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Lightroom 4 Beta: Packed with New Features

In six short years, Adoble Lightroom has changed the way many photographers manage their images. With powerful cataloging and developing features, Lightroom offers photographers the ability to customize their photo management workflow and manage the thousands of images more efficiently than ever before. Adobe's innovation continues with Lightroom 4, which is currently in Beta. Today, we'll be taking a look at some of the new features of the latest iteration of Lightroom.

Adobe's Lightroom 4 is now in Beta, and you can download it here. The beta is free and is a great opportunity to test the software and hopefully contribute to its development by giving feedback given to Adobe. Forums are available to share your experience with the beta version.

There are a number of exciting innovations built into the latest version of Lightroom. Let's take a look at some of the major changes that you can take advantage of with the Lightroom 4 Beta.

The Develop Module

For photographers most interested in the way that the new version of Lightroom will impact their images, we need to look no further than the Develop module. As you may already know, Lightroom features various modules, each of which allow us to interact with our images differently. The Develop module is where much of the heavy lifting of the editing process takes place, and the list of changes in LR4 will excite many photographers.

The develop process of LR4 has been radically changed in the way that it handles images. Image editing controls are now more powerful and provide for a greater level of control that past versions. After a couple of weeks of testing, I can say that the changes to the develop module have improved my editing by allowing for precise control of the digital development of my images.

One of the more confusing aspects of the earlier versions of Lightroom was what seemed to be redundancy in controlling the exposure of your images. There was not only an Exposure slider to shift the exposure of your images, but also a brightness slider. This was a major point of contention among those that discussed the application and it was often unclear about the differences in the two adjustments. Many felt that exposure and brightness were redundant settings and were unclear about which slider to use in certain situations.

This issue has been eliminated in Lightroom 4. The exposure slider now controls the overall exposure of the image, while three new sliders are found for precise image control over varying regions of the photo.

At left is the develop process for Lightroom 3, known as the 2010 Process. The right side illustrates the more streamlined 2012 process; one of the major changes in Lightroom 4 is the addition of the highlights, shadows, and white level adjustments. These sliders join the "blacks" slider to provide for precise control over the exposure of different regions of your images.

The new sliders allow for shifts in individual exposure "ranges". These sliders are the shadow, highlight and whites adjustments. Using these three new adjustments, we can independently control the exposures of the shadow and highlight regions. This can be extremely useful for photos with large amounts of dynamic range.

I created this image to demonstrate the ability of the new process to recover dynamic range. At left, the 2010 process utilized the recovery slider to attempt to recover the blown out sky. At right, I used the highlight slider featured in Lightroom 4’s new process to bring the sky back into the photo.

Also, I have found the new clarity slider to be a refreshing update. Sometimes, I felt that the clarity slider of Lightroom 3 would cause my images to take on an almost HDR look. I would rarely use the slider simply because I didn't feel it was an overall pleasing look to apply.

In Lightroom 4, the clarity slider has become one of my go-to tools. It's hard to quantify the differences of the new slider, but the clarity slider is designed to really enhance the fine details. The new version of the clarity slider does just that.

At left, the image was adjusted with the clarity slider using the Lightroom 3 process. The clarity effect at right, a part of Lightroom 4, is a more appealing look and is more fitting of the "Clarity" name in the way it adjusts the look of the image.

Here, we can see an image with the same amount of clarity adjustment for an image; the difference is that the photo at left is adjusted with Lightroom 3's development process, while the right half of the image is processed with Lightroom 4.

The Develop module is certainly a changing experience with the "recovery" and "fill light" sliders now being exchanged for the exposure range controls. Personally, I believe that the new process allows for tighter control of the way we develop our images.

New Modules

In addition to the changes to the Develop module, Lightroom 4 brings to the table two entirely new modules that will excite many photographers; the Maps and Books module are two entirely new parts of the Lightroom digital workflow.

Map

The first of these is the new Map module. Tightly integrated with Google Maps, the application can now place map markers that note the location at which your photos were made.

