Memory Card Lifespan

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Today’s Question: A question to which I can’t guess the answer: I have a 64 GB memory card. I take the images, download them into Lightroom, then I put the memory card back in my camera and format the card. How many times can I format the card before it is time to use a new card?

Tim’s Answer: I suppose part of the reason you’ve not been able to find a clear answer to this question is that there isn’t an entirely clear answer to begin with. But that doesn’t mean I can’t provide at least some basic guidance that will (hopefully) prove helpful.

There are a few things worth understanding here.

First, since the question specifically relates to formatting the card, we’ll start there. With most cameras the act of formatting a digital media card has a very minimal impact on the life of the card. The reason for this is that in most cases formatting the card doesn’t actually do very much.

Yes, I realize that when you format a digital media card in your camera, all of the photos disappear. But in actual fact, with most cameras the images are not truly erased, but rather the “table of contents” for the card is updated to indicate there are no files on the card. This is why it is possible to recover “lost” photos from a card, as long as the photos that were deleted (or erased by formatting) have not been over-written by new photos (or other data).

So, formatting the card has a very minimal impact on the life of the card.

Next, it is important to understand that the lifespan of a flash memory storage device (which is the category most digital media cards fall under) is limited based on an approximate number of read/write operations. You can essentially think of the individual storage components on the card as being something that wears out, although that’s a significant over-simplification of what’s going on.

The expected lifespan of a given card depends upon the specific components used for that card, and can vary wildly from one manufacturer or product line to the next. Some cards are estimated to be able to handle around 100,000 read/write operations for each “unit” of storage space, while others might have a life expectancy on the order of perhaps one million read/write operations. And, of course, it is important to keep in mind that these expectations are presented as a median expectation, so your results could of course vary considerably.

Finally, we have to take into account that today’s media cards are “intelligent” about how the storage is used. This includes, for example, a form of “load balancing” where the card will vary where each new file is stored so that each individual unit of memory will have about the same amount of use as every other unit of memory on the card. Also, as parts of the card start to go bad, those areas are automatically taken out of service. This helps prevent data loss or corruption, and also explains why you might see the amount of available space on an empty card go down over time.

Putting all of these (and other) factors together, you can probably appreciate how difficult it can be to predict with any degree of accuracy just how long a given digital media card will last before it can’t be used. In my experience, for most high-quality cards, you are more likely to replace the card for a faster or higher-capacity card before the card actually fails. But, of course, some cards fail almost immediately, some cards cause data corruption, and some cards last much longer than you would ever expect.

Having said all that, you can use the information above to calculate some basic estimates of potential lifespan based on how many photos you tend to capture on a given card over an extended period of time.

Density in a Photo

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Today’s Question: A couple of days ago you gave the following example to a question about opacity of layers:

“…a quick way to increase density in an image is to add an adjustment layer without actually making any changes to the default settings for the adjustment layer. Then change the blend mode for the adjustment layer to Multiply”.

I’ve been wondering what you mean by “increasing the density” of an image. That terminology never comes up when discussing processing with Lightroom. What would the equivalent treatment be if working solely in Lightroom?

Tim’s Answer: In large part I would say that my use of the term “density” in the context quoted above is a product of having started my photographic adventures in the world of film photography (and specifically, slide film photography). With a slide, there is a need to ensure an adequate degree of density in the information captured in the emulsion. In other words, a completely clear slide (with no density) has no useful information, while a properly exposed slide has “good” density. This relates, in the context of slide film, to the density of the dyes present in the slide film, which form the actual image you can see.

When I refer to density in a photographic image, I’m referring to the same basic concept in terms of information being present in the photo. In other words, in a very basic way I’m talking about darkening the exposure to increase the density of information, as long as we think about that information in terms of adding darkness. In other words, the term density in this context makes more sense when thinking of a photo printed on paper rather than an image projected on a computer display.

Lightroom does not include blend modes, and so you can’t use the “trick” of using the Multiply blend mode to darken the exposure (increase density) or the Screen blend mode to brighten exposure (reduce density). However, you can achieve a reasonably similar result through the use of the basic tonal adjustments.

I would start with the Exposure slider to apply a basic overall adjustment to the tonality in the photo. You can also fine-tune the effect with the Shadows and Highlights sliders to adjust the overall appearance of detail in the image. You can even make use of the Whites and Blacks sliders as needed to fine-tune the brightest and darkest values in the photo.

Ultimately, besides illustrating the potential pitfalls of applying terms from film photography to digital photo processing, I think this topic underscores the importance of understanding your tools and focusing on the photo. In other words, there are many different tools available in many different software applications, and I wouldn’t get too caught up about trying to translate the tools from one application into another. Instead, I encourage you to focus on the photo you are working on, think about what will make that photo look its best, and then use the tools in the software you’ve chosen to work toward that result.

