Is Lightroom Right For You?

What?  Am I serious?  Isn't Lightroom the most awesomest bestest photo application on the planet?  For some people yes, but for others it's a bad trip.  Let's take a look at both sides and you can decide if Lightroom is right for you.

Most of the articles, videos, posts and tutorials you'll see relating to Lightroom only talk about one aspect of Lightroom, the Develop Module.  If that's all one needed and it was available as a standalone offering (and it sort of is, kinda) that would be awesome.  There are other modules of course, Web, Slideshow, Print, Map and Book.  However if one is going to use Lightroom and be successful, there is one module that you must choose to embrace fully or endure pain, hair pulling, excessive drinking and potential substance abuse and that is the Library Module.

The Library module is the heart of Lightroom.  You don't get to play the Lightroom home game without engaging with the Library.  Yet every day, I hear and read Lightroom horror shows from very talented photographers whose interaction with Lightroom is well over the line of open hostility.

Why such anger?  Many folks have been doing photography much longer than there has been rich Digital Asset Management.  Lightroom's Library Modules is a Digital Asset Management tool, albeit limited to the cataloguing and discovery of stills and limited video assets.  All Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems are built on databases and a key premise of any database is that if you play with the data, its structure or location outside the database, you have bought yourself an express ticket to the third plane of hell.

And there's the problem.  If you are going to really use Lightroom, you have to embrace the Library module the way it is built and designed to work.  If you want to manage your own folder structure and work with files and folders outside of Lightroom, STOP NOW.  Lightroom is not for you.  Pick a great editing program that doesn't have a DAM built in.  Capture One and DXO Optics are superb products and could not care less how you organize your digital assets.  

Lightroom REQUIRES you to let Lightroom manage your digital assets.  Oh I know that there is an ADD option in the IMPORT process that does nothing with the image file, it just loads a pointer to the file into Lightroom's Catalog (aka Database).  It works fine so long as you NEVER move the file once it is added, and for that reason most all Lightroom trainers, myself included, would prefer that ADD be stricken from the IMPORT process and sent to the cornfield (Twilight Zone reference - look it up).

When you follow Lightroom's IMPORT strategy, which may appear to be flexible (don't believe everything you see), the process works.  I and lots of other users who let Lightroom do the job it was designed to do have catalogs that work flawlessly with thousands and hundreds of thousands of images.  It's when you want to impart your own folder hierarchy on Lightroom that the whole thing misses that left turn to Albuquerque.  

I have and have had a number of students learning Lightroom who resist letting Lightroom do its own catalog management.  In pretty much every case, these talented people become frustrated, lose images, cannot find images, end up with a Lightroom catalog with hundreds of "missing" photos and otherwise hate the application.  Those students who accept that from the time they start using Lightroom to let Lightroom do exactly what its designers intended are happier people and don't have issues, or at least don't have the same scope and scale of issues.

Lightroom is like any software application.  There will always be bugs.  We've recently gone through a major version upgrade, and many people, myself included, felt that the new release was not ready for prime time when it came out.  Claims of improved performance were refuted immediately.  New features were just automations of what you might do anyway.  I'm still not convinced that it is really any better than 5.7.1  The splash screen at the head of this post shows 6.1.1 the July 30, 2015 release.  That's two minor versions since initial release and while there are still things that need work, it's getting better.  I remember exactly the same kind of complaints about Lightroom 5 when it was first released.  Software is hard, and stuff gets missed and product managers face lots of pressure vectors unrelated to the code being 100%.  So we see products that have issues.

Lightroom CC's catalog function has not changed significantly from Lightroom 5.  If you choose to adopt the Lightroom rule set and hierarchy it works very well.  If you want to use your own folder structure and to be managing your images outside of Lightroom, then Lightroom is not the right tool for you.  Unless of course you live for headaches, frustration and anger.

If you do want to learn how to let Lightroom help you as a digital asset manager, and find the documentation to be sparse, sign up for a Lightroom Mentoring program with me.  These programs can be in person or over the web.  Just be aware that for success you WILL have to surrender your old folder hierarchy models.