A Photos and Facets Tutorial: Laying a Lightroom Foundation

It’s been a few years since I’ve written a tutorial on this blog. I can count on one hand and less than half the fingers how many I’ve written in all, however I have given several lessons to different people individually and collectively over the years via phone, chats and in person.

So here I am today, writing a tutorial in hopes it will help clear up some things for some people on how the photo-processing software program works. I am not going to get into the details of what sliders to use and when, or other processing particulars. No, today is just to lay a foundation of how the program works to hopefully clarify some things and make it easier to understand the other functions that I may share later.

First, let me compartmentalize the program along with the other items necessary to make it produce the end result. Lightroom uses three parts to create your finished image. To demonstrate and give you an idea, let me start with an example of something else that uses three parts. A LIBRARY that contains books!

Let’s say that you go to your local library to check out a book.

In that library you will find…

1) The Building

2) The Books

3) The Library Catalogs or Information System. Today, most all of the information is stored in a database on a computer. In past, that information was stored on cards that were filed in drawers.

You have the BUILDING that contains the BOOKS and the Library CATALOG SYSTEM. In order to find the book you want, you must have the information about the book and its location. To get that information, you need to use the Library Catalog via a file drawer/cards system or computer information system to look up the name, author, etc. and identify its location within the building. Once you have all of the information and know where it is, you can then find the actual book on the shelves in the building.

Now, let’s compare that to Lightroom. You have…

1) *Lightroom the Program

2) **Original Images (It is always best to shoot your images in RAW as compared to jpg. RAW files contain ALL of the information of the image which will result in more detail in processing, where jpg image files are compressed and much of the information is no longer available. This is a different subject all together that perhaps will be touched on at a later time.)

3) ***Lightroom Catalog

*Lightroom (the program) can be compared to the BUILDING. It is the main structure or application. The Lightroom application is the program that allows the other two segments to connect and establish a finished product.

**The original images can be compared to the BOOKS. Without them…well, there is no final product. They are the reason we are here. Although the original image file contains everything needed within it to make an outstanding final product, it can appear a little blah or bland straight out of the camera. Which is why the next part is very important, the Catalog.

***The LR Catalog is compared to the Library’s CATALOG SYSTEM and is where all the information is stored. It is a database in LR that contains all of the data of the adjustments, changes, edits, effects you have made with your sliders, presets, etc. to your image. (Although in our comparison the Library Building’s Catalog System contains information about the books and doesn’t really affect the books and Lightroom’s Catalog contains information that is both about the image and affects the look of the image, the point is they both contain INFORMATION.)

The Catalog is stored on your drive and connected to the Lightroom program. All of the effects of the sliders – changing contrast, adding or removing saturation, detail, etc. are stored within that database and is shown as a .lrcat file on your drive. You can’t really SEE the catalog when using the Lightroom Program, only the results by the changes that are made to your image from the adjustments mentioned above. Here is the description of a Catalog according to Adobe’s website: A catalog is a database that tracks the location of photos and information about them.

If you were to look for it on your drive, it might look something like this:

Screen Shot 2013-06-28 at 1.30.48 PM

It’s the LR Catalog where I find most people get stuck and have difficulty understanding how it functions. When you import your images through LR the program, you are not actually storing them IN the program, however the program is used as a liaison for the images and the Catalog, in order to keep a filing system of the images. The original images are stored wherever you determine you want them stored in the importing process – which will be on your hard drive, either the computer’s internal or an external (my personal preference.) When you import your images, the Catalog creates a filing system in the LR program’s module called Library (of all things) under the Folders panel. That is where you will go to find the images that you desire to edit and process. (I am going to save further explanation of the import process for perhaps another tutorial later on.)

If the Catalog System at the Library Building was to be deleted or become corrupt, the books would still be there – only the information regarding the books would be missing. The same is said for the LR Catalog. If you have made changes in LR the program and can see the color, detail, contrast, exposure differences, etc. then something happens to your Catalog and it gets deleted or becomes corrupt, you will still have your images – only without the extra oomph: the color, detail, contrast, exposure differences, etc. In other words, when you are making adjustments in Lightroom, those changes are not touching your original image. It is what is referred to as being Non-Destructive. The original image is never really touched or changed. It is the Catalog’s information on top of the image, so to speak, that is showing the effects of the change. You are really only seeing previews of your image through the Lightroom Catalog. If your Catalog file disappeared, your original image file is still exactly as it was when you first shot it. The only way to combine the two looks together to get the finished product is to export and create a jpg image (or other file format) that will allow you to share via internet, print, or websites.

One benefit is this: If you edit your images using Lightroom and create a finished product that you really like, then come back in two years and look at it again and dislike it, you can completely redo it because your original image file has not been altered. Your original images are stored on the hard drive where you placed them and although you can view and edit them through Lightroom, they are not really IN Lightroom the program. All Lightroom is doing is creating a Catalog of changes that combined with your previews, show you what your finished image will look like once you have exported and saved it.

With that said, keep in mind the importance of not only having backup copies of your original images, you also need to make backup copies of your LR Catalog and DO NOT make those backup copies on the same drive as the original LR Catalog. If your Lightroom Program and Catalog are stored on your computer’s internal drive, make certain when you back up your Catalog that you do so on an external drive. Lightroom allows you to determine when you would like a reminder to back up your Catalog. It can be weekly, daily or even every time you shut down the program. You determine that in your preferences. Just make sure you do it and don’t ignore.

Screen Shot 2013-06-28 at 11.37.51 AM

Although, it is obvious that you do not ever want to lose your original image files, it is also important to make sure you do not lose the changes you’ve made to those images through the program. Thus the importance of backing up your Catalog. In addition, it is a good idea to form a habit of exporting and creating your final image (jpg, etc.) immediately after processing. There are few things worse for a photographer than to have spent hours processing and editing photos of a shoot, not save jpgs immediately with the intent of doing it later and then have something happen to your Lightroom Catalog. Ouch!

As I mentioned at the beginning, this is only a foundation of what Lightroom is and can do. The purpose of this particular post is to explain the nuts and bolts of what Lightroom is and how it operates. Later we will focus on the Library Module, with will tie this all together with importing your images into the program and catalog, explain the filing system in more depth and how to use the Folders, Collections, and Publishing Services.

I’ve discovered it is much easier to explain this to someone verbally, than it is to explain by writing. I sure hope you have found it to be beneficial and hopefully it has cleared up some things for you. If it has, please let me know. If you are more confused than ever, please let me know that as well.


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