Camera Raw Filter

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Today’s Question: Once a RAW file has been interpreted as pixels and is open in Photoshop, won’t it be degraded if the Camera Raw filter is applied to these pixels?

Tim’s Quick Answer: It would be fair to say that a direct adjustment using the Camera Raw filter in Photoshop after converting a RAW capture would represent a “destructive” adjustment, by virtue of altering actual pixel values. That said, in some cases this approach provides a helpful solution to an issue with a photo.

More Detail: If you are working with a RAW capture, it is generally best to apply most of your adjustments during the initial RAW processing (such as in Adobe Camera Raw) in order to maximize the benefits of the original RAW data. But it can also be helpful to make use of the Camera Raw filter after the capture. While adjustments that affect pixel values directly can be fairly referred to as “destructive” in terms of altering those pixel values, that doesn’t make those adjustments automatically “bad”.

I generally prefer to take a non-destructive approach to optimizing my photos. I use Lightroom (or Adobe Camera Raw) to process my initial RAW captures, and when I want to apply further adjustments in Photoshop I will use an adjustment layer if that is an option for the type of adjustment I want to apply.

For adjustments that involve the direct manipulation of pixel values, such as using the image cleanup tools in Photoshop, I prefer to use an image layer separate from the underlying Background image layer in order to maximize the flexibility of my workflow.

In this way, it is possible to use the Camera Raw filter in a more flexible way than simply adjusting pixel values directly. You could, for example, create a copy of your Background image layer and apply the Camera Raw filter to that duplicate layer. You could also convert the image layer to a Smart Object by choosing the “Convert for Smart Filters” command on the Filter menu. This will cause any filters (including the Camera Raw filter) to be applied as a Smart Filter, so that you are effectively using the filter as something of an adjustment layer. In other words, the pixel values aren’t being altered directly, and you can return to your adjustments at any time.

For adjustments such as noise reduction, chromatic aberration removal, or perspective correction, it isn’t critical to work with the original RAW capture. Thus, if you neglected to apply these types of adjustments during the initial RAW capture, it is perfectly fine to apply them later in your workflow using the Camera Raw filter. Again, my preference would be to include those adjustments as part of the initial workflow of processing my RAW capture, but if I neglected to apply certain adjustments it is often easier to use the Camera Raw filter than to return to the original capture again. And with many adjustments, the difference in image quality between processing the RAW capture with Adobe Camera Raw and processing the image with the Camera Raw filter will be minimal.

Bracketing a Panorama

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Today’s Question: Is it possible to combine bracketing and a panorama? If so what is the process?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, indeed! You can use automatic (or manual) exposure bracketing for each frame of your composite panorama. Then, when assembling the composite panorama you can either choose which set of exposures to assemble into the final image, or create a high dynamic range (HDR) panorama by assembling the bracketed shots and then creating the final panorama.

More Detail: The specific approach you use for bracketing the individual exposures will vary based on the dynamic range of the scene you’re photographing, your intent for the final image, the capabilities of your camera, and other factors. In general, however, I recommend using the automatic exposure bracketing (AEB) feature of your camera to capture multiple exposures at different exposure settings for each frame of the composite panorama.

So, for example, you might start with the left-most frame in your intended composite panorama, capturing perhaps three bracketed exposures for that frame. For an HDR image I generally bracket by two-stop increments, but you can use one-stop increments if you prefer. Once you’ve captured the set of exposures for the first frame, rotate the camera to the next frame, overlapping by about 20% or so (more for focal lengths below about 100mm). Capture all of the frames of the panorama, using the same exposure bracketing for each.

When you are ready to assemble the final image, if you will create an HDR result, I recommend assembling each of the individual frames as an HDR image, and then assembling all of the HDR frames into the final panorama. Obviously the specifics of the approach here will depend upon the software you prefer to use for both HDR assembly and panorama assembly. The key is to use the exact same settings for the HDR tone-mapping, so that all of the HDR frames in your panorama will blend together seamlessly.

Is Bridge Needed?

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Today’s Question: I have learned how to use Lightroom from your courses. When I look at other tutorials I see the instructor using Bridge (it seems like everyone uses Bridge except me). It appears to me that if I use Lightroom like you taught me I don’t really need Bridge. Is this correct? Which one has the advantage over the other?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In my opinion, once you’ve started using Lightroom to manage your photos, it is best to avoid the use of Adobe Bridge for browsing your photos. Using Bridge introduces the potential for making changes to the metadata for your photos in Bridge, causing that metadata to be out of sync with the metadata contained within your Lightroom catalog.

More Detail: To be sure, if you are careful not to update any of the metadata for your photos within Adobe Bridge, it is perfectly fine to browse photos using Bridge if you find that to be more convenient. However, in general I recommend that you consistently use Lightroom as the exclusive image-management tool once you start using Lightroom to manage your photos.

