Missing Previews and Photos


Today’s Question: In going through a number of my photos [in Adobe Lightroom] I came across the fact that I was missing many. All that appears for them is a blank space where the photo should be and an explanation mark in the upper right corner of the thumbnail. No photo! What does this mean?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The exclamation point badge at the top-right corner of the thumbnail indicates that Lightroom is not able to locate the image based on the expected folder location and filename. There are several reasons a thumbnail might have been missing at some point, and now Lightroom is unable to generate a preview because the source image is missing.

More Detail: What all of this really comes down to is a very common mistake photographers make when it comes to using Adobe Lightroom in their image-management workflow. Put very simply, many photographers forget that once you are using Lightroom to manage your photos, it is critical that all tasks related to your photos be initiated within Lightroom.

For example, let’s assume you would like to rename one of the folders containing photos that are being managed in Lightroom. If you rename the folder within Lightroom (by simply right-clicking on the folder and choosing the “Rename” option), you will be renaming the folder within the Lightroom catalog and also renaming the actual folder on the hard drive where your photos are stored.

If, on the other hand, you were to go out to the operating system and rename the folder there, every single photo within that folder would suddenly appear as “missing” within your Lightroom catalog.

You can correct this type of problem by either reconnecting missing folders or locating missing individual images. But needless to say this has the potential to be a painstaking and frustrating process. In short, you need to let Lightroom know where the missing folder is located, or where each missing image can be found.

To reconnect a missing folder you can right-click on the folder name in the Folders section of the left panel in the Library module and choose “Find Missing Folder”. Then navigate to and select the appropriate folder so Lightroom knows the updated name or location. To locate individual photos, click on the exclamation point badge and choose the option to locate the photo, then navigate to that actual photo and select it.

Of course, in this case the task is significantly complicated by the fact that no preview is available. You may need to work outside of Lightroom to locate the source folders and photos, and perform a detailed review to determine which folders and photos align with the expected structure in Lightroom.

More details on cleaning up a messy catalog in Lightroom can be found in my “Cleaning Up Your Mess in Lightroom” course, which is part of the “Mastering Lightroom” bundle available through my GreyLearning website here:


Sharper When Handheld


Today’s Question: Why are my photos taken on a tripod with either a remote control or a 2-second delay never sharp? When I take the photos with the same camera “in hand” the photos are sharp. My camera is a Canon 5D mark 4.

Tim’s Quick Answer: Assuming the exposure settings in both cases include an adequately fast shutter speed, and that the tripod is sturdy and positioned on a stable surface, I suspect the issue here is that stabilization has been enabled when the camera is on a tripod. For relatively stationary subjects when using a tripod it is generally best to disable stabilization.

More Detail: In this case the sample photo provided by the photographer who posed the question was of a group of people posing. In other words, the example is a relatively straightforward scenario, which helps streamline the troubleshooting process.

The first thing to check here would be that in both cases appropriate exposure settings were being used. For example, if you were being more cautious about the shutter speed when shooting handheld, that could be the issue with the tripod-based photos. When using a tripod you might be a little more relaxed about the shutter speed. That would be perfectly fine for a truly stationary subject. But when a group of people standing in front of the camera, even a moderately slow shutter speed can cause a bit of blur due to the people moving slightly. Even on a tripod I would aim for a shutter speed of around 1/125th of a second or faster when photographing people. For small children an even faster shutter speed might be necessary!

Assuming that the same appropriate exposure settings are being used, naturally you would reasonably expect that photos captured with the use of a tripod would be sharper (or perhaps equal to) photos that are captured hand-held. There are unique situations, such as using a tripod on the deck of a ship, where those vibrations could actually cause the tripod-based photos to be less sharp than hand-held captures.

In this particular case, however, I suspect the use of image stabilization explains the unexpected results. Stabilization is intended to compensate for movement of the camera. When the camera is handheld, the stabilization will help compensate for slight movement to ensure a sharper capture.

