Import Backup Limitations

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Today’s Question: Does the GoodSync backup work better than making a second copy upon import [into Lightroom]?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The advantage of using backup software like GoodSync (http://timgrey.me/greybackup) is that the backup will be an exact copy of your source photos, including folder structure. The option to create a backup copy while importing photos into Lightroom will not provide a folder structure that matches your source photos.

More Detail: I am certainly grateful that there is an option to create a second copy of the photos you are downloading as part of the process of importing new photos into your Lightroom catalog. However, I do wish that this backup reflected the same folder structure as the source photos. Instead of making a second copy of the photos into a folder with the same name being used for the original photos, a folder will be created with the name “Imported On” (with the date of import appended to that text).

The result is that the backup copy created during import isn’t an exact reflection of the source photos. Therefore, while I do make use of the option to create a second copy of the photos being imported during the import process, I treat that as a “temporary” backup.

After the import is complete, at my earliest opportunity I will use GoodSync (http://timgrey.me/greybackup) to synchronize the external hard drive containing my photos with a backup drive. The result is that the backup of my photos drive is an exact copy of the primary drive, including folder structure and filenames.

Once you have configured a backup job using GoodSync, you can simply run that job to have the backup drive updated to once again represent an exact copy of the source drive. To me this is an ideal scenario for a backup, since it greatly streamlines the process of recovering from a hard drive failure.

Note, by the way, that I have produced a video course with lessons that outline the approach I use for GoodSync, which you can find on the GreyLearning website here:

https://www.greylearning.com/courses/goodsync

Flatten or Not?

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Today’s Question: When I return a photo back from Photoshop to Lightroom, I first flatten the image, then Save and Close. Am I wrong to flatten the image?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In my opinion, with very few exceptions, you should never flatten your original “master” image in Photoshop. Instead, I feel the layers should be preserved so you can always make changes to any of the layers at a later time.

More Detail: There are certainly scenarios where an image needs to be in a “flattened” state, without any layers. For example, if you are sending an image to a client you probably don’t want them to be able to see or modify any of the layers in your source image, so you would send them a flattened version of the image.

However, for the “master” image you are using as the basis of any output you produce for a photo (such as printing or sharing online), I recommend keeping the layers intact. In other words, you should not flatten the master image.

To be sure, an image with layers will have a larger file size than a flattened image. However, by keeping the layers intact you are retaining the ability to open the image in Photoshop once again, and make modifications to any of the layers. For example, you might find that some of your image cleanup work resulted in some visual artifacts that you need to correct. Or you might change your mind about one or more of the adjustments you’ve applied to the image. Keeping the layers intact provides you with that flexibility.

So, while you might flatten a copy of an image (or simply use the Save As command to save a new copy of the image without layers), I always recommend retaining the layers in the “master” version of your image. I’m more than happy to have a larger file size in return for the greater workflow flexibility that layers provide.

Task-Based Keywords

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Today’s Question: Do you use any of Lightroom’s features to keep track of photos printed, published, delivered to clients, or with “to-do” tasks? Perhaps collections?

Tim’s Quick Answer: For this type of task-based purpose I actually use what I refer to as “fake keywords”. These are keywords that identify a particular status for a photo, rather than the typical use of identifying subjects that appear within a photo.

More Detail: Keywords are typically used to identify the subjects (and even concepts) that appear in a photo. This “normal” use for keywords provides two basic benefits. First, these keywords enable you to locate photos by searching for specific keywords. Second, when reviewing a photo, keywords can help remind you about details of the photo, such as the subjects that appear in the photo.

The “fake keywords” I use are a variation on this concept. Instead of identifying the contents of a photo, however, they identify a context or task for the image. One example of a “fake keyword” that I use is to identify photos that I have shared to my Instagram feed (https://www.instagram.com/timgreyphoto/). I happen to use “InstagramShare” for this purpose.

With other “fake keywords” I will identify that photos have been used in particular projects, and I might include a category for the project as part of that keyword. For example, photos used in a book project might have a “fake keyword” that begins with”BOOK-“.

