Brush Hardness for Masking


Today’s Question: In the “always versus never” department, do you always use a soft-edge brush when painting on a layer mask for a targeted adjustment in Photoshop? Do you never use a hard-edged brush?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I almost always use a soft-edged brush when painting on a layer mask for a targeted adjustment. In rare cases when I am working with a very small brush size with an area of the image that includes an abrupt transition, I will use a hard-edged brush (or a relative high setting for Hardness). But those situations are rare.

More Detail: When applying an adjustment that only affects one portion of an image, it is important to have a degree of transition between the areas being adjusted and the areas not being adjusted. This is especially important when the adjustment you’re applying is relatively strong.

When the adjustment is relatively subtle, there isn’t as much need for a transition between the areas being adjusted versus not. When there is an abrupt transition between the subject you’re adjusting versus the rest of the image, you don’t need as much transition. And when you’re working with a very small brush size, the transition doesn’t need to be as significant.

However, in most cases I will use at brush with at least a slightly soft edge. It is somewhat common for me to increase the Hardness value for the Brush tool above 0% when painting on a layer mask, but extremely rare for me to increase that Hardness value all the way to 100%.

Import to Existing Folder


Today’s Question: In situations where I organize my photos into folders based on subject matter (such as street photography near my home, which I do frequently), I want to import photos into an existing folder using Lightroom. Is there an easy way to set the current folder I’m working with as the destination for importing, so I don’t have to type the folder name precisely in the “Into Subfolder” box when importing?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The simple solution here is to right-click on the folder you want to use as the destination for the images you’re going to import, and then choose “Import to this Folder” from the popup menu that appears. This will bring up the Import dialog, with the selected folder automatically set as the destination location for copying the photos you are importing.

More Detail: You can also specify a particular folder location as the destination for photos being imported, using the control at the top-right of the Import dialog. At the far top-right corner of the Import dialog you will find a summary of the current destination to which photos will be copied. That area is actually a popup, and you can click on that popup and then choose “Other Destination” from the popup menu to bring up a dialog that allows you to choose a specific destination folder. But in my mind it is much simpler to right-click on the desired target folder in the Folders list on the left panel in the Library module, and choose the “Import to this Folder” option from the popup menu.

Note that you can still create a sub-folder within the target folder by turning on the “Into Subfolder” checkbox toward the bottom-right of the Import dialog and entering a folder name there.

Blur Effect


Today’s Question: Can you tell me how you got the blur effect in the New York skyline photo you shared on 500px yesterday? I’d like to give this a try.

Tim’s Quick Answer: The image you refer to was created using a “zoom blur” technique. Using a zoom lens you set exposure settings that will produce a slightly long exposure duration, and then you change the zoom setting during the exposure.

More Detail: If you didn’t see this particular image, you can find it (and follow me on 500px!) using this link:

In this specific case the exposure time was 1/8th of a second, which is a relatively fast shutter speed for this type of effect. Generally I aim for a longer exposure duration, so I can adjust the zoom setting for the lens a little more slowly.

There are numerous variations you can take with this effect, but the basic ingredients are relatively straightforward. With the camera (preferably) mounted on a tripod, you establish the settings for the exposure and frame up the scene as desired.

If you want to have an effect where the image is entirely blurred, I recommend starting to adjust the zoom before triggering the exposure, and making sure you are still adjusting the zoom setting when the exposure finishes. It can take a little practice to get the timing right, but the sound of the shutter mechanism operating is very helpful for providing a sense of how fast you’ll need to adjust the zoom setting.

You can also create an effect that combines both a still image and the zoom effect by either starting the zoom adjustment after the exposure has already been started, or stopping your adjustment of the zoom a little before the exposure ends.

The key here is to have fun playing with different variations on technique, and see what you like. The results can be unique and interesting, and the process can be a lot of fun too!

Full-Resolution Export


Today’s Question: Can you please list the steps for exporting full-sized images from Lightroom 6 to my desktop?

Tim’s Quick Answer: To create full-resolution copies of photos when using the Export feature in Lightroom, you want to either make sure the “Resize to Fit” checkbox is turned off, or that the Image Format option is set to “Original” (which will disable the “Resize to Fit” option).

