Adobe Photoshop’s Lightroom 4

by Stan Sholik

May 01, 2012

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is an important part of many photographers’ workflows. For others, including myself, it is an essential part, meaning a full version upgrade may be a welcome advance, but could also be a disaster that forces us to regret the day we installed it.

While there are certain to be a few who will regret the changes in Lightroom 4 and pray daily for bug fixes in version 4.1, the vast majority will welcome it with open arms. While the file management aspects of Lightroom are unchanged, two major new modules, Map and Book, are added in this new version. But the change of most significance to previous users is the incorporation of a new Process Version 2012 (PV2012) to the Develop module.

Lightroom’s Process Version is the behind-the-scenes engine that carries out the adjustments you input in the Develop module. With PV2012, the Basic sliders in the Develop module are significantly improved. The Recovery, Fill Light and Brightness sliders are gone and the entire panel has been rearranged. The new arrangement provides a top-down workflow, with exposure and contrast adjustment made first, then tonal range adjustments.

The tonal range adjustments from top to bottom are Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks. By subdividing the tonal range further in PV2012, there is significantly more control over tonal adjustments. And with PV2012, these adjustments have their “0” point in the middle of the slider so that you can increase or decrease exposure in each tonal range. Taken together, they allow you to pull more information from your images, particularly raw files, with fewer artifacts. While it took me a little while to get used to these new controls, once I was comfortable with them I could never go back to PV2010. PV2012 alone is worth the price of the upgrade.

For photographers who use GPS devices on their cameras, the new Map module will automatically place the images on a Google map. I use a Promote Systems PromoteGPS device on my Nikons and the system works flawlessly with Lightroom 4.

No GPS on your camera? No problem in Lightroom 4. Just drag and drop your photos onto the appropriate location in the Map module and Lightroom 4 can automatically reverse geocode them, adding GPS information into the correct area of the EXIF metadata. You can then upload images with GPS information using Lightroom’s Publish Services to social media sites, adding value to engagement and wedding photos, or just store them as a reminder of the exact location where they were captured.

Publishing photo books is not just for wedding photographers anymore; self-published photo books are a huge new industry, and Lightroom 4 recognizes this with its new Book module. In conjunction with San Francisco-based Blurb, Adobe has included presets in the Book module that simplify the creation of photo books, as well as all the tools needed to customize the book to your specific needs. Books can be up to 240 pages in length and contain thousands of images if desired. Book sizes and paper types are limited from the full range offered by Blurb, but those available are the most appropriate for high-quality photo book production.

Having created books through other online services, I found the Book module lacking in some of the finer layout customization areas, but it is a strong initial attempt to provide this functionality from within Lightroom. Using it doesn’t have the smooth feel that Adobe has created for the other modules, but all of them other than the new Map module have evolved over time and Book surely will also. The Book module also supports the creation of books and their output to PDF format. This allows you to create portfolios or sample wedding albums and transfer them to your iPad to show to potential clients without having to carry the actual portfolio or albums.

Recognizing another trend among photographers, Adobe has increased the support of video in Lightroom 4. The File menu now lists “Import Photos and Video…” as an option replacing “Import Photos…” from Lightroom 3. Lightroom 4 supports the import of AVCHD format video as well as AVI, MOV and MP4 formats. You can preview video files by simply scrubbing over them in the Library module, or view them full screen by double clicking on them, just as you would to view a still image. And Lightroom provides an icon that will capture any video frame as a JPEG.

While you can trim video clips, apply selected Quick Develop and Develop settings to them and export clips in H.264 (MPEG-4) format, Lightroom 4 makes no attempt to encroach on the editing or creative functionality of the Adobe video products such as Premiere Elements, Premiere Pro or After Effects. Video clips can be exported into collections for upload to Facebook or Flickr through the Publish Services panel of the Library module.

There are other new and improved features in every module of Lightroom 4. Soft Proofing in the Develop module allows you to preview and adjust an image, or better a virtual copy of the image, for specific print output. Also in the Develop module, the Graduated Filter and the Adjustment Brush have additional abilities, and you can now use the Point Curve to adjust individual RGB colors.

One new feature that I initially thought was inconsequential, but I’m finding is saving me a lot of time, is the ability to e-mail directly from Lightroom. After setting up the e-mail once, I can now send a JPEG of a RAW file to a client in basically one step. No longer do I need to export a JPEG, open my e-mail program, navigate to the saved folder, attach it and send it. As you investigate Lightroom 4, you’ll find further enhancements throughout.

The final significant change for this fourth version of Lightroom is the pricing. Owners of previous versions can purchase the upgrade for a somewhat lower price of $79. The real saving is for new users: the price of Lightroom 4 is reduced to $149.

But before you upgrade or buy the latest version, check the system requirements. Windows users must be running Windows Vista or Windows 7, either the 32-bit or 64-bit versions. Lightroom 4 will not run on Windows XP. Even on my Windows 7 64-bit system with 12GB of RAM, Lightroom 4 is slightly less responsive that Lightroom 3 in the Develop module. One reason for this is the decision by Adobe to apply Detail settings (sharpening and noise reduction) to all zoom levels in Lightroom 4. But there is simply more going on under the hood in Lightroom 4 and the faster your system the more responsive it will be. And while Adobe doesn’t make a lot of it, OpenGL support is essential in your Windows video card to view video files.

Mac users need a multicore Intel processor and a 64-bit operating system to run Lightroom 4. Lightroom 4 is slightly less responsive than Lightroom 3 on my iMac for the same reasons that it is less responsive on my Windows computer. But Lightroom 4 is far more responsive on my much faster Windows machine with three times as much RAM than it is on the iMac.

A fully functional trial version of Lightroom 4 is available from the Adobe Web site, With its new and enhanced image processing tools and the new Map and Book modules, along with its other improvements, most users, like myself, will never look back to Lightroom 3.    

Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer based in Santa Ana, CA, and specializing in still-life and macro photography. He is presently working on a Lightroom 4 book to be published by Wiley Publishing in the early summer of this year.

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