When the camera is on a tripod, it is possible for that stabilization to actually reduce sharpness. Put simply, the stabilization may still attempt to compensate for movement that isn’t there, causing a degree of blurring.

There are stabilization options available that can still be used when the camera is mounted on a tripod. In particular, there are single-axis stabilization modes that are intended to be used when you are panning with a subject while the camera is mounted on a tripod. You’ll therefore want to be sure that you understand the specific stabilization options that are available to you. As a general rule, however, I recommend turning off stabilization when photographing a relatively static subject from a sturdy tripod.

Sharpening Workflow Options


Today’s Question: At one time it seemed to be generally advised to just do a light sharpening in Lightroom up front and do the final sharpening at the end in Photoshop, but I find myself doing all my sharpening in Lightroom most of the time. I sharpen at the end of my Lightroom processing and like to hold the Alt key down to see the sharpening previews, and then I apply Luminance noise reduction. Would you support this workflow with little or no Photoshop or plugin sharpening?

Tim’s Quick Answer: If you will be sharing images digitally (such as online) then this approach is probably adequate, depending on your approach to output sharpening. For printing, however, you may want to employ a slightly different approach to improve your ability to fine-tune output sharpening.

More Detail: The advice to only apply “light” sharpening in Lightroom relates specifically to the Develop module. The sharpening controls in the Develop module are intended to compensate for issues with the original capture, not to apply final output sharpening to the image.

One of the key issues here is that final output sharpening should be applied based on the final output dimensions of the image. In the Develop module you are working on the full resolution image. When sharing online you will reduce the overall pixels dimensions significantly. When printing you will likely increase the dimensions beyond the original resolution, though obviously in some cases you may reduce the dimensions relative to the original capture.

The point is that output sharpening should be applied based on the final pixel dimensions, while in the Develop module you’re applying sharpening to the full resolution original capture.

The output sharpening available when exporting, printing, or otherwise sharing images from Lightroom is actually quite good. The challenge is that you don’t have significant control over that sharpening, nor do you have any preview of the final effect.

For sharing that might be considered a little more “casual”, such as sharing photos online, I’m perfectly comfortable making use of the output sharpening in Lightroom. In this case, for example, I might use the “Screen” and “Standard” options when exporting the image.

For printing I am generally a bit more focused on ensuring optimal detail and sharpness in the image, so I want to be a bit more detail-oriented. Because Lightroom doesn’t provide much control or a preview for the effect when applying output sharpening, I simply prefer not to use Lightroom for applying sharpening to a print. I therefore send images from Lightroom to Photoshop when I’m ready to print, so I can resize to the final output size and apply sharpening before printing from Photoshop (or saving the resulting derivative image and returning to Lightroom to print, disabling output sharpening in Lightroom). Naturally you could also use third-party sharpening software to apply this final sharpening if you prefer.

If you’ve experimented with Lightroom’s output sharpening to the point that you’re comfortable making use of the available options for your output sharpening, that’s perfectly fine. But I would not recommend using the sharpening in the Develop module as a replacement for additional final output sharpening.

Noise Workflow


Today’s Question: On a recent photo shoot I had to take these at very high ISO (1600-2500) as the light conditions were poor. I process my images in Lightroom but was considering using a noise reduction plugin like Nik Dfine or Topaz DeNoise. Can you please outline the workflow sequence (including sharpening) you would follow for processing high ISO RAW images?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I would actually recommend that you explore the noise reduction capabilities within Lightroom, which is actually very good. If you prefer to use third-party software, I recommend applying most key adjustments within Lightroom before sending the image to a plug-in for noise reduction.

More Detail: The noise reduction in Lightroom is actually quite good, to the point that I no longer feel the need to employ third-party plug-ins for noise reduction within my workflow. I would therefore first suggest that you test the noise reduction capabilities of Lightroom as a first step. Especially at relatively modest ISO settings (which certainly includes values up to 2500 ISO for most cameras) I don’t think you’ll find any real advantage to using software outside Lightroom for noise reduction.

