Clipping Preview Options

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Today’s Question: I’ve been a fan of yours for years, and appreciate all that you do. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you talk about the clipping displays that can be activated at the top corners of the histogram in Lightroom. Do you not recommend using these options?

Tim’s Quick Answer: While I am a huge fan of the ability to see a “clipping preview” when adjusting a photo, I don’t employ the clipping preview option you refer to. Instead, I employ the more detailed clipping preview you can display by holding the Alt/Option key while adjusting certain sliders in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw.

More Detail: I should hasten to point out that the Develop module in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw in Photoshop provide the exact same adjustments and related options. So the details provided here will apply equally to photographers to work in Lightroom or in Adobe Camera Raw.

Within the Histogram display in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw you will see a triangle at each of the top corners. The triangle at the top-left corner enables you to toggle the clipping display for shadows, and the triangle at the top-right corner toggles the display for highlight shadows. With these options turned on, any shadow areas that have been clipped to pure black will have a blue overlay, and any highlight areas that have been clipped to pure white will have a red overlay.

The primary reason I don’t use these clipping preview options is that they only provide an indication of full clipping to pure black or pure white. The “other” option I prefer enables me to see when an individual channel is clipping, which can be helpful information in a variety of situations.

Thus, instead of employing the shadow and highlight clipping controls found within the Histogram display, I prefer to hold the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on Macintosh while adjusting any control that may contribute to clipping. For example, I will hold the Alt/Option key when adjusting the slider for Whites and Blacks, and in some cases when adjusting the value for Highlights and Shadows.

Ultimately the clipping preview is aimed at providing detailed information about the impact of specific adjustments on an image. I prefer to have as much detail as possible when evaluating clipping for an image, and thus I use the Alt/Option key rather than the triangle buttons associated with the Histogram.

TIFF Workflow

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Today’s Question: What is your recommended workflow for a TIFF file? I have scanned and imported all my old slides into Lightroom as “.tif” files, and now wish to print/display some of them. From your excellent guidance I now use Lightroom for the vast majority of my adjustments, but find I prefer the spot healing brush tool in Photoshop to eliminate the dust that has permeated my slides. Occasionally I also use Photoshop to create masks for specific adjustments. Finally many of the Lightroom adjustments for a TIFF file do not seem to transfer to the Photoshop image for me. Currently I first create a “.psd” file for the healing brush in Photoshop, and then go back to Lightroom and use this file for the adjustments. There must be a better way.

Tim’s Quick Answer: For general optimization work my preference would be to simply send the “original” TIFF image to Photoshop to work on it there. Then save the changes and close the image file to update that image in Lightroom. Note that the Lightroom adjustments will not be visible while you are in Lightroom, but they will still be applied when you return to Lightroom for that image. For print preparation I would make an additional copy of the TIFF image, and that copy could be either a TIFF or PSD.

More Detail: In the case of working on the “original” TIFF image created from the scan, I would be perfectly happy to work on that same image file for general adjustments in Photoshop. In other words, when prompted about how I want to handle the image upon sending it to Photoshop, I would choose the “Edit Original” option. I would then use a completely non-destructive workflow (with adjustment layers, additional image layers, and layer masks, as needed, for example) so that none of the original pixel values are being altered. When you’re finished working with the image in Photoshop, simply choose File > Save (not “Save As”) and then File > Close from the menu to save and close the changes so you can return to Lightroom.

As noted above, the adjustments you applied in Lightroom will not be visible while you are working in Photoshop. This can obviously be a little frustrating, but it is generally not too difficult to work around this limitation. The Lightroom adjustments will still be applied when you are back in Lightroom after finishing your work in Photoshop.

If you will be performing any “destructive” work, such as for printing, then I would want to make an additional copy of the image with the Lightroom adjustments applied. For example, if you plan to resize and sharpen the image for a specific output size, that is altering the underlying pixel information in the image. In that case I would choose the option to create a copy of the image with the Lightroom adjustments applied when sending the photo to Photoshop. Then perform all the work that is needed and save and close the image. That image would then be ready for final output based on the output size you designated for the image, but you could always return to your “original” scanned TIFF image as needed.

Catalog Location

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Today’s Question: You say you keep your Lightroom catalog on you laptop but your photos on an external drive and this makes sense if the laptop is your primary computer. Would you not want your catalog and photos together on an external hard drive when using a laptop for travel but then transfer the catalog with photos to a desktop when you get home? Otherwise would you not need to move the catalog to the external drive every time you want to transfer to a desktop?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In my case the decision is easy, because my laptop isn’t merely my primary computer but rather my exclusive computer for working with my Lightroom catalog. For those who need to work across two computers, keeping the Lightroom catalog on an external hard drive can be a reasonably good solution, though it is important to keep in mind that this approach will generally lead to a degradation in performance for Lightroom.

