Photos on Optical Media


Today’s Question: In a recent column, you dealt with the problem of CDs or DVDs deteriorating and losing the photos stored on them. I immediately went to my “back-up” DVDs to make certain they were still useable. I have about 100 DVDs going back to the early 2000s when that was the preferred means of backing up photos from a hard drive. My plan is to transfer all photos from the DVDs to one or more external hard drives (3 or 4 TB) to avoid the possibility of losing photos due to break down of the DVDs. Do you agree?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, absolutely! I highly recommend transferring photos from any “at risk” storage media to something you can feel more confident about, and of course ensuring you have at least one good backup (and preferably more) of that data.

More Detail: In this case the specific question relates to optical media (CDs and DVDs). But the same concept here relates to many other outdated storage devices. Years ago I had photos stored on floppy disks, Zip disks, and a variety of other storage devices that are now obsolete to the point it is very difficult to find a drive that can read the media.

Optical media is heading in the direction of obsolescence, with many (if not most) computers no longer including an optical drive. Thus, it won’t be too long before it is very difficult to find a drive that can read a CD or DVD. Therefore, I would most certainly recommend copying any photos stored on optical media to something that is more “current”, such as a hard drive.

Over time you may also find that other storage devices become obsolete. For example, a FireWire connection (IEEE 1394) is not as common on a computer as it used to be, and so if you had an external hard drive that only had a FireWire data connection you may want to transfer any photos or other data from that drive to another drive.

The key is to perform some degree of ongoing maintenance when it comes to your overall storage for your photos and other data. I recommend periodically taking an inventory of your overall storage situation, and updating any storage that is at risk of becoming obsolete. And, of course, always make sure you have a reliable backup copy (or multiple copies) of your photos, ideally stored on different storage devices that you keep in separate physical locations.

Metadata for Virtual Copies


Today’s Question: [Monday’s question] brings up something I have been curious about. You recommend copying the metadata from Lightroom into the source files (sidecar in the case of RAW). When I create a virtual copy and then make modifications to it, do those changes ever get written to the source file, even when my preferences are set to do so?

Tim’s Quick Answer: No. When you save metadata to your photos from within Lightroom, that information is only saved for the original (master) photo, not for your virtual copies.

More Detail: When you create a virtual copy within Lightroom, that virtual copy and the metadata updates (or adjustments) you apply only exist within the Lightroom catalog. The option to save metadata directly to the source files on your hard drive is not available for virtual copies within Lightroom. In addition, if you enable the option to automatically write metadata updates to the source files in the Catalog Settings dialog, that setting will not apply for virtual copies.

There is something of an exception here, however. If you export a virtual copy from Lightroom, a new copy of the image file will be created, and that new copy will contain the metadata updates you applied to the virtual copy as long as you choose to include the applicable metadata as part of the image file(s) within the Export dialog. For example, it is possible to export both the original (master) version of a photo as well as a virtual copy for that photo, and end up with two copies of the original RAW capture with an XMP sidecar file for each of those images.

When it comes to writing metadata updates directly to your source image files from within Lightroom, however, only the original (master) image is updated. Virtual copy metadata updates are only saved within the Lightroom catalog, or as part of new copies of photos created during the export process.

Virtual Copies Always?


Today’s Question: A very basic question I know, but a friend and I cannot agree. She maintains that in Lightroom CC before you start any processing on an image in the Develop Module you should make a [virtual] copy and work on the copy so that the original is always there. I have never done that, believing that if I work on an image then if I want the original I can take a virtual copy and reset. In fact in my mind I still end up at the same point that she does. Which is the best way to go? And to settle a point please!

Tim’s Quick Answer: There is certainly no need to create a Virtual Copy for every photo you work on in the Develop module. To me, taking this approach simply creates unnecessary clutter, and doesn’t provide a significant advantage considering Lightroom’s non-destructive approach to photo editing.

More Detail: A Virtual Copy in Lightroom simply represents an additional set of adjustments for a given source photo. Those adjustments are always kept separate from the underlying source photo, which is why we describe Lightroom as providing a non-destructive workflow when editing images.

Creating a Virtual Copy before working on a photo would obviously provide you with the potential to have the source image represent the “before” version of the photo, while the Virtual Copy represents the “after” version of the photo. But you could also use the Before/After views in the Develop module to see what the image looked like before versus after applying all of your adjustments.

As noted in the question, it is also quite possible to create a Virtual Copy after you’ve applied adjustments to the source photo in Lightroom. You could then click the Reset button at the bottom of the right panel in the Develop module for either the source image or the Virtual Copy, so you would have the same net effect as though you had created a Virtual Copy before you got started.

