Stars versus Colors


Today’s Question: Do you recommend using star ratings or color labels for identifying your best photos from a photo trip?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I recommend using star ratings rather than color labels for identifying favorite images. Part of my reasoning is that star ratings have a more obvious inherent meaning. In addition, color labels are not implemented consistently with different image-management software tools.

More Detail: Star ratings have what I feel is a somewhat clear inherent meaning. The better the image, the more stars you would assign to it. Color labels have some degree of inherent meaning in terms of the “priority” indicated by the color, but this isn’t as obvious to interpret as it would be for star ratings.

Perhaps more importantly, color labels are implemented differently in different software. In fact, by default, color labels assigned in Adobe Bridge won’t appear correctly if the images are imported in Lightroom.

The color label field in metadata isn’t really a color at all, but rather a word. In Lightroom, for example, the word “Red” is used to represent a red color label. In Adobe Bridge the word “Select” is used instead. This can lead to potential confusion, needless to say.

So, I consider star ratings to be preferable compared to color labels, though I certainly use color labels for supplemental purposes, such as to temporarily identify images for a project.

Note, by the way, that it is possible to resolve mismatches caused by assigning color labels with two different software applications. You can also easily transition from the use of color labels, for example, to star ratings. In the context of Lightroom, both of these topics are addressed in my “Cleaning Up Your Mess in Lightroom” video course, which is available (with additional bonus courses) in the “Mastering Lightroom” bundle available here:

Mismatched Catalogs


Today’s Question: Can one merge catalogs from different versions of Lightroom easily, such as a Lightroom 4 catalog into a Lightroom Classic catalog?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Sort of. While you can’t directly merge a catalog from an older version of Lightroom into a catalog from a more recent version, it is easy to upgrade an older catalog and then merge it with your master catalog.

More Detail: The process of merging two Lightroom catalogs is rather straightforward, though it is important to be organized in your approach to this task. However, the two catalogs must both match the version of Lightroom you’re using for the destination catalog. That means, for example, that a Lightroom 4 catalog would need to be upgraded before it can be merged with a Lightroom Classic CC catalog.

To upgrade a catalog to the latest version of Lightroom, you simply need to open the outdated catalog with the current version of Lightroom. You can choose File > Open Catalog from the menu, navigate to the folder where the outdated catalog is stored, and double-click on the name of the catalog (the file with the “lrcc” filename extension) to open it.

When you open an outdated catalog, Lightroom will prompt you to upgrade the catalog. A new catalog file will be created as part of this process, so the older catalog will be retained as a backup. When the upgrade process is complete, you’ll be able to review the updated catalog in Lightroom.

After upgrading the catalog you want to merge into your master catalog, you can re-open the master catalog in Lightroom. Then use the “Import from Another Catalog” command to effectively merge the other catalog into your master catalog. When the import is completed, all of the photos and metadata from the other catalog will be included in your master catalog.

My video training course “Cleaning Up Your Mess in Lightroom” includes lessons on upgrading outdated catalogs, merging catalogs, and much more. You can get this course along with all of my other Lightroom courses with the “Mastering Lightroom” bundle available through GreyLearning here:

Finding Outdated Photos


Today’s Question: Following up on your answer about older process versions in Lightroom, is there a way to search for images based on whether their process version is out of date?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The only option Lightroom provides for searching for photos with an outdated process version is to use the Library > Find Previous Process Photos command on the menu.

More Detail: When you are in the Library module you can select Library > Find Previous Process Photos from the menu to initiate a search of all photos in the current catalog. When the search is completed, a “Previous Process Photos” collection will be added to the Catalog section near the top of the left panel in the Library module. This collection will contain all images that are currently set to anything other than the latest process version.

Note, however, that if you update an image in the “Previous Process Photos” to the process version, that photo will not be removed from the “Previous Process Photos” collection. You would need to re-initiate the search to update this collection. Therefore, if you want to keep track of photos as you update them you may want to add all of the photos in the “Previous Process Photos” collection to a new collection, and then use some form of metadata (such as a color label) to keep track of which images you have updated to the latest process version.

It is also possible to update all images to the latest process version if you prefer. While browsing the “Previous Process Photos” collection with no filters applied, for example, you could switch to the Develop module and click the lightning bolt symbol on the Histogram section of the right panel. That icon indicates that the current image is not set to the latest process version. When you click the icon, a dialog will be presented that enables you to choose whether you want to update the current photo to the latest process version. In addition, you can click the “Update All Filmstrip Photos” button to update all photos on the filmstrip to the latest process version.

Long Exposure with Smartphone


Today’s Question: You mentioned that it is possible to simulate a long exposure effect with a smartphone using certain apps. Can you recommend an app for the iPhone that provides this feature?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The app I’ve been using to capture long exposure effects on the iPhone is called “Slow Shutter” by Cogitap Software. In addition, if you have upgraded to iOS 11 or later you can create a similar effect using the Live Photo feature.

More Detail: The “Slow Shutter” app by Cogitap Software enables you to exercise a fair amount of control over the effect you’re creating, such as by adjusting the overall shutter speed you want to achieve. You can use this app to capture long exposures in real time.

