Merging with Missing Photos?

Today’s Question: Thank you for the most recent educational piece on cleaning up the mess in Lightroom. I have Lightroom catalogs from Lightroom 3 through Lightroom CC. Some of the earlier catalogs show all of the photos as “missing” because in between one Lightroom edition and another I have either had a problem with my external hard drive or had to upgrade to a large external drive. I want to merge all of my catalogs. Must I first open them in Lightroom CC and map them to the current external storage drives or can I merely merge all of the catalogs since the current Lightroom catalog of 50,000+ photos already map to my hard external hard drives?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There is no need to reconnect “missing” folders in your Lightroom catalogs before you merge those catalogs. In many cases, in fact, it can be much easier to merge catalogs first, and then work to reconnect missing folders and photos across the entire “master” catalog you created in the process of merging multiple catalogs.

More Detail: If you have catalogs that have not been updated to the latest version of Lightroom, you do need to update those catalogs before merging them with your master catalog. To do so, simply choose the File > Open Catalog command from the menu in Lightroom. Lightroom will inform you that the catalog is from an older version of Lightroom, and will offer to upgrade the catalog for you.

Once all of your catalogs have been upgraded to the latest version of Lightroom, you can open your primary catalog and then use the File > Import from Another Catalog command to merge catalogs. This is possible even if some of the catalogs you want to merge contain missing photos.

Once you’ve merged all of your catalogs into a single master catalog, you can then get to work reconnecting any missing folders and photos, among other cleanup tasks.

All of these topics (and more) related to cleaning up problems in Lightroom are covered in detail in my latest video training course, “Cleaning Up Your Mess in Lightroom”, available with a subscription to the GreyLearning video training library (http://www.greylearning.com).

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Merging with Duplicates

Today’s Question: This is a follow up to a question from last week [about merging catalogs in Lightroom]. I have two catalogs that I want to merge into one. Unfortunately, I have several photos that exist in both catalogs. Is there a way when merging two catalogs for Lightroom to alert you if a photo already exists in the catalog you are merging into?

Tim’s Quick Answer: When you merge catalogs via the “Import from Another Catalog” command in Lightroom, you will have the option to choose how to deal with any duplicate images. You can’t actually create duplicate copies in this case, and instead can choose whether you want to replace information in the destination catalog with information in the source catalog for the duplicate photos.

More Detail: If Lightroom detects that any of the photos from the source catalog are already contained within the destination catalog (your “master” catalog), you will see a notification indicating how many duplicate images were found within the “Import from Catalog” dialog.

If you know that the images in the destination catalog are your true “master” versions of all photos, you can simply choose the “Nothing” option from the Replace popup, and the duplicate images will be skipped in terms of the catalog merging process.

If the images from the source catalog are the more recent versions of your photos, you can choose to replace information in the destination catalog based on the information in the source catalog. You can choose whether you want to only update metadata (including Develop adjustments), or if you want to replace the original image files as well. In most cases, of course, the two source files would probably be identical, and so you could choose the “Metadata and develop settings only” option from the Replace popup.

If you’re not entirely sure which version of the duplicate photos is really the latest (or best) version of the photo, you can also turn on a checkbox that will create a virtual copy based on the second version of the duplicate images. That checkbox is labeled “Preserve old settings as a virtual copy”.

In addition, if you have a mix of RAW and non-RAW (such as TIFF and JPEG) images, you can choose whether you want to replace non-RAW captures only, updating only the metadata for RAW captures. That checkbox is labeled “Replace non-raw files only (TIFF, PSD, JPEG, PNG)”.

These options in the “Import from Catalog” dialog enable you to choose how to deal with duplicate images when merging catalogs into a single master catalog. The result will be a single copy of each image (or an image plus a virtual copy), so that you don’t have duplicate photos in your master catalog (at least based on the merging of catalogs).

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JPEG to DNG?

Today’s Question: I know you don’t convert to DNG on import in your workflow, but for those of us that do I wonder if there are any advantages or disadvantages of also converting JPEG files (as from my phone) as well as RAW files?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I would say there aren’t any real advantages to converting a JPEG capture to the Adobe DNG file format, and there is certainly a disadvantage in the way of a file size that would be at least slightly larger for DNG as compared to the original JPEG.

