Saturday, July 26, 2014

Moving from Apple's Aperture to Adobe's Lightroom (Part 2)

Ten days ago, I began a trial of Adobe's Lightroom after I learned that Apple would be retiring their pro photography software, Aperture, and their consumer photography software, iPhoto, in favor of a new product called Photos that will (supposedly) serve both constituencies (see MacWorld for the announcement).  In "Moving From Apple's Aperture to Adobe's Lightroom (Part 1?)," I noted some missing, "fixed" (from an Aperture perspective), and "new" features in Lightroom and concluded that things were promising thus far.  Before the end of last week, but after my last post, I had also installed a trial version of Photoshop as well, since that would come with the same subscription as Lightroom.  What follows is some of my additional thoughts.

Alignment, Cropping, and Color Correction (Lightroom)

The alignment, cropping, color correction, and all of the general development tools (sharpening, noise reduction, etc.) work quite well.  In many ways, I like the way Lightroom handles these tasks better than Aperture.  I have also come around a bit on the "auto" function, but I still think it does not estimate exposure correction anywhere near accurately.  It does provide a good starting point, though, for photos that need relatively little work.

For photos that were slightly crooked and needed color correction, I was able to re-align the photo plus match the colors to what I believe my eye saw.  (Note the richness of the wood doors with Samantha and Benjamin posing in front in the example below.)
Before and After:  Alignment and color corrected.
Before and After:  Alignment and colors corrected.
In addition, I have become rather fond of the "Before" and "After" functionality.  The example above shows the full picture, but you can also cut the picture horizontally and vertically with the before and after sitting as a piece of the entire picture, which is very convenient.

While most of the controls were pretty straight forward, I seems right to call out the usability of the alignment function:  It works well, but is less intuitive than in Aperture where you just have to move the photo within the grid (Lightroom relies mostly on a slider).

Where is the AF Point (Lightroom)?

Canon's Digital Photo Professional with AF Point(s) shown.
Canon's Digital Photo Professional with AF Point(s) shown.
One thing that perplexes me is that Lightroom cannot display the AF point from the camera as an overlay on a photo; the functionality does not even exist.  I read a bunch of forum posts that seemed to say this was a difficult thing to do, etc., yet Aperture does it (at least before the photo is developed).  Canon's own Digital Photo Professional software can also show the AF point, so that's what I used for those photos where I wanted to know.  I also still use Canon's software if I need to examine the original RAW file in a little more detail without even the basic processing done on import into something like Lightroom or Aperture.

One might think that the lack of AF Point overlay functionality is a nit, but that focus point comes in handy in low light situations.  Notice that the photo in the example is slightly blurry (more on that later) due to camera shake.  I was able to correct it in Photoshop, but needed to know where I had set the focus point to understand what parts were blurry due to the shallow depth of field I used (f/2.8) and what parts were blurry because of camera shake due to such a slow shutter speed being used (1/10 sec); this is small, but situationally important, function.

Visual Cues for Stacks (Lightroom Usability)

One of the things that I have had some difficulty figuring out is where a stack begins, ends, or if a frame is part of a stack or not in the filmstrip.  I tend to use stacks for two purposes:  to group bracketed photos or to group corrections or fundamental changes to a photo, yet I want to still keep the reference image.  My last outing was to Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site in Hyde Park, NY.  The day was both cloudy and bright (high contrast), so my outside pictures tended to be bracketed.  I put those in a stack:

Two stacks of bracketed photos.  Note that there are very few visual cues except for the [3] at the beginning of the stack and the very light break line at its end.
Two stacks of bracketed photos.  Note that there are very few visual cues excepting the "[3]" at the beginning of the stack and the very light line break at its end.
The problem is, there are no visual cues to show when the stack ends or that these photos are part of a stack with the exception of the number listed on the first photo and a very thin (almost imperceptible) line at its end.  If I hover over (or select, as in the example below) one of the members of the stack it does note that it is photo x of y (where x is the sequence of the photo selected and y is the total number in the stack):
Two stacks of bracketed photos.  Selecting a photo in the stack reveals its position in the stack relative to the beginning.
Two stacks of bracketed photos.  Selecting a photo reveals its position relative to the stack's beginning and end.
I eventually used the tagging feature to color code my stacks.  I primarily used red, but when stacks were next to each other I used purple to alternate.  It is an easy way around the problem I had seeing them, but some better visual cues would seem to be in order.  I should not be guessing whether something is in a stack or not.

