JPEG to RAW

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Today’s Question: I got an email about software from Topaz Labs that claims to convert JPEG images to raw captures. Is that even possible, and if so will it provide all of the benefits of raw?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The “JPEG to RAW AI” software from Topaz Labs does not provide the same benefits as a raw capture, and frankly I feel that their marketing around this software is misleading.

More Detail: “JPEG to RAW AI” from Topaz Labs enables you to batch process JPEG images and convert them to a DNG or TIFF image with a 16-bit per channel bit depth. As part of the processing, various enhancements are applied to the image. The claim is that the result will be greater dynamic range, a larger color space, higher bit depth, reduced artifacts, and increased detail.

To begin with, converting a JPEG image to a DNG or TIFF file format with a different color space and higher bit-depth setting does not provide any quality benefit for the image all by itself. The only real benefit from these changes would be the potential for better image quality after applying strong adjustments. The exact same results could be achieved by changing the color space and bit depth for an image in Photoshop, for example, with no visible change in appearance for the photo.

After testing a variety of images with JPEG to RAW AI, I did not find that there was any significant improvement in the level of detail in the photos. Some photos showed evidence of contrast enhancement and sharpening in certain areas, which obviously could also be applied using other software.

While some of the visible artifacts in JPEG images I tested with JPEG to RAW AI were reduced, in areas where artifacts were reduced overall sharpness and detail were also reduced. In some cases detail enhancement in certain areas of an image actually increased the visibility of artifacts in the image.

Overall I was not impressed with the results I achieved with the JPEG images I processed with JPEG to RAW AI. More worrisome to me, however, is that I feel the way the product is being marketed is misleading. While I do feel that some of the software products from Topaz Labs are very good, I would not recommend JPEG to RAW AI.

If you’d like to check out JPEG to RAW AI for yourself, you can get more info on the Topaz Labs website here:

https://topazlabs.com/jpeg-to-raw-ai/ref/273/

Catalog Renaming

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Today’s Question: I know this isn’t a particularly important issue, but I’d like to rename my Lightroom Classic catalog. Is it OK to do that, or will it create problems in Lightroom?

Tim’s Quick Answer: You can indeed rename your Lightroom catalog file, but you do need to be careful to rename all of the applicable files correctly in order to avoid any issues.

More Detail: The first step to renaming your Lightroom catalog is to locate it on your hard drive. You can quickly navigate to the correct location from directly within Lightroom. From the menu bar choose Lightroom > Catalog Settings on Macintosh, or Edit > Catalog Settings on Windows. In the Catalog Settings dialog go to the General tab, and click the “Show” button to the right of the Location field. You’ll find the Show button near the top-right of the Catalog Settings dialog, and clicking it will cause a window to open in your operating system showing the location of the catalog folder. You can then close the Catalog Settings dialog and quit Lightroom.

Next, open the folder that contains your catalog files. Within that folder you’ll find a file with an “lrcat” filename extension. This is your actual catalog file. In addition, you will find one or more additional files that have the same base filename with some additional text.

For example, if your catalog is called “My Lightroom Catalog.lrcat”, you will also see a file called “My Lightroom Catalog Previews.lrdata”. If you want to rename the catalog file, you also need to rename the other files to match, while retaining the “extra” text that is part of those files (such as “Previews” in the example here).

So, in this example I might rename my catalog to “Tim Grey LR Catalog.lrcat”. I would then need to rename the Previews file to “Tim Grey LR Catalog Previews.lrdata”. If there are other files with the same base filename (such as if you have also built Smart Previews), you’ll need to be sure to rename those files in the same way, essentially only replacing the text that is common to all of the catalog and supporting files in that folder.

After renaming all applicable files, you can simply double-click on the file with the “lrcat” extension to launch Lightroom and open your newly renamed catalog.

If you have access to my “Cleaning Up Your Mess in Lightroom” course, you can view a video lesson that outlines this full process in Chapter 3, Lesson 5, “Ranming Your Master Catalog”. You can find my “Cleaning Up Your Mess in Lightroom” course on the GreyLearning website here:

https://www.greylearning.com/courses/lightroom-mess

Eclipse with No Tripod

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Today’s Question: Just saw your lunar eclipse picture on Instagram [https://www.instagram.com/p/Bs6CmblA4cV/]. Would you please explain how you got this with no tripod? What was the exposure? I assume that it was a relatively long exposure and if so how did you get a sharp picture? What lens did you use? The other issue I had in trying to photograph this was that at the point of total eclipse the moon was almost directly overhead here in Florida. How did you position yourself for this? Were you able to use autofocus or did you focus manually?