In addition, with the release of iOS 11 the iPhone can now create a long exposure effect using the Live Photo feature. To use this option, first capture a photo with the Live Photo option enabled. The icon for the Live Photo feature looks something like a target, with several concentric circles. That icon is yellow when the feature is enabled, and you can tap the icon to toggle the setting.

After capturing a photo with the Live Photo feature enabled, review that image in the Photos app. Then swipe upward from near the bottom of the screen to bring up the Details screen for the image. Under the Effects heading you can swipe through the various options, and choose “Long Exposure” to create a long exposure effect.

In both cases the image you capture isn’t truly a long exposure, but rather a composite created from multiple frames blended together. The Live Photo feature, for example, essentially records a brief video clip, which consists of multiple frames that can be blended for the long exposure effect.

Process Version Updates


Today’s Question: When Lightroom and Camera Raw update their process versions, as they have recently, do you go back to any of your existing images and re-edit them with the new process version?

Tim’s Quick Answer: No, as a general rule I do not go back and change the process version for photos I had adjusted using an older process version, unless I want to revisit the adjustments I previously applied.

More Detail: The main reason to update the process version for an “older” photo would be to take advantage of any new features available with the updated process version. Sometimes that may be compelling, of course, depending on the new features added as part of an updated process version. For example, the Dehaze adjustment is only available with process version 2012 (version 3) or later.

When you change the process version for an image, there is a risk that the image will change in appearance based on differences between the process versions. Generally this doesn’t represent a significant issue, but it is reason enough (I think) to not simply batch update images to a new process version, and to instead only update when you’re revisiting the adjustments for an older photo.

After you’ve installed a Lightroom update that includes a new process version, any images you import into your catalog will automatically be updated to reflect the new process version. In other words, you only need to consider updating the process version for images that were already in your Lightroom catalog before a new process version was released. More to the point, this is primarily an issue for images you had actually applied adjustments to using an earlier process version.

You can change the process version for a photo using the Process popup in the Camera Calibration section of the right panel in the Develop module. In addition, an image that has the process version set to an older version will show a lightning bolt symbol in the Histogram section of the right panel in the Develop module. You can click that lightning bolt symbol to bring up a dialog with options for updating to the latest process version for the current image or for all images currently shown on the filmstrip.

Switching to Smartphone Camera?


Today’s Question: As I’ve gotten older I am increasingly tempted to ditch my digital SLR in favor of a mirrorless camera system. But taking that idea a step further, do you think it would be crazy to use an iPhone as my only camera?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I don’t think it’s crazy at all to use a smartphone as your only camera system, provided you are willing to accept the inherent limitations of smartphone photography.

More Detail: In many cases you can save considerable weight by switching from a digital SLR to a mirrorless camera system. Opting to use a smartphone as your camera provides even greater weight savings, making it a tempting option for many photographers. But there are also inherent limitations with smartphone cameras.

One of the more significant limitations of smartphone cameras relates to lens focal length. Most smartphone cameras have a lens with an effective focal length of around 50mm. In general there is very little (or no) ability to zoom without sacrificing image quality. A variety of accessory lenses are available for many smartphone cameras, but these don’t provide the range (or quality) available with a larger camera system.

There is also a greater risk of noise and other image quality issues with a smartphone camera, primarily due to the extremely small sensor size used by most cameras. When you have relatively strong lighting you can achieve excellent image quality with many smartphones. Under conditions with low light levels, noise can become a significant issue.

In addition, there is generally less control you’re able to exercise over the exposure and other camera settings when using a smartphone. For example, you are generally not able to achieve long exposure times with smartphones, other than through the use of apps that simulate a motion blur effect by blending multiple images together.

To be sure, it is possible to capture incredible photographic images with a smartphone, especially a more recent model featuring top-of-the-line camera hardware. Many photographers are producing great work with the exclusive use of an iPhone or other smartphone. Provided the compromises don’t represent a serious concern for you, I think it is perfectly reasonable to consider the use of a smartphone as a primary camera.

Crop Overlay


Today’s Question: In Lightroom, when I crop a photo and then click and drag it to center it in the crop as best I can, I see a curving line shaped similar to a nautilus shell curve.  I don’t remember seeing that before. What is it, and what is it used for?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The spiral you’re seeing is one of the overlay options for the Crop tool in Lightroom, which can be helpful for refining the way you crop a given photo. You can choose an overlay option from the Tools > Crop Guide Overlay submenu, and change visibility options from the Tools > Tool Overlay submenu.

More Detail: Lightroom includes several different overlay options for the Crop tool, which include Grid, Thirds, Diagonal, Triangle, Golden Ratio, Golden Spiral, and Aspect Ratios. These can be helpful when you want to crop an image with a reference to one of the “rules” of composition, such as the “Rule of Thirds”.

From the Tools > Tool Overlay submenu you can choose Auto Show if you want to overlay to appear only when you are adjusting the crop bounding box. You can also choose Always Show or Never Show if you want to turn the display on or off at all times when working with the Crop tool.

