Composite Selection


Today’s Question: I’m trying to create a selection of the sky in a composite panorama [in Photoshop], so that I can apply an adjustment to only the sky. I’m using the Quick Selection tool, but only the sky from one of the photos that was used to assemble the panorama is getting selected. How can I select the entire sky across all images in the composite panorama?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The key to creating a selection that includes pixels from all layers is to enable the “Sample All Layers” checkbox found on the Options bar.

More Detail: The tools in Photoshop that create selections based on sampling the image generally provide a “Sample All Layers” option so your selection can be based on all layers in the image rather than only the layer that is currently active on the Layers panel.

In most cases I find that I prefer having the “Sample All Layers” checkbox turned on when using any selection tool in Photoshop that includes this setting. For one thing, doing so enables me to create a selection based on all layers in a composite image such as a composite panorama.

In addition, turning on “Sample All Layers” will cause the selection to take any adjustments into account. This can be helpful for situations where there isn’t very strong tonal or color contrast to define the area you want to select. You can add a “temporary” adjustment layer to exaggerate the differences between the area you want to select versus not select, and then with the “Sample All Layers” checkbox turned on the adjustment will be taken into account for defining the selection. You can then discard the “temporary” adjustment layer.

Of course, you’ll also want to be aware of the “Sample All Layers” checkbox so you can remember to turn it off for situations where you want to create a selection based exclusively on a single image layer. But in general I find most photographers will tend to want the “Sample All Layers” setting turned on rather than off.

To learn more about selections in Photoshop, check out my “Mastering Selections in Photoshop” course, which is included in the “Photoshop for Photographers” bundle of courses available on the GreyLearning website here:

“Hidden” Move Option


Today’s Question: From my initial use with Lightroom, I included a “Libraries” folder on my hard drive, which in turn contains the “My Pictures” folder. I very much want to move the “My Pictures” folder (and all of the contents) up into the top level of the hard drive, so that folder is no longer in the “Libraries” folder. I’d hoped to be able to accomplish this task within Lightroom by dragging and dropping “My Pictures” to the top of the drive. Alas, no can do. Is there a way to rectify this?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In order to move folders (and therefore photos) to the top (root) level of a hard drive within Lightroom, you need to choose the option to reveal the parent folder for one of the top-level folders on that drive. That will cause the hard drive to be represented as a folder at the top of your folder structure, so you can then drag and drop folders to that top level.

More Detail: By default Lightroom does not present the root level of a hard drive as a destination you can drag and drop other folders (or photos) to. The listing for the hard drive in the Folders section of the left panel in the Library module can’t be used as a destination for drag-and-drop operations, making it appear that it isn’t possible to drag a folder to the root level of a hard drive.

However, there is a way to represent the root level of the hard drive as a folder, so you can drag and drop folders or photos to that location.

Simply right-click on one of the top-level folders shown on the hard drive, and choose the “Show Parent Folder” command. This will reveal the root level of the hard drive as a folder at the top of the list of folders. You can then drag and drop any folders or photos you’d like to that top-level folder.

Note, by the way, that at any time you can hide the top-level folder by right-clicking on that folder and choosing the “Hide This Parent” command.

Refine Photos Workflow


Today’s Question: I accidentally chose the “Refine Photos” menu item in Lightroom when I was looking for the “Rename Photos” command. The description that came up didn’t make any sense to me. Can you explain what this feature is and why I might want to use it?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The “Refine Photos” command enables you to use a two-pass approach to reviewing your photos using the Pick and Reject flags in Lightroom.

More Detail: When you use the Refine Photos command, all of the photos in the current folder or collection that do not have a Pick flag assigned to them will be assigned a Reject flag. Images that already had a Reject flag will retain that flag. Images that had a Pick flag assigned to them will then have the Pick flag removed.

In other words, after issuing the Refine Photos command you will no longer have any images in the current folder or collection with a Pick flag assigned to them. The overall behavior of the Refine Photos command is one that many photographers get a little confused by.

