Auto-Focus at Night


Today’s Question: Is there a trick to get my camera to focus automatically at night? Very often it seems to search excessively for night shots, sometimes never establishing focus at all.

Tim’s Quick Answer: Setting a focus point at an area of relatively high contrast in the night scene can help, but in general I recommend using manual focus for night photography to help ensure optimal sharpness.

More Detail: Cameras can struggle to acquire accurate focus at night due to the relative lack of contrast in the scene. Setting a focus point on an area of high contrast can most certainly help. For example, when photographing a city skyline at night, you can set a focus point on the edge of one of the buildings, preferably along an edge that has strong contrast caused by backlighting or other illumination.

However, for the best results I recommend using manual focus, in conjunction with a zoomed-in live view display on your camera’s LCD.

Start by disabling the autofocus setting for your lens or camera, to ensure the camera won’t attempt to focus automatically. Then enable the live view display for your camera if it isn’t already active. Use the zoom feature for the LCD display to zoom in on a key area of the scene, preferably to about a 10X zoom setting if available. Be sure to zoom the LCD display, not by adjusting the zoom setting for your lens if you’re using a zoom lens.

At this point you can fine-tune the focus setting for the lens based on the zoomed-in view on the live view display. With the autofocus setting disabled, at this point you can capture multiple images without worrying that the focus has been changed by the camera. Of course, you’ll still need to use care to ensure the focus (or zoom) on the lens is not changed inadvertently.

By the way, you’ll can get great practice photographing night scenes with me in New York City by joining me for my New York City Photo Workshop in 2018. All of the details are available here:

Sharpening Refinement


Today’s Question: When sharpening an image for print [in a lesson from the “Understanding Sharpening” video course] you worked on a flattened image and applied Smart Sharpening directly to the image [in Photoshop]. Then you said you’d carefully inspect the printed result and make adjustments later as necessary. But how would you go about adjusting the sharpening of that image? The sharpening is burned in and you didn’t use a preset. You wouldn’t trust your memory to the adjustments, would you? Would creating a smart object to which sharpening was applied allow you to make adjustments later?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The settings for the Smart Sharpen filter (as well as other filters) in Photoshop are “sticky”, so when you return to the Smart Sharpen dialog the settings you used previously would be there for reference and refinement. That said, using a Smart Filter in this type of scenario could certainly be helpful.

More Detail: You may have noticed that when you bring up the dialog for the Smart Sharpen filter (or the other filters in Photoshop), the settings for the various controls seem to have someone random values, rather than a round number. That’s because the settings default to those you used the last time you applied that filter.

As a result, it is relatively straightforward to review and refine the sharpening settings when you have printed a photo and feel the result wasn’t optimal. You would naturally want to undo the sharpening step in the history for the image first. You could then choose the applicable sharpening filter (such as Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpe in this case) to bring up the filter dialog.

Initially the settings would reflect those you used the last time you applied the filter in Photoshop, which in this case would mean the settings you had previously applied to the current image. You could then adjust those settings as needed and apply before printing the image again.

As noted in today’s question, you could also make use of a Smart Filter in Photoshop to ensure you’re always able to review and refine the settings you had used when sharpening the photo. To do so, after flattening and resizing the duplicate image you’re using for print preparation, choose Filter > Convert for Smart Filters from the menu. Then choose Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen to apply the Smart Sharpen filter, which will now be applied as a Smart Filter.

You can later just double-click on the Smart Sharpen item that will be added below the Smart Object layer on the Layers panel in order to bring up the Smart Sharpen dialog for that layer. The settings will reflect the latest updates you had applied to the layer, providing you with a degree of flexibility in your workflow, such as when you might be working with multiple images at the same time.

If you’d like to learn more about sharpening your photos for optimal results, check out my “Understanding Sharpening” course in the GreyLearning library here:

16 Years of Ask Tim Grey!

Sixteen years ago today I sent out the very first edition of the Ask Tim Grey email newsletter (though at the time it was referred to as “Digital Darkroom Questions”).
It is hard to believe I’ve been at it so long. In fact, through today there have been 3,532 installments of this email newsletter.
To celebrate this milestone we’re offering 16% off any course in the GreyLearning library. Simply use “ask16” (without the quotation marks) in the Coupon Code field during checkout (being sure to click the “Apply” button to actually apply the discount).
A huge “Thank You!” to all of you who allow the Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter into your inbox each day, especially those of you who have been reading for years now. Thank you!
You can check out the GreyLearning video training library here:

Deleting Multiple Photos


Today’s Question: I’m using the new version of Lightroom Classic. In the prior version of Lightroom I was able to remove all of the selected photos with a single delete command. In the new Lightroom Classis, only one picture gets removed for each command. Am I missing something or did Adobe make this a new “feature”?

