DOF Preview Button


Today’s Question: Could you please discuss the use of the DoF button on the front of the camera? I see how the image in the viewfinder darkens as one stops down, but now what? How do you use that?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The depth of field (DoF) preview button available on many SLR cameras enables you to preview the effect on depth of field caused by stopping down the aperture. It can be difficult to see well because of the darkening of the view through the viewfinder, but the change is there.

More Detail: With a digital SLR, under normal circumstances the aperture remains in the wide-open position until you actually take a photo, at which point the aperture closes down to the setting you have established and the camera takes the picture (with a variety of other tasks also being performed by the camera, of couse).

Because of this behavior, when you are looking through the viewfinder you are viewing the scene at maximum brightness in terms of the available light and the maximum lens aperture opening. That also means you are viewing the scene with minimum depth of field, since you are looking at an image projected by the lens based on a wide-open aperture.

The DoF preview button causes the aperture to be closed down based on the current exposure settings on the camera. The result is a change in the visible depth of field, based on the overall conditions (such as distance to subject). In other words, you are seeing the scene the way the image sensor will see the scene. However, you don’t have the benefit of longer exposure times with your eyes, which can make it difficult to evaluate the darkened scene you are viewing through the viewfinder.

Because of this issue, my recommendation is to employ the Live View feature of your camera in conjunction with the DoF preview button, if your camera offers a Live View display. If you make sure the exposure preview option for your Live View display is enabled, you should be able to achieve a preview that represents a good exposure (except under very dark conditions) even when holding the DoF preview button.

I do find the DoF preview feature to be tremendously valuable when I want to confirm the range of depth of field I can actually achieve for a given scene. This is especially important for situations where depth of field is a particular challenge, such as when you are focusing very close to a subject. When you combine the Live View display with the DoF preview feature, you have an excellent way to evaluate the potential depth of field for a scene, or to fine-tune your exposure settings to achieve exactly the result you want for your photo.

Ever Save a Selection?


Today’s Question: During one of your recent webinars you said that you don’t usually save your selections using the Save Selection command. But you said “usually”. Are there ever any situations where you would save a selection?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes. I would save a selection if the layer mask I created from that selection was going to be altered directly. If I won’t be altering the layer mask directly (or if the selection would be very easy to create again) then I don’t bother saving the selection.

More Detail: From my perspective the primary reason to save a selection is to avoid having to create the selection again from scratch at a later time. So, to begin with, if the selection in question required only a single “swipe” across an area of the image with the Quick Selection tool, I won’t generally save the selection because it would be about as fast (and sometimes faster) to simply create the selection anew.

The primary reason I don’t actually save most of my selections with the “Save Selection” command is that I’m saving the selection in a different way. When you use a selection as the basis of a layer mask, that layer mask is essentially a saved copy of the selection. You can simply hold the Ctrl key on Windows or the Command key on Macintosh while clicking on the thumbnail for the layer mask on the Layers panel, and a selection will be loaded based on that mask.

Of course, in some cases I will modify the layer mask directly, such as by painting on the mask, filling areas of the mask, using the Refine Mask command, blurring the mask, or more. If I will be applying such alterations to the layer mask, I want to preserve my starting point, and so I will save the selection.

In addition, sometimes it is helpful to build up a final selection (or layer mask) in several steps. In those cases I might save two or more individual selections, and then combine all of those together into a single layer mask.

The key point is that the only reason I don’t generally save selections using the Save Selection command is that I will already be saving the selection through a different means, by virtue of creating a layer mask based on that selection.

Private Keywords


Today’s Question: I was following your advice to correct the spelling of an existing keyword in Lightroom, and in the dialog I noticed the “Include on Export” checkbox. What does this checkbox do?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The “Include on Export” checkbox enables you to establish “private” keywords. These are keywords that are included within Lightroom, but will not be included as a keyword for images you export, even if you include keywords and other metadata when exporting images.

More Detail: When you export a photo from Lightroom, you can choose which metadata is included. With this feature it is possible to exclude all keywords from the image. You could accomplish this by excluding metadata altogether, for example, or by choosing the “Copyright & Contact Info Only” option from the Include popup in the Metadata section of the Export dialog.

However, it is also possible to include keywords among the metadata for exported photos, while excluding the keywords you designate as “private”. To make a keyword private so it will not be included in exported images, simply turn off the “Include on Export” checkbox.