If you prefer to use a third-party tool for noise reduction, it is certainly feasible to incorporate that software into a Lightroom based workflow. In many cases you’ll find that the noise reduction software can be used as a plug-in with Lightroom, so you can send a photo directly from Lightroom to the noise reduction software. In other cases you may need to export a copy of your processed photo and then use the noise reduction software to process the image.

When using third-party software to apply noise reduction, I recommend applying all of your key adjustments within Lightroom before sending the image to the noise reduction software. That would include overall exposure and color adjustments at a bare minimum.

Other adjustments, such as sharpening or perspective correction, are not as critical in terms of applying them to the RAW capture in Lightroom before using noise reduction software to further process the photo.

As a general rule, I prefer to process the RAW capture as completely as possible within Lightroom, before sending the image to other software. However, there may be a need to further refine the image in Lightroom after applying noise reduction. Most of these adjustments will not create a problem in terms of quality.

For example, after applying noise reduction you may find that you need to apply a bit more sharpening to the image. Or perhaps after performing noise reduction you realize you need to apply a perspective correction. It is much less critical that these types of adjustments be performed on the RAW capture, in contrast with adjustments that affect overall tonality and color.

In short, get the image as close to a final interpretation as possible before sending it to a plug-in for noise reduction (or other adjustments), but don’t worry if you find you still need to apply additional adjustments within Lightroom on an image that had been processed using a third-party plug-in.

Image Delete Mystery


Today’s Question: When I’m browsing an image that is included in a collection in Lightroom, sometimes I want to delete the image. Within the collection there is only an option to remove the image from the collection, not to delete it. How can I delete the photo, especially if I’m not even sure which folder it is in?

Tim’s Quick Answer: To delete a photo in this scenario you can first right-click on the image and choose “Go to Folder in Library”. Then right-click the image again, and choose Remove Photo. You can then confirm that you want to delete the photos from your hard drive within the dialog that appears.

More Detail: When you add a photo to a collection in Lightroom, you’re not actually creating a copy of the original image. Instead, you are creating a reference to the source image in the context of the collection. When you are browsing an image in a collection the “Remove from Collection” option replaces the “Remove Photo” command. You’ll therefore need to navigate to the source photo to delete the image.

To navigate to that source folder you can right-click on the applicable photo and then choose “Go to Folder in Library” from the popup menu. Lightroom will then take you to the source folder for the image, with the selected image remaining selected. You can then right-click on the image a second time and choose “Remove Photo” from the popup menu.

In the confirmation dialog, if you truly want to delete the image, I recommend choosing the “Delete from Disk”. Obviously if you decide you don’t actually want to delete the photos you could click the “Cancel” button. I don’t, however, recommend using the “Remove” option. If you click the Remove button, the selected image will be removed from the Lightroom catalog, but won’t actually be deleted from your hard drive. In other words, the image will still be taking up space on your drive, but you won’t really know the image is there because it is not referenced within your Lightroom catalog.

Note, by the way, that the “Go to Folder in Library” command can be incredibly helpful when you’re performing a search across your entire Lightroom catalog, and then want to navigate to the folder for a specific image you’ve located so you can view related images.

Image Cleanup Tools


Today’s Question: Is there any tool in Lightroom that can do what Content-Aware Fill in Photoshop can do?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The short answer is “no”. Lightroom does include the equivalent of the Healing Brush, but the Content Aware technology is currently only available within Photoshop.

More Detail: The image cleanup tool in Lightroom is called the Spot Removal Tool, which perhaps helps to make it clear that it is really intended for relatively simple image cleanup tasks, such as removing spots caused by dust or other contaminants on the image sensor in your camera. The Heal option for the Spot Removal Tool provides the same basic functionality as the Healing Brush in Photoshop.

The Content Aware technology is by comparison significantly more advanced. With Content Aware you are getting a variable blending of pixels based on the actual content in the area of the image you want to remove a blemish.

This is one of the reasons that Photoshop remains an important component in a Lightroom-based workflow for many photographers. And yes, I do realize that many photographers would prefer to have Content Aware technology (among other features) included in Lightroom so they could eliminate Photoshop from their workflow.

