Lightroom 3 released

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 is out and, as you’d expect, it has almost all the features we’ve discussed previously—the much-improved image rendering and sharpening, the excellent noise-reduction routines, the lens distortion correction—and some that we haven’t, like tethered shooting, improved printing layouts and a much better slideshow module.

Lightroom 3 box

Keen Amazon UK pricing for Lightroom 3

Amazon UK is taking pre-orders for the full version of Lightroom 3, the upgrade from version 2 and the full academic version and right now (9th June 2010), Amazon’s prices are excellent. If they fall further before the product ships, you’ll end up paying the lower price. Remember: when you buy Lightroom, you get the Mac and Windows applications on the same disc. (However, Lightroom 3 won’t run on G4 or G5 Macs—it’s Intel only.) Adobe’s standard licence allows you to install and use the application on one desktop and one laptop, provided they’re not used simultaneously.

Lightroom 3 beta 2 will expire

Until your copy of Lightroom 3 arrives, you can use the beta version (good till 30th June) or download a 30-day trial of Lightroom 3 from Adobe’s site.

Lightroom 3 at

For US readers, here are the links on Amazon’s US store for the full version and the upgrade from version 2.

Training video

We notice as we deliver one-on-one tuition that photographers aren’t particularly interested in the regular Lightroom books that we always provide. One solution if you’re not keen on learning from books is video, so keep an eye on this page for the forthcoming Luminous Landscape Lightroom 3 training video by Michael Reichmann and Jeff Schewe. Michael’s an alpha tester for Adobe and Jeff works very closely with Adobe on product development and testing and their Lightroom 2 training (which we mentioned previously) is very good. Expect the forthcoming Lightroom 3 edition to be insightful and informative.

(Update: for those of you new to Lightroom, take a look at these intro videos by Julieanne Kost at Adobe TV, new for Lightroom 3 but pitched at beginner level.)

Jeffrey’s plugins

Lightroom 3 comes with a new Flickr plugin and a new export plugin framework that allows plugin programmers to create a richer user experience. Keep an eye on Jeffrey’s Friedl’s pages for details of what he offers and when he’s likely to update his excellent plugins for Lightroom 3 compatibility. He offers plugins for Facebook, Smugmug, Zenfolio and others (including a much more advanced Flickr plugin for Lightroom 3) and I believe he has been working with Adobe on the plugin architecture for Lightroom 3 itself. Read this post on Jeffrey’s site for more.

Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS4 compatibility

Lightroom 3 will work just fine with Photoshop CS5 (obviously) but to get it to talk happily to the previous version, CS4, you’ll need to make sure your copy of the Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) plugin is at version 5.7 or later. Camera Raw is a free release—you just need to make sure your copy is current. The “Edit in Photoshop” function in Lightroom 3 will generally work as expected when you’re editing raw files in Lightroom 3 and sending to CS4 only if you install ACR 5.7. See an earlier post of ours for more information and for links to download ACR 5.7 for Windows and Mac OS X.

Expect some training materials from us, too

We’re planning our own training guide—something a little different from most of what’s out there. It will be based on the the questions we get asked from working photographers when we deliver follow-up training. After delivering training to enough working pros, you get to understand which things people struggle with and which come easily. You also get to learn which aspects of the raw workflow are most important to most commercial photographers—the results aren’t predictable. For our offering, we’ll be focusing on the key functions in a very simple, easy way. More on that later.

One-on-one training

Speaking of our own training, we’re getting quite busy (which is why you’re hearing less from us on this blog and e-mail list) but we’d still love to hear from you if you’d like to discuss one-on-one training, at your pace, on your own equipment. Professional, amateur, technical or non-technical—all are equally welcome. It’s better than learning from a book and it’s even better than learning from video. We’re now offer an afternoon-only option that allows you to spread the training over a week or two, in a few, short, sessions with plenty of time in between to practice. Although most of our customers are in and around London, we’ve trained photographers from Birmingham to Brighton; we’re getting quite good at minimising costs and expenses to deliver the best value. Wherever you are in the UK, call us on 0333 577 5703 to discuss training or, even better, complete our contact form and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. To get to the contact form, click here.

