- The Washington Times - Monday, September 21, 2009

Some ideas are so simple, you wonder why they hadn’t been thought of before.

Well, the fairly recent release of Adobe Lightroom version 2.5, a $299 program for Mac and Windows users who need to sort and catalog tons of photographs and then work with them, has been thought of — there was the original 1.0 release, after all — but this new version is spiffy, smooth and a must-have for those who work with images on a professional or even an advanced-amateur basis.

I’m not a professional photographer, but my friend Dick Duerksen is, shooting images for a nonprofit organization as well as others that appear in magazines and on wall calendars around the world.

Dick and I were sitting in the cafe of the Protea Hotel in Livingstone, Zambia, and he was kindly sharing some pictures I might want to use in my day job. He was flipping through a Lightroom display of images, suggesting that I tag the ones I want with a “green” label (I could have selected any other primary color, I guess). Once complete, he grabbed all the “green” photos, slipped them onto a USB drive and handed them to me for downloading onto my computer.

Yes, you can do similar things with other programs, but Lightroom made that step super easy. Also, as mentioned, it works on Windows-based PCs, as well, something you can’t say for Apple’s very nice iPhoto. Moreover, the exporting feature of Lightroom is a bit smoother, with less to click through and a nice way of specifying (and creating) a new folder on your computer’s desktop or another drive as the export destination.

Selecting and exporting pictures is but a very small part of what Lightroom can do. Adobe bills the program as “the photographer’s essential toolbox for managing, adjusting and presenting large volumes of digital photographs,” and I’m hard pressed to disagree. This morning, I brought 5,726 photographs over into Lightroom, for a grand total of 7,390 images. That’s a lot of photos. But, now, I can flip through them almost as quickly as a Las Vegas casino dealer zips through a deck of cards.

Once found, a photograph can be previewed, zoomed in on, enhanced, adjusted and exported in any number of formats and sizes, including Web-sized. Again, you can do most or all of these functions with other programs: the full version of Adobe’s Photoshop, the consumer-friendly Photoshop Elements, Apple’s iPhoto, and Corel’s Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 are among those that immediately come to mind.

But the full Photoshop program is a lot to learn, so much so that there are numerous books, online courses and even college classes available on the subject. Of iPhoto, I can only say good things, but you will bump up against limitations when working with vast quantities of images, and iPhoto, along with Apple’s higher-end Aperature, are Mac-only programs. If you have a Windows PC, the Mac apps obviously aren’t much help.

I also like the quick adjustments Lightroom can apply to an image. Looking at one of my best shots (if I do say so myself), of the U.S. Capitol dome, I asked Lightroom to automatically fix the “white balance,” to make the colors look better, and to adjust the photo’s tone. What was a good image now looked great, in just two clicks.

There are other controls you can use to “play” with those settings more incrementally; those trained in the photographic arts will have fun with these. Best of all, in my view, there’s a “reset” button to restore your work to its original form in two shakes of a (computer) mouse’s tail.

I’ll confess to being smitten by Lightroom, so much so that I’m trying to find ways to really justify its $299 price tag. But Apple isn’t asleep at the digital switch: Its professional-grade Aperture program offers many of the same features, and for $100 less. I plan to give that application a try and will let you know the results.

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