Optimal ISO


Today’s Question: Another photographer wrote that using 100 ISO, if possible, is better than 200 ISO as a standard choice. Do you agree?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In many (perhaps most) cases, it is better to use 100 ISO rather than 200 ISO. However, it is important to note that the lowest ISO setting is not always the best option for every camera, in part because the lowest ISO is not necessarily the same as the base ISO.

More Detail: The image sensor in a given camera has a native sensitivity to light. You can think of this in very general terms as the result you would achieve with no amplification applied to the signal recorded by the sensor. When you raise the ISO setting, you are under-exposing the image and then amplification is applied to effectively brighten the resulting image. The result of this amplification will be some degree of noise. A greater increase in ISO setting will generally yield a greater amount of noise.

It seems logical that the lowest ISO setting should, in theory, provide the least amount of noise, since the lowest ISO setting presumably involves less amplification. However, the lowest ISO setting is not necessarily the base ISO setting. Reducing below the base ISO setting can reduce dynamic range, which can also affect overall image quality.

For optimal image quality, it is generally best to use the base ISO for your camera. In many cases this will be 100 or 200 ISO, depending on the specific camera you’re using. So, if your camera’s native ISO is 100, then you can expect better overall image quality at 100 rather than 200 ISO. If the native ISO for your camera is 200, then you may see reduced noise at 100 ISO, but you could also expect reduced dynamic range.

So, as a general rule, using the native ISO will produce the least noise with the maximum dynamic range, all other things being equal. It is important to note, however, that it can often be preferred to have a little more noise caused by an increased ISO setting, rather than having motion blur in the image caused by a shutter speed that is too slow.

Color Labels for Folders


Today’s Question: I saw in a recent Lightroom [Classic CC] update that you can add a color to a folder. Do you recommend using this feature, and if so how?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I do think the new ability to add a color label to individual folders can be a great help in a workflow for organizing photos in Lightroom Classic CC. You can see this new feature in action on my Tim Grey TV channel on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/FE6q1MASRhQ

More Detail: It has long been possible to add star ratings and color labels to your photos, such as to identify favorite photos. With a couple of recent updates to Lightroom Classic CC, you now have similar options for folders.

The “Favorite” feature for folders is essentially a star rating for a folder, but without the ability to assign a set number of stars. A folder is either marked as a favorite (with a star), or not marked as a favorite. Color labels are similar, except that you have the full range of color label options available for folders.

I have been using the “Favorite” feature to literally identify folders that contain images I’m most likely to use in the near term. I can then filter the folder list to see only the favorites, in order to more quickly find the specific folder I’m looking for.

The color label adds some new possibilities in the context of organizing your folders. For example, I’ve started assigning a red color label to folders that I have not yet completed a full review of my photos. For example, while leading a photo workshop in the Palouse region of eastern Washington State, I simply didn’t have enough time to properly sort through my photos each night. So instead I marked the folder for that trip with a red color label to clearly identify it as a folder I need to go back and review.

As with the “Favorite” feature, you can filter folders to only show those that have a color label assigned to them. At least for the current version of Lightroom Classic CC you aren’t able to filter by a specific color label for the folder list, but even being able to filter the list to only those that contain a color label (versus no color label) is very helpful in my view.

You can get a better sense of how the color label and “Favorite” features work for folders in Lightroom Classic CC in a sample lesson from my “Lightroom Quick Tips” course from GreyLearning, which we have published to my YouTube channel here:


Synchronized Deletion


Today’s Question: What happens when I delete a synchronized photo [in Lightroom]? Is it deleted everywhere? Generally I want to keep my photos on my home computer, where I do my own backups. I don’t want to store them in the cloud. If I delete them on my phone, what happens on my PC?

Tim’s Quick Answer: If you are using the cloud-based Lightroom CC, deleting a photo from any device will cause that photo to be permanently deleted from every device, including your computer at home. If you are using Lightroom Classic CC (as is the case here), deleting a photo from a synchronized location (rather than the original) will only remove the synchronized copies, and will not delete your original photo.

More Detail: Lightroom Classic CC and Lightroom CC are very similar (and somewhat interactive) when it comes to synchronizing photos. That said, there is a fundamental difference between the two in terms of how synchronization happens.

