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DPP Solutions: New Features In Lightroom 5

2013 has been a big year for Adobe. Their biggest announcement, of course, was the change in licensing of their software to a pay-as-you-go subscription model facilitated through their Creative Cloud service. Around the same time as the Creative Cloud announcement, and almost lost in the din of controversy that it generated, was the Lightroom 5 Public Beta followed by the software’s release in June. For a product that began life with an uncertain future, Lightroom has grown into one of the most useful tools for photographers, and the evolutionary advancements in the new version continue to be oriented directly around the needs of photographers. As the audience for Photoshop has expanded—and with it, its features—far beyond photographers, Lightroom remains focused squarely on photography.

Software makers frequently tout the "hundreds of improvements" in any new version of a product. In a mature product like Lightroom, most of those modifications aren’t readily visible. Enhancements behind the user interface make a big difference to the overall user experience, but here, we’ll focus on some of the more up-front changes.

We mentioned the Creative Cloud. Love it or hate it, Creative Cloud is here to stay. One of the most interesting notes about Lightroom 5 is that it’s still available as a standalone product. You don’t have to buy into the Creative Cloud to use Lightroom. If you buy Lightroom 5, you’ll own it outright.

Of the new tools in Lightroom 5, one of our favorites is the Upright tool. Software fixes for straightening buildings have been around forever, and they’re mostly geared to amateurs. The results tend to be spotty, at best. The new Upright tool features extensive customizable control, making it a useful option for professionals who understand the art of subtlety in repairing perspective problems within a frame. You have extensive manual controls, and you can fine-tune the effect.

As Lightroom has advanced, photographers have been able to stay in its ecosystem longer before taking an image into Photoshop. The Advanced Healing brush has been improved to continue that trend. The new Advanced Healing brush is a freehand tool that looks in the vicinity of your selection to fill in the offending area. Behind the scenes, the Advanced Healing brush uses more sophisticated programming to accomplish its task, but it’s not as powerful as the Content Aware functions in Photoshop, so it’s really a compromise between power and efficiency. The tool is nondestructive, so if you find that it’s not working as well as you’d like, you can take the image over to Photoshop to employ its more powerful Content Aware functionality.

A lot of professionals work with a main studio-based computer and a laptop that goes everywhere with them. The new Smart Preview functionality will be especially useful for anyone who works this way. Lightroom 5 builds low-res proxy files of your RAW images that are much smaller and still give you the ability to edit extensively, even if the RAW image isn’t stored locally. You can make Smart Previews of a group of photos, work on those Smart Previews as you travel, then when you reconnect to the main library where the full-size versions are, Lightroom 5 will render your changes to the main image files. This is similar to the way that video editors work. The final render takes time and the Smart Previews aren’t huge (a maximum of about 2000 pixels on the longest dimension), which can limit your options, but overall the ability to work on proxies this way is an incredibly useful feature.

There are also changes to the photo book features in Lightroom 5, which allow you to create more sophisticated layouts. Pros increasingly use photo books to create self-promotional materials, and since we’re all addicted to customizing our looks, the enhancements in Lightroom 5 will be welcome, even if they aren’t revolutionary. You have more control over template design, as well as captioning, text and style choices. These changes together will enable you to make your book projects match the rest of your brand.

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