More Detail: The Export dialog in Lightroom provides you with a variety of settings that enable you to customize the derivative images you are creating based on the specific purpose for the exported images.

If your aim is to create full-resolution copies that are really just copies of the original images, you can simply choose the “Original” option from the Image Format popup in the File Settings section of the Export dialog. This will cause the images to be copied in the same file format, with the same pixel dimensions as the original image. In the case of RAW captures, this will cause the original RAW capture to be copied to the destination location, including an XMP sidecar file that includes any adjustments you applied in the Develop module. Just keep in mind that those adjustment settings are only understood by Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw (via Adobe Bridge or Photoshop).

If you are creating images for purposes of printing, you actually will generally want to resize the exported images based on the final output size, and then save as a TIFF. If, on the other hand, you are simply creating a full-resolution archival copy of the image (for example) then you could export with the “Resize to Fit” checkbox turned off, and set the Image Format option to TIFF.

You can specify the location where you want the derivative images to be saved in the Export Location section at the top of the Export dialog. For example, you could choose the “Specific folder” option from the Export To popup, and then click the Choose button and set the desktop as the location. You can also turn on the “Put in Subfolder” checkbox and enter a name for the folder you want the images saved in on the desktop.

If you want to be able to easily make use of the same settings in the future, you can create a new export preset by clicking the Add button toward the bottom-right of the Export dialog. Once all settings are established as desired, you can click the Export button at the bottom-right of the Export dialog, and Lightroom will create the derivative images based on your settings.

HDR versus Tone Mapping


Today’s Question: How would you differentiate HDR from tone mapping?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Tone-mapping is actually one of the steps involved in creating an HDR (high dynamic range) image, but it is also possible to use tone-mapping adjustments on a non-HDR capture to produce a creative effect for the photo. So in general I would say that HDR is a process for assembling multiple exposures into a single image, and tone-mapping is a process for applying adjustments to a photo, including for HDR images.

More Detail: And HDR image is a high dynamic range image that is generally assembled from multiple individual exposures. When you assemble multiple exposures into the initial HDR image, the result is generally a 32-bit per channel image (or sometimes a 16-bit floating point image. In both cases the result is an image that contains a much greater range of tonal values than can be presented in a “normal” 8-bit or 16-bit per channel image.

Once you’ve created the initial HDR image, the next step is to perform a tone-mapping adjustment. This step essentially takes the extreme range of tonal values in the initial HDR image and maps them to a “normal” range of tonal values, generally producing a 16-bit (or 8-bit) per channel image as the final result.

Often you will perform the tone-mapping adjustment as a step in the overall process of creating the final HDR image, but this step can also be performed separately. For example, you could send a set of photos to Photoshop in order to make use of HDR Pro to create a 32-bit per channel HDR image, and then you could use the Develop module in Lightroom to apply the tone-mapping to that HDR image.

It is also possible to apply the same tone-mapping adjustments to a non-HDR image. You won’t magically create a greater dynamic range in the image, but you can create the impression of greater dynamic range by darkening down the highlights and brightening up the shadows, for example.

So, if you want to create an image that contains the full range of tonal values in a scene that contains too great a range to be captured in a single image, you’ll need to produce a “true” HDR image by capturing multiple exposures at different exposure settings. Regardless of whether you’ve captured a “true” HDR image or a single capture, you can still generally apply tone-mapping to the image to apply various adjustments.

But again, it is important to keep in mind that the only way to expand the true dynamic range of an image is to assemble multiple captures into an HDR result. Just because you apply tone-mapping to a photo doesn’t mean you have automatically expanded the dynamic range represented in the image.

Don’t Delete?


Today’s Question: I remember a long time ago I heard you say that you don’t delete photos. Is that still true (if it ever was)? It seems to me that deleting photos is necessary to avoid filling up a hard drive with photos I’ll never use.

Tim’s Quick Answer: It is true that I almost never delete photos, but I certainly don’t recommend that all photographers adopt this approach. It is an approach that I prefer to take, but that isn’t right for all photographers.

