Merging Catalogs

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Today’s Question: Is there a way to combine multiple catalogs in Lightroom? For whatever reason several catalogs have been created in different versions of Lightroom over the years and it would be convenient to just have one catalog.

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, you can absolutely merge multiple Lightroom catalogs into a single “master” catalog. The basic process involves opening the catalog you want to have as your master catalog, and then using the “Import from Another Catalog” command (found on the File menu) to merge other catalogs into your master catalog.

More Detail: I do prefer to use a single catalog for all of my photographic images, and so in general I recommend merging catalogs if you have created multiple catalogs to manage your photos in Lightroom. The process of merging catalogs in Lightroom is relatively straightforward, but it is critical that you take a cautious approach to avoid confusion.

In particular, I recommend first making a list of all of the catalogs you want to merge. Then identify the catalog that you want to use as your “master” catalog. Use the File > Import from Another Catalog command to merge each of the secondary catalogs into your master catalog.

When you merge catalogs, you have the option of copying your images to a new location, or simply adding the photos based on their current location. I recommend using the “Add” option, leaving the photos where they are when you merge catalogs. Then, as needed, you can move photos to a different location after you’ve merged all of your catalogs into a single master catalog.

I covered the process of merging catalogs in the April 2013 issue of Pixology magazine. Subscribers can gain access to this back issue (and others) of Pixology by sending an email to renee@timgrey.com.

In addition, I am in the final process of producing a video training course on “Cleaning Up Your Mess in Lightroom”, which will be available in the GreyLearning video training library very soon.

Time Machine Backup

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Today’s Question: I have an iMac and back up with a Time Machine and an external hard drive. Please discuss the role of a Time Machine in backup.

Tim’s Quick Answer: Time Machine provides a form of incremental backup, and is included as part of the Macintosh operating system. I consider Time Machine to be a good “extra” tool as part of a larger backup workflow, and I make use of Time Machine to backup my computers. However, I consider Time Machine to be a supplementary backup solution, not a primary solution.

More Detail: My personal preference is to employ a backup solution that creates an exact copy of my original data. So, for example, I have an external hard drive that I use for storing my photos, and another external hard drive that I use for all of my other key data. I use a synchronization software tool (GoodSync in my case, available at http://www.goodsync.com) to create a backup copy that is an exact copy of the source drive. This way, when I experience a hard drive failure, recovery is very straightforward.

With Time Machine you are creating an incremental backup. In other words, each time you backup with Time Machine you are only backing up files that have changed since the last backup. In addition, Time Machine maintains a number of copies of your files going back in time, based on the amount of free space on your hard drive.

So, with Time Machine you can literally go “back in time” if you realize you have deleted a file or modified a file in a way you didn’t intend. This can be very helpful, of course, but it doesn’t provide a solution for my primary goal, which is to have a backup that is an exact copy of my master hard drive.

In my case I keep my photos and most of my key data on external hard drives. I then use synchronization software to create a backup copy of those drives, generally to at least two backup drives. To me this is a relatively ideal solution.

Of course, one of the problems with a synchronization backup is that it also duplicates your mistakes. If you erase a photo from your primary storage drive, a synchronization backup will also erase the photo from the backup drive. In most cases you can disable the removal of files in the synchronization process, provided you have adequate storage capacity on your backup drive.

I do, however, still employ Time Machine as part of my larger backup solution. This allows me to create regular backup copies of active files on my computer’s internal hard drive. In general that doesn’t impact my photography workflow, but since Time Machine is so easy to implement and because it helps overcome scenarios such as when you inadvertently erase or modify a file, I consider it an important part of my overall backup workflow.

So, whenever I’ve performed any significant work (and sometimes even after only insignificant work!) I will perform a synchronization backup of my external hard drives and a Time Machine backup of my internal hard drive. In my mind, any solution that is easy to implement and provides safeguards in your workflow is a good solution. Time Machine along with a synchronization backup certainly meet those criteria in my mind.