Since you can create the same Virtual Copy after applying adjustments in the Develop module, my personal preference would certainly be to not create a Virtual Copy for every photo I work on in the Develop module. Instead, I would only create a Virtual Copy when I feel that I actually need one for any reason, avoiding the unnecessary visual duplication for the photos I work on in most cases.

Depth of Field Preview


Today’s Question: I understand that stopping down the lens aperture all the way will maximize depth of field, and opening up the aperture all the way will minimize depth of field. But how do I figure out what aperture to use for depth of field somewhere in between the extremes?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In theory you could calculate the depth of field for a given situation based on the specific conditions. In general, however, I find the depth of field preview feature to be a much better approach, especially in conjunction with the Live View display available on many cameras.

More Detail: The depth of field achieved for a scene depends on a variety of factors, including the lens aperture and the distance to the subject. Once you have configured the overall shot, the lens aperture is often your “final” way of controlling the depth of field.

There are a variety of tools available for calculating depth of field, including apps for smartphones that can be very helpful. However, if your camera includes a depth of field preview feature, that feature can provide a fast and easy way to evaluate the effect of different lens aperture settings.

By enabling the depth of field preview (often with a button near the lens mount) the lens aperture will stop down so you can see the impact on depth of field through the viewfinder.

Of course, because stopping down the lens will cause the scene through the viewfinder to be darkened, it can be a little challenging to actually evaluate the result. However, if you have a Live View feature with exposure simulation on your camera, you can easily evaluate the result using the LCD display on the camera. Simply enable the Live View display, ensure the exposure simulation feature is also enabled, and activate the depth of field preview.

With this approach you can simply adjust the lens aperture while in Aperture Priority mode to see the impact on depth of field. Based on this evaluation, you can then determine the specific aperture setting that will provide the look you prefer for the scene.

Dodge and Burn Technique


Today’s Question: Do you still prefer your “Overlay” technique for dodging and burning in Photoshop, rather than using the Dodge and Burn tools?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, I do prefer using the dodging and burning technique that employs the Overlay (or Soft Light) blend mode in conjunction with the Brush too, rather than using the Dodge and Burn tools. The primary reason relates to workflow efficiency and flexibility, since this approach makes it easier to switch back and forth between lightening and darkening areas of the image.

More Detail: The Dodge and Burn tools in Photoshop were updated not too long ago, and the result was an improvement in the results you can expect from these tools. However, these tools still involve switching back and forth between tools when you want to lighten versus darken specific areas of a photo.

By making use of the Overlay (or Soft Light) blend mode on a separate layer and then painting with black or white at a reduced Opacity setting using the Brush tool, you can switch between lightening or darkening just by pressing the letter “X” on the keyboard. That keyboard shortcut switches the foreground and background colors shown at the bottom of the toolbox. So if you press “D” first to set the colors to their defaults of black and white, you can then switch between those colors just by pressing “X” on the keyboard.

I prefer to work on a separate layer for this technique, of course. Therefore the first step is to create a new layer. Hold the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on Macintosh while clicking on the Create a New Layer button (the blank sheet of paper icon) at the bottom of the Layers panel. In the New Layer dialog you can enter a name, choose the Overlay (or Soft Light) blend mode from the Mode popup, and turn on the “Fill with Overlay-neutral color (50% gray)” checkbox. Click OK to create the layer.

Then choose the Brush tool, and set the Opacity control on the Options bar to around 10% to 20%. Then paint with black on the new layer you created to darken areas of the photo, and paint with white to lighten.

I prefer the results and workflow I’m able to achieve with this approach over using the Dodge and Burn tools, and also over the technique of using separate adjustment layers (such as Curves) in conjunction with a layer mask.

RAID for Backup


Today’s Question: Do you use a RAID system and keep copies of discs in various locations?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I don’t personally use RAID as part of my overall backup workflow, in large part because I prioritize having my backup copies of photos and data stored on separate physical devices from my primary storage.

More Detail: There are a wide variety of implementations for RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks), but most of them focus on creating a backup copy of all of your data in real time. In general, you can think of these types of RAID implementations as causing your computer to write data to two (or more) drives at once whenever you make any updates to your data.

An automated backup that works in real time can obviously be beneficial. However, because RAID involves multiple storage devices within a single container (such as a drive housing) with all of those drives connected at the same time, I prefer to focus on other backup solutions.