More Detail: It would be reasonable to assume that converting a JPEG image to the DNG format would open up the possibility of applying “better” adjustments via Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw, but that would not be an accurate assumption. You can already apply adjustments to JPEG images in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw, and there is no real benefit to converting a JPEG to DNG first.

In theory you might gain a slight advantage in terms of enabling a high-bit workflow and avoiding additional loss of quality and detail due to file compression. But in reality you are already starting with low-bit data, and with an appropriate workflow you don’t need to be worried with quality loss. Within Lightroom, for example, applying multiple adjustments in multiple stages does not have a cumulative negative impact on image quality.

While the DNG file format does employ lossless compression when converting RAW captures, yielding a DNG file that is generally around 20% smaller than the original RAW capture file, that does not hold true for JPEG images. Instead you will generally find that the DNG file is about the same size or possibly slightly larger depending on the settings for the original JPEG image.

So, on balance I would say there is no reason to convert JPEG images to the DNG file format. There are certainly reasons to consider DNG as a “replacement” file format for your original RAW captures (though as you note I am not a proponent of this approach), but not for JPEG images.

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Detail Lost with Clarity?

Today’s Question: I often begin optimizing an image by lowering the Highlights a bit, to eliminate any red “warning pixels” that Lightroom [or Adobe Camera Raw] might show me where I risk losing detail in the highlighted areas.

As I proceed, I may increase the Clarity a bit, to improve contrast and sharpness. But this often brings back the red warning pixels. (I think it may also bring back the blue warnings for loss of detail in the dark areas, but I’m inclined to worry less about that.)

Why does increasing Clarity result in possible loss of detail in the highlight areas?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Increasing the value for Clarity in Adobe Camera Raw or in Lightroom’s Develop module increases contrast, which can most certainly cause a loss of some detail in the brightest highlights or the darkest shadows in a photo. After increasing the value for Clarity, it is a good idea to check the values for the Whites and Blacks sliders (or simply view the clipping preview display) to determine whether detail has been lost, in which case you can adjust the values for Whites and Blacks to recover that lost detail. The same is also true for other adjustment controls, including the Highlights and Shadows adjustments, for example.

More Detail: The Clarity adjustment is, of course, a rather sophisticated adjustment. While the emphasis of this adjustment is to improve detail, that detail is improved by adding contrast within the photo. I think of this as an “intelligent” contrast enhancement, because it is applying an effect similar to sharpening to emphasize detail for the mid-tones in the image without having a significant negative impact on the highlights or shadows.

However, even with the sophisticated approach employed by Clarity, the additional contrast can cause some degree of detail loss in the highlights and shadows.

Especially if you have applied a relatively strong increase for the Clarity adjustment, it can be important to revisit the values for Whites and Blacks. In the question presented here, the clipping preview displays for shadows and highlights had been enabled, causing a red overlay on the image to indicate where highlights have been clipped and a blue overlay to indicate where shadows have been clipped. This option can be enabled by clicking on the triangle at the top-left (for shadows) and top-right (for highlights) of the histogram display on the right panel in both Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw. You can also hold the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on Macintosh to enable a clipping preview while adjusting the Whites and Blacks (among other adjustment controls).

My general approach to applying basic tonal adjustments is to first set the white point by adjusting the Whites slider value with the aid of the clipping preview display. I then adjust the Blacks slider value, again with the clipping preview display. I’ll then fine-tune the overall detail and contrast using the Highlights and Shadows sliders.

At this point I will apply a Clarity adjustment based on an evaluation of the image. However, I will then revisit the Whites and Blacks values to ensure the peak values are still set appropriately.

In my view, it is always a good idea to revisit the Whites and Blacks values toward the end of your workflow for optimizing an image, especially for images where you want the brightest and darkest pixels to be near the white or black limit. The Clarity adjustment can cause an increase in contrast that causes a degree of clipping of highlights and shadows. The Highlights and Shadows sliders can also cause clipping.

So the point is, while we might generally think of the Whites and Blacks sliders as establishing the brightest and darkest values in a photo, other adjustment controls can also impact those pixel values. It can therefore be important to go back and forth between the various adjustments that relate to overall tonal values in the photo, to make sure you’re achieving the results you intend for the photo.

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Variable or Solid Neutral Density?

