Adjustments within Collections

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Today’s Question: If I am working with an image in a collection in Lightroom Classic and apply changes in the Develop module, what happens [with the original image versus the image in the collection]?

Tim’s Quick Answer: By default, an image in a collection is simply a reference to the original, so applying changes to the image in the collection would cause the original in the applicable folder to be updated as well. If you added the image to the collection as a virtual copy, then only that virtual copy would be affected with the changes not applying to the original.

More Detail: There are two common points of confusion among photographers here as it relates to Lightroom Classic. The first is the difference between photos in collections versus folders, and the second is the difference between the original image and a virtual copy.

When you drag an image to a collection, you’re really just making a reference to the original image (by default) within that collection. A collection provides a quick way to get to specific photos, such as images that are being included in a specific project such as a calendar. An image in a collection is really just an image with a bit of metadata being updated to indicate the image is in a collection. This is similar in concept to adding a keyword or assigning a star rating. All of these options provide ways you can track down specific photos later.

So, the key thing to understand about a collection is that when you add a photo to a collection in Lightroom Classic you aren’t making a copy of the original image on your hard drive. You’re simply adding a reference to the photo to the collection, with the original photo still residing in the applicable folder on your hard drive.

A virtual copy provides the opportunity to have two or more interpretations of the same original photo. So, your original image might be optimized in color, and then you create a virtual copy for a black and white interpretation, and then you make another virtual copy for a sepia-tone interpretation. As with collections, when you make a virtual copy, you aren’t duplicating the original photo on your hard drive, but rather creating an additional set of metadata, so that there can be more than one interpretation of the original photo.

If you simply drag a photo to a collection, it is added as a reference to the original, so changes to the image in the collection will affect the image in the folder, and changes to the image in the folder will affect the image in the collection. That’s because both of the images are really just references to the same photo.

If you add a virtual copy to a collection, changes made to the virtual copy will affect the virtual copy that is visible elsewhere (such as in the folder) but will not affect the original version of the image. If you select one or more photos and create a new collection, in the dialog for creating the new collection you’ll have the opportunity to add the selected photos to the collection, as well as to add them as virtual copies if you want the references in the collection to represent different versions of the original photos.

Virtual Copy to Real Photo

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Today’s Question: When you make Virtual Copies [in Lightroom Classic], can you print from them and save them as a photo on your hard drive?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, virtual copies can be printed or otherwise shared just like the original image. And you can export a virtual copy from Lightroom Classic to create an actual file on your hard drive, including a copy of the original raw capture with a separate set of adjustments contained within an XMP “sidecar” file.

More Detail: A virtual copy in Lightroom Classic is simply an additional set of adjustments and metadata for an image. So, if you have been optimizing a raw capture as a color image in the Develop module, for example, you could create a virtual copy of that image and apply adjustments that interpret the image as black and white.

You could even make additional virtual copies based on the same original image, so that you could have multiple interpretations of the same photo.

If you print or otherwise share a virtual copy, you’re simply processing the original raw capture with different settings. So, in the example above you could print the original raw capture to create a color print, or print from the virtual copy to print the exact same original raw capture but with a black and white interpretation.

You can also export a virtual copy from Lightroom Classic, which would be the same as exporting the original raw capture, except with different settings (such as black and white in the example above). You could even export a virtual copy using the “Original” option for the File Format setting during export. That would create a copy of the original raw capture, but with an XMP “sidecar” file that includes adjustments converting the image to black and white. So, if that raw capture were imported into a Lightroom Classic catalog or opened in Photoshop, you would see the black and white interpretation based on the raw capture.

Virtual Copies in Lightroom Classic can certainly be a little confusing. But if you keep in mind that a virtual copy simply represents different metadata and adjustments based on the same raw capture, I think that will help you better understand Virtual Copies.

In-Camera Adjustments

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Today’s Question: What are your thoughts on camera settings where you can adjust level of sharpness, etc.? Is it good or bad to use these options?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The in-camera adjustments that alter the overall appearance of a photo will not actually apply to a raw capture, and of course I recommend using raw capture in general. So, for raw captures the only reason to use these in-camera adjustments is if you find it helpful for reviewing the preview on the camera’s LCD display, which will reflect the adjustments you apply.

More Detail: The general in-camera adjustments that enable you to refine saturation, sharpness, or even convert to black and white, will not actually apply to a raw capture. If you apply these adjustments in-camera you’ll see the effect in the preview on the LCD display, but when you process the raw capture on your computer those adjustments will no longer be visible.