Tim’s Quick Answer: To delete multiple selected photos at once, you need to be in the Grid view when issuing the “Remove Photos” command. If you are in the Loupe view, only the single image currently displayed in the Loupe view will be deleted when you choose the “Remove Photo” command.

More Detail: Within Lightroom Classic when you are in the Loupe view the assumption is that you are working with only that one photo, even if multiple photos are currently selected. This applies to metadata updates as well as other tasks such as deleting photos.

If you want to apply the same metadata update to multiple images, or as in this case delete multiple photos, you’ll want to be in the Grid view with those multiple images selected.

In fact, even if you have selected multiple photos the “Remove Photos” command on the menu will change based on which view you’re in. If you are in the Loupe view, the command will read “Remove Photo” (singular) even though you have selected multiple photos, because only the image shown in the Loupe view will then actually be deleted. If you are in the Grid view, the command will read “Remove Photos” (plural) because in the Grid view all of the selected photos will be removed when you issue this command.

This behavior was obviously designed based on the logical notion of a single-image view versus multiple-image view. However, it can most certainly be confusing if you’re not aware of the distinction.

Put simply, if you want to apply changes to multiple images I recommend working in the Grid view in Lightroom Classic. The Loupe view should only be used when you want to work with a single image, even though it is possible to have multiple photos selected when you are in the Loupe view.

Note, by the way, that the new Lightroom CC cloud-based photography service from Adobe does away with this distinction, enabling you to work with multiple photos even if you are working in the single-image view mode.

Creative Cloud Version Confusion


Today’s Question: You have defined the differences between Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC very well. However, I am now seeing double entries for other Adobe products (Bridge, Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign), all with both CC and CC 2017 entries. Bridge CC indicates “Update”, while Bridge CC 2017 indicates “Open”. Should I update the CC 2017 versions of all of them?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The latest versions of the Adobe applications as part of a Creative Cloud subscription now exclude the calendar year from the name when viewing the Creative Cloud application. The “CC” version is the latest version, which will actually bear “2018” as the year portion of the full application name after you install the new version. The “CC 2017” version is the prior version of the application.

More Detail: To be sure, the switch to a subscription model for the Adobe Creative Cloud applications has led to some confusion. Part of the confusion stems from the fact that updates now occur more frequently in general, with smaller updates released somewhat often.

However, there are still major updates to the applications, and when that occurs Adobe has been adding a calendar year to the name of the application. So now we have, for example Adobe Photoshop CC 2018. The previous major update had been given the name Adobe Photoshop CC 2017.

Within the applications themselves, you will now see “2018” reflected in the application name and in the “About” dialog if you install the latest versions of the applications. Unfortunately, within the Adobe Creative Cloud application where you are able to install updates, the “2018” portion of the name is not included, which can obviously lead to some confusion.

Because the latest updates for the Adobe Creative Cloud applications represent relatively significant updates, the installation is not an actual “update” installation. In other words, if you have Photoshop CC 2017 installed and you then install “Photoshop CC”, you’ll have both the 2017 and 2018 versions installed.

In this scenario, my general recommendation is to install the latest update (that’s the version without a year number in it) once you are comfortable doing so. I recommend that you keep the prior version (the 2017 version in this case) installed until you know everything is working properly with the new update. You can then uninstall the prior version of the application once you’re comfortable using only the latest update to the software.

Note that if you see an “Update” button to the right of an application name on the Apps tab of the Adobe Creative Cloud application, that means an update is available for that version. If you see an “Install” button, that indicates that the application in question has not been installed yet. If you see an “Open” button, the latest version of that application is already installed, and you can click the Open button to launch the application.