Tim’s Quick Answer: While my lunar eclipse photo was captured without a tripod, I did use a beanbag set on a railing to help stabilize my camera. I also adjusted camera settings to try to achieve as fast a shutter speed as I reasonably could, which in this case was 1/10th of a second. And as luck would have it, I was in Honolulu, Hawaii during the eclipse, which provided a lower angle to the moon than you experienced in Florida.

More Detail: I feel that first I should point out that I did not intentionally set out to capture a photograph of a total lunar eclipse without a tripod. Rather, I am currently on an extended trip during which I wanted to travel relatively light. I will have relatively few opportunities to photograph at night during this trip, so I made the decision to leave my tripod behind. I did, however, bring a beanbag with me.

I happened to be in Honolulu, Hawaii, during the total lunar eclipse, and in that location the full eclipse occurred while the moon was still relatively low in the sky. This made it relatively easy to get a good angle from which to photograph the moon. I set the beanbag on a railing to help stabilize the camera, and then tried to achieve the fastest shutter speed possible.

In this case I was using the Tamron 18-400mm lens, and the photograph in question was captured at the maximum focal length of 400mm. On my camera with a 1.6X cropping factor that translates into an effective focal length of 640mm compared to a full-frame 35mm SLR camera. The maximum aperture size was f/5.6, and so I increased the ISO setting to 6400 in order to achieve a shutter speed of 1/10th of a second. This represented a compromise between movement of the camera during a relatively long exposure, and the risk of even greater noise at a higher ISO setting.

As the shadow of the earth started to recede, revealing the brightness of the moon in full sunlight, it was possible to achieve faster shutter speeds. However, at this point the contrast started to become too great, resulting in either a very dark moon or blown out highlights. In addition, during the full peak of the lunar eclipse the moon was especially dark, making it difficult to achieve a sharp exposure.

Even with a tripod, the task would not have been much easier. That is because the moon is moving across the sky at a surprisingly fast rate, so that a long exposure would result in motion blur for the moon. This is why many photographers who are serious about astrophotography use a special tracking telescope combined with a camera so the lens can pan with the movement of the moon or other celestial object.

It is worth noting that even under ideal circumstances, the considerable amount of atmosphere you are photographing through when capturing images of the moon often means the effective resolution is reduced, leading to a lack of especially crisp detail in photographs of the moon.

In any event, the circumstances worked out reasonably well for me, and I was able to capture a photograph of the moon during the recent lunar eclipse without a tripod. You can view the photo on my Instagram feed here:

Cloud Backup

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Today’s Question: What role does a service like iCloud play in the backup scenario?

Tim’s Quick Answer: To me the various cloud-based storage and synchronization options should be treated as a supplemental backup option, not a replacement for a local backup workflow. That said, cloud-based services such as iCloud can be very helpful as a supplemental backup solution.

More Detail: One of the key attributes of a good backup workflow is having a backup that is stored on a separate storage device and in a completely separate physical location relative to the original data you are backing up. A cloud-based backup certainly fits both of those criteria, since the backup in that case would be stored at a completely different location. In fact, in most cases with an online backup you probably won’t have any idea where the backup is actually stored.

However, one of my concerns about an online backup is that you don’t know where the backup is stored, you don’t know how it is being managed, and you don’t have physical control over the backup. In other words, you’re putting a lot of faith in the online backup since you can’t actually verify the existence of that backup.

Because you don’t have any direct control over an online backup, I recommend treating this type of backup as a supplemental backup rather than a primary backup. In other words, I recommend that all photographers create their own backup copies of all photos and other important data, storing the backup on a separate storage device and ideally in a separate location from the original source data.

However, a cloud-based backup service (such as is possible with iCloud synchronization) can absolutely be helpful as a secondary backup solution to supplement your local backup workflow. In other words, I most certainly take advantage of an online storage solution to supplement my local backup workflow. But I would never ignore my local backup workflow just because I am also taking advantage of an online backup solution.

