Degradation with Adjustments

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Today’s Question: I generally make basic adjustments in Lightroom, such as Whites, Blacks, Highlights and Clarity. I then take the image into Photoshop where I make additional adjustments such as Tonal Contrast using Nik plug-ins, which I’ve used for years and love. Is making adjustments like that in both Lightroom and Photoshop (using 16-bit images) likely to have an adverse effect on the image quality? To my eye they look better and I haven’t noticed any gapping in the histogram.

Tim’s Quick Answer: The approach you describe will not cause any significant degradation in image quality. There is a theoretical disadvantage to applying multiple passes of adjustments to an image, but as long as those adjustments are relatively modest and you are working with a 16-bit per channel image, there won’t be a visible degradation in image quality.

More Detail: The core issue here is that adjustments can cause a certain degree of image degradation. Obviously the adjustment is aimed at improving the overall appearance of the image, but some degradation will occur. For example, many adjustments will reduce the smoothness of transitions of tone and color in an image. Increasing contrast or saturation will tend to have the strongest impact in this regard.

When you use multiple adjustment steps rather than a single step, there can be a compounding effect, where the final image has degraded more than if the final result had been achieved with fewer adjustments. So, for example, if you can produce the same final appearance in the photo with one adjustment rather than three, the image will exhibit better quality.

It is important to keep in mind that the differences here are generally going to be extremely minor, unless the adjustments are especially strong. In other words, with typical adjustments you wouldn’t be able to see a visual difference between two versions of an image processed with more versus fewer adjustments. It would require very detailed analysis to find any variation in pixel values under typical circumstances.

In addition, keep in mind that in many cases when you are applying adjustments in multiple steps, you aren’t actually having the same cumulative degradation in image quality. For example, in Lightroom all of the adjustments you apply don’t really alter pixel values until you export or otherwise share the photo. In other words, no matter how many times you move an individual slider in Lightroom’s Develop module, the result is as though you only moved the slider once to its final decision.

Especially when you are making use of specialized tools (such as a plug-in as described in today’s question), I wouldn’t hesitate at all to employ multiple adjustment tools in my workflow. When using a 16-bit per channel workflow, you don’t need to have any real concern about image degradation using a workflow such as this. That said, for 8-bit per channel images, these concerns can be very real indeed, especially for black and white photos.

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Image Versions

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Today’s Question: Does your recommendation to only use “Save” (not “Save As”) for images sent from Lightroom to Photoshop apply even if you want to keep the Photoshop-modified file as a separate version?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes. When you send a photo from Lightroom to Photoshop, you are already creating a derivative image file. Therefore, you don’t need to use the “Save As” command to create a new file. Lightroom will have already created that new file for you.

More Detail: When you send a RAW capture to Photoshop from Lightroom, a new image file will be created for you automatically. In the Preferences dialog you can go to the External Editing tab and choose whether you want that new file to be a Photoshop PSD file or a TIFF file, by choosing the preferred option from the “File Format” popup.

The fact that this image file is being created for you as part of this process is the reason you don’t need to use the “Save As” command in Photoshop. In effect, Photoshop already knows where to save the file and what the filename should be, because the file was already created by Lightroom and is simply being opened by Photoshop.

If you are working with a non-RAW capture, Lightroom will give you the choice of creating a new copy of the image, or opening the “original” version of the selected file. By choosing to create a new copy, you will likewise have a derivative image, and can still use the “Save” rather than “Save As” command in Photoshop.

The bottom line is that when you are using Lightroom to manage your photos, you want to initiate all tasks from within Lightroom. If you want an additional version of a photo that will be worked on in Photoshop, the creation of that additional version should be initiated in Lightroom.

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RAW with Lightroom Mobile

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Today’s Question: With the latest update to the mobile version of Lightroom, you can download RAW captures to your mobile device. That potentially means it would be possible to travel without a laptop, but does this really provide a reliable workflow for photography using RAW captures?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The latest update to the mobile version of Lightroom does indeed enable a RAW capture workflow while traveling without a laptop. To me, the key considerations to think about here are overall storage capacity and a good backup solution.

More Detail: First off, let’s consider overall storage capacity for downloading your RAW captures. The internal storage is somewhat limited with most mobile devices capable of running the mobile version of Lightroom. While there are mobile devices that provide up to around 256GB of storage, I find that many photographers are still using mobile devices limited to something closer to 64GB of storage. The key question is, will you have enough available storage space on your device to download the number of photos you capture on a typical trip?

External storage devices can obviously provide a degree of help here. If you connect an external hard drive to your mobile device, for example, you can solve your storage limitations very easily. But then you need to consider how much benefit you’re really getting from using a mobile device compared to a small laptop computer. Adding external storage drives may eliminate much of the benefit you would otherwise derive. Keep in mind, however, that some mobile devices enable you to expand capacity by inserting storage cards, rather than by connecting an external storage device.

