This week I’m shooting the 2007 O’Reilly Open Source Convention along with Ubuntu Live 2007. Shooting two overlapping events in one week makes for lots of work. The joy of working these two shows is that they are filled with lots of people who enjoy photography. There’s something about geeks and photography that go well together. One of the major topics I’m asked about by these photo-loving geeks is Lightroom. And, as we talk about Lightroom, there’s an observation that comes up time and time again: “When I look through my pictures, first I see the image and then—POP—I see a tone curve or something applied. What’s up with that?”
The answer is that Lightroom does a lot of work managing previews so that it improves the speed of the user interface. And, as you move through the interface, there are times when you’ll see a preview first and then, as the program catches up to you, you’ll see it replaced with a better representation of the image.
The place where I notice this “pop” effect most is when I’m working with high ISO images and I first view a fresh batch of imported photographs. To help speed up import, I typically don’t have Lightroom build full sized previews. When I first look at an image therefore, Lightroom uses the best image it has which is the preview image the camera built and put into the RAW file. This image is the same that you see on the back of the camera. These initial camera-generated previews are quite a bit noisier than the image that results after feeding through ACR. It’s also a lower resolution image. So, if I’m working ahead of Lightroom, I’ll see a pretty significant pop in image quality, including a bit of a shift of the contrast curves and other things.
Bottom line: This “pop” effect is normal and part of the way Lightroom works. I guess some people find it disconcerting. The answer, in that case, would seem to be to have Lightroom generate full-sized previews on import and take a slower import.
Photo of Cory Doctorow taken at the 2007 O’Reilly Open Source Convention.