Lightroom initially shows the embedded thumbnails in the raw files (i.e. the camera's interpretation of the raw) in the preview images. A moment later, LR generates its own previews by applying the default development settings to the raw data, optionally modified by a develop preset specified at import. Both are almost always different because Lightroom's develop engine is build completely different from the camera's engine.
Apart from the other two answers:
Maybe you suffer from a setting in your preferences which you might not have set intentionally:
in your LR settings - Preferences - tab Presets: do you have a tick at "Apply auto tone adjustments" ?
If so, remove it and try if you like the result better (click on "reset all" for one or several images in Quick Develop from Library module or one-by-one in Develop module).
How cool an image looks depends also on the calibration, i.e. the last panel no.8 in Develop module.
If you like your camera's default jpg-rendering, set this to "Camera standard" rather than "Adobe standard".
Then you can save this as your develop default: menu Develop - Set Default Settings...
You need to repeat this for all ISO settings in case you have ticked in your Preferences as "Make defaults specific to camera ISO setting", or even for each camera serial no if that is ticked.
I prefer to tweak my default settings rather than applying a develop preset during import, because then the images are considered "not developed". With a preset I could no longer distinguish if I have edited them on top or not.
Thanks for the replies, that explains some things.
I had a quick look at lunch, unfortunately the "apply auto tone" wasn't selected - it would have been a nice quick fix. If I go into the develop module and select "Camera Standard" it does fix things up a bit, but not totally. It still seems a bit flat, but at least it's a step in the right direction.
I tried to save it as my default setting, but it doesn't seem to work, I still have to go in and individually change each one. I agree, I'd like it to be my default as opposed to a preset that is applied on import. I'll have to play around with the settings a bit more tonight and see if I can figure out what I'm doing wrong. Perhaps I can grab a screen shot to have a reference to compare to.
So I'm a little confused on exactly what I'm changing. This isn't the same thing as the color space, is it? Am I just changing how LR interprets the settings (“Picture styles”) from my camera (e.g. sharpness, saturation, contrast, tone)?
Changing the default settings WILL NOT change the images that you have already imported. One way to quickly apply the new defaults would be to highlight those previously imported images, enable auto-sync in the develop module, and then click on the reset button. Those default settings will only be automatically applied to images that you import after you have set the new defaults.
In my case, I chose to adjust one of my images that closely represents my "normal" shooting style. I adjusted everything until that image looked the way I wanted it to look. Then I saved those settings as my default settings. This takes care of the bulk of my images when I import new ones. There will obviously be those that don't fit into that mold, and almost every image can benefit from a little tweaking here and there.
Lightroom is so versatile that one needs to devote time to understanding how it works and take the time to customize it up front. Doing so can save you a lot of time down the road.
Yes, as JimHess explained, the new defaults are not applied to previously imported images until you tell LR to do so.
For me the quickest way is via "reset all" from Library module, quick develop panel.
If you still find camera standard too flat, another default setting for your purpose might be medium i.o. linear contraast for the tone curve.
Try various approaches: it is about getting *most* of your images *into the ballpark* of your taste without individual develop.
Calibration changes the basic raw interpretation, yes.
Hey thanks, all of you, for the information, it was very helpful. I'll mess around with it a bit this weekend - now that I know what I'm looking for - and try to get things set up with something I'm happy with. As Jim said, I wanted to get things set right before moving all my photos into my catalog and switching my whole workflow to LR. I think I've held off on LR for so long because I was so comfortable in Photoshop and didn't want to venture off into new seas without any clue of where I am. Thanks for giving this noob some direction.
Did you use ACR/raw processing a lot in Photoshop?
If yes, remember what you usually did there. You can reapply that directly for LR (if in process version 2010 even 1:1, but you cannot yet have experience in process version 2012 inside Photoshop, other than CS6).
The ACR engine of Photoshop is under the hood of LR's develop module - just the versions do not always synch from the beginning. LR4 matches ACR 7.0 of CS6, but you can achieve inter-operability with ACR 6.7 of CS5 as well.
If you do not achieve your best taste immediately, you can alway change your default settings afterwards and use "reset" to apply to images imported earlier.
So you can safely play around and find your style.
It might even change again over the course of several shoot's edits.
Have fun, Cornelia