Wrong Time Correction


Today’s Question: I accidentally changed the capture time in metadata for a bunch of photographs in Lightroom and they no longer depict the correct time of capture for the photograph (don’t ask me how or why I did such a silly thing). Is there a way for me to change the date metadata back to the original correct date/time of capture?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The option to correct the capture time for photos in Lightroom is not something you can undo. Therefore, your only option is to apply an additional correction to compensate for the degree of error introduced by your first correction.

More Detail: When you adjust the capture time for photos in Lightroom, it is not possible to undo that task. Therefore, it is important to make sure you have established the correct settings for the capture time adjustment before committing the change.

However, there is still a way to resolve a situation where you’ve applied the wrong correction. You can simply select the same photos and apply an adjustment to compensate for the error.

Let’s assume, for example, that you originally adjusted the capture time by adding three hours to the existing capture time. You then realize that you should have only added two hours to the capture time. You can’t undo the original change, but you can correct the issue by subtracting one hour from the capture time for those same photos.

The key is to determine the new correction that is required. As long as you can determine the “new” error in the capture time, however, you can correct that capture time discrepancy by simply using the “Edit Capture Time” command (found on the Metadata menu in Lightroom) once again.

Difficulty Working Offline


Today’s Question: We travel throughout Australia full time and as a result lose Internet access often. When there is no Internet and I try to use Lightroom mobile offline, either many photos are missing or the resolution is so low it is next to useless. Is there a fix?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The only solution here is to make sure that all of your photos and updates are synchronized to the Creative Cloud before you find yourself offline, so that the full-resolution previews will be available regardless of whether or not you are online.

More Detail: The Lightroom mobile application for iOS and Android devices can be very convenient for reviewing your photos and even updating metadata or adjustments for those photos. Those updates can be applied even if the source images are not available, such as when you are only using a mobile device without the benefit of a computer and external hard drive, for example.

Of course, Lightroom mobile revolves around synchronization to the Adobe Creative Cloud servers. So if a synchronization does not complete before you go offline, you won’t have access to all of your photos or may see lower-resolution previews of some photos.

Fortunately, it is possible to check the status of synchronization with Lightroom on a computer or on a mobile device. On Lightroom for the desktop, you can check the synchronization status on the Identity Plate. When photos are synchronizing, you’ll see an indication of that on the Identity Plate, which is located at the far left of the top panel in Lightroom. If you click on the Identity Plate itself, you can see some additional details about the synchronization status.

On Lightroom on your mobile device, you can check the synchronization status by tapping the cloud icon toward the top-right of the interface. This will show an indication of whether a synchronization is active, or whether it has completed and everything is therefore up-to-date.

When you are online and getting ready to head into a situation where you may not have Internet access, it is important to make sure that synchronization has completed. You should first confirm that Lightroom on the desktop has finished synchronizing, so that the source images have been synchronized to the Creative Cloud servers. Then check your mobile devices to make sure they have completed the synchronization process as well. Once synchronization is completed on both desktop and mobile platforms, you should have full utility when working offline on your mobile device.

Lost Catalog


Today’s Question: I’m hoping you can maybe point me in the right direction. My computer crashed and I’m trying to use my portable drive on my husband’s new laptop. Although I see all my folders and images on the external drive I do not see the catalog they live in. I’m worried it’s just gone!

Tim’s Quick Answer: Hopefully you can locate the catalog that had been in use on the computer that crashed (even if that is a backup that isn’t completely current). Failing that, if there is no existing catalog to work from, the only solution would be to start with a brand new catalog and import all photos from the external hard drive into that new catalog.

More Detail: This type of situation underscores how important it can be to maintain a regular schedule for backing up your Lightroom catalog. By having a backup of your catalog, the loss of your master catalog can be a minor inconvenience rather than a bit of a crisis.

Perhaps even more important, this issue underscores how important I feel it is to enable the option to write metadata from Lightroom out to the actual image files on your hard drive. By making use of this option, if you lose your catalog the majority of the information about your photos (such as keywords, star ratings, and other standard metadata values) will be preserved along with your original photos. As long as you keep your photos backed up securely, most of your metadata will be available even if you lose your Lightroom catalog. The exceptions would be Lightroom-specific features such as Pick and Reject flags and Collections.

The setting for saving metadata out to your photos can be found in the Catalog Settings dialog, accessible from the Lightroom menu on the Macintosh version or the Edit menu on the Windows version. On the Metadata tab, you can turn on the “Automatically write changes into XMP” checkbox to enable this feature.

