It was always considered the younger sibling of Adobe Lightroom Classic. But with and increasing number of photographers and content creators wanting a more straightforward interface, Adobe Lightroom seems to be getting a lot of attention. Given their penchant for infusing AI features in their software, Adobe introduced a handful of AI-enabled tools in Desktop version 6.0 some weeks ago. Let’s see how much easier it’s become for photographers to enhance their images using Lightroom.
A little over a year ago, I switched to Capture One Pro after using Adobe Lightroom Classic for nearly 12 years. I still prefer Lightroom Classic for a handful of things like file management, spot healing, and their retouching brushes. But on the whole, when it comes to image enhancement, the results I get for the same image are more natural looking on Capture One. The main reason I have almost stopped using Lightroom Classic is it’s a resource hog.
Despite photographers complaining for nearly five years about how much RAM it uses, nothing’s changed. Capture One wasn’t able to blend HDR jpeg images when I wanted to last month. This forced me to edit some images using Lightroom Classic 12.1. It still took up a crazy amount of RAM on my M1 Macbook Air during the edit process. Adobe Lightroom (Desktop) doesn’t seem to use as much, and that’s a boon for photographers who want to edit quickly without RAM limitations slowing down their workflow.
The Big Picture
Adobe Lightroom requires an Adobe plan to work after the 7 day trial period. If you don’t mind managing your photos by yourself, you just might prefer using this version over the Classic edition. Adobe keeps adding more features to Lightroom desktop to almost match up to Classic. I wonder at what point the two will begin to overlap in terms of editing capabilities. Version 6.0 of Lightroom for desktop has added some key AI features. Let’s take a look at how they can simplify your photo editing.
- Content-Aware removal/healing works great for large and small subjects, and dust spots
- Automatically select people or objects using the Masking tool
- Object selection tool is very useful for selecting objects that aren’t against a clean background.
- Adaptive Presets help you edit your images using AI-powered presets with auto masking
- Recommended presets can help you quickly pick a preset when you’re confused what to use
- Easy comparison of edited photos
- The potential for AI-aided editing is infinite, and Adobe looks to be on the right track to integrate this with more of its Lightroom editing tools
- Develop module tools are still grouped differently than in Adobe Lightroom Classic. Confusing to locate some tools initially if you’re a seasoned Lightroom Classic user.
- Shortcut keys are different from Lightroom Classic.
For most photographers who need quick and less complex edits, Adobe Lightroom (for desktop) is likely going to be the preferred option. And with Adobe adding more and more features that rely on AI for their processing, edits are becoming quicker and more accurate. Object selection and spot removal are a lot easier now, thanks to this. The future for Adobe Lightroom is bright, as it is for editing software in general. I’m giving Adobe Lightroom four out of five stars.
I tested Adobe Lightroom (not the Classic version) v 6.1 on my 2021 M1 Macbook Air. Images used during the testing were taken on Nikon D4, Z6 II, and Zfc cameras, and also a Huawei P30 Pro smartphone.
Features and Ease of Use
This tool, as of now, is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of effectiveness. Healing works great when what you want to remove isn’t taking up too much of the frame.
I wanted to remove that cable hanging off the edge of the floor in the above photo. This was done with relative ease in Lightroom. Removing the worker standing in the photo was a different story.
Also, when the object to be removed is set against a cleaner, less cluttered background, it seems to blend in with the removal a lot better. Take a look at the below example.
Removing birds from the sky and trash from the ground was done with relative ease in a few seconds.
Yes, cloning and healing could be done pretty easily in earlier versions of Lightroom too. Back then it would search for nearby pixels to clone or heal from. Now, Lightroom probably analyzes a much larger area to do this. If you’re not happy with the content-aware healing results for any reason, instead of undoing it and clicking on the spot again, you can Cmd+drag (or Ctrl+drag in Windows) over an area of the image. This allows you to provide a selection of the image for Lightroom to analyze. This is similar to Adobe Photoshop’s Content Aware removal tool, where you ‘paint green’ over the areas you want the software to analyze.
You can’t go on rapidly clicking on the image to remove spots. Each successive spot removal has to wait for the previous one to be completed before your mouse click can be registered. So don’t be surprised if a mouse click for cloning hasn’t taken effect in the image.
It’s Not Perfect
When it came to removing people and larger objects like cars, Lightroom’s performance was dependent on how complex the background was.
Here is an example where I wasn’t pleased with the automatic cloning. You don’t need to closely inspect the photo to see the patchy job around where the yacht used to be. The boat the person parasailing is attached to is also not cleanly removed. Neither is the buoy in the sea if you look carefully. The parasailer though has disappeared into the sky.