Although I do not yet own a camera with automatic image tagging, I imported my iPhone photo collection into Lightroom to check out the new Map functionality. It was interesting to visualize some of my travels around my native East Tennessee over the holiday season. Any of the markers can be clicked to display the images from those locations.

As long as your images contain associated geographic data, Lightroom will automatically map the locations of where the images were made. As more cameras gain this geotagging functionality or optional GPS add-ons become even more popular, the excitement of being able to visualize your photo taking adventures will spread to more and more photographers. Photographers can also manually drag and drop images onto the map, or use a tracklog to geotag photos.

Book

Another feature that has had me excited about Lightroom 4 is the Book module. With this module, it is perhaps easier than ever to publish photo books. This is now possible entirely within the comfort of your Lightroom workflow.

The Book module handles the book creation process from start to finish. With many layout, size and publishing options and in-depth customization, photographers may find themselves sending their work to print than ever before. The full edition of Lightroom 4 will include over 180 professionally designed templates and layouts.

The new Book module makes it incredibly easy to layout books. Pricing information automatically updates as options to the book are altered.

It's easy to visualize how your book fits together in the Book module.

Adobe partnered with one of the leading publishers, Blurb, to provide this seamless experience. A feature that wowed me was that pricing for the book you are designing automatically updates as you add pages and alter your book design. The fact that this all takes place within Lightroom is astonishing to me. This seamless experience is unrivaled in any other photo software. We can now take our image from the memory card, review and tag images in the Library module, make changes in the Develop module, and send it straight to a printer in the Books module.

Other Features

Besides the major changes discussed above, Adobe added a treasure trove of other useful alterations in Lightroom 4. Let's take a look at just a few of them.

Video Editing

In the past, Lightroom has had the ability to include videos as a part of your catalogs. You could quickly preview videos and tag them as a part of the catalog, but control over the video file itself was very limited.

In LR4, Adobe has taken major steps to add some of the features of Lightroom to video. Although the entire Develop module is not available for use on our video clips, we can tweak the clips to an extent. Furthermore, we now have the ability to make changes to the lengths of clips, as well as basic color and visual adjustments.

I recently used Lightroom 4's brand new video features to tweak some video I shot for a contest. I adjusted white balance, vibrance, and shortened the length of the video. Given that I also used stills in the construction of the project, I was practically able to produce the entire video within Lightroom.

One of the main focuses of the LR4 Beta that caught my attention was the ease of exporting the altered videos. As someone whose background is in still imagery, I have to admit that video is something of sore spot with me.

In my limited experience with video, perhaps the most frustrating part of the experience is outputting the completed video. With so many formats, codecs and resolutions to choose from, full featured video editing applications can be daunting for many users. Outputting video from Lightroom is simplified, and for me, that's a feature I'm very thankful for.

Email Photos

Call me old school, but I was excited when I found out that Lightroom 4 featured the ability to email a photo directly from the application. Often times, I need to take an image or two and send it over to my client for an early review. Now, I don't have to export the photo, open a web browser, attach it and send it. Emailing a photo can now be done entirely within the application, and has saved me from the distractions of the Internet several times already.

The new Lightroom 4 email option allows me to attach an image and send it, all from within my photo catalog.

Soft Proofing

If there's one feature that really proves that Adobe is listening, it's the soft proofing functionality of Lightroom 4. This oft-requested feature allows the user to preview the image as it will appear in print. Again, this all takes place within your Lightroom workflow, so comparing the "on-screen" version to the soft-proofed version is a breeze.

The red areas of this image help us to illustrate and visualize the areas that will need adjustment for printing; these regions show us what is "out of gamut" and what won't translate to a print version of our photo. With these guides, we can make the adjustments to images necessary to get the print perfect the first try. Adobe's Julieanne Kost has much more about soft proofing.

Conclusion

Now that the Lightroom 4 Beta is readily available, it's easy to see that Adobe has not been resting on its laurels with the development of the application. The Lightroom workflow is more powerful than ever with new modules and extensions of the already existing modules.

Not only have classic features been greatly improved, the new edition of the software has introduced some new features that are sure to become favorites of photographers of all types. Make sure to head over to Adobe's website and give it a try today.