Friday 23 October 2009

Lightroom - Do I need to save my edited shots?

So, as regular readers will be aware, I am slowly moving my workflow to Lightroom. It's a fun project and has given me the opportunity to reassess the way I currently work & compare it with other photographers.

My goal, is to follow "best practice" for digital image management whilst minimising the amount of work I actually have to do in front of the computer. So I am spending a lot of time reading blogs, books & forum posts as to how others manage their workflow and working out which will be right for me.

One of the considerations a digital photographer has to take into account is how many copies of each image to store. If you are not careful it can easily become a nightmare. First you have your original raw file. Then you might have one or two tiff files associated with it as your finally developed image. Finally you end up with s numerous jpgs sized for various output mediums (web, print, magazine submissions, etc). If your not careful it could all end up looking like the tide line on a Cornish Beach:

Cornish Crap
(Click to view large)

A while back I decided that I would only keep the original raw file & the finished tiff file for each of my images. Using QImage I could print the tiff file in any size I choose, so there was no need to store versions at different print sizing. Jpgs are really just an output format, so I don't keep them as they can be recreated at any time from the tiffs.

So for a long time I have had only one version of my images (the tiff) , I kept the raw files so I can go back to the raws if I need to, and all is right with the world. But then along came Lightroom2 and it's targeted adjustments...

One of the big things that you hear about Lightroom2 is that it features "Non-destructive editing" . Unlike photoshop, your original image is safe no matter what you do to it as all that is stored is your original image and a history of the changes you made to it. In order to undo something you just go back as far a you like in that history. For people who shoot jpgs this is a major advance - your originals are safe with Lightroom. For Raw shooters it's really not such a big deal, no raw converter changes your raw files, they simply generate a tiff or a jpg.

But Lightroom's target adjustments change the rules. You can (in a lot of circumstances) just use the Lightroom tools to make the adjustments and never need to go into Photoshop. From Lightroom I can print, show it in a slide-show and even generate any jpgs I might need to send out. So now I only need Lightroom and my raw files - it's time to say goodbye to storing tiff files. This has to be a good thing...doesn't it?

Well as i see it Lightroom is storing a set of instructions on what to do with your image very much like a recipe book tells you what to do with raw ingredients. As we know with recipes, two cooks can follow the same recipe and produce 2 different results, or if the recipe is in English and the chef only speaks French you are going to have lots of problems. Does the same hold true for the recipes we have in Lightroom? Well yes I believe it does.

If our recipe for the perfect picture includes the instruction "increase vibrancy by 30", none of us outside of Adobe really know what calculations Lightroom performs on our files. In a few years time when you are running Lightroom 5.3 on Windows 11 (or OS-X Domestic Moggy or even Google Spangled Metal 3), you have no real guarantee that "increase vibrancy by 30" will produce the same look as it did back in 2009. I am sure Adobe would do their best to keep things consistent but it's not easy to guarantee that as developers try to fix bugs in the code and extend it to add more functionality.

Even more importantly, what happens if Adobe drop support for Lightroom due to it rapidly losing market share to some other new technology coming along? What if it becomes to costly to continue to support the raw format of your files? Now we are in a much, much worse position than we ever were, as now we have an archive of raw files in a proprietary format plus a set of instructions in an equally proprietary format that it may be difficult (if not impossible) to get any other software to understand.

That's why, to me, storing raw + lightroom adjustments is just not an archival format as it cannot be opened by other applications and may produce different result over time. Tiff files I created 5 years ago in Photoshop 7 still open and print just as they always did and I can use a wide variety of software to access them. It's an open and widely used standard, so I think I will be sticking with Tiff files as my format for the moment.

Am I right? why not add a comment below & let me know what you think.


kevin goodchild said...


I have a similar workflow, RAW and "finished" TIFF, I use the " " as I do not include a final sharpen as this will differ from web page use to A2 print.
Have to say I have kept my web used Jpegs, they take up very little room and are easily and very quickly re-used either on other webpages or via email. I just can't shake the habit.


Unknown said...

Adobe seem to be aware of the issue of future proofing your images. in LR3beta they specifically introduced a version number because they know they made many changes to the processing engine. As such images created with LR2 will be processed with the old version processor.

However, there is still a chance things can change over time. As you say bugs get fixed. Again LR3 may help here with its ability to publish to a local directory. Publish is sort of like export except that it will keep track of images you have published and you can tell if you have made changes inside LR since you last published.

Chris Shepherd said...

Thanks for the comments,

Some interesting points there, I'll have to have a play with LR3 when I get a machine that can handle it (my laptop is on tis last legs).

Its all early days with this stuff I know but it would be great if there was an open standard for "raw + adjustments" files. DNG looks like a possible solution,I havn't played with that and I am not sure there is that much support for it out there yet.