With the Refine Photos command you can use a two-pass approach to reviewing your photos to identify favorites versus outtakes. You can start with a first pass, assigning a Pick flag to any image you think might be a favorite. With a two-pass approach to reviewing photos, you can err on the side of assigning a Pick flag to any image that you think might be a favorite. Along the way, you can also assign a Reject flag to any photo you’re sure is an outtake. But you can also simply skip over any outtakes, since the Refine Photos command will cause images without a flat to receive a Reject flag.

Once you’re finished with your first review pass, you can issue the Refine Photos command. At this point all of the images you assigned a pick flag to will have no flag at all. Any images you skipped over (or rejected) will have a Reject flag. You can then perform a second review pass, reviewing only the images without a flag, and deciding which of those you want to assign a Pick flag to. In other words, with this second review pass you can scrutinize the photos a bit more than you did during your first pass.

You could continue working in this way, gradually reducing the number of photos that have a Pick flag, so that you can cull your photos down to your true favorites based on two (or more) review passes.

Card Reader Benefits


Today’s Question: You have said that you don’t import photos to your computer directly from your camera. I assume that means that you remove the memory card from your camera and insert it into your computer to import your photos. Why don’t you import photos directly from your camera?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There are two reasons I don’t download directly from the camera: potentially slower performance and risk of damage.

More Detail: In my (admittedly limited) experience, downloading photos by connecting your camera to the computer is slower than inserting the memory card into a good card reader. While the camera may be able to write data to the card exceptionally fast, often it seems the USB connection doesn’t provide good performance.

If you purchase a good card reader that offers the fastest performance possible, such as the Lexar Professional USB 3.0 reader (, you will likely see download speeds that are significantly faster than a direct connection to your camera could provide.

In addition to wanting to achieve faster download times, connecting my camera directly to the computer simply makes me nervous. I worry that I’ll manage to somehow snag the data cable and send the camera sliding off my desk to the floor. For a photographer who isn’t quite as clumsy as I am this might not be a significant concern, but I prefer to put my camera back in the camera bag when I’m not using it, in an effort to minimize the risk of accidental damage.

I also find that it is a little easier to manage the process of downloading from multiple cards with a small card reader, rather than using the bulkier camera as a card reader. But mostly I’m concerned about keeping the camera safe and speeding up the download of my photos.

Retroactive Previews


Today’s Question: I have always used ‘Minimal’ under File Handing as part of the import process in Lightroom. However I have been working through your new Lightroom CC course and noticed that you use ‘Standard’ and I have certainly noticed an improvement in the time for opening previews in Lightroom. Is there any way that I can convert old imports now from Minimal to Standard, and is there anything to be gained by doing so?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There is a significant improvement in the speed with which you can browse your images if you have built the Standard (or 1:1) previews for your photos. You can build these previews retroactively by choosing All Photographs from the Catalog section of the left panel in the Library module, choosing Edit > Select All from the menu to select all images, and then choosing Library > Previews > Build Standard-Sized Previews from the menu.

More Detail: You can think of the Standard preview size in Lightroom as being approximately the size of your monitor display, though the actual size varies depending on the current setting in the Preferences dialog. The Minimal (or Embedded & Sidecar) option for building previews during import will often be of a lower resolution. The result is that if you haven’t build Standard previews for your photos, Lightroom will likely need to generate them on the fly as you browse your images.

When Lightroom needs to build previews as you are browsing your photos, the process can be slow and frustrating. The photo will initially appear somewhat soft, and then will update when Lightroom finishes building the preview. That can take a few moments, which can certainly seem like a long time when you just want to review a photo.

If you generate Standard previews for all photos, Lightroom won’t need to build the previews on the fly, so browsing will be much quicker. Note that this relates to the Library module, not the Develop module where a preview is always updated as needed based on the source image and the adjustments you’ve applied.

If you hadn’t built previews for all images during the import process, you can most certainly generate those previews later. Start, for example, by selecting all photos in your entire catalog. You can do so by choosing “All Photographs” from the Catalog section of the left panel in the Library module and then choosing Edit > Select All from the menu. To build the previews for all of the selected images, choose Library > Previews > Build Standard-Sized Previews from the menu. Lightroom will then review all of the selected photos and build previews for any images that don’t already have them.