Sharpening and Clarity


Today’s Question: In [Adobe Camera Raw or] Lightroom, can the sharpening sliders in the Detail panel be used in conjunction with the Clarity and Dehaze sliders, or should I (in general) use one just one of these tools on any particular image?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Sharpening, Clarity, and Dehaze focus on different issues, and therefore you can indeed mix and match all three depending on your specific goals for a given image.

More Detail: There is no question that the Sharpening, Clarity, and Dehaze adjustments in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw (as well as similar adjustments in other software tools) provide effects that are all similar. However, the differences among these adjustments are such that there is no problem employing more than one (or even all three) of these adjustments for a single image.

In a very general way, you can think of all three of these adjustment types as providing a localized contrast enhancement. All are, in varying degrees, enhancing contrast in areas of the image that already exhibit some degree of contrast in the way of texture and detail.

The key difference between these three adjustments is the scale, especially in the context of the Sharpening and Clarity adjustments. Sharpening applies at a very small scale, mostly emphasizing differences between immediately adjacent pixels. Clarity is very similar, but with a somewhat mitigated effect that blends across larger transition areas within the image.

The Dehaze adjustment can to some extent be thought of as being very similar to the Clarity adjustment, conceptually applying across an even larger transition size. However, the Dehaze adjustment is actually quite a bit more sophisticated than that.

The point is that while there are considerable similarities among these several adjustment types, the differences are such that you can indeed use all three (as needed) for a single image. Sharpening will enhance perceived sharpness, Clarity will help enhance texture, and Dehaze will help reduce the appearance of haze. All similar effects to be sure, but with a different specific implementation in each case.

Two-Stop Bracketing


Today’s Question: You said [during the “Creating Stunning HDR Images” presentation at PhotoPlus Expo] that you had bracketed a set of captures by one stop. But you also said you recommend bracketing in two-stop increments. So was there a reason you bracketed by one stop for the images you showed?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Bracketing in two-stop increments is absolutely more than adequate for creating high dynamic range (HDR) images. The only reason I sometimes use one-stop bracketing for some images is that I generally prefer to change the bracketing increments rather than changing the number of shots included with automatic exposure bracketing (AEB).

More Detail: The camera I typically use for capturing HDR images is capable of bracketing with up to seven exposures. It also includes settings for five and three exposures for automatic bracketing. I generally prefer to alter the increments for the bracketing rather than changing the number of exposures to capture, simply because it is easier on my camera to adjust the bracketing increments than to change the number of bracketed exposures.

In other words, this is all a matter of expediency when dealing with the process of making changes to the camera’s settings. In my case it is much easier to adjust the bracketing increments and the overall exposure compensation than it is to go deeper into the menu and change how many images are being captured when the automatic exposure bracketing feature is used.

I’d rather have more captures than I need than not enough, so I keep the number of bracketed shots set to the maximum (seven exposures in my case). When I am dealing with an extreme high dynamic range situation, I will bracket by two stops per exposure for a total of seven exposures. When the situation clearly does not require such a significant range, I will reduce the bracketing increment to one stop rather than changing the number of exposures.

Ultimately I aim for having photos with exposures separated by two stops each, with enough captures to cover the full tonal range of the scene I’m photographing. Determining how to reach that goal depends on your personal preferences as well as the specific features and usability considerations of your camera.

Preserving Collections


Today’s Question: I successfully moved my photos and Lightroom from an old Macintosh to a new PC. However, none of my collections came over. How can I recover the collections?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Collections are a Lightroom-specific feature, meaning collection information is not stored with the photos themselves. Therefore, in order to preserve collections (and other Lightroom-specific features) when switching computers, you need to copy the Lightroom catalog file along with your images.

More Detail: When you want to move Lightroom from one computer to another, even if that involves switching operating systems, you can retain all of the information in your Lightroom catalog by copying the catalog files to the new computer, along with your photos.

The Lightroom catalog file (with a “lrcat” filename extension) can be used by the Lightroom application on both Macintosh and Windows computers. As a result, the process of migrating computers is relatively easy.

First, I recommend copying the entire contents of the folder that contains your Lightroom catalog from your existing computer to your new computer. You can determine where this folder is by clicking the “Show” button in the Information section of the General tab within the Catalog Settings dialog.

