Live Photos Cause Confusion

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Today’s Question: I’ve just imported some files from my iPhone 7+ into my Lightroom catalog. Two funny things show up. Most troubling is that apparently without knowing it I made short videos (maybe 3 seconds long) when I was making the photos. There is also a JPEG next to the movie. Why am I getting both a photo and a video?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The photos in question are “Live Photos”, which are really a variation on a short video clip available as a feature on the iPhone.

More Detail: The Camera app for the iPhone includes a “Live Photo” feature, which is a photo that has a degree of movement to it. The capture is a special video of about three seconds in duration, and a single frame is presented as the “photo” for this video clip. You can also apply some special effects to Live Photos using the Photos app on the iPhone or on a Macintosh computer.

Of course, other software such as Lightroom isn’t able to fully support the Live Photo format. This is one of the reasons I prefer to leave the Live Photo feature turned off, instead choosing whether I want a photo or video for each capture.

The Live Photo feature is enabled by tapping the icon that has a series of concentric circles, forming an icon that looks something like a target. When the icon is yellow the Live Photo feature is enabled. If you want to disable the Live Photo feature, simply tap the icon so it becomes white, indicating Live Photo is inactive.

In the context of Lightroom, you may want to simply delete the video component of the Live Photo captures, and only retain the JPEG images. And, perhaps more importantly, you may want to make sure to leave this feature off to avoid this issue altogether. I do recommend checking the setting periodically in the Camera app, as in my experience this is one of the most common features to get turned on by mistake on the iPhone.

Photos in Two Locations

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Today’s Question: I live in two places (8 months of the year in Alaska and 4 months in Florida). I have desktop computers and work with my images in both locations using Lightroom and Photoshop. I have all my images in both places but after working on some of my images at the location I’m currently at, I’d like to know if it’s possible, expeditiously, to have all the changes I make at that location carry over to the other location. I have too many images to bring them all back and forth.

Tim’s Quick Answer: This is actually the type of scenario where the relatively new cloud-based Adobe Lightroom CC provides some advantages over Lightroom Classic CC. Otherwise, there are options that could help, but the workflow wouldn’t exactly be what I would call “streamlined”.

More Detail: If you opt to use the cloud-based Lightroom CC, you’ll be able to synchronize your photos to cloud-based storage so that all of your images are available from any location with an Internet connection. Of course, the initial synchronization could take a very long time, but after that as long as you have a reasonably fast connect this approach could work pretty well. This would also be the simplest solution in this type of situation, because it wouldn’t involve any special effort to have all of your photos available at all locations you work from.

If you prefer to use Lightroom Classic CC, a common solution to this type of situation would be to keep all of the photos on a single external hard drive, and to keep the Lightroom catalog on that same drive. You could then bring that drive with you when you change locations, so you would always have all of your photos and the information about those photos wherever you are at any given moment. But, as noted in the question, this isn’t a practical solution.

What I would do based on these constraints is import new captures into a separate “temporary” catalog. I would then perform my initial culling, updating, and optimizing work within that “temporary” catalog. This would be slightly inconvenient in terms of new captures being in a catalog separate from all of your existing photos, but it would streamline the next step.

When you are ready to travel from one location to the other, just before leaving you could import the photos from your temporary catalog into your master catalog, using the “Import from Another Catalog” command on the File menu. When you get to the other location, you could perform the exact same step, having traveled with copies of the temporary catalog and new photos. As long as you have an exact copy of your master catalog and all existing photos in both locations when you begin this approach, updating at each location would be as simple as using a temporary catalog for new captures, and importing to both copies of your master catalog when you switch locations.

It is important to note that you would also need to copy your master Lightroom catalog from the location you’re departing to the location you’re arriving at. In other words, you would basically need to update the catalog (with previews) at both locations whenever you traveled. That makes this a rare situation where I would recommend not using the option to automatically write metadata updates to the actual image files, instead keeping everything in the catalog.

