Missing Curves End Points


Today’s Question: I know you are supposed to be able to set the black and white points for an image in Photoshop using Curves, but the sliders below the histogram have disappeared. Has this feature been removed, or did I do something wrong to cause them to be hidden? Can I get them back?!

Tim’s Quick Answer: It sounds like you have simply activated the “pencil” tool within the Curves adjustment. Simply switch to the “anchor point” mode and the sliders for the black and white point adjustments will appear again.

More Detail: The “pencil” tool for the Curves adjustment can be activated by clicking on the pencil icon, which can be found among the vertical column of icons to the left of the histogram display on the Properties panel. With the pencil tool activated you can draw a free form shape for the Curves adjustment. This can be helpful for fine-tuning your adjustment when the shape of the curve hasn’t gone exactly according to plan.

When you are in the “pencil” mode, you won’t see the sliders for the black and white point (nor actual values for the Input and Output options below the histogram). However, if you switch back to “anchor point” mode, you’ll get those controls back. To return to the anchor point mode, click the button directly above the pencil icon among the vertical column of icons to the left of the histogram on the Properties panel.

As a general rule I prefer to work with the anchor point mode for the Curves adjustment. However, from time to time it can be very helpful to switch to the pencil mode to cleanup the shape of the curve. You can also click the “smooth” button below the pencil icon to smooth out any rough corners you drew on the curve with the pencil tool.

Even after working with the pencil feature, however, I will generally switch back to the anchor point mode to finalize the overall shape of the curve for the Curves adjustment for an image. But perhaps most importantly in the context of today’s question, the black and white point sliders that disappear when you’re working in the pencil mode will return when you return to the anchor point mode for a Curves adjustment.

Photoshop Tool Locations


Today’s Question: I’ve used the Content Aware tool [in Photoshop] ever since it was introduced, but have been unable to locate it since I upgraded from Photoshop CS5. It used to be ganged with the Clone Stamp tool, which is a logical place to find it. Where is it now and why did they hide it?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There actually isn’t a Content Aware tool (although there is a Content-Aware Move tool, as noted below). Rather, there is a technology referred to as “Content Aware” that is available in a variety of places within Photoshop, including the Spot Healing Brush tool, the Fill command, and elsewhere.

More Detail: I don’t recall whether the Spot Healing Brush tool (or any of the other cleanup tools) was ever “bundled” with the Clone Stamp tool on the toolbox. But regardless, the Spot Healing Brush tool is now found on a button two positions above the Clone Stamp tool on the toolbox. You can also use the keyboard shortcut of “J” on the keyboard to activate the Spot Healing Brush tool.

Note that the button for the Spot Healing Brush tool on the toolbox is a “bundle” that also includes the Healing Brush tool, the Patch tool (which also includes the Content Aware feature), the Content-Aware Move tool (which, as the name implies, makes use of the Content Aware feature), and the Red Eye tool. You can click and hold the mouse pointer on the button for the Spot Healing Brush tool to open a flyout menu that includes these additional tools.

You can also find the Content Aware feature as an option for the Fill command. Simply create a selection within the image of the area you want to clean up, and then choose Edit > Fill from the menu. Choose “Content Aware” from the Contents popup in the Fill dialog, and click OK to fill the selection using the Content Aware technology.

Mirrored Image


Today’s Question: Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of photos that have a mirror image effect, which produces a really interesting effect. The left and right half of the image are the same, but mirrored images of each other, producing unique shapes in the overall photo. Can you tell me how to create this type of effect in Photoshop?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There are, of course, a variety of approaches you could take to producing this type of effect. The approach I generally use is to duplicate one half of the image, flip that duplicate, and then move it into the appropriate position to create the mirrored effect.

More Detail: With this effect it can be important to choose the right image to work with. I find that in general the effect works best when there is more than just a key subject in the photo, and where the various “shapes” found within the image will help make it obvious that there is a mirrored effect.

I’ve shared an example of the effect referred to here in my Instagram feed. You can find that image here (and don’t forget to follow me!):


If, for example, I were to take a photo of a single building set against a clear backdrop, then creating the mirrored effect referenced in the question wouldn’t be very obvious. One of the key requirements, in my mind, is that when you use this effect it is immediately obvious that there is something unusual about the photo, but that it isn’t immediately obvious what that “something” is.

