Layering Images in Photoshop Elements

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Today’s Question: Would you please explain how to load multiple images into the Layers palette in Photoshop Elements?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Layering photos in Photoshop Elements is a two-step process. First you open two (or more) images into the Elements Editor, and then you drag the image you want to add to another from the Photo Bin into the actual image.

More Detail: To get started layering images in the Photoshop Elements Editor, you’ll need to open two or more photos. You can select multiple photos in the Elements Organizer, or open multiple photos directly within the Elements Editor.

When you open multiple images, the Photo Bin panel will open automatically at the bottom of the window. If the panel doesn’t appear, you can click the Photo Bin button at the bottom left of the main window in the Editor.

Next, click on the thumbnail in the Photo Bin for the image you want to use as the background for your composite image. That image will then be the image you see in the large preview area within the Editor. On the Photo Bin panel you will still be able to see the other image (or images) that you have opened in the Editor.

To layer another image into the current image, simply drag the thumbnail for the desired image into the image preview area. In other words, you’re dragging the applicable thumbnail from the Photo Bin into the actual image you’re working with. When you release the mouse, you’ll see that you now have two layers showing on the Layers panel. You can repeat this process to layer as many images as you’d like.

Options for Time Adjustment

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Today’s Question: Just one more question about setting the time on the camera when changing time zones. Does it matter whether you set the time by choosing a time zone on your camera, versus leaving the time zone along and manually changing the hours?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Either method is perfectly fine, as long as you actually remember to change the time on your camera when you change time zones, and that you are sure to set the time accurately.

More Detail: Some photographers (many of whom I’ve heard from recently) prefer to leave their camera set to a single time zone permanently, such as by setting their camera to Universal Coordinated Time (UCT). Others prefer to leave the camera always set to their home time zone.

To be sure, for many photographers in many situations the specific time of capture is not critical. Simply having their photos sorted in the order they were captured, along with the date of capture, is all they need. And to be fair, most of the time that’s about all I need. However, I do find that periodically I do want to reference the actual time of capture, and so I prefer to have the clock on my camera set accurately.

Many cameras enable you to adjust the time either by manually adjusting the hours and minutes, or by selecting a time zone. The time zone option is essentially a shortcut to help you get to the correct time setting more quickly. Of course, I always recommend double-checking the time from another source, such as by performing a simple Google search for the current time in your location.

Any method of setting the time is perfectly fine, so whichever you find more convenient will work equally well. I do prefer to set the time zone on the camera to the correct location, but that’s just me being perhaps a little too focused on the details. The actual time zone setting is not recorded in the metadata for your photos. Only the actual date and time of capture (based on the current camera setting) will be included in that metadata.

18 Years of “Ask Tim Grey”!

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Today marks 18 years since I sent out the first Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter, though it went by the name “Digital Darkroom Questions” way back then.

Since that first email, I’ve been answering questions from photographers for 18 years now, which works out to a total of 4,058 editions of the newsletter, including today’s anniversary edition.

To celebrate this milestone, we’ve added a significant bonus to my “Lightroom Cleanup One-on-One” bundle. If you order this bundle today, in addition to the great content and support that is already included, you’ll also receive a one-hour call directly with me. During that call you can share your screen so I can evaluate your workflow and help you restore order to your Lightroom Classic catalog.

You can get all the details by visiting the GreyLearning website here:

https://www.greylearning.com/bundles/cleanup-one-on-one

Automatic Time Zone

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Today’s Question: Why don’t today’s cameras have the ability to know by themselves what Time Zone they’re in via GPS? I guess that, currently, to take care of Time Zones it’s either (a) manually as you describe or (b) through a synchronization with an external GPS device. Am I correct?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I’m sure there must be some cameras that will set the time zone automatically based on GPS. However, inexplicably, the cameras I’m familiar with can update the time based on the GPS signal, but do not set the time zone for you automatically. This is simply a matter of the camera manufacturer not including such a feature on their cameras, which seems like a bit of a glaring oversight to me.

More Detail: Quite a few digital cameras include a built-in GPS receiver, or support an accessory GPS receiver. One of the features of having a GPS signal is the ability to set the correct time based on the information contained in the GPS signal. However, with the cameras I’m familiar with, this option does not adjust the time zone based on your GPS location, so you’ll still need to remember to set the time zone manually.

