Virtual Copy Workflow


Today’s Question: How aggressive are you about using virtual copies [in Lightroom Classic]? I have considered, but not routinely implemented, a practice of making virtual copies of the original any time I do a significant crop to an original image. Is this something you do, or would support? Catalogue drive space required is small, and cropping options are not absolute in my experience, and without knowing what I have cropped from, these options are effectively foreclosed. Comments?

Tim’s Quick Answer: My general approach is to use Virtual Copies in Adobe Lightroom Classic whenever I want to create a completely different interpretation of a photo, or when I want to create a slight variation on an image (such as with a crop) while being sure not to risk losing the original interpretation of the image.

More Detail: A Virtual Copy in Lightroom Classic enables you to make multiple versions of a single source image, meaning different interpretations based on your adjustments in the Develop module. These can be helpful both in terms of creating different interpretations of a photo (such as a color and a black & white version), as well as for workflow reasons.

In most cases I settle on a single interpretation of a given photo, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes I use different versions of a photo in different contexts. Regardless, if I want to maintain two different interpretations of the same photo, I’ll create a Virtual Copy for that purpose.

Sometimes I may have a difficult time deciding which version of a photo I like best as I’m working toward creating a “final” version of the image. In those cases I would still create a Virtual Copy to explore both options, but if I ultimately decide on a single version as my “final” version, then I would generally delete the “extra” Virtual Copy just to avoid confusion.

I also sometimes use Virtual Copies for workflow purposes. If I decide I will crop an image to suit the limitations of Instagram for example, I might create a virtual copy for the purpose of creating that copy of the photo, to preserve the original version of the image. In this type of scenario I would typically create the Virtual Copy, crop or otherwise alter that Virtual Copy, export for sharing, and then delete the Virtual Copy.

So, I don’t use Virtual Copies extensively, and I try to make a distinction between Virtual Copies I want to retain permanently, and those being used for temporary purposes. If the purpose is temporary, I try to remember to delete the unneeded Virtual Copy as soon as it is no longer needed, to avoid clutter or confusion in my Lightroom Classic catalog.

Missing Bit Depths?


Today’s Question: You addressed a question about bit depth and made reference to cameras with 12-bit and 14-bit support. But I thought images could only be either 8-bit or 16-bit?

Tim’s Quick Answer: While most software only offers options to work with images in either the 8-bit per channel or 16-bit per channel bit depths, there are a variety of other options available depending on the context.

More Detail: Bit depth refers to the level of precision involved in a conversion from an analog data source (such as light in the context of photography) to discrete digital values. In the context of digital photos, the low end of the bit depth scale is 8-bit per channel.

Most software provides support for either 8-bit per channel images or 16-bit per channel images. However, this is not an inherent limitation of image processing. If you capture a JPEG image with any digital camera, the result will be an 8-bit per channel image. With a raw capture, many photographers are familiar with the notion of a 16-bit per channel image.

However, just because most software supports 8-bit per channel and 16-bit per channel images doesn’t mean those are the only options for digital photos.

Again, for JPEG captures the image will always be an 8-bit per channel image. But for raw captures the camera is not necessarily producing a 16-bit per channel image. In fact, most are not. Most cameras offer either 12-bit per channel or 14-bit per channel analog to digital conversion. A few camera models offer full 16-bit per channel conversion.

However, regardless of the bit depth supported by your camera, in most cases when processing the raw capture to produce a final image, you will generally only have a 16-bit per channel option. In other words, whether your camera is producing 12-bit, 14-bit, or 16-bit per channel data, the result will be contained within a 16-bit per channel image file.

It is important to keep in mind that even if you are working with a 16-bit per channel image, that doesn’t mean you actually have 16-bit per channel data for that image. It is simply a matter of only having either an 8-bit per channel or 16-bit per channel option available in most software, so an image that has more than 8-bits per channel of data needs to be contained in a file that supports a higher bit depth, which generally translates to a 16-bit per channel file.

Note, by the way, that for HDR (high dynamic range) images, you might create a 32-bit per channel image. In other words, there are a variety of bit depth options depending on context, but in terms of digital images you will generally have 8-bit per channel and 16-bit per channel options available.

Discarding Source Photos


Today’s Question: After merging several images to make an HDR [high dynamic range image] or panorama in Lightroom Classic is it necessary or advisable to keep all the source images?

Tim’s Quick Answer: If you’re confident that the assembled high dynamic range (HDR) or panoramic image is of excellent quality, you could delete the source captures that were used to create the final image. My personal preference, however, is to retain those original captures just in case they are ever needed.

More Detail: Today’s question is really more of a philosophical question in my mind. In other words, are you comfortable deleting the source raw captures once you’ve created a “final” derivative image based on those captures?