More Detail: One of the challenges many photographers face when using Lightroom is that there isn’t an easy solution for working with a single catalog across more than one computer. You can certainly copy the catalog back and forth across multiple computers, but to me this is a very risky approach because you need to keep track of which copy of your catalog is truly the latest version (and be sure not to use an outdated version).

Another approach is to keep the catalog on an external hard drive. However, as noted above, this can in degraded performance in Lightroom. In some cases this degradation in performance can be significant.

Some photographers employ a solution such as DropBox to synchronize a catalog across multiple computers. However, this approach makes me nervous, because connectivity issues can cause synchronization to fail in problematic ways.

As a result, to me the best solution is to keep Lightroom on a single computer if at all possible. That, in turn, is part of the reason I have opted to use a laptop as my primary computer, including for my Lightroom-based workflow.

Storage Limitations

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Today’s Question: You recently wrote that your main computer is a laptop, and I think in the past you’ve said that you keep all of your photo files on your computer. I’m wondering how you manage that. I have 200 GB of photo files, which I keep on my laptop (my main computer) for ease of access, and together with my photo applications and other related ‘tools’, have often found certain programs slowing down and my laptop getting low on space. I know you have many more gigabytes of files than I do. Could you comment on how large a laptop you have and where and how you keep your files so that you don’t keep running out of laptop space?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In my mind the best solution for this situation is a bus-powered external hard drive, preferably one that is durable if you will be traveling. You can then keep your Lightroom catalog (if applicable) on the internal hard drive and all of your photos on the external hard drive.

More Detail: I have indeed said that my primary computer is a laptop, but I don’t keep all of my photos on the internal hard drive. If I said at some point that I did, that would have been a long time ago when I actually had plenty of storage for all of my photos on an internal drive. That is no longer the case.

A bus-powered hard drive is one that derives its power from the data connection (such as a USB or Thunderbolt connection) and therefore does not require a separate power adapter. This provides a streamlined solution that is especially helpful when traveling.

I am currently using LaCie Rugged external hard drives, and am very happy with them. I travel with several of the 4TB versions, which provide adequate capacity for all of my photos on one drive and production files and other data on another drive. You can find an example of a LaCie Rugged drive here:

http://timgrey.me/2rugged

Import Missing Photos

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Today’s Question: I have some serious Lightroom file/folder management issues. For example, if I look at my “2013” image folder in Lightroom I see only three folders containing maybe a couple of hundred images. If I go into Finder and look at that same “2013” folder, I see that I actually have about 40 folders with numerous sub-folders and easily several thousand images. What do I need to do to make all of the images on my Mac hard drive accessible in Lightroom and how do I avoid this problem in the future?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Fortunately in this case the solution is relatively simple. You just need to perform an import operation from your primary photo storage location. You’ll want to turn on the “Include Subfolders” option and employ the “Add” option in conjunction with the “Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates” setting.

More Detail: The issue here is that you either haven’t imported all photos from your hard drive, or some of the photos that had been imported were removed from your Lightroom catalog without being deleted from your hard drive. That results in photos that are on your hard drive but not included in your Lightroom catalog. This can obviously be a problem if you’re attempting to use Lightroom to manage your entire library of photographic images.

Let’s assume that your date-based folder structure is included within a parent folder called “PHOTOS”. You can initiate the import process by clicking the Import button at the bottom of the left panel in the Library module.

In the Import dialog, first set the top-level storage location for your photos as the source of the import operation. In this case that would be the “PHOTOS” folder referred to above. Then be sure the “Include Subfolders” checkbox is turned on. This enables you to import all photos in all subfolders within the currently selected source folder.

Next, be sure the option at the top-center of the Import dialog is set to “Add”. This option is used for images that are already where they belong, and that you simply want to add to your Lightroom catalog. On the right panel of the Import dialog be sure the “Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates” checkbox is turned on, so that only images that aren’t currently in your Lightroom catalog will actually be imported.

Adjust any other settings based on your preferences, and then click the Import button at the bottom-right of the Import dialog. All of the photos within the source folder you selected, including images within subfolders of that source location, that are not already included in the current Lightroom catalog will be added to that catalog.

Slow Preview Updates

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Today’s Question: In Lightroom I created 1:1 previews for a series of images. I’m in the Develop module zoomed to 100%. When I move using arrow key to the next image in the series, the image on screen is first pixelated, then improves to just blurry, then finally improves to actual sharpness. Each change takes just about a second. Very annoying. If 1:1 previews already exist, why is the rendering happening in 3 stages rather than simply opening at actual/proper resolution?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Put simply, Lightroom generates updated previews “on the fly” in the Develop module. You get the full benefit of 1:1 previews in the Library module, for example, but in the Develop module Lightroom will render a preview in real time based on the original capture plus the adjustments you’ve applied. In other words, the final preview takes longer to generate than simply retrieving the preview from the cache as is done in the Library module.