Unless Adobe decides to add the Content Aware technology to Lightroom, for the best cleanup results within a Lightroom-based workflow I highly recommend using Photoshop. Once you’ve performed all of your adjustments within Lightroom’s Develop module, you can send the image to Photoshop using the Photo > Edit In command. Then employ the Content Aware technology (and make use of any other desired features in Photoshop.

When you’re finished working in Photoshop, simply choose File > Save to update the new file created as part of this workflow, and then choose File > Close to close the image. When you return to Lightroom you will find this new derivative image next to the original capture.

Preview Recommendations


Today’s Question: I have read a lot about preview files in Lightroom: Standard, 1:1 and Smart Previews. What would you suggest? Should I just render Standard and allow the 1:1 to be built as required? It looks like Smart Previews are of most use if I want to edit with out the external hard drive connected where I store my photos. The only time I might use this is on a plane.

Tim’s Quick Answer: I recommend always generating Standard previews for your images in Lightroom when the issue arises, such as when importing photos. I generally only recommend generating 1:1 previews if you tend to zoom in on many (or most) of your photos. And Smart Previews are primarily for working offline or for improving performance in the Develop module.

More Detail: With the key exception of the Develop module, where the preview is rendered based on the original capture based on the current adjustment settings, you could say that Lightroom is always presenting a preview image rather than the “source” image. The only real question is whether that preview is loaded from a preview cache or generated on the fly. The former provides improved performance over the latter.

When you are viewing your images at a “normal” full-image view, such as when using the “Fit” zoom setting, you are viewing the Standard preview for the image. If a Standard preview does not exist for the current image, one will be generated at that time. This can cause you to see a reduced-quality preview briefly while that Standard preview is generated.

For this reason, since you’ll need a Standard preview for any image you view in Loupe view, I recommend generating Standard previews for all images during import (or later in your workflow if that step was skipped for any reason).

If you zoom in on an image (such as with the 1:1 or 100% zoom setting) then you’ll need the 1:1 preview. Again, if a 1:1 preview does not exist for the current image when you zoom in, Lightroom will generate that preview on the fly. This will, again, involve a brief delay while the preview is generated.

I don’t personally tend to zoom in on a significant percentage of my photos, so I prefer not to generate 1:1 previews. I don’t mind a brief delay when I do need to zoom in on a specific image, and would prefer to conserve hard drive space instead. If you do tend to zoom in on a relatively high percentage of images, however, then you may prefer to generate 1:1 previews on import (or later in your workflow).

The Smart Previews enable you to work in the Develop module, or to export or otherwise share photos, even when the source image file is not available (such as when an external hard drive containing photos is disconnected from your computer). In addition, you can enable an option in Preferences to make use of Smart Previews in place of the source image within the Develop module in order to improve performance. If either of these scenarios appeals to you, then you may want to generate Smart Previews during import (or later in your workflow).

So, in summary, I personally prefer to generate Standard previews for all images. I let Lightroom generate 1:1 previews on an as-needed basis, but you may prefer to generate them for all images. And while I don’t generally employ Smart Previews in my workflow, they can absolutely be beneficial in certain situations.

Unwanted Renaming


Today’s Question: How do you import photos into Lightroom and leave the original camera filename? I keep getting  “untitled_20170715_1.nef” for imported filenames, where I had setup a naming preset.

Tim’s Quick Answer: Simply turn off the “Rename Files” checkbox in the File Renaming section of the right panel of the Import dialog, and the photos you import will no longer be renamed during import.

More Detail: By default, Lightroom does not rename the photos you import, retaining the original filenames from the camera for all images. However, if you enable the File Renaming feature, the settings you establish will be “sticky”, meaning that the settings will remain for all future imports until you change the settings.

It is worth noting that if you are using the smaller version of the Import dialog, it may not be quite as obvious that the File Renaming feature has been enabled. That is because in the smaller dialog there is only a summary of your general settings for import, without as many controls that might otherwise provide a more clear indication of everything that is being done during import. You can switch between the small and large versions of the Import dialog by clicking the button with the triangle that points upward or downward (depending on the current state) found at the bottom-left of the Import dialog.

