Tuesday saw the launch of the much awaited new version of Lightroom from Adobe. There have been two versions launched, Lightroom CC that has a subscription model and Lightroom 6 which is a perpetual licence. There are some differences in what you will get as future updates between the two products but I don’t intend to get into that discussion in this blog. I am using the CC version as I was already a Creative Cloud member and it meant that I received the new version of the software on launch day with no change to the value of my subscription and I also get the latest version of Photoshop too in the Photographers Package.
There are a number of features that have been updated but perhaps two of the biggest changes are the ability to merge images into a panorama without leaving Lightroom and similar functionality to create realistic HDR images again without needing to switch to Photoshop, Photomatix or HDR Efex Pro. I know that some people have an aversion to HDR due to its misuse in the past to create nausea inducing colours but there can be a place for it if used in the right way – however, as it is a Marmite type package I will leave this one to the end so that you can skip it if HDR just isn’t your thing.
I’m sure most people reading this are fairly familiar with how to take images ready for a panorama. Essentially you need to take a series of images panning across the scene ensuring that there is about a third of the scene kept in the then next pan from the previous one. It’s also good practice if you can to take the images in portrait on your camera as there is less barrelling in this format than landscape so you do get a better end image. Finally, use the spirit levels on your tripod to ensure the base of the head of the tripod is level so that as you pan around the scene the horizon stays level.
Once the images are in Lightroom it used to be a case of clicking Edit In and then taking the option to Merge to Panorama in Photoshop. This worked well enough but for me but there was always something I didn’t like with this approach – the benefit of Lightroom is that it is non-destructive to raw files yet by exporting out to another program it disconnected the image from the original and produced a brand new TIFF or PSD file. With the new Photo Merge option in Lightroom you can now process a panorama from within the software and the resultant file is a DNG with all the extra data that you get from the format so you now have a much more powerful image to work with. It’s also really easy to create a great looking pano;
Select all the images that you want to make into your panorama in the library module, remember that to get a realistic image any changes that you may make in the Develop module need to be synced across all the images before making the merge. However, remember that you are going to have a DNG output so you can make those kind of edits post-merge if you like and still have all the available data.
Next, you can either press the Ctrl key and M or go to the Photo dropdown, click on Photo Merge and then click Panorama
In just a few seconds a new box will appear with a preview of the panorama image, you can manually chose which method or merging to use or you can let Lightroom decide which works best for the image. You can also ask Lightroom to automatically Crop any areas that are lost in creating the Panorama – that was another bug-bear for me when using Photoshop that you had to manually crop the lost spaces of the merged image – now it’s done at the click of a check-box, so much more efficient.
Simply click on Merge and Lightroom then goes off to create the merged image. The really great thing is that Lightroom is now doing this in the background so you can move on to another image you may want to edit whilst it is joining the images together and creating the new raw file for you. My iMac is pretty old (please feel free to donate a 5k 27″ iMac if you feel bad for me) and chugs along but it still only took four minutes for 10 full sized raw files to be merged in to one panoramic image and despite looking at 100% I am still struggling to see where the joins of each image are, the conversion quality is superb – much better than previous results I would have received from Photoshop merges and certainly much quicker too. I have add the three different merge options (Spherical, Cylindrical and Perspective) below so that you can see the different effects of each of the merges – I do think that the Lightroom suggested option of Spherical does work the best out of these three.
So if you don’t like HDR now is the time to jump to the last wrap up paragraph and skip this bit but I would recommend sticking with it and you may be surprised at what Adobe have done. As a little bit of background to the reasons for using HDR we need to look at the capability of a camera v the capability of our brain and eyes in capturing light. A pretty good DSLR can capture a range of around 13 to 15 stops of light from shadow to highlight whereas our brain can process far more stops of light (somewhere around 22-25) which means that we can see far more detail, particularly in scenes which have a mix of both bright highlights and very dark shadows. During my Switch to Manual workshops I like to use some of the Fuji Photo-trail locations to capture some of the iconic shots of Edinburgh, one of these is the entrance to Advocates Close opposite St Giles Cathedral, which has a great view straight down the close and frames the Scott Monument. This is one of these locations where our brain processes light far more effectively than our camera can so to see the image as our eyes do a solution is to take a set of bracketed images and then merge them in a HDR program such as Photoshop, HDR Efex Pro or Photomatix. This final step is where the hatred of HDR usually comes out as you are presented with a myriad of options, many of which produce an image that is overly saturated, has horrendous fringing around edges and generally looks totally unrealistic. The new functionality in Lightroom has taken away this danger and is only there to try and produce a realistic image that accurately captures the various shades from Shadow to Highlight as our eyes may see it.
For this test, I bracketed seven images, three stops either side of the base shot to give me as much information as possible to create the file. You can imagine it takes a fair bit of patience on a busy street like The Royal Mile to get seven shots that didn’t have people walking past but more later on how you can reduce time with this new functionality.
Just like the Panorama function it is is the Photo dropdown, under Photo Merge and HDR or click Ctrl and H and you will again be presented with a new dialog box which allows you to chose to Auto Align the images (why wouldn’t you have this switched on) and also Auto Tone, I actually think it is more realistic to leave this switched off as the end result is much closer to what my eyes could see. You can also get Lightroom to prevent ghosting which I have set on this image because there were a group of tourists at the bottom of the step getting to find out about the history of Edinburgh and they were moving slightly.
Click on the Merge button and again Lightroom goes to work in the background creating the HDR image whilst you can get on working on another edit. I talked earlier about bracketing seven images and the frustration that can cause, however, Adobe have done some amazing maths with the HDR function and they can actually produce a better image using less images to start off with – it sounds unbelievable but I have merged just two of the images from the set, the three stops under exposed and the three stops over-exposed images to compare the results and there is really very little difference (if any) between the two images so you can actually save time by shooting less shots when you need to use HDR and obviously the processing time will be reduced as well when you are in front of your computer – a win win for sure!
To give you a comparison of the images using either seven or two images for the merge and Auto Tone being on or off I have added the four resultant files at the bottom of the post so you can see the difference (and by them being at the bottom the people that don’t like HDR may pop back up a few lines and see it is possible to create realistic HDR images that don’t look like a comic book). I have allowed you to click on the images so you can see them at full size to see the difference for yourself.
This is by no means an in-depth review of Lightroom CC/6 but hopefully it gives you a flavour of a couple of the major changes that have taken place in the update that came out this week. Lightroom is now pretty much at the core of my own processing due to a really great method for cataloging images and finding them quickly when you need them and I also really love being able to take my images with me using the Lightroom Mobile that means I can show my clients images on my iPhone or iPad and, for those that have them, Android devices too. These couple of functions have really brought forward Lightroom as being the tool that I will use to process my images 95%+ of the time and only occasionally will I need to flick over to Photoshop now for some real detailed editing. You can sign-up to the Creative Cloud option at adobe.com where the Photographers Plan including Photoshop and Lightroom is just under £9 per month.