HDR Increments


Today’s Question: Is there a benefit to using one-stop increments for the individual exposures of a high dynamic range image? I have been using this approach, but a fellow photographer recently told me that two-stop increments are just as good. What’s your opinion?

Tim’s Quick Answer: As far as I’m concerned there is no real benefit to capturing photos with one-stop exposure increments compared to two-stop increments when creating a high dynamic range (HDR) image.

More Detail: As long as you cover the full tonal range of the scene, with reasonable overlap between exposures, you will be able to achieve good results for the final HDR image. I almost always separate my individual exposures by two stops when capturing a sequence of images for an HDR image.

The only time I use a one-stop increment between captures is when the images are being captured with the camera mounted on a tripod, I have plenty of time to work without any concern of the scene changing, and I’m feeling especially detail-oriented.

When I have captured HDR sequences with a one-stop increment I have actually perform tests where I create two versions of the HDR image. The first image uses all of the images captured at one-stop increments, and the second image uses every other capture, resulting in two-stop increments. From a quality perspective the results have always been the same with both approaches.

What I consider to be more important than one- versus two-stop exposure increments is to cover the full range of tonal values in the scene. I also make a point of ensuring that the brightest exposure is captured so that the darkest areas of the scene are relatively bright, helping to ensure high detail and minimum noise in those areas.

For more information about my recommended approach to capturing high dynamic range (HDR) scenes, see the article “Optimal HDR Exposure” in the September 2012 issue of Pixology magazine. If you’re not a subscriber already, you can get more details (and free back issues) at http://www.pixologymag.com.

Aligning Cleanup Work


Today’s Question: I’m finding it very difficult in Photoshop to clean up blemishes that appear along the edge of an object, in terms of being able to get the pixels I paint (with the Clone Stamp tool, for example) to properly align to the edge. Is there a way to position some sort of “ruler” along the edge to help with alignment? I’ve tried using the grid display, but that doesn’t really help very much.

Tim’s Quick Answer: There is actually a very simple solution to aligning your painting when working with the Clone Stamp tool or the Healing Brush tool in Photoshop. Simply turn on the “Show Overlay” checkbox on the Clone Source panel.

More Detail: The “Show Overlay” option is available for the Clone Stamp and Healing Brush tools, both of which allow you to select a source area within the image to be used for replacing a blemish in another area of the photo. When the “Show Overlay” option is turned on, after you have selected a source area by holding the Alt/Option key and clicking on that source, the mouse cursor will display a representation of the source pixels. You can then use that display to properly align the source pixels with the destination area before actually painting.

The “Show Overlay” checkbox is found on the Clone Source panel. To display the Clone Source panel you can either click the Clone Source button toward the left end of the Options bar after selecting the Clone Stamp tool or the Healing Brush tool, or you can choose Window > Clone Source from the menu.

Personally I find the “Show Overlay” option to be a bit of a distraction, so I prefer to keep it turned off until I actually need it. But when the alignment of pixels for cleanup work is critical, the “Show Overlay” option can be invaluable.

Crop to a Zoom Setting


Today’s Question: I’ve noticed that sometimes when I’m working with an image in Photoshop CS5 and I magnify the image to say 25% or 50%, this provides what I consider to be an ideal cropping for the image. Is there some way that I can crop the image to what I’m seeing on my monitor? I’ve seen references to say a 50% crop or a 100% crop. How does one do this in Photoshop?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There isn’t a simple way to crop based on a zoom setting, in part because the zoom setting is inversely related to the percentage of the image that is visible. There are, of course, several approaches you could use to crop based on the visible portion of the image, though none of them are especially precise.

More Detail: To begin with, you could apply a crop based on the visible image, by manually adjusting the size of the crop box. With the image sized so you can see the area of the photo you want to keep, you can then choose the Crop tool from the toolbox and click-and-drag from one corner of the image to the opposite corner. Of course, because Photoshop will attempt to automatically scroll the image as you near the edge of the visible area, this can be a little tricky.

Instead, you might prefer to simply apply a manual crop to the image. You could constrain the aspect ratio to that of the original photo if you prefer. To do so, choose “Original Ratio” from the popup at the far left of the Options bar after selecting the Crop tool. You can then adjust the corners of the crop box and the original aspect ratio will be maintained.

