Seeing the Light

Popular Science's resident photo cowboy finally reads Lightroom 2 Adventure, and he will never be the same

Sometimes you're the last to try something. Adobe came out with its Lightroom digital darkroom and photo-organization software a few years ago, and followed up with Lightroom 2 last year. I played with both of them for about 10 minutes when they launched, and then ran back to Photoshop. I'm a digital tech freak, but I was set in my ways. Most of what Lightroom does can be done in Photoshop, after all.

But... I've just finished reading Photoshop Lightroom 2 Adventure, by Mikkel Aaland (O'Reilly Media; $44.99), and I'm a changed man. I've been locked away in my studio for weeks now playing with the software, the book and my digital images.

Aaland took 18 professional photographers and five Adobe Lightroom designers to Tasmania in April of 2008 for a 10-day shoot-a-thon. What's clear from the moment you open it is that the book is the direct result of that real-world experience. It's packaged in such a way that you, following along, really feel like you are in the field with the team, trying to edit and adjust the images shot that day. Each photographer's style requires different adjustments: from advanced color control and sharpness to the using the "Library" organizing function. You can flip through the book to look for a problem that is similar to your own, and learn how to solve it in a way that makes it very real by following along with the professionals. The graphics and call-outs are direct and easy to read, and really take you inside the shooter's head. You're trying to make the picture better with them. Or you can just read the book cover-to-cover and learn every lesson.

After spending time with this book, I finally get why I'd bother using Lightroom, instead of Photoshop, for these tasks. Lightroom is a modern-day version of your old-school darkroom: It's a place that you go only to work on your pictures. The user interface wraps your source image in a gray and black background, which makes it easier to see subtle shifts in color as you make your adjustments. The only panels you see are directly related to photographic adjustments, so you're not distracted by all the other stuff Photoshop can do. It's like an oasis for the digital photographer.

If you can't run off to Tasmania with Mikkel, you can read the book and feel like you're there anyway.