So, for raw capture the only reason to consider applying these in-camera adjustments is if those adjustments are helpful for reviewing the image on the camera’s LCD display. For example, if you tend to convert most photos to black and white, it can be helpful to set your camera to convert to black and white at the time of capture. The raw capture will still be in color when you download the image to your computer, but the black and white preview on the camera can be helpful for evaluating the image at the time of capture.

For other capture formats, such as JPEG, these in-camera adjustments will indeed alter the appearance of the image. While that can be helpful in some cases, I generally recommend saving those adjustments for later in your workflow when you are at your computer with a larger display and more control over the adjustments being applied.

Controlling the Quick Selection Tool

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Today’s Question: When using the Quick Selection tool [in Photoshop], is there a way to change how wide of colors the brush recognizes?

Tim’s Quick Answer: No, the Quick Selection tool does not include a setting such as the Tolerance control for the Magic Wand tool. However, you can improve your results by setting the right brush size with a hard-edged brush, and by using the “add” and “subtract” options to refine the selection.

More Detail: The Quick Selection tool is something of a more intelligent version of the Magic Wand tool for creating selections in Photoshop. The Magic Wand tool uses a simple range of values based on the area you sample and the current setting for Tolerance. Pixel values are evaluated strictly based on whether the tonal value for a pixel on each channel (red, green, and blue typically) is within the defined range compared to the sample value.

The Quick Selection tool uses a similar approach of sampling the image, but in a more sophisticated way. In effect, the Quick Selection tool is attempting to find the edge of the area you’re trying to select, based on painting in the image to define the color and tonal values for the area you’re attempting to select.

You can help improve the accuracy of the sampling with the Quick Selection tool by using a small enough brush to make sure you don’t paint into areas beyond the area you’re trying to select. In addition, I recommend setting the Hardness value on the brush popup on the Options bar to 100%. This will help you be more precise with the Quick Selection tool, especially when you’re painting close to the edge of the area you are trying to select.

To help improve the quality of the selection edge, you can use the Add and Subtract options. The Quick Selection tool switches to the Add option after the first time you paint with the tool, but I am still in the habit of holding the Shift key on the keyboard to access the Add feature, since that is the same keyboard shortcut used by the other selection tools. With the Add feature enabled, you can paint over additional parts of the area of the image you want to select to sample those additional areas.

If an area you don’t want included in the selection becomes selected, you can choose the Subtract option from the Options bar, or hold the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on Macintosh while painting over the area of the image you want to subtract from the selection.

While it can be helpful to have a selection that is absolutely perfect, keep in mind that if you are going to be using that selection as the basis of a layer mask for a targeted adjustment or composite image, you can always refine that layer mask later in your workflow, which is often easier than trying to fine-tune a selection.

Photoshop without Lightroom Classic

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Today’s Question: I’m a Lightroom Classic user, but I admittedly have opened photos in Photoshop directly. Do I have to import that revised photo into Lightroom Classic? Also, will I lose the history of the changes if I opened in Photoshop directly, then imported into Lightroom Classic?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The specific impact here would depend on some of the particular details of the file type and workflow used, but Lightroom Classic would not reflect the work you had done using Photoshop unless you import photos or synchronize metadata.

More Detail: I recommend sending images from Lightroom Classic to Photoshop using the Photo > Edit In > Edit in Adobe Photoshop command from the menu, rather than opening an image directly in Photoshop. What happens if you open an image directly in Photoshop depends on some of the specific details.

If you open a raw capture directly in Photoshop, you’ll be presented with the Camera Raw interface to make changes to the adjustment settings. This is effectively the same as the Develop module in Lightroom Classic. Any changes made in Camera Raw would not be reflected in Lightroom Classic unless you then synchronized the metadata from the image on the hard drive. Of course, when you synchronize in this way there is a risk that information that had been updated in Lightroom Classic could be lost, depending on the timing of the changes.

If you create a derivative image in Photoshop, such as by saving the image that results from the processing with Camera Raw, that image will not be included in your Lightroom Classic catalog unless you import that photo. In this type of situation, I recommend synchronizing the folder that contains that derivative image, assuming you’ve saved the derivative image in the same folder as the original raw capture.

To synchronize a folder in Lightroom Classic in order to import photos in that folder that are not included in the catalog you can right-click on the folder and choose Synchronize Folder from the popup menu. In the dialog that appears you’ll be able to see how many “new” photos are in that folder, with the option to import them into the catalog.

Again, I recommend sending photos from Lightroom Classic to Photoshop in order to avoid the potential confusion that can result from opening photos directly in Photoshop instead. For a raw capture sent to Photoshop from Lightroom Classic, when you’re finished working in Photoshop be sure to use the File > Save command (not Save As) to update the derivative image on the hard drive, and then close the image. You will then find that new derivative image alongside the original within your Lightroom Classic catalog.