Lightroom 3 point-curve tutorial, online tips and Shoot Raw updates

A great piece on Lightroom 3’s point-curve editor

I was some way into the writing of a long article about Lightroom 3’s excellent new point curve editor (available in the beta 2 release) when I came across Gene McCullagh’s comprehensive piece on the topic over at It’s very well written and worth reading carefully—it left my own half-finished attempt seem mostly superfluous. Beginners who wish to try creating custom tone curves after reading Gene’s post should start with the Linear curve, which contains only two control points—it just makes things a little easier to begin with. A linear curve makes it easier to follow the advice on adding a control point and holding down the option (alt) key while adjusting the position of that point.

Lenswork Technology Bog—highly recommended

One day, we’ll add a long-overdue list of resources that are useful to your raw workflow but since we’re on the topic of the new point curve editor in Lightroom 3, now seems like a good time to mention one very useful site that dealt with tone curves recently. Take a look at Brooks Jensen’s use of a custom tone curve in Lightroom to control highlights in print.

Brooks’s post is based on Lightroom 2, which offers a parametric tone curve but no ability to control the end points, preventing him from using the curve editor within Lightroom 2 itself to finely control the appearance of highlights in print. His workaround was to create a custom tone curve using Adobe Camera Raw, export that curve and then use it in Lightroom. It should now be possible to use the curve editing within Lightroom 3 to allow at least a similar level of control.

The Lenswork Technology Blog is excellent reading for photographers, particularly those of us who produce our own prints; the same is true of the Lenswork podcasts and the Ask Brooks blog. If you’re in the UK, you can get the Lenswork podcast via the UK iTunes Store (for free) here.

Welcome to our new subscribers

Lots of you have subscribed recently to the blog—thanks and welcome.

We went through a bit of a busy patch recently, as you might have gathered from the absence of blog posts but we now have a few days before the next scheduled training session so we’re firing off a few updates and articles. We’re hoping to add a little more information to the site and reorganise things a little, too. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in our main offering—one-to-one workflow courses in the UK based on Lightroom—we’re now taking bookings for May and June. Call 0333 577 5703 if you’d like to chat, or drop us a line. We’re doing a bit more travelling in the UK now and have worked out some ways of making our Lightroom courses more affordable—we’ll put details up on the training page soon and add a post here when it’s done.

We now use Lightroom 3 for all training

We recently switched to using Lightroom 3 beta 2 for all our training—it didn’t really make much sense to base tuition on Lightroom 2, given the quality of the current beta, the improved rendering of raw images and the new features that beta 2 offers. Reaction from photographers continues to be very positive—we’re very, very pleased with the direction in which Adobe is taking Lightroom 3.

Can you help?

We always appreciate new readers and subscribers (articles and subscriptions are free). If you find anything on our site useful, we’d love it if you could tell other photographers about us by forwarding our URL or by putting a link to us on your site, Facebook page or blog. Thank you!

To subscribe (for free)

If you’re not currently a subscriber, you can choose e-mail via Google or RSS/Atom for your feed reader. (For the e-mail option, you get a single e-mail message in the morning whenever there’s a new article on the site but nothing otherwise.) The blog is a collection of tips, news and information for photographers, mostly covering workflow, image quality and technical subjects.

Lightroom 3, Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop CS4

Some good news and updates recently for users of Lightroom and Photoshop CS4. Along with the good news is continued confusion in various online forums about Adobe Camera Raw and its relationship with Lightroom so here’s an attempt to explain some of what the two have in common.

What is Adobe Camera Raw?

Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) is a software plugin used by Photoshop to decode (or “demosaic”) raw files. A version is supplied with every new copy of Photoshop (and Photoshop Elements) and the plugin is regularly updated as new cameras are released because new cameras mean new types of files for the ACR plugin to understand. Any new major release of ACR (like ACR 6.0, 7.0, etc.) is usually available only for the latest versions of Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. The current version for Adobe Photoshop CS4 is ACR 5.7, released last week and available from Adobe as a free download. It works with Photoshop CS4 and Photoshop Elements 8.

Links to the (free) Adobe Camera Raw 5.7 downloads:

Does Lightroom use Adobe Camera Raw?

No, not directly. Lightroom’s decoding (or demosaicing) of raw files doesn’t rely on the ACR plugin itself so installing a new version of ACR won’t change Lightroom’s rendering or allow it to read new types of raw files. However, Lightroom and ACR share functionality and code—it’s just that Lightroom’s implementation is contained within the application itself. A new release of the ACR plugin for Photoshop usually means a corresponding release of Lightroom. The two are independent but usually updated together.