My personal approach involves maintaining multiple exact copies of all of my photos and data. I happen to use a software product called GoodSync ( to synchronize my primary drives to backup drives. I also maintain more than one backup drive for each source drive, and keep those drives in separate locations.

To be sure, RAID provides a variety of potential advantages, and those advantages go beyond simply creating a real-time backup of your data. I would certainly be in favor of using RAID in general, as long as you also create additional backup copies of your data on separate drives that get stored in separate locations. After all, when it comes to your photos and other important data, I don’t think there is really such a thing as being too careful.

Saving Metadata


Today’s Question: In yesterday’s answer you made reference to saving metadata to the photos in Lightroom. Can you explain how to do that?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There are two ways in Lightroom to save standard metadata for your photos out to the actual image files. You can enable an automatic option within the Catalog Settings dialog, or you can manually save metadata for selected photos using the Metadata > Save Metadata to Files command on the menu.

More Detail: By default Lightroom only saves metadata updates into the catalog, without saving that information to the actual image files on your hard drive. My preference is to also save the data to the image files themselves. This enables me to browse most of my metadata using other applications (such as Adobe Bridge), and also provides a form of backup for my important metadata.

It is important to keep in mind that employing one of these options in Lightroom will not preserve all of the information you might add to your photos. Only metadata values that are part of an established standard will be saved. That includes the most common metadata values, such as keywords and star ratings. It excludes, however, pick and reject flags, membership in collections, virtual copies, the history list in the Develop module, and some other Lightroom-specific features. That said, this does provide a potentially significant benefit for your standard metadata values.

You can enable the automatic saving of metadata to the image files with an option in the Catalog Settings dialog, which can be found on the Lightroom menu on the Macintosh version of Lightroom and the Edit menu on the Windows version. On the Metadata tab of the Catalog Settings dialog simply turn on the “Automatically write changes into XMP” checkbox. Note that Lightroom will then go back and write updates for all existing updates for your photos.

Alternatively, you can also save metadata updates manually. Simply select the photos you want to update within the Grid view, and then choose Metadata > Save Metadata to Files from the menu.

For proprietary RAW captures, the metadata will actually be saved in an XMP “sidecar” file associated with the original RAW capture, rather than the actual RAW file on your hard drive. For other supported image formats the metadata updates will be saved to the actual source image file.

Identifying Favorites


Today’s Question: In Lightroom I am able to assign pick or reject flags, star ratings, and color labels to my photos. Which of these do you recommend using, or should I be using all of them?

Tim’s Quick Answer: My general recommendation is to use star ratings as the primary method of identifying your favorite photos. Color labels can be used for supplemental purposes as well. However, I recommend that pick and reject flags not be used unless it will only be for “temporary” purposes.

More Detail: I have two reasons for preferring not to use pick and reject flags in Lightroom. First, these attributes are essentially Lightroom-only features. While other software also employs similar options, the pick and reject flags do not align with a field in an established metadata standard. In other words, even if you save the metadata out to your photos, the pick and reject flags can only be retained within your Lightroom catalog. No other software can read these values if you add them in Lightroom.

The second reason I prefer not to use pick and reject flags is that they only provide two basic options. You can “pick” a photo as a favorite or you can “reject” a photo as an outtake. You could also assign a meaning to the “unpicked” status. But the point is that the attributes are limited to what is essentially a “yes” or “no” decision. Of course, that binary nature is exactly why many photographers prefer to use pick flags in the first place.

With star ratings you have the advantage of using a standard metadata field, so that for example if you save the metadata out to your photos you can view your star ratings with other software applications. Star ratings also provide more “levels” of selecting a photo. For example, I use a one-star rating as a basic “accepted” attribute for my photos, so that after reviewing my images those without a star rating are essentially rejects. I then promote images to a higher star rating based on how happy I am with the photos, especially after working with the photos and perhaps sharing them to get feedback. The result is that I can identify between my very best work versus my lesser images that are still worth keeping and using, but that perhaps won’t end up getting hung on the wall.

Because color labels don’t really have an inherent meaning to most of us (other than perhaps the “priority” aspect that was part of the original meaning for color labels), I tend to recommend using them only for supplemental purposes. You can define your own meaning for each color label you choose to use, and then add color labels to images as appropriate.

For example, I often use the green color label to identify images I want to share with others. Just keep in mind that you can only assign a single color label to an image, so you’ll want to be thoughtful about the definitions you assign to a given color label. For example, using one color label to identify an image that needs some retouching work and another color label to identify an image that needs to be printed would be problematic to assign for a photo that both needs retouching and to be printed.