Over-Sharpening?

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Today’s Question: In Lightroom when you export a photo to a folder on the hard drive, you have an opportunity to apply output sharpening. Later, if you take that photo to the Print module, you also have an opportunity to do sharpening before printing. In this workflow, if you sharpen both times, do you run the risk of over sharpening?

Tim’s Quick Answer: If you were indeed to apply output sharpening more than once for the same image, there would most certainly be a risk of having the image be over-sharpened. However, with what I would consider a “normal” workflow in Lightroom it is not likely that you are actually applying output sharpening multiple times to the same image. Instead, you would be creating unique output each time based on your original capture.

More Detail: Lightroom employs a workflow with two stages of sharpening. The first stage of sharpening is found in the Develop module, and is aimed at compensating for the factors that reduce sharpness in your original capture. Thus, this sharpening step is often referred to as “input” or “capture” sharpening.

The second stage of sharpening is output sharpening, where you’re primarily improving the perceived sharpness of the image in the final output. This is most critical when printing a photo, because ink spreading on the paper can have a significant impact on the perceived sharpness of the image.

Generally speaking, both “input” and “output” sharpening are applied when the image is actually exported in some form. And in general, whenever a photo is exported you will be creating your output based on the original capture.

So, for example, if you export a photo as a JPEG image so you can share the photo online, Lightroom will create a JPEG image based on your original capture and save the resulting file in the location you specify. When you print an image from within the Print module, the output is similarly created based on the original RAW capture. In both cases, of course, the adjustments you applied in the Develop module are taken into account, and the setting you used for output sharpening is also employed to sharpen the final image.

The output sharpening, however, is not preserved as part of your adjustments in the Develop module. So assuming you are generating output from your original image in both cases, you don’t need to worry about applying multiple passes of output sharpening to the photo.

Of course, if you export a JPEG image for sharing and add that exported image back to the catalog, it is possible to apply multiple output sharpening passes to a photo. However, this is not a workflow approach I would generally recommend. Instead, I recommend using your original capture as the starting point whenever sharing a photo in any way from within Lightroom.

Folder Organization

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Today’s Question: Do you always leave every image from a shoot in the same folder forever? If you have a 5-star image, is it in the same folder with no-star shots in perpetuity? If so, do you rename them while keeping them in the same folder? Do you have a separate folder for images you print?

Tim’s Quick Answer: My personal approach is to keep photos in their “original” photo “forever”, along with all other images captured on the same shoot or trip. I then use star ratings and keywords as needed to help ensure I can always find a particular photo when I need it.

More Detail: One of the things I appreciate about Lightroom is that the central catalog makes it easy for me to filter across my entire catalog of photos, or to filter based on the photos within one or more folders. As a result, I can easily find all of my very best photos very quickly by choosing the “All Photographs” option from the Catalog section of the left panel in the Library module, and then setting a filter to show only five-star images.

To be sure, many photographers employ a folder structure that involves organizing photos into a different folder from the “original” folder once that image has been identified as a best photo, or as a photo for which prints are being offered for sale.

In other words, I’m not suggesting that all photographers should always adopt my approach of keeping all photos from a single shoot in a single folder, using other metadata values to locate specific images.

To me what is most important is that you are able to locate the image you need when you need it. Along with star ratings, keywords, and other metadata values, the folder structure can help you keep your photos organized and locate specific images.

When it comes to defining a folder structure, my overall recommendation is to define a structure based on the way you think about your images, or based on the way you’re likely to look for images. So, if you will be looking for a photo based on the trip on which you captured the photo, you may want to keep the photo in the original folder with the other images from that trip.

If, on the other hand, you think about your photos based on those that are offered for sale as prints, you might want to take a different approach. However, I would also add that if you think you want to move images from their original folder to a folder for images that have been printed, you might instead want to assign a keyword or create a collection in Lightroom to serve that additional purpose, keeping the original photo in the same folder and using other means to identify specific images.