Copyright and Social Media

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Today’s Question: I am part of a photography organization that recommends we post our photos for visibility. I’m always concerned in doing so I will forfeit the rights to my photography. Who actually owns the photography that we post on Facebook and Instagram?

Tim’s Quick Answer: When sharing on Facebook or Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) you still retain the copyright to your photos and other content you share. However, you are also giving these services the right to make use of your content with no compensation to you. Therefore, you’ll need to balance the potential benefit with the potential risks. That said, I do find it worthwhile to share my photos on these services.

More Detail: Most online services have terms and conditions that are somewhat similar. In general, you retain the copyright to your own content, but you also provide a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferrable right to use or license your content with no compensation to you.

First, let’s consider the pragmatic issue at play here. When you share a photo on Instagram, for example, the whole point is that anyone in the world can view (and like) your photos. They can also follow you, so they are more likely to see future content in the future. This type of sharing represents the publication of your photos anywhere in the world for anyone to see. That type of publishing requires your permission as the copyright holder.

In other words, Instagram couldn’t make your photos visible to others if you didn’t provide very broad licensing terms to Instagram.

However, it is altogether possible that Instagram (or other online sharing services) could then profit from your photos. Since you are providing a very broad license in exchange for the ability to share your photos on their platform, Instagram could theoretically take advantage of those terms in ways you would not be happy with.

For example, it is conceivable that Instagram could start a stock photography licensing service and make money licensing your photos to others. Instagram could profit from this arrangement, with absolutely no compensation to you.

At least for now (as far as I know) this sort of activity isn’t happening right now. But it could. So you need to decide if the value of sharing your photos online is greater than the potential risks involved.

Personally, I enjoy sharing my photos with others, and believe that sharing my photos benefits my business. For example, when I post photos I’ve captured in locations where I lead photo workshops, I get inquiries about joining me for a future photo workshop. So, I feel the benefits of sharing my photos are more important than the potential risks involved with the terms of use for services such as Instagram.

Naturally, each photographer will need to make these decisions for themselves, and I encourage reading the (very long) terms of service in detail to make sure you’re comfortable with the decision you make.

And if you decide you’d like to be involved in the Instagram community, be sure to follow me. You can find me with user name @timgreyphoto, or view (and like) my photos by visiting the Instagram website here:

https://www.instagram.com/timgreyphoto/

Pro Camera to Instagram

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NOTE: This blog post was updated based on feedback from readers of the Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter, with options for publishing photos to Instagram directly from a computer.

Today’s Question: I have a question that probably everyone younger than me knows how to do, but I can’t figure out. In Instagram, how do I post pictures from my professional digital camera or any pictures from my laptop?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Instagram was originally created for the purpose of sharing photos from a mobile device. There are a variety of limitations that remain with Instagram, limiting your flexibility when sharing photos that were captured with something other than a mobile device. However, you can share to Instagram in a variety of ways from your computer, which makes it possible to share photos captured with a camera other than a smartphone.

More Detail: While it is possible to share photos to Instagram from a computer, I prefer to have the photos I share to Instagram available directly on my smartphone, so I can share them with others easily on my phone even when I’m not connected to the Internet. Therefore, I synchronize the photos I want to share on Instagram to my smartphone, and then post to Instagram from there.

There are a variety of ways you can get your photos from a computer to a smartphone. The approach I prefer is to synchronize a folder of photos from my computer to my smartphone. For example, with an iPhone you can use the iTunes app to specify folders containing photos that you want synchronized to your phone. Android users can drag-and-drop photos to their smartphone once it is connected to a Windows computer, or use a variety of applications to synchronize photos to the smartphone.

With my iPhone, for example, the first step is to copy the photos I want to share on Instagram to a folder on the computer. Since I use Lightroom Classic CC to manage my photos, I simply export photos from Lightroom to an “Instagram Share” folder. Then, within the iTunes app, I make sure my “Instagram Share” is selected as one of the folders that should be synchronized with my iPhone. Whenever I have added a new photo to the “Instagram Share” folder on my computer, I can simply plug in my iPhone with a USB cable and synchronize via iTunes. The new photos will then be in the “Instagram Share” album on my phone, which I can then use as the source of sharing photos on Instagram.