Once you’ve found a photo to work with you can open it in Photoshop and select one-half of the image. I recommend using the Rectangular Marquee tool to create the selection. If you choose the “Fixed Size” option from the Style popup, you can specify a height and width value as a percentage. For example, if you want to create a mirrored effect in the horizontal orientation, you can set the Width value to 50% and the Height value to 100%.

With the Width and Height set as percentages, you can click just outside the image to create the selection. Clicking just outside the left side of the image with the values noted above will cause the left half of the image to be selected, and clicking just outside the right side will cause the right half to be selected.

With the selection active, make sure the Background image layer is active on the Layers panel. Then choose Layer > New > Layer via Copy from the menu to duplicate the selected pixels onto a new layer.

You can now flip the new layer you’ve created to produce the mirrored pixels. On the menu you can choose Edit > Transform, and then either “Flip Horizontal” or “Flip Vertical” depending on the direction of the mirror-image effect you’re creating.

Finally, choose the Move tool from the toolbox and drag the flipped layer to the opposite edge of the photo. This will cause the edge of the new layer to align at the center of the image with the same pixels, forming a mirrored-image effect through the rest of the photo.

Battery Drain with GPS


Today’s Question: I know you’ve talked about making use of a GPS receiver in the camera so that location information is included in metadata automatically. But what impact does this have on the camera’s battery?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Having the GPS receiver active on your camera will cause the battery to become depleted more quickly, and in some cases your battery may drain even with the camera turned off.

More Detail: A GPS receiver can consume a fair amount of battery life, in part because the data from GPS satellites is being received somewhat continuously at a relatively slow data rate. When you activate the GPS feature on a digital camera, the camera is performing work on an ongoing basis, tracking the position of the camera.

In my experience, having the GPS feature enabled on a camera can cause the battery to deplete about 25% to 50% faster than would be the case with the GPS receiver disabled. The actual results will vary, of course, depending on specific usage and how the GPS feature is enabled on the camera you’re using.

Different cameras manage this process in different ways, introducing numerous variables in terms of how much the battery is consumed. In some cases, for example, the camera might not determine the location of the camera on a continuous basis, instead opting to update the location on a periodic basis.

Many cameras with built-in GPS receivers enable you to adjust a setting for how frequently your location should be updated. Reducing the frequency at which your location is updated can help conserve battery power, but can also lead to less accuracy with the GPS coordinates embedded in metadata for your photos.

Making matters worse in terms of battery usage, in many cases a GPS-enabled camera will continue updating the location information of the camera even when the camera is turned off. For example, with my camera if I leave the GPS feature enabled and then turn the camera off and leave it unused, the battery will be dead in about one week.

From my perspective the benefit provided by having location information embedded in the metadata of every photo is greater than the challenges created by reduced battery life. In most cases, for example, I can get through a full day of photography with my digital SLR using a single battery, even with the GPS feature enabled at all times. The only time I tend to use more than one battery in a single day is when I am capturing video in addition to still images, since video capture tends to consume the battery much more rapidly than still captures.

Clone Stamp Outdated?


Today’s Question: With the Spot Healing Brush tool and Content Aware technology in Photoshop, is it safe to say the Clone Stamp is outdated and no longer needed?

Tim’s Quick Answer: While the Clone Stamp tool is certainly less important now that we have more powerful and sophisticated image cleanup tools in Photoshop, there are still situations where the Clone Stamp tool is incredibly useful. In particular, I still employ the Clone Stamp tool in situations where I need to carefully maintain texture detail when performing cleanup work on a photo.

More Detail: To be sure, the technology behind some of the more recent image cleanup tools and features in Photoshop is very impressive. In particular, I would say that the Content Aware technology provides some very impressive results in terms of blending the pixels you’re using to remove a blemish into the surrounding areas of the photo.

However, sometimes those blending capabilities can create more problems than they solve, or at least lead to less than ideal cleanup results.

