Musings on Photography

Light Room First Impressions

Posted in Adobe Lightroom, file storage by Paul Butzi on April 2, 2007

The package containing Adobe Lightroom arrived late on Saturday.  Naturally, Sunday was scheduled solid, with a two hour drive to Yakima, one and a half hours of Artist Reception, and then two hours drive back, followed by two and a half hours of meeting about trying to form a Snoqualmie Valley Artists Guild.  After that, I got home, and pretty much went to bed.

Today I browsed through the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Book by Martin Evening, felt hopelessly confused, and decided to just install the software and see what the heck happened.

First complaint – one of my rules for software is that software should not conceal from users where data are stored, ever.  If Lightroom is going to create a huge database file and save it away on my computer, it should let me know, up front, where the heck it’s putting this thing.  Furthermore, if you’re going to create huge files, you must make it fairly straightforward for me to cause those files to live in some place more acceptable to me. 

HINT TO LIGHTROOM DEVELOPERS – many, perhaps most, photographers have attached to their computers various arrays of disks, and they expect that they will be able to easily and without much in the way of head-banging frustration cause your application intended to manage huge amounts of data store said data on some specific disk in some specific folder.  Assuming that the owner of this sophisticated computing system which stores hundreds of gigabytes of photos will want to store things in the place dictated by Windows (and thus not on any of the really large secondary disks) is probably a bad bet.

SECOND HINT TO LIGHTROOM DEVELOPERS – when confronted with the fact that Lightroom has placed data in what I consider to be a rude and inappropriate place, I do not particularly like it when I cannot easily find a way to coerce your damn application into storing the data where I want to store it.  In particular, designing your application so that the way to create a new library is to hold down the eff-ing ‘alt’ key while starting the application is, well, let’s just say I have quite a lot to say about your parentage and whether you are in fact smarter than a plate of boiled broccoli.  You decided this was a better plan that a menu item called ‘create new library’ because you were, what?  In the throes of some massive neural seizure?

The second bit of consternation came when Lightroom announced that it could not import a bunch of .psd files that I have created with Photoshop, and suggestedthat I open the files in Photoshop, and then save them with ‘maximum compatibility’ checked in the preferences.  THIRD HINT TO LIGHTROOM DEVELOPERS – I do not consider it to be a good omen when one Adobe application announces that another, highly related Adobe application’s files can’t be read because they were not created in ‘maximum compatibility’ mode.  Especially when the documentation for that option says that it’s needed to make the files readable by OLDER versions of software, and not ensure forward compatibility with software to be written and purchased in the future.

I have lots more to say about Lightroom but this is too long already.  I am impressed by many of the features and capabilities of Lightroom but I am wondering somewhat whether this application is actually ready for prime time.

14 Responses

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  1. Ed Richards said, on April 2, 2007 at 6:40 pm

    Sounds like they are assuming that this is a going forward app for people getting into digital, not something serious folks will use to wrap around their existing data.

  2. Darrell Klein said, on April 2, 2007 at 7:14 pm

    Thanks for this post Paul. It is good honest feedback. One of the things that has kept me away from Lightroom is the fear of some of the troubles you described here. I am not saying I could not use some help with keeping up with my catalog of existing images but I do not have the time to wrestle with a program to do so. I need something that will work with me and not against me.

  3. Guy said, on April 3, 2007 at 4:19 am

    It would be interesting to check which of the features you were impressed by are actually legacy code from Rawshooter, which Adobe acquired and wrapped their own interface around.


  4. Ed Richards said, on April 3, 2007 at 4:44 am


    Imatch is an image management program that does a good job and does not mess with your data directories. It just scans the images, builds thumbs to store in its database – which you can put where you want or even move – and then lets you assign categories to the data to find stuff.


    I really do not like the giant database approach, which put your images in a proprietary data format in giant files. This means you would need two copies of everything: one copy inside light room and one out, PLUS the backup copies of both.

  5. StephaneB said, on April 3, 2007 at 5:54 am

    For me, the biggest clue that LightRoom is not ready for release is the fact that stacks are only available when working in folder mode. The basic idea of such a program is to be free of the old folders… And stacks are, for me, an essential feature. I never bought a DAM software before because none had the concept of several versions of a photograph. It seems it was added late in the development of LightRoom.

    I don’t like the way everything is in a mode and not in another, but that’s more a matter of taste, I guess.

  6. Allen George said, on April 3, 2007 at 8:08 am

    StephaneB makes an excellent point regarding stacks. Like him, I find it ludicrous that the concept of “multiple versions of a photograph” is so poorly supported by DAM software. When I tried the demo version of Lightroom I almost cried in frustration when I was informed that stacks are limited to “items in the same folder”…

    I guess we’re all seeing the first iteration of a new breed of end-to-end workflow tools. Its simultaneously exciting, interesting and frustrating.

  7. david mantripp said, on April 3, 2007 at 10:12 pm

    OMG, you DARE to criticise the Mighty Lightroom. Are you going to be in trouble when the Cheerleaders find out….. 🙂

  8. Johannes B said, on April 4, 2007 at 3:35 am


    Having used RawShooter, I can attest that none of the three misfeatures were present in either of RSP or RSE. They both used small sidecar files in the image directories, had a simple preferences dialog to set image cache size and location, and had no meaningful way to interact with PhotoShop.

  9. Paul Butzi said, on April 4, 2007 at 7:56 am

    really do not like the giant database approach, which put your images in a proprietary data format in giant files.

    Lightroom does not do this, or at least it has not done it to me so far.

    Both Lightroom and Aperture have been heavily revised based on the feedback of users of the beta versions. When commenting on software, it’s important to make sure everyone is talking about the same version.

    Yes, I’m guilty of this, too. The version of Lightroom that I have installed reports that it is version 1.0.

  10. Ed Richards said, on April 4, 2007 at 6:11 pm

    Thanks Paul.

    Then what is in the giant database?

  11. Paul Butzi said, on April 4, 2007 at 6:23 pm

    Then what is in the giant database?

    Looking at the ‘must messing around’ installation on my laptop, with 1.2GB of images, the database file is almost exactly 4MB.

    Not nearly large enough for the image data. So whatever is in the ‘big database’ is what’s left after you strip out the image data.

    The cache directory, in contrast, is about 40MB. I’m assuming that’s cached previews, etc.

  12. Ed Richards said, on April 4, 2007 at 8:22 pm

    Not what I would call a very big database. Probably all the settings files for the adjustments. I am ambivalent about whether I like those bundled or in sidecar files.

  13. StephaneB said, on April 5, 2007 at 12:50 am

    Regarding the pysical organisation on disk, I also prefer the Aperture approach of giving the choice to the photographer: either Aperture is in charge or the photographer is.

    I chose to let Aperture in charge. It has big advantages, like having a backup routine simple enought that even I use it, making it very unlikely to lose file by very carefully managing the deletions and freeing me to have to think about it.

    The main disadvantage people see to that approach is the necessity to have the whole library on one physical disk. This is a somawhat obsolete view of disk space. By using RAID one can easily get a logical volume that is far bigger than a single drive, safer and faster.

    It would help if Mac OS X had a proper logical volume management, but even in the current state, affordable solutions are at hand.

  14. Kuryan Thomas said, on April 5, 2007 at 4:39 am

    The settings files can be written out as XMP. The XMP will be written into sidecars for manufacturer Raw files, or into the file itself for DNG, TIFF, and PSD.

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