Adding GPS to Metadata

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Today’s Question: I know you have said that if you take a picture with your iPhone you can add GPS coordinates to your Lightroom entries. I have found that if you use Google Maps to find where you took a picture and do a mouse click you can get the GPS coordinates and they are in the format Lightroom likes. A simple copy and paste will get it done. Clearly I am not doing this for all images but there are images I would like to have listed on the Maps module and this seems to be straightforward, simple and fast compared with other things I have tried.

Tim’s Quick Answer: Actually, there is a faster and easier way to accomplish this right inside of Lightroom. The Map module in Lightroom actually makes use of Google Maps. You can locate a position on the map in the Map module, and then drag and drop a photo (or multiple selected photos at once) from the Filmstrip onto the map, and the GPS coordinates will be added to metadata for those photos.

More Detail: There are, of course, a variety of ways you can add photos to the map in Lightroom’s Map module. But in all cases, adding photos to the map really just means adding GPS coordinates to the metadata for the photos.

If photos are captured with a camera that includes GPS capabilities, those photos will have GPS coordinates automatically embedded in metadata. That, in turn, means the photos will appear on the map in the Map module within Lightroom.

You can also capture a reference photo with a GPS-enabled device such as a smartphone, and then use that reference photo to help you locate map positions for other photos captured without the benefit of built-in GPS. This is a subject I addressed in the article “Location Snapshots” in the August 2012 issue of Pixology magazine.

In addition, you can record a GPS track log with a variety of different devices (including a smartphone) and then synchronize that track log to your photos within Lightroom to add GPS coordinates to the images.

And, as noted above, you can simply drag-and-drop one or more photos onto the map from the Filmstrip in Lightroom in order to add the photos to the map, and add GPS coordinates to metadata in the meantime.

The map in Lightroom also includes the option to switch between a road map and satellite view, which can also be helpful for locating specific positions on the map.

RAID Backup

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Today’s Question: I recently realized that, although I had a backup copy of the external drive where I store my images, the drives were at least three years old. Since I recently read a scary article on the failure rates of various brands of drives within five years, I decided that I should replace the drives. Rather than buy two new separate external drives, I decided to buy an enclosure for two 4TB internal drives that are mirrored using a RAID setting. In this way, any changes in one drive are mirrored to the other. My question is whether you would consider this to be an acceptable way of maintaining a backup of the images from the time of download. I should add that in addition, I also use Goodsynch to back up the mirrored drives and I use Backblaze as an offsite, online backup. I’d appreciate your opinion as to whether you think this is an adequate process.

Tim’s Quick Answer: Using a drive with RAID mirroring is better than using a single hard drive, but not as good (in terms of backup security) as backing up to a second hard drive immediately. With this approach, my (admittedly paranoid) preference would be to not format the media card in the camera until another backup to a separate physical device is performed.

More Detail: There are, of course, many possible solutions for backing up your photos, and from my perspective there isn’t a single “right” solution. Instead, there are a variety of options, and those options fall on a scale between what I would consider “high risk” and “low risk”.

The highest risk approach, of course, is to never backup your photos at all. From there you can define a wide variety of workflows for backing up your photos that offer various degrees of protection.

My concern about a RAID mirroring solution is that both copies of your data are stored on a single physical device. Granted, there are two actual hard drives, but those two hard drives are connected to the same power supply and data connection, and are also contained in the same enclosure. In other words, if something happens to the overall device, you could lose both copies of your photos at one time.

This issue is mitigated, of course, by creating additional copies of your photos via a synchronization backup and an online backup, in your particular example. That obviously creates a situation where you ultimately have four copies (including the originals) of your photos even after you’ve formatted the digital media card in your camera.

My concern in this case relates to the time between downloading your photos to the RAID hard drive and creating an additional backup on a separate physical device (such as via synchronization), especially if you are going to immediately format the card in the camera to use for new captures.