I prefer using keywords for this type of purpose rather than other features, such as collections in Lightroom. The reason for this is that keywords are part of a metadata standard, while collections in Lightroom are only part of the Lightroom catalog. That means that by using keywords (and saving metadata for my photos out to the actual files on my hard drive) I can still have access to that information even outside of Lightroom.

In other words, if for any reason I couldn’t use Lightroom anymore, I would lose all of the information about collections for my photos. With keywords that have been written to the actual image files, any other software that enables me to view metadata for image files could be used as a tool to organize my photos.

Updated Catalog Confusion

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Today’s Question: All of a sudden there appeared a “Lightroom Catalog-2.lrcat”, which is now my catalog [in Adobe Lightroom Classic CC]. How did that happen? Is it a problem?

Tim’s Quick Answer: When you see a dash and a number at the end of the filename for a catalog, that indicates that your catalog had been updated for a newer version of Lightroom. It is certainly not a problem, as long as you don’t open the wrong catalog by mistake.

More Detail: With most updates to Lightroom, your existing catalog will still perfectly fine with the updated version. However, with major updates to Lightroom there is often a change in the catalog file format. When that is the case, Lightroom will prompt you to update the existing catalog (or a catalog you’re trying to open) so it supports the latest Lightroom features.

By default when your Lightroom catalog is updated in this way, a dash and a number will be added to the existing filename. So, for example, the first time this happens a catalog called “Lightroom Catalog.lrcat” will be upgraded to “Lightroom Catalog-2.lrcat”. Note that the original catalog file will remain in the same folder, providing a backup of the prior catalog. The next time an update is required, the new catalog would be “Lightroom Catalog-3.lrcat”.

Once a catalog has been updated the new copy of the catalog will of course work with the newly updated version of Lightroom. The critical thing at this stage is to make sure you are always using the correct catalog file. Fortunately, in this type of scenario where the catalog file needed to be updated, you won’t be able to directly open the older version of the catalog in the newly updated version of Lightroom. So you’ll at least get a clear indication of an issue should you attempt to open an outdated catalog version.

I prefer to move the “outdated” catalog files to a separate backup folder. In other words, I prefer to retain these files at least for a period of time as an additional backup. However, I don’t want those unnecessary files creating any clutter or confusion in the folder that contains my active Lightroom catalog.

Sensor Cleaning Technique

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Today’s Question: I would appreciate any advice you could offer for actually cleaning the sensor regarding wipe technique and the loupe you recently recommended.

Tim’s Quick Answer: The approach I use is to use sensor swabs with a cleaning solution to swab the sensor. I then use a sensor loupe to confirm the sensor is clean, repeating the cleaning as needed until the sensor looks completely clean.

More Detail: In many cases you may discover that you need to clean the sensor on your camera because you notice dust spots in your photos. However, it is also a good idea to periodically check the sensor using a loupe with illumination, such as the Carson SensorMag loupe that I use (https://amzn.to/2LDw4cQ).

When cleaning is necessary, I recommend using swabs with a special cleaning solution. I use the Visible Dust sensor cleaning kit (https://amzn.to/2OhSwGU), though you need to be sure to order the correct swab size based on the size of your image sensor. For example, full frame cameras require a larger swab than a camera with a cropped sensor.

You’ll want to follow the instructions for the sensor swabs carefully. That includes not using too much solution on the swab, only using each side of the swab once, and only swiping the swab in one direction on the image sensor.

In most cases I’m able to get the sensor clean with a single swab. However, at times you may find that not all blemishes were removed with a single cleaning. In that case, resist the urge to re-use the swab, as you will very likely add debris back to the sensor. Instead, use a clean swab and begin the cleaning procedure again.

Continue this process until the sensor looks perfectly clean when using a sensor loupe to get a direct look at the filter on the front of the actual image sensor in your camera.

Safely Ejecting Media

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Today’s Question: I saw an article that said there was no need to use the “Safely Remove” option [or Eject on Macintosh] as long as you made sure you weren’t writing data to a media card before ejecting it. Is this true?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I strongly recommend that photographers stay in the habit of using the “Safely Remove” or “Eject” option in their operating system (Windows versus Macintosh, respectively) to help ensure it is safe to actually remove the media card from the card reader. Ignoring this step can lead to corruption of data on removable media cards.