Frankly, I would suggest giving serious thought to using the cloud-based Lightroom CC, as that would significantly streamline your overall workflow, and virtually eliminate the risk of any problems created by all of the extra work that would be involved with Lightroom CC in this context.

Lightroom Slider Sensitivity

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Today’s Question: As a longtime user of Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop, I’m only now trying to learn to use Lightroom [Classic CC]. I realize it has some real advantages, but there is one thing about it that really irritates me. Compared to Camera Raw, the sliders in the Develop module are quite small and, in my opinion, overly sensitive. They don’t permit fine adjustments nearly as easily as Camera Raw does. Or have I overlooked some way of changing that in Lightroom?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There are two recommendations I can offer. First, you can enlarge the right panel in the Develop module to make the adjustment sliders larger and therefore less sensitive to small mouse movements. In addition, you can use keyboard shortcuts to increase or decrease the value for individual adjustments.

More Detail: The panels in Lightroom Classic can all be resized to make them larger or smaller. You can simply point your mouse at the inner edge of any panel, and then drag to enlarge the panel. So, for example, you could drag the left edge of the right panel in the Develop module toward the left in order to enlarge the panel. This will make it easier to apply adjustments with the mouse, since a larger slider range will create an adjustment that is less sensitive.

In addition, in Lightroom (or Camera Raw) you can use keyboard shortcuts to increase or decrease the value for most of the adjustments. As you may have noticed, most of the adjustments include a numeric value that changes as you drag the applicable slider left or right. If you click on a numeric value for a slider you wish to adjust, that value will be highlighted.

You can then use the up and down arrow keys on the keyboard to increase or decrease the highlighted value, respectively. If you hold the Shift key while pressing the up or down arrow key on the keyboard, the value will be increased or decreased to a greater degree. In most cases holding the Shift key will cause the arrow key shortcut to adjust the value by a factor of ten, but this will vary with different adjustments.

With both of these options I think you’ll find that you are able to alter the various adjustment values in Lightroom with the same degree of control that is available in Adobe Camera Raw.

Catalog Backup Options

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Today’s Question: I used to perform my periodic catalog backups in Lightroom [Classic CC] by highlighting All Photographs in my catalog and using the Export as Catalog function. It was my not-very-clear belief that this was the only way to have an exact copy of my catalog that would function just like the original in the event the original was lost or corrupted.

More recently, I have taken to backing up by simply dragging and dropping the Lightroom folder from my main drive to my backup drive to copy it. Backing up this way seems to take less time than using Export as Catalog and to run more smoothly. I can’t see that there’s any difference in the result. Am I missing something?

Tim’s Quick Answer: When it comes to backing up your Lightroom catalog on a regular basis, I actually recommend using the built-in backup feature. It is also important to backup your photos, since that isn’t included in the catalog backup. The “Export as Catalog” command provides an option for backing up both the catalog and all of your photos as one big (and possibly time-consuming) process.

More Detail: The reason I recommend using Lightroom’s built-in catalog backup is that doing so includes the option (enabled by default) to check the integrity of the catalog and to optimize the catalog. This can help avoid (or get an early warning of) potential problems with the catalog file itself, such as corruption of the data file. By default Lightroom will prompt you to backup the catalog once per week, but you can also change the frequency or perform a backup on-demand at any time.

You can certainly drag-and-drop the folder that contains your Lightroom catalog to a backup location in order to copy the entire contents of that folder, including all of the previews associated with the images in your catalog. However, this is not the approach I would generally recommend. Instead, I would suggest including the hard drive where your catalog is stored as part of a general backup process.

The “Export as Catalog” option is not really intended as a backup solution, but since the result is a duplicate catalog, it can certainly be used for backup purposes. To backup all photos in your entire catalog you either need to make sure that no photos are selected before choosing the “Export as Catalog” command from the File menu, or that you have selected all photos from the All Photographs collection in the Catalog section of the left panel in the Library module. Also, if you want to backup the photos themselves in addition to the catalog, you’ll want to be sure the “Export negative files” checkbox is checked. This will cause the source images to be copied to the selected location, along with a catalog containing all of the metadata for those images.

