Snapshot or Virtual Copy?


Today’s Question: I am wondering why I would use a history snapshot rather than a virtual copy in Lightroom?

Tim’s Quick Answer: To me the difference between a History Snapshot and a Virtual Copy in Lightroom relates to whether you’re just exploring how you want to interpret a photo or whether you want to have two (or more) different versions of a photo. History snapshots serve the former need, while virtual copies serve the latter.

More Detail: To be sure, history snapshots and virtual copies can appear on the surface to be very similar features. The key difference is that with a virtual copy you see a second instance of your photo, while with a history snapshot you still only have a single instance of your photo, but with additional options for going back in history.

When you apply adjustments to an image, each adjustment creates a history state in the History section of the left panel in the Develop module. One of the challenges of having this type of linear history is that it can be difficult to find the exact history state you want to return to. In some cases you may find that you are exploring a variety of different options for an image, such as black and white versus color as well as with or without a vignette.

During these types of explorations for a photo, a history snapshot enables you to have easy access to a given point in the history of an image. Once you’re happy with the color interpretation and are ready to see if a black and white interpretation might work, you could create a history snapshot for the color “final” and then move on to black and white adjustments. Anytime you think you might have reached a final (or near final) possible interpretation for the image, you could create a history snapshot to record that history state.

When you create a virtual copy you’re adding an additional reference to the source image, so it will appear as though the same image is in your Lightroom catalog twice. Therefore, to me this approach is better when you want to have two different versions of a photo, rather than just different history states you might return to.

To be sure, the distinction here can be a little subtle. But I think of history snapshots as a way to record points in history you think you might want to return to for what will ultimately be a single version of a photo, and I think of virtual copies as a way to have two different interpretations of the same photo (even if that different interpretation is just a different crop).

Mixed Capture Types


Today’s Question: I have a DSLR that I use to capture photos in RAW, but I also often take JPEG photos on my mobile phone when I don’t have the DSLR with me. I also use my phone to take short videos. Currently I am downloading everything (RAW, JPEG and Video) into Lightroom and storing them all in the one folder. It can come a bit unwieldy so I am wondering what you suggest when you have a mix like I have. Do you keep everything in a single folder, or keep then in individual folders for RAW, JPEG, and video? What do find the most convenient in your workflow?

Tim’s Quick Answer: My personal preference is to keep all photos and video clips from a single trip or photo shoot in a single folder. This is partly motivated by a desire to have each folder represent the entirety of a single photo trip, and partly motivated by the fact that it is very easy to filter images by a wide variety of criteria.

More Detail: One of the primary goals in my photographic workflow is to use an approach that is as streamlined as possible. As part of that approach I try to avoid adding complexity that is not necessary and that doesn’t provide an inherent benefit. For example, I don’t see a benefit in having my RAW versus JPEG captures (or videos) divided into separate folders when it is so easy to filter based on file type. Similarly, I prefer not to create individual folders for each day of a trip, in part because it is so easy to filter based on date of capture.

I realize that when it comes to RAW versus JPEG captures, there is often a very different motivation for capturing the images. For example, I am more likely to use my digital SLR for photos I consider to be more “artistic” in nature, while I’ll use my smartphone to capture images that are more about simply documenting some of the experiences along the way.

However, in my mind all of these captures are part of the overall photographic story from a given trip or photo shoot. And so I prefer to keep all of the images and videos in a single folder, regardless of what type of camera was used and what file types are involved.

I will then use the various filters to limit my view to only the photos I’m most interested in at any given moment. For example, if I’m looking for my best “artistic” photos from a trip I can navigate to the folder for that trip, filter by the RAW capture as the file type, and add a filter for star ratings.

While you could certainly argue that putting a wide variety of different types of captures into a single folder creates a degree of clutter, my feeling is that this approach helps to streamline the process of locating specific images. And by making use of various filters to focus on the images you’re most interested in at the moment, the clutter that might exist within the folder is never really visible to you.

Metadata Mismatch


Today’s Question: I have noticed for some thumbnails [in Adobe Lightroom] there is an icon with three lines and an upward-pointing arrow at the upper right corner of the image. When I click that icon I get a message: “The metadata for this photo has been changed by another application. Should Lightroom import settings from disk or overwrite disk with those from catalog?” What does this mean?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The icon you refer to indicates that updates have been made to the metadata for the photo outside of Lightroom, meaning the metadata contained within the file on your hard drive does not match the metadata within the Lightroom catalog.

More Detail: Because Lightroom makes use of a catalog to track information about your photos, it is critically important that all updates you apply to your photos be applied within Lightroom. If any metadata updates (or other changes) are applied outside of Lightroom, you won’t see the update within Lightroom and you might even cause a situation where your photos can’t be found.

Even processing a RAW capture outside of Lightroom can create a metadata mismatch, since the adjustment settings from Adobe Camera Raw can be written to an XMP sidecar file for the image. So again, the key is to not perform any work with your images outside of Lightroom, to help ensure that the Lightroom catalog always reflects the latest (and accurate) information about your photos.