The first step in this case is to try to locate the original catalog. By default the Lightroom catalog is stored in the Pictures folder on the internal hard drive of the computer from which you’re using Lightroom. In other words, if that computer experiences a catastrophic failure, you will have lost your Lightroom catalog.

If, however, you stored your catalog somewhere else, you can search for the file with the “lrcat” extension, which is the main Lightroom catalog file. If you have been backing up your Lightroom catalog regularly, this search may also yield a recent backup you can make use of.

If you can’t locate the catalog (or a recent backup) that you can make use of, your only real option would be to create a new catalog and import all of your photos into that catalog. Note that if you had enabled the option to save metadata out to the actual image files, this process would effectively recover the majority of the metadata that had been included in your Lightroom catalog, including all of the adjustments you had applied to your photos.

Pivot on Lightroom


Today’s Question: I am curious what you think of the new direction Adobe is taking with Lightroom direction. Are they aiming at the pure amateur market?

Tim’s Quick Answer: To me the new direction for Lightroom is not so much about amateur versus professional photographer, but rather about workflow. The new Lightroom CC is aimed at photographers who want to leverage cloud-based storage, while Lightroom Classic is aimed at photographers (like me) who very much want to primarily use local storage to manage their photos.

More Detail: I completely understand the concern many photographers (including myself) have as it relates to the changes Adobe has made to their photography software solutions. Perhaps most obviously, many photographers are frustrated about only having a subscription option for Lightroom and Photoshop, instead of being able to pay once and use the software (at least theoretically) forever.

The launch of the new Lightroom CC (and re-branding of the existing Lightroom application as Lightroom Classic CC) has only exacerbated this issue. Many photographers are concerned that Lightroom Classic will eventually be discontinued in favor of the new Lightroom CC. I’m sure that is a possibility at some point down the road, but that won’t be realistic until cloud-based storage provides a solution that is just as reliable and fast as local storage. I expect that to not be possible for many years, so I suspect Lightroom will continue to be available as a desktop-centric solution for many years to come. But of course I have not insights into what Adobe might be thinking along these lines.

My personal approach is to define a workflow that makes the most of the software that works for me (which at the moment is Lightroom Classic CC), without becoming dependent on the software. In other words, I always want to have an exit strategy.

For example, many photographers who adopted Apple Aperture as the foundation of their workflow faced considerable pain when Apple discontinued Aperture and they had to find a new workflow solution.

I don’t really have any fear of this type of situation. To begin with, I really do believe that Adobe is committed to providing excellent workflow solutions for photographers. Obviously Adobe is a for-profit company, and as such wants to find ways to maximize the revenue they can earn from photographers. But I don’t believe there is any risk of Adobe abandoning the photography community.

I think it is sensible for photographers to make sure they aren’t getting “locked in” to a particular software solution. This is why, as just one small example, I don’t use Pick and Reject flags in Lightroom. These flags are not part of any established metadata standard. Therefore, I use star ratings instead, with the confidence that any other image-management software will support this feature since it is part of an established metadata standard.

I do understand the anxiety some photographers are feeling about the recent changes from Adobe. Personally, while I don’t feel Lightroom CC (as opposed to Lightroom Classic) is likely to meet my needs anytime soon, I’m not worried about the changes involved.

I’ll continue to use Lightroom Classic for as long as that makes sense in my workflow. If at any point I decide Lightroom Classic is no longer a good fit for me, I’ll adopt a new solution. In the meantime, I make a point of employing a workflow that provides the greatest utility without making me dependent on specific software. In other words, I want to keep my options open, but make the most of my workflow in the meantime.

What is an Alpha Channel?


Today’s Question: I’ve heard references to an “alpha channel” in Photoshop several times, but I don’t understand what this is. Can you explain?

Tim’s Quick Answer: An alpha channel is essentially any channel other than the channels that define color values for pixels in an image. Generally an alpha channel is used to define areas of a photo, such as to define transparency or to preserve a saved selection.

More Detail: In the context of a digital image, the term “channel” generally refers to the information about individual color values that comprise the overall pixel information. For example, with a typical RGB image there are three channels that individually define the red, green, and blue values for pixels.

The actual definition of individual color values for pixels consists of what are effectively shades of gray, or luminance values. So, for an RGB image you might have a pixel that consists of a red value of 88 (on a scale from 0 to 255), a green value of 142, and a blue value of 222. Those values reflect the luminance value (shade of gray) for the individual pixel on each of the channels that define color.

