Interview with Tom Hogarty, Lightroom Product Manager

by Michael Clark
08/17/2007

Recently, I had the chance to sit down with Tom Hogarty of Adobe Lightroom at the Photo Arts Santa Fe trade show here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Tom was out in Santa Fe giving in-depth seminars on Lightroom and interacting with the public at the trade show all weekend. In all, well over a thousand people attended the trade show, and it was a photography extravaganza.

I'm so excited about Lightroom and how it has literally changed my life by lightening my workload and allowing me to spend less time behind the computer working up my images. Thanks to Lightroom, I now actually enjoy the editing and raw conversion process; where in the past, I dreaded the time it would take to work up images. In my opinion, Lightroom is the best thing we've seen since digital cameras came along.

With all of my enthusiasm, I had quite a few questions for Tom. A lot of them were related to possible features we might see in future updates, including Version 2.0 and beyond. While I realize that Tom can't give away top-secret information about what's coming, I have to thank him for being very honest, patient, and forthright with his answers to my questions.

So, let's get into it...

Michael Clark: What is your role at Adobe?

Tom Hogarty
Tom Hogarty, product manager for Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, Camera Raw and DNG.

Tom Hogarty: I am the product manager for Adobe Photoshop Lightroom as well as the Camera Raw and DNG product manager. The product manager role at Adobe is a marketing role. Essentially, we go to customers and ask about their current software needs. We find out what they're looking for and design solutions to fit those needs.

MC: What's your favorite feature in Lightroom?

TH: Right now, I've got to say it is the Clarity slider. It should be a controlled substance. I've been using it quite a bit on my own images. It makes images really pop.

MC: What is your least favorite feature in Lightroom?

TH: My least favorite feature is also my other favorite feature. It's the Targeted Adjustment Tool. I love it because of the functionality. It's my least favorite because the name is not as intuitive as one would hope.

MC: Good answer! Where do you see Lightroom going in the Future?

TH: That's a good question. You know, it is really driven by customer input. You saw with the upgrade from Lightroom Version 1.0 to Version 1.1 that based on customer feedback, we updated the application to address multi-machine workflow, improved noise reduction and improved sharpening. These are improvements that are coming out of the customer suggestions and that is really driving where we are taking the product.

MC: What is Adobe thinking about for future updates? Obviously you can't give away too much here but is there anything you can tell us?

TH: One of the things I can talk about is our interest in extending functionality within the application to third parties and letting them add their own functionality, whether it's within existing modules or ultimately through their own modules and letting the industry drive their own solutions.

MC: You mean creating whole new modules via third parties?

TH: That is something we'd like to see in the long term. In the shorter term, I'd like to see people be able to plug functionality into the existing modules to drive the functionality they need in a way that we aren't presenting it.

MC: Is Adobe working to make Lightroom a Digital Asset Management (DAM) tool?

TH: That's an interesting question and it's an oft-raised topic, which is: How does Lightroom position itself as a Digital Asset Management tool? I think what we've found over the years is that if you look at the hard-core digital asset management tools, a certain set of photographers say "I really need to do this. This is what I need to do to organize my digital files." For a good chunk of photographers, they are really frightened by those types of applications. It's too much of a librarian task, too much organization to deal with so the challenge is how can we provide just the DAM functionality that photographers need and make it so lightweight and so transparent that it just works. I think that some of the keywording technology that we've put in and some of the metadata templates, some of that functionality makes it easy enough so that it is a DAM tool. It does provide DAM functionality but it's not overweighed with DAM tools.

MC: In Lightroom version 1.0, there was a recommended cap of 10,000 images before one would see the application slowing down a bit. Is that still the case for Version 1.1?

TH: There is no hard and fixed line in terms of how many images Lightroom can currently manage. Clearly, with the catalog functionality, we make it flexible to break out sets of 20,000 to 50,000 images at a time. We have heard reports of performance slowing down depending on the hardware and depending on the images. I personally don't give out any hard and fast numbers. Customers can find their own limits. Everyone should know we are always striving to extend the upper limit on each subsequent release.

MC: So on some level, it's already a Digital Asset Management tool?

TH: Absolutely. Lots of photographers are actively cataloging only 10,000, 20,000 or 30,000 images at a time. And that is something Lightroom can do quite well, on a reasonable hard drive.

MC: Are we going to see any sharpening features for the web module so that images are sharpened before they are put into web galleries?

TH: Good question. With Version 1.1, we introduced capture sharpening that really addressed some of the softening of the demosaic process inherent in traditional CCD and CMOS sensors. Output sharpening we've already addressed lightly in the Print Module with the print sharpening feature. Hence, I think it is a natural evolution that we build up both capture sharpening and output sharpening as we develop the application. No guarantees though.

