Move Warning


Today’s Question: Every time I move a file in Lightroom I get a warning that this move  cannot be undone, and nor any changes made previously. What are the ramifications of this? Sounds ominous and I hesitate each time. Would I be better off moving each photo with its sidecar using Finder [in the operating system] and re-importing to the other folder?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The warning message about moving photos within Lightroom is a bit ominous sounding, but it should be thought of only as a reminder and not as an ominous warning. My biggest hesitation about moving photos relates to the (perhaps slightly irrational) fear that something will go wrong during that process. But as long as I have a good backup of my existing photos, I’m perfectly comfortable using the option to move images directly within Lightroom.

More Detail: Of course, it is reasonable that you should hesitate when Lightroom indicates that you’re not unable to simply undo the move operation. After all, you can certainly make a mess of things in your Lightroom catalog if you move photos to the wrong location by mistake. However, it is worth keeping in mind that if you do move photos to the wrong location, while you can’t simply undo that step, you can move the photos again to the correct location.

Note, also, that you do have the option to disable this warning about moving your photos. To disable the warning, simply turn on the “Don’t show again” checkbox in the confirmation dialog when you initiate a move operation.

However, I strongly recommend that you do not disable the warning about moving photos. While the warning sounds much more ominous than I consider necessary, the dialog is a good reminder to stop and make sure you’ve dragged the correct images to the correct folder. If you have any doubts at all, click the Cancel button and start over with the move operation.

While the confirmation dialog may sound scary, in my mind it isn’t nearly as scary as the prospect of moving photos outside of Lightroom and then trying to reconnect the missing photos in your Lightroom catalog that will result. So, make sure you have a good backup, and move photos within Lightroom anytime you need to do so.

Consolidating a Subfolder


Today’s Question: I find that I have created a sub-folder, I assume during import [into Lightroom], and I really did not want to. This is preventing me from changing the order of my photos. Can you tell me how to get rid of this sub-folder so I have a single folder?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Cleaning up a folder structure that includes unwanted subfolders is a two-step process. First you’ll want to move the photos from the subfolder into the parent folder, and then you’ll want to delete the (now empty) subfolder.

More Detail: Of course, before setting out on this task I recommend making sure you have a full backup of all of your photos, just in case anything goes wrong during the process of consolidating images from subfolders.

When you’re ready to perform this consolidation task, navigate to the subfolder within Lightroom. Note that it is critical to perform this work within Lightroom, not from your operating system or other software, to ensure your folder structure and file location information within Lightroom remains accurate.

Make sure there aren’t any filters, so you’re able to see all of the photos within the subfolder. Then choose Edit > Select All from the menu (or press Ctrl+A on Windows or Command+A on Macintosh) to select all of the photos in the subfolder. You can then position the mouse pointer over any one of the selected images, and drag-and-drop to the parent folder.

You will be asked for a confirmation that you want to move the photos on your hard drive, which you should of course confirm so that the move operation will proceed. Once the move operation has completed and the subfolder is empty, you can right-click on that subfolder and choose the Remove option. Once you confirm this step in the confirmation dialog, the empty subfolder will be removed.

You can, of course, repeat this basic process to consolidate images from multiple subfolders as needed to cleanup your overall folder structure. For readers who have subscribed to my GreyLearning video training library (, you can view a video lesson of the process of consolidating folders in Lesson 10 of the course “Lightroom 5: Resolving Organizational Challenges”.

“Plus” Icon for Collection


Today’s Question: Can you tell me what the “plus” symbol next to Quick Collection in Lightroom means? I tried to click on the plus but nothing happens. Is there a purpose for this symbol?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The “plus” (+) symbol that appears to the right the Quick Collection in the Catalog section of the left panel in the Library module in Lightroom indicates that the Quick Collection is the current “target collection”. In other words, this is an indication that if you press the letter “B” on the keyboard, the currently selected image (or images) will be added to the Quick Collection.

More Detail: What might not be obvious though is that you can also change which collection is the current target collection. In other words, while the “B” key will cause an image to be added to the Quick Collection by default, you can also set a different collection as the target collection. That, in turn, will cause the letter “B” keyboard shortcut to add the currently selected photo to a collection other than the Quick Collection.

To change which collection will be the target collection for the “B” keyboard shortcut, you can right-click on a collection and choose “Set as Target Collection” from the popup menu that appears.

In this way, you can work with much greater flexibility when using collections. If you are working on a project that involves the images in a single collection, you can set that collection as the target collection to make it easier to add other images to the collection with the simple press of a key on the keyboard.

