Card Reader Benefits


Today’s Question: You have said that you don’t import photos to your computer directly from your camera. I assume that means that you remove the memory card from your camera and insert it into your computer to import your photos. Why don’t you import photos directly from your camera?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There are two reasons I don’t download directly from the camera: potentially slower performance and risk of damage.

More Detail: In my (admittedly limited) experience, downloading photos by connecting your camera to the computer is slower than inserting the memory card into a good card reader. While the camera may be able to write data to the card exceptionally fast, often it seems the USB connection doesn’t provide good performance.

If you purchase a good card reader that offers the fastest performance possible, such as the Lexar Professional USB 3.0 reader (, you will likely see download speeds that are significantly faster than a direct connection to your camera could provide.

In addition to wanting to achieve faster download times, connecting my camera directly to the computer simply makes me nervous. I worry that I’ll manage to somehow snag the data cable and send the camera sliding off my desk to the floor. For a photographer who isn’t quite as clumsy as I am this might not be a significant concern, but I prefer to put my camera back in the camera bag when I’m not using it, in an effort to minimize the risk of accidental damage.

I also find that it is a little easier to manage the process of downloading from multiple cards with a small card reader, rather than using the bulkier camera as a card reader. But mostly I’m concerned about keeping the camera safe and speeding up the download of my photos.

Retroactive Previews


Today’s Question: I have always used ‘Minimal’ under File Handing as part of the import process in Lightroom. However I have been working through your new Lightroom CC course and noticed that you use ‘Standard’ and I have certainly noticed an improvement in the time for opening previews in Lightroom. Is there any way that I can convert old imports now from Minimal to Standard, and is there anything to be gained by doing so?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There is a significant improvement in the speed with which you can browse your images if you have built the Standard (or 1:1) previews for your photos. You can build these previews retroactively by choosing All Photographs from the Catalog section of the left panel in the Library module, choosing Edit > Select All from the menu to select all images, and then choosing Library > Previews > Build Standard-Sized Previews from the menu.

More Detail: You can think of the Standard preview size in Lightroom as being approximately the size of your monitor display, though the actual size varies depending on the current setting in the Preferences dialog. The Minimal (or Embedded & Sidecar) option for building previews during import will often be of a lower resolution. The result is that if you haven’t build Standard previews for your photos, Lightroom will likely need to generate them on the fly as you browse your images.

When Lightroom needs to build previews as you are browsing your photos, the process can be slow and frustrating. The photo will initially appear somewhat soft, and then will update when Lightroom finishes building the preview. That can take a few moments, which can certainly seem like a long time when you just want to review a photo.

If you generate Standard previews for all photos, Lightroom won’t need to build the previews on the fly, so browsing will be much quicker. Note that this relates to the Library module, not the Develop module where a preview is always updated as needed based on the source image and the adjustments you’ve applied.

If you hadn’t built previews for all images during the import process, you can most certainly generate those previews later. Start, for example, by selecting all photos in your entire catalog. You can do so by choosing “All Photographs” from the Catalog section of the left panel in the Library module and then choosing Edit > Select All from the menu. To build the previews for all of the selected images, choose Library > Previews > Build Standard-Sized Previews from the menu. Lightroom will then review all of the selected photos and build previews for any images that don’t already have them.

Note, by the way, that if you tend to zoom in on most of your photos, you may benefit from building 1:1 (full resolution) previews rather than Standard previews. Personally, I don’t tend to zoom in on a high percentage of my photos, so I use Standard previews rather than 1:1 previews as a general rule.

Vibrance versus HSL


Today’s Question: After watching your discussion of Vibrance, I am wondering about the tradeoff of Vibrance versus HSL [Hue, Saturation, and Luminance].

Tim’s Quick Answer: The Vibrance adjustment is my preferred adjustment in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom for boosting the saturation of colors, while the HSL controls are most useful for fine-tuning individual colors.

More Detail: The Vibrance adjustment is a variation on the Saturation adjustment, with a couple of advanced features built in. First, Vibrance protects skin tones from excessive adjustments. Second, when you increase the saturation in an image using Vibrance, colors that already have relatively high saturation levels will receive less of a boost than colors with relatively low saturation.

The HSL (Hue, Saturation, and Luminance) sliders enable you to apply adjustments to individual ranges of colors. For example, you could increase the Saturation value for the green color values in the image while also reducing the saturation for the blue color values.