By making sure that the “shield” area around the crop box is relatively dark, you can also get a stronger preview of the final effect while you’re working to refine the crop. If you click the “gear” icon on the options bar you can set the value for Opacity, using a value of 75% or more to make sure you are mostly only able to see the photo within the crop box without the distraction of the rest of the image.

While it can sometimes be tempting to crop based on a zoom setting where you can only see part of the image, I think it is also important to keep in mind that when you’re in this situation you aren’t able to see what portion of the image is hidden. Instead you might want to create a basic crop based on the portion of the image that is visible, and then zoom out and refine as needed.

Catalog and Photos Backup


Today’s Question: Is there any difference (effective or otherwise) between: (1) creating a backup via “Export as Catalog” and (2) copying both the catalog and photograph files outside of Lightroom?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The only difference relates to the process itself, with the net result being the same provided you copy or export all photos and the related catalog files. This assumes, of course, that you ensure that you are copying the same photos (presumably all of them) and that you copy all files related to your Lightroom catalog.

More Detail: The only real issue here is to make sure that you are copying all photos and the full set of catalog files. Both approaches involve a slight risk of “user error”, and thus I encourage taking a methodical approach.

Exporting as a catalog ensures you are copying the full catalog along with the photos. This is the approach I generally recommend for backing up “everything” related to your photos. The key is to make sure you are actually exporting all photos within the catalog when you use this process.

To be sure you export all photos, start by choosing the “All Photographs” option in the Catalog section of the left panel in the Library module. Then make sure no filters are enabled, so all images in the catalog are actually available for selection. Then choose Edit > Select All from the menu to select all of the images, and then choose File > Export As Catalog from the menu. You can then specify where you want to copy the catalog and photos, making sure to turn on the “Export negative files” so that the photos themselves are copied as part of this process.

While you need to exercise a degree of caution when using the “Export as Catalog” option, in my mind there is even more risk of making a mistake when taking a “manual” approach to copying the catalog and your photos. To begin with, the catalog files and your photos might be stored in different locations. And, of course, there are other potential issues involved as well. But provided you copy all of the files associated with your Lightroom catalog and all of the photos referenced by your Lightroom catalog, the net result will be the same as using the “Export as Catalog” command.

Future Access to Photos


Today’s Question: I just want to make sure I understand the difference between owning Lightroom 6 versus a Creative Cloud subscription. If I had only a Creative Cloud account and then sometime in the future let it terminate, would that mean that I (or my family) would lose immediate access to all of my photos and the Lightroom method of organization and star rating that I had set up in the library?

Tim’s Quick Answer: If you discontinue a Creative Cloud subscription that includes Lightroom, and you don’t purchase a standalone copy of Lightroom with a perpetual license, you would still retain access to your photos and the information about those photos.

More Detail: If you discontinue your Creative Cloud subscription and do not have a perpetual license to Lightroom as a standalone software application, you would not lose all access to Lightroom. Instead, your copy of Lightroom would become feature-limited. You would still retain access to the Library module, but not the Develop module, for example. By contrast, with a standalone “perpetual” license of Lightroom you can continue using the software without any additional payment for as long as you have a computer capable of running the software.

Perhaps more important, you would retain access to all of your photos. If you take a somewhat conservative approach to how you use Lightroom, you can make sure that your photos also include all of the key metadata (such as keywords and star ratings) even if you can no longer access Lightroom.

For example, you can turn on the option to automatically write metadata changes to the XMP sidecar for your original RAW captures using a setting on the Metadata tab of the Catalog Settings dialog in Lightroom. This dialog can be accessed from the Edit menu on Windows or the Lightroom menu on Macintosh.

For more details on my recommendations about maintaining a degree of independence from your Lightroom catalog, see my article “Declaring Catalog Independence” in the February 2013 issue of Pixology magazine. If you are a current subscriber to Pixology magazine and don’t have this issue, feel free to email Renee at renee@timgrey.com to request a copy. And if you choose to subscribe to Pixology magazine now, we’d be happy to include the back issues as part of your subscription. You can get more information about Pixology magazine at http://www.pixologymag.com.

Multiple Software Copies


Today’s Question: I purchased the Creative Cloud version of Lightroom for my desktop computer. Can I install a second copy on my laptop so that I can work when I am traveling?

Tim’s Quick Answer: You can have the applications included in your Creative Cloud subscription active on up to two computers at a time. Thus, you can most certainly have Lightroom and Photoshop (and any other applications included in your subscription) installed on both a desktop and laptop computer.