I do recommend, however, that you set the Quick Collection back to being the target collection when you’re finished working with a different target collection, just to maintain consistent behavior as far as the “B” key adding a photo to the Quick Collection by default.

You can learn more about my approach to using this ability to re-assign the target collection keyboard shortcut in the article “Multiple Quick Collections” in the January 2013 issue of Pixology magazine. If you’re not already a subscriber, you can subscribe today and gain access to this and all other back issues of the magazine. Learn more about Pixology at

Layer versus Vector Masks


Today’s Question: What’s your opinion on the use of vector versus layer masks in general photo editing [in Photoshop], and also the potential utility of combining both types of masks on a single layer?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In most cases I would say that only layer masks (and not a vector mask) should be used in the context of a photographic image. However, there are certainly situations where a vector shape can serve as a good starting point for a layer mask or a vector mask.

More Detail: In a very general way, you can think of a layer mask as being composed of pixels (just like a photographic image) and a vector mask as being composed of a shape (such as a font or a geometric shape). One of the things that makes vector graphics unique and useful is that they can be scaled infinitely without reducing the quality of the shape.

That is because a vector is defined by angles and curves rather than specific pixels. A good example of a vector shape would be the letters in a font. You can resize actual text without reducing the quality of that text, whereas resizing a raster image (such as a photo) will cause some reduction in quality.

The reason layer masks (rather than vector masks) are generally best for photographic images is that the shapes found within photographic images are generally not as smooth an precise as a vector shape. Thus, a bit more flexibility is often necessary.

That said, vector masks can be feathered just like layer masks, so it is not unreasonable to use a vector as the basis of a mask. In some cases, such as when you want to use a mask in the form of text, a vector mask makes perfect sense. In other cases you may find that a vector (such as those you can create with the Pen tool in Photoshop) provide an excellent starting point for a vector mask or even a layer mask.

But again, in general I would suggest that layer masks are most valuable in the context of photographic images, and that vector masks are helpful in a relatively small percentage of situations.

Understanding the Catalog


Today’s Question: Does my Lightroom catalogue contain all of my imported pictures AND associated edit recipes [adjustments], or just a link to where the pictures were imported from?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The Lightroom catalog contains a reference to your original image files on your hard drive, and also contains the metadata about your photos including adjustments you have applied in the Develop module within Lightroom.

More Detail: This is perhaps one of the most critical things to understand about Lightroom. The Lightroom catalog does not actually contain your photos, but rather manages information about your photos. You still need to keep the actual photo files on your hard drive.

When you import photos into your Lightroom catalog using the “Add” option, the photos will remain where they are, and references to those photos will be added to the catalog. Similarly, when you import photos with the “Copy” option, the source photos are copied to the destination you specify, and references to those photos are added to your catalog. In both cases you need to retain (and backup!) your actual photo files.

When you apply adjustments in the Develop module, that information is also contained in your Lightroom catalog, so that (for example) if you export an image the new file that is created in the process will reflect your adjustments.

It is worth noting that if you turn on the “Automatically write changes into XMP” checkbox on the Metadata tab of the Catalog Settings dialog, Lightroom will also write standard metadata fields and your Develop adjustment settings to an XMP sidecar file for your RAW captures or to the actual image file itself in the case of other supported image formats. This option provides a form of backup for most of the information about your photos, and improves cross-application compatibility, but is not a complete replacement for your Lightroom catalog.

Resolution Requirements


Today’s Question: I know this is a bit of an old subject, and perhaps the question is no longer really valid or important. But I wonder how many megapixels do we really need? Can you provide some perspective on this?

Tim’s Quick Answer: This is a perfectly reasonable question, and one that I think tends to get the “wrong” kind of attention. In short, while most photographers probably only need a camera with a resolution on the order of no more than 20 megapixels, there are certainly photographers who need more.

More Detail: Ultimately, how many megapixels you need is determined by how large you need to print a photo. Complicating matters slightly is the need to have adequate resolution to crop a photo and still print at a reasonable size, but that is in my mind a secondary concern.

First, let’s consider some extreme scenarios. The first thing a photographer needs to consider when determining their digital camera resolution requirement is how large they want to be able to print their photos. For now, let’s assume the simple resolution numbers required for actually producing a print.

If you need to be able to print up to 40-inches by 60-inches, assuming a photo inkjet print with a 360 pixel per inch (ppi) resolution, you need over 310 megapixels to be represented in the final image. That translates to 14,400 pixels on the “short” side, and 21,600 pixels on the “long” side. For a 20×30-inch print you would need just over 78 megapixels (7,200 pixels by 10,800 pixels).