Two stacks of bracketed photos.  Coloring the stacks made them stand out for me.
Camera Shake Correction (Lightroom -> Photoshop -> Lightroom)
Editing in Photoshop from Lightroom.
As I noted earlier, some of the photos I took at Vanderbilt Mansion were in low light.  Even at high ISO (2000 in one case), I had four photos that were slightly blurry due to camera shake at the slow shutter speed I was using (e.g. 1/10 sec).  Essentially, I moved slightly even though I had braced myself against the wall.  In general, depending on the amount of shake, the photo could just look like it is in soft focus or be completely unusable.  Since all four photos were not too bad (I could have gotten away with doing nothing at all for two of them), I thought I would see if I could correct the shake in Photoshop.

The process was pretty simple:  right click the photo and select "Edit In" and then "Edit in Adobe Photoshop CC 2014."  The photo is then exported and brought up in Photoshop for additional editing.  I will not go into the details of how I fixed the blur, but I will note that Photoshop has a handy set of tools to select the area of the photo that requires correction and then sampling the photo and progressively sharpening it; it can use its own selected area and/or one (or more) areas of your choosing.  Once the edits were complete, I merely saved the photo and it appeared back in Lightroom as a new version of the original already in a stack.  Once re-imported, I finished "developing" the photo (exposure, color, etc.).
For this particular photo, knowing the location of the focus point was important.  When I took the picture, I had the lens wide open at f/2.8, so the resulting photo had a very shallow depth of field.  It was not easy to tell where the natural focus was that had blurred due to camera shake versus naturally blurred areas because of the shallow depth of field used.  Interestingly, Photoshop seemed to know where the focus point was because it picked that same area for its initial auto correction.  I then selected a couple of manual areas.  I am happy with the result even though I did not post this particular picture when I was done—I had another version that did not suffer from camera shake.

Conclusion:  Still Happy
I am still happy with the way Lightroom has performed in this trial period.  Despite some of the "missing features" I have noted, the most important thing is that I can effectively and efficiently develop my photographs while having enough creative tools to made adjustments I feel are necessary (or just desired).  I have twenty days left, so I'll keep shooting.

My best,


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Moving from Apple's Aperture and Adobe's Lightroom (Part 1?)

Is now the time to move to Adobe Lightroom?
On June 27, 2014, MacWorld reported that Apple would be retiring their pro photography software, Aperture, and their consumer photography software, iPhoto, in favor of a new product called Photos that will (supposedly) serve both constituencies.  While Aperture development has now stopped with the exception of updates needed to make it compatible with the next OS X release, Photos will not ship until sometime next year (2015).  The last minor update to Aperture was last November (2013); the last major release was four years ago (in 2010).  Perhaps they stopped working on it a bit sooner than this announcement.

I have used Aperture since mid-2007 and have been generally happy with it.  With its up-and-coming demise, I decided to investigate Adobe's Photoshop Lightroom and see if it would be able to handle my rather simple workflow as capably as Aperture has for the last seven years (excepting some major bugs over time) and perhaps be the solution for some of that product's little annoyances.  If it seems to be able to handle what I can throw at it after a trial period (maybe the next month—heavy photo season for me), I will switch to it as my primary and use Aperture as a backup until I can figure out a way to migrate my libraries without too much pain.  One thing I am not too excited about is that Adobe is renting their software by subscription.  Nevertheless, if they keep it maintained and the price is not exorbitant (currently $9.99 per month for Lightroom and Photoshop) I will pony up at the end of my trial period.

As of today, I have been using Lightroom 5.5 for approximately forty-eight hours.  I processed three albums of photos and found the tool be quite usable once I got over educating myself on the interface.  I did not get a chance yet to see how the Photomatix plug-in works within the tool (no HDR-eligible photos, in my opinion) or the stacking feature for bracketed photos (all three albums had no bracketed photos); bracketing and stacking is an oft-used feature for me.  I also did not use some of the more powerful features of the tool; my goal was simple workflow:  can it do it or not?

Features and "Features"
As with any time I switch main products, my observations are bound by the fact that I know the original product pretty well.  In this case, I have been using Aperture for almost seven years.  With scant few upgrades in that time, it is safe to say I know my way around the product.  Nevertheless, I have tried to keep my mind open and not fault Lightroom (or Aperture, for that matter) when things are just different.  Below is my list of "new" and "missing" features in my forty-eight hour comparison.  None are showstoppers, but I did have to invent some workarounds in a couple cases.