More Detail: In other words, you can think of the 1:1 previews as being a feature to employ as needed in the Library module. In the Develop module Lightroom will be working a bit harder to generate updated previews based on your original capture plus adjustments. That, in turn, means that overall system performance can play a very big role in the Develop module.

In particular, a fast process, plenty of memory (RAM), and a good display adapter (video card) with plenty of video memory will make a big difference. In general I recommend 8GB to 16GB of system memory, a fast processor with multiple cores, and 2GB or more of video RAM.

In addition, it is a good idea to confirm that the “Use Graphics Processor” checkbox is turned on. You can find this checkbox on the Performance tab of the Preferences dialog in Lightroom. The only reason I would ever turn this option off is for troubleshooting odd behaviors within Lightroom. But if Lightroom is behaving normally, leaving this option turned on will improve performance, including within the Develop module in Lightroom.

If you have adequate hard drive space, I would also recommend increasing the size of the Camera Raw cache in Lightroom. The default is 1GB, but you can increase it to a much higher value (like 10GB or 20GB) to improve performance. You’ll find this option near the bottom of the File Handling tab of the Preferences dialog in Lightroom.

Note, by the way, that rendering 1:1 previews can greatly improve overall performance in Lightroom. They are not as beneficial for the Develop module compared to the Library module, but they can still boost performance. If you have more than enough hard drive space, it may be worthwhile to render 1:1 previews depending on your particular workflow.

Laptop Size

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Today’s Question: I noticed you were using an Apple laptop. It looked like the 13 inch MacBook Pro? I am about to purchase a laptop for traveling in my new camper. Is the 13-inch display large enough to comfortably work in Lightroom or Photoshop?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, I am using a 13-inch MacBook Pro as my primary (actually, pretty much exclusive) computer. With the Retina display I am very comfortable working with this display size for working in Lightroom and Photoshop, as well as editing my videos in Premiere Pro and laying out Pixology magazine in InDesign.

More Detail: To be sure, my priorities are a little different from those of many other photographers, because I travel rather extensively. Because I am rarely home for more than a couple weeks at a time, and am often away from home for weeks on end, it makes sense for me to use a laptop as my primary computer platform.

It has been more than five years since I’ve owned a desktop computer, and I don’t miss it at all. With a laptop I always have my familiar computer and my data no matter where I am.

I do feel that the 13-inch display size is a good compromise. To me personally a 15-inch or larger display results in a laptop that feels more bulky and less portable. And a smaller display isn’t as comfortable to work with.

With previous laptops I felt that I was compromising significantly due to the relatively low display resolution. I simply didn’t have much screen real estate to use for some of the key applications in my workflow. But with the Retina display I am now perfectly happy. I prefer the higher resolution setting (referred to as “More Space” in the Macintosh preferences), which produces a display that appears like a resolution of 1680×1050 pixels. In other words, I have what is very close to a full 1080p high definition display, which works well for demanding applications such as Photoshop and Lightroom.

It is worth noting that if you’re going to use a laptop as a primary platform for working with Photoshop and Lightroom, you’ll want to opt for a relatively powerful laptop. That means opting for the fastest multi-core processor available, upgrading the memory to 16GB of RAM (or even more), and taking advantage of the hard drive (or SSD drive) option with the highest capacity available.

Rotate Without Crop

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Today’s Question: Crop is an indispensable feature, and the rotate feature usually has crop built in. But sometimes I don’t want to crop when I rotate, and sometimes I want to reposition the object of the photo creating white space at the edge, or even expand the borders in all directions. Is there a software function that will automatically back fill the white space? Else I need to use the Clone Stamp tool to add sky, trees, mountains, or whatever is in the background.

Tim’s Quick Answer: There are a couple of options I would recommend in Photoshop. These are the Content Aware Fill, and manually duplicating a relatively large area of pixels.

More Detail: The first option is more automatic, but the results can be a bit mixed. First, be sure that when you are using the Crop tool that you turn off the “Delete Cropped Pixels” checkbox on the Options bar. This will ensure you can always use the “Reveal All” command found on the Edit menu to expand the canvas so that all pixels in the image are visible.

Next, create a copy of the Background image layer by dragging the thumbnail for that layer to the “Create a New Layer” button (the blank sheet of paper icon) at the bottom of the Layers panel. This will create a Background Copy layer that you can use as the basis of the Content Aware Fill technique.

