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Why did Lightroom 'ruin' my photo?

Brad Snyder

Senior Member
Nov 20, 2007
Port Deposit, Maryland USA
Lightroom Experience
Updated August 12, 2''8 to include references to DNG Profile Editor and Camera Matching profiles.
Updated December 23, 2''8 to note Lr 2.2 automatically installs the Camera Matching profiles.

By far the most common question asked on this Forum is:

"I took a beautiful picture! It was perfectly saturated and color balanced, and I loved it. When I imported the RAW file into Lightroom, I saw my beautiful picture for 5 seconds, and then Lightroom ruined it, and turned it into a bland muddy mess. Why?"

The picture you see in LR is exactly the picture your camera sensor recorded. It's likely that you are used to seeing the preview on the camera display. That preview is not your RAW file, but a JPG which has been processed by the electronics inside your camera. Or, you may be using your camera manufacturer's proprietary RAW conversion software. That software has a post-processing advantage in that it can utilize proprietary 'secret' information embedded in RAW files, which is undocumented and unavailable to third party programs such as LR and ACR.

Additionally, most third party viewer/browser applications show you the embedded JPG preview rather than the actual RAW file contents. In fact, LR itself shows you that preview for a few seconds at first, until it has time to render a preview in accordance with your current develop settings.

When you import your RAW file, none of that proprietary in-camera processing is applied by Lightroom. To a certain extent, you have to do it yourself. That is the purpose of Develop Presets. It takes some getting used to, and some practice, and some homework to achieve consistently good results. The amazing flexibility of Lightroom comes with some costs in terms of effort.

Now for another slightly confusing concept.
As part of configuring a new camera for LR or ACR, the Adobe engineers create two import profiles for daylight and tungsten lighting conditions. Your import will be treated with a mixture of those two profiles which attempts to match your lighting conditions. To take advantage of this default processing, you need to apply the default develop preset, which is unfortunately named "None". Well, not exactly, but that's the preset option you need to choose if you want the default processing.

To confuse matters a little further, there is a sample preset, called "General - Zeroed", which sounds to most people as what they want. "Give me the picture my camera took, with ZERO changes!" Alas, that particular preset simply sets all of the Develop sliders to zero, which is rarely the correct choice for photo processing.

Why would anybody choose to forego the sophisticated in-camera processing? The only way to take advantage of that is to save an RGB pixel-oriented format, typically JPG. Unfortunately, in applying that processing to the JPG, the camera makes many decisions which become 'locked-in', and unchangeable with post-processing. Fortunately, it's often possible to take advantage of both worlds. Many cameras offer a RAW+JPG save mode. Don't forget that the in-camera processing is a fundamental compromise between the manufacturer's engineering and marketing departments. Which achievable vision will sell more cameras? Your artisitic vision is what matters in the end.

Why would anybody choose to use Lightroom for RAW conversion with its inablilty to use the proprietary data available to the camera manufacturer's software converter? Many users cite ease of use, overall sophistication, and better fit to workflow, among others. That's an individual choice.

The main concept to glean from this tip is that:

"Lightroom provides a marvelous flexibility in post-processing photos. But, akin to many tools for the dedicated craftsman, it comes with a cost in terms of learning curve, and a much broader requirement for thoughtful practiced input."

With the advent of Lightroom 2.', Adobe also released the DNG Profile Editor in beta, along with beta versions of the standard Adobe camera profiles. In addition the available profiles include 'camera-matching' profiles which are specifically designed to allow LR2 to match the in-camera 'picture styles' available from Nikon and Canon cameras. This capability is revolutionary in a 3rd party product, and will go a long way toward addressing the issues discussed in this article.

Find further information on the product here: Profile Editor At present, Adobe has committed to providing the beta and subsequent Version 1 as a free utility for the photographic community.

With the advent of Lightroom 2.2, the revised Adobe standard profiles, and the camera matching profiles are automatically installed, and are available in the Camera Calibration panel, lower Right Hand Panel in the Develop module.

LR = Adobe Lightroom
ACR = Adobe Camera Raw