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Books in Lightroom 4: Shortcuts and Pitfalls

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Since the first Adobe Lightroom, the ability to make books was requested by photographers. It's possible in Lightroom 4. In today's tutorial, we'll take a look at some shortcuts built into the system, and also how to avoid making mistakes with some of the trickier areas of the program.

Making books and eBooks in Lightroom 4 is a fantastic experience if you've ever dreamed of being an InDesign expert, but never really caught the hang of it. The Book module in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 is an easy way into the creation of books, being based on Blurb's BookSmart program, and opens the doors of book creation to a wider audience, without being tied to a specific printing house or system.


The Book module in Lightroom 4 let's you do your own Books or eBooks easily.

Lightroom's editor is a simpler version, and some people will claim it's too simple for their liking, but in fact, once you understand the limitations and begin to use the program, you'll find there are ways to do more than what is obvious in a first contact.

I say this because I've been using BookSmart since 2008, for my projects, and I've asked Adobe for a "book module" since the first Lightroom beta, some six years ago. And I am having a lot of fun with the Book module. In fact, I wish I had more time to create eBooks using it.


A Look at the Past

Looking back to previous versions of the program, we had a sketch of a page creation option in Lightroom 3 (and in Lightroom 2, if you dared to look under the hood and change some code) but nothing compares to what Lightroom 4 offers. That said, this is not a substitute tool for people using InDesign, but something for the rest of us, photographers, amateurs or professionals that just need to get a book made with a few clicks.

I did create my first eBooks with inDesign and still use it, but not so much now, because I love LR4 Book module and it suits most of my needs.

The early beta days of Lightroom 4 led me to create some eBooks, eager to explore every part of the Book module, only to discover that there were problems with the creation of catalogs and also with the use of some fonts. I lost my first catalogue and book layout and it was not clear to me, at the time, the best workflow to get consistent results.

I exchanged emails with Victoria Brampton - aka The Lightroom Queen, also with Julieanne Kost, Adobe's LR4 evangelist, and with some more people at Adobe, to try to solve the problems, and finally came to terms with some of the bugs and found ways around initial problems.


The first pages will be hard to create, but once your first book is finished, you'll want to do another one. And another...

Sharing Knowledge

This does not mean that there will not be other problems with the software, but for now, creating books can be almost a "no problems" operation that will give you a unique chance to do your book, save it in a PDF format and take it to a print house. You can also, simply, create a lower-resolution eBook to distribute freely or sell online.

Some people have asked Adobe to create the option to save JPEGs, as some print houses prefer the format, but I am happy with the pdf, as the printer I work with in Portugal - using Xerox digital offset - accepts pdfs. Anyway, I guess Adobe will probably create that option too, in a future update of the program.

I was so excited with the option to do books - or eBooks - that during the beta period of LR4 I gave a workshop centered on the use of the module, and challenged participants to do their own eBook at the end. I believe that a hands-on experience is the best thing you can have, but some reading can also help you to get to terms with the program. That's the reason why I decided to write this tutorial, that points out what I think is most important in way of getting some work done in Lightroom 4. So, without further ado, here are some tips to make your experience easier.


1. Make a Plan

Before committing to work in Lightroom, I would suggest you define what you want to have in your book. Sketch ideas on paper, write whatever texts you want to include, collect your images and start by importing them into Lightroom. You can always add more later if you need. Or write texts. But get some work done before.


2. Create a Collection

If you're just doing a book from a shoot, as I sometimes do, import the whole collection, edit the images and then create a catalogue with those you want to use in the book. If you're making a book with a selection of images from different folders I would advise you to create a folder for all the images you want to use. I create a specific folder for each book I am working on.

I prefer to have all materials in a single place than to lose links afterwards if something goes wrong. I also save the Book pages and final catalogue in the same folder, so I can just take the files to any other computer and keep working there, so long as I have Lightroom available. For this process to work you need to create a unique catalogue for each book, a solution I am using and that has the advantage of not slowing down Lightroom.

