The Shadowland/Lightroom Development Story

Posted By Jeff Schewe

The development of Adobe Lightroom, code named Shadowland, was not something Adobe started after Apple announced Aperture. The Shadowland project has been going on for years.

How do I know that Adobe has been working on Shadowland for so long?

Because that’s how long I’ve been working on it.
Back in October of 2002 Mark Hamburg sent me a little developmental application he called PixelToy (breaking his own rule, there was an innercap) and jokingly refered to as “SchewePaint”.

After leaving the Photoshop development team he worked on a concept application based upon painting with snapshots which used no layers. Mark had developed the History feature of Photoshop to more or less to suit me so he believed that I was uniquely suited to look at his new “toy”.


The original PixelToy floating palette was rather reminiscent of Kai Krause’s UI design-something Mark actually laughed about. (See the PSN story on Where’s Kai Now.) Ironically, Mark ended up choosing Phil Clevenger (Kai’s former UI designer) to work on UI design for Shadowland after going through some other designers (myself included).


Phil Clevenger
Photo by George Jardine

The original PixelToy application


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It its original incarnation, shapshots were taken after image adjustments were made by punching the adjustment buttons. The adjustments could then be painted in from the snapshots.


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The next build of PixelToy dropped the floating palette in exchange for the slide out panel for adjustments. The concept was still to make adjustments, do a snapshot and then paint them in.

Shuffle


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An early developmental application called Shuffle was coded by Mark to determine the feasibility of organizing images as though they were slides on a lightbox.

At the time, late 2002, Mark was in Adobe’s Digital Media Lab under the direction of Greg Gilley working on experimental development primarily directed towards Mark’s then increasing interest in digital photography. Greg had already gotten highly interested in digital photography and that had leaked over to Mark.


Greg Gilley
Photo by Jeff Schewe

In December of 2002, Mark, UI designer Sandy Alves, project lead Andrei Herasimchuk and Thomas Knoll visited my studio for a couple of days of brainstorming product ideas directed towards photographers. During that meeting I expressed the importance of developing an application to deal with lots of images easily and efficiently instead of an application used for spending a great deal of time on a single image-in the 1990′s it was all about how long an imaging artist spent working on an image, the new millenium dictated an application designed to spend as little time as possible working on many images.

And…the time spent should be more enjoyable for photographers than working in a complicated application like Photoshop.

For various reasons, Mark was no longer working on Photoshop and his desire to develop his own application for digital imaging went down the path that lead to Shadowland, uh, I mean Lightroom.

From Mark: “I don’t know that it’s so much that I wanted to do my own digital imaging app as that I felt that I had done Photoshop and it was time to see what the world held beyond Photoshop. With Greg really pushing me to look at photography and with a lot of leftover ideas from Photoshop that had been at most partially explored — e.g., snapshot painting — it seemed like an interesting challenge to create a digital imaging app that wasn’t Photoshop.

Shadowland is a musical reference to K. D. Lang’s 1988 album Shadowland.

Mark has a history of choosing code names based upon musical references.

 

The early development of Shadowland was a bit rocky-to say the least.

Adobe just didn’t know how or where to position Shadowland in the ecosphere that is known as Photoshop.

A great deal of time was spent researching to determine exactly what Photographers needed and wanted. Mark, Sandy, Andrei and researcher Grace Kim made a lot of site visits to photography studios all over the country. There they interviewed a wide variety of photographers-some famous and some just regular hard working folks-from all walks of photography. The aim was to identify where the current pain points were with digital and to design innovative solutions to relieve the pain…

On one particular site visit to Greg Gorman’s studio, Mark got a rather rude awakening-he personally had to deal with gigs of images that he shot. Greg, shooting with a Canon 1Ds, shot about 4 gigs of images during the course of the shoot day. Mark, shooting with a Canon 10D, (smaller raw file sizes) shot about 4 gigs of shots of Greg shooting as well as the models; Andrew and Kevin Atherton-twin gymnasts from the Cirque du Soleil show Varekai. Mark also shot Greg’s studio and anything he could think of to aim his camera at. Mark learned firsthand the difficulties of dealing with tons of RAW images.


Mark shoots Greg shooting the models.