In particular, the Content Aware technology and the general blending employed with the Healing Brush and Spot Healing Brush tools (among others) can lead to harmful effects for fine textures in a photo. This is commonly seen as a degree of ghosting and texture duplication in areas where you’ve applied a cleanup. In other words, your cleanup work won’t always blend seamlessly into the rest of the photo.

The Clone Stamp tool, by contrast, doesn’t perform any blending into surrounding areas. That can obviously be a challenge in terms of having the brush strokes of your cleanup work be too obvious. But a combination of multiple tools can provide a great solution.

When texture needs to be maintained as part of image cleanup work, I generally start with the Clone Stamp tool. After cleaning up an area as best I can with the Clone Stamp, the texture will have been maintained but the blending won’t necessarily be adequate. I can then using one of the “blending” tools, such as the Spot Healing Brush tool with the Content Aware option selected, in order to blend away areas along the edges of my Clone Stamp brush strokes that reveal an obvious indication of my work.

By combining the absence of blending with the Clone Stamp tool with the Content Aware feature of the Spot Healing Brush tool, I can often achieve results that are superior to what could be accomplished with either one of these tools alone.

Enabling GPS


Today’s Question: I’ll be traveling internationally soon, and am looking for info that I know you have shared before. What is the trick for being able to have my iPhone record location information without risking a big phone bill?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Actually, a relatively recent update to iOS (the operating system for the iPhone) causes the GPS receiver to be active even when the iPhone is in airplane mode. So, you can keep your iPhone in Airplane Mode and your photos will still reflect location information.

More Detail: With older versions of iOS (version 8.2 or earlier), when you enabled Airplane Mode the GPS receiver would be disabled. This created a degree of risk that you could incur significant unintended charges for voice and data if you weren’t careful in how you used your phone.

You could still disable the cellular data feature in Settings for your phone, but there was still some risk of incurring additional charges if you had international service enabled with your cellular provider (and in some cases even if you didn’t enable that service but then sent or received text messages).

As long as you’re using a version of iOS after version 8.2, you can simply leave your iPhone in Airplane Mode and you’ll still have GPS capabilities. That means, for example, that if you capture photos with your iPhone, those photos will have GPS coordinates embedded in metadata.

In addition, even in airplane mode you can use other apps that make use of GPS data, such as GPS navigation apps. For example, when traveling (including a trip I’m on right now) I make use of an “offline” GPS navigation app. This app has maps and other data included, and then the GPS receiver is used to determine your current location. The result is an ability to use GPS features without the need to use cellular data.

I’m not as familiar with other mobile operating systems (such as Android), but I do know that there are similar options for enabling the GPS receiver without having cellular data enabled.

Download Mystery


Today’s Question: When traveling I usually like to download my daily photos to Lightroom on my laptop and the do things like add keywords and star ratings, and start to delete those I do not want. When I download from the same card the next day I find that all my deleted photos reappear. What do I need to do to make sure this does not happen?

Tim’s Quick Answer: It sounds like you’re not reformatting the cards after downloading. So, you either need to format the cards after downloading your photos (making sure you have the photos backed up first!), or employ a workflow that doesn’t involve deleting your photos until the end of your travels.

More Detail: When you import photos into your Lightroom catalog with the “Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates” checkbox turned on in the Import dialog, the photos in the location you have set as the source are compared to the photos currently in the catalog. Various file and metadata attributes are compared to determine if any of the photos being imported are duplicates of photos already in the catalog.

If you have deleted photos from the catalog, and then re-import the same photos, the “Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates” feature won’t prevent the photos that had been deleted from being imported again. Put simply, under these circumstances the re-imported photos don’t represent duplicate images based on the current state of your catalog.

It is, of course, perfectly reasonable to not format your digital media cards during a trip, so that you retain an additional backup copy of all of your photos. However, this approach then requires a workflow approach that does not involve deleting unwanted photos from your catalog, at least until you are finished downloading all photos from all cards that contain photos captured during the trip.

