Star Rating Strategy


Today’s Question: As a follow-up to yesterday’s question: I know you have covered your approach to star ratings in the past, but I can’t find that info. Could you summarize how you use star ratings, or point me to the info you’ve already published?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I employ star ratings in a multiple-pass review process. On my first review pass, I assign a one-star rating to the photos I like, with no star applied to those I don’t feel are my best. On a second pass I will “upgrade” photos I feel are deserving to a two- or three-star rating. Later, I might upgrade my very best images to a four- or five-star rating.

More Detail: There are several things that I consider to be key pillars of this approach. First, I don’t use star ratings in the “normal” way. A one-star rating represents an image I think I might use (or that I simply like) rather than a “bad” image. A two- or three-star rating indicates a photo that is among the best from a photo shoot. And a four- or five-star rating represents a photo that is among the best I’ve ever captured.

By taking multiple passes to review my photos, I feel that I’m better able to rank my photos in a way that is helpful to me. My first review pass is essentially a “yes or no” pass, where I decide which images I think are worth using for some purpose and which photos I’ll likely not use. In many respects this is the same approach you might use when employing the pick or reject flags in Lightroom. Later passes allow me to further evaluate my photos to decide which are really going to be favorites.

In addition, this approach provides a bit of time between review passes (when possible) so I can separate the emotion out of my review. Right after an exciting photo shoot, I might be a little more generous with my star ratings than I would be after waiting a day or two to perform an additional review.

I’ve written about my approach to using star ratings in more detail in the article “Star Rating Strategy”, which appeared in the November 2014 issue of Pixology magazine. If you’re not already a subscriber to Pixology magazine, you can get more details at

Pick Flags or Star Ratings


Today’s Question: How do you distinguish between the use of star ratings and pick flags [in Lightroom] when identifying your favorite images? Do you use pick and reject flags for the first pass of review and then star ratings to “grade” the images with a second review?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I actually avoid the use of pick flags altogether, because pick and reject flags are a Lightroom-specific feature and thus these flags can’t be viewed in other applications such as Adobe Bridge. Therefore, I only use star ratings to identify favorite (or not-so-favorite) images.

More Detail: While I certainly anticipate that I will be using Lightroom to manage my photos for many years to come, I still prefer to avoid the use of metadata fields that are not part of an established metadata standard. This is the key reason I use star ratings instead of pick flags.

It is worth noting that I also prefer the “stack ranking” approach of star ratings, rather than the “yes or no” approach of pick and reject flags. But the primary reason I use star ratings in favor of pick flags is that I can view star ratings in any application that allows me to browse the metadata for my photos, and I also then don’t need to worry about any potential transition to another application in the future. My star ratings will be visible to virtually any image-management software, while pick flags will not be.

For these reasons, I recommend that photographers consider the use of star ratings rather than pick flags. If you prefer the “yes or no” approach that are embodied by pick flags, you can simply adapt your approach to using star ratings to provide this type of solution. For example, you could use a workflow where a five-star rating represents a “pick”, a one-star rating represents a “reject”, and a three-star rating represents a “not-yet-reviewed” rating. You could then assign all new captures a three-star rating, and move from there during your review process.

But the bottom line is that I use star ratings as my primary (and really exclusive) tool for identifying my favorite images from a given trip or photo shoot.

Milky Way Exposure


Today’s Question: Could you expand on how you exposed for your Milky Way photo on page 48 of the November 2014 issue of Pixology magazine?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The photo referred to in today’s question features a rock formation near Castle Valley, Utah, with the Milky Way in the night sky. The image was captured with a 24mm lens focal length at an aperture of f/4 and a shutter speed of 15 seconds at 6400 ISO.

More Detail: You can view the photo referred to in today’s question on my 500px page here:

The first key to capturing a photo of the Milky Way is to determine the time that the Milky Way will be visible in your area, and to make sure that this time will be at night with a clear sky. It is also helpful if the appearance of the Milky Way will coincide with a time of night when the moon is not going to be above the horizon, or when there is a new moon, so that the light from the moon doesn’t interfere with your exposure. It is also important to be as far away from bright lights (such as towns and cities) so the overall sky will be as dark as possible.

I then typically aim for a 15-second exposure, in large part to minimize the appearance of any star movement. The actual limit of your exposure duration is determined by the focal length of the lens, and you can employ a longer exposure if you are using a lens with a shorter focal length.

One of the most challenging this to achieve with a night shot such as this is accurate focus. In theory you just want to set the lens to focus at infinity, but in my experience this often does not produce the best results. I prefer to use the live view display on the camera, zoomed in on some stars, so that I can use that as the basis of establishing a manual focus adjustment. Of course, even with exposure simulation in the live view display it can be very difficult to see the stars and achieve optimal focus.