Today’s Question: I will be heading to the Smokey Mountain National park in late October and wanted to find out more about Variable Neutral Density (ND) filters. Originally I was thinking of getting a big stopper but then thought a variable ND with polarizer might be a much better choice. It looks less cumbersome to use and will also allow me to keep a lens shade attached.  What are your  thoughts or preferences about this?  Up until know most of my filter use has been confined to a Circular Polarizer and while I would like to keep things simple, I can really see the opportunities a strong variable ND filter can provide.

Tim’s Quick Answer: Variable neutral density filters offer considerable flexibility, and the option for a built-in circular polarizer filter only adds potential value. That said, my personal preference is to use a solid neutral density filter, because I find a solid rather than variable filters provide a more streamlined workflow. And I’m a huge fan of strong neutral density filters in terms of what they enable for creative effects.

More Detail: Due to the nature of variable neutral density filters, it can be a bit of a challenge to achieve a precise density value, which means it can be a bit of a challenge to find the right exposure settings. A little more trial-and-error tends to be required in order to find the right exposure settings based on the specific rotational position of the variable neutral density filter, and light angles play a role in this regard as well.

Because of this issue, as much as there is a tremendous potential benefit with variable neutral density filters, I prefer to use solid neutral density filters. When combined with an adjustment to the ISO setting on your camera, just one or two solid neutral density filters can provide great flexibility with a more streamlined workflow.

I discussed my specific approach to working with a solid neutral density filter in the July 2015 issue of Pixology magazine (http://www.pixologymag.com). The key is that with a solid neutral density filter you can simply establish your initial exposure settings, then add the filter and apply an adjustment to the exposure settings based on the density of the filter you’re using.

Even better, with a solid neutral density filter you can adjust ISO to improve your flexibility and reduce the number of filters you need to carry.

For example, I generally carry a ten-stop and a six-stop neutral density filter when photographing. I’ll also carry filters with a lower density value when shooting video, but that’s a different matter.

The ten-stop and six-stop filters are, of course, four stops apart in terms of density. If I am using the ten-stop filter but want to achieve the same results as would have been achieved with a six-stop filter without changing the shutter speed and aperture, I could raise the ISO setting to 1600 ISO. But, of course, that wouldn’t generally be necessary because I could simply switch to the six-stop filter or change my aperture or shutter speed values.

The point is, when using a solid neutral density filter you can adjust the ISO setting to create a result that is similar to what you might have achieved with a different neutral density filter or a variable ND filter. In my mind, being able to take this approach makes up for the lack of variability with a solid neutral density filter. And by using solid neutral density filters I’m able to avoid the trial-and-error issues that tend to be involved with the use of variable neutral density filters.

To be sure, there are some excellent variable neutral density filters available. I’m a big fan of the variable ND filters from Singh-Ray (http://www.singh-ray.com) for example. But my personal preference from a “workflow in the field” standpoint is to use solid neutral density filters rather than variable filters.

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Benefits of a Catalog

Today’s Question: For years I have been filing all my photos by year, month and event. Also each time I create a new event I add it to a “alpha sort” file with its year/month location. This is simple and always works.

My question is: Why can’t I just continue to use my “year/month/event” system instead of creating all the extra work of having a Lightroom catalog? What are the big benefits of making catalogs?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I have a few responses here. First, any folder structure that makes sense to you is a good folder structure as far as I’m concerned. Second, Lightroom provides benefits beyond your basic folder structure, and there’s no need to change your folder structure just because you’re using Lightroom. Third, there are some subtle but valuable benefits to the use of a catalog in your image-management workflow.

More Detail: In my mind there are two key benefits to using Lightroom as opposed to a solution that employs other software such as the combination of Adobe Bridge and Photoshop.

The first benefit is that your workflow will be more streamlined. Instead of using Adobe Bridge to manage your photos, Adobe Camera Raw to process your photos, Photoshop to apply finishing effects, and a combination of Bridge and Photoshop to share your photos, you can perform most of the tasks in your workflow within Lightroom. You can think of Lightroom as providing a combination of Adobe Bridge and Adobe Camera Raw, and much more. So there is a workflow advantage available in Lightroom, at least in my opinion.

The second key benefit relates to the catalog itself. Because you have a central catalog in Lightroom that is managing the basic info about your photos, you can filter your photos in Lightroom much more quickly than you could in Adobe Bridge or other “browser” software.