At the moment my primary camera, for example, is the Canon EOS 7D Mark II (https://timgrey.me/canon7d2). One of the reasons I originally opted for this camera is that it includes a built-in GPS receiver. This enables my photos to be automatically tagged with location information in metadata. Later, I can view my photos directly on the map in Lightroom Classic, for example, which I find very helpful.

Within the menu system for my camera you’ll find that you can choose to have the time on the camera automatically updated based on the GPS signal. However, when you select this option you are only updating the reference time. You can think of this as the camera updating the current Universal Coordinated Time (UCT). However, this automatic update does not include an update to the current time zone setting for the camera.

Let’s assume, for example, that I have my camera set to the Chicago time zone, but I am currently in Italy. When I choose the option to have my camera’s time updated based on GPS, the time on my camera will very accurately reflect the current time in Chicago, but my photos will be tagged with the wrong time for my current location (Italy).

I can’t imagine why it isn’t possible to have my camera automatically update the time zone setting based on my current GPS location, so that the time shown in metadata for all of my photos can be consistently accurate, provided I have a good GPS signal. After all, in general I don’t mind if the time in metadata for my photos is off by a few seconds, but I don’t want it to be off by a few hours. And since I’ve forgotten to update the time zone for my camera more times than I’d like to admit, I really wish my camera could set the time zone automatically, in addition to updating the actual time based on GPS.

Removing Full-Resolution Previews

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Today’s Question: I have a follow-up question to your October 28 email about deleting previews. With regard to deleting previews in Lightroom Classic, wouldn’t it also be possible to delete previews from within Lightroom? I see that I can delete Previews by going to the menu and choosing Library > Previews > Discard 1:1 Previews. And, I can do this on a folder basis. This seems like a good option after I have finished processing photos within a folder that I will not likely need to revisit again.

Tim’s Quick Answer: The 1:1 previews in Lightroom Classic are a subset of the overall previews referenced in my answer about deleting the previews file. By default 1:1 previews are discarded automatically after 30 days, but you could also discard them manually (or change the frequency). But this would generally not free up as much space as deleting the full previews file.

More Detail: I generally recommend generating Standard previews when you import your photos into Lightroom Classic. In addition, you can generate 1:1 (or full-resolution) previews if you prefer. The 1:1 previews will also be generated automatically anytime you zoom in on an image in the Library module.

The Standard previews are not full resolution, and therefore the 1:1 previews will be larger than Standard previews. Thus, it can be helpful to discard 1:1 previews if you won’t likely need them in the future. For example, after reviewing and optimizing photos from a given photo trip, you likely would not need the 1:1 previews for those images. And, of course, if you zoom in on one of those images, the 1:1 preview will be generated again automatically.

You can adjust the settings for automatically discarding 1:1 previews in the Catalog Settings dialog. On the File Handling tab you’ll find the “Automatically Discard 1:1 Previews” popup. From that popup you can choose to have 1:1 previews discarded if they have not been used in thirty days, one week, or one day. There is also an option to never discard 1:1 previews if you prefer.

I recommend selecting an option for automatically discarding the 1:1 previews based on how frequently you tend to go back to your images. If you need to free up hard drive space, you could also discard previews manually for some (or all) of your photos by selecting those photos and choosing Library > Previews > Discard 1:1 Previews from the menu.

Camera Color Profiling

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Today’s Question: My Nikon D810, good as it is, does not automatically determine the white balance correctly, much less taking care of the color profile. Gray Cards are nice for manually determining the white balance, but they cannot calibrate the color profile. I’ve been using [the X-Rite] ColorChecker for a while, and it has made a significant improvement in my photos: color-wise, they “snap into life.” How do you personally take care of these technical issues in your own photography?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I actually don’t tend to use any special tools for calibrating or adjusting color at the time of capture, since the vast majority of my photography employs natural light. I also know that I’ll always want to fine-tune the color in my photos to taste, so I’m not too worried about having the color absolutely “perfect” from the start.

More Detail: Naturally, in general we want accurate color in our photographs. However, in most cases I’m also trying to preserve the impact of the actual color of the light (such as at golden hour), not trying to make the photo appear that the light source was pure white.

For example, if you use a gray card to establish a more accurate white balance setting for the camera, you are essentially removing the color element of the light illuminating the scene. Suddenly a photo captured at golden hour would look more like it was captured in the middle of the day.

