With the release of the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 public beta, new and current users have the opportunity not only to explore the latest additions to the company's database-driven image editing and workflow tool, but to provide feedback to Adobe and help shape the final release. Adobe also has a dedicated user forum to share thoughts with and hear opinions from the Lightroom community.

The Lightroom 5 public beta has come to light surprisingly quickly, just 13 months after the final release of Lightroom 4. And while Lightroom 4 brought sweeping changes to working methodologies along with two brand new modules, the headline features in the Lightroom 5 public beta are devoted almost exclusively to image editing.

The Lightroom 5 public beta introduces a refined healing tool that can be used to paint on an image, much like the Spot Healing Brush found in Photoshop. A new Radial Gradient tool offers a more flexible way to apply selective location-based edits. Also making its debut is a perspective correction tool that uses image analysis to automatically straighten images and eliminate keystoning. The feature that will potentially have the most wide-reaching impact on every photographer's workflow is the ability to edit images while they are offline, by enabling what Adobe calls 'Smart Previews'.

I'm going to briefly take you through these and some of the other more significant additions to the Lightroom 5 public beta so that you can jump in and start experimenting with these tools on your own. As always, bear in mind that this is a beta version, whose release is aimed at generating feedback and bug reports from a diverse user base. Tools, features and performance may change significantly before a final shipping version is released. You'll need to create a new Lightroom catalog to use version 5 and I'd never recommend performing mission critical work on an early beta release.

With that said, let's get started and take a look at the following:

System requirements

Users of older machines should note that the minimum operating system requirements for Lightroom have changed. Support for Windows Vista has been dropped. Lightroom now requires a version of Windows Windows 7, Service Pack 1 or higher. Mac users must be running OS 10.7 or higher.

Advanced Healing Brush

The Spot Removal tool is now more versatile, with the ability to use it as a brush... ...to remove unwanted scene elements.

While Lightroom's Spot Removal Tool is effective at hiding dust and small blemishes - one click at a time -  users have long been requesting a faster and more flexible retouching option. In response, Adobe has introduced significantly more advanced functionality to the Spot Removal Tool in the Lightroom 5 public beta. In addition to the regular click-a-circle approach, you can now paint on an image area to apply cloning and healing adjustments that can remove large, irregularly-shaped objects from the scene entirely.

If you're a user of Photoshop CS5 or later and use the Content-Aware mode in the Healing brush or Fill menu, start drooling now, because the ability to clone/heal irregular shapes - whether retouching crow's feet or removing scene elements - inside Lightroom eliminates perhaps the most common reason Lightroom users still head to Photoshop. Here's how it works.

With the Spot Removal tool (Q) selected (highlighted here in red), simply paint in one continuous stroke over the portion of the scene you want to remove. You'll now see a white overlay masking out the parking sign.
Release the mouse and you'll see two thin white outlines. Here, the one on the right is the area I painted, the outline on the left is Lightroom's best guess for a suitable location from which to fill that area. You're free to move this 'clone from' area at will to find the most natural-looking match. Here Lightroom did a very good job on its own, but more times than not, you'll need to manually adjust the positioning.
The next thing you'll invariably need to do is to examine your image carefully for any unnatural seams along the fill. The Spot Removal tool can seem like magic, but look closely and it usually needs a bit of help. I've made a couple of secondary fills, including the one shown here, to better blend some edges around the original fill.
Et voilà. Here's the final image. The result here is very believable and the whole process took about three minutes, including time spent hunting for imperfections.

The Spot Removal results won't always be this good when eliminating large objects. I'd bet that nearly all of the demos you're going to see of this tool involve large areas of grass, sand or other repeating textures. Like Photoshop's Content-Aware Fill option, this technique requires large patches of consistent color and tone to work well. Patterns like grass, sand and masonry are very helpful for hiding seams.

This new Spot Removal capability is something you'll definitely want to experiment with to get the most out of, so we've provided the full size images used in the above example so you can try out the Spot Removal tool's new functionality for yourself. Click to download the before image and the after image.

As I mentioned earlier, you can still use the Spot Removal tool just as you always have, one click at a time. And that's still the best way to handle the dust-spotting of your images. And for those instances, Lightroom 5 public beta offers a Visualize Spots option (shown below), that when checked, provides a 'Threshold' view to more easily identify spots.

The Visualize Spots option gives a Photoshop-like Threshold preview to help you find even that one single dust spot (highlighted in red) that's going to keep you up at night. You control the intensity of the Threshold view with the slider. This Threshold view is only for preview purposes and your image colors remain untouched.

Radial Gradient

Photoshop users who've tried the Blur Gallery tools in CS6 will recognize the interface of Lightroom 5 public beta's new Radial Gradient Tool (Shift+M). This newest addition to Lightroom's group of selective editing tools features the same slider options for white balance, exposure, sharpening, noise and moiré removal as the Adjustment Brush and Graduated Filter. The difference here is that you draw an oval shape around the area where you want to direct the viewer's attention. Here are three examples of how this can be put to use.

In this animal portrait, it's clear through use of depth of field and composition where the viewer's attention should be directed - to the dog's eye. Yet the overall image is a bit dull.
With the Radial Gradient Filter (shown here in green) activated, you click-drag to draw an oval shape - in this case a circle - around the point of interest. Here I've brought down exposure and shadows (sliders are highlighted in red). It's important to note that these changes are made to the area surrounding the circle I've drawn. By default, the Radial Gradient Filter masks out, or protects the area you've selected.

In the example above, you could certainly achieve this result by painting with the Adjustment Brush, but using the new Radial Gradient Filter is much faster precisely because you're selecting the relatively small area that you want to protect from the edits. With the Adjustment Brush I would have had to paint everywhere except the oval area around the eye.