I think it is also worthwhile to consider what your actual space savings (in terms of overall hardware) will be compared to the utility of the hardware you’re bringing along. While things are changing fast on this front, a laptop will generally be capable of better performance than a mobile device. In addition, if you’re bringing along external storage, a wireless keyboard, and other accessories, the mobile device might not save you all that much space compared to a small laptop.

It is also important to think about backing up your photos during your travels. In theory using Lightroom mobile solves this problem for you, because your captures will be synchronized to your desktop computer back at home using the Adobe Creative Cloud. However, if you have limited (or non-existent) Internet access, this may not provide an adequate solution. Once again, supplemental storage devices can be employed in many cases. You might also consider bringing along enough storage cards for your camera that you never need to reformat them. With this approach you can keep your backup copies of photos on your storage cards, with the copies downloaded via Lightroom mobile representing the new “master” versions of your photos.

The bottom line is that the latest updates to the mobile version of Lightroom most certainly improve the potential for an efficient workflow while traveling that doesn’t require you to bring a laptop computer with you. Instead, a smaller and lighter mobile device can provide the workflow solution you need while photographing on the go.

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DNG Benefits?

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Today’s Question: I am a wedding photographer and, along with my other photographers, sometimes take as many as 2000 pictures at a wedding. Of course, I upload these into Lightroom as soon as I get back to the studio (along with backing them up on two external hard drives). Downloading 2000 RAW picture into Lightroom takes a long time, but if I also convert them to DNGs, it takes a very long time. I realize that DNGs are smaller files and will save me space but is there any advantage or disadvantage to working with camera RAW images versus working on DNG images? I am tempted to just upload the camera RAW images and not convert them to DNGs to save time.

Tim’s Quick Answer: Personally, I would favor the use of the original RAW captures rather than converting to Adobe DNG, especially in a situation where you need to be able to work as quickly as possible.

More Detail: To be sure, as a general rule you can expect a RAW capture converted to an Adobe DNG file to have a file size that is around 20% smaller than the original RAW file. Your specific results may vary, but in general the DNG file will be smaller than the original RAW capture due to compression. And it should be noted that the compression used for those DNG images does not degrade image quality in any way.

It should be noted that there is not an issue with processing DNG versus RAW captures in the Develop module in Lightroom (or in Adobe Camera Raw). Overall image quality will be preserved with the conversion from a proprietary RAW capture to the Adobe DNG format.

Of course, as noted in today’s question, additional time is required to create a DNG image based on each original RAW capture, which adds additional time to your overall workflow. That additional time can be significant, especially when you are trying to hurry to get photos to clients.

There is another reason that I prefer to retain the original RAW captures rather than convert to DNG, related to how metadata is stored. I prefer to turn on the option on the Metadata tab in the Catalog Settings dialog in Lightroom to “Automatically write changes into XMP”. This causes key metadata values (such as star ratings and keywords) to be saved out to the original image file, or to an XMP “sidecar” file in the case of proprietary RAW captures.

Some photographers prefer to convert their RAW captures to the DNG file format for exactly this reason. They prefer not to have an XMP “sidecar” file for every RAW capture for which they’ve applied any standard metadata updates. With a DNG image, the metadata updates are added to the actual DNG file, without the need for a sidecar file.

My issue with this relates to my use of a synchronization-based backup solution. In short, each time I backup my photos I’m really just updating the existing backup based on which files have changed. In the case of a metadata update, the updated XMP file will be significantly smaller than the updated DNG file. So by not converting to DNG I’m also saving time with my backup workflow.

There are certainly some advantages to the Adobe DNG format as compared to proprietary RAW capture formats. But on balance my preference is to retain the original RAW captures, and to not convert my captures to DNG.

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Missing Photos After Photoshop

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Today’s Question: For reasons that are beyond me I find certain photos in Lightroom (often ones I have worked on in Photoshop and saved back to Lightroom) have been grayed out and I have no idea how to recover the file. Lightroom tells me the file is missing. Can you help?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I have found that the most common cause for missing photos in this specific scenario is that the “Save As” command was used in Photoshop. Instead, when you send a photo from Lightroom to Photoshop you want to only use the “Save” command, then close the image and return to Lightroom.

More Detail: The issue I describe here is clearly somewhat intermittent, and I’ve only been able to reproduce it a handful of times. However, I’ve seen enough photographers run into this that it is clear to me that it is an issue.

As a general rule, the most important step you can take to avoid having missing images in Lightroom is to make sure that all tasks you perform with your photos are initiated from within Lightroom. Whether you’re updating metadata, getting photos reorganized, optimizing the appearance of a photo, or anything else, that task should always start inside of Lightroom. Otherwise, the catalog will get confused as to the location of some of the photos being managed within the catalog.