Image Processor

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Today’s Question: Is there any way to convert a folder (not an individual file) of TIFF images to JPEG without loss of the TIFF images, with Photoshop CS6?

Tim’s Answer: There most certainly is a way to process multiple images (including TIFF files, among other image file formats) into JPEG images using Photoshop CS6 (or later), and it called “Image Processor”.

I prefer to initiate the process from Adobe Bridge, because I find it to be easier to locate and select the specific images I want to process from within Adobe Bridge. If you take this approach, you can select the images you want to process, and then go to the menu and choose Tools > Photoshop > Image Processor. The selected images will automatically be set as the source images for processing.

If you prefer to start from within Photoshop, you can initiate the Image Processor by choosing File > Scripts > Image Processor from the menu. If you have already opened the images you want to process, you can choose the “Use Open Images” option at the top of the Image Processor dialog. You can also process a folder full of images by choosing the “Select Folder” option, then clicking the button to actually select the source photo. Again, by using Adobe Bridge you can select specific images within a folder for processing.

The next option allows you to specify the location where you want the resulting images saved. If you use the “Save in Same Location” option the images will actually be saved in a sub-folder of the source folder, with a name based on the file type being created (such as “JPEG”). You can also select an entirely different folder as the destination of the image files being created.

In the File Type section you can specify the type of files to be created, choosing among JPEG, PSD, and TIFF options. Note that you can select multiple file types if desired, and that you can adjust individual settings for each file type. So, in this case you could turn on the “Save as JPEG” checkbox, for example. You can also enable the option to resize the resulting images (and of course enter specific pixel dimensions you want the images to fit within). There is also an option to convert the images to the sRGB color space.

When you have all of the settings established, you can click the Run button and the images will be processed. Note that the source images will not be modified in any way. Those source images will simply be used as the basis of the processing to create additional copies of the photos.

Black and White Workflow

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Today’s Question: I do a significant amount of my work in Black and White. Would I work in color until ready for printing….or should I change to B&W first thing?
Or perhaps you would suggest a special sequence of operations best suited for B&W optimization?

Tim’s Answer: In large part the approach I recommend depends on the degree to which you are certain that you want to convert a given image to black and white. In other words, I would first want to know whether you thought a given photo would ever be presented in color at all.

If you’re not sure, of if you want to have a color version of the photo in addition to a black and white version, I recommend applying at least the basic adjustments to the image before working in black and white. This would include basic color correction, adjusting overall brightness and contrast, and other basic adjustments. I then might save this version of the image and create a copy (or a Virtual Copy in the context of Lightroom) for the black and white interpretation.

When you move from adjustments for the color image to a black and white interpretation, be sure you revisit the overall tonal adjustments. In particular, check the values established for black and white in the photo, as the overall tonal distribution may have been changed by your conversion to black and white. And, of course, pay attention to other considerations that will be especially important for a black and white image, such as emphasizing (or toning down) texture and detail in the photo.

If I know for sure that I will only work with a photo as a black and white image, I will bypass all but the very basic adjustments to correct for the initial exposure, so that I can move into the black and white processing more quickly.

Of course, it is important to consider the overall approach you take to workflow for your photos. If you are working in Lightroom, there’s no penalty to diving right in to black and white adjustments for a photo, because Lightroom’s Develop module always applies adjustments non-destructively. However, you may at least want to create a Virtual Copy of any color photo you want to process into a black and white version.

If you’re using Photoshop to process your images, I would apply very basic overall adjustments to the initial capture (such as via Adobe Camera Raw), and then use adjustment layers and perhaps some filters or plug-ins on a duplicate of the Background image layer in order to create the black and white interpretation.

Again, much of your decision about how to organize your image-optimization workflow depends on your sense about a given image and your personal preferences. But the point is to take a thoughtful approach that maximizes your flexibility.

Merging Catalogs

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Today’s Question: I want to export a Lightroom catalog from one computer to another. Will the exported catalog merge with the existing one or replace it? I want to merge them and not lose any file or photo in either one of the catalogs.

Tim’s Answer: When you export a catalog from Lightroom, you will have a separate catalog file that will not be automatically merged with any other catalog. However, it is quite easy to merge two catalogs into a single catalog in Lightroom. The result will be a single catalog that contains all of the photos and information from both of the catalogs you merge together.

The process I recommend involves first exporting the catalog you want to merge into another catalog, and then importing that catalog into your “master” catalog. This approach is not necessarily the most efficient method (since it involves making an additional copy of your catalog and photos, which might not be necessary), but it is an approach that helps reduce the risk of mistakes.