I suspect if you see other instructors using Adobe Bridge, it may be for illustrative purposes, or convenience when showing specific techniques in Photoshop. For example, in some cases when I am teaching Photoshop techniques I will create a folder of working photos that I will use to demonstrate the techniques. In that type of situation it is simpler to use Adobe Bridge to browse the photos, and then double-click on a photo to open the image in Photoshop. But for my “real” workflow of managing, optimizing, and sharing my photos, everything is initiated from within Lightroom.

Bridge and Lightroom are a bit different in terms of overall architecture, making it difficult to compare the two without considering the context of your workflow. But in general I recommend Lightroom as a more efficient tool for image management, in large part because of the efficiencies gained by having a central catalog. That said, there isn’t a single right answer for all photographers. It is important to consider your overall workflow when choosing specific software. But once you’ve chosen software for managing your photos, I consider it beneficial to use that software consistently as the core component of your workflow.

Workflow for Plug-Ins

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Today’s Question: I often use Nik filters (especially Silver Efex Pro for black-and-white). I can apply them from within Lightroom (via “Edit In”) or I can first send the picture to Photoshop and apply the filters there and then bring the work back into Lightroom. Is one way better than the other?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In terms of the net result for your photos, there is really no difference between these two approaches. However, my personal preference is to send the image to Photoshop and apply the filters from there, primarily to provide greater flexibility in case I decide to apply more than one filter to a given photo.

More Detail: Whether you send a photo directly to the plug-in software from Lightroom or first send the image to Photoshop, the result will be a derivative image, typically in the TIFF file format (though sometimes PSD or JPEG format).

The reason I prefer to use Photoshop is that this approach provides greater flexibility in the event I choose to apply more than one filter to an image. If you want to use two different filters from Lightroom, you would create two derivative images in the process. So, for example, if you create a black and white interpretation of a photo using Silver Efex Pro, you would then have a TIFF image based on your original capture.

If you then decide you want to apply some additional effects using, for example, Analox Efex Pro, you might send the black and white TIFF image from Lightroom to Analog Efex Pro. In the process, an additional TIFF image would be created. The result would include your original capture plus one TIFF for the black and white version of the photo and another TIFF for the version that includes the Analog Efex Pro filter effect.

By sending the image to Photoshop first, you will only have a single derivative image, even if you make use of multiple filter plug-ins. You could create each effect as a separate layer in the TIFF (or PSD) image, so that you’re preserving all of the effects individually but without creating multiple derivative files.

If you tend to only apply a single filter effect using a single plug-in, there’s really no reason to use one approach or the other. Whichever approach you feel is easiest and provides the best flexibility for your particular workflow is perfectly fine. That said, as noted above I do prefer to include Photoshop as part of this workflow in order to provide greater overall flexibility in my workflow.

JPEG Quality

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Today’s Question: If I understand correctly, the Quality slider in the Export module of Lightroom is the primary controller of file image size. I wonder if you could explain the Quality slider in more detail and what is an ideal image file size (kb) range for optimizing web images in terms of preserving image quality and page load speed across various devices.

Tim’s Quick Answer: The Quality setting for JPEG images relates to the degree of compression applied, which in turn impacts the size of the JPEG image file. A higher setting for Quality results in a larger file size, and a lower setting for Quality results in a smaller file size. For online sharing or other situations where you want to strike a balance between file size and image quality, I recommend a Quality setting of 80% in Lightroom, or a value of “8” (eight) in Photoshop or other applications.

More Detail: Because of the nature of JPEG image compression, it is difficult to predict exactly how large the final file will be. Images with greater detail will generally not compress as well, and thus will have a larger file size when saved as a JPEG file. Images with less detail (more areas that have minimal texture and many pixels of the same or similar color) will have a smaller file size when saved as a JPEG.

JPEG compression essentially involves simplifying the information in the image being saved. Generally speaking this process involves dividing a photo into blocks of sixteen by sixteen pixels (256 pixels per block) and then simplifying the information within those blocks. At a lower the Quality setting, the simplification process will be more aggressive. With more simplification of the image data, the file size is smaller.

One way to think of this is with an illustrative analogy. Imagine that one block within a photo contains only blue pixels. Specifically, every single pixel in that block is exactly the same shade of “sky blue”. Instead of having to repeat “sky blue” as a pixel color for all of the 256 pixels in that block, the information can be saved to the file as “256 sky blue pixels”. Again, this is an over-simplification of what’s actually happening, but it gives you a sense of the process.

This process of simplifying the information within a JPEG using blocks of pixels is a key reason that a low Quality setting results in lower image quality. With stronger compression, there is greater simplification of the information within the image, and the grid structure of the 256-pixel blocks can become visible in the image.