In other words, with this type of setup my personal preference would be to download to the RAID drive (creating a master and backup copy in the process), but then to wait until after another backup is created on a separate physical device to format the media card in the camera.

As always, a backup workflow involves making decisions that balance security versus workflow efficiency. My preference whenever possible is to take the most conservative approach possible that is still reasonably easy to implement.

It is worth noting, for example, that on many trips I have two copies of my photos stored on two separate hard drives, but I still often have both of those hard drives in the same camera bag. That involves a certain degree of risk, so it is important to maintain a degree of perspective here. When it comes to backing up your photos, there is always an even more paranoid step you could add to your workflow!

Crop Guide Overlays

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Today’s Question: Suddenly, I can’t find the Develop module overlays [in Lightroom] that used to be there: the straight ‘horizon’ line, the rule of thirds grid – or whatever other choice the person processing might make. I think I’ve searched everywhere for them, and think I must have inadvertently turned them off???

Tim’s Quick Answer: The overlays you are referring to are the “Crop Guide Overlays”, which are only available when using the Crop tool. With the Crop tool active you can press the letter “O” on the keyboard to cycle through the available options, or you can choose an option from the menu by selecting Tools > Crop Guide Overlay.

More Detail: Lightroom includes a number of options to choose from, including a Grid, a Rule of Thirds display, a Golden Spiral, a set of Aspect Ratios you can choose from, and a few other options.

You can choose which specific overlays will actually be included when you cycle through using the “O” keyboard shortcut. To select which overlays to include or exclude you can go to the menu and choose Tools > Crop Guide Overlay > Choose Overlays to Cycle. This will bring up a dialog where you can select which of the overlays you’d like to include when cycling through using the keyboard shortcut.

You can also choose which specific aspect ratios will appear when you select the Aspect Ratios overlay by going to the menu and choosing Tools > Crop Guide Overlay > Choose Aspect Ratios. Selecting this option will bring up a dialog where you can select the individual aspect ratios you want to have visible when you select the Aspect Ratios overlay option.

But once again, keep in mind that you can only configure and display the crop guide overlays by first selecting the Crop tool from the small toolbar below the histogram in the Develop module.

Third-Party Lenses

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Today’s Question: I need to purchase another couple of lenses. I shoot with a Canon and am considering purchasing a lens other than Canon, because of the big price difference. What do you think of the image quality in some of the bigger name off-brand lenses?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I have been very happy with a variety of lenses from third-party manufacturers. I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that each lens should be evaluated individually, and you can’t make broad assumptions about quality based only on the manufacturer of a given lens.

More Detail: I also happen to use primarily Canon cameras. To be sure, there are some excellent lenses made by Canon. There are also some lenses that Canon makes that aren’t especially great in terms of overall image quality. In general those lenses that don’t produce the highest image quality are lenses aimed at offering a lower price point compared to the top-end lenses. But the point is that you can’t assume a lens produces images of exceptional quality simply based on the name of the manufacturer.

I have also had the opportunity to test out a variety of lenses from different manufacturers, and I own lenses from different manufacturers. I’ve been extremely happy with some of those third-party lenses. In some cases the lens is one at a lower price point but with quality that is very close to that of the more expensive comparable lens from the camera manufacturer. And in some cases the third-party lens actually exceeds the quality of the lens from the camera manufacturer.

The biggest challenge in my mind is evaluating various lenses, since there are so many variables involved. Some photographers might be willing to pay any price for the lens of the highest quality, for example, while another photographer is looking for a better value with a lens at a lower price point.

There are also many factors that impact overall image quality as well as the utility of the lens. You’ll want to consider prime versus zoom, maximum aperture, whether or not stabilization technology is improved, size and weight, and many other factors.