In addition, however, there are a variety of ways you can post photos to Instagram directly from your computer. For example, Lightroom users can install a plug-in that enables you to publish directly to Instagram from your Lightroom catalog. You can find the LR/Instagram plug-in here:

https://www.lrinstagram.com

Another great option is to simply have your web browser simulate a mobile device, so you can access all of the Instagram features (including sharing a new photo) directly from your computer’s web browser, as though you were using the Instagram app on your smartphone.

I’ve published an article on the GreyLearning blog showing you how to make your computer’s web browser behave like a browser on a mobile device. This will enable you to share photos to Instagram directly from your computer, and you can find the article here:

http://greylearningblog.com/how-to-share-photos-on-instagram-from-a-computer/

Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram, check out my photos, and tap the heart icon to “like” any of my photos you feel are especially good. You can find me using the Instagram app on your mobile device under user name @timgreyphoto, or through the Instagram website here:

https://instagram.com/timgreyphoto

Clarity and Noise

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Today’s Question: I’ve been using the Clarity slider (at a value of 40) to bring up detail in my photos. However, I processed a high-resolution series of photos and noticed quite a bit MORE noise than any one of the original captures. I stopped using Clarity and everything has been fine since. Should I avoid using Clarity?

Tim’s Quick Answer: By virtue of enhancing local contrast in a photo (and altering tonality in general), increasing the value for Clarity in Camera Raw or Lightroom can most certainly emphasize noise in an image. However, in general I find the benefits of a Clarity adjustment to be worthwhile for many images, and so recommend continuing to use Clarity but revisiting your Noise Reduction adjustments as well.

More Detail: The Clarity adjustment in Camera Raw and Lightroom is similar in concept to sharpening. Both of these adjustments enable you to enhance contrast among neighboring pixels. One of the key differences is that sharpening applies at a very fine scale, while Clarity operates at a slightly larger scale. You can think of Clarity as being somewhat similar to sharpening applied with a relatively high value for Radius (and a correspondingly low value for Amount).

Because sharpening and the Clarity adjustment are both enhancing local contrast, they can enhance the appearance of noise that is present in the image. In other words, the Clarity adjustment isn’t actually adding noise to the photo, but rather is just making the existing noise easier to see.

While we generally want to avoid the appearance of noise in our photos, we also may often want to enhance local contrast for some of our photos. Many photos can benefit from an increase in the value for the Clarity adjustment.

When a photo has a fair amount of noise, you may want to apply less of a Clarity adjustment than you otherwise would have if the image did not have significant noise. More importantly, you’ll want to revisit the settings for Noise Reduction, including both color and luminance.

To be sure, you may find it can be a challenge to balance the settings between Clarity and noise reduction. If you raise the value for Clarity too much, you’ll reveal more noise. But if you raise the noise reduction strength too high, you’ll diminish the appearance of texture and detail in the photo. And if you use a Clarity setting that is too low, you might feel the texture in the photo hasn’t been enhanced enough.

The bottom line is that I don’t think you should avoid using the Clarity adjustment. It can, after all, be tremendously helpful to many photos. However, especially when an image exhibits considerable noise, you may need to tone down your Clarity adjustment or get a little more aggressive with your application of noise reduction for a photo.

Detail for Sharpening

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Today’s Question: Could you talk about the Detail slider [for sharpening in Lightroom Classic CC and Adobe Camera Raw]? I understand that high settings of Detail shift the sharpening to deconvolution (as opposed to sharpening like Unsharp Mask at lower settings). It would help to understand more about the difference.

Tim’s Quick Answer: The Detail slider for sharpening in Lightroom or Camera Raw controls the extent to which you are enhancing fine detail in the image. A low value will help retain smooth areas of a photo, while a high value will cause fine texture (and noise) to be enhanced.

More Detail: When you apply sharpening to an image you are enhancing contrast between neighboring pixels that already have some degree of contrast. In other words, if neighboring pixels have different values, sharpening will increase the differences between the pixel values. This results in greater contrast among those pixels, which increases perceived sharpness and texture.