You can select a specific overlay from the Tools > Crop Guide Overlay submenu, or you can press the letter “O” (as in “overlay”) on the keyboard to cycle through the available options. For overlay options that can be presented in different positions (such as the Golden Spiral, which can be rotated to begin in any corner, for example) you can press Shift+O on the keyboard to cycle through those variations.

Filter by Image Orientation


Today’s Question: Is there a way in Adobe Bridge to specifically search for vertical versus horizontal images?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes! In fact there is an Orientation section on the Filter panel, which enables you to filter based on Landscape, Portrait, and Square aspect ratios.

More Detail: Adobe Bridge actually includes some rather sophisticated options for filtering your photos, including the ability to browse across a large range of folders.

The first step is to browse the photos in the location you want to search. That might mean, for example, selecting an individual folder from the Folders panel. You can also select a parent folder and then go to the menu and choose View > Show Items From Subfolders to display all images within all subfolders of the parent folder you selected.

You can then find the various filtering options on the Filter panel. If this panel isn’t currently visible you can choose Window > Filter Panel from the menu to bring it up. Expand the Orientation section if it is collapsed, and then select the orientation you want to filter by. You can also select other filter criteria to help narrow your search, of course.

I will offer one word of caution, however. If you are searching for an image for a specific output method (such as the cover of a magazine), don’t forget that in many cases it is possible to crop an image to a different orientation. A horizontal image of high resolution could potentially be cropped to a vertical version that can then be used for a magazine cover, for example.

“Start” Workspace


Today’s Question: When I open Photoshop, I get an initial screen that shows recently used images in either thumbnail or list view format. Clicking on an image opens it. But then when I want to open another image, going to the File menu and selecting Open Recent only gives a text file list. There doesn’t seem to be any way to view the list as thumbnails. How can I get back to the initial Photoshop screen that shows the recent images as thumbnails?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The “Start” workspace that provides the thumbnail view of recent files is only available when there are no images open. If it is enabled in Preferences, you will see the Start workspace when you initially launch Photoshop, or when you close all open images.

More Detail: The Start workspace is essentially a specialty version of the type of saved workspace you can create in Photoshop. Oddly, while you can switch to another saved workspace when you are viewing the Start workspace, you can’t switch back to the Start workspace if there are any open images.

If you want to have access to the Start workspace, you’ll first want to enable it in Preferences. In the Preferences dialog (accessible from the Edit menu on Windows or the Photoshop menu on Macintosh) choose the General tab. Then turn on the “Show ‘Start’ Workspace When No Documents Are Open” checkbox. Quit Photoshop and launch it again to activate the change.

When you launch Photoshop you’ll see the Start workspace, complete with the option to display thumbnails for recently opened images. If you want to switch to a different workspace, you can go to the menu and choose Window > Workspace, and then select the desired workspace. As long as you don’t have any images open, you can switch back to the Start workspace by selecting it from the Window > Workspace submenu.

However, if you have an image open, you won’t have access to the Start workspace. To bring up the Start workspace you would need to close all open images. Unfortunately, there is not a way to view the list of images on the Open Recent submenu as a list of thumbnails, so the Start workspace is indeed your best option.

Worse, the reason this is no longer an option is that the “Recent Files” workspace was removed from Photoshop. This workspace provided the functionality you are looking for, but is no longer available. Instead you’ll need to close all open images in order to access the “Start” workspace.

Raw Capture Confusion


Today’s Question: Once a raw capture has been edited in Adobe Camera Raw and brought into Photoshop (by clicking the “Open Image” button), what type of file is it? On my PC, when the file is opened in Photoshop, the file name is shown with an extension of NEF [Nikon’s raw capture format]. Does that mean that Photoshop permits one to further edit a raw file?

Tim’s Quick Answer: When you open a proprietary raw capture in Photoshop via Camera Raw, the processed raw capture you see in Photoshop isn’t a file at all. Rather, it simply represents the pixel values that were rendered based on the original raw capture. You aren’t directly altering the source raw file, but are instead creating a new image file that simply hasn’t been saved yet.

More Detail: Photoshop does not enable you to directly edit an original proprietary raw capture. Instead, you must use Adobe Camera Raw to process the original raw capture, with the result being a rendered image in Photoshop that has not yet been saved. In other words, when you open a raw capture in Photoshop using Adobe Camera Raw, what is open in Photoshop as a result is not an actual file on your hard drive. However, Photoshop presents the open image with the filename of the source raw capture, which can be confusing. That “filename” is simply a placeholder until you save the file in a supported image format (such as PSD or TIFF).

If you choose File > Save from the menu after opening a raw capture via Camera Raw, Photoshop will present the “Save As” dialog. That is because the image you are currently working with has not actually been saved yet. This is similar to what you might see if you create a new empty document in Photoshop using the File > New command. A new document will appear to have a basic filename (such as “Untitled-1”), but until you use the Save command there isn’t actually a file representing the image.

Even after processing the original raw capture with Camera Raw, the original source capture file on your hard drive remains unaltered. Furthermore, you can’t save an updated version of your image in a proprietary raw capture format from Photoshop.