Lens Choice for Starburst


Today’s Question: I am wondering if the lens you used [when capturing a photo with a sunburst effect] didn’t contribute to the result you obtained?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, indeed. The shape and number of the aperture blades in a lens can have a significant impact on the starburst effect you can create. That, in turn, means lens choice is a consideration when you want to be able to include a starburst effect in a photo.

More Detail: Today’s question is a follow-up to a previous question about how I created a sunburst effect in a photo where the sun was in an open area of sky rather than being positioned against a solid object. You can see the photo in question on my Instagram feed here:


First of all, the number of aperture blades in the lens has an impact on the starburst effect. In short, the more aperture blades, the more rays in the starburst. In addition, with an even number of aperture blades the starburst effect will have the same number of rays as there are aperture blades. With an odd number of aperture blades, the starburst effect will have twice as many rays as there are aperture blades.

The shape of the aperture blades also has an impact on the effect. The blades of the aperture are intending to form a perfect circle by overlapping the blades. If the aperture blades are very straight, that “circle” will be more of an obvious polygon formed by straight edges. If the aperture blades are more curved, the aperture will be closer to a perfect circle.

Curved aperture blades are often preferred by photographers because those blades contribute to circular bokeh effects, rather than bokeh that takes on a polygonal shape. In addition, however, with curved aperture blades you will generally get a less distinct starburst effect.

In other words, lenses with aperture blades that are relatively straight (rather than curved) will generally produce a more pronounced starburst effect. And lenses with a greater number of aperture blades (especially with an odd number of aperture blades) will produce a starburst effect that has more rays, and therefore will look more “sparkly”.

Brush Lag in Photoshop


Today’s Question: When I use the Brush tool in Photoshop, such as for painting on a layer mask, the actual painting lags far behind my mouse cursor. This makes it extremely difficult to paint on a layer mask, for example, because I never quite know exactly where I’m painting. Is there a way to fix this? My computer is relatively fast, and I’ve not seen any other performance issues.

Tim’s Quick Answer: This issue will most likely be solved if you set the value for the Smoothing control on the Options bar for the Brush tool to 0%.

More Detail: The Smoothing setting for the Brush tool (and other related tools) enables you to create smoother brush strokes, without the somewhat jagged appearance that can occur especially with longer curved brush strokes. However, it can also create a bit of a lag that you may find frustrating (as I do). Note that the Smoothing feature was added in the 2018 release of Photoshop.

With the Brush, Pencil, Mixer Brush, and Eraser tools, you’ll find the Smoothing control on the Options bar after selecting the applicable tool. At a value of 100% the smoothing effect is at its maximum, which means the lag for your brush strokes will also be at a maximum.

For the type of work that photographers typically perform with the Brush tool, such as painting on a layer mask, dodging and burning, and other refinements, in my view the Smoothing control can create a problem. I find that it is easier to be precise when there isn’t any brush lag, and that the Smoothing option doesn’t provide a real benefit for the type of brush strokes that are common when working with a photographic image.

So, I suggest setting the Smoothing control down to the minimum value of 0%, only increasing the value in specific situations where you want to ensure the smoothest brush stroke possible. That would especially be applicable for relatively long, curved strokes, such as if you are applying a signature with flourish to an image.

Fast External Hard Drive


Today’s Question: You suggested recently that it would be OK to keep your Lightroom [Classic] catalog on an external hard drive, but that if you do it is recommended to get the “fastest external hard drive available”. How does one go about finding such a hard drive?

Tim’s Quick Answer: As a general rule a top-rated bus-powered SSD external drive is going to provide great performance. Two of the drives I would put at the top of my list in terms of performance are the Samsung T5 (https://timgrey.me/samsungt5) and the G-Drive Mobile (https://timgrey.me/gdrivessd).

More Detail: Keeping your Lightroom Classic catalog on an external hard drive provides greater flexibility when you need to move between more than one location with your Lightroom catalog. For example, you could use an external hard drive for your catalog both on your desktop computer at home and on your laptop computer when traveling. The same would hold true if you split your time at two locations during the year.

Speed is the first priority in this type of scenario, which in turn means that an SSD (solid state drive) is generally going to be your best option. I also very much prefer opting for a bus-powered drive, so that an additional power adapter is not required. That also helps to streamline your workflow when moving between two or more locations.

Two of the hard drives I currently put among those I would most highly recommend for fast storage on the go are the Samsung T5 SSD (https://timgrey.me/samsungt5) and the G-Drive Mobile (https://timgrey.me/gdrivessd). The G-Drive option also provides the benefit of being quite rugged, and from that standpoint might be the drive I would recommend most highly.