The Radial Gradient Filter has additional functional benefits as well. In the example below, I've drawn an oval shape and adjusted the feathering of the exposure edits.

In this image I wanted to produce greater tonal separation between the flower at left and the background. Because my subject is in the far left corner, the standard Gradient Filter, while great for linear adjustments, is of limited use. After drawing an oval around the flower I lowered exposure, boosted contrast and darkend shadows of the area around the subject. By default, Lightroom sets a Feather amount of 100 to reduce the appearence of hard edges. At such a high value, though it does allow the adjustments to bleed well into the protected area. So I reduced the Feather amount (highlighted in green) to 42. So far, I've found that for more conservative edits you can go as low as 35-40 without introducing a hard edge.

If the previous examples are a bit too dramatic for your tastes, you can use the Radial Gradient Filter for very subtle results, as shown below.

In this original image I felt that my subject could benefit from standing out just a bit more from the background.
By using the Radial Gradient Filter, I was able to give him greater separation without calling undue attention to the edit.

As with any of Lightroom's selective edit tools you can apply multiple pins to achieve different results on separate areas of the image. That's what I've done to get the result shown above. Here's how.

I drew an oval around my subject and made exposure and sharpness adjustments to the background. I was pleased with the results save for the sickly greenish-yellow tones in his face.
After making a second selection around just his face, I clicked the Invert Mask box (highlighted in green). This changes the gradient behavior so adjustments I make now apply to the area I've selected, not the background. A small change to the WB Temp and Tint sliders gave a more pleasing result.

The new Radial Gradient Filter is intuitive and provides a lot of flexibility for precisely targeted edits. It's very easy to go overboard into the realm of smartphone filters, but equally you can use it to more subtle effect for natural-looking, yet still dramatic results.

Upright tool

Lightroom 5 public beta introduces an automated perspective correction and leveling tool. It's called, appropriately enough, Upright, and is an important addition for both architectural pros using wide angle lenses and vacationing photographers who often find themselves pointing their camera up at tourist attractions.

Located in the Basic tab of the Lens Corrections panel, Upright offers four options, all of which adapt intelligently by analyzing the scene. 'Level' searches for horizontal lines that are slanted and straightens them. 'Vertical' duplicates this effect but corrects for off-axis vertical lines as well. 'Full', as its name suggests, attempts to correct for any perspective or alignment issues and is easily the most aggressive of the options here. The Auto button similarly corrects for these, but takes a much more conservative approach, striking a balance between corrections and aspect ratio. For most images this is an optimal starting point.

Upright works most effectively when used after checking the Enable Profile Corrections box. This allows its algorithms to take into account the lens characteristics contained in a Lightroom lens profile. You can still use Upright on unsupported lenses, but it's best to enable these profile corrections where possible. Below we'll take a look at a couple examples.

In this image I titled the camera up to include the second floor patios. The result is noticeable keystoning where the vertical lines appear to lean back away from the camera.
A simple click on Upright's Full button automatically corrects the perspective.

 Here's another example of perspective distortion that required more drastic correction.

At left is the original image. In the center is the result when I clicked Auto. You'll notice white edges along the sides near the bottom. That's because the perspective correction was severe enough that Lightroom ran out of image to fill in the gaps. When I clicked the Constrain Crop box, however, Lightroom automatically cropped the image to remove the white areas.

It's important to note that after performing its corrections, Upright is cropping your image. It's not creating new pixels to fill in blank image areas. This means you end up with a file of smaller dimensions, just as you would with a manual crop. But it greatly minimizes the possibility of compromised image quality along the edges of your image.

Below is an example of just how much image area can be lost after the correction, something to be aware of when shooting detailed interior scenes such as this one.

This is the image result after applying Upright. Correcting for the skewing you see in this original version of the image means cropping off a significant portion from the bottom (indicated here by the shaded area).

Smart Previews

Okay, here's the update that may get overlooked, but one that has serious workflow implications for nearly every Lightroom user. Lightroom 5 public beta now lets you edit images that are offline. That's right, you're no longer prevented by the '?' icon from making Develop module adjustments to files on drives that are not plugged in.

This is made possible by Smart Previews. Built on the lossy DNG file format Adobe introduced back in Lightroom 4, a Smart Preview is a lower resolution (2540 pixels in the long dimension) DNG file that takes up only a small fraction of a full-size DNG file. When available, Lightroom will use this Smart Preview to provide an image preview in the Develop module. Best of all, any edits you make to the photo are re-associated with to the original raw file and its 1:1 preview once the file is brought back online.

In the Library module you can selectively generate Smart Previews by clicking on the Original Photo box underneath the histogram. That brings up a dialog window explaining the rationale behind Smart Previews along with a confirmation button.

The only catch here is that you must proactively generate a Smart Preview with the image still online. You can do this to a single or multiple images by checking the Original Photo box shown above. You can also turn on an option to create Smart Previews upon each new Import session.

While this may just seem like a boon to those who don't want the hassle of plugging in missing drives, what's really valuable is the ability to export your Lightroom catalog, using only Smart Previews, to a laptop with smaller storage capacity than your desktop machine when traveling. This makes it feasible to not only add metadata but to edit any images in your existing catalog while on the road without lugging around numerous external hard drives for storage.

How much space do you save? We're still running comparisons, but in a Lightroom 5 public beta test catalog containing 1100 raw files, the standard Previews.lrdata file (which contained 1:1 previews) took up 3.65GB of storage. We exported this same catalog of images using only Smart Previews and the resulting Smart Preview.lrdata file weighed in at a meager 420MB. The size of each Lightroom catalog (.lrcat) itself was essentially identical.

Click here to continue reading our Lightroom 5 public beta preview...