Of course, all of these various options can be combined as part of a thorough backup workflow. You can backup your catalog and photos as part of a normal backup workflow, you could certainly drag-and-drop the folder containing your catalog at any time to create an ad hoc backup of just the catalog, and you can use the “Export as Catalog” command to create a standalone catalog with copies of photos, either for your entire catalog or for a portion of your images.

Optimizing Sharpness

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Today’s Question: I am sharing links to two Instagram where the photos appear VERY sharp. The photographer said that he takes the photos into Photoshop to sharpen. Can Lightroom do this? What about Lightroom Mobile?

Tim’s Quick Answer: You can indeed sharpen in Lightroom (Classic or CC) as well as Lightroom Mobile (now referred to as Lightroom CC as well) and Adobe Camera Raw. In fact, for optimal detail I would say that a combination of sharpening along with the Clarity, and Dehaze adjustments can help produce excellent perceived sharpness in a photo, especially when it is shared at a relatively small size.

More Detail: Sharpness in a photo is generally exhibited by relatively high contrast in areas of texture. In other words, when there are variations in tonal values within a photo, a higher degree of contrast in those areas generally translates into greater perceived sharpness.

In a very general sense you can think of the difference between sharpening, Clarity, and Dehaze as being a matter of scale. There are really more differences at play with these adjustment options, to be sure. But you can think of sharpening as increasing sharpness at a very small scale, Clarity as increasing sharpness at a “medium” scale, and Dehaze as increasing sharpness at a large scale.

I typically focus my initial attention on applying overall adjustments to the image in order to optimize tone and color. Then I’ll look at the Clarity adjustment to help emphasize mid-tone contrast and texture. Finally, for images that have a little bit too much of an overall hazy appearance, I might increase the value for Dehaze a little bit.

The key is to try to optimize the overall appearance of sharpness, texture, and detail in the image, without overdoing it to create a “crunchy” appearance or the look of exaggerated adjustments.

I think it is also important to add that a well-lit scene (especially with considerable crisp texture in the scene), with a proper exposure, and perfectly established focus, can all contribute significantly to the final appearance of relative sharpness in the photo. In some cases you may actually find that relatively narrow depth of field can help draw greater attention to the perception of sharpness in a photo.

And, since in this case the question was motivated by viewing images on Instagram, it is also worth noting that when images are shared at a relatively small size, the perceived sharpness may be a little greater, since we’re not able to closely evaluate the degree of contrast along texture edges in the image.

Low-Light Compromises

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Today’s Question: This approach [of capturing a bracketed sequence of exposures to assemble in to a high dynamic range image] works with a stationary or nearly stationary object. Would the same advice be offered if you were shooting candid photos or some action scene? For example, an indoor sport where the lighting was overhead and fairly constant and only the players kept moving.

Tim’s Quick Answer: When there is any significant motion in a scene (especially a key subject that is moving), a bracketed exposure to create a high dynamic range (HDR) image will be difficult if not impossible. In that type of situation your only real option is to compromise on detail for either the highlights or shadows, and possibly to compromise on overall exposure settings.

More Detail: By definition, capturing bracketed exposures for an HDR image requires more time than a single capture. To begin with, you will generally be capturing several exposures with different shutter speeds. In addition, you will likely be capturing three or more individual exposures, which increases the total amount of time for the capture (even if you can use relatively fast shutter speeds for all of the exposures).

As a result, with any significant amount of motion in the scene you may need to limit yourself to a single exposure. That will involve a compromise in terms of total detail in the image, as well as a compromise in terms of overall noise levels for the photo.

By opting for a single exposure rather than an HDR created from a bracketed sequence of exposures, you’ll be covering a narrower tonal range for the scene. That means you will likely need to choose between sacrificing highlight detail versus shadow detail. As a general rule it is preferred that highlight detail be preserved at the expense of shadow detail. However, that may vary depending on the specifics of the scene you’re photographing. The point is that you’ll need to make a decision about the overall exposure that involves a degree of compromise relative to detail in the image.

