Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2007/12/22

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Subject: [Leica] musings on Lightroom
From: reid at (Brian Reid)
Date: Sat Dec 22 10:51:40 2007

I've been using Lightroom for a couple of months now, and I have 26,000 
images in it. I thought I'd file a few comments. The bottom line is that I 
think I'm going to keep using it, though every day I 
find myself frustrated by it. The things that it does well outweigh the 
things that it does poorly or not at all.

I've used Photoshop for 15 years, probably as long as it has existed, and it 
is my gold standard of what an image editing program should do. But 
Photoshop doesn't have any image management features, 
so I was using Bridge for that. Bridge can still do a few things that 
Lightroom can't, and those things are very important to me, so I find myself 
exiting Lightroom for Bridge several times a day. 
For 2 months now I've been forcing myself to use Lightroom instead of 
Photoshop/Bridge to deal with my images, so I've learned how to live with it.

The one thing that I wish someone had told me about Lightroom when I was 
getting started is that it is *asynchronous*. I'll say it again: Lightroom 
is Asynchronous. This is both really good and 
really awful.

What it means for a program to be asynchronous is that there is no direct 
link between what you ask it to do and what you see on the screen that it is 
doing. For example, if you ask it to delete 20 
images, it will accept your command and come back for more commands and then 
it will start deleting the 20 images. While you are doing something else, 
those 20 images will vanish one by one and 
eventually they will all be gone. But you don't get to see cause and effect, 
the cause being you asking for the images to be deleted and the effect being 
them disappearing from your screen.

This is really useful if you are an expert user of a program, but 
unbelievably terrible if you are learning how to use the program. Imagine 
you are sitting there with your Lightroom manual reading 
about how to use hierarchical keywords and you want to try it out. The 
manual is, like all modern manuals, terrible, and it doesn't tell you 
whether the hierarchy goes from left to right or right to 
left. So if you want to assign a keyword Animals:Mammals:Horses to a 
picture, you don't know whether your should say Animals > Mammals > Horses 
or Horses > Mammals > Animals or Horses < Mammals < 
Animals, so you try it to see what happens. Experimenting is the right way 
to learn things, eh?

Well, if you assign "Animals > Mammals > Horses" as a keyword, there is a 
delay of some number of seconds before the keyword assignment actually 
happens. This is because the program is asynchronous, 
and it will do the processing when it can, and you don't have to wait for 
it. There is nothing that tells you how long you have to wait to see what 
(if anything) has happened when you do a command, 
so you can never be certain that you have done a proper experiment. This 
lack of certainty makes you want to smash things after just a few minutes. 
After a few days of experimentation, I eventually 
figured out that the programmers who implemented Lightroom didn't know the 
answer to this question any better than I did, and sometimes they list 
hierarchies from left to right and other times they 
list them from right to left and yet other times they forget to list them at 
all. This is why I'm using hierarchical keywords as an example: it's 
something that was implemented badly in Lightroom, 
and the asynchronous nature of the UI made it really hard for me to figure 
out by experimentation that there is no good answer for my quest. I still 
haven't finished figuring out why sometimes a 
keyword that I enter as "Family > MacKays > Katherine" will show up as 
"Katherine" and sometimes as the full hierarchy, and if I enter her brother 
Robert in the same window, it will show up 
differently. This falls into the category of "the programmer was hung over", 
but usually I can succeed in figuring out what the program actually does. 
The asynchronous nature of Lightroom has 
prevented me from doing the detailed experiments I would need to do to 
figure out all of this undocumented and incorrect stuff that I need to do 
despite its being undocumented and incorrect.

The second thing I've learned about Lightroom is that it's too damn 
tentative. It reminds me of the Dobby the House Elf character in the Harry 
Potter books. It keeps telling me things that lead me to 
believe that it thinks it will fail and would I like it to take this or that 
precaution. But since it's asynchronous, I can never tell when it has 
reached a stable point.

What brought this home for me is that this morning I noticed that my 
Retrospect server had run out of disk space, and I started analyzing where 
the space had gone. I realized that there were 6 copies 
of all of my 26,000 photographs on backup servers, 3 on the Retrospect 
server and 3 on the Time Machine server. Time Machine knew how to take 
evasive action when it ran out of space, but Retrospect 
didn't. The various copies of the pictures were made at different times by 
different Lightroom actions, but what they all had in common was that 
Lightroom had asked me a question "do you want to make 
a backup copy of this?" and I figured that if a program was so unsure of 
itself that it was asking me that question, I'd better say yes.

Now that I'm a more experienced user of Lightroom I realize that I really 
only need to back up the catalog and not make 2 extra copies of all of the 
images, but that wasn't immediately obvious when I 
was starting out. I have two separate backup servers (Retrospect and Time 
Machine), and I don't need Lightroom to join that party, too.

So right after lunch I'm going to delete all of my Lightroom-generated 
backup copies of all 26,000 of my images, but leave the Lightroom catalog 
backups alone. Then I'm going to make a new full 
backup with Retrospect, which should free up the 600GB of wasted space that 
those backup copies are occupying there. Then I'll probably buy Lightroom a 
pair of shoes, since when you give a House Elf 
an article of clothing it becomes free and no longer needs to snivel.

Lightroom DESPERATELY needs to learn how to do what Bridge's "Filter" panel 
can do, which is to give me a breakdown of the metadata aspects of the 
selected images. Wade Heninger gave me some 
impossibly complicated sequence of actions in Lightroom that can supposedly 
trick it into emulating the Bridge Filter, but I never got it to work and 
it's easier just to exit Lightroom, launch 
Bridge, and have a look.

Brian Reid

Replies: Reply from jhnichols at (Jim Nichols) ([Leica] musings on Lightroom)
Reply from nathan at (Nathan Wajsman) ([Leica] musings on Lightroom)
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