Raw Plus JPEG Confusion


Today’s Question: One problem I am having is that I sometimes shoot in both Raw and JPEG captures. So, I have two copies of the same image. I am having difficulty in importing the JPEG images into Lightroom [Classic]. It imports my raw images just fine, but not the JPEG. Yes, I have unchecked the box to not import duplicates. How can I import the JPEG along with the raw?

Tim’s Quick Answer: If you want to import the JPEG component of a Raw+JPEG capture into Lightroom Classic, you need to enable the option to treat JPEG images next to a raw capture as separate files. However, I don’t actually recommend importing those JPEG captures, nor capturing with the Raw+JPEG option in the first place, for photographers who are managing their workflow with Adobe Lightroom Classic.

More Detail: By default, when you import Raw+JPEG captures into Lightroom Classic, both the raw and the JPEG will be copied to the destination folder you’ve specified, but only the raw capture will actually be imported into your Lightroom catalog.

If you want to import the JPEG version of the Raw+JPEG set, you need to first turn on the “Treat JPEG files next to raw files as separate photos”, which can be found on the General tab of the Preferences dialog, in the Import Options section of the General tab.

However, I don’t recommend using Raw+JPEG capture (or importing the JPEG captures for such image sets) when you are using Lightroom Classic to manage your workflow. There is simply no real benefit to using Raw+JPEG capture in the context of Lightroom Classic, in my view.

When you import raw captures into Lightroom Classic, I recommend using the Standard option (or the 1:1 option if you prefer) for the Build Previews popup in the File Handling section of the right panel in the Import dialog. With one of these options enabled, Lightroom will generate JPEG previews for all of your photos, for faster browsing and to enable you to review your photos even if the source raw captures aren’t currently available. For example, those JPEG previews can be seen even if an external hard drive containing the raw captures is not currently connected to your computer.

If you need a JPEG version of the original capture for some other purpose, such as for sharing a photo, you can simply use the Export feature to create a JPEG copy of your raw original. And I highly recommend using the raw capture as the basis of all adjustments you apply to a photo, not a JPEG copy of the raw capture.

Put simply, as far as I’m concerned there is no benefit to using the Raw+JPEG capture option if you are using Lightroom Classic to manage your photos.

Update to the Nik Collection


Today’s Question: I got a marketing email promoting a new release of the Nik Collection of plug-ins, now from DxO. I can’t find any information on new features for the plug-ins that are included in this collection. Have you had a chance to look at these, and if so share whether it is worth the upgrade?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I have to say that I am disappointed in this upgrade to the DxO Nik Collection, in that it only adds one new plug-in, without any substantive updates to any of the existing plug-ins in the collection. I do not recommend paying for the upgrade.

More Detail: Many readers are aware that I had been a big fan of the Nik Collection, and I still am a fan of a couple of the plug-ins in this set. However, there have been very few updates of any significance, in my opinion, since the collection was acquired by DxO.

The major addition included with this update to the Nik Collection is Perspective Efex. I consider this to be a high-quality plug-in that is able to provide great perspective corrections for photos. However, I don’t feel it is any better than the Guided Edit for perspective correction that is included in Lightroom Classic and Adobe Camera Raw (and by extension, included in Photoshop).

The Miniature effect available in Perspective Efex enables you to create a miniaturization effect that mimics what can be achieved with a tilt-shift lens. But you can achieve an equally good effect with the Tilt-Shift blur filter in Photoshop. A similar effect can be created in Lightroom Classic with a combination of Graduated Filter adjustments.

There are a handful of other new features included with this update to the Nik Collection from DxO. However, considering the existing plug-ins haven’t been updated with new features, and only one new plug-in has been added, I don’t consider this upgrade to be worth the price.

If you have not previously used the Nik Collection, it is still worth considering this package as a new purchase. However, with the lack of any significant updates to the plug-ins included in the Nik Collection, I can’t recommend such a purchase all that highly. I still think Silver Efex Pro (for creating black and white images) and Analog Efex Pro (for simulating analog film effects) are excellent. Sharpener Pro is very good, especially for photographers who are not comfortable with sharpening. And HDR Efex Pro is good, but I would say that Aurora HDR from Skylum Software is a better choice at this point.

I would love to see DxO release a significant update to this entire collection of plug-ins, several of which had been among the top tools I would recommend. Until then, I recommend considering other options first.

Long Exposure Noise Reduction


Today’s Question: How necessary is Long Exposure Noise Reduction for night sky pictures?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I consider long exposure noise reduction to be very helpful in terms of reducing overall noise, and so do highly recommend using it for night photography or any other scenario where exposure time will be longer than about one second.

