Night photography: Lightroom 3 process version 2010

Lightroom 3 was released yesterday and includes a completely retooled raw processing engine. I've been experimenting with the new raw processing for night photography, and the results are encouraging. The raw file processing engine from Lightroom 2 is now the 2003 process engine, and Lightroom 3 is the 2010 process engine (reflecting the year of their release). When you first open a Lightroom 2 catalog in Lightroom 3, your photos will maintain the look and feel of the 2003 process engine. To take advantage of the newer processing technology in Lightroom 3, you'll need to update your files to the new 2010 process engine. Here are three different ways to handle the update:

  1. In the Develop module, click the exclamation mark that appears on the bottom right. This button will only appear if you adjusted sharpening or noise reduction in Lightroom 1 or 2.
  2. From the Settings menu at the top, choose Update to Current Process (2010)
  3. In the Camera Calibration panel, choose Process: 2010

After any of these 3 methods you'll be presented with the Update Process Version Dialog Box:

update process version dialog box
update process version dialog box

Review Changes via Before/After gives you the 2003 and 2010 process engine versions side-by-side. I recommend looking at a few photos in the before/after view to get a feel for how the new processing engine effects the color and tone of your images. Once you're comfortable with the 2010 engine, you can bulk convert larger numbers of images to the new engine using Update All Filmstrip Photos.

Great news for night photographers: The Fill Light processing appears to be a big improvement. Without changing anything other than the process version, I'm noticing a consistent improvement in the rendering of the Darks (i.e., 3/4 tones). Darks is the tonal area between the shadows and mid-tones where a lot of the tonal information in a night photograph resides. I feel like I'm seeing into the shadows just a bit more, without losing the feeling of night. The sharpening algorithm appears to be adding a bit more kick to the Darks as well.

I'm going to continue to refine my night photography post-processing settings with Lightroom 3 in anticipation of the Fall 2010 Pearsonville Workshops. In between 3 nights of shooting at an amazing desert junkyard, we'll spend some classroom time going over how to make your night photographs really sing using the new features in Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS5.

The settings in the images below are exactly the same -- the only difference is the process version. Click the image for a closer view of process 2003 vs. process 2010:

Lightroom 3 2010 Process Engine comparison -- by Joe Reifer
Lightroom 3 2010 Process Engine comparison -- by Joe Reifer