Black and White Workflow


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


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 And if you’re not already a Pixology subscriber, you can get more information here:

Painter Tool


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:

Welcome to the Ask Tim Grey Blog


Welcome to the new Ask Tim Grey Blog. For over thirteen years I have been answering questions from photographers in my “Ask Tim Grey” email newsletter. In an effort to make the answers presented in the Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter more easily available to photographers, we’ll publish each daily question and answer right here. Also note that you can tune in to the weekly Ask Tim Grey Podcast to listen to commentary about the questions from each week. And to learn even more with great video training tutorials, check out Thanks for tuning in!