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Lightroom pumps up its color-styling tool to fine-tune photos

Adobe upgrades the once-obscure profiles feature to add new options for control and creativity -- and perhaps to quell concerns from restless customers.

The newest Lightroom lets you apply sophisticated combinations of color hue, saturation and tonality with an upgraded profiles feature.
Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Adobe's Lightroom has beefed up an obscure photo-editing feature to give you a significant new way to give pictures the tonal and color styling you want.

Lightroom -- a software favorite among enthusiasts and pros willing to pay $10 a month for it and Photoshop -- has long had a tool called profiles to try to match the look a photo would have from a camera-rendered JPEG. For example, there might be variations for warm portraits, more muted colors, artsy black-and-white shots or vivid landscapes.

But the feature was tucked away at the bottom of Lightroom's editing panel, Adobe said, and many people never noticed it was there. With a new version of Lightroom released Tuesday, the profiles tool has been promoted to the very top and fleshed out with dozens of new options to let people get more creative.

"They let you get looks and style that you can't just get within the regular Lightroom sliders and controls," said Matt Kloskowski, a photographer and Lightroom instructor.

It's a significant step in Adobe's effort to update its respected but also criticized software. What's now called Lightroom Classic CC hadn't changed much for years as Adobe engineers built a separate version called Lightroom CC intended to be less intimidating for newer users. Now, though, Adobe is trying to boost Lightroom's performance and adding some new features to keep the faithful happy.

The updated profiles feature includes a variety of more neutral, utilitarian settings for shots like portraits or landscapes, with the new Adobe Color profile being the default. Then Lightroom also adds a variety of creative choices with modern, vintage, artistic or black-and-white styles, said Josh Haftel, an Adobe principal product manager. Although you can't change the profiles without significant expertise, you can use them as a starting point for the rest of Lightroom's editing controls.

Lookup tables make it happen

The Lightroom profiles technology uses a sophisticated technique called lookup tables (LUTs) to transform color and tone options. You can think of it as a mammoth search-and-replace system for colors: If the original color was this, change it to that. LUTs are widely used in movies to give a certain "orange and teal" look popular these days.

You can't create your own LUTs in Lightroom, but you can with third-party software like 3D LUT Creator using methods Adobe plans to describe in detail.

Profiles, such as this one geared for landscape photographers by Brian Matiash, can be applied gently or heavily for a more stylized look.

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

"We wanted profiles to be there so anybody could access them, but not be something people accidentally got into," Haftel said. Creating your own LUTs "is not something that's straightforward or easy."

The company also has signed up partners like Kloskowski and Brian Matiash to create some new profiles. As happened with Lightroom presets, which by the way can incorporate profiles, expect a cottage industry of experts selling their own profiles.

Profiles aren't an on-off option. They come with sliders to apply them subtly or in force. And once you open the panel to explore them, you can hover over each to see how they'll change your photo, clicking only if you want to commit. Expect the processing work to exercise your PC's chip pretty hard, though.

Other changes to Lightroom

Profiles are built into both Lightroom Classic CC and Lightroom CC. Among other changes coming with the software:

  • Lightroom CC now can store photos on a network-attached storage device so you don't have to worry as much on a small-capacity laptop SSD or on an external drive you might not want to lug out of your home office.
  • Lightroom Classic CC now promotes the dehaze tool into the main editing control panel so it's more accessible.
  • Lightroom for iOS gets a geometry option so the mobile version can correct perspective issues the same way the Windows and MacOS versions of Lightroom can.
  • Lightroom for Android catches up to its brethren with a details control panel to fine-tune noise reduction and sharpening.