More Detail: There are certainly situations where I will delete photos. For example, if I have captured an image that is clearly bad (such as when I press the shutter by mistake while walking with my camera) I will often delete that photo at that time if I am not in a hurry and am not photographing a subject that requires my attention.

I will also sometimes delete photos after I’ve imported my images into my Lightroom catalog, such as when an accidental capture was made with the lens cap on.

But in most cases I don’t bother taking the time to delete my outtakes. Instead I identify my best images from a photo shoot (in my case using star ratings) and then filter my images by star rating so that at any given time I am only looking at my best photos.

This approach enables me to retain all of my outtakes as “just in case” images that can be used if I decide one of my favorites from a photo shoot exhibited a particular problem. It does cause me to have more photos in my catalog (about 300,000 and counting) than I really need, and to fill up my “photos” hard drive (currently 4 terabytes) faster than I otherwise would.

It is important to keep in mind that my decision not to generally delete photos is really a philosophical decision. I have simply found over the years that I prefer to keep (nearly) all photos I capture, and then filter those photos based on specific attributes so I’m only viewing a relatively small number of photos at any given time.

For those interested in exploring this topic further, and learning more details about why I don’t generally delete photos, you can read my article “To Delete or Not to Delete” in the February 2013 issue of Pixology magazine. If you’re a current subscriber and missed that issue, you can send an email to and she will be happy to send you that back issue. And if you’re not already a Pixology subscriber, you can sign up now and request this back issue (and others) at no additional cost.

You can learn more about Pixology magazine here:

Background Eraser


Today’s Question: I saw a tutorial about the Background Eraser tool in Photoshop, and it seemed like a good tool for creating composite images. I’ve never heard you talk about this tool. Is this a tool you recommend for compositing?

Tim’s Quick Answer: No! I do not recommend the use of the Background Eraser tool in Photoshop, because it is a destructive tool (meaning it removes pixels permanently). Instead I recommend using a layer mask to achieve the same basic result.

More Detail: In theory you could use the Background Eraser tool on a copy of the Background image layer, in order to create a non-destructive workflow using a “destructive” tool. However, I consider a workflow employing a layer mask to be much more flexible.

The basic approach in this case involves creating a selection of the area you want to keep in the final image, so that the area to be removed (or in this case just hidden) is not selected.

For example, you could use the Quick Selection tool to select the area to keep, or select the area you don’t want to keep and then invert the selection by choosing Select > Inverse from the menu.

You can then select the layer you want to hide pixels from. If that layer is the Background layer, double-click on the thumbnail for the Background image layer on the Layers panel to convert this layer to a normal layer. Then click the “Add a Mask” button (the circle-inside-a-square icon) at the bottom of the layers panel to add a layer mask to the current layer based on the current selection.

You can then, of course, continue fine-tuning the layer mask for your final effect, such as by painting on the layer mask with black to block pixels or white to reveal pixels.

Recovering Photos


Today’s Question: My hard drive with all my photos died. The catalog was not affected. I can see the previews in the Library module. I have backup photos and would like to load the backups into the same folder that they were in before. The question is how to synch the catalog with the backup photos?

Tim’s Quick Answer: All you need to do in this case is restore the backup copy of your photos so those backup copies appear in the same “path” as the originals. Once you’ve accomplished this, Lightroom will recognize those photos as appearing exactly where they are expected.

More Detail: If the backup copies of your photos represent an exact duplicate of your original photos, this process is actually very straightforward. This is the primary reason I advocate for a synchronization approach to backup, as outlined in an article that appeared in the September 2014 issue of my Pixology magazine (

When you have a backup that is synchronized with the master copies of your photos, the only step you need to perform to use the backup copy as the new master copy is to have the hard drive on which that backup appears match the path of the original hard drive that failed. In other words, for Macintosh users you can simply change the volume label (the name) of the drive to match the original hard drive. For Windows users, you simply need to assign the same drive letter to the backup as had been used for the master copy of your photos.