As noted above, it is also important to make sure that when you send a photo from Lightroom to Photoshop (using the Edit In command found on the Photo menu), that you don’t use the Save As command within Photoshop. Instead, when you’re finished working in Photoshop, simply choose File > Save from the menu, followed by File > Close. This should ensure that the updated photo will always still be included within your Lightroom catalog, and will never appear to be “missing” from within that catalog.

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Gamut Warning for Black and White

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Today’s Question: For monochrome images ready to print, will any shade of gray ever be out of gamut? If not, do various rendering intent settings actually do anything at all, or will all produce the same print?

Tim’s Quick Answer: No, the gamut warning won’t be useful for black and white prints, at least for any normal printer. Put simply, all shades of gray will be considered to be within the gamut of any normal printer.

More Detail: When it comes to producing a print, the overall color and tonal values in your print are essentially “mapped” based on the behavior of the current printer, ink, and paper combination. White in the image will be translated to the color of the paper (meaning no ink will be applied), and black in the image will be translated to the darkest value the printer is able to reproduce.

All of the shades of gray in between are therefore going to be within the capabilities of the printer, since they fall somewhere between black and white and don’t require any color. You will generally only find that colors fall out of gamut when they are very highly saturated, so that the color goes beyond the saturation level of the inks being used to produce the print.

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Photoshop Version when Printing

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Today’s Question: Does allowing different Photoshop versions to control the printing with Epson printers produce different results?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In a general sense, no, different versions of Photoshop would not cause significant variations in the printed result. That said, there have been changes to the print engine in Photoshop over the years, which in particular have an impact on the specific settings available to you during the process of preparing a print.

More Detail: Photoshop has long supported established color management standards, which means each version enables you to employ a custom printer profile to produce an accurate print.

Of course, over the years there have been changes to the Print dialog as well as other features, causing changes to the specific workflow you need to use to produce an accurate print. Therefore, you need to pay attention to the specific settings being used when printing, to ensure you’re using the correct settings to produce the best print.

In addition, the settings available for the specific printer you’re using to produce the print can impact your workflow. For example, among different printer brands and even different printer models the dialog containing the printer settings is different, which can lead to confusion.

Whenever there is an update to the printer settings found in Photoshop, or there is a new configuration for the printer settings dialog, I invariably get a number of emails from photographers who are no longer getting accurate prints. The initial assumption is that the software update broke something. More often than not the actual issue is that the available settings (or default settings) changed with the software update, and configuring those settings correctly restores dependable printing.

So, while there have certainly some subtle changes over time in terms of how your image may be interpreted when printing, in general you will get consistent prints across various versions of Photoshop provided you are using the optimal print settings in each case.

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Camera Raw from Lightroom

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Today’s Question: When I right-click an image in Lightroom it does not give me the choice to open in Adobe Camera Raw, only to open in Photoshop CC. Can you give me a hint how to have the ability to open in Camera Raw from Lightroom?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In terms of a “normal” workflow with Lightroom, you’re not able to send an image from Lightroom to Adobe Camera Raw. The primary reason for this is that the Develop module in Lightroom provides the same processing engine as Adobe Camera Raw, so when you send a photo from Lightroom to Photoshop there’s no need to put Adobe Camera Raw in the middle of that process.

More Detail: In other words, at least in concept there shouldn’t be any need to use Adobe Camera Raw if you have processed an image in the Develop module in Lightroom and then want to send the photo to Photoshop.

If you still want to employ Adobe Camera Raw in this type of situation, you do have a couple of workaround options available.

First, you could export the image from Lightroom using the “Original” option from the Image Format popup in the File Settings section of the Export dialog. You can then open that RAW capture in Photoshop, which will cause the Adobe Camera Raw dialog to appear.

Another option is to employ Adobe Camera Raw as a filter, so you can perform the same adjustments on an image that is currently open in Photoshop. In the case of sending a photo from Lightroom to Photoshop the image in question will no longer be a RAW capture (it will be a TIFF or Photoshop PSD file instead, based on your Preferences settings in Lightroom). However, you can still use Adobe Camera Raw on that image by employing the filter option.

In this type of situation if you wanted to use Adobe Camera Raw as a filter I would suggest first creating a copy of the Background image layer by dragging the thumbnail for that layer to the “Create a New Layer” button (the blank sheet of paper icon) at the bottom of the Layers panel. Note that you could also convert to a Smart Object if you prefer, using the Filter > Convert for Smart Filters from the menu.

You can then choose Filter > Camera Raw Filter from the menu to bring up the Adobe Camera Raw dialog. All of the same adjustments you would otherwise use for a RAW capture will be available for the current image, simply being applied as a filter within Photoshop rather than as tool for processing the RAW capture upon opening that image in Photoshop.

