The slow death of Adobe Lightroom.

Aberystwyth rainbow (finished version)

I made a very hesitant transition from film to digital during the period 2006/7. Photoshop was THE digital processing software in those days so I coughed up my £400 and dived in. It was HORRIBLE. Photoshop was designed for graphics professionals, not photographers, and it really showed. 90% of the programme’s features were of no use whatsoever to me and basic digital adjustments were buried deep in incomprehensible menus. Then I heard about its new “sister” product – Lightroom – which WAS designed for photographers. This sounded much more promising and so it was –  far more intuitive and user-friendly. So I’ve been a Lightroom user ever since and as the software developed so have my abilities to use it. That’s not to say that I don’t still occasionally find useful new features, but my processing is pretty streamlined by now, and I’m still learning.

Take the above image, for example. It was taken at Aberystwyth on a recent afternoon, with the aim of producing a new postcard over the winter for next year. Rainbows don’t come along that often so I took over fifty shots over the period of about twenty minutes that it was intermittently visible. Back home it took me maybe an hour to do a preliminary sort of the images,  select the best and process them to a rough and ready standard. Then there was maybe another hour the following morning to delete the dross and duplicates, and put the finishing touches to the above and a few others. To get from the unprocessed file (below) to the finished product (above) involved a total of 65 small or tiny adjustments. That might sound like a lot but each one takes only a second or two. It is said that the RAW file is the equivalent to the film negative and the fully processed image the resulting print. As long as the latter bears more than a passing resemblance to the former, I’m happy.

Aberystwyth rainbow (unprocessed)

What more could the digital photographer want? I have no desire to do major manipulations like swapping skies or removing large features from images, so have absolutely no need for Photoshop.  There were complaints that Lightroom had become bloated and/or slow but it wasn’t a problem I had had to face. Everything seemed hunky-dory. The trouble was the software designers – Adobe – had other ideas,  despite ever-increasing profits. “Stellar year-on-year growth” of 26% (latest figures) is not enough for them, nor is record revenue of $1.84 billion in the third quarter of 2017.

The rot set in with the introduction of Lightroom 5 in 2013. As well as being a standalone product available either on a DVD or a download from Adobe, it was also made available, along with Photoshop, as part of Adobe’s ‘Creative Cloud ‘, a subscription software service. At that time Adobe promised that future “versions” (note the plural) of Lightroom would be available “indefinitely” as standalone products. Lightroom 6 was introduced in 2015, available both as a standalone product and on subscription. It was difficult to find it on Adobe’s website, however, which was a sure sign of things to come. Furthermore, new features would only be added between ‘versions’ to those who enrolled in the subscription model, and so the arm-twisting began. As it happened even those who were on the subscription model felt cheesed off, because very few new features appeared during the 2 year plus lifetime of Lightroom 6.

Last month, after a long wait, Lightroom 7 arrived – or rather it didn’t, because it was now only available with Photoshop as part of the £9.98 per month Photography Plan.  If you use Photoshop  as well, this is a great deal, but if not, Lightoom alone would now cost just less than £240 over a typical two-year product cycle. Updating from LR6 to LR 7 , if it were possible, would cost about £65, if history is anything to go by. But that is not all, and this is so confusing that I’m not sure that I have got my head around it yet. Lightroom is now called Lightroom Classic, and appears to be an afterthought on the Adobe website. A new programme, a development of Lightroom Mobile, designed, it appears, for those taking photographs with tablets and mobile phones  and with many major features missing, is now called Lightroom CC. The “Classic” name-tag Adobe have given the original programme has suggested to many people that it is on its way out, despite reassurances from Adobe that this is not the case. After the “indefinitely” promise of 2013, repeated (more or less) in 2015, who can believe a word that Adobe says?

And then there’s The Cloud, as in Lightroom CC – the Creative Cloud. Adobe’s latest big “thing” seems to be making your images accessible from any device, anywhere, but that relies on being able to upload them to the Cloud on a fast and reliable internet connection. Mine is neither. If you do, Adobe can then, of course, charge you (handsomely, no doubt) for storing them on their servers. Cloud storage is included in one or more of their new subscription plans, but it is already more expensive, apparently, than is available elsewhere. But Hell, think of the shareholders!

As I mentioned above, a subscription to Photoshop and Lightroom “Classic” together at £9.98 per month seems like a good deal, bearing in mind that before it became subscription-only Photoshop cost £600+. For Lightroom only, though, it is a non -starter. If it were £5 p.m., I’d be thinking about it. But once you sign up, Adobe have you by the short-and-curlies. If you stop your payments, for whatever reason (price increase, anyone?), the develop module becomes inoperable. You can revert back to Lightroom 6, if you have it, but you lose access to all the edits you have made in “Classic”, because its catalogue is not compatible with Lightroom 6.

