Hiding Noise


Today’s Question: To reduce noise in a photo, do you ever reduce Black levels?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, in some cases I will darken the shadows in an image to help hide noise, provided I am actually happy with the degree of contrast involved with such an adjustment.

More Detail: Noise will generally be more prevalent in dark areas of an image, because those areas contain less information. In effect, noise is the opposite of information in the context of a photo. Bright areas have more information, and therefore less noise.

When you’re not able to adequately reduce the appearance of noise using noise reduction adjustments, you can help hide that noise by darkening up the darker areas of the image. That could mean darkening up the black value for the image, or darkening shadows in general.

Of course, I don’t want to exaggerate contrast or make an image appear too dark just to hide the noise. So I would only want to take this approach for an image where I intended to darken up the shadows regardless of the noise.

In other words, the motivation is often reversed here. I don’t generally decide to darken the shadows in an image to hide the noise, but rather feel a sense of relief when my intended darkening of the shadow areas also helps hide any noise that appears in those areas.

This is particularly an issue for luminance noise. Generally speaking, you can achieve great results reducing color noise for most images. Luminance noise can be a particular challenge, because reducing that luminance noise will have the side effect of reducing texture and detail, causing a loss of sharpness in the photo.

Minimal Use of Lightroom


Today’s Question: I use Photoshop, and not Lightroom Classic at all. But I might like to use just the catalog features in Lightroom to simply organize and keep track of my files and updates. Can that be done?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, you could most certainly make use of Lightroom Classic to manage your photos, and primarily use Photoshop to optimize your photos. However, I would suggest at least applying basic adjustments in the Develop module in Lightroom, to take the place of Adobe Camera Raw in the context of a Photoshop-only workflow.

More Detail: Many photographers make use of Lightroom Classic exclusively to organize, optimize, and share their photos, without the use of any other software. And, of course, many photographers make use of Photoshop, without using Lightroom Classic in their workflow. It is, however, most certainly possible to make use of both Lightroom Classic and Photoshop in a blended workflow.

In my view Lightroom Classic certainly provides some organizational advantages, primarily because of the catalog that is at the core of a Lightroom-based workflow. Among other things, the catalog enables you to quickly and easily search for photos across your entire catalog based on a wide variety of criteria.

You could absolutely make use of Lightroom Classic primarily for organizing your photos, and still use Photoshop as a primary tool for optimizing your photos. You would simply send a photo to Photoshop from Lightroom Classic when you want to optimize that photo in Photoshop.

However, as a Photoshop user who is not making use of Lightroom Classic, you would be familiar with the use of Adobe Camera Raw to apply initial adjustments to raw captures before continuing the process of optimizing the photo in Photoshop. When you send a raw capture from Lightroom Classic to Photoshop, you will not have the opportunity to use Camera Raw to process the raw capture. Instead, you would want to make use of the Develop module in Lightroom Classic for that purpose.

So, you could use Lightroom Classic (primarily the Library module) to organize your photos and use the Develop module within Lightroom Classic to apply at least the basic adjustments to the raw capture. You can then send an image to Photoshop to apply any and all finishing adjustments there. When you save and close the new image file (TIFF or PSD) created as part of this workflow, that derivative image will appear alongside the source image within your Lightroom Classic catalog.

Of course, over time you may find that you appreciate some of the other features available in Lightroom Classic. That includes the Map module to manage photos based on location metadata, as well as a variety of options for sharing your photos in a variety of ways. But you can most certainly put Photoshop to use as a key tool for optimizing your photos, even when using Lightroom Classic for managing your photos.

Resolution Anomaly


Today’s Question: Magazines are asking for images at 300 ppi resolution, even for images that will only be presented online. Doesn’t this mean I’m providing “wasted” resolution? Also, when I’ve resized images and displayed them alongside each other in Photoshop, sized to fit the screen, the higher resolution image (at about 30% zoom) appears less sharp than the lower resolution image (at nearly 100% zoom). What is going on here?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The pixel per inch (ppi) resolution is essentially meaningless for images that will be displayed digitally. Also, the closer an image is sized to a 100% scale on a display, the sharper that image will generally appear.

More Detail: A reference to “300 ppi” for an image suggests that the intent is for the image to be printed. While optimal resolution settings vary based on the specific output, 300 ppi is a common setting for printing. For an image that will be displayed digitally (such as online or in a digital slideshow), all that matters are the pixel dimensions, which should be set to match the intended presentation size.

