I was thinking about old software and new software when a friend asked me about the new features of Lightroom 4. Since I am using Lightroom 2, I couldn’t say much. Then the same friend wrote me: “I recall being with you when you first loaded Lightroom on your laptop. Several of us were already using it and you finally decided it was better than what you were using.” While that statement is true on one level, it got me thinking about Lightroom, how I use that software and the general tendency in photography to buy the latest upgrade/lens/ etc.
An example of being forced to change software, almost against my will, involves updating the operating system on my Mac Book Air. In order to use the iCloud service to sync between computers, iPhones, etc, I am switching my Mac to the Lion operating system. I see no need to do this other than Apple’s ending the Mobile Me service that preceded iCloud. I was happy with things as they were, but time (and Apple) march on.
The one thing that I do turn over regularly are my cameras and lenses (and not just because I am working with the camera manufacturer Olympus.) Digital imaging sensors are getting better with each camera. Fixed focal length lenses, with ever larger maximum apertures are coming out in greater varieties, which can give me more creative control. Since I am all about getting it right in capture, the latest and greatest cameras/lenses actually make a difference in my photography.
Conversely, since I do almost NO post-production work on my images, the latest and greatest software is not going to do me much good. I am not disparaging anyone who upgrades software regularly, but I would use the same test in evaluating a software upgrade as I use when I think about updating a camera or lens. If it solves a problem I regularly have, improving my original capture and saving me time/effort, then in it in fact may be worth the upgrade. Using that same criteria, it is easy to explain why I haven’t moved forward with the latest Lightroom (or Photoshop or Final Cut or….) It also explains why the friend whose email started me thinking about this, why he has decided to get Lightroom 4. It resolves some of his workflow/imaging challenges.
So why did I even start using Lightroom in place of Photoshop? Because I came to see one part of the Lightroom software that would vastly improve my workflow. The one and only thing I use Lightroom for is making bulk corrections on a set of images (especially RAW files.) In older versions of Photoshop, if you selected 100 images in a folder it would only apply one tonal correction or white balance correction to all 100 images. Lightroom, thankfully, will auto tone and auto white balance as many images as needed, treating each image differently. That is real time saver for me. Lightroom also has also recently become my go to program when I want to re-size a set of images since the Export feature has so many variables.
If you look at my Lightroom interface you will see NO images in my library. In fact it looks like it has never been used since I routinely delete all the files I have worked on from the Lightroom interface/library/archive. One thing that many people use Lightroom for is building their library (archive) of their work. I find the hierarchy and organizational structure of Lightroom maddening. That is partly because I have built a very thorough and robust archiving system around what I consider a much better archiving program called Media Pro (and because I have no interest in learning Lightroom’s weirdly structured library system.) Could I do more with Lightroom? Certainly! Do I want to spend the time to learn how to do those things? Absolutely not! But again, that’s just me!
One lesson I learned from all of this is how I am pleased that I was lucky enough not to get involved in teaching specific digital imaging soft ware programs. Early on in the digital revolution, I thought about that and I worried about getting left behind. I have to admit that some of the early adapters who teach those software classes have since gone on to great success. Despite their success, that kind of teaching does not interest me a bit, especially now that I see I would be relearning the various software programs every few years, whether I wanted to or not.
So for me, and this is the most subjective part of all, what interests me about photography is getting what is in front of the camera onto the chip/film. Since the camera technology (and the lens technology) keep improving, that is where I am moving up to the latest gear. I do not keep updating my software since those programs still do the largely same thing to the RAW image, which is largely finished as far as I am concerned once I have made my capture.
Finally, I find learning new soft ware programs ever more challenging. So much so that I am using Photoshop 3 when the photo “world” is racing towards Photoshop 6. As I noted, I am still using Lightroom 2 when the same photo “world” is migrating to version 4. I know that Photoshop 6 and Lightroom 4 have significant improvements that benefit photographers, like my wife and the friend whose note triggered this blog entry. A small part of me worries about this and a larger part of me doesn’t much care. I am quickly becoming the digital version of the cranky old film shooter still insisting on his (or her) Tri-X black and white negative film.