"New" Features
These are features that either Aperture does not have or if it does it is cumbersome to use.
  • A way to easily upload a subset of my photos to Facebook.  Aperture does have this feature, but it stinks.  It always wanted to upload previews in such low resolution that the pictures were absolutely terrible.  Lightroom's Facebook publisher is better, but even better than the built-in one is Jeffrey Friedl's "Export to Facebook" Lightroom Plugin.  It allowed me to create albums, set things to private or just visible to friends, and I could enter any metadata I wanted into the caption field.  I like my captions to have my file identifier so that I can locate the original if need be.  This takes a ton of time off of my workflow because I do not have to export a slightly lower resolution version of my photos, upload them, and then edit the captions after I upload my photos.  Of course, if Facebook kept and showed select metadata I would not feel the need to do that.  (Note:  the photos did not seem to retain their location information, but I was initially using the plug-in with its default settings, which stripped location information).
  • A way to upload my photos to Google+ (via Picasa).  Okay, this is via a third-party plug-in (also by Jeffrey Friedl; see Jeffrey Friedl's "Export to Picasa" Lightroom Plugin).  While a third-party plug-in does exist for Aperture, like the imbedded Facebook plug-in it wanted to use the preview.  I always just exported the pictures as JPEGs and uploaded them to Google+.  This saves a very small amount of time in my workflow because I do not have to export my picture subset for Google+ at a slightly lower resolution and then upload, but it is convenient.
  •  Useful plug-ins.  Every Aperture plug-in I downloaded (excepting Photomatix, which is awesome for creating HDR composites) never lived up to its hype.  Lightroom's plug-ins (particularly the publish plug-ins) are quite robust.  Now if someone could just write a decent, simple metadata export plug-in (see "missing features") ...
  • More brushes.  I noticed a graduated filter brush, which greatly helped me adjust a photo where the sky was just a bit too bright and I did not use a polarizing filter or a ND filter over the lens (I had for some others in the batch I tested).  I also noticed a few nice presets that allowed me to easily modify a photo to monochrome through an orange filter.  (The B&W filter feature also exists in Aperture and is very easy to use, so perhaps I am giving Lightroom a little too much credit here).
  • A more accurate white balance eyedropper tool.  While Lightroom does not seem to have any sort of automatic white balance via algorithm like Aperture does, I found its eyedropper tool to adjust colors a little bit more accurately when the grey area is identified with it (at least in my eye—white balance can be as much about preference and style as accuracy).
  • Memory doesn't seem to leak as much and the CPU does not go insane after using the tool for a little while.  This is not a feature, of course, but it is much appreciated.  Aperture has been making me nuts lately and once the "beach ball" begins to appear regularly it is time to exit and re-start the program.
  • Mobile!  Lightroom's mobile app is not perfect, but it is pretty neat to see your pictures synch up and be able to sort, pick, and reject frames.  You can also do some light adjustments.
"Missing" Features
These are features that Aperture clearly has and I could not find in Lightroom.  I believe it is possible that third-party plug-ins may be able to resolve some of these or I just do not know where to find them yet, but it is too early to tell.
  • No built-in spell check for captions.  This was a relatively recent add for Aperture and was a welcome addition.  Sometimes, when I type comments fast I introduce minor type-os that are not easy to see.
  • No facial recognition.  I got into the habit of tagging who was in my photos.  I realize I can just add a tag in Lightroom, but the fact that Aperture shows all of the faces and could even recognize some of them make this an easy exercise.  I haven't figured out what I want to do here yet.  There are some workarounds that I found, but I am not happy with them.  For now, I'll either manually add the tags or just not bother until I find a better solution. 
  • No way to easily export metadata.  Aperture's metadata export is easy to use and comprehensive:  select the photos you want, right click, export metadata.  Lightroom does not have this function at all and the third party tools I found didn't just dump the information (and they wanted me to buy the plug-in to boot!).  The only reason I need the metadata is sort of stupid:  Shutterfly doesn't automatically load comments when you upload.  (I know, I know, I should switch services).  It adds a lot to my workflow, but it is a lot easier when I can cut and paste them from a spreadsheet.  An easy workaround was to just use Phil Harvey's ExifTool on my exported photos.  I seem to be using ExifTool for a lot of things anyway from fixing time shifts to pushing GPS coordinates and elevation into my pictures.  I am still surprised there is no built-in metadata export, though.
  • I always felt that Aperture's map function was sort of clunky.  Lightroom's is too.  I had hoped it would be better.
  • A real "auto" function.  I pressed "auto" to see what it would do.  A lot of times in Aperture, I would start with the auto and tweak from there (particularly white balance - I never liked the default white balance).  Lightroom's auto is just okay.  It can't set an auto exposure if its life depended on it, though.  If you enjoy blown out highlights, then this is the feature for you.
  • No auto white balance (without the eyedropper).  Aperture's auto white balance was hit and miss, but it usually gave me a good place to start when the lighting was not perfect.  You just have to sort of wing it in Lightroom.

Promising Results Thus Far 
My results thus far are promising and I have probably mentally made the decision to switch unless I find something even better.  I do not want to wait until the very end nor do I want to wait for Photos; I'll check that out when it is released.  I have been feeling that things have not been advancing in Aperture for some time, so I had already been considering a switch.  This is giving me the impetus to do it.

My Best,