But you aren’t limited to only using channels that define color. You can also create alpha channels, which can be thought of as defining a selection for the image, where white pixels on the alpha channel represent pixels that are fully selected, black pixels represent pixels that are fully deselected, and pixels with a shade of gray represent areas that are partially selected.

Of course, an alpha channel can be used for more than just a selection, but in general the concept is the same. For example, you could think of the Quick Mask mode in Photoshop, which is used for refining selections, as being a form of alpha channel. Similarly, layer masks used in conjunction with adjustment layers or to create a composite image are also effectively alpha channels.

So, an alpha channel is essentially a “map” that defines specific areas of the image. It is similar in many ways to a channel that defines color, but since it is used for a purpose other than defining overall color for an image, it needed a “special” name. The term “alpha channel” is the name that was given to this feature.

You can learn more about alpha channels, selections, and layer masks in several of the courses included in the “Photoshop for Photographers” bundle available through GreyLearning (https://www.greylearning.com).

Lightroom Metadata Locked?


Today’s Question: I’m considering making the move to the new Lightroom CC, but want to be sure my metadata is safe if I ever stop using Lightroom CC. Will my updates be saved to my photos, or will they be locked up with Lightroom CC?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Updates applied within the new Lightroom CC application are not saved directly to your photos, but rather are stored within the library (catalog) file. However, Adobe recently released the Lightroom Downloader application that enables you to download all of your photos (and most of the related metadata) from your synchronized Creative Cloud storage.

More Detail: The new Lightroom CC, unlike what is now referred to as Lightroom Classic CC, revolves around cloud-based synchronization. In other words, for all intents and purposes you can think of Lightroom CC as storing all of your original photos on the Adobe Creative Cloud servers, while Lightroom Classic CC employs local storage that you control directly.

The approach of using online storage employed by Lightroom CC has led to some concern among photographers about whether their photos or metadata updates might be “locked up” by Adobe if the photographer decided to cancel their monthly Lightroom CC subscription.

Adobe has recently released the Lightroom Downloader application, which addresses these concerns. With this application you can download all of your photos and metadata updates from the Creative Cloud servers, even if you recently canceled your Lightroom CC subscription.

If you had been using Lightroom CC as a free trial, you will have three months from the end of your trial to download your photos from the Creative Cloud servers. If you had been using a paid subscription that timeframe is extended to one year from the end of your paid subscription.

You can learn more about the Lightroom Downloader application on the Adobe website here:


Mystery Mouse Trail


Today’s Question: I am suddenly noticing that Photoshop is showing a magenta “tail” that follows my brush strokes when I am painting, such as when cleaning up a layer mask. Is this a bug? Or what?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The line you’re referring to is the “leash”, which is a new feature related to automatic smoothing of your brush strokes in Photoshop CC 2018. This leash won’t appear if smoothing is disabled, but you can also turn off the leash altogether in Preferences.

More Detail: The latest update to Photoshop CC includes a smoothing feature for the various brush tools, which can help prevent a jagged appearance when your brush strokes aren’t especially steady.

The feature can be enabled (or disabled) using the “Show Brush Leash While Smoothing” checkbox found on the Cursors tab of the Preferences dialog. Turn this checkbox off if you never want to see the leash when using a brush-based tool (the Brush or Pencil tools, for example).

When the “Show Brush Leash While Smoothing”, you will see a line trailing your mouse cursor when you use one of the brush tools with the smoothing feature enabled. Any value above 0% for the Smoothing setting on the Options bar will cause the feature to be enabled. You can also adjust additional settings for brush stroke smoothing by clicking the settings popup to the right of the Smoothing setting.

The leash provides an indication of the direction and relative speed of each brush stroke, which enables you to better understand the behavior of the Smoothing feature and related controls.

Bit Depth Importance


Today’s Question: Is the ability to work in 16-bit per channel mode important enough to justify subscribing to the Adobe Creative Cloud in order to get Photoshop, or is 8-bit per channel (and therefore Photoshop Elements) adequate?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I would not consider 16-bit per channel mode to be reason enough to opt for Photoshop CC over Photoshop Elements, keeping in mind that Photoshop Elements does provide some support for working with 16-bit per channel images.

More Detail: Photoshop Elements actually does support working with 16-bit per channel images, but only on a very limited basis. For example, you can’t use adjustment layers with 16-bit per channel images in Photoshop Elements, while Photoshop CC supports the majority of features for 16-bit per channel images.