Adobe Camera Raw 5.7 and why it’s important for Lightroom 3 beta 2 users

ACR 5.7, like Lightroom 2.7, offered support for raw files from newly released cameras but that’s not the reason for this article. Version 5.7 also included a nice surprise for users of Lightroom 3 beta 2. It turned out to include the code to allow it to decode raw files using the new raw decoding engine contained in the Lightroom 3 betas—specifically, Lightroom 3 beta 2. This code is what gives Lightroom 3 its much improved colour noise reduction (see previous articles here and here) and finer detail. Till now, if you were working in a Lightroom 3 beta and chose “Edit in Photoshop” (command-E on the Mac, ctrl-E on Windows), you’d see an error message in Photoshop CS4 (if you were using LR3 beta 2) or just wonky results (in LR3 beta 1). When you install ACR 5.7, that problem is gone, allowing you to work on a raw image in Lightroom 3 beta 2, then open the raw file (including your Lightroom edits) in Photoshop CS4 and continue to do pixel-level work. Very nice.

A few weeks back, we wrote about the new and old process versions for Lightroom 3; what ACR 5.7 offers is really a way for Photoshop to work on raw images that you edited in Lightroom using the 2010 process. It doesn’t allow you access to the new noise-reduction controls directly from Photoshop but it does appear to respect the settings that you used within Lightroom 3 beta 2.

Sidenote: when you work on a raw image in Lightroom and choose “Edit in Photoshop”, Lightroom doesn’t immediately create a TIFF and send it across to Photoshop—the ACR plugin within Photoshop reads the original raw file and the list of changes you’ve made in Lightroom and applies those changes itself. The TIFF gets created only when you save the file in Photoshop. Now that version 5.7 contains a raw decoding engine that’s compatible with Lightroom 3’s, this process works again for users of CS4 and Lightroom 3.

What all this seems to suggest is that there will be a version of ACR for Photoshop CS4 that will remain compatible with the final release of Lightroom 3, meaning that you don’t have to update to Photoshop CS5 immediately to keep tight integration between Lightroom and Photoshop. If that’s true, it’s a very welcome gesture.

The obligatory gasp about Photoshop CS5’s content-aware fill

Photoshop CS5 looks like a very strong release for a certain type of photographer. If you haven’t already seen the content-aware fill demonstration, you’ve been missing out so take five minutes to watch it now. It’ll make your jaw drop.

More Lightroom 3 features revealed: correction for lens distortion

The final version of Lightroom 3 (and ACR 6.1) will allow us access to lens-correction features that have long been lurking.

Distortion correction has been around for a while in Lightroom

For some compact cameras that shoot raw and for some Micro Four-Thirds camera-and-lens combinations, both Lightroom and ACR have been providing behind-the-scenes corrections of lens distortion. Users of the Canon S90, the Panasonic Lumix LX-3 and some wide-angle Micro Four-Thirds lenses (such as the excellent 20mm Panasonic f/1.7) have seen automatic correction of very significant barrel distortion but Lightroom 3 (and ACR 6.1) will extend that benefit, in some form, to the rest of us.

Control over the degree of correction

Many users of the cameras and lenses mentioned above probably didn’t even know that their images were being corrected, sometimes for an eye-popping level of geometric distortion. The feature just worked, unbidden, behind the scenes. Adobe’s engineers generally seem to have matched the correction that the camera manufacturers applied to JPEGs generated by the camera and/or the results produced by the raw converters shipped with the cameras, meaning that by design, images from cameras like the S90 and LX-3 show some residual level of barrel distortion after automatic correction within Lightroom—correction over which the user has had no control, till now. With Lightroom 3, we’ll be able to fade the degree of correction for things like vignetting and distortion.

The best bit: we’ll be able to profile our own lenses

Out of the box, the lens-correction feature will support some lenses from Canon, Nikon and Sigma (who even issued a press release about it) but potentially the strongest aspect of Adobe’s implementation is that we will get a mechanism to allow us to profile our own lenses for optical defects. There are other solutions to the lens-correction problem (DXO Optics Pro, for example, or PTLens) but Adobe’s looks like it might be the strongest so far for a couple of reasons: firstly, the existence of an easy way to profile your own lenses (the proof of the pudding will be in the tasting, of course) and secondly, the apparent concern of the Adobe Lightroom/ACR team to get local corrections working well with this new feature. This is harder than it sounds: say you’ve removed a spot of sensor dust from an image or you’ve added saturation and sharpness to a an area of a photograph: quite how should Lightroom react when you later switch on the automatic correction for lens for distortion? Should it even let you switch it on if you’ve applied local corrections?