Mark’s actual shot from his camera.


Mark did this shot of Grace Kim (left), Sandy Alves (right) and myself (center-in case you didn’t figure this out yourself). I’m not sure what the fascination is with the beard…


Mark got this shot of me shooting Greg.


Mark took this shot of the models under natural light in Greg’s studio. I processed it into B&W-I’m not sure Mark remembers he gave me copies of his files.


Mark shot me under the same light, unfortunately, the body doesn’t seem to have the same impact.


I then got Mark to stand in and shot him.


Mark hit the wall when he had to deal with downloading all those cards and dealing with all the files. Grace takes a moment to ponder the problems of photographers.


Mark and the models and Sandy watch as Greg makes his selects. Greg, shooting both RAW plus JPEG was able to use iView MediaPro for selection editing (far faster than Photoshop’s File Browser) and made rapid edits in Camera Raw to get final prints for the models before they left the studio. It was proof that what photographers needed was a fast way to get a lot of files edited down to selects, corrected and printed, ASAP.


Of course, after a hard day’s work we all went up to Greg’s house for dinner-of course wine to start.


Greg had invited a few other friends, on the left, Graham Nash and on the far right Mac Holbert; partners in Nash Editions. To the right of Greg is Steve Gorman, Greg’s brother and owner of Gorman Framing. Useful to have a brother in the framing biz, huh Greg?


Also stopping by was Seth Resnick and Jamie Spritzer. Seth and Jamie happened to be in LA for one of his D-65 Workshops so Greg invited them over to meet Mark and the Shadowland crew. Look at Seth’s hair…this was his pre-Miami slicked back Eastcoast look, check out my Antarctica Expedition to see what Seth’s hair looks like after a year on the beach.


One of the treats of going to Greg’s house for dinner is that Greg loves to cook. This time however, the foie gras got a bit “smokey”.


The smoke actually came rolling out of the kitchen-those of us in the dining room became a bit concerned.


Robb Carr, Greg’s digital retoucher was also invited to come meet Mark.


Here is Robb bending Mark’s ear a bit. Mark actually loves the attention…


Seth talks to Sandy about the problems of digital workflow.


Mac and Sandy listen to Seth-Seth can get going pretty good talking about “workslow”.


Grace wanted to have me take a shot of her with Graham.


So did Sandy-she wanted a print to prove to her husband she met Graham. I guess I really should make a print for Sandy now that I’ve found these shots.


As might be expected, Seth-a wine lover-got a little buzzed.


Mark decided to take a late-night plunge in Greg’s pool.

Mark and the Shadowland crew made a lot of site visits to determine, on a task based system, those things photographers really needed to accomplish that Photoshop and even Bridge with Camera Raw can’t quite provide. That is what Shadowland, er, Lightroom is all about. But the difficulties surrounding Shadowland persisted. Sandy left the team-she and her husband moved out of Santa Clara up to the mountains outside of Lake Tahoe and she decided to quit the commute. Andrei got a bit fed up and left to start Involution Studios, his design firm. Mark also had to try to recruit additional engineering help-he couldn’t do it all himself.


Andrei Herasimchuk
Photo by Jeff Schewe

During a trip to Adobe Minneapolis to evaluate how to deal with the Adobe ImageReady code, he met one of the senior engineers on the ImageReady team, Troy Gaul. Troy and Melissa Gaul struck up a good working relationship with Mark (something that isn’t always so easy) and Troy, Melissa and some of the other former ImageReady engineers (called the Minnesota Phats) signed on to start working with Hamburg-Mark finally had an engineering team.

But with the loss of Andrei, Mark didn’t have a “product manger”. Enter George Jardine. George was an ex-Adobe guy who had worked with Russell Preston Brown in the mid 1990′s evangalizing Photoshop. George had a commercial photo background from working in at Shigeta-Wright Studios in Chicago (ironically just down the street from my studio-although we never met till much later).


George Jardine
Photo by Douglas J. Martin

Months and months went by while Mark, George and Grace Kim tried to nail down a feature set for Shadowland and try to develop a product position within the Adobe pro-imaging product line. The development continued-slowly-with new builds being sent out to a small select group of early alpha testers. Some of us were Adobe “regulars” such as Martin Evening, Katrin Eismann and myself (Photoshop alpha testers) and some new testers where brought on to represent a non-Photoshop centric photographer’s view. But development was difficult without a strong voice in the UI design of Shadowland.