One source of information I’ve found helpful as a starting point for getting a sense of relative quality for different lenses is the DxOMark ratings. You can view the scores in various categories for a number of different lenses on the DxOMark website here:

http://www.dxomark.com/lenses/

You might be surprised to find that in some cases the less expensive third-party lens actually scores better than the more expensive lens with similar specifications that is manufactured by the same company as the camera.

And, of course, there are also DxOMark scores for cameras in addition to those for lenses. But I most certainly would not hesitate to purchase a lens from a manufacturer other than the camera manufacturer if that particular lens met my specific needs.

Layer Masking Trick

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Today’s Question: I was at your presentation at Photoshop World yesterday, and was hoping you could help me with a detail I missed in my notes. You were working on a photo of a monkey, creating a layer mask for just the monkey. You showed how painting with a normal brush would damage the fur, but I missed the “trick” for how to change the brush to help protect the fur while you were painting. Could you remind me?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The “trick” I demonstrated yesterday involved the use of the Overlay blend mode when painting with black or white on a layer mask. This allows you to gradually build up a lightening or darkening, helping to reduce the risk of painting completely over fine details.

More Detail: The example in this case involved the creation of a selection for a furry animal (a macaque in this case). Because the fur is a bit translucent, it can be difficult to create a good selection. In this type of situation, I’ll often simply create an initial layer mask based on the initial selection. Viewing that layer mask directly (by holding the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on Macintosh while clicking on the thumbnail for the layer mask on the Layers panel), you are able to see the specific details of the mask, including gray areas that should be black or white.

Using the Brush tool, you can set the colors to the defaults of white and black by pressing “D” on the keyboard, and switch between white and black as needed by pressing “X” on the keyboard.

The trick in this case is to also change the blend mode for the Brush tool from Normal to Overlay, using the Mode popup on the Options bar. This allows you to effectively dodge and burn on the layer mask, rather than simply painting with black and white.

With this technique, it is still possible to harm the detail in the image, such as the fur in this case. However, it will generally require multiple brush strokes to eliminate those details altogether. So with a little bit of careful painting you can clean up details around the edge of the object defined by your layer mask (and within the edges of that object) without having a significant impact on the details of the edge of that object.

Maximum White Value

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Today’s Question: You said [in yesterday’s edition of the Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter] that you don’t recommend limiting the maximum value for white in your photographic images. I’ve often heard that the whites should be set to no brighter than 250 or even lower. Why don’t you think that is necessary?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Put simply, I prefer to retain the maximum possible range of color and tonal values for my photo. In my mind, you should only restrict that range if you have a good reason to do so. If you have such a reason, it probably applies on a per-image or per-print basis, not across your entire library of photographic images.

More Detail: If, for example, your printer is not able to produce discrete values for the brightest shade of white for the specific ink and paper combination you’ll be printing to, then you could reduce the maximum white value to “fit” the range for the photo into the range supported by your printer.

However, if you are printing your photos using a photo inkjet printer, this probably isn’t an issue for you. Many photo inkjet printers have a difficult time producing discrete values for the darkest blacks, but they generally don’t have difficulty with the brightest whites.

Some monitor displays and digital projectors may have difficulty producing a full range of bright values, but that is often the result of incorrect settings (or a lack of calibration) rather than a true issue with the display.

When I hear a photographer say that they adjust the maximum white value for their photos down to something less than 255, the first thing I want to know is why they are doing that. Again, if this adjustment were being applied to compensate for limitations of a printer or other output, that would make sense. But as far as I’m concerned, limiting the white value across all images to something below 255 makes absolutely no sense.

Some images don’t have a full tonal range from black to white in the first place, and some images don’t need to be adjusted to include that full range. But for images where it makes sense to have a full range from black to white, in almost all cases I want to optimize my photo so that white really is white, not some value that is darker than white.

Frankly, I would be more understanding if we were talking about keeping the black value up at a higher value than true black considering the limitations of many printers. But that’s a different matter altogether, and even then I would still retain a true black in my master image in most cases.