It’s been quite the month for image editing software. Just a few weeks ago, Apple released the replacement for iPhoto/Aperture in the form of Photos OSX. And now, Adobe has unveiled Lightroom 6 and Lightroom Creative Cloud.
Just to get this technicality out of the way, Lightroom 6 and Lightroom CC are the exact same program, just titled differently. Acquired through Adobe’s Creative Cloud, the program is known as Lightroom CC, while sold as a standalone as “Lightroom 6.” Either way, this latest version of Adobe’s image editing and organization software features a host of improvements and new features, especially for the underwater photographer, so let’s dive right in.
Improved Speed Using the GPU
Perhaps the biggest change from previous versions of Lightroom comes with the program’s utilization of your computer’s graphics processing unit (or GPU) to render adjustments made while editing. Previous editions of Lightroom relied on the computer’s central processing unit (or CPU). While the CPU is made up of only a few core processors, your computer’s GPU is constructed from thousands of smaller cores, designed to handle multiple tasks at the same time, more efficiently.
Thus, the switch to using GPU has dramatically increased Lightroom’s speed in rendering images during the edit process. In fact, Adobe claims that the speed will increase by 1000% in some computers.
For me, the increased speed is most notable in two instances: generating preview thumbnails and seeing changes (almost instantly) while editing. Having been using Adobe Bridge and the previous version of Lightroom to load thumbnail previews, the speed at which Lightroom generates large thumbnail previews of RAW images is impressive. I’ve been left waiting for minutes while Bridge loads up thumbnails of 300 RAW files.
In previous editions of Lightroom, there was a noticeable lag between when adjustments are made and when they are rendered in the preview image. The latest version, utilizing the GPU, is far more reactive—with changes appearing almost instantly after they are made in the Develop section.
Other than the image library, most underwater photographers will spend the majority of their time editing individual images in the Develop section. Having said that, there aren’t many significant changes to be found here, at least for underwater photography.
The major improvement comes in the addition of Photo Merge, which allows users to easily create panoramas and HDR images by combining multiple photos. And while you probably won’t be taking too many HDR images underwater, it’s nice to have it right there when needed for topside use.
The only real major new tool with underwater application is a brush that allows users to selectively edit different parts of an image mask with radial and gradient filters. For example, if you’ve used a gradient filter at the top of the image to reduce exposure, and it overlaps with an element you want to remain at its original exposure, the brush tool will allow you to selectively erase that (or any) section of the mask.
True RAW HDR and Panorama Editing
While combining multiple images for panoramas or HDR is relatively rare in underwater photography, we do (sometimes) dabble in topside photography where such techniques are desirable. That’s why it’s handy that Adobe has included RAW editing for panorama images and HDR in Lightroom. Previously, you’d have to go into Photoshop or another program to merge the images, before bringing them back into Lightroom. Now, it’s all in one stop.
Organization with Lightroom Creative Cloud
Importing even large batches of RAW images into your Lightroom Creative Cloud Library is quite fast. How fast? I was able to import 400-plus images on an 8GB card in under six minutes. Plus, Lightroom now automatically sizes preview images to fit your screen size. A nice new feature, which only adds to the speed, is the ability to automatically import your images directly into a specific collection.
Keeping up with your keywords in an image library can be a challenge, having to go through and label each “keeper” image. The new painter tool allows you to go through your library and “paint” each image with a keyword just with a click. You can even retrieve previously used keywords by holding down the shift key, rather than having to type it in again or refer to the Keyword List.
For those underwater photographers who enjoy making slideshows of their latest adventures, Lightroom 6 comes with a much-improved Slideshow Module. New features include the famed “Ken Burns” zooming effect and the ability to synchronize images to music cues. Lacking in Lightroom is the ease of adding text or other multimedia elements, so Apple Keynote or Microsoft PowerPoint might still have the edge.
Who Should Upgrade?
This isn’t an easy question to answer right now. Of course, as time marches on, it’s likely Adobe will stop supporting new cameras in older versions of Lightroom. As such, any new camera purchases will likely necessitate the upgrade to Lightroom CC/6.
While we have seen some increased support for local adjustments in Lightroom—the brush tool for masks, for example—a big complaint for photographers is the lack of content-aware tools. However, the increase in speed, especially when dealing with large libraries, imports, or edit adjustments is noticeable and a definite benefit for the more demanding photographers. The emphasis on speed, organization and continued inclusion of local adjustments and content-aware might even make Lightroom the all-in-one image editing program for underwater photographers in the future.
Lightroom Creative Cloud is now available as a package with Photoshop CC for a monthly subscription of $9.99. You can purchase Lightroom 6 on its own for $149.