50% Gray versus 18% Gray

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Today’s Question: In Tuesday’s answer you cite a 50% gray value for the exposure metering target. I thought the calibration was for 18% gray. When did that change?

Tim’s Quick Answer: While it may sound a little confusing at first, the “50% gray” and “18% gray” here actually refer to the same shade of “middle gray”.

More Detail: In a recent edition of the Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter about metering and exposure compensation, I made reference to the fact that a camera’s exposure meter is trying to set an exposure so that the area you metered off of will appear with a brightness equivalent to 50% gray in the photo. Many photographers are of course familiar with the concept of using an “18% gray card” as the basis of exposure metering. So it is reasonable to be confused by these two different percentages.

The two shades of gray are in fact the exact same shade of middle gray, just being described in a different way.

Middle gray, or 50% gray, is perhaps the easiest concept to understand here. This is a shade of gray that is halfway between white and black. In Photoshop, for example, this is the shade of gray that would have a brightness value of 50%, or for an RGB image in the 8-bit per channel mode that would mean a value of 128 for red, 128 for green, and 128 for blue.

A standard “18% gray” gray card is also intended to be middle gray, but with a different way of describing the shade of gray. Specifically, an 18% gray card reflects 18% of the light striking the surface of the card.

To slightly complicate things further, many cameras have their exposure meters calibrated for 12% reflectance rather than 18% reflectance, which means the exposure for an 18% gray card won’t necessarily be an accurate exposure. However, if you tilt the 18% gray card away from the camera at a 45-degree angle while taking a meter reading, you’ll have about 12% reflectance and therefore an accurate metering. The result will be that the gray card would appear middle gray in the final image.

Needless to say, even simple concepts can get a little bit confusing when they are described in different ways, without it being clear that there is a difference.

Lab Color Model

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Today’s Question: Do you ever use the Lab color model?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I don’t typically convert images into the Lab color model, but that is actually the color model that is used in the background in terms of a color-managed workflow. That said, the Lab color model can be useful for a variety of tasks related to optimizing an image.

More Detail: I’m sure most photographers are familiar with the RGB color model, where colors are described based on how much red, green, and blue light is added together to produce a given color. Another common color model is CMYK, which describes the amount of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink must be combined to produce a given color in a print.

In the Lab color model there are three channels. The “L” channel specifies the luminance or brightness value for a given color. The “a” channel describes the color on a red/green axis, and the “b” channel describes the color on a blue/yellow axis.

The Lab color model is unique in that it is a device-independent color model. In other words, you can think of the color values as being absolute in terms of describing a specific color. By contrast, RGB values depend upon a specific profile, such as one that describes the unique behavior of a given monitor display. In other words, the actual color that results from combining specific values for red, green, and blue will vary based on the device and profile being used.

This is the reason the Lab color model is often at the center of a color-managed workflow. In effect, the color values in the image are interpreted to the Lab color model, and then converted again to color values to send to the printer based on a profile for the specific printer, ink, and paper combination being used.

You can also convert an image to the Lab color model with software such as Photoshop. One of the advantages of doing so is that the tonal information is separated from the color information. So, for example, you could focus your sharpening on the L (luminance) channel to ensure that sharpening doesn’t alter the colors in an image.
Some photographers also prefer to use Lab for color correction, since the two color channels are separate from the luminance channel. And you can apply various creative effects using special techniques with the Lab color model.

For my purposes the Lab color model doesn’t provide a benefit that would cause me to convert an image to Lab. However, as noted above, I absolutely benefit from the Lab color model in my photography, since Lab is the foundation of a color-managed workflow.

More than Five Color Labels

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Today’s Question: Can you create more than five different color labels?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, you can create more than the five “standard” color labels, though doing so may cause some confusion in terms of how the color labels are displayed in the software you’re using to manage your photos.

More Detail: Most software designed for managing photos includes support for a color label feature, enabling you to mark photos with a red, yellow, green, blue, or purple color label.

However, those color labels aren’t actually colors at all. Rather, the color label represents the Label field in metadata, which like other metadata fields simply stores a series of characters. As a result, it is possible to use the color label feature in a way that goes beyond the way this feature is typically implemented.

What that really means is that you could put any word you’d like into the Label field in metadata. However, doing so won’t likely provide the expanded functionality you might have been hoping for.

As an example, Lightroom Classic uses the name of the color as the word that is added to the Label field when you apply a color label. So, if you assign a red color label to a photo, the word “Red” is added to the Label field.

You could also manually add any word you’d like to the Label field. For example, you might want to use the Label field to identify photos that need to be retouched by putting the word “Retouch” into the Label field.