If you’re going to use the File Renaming feature during Import, you need to have the Rename Files checkbox (in the larger version of the Import dialog) turned on. At that point you can configure the settings related to the use of a template for renaming the photos you’re importing.

But if you want to retain the filenames from your camera, you can simply turn off that “Rename Files” checkbox during Import.

Still from Live Photo


Today’s Question: Is there a way to create a normal still image from a Live Photo on the iPhone? I accidentally had the Live Photo feature turned on and just want a normal picture.

Tim’s Quick Answer: You can convert a Live Photo to a “normal” photo on the iPhone using the editing features within the Photos app. You can also use the Photos application on your computer to create a “normal” copy of a photo that was downloaded as a Live Photo.

More Detail: The Live Photo feature on the iPhone is essentially a short video clip, enabling you to add a bit of motion to what would otherwise be a still photo. However, there are some limitations in terms of how you can use these Live Photo images, and what you can extract from them.

When you are using the Camera app on the iPhone, an icon for the Live Photo feature is available, represented by a “target” icon. If this icon appears yellow, the Live Photo feature is enabled. You can tap on the icon to toggle the Live Photo feature on or off.

When you capture a Live Photo with an iPhone, the software automatically identifies a “best” frame from the short video. The other frames are reduced in number and resolution compared to a normal capture or video, presumably to reduce overall file size. As a result, while it is possible in concept to select a different frame to use as the “real” photo from a Live Photo, those other frames will represent a lower quality than the frame that was selected automatically.

Within the Photos app on the iPhone you can navigate to a Live Photo you want to convert to a normal image. Click the edit button (it is an icon represented by three adjustment sliders) to enter editing mode. Tap the Live Photo icon at the top-left of the editing screen to turn off the Live Photo feature, and tape Done to apply the change.

If you have already downloaded the photos to your computer, you can use the Photos application. As with the iPhone, this option is found by clicking the same editing icon to bring up the editing controls, where you can turn off the Live Photo feature.

In addition, a handful of other software applications enable you to work with Live Photo images in a variety of ways. But as noted above, if you don’t want to use the Live Photo feature, you’ll want to be sure it is disabled in your Camera app on the iPhone.

No Variable ND?


Today’s Question: I enjoyed your [webinar] talk about lenses. You talked about solid (rather than variable) neutral density (ND) filters. Is there an issue with using a variable ND filter?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There are two key challenges with a variable neutral density (ND) filter. First, it can be difficult to achieve a precise exposure adjustment with a variable ND filter. Second, variable ND filters can cause an “X” shaped exposure artifact similar to vignetting.

More Detail: A solid neutral density filter basically serves as sunglasses for your lens, evenly blocking some of the light so you can (among other things) achieve a longer exposure duration. A given solid ND filter will have a specific density, so you can easily adjust your exposure settings based on adding the ND filter to the mix.

A variable neutral density filter typically achieves its variability by stacking two polarizing filters together. The rotation of the two filters relative to each other provides the ability to “dial in” a variable amount of light-blocking capability.

A variable ND filter typically has marks that can be used as a guide for rotation, but those marks won’t provide you with a calibrated adjustment of the resulting density for the filter. This can be a challenge when it comes to adjusting your exposure settings.

Perhaps more importantly, when using a variable ND filter you may see an artifact similar in concept to a vignette, but in the form of an “X”. The central area of the image will be properly exposed, but with a somewhat obvious darkening at the top, bottom, left, and right, forming something of an “X” shape outline. This is similar in concept to the exposure gradation you might see with a polarizing filter, but with an appearance that can be a bit more problematic.

So, my personal preference is to only use solid ND filters rather than variable ND filters. To be sure, a variable ND filter provides great flexibility and utility, but to met he challenges are more significant than the potential benefit of leaving a few solid ND filters behind. So I personally travel with a few solid ND filters, and don’t use a variable ND filter.