More Detail: Admittedly, in many cases it would be perfectly safe to simply remove a media card from a card reader (or from your camera) without going through a special process to confirm it is safe to remove the card. However, skipping this step does increase the risk of corruption of the data on your removable media cards.

As long as no data is actively being written to a media card, it is generally safe to simply remove the card without using the “Safely Remove” or “Eject” option in your computer’s operating system. The problem is that you can’t ever be totally sure that no data is being written to the card.

If you remove a card while data is being written to the card, data on the card may be corrupted to the point of a complete loss of that data. This applies both to your camera and to your computer.

Most cameras include a small light that flashes when data is being written to the card. As long as this light is not illuminated, it is generally safe to remove the media card from the camera. I actually recommend going a step further, and turning off the power for the camera before removing a media card. Most (I’m sure all) cameras include a feature where the power won’t actually be completely turned off until data is no longer being written to the card. Thus, if the camera turns off completely (and the light indicating data is being written is no longer flashing) you can remove the media card from your camera.

On the computer I recommend getting in the practice of always using the “Safely Remove” or “Eject” option to confirm it is safe to remove the media card from the card reader. Even if you were only downloading data from the card (and not writing any new data to the card), this is still a good habit that can help ensure you don’t experience data corruption issues on your media.

Frankly, in my opinion anyone who suggests you should not use the “Safely Remove” or “Eject” feature before removing a media card is giving bad advice.

Loupe for Sensor Cleaning

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Today’s Question: I do my own sensor cleaning on my camera, and often find it takes more than one swab to get the sensor clean. I’ve been checking my work by capturing a test photo, but this doesn’t seem very efficient. I’ve heard about loupes for sensor cleaning. Do you think these provide a good advantage?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Absolutely! I’ve been using the very affordable Carson SensorMag (https://amzn.to/2NZYqwr), and find that it makes it quite easy to see dust and other blemishes on the sensor.

More Detail: A “sensor loupe” is essentially a magnifying loupe combined with an illumination source (often LED lights), which enables you to get a close and clear look at the filter in front of the image sensor. When you have your camera configured for sensor cleaning, you can place the sensor loupe on the lens mount and turn on the light to get a clear and closeup view of the sensor.

I’ve been using the affordable Carson SensorMag loupe (https://amzn.to/2NZYqwr) and have found it to be very helpful for getting a close look at the sensor both for determining if cleaning is necessary and to confirm that I’ve done a thorough job with my cleaning.

Another excellent sensor loupe is the VisibleDust Quasar Plus (https://amzn.to/2Jy6e4U). This is a more expensive sensor loupe, but it does offer exceptional quality. That translates into improved brightness and clarity, which makes it easier to see the surface of the filter in front of your image sensor.

There is no question in my mind that using a sensor loupe is far superior to simply capturing a test photo when it comes to making sure your sensor is free of blemishes.

Long Lens Limit

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Today’s Question: I realize some photographers need a very long lens such as for bird photography. But for more general photography do you have a recommendation for what would be the longest lens I should have?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I don’t think there is really a limit in terms of how much reach a photographer might like to have available. Rather, I think the real limit relates to the increased weight (and size) of a long lens. That said, I do think most photographers would benefit from having a lens on the order of around a 500mm focal length available (based on a 35mm sensor format).

More Detail: I’ve never felt that a particular lens had more reach than I could put to use in my photography. Whatever lens I’m using, it seems that I often feel I could use a longer lens in certain situations. That’s not to say that I always want a longer lens under all circumstances, but that I very often feel that a long lens is helpful.

For bird and wildlife photography most photographers are going to want a very long lens, on the order of a 500mm or 600mm focal length. But even for other types of photography, such as landscape and travel, I find that a long lens can be helpful. More often than not, I bring a 150-600mm lens (https://amzn.to/2O9SOji) with me when traveling for photography. On rare occasions I might bring a lens no longer than a 70-200mm. But when I don’t bring a long lens, in most cases I do think I could have put it to good use if I had brought it with me.

Of course, longer lenses also involve increased size and weight. The 150-600mm lens I often bring on trips weighs 4.4 pounds. That can certainly add a bit of strain to my camera bag. Therefore, you’ll want to consider the size and weight of a lens with a long focal length before deciding if it will be a good option for you.