It is important to make sure your computer provides a connection that enables the fastest speed possible from the drive, based on the drive specifications. For example, both of the drives mentioned above require a USB 3.1 connection for fastest performance. I think it is also worth keeping in mind that the theoretical maximum speed for the interface (such as USB 3.1) does not directly translate to the speed of the hard drive.

For example, the USB 3.1 specification supports data transfer speeds of up to 1.25 GB per second. In reality, the drives listed above will typically give you sustained write speeds of about 500 MB per second, or about half the potential speed of the USB 3.1 specification. Also keep in mind that actual performance can vary considerably based on how the data is actually being transferred.

Revisiting the Cloud


Today’s Question: In your “quick answer” to the question about managing Lightroom Classic across two computers, you suggested the photographer “consider whether the cloud-based version of Lightroom might be a good solution” for their workflow. Do you think the cloud version of Lightroom would be better for photographers who work across two locations?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Possibly. While the cloud-based version of Adobe Lightroom certainly makes it easier to work with the same catalog across multiple computers and mobile devices, it also fundamentally changes the approach to storing your photos.

More Detail: The core difference between Lightroom Classic and the “cloud” version of Lightroom has to do with where your photos are stored.

With Lightroom Classic all of your photos are stored on local storage (such as hard drives) that you manage directly. You can selectively choose to synchronize some of your photos via collections, so that they are available through the cloud to any of your computers or mobile devices.

With the cloud version of Lightroom, all of your photos are stored on Adobe’s servers. On a space-available basis, and prioritized based on recent access, the original source photos will also be synchronized to all of the computers and mobile devices that you use with Lightroom. That means that all of your photos can be available on all devices, as long as you are connected to the Internet.

The cloud version of Lightroom provides some clear benefits. Your Lightroom catalog is also effectively being managed in the cloud, so that you can work across multiple computers and mobile devices seamlessly. All of your photos are also available from anywhere. However, with this approach is that you aren’t directly managing your source image files. If you don’t have an Internet connection, you may not be able to access the photos you need. And if you have a slow Internet connection (such as when traveling) it may take a long time for the synchronization to complete. In addition, the cloud version of Lightroom is still lacking many of the features already available in Lightroom Classic.

Based on the fundamental difference in how photos are stored between Lightroom Classic and the cloud version of Lightroom, I can’t imagine getting to the point that I would prefer using the cloud version over Classic. That said, some photographers may find that the cloud-storage and synchronization features of the cloud version of Lightroom are compelling enough that they are willing to accept the compromises that I feel are involved in making the switch.

In short, if you have a relatively large library of photos, and you find that you don’t always have a high-speed Internet connection available, you may want to stick with Lightroom Classic as I have. If you have a relatively small library of photos, or you simply want to prioritize having all of your photos available from virtually anywhere, then you might want to explore the cloud version of Lightroom.

You can learn more about the options available for Lightroom and Lightroom Classic by following this link:


Opening an Old Lightroom Catalog


Today’s Question: After reading how to merge several Lightroom Classic catalogs, my friend asked if she could merge a couple of pre- Classic catalogs to a new Classic catalog. My guess is that she would need to open and update the old catalogs to Classic first. Would that be the way to go?

Tim’s Quick Answer: You can indeed merge a catalog from an older version of Lightroom Classic (including versions before the name was changed to “Classic”), into your current catalog. You simply need to upgrade the old catalog first, as you suggested, which is a very simple process.

More Detail: As I’ve addressed in the past, it is possible to merge multiple Lightroom Classic catalogs into a single “master” catalog, which can greatly help to streamline your overall workflow.

Fortunately, even if some of your catalogs were created with older versions of Lightroom Classic (even from before “Classic” was added to the name), you can still merge those catalogs into a master catalog that is already updated to the latest version of Lightroom Classic.

The only “extra” step involved in the process is to upgrade the older catalog to the format for your current version of Lightroom Classic. Rest assured, by the way, that as part of this process a new catalog will be created, so that your older catalog will remain intact as a backup.

To upgrade a catalog, all you need to do is open it with the current version of Lightroom Classic. So, go to the menu and choose File > Open Catalog. Navigate to the location the older catalog is stored, and open it. You will be prompted to upgrade the catalog, and once that process is completed you can merge the catalog into your master catalog.

