Dodge and Burn Technique


Today’s Question: Do you still prefer your “Overlay” technique for dodging and burning in Photoshop, rather than using the Dodge and Burn tools?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, I do prefer using the dodging and burning technique that employs the Overlay (or Soft Light) blend mode in conjunction with the Brush too, rather than using the Dodge and Burn tools. The primary reason relates to workflow efficiency and flexibility, since this approach makes it easier to switch back and forth between lightening and darkening areas of the image.

More Detail: The Dodge and Burn tools in Photoshop were updated not too long ago, and the result was an improvement in the results you can expect from these tools. However, these tools still involve switching back and forth between tools when you want to lighten versus darken specific areas of a photo.

By making use of the Overlay (or Soft Light) blend mode on a separate layer and then painting with black or white at a reduced Opacity setting using the Brush tool, you can switch between lightening or darkening just by pressing the letter “X” on the keyboard. That keyboard shortcut switches the foreground and background colors shown at the bottom of the toolbox. So if you press “D” first to set the colors to their defaults of black and white, you can then switch between those colors just by pressing “X” on the keyboard.

I prefer to work on a separate layer for this technique, of course. Therefore the first step is to create a new layer. Hold the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on Macintosh while clicking on the Create a New Layer button (the blank sheet of paper icon) at the bottom of the Layers panel. In the New Layer dialog you can enter a name, choose the Overlay (or Soft Light) blend mode from the Mode popup, and turn on the “Fill with Overlay-neutral color (50% gray)” checkbox. Click OK to create the layer.

Then choose the Brush tool, and set the Opacity control on the Options bar to around 10% to 20%. Then paint with black on the new layer you created to darken areas of the photo, and paint with white to lighten.

I prefer the results and workflow I’m able to achieve with this approach over using the Dodge and Burn tools, and also over the technique of using separate adjustment layers (such as Curves) in conjunction with a layer mask.

RAID for Backup


Today’s Question: Do you use a RAID system and keep copies of discs in various locations?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I don’t personally use RAID as part of my overall backup workflow, in large part because I prioritize having my backup copies of photos and data stored on separate physical devices from my primary storage.

More Detail: There are a wide variety of implementations for RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks), but most of them focus on creating a backup copy of all of your data in real time. In general, you can think of these types of RAID implementations as causing your computer to write data to two (or more) drives at once whenever you make any updates to your data.

An automated backup that works in real time can obviously be beneficial. However, because RAID involves multiple storage devices within a single container (such as a drive housing) with all of those drives connected at the same time, I prefer to focus on other backup solutions.

My personal approach involves maintaining multiple exact copies of all of my photos and data. I happen to use a software product called GoodSync ( to synchronize my primary drives to backup drives. I also maintain more than one backup drive for each source drive, and keep those drives in separate locations.

To be sure, RAID provides a variety of potential advantages, and those advantages go beyond simply creating a real-time backup of your data. I would certainly be in favor of using RAID in general, as long as you also create additional backup copies of your data on separate drives that get stored in separate locations. After all, when it comes to your photos and other important data, I don’t think there is really such a thing as being too careful.

Saving Metadata


Today’s Question: In yesterday’s answer you made reference to saving metadata to the photos in Lightroom. Can you explain how to do that?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There are two ways in Lightroom to save standard metadata for your photos out to the actual image files. You can enable an automatic option within the Catalog Settings dialog, or you can manually save metadata for selected photos using the Metadata > Save Metadata to Files command on the menu.

More Detail: By default Lightroom only saves metadata updates into the catalog, without saving that information to the actual image files on your hard drive. My preference is to also save the data to the image files themselves. This enables me to browse most of my metadata using other applications (such as Adobe Bridge), and also provides a form of backup for my important metadata.

It is important to keep in mind that employing one of these options in Lightroom will not preserve all of the information you might add to your photos. Only metadata values that are part of an established standard will be saved. That includes the most common metadata values, such as keywords and star ratings. It excludes, however, pick and reject flags, membership in collections, virtual copies, the history list in the Develop module, and some other Lightroom-specific features. That said, this does provide a potentially significant benefit for your standard metadata values.

You can enable the automatic saving of metadata to the image files with an option in the Catalog Settings dialog, which can be found on the Lightroom menu on the Macintosh version of Lightroom and the Edit menu on the Windows version. On the Metadata tab of the Catalog Settings dialog simply turn on the “Automatically write changes into XMP” checkbox. Note that Lightroom will then go back and write updates for all existing updates for your photos.