The key is to give some thought to how you need to identify your photos, and perhaps even go back to your older images and update the attributes you had previously assigned based on a different workflow. This aspect of cleaning up your workflow is covered in Chapter 6 of my “Cleaning Up Your Mess in Lightroom” video course, available through the GreyLearning website here:

Develop Adjustments Missing


Today’s Question: I upgraded from Lightroom 2 to Lightroom 6. When I review old photos from Lightroom 2 in Lightroom 6 in the Develop module, under the heading “Tone” I still see the headings from Lightroom 2, such as Exposure, Recovery, Fill Light and Blacks. With new photos that went directly into Lightroom 6 the “Tone” section in the Develop module shows Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks. How do I get the new adjustments for the photos from Lightroom 2?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The issue here is simply that the photos processed with an older version of Lightroom are therefore set to an older “Process Version”. Simply updating the Process Version to the “2012 (Current)” option, either in the Camera Calibration section of the right panel in the Develop module or using the “lightning bolt” icon shown below the Histogram for the affected images.

More Detail: Among the other new features that get added to Lightroom over time, there are of course changes in the Develop module. In some cases that involves new adjustments, or changes in which specific adjustments are available.

For example, as noted in today’s question, within the Basic section of the Develop module older versions of Lightroom included controls for “Exposure, Recovery, Fill Light, and Blacks (along with Brightness and Contrast), while the latest Process Version includes Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, and Blacks.

Switching between the available adjustment controls simply involves changing the Process Version. For example, in the Camera Calibration section at the bottom of the right panel in the Develop module you’ll find the Process popup. From this popup you can choose the “2012 (Current)” option, which as of the latest release is the current Process Version.

You can also use a shortcut found below the Histogram, which provides the additional benefit of enabling you to adjust all images on the Filmstrip with a single step. When you have selected a photo that is set to an older Process Version, you’ll see a “lightning bolt” icon at the bottom of the Histogram panel at the top of the right panel.

If you click on that “lightning bolt” icon a dialog will appear, offering to update the Process Version for only the current photo, or for all photos on the Filmstrip. In addition there is a checkbox you can turn on the “Before & After” view so you can compare the results for your photos.

It is worth noting that changing the Process Version for a photo can cause the overall appearance of that photo to change, since the underlying adjustments have changed. In most cases I’ve found that the variations are quite modest, but that won’t always be the case. Therefore, it is worth performing at least a quick review after changing the Process Version for some of your photos, in order to ensure you’re happy with the results.

Long-Term Storage


Today’s Question: In yesterday’s email you mentioned that even the gold DVDs don’t provide a real long-term storage solution for photos. What storage media do you recommend for true long-term storage?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I think the short answer here is that I don’t recommend any single storage solution for long-time storage that might get “ignored” for extended periods of time. For the time being I recommend hard drive storage (and particularly flash-based drives) as a good solution, but even these require ongoing review and a certain degree of maintenance.

More Detail: One of the great things about digital photography (and digital technology in general) is that it is relatively easy to create copies of our important photos (and other data). Even better, those backup copies can be an exact copy of the original, with no degradation at all. That was not possible with film-based photography.

Of course, digital photo storage also adds a certain degree of complexity, with a need to update your storage over time. We obviously need to consider overall storage capacity over time, for example, with the photos we’re actively managing. But for many photographers there is a degree of archival storage involved as well, with photos put onto a storage device separate from their primary “active” storage.

When you are actively using a particular storage device, you will naturally maintain a degree of awareness about when it might be time to replace that device in terms of compatibility, storage capacity, and performance. For example, I can recall backing up my photos on floppy disks that held 1.44 megabytes of data, and it didn’t take long before getting to the point that it was incredibly obvious that a better solution was necessary.

The greatest risk in my mind relates to more “archival” storage that gets ignored for extended periods of time. I’ve been hearing from an increasing number of photographers lately, for example, who have been pulling out old CD’s and DVD’s and finding that they can’t be read. The key is to periodically review what type of storage you have, and to consider whether an upgrade is necessary.

It is also important to not simply ignore your storage devices. Traditional hard drives with spinning platters can seize up if left unused for extended periods of time, for example. By periodically reviewing what you’re using for storage and what types of (perhaps better) solutions are currently available you’ll help ensure you won’t ever run into a situation where you’re not able to access archived digital photos.

And as many photographers have pointed out whenever I bring up this subject, it isn’t a bad idea to make extra archival copies of your photos in the form of beautiful prints produced with archival inks!