Scaling versus Cropping

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Today’s Question: Is there a difference in image quality in Lightroom Classic CC if you scale a photo versus cropping?

Tim’s Quick Answer: No, the final result will be the same in terms of image quality. Scaling essentially provides the same basic capability as cropping, though without as much control over the actual cropping of the photo.

More Detail: As I imagine most photographers are aware, Lightroom Classic CC provides a non-destructive workflow. That means that when you apply adjustments in the Develop module, you’re not actually altering the original source image. Instead, you’re effectively applying metadata updates to the image, and having the preview updated to reflect the changes.

The actual effects of your adjustments don’t get applied to the image until you create a copy of the image for sharing, such as by exporting or printing. At that point the actual changes in appearance will be reflected in the output you create.

The Scaling feature available for the Transform adjustments enables you to effectively zoom in (or out) on the photo. This would make it possible to zoom in on the image in order to crop it, so that a warped edge of the image can be cropped out.

Whether you use the Scaling adjustment or the Crop tool in order to crop the image, the final resizing of the image will be the same, and so the quality will be the same. The only real reason to choose the Crop tool over the Scaling adjustment is control.

With the Crop tool you can adjust the aspect ratio, and also fine-tune all four edges or corners of the photo independently. This provides considerably more control over how the image is actually cropped. However, if you’re able to achieve the desired cropping with either approach, the image quality will not be worse with one over the other.

Losing Metadata in Transfer

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Today’s Question: I have a MacBook Air that I travel with and a MacBook Pro to process photos when I get home to make final adjustments. However, while away I will start to review, delete and process images. I transfer images from Air to Pro on my return by dragging from the laptop hard disk to my personal cloud hard drive. Then I drag a copy back from the personal cloud on to my Pro. My issue is that when I do this, I lose the ratings and a record of the adjustments that I made [in Lightroom Classic CC], so I have to start again. How would you recommend I solve this?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In this case you are effectively only bringing your photos to your home computer, leaving many of the metadata updates behind with the Lightroom catalog on your traveling computer. To solve this issue you’ll want to instead merge your traveling catalog into your master catalog whenever you return home.

More Detail: By default Lightroom Classic CC only saves metadata (and other) updates to the catalog. Even if you enable the option in Catalog Settings to automatically write changes to the XMP sidecar files, only standard metadata updates are written to the source images. Lightroom-specific features such as Collections, Pick/Reject flags, Virtual Copies, and more, will not be preserved in this way.

Therefore, when you work with a traveling catalog while away from your master catalog, you’ll want to merge those catalogs upon your return. This involves using the “Import from Another Catalog” command found on the File menu in Lightroom.

For example, upon returning home you could copy your traveling catalog and photos to an external hard drive if they aren’t already on such a drive. You can then connect that drive to the computer with your master catalog, and open that master catalog in Lightroom. Then go to the menu and choose File > Import from Another Catalog. This will enable you to import photos from a different catalog, so that all updates you applied in your traveling catalog while away from home will be preserved upon import into your master catalog.

You can learn more about this process with the lessons in my “Tim’s Real Organizational Workflow” course in the GreyLearning library here:

https://www.greylearning.com/courses/lrcc-05

Two Cards as Backup

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Today’s Question: Regarding your answer about backing up hard drives while traveling, what do you think of simply capturing images to two media cards to avoid the additional weight of hard drives in the first place?

Tim’s Quick Answer: This is mostly a good strategy, as long as your camera supports recording to multiple cards at the same time. However, this approach includes the risk of permanently losing photos if your camera is lost, and in most cases does not provide a backup solution for video captures.

More Detail: In my recent answer about backing up while traveling, I explained that I travel with pairs of hard drives, frequently updating the backup drive based on the master drive through the use of synchronization software (http://timgrey.me/greybackup).

This approach, of course, means that I am often traveling with more than a few hard drives. That can be challenging in many cases, of course, but in my case I generally need access to photos and data when I am traveling for extended periods of time.

If you don’t have a need to bring hard drives for photos and other data, simply configuring your camera to record photos to two media cards at the same time provides you with a reasonable backup solution.