Of course, you could still describe the pixel dimensions for an image that will be shared digitally using a pixel per inch value. For example, you could specify that the image needs to be sized at 6 inches on the long side at a resolution of 300 pixels per inch. But it is much simpler to just say that the image should be 1,800 pixels on the long side.

Regarding the image with larger pixel dimensions not appearing as sharp or detailed as the image with smaller dimensions, this relates to the scaling of the image on the display.

An image will look its best in terms of sharpness at a 100% view, referred to as the Actual Pixels view in Photoshop. This is why it is recommended that you view an image at 100% scale when evaluating settings for sharpening a photo.

With the scenario described in today’s question, the higher resolution image is being scaled down to fit within the display area, which causes a loss of perceived sharpness in the image. If you viewed both images at 100% scale, they would both appear equally sharp, though you would obviously be seeing a smaller portion of the image that has larger pixel dimensions.

Photoshop does a good job of scaling the preview for images, but viewing at a 100% scale still provides an advantage in terms of sharpness. Just because an image has larger pixel dimensions does not mean that image will appear with better quality than an image with smaller pixel dimensions. What matters most is that the pixel dimensions are optimal for the intended output.

What that translates to when sizing images for a digital display is that it is best to resize the image to the exact pixel dimensions that will be used to present the image. For example, for a digital slideshow you would want to resize the image based on the resolution of the digital projector to be used.

Comments Not Supported


Today’s Question: I am wondering what the Comments section under the Library module in Lightroom Classic is meant for. This Comments section always shows “Comments not supported here”, so no entries can be done or edited, although this field remains always empty. Can you please clarify?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The Comments section at the bottom of the right panel in the Library module in Lightroom Classic enables you to view and add comments for images that have been published via one of the online Publish Services options. For example, you can view “likes” and comments, and add comments, for photos you have shared to Facebook directly from within Lightroom Classic.

More Detail: Many photographers like to share their images on social media sites and other online outlets. In my experience, however, I’ve found that many photographers are not aware that it is possible to share photos to a number of online services directly from within Lightroom Classic, using the Publish Services feature.

When you configure a service under Publish Services, that service behaves much like a collection in Lightroom Classic in terms of grouping photos together. The difference is that with a Publish Service you can publish images that have been added to that collection to the applicable online service.

For example, you can configure Facebook as a Publish Service. You can then add images to that Publish Service collection, and then publish the images. When you add a new image to the collection, you can publish again to add just that new image to the applicable service (such as Facebook in this example).

For images that have been published in this way, if the service in question supports comments, you can see (and add) comments via the Comments section at the bottom of the right panel in the Library module.

For example, Facebook supports both “likes” and comments. You can therefore see a count of likes for a given photo, as well as comments others have posted to the photo, within the Comments section. You can even add comments (or replies to other comments) in this section.

Of course, if you don’t use the Publish Services feature, then you won’t be able to make use of the Comments section. You could, however, add your own personal comments to metadata in one of the various fields intended for this type of purpose.

Sharpening for Focus


Today’s Question: Regarding your advice on sharpening, I recently read that expecting/hoping to bring out-of-focus areas into sharp focus is fantasy. The article said sharpening only enhances areas that are in focus. Do you concur?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, I would mostly agree with the overall concept here. Sharpening will not cause an out-of-focus image to appear to be entirely in focus. You can improve the perceived sharpness, including of out-of-focus areas, but that doesn’t not provide the same result as having the image in focus in the first place.

More Detail: I often describe sharpening as enhancing contrast where contrast already exists in an image. This creates the appearance of greater sharpness and detail in the image. You can also think of sharpening as reducing the size of gradations along contrast edges in an image.

Sharpening can dramatically improve the overall appearance of a photo, but there are limits to how much you can achieve with sharpening.

For example, sharpening can help compensate for a photo captured with a lens featuring slightly less resolution than another lens, since the loss of sharpness in this case would be minor.

If a photo is a little bit out of focus, sharpening can help make the image look less blurry, but that sharpening won’t result in an image that will look as good as it would have if the focus was established properly at the time of capture.

If an image is significantly out of focus, sharpening will enable you to change the appearance of the photo, but it certainly won’t produce a photo that appears to have been in focus in the first place.

Similarly, there are techniques for reducing the appearance of motion blur in a photo. But even more than with a photo that is out of focus, with a photo that exhibits motion blur you can’t use a filter to magically get the photo to look like there wasn’t any motion blur. You can get an improvement, but not a perfect result.