As a result, I treat the Vibrance slider as my primary tool for adjusting overall saturation in the entire image. I’ll use the related Saturation slider to fine-tune as needed, after “balancing” overall saturation levels with Vibrance.

The HSL controls I use for fine-tuning individual colors, such as to essentially shift the color balance for an individual color using the applicable Hue slider, or by reducing the saturation for a “problem” color in the photo.

You can see these adjustments in action in several lessons in my “Optimizing Photos in Lightroom” video course, which is included in my “Mastering Lightroom” bundle. You can get more details through the GreyLearning website here:

Why Use Virtual Copies?


Today’s Question: I am wondering when you use virtual copies in Lightroom, as I have not found a need for them.

Tim’s Quick Answer: As a general rule I use virtual copies when I want an additional interpretation of a photo, such as producing a color version as well as a black and white version of the same image.

More Detail: For most of my photos, I only want a single version of the image. I want to optimize the image to match what I feel is the best interpretation of the scene. However, every now and then I need or want an additional interpretation of a photo. In those cases, I would create a virtual copy in Lightroom.

A virtual copy provides an additional instance of your image in the Lightroom catalog, and enables you to apply different adjustments to that copy. The source image on your hard drive is not duplicated, so you aren’t consuming additional hard drive space (other than the tiny increase in information included in your Lightroom catalog).

When you initially create a virtual copy (by right-clicking on the image and choosing the “Create Virtual Copy” command), the copy will inherit all of the adjustment settings from the original image you used as the basis of the virtual copy. You can then, however, apply any changes you’d like to the adjustment settings for that virtual copy, without affecting the original interpretation of the photo.

In some cases I might want a virtual copy to produce a completely different creative interpretation of a photo. In other cases I might simply need to export a version of the image cropped to a specific aspect ratio, and I want to preserve my original crop settings without creating any confusion.

While I don’t use virtual copies all that often, it is worth keeping in mind that this feature exists. Whenever you want to have more than one interpretation of an image, a virtual copy provides a simple solution.

Subfolder Organization


Today’s Question: How do you feel about making subfolders to identify the different parts of a photo shoot?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I generally prefer to use a very streamlined folder structure, and therefore prefer not to create subfolders to segment photos from a single photo shoot or trip. Instead, I prefer to use keywords or other metadata updates to enable segments of the photo shoot to be filtered from the full group of images.

More Detail: As noted in a previous edition of the Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter, I prefer to keep all photos and videos captured during a given photo shoot or trip in the same folder. Taking that a step further to address today’s question, I also prefer that all of the photos and videos be stored in a single folder, rather than in subfolders.

My basic rationale here is that I want to make it as easy as possible to review my photos, without creating any unnecessary impediments to my workflow. To be sure, you could certainly create various subfolders for a photo shoot, and then select multiple folders to browse. But to me this adds a degree of complexity, in that you are using two different mechanisms to increase versus decrease the number of photos you are currently viewing.

So, I prefer to segment my photos through the use of metadata. I keep all photos from a given shoot or trip in a single folder. I then add star ratings to identify my favorite images. I will further refine photos for many trips through the use of keywords or other metadata.

Some photographers prefer to create folders for each day of a multi-day trip so they can segment their photos by date. But you can simply filter by date based on the date and time metadata values. Some photographers prefer to segment by category, such as a wedding photographer who might create folders for photos from the ceremony versus the reception. I prefer to use keywords for this type of scenario.

To be sure, you can define an efficient and meaningful workflow by using subfolders rather than keywords or other metadata to segment your photos. My personal preference, however, is to streamline my folder structure and focus on metadata for segmentation.

Finding Source Folder


Today’s Question: In the Develop module in Lightroom I find myself sometimes developing my pictures from within a (smart) collection. Sometimes I make virtual copies to try another develop setting to see if that also could work. After deciding it is not a keeper, I cannot delete this virtual copy since I’m working in a collection. Is there a way to automatically find the folder the image is in so I can delete the virtual copy?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, you can right-click on the virtual copy in question and choose “Go to Folder in Library” to be automatically taken to the folder that contains the virtual copy. The selected virtual copy will remain selected, so you can then right-click on that virtual copy and choose the “Remove Photo” command to delete the copy.