More Detail: You can actually install the applications included in your Creative Cloud subscription on as many computers as you’d like. However, you can only have the software active on two computers at any given time. If you need to switch between computers (such as a second desktop computer versus a laptop you travel with) you will need to sign out of the Creative Cloud application on one computer before signing in on another computer.

It is worth noting, by the way, that working with Lightroom across multiple computers does introduce certain challenges, since Lightroom does not enable you to seamlessly synchronize a single catalog across multiple computers.

You could use a service such as DropBox to synchronize a Lightroom catalog across multiple computers, of course. You could also use a separate “traveling” catalog on your laptop when traveling, and then merge that catalog with your “master” catalog once you return home. But the bottom line is that working with Lightroom across multiple computers does introduce a challenge in terms of Lightroom not providing a synchronization feature for using your catalog across multiple computers.

Hand-Held HDR?


Today’s Question: I heard someone make reference to shooting HDR images hand-held, which struck me as odd if not impossible. Can you actually get good results shooting multiple photos for an HDR without the use of a tripod?

Tim’s Quick Answer: While a tripod can be a valuable tool for capturing HDR images, it is possible to shoot hand-held. You can use automatic exposure bracketing combined with a two-second timer on your camera, holding very still as the images are captured. HDR software will then align the images, generally with excellent results.

More Detail: Given the choice, I would most certainly use a tripod when capturing the individual frames for an HDR photo. To begin with, using a tripod will ensure nearly perfect alignment of the individual frames (so that less work must be done by software after the capture). Perhaps more important, in many cases when capturing a sequence of photos for an HDR image, you will need to use a relatively long exposure for the image that maximizes shadow detail.

That said, I have captured many HDR image hand-held when the circumstances weren’t conducive to the use of a tripod (such as when I left my tripod in the hotel room when I headed out for some photography).

When shooting an HDR scene hand-held, I start with an initial test sequence to verify my exposure settings and determine how long the longest exposure time will need to be. I make sure I am comfortable hand-holding the camera for that longest exposure time, increasing the ISO setting as needed to achieve an adequately fast shutter speed.

I’ll then adjust the automatic exposure bracketing on my camera to cover an adequate range. In many cases, for example, you can produce good results with a camera that allows three exposures with the automatic exposure bracketing, using two stops between each exposure. If your camera allows more than three photos with automatic exposure bracketing you have even greater flexibility.

I then set the camera to the two-second timer, and frame up the scene. Once I have steadied myself, I trigger the shutter, and wait for the images to be captured. Because the automatic exposure bracketing mode captures the sequence of photos in rapid succession, there is generally minimal movement between frames, and just about any HDR software can properly align the resulting photos into the final HDR image.

Managing Catalogs


Today’s Question: I thought I had only one Lightroom catalogue, the default “Lightroom 5 Catalogue.lrcat.” In watching one of your tutorials and looking more closely at my hard drive, I discovered that I had unwittingly created a second catalogue, which is in a subject file “Santa Fe.lrcat.” The default catalogue has only some of my images. The Santa Fe catalogue, which somehow became my default, has all the images. I would like to follow your strong advice and have only one catalogue. My question: How do I make the inadvertent Santa Fe.lrcat my default with the correct name and have it be in the right place on my hard drive?

Tim’s Quick Answer: On the assumption that the “Santa Fe” catalog contains all of your images, the process here is relatively straightforward. You can rename the catalog files on your hard drive, open that newly renamed catalog in Lightroom, and continue working.

More Detail: Before you begin, of course, I highly recommend backing up your catalog files, and your computer in general. This will ensure you have a way to recover should you create any problems during this process.

The first step is to quit Lightroom, so that the various temporary files are cleared and you can work directly with the catalog files. Then navigate to the folder where your catalog files are stored so you can rename the files. You will find at least two files for the catalog, and possibly more depending on your settings in Lightroom. All of these files need to be renamed in a similar way, preserving the “extra” portion of the files that contain additional text beyond the base catalog name.

For example, in this case the base catalog name is “Santa Fe”. If you want the new catalog to be called “Lightroom Master Catalog”, you could simply rename the “Santa Fe.lrcat” file to “Lightroom Master Catalog.lrcat”. There will also be a file with the same base name, but with “Previews” appended. That could be renamed from “Santa Fe Previews.lrdata” to “Lightroom Master Catalog Previews.lrdata”. In other words, only change the first portion of the filename (in this case “Santa Fe” for all of the files in the catalog folder.

