its thing to the raw image. As with any other Lightroom adjustment, I can independently toggle between the before and after image to see what NN has done. The NN adjustment is totally non-destructive and can be undone at any time with no impact on any other adjustments. That's the scenario I'd like to see in the next release.
  • Better Integration with Photoshop. Real-time integration between software applications is not a new phenomenon. Microsoft has offered this in its Office line-up for years. Yet, Adobe seems to be having difficulties with this. To transfer a file to Photoshop, you have to export it to another format, work on it in Photoshop and then save it. Lightroom automatically imports it into the catalog as a completely different image. Why can't we have real-time cooperation between these applications? Let Photoshop open up a smart object that's a real-time view into the Lightroom catalog and image file. Let me make adjustments in Lightroom that show up immediately in the smart object in Photoshop. How about letting Photoshop write its adjustments back into the Lightroom catalog in real time as an overlay to the Lightroom edits? Of course, there would have to be limits, but Photoshop already has a working subset of functions that can applied via layers to a smart object.
  • Improvements to Smart Collections. Smart collections are brilliant. I love the ability to create dynamic collections based on image metadata. But, I'd like the user interface to be a little smoother. For example, how about sensing keystrokes when you're entering in a keyword and presenting you with a list of keywords that match the keystrokes so you don't have to remember the spelling of the keyword? This is pretty common practice for web applications. How about the ability to clone a smart collection and save it under a new name? This would speed up my ability to rapidly create smart collections that follow a template. Here's an example. For each of my portfolios, I create a series of smart collections that allows me to find stuff quickly. I put all the unrated photos with the portfolio keyword in one collection. I put the rejects (low-rated) into another. I put the print candidates into one collection and the ones that I've printed into another. I use this template for all my portfolios, but setting this up was a pain because I had to type in each one. It would have been nice to establish a pattern and then clone it for each portfolio. All that would have to be changed would be the keyword corresponding to the portfolio.
That's my wish list for now.


  1. I expect Video files integration with minimalist editing tool.

  2. Network version....I'll be incredibly surprised.

  3. "That would bring the beta announcement back to October, 2009."

    Well, Congratulation on beeing precog ;)