Of course, this means you need to have a camera that supports writing data to two cards at the same time. And as noted above, many cameras with this option are only able to write photos to two cards, with video captures only being written to a single card.

In addition, if you are using this approach, I recommend trying to keep the two cards stored separately to the extent possible. It is also important to keep in mind that when writing photos to two cards in the camera, if the camera is lost you will have lost the photos on the cards in the camera, since there would be no opportunity for an external backup.

When traveling there is no perfect solution for keeping your data safe. The key is to do your best to balance the safety of your photos and other important data with convenience. Backing up in some form along the way helps, and you might even incorporate an online backup as part of your overall workflow in order to ensure you have a backup stored at a completely different location as well.

50mm for Better Photography?

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Today’s Question: I often hear the advice to use a 50mm lens in order to improve your photography. But I don’t understand. How will this particular focal length make your photography better?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The advice to use a 50mm lens to improve your photography is two-fold. One, having a restriction on your photography can force you to think a little more creatively as a photographer. Second, a 50mm lens has a field of view similar to human vision, which enables you to “see” with the camera similar to how you see the world with your own eyes.

More Detail: Practice can obviously help you improve just about any skill, including photographic composition. As with many other forms of practice, when you place certain restrictions on yourself you can develop specific skills with greater focus.

For example, many exercises you might be given in a photography class are really placing restrictions on what you do. If a photography instructor tells you to focus on subjects that exhibit repeating patterns, you are essentially restricted from photographing any subject that does not exhibit repeating patterns.

When a restriction is placed on you as a photographer, you need to think a bit more about how to accomplish a given task. That, in turn, can help improve your skills as a photographer, making composition come a little more naturally, for example.

One very common approach to restricting your options when practicing photography is to use a prime lens rather than a zoom lens. The result is that you must change your position in order to change the framing of the scene, rather than simply adjusting the zoom on the lens.

When being limited to a prime lens, the 50mm lens is a common choice because this lens has a field of view that is very close to that of human vision (on a 35mm camera system). This provides the additional benefit of using a lens that provides a field of view similar to your own eyes, which means you can practice composition using your eyes even when you don’t have your camera.

I do find that restricting your photographic options, even if in a completely arbitrary way, can help you think more and become more creative as a photographer.

Backup While Traveling

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Today’s Question: I know you travel rather extensively. What do you do about backing up your photos during your travels? And do you leave a backup at home when you’re gone?

Tim’s Quick Answer: When I’m traveling I always bring a backup drive to go along with any “master” drive I bring. And I do indeed leave an updated backup at home before departing on any trip.

More Detail: My preferred method of backing up is to synchronize the contents of each master drive to a matched backup drive. Therefore, when I’m traveling I pack drives in pairs. That might mean, for example, a master photos drive and the backup for it, as well as a master data drive and its backup.

So, whenever downloading photos while traveling, I am downloading to my master photos drive. I also take advantage of the option in Lightroom’s import process to create a second copy of the photos being imported to the internal hard drive on my computer. When that process is completed, I also perform a synchronization backup for the master photos drive to the backup photos drive. I use a software application called GoodSync for this purpose, which you can find here:

http://timgrey.me/greybackup

As noted above, before departing on a trip I also update an additional backup copy of all drives I’ll be traveling with, just in case anything should go wrong with my storage while away from home.

In theory I also take advantage of online storage to at least backup my most important photos while traveling. That might include, for example, all photos to which I have assigned a star rating during my trip. Unfortunately, because I often do not have a fast Internet connection when traveling, this is a backup option I’m not always able to take advantage of.

The key to me is to first make sure you have a full backup that you are leaving behind when you depart home, and to ensure you have at least one backup on a separate drive for all photos you capture and download while traveling.

Vibrance and Saturation

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Today’s Question: I recently read some Photoshop image-optimization advice to increase Vibrance while at the same time decreasing Saturation a little (in either Lightrom or Adobe Camera Raw). And then I observed the same behavior when clicking the Auto button [for automatic adjustments in the Basic set of adjustments]. Why would this be recommended and what’s the effect on the image when doing so?

