Sharpening for Focus

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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

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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

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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:

https://greylearningblog.com/printer-tonal-range-correction/

When I Don’t Use Lightroom Classic

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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:

https://www.greylearning.com

Sharpening Preference

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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?

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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.

Reference View

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Today’s Question: While following your instructions about the before and after view options in Lightroom Classic, I noticed the Reference View button next to the before and after button. What is the difference between these view options, and do you recommend using Reference View?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The Reference View in Lightroom Classic enables you to apply adjustments to one image while simultaneously viewing another image alongside the image you’re working on. This can be helpful when you want to make an image appear similar to another photo, for example.

More Detail: The Reference View option is similar to the Before/After view option, except that with Reference View you are comparing the current image to a different image, rather than seeing the current image without adjustments applied to it.

Reference View is helpful when you want to adjust an image to make it look similar to another image, or you otherwise simply want to be able to reference a different photo while applying adjustments to an image.

To get started click the Reference View button on the toolbar below the image preview area in the Develop module. This is the button that has an “R” and an “A” on it, for “Reference” and “Active”. You can cycle between a Reference View with the two images side-by-side, or above and below each other.

Initially there won’t be a reference photo, so you will see an indication that you can drag-and-drop a photo into the Reference area in order to use that image as a reference. As you apply adjustments, only the Active photo will be updated, with the Reference photo remaining unchanged. In other words, the Reference photo is truly there just to refer to while applying adjustments to the Active photo.

You can change the current Reference photo by simply dragging a different photo into the Reference area. Note that if you switch out of the Develop module, by default the Reference photo will be removed, so that the Reference area is empty next time you return to the Develop module. You can prevent this “reset” by toggling the lock icon to appear locked to the right of the Reference Photo. Simply click on the icon of the lock to switch between having the current Reference photo locked versus unlocked. This lock feature only relates to whether the Reference photo will reset when you switch out of the Develop module.

Before and After Views

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Today’s Question: How do I toggle between a before and after rendition of a photo to which I have applied adjustments in Lightroom Classic?

Tim’s Quick Answer: You can quickly toggle between a “before” and “after” view in the Develop module in Lightroom Classic by pressing the backslash key (\). In addition, there are several other options for comparing an image with versus without the adjustments applied to it.

More Detail: Unfortunately, you do need to be in the Develop module in Lightroom Classic in order to switch between “before” and “after” views. However, there are a variety of ways you can evaluate the adjustments applied to an image when you are viewing that image in the Develop module.

As noted above, you can toggle between a full “before” versus “after” view of the image by pressing the backslash key (\) on the keyboard. In addition, there are several other view options for evaluating adjustments.

First, you can choose among a variety of views that enable you to directly compare the “before” versus “after” version of the current image. Below the image in the Develop module you can find a toolbar (if that toolbar isn’t visible, press the “T” key on the keyboard to toggle the visibility of the toolbar). Toward the left side of the toolbar you’ll find a button with the letter “Y” (possibly twice) on it. Clicking that button will cycle the view through several comparison options.

You can also click the popup just to the right of the button to see a menu where you can select among the view options. There are a total of four views, all of which involve a “Before/After” comparison. You can either view the before and after views side by side or above and below each other. In addition, you can choose to view the full “before” and “after” view, so you are seeing the full image twice, or you can choose a split view option. With the split view option you’ll see half of the image as the “before” version, and half as the “after” version, split left-to-right or top-to-bottom depending on the option you choose.

It is worth noting that you can also toggle the visibility for individual adjustment sections in the Develop module. To the left of the heading for each section on the right panel in the Develop module (other than the Basic section) you’ll find a toggle button that looks something like a light switch. You can click that button to turn off (or on) the full section of adjustments. So, for example, you can view the image with the Tone Curve section applied or without, just by toggling that switch.

Unable to Sort by File Size

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Today’s Question: I am starting to fill up my external hard drives and would like to start deleting large files that I no longer need. Is there a way to sort by size in Lightroom [Classic]?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Lightroom Classic does not provide an option to sort based on file size. However, you could filter based on file type or megapixels, which at least to some extent would help you locate large files to prioritize for possible deletion.

More Detail: When your hard drive is starting to get full, it makes perfect sense to prioritize deleting larger files, in order to clear up as much space on the drive as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, Lightroom Classic doesn’t provide an option for sorting by file size.