I think it is fair to say that just about every photographer could get some good use out of a lens such as a 70-200mm. So I would consider that a starting point for many photographers looking for a “long” lens. But I also think that most photographers would be happy to have something like a 100-400mm or 150-600mm lens available, at least for some of their photography.

Workflow for Panoramas

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Today’s Question: I have a question about processing Panorama shots in Lightroom or Photoshop. Is it better to process each photo individually before merging them, or merge first and process the final panorama?

Tim’s Quick Answer: With Lightroom there is no need to apply adjustments to your original raw captures, because those adjustments will remain adjustable after creating the panorama. With Photoshop, however, adjustments to the raw captures will be applied to the panoramic image created by merging, so in some cases you may want to apply adjustments to the raw captures first.

More Detail: In the context of Lightroom, applying adjustments to the original raw captures before merging those captures into a composite panorama is purely a matter of preference. And in some cases you’ll find that Lightroom ignores your adjustments anyway. For example, if you apply different transformation adjustments to the individual captures you’ll assemble into a panorama, you’ll discover that Lightroom won’t be confused by those adjustments, and will still properly assemble the panorama.

That said, many of the adjustments you could apply to the original captures will be reflected in the assembled panorama. So there could be some value in applying those adjustments first. But the result is really no different from applying those same adjustments after the panorama is assembled into an Adobe DNG image. So this is really a matter of preference, but in the context of Lightroom I would generally suggest that you don’t spend time applying adjustments to the original captures, and instead save that work for after the panorama is assembled.

With Photoshop the situation is a little different. When you assemble a composite panorama from a group of raw captures, any adjustments you had applied in Adobe Camera Raw will be reflected in the individual captures, and therefore applied to the actual pixel values in the assembled panorama.

That said, there isn’t generally a tremendous advantage to applying adjustments to your raw captures before creating a composite panorama. You might prefer to take advantage of certain adjustments from the start, such as noise reduction and overall color correction. But in large part this is again a matter of personal preference.

The only exception would be if very strong adjustments are necessary, in which case I would apply those to the original raw captures to help maximize image quality. But in typical situations, this is a matter of personal preference in your workflow. And in my view, it is simpler to simply assemble a panorama from the original raw captures before applying adjustments, unless very strong adjustments are necessary.

Reinstall Problem

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Today’s Question: I had to put a new hard drive into my computer. I tried to reinstall Lightroom [Classic CC], but it doesn’t open the photos on my external drive. I use two external drives for Lightroom, one as my main drive, and another as a backup. Can you tell me how to get things to where they were?

Tim’s Quick Answer: When you reinstalled Lightroom, a new empty catalog would have been created as part of the process. To get back to your previous configuration, you’ll need to open the catalog you had been using with Lightroom before the reinstall.

More Detail: Lightroom requires a catalog in order to manage your photos, and so when you install Lightroom a new catalog will be created. Of course, if you had already been using Lightroom that new empty catalog won’t contain any of the information about your photos. However, even when uninstalling and then reinstalling Lightroom, your existing Lightroom catalog will remain where it was.

Therefore, all you need to do is open your existing Lightroom catalog within the new Lightroom installation, and you’ll be back to where you were before reinstalling. To open a catalog, simply choose File > Open Catalog from the menu. Then navigate to the location where your catalog is stored and select that catalog (the “lrcat” file) to be opened.

Of course, you may find that actually locating that original catalog is the biggest challenge. By default, Lightroom will create catalogs in the “pictures” folder for your operating system. So, the first step would be to navigate to that location and see if your catalog is there. Otherwise, you’ll want to check the various other storage locations (including the location where your photos are stored) to locate your catalog.

It is critically important to be sure that you are opening the actual catalog you’ve been using to manage your photos in Lightroom, and not a backup copy of your catalog, for example.

Naturally, this sort of issue is much easier to manage if you actually know where your Lightroom catalog is stored. You can find this information (before having reinstalled Lightroom) on the General tab of the Catalog Settings dialog, which can be accessed from the Edit menu on the Windows version of Lightroom or the Lightroom menu on the Macintosh version.