Tim’s Quick Answer: This is indeed a good approach that I often recommend. The basic idea is that Vibrance enables you to bring up the saturation of colors that aren’t very saturated. However, sometimes that brings the total saturation up too high, and a slight reduction in the value for the Saturation slider provides a compensation in that case.

More Detail: When you increase saturation using Vibrance, the saturation is increased more for color that are not very saturated than for colors that are saturated. This helps you boost the overall saturation without causing relatively highly saturated colors to start looking somewhat cartoonish.

I see the Vibrance control as providing a method to essentially balance out the saturation levels in the image. As you increase the value for Vibrance, in effect the colors with relatively low saturation levels are getting closer in saturation to the colors that have relatively high saturation levels.

Sometimes, however, you may find that in order to bring the colors with low saturation close enough in overall saturation to the colors with high saturation, you need to push the Vibrance value up a bit too high.

The Saturation slider provides a more linear adjustment than the Vibrance slider does. So when you need a high setting for Vibrance to get the balance of color saturation right, you can use a negative value for the Saturation slider to lower the overall saturation for the image.

For example, with some images I’ll find that I need to push the Vibrance up to a value of 75 or more before the balance is right between colors in the image. But at that point the overall saturation might be too high. In that case, reducing the value for the Saturation slider a little (perhaps a value of negative 10, for example) improves the overall appearance of the photo.

Over-Sharpening Risks

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Today’s Question: How concerned should I really be about over-sharpening photos in Lightroom [Classic CC]? Doesn’t Lightroom limit the amount of sharpening you can apply, so there isn’t much risk of sharpening too much?

Tim’s Quick Answer: While Lightroom Classic CC does indeed significantly limit the amount of sharpening you can apply to an image (compared to, for example, Photoshop), it is still very easy to apply too much sharpening. When an image is over-sharpened you can see edge halos and other visible artifacts in an image, which detract from the overall appearance of the photo.

More Detail: There are a handful of adjustments that many photographers seem to fall into a trap with, thinking that “if a little is good, a lot must be great”. Sharpening tends to be one of those adjustments, along with saturation and a handful of others.

The primary risk of sharpening an image too much is that there will be visible artifacts. This can be a simple appearance of excessive texture that I refer to as a “crunchy” appearance. Another common side effect of sharpening that is too aggressive is the appearance of bright halos along contrast edges within the photo.

In general it is the size of the sharpening effect that is most critical when it comes to visible artifacts. As a general rule, a value between around 0.6 and 1.0 works well for typical photographic images. Higher values should generally only be used with images that don’t contain much fine texture.

The Amount setting determines the overall strength of the sharpening effect, and generally a value ranging between about 50 and 75 works well, depending on the image. Going much higher, especially if the Radius is set above 1.0, will increase the risk of visible artifacts in the image.

So while Lightroom does limit the degree of sharpening you can apply in the Develop module compared to what is possible with other tools, there is still a risk of visible artifacts in the image if you apply settings that are too aggressive.

One Storage Device?

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Today’s Question: I have been following you for a number of years and fully agree with your statement about having only one Lightroom catalog. But your statement about a “single storage device” is now confusing to me. Are you saying to use only one drive? This would entail using a 20TB hard drive for me! I have 7 LaCie externals and to put all photos on a single storage device does not make sense if it fails. I also backup regularly to these drives.

Tim’s Quick Answer: In terms of streamlining a photographer’s overall workflow, I do think that whenever possible it is best to store all master photos on a single storage device. Just to be clear, however, that is not to suggest that you shouldn’t also have at least one (and ideally more than one) complete backup of all of your photos on a separate storage device.

More Detail: As outlined in a previous Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter (from January 2, 2019), I highly recommend using a single Lightroom catalog to manage all of your photos. This enables you to simply launch Lightroom with your single catalog anytime you’re looking for a photo, without the added step of needing to know which of multiple catalogs the photo might be contained in.

Similarly, I recommend using a single storage device for storing all of the master copies of your photos. In other words, I recommend not spreading your master photos across multiple storage devices. I fully realize that for many photographers their storage capacity exceeds what a single hard drive is capable of. In fact, I myself have run into this issue.