Naturally you’ll need to employ a tripod, and I also recommend using a cable release to ensure you don’t impart movement to the camera when triggering the exposure and to make it a little easier to work.

A good foreground element silhouetted against the sky can also add a degree of interest to a photo that includes the Milky Way. Most important, you should have some fun and enjoy your time out among a darkened landscape when photographing the night sky.

Prioritizing Shutter Speed


Today’s Question: I saw your (very nice) photo of a crop duster, and wonder how you go about making sure the propeller is actually shown to be moving rather than being “frozen” by a fast shutter speed. Do you just stop the lens down to the smallest aperture?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Photographing propeller-driven aircraft is a perfect example of a rare case when I will actually use shutter priority (or time value) exposure mode. I determine an appropriate shutter speed for the subject, and set that as a fixed exposure setting in shutter priority mode, ensuring a degree of blur for the propeller in each photo.

More Detail: In the case of the photo you are referring to, the crop duster is powered by a turboprop engine that turns the propeller at a relative fast rate. Therefore, a shutter speed of no faster than about 1/250th of a second or so will ensure a small amount of motion blur for the propeller, while still providing a shutter speed that is fast enough to help achieve a photo where the airplane actually appears sharp.

For those who didn’t see the photo referenced in the question, by the way, you can view it on my 500px page here:

When you are using shutter priority mode (as opposed to aperture priority mode) there is an increased risk of “running out” of appropriate exposure settings. In other words, there is a risk that the shutter speed you have set will require an aperture that goes beyond what your lens can actually achieve. On a bright sunny day that might mean even with the lens fully stopped down the exposure is too bright, or that even with the aperture fully open the exposure is too dark.

Because of this issue, when I set the camera to shutter priority mode I will hold the shutter release button halfway down to enable the meter on the camera, and then point the lens at various areas within the scene before me, being sure to check the brightest and darkest areas to confirm that an appropriate aperture is available.

If the subject will remain under relatively fixed lighting conditions, I might also use the manual exposure mode with specific exposure settings that work for the subject. However, when photographing aircraft it is very likely that the lighting conditions will change on the subject. For example, in some cases the aircraft may be lit from the front, while in other cases it may be backlit. In these types of situations I find that shutter priority mode helps ensure more consistent results, though it may also be necessary to apply some degree of exposure compensation.

Again, the key to photographing propeller-driven aircraft is to use the fastest shutter speed you can (generally speaking) that will still ensure at least some degree of motion blur for the propeller. The specific shutter speed will vary based on the rate at which the propeller is spinning, but in most cases shutter speeds in a range from about 1/125th of a second to about 1/350th of a second will produce excellent results.

Inaccurate Ruler in Photoshop


Today’s Question: In Photoshop I drew a grid  made up of one-inch squares on a transparent layer. I use it for my drawings placing the grid over a photo. However, when I place my ruler on the monitor screen to see if the squares are one inch, I find they are not and no matter what I do (fit screen, print size, actual pixels, zooming in and out), the squares are never one inch. In other words, the monitor screen inch does not match my ruler inch.

Tim’s Quick Answer: The solution here is to set the Screen Resolution in the Preferences dialog for Photoshop to the true pixel per inch resolution of your monitor display, and then make use of the Print Size display option from the View menu.

More Detail: By default Photoshop assumes a display resolution of 72 pixels per inch. That does not match the vast majority of monitor displays in use today. To calculate your actual pixel per inch (ppi) resolution, you need to know what pixel dimensions you have set as the resolution for your monitor display. You can then measure the horizontal display size for your monitor, and calculate the actual pixel per inch resolution.

For example, let’s assume a display that is operating at 1920 by 1080 pixels (full high definition resolution). Let’s further assume the width of the actual display area for the monitor is 14 inches. With 1920 pixels across and a width of 14 inches, there are 137 pixels per inch across the display.

To set the resolution you’ve calculated for the display in Photoshop, you’ll need to first bring up the Preferences dialog. To do so, choose Photoshop > Preferences > Units & Rulers on the Macintosh version of Photoshop, or Edit > Preferences > Units & Rulers on the Windows version of Photoshop. In the Units section, set the value for Screen Resolution to the number you calculated (137 in the example above) and set the popup to the unit of measure you used (“Pixels/Inch” in this example). Then click OK to close the Preferences dialog.