You can turn off the “Include on Export” checkbox for a keyword either when creating the keyword or when editing the keyword. In both cases, the checkbox is turned on by default. To add a keyword and turn this setting off in the process, click the “plus” (+) icon to the left of the “Keyword List” header on the right panel in the Library module. In the Create Keyword Tag dialog you can add the keyword, and then turn off the “Include on Export” checkbox to make the keyword private.

You can also change this setting after creating the keyword. On the Keyword List locate the keyword you want to change, and then right-click on that keyword and choose “Edit Keyword Tag”. In the Edit Keyword Tag dialog you can then turn off the “Include on Export” checkbox and click the Save button to save the change.

Too Many Collections


Today’s Question: I now have way too many collections in my Lightroom catalogue. The list of collections is cumbersome. Is there a way to “bunch” them and save them so I can access them and not have to scroll through the entire list when I am looking for a specific image?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There are two features that can be helpful in this regard. The first is the ability to create Collection Sets that enable you to group (and collapse) your collections. The second is the ability to filter the list of collections using a the search box at the top of the list of collections.

More Detail: Collection sets are, of course, the more directly helpful feature for cleaning up a cluttered list of collections. You can create a collection set in much the same way you create collections.

Start by clicking the “plus” (+) icon to the right of the Collections header on the left panel in the Library module. Then choose the “Create Collection Set” option from the popup menu that appears. In the Create Collection Set dialog, type a name for this new collection set, which essentially provides a category for the collections you’ll add to this set. Note that a collection set can also go inside another collection set, providing multiple levels of organization. Click the Create button to create the collection set.

You can then drag-and-drop individual collections into the appropriate collection set. The “spinner” control (the triangle icon) to the left of each collection set allows you to collapse or expand each collection set, to hide or reveal, respectively, the collections contained within the collection set.

The search feature can also be very helpful no only for searching among a long list of collections, but also for searching for a collection that is “hidden” within a collection set. If you can’t remember which collection set a particular collection is contained within, the search can be invaluable.

To search for a collection (or collection set) simply click into the “Filter Collections” field at the top of the list of collections in the Collections section of the left panel. As you start typing text the list of collections and sets will be filtered based on those collections and sets that match the text you’ve typed.

The combination of collection sets and the search option for collections can be tremendously helpful for minimizing clutter among your collections, and for helping ensure you’re able to find the collection you need when you need it.

Gradually Saving Metadata


Today’s Question: I have been using Lightroom for several years, and have imported about 30,000 photos. In spite of all your training, I have not yet set the catalog option to update the XMP file whenever changes are made. Before I change the catalog setting, I would like to have the XMP data for all the existing photos updated. Is there an easy and controlled way to now update the XMP files for all of my photos? “Easy” means a simple process, and “controlled” means I don’t want to do it on all the photos at the same time, but would rather do it folder by folder.

Tim’s Quick Answer: There is indeed an easy and controlled way to save the metadata for your photos to the image files themselves. You can, for example, select the images in one folder at a time, and then choose the “Save Metadata to Files” command from the Metadata menu while in the Library module.

More Detail: It should be noted that for 30,000 images the process of writing the metadata out to the image files (or the XMP sidecar file in the case of RAW captures) won’t require very much time. Also, if you turn on the “Automatically write changes into XMP” checkbox on the Metadata tab of the Catalog Settings dialog, Lightroom will retroactively update all of your existing images, and that process will happen in the background without a dramatic impact on overall performance.

That said, you can most certainly use an easy and controlled process. You can go folder by folder down the list in the Folders section of the left panel in the Library module so that you are updating a relatively small number of photos at a time. Once you’ve selected a folder, confirm there are no filters set so you are viewing all images in that folder.

Next, choose Edit > Select All from the menu, or press Ctrl+A on Windows or Command+A on Macintosh, so that all of the images in the current folder are selected. Then choose Metadata > Save Metadata to Files from the menu, or press Ctrl+S on Windows or Command+S on Macintosh. You will see a progress bar on the identity plate at the far left of the top panel so you can confirm when the process is complete for the currently selected photos.

You can repeat this process for each folder on the list, until you’ve saved the metadata for all of the images in your catalog. Just keep in mind, by the way, that certain Lightroom-only features are not included as part of this saving of metadata to your images. The options that will be excluded from this process include pick and reject flags, virtual copies, membership in collections, and the history list in the Develop module (the actual settings for your adjustments will be saved, however).