So, sharpening can help make up for an image that was captured with less than perfect focus. But if the image clearly has the appearance of being out of focus, sharpening in post-processing is not going to provide a magical solution.

Reality of Wide Gamut


Today’s Question: I recognize that your philosophy is to always capture and retain as much information as possible in a photo file, so your recommendation to use ProPhoto RGB [as a working color space] where possible makes sense. But realistically, to most photographers, does it really make much difference if one uses sRGB for all photos?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Realistically, in most real-world scenarios, the advantages of using ProPhoto RGB (or Adobe RGB) rather than sRGB would be very minimal. Excellent results can be achieved with the sRGB color space for most photos with most output types.

More Detail: Many photographers, including me, have a philosophy of using a workflow that helps to maximize the potential quality and amount of information available in photos. That includes, for example, capturing in raw, working in the 16-bit per channel mode, and using a wide-gamut color space when processing your photos.

The color space you use when optimizing your photos determines the total range of color values that are available. As a somewhat extreme example, if you are working in the Grayscale (rather than RGB) color mode, your image can only contain shades of gray, with no color at all. With RGB color spaces, the differences relate to which specific color values are actually available.

Among the commonly used working space color profiles, sRGB is the smallest, ProPhoto RGB is the largest, and Adobe RGB is in between. In this context, a larger color space means that colors of higher saturation are available compared to a smaller color space.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that the final output for an image determines what colors will actually be visible in that output.

For example, for images that will only be presented online, the capabilities of a monitor display determine which colors are available. Most monitor displays have a color gamut that is somewhat close to the sRGB color space, and some monitors are capable of presenting most (or all) of the colors available in the Adobe RGB color space. So, working in a color space larger than sRGB for photos that will only be presented with a digital display (such as online or in a digital slideshow) will generally provide very little benefit, if any benefit at all.

For photos that will be printed, the capabilities of the printer, ink, and paper combination determine which colors are possible in the final output. The differences with print can be significant, with most uncoated matte papers offering a relatively narrow color gamut. A wider color gamut and higher dynamic range are generally possible with glossy papers.

For certain images, especially with highly saturated colors, a wide-gamut color space such as ProPhoto RGB can absolutely result in more detail and more vibrant colors in the print. But there is no question that great results can be achieved working exclusively in the sRGB color space. That said, I would also say that there isn’t a true advantage to working in sRGB rather than a wider-gamut color space, unless you need to use an sRGB workflow for the specific output you’re producing, or if you are working with images that do not contain high-bit data.

Brightening for Print


Today’s Question: I have a question for you about brightening pictures for print. I’ve heard some people like to brighten prints 1/2 a stop or so to try to match brightness on the screen. Is it safe to assume that since my monitor has been calibrated per your recommendations that it isn’t necessary to push brightness further? This would be to avoid a guessing game with brightness. Do you ever brighten images before they go to the printer?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In some cases it can be necessary to brighten an image before printing, even when you’ve made adjustments to the image based on a calibrated and profiled monitor display. This is often due to an issue of shadow detail being lost based on limitations of a specific printer, ink, and paper combination.

More Detail: Even with a proper color-managed workflow, you may find that a print appears a bit too dark. Very often I find that the issue isn’t actually that the print is too dark, but rather that the shadows are blocked up, causing the print to appear too dark.

By brightening the image up just a little bit, you can compensate for the limitation of the specific printer, ink, and paper combination being used to print the image. Before applying that brightening, however, I strongly recommend testing your output conditions so you can apply exactly the amount of compensation necessary.

I created a printer tonal range target image for exactly this purpose, so you can test your printer configuration and determine the appropriate amount of brightening that is necessary to compensate for lost shadow detail. You can read about the process involved, and download the printer tonal range target image I created, on the GreyLearning blog here:


When I Don’t Use Lightroom Classic


Today’s Question: In a recent answer you said that you sometimes “used Adobe Bridge for teaching or to manage photos or videos not being managed by Lightroom Classic”. However, on several occasions you have referenced the use of a single catalog in Lightroom Classic to manage ALL of your photos. When would you have photos or videos that are not in your catalog?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The only time I don’t use Lightroom Classic to manage specific photos or videos is when those photos or videos fall outside my normal photography workflow. The top example in my particular case would be videos (and possibly still photos) that I capture specifically for creating video courses for my GreyLearning library (https://www.greylearning.com).