When you assemble an HDR or panoramic image in Lightroom Classic, the result in an Adobe DNG file that retains great flexibility for continuing to refine the appearance of the image. However, if the image exhibits visual artifacts from the blending of exposures, those issues can be tricky to resolve. In other words, in some cases you may want to go back to the original raw captures and re-assemble the HDR or panoramic image.

If you carefully scrutinize the resulting image, you may of course be comfortable deleting the original raw captures that were used to create the composite image. After all, the whole point in this type of scenario is generally to have the finished composite image, and you would likely not need to ever return to the original raw captures.

I simply prefer to retain the original captures, just in case they are ever needed.

The same concept could apply to a TIFF or Photoshop PSD file you create by sending a source raw capture from Lightroom Classic to Photoshop. Once you’ve created that new finished image, you could potentially delete the original raw capture. But in that scenario I also prefer to retain the original captures.

I wouldn’t fault any photographer who deletes the original raw captures after assembling a finished composite image, as long as they’ve confirmed that finished image is of optimal quality. That’s just not something I’m personally comfortable doing myself. So I retain the “extra” copies of my photos in these types of situations, even though there is a very good chance I’ll never actually need those captures.

Camera Bit Depth


Today’s Question: In looking at the specifications of different cameras, some offer full 16-bit per channel support, while others indicate they only support 14-bit or even 12-bit. How important is this camera specification in terms of image quality?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The bit depth of the camera determines the total number of color and tonal values the camera can reproduce. This primarily translates into smoother gradations of tone and color with a higher bit depth.

More Detail: When a camera’s image sensor records the light levels for a photographic image, it is converting an analog signal (based on light levels) into discrete digital values. During that analog-to-digital conversion, the bit depth determines how precisely the values are recorded. You can think of this as being similar to the precision of having more decimal places for a number. A price of $5 is not as precise as $4.9, and $4.99 would be more precise still.

A higher bit depth means there are more individual color and tonal values available for the final image, which in turn translates to smoother gradations of tone and color, as well as a greater ability to capture subtle details.

If you are using your camera’s JPEG capture option, the photos can only be stored as 8-bit per channel, because that is all that the JPEG file format supports. That translates to only 256 shades of gray for a JPEG image that is converted to black and white, or 16,777,216 total possible color and tonal values in a color image. This is regarded as being at about the limit of human vision in terms of discerning individual colors.

In other words, 8-bit per channel can yield excellent image quality for a color photo. However, when you apply adjustments to an image, a certain amount of detail is lost. With relatively strong adjustments, especially for a black and white image, there is a risk of “posterization”, meaning the loss of smooth gradations of tone and color. This will be exhibited as banding in the image, such as in a clear sky that should be represented by a very smooth gradation.

So, especially if you’ll need to apply relatively strong adjustments, a higher bit depth can be very helpful. For reference, a 12-bit per channel sensor provides 4,096 shades of gray and more than 68 billion possible color values. A 14-bit per channel sensor provides 16,384 shades of gray, or more than 4 trillion possible color values. And at 16-bits per channel, there are 65,536 shades of gray, or more than 281 trillion possible color values.

I would say that if you often convert photos to black and white, a higher bit depth offers tremendous value, and I would recommend opting for a camera with the highest bit depth possible. For color photography the issue is much less critical, especially if you don’t generally need to apply very strong adjustments to your photos. The higher bit-depth is good, but wouldn’t be the most important feature on my list if you only tend to process photos in full color.

Photos Removed Accidentally


Today’s Question: I have a recently created mess in Lightroom Classic. I was moving photos from one folder to another and thought I had completed the move and removed (not deleted) some photos. I am hoping that I can recover the photos. Can you save me?

Tim’s Quick Answer: If you have removed photos from Lightroom Classic without deleting the source images, you can easily recover the images (and possibly the metadata updates) by using the “Synchronize Folder” command.

More Detail: When you use the “Remove Photo” command in Lightroom Classic, you are given the choice of simply removing the photo from the catalog (leaving the file on your hard drive) or deleting the source image from your hard drive. As long as you use the option to remove the image from the catalog rather than delete it from your hard drive, you can easily recover the image.

If you also had the option enabled to “Automatically write changes into XMP”, you would recover most of the metadata updates when you recovered the image that was removed accidentally. This option is found on the Metadata tab in the Catalog Settings dialog within Lightroom Classic. On Windows you can get to the dialog by choosing Edit > Catalog Settings from the menu. Macintosh users will find Catalog Settings under Lightroom Classic on the menu.

Keep in mind that even with the option enabled to automatically write metadata updates to your photos, that doesn’t include everything. For example, pick and reject flags, collections, virtual copies, and history are not included. But all of the standard metadata fields as well as actual adjustment settings from the Develop module are included.