Another solution in this type of situation would be to use the “Reject” flag to identify photos you intend to delete later. The Reject flag can be added to a photo by pressing the letter “X” on the keyboard. You could then enable a filter to hide photos with a “Reject” flag, which essentially creates a similar experience to having deleted the photos. And when you are finished with your trip, there is even a “Delete Rejected Photos” command on the Photo menu that makes it easy to delete the photos you would have otherwise deleted along the way.

Adjustment Number Color


Today’s Question: I’ve just noticed that when working in the Develop module in Lightroom some of the numbers next to the adjustment sliders are white, and some are gray. Is there some significance to the color?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There is indeed significance to the white versus gray text for the adjustment numbers in Lightroom’s Develop module. White represents values that differ from the default settings, and gray indicates a value that is still at the default value.

More Detail: In other words, you can think of the white text for an adjustment number as indicating an adjustment you’ve actually made a change to versus those you have not. If the number associated with a slider in the Develop module in Lightroom is white, that setting has been adjusted. If the number is gray, that adjustment has not been adjusted yet.

You will therefore notice that as soon as you make an initial change to a slider value in Lightroom, the numeric text associated with that slider becomes white. If you double-click on the slider handle for the adjustment in order to reset that adjustment to its default value, the text will return to gray.

This is one of the subtle features within Lightroom that can help make streamline your workflow, and speed up the process of evaluating which adjustments have been applied versus left at their default values.

Flipping in Lightroom Redux


Today’s Question: You’re never wrong, but today you’re wrong. It’s easy to flip a photo in Lightroom

Tim’s Quick Answer: I was indeed wrong when I said you couldn’t flip a photo in Lightroom. You can flip by selecting a photo, then choosing Photo on the menu followed by either Flip Horizontal or Flip Vertical. You can also right-click on the full-size image in the Develop module and choose Transform followed by either Flip Horizontal or Flip Vertical from the popup menu.

More Detail: Friday’s edition of the Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter proves that I don’t always have the answer, or that what I think is the answer is sometimes wrong. And today’s edition demonstrates (hopefully) that I don’t mind admitting when I was wrong. Perhaps it also confirms that if we don’t exercise our brains, some atrophy may occur! I simply forgot about a feature that I have probably never used, even though at one point I knew it was there.

With Monday being the Labor Day holiday in the United States I was going to take the day off from the Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter, even though I’m not presently in the United States. But with my big error in Friday’s email, I decided a Monday email was necessary, and that it should be sent out early. So here it is!

I appreciate the many (countless!) photographers who sent me an email to (gently, for the most part) point out my error. Thank you! And I’ll certainly try to avoid such mistakes in the future.

In the meantime, rest assured that you can indeed flip a photo in Lightroom without sending it to Photoshop. And also rest assured that when I answer a question incorrectly in the Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter, more than a few readers will surely let me know, and then I’ll let you know.

Flipping in Lightroom


Today’s Question: I would like to be able to flip an image in Lightroom. Is it possible, or only a Photoshop thing?

PLEASE NOTE: The original answer posted below was incorrect. Details of the correction can be found in a follow-up post here:

Flipping in Lightroom Redux

Tim’s Quick Answer: Flipping an image is not possible in Lightroom, and thus would require Photoshop (or another application). You can rotate an image in Lightroom, but not flip it.

More Detail: Fortunately, it is quite easy to flip an image in Photoshop, and you can send an image from Lightroom directly to Photoshop for this purpose. Just note that in the process a new copy of the image will be created as an additional file on your hard drive.

To get started, select the image in Lightroom that you want to flip. Then choose Photo > Edit In > Edit In Adobe Photoshop from the menu. Once the image is opened in Photoshop, you will want to convert the Background image layer to a normal layer so you can actually flip it. To do so, double-click the thumbnail for the Background image layer on the Layers panel and click the OK button in the New Layer dialog that appears.

You can then choose Edit > Transform from the menu, and then choose “Flip Horizontal” or “Flip Vertical” from the submenu depending on the direction you want to flip the image. After completing any other work you’d like to perform in Photoshop, simply choose File > Save from the menu to save the updated image file, and then choose File > Close from the menu to close that file.

You can then return to Lightroom, and the new copy of the image that has been flipped will appear alongside the original photo within your catalog.