Note, by the way, that if you tend to zoom in on most of your photos, you may benefit from building 1:1 (full resolution) previews rather than Standard previews. Personally, I don’t tend to zoom in on a high percentage of my photos, so I use Standard previews rather than 1:1 previews as a general rule.

Vibrance versus HSL


Today’s Question: After watching your discussion of Vibrance, I am wondering about the tradeoff of Vibrance versus HSL [Hue, Saturation, and Luminance].

Tim’s Quick Answer: The Vibrance adjustment is my preferred adjustment in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom for boosting the saturation of colors, while the HSL controls are most useful for fine-tuning individual colors.

More Detail: The Vibrance adjustment is a variation on the Saturation adjustment, with a couple of advanced features built in. First, Vibrance protects skin tones from excessive adjustments. Second, when you increase the saturation in an image using Vibrance, colors that already have relatively high saturation levels will receive less of a boost than colors with relatively low saturation.

The HSL (Hue, Saturation, and Luminance) sliders enable you to apply adjustments to individual ranges of colors. For example, you could increase the Saturation value for the green color values in the image while also reducing the saturation for the blue color values.

As a result, I treat the Vibrance slider as my primary tool for adjusting overall saturation in the entire image. I’ll use the related Saturation slider to fine-tune as needed, after “balancing” overall saturation levels with Vibrance.

The HSL controls I use for fine-tuning individual colors, such as to essentially shift the color balance for an individual color using the applicable Hue slider, or by reducing the saturation for a “problem” color in the photo.

You can see these adjustments in action in several lessons in my “Optimizing Photos in Lightroom” video course, which is included in my “Mastering Lightroom” bundle. You can get more details through the GreyLearning website here:

Why Use Virtual Copies?


Today’s Question: I am wondering when you use virtual copies in Lightroom, as I have not found a need for them.

Tim’s Quick Answer: As a general rule I use virtual copies when I want an additional interpretation of a photo, such as producing a color version as well as a black and white version of the same image.

More Detail: For most of my photos, I only want a single version of the image. I want to optimize the image to match what I feel is the best interpretation of the scene. However, every now and then I need or want an additional interpretation of a photo. In those cases, I would create a virtual copy in Lightroom.

A virtual copy provides an additional instance of your image in the Lightroom catalog, and enables you to apply different adjustments to that copy. The source image on your hard drive is not duplicated, so you aren’t consuming additional hard drive space (other than the tiny increase in information included in your Lightroom catalog).

When you initially create a virtual copy (by right-clicking on the image and choosing the “Create Virtual Copy” command), the copy will inherit all of the adjustment settings from the original image you used as the basis of the virtual copy. You can then, however, apply any changes you’d like to the adjustment settings for that virtual copy, without affecting the original interpretation of the photo.

In some cases I might want a virtual copy to produce a completely different creative interpretation of a photo. In other cases I might simply need to export a version of the image cropped to a specific aspect ratio, and I want to preserve my original crop settings without creating any confusion.

While I don’t use virtual copies all that often, it is worth keeping in mind that this feature exists. Whenever you want to have more than one interpretation of an image, a virtual copy provides a simple solution.

Subfolder Organization


Today’s Question: How do you feel about making subfolders to identify the different parts of a photo shoot?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I generally prefer to use a very streamlined folder structure, and therefore prefer not to create subfolders to segment photos from a single photo shoot or trip. Instead, I prefer to use keywords or other metadata updates to enable segments of the photo shoot to be filtered from the full group of images.

More Detail: As noted in a previous edition of the Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter, I prefer to keep all photos and videos captured during a given photo shoot or trip in the same folder. Taking that a step further to address today’s question, I also prefer that all of the photos and videos be stored in a single folder, rather than in subfolders.