More Detail: A wide variety of cameras support long exposure noise reduction, though the specifics of when this noise reduction get implemented vary. Some cameras will even determine whether noise is likely to be an issue with a long exposure based on current conditions, and only apply the noise reduction when it is needed.

The key benefit of long exposure noise reduction compared to applying noise reduction in post-processing with software, is that in-camera long exposure noise reduction is measuring the actual signal from the image sensor to calculate (and subtract) the noise.

The process of in-camera long exposure noise reduction involves essentially capturing two photos instead of one. First, the actual exposure is created, and then the camera captures another exposure of equal duration, but without actually recording light from the scene (such as by keeping the shutter closed). The noise from this “dark exposure” can then be subtracted from the original capture.

Of course, there is a drawback to long exposure noise reduction. Because each exposure is doubled, you won’t be able to respond as quickly to changing conditions to capture a photo that is optimally timed. A 30-second exposure, for example, will require a full minute. I can tell you from personal experience that the time added for the long exposure noise reduction capture can prove very frustrating! But in many cases, of course, the timing of an additional capture is not especially critical.

I consider the benefit of long exposure noise reduction to outweigh the additional time that is required. In-camera noise reduction can greatly improve the overall quality of the image and helps ensure that much less noise reduction will be needed (if at all) in post-processing.

Compression for Raw


Today’s Question: When shooting Raw with my Fujifilm cameras, should I shoot Lossless Compressed or Uncompressed? The Fujifilm manual states that if I shoot on Lossless Compressed, “Raw images are compressed using a reversible algorithm that reduces file size with no loss of image data.” Which would you use?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I recommend using Lossless Compressed when such an option is available for raw captures on your camera, provided the software you’re using to manage your photos supports that compressed raw capture format.

More Detail: I think just about all photographers are familiar with the raw capture option available with most digital cameras, and hopefully most photographers are taking advantage of this option. A variation on a normal raw capture that is available with a variety of camera models is a compressed raw format. That generally involves a compressed format that is “lossless”.

When compression is lossless, it means that no information is lost as part of the compression. In other words, the information is described in a more efficient way, without actually altering the underlying information. For example, instead of describing a row of ten pixels, all of which are blue, by repeating “blue pixel, blue pixel, blue pixel” until you’ve listed off ten blue pixels, you could simply say “ten blue pixels”.

Obviously, the actual process is a bit more complicated in the context of a full digital photo recorded in a raw capture format. But the point is that with lossless compression there is no risk of losing any of the original data, based on how the algorithms are written.

And, of course, by making use of lossless compression you will be able to fit more captures on your media cards and download those smaller files to your computer more quickly.

The only caveat of lossless compression for raw capture is that some software may not have been updated to support the lossless compressed format in addition to the uncompressed raw format. However, in my experience this is not an issue. For example, Adobe Lightroom Classic and Adobe Photoshop support compressed versions of various raw capture formats.

So, my recommendation is to make use of the lossless compression option for raw captures if your camera supports that option, and if the software you’re using to manage your photos also supports that format.

Full-Color Captures


Today’s Question: You mentioned that “most” digital cameras only capture one color value for each pixel. Does that mean there are cameras that capture all three color values for each pixel? If so, would such a camera provide better image quality?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There are cameras that record full-color for every pixel. The only example I know of would be Sigma cameras with a Foveon sensor. However, my testing has shown that these sensors provide inferior image quality compared to other camera models.

More Detail: It would be reasonable to assume that an image sensor that records all three color values (red, green, and blue) for each pixel would provide superior image quality compared to an image sensor that only captures a single color value for each pixel. However, in my experience that is not a reasonable assumption.

The first time I tested a camera with a full-color Foveon sensor was in 2002. The initial tests were impressive, but this was also very early in the context of digital photography. I anticipated at the time that these full-color sensors might be the wave of the future. I was wrong.

More recently I had the opportunity to test a camera with a Foveon sensor, and I was quite disappointed. The captures were among the noisiest I had ever seen, regardless of the ISO setting used.

While it may seem unbelievable that a camera that records only a single color value for each pixel would produce photos of high quality, the reality is that this approach works quite well. Put simply, stacking up multiple photodiodes for each pixel actually diminishes quality more than the processing required to create a full-color image from a capture where only one color value is recorded for each pixel.

What all of this means to me is that the underlying technology is less important than the actual results you can achieve. When it comes to image sensors in today’s digital cameras, a sensor that records only one of three (red, green, or blue) color values for each pixel is capable of producing excellent image quality, even compared to sensors that record all three color values for each pixel.

Variable ND Filters


Today’s Question: I’m not all sure what a “variable” ND [neutral density] filter is. I typically have used the ND filters that are either full ND filters (entire filter is one density) or split or graduated ND (one density on top that gradually or abruptly changes to another density on bottom). Is a variable neutral density filter a split or graduated filter? What is the mechanism for using a variable ND filter? Are they like circular polarizers?