When there is a metadata mismatch, you have the choice of either replacing the information contained in the actual image file with the information in your Lightroom catalog, or to replace the information in the Lightroom catalog with the information contained in the source image file. The correct decision here depends on which updated information you want to keep.

For example, if you added a keyword to a photo through Adobe Bridge, and then realized you should have applied that update within Lightroom, you could choose the option to import the settings from the source image.

However, it is important to keep in mind that when you update the metadata to correct the mismatch, you aren’t able to merge all of the information. That means some information might be lost. If you added a keyword to a photo using Adobe Bridge, then added another keyword to the same image in Lightroom, updating the metadata in either direction will cause one of the keywords to be lost.

If you are confident that no updates were made outside of Lightroom that you need to have reflected in Lightroom, you can simply choose the option to have Lightroom overwrite the metadata for the source image based on the information in the catalog (or simply ignore the metadata mismatch icons if you prefer). If you need to retain the information from the source image (replacing the information for that image in the Lightroom catalog) you can use the option to import settings.

And again, be sure that all updates and other workflow tasks are initiated inside of Lightroom, to help ensure you won’t need my “Cleaning Up Your Mess in Lightroom” video training course (

Camera Insurance


Today’s Question: Is there any advice you can give photographers about photography equipment insurance in and outside the US?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The key to insuring your camera gear is to be aware of the limitations that may be involved in an insurance policy that is not specifically geared toward camera gear. It is important to be sure that all of your valuable gear is protected within the context of your specific needs.

More Detail: First, you’ll want to be sure your insurance covers the full value of the equipment you are insuring, or at least that you’re comfortable with the amount of coverage you have. For example, many insurance policies specifically limit the amount of coverage provided for camera gear. Some travel insurance policies, for example, only cover up to $500 in camera gear.

You might also have insurance coverage you weren’t aware of. For example, a homeowner’s insurance policy may include coverage for personal effects that includes camera equipment. Similarly, some credit cards extend traveler’s insurance to you automatically when you trip. The point is to take an inventory of what coverage you might already have, and supplement it with additional insurance as needed.

Also, be aware that if you make a specific list of your camera gear along with serial numbers, you will generally receive a discount on your insurance coverage. This is often referred to as scheduled equipment versus unscheduled equipment coverage.

A variety of insurance companies actually offer insurance coverage that is specifically designed for photographers. This often includes a degree of business liability coverage, as well as insurance for your equipment. Pay attention to any exclusions in the insurance policy so you can be sure that you will be covered for international travel, and that coverage extends to theft, loss, or damage.

On a slightly related note, if you will be traveling internationally with camera gear it is a good idea to register that gear with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. If you return from an international trip with a large assortment of camera gear that looks new, it is possible you could be required to pay duty on the equipment based on the assumption that you purchased it abroad. By simply registering the equipment with Customs before departing on your trip, there will be no question about whether that equipment was acquired during your trip.

Missing Previews and Photos


Today’s Question: In going through a number of my photos [in Adobe Lightroom] I came across the fact that I was missing many. All that appears for them is a blank space where the photo should be and an explanation mark in the upper right corner of the thumbnail. No photo! What does this mean?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The exclamation point badge at the top-right corner of the thumbnail indicates that Lightroom is not able to locate the image based on the expected folder location and filename. There are several reasons a thumbnail might have been missing at some point, and now Lightroom is unable to generate a preview because the source image is missing.

More Detail: What all of this really comes down to is a very common mistake photographers make when it comes to using Adobe Lightroom in their image-management workflow. Put very simply, many photographers forget that once you are using Lightroom to manage your photos, it is critical that all tasks related to your photos be initiated within Lightroom.

For example, let’s assume you would like to rename one of the folders containing photos that are being managed in Lightroom. If you rename the folder within Lightroom (by simply right-clicking on the folder and choosing the “Rename” option), you will be renaming the folder within the Lightroom catalog and also renaming the actual folder on the hard drive where your photos are stored.

If, on the other hand, you were to go out to the operating system and rename the folder there, every single photo within that folder would suddenly appear as “missing” within your Lightroom catalog.

You can correct this type of problem by either reconnecting missing folders or locating missing individual images. But needless to say this has the potential to be a painstaking and frustrating process. In short, you need to let Lightroom know where the missing folder is located, or where each missing image can be found.

To reconnect a missing folder you can right-click on the folder name in the Folders section of the left panel in the Library module and choose “Find Missing Folder”. Then navigate to and select the appropriate folder so Lightroom knows the updated name or location. To locate individual photos, click on the exclamation point badge and choose the option to locate the photo, then navigate to that actual photo and select it.

Of course, in this case the task is significantly complicated by the fact that no preview is available. You may need to work outside of Lightroom to locate the source folders and photos, and perform a detailed review to determine which folders and photos align with the expected structure in Lightroom.

More details on cleaning up a messy catalog in Lightroom can be found in my “Cleaning Up Your Mess in Lightroom” course, which is part of the “Mastering Lightroom” bundle available through my GreyLearning website here:

Sharper When Handheld


Today’s Question: Why are my photos taken on a tripod with either a remote control or a 2-second delay never sharp? When I take the photos with the same camera “in hand” the photos are sharp. My camera is a Canon 5D mark 4.