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Finding Out of Gamut Colors

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Today’s Question: One follow up [to yesterday’s question]: How would I know what colors are actually out of gamut? What colors are in and not in gamut?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The key to determining which (or whether) colors are out of gamut for the intended print is to perform a “soft proofing” check. In Lightroom or Photoshop, for example, you can enable a soft proofing display along with an indication of which colors are out of gamut based on the printer, ink, and paper combination you intend to use to produce a print.

More Detail: In Lightroom the soft proofing feature is available in the Develop module. The reason this option is included in Develop rather than the Print module is that you have the option of applying custom adjustments to the image in an effort to compensate to the extent possible for the limitations of the intended print conditions.

After selecting the image you intend to print, you can go to the Develop module and turn on the “Soft Proofing” checkbox on the toolbar below the image preview area. This will open up a soft proofing section below the histogram display toward the top of the right panel. There you can set the appropriate printer profile for the paper you intend to print to, and also specify the desired rendering intent. I recommend turning on the “Simulate Paper & Ink” checkbox as well to get a better sense of what the overall print will look like.

At this point you are seeing a preview on your monitor of what the print will look like. To display the gamut warning, click (or hover your mouse over) the “Show Destination Gamut Warning” icon (the blank sheet of paper icon) at the top-right of the histogram display. This will present a red overlay on the image indicating any areas that contain colors the currently selected printer, ink, and paper combination is not capable of reproducing.

In Photoshop you can also enable a gamut warning display. Start by configuring the soft proofing display, which you can get started with by choosing View > Proof Setup > Custom from the menu. In the Customize Proof Condition dialog that appears, you can choose the applicable printer profile from the “Device to Simulate” popup. Then set the Rendering Intent based on your preference, and turn on the “Black Point Compensation” checkbox. I also recommend turning on the “Simulate Paper Color” and “Simulate Black Ink” checkboxes so the preview will more accurately reflect what you can expect to see in the final print.

Click OK to apply the settings for soft proofing, which will also cause the “Proof Colors” option to be enabled on the View menu. In other words, at this point you are seeing a preview of what the final print will look like. To enable the gamut warning, simply choose View > Gamut Warning from the menu. By default the overlay on the image indicating areas of the photo that are out of gamut will be gray, but you can change the color on the Transparency & Gamut page of the Preferences dialog in Photoshop.

The soft proofing display can be tremendously helpful for getting a better sense of what a given print will look like. It can also be used as part of your process for choosing which paper might make the most sense for a particular photo. The gamut warning can be helpful in advance of making a print, but it is also a useful troubleshooting tool when the print you produce doesn’t look as expected.

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Rendering Intent

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Today’s Question: I see from some of your videos on printing that you have “Relative” intent highlighted versus “Perceptual” on the Lightroom panel under color management. Do you use “Relative” all the time or is it based on what you’re printing?

Tim’s Quick Answer: As a general rule I us the “Relative” option when printing from Lightroom (or Photoshop), which is actually the “Relative Colorimetric” rendering intent. This is because of my preference regarding how out-of-gamut colors in my photos should be dealt with when printing.

More Detail: The reason I generally prefer to use the Relative Colorimetric rendering intent rather than Perceptual relates to how these individual rendering intents operate.

First, for those who are not familiar, a rendering intent determines how out of gamut colors are dealt with when printing an image. In other words, if the current printer, ink, and paper combination can’t reproduce a given color in the photo, what color should be printed instead?

With the Relative Colorimetric rendering intent, the colors that can be reproduced will be printed exactly as they appear in the image being printed. Colors that are out of gamut (those that can’t be reproduced) will be shifted to the closest reproducible color value. So, in-gamut colors print accurately, and out-of-gamut colors print as accurately as possible.

With the Perceptual rendering intent, if there are any out-of-gamut colors in the image then all colors will be shifted until they are all in-gamut. The advantage of this approach is that the relative relationships between colors are maintained, which can result in a more natural looking print in situations where there are a large number of colors that are somewhat significantly out of gamut. However, this can also result in a potentially significant reduction in overall saturation for the print, depending on how far the applicable colors fall out of gamut.

The primary reason I prefer the Relative Colorimetric rendering intent is that I prefer to keep as many of the colors in the image as accurate in the print as possible. The only time I will generally consider using the Perceptual rendering intent is when I know there are colors in the image that are extremely out of gamut.

For most of the images I print there don’t tend to be colors that are extremely out of gamut. So, I almost always use the Relative Colorimetric rendering intent, but I’m certainly not opposed to using the Perceptual rendering intent when it enables me to produce a better print.

Note, by the way, that soft proofing your image in Lightroom or Photoshop can help you make an informed decision about which rendering intent to use for a specific photo.

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