For more details on how to upgrade catalogs, merge catalogs, and otherwise cleanup your workflow in Lightroom Classic, check out my course “Cleaning Up Your Mess in Lightroom” in the GreyLearning library here:


Request for CMYK


Today’s Question: A publisher has asked for images to be submitted in “CMYK (no spot colors)”. I’m aware that CMYK is mainly an issue for publishers, but what does this mean for the photographer who is submitting work to the printer? Specifically, does this require any changes in camera settings before capturing the image or in generating the image file in post processing?

Tim’s Quick Answer: If you will ultimately need to deliver files in the CMYK color space (such as for printing), you don’t need to make any changes in-camera at the time of capture. The CMYK conversion would simply be the final step in post-processing before sending the files to the printer. Note, however, that in general I recommend not converting to CMYK, leaving that step to the printer if at all possible.

More Detail: Most photographers, I suspect, are familiar at least in concept with the RGB color space. This is a common color space for recording color values based on emitted light, based on how much red, green, and blue light must be combined to create a particular color at a specific brightness level.

Another common color space that photographers might be less familiar with is CMYK. This color space is specifically designed for print applications, since it is based on the percentage of maximum ink amounts to be applied to paper (or another substrate) for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink.

With commercial printing (such as for books) the files being used as the basis of a print generally must be converted to the CMYK color space. The challenge is that for CMYK output, you really need to make sure you are converting to CMYK based on an ICC color profile that is specifically created for the particular output conditions, such as the type of paper being printed to.

Because of the importance of the specific details of how an image is converted to CMYK, I highly recommend asking the printer for an ICC profile you should use for the conversion, and for any special instructions about adjustments that should be applied, such as the specific black point and white point values to use for the image.

Sunburst without an Edge


Today’s Question: You recently shared a photo on Instagram of the Parthenon in Athens, with the sun forming a starburst. I always thought you needed to have the sun at the edge of an object in order to get a sunburst. How were you able to get the sunburst with the sun in an open area of the sky?

Tim’s Quick Answer: While it can certainly help to create a starburst effect (or a more interesting photo) by having the sun at the edge of a solid object in the scene you are photographing, you can also create a sunburst effect with the sun in an open area of the sky. The key factor is to have a clear sky with minimal amount of haze.

More Detail: The photo mentioned in today’s question can be viewed on my Instagram feed here:

As you can see by looking at the photo, the sun is positioned in a clear space between columns of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Many photographers are aware that you can create a starburst (or sunburst) effect by stopping down the lens aperture, typically to around f/16 or f/22.

In addition to stopping down the lens, in order to create a starburst effect you need to have a light source in the frame that is not too diffused. For example, you can often achieve a starburst effect when photographing a bare lightbulb, but not with a lampshade that is diffusing the light of the lightbulb hidden by that lampshade.

When it comes to capturing a photograph that includes the sun in the frame, it is possible to create a starburst effect as long as the sun isn’t too diffused. In other words, you need a very clear sky, without too much haze. It is generally much easier to get a starburst effect with the sun in the middle of the day, and it gets increasingly difficult to achieve a starburst the closer you get to sunset, for example. This is because closer to sunset you are photographing the sun through more of the atmosphere, which will diffuse the sun more.

If the sky is a bit hazy, to the point that you can’t get a good starburst effect with the sun in an open area of sky, it can be helpful to frame up the scene so that the sun is partially obscured against a solid object with a relatively crisp edge. In many cases, for example, this will create an effect where the rays of the starburst will only appear over the object that is partially obscuring the sun, and not around the side of the sun that is against the open sky.

Workflow at Two Locations


Today’s Question: I travel and also split extended time between two homes. I keep my photos and Lightroom Classic catalog on an external drive that I use between desktop computer at my main house and on a laptop when traveling and at the second house. I backup the catalog to the internal hard drive on both computers, and to a second external drive. About once a month I backup the two computers and the external drive to another external drive. Any concerns or better ways for me to handle this situation?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Overall I think this is a good solution to a multiple-location workflow. You might consider fine-tuning some of the details of your workflow to ensure optimal performance, or even consider whether the cloud-based version of Lightroom might be a good solution for your workflow.

More Detail: The first thing I would consider is whether a laptop might serve you well as the only computer in your workflow. More than a decade ago I realized that I was traveling so much that it didn’t seem to make sense to use a desktop computer at home and a laptop when traveling. Switching to using a laptop as my only computer no matter where I am has greatly streamlined my overall workflow. You could even use a full-size keyboard and additional monitor connected to your laptop so you have a more “desktop” type of experience when using the laptop at home.