With Lightroom CC, all of your original photos are synchronized to the cloud, and available on all devices via the Lightroom CC application on a computer, app on a mobile device, or web browser through the Lightroom site (https://lightroom.adobe.com/).

Because Lightroom CC is synchronizing all of your original photos, the idea is that the cloud-based storage becomes your primary storage. Therefore, when you delete a photo that is synchronized via Lightroom CC from any platform that enables you to access those photos, all copies of that photo will be deleted. In other words, the photo will no longer be available anywhere unless you have a separate backup copy.

With Lightroom Classic CC, synchronization involves proxies of your photos rather than the original source images. Therefore, deleting from a mobile device, web browser, or copy in a collection will not cause the original source capture to be deleted. Keep in mind, of course, that with the Lightroom Classic CC desktop application it is indeed possible to delete the original source image file, which would cause that photo to be removed from all locations, such as a synchronized collection.

It is important for photographers to understand the fundamental differences between Lightroom Classic CC and Lightroom CC, so they can both make a decision about which option is better suited to their workflow, and also be sure they are using an appropriate workflow for managing their photos.

Pixel Size on Sensor


Today’s Question: I’m thinking of switching from a full frame camera to the micro four-thirds format. If the sensors have equivalent pixel count, how is image quality affected by the smaller pixel size of the four-thirds sensor when compared to the larger pixels of a full-size sensor.

Tim’s Quick Answer: While a smaller individual pixel size on the sensor improves the ability to resolve fine detail, the bigger concern would be the increase in noise (and reduced dynamic range) that results from the smaller pixel size.

More Detail: Technically, of course, the sensor doesn’t actually have pixels, but rather photo sites that gather an electrical charge based on the amount of light striking each photo site during the exposure.

In order to compare the size of the individual photo sites, you need to consider both the overall resolution of the sensor (generally presented as how many millions of pixels, or megapixels, the sensor captures) as well as the overall dimensions of the sensor. With increased resolution or decreased sensor size, individual photo sites of course need to be smaller.

As you can probably appreciate, smaller photo sites represent greater relative resolution, which translates into a greater ability to resolve fine detail. So you could reasonably expect a camera that employs a sensor with smaller individual photo sites to render greater overall detail in a photo.

However, the problem with smaller photo sites is that less information can be recorded by each individual photo site. In the context of a photographic image, the information being captured is light. So you’re capturing less light with a smaller photo site than you could with a larger photo site.

Capturing less light means the sensor will capture less dynamic range, increasing the risk of clipping for highlight or shadow detail. In addition, less light gathered will require greater amplification, which in turn will result in more noise in the final photo.

There are obviously many other variables involved, so you can’t automatically assume that a smaller sensor will result in greater noise. But as a general rule, you can expect a sensor with a higher density of photo sites to provide decreased dynamic range and increased noise, all other things being equal.

I would, of course, recommend evaluating individual camera models when it comes to overall capture performance. Some sensors (and overall camera systems) are better than others when it comes to maximizing the amount of information that can be gathered in a photographic exposure while minimizing the amount of noise.

Selective Cloud Synchronization


Today’s Question: Can I choose which photos that I want to add to the LR CC cloud-based storage? For example, can I select photos, place them in a folder or folders that I want to be added to the LR CC cloud-based storage?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The cloud-based Lightroom CC will synchronize every photo you import, so the only way to limit synchronization is to only import photos you want to have synchronized. If you use Lightroom Classic CC, by comparison, only photos you add to collections that have synchronization enabled will actually be synchronized to the cloud.

More Detail: When Adobe launched Lightroom CC (and renamed the existing product to Lightroom Classic CC), one of the key differences between the two versions of Lightroom related to synchronization.

With Lightroom CC all photos you import into your catalog are automatically synchronized to the cloud. That means that every single photo you import will be available (in its original form) from virtually anywhere. You can access all of those photos from another installation of Lightroom CC, from a mobile device using the Lightroom CC mobile app, or from a web browser by going to https://lightroom.adobe.com.

With Lightroom Classic CC, the same basic synchronization feature exists, but is implemented differently. Instead of synchronizing all photos, only those photos contained within a collection that has synchronization enabled will actually be synchronized.

To me, the differences in synchronization between Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic CC provide the key differentiator between the two. In other words, in my mind this is the feature photographers should focus on when choosing between the two versions of Lightroom.

