Lightroom. There’s something about even the word that conjures up familiar feelings in the minds of photogs and camera jockeys everywhere.
Adobe Lightroom has long been considered the upper tier of digital photography processing…and with good reason.
As the name would suggest, Lightroom is the evolutionary descendant of the “darkroom”. It was here where the masters of our art worked for hours in complete darkness in order to birth the legendary photographs of our time quite literally from the depths of blackness.
Lightroom Classic CC Review | What is Adobe Lightroom?
To understand what Lightroom is we also have to understand what it is not. In reality, most of us choose to omit using the full name of Lightroom which, depending on which version you happen to be sporting, carries the full title of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.
So yeah, in reality Lightroom is an offshoot of Adobe Photoshop which has long been considered as the be-all-end-all of photographic and graphics processing.
Yet for all its glory and power Photoshop can be a tad bit overwhelming and many of its functions are simply not needed for the day to day image processing desires of the average photographer… if such a creature as an “average photographer” truly exists.
Lightroom serves to bridge the proverbial gap between what the everyday snapshotter requires while still offering the awesome functionality demanded by full-on photography professionals.
With Lightroom, we have a way to process, catalog and store our RAW image files with extreme prejudice; all the while keeping the software itself slim and efficient. Perhaps most importantly, Lightroom accomplishes all of this and more while remaining stunningly simple to use.
Lightroom Standalone vs Lightroom Subscription
Let’s take a brief walk back to the not so distant past and discuss the differences between the current Adobe business model and how things used to be just a few short years ago.
As it stands, Adobe currently licenses all of it’s software through a Cloud-based subscription service.
Back in 2013, Adobe launched it’s ‘Creative Cloud’ platform.
Then, towards the end of 2017, they announced that Lightroom 6 would be the final “buyable” version of our beloved Lightroom software. [Here’s how to buy standalone Lightroom]
As far as Lightroom or any other of Adobe’s creative platforms are concerned, you don’t actually buy the software anymore but rather lease it on a month by month basis.
Some people love this and some people hate it. Regardless, it is currently the only way to continue to receive software updates and new features in Lightroom.
Believe it or not you can actually still get what is called a “stand alone” version of Lightroom. Granted it is Lightroom 6…and there will be no updates for the program at all…ever.
All the same, it carries a certain nostalgia for a simpler time when you could pop a disk into your computer and away you went.
Lightroom Review | Features
Adobe Lightroom Classic CC packs in so many awesome features that it would take a book to list them all. In fact, I’ve written one such book called Lightroom Mastery…. [Related: Review of Lightroom Mastery]
Lightroom’s mainstay features of course allow us to expel complete dominance over exposure, contrast, color and clarity, along with sharpening and noise control.
However, over the last year Adobe has injected some incredibly fresh new features that will “wow” you in every sense of the word.
Let’s talk about a couple of the best and brightest new features offered in Lightroom Classic CC right now.
The brand new ‘Range Mask’ feature was introduced with the v7.2 release of Lightroom Classic CC.
What this nifty little tool allows us to do is control how Lightroom applies our local adjustments (gradient/radial filters, brush) based on selectable luminance and color valuations.
When working with the range mask based on luminance we can selectively control which brightness values will receive our local adjustments. Let me show you what I mean.
In the photo below I want to add a little bit of clarity and increased exposure to bring out the details in the shadows of center monolith.
If I use a plain radial filter, the effect looks very unnatural even when feathered to 100%.
I can use the range mask slider to include or exclude certain brightness values. In our case, the brighter sky in the background is excluded.
Not only that, but I can use the range mask to include or exclude certain color tones that will be influenced by my local adjustments as well.
This feature of Lightroom Classic CC is hugely convenient when working with scenes that feature widely varied colors like autumn leaves or landscapes.
When working with the color range mask we have the option to use the color dropper tool to precisely choose what colors will receive our local adjustments.
Here we have an image where I want to brighten the tree in the center of the frame but leave the sky out of the entire situation.