With all of that in mind, you can recover the photos that were accidentally removed from the Lightroom Classic catalog by right-clicking on the affected folder on the Folders list on the left panel in the Library module and choosing “Synchronize Folder” from the popup menu that appears. In the dialog that appears you’ll see a count of the number of photos in the selected folder that are not currently in the Lightroom Classic catalog, and you can click the Synchronize button to bring those images back into your catalog.

Folder Confusion


Today’s Question: I accidentally renamed a top folder in Windows Explorer that contained some subfolders holding photographs. Those photographs were imported into Lightroom Classic previously. The images show up on the LR Library screen, but in the Develop module Lightroom cannot find the files. I experimented with correcting this by deleted the images in one subfolder but did not delete them from the hard drive. I then imported the deleted photos into Lightroom and that was successful. Is there a better way to address this problem?

Tim’s Quick Answer: This issue could have been resolved more easily, and without the risk of losing any information about your photos, by either renaming the parent folder to its original name through your operating system or by reconnecting that folder within Lightroom Classic.

More Detail: First and foremost, this issue could have been solved very easily by either not renaming the folder outside of Lightroom Classic, or by renaming the folder back to its original name as soon as the error was realized.

In this particular case I suspect part of the confusion was caused by the parent folder not actually containing any photos. In other words, Lightroom Classic would be showing you the subfolders that contain photos but would not show the parent folder that contains those subfolders. As a result, it would not be obvious that you could reconnect the full set of subfolders in one operation. Even if you had not realized this, the individual folders could have been reconnected, ensuring that no information about your photos may have been lost.

To reveal the empty parent folder, you can right-click on one of the subfolders and choose “Show Parent Folder” from the popup menu. That will reveal the parent folder, which in this case will also appear as missing. You can then right-click on the parent folder and choose “Find Missing Folder” from the popup menu. Then navigate to the location where the original parent folder (which had been renamed) is stored. Select that folder and click the Choose button. In this case Lightroom Classic will generally reconnect not only the parent folder you right-clicked on, but any subfolders as well. If any of those subfolders don’t get reconnected, you can right-click on each as needed to use the “Find Missing Folder” command for each of those folders.

The reason it is important to reconnect missing folders or photos rather than re-importing them is that using the import approach may cause you to lose information about the photos. If you had not enabled the option to automatically save metadata, you would have lost updates made in Lightroom Classic such as assigning star ratings, adding keywords, and applying adjustments.

Even with the option enabled to automatically write metadata to the photos, certain Lightroom-specific features would still be lost, such as membership in collections, virtual copies, history, and pick and reject flags.

And again, the key lesson is that when you are using Lightroom Classic to manage your photos, all tasks related to your photos should be initiated from within Lightroom Classic, not through the operating system or other software.

You can learn more about cleaning up organizational problems in Lightroom Classic with my “Cleaning Up Your Mess in Lightroom Classic” course here:

Hard Drive Access in Lightroom Classic


Today’s Question: You said it was possible to drag a folder of photos in Lightroom Classic from an internal hard drive to an external hard drive. However, in my experience it is not possible to drag a folder to a hard drive. Lightroom Classic only allows you to drag a folder or photos to a folder, not a hard drive. Is there a workaround?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, you can drag a folder to the top (root) level of a hard drive in Lightroom Classic by first exposing the hard drive as a folder using the “Show Parent Folder” command.

More Detail: At first glance it appears as though Lightroom Classic doesn’t enable you to move photos or folders to the top level (root) of a hard drive. You can see a heading representing the hard drive, and the folders that contain photos on that drive. If you attempt to drag-and-drop to the heading representing the hard drive, you won’t actually be able to move the files or folders you were dragging.

However, you can reveal the hard drive as a folder within the folder structure shown on the Folders list on the left panel in the Library module. Simply right-click on one of the top-level folders on the hard drive, and choose “Show Parent Folder” from the popup menu that appears. This command will reveal the folder that contains the folder you selected, which in the case of a top-level folder means the hard drive itself will be revealed.

When you use the “Show Parent Folder” command in this way, the hard drive will be represented as a folder above all of the other folders on the hard drive. You can then drag-and-drop folders (or photos) directly to that folder representing the hard drive.

Let’s assume, for example, you have a hard drive called “Photos”. On that hard drive you have a folder called “Italy” and within the “Italy” folder you have a folder called “Capri”. But you’ve decided you want the Capri folder to be a top-level folder, rather than a sub-folder under the Italy folder. By revealing the Photos drive as a folder using the “Show Parent Folder” command, you can then drag the Capri folder to the Photos folder (which represents the hard drive) and that Capri folder will then be a top-level folder on the hard drive.

When you’re finished making use of the hard drive as a parent folder, you can right-click on the folder and choose “Hide This Parent” to streamline the presentation of folders within the Folders list in Lightroom Classic.