My basic rationale here is that I want to make it as easy as possible to review my photos, without creating any unnecessary impediments to my workflow. To be sure, you could certainly create various subfolders for a photo shoot, and then select multiple folders to browse. But to me this adds a degree of complexity, in that you are using two different mechanisms to increase versus decrease the number of photos you are currently viewing.

So, I prefer to segment my photos through the use of metadata. I keep all photos from a given shoot or trip in a single folder. I then add star ratings to identify my favorite images. I will further refine photos for many trips through the use of keywords or other metadata.

Some photographers prefer to create folders for each day of a multi-day trip so they can segment their photos by date. But you can simply filter by date based on the date and time metadata values. Some photographers prefer to segment by category, such as a wedding photographer who might create folders for photos from the ceremony versus the reception. I prefer to use keywords for this type of scenario.

To be sure, you can define an efficient and meaningful workflow by using subfolders rather than keywords or other metadata to segment your photos. My personal preference, however, is to streamline my folder structure and focus on metadata for segmentation.

Finding Source Folder


Today’s Question: In the Develop module in Lightroom I find myself sometimes developing my pictures from within a (smart) collection. Sometimes I make virtual copies to try another develop setting to see if that also could work. After deciding it is not a keeper, I cannot delete this virtual copy since I’m working in a collection. Is there a way to automatically find the folder the image is in so I can delete the virtual copy?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, you can right-click on the virtual copy in question and choose “Go to Folder in Library” to be automatically taken to the folder that contains the virtual copy. The selected virtual copy will remain selected, so you can then right-click on that virtual copy and choose the “Remove Photo” command to delete the copy.

More Detail: As noted in a previous “Ask Tim Grey”, you aren’t able to delete a photo when you are browsing a collection. When browsing a collection your only option is to remove the image from the collection. If you want to actually delete the image, you’ll need to navigate to the folder that contains the image.

When you are browsing a collection (or viewing a wide variety of images based on a filter after choosing the “All Photographs” option) you may not always know which folder a given image is actually stored in. By right-clicking on the image in question and then choosing “Go to Folder in Library” from the popup menu, you’ll be taken directly to the folder in question with the selected image still selected.

Once you have navigated to the source folder, you can right-click on the image and choose “Remove Photo” in order to delete the image.

Note, by the way, that users of Adobe Bridge have the same basic feature, which can be employed by right-clicking on an image and choosing “Reveal in Bridge” from the popup menu.

Snapshot or Virtual Copy?


Today’s Question: I am wondering why I would use a history snapshot rather than a virtual copy in Lightroom?

Tim’s Quick Answer: To me the difference between a History Snapshot and a Virtual Copy in Lightroom relates to whether you’re just exploring how you want to interpret a photo or whether you want to have two (or more) different versions of a photo. History snapshots serve the former need, while virtual copies serve the latter.

More Detail: To be sure, history snapshots and virtual copies can appear on the surface to be very similar features. The key difference is that with a virtual copy you see a second instance of your photo, while with a history snapshot you still only have a single instance of your photo, but with additional options for going back in history.

When you apply adjustments to an image, each adjustment creates a history state in the History section of the left panel in the Develop module. One of the challenges of having this type of linear history is that it can be difficult to find the exact history state you want to return to. In some cases you may find that you are exploring a variety of different options for an image, such as black and white versus color as well as with or without a vignette.

During these types of explorations for a photo, a history snapshot enables you to have easy access to a given point in the history of an image. Once you’re happy with the color interpretation and are ready to see if a black and white interpretation might work, you could create a history snapshot for the color “final” and then move on to black and white adjustments. Anytime you think you might have reached a final (or near final) possible interpretation for the image, you could create a history snapshot to record that history state.

When you create a virtual copy you’re adding an additional reference to the source image, so it will appear as though the same image is in your Lightroom catalog twice. Therefore, to me this approach is better when you want to have two different versions of a photo, rather than just different history states you might return to.

To be sure, the distinction here can be a little subtle. But I think of history snapshots as a way to record points in history you think you might want to return to for what will ultimately be a single version of a photo, and I think of virtual copies as a way to have two different interpretations of the same photo (even if that different interpretation is just a different crop).