Head over to Tom Hogarty’s blog post, where he shows how it’s all going to work. Congratulations to the Lightroom team on what looks to be an excellent implementation.

Switching between old process and new process in Lightroom 3

Lightroom 3 is built around a new, improved demosaicing engine (the raw converter code that makes a full-resolution, full-colour image out of your raw file). It also includes the older conversion engine used in Lightroom 2 and earlier so to see the full power of Lightroom 3, you need to make sure you’re using what Adobe calls the 2010 process (that’s the new raw conversion engine) on each of your raw files. The old engine is referred to as the 2003 process. (In Lightroom 3 public beta 1, they were called process version 1 and process version 2—the new names are a definite improvement.) This is a per-image setting so you can choose which images use which process and can mix old and new in one catalogue.

How do you tell which process you’re using?

As of Lightroom 3 public beta 2, the main sign that you’re using the old (2003) process is the unmissable presence of an exclamation mark in the lower right of your image when you’re in the Develop module. The symbol appears next to any image that’s using the old engine and looks like this:

To switch to the 2010 process, just click that warning symbol. You’ll get the chance to review the before-and-after changes and to apply the changes to the whole filmstrip. Comparing the the changes side by side at 100% can be a useful way to understand the differences between old engine and new.

Above; the box you see when you click the exclamation mark in the Develop module

A warning about noise reduction and sharpening

In Lightroom 3 public beta 2, released today, local sharpening controls (brushes, gradients) and luminance noise reduction are both much more powerful than they were in Lightroom 2. You might find some settings for sharpening, negative sharpening and luminance noise reduction that you’d used previously to be way too high for the new versions so carefully review as you update your work.

To switch back to the 2003 process

To remind yourself of how a picture looked using the old demosaicing engine (aka process version 1 or the 2003 process), you can always switch back. In Lightroom’s Settings menu, go to Process, where you’ll see a choice between the 2003 version and the 2010 version. (The old process is labelled 2003 because Adobe Camera Raw—or ACR—dates back to that year. Even though Lightroom was only released in 2006 as a public beta, it shares code with ACR, which means that at some point, there will be a version of the ACR plugin that has offers this new raw conversion engine, too.)

Above: switching between processes using the Settings menu

Alternatively, you can now choose your process version from a new menu item in the Camera Calibration section of the Develop module (lower right).

Above: the new Process menu inside the Develop module’s Camera Calibration section

Use virtual copies and the compare function

When you begin to use Lightroom 3, it can be useful to make a virtual copy of a picture and use the old engine (2003 process) and the new side by side on the same image to get a feel for the difference between the two raw converters. For the full effect, choose a high-ISO image, with local sharpening applied. The second public beta now includes an option to view images side by side when you convert from the old process to the new but it can be useful to do it manually, particularly for images in which you’ve used many brushes. Compare results at 100% using the compare function (hit C in the grid, with both versions of the picture selected) and you should see a significant—and sometimes dramatic—difference in quality.

Why do some or all files use the old process version in Lightroom 3?

If Lightroom 3 can tell that you’ve done some work on a raw file in Lightroom 2 or a pre-v6 release of Adobe Camera Raw, it will keep using the 2003 process for that image so that the picture continues to look just as it did in Lightroom 2. That’ll happen if it sees an XMP sidecar file next to the raw file and can tell that the XMP file was created by Lightroom 2 or ACR 5.x or earlier.

What are the main differences between the 2003 process and the 2010 process?

The new 2010 process uses the new demosaicing engine in Lightroom 3, offering finer detail and better rendering of high-ISO work, among other things. Dramatically improved noise reduction, too, and much more powerful local sharpening controls. (Brushes, gradients.)

For an early and subtle example of the difference in quality between version one and version two with default settings, even at low ISO, see an earlier post on protecting fine colour detail in Lightroom 2. Towards the end, it contains some Lightroom 3 screen shots of the example image—there’s a clear difference in the way that colour noise reduction works.