Alternatively, you can also save metadata updates manually. Simply select the photos you want to update within the Grid view, and then choose Metadata > Save Metadata to Files from the menu.

For proprietary RAW captures, the metadata will actually be saved in an XMP “sidecar” file associated with the original RAW capture, rather than the actual RAW file on your hard drive. For other supported image formats the metadata updates will be saved to the actual source image file.

Identifying Favorites


Today’s Question: In Lightroom I am able to assign pick or reject flags, star ratings, and color labels to my photos. Which of these do you recommend using, or should I be using all of them?

Tim’s Quick Answer: My general recommendation is to use star ratings as the primary method of identifying your favorite photos. Color labels can be used for supplemental purposes as well. However, I recommend that pick and reject flags not be used unless it will only be for “temporary” purposes.

More Detail: I have two reasons for preferring not to use pick and reject flags in Lightroom. First, these attributes are essentially Lightroom-only features. While other software also employs similar options, the pick and reject flags do not align with a field in an established metadata standard. In other words, even if you save the metadata out to your photos, the pick and reject flags can only be retained within your Lightroom catalog. No other software can read these values if you add them in Lightroom.

The second reason I prefer not to use pick and reject flags is that they only provide two basic options. You can “pick” a photo as a favorite or you can “reject” a photo as an outtake. You could also assign a meaning to the “unpicked” status. But the point is that the attributes are limited to what is essentially a “yes” or “no” decision. Of course, that binary nature is exactly why many photographers prefer to use pick flags in the first place.

With star ratings you have the advantage of using a standard metadata field, so that for example if you save the metadata out to your photos you can view your star ratings with other software applications. Star ratings also provide more “levels” of selecting a photo. For example, I use a one-star rating as a basic “accepted” attribute for my photos, so that after reviewing my images those without a star rating are essentially rejects. I then promote images to a higher star rating based on how happy I am with the photos, especially after working with the photos and perhaps sharing them to get feedback. The result is that I can identify between my very best work versus my lesser images that are still worth keeping and using, but that perhaps won’t end up getting hung on the wall.

Because color labels don’t really have an inherent meaning to most of us (other than perhaps the “priority” aspect that was part of the original meaning for color labels), I tend to recommend using them only for supplemental purposes. You can define your own meaning for each color label you choose to use, and then add color labels to images as appropriate.

For example, I often use the green color label to identify images I want to share with others. Just keep in mind that you can only assign a single color label to an image, so you’ll want to be thoughtful about the definitions you assign to a given color label. For example, using one color label to identify an image that needs some retouching work and another color label to identify an image that needs to be printed would be problematic to assign for a photo that both needs retouching and to be printed.

The key is to give some thought to how you need to identify your photos, and perhaps even go back to your older images and update the attributes you had previously assigned based on a different workflow. This aspect of cleaning up your workflow is covered in Chapter 6 of my “Cleaning Up Your Mess in Lightroom” video course, available through the GreyLearning website here:

Develop Adjustments Missing


Today’s Question: I upgraded from Lightroom 2 to Lightroom 6. When I review old photos from Lightroom 2 in Lightroom 6 in the Develop module, under the heading “Tone” I still see the headings from Lightroom 2, such as Exposure, Recovery, Fill Light and Blacks. With new photos that went directly into Lightroom 6 the “Tone” section in the Develop module shows Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks. How do I get the new adjustments for the photos from Lightroom 2?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The issue here is simply that the photos processed with an older version of Lightroom are therefore set to an older “Process Version”. Simply updating the Process Version to the “2012 (Current)” option, either in the Camera Calibration section of the right panel in the Develop module or using the “lightning bolt” icon shown below the Histogram for the affected images.

More Detail: Among the other new features that get added to Lightroom over time, there are of course changes in the Develop module. In some cases that involves new adjustments, or changes in which specific adjustments are available.

For example, as noted in today’s question, within the Basic section of the Develop module older versions of Lightroom included controls for “Exposure, Recovery, Fill Light, and Blacks (along with Brightness and Contrast), while the latest Process Version includes Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, and Blacks.

Switching between the available adjustment controls simply involves changing the Process Version. For example, in the Camera Calibration section at the bottom of the right panel in the Develop module you’ll find the Process popup. From this popup you can choose the “2012 (Current)” option, which as of the latest release is the current Process Version.