For this photograph, I wanted to see if the bird in the center could be removed with just a single swipe.
Given the cloud complexity behind the middle seagull, I didn’t think this would be an easy job. But Lightroom actually did a good job here. Aside from a couple of spots where the seagull was (which look like sensor dust), you can’t tell that such a large portion of the image has been removed.
Masking And Subject Selection
All those days of painfully painting over the skies in your image with adjustment brushes are now behind you. Remember the times we would add a gradient over the sky, only to have the gradient’s edit values be applied over the buildings and towers that covered the sky under the gradient?
Lightroom later gave us the ability to brush out the gradient filter over such portions, but it was still a tedious task. Things have become simpler now, with users being able to select subjects, skies, and backgrounds with a single click.
“Powered by AI” is a reassuring statement for photo editing, and I wanted to know how quick and effective this selection could be for the above image. All it took was a couple of seconds for a clean selection.
Much to my relief, the edges around the building were clearly not part of the AI selected mask over the sky.
In this example, the AI-selected sky mask also appears to have been cleanly done.
But dropping the Exposure slider a long way to the left clearly shows some haloing around the edges of the lifeguard’s post. I suppose these kinds of edits will get better in time, but with Adobe being the image editing software leader it is, I hope it’s sooner than later.
Auto subject selection picked up the flag and flagpole too.
Strangely, the Background mask laid itself over the entire frame. Kudos to Lightroom for giving you the option to report an error if you didn’t get the right kind of AI masking results.
The AI-powered Object selection tool worked great in almost all scenarios. Draw a rectangular box over the subject you want to mask, and Lightroom effectively selects what you want.
Dragging around the boat with the Object selection tool, I was able to mask it without the mask spilling over onto the water.
There are images where Object selection works better than Subject selection. Take this one for example.
When I chose the automatic Subject selection, a lot of the portion under the horse’s legs was selected too, including parts of the sky and the advertising pole.
I then drew around the horse as best possible using the Object selection tool.
Better, but not 100% right, as some portions behind the horse’s hind leg were selected.
I deleted this mask and used the Brush option instead of the rectangular selection one. This did a much better job, and it cleanly painted the mask over the expected areas.
The masking results that come out of using the Brush option in the Object selection tool are very impressive.
If I had to select this building manually in Photoshop, it would have been a painstaking task. Adobe Lightroom’s AI did this with just one click.
There was a time when I’d download any and every preset that looked appealing. Applying them to my images was a bit of a craze for a while. Then I began fine-tuning the look to my taste. These days I don’t find myself using them as much, but there are still some scenarios where I prefer using my own presets for editing. Not so much to drastically change the look of a photo but more to add some punch to the end result.
There’s still the issue I face of what preset to apply to an image: an issue that’s compounded when I have hundreds of presets in my Lightroom library. Adobe now simplifies this for me with Recommended Presets. The software scans your image, presumably to understand what the frame is about, and then recommends presets from Lightroom Discover. This is a Lightroom community ‘dedicated to learning and sharing photographic inspiration.’
Hovering the mouse over the suggested presets previews its look on your image.
This old area of Abu Dhabi needed a nice grungy preset. Lightroom showed me a few to pick from, and the one I chose went well with the edit I had in mind when I shot the photograph.
Adaptive Sky Presets
The Adaptive Presets come under the Premium presets tab. Currently they are available in Portraits, Sky, and Subject collections.
There’s no selection required before previewing or applying these presets. Based on the kind of image you’re using them on, Lightroom does the masking automatically.
The Adaptive Preset selection creates a new mask layer as seen above.
When I added the Enhance Portrait preset to this image, it created five separate masks: iris, eye whites, skin, shadows in the eye areas, and teeth. Notice how the Teeth mask layer has a warning symbol next to it. Clicking on this brings up a message that reads, “Unable to select teeth in this photo.” For someone like me who doesn’t specialize in portrait retouching, this tool could be a real-time saver.
Even an image of me taken outdoors in the sun under 120F wasn’t a match for Lightroom. In a single click it glammed me up a bit (something that’s tough to do on most days).
Who Should Buy This?
With AI becoming a core feature of its editing tools, Lightroom can only get better in this regard. What’s really good is that a lot of these AI features are also available on the mobile apps. If the desktop Classic edition of Lightroom is something you find too complex and you just want an easy editor that uses AI to greatly simplify subject selection, give Lightroom a try. There are mixed results on some occasions, but nothing that can’t be fixed if you play around a bit. Capture One, the ball is in your court now to see how to integrate AI. It would be great if you could start by getting it to remove all dust spots in a photograph.