Now that Lightroom 3 beta 2 is available and contains working luminance noise reduction, we’ll post more example files soon. Initial testing suggests very impressive NR results but it will take more time to be absolutely sure.

Lightroom 3 public beta 2 has been released

[Update: that was quick! Lightroom 3 public beta 2 is out and it looks good. Luminance noise reduction that—at first glance—seems to work extremely well and an easier way to switch between the old raw conversion engine and the new. I’ll leave the rest of this post intact but it’s now outdated, less than an hour after it was posted as a pointer to a rumour.]

The free Lightroom 3 public beta was released in 2009 and was a big hit, particularly among low-light shooters, but the beta is due to expire at the end of April. Could it be that there’s a new version on the way before the final release? Take a look at this thread at the (usually very useful) Lightroom forum over at the Luminous Landscape. Apparently, there was an announcement that even made it to DP Review before being pulled. Perhaps by the time you read this, it’ll actually be out. This is the Adobe page to check.

If there is another public beta on its way and if it offers a peek at the new luminance noise reduction that Adobe has been working on, it will be very welcome. We’re keen to see how the luminance NR compares with third-part solutions like Noiseware, Noise Ninja, Topaz Denoise and Neat Image.

Which camera settings matter when you shoot raw?

Almost all DSLRs come with plenty of options governing aspects of image quality. They almost all affect JPEG output but which of those settings and options matter when you shoot raw? We’ll look at this briefly in this article and in more detail later.

Exposure settings matter, whether you shoot raw or JPEG

The exposure of a given scene will be determined by these settings:

  • Shutter speed
  • Aperture
  • ISO setting

(The ISO setting in digital photography is not entirely straightforward and will perhaps get its own article. For now, we’re keeping things simple.)

As you’d expect, aperture, shutter speed and ISO setting all make a difference to the images that your camera records, whether you shoot raw or JPEG.

Secondary camera settings: do they affect raw files?

A DSLR’s menu system will offer control over other aspects of your image, whether you’ve told it you’re shooting raw or JPEG:

  • Sharpness
  • Contrast
  • Saturation
  • Colour mode (Adobe RGB, sRGB)
  • White balance

Sometimes you’ll see picture controls that change many secondary settings together. For example, your camera might offer an option like “Vivid”, which sets saturation higher and might also affect contrast and/or colour mode. These controls might also change the way colour appears, including small shifts in hue, sometimes emulating certain types of film.

The questions

Which of these secondary settings, if any, affect your raw files? Which of them should you be concerned about when shooting raw? And, again assuming you shoot raw, do they affect any other aspect of your photography.

Before answering them and explaining the answers, let’s categorise everything inside a raw file as being one of two things.

A note about raw files

Simplifying somewhat, everything inside a raw file is either a measurement of the light falling on a part of the sensor or it’s a note about camera settings. You could say that it’s either data (the values for light on the sensor) or metadata.

Let’s say that you take a shot on a current 24-megapixel DSLR. Inside the resulting raw file will be roughly 24 million values representing the light that fell on the sensor during the exposure, one value for each sensor element, or sensel. We can consider all this stuff to be the data that’s eventually turned into an image in your raw converter.

The metadata is a record of things like the shutter speed you used, the aperture, the type of camera, the type of lens you used, the white balance and sharpness settings, which saturation you’d specified and so on. Lots and lots of stuff, only some of it documented publicly by the camera manufacturer.

Some answers

So which of the secondary settings listed above directly affect the data in your raw file?

The answer is: not a single one. Think of there being a note in the raw file that says: this photograph was shot with sharpness set to high and contrast to minimum, noise reduction set to zero and colour space set to Adobe RGB 1998; colour temperature was 5500K and the green-magenta bias was 30% magenta. Most raw converters, including Lightroom and Aperture, read the note and display large parts of your metadata but the only thing they use to influence their initial versions of your images is the white balance information. Everything else—including all the other secondary settings listed above—is ignored. Even the white balance setting is used only for the initial rendering.

Despite the presence of the metadata “note” inside your raw file, none of the 24 million values recorded by your 24-megapixel camera to represent the scene itself were directly affected by those secondary settings.