If you want to always have all of your photos available to you from virtually anywhere, Lightroom CC might be the best choice for you. If you prefer to have all of your photos stored locally (such as on an external hard drive), and you only want to synchronize a relatively small portion of your images to review from anywhere or share with others, then Lightroom Classic CC might be the better fit.

Unsupported Raw Captures


Today’s Question: I have just purchased and am shooting with a Canon 5D Mark IV camera. I loved it until I went to download the raw files into Lightroom only to find that I am unable to! Any fixes or a way to get around this?!

Tim’s Quick Answer: Your camera (along with many newer camera models) is supported by Lightroom. So your issue would suggest that either you aren’t using an updated version of Lightroom, or that you’re running into an issue where the Creative Cloud application doesn’t show you that updates are available.

More Detail: When a new camera model is released, there’s a good chance that the new camera will make use of a new raw capture format. That, in turn, means that you’ll need to update your software to a version that supports the new raw capture format. If you don’t have support for the latest raw capture format, there are three issues that may result.

First, of course, it is possible that the software you’re using has not yet been updated to support the new capture format. If that’s the case, you’ll either need to use different software (such as that provided by your camera manufacturer) or simply wait until the software you use is updated. In this case, however, Lightroom has indeed been updated to support the Canon 5D Mark IV.

The second issue would be a need to update Lightroom to a new version that supports the new raw capture format. In general this would involve going to the Apps tab of the Creative Cloud application, where you should find an indication that there is a new version of Lightroom available and ready to be installed. If so, you can click the “Update” button associated with Lightroom to install the new version. You can also access updates by choosing Help > Updates from the menu within Lightroom.

The third possibility is that you are running into an issue where new updates are not listed for you in the Creative Cloud application. If so, one of the solutions provided on Adobe’s support website will hopefully solve your issue. You can find the details of recommended solutions on Adobe’s website here:


Histogram Mismatch


Today’s Question: I have noticed that the histogram I can display on my digital SLR with live view enabled does not always match the histogram for the actual photo I capture. In some cases the live view histogram shows no clipping, and then there is clipping in the captured photo. Why don’t the histograms match?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The exposure preview and histogram available with live view is an estimation of what the final exposure will look like, but it can’t be expected to be completely accurate because the live view histogram preview is not based on the exact photographic exposure you will produce when you capture an image.

More Detail: This question was actually posed during my current photo workshop in the remarkable Palouse region of eastern Washington State. The example I provided to clarify the difference between the preview histogram and the final histogram related to exposure time.

If you consider that you might have your camera configured for a 30-second exposure, I think it is easier to understand that you can’t expect the image preview or histogram on the live view display to be completely accurate. After all, you can see the live view preview and histogram instantly, while the photo will require thirty seconds to actually capture. So the camera in this case would need to apply amplification to the signal being gathered by the sensor to enable the live view display, in order to simulate what the actual exposure will look like.

In some ways this is similar to the fact that the live view display will show you what the scene looks like with a wide-open lens aperture, even if you’ve set the aperture to be stopped down by several stops. You would need to press the depth of field preview button to see the actual depth of field you can expect, and even then the exposure is once again a simulation enabled by amplification of the signal being received by the image sensor for the live view display.

Having said all that, the histogram based on a simulated exposure for the live view display will generally be reasonably accurate. However, especially in situations where the light is very tricky, such as with high contrast for a sunset scene, you can expect some variability between the histogram you see in the live view display and the final result for the actual capture.

Hard Drive Confusion


Today’s Question: My pictures are on an external hard drive. On a recent trip I left this drive at home and took a new hard drive along. The new drive was assigned the same drive letter as the existing drive. I use Lightroom Classic CC and have one catalog. As Windows does not recognize two hard drives with the letter D, I changed one to E. Now there is a question mark on all pictures. How do I go from here?

Tim’s Quick Answer: All you need to do in order to resolve this issue is to reconnect the missing folders so Lightroom is looking for them in the right place. To do so, right-click on a folder that appear missing and choose the “Find Missing Folder” command. Then navigate to that folder on the applicable hard drive, and click the “Choose” button. The folder will then no longer appear as a missing folder, and will move to a separate heading for the new hard drive on the Folders list in the Library module.

