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Take Lightroom On Your Next Shoot

By Jeff Carlson

I just returned from a two-week photography workshop, during which I shot thousands of photos. Thanks to a new way of reviewing and editing images in the field, I’m not only more satisfied than usual with what I captured, but also already well on the way to processing them all. Even if you shoot a tiny fraction of that, I bet you’ll be pleased if you try these techniques. It requires only a camera and Adobe Lightroom on all your devices.

Here’s how it played out for me during two days of the workshop.

Morning fog and trees photographed by Jeff Carlson and edited in Adobe Lightroom for Mobile and Lightroom CC

SO. EARLY.

My alarm goes off at 5 a.m. Although I’m not wired to wake up at such an unholy hour, golden morning light favors the landscape photographer who can drag his or her ass out of bed before the sun. The workshop’s target today: Morning fog in a Northern California redwood forest.

Because I’m shooting in the trees, exposures are tricky: the tree canopy makes for generally dark conditions, interspersed with hotspots of sunlight. To compensate, I bracket more of my shots. I record separate dark, light, and in-between exposures of the same scene using either the Bracket setting on my camera or by adjusting the shutter speeds manually. It may sound like unnecessary work, but after I import the images into Adobe Lightroom CC, I’ll be able to build HDR (High Dynamic Range) versions with the new HDR Merge tool.

I also capture side-by-side sequences that I can later stitch together using Lightroom’s new Photo Merge Panorama tool. While I’ve brought my tripod on this shoot, Lightroom’s stitching function can make panos out of hand-held photos, too.

HDR shots of redwoods photographed by Jeff Carlson and edited in Adobe Lightroom for Mobile and Lightroom CC
HDR shots of redwoods photographed by Jeff Carlson and edited in Adobe Lightroom for Mobile and Lightroom CC
HDR shots of redwoods photographed by Jeff Carlson and edited in Adobe Lightroom for Mobile and Lightroom CC
The HDR Merge tool in Adobe Lightroom CC

OUT OF THE WOODS

As the fog recedes and the sun rises in the sky, we leave the redwoods in search of breakfast, more coffee, and then a full day of shooting at other locations.

Eventually we return to the hotel, where I import the day’s photos directly from the memory card to Lightroom CC on my computer. As they import, I can start working on the first photos while the rest copy to the library.

I quickly assign star ratings or flags to elevate the shots I think deserve more attention. I then drag anything flagged or rated two stars or higher to an album I’ve set up that syncs with Creative Cloud and Lightroom mobile so I can work on them on the iPad tomorrow.

Syncing those photos with Lightroom mobile has an added benefit: Lightroom CC generates and uploads Smart Previews (using Adobe’s DNG format) of the photos to Creative Cloud, so editing them in Lightroom mobile means I’m essentially working with high-quality raw image information on the iPad. Edits sync seamlessly back to Lightroom CC. (For more about how CreativeSync benefits you, read this post.)

Even though I should be going to bed, I can’t help but isolate a few HDR and panorama groups and run them through the Photo Merge HDR and Panorama tools. It takes much less time than round-tripping them through Photoshop CC. Here’s a tip: I bypass the Photo Merge dialogs altogether by holding the Shift key while selecting the menu items, or by pressing Control-Shift-H and Control-Shift-P. The images process in the background so I can continue to review and rate the other photos.

Individual photos that become part of a panorama in Adobe Lightroom CC
The Panorama Merge tool in Adobe Lightroom CC

Lastly, I backup all my photos to an external hard disk, because you can never have enough backups. While that’s happening, I set out a stack of clothes for tomorrow’s 5 a.m. wakeup call, make sure my camera bag and tripod are ready to go, and finally hit the pillow.

SHOOT. EDIT. SHOOT. EDIT.

On the second day, I have two goals: Explore the wilderness in search of photos and, during down times or while traveling between locations, edit yesterday’s selected shots on my iPad.

All the images I synced last night show up on the iPad with their ratings intact, making it easy to display only the three-star images that I consider promising enough to edit. Lightroom mobile includes all the edit tools in the Basic pane of Lightroom CC’s Develop module, plus a few others, such as a vignette preset.

Although you can’t build HDR images or panoramas in Lightroom mobile, the ones I created last night are now on the iPad. Since they’re DNG files, I’m able to take advantage of a much broader tonal range while editing than if I were working with JPEGs.

Any edits I make in Lightroom mobile quickly transfer back as lightweight metadata to Lightroom CC via Creative Cloud. And they’re non-destructive: If I choose to make a photo black and white, or to apply a heavy vignette, not only will I see the same result on my computer tonight, but I’ll be able to adjust or remove those edits without starting over.

Rating photos in Adobe Lightroom for Mobile
Rating photos in Adobe Lightroom for Mobile

Tonight, after another long day of making more images, I’ll repeat yesterday’s process of importing and backing up my images, but now there’s a difference. I’ve already started processing my photos on the road—it’s not a looming chore that requires carving out time when I get home. And I can share photos with friends or online within hours of taking them instead of days or weeks later. And that makes me sleep easier, ready for the next early-morning adventure.

Want more tips? Read “Get Started with Lightroom on Mobile.”