So, for example, you can quickly filter every single photo you’ve ever capture to show you only those with a five-star rating. Or you could filter based on every image with a three-star or better rating that was captured with a shutter speed in excess of one second if you are looking for your best long exposures. There are many examples, but the point is that you can filter across your entire library of photos much more quickly with Lightroom than you could with Adobe Bridge, due in large part to the catalog that is used in Lightroom.

I would also argue that using Lightroom doesn’t involve any additional work beyond the use of Adobe Bridge. To be sure, many photographers have been confused by the workflow requirements involved in using a catalog, and have made a mess of their workflow in the process. But if you learn to use Lightroom properly, it can provide a variety of workflow advantages in my opinion, especially compared to the use of Adobe Bridge in conjunction with a basic folder structure.

In Lightroom you can still use the exact same folder structure you’re already using in your workflow, as well as the various metadata options such as star ratings. But in addition, you can leverage the catalog and the overall architecture of Lightroom to streamline your workflow.

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JPEG for Printing?

Today’s Question: Another photographer recently recommended that you should save images as a JPEG when uploading to an online printing service, and the specifically said that TIFF was a “bad” file format for this purpose. I thought TIFF files should be used instead of JPEG for making prints. Can you clarify?

Tim’s Quick Answer: While I wouldn’t “recommend” using JPEG files as the basis of producing prints, I would also acknowledge that in many cases it is possible to achieve a print of excellent quality from a JPEG image. That said, the only reason in this case to use a JPEG image rather than a TIFF image is that the JPEG file size will be considerably smaller, which can be helpful (or even mandatory) when uploading an image to an online print service.

More Detail: The key issue with a JPEG image is the subtle grid pattern that is often visible within the photo, caused by the compression used to reduce the size of JPEG images. With a high Quality setting for the JPEG image, the grid pattern will generally be relatively difficult to see. However, with some images, and especially with larger print sizes, that grid pattern may become visible.

Thus, while it is certainly possible to produce a print from a JPEG image where you can’t see the grid pattern caused by JPEG compression, my preference is to work from an image that does not have “lossy” compression applied to it when I am producing a print.

In other words, whenever possible I prefer to use a TIFF image format rather than a JPEG image format for photos that need to be saved so they can be printed by a print service. It is very possible that you can achieve an excellent print from a JPEG image, but there are some risks involved due to the JPEG compression. By contrast, with a TIFF image saved without compression (or with lossless compression, such as the LZW scheme) you don’t have to worry at all about compression artifacts in the final print.

So, given the choice I would work from a TIFF image, but in cases where that is not practical you will generally get very good results from a JPEG image saved at the maximum Quality setting.

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Why One Catalog?

Today’s Question: Can you explain why you prefer to use a single catalog to manage your photos in Lightroom, rather than using different catalogs for photos that fall into different categories or timeframes?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The reason I prefer (and generally recommend) using a single catalog in Lightroom is that I want to be able to find any of my photos with minimal effort. When I am looking for a particular photo I certainly expect to need to remember details about the photo so I know what folder to look in or what metadata values to filter by. But I don’t want to have to remember which specific Lightroom catalog a given photo is contained in. In other words, my preference for a single catalog relates to an effort to streamline my workflow for managing my photos.

More Detail: I should hasten to add that the workflow solutions that I find work best for me aren’t necessarily the best solutions for all photographers. However, when it comes to using a single catalog, my opinion is that this is the best approach for most photographers.

To be sure, there are scenarios where I think it makes sense to use multiple catalogs in Lightroom. For example, if in addition to my travel and nature photography I also offered my services as a wedding photographer, I would likely keep the photos from weddings I was hired to photograph in a separate catalog. That’s because there would be a clear and significant distinction between the two general categories of photos. In that type of situation, I would prefer to catalogs to reduce clutter and confusion in my workflow.

But in general, I feel it is beneficial to have all of your photos in a single catalog, so you aren’t adding an extra step to your workflow. When you want to locate an image, you simply launch Lightroom and work with your only catalog. You don’t need to think about which catalog to open.

I suspect many photographers started using multiple catalogs because in early versions Lightroom wasn’t able to handle large number of photos in a single catalog. My experience with the first version or two of Lightroom was that after you accumulated about 30,000 in a single catalog, Lightroom slowed to the point of being virtually unusable.

However, Lightroom has since been improved to the point that there is no real need to impose a limit on how many photos you have in a single catalog. My personal Lightroom catalog now contains over 300,000 photos (and growing).