You can also use a shortcut found below the Histogram, which provides the additional benefit of enabling you to adjust all images on the Filmstrip with a single step. When you have selected a photo that is set to an older Process Version, you’ll see a “lightning bolt” icon at the bottom of the Histogram panel at the top of the right panel.

If you click on that “lightning bolt” icon a dialog will appear, offering to update the Process Version for only the current photo, or for all photos on the Filmstrip. In addition there is a checkbox you can turn on the “Before & After” view so you can compare the results for your photos.

It is worth noting that changing the Process Version for a photo can cause the overall appearance of that photo to change, since the underlying adjustments have changed. In most cases I’ve found that the variations are quite modest, but that won’t always be the case. Therefore, it is worth performing at least a quick review after changing the Process Version for some of your photos, in order to ensure you’re happy with the results.

Long-Term Storage


Today’s Question: In yesterday’s email you mentioned that even the gold DVDs don’t provide a real long-term storage solution for photos. What storage media do you recommend for true long-term storage?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I think the short answer here is that I don’t recommend any single storage solution for long-time storage that might get “ignored” for extended periods of time. For the time being I recommend hard drive storage (and particularly flash-based drives) as a good solution, but even these require ongoing review and a certain degree of maintenance.

More Detail: One of the great things about digital photography (and digital technology in general) is that it is relatively easy to create copies of our important photos (and other data). Even better, those backup copies can be an exact copy of the original, with no degradation at all. That was not possible with film-based photography.

Of course, digital photo storage also adds a certain degree of complexity, with a need to update your storage over time. We obviously need to consider overall storage capacity over time, for example, with the photos we’re actively managing. But for many photographers there is a degree of archival storage involved as well, with photos put onto a storage device separate from their primary “active” storage.

When you are actively using a particular storage device, you will naturally maintain a degree of awareness about when it might be time to replace that device in terms of compatibility, storage capacity, and performance. For example, I can recall backing up my photos on floppy disks that held 1.44 megabytes of data, and it didn’t take long before getting to the point that it was incredibly obvious that a better solution was necessary.

The greatest risk in my mind relates to more “archival” storage that gets ignored for extended periods of time. I’ve been hearing from an increasing number of photographers lately, for example, who have been pulling out old CD’s and DVD’s and finding that they can’t be read. The key is to periodically review what type of storage you have, and to consider whether an upgrade is necessary.

It is also important to not simply ignore your storage devices. Traditional hard drives with spinning platters can seize up if left unused for extended periods of time, for example. By periodically reviewing what you’re using for storage and what types of (perhaps better) solutions are currently available you’ll help ensure you won’t ever run into a situation where you’re not able to access archived digital photos.

And as many photographers have pointed out whenever I bring up this subject, it isn’t a bad idea to make extra archival copies of your photos in the form of beautiful prints produced with archival inks!

Optical Media Trouble


Today’s Question: I have discs I archived photos on years ago using Roxio Easy CD & DVD Creator 6. I recently attempted to copy some of these photos to my computer using Adobe Lightroom only to find I am not able to since my PC using Windows 10 does not apparently recognize the discs. Is there any way I can safely read and copy the files?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There seems to be a somewhat widespread issue related to Windows 10 not recognizing CD and DVD discs. In the short term I would suggest trying to access the discs on a computer with an older version of Windows (or a computer running the Macintosh operating system).

More Detail: A relatively large number of users have reported difficulty reading CD and DVD media with Windows 10. It seems there are some unresolved issues with certain combinations of hardware and software as it relates to optical media in Windows 10. However, it is important to keep in mind that there is a possibility that the discs themselves have become damaged.

The first thing I would do is to attempt to copy the files from the discs using another computer. I would use either a computer running the Macintosh operating system or an older version of the Windows operating system in order to work around the apparent issues with Windows 10.

If you aren’t able to get access the files on the discs using a different computer and operating system, I would examine the physical condition of the discs. If the bottom of the disc is scratched or otherwise damaged, that can prevent the disc from being read or cause corruption issues for files read from the media. There are methods for cleaning the discs with a mild abrasive in order to smooth out the bottom side of the disc, which is where the actual data is read.

It is also possible that if these are older discs that the reflective layer or the dye layer that actually records data have started to degrade. If that is the case, the discs are likely not going to be readable by any drive. Even with the media that employed a gold reflective layer, the data won’t last forever as there are other elements (the dye layer and the acetate layers, for example) that can degrade over time, especially if not stored under optimal environmental conditions.