In addition, with movement in the scene you may need to compromise on other camera settings. It might be necessary to sacrifice depth of field, for example, opening up the aperture more than you might otherwise want to in order to allow more light for a faster shutter speed.

You might also need to increase the ISO setting beyond your normal comfort level, in order to ensure a shutter speed that is fast enough to avoid (or minimize) apparent motion blur in your captures. This will obviously increase the amount of noise in the photo, due to the effects of amplification applied based on the higher ISO setting.

Of course, having less depth of field or more noise in the capture is probably better than having motion blur in the photo. The specific decisions you make will depend on your own priorities for photographing the scene. The key is to be aware of the consequences of each decision you’re making, so you can make a better decision about the specific compromises involved.

Underexpose or Raise ISO?

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Today’s Question: All things being equal, with a raw capture is it better to raise the ISO rather than underexposing and brightening in post? A specific challenge for me is holding detail in moonlit scenes without blowing out the moon. Under-exposed holds more highlight detail while darks can be dug out in post. Brighter exposure cooks the high lights irretrievably.

Tim’s Quick Answer: Generally speaking, it is better to raise the ISO setting rather than under-exposing and brightening in post-processing. Note, however, that in the type of scenario described in the question, bracketing several exposures to assemble into a high dynamic range (HDR) result can improve quality in terms of noise in the image.

More Detail: As noted in Monday’s Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter, raising the ISO setting doesn’t increase the sensitivity of the image sensor in the camera. Rather, when you raise the ISO setting you are under-exposing the image and then having the camera apply amplification to the signal recorded by the image sensor. The result is generally an increase in noise in the image.

However, as outlined in an article that appeared in the July 2016 issue of Pixology magazine, if you under-expose without raising the ISO, you’ll generally get more noise in the final image than if you had instead raised the ISO setting in the camera.

As I’ve also covered before, making sure to expose an image as brightly as possible without actually losing highlight detail will help ensure minimum noise and maximum detail in the image. Therefore, in the example from today’s question you would want to make sure the moon is as bright as possible without losing any detail.

However, this is a good example of a scenario where you may very well end up clipping shadow detail by creating an exposure for the highlights. You may be able to bring out more visible detail by brightening up the shadows in the image, but that will also reveal noise in those areas.

To help ensure maximum quality, you can create a high dynamic range (HDR) image in this type of situation. This involves bracketing the exposures so you have a capture that retains full highlight detail, and capture that retains full shadow detail (to the point that there isn’t even a true black in the image), and additional exposures in between so there is no more than two stops of separation between the exposures. Those images can then be combined into an HDR image that will have less noise than a single exposure that requires brightening to reveal shadow detail.

Flexible Tripod

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Today’s Question: I just read the article in the March issue of Pixology regarding time-lapse photography while using a smart phone. And here I didn’t even realize I had that feature on my iPhone. Question: Is there available on the market a “clamp” that can be attached to a regular tripod that will hold the phone? I have a regular tripod and two travel tripods of varying sizes, and would just as soon use those if possible.

Tim’s Quick Answer: The approach I’ve taken in this scenario is to employ a small tripod for the smartphone that has flexible legs. This type of miniature tripod can easily be attached to the ball head on a larger tripod, providing a secure platform for the smartphone.

More Detail: There are, of course, a variety of approaches you could take when it comes to making use of a tripod for a larger camera to also provide a platform for a smartphone. I find that the most flexible option (no pun intended) is to make use of a miniature tripod with flexible legs for the smartphone, which can then be attached to a variety of different objects, including a larger tripod.

A miniature tripod for a smartphone is convenient for a variety of reasons, and so I will generally carry such a tripod on most trips. Of course, in most cases I will also be traveling with a larger tripod as well as a digital SLR or other camera. By simply adding a miniature tripod to my camera bag, along with a normal tripod, I have greater overall flexibility.