More Detail: While I strongly recommend that photographers use a single catalog in Lightroom Classic for all of their photos, not all photos or videos fit into my normal workflow. When in doubt, I import all photos and videos into my Lightroom Classic catalog. But there are situations where there is no need to have certain captures included in my Lightroom Classic catalog, because those photos or videos won’t ever be used beyond the scope of a single specific project.

As noted above, the most common example in my particular case would be photos and videos that I capture specifically to produce an educational video course to be included in my GreyLearning library. That might include, for example, screen capture videos demonstrating particular software applications, or videos of me in the field demonstrating various photography techniques.

When I know that specific videos (and possibly photos) will never be used outside of a video course, for example, I don’t feel any need to have those photos or videos adding clutter to my Lightroom Classic catalog. I simply manage the captures in a folder structure for the course being produced, for example.

When I’m working with captures for a single project, I don’t generally find it beneficial to create a Lightroom Classic catalog for that specific project. I can often work easily within the operating system to organize the captures, but if I need to be able to better preview the photos or videos included in the project, Adobe Bridge serves that purpose reasonably well.

You can learn more about the video courses available in my GreyLearning library, by the way, by pointing your web browser here:


Sharpening Preference


Today’s Question: Do you prefer to sharpen images in Lightroom [Classic] or Photoshop? I have been using Photoshop for many years to finalize images for prints or publication, paper or digital, but I am open to change.

Tim’s Quick Answer: I prefer to sharpen my photos in Photoshop rather than Lightroom Classic, primarily because Photoshop enables me to exercise more control over the sharpening settings.

More Detail: In Lightroom Classic you can sharpen photos whenever preparing a photo for output, such as in the Print module for prints, or in the Export dialog when you are exporting a photo to share in a particular way. However, the sharpening options are a bit limited. You can specify whether you are printing to matte or glossy paper versus sharing digitally. In addition, you can specify whether you want “Low”, “Standard”, or “High” sharpening applied. In addition, Lightroom Classic does not provide a preview of the actual sharpening effect, so it can take a bit of trial and error to find the right settings for a give image.

In Photoshop you are able to select from several different sharpening tools or filters. I typically use the Smart Sharpen filter, though in some cases I use the Unsharp Mask filter. In either case, you have considerable control over the actual sharpening applied to your photos. You can also preview the effect for the sharpening in Photoshop, which can be very helpful in terms of getting to the right settings more quickly.

To be sure, evaluating the sharpening effect in Photoshop can be a bit tricky when you will be printing the image you’re working with. For digital sharing, the photo will appear to viewers in the same way it appears to you, so it is relatively easy to achieve good sharpening settings. When you are printing a photo, you need to anticipate what the final result will look like based on the behavior of the specific paper and ink being used for the print.

With experience and practice you can get to the point where you are able to anticipate the right sharpening settings based on a preview in Photoshop. That can take a bit of time, but once you have a sense of what the preview should look like to achieve a print you’re happy with, you can sharpen more efficiently and with greater control using Photoshop rather than Lightroom Classic.

Bridge Instead of Lightroom?


Today’s Question: You recently answered a question about switching to Adobe Bridge from Lightroom [Classic]. Do you think Bridge is the best alternative if one were to stop using Lightroom?

Tim’s Quick Answer: No, personally I would not choose Adobe Bridge as an alternative to Lightroom Classic, in large part because I’ve experienced consistent frustrations with performance in Adobe Bridge. I would instead consider one of the other alternative options if I wanted to stop using Lightroom Classic.

More Detail: I should clarify right from the start that I am happy with Lightroom Classic as the foundation of my workflow for organizing and optimizing my photos. While many photographers have struggled with using the catalog in Lightroom Classic, I find the catalog to be advantageous for organizing and locating my photos.

In particular, the catalog in Lightroom Classic makes it easier to manage and locate photos across a large number of folders. When I’ve used Adobe Bridge for teaching or to manage photos or videos not being managed by Lightroom Classic, I’ve frankly been a bit frustrated with the experience in terms of overall performance.

If I needed to stop using Lightroom Classic for any reason, assuming the software landscape were the same that it is today, I would probably consider these three options as the most likely to replace Lightroom Classic for my needs:

ON1 Photo RAW 2020: http://timgrey.me/on1raw

Skylum Luminar 4: http://timgrey.me/luminar4

Capture One 20 Pro: http://timgrey.me/captureone

But again, I personally consider Lightroom Classic to be one of the top software applications available for organizing and optimizing my photos, and don’t anticipate switching to any other solution anytime soon.