Working in 16-bit per channel mode (as opposed to 8-bit per channel mode) is mostly important when you need to apply very strong adjustments to an image, especially for a black and white interpretation of a photo. For images that only require a modest degree of adjustment, the advantages of 16-bit per channel mode are relatively minor.

Because Photoshop Elements provides limited support for 16-bit per channel images, you can most certainly make use of those capabilities for images that require strong adjustments. You can convert a raw capture to 16-bit per channel mode using the version of Adobe Camera Raw that is included with Photoshop Elements. You can then perform key adjustments (such as using Levels to refine overall tonality and color balance) directly on the image, since adjustment layers are not supported for 16-bit per channel images in Photoshop Elements.

Once you’ve applied the most important adjustments directly to the image in 16-bit per channel mode, you can choose Image > Mode > 8 Bits/Channel from the menu to convert the image to 8-bit per channel mode so you can continue using adjustment layers and layer masks to fine-tune the image.

In other words, if you don’t find any of the other features of the “full” version of Photoshop compelling, the expanded support for working with 16-bit per channel images isn’t something I would consider to be critical. Working with 16-bit per channel images in Photoshop Elements requires a workflow that does not use layers, but otherwise you still have considerable flexibility when working with these images. And again, images that were properly exposed and only require minor adjustments will not achieve a significant benefit by working in 16-bit per channel mode in the first place.

Stroke is Invisible


Today’s Question: I am perplexed by my inability to apply a stroke around the edge of a photo. I’ve cropped the image, added a Stroke effect, made sure the Position option was set to “Inside”, but my stroke never appears on the photo. Do you have any idea what is going on here?!

Tim’s Quick Answer: I suspect this is an example of one of the challenges of applying a non-destructive crop. If you crop with the “Delete Cropped Pixels” checkbox turned off, you’ll likely find that adding a Stroke effect works normally again.

More Detail: The Crop tool includes an option to apply the crop non-destructively, meaning pixels you crop out of a photo will be hidden from view but not actually deleted.

This approach provides great flexibility in your workflow, but can also create some unintended side effects. One example is the issue reflected in today’s question. Since the Stroke effect applies at the edge of the image layer to which it is applied, if you apply a non-destructive crop it is possible for the Stroke effect to be added outside the visible area of the image.

When you crop with the “Delete Cropped Pixels” checkbox turned off, the pixels outside the crop box are not actually deleted, but rather hidden from view. In effect, the canvas size is reduced based on your crop dimensions, with the pixels outside the crop area simply being hidden from view.

If you want to add a Stroke effect to the edge of the final crop dimensions, you’ll need to apply a destructive crop to the image, meaning pixels outside the crop will be deleted. You can apply this crop by turning on the “Delete Cropped Pixels” checkbox with the Crop tool.

If you’ve already cropped the image with the “Delete Cropped Pixels” checkbox turned off, you can still apply a crop that will enable you to add a Stroke effect to the image. First, choose Edit > Select All from the menu to select the full visible image. Then choose Image > Crop from the menu to apply a destructive crop based on the full visible image. At this point, adding a Stroke effect will cause the stroke to be visible, provided you use the “Inside” setting for the Position popup, so that the Stroke effect will be added to the visible area of the image.

Unnecessary Bracketing


Today’s Question: Is there any point in bracketing and blending in HDR [high dynamic range] if the total tonal range can be captured in a single exposure? In other words, if a single image histogram shows no clipping, is there any possible benefit to creating a bracketed HDR version?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There is the potential for reduced noise in shadow areas of the image if you bracket even when no clipping occurs in a single exposure. Thus, if you intend to interpret a photo to reveal significant shadow detail in the darkest areas of a scene, you may see improved results with an HDR image.

More Detail: High dynamic range (HDR) photography is often thought of simply as a way to retain detail in the full range of tonal values in a scene, from the darkest shadows to the brightest highlight areas. An additional benefit of HDR, however, is lower noise levels in the dark shadow areas of a photo. Put simply, blending exposures with HDR photography produces less noise in shadow areas compared to simply brightening up the shadows for a single capture.

Capturing a bracketed sequence of exposures to assemble into an HDR result can reduce the level of noise in the overall image, especially in shadow areas. In addition, extending your bracketing beyond the range of what is absolutely necessary can help reduce noise levels.

Using HDR when it isn’t necessarily critical, or expanding your bracket beyond the bare minimum for shadow detail, can both be helpful for reducing overall noise in the final image. As such, this approach would be most advantageous when you know you’ll want to reveal considerable shadow detail in the final image. If you’ll leave shadow areas relatively dark, that darkness can help hide noise that might otherwise be revealed.