After copying the entire folder that contains your Lightroom catalog files to the new computer, you will want to make sure the photos themselves are available. This could be as simple as connecting the external hard drive that contains your photos to the new computer. Depending on the specifics of your workflow (and if you are switching platforms) you might also need to copy your photos to a new storage location as part of this process.

Once the catalog files and the photo files are available on the new computer, you can double-click on the catalog file (with the “lrcc” filename extension) on that new computer to launch Lightroom and open the catalog. At this point the photos will most likely appear to all be missing, because the specific path information to those photos will have changed. You can right-click on one of the missing folders and choose the option to “Find Missing Folder”. Then locate the applicable folder in the new storage location, and select it as the folder you want to reconnect. Lightroom will most likely then recursively reconnect all of the missing folders, but you may need to manually reconnect others as well.

With this approach you will retain all of the details for your photos, including Lightroom-specific features such as collections, pick and reject flags, history, and more.

Embedded and Sidecar Previews


Today’s Question: What do you advise about the “Embedded & Sidecar” preview option when importing photos into Lightroom? I import my photos as DNG.

Tim’s Quick Answer: In short, I recommend never using the “Embedded & Sidecar” preview option when importing photos into Lightroom. Instead, I recommend always using either the “Standard” or “1:1” option.

More Detail: Put simply, Lightroom will always generate a “Standard” preview for any photo you browse within Lightroom. In addition, a “1:1” preview will always be generated for any photo you zoom in on. The only real question is therefore whether you want to generate those previews when you initially import the images, or whether you want to let Lightroom generate those previews as they are needed.

As a general rule, I recommend generating previews before you actually need them, so that your browsing experience will be more pleasant (meaning less frustrating).

At a minimum then, I recommend choosing the “Standard” option for previews when you import photos into Lightroom. When in doubt, this is the preview option to select.

Therefore, the only other question is whether you should generate “1:1” previews, so you won’t need to wait for previews to be generated for images you zoom in on. To me this is really a question of how frequently you zoom in on your images.

Personally, I don’t tend to zoom in on a very large percentage of my photos. I can review the overall images using the “Standard” preview, viewing the image at a full-screen size without zooming in further. I only zoom in when I have selected a potential favorite image I want to work with, and I want to check for sharpness, noise, blemishes, or other issues.

If you tend to zoom in on many (or most) of your images, I suggest building the “1:1” preview option on import. But for most photographers I think the “Standard” option is perfectly good. But I never recommend using the “Embedded & Sidecar” or “Minimal” options.

Note, by the way, that the latest update to Lightroom Classic CC (formerly Lightroom CC) includes a refined workflow for the “Embedded & Sidecar” preview option. While this may help streamline overall performance in some cases, I still very much prefer (and recommend) using only the “Standard” or “1:1” preview options upon import to Lightroom.

Editing TIFF and PSD Files


Today’s Question: Do both TIFF and PSD files permit the full range of editing in Lightroom, in the event I might want to edit them further in the future either with Lightroom or some other editing or artistic software?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, the full range of adjustments in Lightroom is available for TIFF and PSD files, as well as all other supported image formats. Just keep in mind that adjustments in Lightroom do not alter the actual source image file, which you’ll need to take into account for your workflow if you decide to use other software to work on these images.

More Detail: Lightroom is “non-destructive” in the context of your source images, which means that when you apply adjustments in Lightroom you aren’t actually altering the source image file on your hard drive. This is a very good thing, but something you need to take into account for your workflow when you want to edit photos outside of Lightroom.

What that really means is that you’ll need to create an additional copy of the image if you later want to use Photoshop or other third-party software to further refine the image.

When you send a photo from Lightroom to Photoshop, if you want to retain the adjustments you applied in Lightroom you’ll need to create a new copy of the image file. Similarly, if you want to work with the image (and have the Lightroom adjustments applied) with other software, you’ll need to make another copy of the file. You could either send the image (creating a copy in the process) directly from Lightroom, or export a copy of the image from Lightroom and then edit that duplicate image directly within the source file.

So, it would be fair to say that the Lightroom adjustments aren’t actually altering the source image, and that you would need to create a new copy of the file in order to have the adjustments applied. But this is an intended effect of the non-destructive workflow employed by Lightroom. Regardless, all adjustments found in Lightroom are available for all supported image formats, including TIFF and PSD.