First, open the catalog you want to merge into your master catalog, and select the photos you want to export. You might, for example, choose “All Photographs” from the Catalog section of the left panel in the Library module, and then choose Edit > Select All from the menu so that every image in the catalog is selected. Then choose File > Export as Catalog from the menu to bring up the Export as Catalog dialog.

I recommend using an external hard drive as the destination of the export operation, which makes it easy to make the catalog and photos from the “source” catalog available on the computer where your “master” catalog is stored. Specify a name for the exported catalog, using a name that will make it obvious what this catalog is being used for, such as “Catalog from Italy Trip to Merge with Master Catalog”. Also be sure the “Export negative files” checkbox is turned on, so your photos will be copied along with the catalog. You can also choose the option to “Include available previews” and “Build/Include Smart Previews” if you’d like to copy those files to the destination as well. When you have established the settings for the export, click the Export Catalog button at the bottom-right of the Export as Catalog dialog to begin the process of copying the catalog and photos.

When the process is complete, the external hard drive you used for exporting the catalog can be connected to the computer where your master catalog is stored. Launch Lightroom and open the master catalog (if it isn’t opened by default) and choose File > Import from Another Catalog from the menu. Navigate to the folder where you exported the source catalog, and select the “lrcat” file and click the Choose button.

In the “Import from Catalog” dialog you can make sure that the checkbox is turned on for the “All Folders” option, so all exported folders will be imported into your master catalog. Choose the “Copy new photos to a new location and import” option from the File Handling popup, and then click the Choose button to bring up the Choose Folder dialog. Navigate to the top-level location where you want to save all folders, such as the external hard drive you use to store all of the photos contained in the master catalog, and then click the Choose button to set that location as the destination. Then click the Import button to being the process of importing your exported photos into your master catalog.

The result, once again, will be that your master catalog now includes the photos you exported from the source catalog, along with all of the information you updated in the source catalog. At this point, once you have updated your backup of your photo storage and master catalog, you can discard the photos and catalog that were the source of your merge operation.

I discussed the process of merging multiple Lightroom catalogs in the April 2013 issue of Pixology magazine. If you’re a current subscriber to Pixology and would like a copy of this issue, simply send an email requesting this issue to renee@timgrey.com. And if you’re not already a Pixology subscriber, you can get more information here:

http://www.pixologymag.com

Painter Tool

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Today’s Question: What is the spray can icon on the bottom-left of the Lightroom screen?

Tim’s Answer: The Painter is a tool that may seem a bit “cute” on the surface, but that can actually be quite helpful for assigning metadata to your photos.

The Painter tool can be found on the toolbar below your photos when you are using the Grid view in the Library module. You can press the “G” key on the keyboard to switch to the Grid view, and you can press the “T” key as needed to toggle the visibility of the toolbar. If you don’t see the Painter tool on the toolbar, click the popup button at the far right of the toolbar and turn on the Painter option.

When you select the Painter tool from the toolbar below the Grid display you can then choose which specific metadata information you’d like to add to specific images. The available options include Keywords, Rating (for star ratings), Metadata (to apply a metadata preset), and more. You can then type or select the specific information you want to add using the field to the right of the “Paint” popup.

With the Painter tool configured for the specific metadata you want to add to photos, you can then click on the thumbnail for a photo to apply the applicable metadata to that photo. Even better, you can click-and-drag across multiple adjacent photos to apply the selected metadata to all of the images you drag across.

I find the Painter tool especially helpful for assigning keywords to images. Instead of spending time typing various keywords for individual images, or having to select multiple images before adding specific keywords, you can work quickly to apply keywords in multiple passes based on a visual review.

For example, let’s assume a trip to southeast Alaska where you photographed icebergs, eagles, whales, and other subjects. In some cases the photo will contain water and whales, in other cases water and icebergs, and in some cases perhaps all three. Instead of having to type the specific keywords for each image, or having to be careful in the specific images you select before adding keywords, you can set the Painter to one keyword at a time. Then, simply paint the designated keyword onto the applicable images. When you’re finished with that keyword, change the keyword and make another pass on the images.

While this may not sound like a fast and efficient approach to keywording, I have found that it actually can be considerably faster (and less frustrating) than other methods you might use.

For readers who have subscribed to my GreyLearning video training library, you can see the Painter tool in action in the “Lightroom 5: Organizing your Photos” course. The specific video is Lesson 11 of Chapter 4. And if you’re not already a GreyLearning subscriber, you can get more info here:

http://greylearning.com/subscribe.html