After-Birth Processing Part 1: Setting Up Lightroom for Birth Photography

And yes, that pun was intended. Fortunately, this article isn’t all about placentas, but rather what I do with the photos between the birth and the time I give them to the parents.
Lightroom Launch ScreenShot
I use, and LOVE, Lightroom. As of the writing of this article, I’m using Lightroom 4, but I started using Lightroom back at version 2, and have upgraded each time.
I love Lightroom because it speeds things up, allowing me to spend less time processing the photos than if I was using Photoshop. All editing in Lightroom is completely non-destructive, so it’s literally impossible to accidentally save a web sized version over the original or save a bad crop. It’s fabulous at keeping things organized so that I can find images I need in seconds.
If you’re not a Lightroom user yet, there are some important things to know about Lightroom before you get started:

  1. I shoot in RAW, and while Lightroom will work for .jpgs, it is really designed for RAW shooters. Keep in mind that some of the adjustments work differently on .jpg files, and presets are likely to be completely off from how they would work on a RAW file.
  2. Editing in LR is like creating a recipe. When you work in LR, what is saved is not a new file. What it saves is something like this:
    • Step 1. Find file named “DSC-1001.dng”

    • Step 2. Apply -1 exposure, +6 blacks, -100 saturation, +15 contrast. (There are usually lots more adjustments that go into a photo, but I’m WAY simplifying here folks!)
    • Step 3. Crop 15% from the left, 22% from the bottom
    • Step 4. Apply post crop vignette -12, roundness 5, highlight priority

    Then, when you are ready to print or post, you export the photo. Exporting takes the original and uses the “recipe” to create a new file with that recipe applied. The original is still there, untouched.
    Generally the edits are only saved in the catalog file (the one with the .lrcat extension – DON’T EVER DELETE THIS FILE!) but you can go under preferences and tell LR to also save the changes to an .xmp sidecar file if you’re used to working with those.

  3. First time Lightroom users always freak out at the lack of a “save” button. You don’t ever have to save anything in LR. Lightroom always automatically saves what you do to the database. It never changes or touches the original files.
  4. Because the catalog files works like a database, if you ever move the files outside of Lightroom, then the Lightroom catalog can’t find them. It doesn’t mean you can’t ever move files, it just means that you should get into the habit of using LR to make the move.

I have two Lightroom catalogs total: One for personal stuff, and one for business. I keep the catalog files themselves on my computer’s internal hard drive, but all my photos are on two external hard drives. Lightroom runs faster when the catalog file is on your internal, but it can keep track of your images anywhere the computer can “see”.

Some people choose to have a separate catalog for each client, but that would drive me insane! I love having everything in ONE catalog. Okay, two – personal and professional. I haven’t noticed ANY slowing and I have quite a few images. But I like the smart collections that cross all my work, and I like being able to find things quickly without remembering which catalog they are in. For example, I recently was asked if I had any images from the hospital where I work that could be used for a project there. I searched for “St. Mark’s Hospital” and “model release” in my professional catalog, and instantly had a couple dozen possibilities. I would NOT have liked to have to remember which births were at that hospital and which births had a model release in order to find them, then open each catalog individually….

Lightroom can be set to back up the .lrcat file every time you close it, and that’s what I do. Every single time I do any editing, I back up. (I skip the backup if I’ve only looked at photos or exported for print.) My backups go on the EHD, the regular catalog is on the hard drive in my computer. Both of those are automatically backed up to my Crashplan, so I feel comfortable having all those backups.

Screen Shot
Some tips for Lightroom newbies:

  • Go into the preferences and change the cache size to 50. It will speed things up for you.
  • If you’re going to work on the photos right away, have LR generate 1:1 previews on import. The import will take longer, but you’ll wait less for photos to load while editing. Start the import and go for a walk, do the dishes, or play on Facebook for a few minutes.
  • Learn the keyboard shortcuts. My most used:
    G=move to grid mode in the library module.
    R=move to the crop mode in the Develop Module
    I= rotates through different views where you can see the settings for the photo. Will eventually turn them off, too
    If you forget the shortcuts, there’s a cheat sheet for each module in the help menu!
  • Don’t get lazy about keywording. Do it the first time!
  • I like “solo mode”. Right click on either the right or the left panel to turn it on or off. Solo mode allows you to only have one section of the panel open at once, and it can save you a ton of scrolling!

Next: On to the workflow!

by Andrea Lythgoe
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