MC: Understood. What would you like to see in Version 2.0, which is a long ways off?

TH: That's a good question. Let me think about that for a minute. For my own work, I'd like to see it go beyond the 10,000 pixel limit per side because I have been using Photoshop CS3 quite a bit lately and using the auto align and auto blend features to make ridiculously good panoramic images on the fly. I want to bring those back into Lightroom so I can print them and I think the hundred million pixel limit we have for image files is frustrating for a lot of people. With the new panoramic tools in CS3, that limitation is getting a bit more pressure now.

MC: Those Panoramic tools in Photoshop CS3 are phenomenal! Are we ever going to see a similar tool in Lightroom for building Panoramas?

TH: Anything is a possibility. We listen to photographers. They tell us what they want, what matters most to them, and we work on it as we can.

MC: How well do you think Lightroom has been received in the marketplace?

TH: I've been very happy with the community response. I think if you take a look online at the community, the blogs, and the various outlets–O'Reilly included–they're driving a huge amount of response. I've been extremely happy with how it's been received.

MC: I know that the majority of professional photographers I talk with are using Lightroom, so it definitely seems to have won over a large number of photographers.

TH: That's great.

MC: How have you been involved in the creation of Lightroom specifically?

TH: My role started with the release of the public beta. I previously worked with the Photoshop team and when it was time to release Lightroom as a public beta, I joined and helped get that out the door from a marketing perspective. I then managed the public beta in terms of feedback and responses and helped get 1.0 out the door as well.

MC: Last question about future features. Sorry I keep asking but the curiosity in me just can't help it. Are local adjustments something that the Lightroom team is working on?

Lightroom 1.1 provides excellent global editing tools plus spot touch up and red eye correction. Photo by Derrick Story
Lightroom 1.1 provides excellent global editing tools plus spot touch up and red eye correction. Photo by Derrick Story (Click to enlarge.)

 

TH: We have local adjustments already. The two local adjustments we currently have are red eye removal and the cloning and healing tools to remove dust spots. Another favorite feature I'd like to see as an amateur nature photographer is a neutral density filter. We are listening to the market. We're figuring out what they need and what we can achieve from a technical perspective in keeping with the nondestructive philosophy. We essentially prioritize the feedback as we always do.

MC: Is there anything in particular that you would like to voice to the public?

TH: One interesting thing. You know we are talking about prioritizing feedback and how this is a really customer driven evolution. I'm not sure if everyone is aware that there is a feature request form for Lightroom. I read every single request and I really enjoy all the detail and effort people put into those requests. So I would say let us know what you would like to see via the feature request form. The user forum can also be used for feature requests because I read those as well. I think it is important for photographers who are hitting a limitation in the application to share those limitations with us since it is a version 1.0 product and we can gauge the response.

MC: Please see the end of the interview for links to the feature request form.

I asked you yesterday at the Lightroom Seminar you gave here in Santa Fe about the new sharpening tool. Is that meant to be a capture sharpening tool plus a little more? And how do the defaults relate to capture sharpening?

TH: We try to have a nice discreet boundary between capture sharpening, which corrects for some for the softening of the demosaic process, and output sharpening, which corrects for the softness of specific media, whether it's print or web, etc. And then there is this gray area in between of subjective sharpening or content sharpening. We definitely take care of the capture sharpening and we blend a little bit into the subjective sharpening with the new sharpening tools.

In terms of the default values, I can't get too much into it but for every camera we profile, for every sensor, there is a specific level of default sharpening that needs to be applied. Although you may see that number as always set to 25 by default, it could be a little bit more or a little bit less as to how we are internally managing the sharpness because we need to correct at a basic level for demosaic softening of the image for each camera.

MC: So that is specific to each camera taking into account what anti-aliasing filter is in each camera?

TH: Exactly. What we do really well is we model each camera specifically.

MC: In listening to George Jardine's podcasts, it sounds like Adobe has improved the RAW processing quality in Version 1.1 above and beyond what it was in 1.0?

TH: Absolutely. The quality of the noise reduction and the sharpening. We are constantly improving that so we consistently strive for the best in class RAW processing algorithms.

Final Thoughts

The interview took only about ten minutes, but covered a lot of ground. My thanks to Tom Hogarty for taking time out of his extremely busy day to talk with me. I appreciate it very much.

If you would like to make comments on Lightroom or suggest features you'd like to see in future updates or versions of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, you can do so with the Feature Request Form.

Also, Tom has a very informative blog site of his own that you can check out.

Michael Clark is an internationally published outdoor photographer specializing in adventure sports, travel, and landscape photography. You can see his work at www.michaelclarkphoto.com.


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