I prefer to use bus-powered hard drives, and I also prefer ruggedized drives since I spend so much time traveling. The drives I’m currently using have a capacity of four terabytes. My total photo library is about six terabytes. So I’ve had to spread my photos across two hard drives.

Of course, there are other solutions that provide more storage in a single device, including RAID devices that make multiple hard drives in a single case appear as a single hard drive to the computer’s operating system. These, however, are not exactly portable, so they don’t work well for me.

And, of course, when I make reference to having photos on a single drive, that is only referring to the master copy of photos, not backup copies. I highly recommend always maintaining at least one (and ideally two or more) full backups of all of your photos and other important data. Those backup copies should also ideally be stored in a location separate from the master drives you’re regularly using.

Sharpening Technique

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Today’s Question: I have a few questions related to sharpening in Lightroom Classic CC. I find that moving the Sharpening Amount slider to about 60-65 seems to be about the right amount for my images. How dependent is sharpening on the camera and/or lens? And, the subject matter? Is sharpening something that you would consider automating during the import process to save time? I’ll assume that masking should be done on a per image basis.

Tim’s Quick Answer: Optimal sharpening settings will vary based on the camera and lens, as well as the content of the image. For that reason it is best to customize all of the sharpening settings for each image. That said, you could most certainly update the default settings to be closer to what you prefer to use when sharpening your photos.

More Detail: As noted previously in the Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter, the sharpening available in the Develop module in Lightroom Classic CC is intended for compensating for factors that reduce sharpness in the original capture, not for finalizing a photo for output such as printing. As such, this sharpening should be relatively modest.

By default a very small amount of sharpening is applied by Lightroom. Most photos will benefit from an increased level of sharpening. However, the optimal settings for a given image will vary. It is therefore best to evaluate each image individually to find the best sharpening settings.

An Amount value of around 60 or so is perfectly reasonable, provided the Radius is left at a relatively low value of about 1.0 or lower. That’s not to say these settings will work well for all photos from all cameras, but they are reasonable values for many photos.

So, while I don’t recommend applying the same sharpening settings to all photos, I do think it is perfectly reasonable to establish different default values than Lightroom employs. This can be done by creating a preset in the Develop module that contains only the adjustments you want to apply by default to all images. That preset can then be applied to all photos during import, or even to large batches of photos later in your workflow using the Saved Preset popup in the Quick Develop section of the right panel in the Library module.

Capture Time for Analog

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Today’s Question: I am about to embark on a project to copy about 10K slides with my 5D Mark IV. These slides range from the 1950s to 2006. Since the RAW files will have the digital capture date, should I change the digital capture date in Lightroom after import to the date the slide was actually captured or should I use some other metadata field to record the actual slide capture date and leave the digital capture date alone?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I do think it is a good practice to set the capture date for analog images to a date as close as possible to the original date of capture. In the case of photographing slides, I actually recommend changing the date on the camera, rather than saving that step for after importing the photos into Lightroom.

More Detail: Capture time is obviously useful for locating images, and for referencing when a photo was captured. For analog images that are scanned or photographed, the capture time in metadata will obviously be wrong in terms of when the source image was captured. I think it can be very helpful to update the capture time for those images to a value that is as close as possible to when the source image was actually captured.

Obviously in many cases it may be difficult or impossible to determine when a specific image was captured. I recommend developing a system in advance so you can best manage this issue. For example, you might always set the date to the earliest (or latest) date you believe matches the date of capture. You could also use the month and day values to help identify that the date is not necessarily known precisely. For example, you could use January 1st as the date for any photo where the year is not known precisely.

You could even use the time to represent specific situations about your knowledge (or lack thereof) of the date of capture. And, of course, other metadata fields could be updated with notes indicating what you know about the original capture.

As noted above, I do think it is generally easier to set the camera to the date you want to establish for the image. This will help streamline your overall workflow and help you keep the images more organized. But of course it is also possible to use the “Edit Capture Time” command in Lightroom to adjust the date and time later in your workflow.