Sep 24, 2006

Lightroom Beta 4: The Develop module

Adobe has released Adobe Lightroom Beta 4 for Macintosh and Windows, and is available for download at: Windows users can now access more of the module features that were previously unavailable in the PC version of public Beta 3. But the main changes in Beta 4 have all taken place in the Library and Develop modules.

In this first part review we are going to concentrate on what’s new in the Develop module. This is the first chance to see how the Raw Shooter raw processing technology has been incorporated into Beta 4, and how Adobe has added more versatility to the tone and color edit controls. Some of the key new features are that you can drag-edit the histogram and have the ability to directly edit the tone curve plus make on-image tone curve edits. Read the rest of this story for an in-depth look at the Beta 4 Develop module.

The Develop module interface

Click on the image to see a larger version in a new window.
Photograph: © Martin Evening.

The first thing you will notice is the darker, new look interface. This is getting pretty close now to the way the finished product will look. Incidentally, I don’t know how many people were aware of this, but you have always had the ability to customize some of the interface appearance. For example, in the Lightroom preferences you can choose a different shade for the background fill color and also change the typeface and font size for the module picker buttons.

Legacy Develop settings
The Develop settings in Beta 4 are now calculated in a completely different way than before. One of the implications of this is that your old legacy settings can no longer be guaranteed to work the same way as they did in the past. The good news is that Beta 4 will for the most part be able to convert from your legacy settings to the new settings without you seeing much difference. In some instances you may see a shift in the appearance of some of your images. The same goes for your legacy custom Develop settings. However, if you can get a settings effect to match in Beta 4, you can simple right-mouse down on the previous setting name and choose: Update with current settings.

The new Develop controls
Such legacy issues are part and parcel of any beta development process and Adobe wants to make sure that the final released version 1.0 product includes the right controls that will stay with the program forever. What you see here is not necessarily the final set of controls, but again, these are getting closer to how the final version will ship. Most eagerly anticipated of all, have been the results of the collaboration between Michael Jonsson (formerly of Pixmantec Aps) with Thomas Knoll and Mark Hamburg, which has resulted in some of the tone and color controls that were previously found in Raw Shooter, now being added to Lightroom.

Click on the image to see a larger version in a new window.
Photograph: © George Jardine.

Basic panel and histogram
Let’s start with the white balance tool, which is now located in the Basic panel. You can activate the tool by clicking on it, which will unlock it from its location and allow you to click anywhere in the image to set the white balance. The floating pixel magnifier provides an extreme close-up of the pixels you are measuring, which can really help you select the right pixel reading. The shortcut for the white balance tool is ‘W’ and if you hold down the W key you can keep clicking with the tool until you get the right balance setting. The Escape key cancels the white balance tool and returns the tool to its normal docked position.

The Histogram is no longer just an information display. You can now use it to actively adjust the four main Basic panel tone slider controls: Exposure Recovery, Fill Light and Blacks. As you roll the mouse over the histogram you will see each of these four sections highlighted in the histogram. And if you mouse-down and drag, you can actively adjust these settings. In other words, you can now actually mould the shape of the histogram using the mouse. Shadow and highlight clipping is temporarily made visible by rolling the mouse over either of the boxes in the top corners. Or, you make the clipping warning permanent by clicking each of these boxes.

Here are all the Basic panel controls. The Color/Grayscale switching is located at the top of the panel. Admittedly this is rather subtle and may confuse users who were used to switching between color and black and white via the Grayscale Mixer panel. The Exposure slider works more or less the same as it did in previous beta builds – you use the Exposure slider to set the highlight clipping. Many people were aware that the Exposure slider could also act as a negative exposure correction and you could use a negative exposure adjustment to bring back highlight detail. The problem with this is that you can often end up setting the exposure a lot lower than is ideal, and end up making the image darker than necessary.