Therefore, solutions such as using a gray card or ColorChecker (https://timgrey.me/colorchecker) generally aren’t ideal for me, since I’m using available light and typically want to preserve the color of that light.

While selecting a specific White Balance preset in the camera can be helpful, I generally leave the White Balance setting at “Auto”. That’s because I’m always shooting in the raw capture mode, and so I can refine the White Balance adjustment in post-processing without any degradation in image quality.

To be sure, for something like product photography, using something like the ColorChecker Passport (https://timgrey.me/colorchecker) can be invaluable, as it will not only compensate for the general color of the light, but also specifically correct individual color ranges. For my personal needs, this isn’t something that generally applies. So for me, “Auto” White Balance combined with some post-capture adjustments work great. For many photographers though, more involved solutions can certainly be helpful.

Unused Plug-ins

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Today’s Question: I’ve noticed in my Lightroom [Classic] Plug-in Manager that I have several plug-ins I never use. All indicate “Installed and running”. If I remove the plug-ins, is there any benefit to be gained? Any risk in degrading Lightroom performance if I remove them?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Removing plug-ins from Lightroom Classic won’t have a dramatic impact on performance. However, I do think it makes sense to remove unused plug-ins, in part to simply remove clutter, to possibly improve performance in some cases, and to reduce the risk of compatibility issues.

More Detail: Some of the plug-ins you’ll find in the Plug-in Manager in Lightroom Classic (File > Plug-in Manager from the menu) are installed automatically by Lightroom. Others may have been installed by the user. If there are plug-ins you don’t use, you can certainly remove them. Note that in the case of plug-ins included with Lightroom, plug-ins you remove may get installed again with a future update to Lightroom.

While there is a Remove button in the Plug-in Manager dialog, this option often won’t be available. Instead, you’ll need to remove plug-ins directly from the folder where they are installed. You can select a plug-in from the list within the Plug-in Manager dialog, and then click the “Show in Finder” (Macintosh) or “Show in Explorer” (Windows) button in the Status section to the right. This will bring up a window in your operating system, where you can delete the applicable plug-in file. I then recommend restarting Lightroom.

Of course, whatever features are provided by the plug-ins you delete will no longer be available once you’ve deleted the plug-in. But there may be some minor benefits in some cases if you remove plug-ins you definitely don’t plan to use.

Safe to Delete Previews?

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Today’s Question: The question about the Previews file [in Lightroom Classic] brings up another: Is there any reason to keep a growing Previews file? Can you periodically delete it and start fresh?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The primary reason to keep the Previews file for Lightroom Classic is to optimize performance when browsing your photos in the Library module. If you want to recover space, or suspect the Previews file is causing other problems, it can be safely deleted and Lightroom will re-build previews as needed. Just be sure to only delete the Previews file, and not the actual catalog file.

More Detail: The Previews file for Lightroom Classic contains what are essentially JPEG image previews of your original captures being managed in your Lightroom catalog. In other words, that Previews file represents a cache for your images, enabling a faster browsing experience as well as providing the ability to view your images even when the original source files are unavailable. For example, if you store your original captures on an external hard drive, even with that drive disconnected you can still browse your photos based on the Previews that have been generated.

While the Previews file certainly provides benefits in terms of performance and offline browsing, there is no permanent harm caused by deleting the Previews file. If your hard drive is getting close to full, deleting the Preview file can provide a quick way to recover a considerable amount of free space. In addition, at times I’ve seen situations where some Previews get corrupted, leading to problems browsing images. Deleting the Previews file can resolve this type of issue.

The first step is to navigate to the folder that contains your Lightroom Classic catalog files. You can quickly get to that folder by clicking the “Show” button in the Information section of the General tab of the Catalog Settings dialog in Lightroom Classic. Within the folder that is revealed when you click this button, you can see the Lightroom catalog, which has a filename extension of “.lrcat”. That is the most important file in the folder containing your catalog files, as it is the actual catalog being used to manage your photo library. In addition to the lrcat file, you’ll see a variety of other files associated with the catalog. One of those will be the Previews file.

The Previews file will have the same base filename as your Lightroom Catalog, with “Previews” appended to that filename. The filename extension will be “.lrdata”. This file can be deleted, though I recommend first quitting Lightroom. After deleting the Previews file and launching Lightroom again, a new Previews file will be created automatically. Note that initially you won’t see any previews for your photos, but they will be generated as you browse your photos. That means the new Previews file will be considerably smaller than the file you deleted, but will gradually grow over time as you browse additional folders containing photos, and new previews are generated for the photos in those folders.

