Happy Birthday, Lightroom!
Back in early 2007, Adobe announced that the very first version of Lightroom would ship on February 19, 2007. As I write this today in 2017, Lightroom is therefore ten years old today. Happy birthday, Lightroom!
Originally dubbed "Project Shadowland," folks at Adobe had been tinkering with new ideas for years. Pre-release beta versions of what was by then renamed as "Lightroom" began been circulating in early 2006. Initially, I didn't take much notice since they ran on Macintosh only. The talk at the time was that Lightroom was Adobe's efforts to respond to Apple's Aperture project, but those rumors have since been disputed. One professional photographers got a look at Lightroom though, it didn't matter. Few stuck with Aperture, and it slowly faded from existence.
Most of the Early Lightroom development happened in Minnesota where development of the ill-fated Photoshop add-on named ImageReady had been done. Parts of ImageReady got absorbed into Photoshop "Save for Web." Other features later popped up in other Adobe applications. I wasn't sorry to see ImageReady go since it seemed more than a tad over-bloated for just optimizing web jpegs.
These original preview versions didn't do that much, but they had potential. They compared more closely with Adobe Camera Raw than with Photoshop. Eventually, the code base for ACR and Lightroom merged into one, but in the beginning, they were separate but similar in functionality. Things started to merge after Adobe purchased Rawshooter from Pixmantec and the entire processing engine for both got replaced.
Support for Microsoft Windows didn't come until Beta 3 in July 2007. OS X users had gotten a Beta 3 release the month before. Since I'm a longtime Windows users, it's at this point that I started paying serious attention to the progress of Lightroom. My workflow at the time was heavily Photoshop-centric, so when coupled with ACR, Lightroom added little benefit. I would be forced to open everything in Photoshop eventually anyway in order to work around limitations in Lightroom, most notably color management.
Adobe's commitment to Lightroom became increasingly apparent when each successive release. Of particular note, even with a shared code base with Adobe Camera Raw, new releases and updates for Lightroom typically preceded the corresponding ACR release by weeks of even months.
I didn't jump on the Lightroom bandwagon until version 1.3 was released towards the end of 2007. By then, I was frustrated with my efforts to catalog image metadata with other applications. After trying numerous options I had settled on IMatch 3 by Mario Westphal, but it proved to crash too often, and updates were few and far between. Recognizing that Adobe was serious about addressing the photographic community and that Lightroom was the wave of the future even not quite yet the present, I figured it was time to go for it. Lightroom it was, even if not really ready for prime time yet in my opinion.
Soft proofing and real color management weren't added to Lightroom until version 4 in 2012. It was then that Lightroom finally arrived as far as I was concerned. If you're not sold on color management yourself yet, I urge you to learn about it and use it. It can take a while to get a grip on the terminology employed in color management, but it's honestly not difficult once you do. It's such a pleasure to be able to print an image with reasonable certainty that the colors will come out the same as what you see on your monitor.
Version 5 in 2013 enhanced the limited ability for targeted adjustments found in earlier versions by adding the Spot Removal Tool (Advanced Healing Brush). Finally, removing the pesky dust spots didn't require a trip to Photoshop and back. Lightroom 5 Lightroom 5 featured the same content-aware fill magic previously added to Photoshop the year before. Slowly but steadily, my reasons for needing Photoshop diminished as it became possible to do more and more directly in Lightroom.
2015 saw the release of Lightroom 6 and noticeable improvement in speed via GPU acceleration. HDR and panorama merge tools were also added. Most notably though, Adobe made it clear that version 6 would be the last Lightroom version licensed separately from their new Creative Cloud ecosystem. The move from Creative Suite to Creative Cloud began back in 2012 but few took notice other than graphic designers. Like me, most photographers were already transitioning to Lightroom, and Lightroom wasn't part of the new Adobe Cloud licensing model. All that changed in 2015.
Adobe gave photographers the option of buying Lightroom 6 as a standalone boxed product, or of licensing the new Lightroom Creative Cloud offering. The two had a lot in common, but only Lightroom CC gave users access to the increasing web and mobile integration Adobe was introducing. Sooner or later, users were enticed or forced to the accept the Creative Cloud model.
The Photography Plan Adobe introduced for the Creative Cloud in 2015 made the financial burden of the switch more acceptable. For one "reasonable" monthly price, you could get licenses for both Lightroom and Photoshop as a bundle. Granted, it depended how frequently you had been upgrading your Creative Suite applications as to just how reasonable the cost was, but sooner or later most users rationalized it one way or another. I must say, it is convenient to get the latest features for both with just a few mouse clicks, and without having to wait for new boxed versions to be released. Cool new features such as Dehaze are very welcome to gain with no additional cost and with little effort.
It's hard to say what the next decade of Lightroom will bring, but it's worth taking a moment here to look back at how far it can in the first ten years. Clearly, the future is mobile so I expect that the enhancements being made to Lightroom mobile will be joined by more as we move forward. Beyond that, it's hard to predict. Computers themselves continue to get faster, and all that new processing power is sure to be put to good use by the fine folks at Adobe.
Happy birthday, Lightroom!