The new Recovery slider is a highlight recovery control. It is not (or at least not yet) a tool for darkening highlights in the same way or to the same extent that the Fill Light can compensate for dark shadows. Rather, the Recovery can be used to let you bring back highlight detail without having to drag the Exposure slider too much to the left. My advice is to always start with the Recovery set to zero, adjust the Exposure first and without dragging the Exposure too far to the left, use the Recovery slider only where necessary to do the job of bringing back important highlight detail. Note that if you hold down the Option/Alt key as you drag the Recovery slider, you get to see a threshold mode view of the highlight clipping. The Auto Adjust Tonality button will now apply an auto adjustment for all the main Basic controls and can be reversed by using the Undo command (command/Control-Z).

Fill Light is new and does a great job of lightening the shadows before you get to the Tone Curve stage. Not all images need Fill Light, but for photographs where the shadows appear clogged up, the Fill Light works just great. As with Recovery, when you are making your initial adjustments to an image, you should start out with the Fill Light set to zero and adjust the Black slider first. Do this to get the shadow clipping right and then adjust the Fill Light as required.

The Brightness and Contrast appear once only in the Basic panel. These controls are there for legacy reasons. This is because a lot of customers have been used to working with these controls in the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in and are familiar with and like the control that they give.

On the face of it, the Vibrance slider appears to be very similar to the Saturation slider. And it is, except that the Vibrance slider is applying a non-linear saturation boost to the colors. This means that lower saturated pixels will get more of a saturation boost than the higher saturated pixels do. And the advantage of this is that colors can be given a saturation boost, but with less risk of clipping. Vibrance also contains a skin tone protector that prevents skin tone colors from being boosted. Vibrance is a very useful alternative to the basic (and by comparison, cruder) Saturation slider.

Tip: You can rest any slider to its default by double-clicking on it.

For those working on a computer with a smaller pixel size display, you will be pleased to know that you can collapse both the Navigator and the Histogram displays. This can make quite a big difference when working with the right hand display, because it will allow you to observe both the Basic and Tone Curve panels simultaneously. But note that when you do have the Histogram display expanded, the other panels will slide beneath the histogram panel as you scroll down. This too can be helpful for those who have limited screen real estate, because it allows you to see the histogram and tone curve panels at the same time.

Tone Curve panel

On the left, the cursor is over an area of the image that is controlled by the Shadows control. On the right, the cursor is over an area controlled by the Darks control.

On the left the Lights control is active and on the right, the Highlights control is active. To adjust an area, one just hovers over an area of the image one wants to adjust and the correct control becomes active.

The new Tone Curve panel is now simpler in design layout and more intuitive to work with. You will notice that there are now just four main slider controls for controlling: Highlights, Lights, Darks and Shadows. Before, in Beta 3, there were six sliders used to control the tone curve and at times these were simply too many to work with. Four controls feel about right, and from my experience at least, makes for speedier tone curve editing. Brightness and Contrast have not gone away – they have been moved to the Basic panel and the default settings are +50% for Brightness and +25% for Contrast. You still have those extra tone adjustments to play with, but you will find that they are applied upstream of the Tone Curve and are therefore not represented in the tone curve graph. Note that there is also an ACR Curve contrast control at the bottom of the Tone Curve. This is another legacy control from the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in. The default setting is: Medium Contrast and, like the Contrast slider, this is a pre Tone Curve adjustment (and this will be reflected in the tone curve). You will also notice that as you make adjustments to any of the controls in the Basic panel, the adjustments are reflected in the Tone Curve panel background histogram display.

When you start working with the new Develop panel tone edit controls, I suggest you first work with the Exposure and Blacks sliders as you would do normally. After that, make use of Recovery and Fill Light where appropriate. Then, instead of adjusting Brightness and Contrast, try going straight down to the Tone Curve panel and using the sliders there to adjust the tone settings. I personally find the Brightness slider in the Basic panel to still be useful on many occasions, because there are still images that need it. But I am now finding there is less need to use the Contrast slider. This is because the four controls in the Tone Curve panel mostly provide all the tone brightness and contrast controls that I need.