With this setting established, when you choose View > Print Size from the menu in Photoshop, the image will be resized based on the pixel per inch resolution so that one inch on Photoshop’s ruler display (View > Rulers from the menu) will represent one inch on your monitor, and the size of the image will match what you can expect for the image if it is printed at the current resolution setting for the image.

Viewing Coordinates


Today’s Question: In this past Friday’s “Ask Tim Grey” you made reference to the ability to view GPS coordinates in metadata. If I’m not using an application like Lightroom that allows me to view my photos on the map, how can I make use of the GPS coordinates to know where I captured the photo?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The GPS coordinates stored in metadata for camera’s that include a GPS receiver are latitude and longitude coordinates, and you can very easily view a specific location on a map using a service such as Google Maps by copying and pasting the coordinates into the search for the map.

More Detail: Among other options, you can use Google Maps to view the location for the GPS coordinates stored in metadata for an image. Simply select the coordinates from the GPS field in metadata, and then visit the Google Maps website at Paste the GPS coordinates into the search field and press Enter/Return on the keyboard, and the map will be centered on the location represented by the coordinates you copied from metadata.

To be sure, it is much simpler to browse an entire collection of photos on the map using applications such as Lightroom or the Photoshop Elements Organizer. But the GPS coordinates saved to metadata when you are using a camera with a built-in GPS receiver can be used in a variety ways to determine the specific location where you captured a given photo.

Renaming a Catalog


Today’s Question: I just updated my Adobe CC for Photographers to the 2015 version. In the process of doing that my Lightroom catalog’s name was changed from “LR-5” to “LR-5-2”. Is there some simple way for me to change it to “LR-6”? I want to do that since I plan to use Lightroom for some time to come and I do not want to eventually get some future catalog named “LR-5-2-2” and so forth. Also any thoughts on how to name Lightroom catalogs?

Tim’s Quick Answer: You can most certainly rename your Lightroom catalog, but that won’t actually prevent future versions of Lightroom from modifying that name when a catalog is upgraded to a new version.

More Detail: When you upgrade to a new “major” version of Lightroom, your catalog from an earlier version of Lightroom must be upgraded to the new catalog format. This is necessary to support new features and adjustments, among other changes that may have been made to the catalog structure. During this process, rather than modifying your existing catalog, the new version of Lightroom will create a new catalog based on the existing catalog, with a new name for that catalog.

If you want to rename your catalog the first step is to know exactly where your catalog is. You can find this information in the Catalog Settings dialog, which can be accessed by choosing “Catalog Settings” from the Lightroom menu on the Macintosh version of Lightroom or the Edit menu on the Windows Version of Lightroom.

In the Catalog Settings dialog go to the General tab and click the Show button. This will open a window in your operating system showing the location of the folder containing your catalog files, with that folder highlighted.

Before renaming your catalog, you need to close Lightroom. So switch back to Lightroom and quit the application, then return to the window with your catalog folder. Double-click to open the catalog folder, where you will find the files that represent your Lightroom catalog.

You’ll want to start with the file that has the “.lrcat” filename extension, as this is the primary catalog file. Right-click on this file and choose the Rename option, then type a new name. Be sure to keep the “.lrcat” filename extension unchanged as part of the new filename.

You then need to use the new filename as the base filename for the remaining files, keeping the “extra” portion of the filename exactly as it is. You will have, for example, a file that includes the word “Previews” as part of the base filename, with a filename extension of “.lrdata”.

For example, if you renamed the catalog to “My Lightroom Catalog.lrcat”, you would change the Previews filename to “My Lightroom Catalog Previews.lrdata”.

Once you have renamed the files with the same base filename, you can re-launch Lightroom. By default Lightroom will attempt to open the existing catalog that you just renamed, but of course will not be able to find that catalog because the filename has been changed. In the dialog that appears you can click the “Choose a Different Catalog” button to bring up a dialog where you can once again click the “Choose a Different Catalog” button so you can navigate to the location where the catalog is stored and select the “lrcat” file. Lightroom can then open that renamed catalog, and you can continue working normally.

Note that the process of renaming a catalog in Lightroom is also covered in Lesson 12 of the Lightroom video course “Resolving Organizational Challenges”, available in the GreyLearning video training library. If you are a GreyLearning subscriber, you can view this lesson to see the subject of today’s answer presented in video. And if you’re not already a subscriber, you can get details about accessing all of the courses available in the GreyLearning library here:

GPS Options


Today’s Question: My SLR doesn’t include GPS, but I would like to be able to keep track of where I captured my photos without marking spots on a printed map. Is there a good solution, or should I just “upgrade” to a camera that includes GPS capabilities?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There are a few options available to you. Obviously you could simply purchase an SLR that includes a GPS receiver. You could also purchase an accessory GPS receiver for your camera if your camera supports this option. And another option is to use a GPS-enabled device (such as your smartphone) to capture reference photos, which I refer to as “location snapshots”.