Now, we see the local adjustment applied with no range mask.
And next with my color mask applied….
Alright everybody, this is the big one. Let’s talk about the new ‘Creative Profiles’ now available in Lightroom Classic CC.
Creative Profiles or simply ‘profiles’ are one small step for photography but represent an incredible leap forward for photographic kind.
Profiles are quite different from develop preset in that they don’t rely on preset adjustment slider values.
This allows for an enormous amount of creative control unlike ever before.
Profiles work just like camera profiles do right inside your camera by applying particular “looks” based on certain desired outcomes.
The great thing about profiles is that they are awesome for color grading and applying other edits without interfering with any adjustments you might already have made.
Lightroom Classic CC Review | Lightroom Alternatives
I try not to deal too much in absolutes when it comes to anything and this is especially true in photography.
Admittedly, while Lightroom is incredible in so many ways we shouldn’t forget that there are other photo editing programs out there. In fact, one of them is just another flavor of Lightroom itself.
Here are three readily available Lightroom alternatives that you can easily put to use today.
Up until now, we’ve been talking about Lightroom Classic CC. This is the newest evolution of the “classic” standalone Lightroom that we all know and love.
But did you know that there is an even newer, more streamlined version called Lightroom CC?
This looks like an entirely different animal from what we’re used to seeing in Lightroom Classic CC.
All of our tools are now much more intuitive and one could say more “mobile friendly” when compared to the primarily desktop driven Classic version of Lightroom.
Lightroom CC is included with your Adobe Creative Cloud Photography subscription alongside Lightroom Classic CC. Give it a spin if you’re looking to refresh your Lightroom editing and let us know which one you prefer.
Over the last few years I’ve had the opportunity to evaluate and review three separate evolutions of the editing software from the folks at ON1. The last generation, Photo RAW 2018.5 has by far been the absolute best.
ON1 prides itself on combining the best of both Lightroom and Photoshop into one concise albeit dense standalone program.
From incredible presets and filters to advanced Photoshop-esque layering and mask capabilities, ON1 Photo RAW 2018.5 is a high performing “other guy” when it comes to non-Adobe photo editing software.
Don’t have thirty or forty thousand dollars lying around to spend on a medium format digital camera?
Don’t worry, you can still use the editing software that was originally engineered for the incredible Phase One medium-format digital camera systems!
Capture One now supports a host of mainstream digital cameras including Canon, Nikon and now Sony.
Some photographers even confess to prefer the RAW processor of Capture One to that of Lightroom in terms of color accuracy.
Luminar is a universal all-in-one photo editing app that can be used either as a stand alone program or as a plugin in with Lightroom, Photoshop, or Apple Photos.
The fully overhauled Luminar 2018 version offers some impressive artificial intelligence backed features that are useful to photographers of all levels.
Whether it’s a viable alternative to Lightroom or not is discussed in the full review of Luminar 2018, so check it out and see if it can fit into your post production workflow.
Lightroom Classic CC Review | Final Thoughts
I’ve sat here and pondered how best to end out this review of Lightroom Classic CC. I mean, how to sum up a piece of software that has meant so much to so many photographers over the years, myself included.
Lightroom, for whatever role it plays within the greater whole of the photographic world, is the product of not just some company trying to make a computer program to edit photos. Instead, in some weird way, Lightroom could be called a culmination of over a century of photographic experiences…both film and digital.
Admittedly, an image is arguably not a photograph until it has been processed and creatively massaged to bring out the original visualization of the photographer.
Perhaps instead of focusing(photo humor) so much on the way we edit our images we should instead channel our artistic energies towards the process of expressing ourselves through powerful composition and honest technique.
In the end, we all use the tools we have to do the best we can. Whether in Lightroom or the darkroom, always try to make the most of whatever methods you have available to bring out the best in you and your photographs.
Adam Welch is an adventure and wilderness photographer, educator, and author of Lightroom Mastery and the Faces of Grayson