More Detail: When you import photos into your Lightroom catalog, the source files are referenced based on the hard drive, folder location, and filename. If any of those three attributes are changed, the affected photos (and possibly folders) will appear as missing in Lightroom.

This question relates to the simplest correction, since only the drive letter (or volume label for Macintosh users) has changed. In some cases you would correct this by simply changing the drive letter (or volume label) back to what Lightroom is expecting. In this case, of course, the issue is that the same drive letter was assigned to two different drives.

Therefore, you will find that photos from both the D and E drives will appear in Lightroom as being on the D drive, because they were imported to a drive with the same drive letter assignment. Therefore, you simply need to reconnect the folders that are now on the E drive. So, here you would right-click on a missing folder, navigate to the E drive, select the folder with the same name as the one you right-clicked on, and click the Choose button. That folder will then no longer be missing, and the photos within the folder will also be reconnected. You can repeat this process as needed for any other missing folders.

Number of Focus Points


Today’s Question: My camera allows me to choose how many focus points I want to have available (1, 4, 8, etc.). When photographing a moving subject such as a flying bird, how many focus points to you recommend having active?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Generally speaking, with a moving subject my preference is to use a single focus point. I will then choose which focus point to select based on where in the frame I want the subject to appear. This enables me to focus where I want to, but also provides a “target” to help make sure I’m positioning the subject where I want it in the frame. But of course there are also scenarios when this approach might not provide the best solution.

More Detail: When you have multiple focus points active, the camera will decide which specific focus point will be used for establishing automatic focus for the scene you are capturing. As a general rule this will be the object closest to the lens that actually falls at one of the focus points that is active.

In many cases, of course, it may be perfectly acceptable (and preferable) to let the camera choose which focus point to use to establish automatic focus. In some cases you might want to enable the full range of focus points, which for many cameras could mean dozens of options. And with the sophisticated autofocus in many cameras, you may find that the camera does a great job of selecting the right focus point for many photos.

That said, I prefer to exercise as much control as possible when it comes to establishing a focus point, especially when depth of field is a concern. For bird photography, for example, I would want to make sure that the focus point is on the eye of the bird if at all possible, which can make working with a single focus point all the more important.

If you know you’ll have more than enough depth of field for a given photographic scenario, I think it is reasonable to let the camera select the focus point for you. But when depth of field is limited, or you are otherwise concerned about exactly where the focus is set, I think using a single focus point makes more sense. And, as noted above, enabling a single focus point also provides you with a “target” to use within the viewfinder for positioning and tracking your key subject.

Missing XMP Files


Today’s Question: Recently I’ve noticed that some of my folders containing RAW files do not have any of the associated XMP files. Do you have any ideas as to how this could have happened other than my somehow inadvertently deleting them?

Tim’s Quick Answer: A lack of XMP files would indicate either you have not made any updates to some of your raw captures, you have disabled the option to automatically save changes to the original captures in Lightroom, or you have somehow inadvertently deleted the XMP sidecar files.

More Detail: The XMP sidecar files you might see alongside your original raw captures are there to contain any metadata you’ve added to the photos. This can include standard metadata such as keywords and star ratings, for example, as well as other information such as adjustment settings from Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom.

With most image types, when you update the metadata for an image that metadata is simply written to the file itself. This would be the case for JPEG or TIFF images, for example. But for original raw captures, the idea is that you don’t want to risk harming the original capture data, and so metadata will be stored separately.

If you are using Adobe Bridge to manage your photos and Adobe Camera Raw to process your raw captures, metadata would not be written to an XMP sidecar file unless you have actually processed the image with Camera Raw or have updated metadata such as with Adobe Bridge. If you’ve not worked with a particular raw capture, an XMP sidecar file would not be created for that capture.

With Lightroom Classic CC, XMP files are only created if you have specifically chosen to save metadata for your photos. You could use a menu command (Metadata > Save Metadata to Files), or enable the option to automatically write metadata to files on the Metadata tab of the Catalog Settings dialog. If you have not made use of one of these options (or otherwise created XMP files with other software) there would be no XMP files for affected raw captures on your hard drive.

And, of course, it is possible that you could have inadvertently deleted the XMP files from your hard drive. Doing so would cause you to lose metadata updates for your photos (unless those updates are contained in a Lightroom catalog, for example), but would not cause any problems with the original raw captures.