I can use my normal tripod with my larger camera, of course. And I can use the miniature tripod for more casual scenarios when capturing photos or videos with a smartphone. Even better, I can essentially combine the two tripods to provide a taller platform for the smartphone.

In many cases I will actually use the smartphone to capture time-lapse videos, rather than capturing a sequence of still captures with my normal camera. You can view a recent example featuring several time-lapse videos I captured while on a ship transiting the Panama Canal on my YouTube channel here:

https://youtu.be/tQEo2L5dTD0

There are a wide variety of miniature tripods with flexible legs that work well for just about any smartphone. One option that I’ve made use of can be found here:

https://amzn.to/2sCa7iP

Push Processing for Digital

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Today’s Question: While I never actually did it, I know it was possible to “push” process film captures to get a higher effective ISO. Is such an approach possible with digital?

Tim’s Quick Answer: While push processing in the traditional sense is not possible with digital captures, a similar result would be achieved by simply raising the ISO setting, or by under-exposing a capture and brightening the image in post-processing.

More Detail: Push processing with film photography involved under-exposing photos and then leaving that film in the developer solution for a longer period of time or at a higher temperature (or both). The result was greater detail and a larger visible grain structure.

Using a higher ISO setting provides something of a digital equivalent to push processing. When you raise the ISO setting on the camera, you’re not truly increasing the sensitivity of the image sensor on the camera. Rather, you are having the camera apply increased amplification to the signal gathered by the image sensor during the exposure.

Increasing the ISO setting therefore involves what is essentially under-exposing the scene based on the actual sensitivity of the image sensor, and then compensating with amplification in the camera. Similar results could be obtained by under-exposing without raising the ISO setting, and increasing the brightness of the image in post-processing. Generally you’ll get better results by raising the ISO in the camera, but the overall effect is similar.

In either case, you’ll get a result that is somewhat similar to push processing with film. It isn’t exactly the same due to the different mechanics involved (chemistry versus digital signal processing), but in concept they are similar.

Flash Exposure Compensation

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Today’s Question: In a recent Ask Tim Grey you stated: “To help compensate for the issues of having a flash that is so close to the lens, I will more often than not reduce the strength of that flash so it is contributing light that supplements (rather than overpowers) the ambient light.” Would you please expound on how you go about doing this?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The specific mechanics of how to apply exposure compensation for the flash will depend on the specific flash (and camera system) you’re using, as well as your exposure mode for the flash. But as a general rule, you can apply a positive or negative exposure compensation to adjust the amount of light the flash is contributing to the exposure, very similar to how you can apply exposure compensation based on the metering in the camera when capturing a photo without flash.

More Detail: Some flash units include a built-in exposure compensation feature. If the flash is set to a manual exposure mode, instead of an exposure compensation based on stops of light for the flash, there will generally be a strength setting for the flash that you can adjust. This is often expressed as a fraction of total output, for example.

More often with newer cameras, both with built-in flash and external flash units, you can apply a specific exposure compensation setting using the menu on the camera’s LCD display.

The point is that the specific approach will depend on the equipment you’re using. You can obviously check the manual for your specific flash and camera model. In general you will likely find settings on the menu system for your camera, providing an exposure compensation setting for the flash. The camera I typically use, for example, includes a built-in flash. I sometimes use an external flash mounted on the hot shoe, however, and the menu on the camera enables me to adjust the compensation for either flash based on my current configuration.

With previous camera models and older flash units, the compensation was found on the flash unit itself. With the controls on the back of the flash you could apply a positive or negative exposure compensation for the flash, to increase or decrease the amount of light the flash was contributing to the overall exposure.

So again, the specific mechanics will vary based on the specific gear you’re using, but the overall concept is the same. You simply adjust the strength of the flash to change the degree to which the flash is contributing to the overall exposure. Some trial-and-error may be required, but with a little bit of practice you’ll be able to anticipate the degree to which you need to apply exposure compensation to the flash as part of your overall exposure settings.