Of course, this isn’t entirely fair, since you can enlarge (via interpolation) an image with excellent results. As a very general guideline, I recommend limiting your enlargements to no more than about double the width and height of the original capture. So, for a 20×30-inch print you could actually start with a file that represents 10×15-inches of information. Based on the specifications provided above, that translates to a little over 19 megapixels (3,600 pixels by 5,400 pixels).

I think the reason many feel that the megapixel subject is no longer worth discussing is that we’ve reached a point where most photographers will be adequately served by the resolution offered by most digital SLR cameras today. A somewhat “typical” digital SLR with an 18-megapixel sensor enables the production of prints up to about 20×30 inches without much difficulty.

Of course, some photographers need to print much larger than 20×30-inches, and for them a higher resolution camera makes perfect sense. But if you consider 20×30-inches to be a very large print, then around 18 megapixels will be perfectly fine. Beyond that, it is worth considering your needs in terms of output size (and cropping) to determine how much resolution you really need.

But as you can see, with a 40×60-inch print calling for over 300 megapixels worth of information, it isn’t outrageous for photographers to still want ever-greater resolution in their digital cameras. Extremely high resolution cameras may still be a bit expensive, but they do serve a valuable purpose for those who need to produce large output.

Noise Reduction Workflow


Today’s Question: I saw your video on Noiseless Pro. I’ve started using it as a plug-in to Lightroom on RAW images When you finish editing the image in Noiseless Pro, it returns you to Lightroom and saves the changes as a TIFF or PSD. Since you are no longer working on a RAW file, is it better to make your adjustments (blacks, highlights, exposure, white balance, etc) before editing in Noiseless Pro instead of after when your adjusting the TIFF or PSD?

Tim’s Quick Answer: When a plug-in is being employed in this way, I do recommend applying most of your adjustments in Lightroom before sending the image to the plug-in for further processing.

More Detail: I generally prefer to apply noise reduction as early in my workflow as possible. However, I also prefer to leverage the various adjustments within Lightroom for my RAW captures before working with an external editor (such as a plug-in) beyond Lightroom. Therefore, in this case my preference to process the RAW capture within Lightroom as completely as possible will win out.

By optimizing the image in Lightroom first, not only are you leveraging the various adjustments for the original RAW capture, but you are also getting closer to the final result for the image. This will in turn have an impact on how you process the image with other software, such as a noise reduction plug-in.

Naturally you may decide later that additional adjustments are necessary after you’ve created the derivative TIFF or PSD file using a plug-in, and that is perfectly fine. I recommend optimizing the image in Lightroom’s Develop module to achieve a result that is as close to final as possible. Then send the image to the plug-in you wish to use, and process the image accordingly. Later, if you want to apply additional Lightroom adjustments, you can most certainly do so. Provided those final adjustments are relatively modest, they won’t have a significant impact on the overall quality of the final image.

Golden Spiral


Today’s Question: Like perhaps every photographer out there, I’m familiar with the “rule of thirds”. But I didn’t know about the “golden spiral” until I saw it as an option for a crop overlay. I looked it up and read about it, and it didn’t really make a lot of sense to me. Do you think this is a “rule” I should be paying attention to in my photography?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I put the Golden Spiral “rule” in the same category as the Rule of Thirds. Put simply, I think it can be helpful to be familiar with the concepts behind these guidelines for composition, but you shouldn’t feel the need to strictly apply these “rules” to your photography.

More Detail: Let’s start with the Rule of Thirds. From my point of view, the Rule of Thirds is not really aimed at making sure you align a key subject precisely along a line dividing the image into one-third increments. Rather, this rule is a “shorthand” for a concept, aimed at helping ensure you achieve a degree of balance, interest, and perhaps symmetry in a given photo.

For example, I tend to think about the Rule of Thirds as being more about balancing the “weight” of subjects in the frame, rather than being about strict positioning within the frame. It is often more interesting (and feels more balanced) to have a key subject off to the side, adding considerable “weight” to that side of the frame, with a relatively open space on the other side balancing out that weight.

The Golden Spiral is similarly focused on the distribution of the key subject (and secondary subjects) within the frame. But the spiral itself rarely applies completely to a photographic scene. Very often when I see photos that have the Golden Spiral as an overlay on the image, the photo itself only loosely matches the shape of the spiral. More often than not I get the feeling that the photographer may have simply found an image that worked reasonably well with the Golden Spiral overlay, rather than actually employing the Golden Spiral at the time of capture.

