Lightroom Overview

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is a programme that lets you manage and make the most use of an entire photo library. You can organize, adjust, send, print and publish your photos all from the same place. This lesson outlines how Lightroom works.

What is Lightroom?
How does Lightroom compare to Photoshop?
The Lightroom structure
The Library Concept
Catalogues vs files
Download Lightroom

What is Lightroom?

Lightroom is a computer programme from Adobe Systems that handles most of the work you need to do to your digital camera files. It is both a library and a tool to adjust the photos to your liking. You can also output finished images from Lightroom to send on directly to your clients. In addition, you can make prints with Lightroom, as well as web galleries and slideshows. Watch the movie in Figure 1 to see what Lightroom can do for you.

FIGURE 1 This movie demonstrates the integrated workflow that Adobe Lightroom offers

How does Lightroom compare to Photoshop?

Almost everyone who visits this site will be familiar with Photoshop, but a lot of you will not know much about Lightroom. You might be wondering what the differences are. There are several important distinctions. 

  • Photoshop lets you work on one image at a time. While Photoshop does have some automation tools like Actions which can run on a set of images, at its core it really only works on one at a time. This is fine when you are making a single finished image, but it is less efficient if you need to work on lots of pictures.
  • Lightroom is fully non-destructive. The image editing tools in Lightroom work in a totally different way than the main Photoshop tools. Lightroom cannot change the original pixels in your images.
  • Lightroom's adjustment tools are exactly the same as the ones in Adobe Camera Raw, which comes with Photoshop. In fact, what Adobe has done in creating Lightroom was to take the tools from Camera Raw and build an entirely new programme around them - a programme that is built especially for the challenges of digital photography.
  • Lightroom is designed to be a total workflow environment for your digital photography.

The Lightroom structure

Let me give you a basic idea of how Lightroom is put together. You need to understand that Ligthroom is a guided workflow tool, and that the functions are divided into 5 different main modules, along with import and export .

Lightroom Modules

Lightroom is made up of 5 main modules: Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print and Web. Each of these is dedicated to the tasks associated with the name.The Lightroom team assumes you will be doing one of these tasks at a time (even if you switch back and forth a lot). Each module has a different set of left-hand and right-hand panels and menus. And each module has its own pre-sets to help streamline the work you do there.

In addition to these modules, there is also an Import function that is like a module. The Export and Publish tools also behave like modules. They are dedicated to a particular function, and have their own pre-sets.

Figure 2 Lightroom has 5 modules.  Each one is dedicated to a a particular task

The Guided Workflow

Lightroom has been designed to help the photographer create an integrated workflow. The programming team has made a number of assumptions about how you can best work with your pictures. As you learn the programme, it is good to have an understanding of what the programmers had in mind when they made decisions about how it would work.

  • In general, Lightroom works from top to bottom, and from left to right. It is not always the case, but you see it a lot.
  • Keyboard shortcuts are important workflow tools. A lot of thought went into these, so you should learn to use them.

Figure 3 Lightroom generally works from left to right and top to bottom. So files are first organized in the Library, and then taken to Develop for optimization. In Develop, you generally work down the list, starting with Basic adjustments, and then moving down as you need more control. (The icon-based tools at the top of the column and an exception to this rule)

The Library Concept

Lightroom is built on the concept of an image library. In the case of Lightrooom, the image files are like the books, and the folders you use to store your images are the shelves. The Lightroom catalogue is like a library's catalogue, helping you find the right 'book' whenever you want it. 

Here are some key points

The movie in Figure 4 illustrates several key points about working with catalogues.

  • A catalogue enables you to view and search your photos even if the drives that store the photos are not connected to the computer at the moment.
  • A catalogue only shows you photos you have 'imported' or indexed with the catalogue, rather than showing you all images in a folder.
  • FIGURE 4 To use Lightroom, you first need to understand the Library concept it uses. This movie outlines that structure.

Catalogues vs files

When you work with catalogue software, you are making changes to the catalogue itself, rather than directly to your image files. So when you add a keyword to an image, it is not added to the file unless you tell the programme to make the change to the file. 

And when you make an image adjustment to a photo, you are not actually changing the original file - you are reinterpreting the file inside the programme. If you want to have a copy of the file that shows the changes you made, you ned to export a new version f the file. The movie in Figure 5 shows you how both of these essential concepts work in Lightroom.

Figure 5 This movie outlines the difference between working on the catalogue and working on the files.

Download Lightroom

You can download a fully functional trial version of Lightroom that works for 30 days at After that trial has expired, you will need to purchase a license to the software. The license allows you to run Lightroom on two computers that both belong to you.