ND Filter Strength


Today’s Question: I regularly watch your Venice video [“Composing Photos in Venice”]. I find it very informative and just love it. Could you tell me which neutral density filter that you use most commonly? I am torn between purchasing the 6-stop versus the 10-stop at this point. Do you find that the 6-stop is more versatile?

Tim’s Quick Answer: If I could only choose one neutral density (ND) filter, it would be the 10-stop version. This provides more creative options in terms of very long exposure times, including the ability to create relatively long exposures in daylight conditions. Also, you can always use the camera’s ISO setting to achieve a faster shutter speed if necessary.

More Detail: In most cases I carry both a 6-stop and a 10-stop ND filter. Between the two, I tend to use the 10-stop version more often. Quite simply, in situations where I want to create a long exposure, the ability to create a longer exposure time is usually advantageous. In other words, if a 6-stop filter will produce a good result, the 10-stop filter will often produce a better creative result.

Of course, a longer exposure doesn’t always produce a better creative result. It is most certainly possible for an exposure to be too long, causing moving objects to completely disappear rather than simply being blurred, for example. And, of course, a long exposure will result in increased noise in the capture as well.

Ideally, I prefer to use an ND filter with a strength that is best suited to the specific photographic situation. But that also requires purchasing and carrying multiple ND filters. If you prefer to carry a single filter, I would personally choose the strongest ND filter you think you’re likely to use.

You can then increase the ISO setting for situations where you need to achieve a faster shutter speed. For example, let’s assume you have a 10-stop ND filter, but you want the effect of a 6-stop ND filter. You can simply raise your ISO setting by four stops to achieve this result. Keep in mind, however, that increasing your ISO setting by four stops means going from (for example) 100 ISO to 1600 ISO, which could potentially lead to significant noise depending on your specific camera model.

The key is to choose an ND filter (or multiple filters) based on your own anticipated usage.

Updating a Backup


Today’s Question: Using the Export as Catalog feature I backed up my existing Lightroom master catalog from my hard drive to an external hard drive. As I add new pictures to my master catalog, can I add these to the backup external catalog without having to again copy all my existing photos to the external device?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Once you have created your initial backup of the catalog and your photos using the Export as Catalog command in Lightroom, my recommendation would be to then use synchronization software to update your backup after importing new photos into your master catalog. For example, I use software called GoodSync ( for this purpose.

More Detail: The Export as Catalog command (found on the File menu) in Lightroom enables you to make an exact copy of your Lightroom catalog in a different location. This provides a good backup solution for your catalog, beyond the built-in backup feature for the Lightroom catalog.

If you turn on the “Export negative files” checkbox in the Export as Catalog dialog, your actual image files will also be copied to the designated location. This results in a complete backup of your entire Lightroom catalog as well as your image files, with a relatively straightforward workflow.

However, this feature does not make it easy to update that backup. Doing so would involve replacing the previous copy of your catalog, but also replacing the copies of your image files.

Instead, I recommend maintaining the backup with a synchronization solution. As noted above, I use GoodSync for the purpose of backing up the hard drive that contains all of my photos. Thus, when I import new photos into my Lightroom catalog I can simply synchronize my “Photos” drive to my “Photos Backup” drive.

I keep my catalog on an internal hard drive, so I backup the catalog separate from my photos. For this purpose you could also use software such as GoodSync, or of course make use of the catalog backup feature that is included in Lightroom.

Protecting Collections


Today’s Question: The bad news: hard drive needed replacing. Good news: I have faithfully backed up all my imports to external hard drives. Bad news: I seem to have lost my collections and therefor my organization. Is there/was there a way to have preserved the collections and restored them, rather than just all Lightroom photos as one large import?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The Collections you use in Lightroom are only contained within the catalog. Therefore, you can only protect (or recover) the actual Collections by backing up your Lightroom catalog. You can also work around this issue by using keywords based on your Collections. If you don’t have a backup copy of your original Lightroom catalog, and you didn’t use a feature such as keywords as an alternative to Collections, then unfortunately you will not be able to recover your Collections.

More Detail: Most of the Lightroom-specific features are only contained within the Lightroom catalog file. This includes Collections, Virtual Copies, Pick and Reject Flags, and other features. While Lightroom does provide you with the option to save metadata updates to your actual image files (or XMP “sidecar” files in the case of RAW captures), most of the Lightroom-specific features will not be included as part of that metadata.