That’s not to say that the Golden Spiral is somehow “bad”, or that you should ignore this guideline of composition. Indeed, my feeling is that it is worthwhile to gain familiarity with guidelines such as the Golden Spiral, which can provide a degree of consistency and balance when applied effectively in a photograph.

So, I encourage you to learn about these various ratios and look for scenes that lend themselves to those ratios. I simply recommend using these various “rules” as compositional guides rather than taking a dogmatic approach. Allow these various rules to help you better see the world, but don’t get locked into always using a specific compositional guideline. The various rules of composition can help you better see the optimal composition so you can make better decisions about your framing, but there is more to making a great photograph than employing mathematical ratios in the composition.

Missing Features?


Today’s Question: What new features available in the Lightroom CC upgrade are not included in the standalone upgrade?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The only new features that are not included in the standalone version of Lightroom (version 6.1) that are included in the CC version (version 2015.1) are the new Dehaze adjustment and the ability to apply targeted adjustments for Blacks and Whites (using the Adjustment Brush, the Graduated Filter, or the Radial Filter).

More Detail: There are, of course, other features that had previously been available and are only available in the Creative Cloud version of Lightroom, which requires a Creative Cloud subscription. For example, synchronization to Lightroom Mobile is only supported in the Creative Cloud version of Lightroom. Other features (such as online image storage) that are specific to the Adobe Creative Cloud would also require a subscription.

But in terms of new features in the latest update, so far the new Dehaze adjustment (which I have covered in detail in the June 2015 issue of Pixology magazine) and targeted adjustmetns for Blacks and Whites are the only features included in the Creative Cloud version of Lightroom but not in the standalone version.

Un-Erase on Gradient


Today’s Question: I have used the graduated filter in Lightroom to reduce exposure (darken the sky) and have erased non-sky portions of the effect. In the course of doing so, I erased a bit of sky by mistake. I can’t figure out how correct the mistake without completely redoing the whole erasure. How do I restore the bit of sky I erased to the original graduated filter effect?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Solving this challenge can be quite difficult in terms of producing a result that blends together well. Switching to “unerase” mode is simply a matter of choosing the “A” or “B” brush option after switching to the Brush setting for the Graduated Filter (or the Radial Filter). However, when you use the “A” or “B” brush option the adjustment effect will be revealed completely, overriding the gradient you had already added. You can, however, use the Density setting to help blend the effect.

More Detail: The Graduated Filter creates, as you would expect, an adjustment that transitions from one side of the image to the opposite side. For example, you can darken the sky and have that darkening effect taper off toward the horizon.

Using the Brush option within the Graduated Filter, you can choose the Erase setting and then paint within the image to erase the adjustment effect. For example, if an object extends into the sky that is being darkened by the Graduated Filter, you can paint over that object with the Erase setting so that the adjustment does not apply in that area.

If you accidentally paint with the Erase option outside of the object and into the sky, the easiest approach may well be to simply undo your last brush stroke. This is problematic if you have painted a large area in a single stroke, but this also provides an argument in favor of working with small brush strokes to provide greater flexibility.

In situations where you need to return to an area you had erased an adjustment from in order to reveal small portions of the adjustment, you will want to make use of the “A” or “B” brush option to reverse the effect of the Erase brush option. However, this isn’t as simple as you might have hoped.

When you paint with the “A” or “B” brush for the Graduated Filter (or the Radial Filter), you aren’t simply revealing the effect of the gradient, but rather are replacing that gradient with a 100% adjustment effect in the area you paint. In other words, the area you paint will no longer include a smooth gradation for the adjustment.

You can overcome this limitation to some extent by carefully adjusting the Density setting for the brush. The challenge is to find the right setting, which can take a bit of trial and error. You might, for example, use a very low setting for the Density slider, such as 10% or 20%. Then set the Feather value to the maximum of 100%, so that you are getting the maximum amount of blending. You can then paint multiple times over a given area to build up the effect to achieve a good blend.

Of course, all of this careful work will go by the wayside if you then decide to change the shape of the gradient you created with the Graduated Filter. If you change the size of the transition or the position of the gradient, the area you carefully painted will no longer match up.

These various issues demonstrate some of the shortcomings of the targeted adjustment features within Lightroom. While it can be tremendously helpful to be able to combine the effect of the Graduated Filter with the Adjustment Brush in a single combined mask, you still don’t have the degree of flexibility and control that is available in Photoshop.

As a result, I tend to use Lightroom only for relatively basic targeted adjustments. Even then, I am careful to make sure that any painting I have done on the mask for the targeted adjustment is highly accurate. But for layer masks that require precision, or where I want to preserve maximum flexibility, I will send the image to Photoshop rather than working within Lightroom.