When you shoot JPEG, things are very different; each and every secondary setting above has a chance to affect each and every pixel of the JPEG. In the case of white balance or contrast, it is almost guaranteed to affect every pixel, often in a way that might limit the changes you can cleanly make later. That doesn’t mean JPEGs are bad or unusable, particularly if you’re in complete control of your light and white balance—it just means that the raw converter inside your camera is making decisions that it might be best to leave for later.

To be continued…

Although the secondary settings have no direct effect on the raw file, they do affect the histograms you see on the back of the camera. As a photographer, you might use those histograms to change the exposure settings (shutter speed, aperture, ISO) that you choose, perhaps as a result of exposure compensation that you dial in. The story isn’t over. We’ll revisit this topic soon.

And speaking of data and metadata…

The metadata

You can get all future articles by e-mail or RSS (both are free) and you can call us on 0333 577 5703 to book your own Lightroom course or to book a support visit. Visit the main blog page here. Have fun shooting!

Photoshop Elements 8 offer at Amazon UK


Update 12th April 2010: the price of Elements is now back to normal. The offer lasted till 11th April 2010 so over three weeks in total. Still very good value but the prices mentioned below are no longer available from Amazon directly . The article will stay up since it provides some detail on using Elements with Lightroom.

First, our apologies to the regular Photoshop users among you and to those of you outside Europe. You can skip the rest of this note.

We don’t plan to do this sort of thing often but we received e-mail today from Amazon UK mentioning that it is now listing Photoshop Elements 8 at less than £50 as of 16 March 2010. That price includes VAT and shipping. This is the boxed, retail DVD and by UK standards, that price is an absolute bargain. (US readers who are still reading will raise their eyebrows at that description but sadly, it’s true.) The list price is £75 and it routinely sells on Amazon for £65.

It comes as a Mac version (Intel processor only) or a Windows version and both are currently at the same price.

Compared with most of the newer image editors intended for casual and occasional use, Elements wins hands down. It now offers layers, full Adobe Camera Raw compatibility, adjustment layers, and layer masks (for adjustment layers). It even offers smart sharpening and a version of the context-aware scaling function that you find in the full Photoshop (attempting to keep people and buildings in proportion while you stretch the image).

Who’s it suitable for?

Photoshop Elements will suit you if you don’t need to do much retouching outside Lightroom or Aperture but do need to clone out a stray object or element or if you need to run third-party noise-reduction plugins or something else requiring Photoshop. It will also suit you if you previously outsourced most of your own post-processing (or provided your clients and editors with images that weren’t retouched) and are only now beginning to do more of it yourself. It’s an excellent, low-cost way of beginning your Photoshop journey.

Elements 8 compared to Photoshop CS4

For occasional use, Elements 8 has only three significant weaknesses compared with Photoshop 11 (CS4).

  1. It doesn’t allow you to do as much work on 16-bit files as the full version of Photoshop does
  2. It doesn’t offer any access to the LAB colour mode
  3. It doesn’t allow you to convert to CMYK.

(It’s also not a 64-bit application but neither is the full Mac version of Photoshop CS4.) Both LAB mode and the ability to work at 16-bit depth are useful but for many people who do most of their work (including local adjustments) in a raw converter like Lightroom or Aperture, these things might matter less than they once did.

LAB mode in Photoshop is very powerful but relatively few people use it today, particularly after recent additions to Photoshop’s functionality, offering the “fade to luminosity” function. (That’s not to say LAB isn’t useful, powerful or under-rated—it’s all those things and fans of LAB mode will be horrified, of course, to read all this. It’s just relatively unusual to see people actually use it today, now that editing in RGB is as powerful and capable as it now is.)

You’d convert to CMYK if you’re preparing press-ready work (for magazine or book adverts, say). Again, you’ll already know if you need it. If you ask nicely, many publications’ prepress folks will do the conversion from RGB to CMYK themselves if you provide them with tagged files that you produced in a colour managed workflow.

Working in 16-bit mode, particularly in a larger colour space like Adobe RGB (all things we will discuss in future articles) is a way to help preserve smoothness of tone and colour, among other things. It will help avoid banding and other colour artefacts. The banding and other issues are mostly likely to appear when you do lots of work to the contrast, saturation and exposure of part or all of an image, particularly in areas of the image the show smooth surfaces

If you have used Lightroom, Aperture or another raw converter to do most of the grunt-work, like exposure compensation, highlight recovery, tone, white balance, contrast, dodging and burning) on a raw file, you’ve done most the things that would cause problems with 8-bit files. Performing some further minor work (some cloning or healing in small areas) on an 8-bit file is not usually something to worry about.