If you feel that having more than one Lightroom catalog adds efficiency and organization to your workflow, then by all means you should use multiple catalogs. But otherwise you might consider whether a single catalog makes more sense, and if so merge all of your catalogs into a single “master” catalog.

And as a reminder, subscribers to Pixology magazine can gain access to the April 2013 issue for an in-depth article on the process of merging catalogs in Lightroom. If you’re not yet a subscriber, you can learn more at http://www.pixologymag.com.

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Merging Catalogs

Today’s Question: Is there a way to combine multiple catalogs in Lightroom? For whatever reason several catalogs have been created in different versions of Lightroom over the years and it would be convenient to just have one catalog.

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, you can absolutely merge multiple Lightroom catalogs into a single “master” catalog. The basic process involves opening the catalog you want to have as your master catalog, and then using the “Import from Another Catalog” command (found on the File menu) to merge other catalogs into your master catalog.

More Detail: I do prefer to use a single catalog for all of my photographic images, and so in general I recommend merging catalogs if you have created multiple catalogs to manage your photos in Lightroom. The process of merging catalogs in Lightroom is relatively straightforward, but it is critical that you take a cautious approach to avoid confusion.

In particular, I recommend first making a list of all of the catalogs you want to merge. Then identify the catalog that you want to use as your “master” catalog. Use the File > Import from Another Catalog command to merge each of the secondary catalogs into your master catalog.

When you merge catalogs, you have the option of copying your images to a new location, or simply adding the photos based on their current location. I recommend using the “Add” option, leaving the photos where they are when you merge catalogs. Then, as needed, you can move photos to a different location after you’ve merged all of your catalogs into a single master catalog.

I covered the process of merging catalogs in the April 2013 issue of Pixology magazine. Subscribers can gain access to this back issue (and others) of Pixology by sending an email to renee@timgrey.com.

In addition, I am in the final process of producing a video training course on “Cleaning Up Your Mess in Lightroom”, which will be available in the GreyLearning video training library very soon.

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Time Machine Backup

Today’s Question: I have an iMac and back up with a Time Machine and an external hard drive. Please discuss the role of a Time Machine in backup.

Tim’s Quick Answer: Time Machine provides a form of incremental backup, and is included as part of the Macintosh operating system. I consider Time Machine to be a good “extra” tool as part of a larger backup workflow, and I make use of Time Machine to backup my computers. However, I consider Time Machine to be a supplementary backup solution, not a primary solution.

More Detail: My personal preference is to employ a backup solution that creates an exact copy of my original data. So, for example, I have an external hard drive that I use for storing my photos, and another external hard drive that I use for all of my other key data. I use a synchronization software tool (GoodSync in my case, available at http://www.goodsync.com) to create a backup copy that is an exact copy of the source drive. This way, when I experience a hard drive failure, recovery is very straightforward.

With Time Machine you are creating an incremental backup. In other words, each time you backup with Time Machine you are only backing up files that have changed since the last backup. In addition, Time Machine maintains a number of copies of your files going back in time, based on the amount of free space on your hard drive.

So, with Time Machine you can literally go “back in time” if you realize you have deleted a file or modified a file in a way you didn’t intend. This can be very helpful, of course, but it doesn’t provide a solution for my primary goal, which is to have a backup that is an exact copy of my master hard drive.

In my case I keep my photos and most of my key data on external hard drives. I then use synchronization software to create a backup copy of those drives, generally to at least two backup drives. To me this is a relatively ideal solution.

Of course, one of the problems with a synchronization backup is that it also duplicates your mistakes. If you erase a photo from your primary storage drive, a synchronization backup will also erase the photo from the backup drive. In most cases you can disable the removal of files in the synchronization process, provided you have adequate storage capacity on your backup drive.

I do, however, still employ Time Machine as part of my larger backup solution. This allows me to create regular backup copies of active files on my computer’s internal hard drive. In general that doesn’t impact my photography workflow, but since Time Machine is so easy to implement and because it helps overcome scenarios such as when you inadvertently erase or modify a file, I consider it an important part of my overall backup workflow.

So, whenever I’ve performed any significant work (and sometimes even after only insignificant work!) I will perform a synchronization backup of my external hard drives and a Time Machine backup of my internal hard drive. In my mind, any solution that is easy to implement and provides safeguards in your workflow is a good solution. Time Machine along with a synchronization backup certainly meet those criteria in my mind.

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