More Detail: As noted in a previous “Ask Tim Grey”, you aren’t able to delete a photo when you are browsing a collection. When browsing a collection your only option is to remove the image from the collection. If you want to actually delete the image, you’ll need to navigate to the folder that contains the image.

When you are browsing a collection (or viewing a wide variety of images based on a filter after choosing the “All Photographs” option) you may not always know which folder a given image is actually stored in. By right-clicking on the image in question and then choosing “Go to Folder in Library” from the popup menu, you’ll be taken directly to the folder in question with the selected image still selected.

Once you have navigated to the source folder, you can right-click on the image and choose “Remove Photo” in order to delete the image.

Note, by the way, that users of Adobe Bridge have the same basic feature, which can be employed by right-clicking on an image and choosing “Reveal in Bridge” from the popup menu.

Snapshot or Virtual Copy?


Today’s Question: I am wondering why I would use a history snapshot rather than a virtual copy in Lightroom?

Tim’s Quick Answer: To me the difference between a History Snapshot and a Virtual Copy in Lightroom relates to whether you’re just exploring how you want to interpret a photo or whether you want to have two (or more) different versions of a photo. History snapshots serve the former need, while virtual copies serve the latter.

More Detail: To be sure, history snapshots and virtual copies can appear on the surface to be very similar features. The key difference is that with a virtual copy you see a second instance of your photo, while with a history snapshot you still only have a single instance of your photo, but with additional options for going back in history.

When you apply adjustments to an image, each adjustment creates a history state in the History section of the left panel in the Develop module. One of the challenges of having this type of linear history is that it can be difficult to find the exact history state you want to return to. In some cases you may find that you are exploring a variety of different options for an image, such as black and white versus color as well as with or without a vignette.

During these types of explorations for a photo, a history snapshot enables you to have easy access to a given point in the history of an image. Once you’re happy with the color interpretation and are ready to see if a black and white interpretation might work, you could create a history snapshot for the color “final” and then move on to black and white adjustments. Anytime you think you might have reached a final (or near final) possible interpretation for the image, you could create a history snapshot to record that history state.

When you create a virtual copy you’re adding an additional reference to the source image, so it will appear as though the same image is in your Lightroom catalog twice. Therefore, to me this approach is better when you want to have two different versions of a photo, rather than just different history states you might return to.

To be sure, the distinction here can be a little subtle. But I think of history snapshots as a way to record points in history you think you might want to return to for what will ultimately be a single version of a photo, and I think of virtual copies as a way to have two different interpretations of the same photo (even if that different interpretation is just a different crop).

Mixed Capture Types


Today’s Question: I have a DSLR that I use to capture photos in RAW, but I also often take JPEG photos on my mobile phone when I don’t have the DSLR with me. I also use my phone to take short videos. Currently I am downloading everything (RAW, JPEG and Video) into Lightroom and storing them all in the one folder. It can come a bit unwieldy so I am wondering what you suggest when you have a mix like I have. Do you keep everything in a single folder, or keep then in individual folders for RAW, JPEG, and video? What do find the most convenient in your workflow?

Tim’s Quick Answer: My personal preference is to keep all photos and video clips from a single trip or photo shoot in a single folder. This is partly motivated by a desire to have each folder represent the entirety of a single photo trip, and partly motivated by the fact that it is very easy to filter images by a wide variety of criteria.

More Detail: One of the primary goals in my photographic workflow is to use an approach that is as streamlined as possible. As part of that approach I try to avoid adding complexity that is not necessary and that doesn’t provide an inherent benefit. For example, I don’t see a benefit in having my RAW versus JPEG captures (or videos) divided into separate folders when it is so easy to filter based on file type. Similarly, I prefer not to create individual folders for each day of a trip, in part because it is so easy to filter based on date of capture.

I realize that when it comes to RAW versus JPEG captures, there is often a very different motivation for capturing the images. For example, I am more likely to use my digital SLR for photos I consider to be more “artistic” in nature, while I’ll use my smartphone to capture images that are more about simply documenting some of the experiences along the way.

However, in my mind all of these captures are part of the overall photographic story from a given trip or photo shoot. And so I prefer to keep all of the images and videos in a single folder, regardless of what type of camera was used and what file types are involved.

I will then use the various filters to limit my view to only the photos I’m most interested in at any given moment. For example, if I’m looking for my best “artistic” photos from a trip I can navigate to the folder for that trip, filter by the RAW capture as the file type, and add a filter for star ratings.

