Automatic Stacking

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Today’s Question: Do you recommend auto-stacking photos by capture time in Lightroom Classic CC?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I don’t find the auto-stacking feature in Lightroom to be especially useful, in part because it doesn’t provide a preview of how the images are actually going to be stacked. To me this feature is mostly helpful when you have already segmented photos into those you want to stack, rather than trying to stack an entire set of photos from one trip, for example.

More Detail: The auto-stacking feature in Lightroom enables you to group images together into stacks based on capture time. In other words, groups of photos that were captured in a given amount of time can be stacked together, and those stacks can be collapsed to help streamline the process of browsing your photos.

For example, stacking can certainly be appealing for bracketed exposures. However, getting those bracketed exposures properly stacked can be a bit of a challenge.

If you apply auto-stacking to an entire folder of images captured during the course of several days, for example, it can be difficult to determine what amount of time between stacks should be selected. The only feedback you get about the setting is how many stacks will be created and how many images will not be included in a stack.

Even filtering the images first can be a little challenging. For example, I filtered a group of photos so I was only working with a batch of 95 images, most of which were part of bracketed exposure sequences for HDR (high dynamic range) images. At a time setting of 40 seconds for the auto-bracketing there would be 19 stacks with two images unstacked.

However, reducing the time value all the way down to zero seconds still resulted in 19 stacks of photos, but with 37 images unstacked. Adjusting the time value in between this range left me with the same 19 stacks, but a varying number of photos that would be unstacked.

Without an effective preview, in other words, finding the right setting for auto-stacking can be challenging. Even if you have filtered images to help reduce those being auto-stacked to only those that you really want to stack, it can be difficult to find the right setting to use.

Because of these issues, I tend to only use manual stacking for my bracketed exposures, or I will have the images stacked as part of the process of creating HDR or panoramic images. Instead of relying on stacks, I use filters based on star ratings so that I am only viewing my favorite photos at any given time. This provides a much more manageable number of photos to be working with, at which point creating stacks manually as needed is not cumbersome.