Thus, there is an inverse relationship between file size and image quality. At a higher Quality setting the file size will be larger, but the quality will be greater with less risk of compression artifacts. As noted above, it is difficult to predict the final file size with great precision. Instead, I recommend making your decision based on a determination of the importance of image quality relative to file size.

I recommend using a Quality setting of 80% in Lightroom (8 in other applications) when file size is a key concern. When image quality is the highest priority, I recommend saving in a file format such as TIFF without any destructive compression, or using the highest value for Quality if you need to use a JPEG format to control the final file size.

High Pass Sharpening

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Today’s Question: What are the situations when “High Pass Sharpening” [in Photoshop] might be a good choice over “Smart Sharpen” or other methods?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The technique known as “High Pass sharpening” is a technique I consider to be more about emphasizing texture and detail in a photo, rather than sharpening to compensate for softness in a photo. Thus, I would recommend the High Pass technique when you are focused on enhancing detail and contrast in a photo. Note that the technique produces an effect that is very similar to that provided by the Clarity slider in Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom, among other software.

More Detail: The High Pass sharpening technique gets its name from the High Pass filter in Photoshop. Using the High Pass technique enhances midtone contrast in an image, helping to emphasize detail. If you’re familiar with the basic concepts behind sharpening in most imaging software, you can think of the High Pass technique as being similar to sharpening, but with a higher effective Radius setting.

In other words, like sharpening, the High Pass technique enhances contrast along existing contrast edges in a photo, but it does so across a larger area. In other words, the contrast being enhanced along edges in a photo spreads out from those edges more than would otherwise be the case with typical sharpening.

In fact, with the Unsharp Mask filter in Photoshop you can achieve a result very similar to High Pass sharpening. Simply set a high value for the Radius setting (around 20 pixels or so) and a relatively low value for Amount (around 20% to 50%). And, as noted above, similar results can be achieved with the Clarity slider in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw, as well as the newer Dehaze slider in these two software applications.

For those unfamiliar, the High Pass technique is relatively easy to accomplish in Photoshop. Start by creating a copy of the Background image layer, which can be done by dragging the thumbnail for the Background layer to the “Create a New Layer” button (the blank sheet of paper icon) at the bottom of the Layers panel. Then set the Opacity to 50% for this layer, using the control at the top of the Layers panel. Change the blend mode from the default of “Normal” to “Overlay” using the popup at the top-left of the Layers panel. Then choose Filter > Other > High Pass from the menu, and set the Radius value to around 10 pixels, adjusting to taste. Click OK to apply the filter, and then fine-tune the Opacity setting for the Background Copy layer.

Delete Catalog After Upgrade?

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Today’s Question: I just upgraded from Lightroom 5.7 to Lightroom CC. In the process, it appears that my catalog was copied, upgraded and renamed from Photos1 to Photos1-2, so now I have two catalogs. Is there any reason to save the Photos1 catalog or can I safely delete it?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Provided the new catalog is working properly, there is no reason to retain the older version of your catalog other than as a “worst case scenario” backup. So once you’re confident the new catalog is in good shape and you have backed up the new catalog, you can delete the old catalog.

More Detail: When you upgrade to a new “major” release of Lightroom, your existing catalog needs to be upgraded as well, so that the catalog reflects the new features and options available in the new version of Lightroom. As part of that process, your new version of Lightroom will create a new catalog that is essentially an upgrade to your existing catalog. In other words, your previous catalog will remain as it is, and a new catalog will be created that contains all of the information from your existing catalog.

While this is a good approach in terms of being cautious, it does mean that you may end up with several “extra” catalogs, by virtue of having catalogs from older versions of Lightroom. As far as I’m concerned, once you’re confident that your new catalog is in proper working order and you’ve backed up the new catalog, there is no real benefit to retaining old copies of catalogs from older versions of Lightroom.

Lightroom on Two Computers

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Today’s Question: I have the problem that my desktop computer (iMac running OS 10.6.8) will only run Lightroom 4 and my Mac laptop will run the newest version. Is there a way that I can work on my images in Lightroom from both computers? Do I need to dedicate all of my image processing to one computer?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There are two issues here. First, more recent versions of Lightroom require a newer version of the Macintosh operating system than you are running on your iMac, so if your iMac doesn’t support an update then you can’t run Lightroom on that computer. Second, Lightroom doesn’t really support a workflow that involves using the same catalog on two computers. Therefore, I generally recommend using a single computer as your “home base” for using Lightroom.

More Detail: The first limitation may be a more significant issue for you. It is not possible to work with a single catalog for both Lightroom 4 and Lightroom 6, for example. So you would need to be using the same version of Lightroom on both computers in order to be able to work with the same catalog across more than one computer.