However, there are certain file types that tend to be larger than others, and you can filter by file type in Lightroom Classic. You can filter based on file type in a couple of ways, using the Library Filter bar in the grid view display. If the Library Filter bar isn’t visible, choose View > Show Filter Bar from the menu.

The first option is to filter for videos rather than still images. On the Attribute tab of the Library Filter bar you’ll find a Kind option at the far right. To the right of the Kind label you’ll see three icons, which serve as toggles for filtering files by type. The first button is for master photos (in other words, not virtual copies). The second button is for virtual copies, and the third is for videos. So, you can click the third button to filter the current folder so you’ll only see video files.

Another option is to filter based on file type. On the Metadata tab of the Library Filter bar you can set one of the columns to “File Type”. Then select the types of files that are likely to be large. That would include video file formats as noted above, as well as TIFF and Photoshop PSD files.

In some cases it might also be helpful to filter images based on the number of megapixels, though for most photographers this probably won’t be especially helpful. But you could create a Smart Collection with a filter set so that collection only includes files over a certain number of megapixels. This would be especially helpful if you have photos that have been enlarged (such as in Photoshop), whether that means literally enlarging a single image, or creating a composite image such as a panorama.

While filtering with the options above can be helpful in locating larger file sizes, it obviously is not a replacement for actually sorting by file size. Hopefully Adobe will add this feature in a future update to Lightroom Classic.

Note, by the way, that you could also browse photos sorted by file size in your operating system. This can be a little cumbersome, and it is important to remember that changes (including deleting files) should be initiated in Lightroom Classic, not in your operating system. But at least this approach would provide a true option for sorting by file size for your photos.

Managing Many Bracketed Captures

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Today’s Question: I got back from a trip with far too many photos shot in bracketed sets of three for HDR in my Canon 5D MkIV. Now I have to merge them in Lightroom Classic to get an HDR image. It works great but is a pain. Should I have used the in camera HDR and ended up with a JPEG? I know this is subjective, but with too many sets of three photos bracketed by two stops, dealing with them is very slow. I’m only through about a fifth of my shots, even with not creating an HDR for many of them.

Tim’s Quick Answer: I do not recommend creating in-camera HDR images, and instead suggest that you focus on streamlining the process of reviewing the bracketed photos.

More Detail: Bracketed exposures can be helpful when you’re dealing with a challenging exposure situation, or when you want to create a high dynamic range (HDR) image. However, those bracketed exposures can also slow down the process of reviewing your photos.

I don’t recommend using in-camera HDR as a solution, because you’ll get better results with more flexibility by blending multiple raw captures in post-processing. In my opinion in-camera HDR should only be used as a tool for evaluating your photos at the time of capture, and only when the camera will still retain the raw captures along with the in-camera HDR image.

When it comes to reviewing bracketed exposures, I think the key is to not think about the fact that you have three times (or more) the total number of images to review compared to if you had not bracketed. In other words, some of this is a matter of perspective.

For example, with three bracketed exposures, you can generally make a decision based on one of the three exposures in a set (which often means the middle exposure value). Normally, after reviewing a photo, you could press the right arrow key to move on to the next photo. In the case of bracketed exposures, instead of tapping the right arrow key once, you simply tap it three times (or more, depending on how many images are included in your bracketed sets).

Another option might be to organize the bracketed exposures into stacks in Lightroom Classic. You can actually have Lightroom Classic automatically stack the images based on capture time, which in the case of bracketed exposures is actually likely to stack the sets of images correctly. Just note that the best overall exposure won’t necessarily be at the top of the stack, which can reduce the benefit of this approach.

To automatically stack photos based on capture time, navigate to the folder containing your bracketed exposures in Lightroom Classic. Then from the menu choose Photo > Stacking > Auto-Stack by Capture Time. Adjust the value for the Time Between Stacks slider, which in the case of bracketed exposures can be set to a relatively low value, perhaps as low as one second.

While stacks can help reduce clutter for bracketed exposures, as noted above when you stack images there’s a chance the top image in the stack won’t be the best image for evaluating the overall bracketed shot. Therefore, my preference is generally to somewhat quickly review the best exposure for each stack, skipping over the “other” exposures for each set. I then only assemble an HDR image from the bracketed exposures that I think have the best potential of producing a final image I’m happy with.