Five Lightroom 2 Features That Should Excite You

Photoshop Lightroom 2.0 has been out for less then a day, and I've already heard from a number of people asking about the new version released Tuesday. A few current users have asked if it's worth the US$99 upgrade from Lightroom 1.0. Others who have been on the fence about investing in a $299 photo workflow tool have asked about what Adobe did that make Lightroom 2.0 an improvement over the initial release. (I've also gotten a couple of the inevitable, "Which do I choose: Aperture or Lightroom?" questions, to which I say, download the 30-day demos and see which one feels right to you.)

I'm currently working on Macworld's review of Lightroom 2.0, but here's a quick summary of five key enhancements that I think make it a compelling upgrade.

Selective editing

One of the problems with the first version of Lightroom was its lack of selection-based adjustments. Any changes you made to a photo were applied to the entire image. For many photos, this wasn't a problem--changing the exposure, color balance, or other tonal setting throughout an image made sense. But, if you had an image that had a perfectly exposed sky and an underexposed foreground, for example, you couldn't selectively change the foreground without making the sky look bad.

To make those types of changes in Lightroom 1.0, you needed Photoshop or another image-editing application. You would edit the image out of Lightroom, and then have to deal with a second version (or third or fourth, depending upon how much you edited it) of a photo in your Lightroom library.

Lightroom 2.0's Adjustment Brush tool addresses that shortcoming by letting you create masks that change only the parts of a photo you want to alter. With the brushes, you select the type of enhancement you want and whether you want to increase or decrease the effect; then, simply "paint" with your mouse over the area you want to change. If you brush a little aggressively in places, you can hold down the Option key and brush the areas you don't want affected. In the image shown below, I've used an Exposure-based Adjustment Brush to darken the areas around my subject. (The area in red is the actual masked area--Lightroom lets you toggle that overlay view on and off when you are painting an effect.)

The Adjustment Brush works with the primary Lightroom image-adjustment controls--Exposure, Saturation, Brightness, Contrast, Sharpness, Clarity and Color--and you can mix and match those controls on any masked region. You can also save a specific group of settings as a preset, and Adobe includes a Soften Skin preset that works surprisingly well.

And, if you want more than a brush, Lightroom 2.0 includes a Graduated Effect tool that works in a similar manner, letting you add an effect that gradually increases or decreases across an area you choose.

Better filtering tools

Finding images in your catalog with Lightroom 1.0 wasn't the most straightforward process, although, once you got the hang of the program's idiosyncrasies, it worked. With Version 2.0, finding and filtering your images is much easier, via the new Library Filter bar, which puts all of the primary search options right at the top of the screen. From that one location, you can search for text associated with your photos (file name, keywords, captions, and so forth); attributes like rating, color label, and flag; and any camera metadata saved with an image.

The great thing about the Filter bar is that it quickly and easily lets you get to a group of images based upon multiple criteria. I was able to quickly select all images shot with a Canon EOS 5D and the 85mm f/1.2 lens that had a minimum rating of two stars and had my "To Print" label applied. It was possible to get to this refined group of images with Lightroom 1.x, but nowhere near as quickly. As an added bonus, I can now save my filters as presets.

Smart albums

Apple's Aperture, iTunes, and iPhoto have had them for years, and Adobe finally has Smart Album skin in the game with Lightroom 2.0--they're just called Smart Collections. As is the case with Apple's apps, you can create a collection (Lightroom's term for a photo album) of photos using a set of criteria (identical to that used in the Filter bar), and then save it as a set that automatically updates as you add and edit images in your library. It's a small, but extremely welcome, enhancement.

Multiple monitor support

A major productivity enhancer that both Photoshop and Aperture have--support for more than one display--is now part of Lightroom. Many photographers work in the field on a portable, and then have a second display in their studio, which gives them much more space to compare, sort, select, and edit images. Again, it's a little thing, but for many of us, it will make Lightroom a much more powerful tool.

Better Photoshop integration

Lightroom doesn't pretend to be an all-things-to-all-people type of application, and it lacks the deep compositing and editing functionality that you find in a program like Photoshop. Version 1.0 had the capability to export photos to Photoshop, letting you make adjustments and save your edits back in Lightroom as a copy.

With Lightroom 2.0, Adobe has made it a bit easier to "round-trip" your photos with Photoshop. There are menu options for automatically creating panoramas and high dynamic range (HDR) images from a selection of photos, and you can also open up a Lightroom image as a Smart Object layer in Photoshop, which lets you preserve changes made in Photoshop in Lightroom. This latter feature is tremendously important if you want to make further changes to a photo that has already been edited; your changes are preserved when you return to Photoshop.

There are a few more changes under the hood, but these five are the ones that have made the most impact on me as I've been working with the betas and the final release of Lightroom 2.0. Stay tuned for the final review.

[Rick LePage is a former Macworld editor, and runs the photo printer site Printerville.]

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