What might one conclude from all of this? Firstly, that Lightroom is a brilliant product which many people entirely rely on for their photographic processing.  Adobe now realises that only a  limited number of new features can be added to it and that users will not necessarily upgrade to each new version as it appears.  They foresee that it may be difficult to maintain (and increase) their profits and have moved to the subscription model to enable this.  And they are using various “enticements” to keep users paying good money for what is, largely,  old rope. There is, apparently, already a very viable and affordable Photoshop alternative called  Affinity Photo. Other software designers will, I am sure, be aware of the sense of dissatisfaction that Lightroom users are feeling. They can now be sure that there will be a ready market for an alternative to Lightroom and we can but hope that this will spur them on to produce it. .

So what is the way forward for users such as myself? I have upgraded to the final update of the standalone software – v6.13. It is missing a few features that are now available in “Classic” but I can live without them. They have said that it will continue to be available until the end of 2017. I will continue to use it for the foreseeable future and if I upgrade my camera (I do like the look of the Nikon D850………!) its compatibility with Lightroom 6 will be a major factor. In the meantime I will keep my ear to the ground for new software and hope that in the next year or two a solution will become available.

Edit: It now appears there will be a LR6.14 update before the end of the year.

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Every picture tells a story.

Purple heron : what an amazing creature!
Purple heron : what an amazing creature!

I can’t have been the only photographer to have recently received junk email offering…..”Always have amazing skies!”. It goes on –

With the killer App for Sky Replacement and our new Skies and Clouds Collections

With […………..] sky replacement is no longer like Rocket Science

Add Skies III and our amazing new Drag and Drop Cloud Formations and the skies the limit on creativity!”

Two New Bundles to SAVE on so you’ll never have Dull Skies Again

It goes on and on in this vein.  I find it terribly depressing. The graphic designer could thus, for example, adapt a poor quality landscape image by adding a sky downloaded from a software package. No photographic skills required whatsoever! Likewise the amateur (or professional) landscape photographer wanting short-cuts to dramatic photographs. It has until recently been difficult to incorporate stunning skies into landscape images without stunning skies being present in reality. Doing so in the days of colour film would have involved a very high level of printing skills indeed and it is probably fairly safe to say that it had rarely been done successfully. In the brave new world of digital photography much of the work involved has been already been done by the software designer.

But this kind of approach does more than make life easier for those wanting short cuts to great landscape images. It devalues photography in its most basic sense. By its very nature a photograph has documentary qualities. I don’t mean to confuse “landscape photography” with “documentary photography” here. But a photograph – any photograph – is an interpretation of a slice of reality. It is rooted in what the photographer saw through his/her viewfinder. So a landscape photograph automatically has documentary values. The very best have both aesthetic and documentary qualities in shed loads. If the photographer has added a spectacular sky – even one of their own – that link between reality and image has been lost.

Many photographers argue that all photographs are “fake” to some extent and that therefore anything goes. In my opinion this just does not hold water. I agree that the photographer makes selections and interpretations at all stages of the process. They might use film or digital, a jpeg straight out of the camera or process a RAW file to their own satisfaction. They might use a 10stop ND filter on their DSLR, a smartphone or a pinhole camera, colour or black-and-white. By making these choices the photographer interprets their surroundings in different ways. But there is a quantum leap between that and getting a sky from elsewhere – their own library  or a software program – to combine with their own image to produce a result.

If it were possible (and necessary) the photographer would physically move a minor irritant (rubbish, for example) from the foreground of a landscape image before pressing the shutter. But if not I don’t really see a problem in cloning it out at the processing stage. I’m not that much of a purist. But it is at this point we enter a very grey area indeed. Where does one draw the line between “processing” and “manipulation” – the acceptable and the unacceptable? Personally I’m happy to clone out anything which on another day might not have been there: a walker in a red cagoule, or white van in the distance, for example. Others draw the line elsewhere. But there is a line. It may well be that advertising photography is artificial through and through, and maybe we should expect that. If there was a line of telegraph poles running through a landscape, though,  I badly need and want to know about it. Every picture tells a story and a manipulated one can tell quite a different story. It could be the difference between a real wilderness and an inhabited landscape in this example.

For more thoughts on this subject see this post.

On the other hand I have no philosophical problem with improving my images at the processing stage where necessary. The more I use Lightroom the more I learn what it is capable of. I was recently introduced to the adjustment brush by my correspondent David Clegg and how useful is that? How could I have managed without it, more like! During the latter stages of my Bird/land project I was able to use the adjustment brush (rather than the radial filter) to select the bird before making minor changes to its exposure or contrast, for example.  So much more effective! See the purple heron image above.

More on Bird/land very shortly, by the way……..

 

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