by Andrew S. Gibson
Photoshop CC, Silver Efex Pro 2, Aurora HDR, ON1 Photo 10 – the list of software available to process landscape photos seems to get longer every year. With so many companies competing for your attention it can be hard to know which software you should use to process your images. Then there’s the fear of missing out factor – could your photos be missing some kind of edge gained by using an application you don’t have?
I’ve used and tested many programs over the years and I’ve come to the conclusion that the best approach is to keep things simple. My suggestion is that you learn one application in-depth so you understand its strengths and limitations.
And the program that you should use to process your landscapes? That’s easy – Lightroom. Let’s look at some of the reasons why.
1. You can use Lightroom to organize your photos as well as process them
Cast your mind back to the days before Lightroom existed. Most photographers used Photoshop to process their landscape photos. Photoshop doesn’t do anything to organize your photos (although Adobe Bridge helped). It was up to the photographer to organize his photos by using a well thought out folder structure.
You still need a sensible folder structure for saving photos, but Lightroom opens far more possibilities for organizing and categorizing your images. It does this using Collections and Collection Sets – virtual folders that can be set up any way you like.
For example, let’s say you visited the Picos de Europa in Spain in the year 2016 to take some landscape photos.
Those photos can only be saved in one folder. But they can be added to as many Lightroom Collections as you want.
In this case, you could add those photos to a Collection called landscapes, another called 2016, another called Spain and another called Picos de Europa. The possibilities are endless, and they allow you to organize your photos in the way that suits you best.
Lightroom does this better than any other program.
2. Lightroom saves you hard drive space
Most of you will be aware that the best file format for using in Photoshop, once the photo has been converted from Raw, is a 16 bit TIFF or PSD. These give the software the maximum amount of information to work with.
The problem is that these files are huge. The TIFF files from my old 21 megapixel EOS 5D Mark II are 120MB each. You can buy cameras now with much higher sensor resolution. The TIFF files from those cameras are also much bigger.
Photo collections grow over the years and if you have tens of thousands of images you don’t want to be converting them to the TIFF format to process them – not unless you want to spend a lot of money on hard drives.
There has to be a better way, and there is.
Lightroom uses a parametric editing system. This means that it saves the processing you do on your files as text commands in its database (the Catalog). Text takes up a few kilobytes of space, compared to hundreds of megabytes for TIFF and PSD files. In the long run this can save you many terabytes of storage space.
Another benefit is that your original Raw files remain untouched. This is true non-destructive editing. You can go back to any of your files and re-process them.
Another advantage of this way of working is that you can make multiple interpretations of the same image without using much additional hard drive space.
In Photoshop, if you decide to make two versions of the same image, one in color, the other in black and white, you’ve instantly doubled the amount of hard drive space required.
In Lightroom the extra photo just takes up a few extra kilobytes in the Catalog. You can make as many interpretations of the same image as you want without using lots of hard drive space.
3. Lightroom can merge HDR photos and panoramas
If you have Lightroom 6 or Lightroom CC you can now do something that you couldn’t in earlier versions – create HDR images or panoramas by merging two or more separate photos.
There are two clever things about the Lightroom system I like.
* Lightroom creates Raw HDR images and panoramas. You can use every tool in Lightroom’s Develop module with your HDR images and panoramas, just as if they were Raw files straight out of your camera. That includes White Balance adjustments, Camera profiles and applying Develop Presets.
* Lightroom creates natural looking HDR images. Yes, you can still create that over sharpened, over saturated look that some photographers like easily enough, but Lightroom’s algorithms avoid the overcooked look common in many HDR plugins.
4. Lightroom Develop Presets are awesome
In Lightroom you can use Develop Presets to make processing quicker and easier. Some photographers use one click presets, but these are a bit hit and miss. A preset that sprinkles magic dust on one image may do nothing for another.
Develop Presets excel when it comes to using them to create complete processing systems. The idea is to create stackable modular presets that adjust just a few sliders at a time. A well thought out system can make processing in Lightroom extremely quick and easy.
5. Lightroom gives you brilliant black and white conversions
Lightroom is my main tool for converting landscapes to black and white and it does it brilliantly.
Lightroom excels at creating the local adjustments which are so crucial for turning images from average to wow. Lightroom 6 and Lightroom CC give you the most control by combining the Radial and Graduated filters with the Adjustment Brush tool. You can truly creates masks of any size and shape.
This screenshot shows an example. I placed a Graduated filter over the top half of the photo to make the sky darker, then erased the part covering the rocks so they weren’t affected by it.
6. Lightroom sits at the heart of your workflow
Lightroom handles every aspect of the photographer’s workflow, from the second you export your photos into the Lightroom Catalog until the moment you export them. It’s a digital asset management and workflow tool as well as Raw converter and image processor.
Earlier I wrote that Lightroom is brilliant for converting landscape photos to black and white. That’s true, but it’s also true that there are plugins that do some things better than Lightroom.
For example, you may like to use Silver Efex Pro 2 because it’s Structure tools give you more control over the amount of texture and detail in your landscapes.
Or you may want to use Topaz Black & White Effects 2 because it lets you emulate old chemical processes such as cyanotype, van dyke brown and platinum printing.
Or you might need to send two photos taken with different exposures to Photoshop to digitally blend them.
With Lightroom you can export photos to plugins or to Photoshop whenever you like. The photo is updated and added to the Catalog when you finish.
The only thing to bear in mind is that Lightroom has to convert your Raw files to the TIFF format before it can send them to a plugin. This negates the space advantage of using Lightroom. It’s why I recommend that you learn to do as much in Lightroom as possible, and only use plugins when absolutely necessary.
I’m a big fan of Lightroom for all the reasons listed here and more. But what about you? What software do you like to use to process your landscape photos and why? I’d love to hear – please let us know in the comments.
By the way, if you head over to my website not only will you find lots of brilliant articles about Lightroom and landscape photography, but if you sign up for my free newsletter I’ll send you free copies of my ebooks Use Lightroom Better, What’s New in Lightroom CC? and The Creative Image.
I’m looking forward to welcoming you as a reader.
About the Author
Andrew S. Gibson is a writer, publisher, traveler and photographer based in the UK. He started writing about photography while traveling in Bolivia, and has been published in many prestigious photography magazines including EOS magazine, where he worked as a Writer and Technical Editor for two years. He is inspired by meeting new people, seeing new places and having new experiences. He runs The Creative Photographer and writes books about photography.