Blend Modes and Color Themes

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Today’s Question: Both Adobe Color Themes and blend modes for the brush tool [in Adobe Photoshop] seem to really only be of use for graphics such as in InDesign or Illustrator. Have you found any use in editing photographs for either one?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I would agree that the Color Themes feature in Adobe Photoshop is really more aimed toward graphic designers rather than photographers. However, blend modes can be helpful for photographers in a variety of situations.

More Detail: The Color Themes feature in Photoshop enables you to select and define groups of colors. For example, you could have a group of colors that go well together, such as complementary colors. This type of feature is mostly helpful when you are using color a bit more directly, such as with graphic design. However, there are certainly ways you could employ Color Themes with a photographic image, such as using a theme as the basis of a Gradient Map adjustment to assign color tints based on tonal values in a photo.

Blend modes are also not something I would consider one of the more important Photoshop features for the typical photographer, but there are a variety of ways blend modes can be helpful for photographic images.

In a broader sense, for example, you could use the Multiply or Screen blend modes to create composite images with a multiple exposure effect. This would involve stacking multiple layers, and then selecting a blend mode for one or more layers using the popup on the Layers panel.

Blend modes can also be helpful in the context of the Brush tool. For example, you could use the Overlay blend mode to apply a dodging and burning effect, painting with black and white at a very low Opacity setting. I recommend performing this task on a separate layer, so that the blend mode would actually be applied to the layer rather than with the brush.

To be sure, these features are not among the most commonly used features for photographic images. But as with so many features in Photoshop, there are a variety of ways you can employ the features for creative effects or a streamlined workflow to achieve a particular look for a photo.

File Size Variations

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Today’s Question: Can you help clear up my confusion about file sizes? When I download a JPEG image from my iPhone, Lightroom shows it as having a file size of around 7.24MB. (The sizes vary from image to image, from about 2.0MB to 7.5MB.) If I send that JPEG to Photoshop I get a PSD image showing a file size of 69.8MB. This size of 69.8MB seems to be constant, no matter what the size of the original iPhone JPEG file is. If I then export the PSD image as a JPEG file I get a JPEG with a file size ranging from about 6MB to about 13.5MB. What’s happening here? Is there a benefit to getting the larger JPEG files by first producing a PSD?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In this case the primary source of confusion relates to differences in compression being applied to the JPEG images. Compression at different quality levels along with variations in the pixel data in the source image can lead to considerable differences from one JPEG file to the next.

More Detail: There are three key factors that affect file size in this context. The first is the total number of pixels contained in the image, meaning the pixel dimensions or number of megapixels. The second is the bit-depth of the image, with JPEG images only supporting 8-bit per channel mode. The third factor is compression, which is a significant variable for JPEG image file size.

With JPEG compression there is a Quality setting, which effectively controls how strong the compression should be applied. Stronger compression yields smaller file sizes, but also lower image quality. That’s not to say the image at a lower Quality setting will always have an obviously degraded image quality, but there is a difference at the pixel level. In addition, the contents of the image affect compression effectiveness. A very simple image will compress to a smaller file size than a complicated image, all other things being equal.

In this particular example one JPEG is being created by the camera (an iPhone), and the other JPEG is being created based on a derivative PSD image. While the latter JPEG may have a larger file size, there has also been an addition application of compression applied, which will have at least a small adverse effect on the quality of the image. So I would still start from the source JPEG capture, even though the file size is smaller.

Note, by the way, that the PSD file has its own set of factors affecting the file size. For example, the PSD created through Lightroom can have a bit depth of either 8-bits per channel or 16-bit per channel, with the latter causing the base file size to be twice as big. In addition a PSD file can contain layers, saved selections, layer masks, and other elements that can increase total file size. As for compression, Photoshop will use lossless compression with PSD files, which can help produce a file smaller than an uncompressed TIFF image, but still considerably larger than a JPEG image.

File size variations can be confusing, to be sure. Just keep in mind that in general it is best to start with your original source capture when optimizing a photo. When creating a derivative image it is generally best to use a file with no compression (or lossless compression) such as a PSD or TIFF image if quality is of primary concern. For other forms of sharing, a JPEG image will often provide a good solution.