On-image tone editing
The slider controls also provide a shaded preview of the range of shapes an individual tone curve slider adjustment will make. In the example below, I was in the process of adjusting the Darks slider. The gray shaded area represents the limits of all possible tone curve shapes I can create with this particular slider in conjunction with the other current slider settings. For those who understand curves, this provides a useful visual reference of how the curve can look. Plus you can edit the curve directly by clicking anywhere on the curve and moving the mouse up or down to make that section of the tone curve lighter or darker.

But best of all, you can now also edit the curve by selecting an area of interest in the picture itself. You simply roll the mouse over any part of the image and use the up and down keyboard arrow keys to make the tones there lighter or darker. When you start using this method of tone editing to refine the tones in an image, you don’t even need to look at the Tone Curve panel. Remember: the up and down arrows adjust the tone values and the left and right arrow keys allow you to navigate from one image to the next.

If you find you like using the on-image tone curve editing and screen real estate is of a premium, you can collapse the tone curve sliders by clicking on the chevron icon in the tone curve graph.

Note: Hovering the mouse cursor anywhere over the slider area activates the slider control so that you can increase or decrease the settings via the up and down arrow keys. Holding down the Option/alt key as you adjust the values will apply smaller incremental adjustments. Holding down the Shift key as you adjust the values will apply larger incremental adjustments.

Develop module toolbar
The toolbar is now common to all Lightroom modules (you can press T to toggle showing and hiding the toolbar). The first icon is the Crop mode button. Click on this to switch to crop mode. Although, I find it easier now to always use the ‘R’ shortcut for toggling the crop tool mode on and off. Next, the Loupe view button shows the default view. The double Y icon provides the full range of Before/After views, such as Before/After left and right, Before/After with the image split in two and so on.

That concludes this initial introduction to what’s new in the Develop module. This isn’t a complete description of how everything works, but it does provide a good reference point for learning how the new tools work and the significance of some of the develop slider control changes and why you should expect to see some shifts in image appearance.

OK, so there are no retouching tools in there yet for things like redeye or spotting, but that does not mean these won’t be making an appearance in a later build. For now at least there is a lot here already to start playing with. Enjoy!

The Adobe Lightroom book
Peachpit will be publishing The Adobe Lightroom Book by Martin Evening.

Martin has been working with Lightroom from the beginning, providing feedback to Lightroom’s development well before the public beta and monitoring the product’s development.

The Adobe Lightroom Book describes Lightroom’s features in detail and with photographers in mind.

Photographers who routinely work with raw images will find Lightroom–and The Adobe Lightroom Book–an indispensable tool in their digital darkroom.

ROUGH CUTS BOOK: The Adobe Lightroom Book
by Martin Evening
Publisher: Adobe Press
Pub Date: December 29, 2006 (est.)
Print ISBN-10: 0-32-138543-8
Print ISBN-13: 978-0-321-38543-7
eText ISBN-10: 0-321-45003-5
Estimated pages: 320
List Price: USD $40.00 (when released)
Special Rough Cuts pricing on Safari:
Print Book and Online Access Bundle USD $44.99
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2 Responses to “Lightroom Beta 4: The Develop module”

  1. SeanMcFoto Says:

    Thanks for the excellent introduction to the new features in Develop. I’m looking forward to the Library article

  2. Sol Says:

    Hey Martin,
    As of Beta 4, i am now using Lightroom as a regular part of my workflow. Thanks for this introduction to the ‘Develop’ module. As Sean commented, i too am looking forward to your ‘Library’ introduction. Currently, I am still using iView Media Pro 3 for DAM management, and Lightroom for most everything else. At least until PSCS tools are needed. Looking forward to your input on the right way to get the most out of the LR Library module.
    By the way, looks like the ‘Martin Evening Lightroom Book’ will soon become the 4th Martin Evening book to be added to my technical library. You and ‘Katrin’ are my favorites. Keep up the great work!!

    Sol Sims

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