In addition, if you’d like to use Photoshop to run a noise-reduction plug-in like Neat Image or Topaz Denoise, the plugin will usually work in 16-bit mode in Elements 8. If you intend to use layers to blend the post-NR image with the regular image, you need to convert down to 8 bits so the conversion after you’ve run the noise-reduction routine to minimise the effect. (Elements 8 opens and saves 16-bit TIFFs—it’s just that layers and some of its own built-in filters and functions don’t work in that mode. Luckily, the third-party NR plugins work fine.)

Lightroom integration with Elements 8

Above: setting up Lightroom to work with Elements 8 for work that will remain in 16-bit throughout.

Lightroom integration with Photoshop CS4 is deeper than with other image editors like Elements. However, Elements offers most of what you need: in Lightroom’s preferences, perform a one-time setup. You specify that Elements 8 is your image editor, you tell Lightroom which colour space to use when creating an export file and which format to and bit depth to work at. Once you’ve set it up once, you’ll have a keyboard shortcut (for example, command-option-E or ctrl-alt-E) to invoke Elements but you can also right-click an image inside Lightroom and edit in Elements that way. Because it’s set up, the bit depth, file type and colour space will be taken care of automatically after that.

Lightroom also allows you to set up Elements 8 in different ways (16-bit TIFF, ProPhoto, 8-bit TIFF sRGB) so that you get a choice of options for each image that you send to Elements: you would choose the most appropriate for the task at hand.

Above: examples of what you might see when you right-click an image in Lightroom having set up different ways of sending an image to Elements 8.

If you do work that requires you to shift to 8-bit mode, first switch to a smaller colour space. (ProPhoto RGB is not a sensible choice for 8-bit work. More on colour spaces another time.)

What you don’t get with Elements 8, compared with CS4, is the smart objects integration, the HDR-from-raw-files integration and the ability to create panoramas from your raw shots.

To run noise-reduction plugins

If you were using Photoshop Elements to run a noise-reduction filter like Neat Image or Topaz Denoise, you’d choose to work with 16-bit TIFFs in something like Adobe RGB space. Lightroom will create a TIFF that contains all your existing Lightroom edits and will send it to Elements. When you finish and save your work in Elements, you’ll see the edited file in Lightroom, next to the original. Lightroom will handle the 16-bit TIFF as it would any other file, allowing you to export JPEGs, print, etc.

We own and use both CS4 and Elements 8 (for which we paid a good deal more than £49!) here at Shoot Raw, just to make sure we keep up-to-date with both. We can recommend Elements 8 for photographers who don’t spend a huge amount of time doing advanced Photoshop work or for people beginning with Photoshop, who’d like to get familiar with the application.

One more thing: if you were to buy Elements at £49 and then upgrade to Photoshop CS4 today at the Adobe UK site, you’d end up saving £30 over the cost of just buying CS4 outright from Adobe. Though it’s impossible to say this with absolute certainty, that saving is likely to continue when CS5 is released.

Amazon UK is marking this is “for a limited time only”. No idea how long it’ll last. We’ll try to update or delete this note when the offer has gone.

Disclosures and disclaimers

We earn commission from Amazon UK if you click one of the links and check out and pay for a product within that shopping session. That’s nice but the commission (about £2.50 per copy of Elements that you pay for during your visit to Amazon from our links) clearly isn’t reason enough to plug the product. We’re recommending it because it’s good (as long as you understand its limitations—see above), because the sub-£50 price is an absolute bargain and because Amazon UK is a reputable seller. (On which subject, we’d recommend that you buy directly from Amazon rather than one of its resellers—look for “Dispatched from and sold by “.)

The Mac version:

Below: the Windows version

Coming up

We’re going to start a series of articles looking at exactly which camera settings affect the data in your raw files when you work with Lightroom and how. We’ll be looking at the primary exposure controls—shutter speed, aperture, ISO—and secondary camera settings like saturation, sharpness, contrast and colour mode (meaning options like Adobe RGB and sRGB). Over the series, we’ll be giving you definitive answers and explaining the technical language.

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