If you have used an approach to baking up your photos that does not provide an exact copy of the master storage location, your task may be a little more complicated. But ultimately you simply need to make sure that the path to the hard drive, the folder structure, and the photos within that folder structure all match the original master hard drive. As long as you recover your backup photos so they appear in the same location from Lightroom’s perspective, you can simply open your existing catalog and all of your photos will be available.

Of course, it is also worth noting that once you’ve restored your photos from a backup, you want to be sure to create an additional backup of your photos as quickly as possible!

Removing Old Versions


Today’s Question: How many copies of Lightroom do I have to keep on my hard drive? I still have version 4 and 5 installed on my hard drive. The nice folks at Adobe told me not to uninstall them???

Tim’s Quick Answer: Once you have confirmed that the latest version of Lightroom is installed and working properly (including ensuring that all of your plug-ins, presets, and other customizations available), from my perspective you can most certainly uninstall older versions of Lightroom.

More Detail: I imagine the only reason a support representative at Adobe would have recommended that you keep older versions of Lightroom installed was to take a cautious approach to “upgrading” to the latest version of Lightroom.

I am also very cautious about ensuring the latest version of Lightroom is working properly before removing older versions of Lightroom, but I am also eager to remove older versions of Lightroom since the application all by itself (even without your catalog files) consumes over a gigabyte of hard drive storage space. The “extra” copy of your catalog (since you would have upgraded your Lightroom 5 catalog to Lightroom 6, for example) is also consuming additional storage space.

While I’m always interested in having backup copies of my important photos and data, I am also interested in reclaiming hard drive storage space that is no longer necessary.

The key is to make sure that everything is indeed working properly in the latest version of Lightroom before removing older versions. For example, I would want to make sure that all plug-ins are working properly from Lightroom 6, and that I’ve migrated all of my presets and templates, for example.

But once you have everything configured properly (and tested) with the latest version of Lightroom, I certainly recommend removing any older versions of Lightroom. Of course, I also recommend that once you believe everything is working properly with the latest version that you wait for at least a few days (or more) just to be on the safe side.

Catalog Cleanup


Today’s Question: I have never been able to get my Lightroom catalog correct when upgrading. It started when I upgraded from Lightroom 3 to Lightroom 4, and now is a real mess with Lightroom CC. When I upgraded to Lightroom 5, I tried to fix it but never got it right. It was always “I’ll fix it later”. It is time to get it right. I still have my catalogs from Lightroom 2 up through Lightroom 5. All my photos are on one external drive (backed up on a second external drive). How can I get all of my catalogs to be on one master catalog?

Tim’s Quick Answer: This is essentially a two-step process, though I should caution that while the process isn’t terribly complicated it is critical to pay close attention to detail to ensure good results. In short, you want to first upgrade any older (and still relevant) catalogs to the latest version of Lightroom (6/CC in this case). Then import the images from all “other” catalogs into your “master” catalog.

More Detail: Upgrading a catalog from an older version of Lightroom to the latest version of Lightroom is a simple matter of opening each “older” catalog with the latest version of Lightroom. You can launch Lightroom CC/6, then choose File > Open Catalog. Select the “lrcat” file for the older catalog you want to upgrade, and click the Open button. You’ll be prompted that the catalog needs to be upgraded, and when you confirm a new catalog will be created. In other words, you’ll have a new version of that catalog that is compatible with Lightroom CC/6, as well as the original version of the catalog that can serve as an additional backup.

Once you have upgraded all of the catalogs, you can merge them all into a single master catalog. To do so, open the master catalog in Lightroom. Then choose File > Import from Another Catalog and choose the catalog you want to merge with the master catalog. Using this option you can merge all of your “other” catalogs into your master catalog. At that point you can move all of the “other” catalogs to a backup location to avoid confusion, and make sure that you only work with your master catalog in Lightroom from that point forward.

The key to merging multiple catalogs is to take a deliberate approach and to pay attention to which catalogs need to be merged (and which have already been merged). You can read more details about this process in the article “Merging Catalogs” in the April 2013 issue of Pixology magazine. If you’re not already a subscriber, we’d be happy to provide you with all of the back issues at no additional charge if you choose to subscribe. You can sign up at