At this point you can launch Lightroom. Depending on which catalog had been open most recently, you may see a dialog indicating that the catalog can’t be found, in which case you can choose the option to open another catalog. If an existing catalog opens, you can simply choose File > Open Catalog from the menu. The point is, you want to open the newly renamed catalog, and then only use that catalog within Lightroom.

If the newly renamed catalog doesn’t contain all photos from all catalogs, you can choose File > Import from Another Catalog from the menu. This will allow you to import photos into the current catalog from a different catalog.

If you have subscribed to the GreyLearning video training library (http://www.greylearning.com) you can view a video lesson on renaming the catalog files in Lesson 12 of the course “Lightroom 5: Resolving Organizational Challenges”. In addition, Lesson 11 of the same course covers merging multiple catalogs into one. The key with all of these tasks is to be careful and somewhat methodical, to make sure you don’t make a critical error with your important data.

Switching to the Cloud


Today’s Question: I am using Lightroom 5 but think that my next move should be to just buy the cloud version. How do I make the switch and move my photos to that version of Lightroom 6?

Tim’s Quick Answer: When you subscribe to the Creative Cloud (such as via the Creative Cloud Photography Plan), you’ll still be installing the applications (such as Lightroom) directly to your computer. So in effect, you’d simply be upgrading from Lightroom 5 to Lightroom 6, and you can very easily “upgrade” your Lightroom 5 catalog for use with Lightroom 6.

More Detail: You can install Lightroom 6 via the Creative Cloud application, and it will be installed in addition to your existing installation of Lightroom 5. When you launch Lightroom 6 (which is referred to as Lightroom CC when installed as part of a Creative Cloud subscription) you will be asked if you want to upgrade your existing Lightroom 5 catalog for use in Lightroom 6. If you choose to take advantage of this option, a new Lightroom 6 catalog will be created in the process, so you will still have your Lightroom 5 catalog as a backup.

If you don’t take advantage of the option to upgrade your Lightroom 5 catalog for use in Lightroom 6 when you launch Lightroom 6 for the first time, you can always perform this task later. For example, you might want to create a test catalog initially just to test out your installation of Lightroom 6 and perhaps get familiar with some of the new features before taking the step of upgrading your existing catalog.

Later, you can always simply choose File > Open Catalog from the menu in Lightroom 6, and select your existing Lightroom 5 catalog as the catalog you want to open. Lightroom will recognize that the catalog was created with an older version of Lightroom, and will offer to upgrade the catalog. Note that you must upgrade an existing Lightroom 5 (or earlier) catalog if you want to use that catalog with Lightroom 6. The process is very simple, however, and doesn’t require any significant time to complete.

I think one of the most important things to keep in mind in this context, however, is that Lightroom purchased as a standalone product with a perpetual license is the same as Lightroom installed as part of a Creative Cloud subscription, except that the latter provides access to some additional online synchronization features. This includes, for example, the ability to synchronize your Lightroom catalog to Lightroom on a mobile device or Lightroom in a web browser.

Older Process Versions


Today’s Question: I understand the notion of Process Versions in Lightroom, and in general I want to update all photos to the latest Process Version. What I’d like to know is whether there is an easy way to find the photos that were adjusted with an older Process Version, so I can easily update all of them.

Tim’s Quick Answer: You can find all photos in the current Lightroom catalog that have not been updated to the latest Process Version by going to the menu and choosing Library > Find Previous Process Photos.

More Detail: When you choose Find Previous Process Photos from the Library menu in Lightroom, all of the photos in your catalog will be checked to see if any have not yet been updated to the current Process Version. Any photos that are set to an older Process Version will then be displayed. If no photos in the catalog have an older Process Version, you will receive a notification to that effect.

Once you have all of the images filtered so that only those with an older Process Version are displayed, you can update all of those photos to the latest Process Version if you’d like. You can, for example, click the “lightning bolt” icon that appears below the Histogram display on the right panel in the Develop module, indicating the current image is not using the current Process Version.

When you click the “lightning bolt” icon, you will be prompted to choose whether you want to update only the currently selected photo, or all photos on the Filmstrip. You can click the “Update All Filmstrip Photos” button so that all images in your catalog will be updated to the latest Process Version, since you are currently viewing all photos that had not yet been updated to that latest Process Version.