Michael Caswell Photography

Why I Use Lightroom for Editing Wedding Images

When I first started out as a professional photographer, Apple's Aperture was my primary image editing app. Adobe introduced Lightroom soon afterward, and I kept an eye on it as it was developed. Though I generally loved Aperture, several years later Adobe finally lured me over to Lightroom (with, if I remember correctly, version 3) with the introduction of noise reduction that was far superior to what Aperture could deliver. This was a breakthrough in my workflow, because I could now batch-apply high quality noise reduction (in a non-destructive manner, so I could easily revert and adjust further if needed), as oppose to either using Aperture's inferior built-in noise reduction, or having to go through a process of applying noise reduction separately after exporting. I've been with Lightroom ever since.

What about Capture One? I know quite a few photographers who swear by this app, and I've used it occasionally. One attractive thing about C1 is that it's still available as a perpetual license (as opposed to Adobe's purely subscription model). Just like the race between Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Fuji, there are some areas where Capture One excels, other areas where Lightroom is superior, and this changes over time as existing features are refined and new ones added.

For me, though I always keep an eye on what Capture One is offering, Lightroom has continued to retain me as a user. There are several reasons why.

Creative Cloud

Though I was one of many photographers who was not happy about Adobe's shift to a subscription-only model for their software, I've since moderated this view quite a bit. First and foremost is my reliance on the Creative Cloud syncing feature, which enables me to freely move back and forth between my computer and iPad when editing, without jumping through any hoops. For instance, I can be sitting at my computer editing, and then if I need to head out to a doctor appointment or a meeting with a client and I know I'm going to have some down time, I can grab my iPad and pick up where I left off, then when I return home, those changes are automatically synced back to the computer. It's a wonderfully useful system!

For this reason alone, a subscription price is warranted (if for nothing else, to cover the service that handles this syncing).

But Adobe has also made a very attractively-priced subscription option for photographers, with a package consisting of Lightroom, Photoshop, and the mobile version of Lightroom available for only $120 a year. If this were just for Lightroom, it would be borderline in terms of value, but with Photoshop included as well, it's really a bargain.

In any case, I use Creative Cloud syncing so much that I'm pretty much semi-permanently married to Lightroom for this reason alone. Capture One has recently announced their own iPad app along with plans to have a similar cloud service that will sync images between the iPad and the computer, but it remains to be seen how exactly this will be implemented and what features it will have, and it will likely take at least a year or two of development before it matures enough to be as comprehensive as Adobe's offering.

masking

Aside from Creative Cloud syncing, the biggest feature that has kept me with Lightroom has been its various masking features, which have evolved over the years to be more and more useful.

Gradient & Radial Filters

The first incarnation of masking in Lightroom were the linear and radial gradient tools, as well as a brush. These tools enable you to make a very quick and easy adjustment to a portion of an image. For instance, if the ground in front of the subject or the sky above them is a bit too bright, a quick drag of the gradient filter can tone these areas down. Similarly if you had to shoot something like a send-off with direct flash, resulting in the guests closer to you off to the sides being more brightly lit than the couple who are a bit further back (thanks to the inverse square law), a combination of a couple of gradients on each side to darken those guests, along with a radial filter over the couple to brighten them up, is a very quick and effective way to make a dramatic improvement to this kind of image, and the adjustments can be batch-applied to others in that same series.

You can not only do exposure adjustments in this manner, but you can also selectively shift the white balance, which provides a way to compensate for pesky mixed-lighting situations by making certain parts of an image warmer or cooler, and most other parameters (sharpness, noise reduction, clarity, saturation, etc.) can be applied selectively in this manner as well.

Of course, you could always accomplish these things in Photoshop, but it would take a lot longer, and the edits would have to be performed each image individually. And although this might be fine to do occasionally, it's simply not practical to employ these methods on a larger number of the wedding's images. Lightroom's gradient and radial tools, once you get the hang of using them, serve as a very quick and easy way to improve your images without totally killing your workflow efficiency.

Capture One did finally add similar local adjustment tools a number of years later, but in early 2022 Adobe upped the ante with its new masking system, which featured AI masking to automatically select the subject or the sky.

AI Masking

Adobe's AI new masking system is truly a game-changer. While the radial and linear gradient filters and the local adjustment brush served as an easy means for you to brighten or darken (or apply other adjustments) to an area of an image, the downside is that these areas would not be precisely defined, so there would be some "spillover" (maybe you just want to brighten the couple, but the radial filter will also brighten some of the background behind them). There were various ways to be more specific with defining exactly what area to apply selective adjustments to, but these would take more time to accomplish.

AI masking fixes this. With one simple click, your subject is detected and selected, and you are free to apply adjustments just to them. And it works remarkably (I'd say shockingly) well. If desired, with another click, the selection can be inverted (so that everything except the subject is selected). And if needed, the initial AI mask can be quickly and easily added to or subjected from in several different manners, with these changes to the mask being non-destructive so that you can go back and adjust them later.

Ideally, every image a photographer captures would be lit perfectly straight out of the camera and require no such adjustments. But if there's one single defining characteristic of wedding photography, it would be the fast-moving, dynamic nature of the environment we shoot in. We generally don't have the luxury of time to set up perfect lighting for every shot.

Sure, I'd love for the shot of my couple recessing down the aisle to be flawless upon capture, but the reality is that they are going to be lit by a combination of the artificial light inside the church (which is going to be much brighter on the altar behind them), some daylight coming in through the windows and the main door of the church (if its opened at the end of the ceremony), and perhaps my flash (which, if I use it, I'll have to decide on whether to shoot with normal daylight balance, or gelled to match the warmer artificial light of the church).

The end result, straight out of the camera, is likely going to be a shot with the background too bright and yellow, and the couple too dark and blue. There are various methods that can be employed to improve this image, but none are more effective and efficient than Lightroom's AI masking.

The biggest flaw with this feature when it was originally introduced was that it was cumbersome to make adjustments of this kind to one image and sync those changes to other images... after syncing or pasting settings that included an AI mask, you had to click a button on each of those images, one by one, to recalculate the mask. However, in the June 2022 update this was remedied, with AI masks now automatically being recalculated when image settings are synced or pasted.

ISO-Specific Presets

My apologies to Capture One if it does indeed have this feature (as far as I know, it does not), but this enables you to have presets that have varying parameters depending on the ISO of a particular image. To put it simply, using noise reduction (probably the most commonly-used example of this feature), here's how it works. You take a series of test shots at various ISOs (you can shoot at every single ISO setting available, or just do a few and let Lightroom interpolate to fill in the gaps), and make the appropriate adjustments to each (minimal or no noise reduction for your ISO100 test image, and a heavier setting for your maximum ISO). You can then make an ISO-specific preset based on the settings of these images, and can define this preset as your import default.

As a result, immediately upon import, low ISO images will have no noise reduction (or just a small amount), while images shot at maximum ISO will have more noise reduction (and images at ISOs in between will have a proportionally scaled setting).