Now you can create a selection in the “blank” areas created when you rotated the image without cropping into the image. I recommend working with one side of the image at a time to help improve the overall results. With a selection active you can then choose Edit > Fill from the menu. In the Fill dialog choose “Content Aware” from the Contents popup. I also recommend turning on the “Color Adaptation” checkbox to improve color rendering. Click OK and the selected area will be filled with pixels taken from the image.

The quality of results with Content Aware Fill can vary considerably. Sometimes it works great, and sometimes not so great. Keep in mind, however, that you can use other tools such as the Clone Stamp and the Spot Healing Brush to improve upon the results without too much effort.

When the Content Aware Fill approach doesn’t work very well you can use a more “manual” approach to filling in the empty areas of the image. Start by creating a selection of an area that would represent a good fill for the empty area. Then choose Layer > New > Layer via Copy from the menu, or press Ctrl+J on Windows or Command+J on Macintosh. This will duplicate the selected pixels onto a new layer. Use the Move tool to drag that new layer into position to cover up part of the empty portion of the image. You can then use a layer mask to blend areas in, and employ the Clone Stamp and Spot Healing Brush tools to perform additional cleanup work on a separate layer.

The various “automated” capabilities for image cleanup in Photoshop can provide you with a great starting point, though in many cases you’ll still need to perform additional work to produce a satisfactory result. Fortunately, a combination of “automatic” and “manual” approaches can minimize the amount of time and effort required to produce great results.

Location Tracking

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Today’s Question: You showed a technique for using the GPS in your phone to provide locations for pictures, by using synchronized times (adjusting for time zones). What app are you using on the phone? When I travel to a foreign country, what settings do I need to be sure to have set correctly so that my phone’s GPS works but I’m not hit with lots of extra data or phone charges?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I use an app called “GPSTrack”, which is only available for the iPhone and iPad. And when traveling internationally I recommend that you not enable “airplane mode”, because doing so will disable your GPS receiver. Instead, I recommend turning of the cellular data and other features so that you don’t have to worry about international voice and data charges but can still take advantage of the GPS receiver in your mobile device.

More Detail: To be sure, one of the easiest ways to avoid a surprisingly high cellular phone bill after an international trip is to set your mobile device to “airplane mode” so that all of the cellular features are disabled. Unfortunately, using this approach also disables the GPS antenna in your mobile device, so you cannot take advantage of GPS tagging for photos captured with that device, and cannot use apps such as GPSTrack to record a track log that can be synchronized with your photos later.

Therefore, my recommendation is to become familiar with the configuration settings for your mobile device, so you can disable the cellular features that can lead to high data charges without disabling the GPS receiver that enables the option to record location information with photos captured on a mobile device or through the use of a track log.

In the case of the iPhone, for example, you can go into the Cellular section of the Settings app and disable Cellular Data as well as Roaming. By doing so, you can ensure you will not incur charges for cellular data, while still being able to track your location using the GPS receiver built into your phone.

Split ND Obsolete?

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Today’s Question: There is an article in Outdoor Photographer posting Monday about “Mastering the Grad ND” filter. With the capabilities in Photoshop/Lightroom (specifically the Gradient Filter tool), is there a substantial difference in using the filters over creating the same effect in post?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In general I would say that I consider the graduated neutral density filter to be obsolete. The various options for applying graduated adjustments provide an alternative for many situations. And when the dynamic range of the scene exceeds the abilities of your camera, capturing multiple exposures to blend into a high dynamic range (HDR) image is generally a better solution compared to the use of a graduated neutral density filter.

More Detail: One of the frustrations of working with a graduated neutral density filter is that it is graduated in a linear way. Many real-world scenarios prove to be a challenge with a graduated neutral density filter, due to a foreground subject extending above the horizon. Such an object will be darkened toward the top along with the sky, creating an obvious clue that a filter was used for the photo.

In situations where a graduated neutral density filter provides a minor advantage, a gradient adjustment in post-processing can often provide a similar (or even better) adjustment. For situations where a graduated neutral density filter is not a great solution, a graduated adjustment in post processing will also prove challenging.

However, you can produce a superior result in many challenging situations by simply capturing multiple exposures and combining those into a single high dynamic range (HDR) image.

In short, I never employ a graduated neutral density filter in my own photography. If the dynamic range is not beyond the capabilities of my camera, I can simply capture a single exposure and then apply a targeted adjustment when processing my photo.

For situations where the dynamic range of the scene exceeds the capabilities of my camera, I will capture a sequence of exposures that I will blend together into a single high dynamic range (HDR) image in post-processing, producing a better result than I could have achieved with a graduated neutral density filter.