Once you have two computers running the same version of Lightroom, there are still some challenges involved. Perhaps the simplest solution would be to keep your Lightroom catalog on an external hard drive along with the photos being managed by your catalog. This approach would enable you to move the external hard drive to the computer you want to use at any given moment. You can open the catalog in Lightroom from your external hard drive, and of course access the images that are also stored on that external hard drive.

In theory it is also possible to store your catalog using an online synchronization solution such as DropBox (https://db.tt/AX4h8FwU) to synchronize a catalog that can be accessed across multiple computers. I’m not entirely comfortable with this approach due to the potential risk of getting out of sync on one or more computers. But it is an option that some photographers have successfully implemented.

For most photographers who need to access a Lightroom catalog on more than one computer, I recommend storing the catalog and photos on an external hard drive, and moving that hard drive from one computer to another as needed. However, it is also important to keep in mind that this approach can result in a potentially significant degradation in overall performance within Lightroom. Therefore, you’ll need to weigh the benefits of being able to move among more than one computer with the potential negative consequences, such as reduce performance.

Personally, I’ve opted to consolidate my workflow to a single computer, with my Lightroom catalog stored on my laptop computer and my photos stored on an external hard drive. But, of course, this isn’t necessarily the best solution for all photographers.

Moving Unmanaged Photos

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Today’s Question: [When attempting to move photos to a new hard drive in Lightroom, as addressed in a prior edition of the Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter,] What if some of the photos in the folders being moved are not in the Lightroom catalog?

Tim’s Quick Answer: When you move photos from one hard drive to another in Lightroom, only the photos actually included in the Lightroom catalog will be moved to the new hard drive. Any photos on the drive that are not being managed in Lightroom will be left behind on the existing hard drive.

More Detail: It obviously makes sense that moving photos within Lightroom would only affect photos that are actually being managed in your Lightroom catalog. This also underscores one of the reasons I highly recommend that if you are using Lightroom to manage your photos, you should use Lightroom to manage all of your photos. In other words, from my perspective it is best not to have photos included in your photo storage structure without also having those photos included in your Lightroom catalog.

If there is any chance that some of the photos stored on the existing hard drive are not included in your Lightroom catalog, it is important to review the existing hard drive after moving photos to your new drive, in order to make sure there aren’t any photos or folders “left behind”.

If there are photos left behind on the existing hard drive after you’ve moved photos to a new hard drive within Lightroom, you’ll need to determine what to do with those photos. If the photos aren’t in your Lightroom catalog because they are “rejects”, you could certainly delete those remaining photos if that is your preference. You could also import those photos into Lightroom, moving them to the new storage location in the process by using the “Move” option in the Import dialog.

I should add that this overall topic is also (I think) a reminder of an issue that some photographers have been confused about. The Folders section of the left panel in the Library module in Lightroom is a reflection of your existing storage structure for your photos. Thus, moving photos within Lightroom will cause photos to be moved on your hard drive. And, as noted above, photos that aren’t in Lightroom won’t be affected by what you do within Lightroom.

Moving Photos in Lightroom

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Today’s Question: I have my photos stored on my computer’s hard drive, My computer is giving me nasty warning signs that I am running out of space. I need to move the photos from the computer to an external hard drive, and I need to do it from within Lightroom, as you impressed upon us. You told us to create a new folder for the external hard drive and drag the photos into it, but I’m having difficulty setting that up. The external hard drive is not showing up in Lightroom. Could you review the process for me? I would appreciate your help with this.

Tim’s Quick Answer: The “trick” here is to create a new folder on the new hard drive from within Lightroom. Doing so will cause that new folder (and thus the new hard drive) to appear in the Folders list in the Library module in Lightroom, even though Lightroom is not yet managing any photos on that new hard drive.

More Detail: To create the new folder, first make sure the new hard drive is connected to your computer and otherwise ready for you to copy photos too. Then, in the Library module in Lightroom, click the “plus” symbol to the right of the Folders list on the left panel. From the popup menu that appears choose “Add Folder”.

In the dialog that appears, navigate to the new hard drive, and click the “New Folder” button. Type a name for that folder (such as “PHOTOS”), and press Enter/Return on the keyboard to create the actual folder. Then click the “Choose” button to confirm the new folder and close the dialog.

At this point the new folder (and thus the new hard drive) will appear on the list under Folders on the left panel in the Library module. You can then drag-and-drop folders from the original location to the new location. You can even select multiple folders from the list by clicking the first folder you want to select and then holding the Shift key while clicking the last folder you want to select.

I should hasten to add that it is important to make sure you have a good backup copy of all of your photos before performing this task, just in case anything goes wrong in the process.

More details about this process (and more tasks for cleaning up your Lightroom catalog) can be found in my video training course “Cleaning Up Your Mess in Lightroom”, which is available in the GreyLearning video training library (http://www.greylearning.com).