Working with just the files for your Book, makes it a faster job to accomplish. And if you've a collection of some 250 pictures that you're working with, as I've done for my airplanes eBook, you'll understand what I mean. And besides that, I like to have separated catalogues in Lightroom.


When creating an eBook, you must start on page one and skip the covers.

3. No Cover on eBooks

The Book module has a cover option that you don't need to use if you are only doing an eBook. If you want to print using Blurb services you need the cover, but for eBooks you should do the cover on the first page (page one). You can always do the cover, if you want, as it will be saved automatically, but remember your eBook will start on page one. So all you will need for eBooks is the second .pdf file that comes out from LR4.


Use the cells in the page as a guide and a starting point, but define your own layout based on them.

4. The Layout is a Guide, Not a Rule

People complain that the layouts are limited in the Book module. They're wrong. The photocells marked on the page (grey cells) don't need to have a picture placed in all of them, you're free to choose which to use. And you can also resize images within the bigger cells, and move them around, dragging them and using the options on the right side of the interface.


Some claim that the layouts are limited, but once you start to play the tools will reveal hidden options. Read the text to see how this was done.

5. The Secret is Having Time

The more time you invest in your layout, the better it will look. For the image on the left page of the spread above I used a single image that I placed on the 12 cells, enlarging it and moving each segment around until I got the grid result.

I know there are "more professional" ways to do a grid like this, and I could do this image in Photoshop and move it here afterwards, but I just wanted to show that it can be done this way too. and explore the limitations of the tools within the module.


Take time to look at all the pages created. Having a global vision helps you to define changes that will make for a better book.

6. Look at Your Book: Then Save It

After creating a few initial pages look at your work globally. It will help you to define little or big adjustments. Also remember, once you've chosen the images (you can always add some more later), to save the Book project. And export a catalogue with all the images you're using.

I usually do this in the same folder where I have all the materials for a specific Book, that is also under a folder that has all the books for 2012. This helps me to keep track of everything: images, logos, graphics and texts (written previously in Word or another text editor).


You can do also do a text book if you want, but mixing pictures and text is what the Book module is all about.

7. A Book is Not Just Pictures

Although the Book module is in a program for editing images, Lightroom 4, it does not mean that this module was created to make books with pictures only. Adobe has answered the requests from photographers and the text areas let you fill whole pages with text, if need be. And then do whole pages with pictures, so you can create your own Book as you envision it.

Remember that when saving to pdf you need to check if there are no problems like text missing. This could happen either because it's longer than the box it is in, or because some fonts go missing when saving the file. If this happens, change to a similar font or resize a box, and save again.


The Book module offers a chance to do panoramas, but you have to watch for the way it saves them in pdf. The initial version of LR4 has a bug that doubles text.

8. Do Panoramas, but Beware

Doing panoramas in Lightroom 4 Book module is easy, as the program offers an option to do double pages with different layouts. If you feel like trying it, beware of using text on the spread. Sometimes the software duplicates the text on both pages, spoiling the panorama.

An easy way to solve the problem is using two separated pages and then placing the same image on both, enlarging and adjusting it until it looks like a single spread. Then you can write what you want on one side. Adobe will correct this bug, I am sure, but for now it still shows up.


A Free eBook as an Example

The best way to show people what can be done is sharing with them your work. So I am sharing with you the first eBook I made in Lightroom 4 Book module. This eBook, contemplative photography essays, is written both in English and Portuguese and shows some of my workshops with people and the themes photographed. And it shows, what is more important, what anyone can do with Adobe Lightroom 4 in terms of expression. If I can do it, I am sure you also can. Download the trial version of the new Lightroom and explore it. I bet you'll love it!


This free eBook will shows you some what can be done in the Book module in Lightroom 4.

Download my eBook (please share the link, do not share the eBook, so I know how many people downloaded this free eBook).

Download the contemplative photography essays eBook.

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