While you could certainly argue that putting a wide variety of different types of captures into a single folder creates a degree of clutter, my feeling is that this approach helps to streamline the process of locating specific images. And by making use of various filters to focus on the images you’re most interested in at the moment, the clutter that might exist within the folder is never really visible to you.

Metadata Mismatch


Today’s Question: I have noticed for some thumbnails [in Adobe Lightroom] there is an icon with three lines and an upward-pointing arrow at the upper right corner of the image. When I click that icon I get a message: “The metadata for this photo has been changed by another application. Should Lightroom import settings from disk or overwrite disk with those from catalog?” What does this mean?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The icon you refer to indicates that updates have been made to the metadata for the photo outside of Lightroom, meaning the metadata contained within the file on your hard drive does not match the metadata within the Lightroom catalog.

More Detail: Because Lightroom makes use of a catalog to track information about your photos, it is critically important that all updates you apply to your photos be applied within Lightroom. If any metadata updates (or other changes) are applied outside of Lightroom, you won’t see the update within Lightroom and you might even cause a situation where your photos can’t be found.

Even processing a RAW capture outside of Lightroom can create a metadata mismatch, since the adjustment settings from Adobe Camera Raw can be written to an XMP sidecar file for the image. So again, the key is to not perform any work with your images outside of Lightroom, to help ensure that the Lightroom catalog always reflects the latest (and accurate) information about your photos.

When there is a metadata mismatch, you have the choice of either replacing the information contained in the actual image file with the information in your Lightroom catalog, or to replace the information in the Lightroom catalog with the information contained in the source image file. The correct decision here depends on which updated information you want to keep.

For example, if you added a keyword to a photo through Adobe Bridge, and then realized you should have applied that update within Lightroom, you could choose the option to import the settings from the source image.

However, it is important to keep in mind that when you update the metadata to correct the mismatch, you aren’t able to merge all of the information. That means some information might be lost. If you added a keyword to a photo using Adobe Bridge, then added another keyword to the same image in Lightroom, updating the metadata in either direction will cause one of the keywords to be lost.

If you are confident that no updates were made outside of Lightroom that you need to have reflected in Lightroom, you can simply choose the option to have Lightroom overwrite the metadata for the source image based on the information in the catalog (or simply ignore the metadata mismatch icons if you prefer). If you need to retain the information from the source image (replacing the information for that image in the Lightroom catalog) you can use the option to import settings.

And again, be sure that all updates and other workflow tasks are initiated inside of Lightroom, to help ensure you won’t need my “Cleaning Up Your Mess in Lightroom” video training course (

Camera Insurance


Today’s Question: Is there any advice you can give photographers about photography equipment insurance in and outside the US?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The key to insuring your camera gear is to be aware of the limitations that may be involved in an insurance policy that is not specifically geared toward camera gear. It is important to be sure that all of your valuable gear is protected within the context of your specific needs.

More Detail: First, you’ll want to be sure your insurance covers the full value of the equipment you are insuring, or at least that you’re comfortable with the amount of coverage you have. For example, many insurance policies specifically limit the amount of coverage provided for camera gear. Some travel insurance policies, for example, only cover up to $500 in camera gear.

You might also have insurance coverage you weren’t aware of. For example, a homeowner’s insurance policy may include coverage for personal effects that includes camera equipment. Similarly, some credit cards extend traveler’s insurance to you automatically when you trip. The point is to take an inventory of what coverage you might already have, and supplement it with additional insurance as needed.

Also, be aware that if you make a specific list of your camera gear along with serial numbers, you will generally receive a discount on your insurance coverage. This is often referred to as scheduled equipment versus unscheduled equipment coverage.

A variety of insurance companies actually offer insurance coverage that is specifically designed for photographers. This often includes a degree of business liability coverage, as well as insurance for your equipment. Pay attention to any exclusions in the insurance policy so you can be sure that you will be covered for international travel, and that coverage extends to theft, loss, or damage.

On a slightly related note, if you will be traveling internationally with camera gear it is a good idea to register that gear with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. If you return from an international trip with a large assortment of camera gear that looks new, it is possible you could be required to pay duty on the equipment based on the assumption that you purchased it abroad. By simply registering the equipment with Customs before departing on your trip, there will be no question about whether that equipment was acquired during your trip.