In my last blog, I talked about the workflow for using the Develop module. For most of us, that’s all you need to know for processing about eighty-percent of your images. Furthermore, the speed and beautiful and intuitive interface of Lightroom will likely improve the overall-quality of your images while making your workflow more profitably efficient. BUT, you just can’t do everything in Lightroom. For starters, you can’t do anything that requires doing only on an isolated part (selected, masked, or cut-out) part of the image.
Here’s a partial list of things that Lightroom has to turn over to Photoshop (or another “standard” image editor):
1.Working with Layers. Since you’re able to work non-destructively with Lightroom adjustments, you don’t have as much need for layers…but some effects just can’t be had without layer blend modes, retouching can’t be done non-destructively without them, and you can always turn them on or off.
2.Burning and Dodging. There just aren’t any burn and dodge tools in Lightroom. Even given the Fill Light and Recovery sliders, there are times when you can make or break a photograph by darkening the foreground or lightening the shadow under a nose.
3. Combine two RAW interpretations into a single photograph. There’s real power in the ability to do this and I’ve already written a couple of blogs about doing it for special effects and doing it to create HDR (high dynamic range) photos. By the way, the new Align Layer command in Photoshop CS3 makes it much more practical to combine a pair of shots that were hand-held
4. Regional adjustments with masked layers.
5.Cosmetic retouching and skin smoothing. Although Lightroom has the spot removal capability, it’s too clumsy to use for extensive zit removal. Photoshop’s Spot Healing and Patch Tools are tough to be beat in that regard…not to mention all that can be done with the Clone Stamp, brush tools, and a huge variety of texture filters. It’s also filters that allow you to lift the skin to its own layer so that it can filtered (usually with Diffuse Glow) and blended with a variety of Fill and Opacity settings.
6.Compositing and sky substitution. There is no way, in Lightroom, to layer images from a variety of sources, cut them out with variable transparency transitional edges, and then carefully position and re-light them so that they fit right in to an entirely new and fictitious scene. The new Refine Edges command in CS3 is especially helpful.
7.Panorama Stitching. You can synch the adjustment of all the Lightroom commands for all the frames, so you’ll know the adjustments will match. It all makes it that much easier to stitch together an even better-looking panorama in Photoshop CS3’s Photomerge.
8.Perspective correction. There’s still no Transform or Lens Correction command in Lightroom.
9.Have more control over sharpening. Even though the sharpening commands in Lightroom 1.1 are much more flexible, it makes for better workflow control to do sharpening with the new Smart Sharpening filter on a separate layer that can be re-created and re-sharpened any time the target output device changes. Also, you may want to sharpen only part of the image as an effect…which can’t be done in Lightroom.
And then, there’s Light Zone…
There’s quite a bit of “buzz” about it, but just in case you haven’t heard of LightZone, it’s a program that was invented to give us absolute control over the placement of certain tones in the image within a specific Zone System brightness range withing a selection or brightness range.
Things you want to do in LightZone:
1.Expand the dynamic range of an isolated area to match a specific portion of the zone spectrum. In the image below, the dynamic range of the brightness in the clouds and the brightness range in the underlying mountains and cityscape were controlled separately. Although one could do a similar thing in Photoshop, you don’t have nearly the same preciscion control.
2.Create an amazing range of dynamic effects. There are panels called Relight, Gaussian Blur, Hue/Saturation, Color Balance, White Balance, Black and White, Noise Reduction, Clone, Spot, and Red Eye. To be sure, many of these are duplicates of what’s already in Lightroom. However, each of these has its own panel with adjustment sliders. Any combination you make can be recorded as a Style and the program comes with quite a few of these (see the Styles panel on the left of the image). You can designate several of these styles for the same image and mix their effects. This makes the program extremely powerful with it comes to previewing stylizations. Once you click a style, all the panels that made that style have their own panels.
If you want to do further Lightroom adjustments to an image after bringing it back in from Photoshop or LightZone, there’s nothing stopping you. However, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re keeping your image at 16-bits the whole time. Otherwise, there’s an ever-increasing danger that certain areas of compressed or expanded dynamic range or sharpening will posterize or become noisy.