Tim’s Quick Answer: A variable neutral density (ND) filter generally consists of two circular polarizing filters attached in a way that they can rotate relative to each other, creating a variable amount of light-blocking depending on the angle of alignment of the two filters.

More Detail: I often describe solid neutral density (ND) filters as being “sunglasses” for your lens. The primary purpose of this type of filter is to reduce the amount of light entering the lens so that the exposure time (shutter speed) can be extended. For example, I’ve often used a ten-stop neutral density filter to achieve exposures of up to about 30 second during daylight conditions.

Such a solid ND filter has a single density, meaning it blocks a specific amount of light. The density of the filter is often described based on how many stops of light get blocked, or how many stops you would need to extend the exposure time by once you have added the filter.

As the name implies, a variable ND filter enables you to dial in a variable amount of light blocking. These filters have two circular polarizing filters attached to each other in a way that enables the two filters to be rotated relative to each other. The angle of alignment between the two polarizing filters determines the degree to which light will be blocked. You can therefore use a single filter to achieve different effects, which would normally require a variety of solid ND filters.

One of the challenges of using a variable ND filter is that you can’t precisely determine how much light you are blocking with any given setting. Furthermore, especially with high effective densities, the exposure meter for your camera won’t necessarily be accurate. As a result, it can be a little tricky to get an accurate exposure with a variable neutral density filter.

That said, variable neutral density filters enable you to have a single filter that could effectively replace several solid ND filters.

You can see a sample of a variable neutral density filter here (just be sure you select the right filter size for the lens you intend to use):


What is “Demosaicing”?


Today’s Question: In a recent Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter you made reference to the “demosaicing” of a raw capture. What exactly is “demosaicing”?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The term “demosaicing” refers to the process of calculating the “missing” color values for each pixel in a raw capture, due to the fact that most raw captures only record a single color value for each pixel in an image.

More Detail: When you capture in raw mode on most digital cameras, the sensor is only recording a single color value for each pixel. For example, many digital cameras use a sensor that employ the “Bayer pattern” for the color values. In this configuration, for each four pixel values there will be two pixels that record only the green color value, along with one pixel recording the red value and one pixel recording the blue value.

The lack of full RGB color information for each pixel is a product of the image sensor in the camera, not the raw capture format. For photos captured with an actual image format, such as JPEG, the data gathered by the image sensor still only represents one out of the three required color values for each pixel. The difference is that with a JPEG capture, for example, the camera calculates the “missing” values for each pixel. With a raw capture, the “missing” color values are not calculated at the time of capture.

Therefore, with a raw capture, part of the process of rendering the raw capture into an actual image file is calculating the “missing” color values for each pixel. That process is referred to as “demosaicing”.

It may be hard to believe that software could “magically” calculate two-thirds of the “missing” data for a given pixel. However, when you consider the context for these calculations, it is I think much easier to understand. Let’s consider the green channel, for which half the pixels have information that was gathered by the image sensor and half the pixels have no information.

If you imagine a black and white photo where half of the pixels are missing, I think it isn’t all that difficult to imagine that software could figure out appropriate values for the “missing” pixels somewhat easily. Even for the red and blue channels where three-quarters of the pixels are missing, you can probably appreciate that software could calculate the values for the missing pixels based on the context of those pixels that do exist, again without too much difficulty.

This is the actual process behind the scenes with demosaicing. And considering we’ve all been happy with the photographic results we’re able to achieve with raw captures, obviously the process of demosaicing actually works in the real world.

Whether or Not to Watermark


Today’s Question: I’ve heard pros and cons on adding watermarks. What are your thoughts?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Adding a watermark when sharing your photos is a good way to help promote your brand as a photographer, and can also help discourage the theft of your images. However, especially if the watermark is not exactly subtle, that watermark can interfere to some extent with the viewer’s experience of enjoying your photos.

More Detail: The watermarking of photos shared online is a perhaps surprisingly controversial subject. I have been criticized by a number of photographers when I mention that I don’t generally watermark my photos when sharing them online, as though I am somehow advocating for the unauthorized use of photos when sharing them without a watermark.

To be sure, I don’t like it when I discover that someone has made use of my copyrighted content without paying me for that content. But the only way to prevent anyone from being able to steal your content is to never share that content in any form. If you share a photo online, it is always possible to steal that photo. And even if you watermark the photo, it is generally possible to remove that watermark through the magic of software such as Adobe Photoshop.

My personal feeling is that the benefit of sharing my photos exceeds the risk involved with someone potentially stealing my photos. When I share a photo there is a chance that someone might want to buy a print of that photo, hire me as a photographer, or join me on a photo workshop. That potential value is, to me, worth the risk that someone might steal my images.