Depending on the software you’re using, there may actually be some value to using this type of approach. For example, while adding the word “Retouch” won’t add a color label that displays one of the standard colors, the image will still be marked. Any photo in Lightroom Classic that has a value in the Label field in metadata that does not match the definitions used for the color label feature will be marked with a white color label.

That non-standard color label can even be filtered in Lightroom Classic in a couple of ways. Using the Attribute filter tab for the Library Filter bar, for example, you can choose to show images with the Custom (white) color label. In addition, on the Metadata tab you can select Label from the header for one of the columns, and then see a list of all color label names that have been used for the photos that are currently displayed.

You could even switch between different sets of color label definitions at different times, based on the task you’re currently performing in your workflow.

For example, let’s assume you want to use color labels with different labels based on tasks related to both organizing your photos and optimizing your photos. You could create a color label set for each in Lightroom Classic using the Edit Color Label Set dialog (Metadata > Color Label Set > Edit). You can create and then select the “Organizing” versus “Optimizing” color label set depending on the task you’re performing, and apply or review or filter based on those color labels.

With this approach, when you are working with the “Organizing” color label set, photos with color labels based on the “Optimizing” set will show a white color label, and the reverse would be true when working with the “Optimizing” color label set.

So, it is indeed possible to create and use more than five color labels, with some limitations. Just keep in mind if you’re thinking of adopting this type of approach that you can still only assign a single color label to a given image.

Is HDR Unnecessary?

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Today’s Question: Why use HDR [high dynamic range] when you can adjust shadows and highlights in Lightroom or Camera Raw?

Tim’s Quick Answer: High dynamic range (HDR) techniques enable you to retain full tonal detail in a photo, even when the contrast in the scene is too great to be contained within a single capture. If highlight and/or shadow detail is completely lost in a single photo, the Highlights and Shadows adjustments will not be able to recover that information.

More Detail: Many software tools for optimizing digital photos include controls that enable you to focus adjustments on just the brightest or darkest areas of a photo, including darkening bright areas and brightening dark areas. However, these adjustments will not provide a solution if all information was lost in the brightest or darkest areas of a photo.

In other words, HDR photography is not first and foremost about how you adjust the final image, but rather how you retain detail in the image is retained in the first place.

If a scene you are photographing exhibits significant dynamic range, such as having the sun in the frame but also having foreground subjects backlit, a single photo will not be able to contain the full range of tonal values. If you expose for the sun, the dark shadows will be completely blocked up. If you expose for the shadows the sun will be completely blown out.

In this type of situation, you can bracket the exposure and then blend those bracketed exposures into an HDR result. That HDR image can then be adjusted to determine how you interpret the final result, such as by adding a little contrast so the image doesn’t exhibit a strong “HDR look”.

Many HDR software applications are also capable of applying similar adjustments to single captures rather than only HDR images created from bracketed exposures. But the key is that if the scene exhibits greater contrast than can be contained within a single photo, you’ll need to use HDR techniques to retain full tonal range in the final image.

Metering and Compensation

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Today’s Question: Can you cover how to shoot a snow scene to avoid blown highlights?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Other than checking the histogram to confirm you haven’t lost highlight detail due to over-exposure, when photographing a scene with snow it can be helpful to meter directly off the snow and increase that exposure reading by about two stops for snow in full sun and by about one stop for snow in shade or under a full overcast sky.

More Detail: The meter in your camera can be thought of as trying to make whatever you meter off of have a brightness value of 50% gray. If you meter off of a gray card, that works pretty well. When metering off a general scene that can be a little tricky, and it can be especially challenging when there is snow in the scene.

In general, you would not want the snow in a scene to appear with a luminance value of middle gray. But there is also a risk of snow being blown out in a scene, especially if the snow represents a relatively small portion of the frame. For example, if the scene is mostly dark trees with small areas of snow, the camera will likely brighten the exposure based on the dark trees, possibly losing detail in the areas of bright snow.

You can obviously check your exposure after the capture by using the histogram display, for example. However, you can likely get more consistent and accurate exposures in this type of situation by metering off the snow in the first place and compensating for the exposure accordingly.

If the area of snow is relatively small in the frame you may need to switch to the Spot metering mode for your camera. You can then meter off the snow, which would result in an exposure where the snow appears quite dark. To compensate for the fact that the snow should be much closer to white than to middle gray, you need to increase the exposure based on the metering.

For snow in full sun, you will generally get a good exposure by increasing the exposure by two stops compared to the metered value. If the snow is in full shade or the sky condition is full overcast, increasing the exposure by one stop will probably suffice. You may need to fine-tune to get the best exposure, but this approach will work quite well most of the time.