If you prefer to work with two separate computers so you have a more powerful desktop computer at your disposal at home, the key thing I would do is make sure you’re using the fastest external hard drive possible. Having the Lightroom Classic catalog on an external hard drive can cause performance in Lightroom to be significantly degraded, unless that external hard drive is quite fast.

The only other concern I have based on the description of your workflow is that your backups don’t seem to be happening very frequently. In my mind, backing up your hard drives once a month is not nearly frequent enough, unless you’re really not updating the data on your master hard drives very frequently. I recommend, for example, backing up your hard drives after every download from a photo shoot, and anytime you have otherwise significantly updated your data.

Of course, the right frequency for backing up depends on how frequently you are adding or updating data in your workflow. Most photographers I talk to are updating quite a bit of data over the course of a month, and so backing up weekly (or even more frequently) may be more appropriate.

Memory Card Synchronization


Today’s Question: Is there any way that I can easily synchronize and delete photos on my memory card based on what I have already downloaded? That is, leave the downloaded on the memory card but delete those that I don’t download?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There isn’t any software I’m aware of that would streamline this type of workflow. However, you could use synchronization software as part of the process of removing outtakes from your memory card.

More Detail: Most software for managing photos takes a relatively simple approach to dealing with memory cards. For the most part the memory card is seen simply as a source of photos to be downloaded. Some software also enables you to delete photos from the memory card after they have been downloaded successfully.

To be honest, I generally recommend being rather conservative when it comes to a workflow involving memory cards. I get a bit nervous when photographers try to manage photos directly on a memory card, for fear that original photos (and possibly the only copy) may be deleted accidentally.

I also prefer to download all photos from a given memory card, rather than selecting individual photos to download, leaving photos on the card that have not been downloaded. This is mostly because I am eager to get all photos downloaded and backed up as quickly as possible after capturing them.

In any event, there are approaches you could take to achieve your workflow goals. In this case the first step is obviously to actually download the photos from the memory card that you actually want to keep. You could selectively download only the photos you wanted to, not downloading the photos you want to delete. You could also download all photos and delete the ones you don’t want as a separate process.

In order for a synchronization approach to work, you would also need to be sure that the folder you’re downloading to will only be used to store photos from a single memory card. Otherwise the synchronization would not work properly.

After selectively downloading photos, or downloading all and then deleting the outtakes, you could use synchronization software to remove photos from the memory card that are not in the download folder. For example, I use backup software called GoodSync to backup my photos and other data. This software enables you to define a synchronization job between two data sources, such as a hard drive or an individual folder. So in this case you could synchronize the folder you downloaded to with the memory card you downloaded from. In this case you would want to disable the option to propagate deletions, and also disable the option to retain deleted files for a period of time.

With a job setup in GoodSync (or other software) for this purpose, after downloading photos (and possibly deleting outtakes) you could run the job to synchronize files (or in this case deleted or non-downloaded photos) between your download folder and your memory card.

Note that I also have a video course that demonstrates how to use GoodSync software to backup your photos and other data, which you can learn about on the GreyLearning website here:


White Balance for Raw


Today’s Question: I think it is also important to mention that if you shoot in RAW then the white balance doesn’t really matter compared to shooting in JPG.

Tim’s Quick Answer: An excellent point. It is worth repeating that if you are shooing in the raw capture mode (rather than, for example, JPEG), the white balance setting on the camera has no impact on the actual raw capture data. In other words, you could use any white balance setting you’d like on the camera, and adjust that setting in post-processing with no impact on overall image quality.

More Detail: When you are using the raw capture mode on your digital camera, many of the in-camera settings don’t actually affect the capture data you’re recording for each photo. That includes the white balance setting, which means you can use any white balance setting you’d like at the time of capture, without worrying about how it impacts the final image.

To be sure, it can be convenient to have the colors in your photos be as accurate as possible right from the initial capture. But if you’re using the raw capture mode, that accuracy is a convenience rather that a requirement in terms of overall image quality.

For raw captures, the in-camera white balance setting is really just a metadata value. That setting determines the initial color appearance when you process the raw capture with software such as Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom. However, you can refine the setting for white balance with your initial processing of the raw capture, and that adjustment will not have any negative impact on the overall image quality.

So, if you find it is helpful to set a particular white balance setting for your raw captures, by all means take advantage of that option. But keep in mind that regardless of what white balance setting you use for raw captures, you can adjust that setting during the initial processing of the raw capture without any negative consequences in terms of the color or overall image quality for those photos.