If you've taken any of my fashion photography workshops then you know that I'm a big fan of the photographer making his/her own decisions. That means not allowing in-camera JPEG (or RAW) settings to affect what you see. That means making sure your camera back (and monitor) display is not set too bright or providing too much contrast. The point is to see the shot accurately represented rather than sugar-coated with enhancements. Why? Because if my tools are fooling me into believing that the shot is different from what it really is (e.g. more contrast), then I can't make proper adjustments at the time of capture.
The same thought process applies to editing.
Lightroom is a digital asset management tool that builds in many basic Photoshop adjustment functions. I understand that for most users, Lr is the "final destination" and thus Adobe makes it easy for users to batch process multiple images and even applies basic default adjustments that make 95% of users "happy".
I'm not one of those 95% and I am very unhappy with the default Develop settings.
I've always had gripes about Lightroom's default adjustments. I noticed this in Lightroom 3 but thought it more of a pet-peeve than a violation of "free-will". Upon converting to Lightroom 4, the curtains were pulled and I saw Lightroom for the puppet-master that it really was.
Below are my default settings in Lr 3:
Note the little exclamation icon on the image (that I've circled in red) reminding me that these older images need to be "updated" with the Lr4 image processing "engine".
What you should understand is that these were my Lr3 settings. That after years of use, I settled on the above Develop settings as an import default. The following are the original Lr3 default settings:
- Camera Profile: Adobe Standard
- Color Noise Reduction: 25, Detail: 50
- Sharpness: 25, radius: 1, Detail: 25
- Contrast: 25
- Brightness: 50
- Blacks: 5
- Tone Curve Medium
The following is a text version of my adjustments as depicted above:
- Camera Profile: Adobe Standard
- Color Noise Reduction: 0, Detail: 50
- Sharpness: 0, radius: 1, Detail: 25
- Contrast: 0
- Brightness: 40
- Blacks: 0
- Tone Curve Linear
What did I do? Basically I wanted the most linear, zeroed out, and flat starting point for evaluating my images for subsequent processing. So I zeroed out noise reduction, sharpness, contrast, blacks and the tone curve. I then brought down the brightness a bit because I felt the default brightness was "artificial".
And I could have lived with that if Lr4 hadn't shown me the truth behind Lightroom Develop default settings. When you click the exclamation button you see the following text:
I remember being pretty excited about Lr4 and the improvements that it would bring to RAW processing. And while there are significant improvements to user control over RAW adjustments, I still can't get over the translation of my defaults between Lr3 and Lr4.
From what I can tell, Lr4 regarded my 40 Brightness in Lr3 as a -.20 Exposure adjustment in Lr4. It also took my 0 Contrast in Lr3 and converted that into a -33 Contrast in Lr4. My 0 Blacks in Lr3 were now +25 Blacks in Lr4. And my linear Tone Curve in Lr3 was now a custom Tone Curve with a significant boost in Shadows.
There is a severe disconnect between what I consider "zero" and what Lightroom considers "zero". With the new Lr4 interface, it's more obvious than ever that the Adobe engineers default process the images for extra contrast and brightness via Blacks, Exposure, Contrast and Tone Curve adjustments that are anything but "zero".
But why does it matter?
Again, for 95% of the population the default Develop adjustments are a welcome upgrade to otherwise flat and lacking images. But for professionals that want to see their images with maximum detail, the default Exposure, Brightness, Contrast, Noise Reduction, and Sharpness adjustments only convolute our ability to make proper editing decisions. If Lightroom truncates Blacks and Shadows (via Tone Curve) by default, then I can not apply subsequent contrast, levels, and/or exposure adjustments in Photoshop. Why would I want to do this in Photoshop when there are so many controls in Lightroom? For the exact reason why Adobe still makes Photoshop. Photoshop provides the type of control over an image that Lightroom can not even begin to fathom. Blend modes, opacity, proper masking, etc.
I've been mad at Lightroom a long time but it wasn't until I revisited some old images that I had the chance to really "catch" Lr4 in the act of converting my default Develop settings into what you see above. It makes me a little sick that Adobe allows Lightroom to take such luxuries with my images. So as someone one that believes in free-will, Lr4's default Develop adjustments are crimes against humanity. This is one of the big drivers for the Adobe Camera Raw & RAW Adjustments Webinar I taught back in June.
If you've learned anything from this post, I hope that you've understand that you as the user must make your own decisions. Do not under any circumstance allow Adobe, Apple, PhaseOne, Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc. to make decisions for you that you don't 100% understand and allow.