Increasing the value for the Detail slider will cause contrast to be enhanced among neighboring pixels even when there is minimal difference between those pixels. For those familiar with the Unsharp Mask filter in Photoshop, the Detail slider in Lightroom or Camera Raw operates much like the Threshold slider, but in reverse. A low value for Detail is similar to a high value for Threshold, and vice versa.

In general I recommend using a relatively low setting for Detail. The default value is 25, and for most images going much higher than that can be problematic. If you are really trying to enhance fine detail, you could use a higher value for Detail, but then you would need to use a very low setting for Amount.

In concept, the sharpening in Lightroom’s Develop module and in Camera Raw is intended to compensate for softness in the original capture. That type of sharpening is often referred to as deconvolution, and is different from creative sharpening or output sharpening. Using a relatively high value for the Detail slider can certainly help enhance the sharpening effect, but it can easily lead to an image that has too much fine texture and noise.

In other words, even though the sharpening controls in Lightroom and Camera Raw don’t enable you to apply extreme sharpening, there is still a risk of negatively impacting the appearance of an image by being too aggressive with sharpening. And one of the ways sharpening can quickly become too aggressive is by using a high value for the Detail slider.

Collections Instead of Folders?

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Today’s Question: I am re-organizing my photos in Lightroom Classic. In the past, I have relied upon folders and subfolders as basic building blocks. However, I have just read an article that strongly emphasizes that one should have a collections-based workflow from the time of initial import into Lightroom and relying on folders is definitely not recommended. Is this a valid concern and what is your recommendation?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I strongly recommend using the folder structure as a primary method of organizing your photos in Lightroom Classic CC. Features such as star ratings (or pick/reject flags or color labels) can be used as a secondary tool for identifying favorite images. Collections are a tertiary tool, which I recommend using for project-based organization and other specialized tasks, rather than as a primary organizational tool.

More Detail: If you were using the cloud-based Lightroom CC (rather than Lightroom Classic CC) it would be necessary to use collections as a primary tool for organizing your photos. That is because with Lightroom CC you don’t have any control over the folder structure being used to store your images. Instead, you can organize photos based on date or collections.

With Lightroom Classic CC you don’t have the limitation of not being able to control the overall storage structure for your photos. In other words, you can define your own folder structure on the hard drive(s) containing your photos. As such, to me it is perfectly logical that you would use folder structure as a primary foundation of your overall organizational workflow. After all, if photos are already organized into folders on your hard drive, why wouldn’t you leverage that folder structure for organizational purposes within Lightroom?

Collections can be thought of as something like “virtual” folders, enabling you to organize photos from a wide variety of folders into a single collection. That can be tremendously helpful when working on a specific project, for example, but I don’t find it as useful as a primary organizational tool.

In addition, it is worth noting that folders reflect the actual storage structure on your hard drive. Collections in Lightroom, by contrast, only exist within the Lightroom catalog. In other words, if you lost your Lightroom catalog you would still have your folder structure, but you would no longer have your collections.

I therefore highly recommend using folders as a primary tool in your organizational workflow. Other metadata such as star ratings can be used as secondary tools to help you locate specific photos when they are needed. And additional tools such as collections can help you organize photos for specific projects, especially when you need to work with photos that are actually stored across a variety of different folders.

Raw Capture Sharpening

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Today’s Question: So for us Photoshop users, do all of the settings you mentioned [about sharpening in Lightroom] still apply?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, the settings I recommended for sharpening in the Develop module in Lightroom Classic CC would apply in Photoshop, in the context of initial processing in Adobe Camera Raw. Creative or output sharpening would then be applied later in your workflow, such as by using the Smart Sharpen filter.

More Detail: The same adjustments can be found in both Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom’s Develop module. That means you can apply the same adjustments with the same results using either software. It also means that the same settings can be used with both, with equal results.

If you missed the tips on sharpening settings for Lightroom (and thus Camera Raw), you can review the information in this article:

http://asktimgrey.com/2019/01/14/over-sharpening-risks/

One of the advantages of Photoshop over Lightroom is that you have greater control over the final sharpening you apply to a photo before printing or otherwise sharing it. You also have a preview of the output sharpening effect in Photoshop, which Lightroom does not provide.

So, the basic concepts apply equally in both Camera Raw and Lightroom. The only real difference is the specific workflow involved, and the fact that Photoshop provides additional tools above and beyond those available in Lightroom.