During a visit to Adobe I had dinner with Mark Hamburg. He was lamenting the fact that the UI, something he felt strongly should be non-Photoshop in design, needed a jumpstart. He wanted to get a UI designer to bring new ideas and innovative designs to the team. I shocked him by offering my services as the UI designer on Shadowland. Of course, I had no actual work experience as a UI desginer…but I had worked extensively with the Photoshop UI design team for years and I knew a little something about working with Mark.


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This was an early prototype compare module mockup I did for Mark.

I think Mark was shocked…both that I would offer myself but that he was considering it. Seems I did impress him by turning around the mockup on a flight back from San Jose and that I had some skills mocking up UI and usability. But ultimately he wanted somebody with a known track record and experience doing UI design in tough development situations. He turned to Phil Clevenger, formerly of MetaCreations. Phil earned his UI design bones by having to deal with Kai Krause-who could also sometimes be hard to work with.


Kai’s Soap 2 splash screen-released in 1998.


Soap 2 Desktop view.

For the last year, it’s been a struggle for the Shadowland development team. Not only was Adobe fixated on finishing the Macromedia acquisition but Team Photoshop was working to get Photoshop CS2 with Adobe Bridge 1.0 launched. It’s fair to say that some thought engineering resources used on Shadowland might better be used on Photoshop. The internal struggle also had to deal with the fact that Apple was working on Aperture and the odds were good that it would beat Lightroom to the marketplace.

During the PhotoPlus Expo in New York during October of 2005, Shadowland had a pretty up/down existence. First, the Aperture announcement (Adobe knew it was coming) caught a lot of attention in the photo community. Apple is always great at doing product launches and Aperture was getting a lot of attention. On the other hand, Hamburg and the Shadowland team had to deal with the fact that they would not be first to market a high-end application to professional photographers. However their contention-that an application designed for pros could be a reality-was proven. In many respects, Aperture actually helped save Lightroom. It gave the dev team and all of Adobe a target to shoot at-and the engineers at Adobe are nothing if not competitive (as well as being pretty darn talented).

So, here we are at the official announcement of Adobe Lightroom. Adobe chose to go an unusual route (for Adobe) and offer what is arguably a work-in-progress project up to the photographic community for review and comment. Time will tell if that approach will work. I think it will. It’s really hard to develop an entirely new application from the ground up without a lot of feedback and involvement by what will be the application’s end users-which in today’s climate of corporate secrecy is tough.

I personally really like Lightroom and the direction it’s headed-but of course, I’m biased. Don’t get me wrong, I still like Photoshop…I’m pretty good at Photoshop. But Photoshop is an application with many masters used by many different types of users in a lot of different industries. It’s also a huge application, not only from the code base but from the complexity of use. It’s tough for photographers-some of them old graybeards-to learn all the ins and outs of working with Photoshop. Add the complexity of a new application, Adobe Bridge and the powerful but complex interaction between Bridge, Camera Raw and Photoshop and you have a lot of photographers whose eyes spend a lot of time glazed over.

I’m also really glad that the professional photographic community is finally getting the attention of not one, but two big players in the computer software biz. I’m tickled to death that Apple and Adobe are paying us so much attention.

So, the best thing for pro photographers to do is test the waters, check out the various options out there. Lightroom is a free download, so all you lose is a bit of bandwidth to get it. Working with it is far easier than learning something like Photoshop. Spend a little time playing and see if you like what you see. If you have strong ideas or opinions about where Lightroom should go, check out the Lightroom user forums. You’ll find a lot of the Lightroom development team there was well some of the early testers like Bruce Fraser, Katrin Eismann, Martin Evening, Seth Resnick and others. I’ll be around too, see ya there.

Oh, one last thought, if you have some friends who just KNOW that Lightroom is just a knee-jerky reaction to Apple’s Aperture, tell them to read this story. Applications take years to build…

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated at 5:55 PM on 1/10/06 to correct several small errors.

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