Traveling Workflow


Today’s Question: I only use a laptop with my [Lightroom Classic] catalog on the laptop and my photos stored on an external hard drive. When I travel it would seem like I could use the same catalog and store my travel photos on my laptop and then transfer the photos via Lightroom [Classic] to the external hard drive when I return home. Does this make sense?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, if your Lightroom Classic catalog is on the internal hard drive of the laptop you’re traveling with, you can simply import photos captured during your travels into that catalog. You can then move the photos to their permanent storage location once you return home.

More Detail: Quite some time ago I abandoned my desktop computer, opting to use a laptop as my only computer. This was an easy decision to make, since I am typically traveling more than six months out of the year. (This year, of course, has turned into an exception.)

When you have your Lightroom Classic catalog available while traveling, you can of course make full use of that catalog when you are away from home. That enables you to, for example, browse your entire catalog of photos, even if the external hard drive containing your photos has been left back at home.

While traveling with your Lightroom Classic catalog, you can of course import new photos into the catalog. If you don’t have your external hard drive with you, then you can simply copy the photos onto the internal hard drive of your laptop when importing those photos into Lightroom Classic.

When you return home, you can connect the external hard drive to your laptop so you can transfer the photos captured during your travels to their permanent storage location. You could, for example, drag the entire folder containing the photos from your travels to the external hard drive in the Folders section of the left panel in the Library module in Lightroom Classic.

What is a LUT?


Today’s Question: Can you explain, briefly, what LUTs are, a word I’ve been seeing lately. What can they do for still photographers beyond the garden-variety sliders in Photoshop, say, or the use of plug-ins? And do LUTs exist for black-and-white as well as color?

Tim’s Quick Answer: A “LUT” is a Lookup Table, which is used in several contexts to adjust the appearance of a display, or a photo or video. LUTs have become popular for providing what is similar to a preset for altering the appearance of a photo.

More Detail: For photographers, the earliest reference they might have heard to a “LUT” would have been in the context of color management. When calibrating and profiling a computer monitor display, the software will update the LUT on the graphics card, which in turn alters the behavior of the display. In other words, the LUT in this context determines how color and luminance data from the computer actually appears on the monitor display.

More recently, “LUT” has become something of a buzzword in the world of photo optimization. In video production LUTs have long been used as a tool for editing the appearance of video. For example, video is often captured with a very neutral appearance. A LUT can then be applied in post-processing to adjust the overall tonality and color appearance of the video. This is often referred to as “color grading”.

This concept has been adapted by many photographers to alter the appearance of their photos. The use of a LUT in this context is similar in concept to applying a preset to a photo, altering the appearance of photos in a uniform way, to achieve a particular look. This has led to the availability of LUTs to be used for this purpose, including options for both color and black and white interpretations of a photo.

In Photoshop, for example, you can apply a LUT to an image by going to the menu and choosing Image > Adjustments > Color Lookup. In the Color Lookup dialog, you can then select (or load) a LUT you would like to apply to the current image.

Camera Raw versus Lightroom


Today’s Question: On several occasions I’ve seen you refer to Adobe Camera Raw alongside the Develop module in Lightroom Classic, as if the two were related. Aren’t these two completely different tools for editing photos?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Adobe Camera Raw and Adobe Lightroom Classic are indeed separate software tools, but they are related by virtue of sharing the same engine for processing photos.

More Detail: One of the key things to understand about Adobe Camera Raw and the Develop module in Lightroom Classic is that the two provide the same set of adjustment tools for processing photos. In other words, you could achieve the exact same results for a give photo with either of these tools.

However, there is also an important difference between Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom Classic, at least insofar as the workflow involved.

In short, if you are using Lightroom Classic to manage your workflow, you should never use Adobe Camera Raw to process a raw capture. Rather, your raw captures should be processed in the Develop module within Lightroom Classic. If you then want to use the powerful tools within Photoshop to further refine a photo, you should send that photo to Photoshop from within Lightroom Classic.

Of course, once you send a photo to Photoshop from Lightroom Classic, you can still make use of many of the features of Adobe Camera Raw by using the Camera Raw filter in Photoshop, found on the Filter menu.

If you are a Photoshop user who is not using Lightroom Classic to manage your photos, you’ll use Adobe Camera Raw to process your raw captures before opening the resulting image in Photoshop proper. With Camera Raw you are getting all of the editing power of the Develop module in Lightroom Classic. In other words, you aren’t missing out on any photo-optimization features by not using Lightroom Classic. You are, however, missing out on what I consider to be a more powerful workflow for organizing photos in Lightroom Classic, assuming you’re using Adobe Bridge to manage your photos in the context of a workflow that revolves around Photoshop.