More Detail: Having GPS built into your camera is most certainly a very convenient solution for photographers (such as myself) who frequently want to be able to keep track of the location where they captured their photos. With the GPS receiver turned on you are most certainly going to cause the battery to discharge more quickly. Therefore, you need to determine whether the location information is worth the reduction in battery life. For me the decision is easy, because I tend to value the location information for my photos. But this is a decision each photographer will need to make based on how they prioritize that information.

For those who have a camera that supports accessory GPS receivers, this provides another solution. These devices generally attach to the flash hot shoe, and then plug into the camera to provide GPS coordinates that are automatically added to the metadata for each capture.

With both of the above options you can then view the GPS coordinates in metadata, or use an application such as Lightroom to plot your photos on the map based on those GPS coordinates.

You can also use another device to track locations for your photos. One solution that works great in many situations is to create what I refer to as “location snapshots”. This was the subject of the article titled “Location Snapshots” in the August 2012 issue of Pixology magazine ( With this approach you use a device (such as a smartphone) to capture a reference photo that contains GPS coordinates in the metadata, and then use that photo as a reference for adding (or simply reviewing) location information for your other photos.

In addition, you can use a GPS device (such as a smartphone) to record a track log, and then use software such as Lightroom to synchronize the track log with the photos, adding GPS coordinates to the photos in a relatively automated way.

As you can see there are a variety of solutions for adding location information to your photos. Choosing a solution that works best for you is a matter of understanding the options that are available and comparing those options based on your specific workflow priorities.

File Size Confusion


Today’s Question: I am limited to an image size of 500 KB when uploading for my blog. I am finding images that appear to be under the limit but are huge. One image shows as 465 KB on my disk but when I open it in Photoshop it is over 2000 pixels wide and around 8.7 MB in size. My online form sees the 465 KB, accepts it and then stalls.

Tim’s Quick Answer: In this case the confusion is simply a matter of one way that Photoshop reports the size for an image. The actual file size you’re seeing outside of Photoshop is accurate. The size reported inside Photoshop doesn’t relate to the actual size of the file on the hard drive.

More Detail: When you are limited to a particular file size for an upload, it is the actual size of the file on the hard drive that is the issue. It is important to keep in mind, however, that sometimes that file size is reported in different ways. In other words, there are situations where the file size is below the limit, but the website you are trying to upload to calculates the size differently. I do realize that this seems odd (and it is odd), but this is an issue that we run into at times. (For those interested in the more specific details, as an example one megabyte is sometimes considered to be 1,000 kilobytes and sometimes considered to be 1,024 kilobytes, depending on context.)

When you open an image in Photoshop, the status bar will by default show you the document sizes. This relates not to the actual size of a file stored on your hard drive but rather to the amount of data in the image file itself. This is presented as two numbers. The first number can be thought of as the size the image file would be if you saved the image as a TIFF image without any compression applied, and with all layers flattened into a single layer. The second number represents the image if it is saved as a TIFF image with no compression, but with all layers preserved.

In other words, when it comes to the size of a file on the hard drive, you can largely ignore the document sizes presented in Photoshop, especially if the image will be saved as a JPEG. But it is also important to keep in mind that if the size of that saved JPEG is close to the limit for an upload, it is still possible the upload will fail. And, of course, there are other reasons beyond file size that an upload might fail.

Dehaze Requires Subscription


Today’s Question: My Lightroom 6 does not have the Dehaze adjustment. Is it only on the Creative Cloud version of Lightroom?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, it is true that the new (and wonderful) Dehaze adjustment in the latest update to Lightroom is only available with the Creative Cloud (subscription) version of Lightroom and not with the standalone (non-subscription) version of Lightroom.

More Detail: If you want to gain access to the new Dehaze adjustment, you will need to sign up for a Creative Cloud subscription, since the new adjustment is only included in the Creative Cloud version of Lightroom (version 2015.1) and not the standalone update (version 6.1).

There is an apparent workaround that I’ve not tested, involving the creation of a preset that includes Dehaze (using a computer running Lightroom CC) and then installing that preset in Lightroom 6.1. But with the Creative Cloud 2015 (aka version 6) update to Lightroom, only Creative Cloud subscribers will have access to new features. Those who opt for the standalone (non-subscription) version of Lightroom 6 will get access to updates for support of new RAW capture formats and bug fixes, but not new features until the next major release.