If you take advantage of the option to save metadata updates to your image files in addition to the Lightroom catalog, importing your photos into a new Lightroom catalog will also import the standard metadata updates you had applied. In other words, you would still have your keywords, star ratings, and other metadata. But Lightroom-specific features (such as Collections) would not be included as part of this approach.

This obviously underscores the importance of backing up your Lightroom catalog. However, my personal preference is to try to avoid a strong dependence on my Lightroom catalog in the first place. For example, this is part of my motivation for using star ratings rather than Pick and Reject Flags to identify my favorite (or not-so-favorite) images.

In the case of Collections, I recommend the use of keywords as a helpful workaround. You can still use Collections within Lightroom to help you manage (and locate) images. But then add a keyword to images in order to identify the Collection to which those images belong. For example, if you have created a Collection for a calendar you will produce for 2017, you could add a keyword such as “Calendar 2017” to the images within the Collection.

I also recommend turning on the “Automatically write changes into XMP” checkbox on the Metadata tab of the Catalog Settings dialog. This will cause metadata updates (including keywords but excluding Collections) to be written to your images in addition to the Lightroom catalog. And, of course, I recommend maintaining a regular backup of your Lightroom catalog as well.

Capture Aspect Ratio


Today’s Question: I need some help deciding which [aspect ratio] format to pick in my camera’s menu. I shoot with a Canon and have the choice of 3:2, 4:3, 16:9 or 1:1. I’m guessing nothing really changes with the sensor; it just changes how the image is cropped in the camera. My thought is to choose the format that gives me as much possible image area and then do any cropping in Lightroom. Are there any advantages to one format over another that aren’t readily apparent?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The “native” aspect ratio of the image sensor in Canon digital SLR cameras (as with many other cameras) is 3:2, and so I recommend this option for purposes of capturing the maximum pixel dimensions, with the understanding that you can always crop later. However, it is also important to keep in mind that the option to change the aspect ratio on Canon cameras will not affect RAW captures.

More Detail: As many photographers are aware, most of the various adjustment settings available on digital cameras will not affect RAW captures. They will, however, affect JPEG captures. This holds true for the aspect ratio setting available on some cameras.

If you’re using JPEG capture, you can certainly adjust the aspect ratio setting on your camera, and the image will be cropped in the camera based on that setting. But again, since the native aspect ratio of the sensor is 3:2, that setting will ensure that you are capturing the maximum pixel dimensions for the image. Thus, in general I recommend using this option.

If you’re shooting in RAW mode then the images will always be captured in the 3:2 aspect ratio. The Live View preview will reflect the aspect ratio you have set, but the RAW capture will still be in the native 3:2 aspect ratio. You can, of course, crop the image to any aspect ratio you like when processing the final image.


Type of Backup for Catalog


Today’s Question: I am in the process of cleaning my hard drives and consolidating backup files on a newer and faster external drive. In this process, I opened the folder where my weekly Lightroom backup catalog is stored. I was surprised that I have backups that date all the way back to 2010. My question is simple. When I use Lightroom’s weekly catalog backup feature am I creating an incremental file or an entirely complete backup?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The Lightroom catalog backup feature is a complete backup for the catalog file itself. Thus, you can absolutely delete older backup copies of the catalog.

More Detail: Lightroom now creates a compressed ZIP file that contains a copy of your catalog when you use the backup feature. Previous versions simply created a copy of the Lightroom catalog file (the “lrcat” file). However, the backup copy of the catalog compressed within the ZIP file is a full copy of the catalog file. Thus, to restore from a backup catalog you simply need to extract the “lrcat” file from the ZIP file, and then open the “lrcat” file in Lightroom.

It is worth noting, by the way, that in some cases the catalog file contained within the ZIP file will be larger than the “master” copy of your Lightroom catalog. This can be a little alarming if you extract the backup catalog from the ZIP and find that the file size differs from the size of the catalog you backed up.

However, the larger backup file size relates to the option to optimize the catalog after the backup is complete. With this option enabled the catalog will first be backed up, creating a backup copy that will be the exact same size as the existing catalog file (though compressed without loss into a ZIP file that will have a smaller file size). Then the master catalog will be optimized, which will often result in a smaller file size by cleaning up unnecessary records in the catalog file.

Because each backup of your catalog created by Lightroom is a complete catalog, there is no need to save multiple backup copies from the standpoint of being able to restore from a backup copy. Of course, you may want to retain a few backup copies from different dates as a precautionary measure, but older copies of your catalog can be deleted safely when you have deemed those additional backup copies are not needed.