That said, a watermark can also help to promote your brand as a photographer. Therefore, if you are trying to market your photography services, I think it makes perfect sense to include a modest watermark that promotes your brand or website as a photographer.

As an aside, I will admit that I find it rather amusing that I often hear photographers complain about scenarios where their photos might be stolen online, when I’ve also seen a large number of photographers present slideshows of their photos accompanied by popular music that I suspect they have not paid a licensing fee to include as part of their slideshow.

Format for Master Image


Today’s Question: Regarding, RAW and TIFF, once I process a RAW file, what is the best format to save it that will preserve all of the info captured by shooting in RAW? Is it TIFF along with its three times larger file size? I can’t imagine that one should save to JPEG, which would defeat the advantages of shooting in RAW.

Tim’s Quick Answer: The best answer depends to some extent on which software you’re using to manage your photos. That said, if you’ll be saving a “master” image from a processed raw capture, I recommend saving in the TIFF file format. The Photoshop PSD is also a good choice for this purpose, while the JPEG format is a bad choice.

More Detail: If you are using Adobe Lightroom to manage your workflow, there’s no need to save a new “master” image based on your original raw capture, because you don’t actually need to save a new file. Lightroom employs a non-destructive workflow whereby the adjustments you apply are essentially just metadata updates that relate to a specific raw file. You only need to create a new file when you want a copy of the image for purposes of sharing, such as to post online or send to a service provider to be printed.

If, on the other hand, you’re using software such as Adobe Photoshop to optimize your photos, you’ll need to save the processed version in a specific file format. Perhaps the worst choice for saving this new “master” image would be the JPEG file format. That is because the JPEG file format always involves “lossy” compression that will reduce overall image quality and likely cause visible artifacts, the resulting image won’t be capable of preserving any layers you created in Photoshop, and the file can only be saved with an 8-bit per channel bit depth.

To maximize the image quality and amount of detail in a master image you save based on processing a raw capture, I recommend using the TIFF file format. You can save such a file without lossy compression, in the 16-bit per channel bit depth, and with layers from Photoshop included. Similarly, the Photoshop PSD file format works perfectly fine, though in many cases you can achieve a smaller file size using the TIFF file format.

It is true that the TIFF (or PSD) file will be approximately three times the file size of the original raw capture, depending on the number of layers, compression applied, and other factors. However, if you need to create a derivative copy of the original raw capture as a new “master” image, in my view that file size is well worth the storage requirements in order to ensure optimal image quality.

Which Adjustments Where?


Today’s Question: I am working my way through your Photoshop training. Many of the adjustments you discuss in Photoshop are also available in Lightroom [Classic] and Adobe Camera Raw. I’m thinking of the graduated filter versus the gradient tool, HSL [Hue, Saturation, and Lightness], Curves, etc. I realize that most of the adjustments in Photoshop are done using adjustment layers which are non-destructive unless flattened but those in Lightroom are also non-destructive. Is there anything inherently better about saving such adjustments for Photoshop versus utilizing Photoshop only for tasks not available in the raw editors?

Tim’s Quick Answer: While it is generally best to perform as many of your adjustments as possible with the original raw capture rather than later in your workflow, my preference is to save most targeted adjustments and image cleanup work for Photoshop, using Lightroom Classic (or Adobe Camera Raw) for all other adjustments.

More Detail: There is a theoretical benefit to applying as many adjustments during the raw-conversion process as possible. However, it is worth keeping in mind that many of the adjustments you might be applying with your raw-processing software are actually applied after the “demosaicing” process. In other words, many of the adjustments are applied after the raw capture has been converted to actual pixel values.

The result is that for the most part I make a decision about which adjustments to apply at which stage of my workflow from the standpoint of both image quality and workflow convenience.

I recommend applying most adjustments in Lightroom Classic or Adobe Camera Raw, rather than saving those adjustments for Photoshop. Instead, I only save adjustments for Photoshop when I have a good reason to do so.

I save most image cleanup work for Photoshop rather than Lightroom or Camera Raw because the cleanup tools in Photoshop are more powerful and effective. This includes, for example, the Content-Aware technology being available for several of the image cleanup tools in Photoshop. For very minor dust spots in easy to clean areas, I’ll use Lightroom Classic for cleanup. But for anything beyond that, I perform the cleanup in Photoshop.

I also save most targeted adjustments for Photoshop, primarily because the tools and features for selections and layer masks provide a greater degree of control compared to what is available in Lightroom or Camera Raw. This enables you to apply targeted adjustments with a much higher degree of precision in Photoshop.

There are also a variety of creative filters and other effects you can apply in Photoshop, which are not available in Lightroom Classic. Those are obviously options I would take advantage of in Photoshop when I want to apply such an effect.