My Lightroom Workflow – pt. 2

cameracalib.jpgNow that Lightroom 2.2 has just been released, I thought it was a good idea to extend on my previous post where I talked about how I work with Lightroom on the import and image management side. Now it’s time to slightly dive into color and contrast management and how to get them right using the camera profiles that have just been delivered with the latest update.

Whenever I talk about Lightroom on my workshops, I inevitable get a question along the lines of: “When I import RAW pictures into Lightroom, they look great for a few seconds and all of a sudden, their preview switches to a much duller version. What’s happening here and how do I get them back to where I had them originally?”

The answer has to do with the fact that what your camera shows you on its display is not the RAW image, but a JPG preview. And that preview is typically embedded in the RAW image. And it has your camera’s processing settings applied to it.

Those processing settings (sometimes called profiles, not to be mixed up with ICC profiles) are different for different cameras. My Canon EOS 5D calls them “Picture Styles” (Nikon calls them “Image optimization presets), and they are presets for sharpness, contrast, saturation, tone and potentially a few more things behind the scenes that we don’t really know about. In my camera’s case those styles/profiles/presets are called Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Neutral and Faithful (Nikon’s are called Normal, Portrait, Vivid etc.) and they apply to JPG images produced by the camera as well as to the previews that are embedded inside RAW files. The very previews that my camera shows to me on its display.

The reason it does that is that you can’t just display a RAW image. You have to develop it first. In this case ‘develop’ means some form of interpretation of the image. Software like Aperture or Lightroom make this a very transparent process by showing you something right away, but what you see always going to be some form of interpretation depending on what you set all the sliders to.

Now when you import those images into Lightroom, it will try to give you an as pleasant as possible user experience, i.e. it tries to get a preview of the image up on the screen as fast as it can. And using the embedded preview from the RAW file is much faster than reading the whole RAW file, interpreting it and then building the preview from that. But that’s what we’ll eventually work with, so while we look at the preview in all its glory and contrastiness and colorfulness, Lightroom secretly reads the full RAW file and builds the real preview. In the background and out of your sight. This takes a second or two (or ten, depending on your computer’s oomph), and as soon as it is finished, it will replace the original preview with the real one. And that is typically duller, less contrasty, less colorful. That’s just the way RAW files are supposed to be. This gives you more room to work with, to boost contrasts to your liking, and so forth. What it does not always do is please your eyes. That’s simply because RAW is part of a workflow and typically needs more work. The reward is that you can typically get so much more out of a RAW image than out of a JPG.

But you might still want to use what you saw on your camera as a starting point. And here is the point where Lightroom’s new camera profiles come in and make a great entrance. Select one of your pictures, hit the ‘D’ key (for Develop), then in the right-hand pane scroll all the way down until you reach Camera Calibration and – voila – there they are, your camera’s built-in profiles.

Let’s say you shot the image on Portrait setting. Just select that from the Profile pulldown and your image will look pretty close to what you expect. And of course you can apply that setting to any other images by using Lighroom’s Sync feature, so here’s my piece of workflow around this:

  1. After finishing my image imports and all the rating and sorting, I select one of the images and hit the ‘D’ key to see it in the ‘Develop’ view
  2. I navigate to the ‘Camera Calibration’ pane and select the according camera setting from the ‘Profile’ pulldown menu (not to be confused with ICC profiles)
  3. I go back to the library grid (‘G’ key) and in addition to the just modified image, I select all other images that were shot with the same camera preset (or picture style, etc.)
  4. I hit the ‘Sync Settings’ button and select ‘Calibration’ as the only thing on this list
  5. I hit the ‘Synchronize’ key and have a big smile on my face while watching the selected pictures in the grid magically change.

Here is some more in-depth reading on the subject of Adobe Camera Raw Calibration.

Do you have additional tips around using this feature? Leave a comment!

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Author: Chris Marquardt

Chris Marquardt is an educator and podcaster. He wrote Wide-Angle Photography and is the co-author of The Film Photography Handbook and Absolut analog. He's the host of this podcast and a few others. Chris teaches photography all over the world. He is a regular on the TWiT Network.