HP has actually put together a rather good troubleshooting guide that addresses many of the more common potential causes of a Windows computer not being able to read from a CD/DVD drive, so you also might explore some of the potential solutions listed on their website here:

Counting Subjects in a Photo


Today’s Question: When I use my photos in wildlife surveys I need to count the animal subjects in the frame. Can you recommend a way of performing this count in Photoshop? When there are more than a few subjects I find that I often lose track of which I’ve already counted.

Tim’s Quick Answer: Actually, there is a tool in Photoshop CC specifically designed for counting subjects within a photo. It is called the Count tool, and it can be found “hidden” below the Eyedropper tool on the toolbox.

More Detail: The Count tool was originally included in Photoshop Extended, and is now available in Photoshop CC. To access the Count tool you can click and hold your mouse (or simply right-click) on the button for the Eyedropper tool on the toolbox. This will bring up a flyout menu where you can select the Count tool.

With the Count tool active you can simply click within the photo on each subject you want to count. I recommend increasing the values for both the Marker Size and the Label Size so that you can better see the actual marks when you click on each subject. You can also adjust the color by clicking the color swatch to the left of the Marker Size setting on the Options bar, in order to bring up the Color Picker to select a color that will be clearly visible on the current photo.

As you click on each subject in the photo, a marker will appear with a numeric label that increments with each click. In addition (and perhaps more importantly) there is a Count value on the Options bar that shows you the current count total. So you can simply navigate around the photo clicking on each subject, until you’ve clicked to add a marker to every subject that appears in the photo. The total count will be shown toward the far left of the Options bar.

When you’re finished counting the subjects in the current photo, you can click the Clear button to remove all of the markers if you’d like.

Converting versus Embedding Profile


Today’s Question: Is converting photos to the sRGB color space the same as embedding the profile in the image. If so, how do you do that?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Converting the image causes changes in the RGB color values based on the definitions in the destination profile. Embedding a profile ensures that software supporting color management will understand how to interpret the color values in the image. These can be two separate processes, although in Lightroom they are combined into a single process.

More Detail: In Lightroom the process of converting an image to a specific profile is accomplished during the export process, and therefore involves both converting and embedding in a single step. In the Export dialog you simply choose an option from the Color Space popup in the File Settings section, and the images you export will be converted to the selected profile and that profile will be embedded in the resulting files.

In Photoshop the process generally involves two steps. First you can convert an image to any desired profile with the Convert to Profile dialog, which can be accessed by choosing Edit > Convert to Profile from the menu. To embed the current profile in a saved image you can turn on the “Embed Color Profile” checkbox in the Save As dialog.

Aligning Objects in Photoshop


Today’s Question: I add text information to my photos in Photoshop when preparing the images to include in a slideshow. This often includes several text elements, and I’d like to align them all. Is there a way to automate this task rather than just moving each text layer pixel by pixel until they all align?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The Move tool actually includes several options for aligning layers. You can select all of the text layers you want to align, make sure the Move tool is active, and then click the applicable button on the Options bar to align the selected layers.

More Detail: If you are aligning text layers I recommend that you also ensure that the alignment of the text itself is set based on how you will align the layers. This will ensure that if you edit the text later, you won’t alter the alignment of your text layers. So, for example, if you will align the text layers on their right edges you will want to use the right-align setting for each of the text layers.

To select multiple layers on the Layers panel you can click on the first layer you want to select and then hold the Shift key and click on the last layer you want to select. You can also toggle the selection of an individual layer on or off by holding the Ctrl key on Windows or the Command key on Macintosh while clicking on the name of the layer. When using the Ctrl/Command key to toggle the selection of individual layers, just be sure not to click on the thumbnail for the layer, as that will cause a selection to be loaded for the layer within the image.

Once the layers you want to align have been selected on the Layers panel, you can align them automatically using a set of options available with the Move tool. Select the Move tool from the toolbox (or by pressing “V” on the keyboard) and then click on the applicable alignment button from among the six options on the Options bar.

The first three alignment buttons on the Options bar relate to vertical alignment, enabling you to align the selected layers on their top edge, their vertical center, or their bottom edge. The last three alignment buttons enable you to align the selected layers on their left edges, their horizontal centers, or their right edges.

Once the selected layers are aligned with each other, you can continue using the Move tool to adjust the position of all of the selected layers. And provided you have set the text alignment to match the layer alignment, if you modify the text for any of the aligned text layers the updated text will remain properly aligned.