Tim’s Quick Answer: Assuming the exposure settings in both cases include an adequately fast shutter speed, and that the tripod is sturdy and positioned on a stable surface, I suspect the issue here is that stabilization has been enabled when the camera is on a tripod. For relatively stationary subjects when using a tripod it is generally best to disable stabilization.

More Detail: In this case the sample photo provided by the photographer who posed the question was of a group of people posing. In other words, the example is a relatively straightforward scenario, which helps streamline the troubleshooting process.

The first thing to check here would be that in both cases appropriate exposure settings were being used. For example, if you were being more cautious about the shutter speed when shooting handheld, that could be the issue with the tripod-based photos. When using a tripod you might be a little more relaxed about the shutter speed. That would be perfectly fine for a truly stationary subject. But when a group of people standing in front of the camera, even a moderately slow shutter speed can cause a bit of blur due to the people moving slightly. Even on a tripod I would aim for a shutter speed of around 1/125th of a second or faster when photographing people. For small children an even faster shutter speed might be necessary!

Assuming that the same appropriate exposure settings are being used, naturally you would reasonably expect that photos captured with the use of a tripod would be sharper (or perhaps equal to) photos that are captured hand-held. There are unique situations, such as using a tripod on the deck of a ship, where those vibrations could actually cause the tripod-based photos to be less sharp than hand-held captures.

In this particular case, however, I suspect the use of image stabilization explains the unexpected results. Stabilization is intended to compensate for movement of the camera. When the camera is handheld, the stabilization will help compensate for slight movement to ensure a sharper capture.

When the camera is on a tripod, it is possible for that stabilization to actually reduce sharpness. Put simply, the stabilization may still attempt to compensate for movement that isn’t there, causing a degree of blurring.

There are stabilization options available that can still be used when the camera is mounted on a tripod. In particular, there are single-axis stabilization modes that are intended to be used when you are panning with a subject while the camera is mounted on a tripod. You’ll therefore want to be sure that you understand the specific stabilization options that are available to you. As a general rule, however, I recommend turning off stabilization when photographing a relatively static subject from a sturdy tripod.

Sharpening Workflow Options


Today’s Question: At one time it seemed to be generally advised to just do a light sharpening in Lightroom up front and do the final sharpening at the end in Photoshop, but I find myself doing all my sharpening in Lightroom most of the time. I sharpen at the end of my Lightroom processing and like to hold the Alt key down to see the sharpening previews, and then I apply Luminance noise reduction. Would you support this workflow with little or no Photoshop or plugin sharpening?

Tim’s Quick Answer: If you will be sharing images digitally (such as online) then this approach is probably adequate, depending on your approach to output sharpening. For printing, however, you may want to employ a slightly different approach to improve your ability to fine-tune output sharpening.

More Detail: The advice to only apply “light” sharpening in Lightroom relates specifically to the Develop module. The sharpening controls in the Develop module are intended to compensate for issues with the original capture, not to apply final output sharpening to the image.

One of the key issues here is that final output sharpening should be applied based on the final output dimensions of the image. In the Develop module you are working on the full resolution image. When sharing online you will reduce the overall pixels dimensions significantly. When printing you will likely increase the dimensions beyond the original resolution, though obviously in some cases you may reduce the dimensions relative to the original capture.

The point is that output sharpening should be applied based on the final pixel dimensions, while in the Develop module you’re applying sharpening to the full resolution original capture.

The output sharpening available when exporting, printing, or otherwise sharing images from Lightroom is actually quite good. The challenge is that you don’t have significant control over that sharpening, nor do you have any preview of the final effect.

For sharing that might be considered a little more “casual”, such as sharing photos online, I’m perfectly comfortable making use of the output sharpening in Lightroom. In this case, for example, I might use the “Screen” and “Standard” options when exporting the image.

For printing I am generally a bit more focused on ensuring optimal detail and sharpness in the image, so I want to be a bit more detail-oriented. Because Lightroom doesn’t provide much control or a preview for the effect when applying output sharpening, I simply prefer not to use Lightroom for applying sharpening to a print. I therefore send images from Lightroom to Photoshop when I’m ready to print, so I can resize to the final output size and apply sharpening before printing from Photoshop (or saving the resulting derivative image and returning to Lightroom to print, disabling output sharpening in Lightroom). Naturally you could also use third-party sharpening software to apply this final sharpening if you prefer.

If you’ve experimented with Lightroom’s output sharpening to the point that you’re comfortable making use of the available options for your output sharpening, that’s perfectly fine. But I would not recommend using the sharpening in the Develop module as a replacement for additional final output sharpening.

Noise Workflow


Today’s Question: On a recent photo shoot I had to take these at very high ISO (1600-2500) as the light conditions were poor. I process my images in Lightroom but was considering using a noise reduction plugin like Nik Dfine or Topaz DeNoise. Can you please outline the workflow sequence (including sharpening) you would follow for processing high ISO RAW images?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I would actually recommend that you explore the noise reduction capabilities within Lightroom, which is actually very good. If you prefer to use third-party software, I recommend applying most key adjustments within Lightroom before sending the image to a plug-in for noise reduction.

More Detail: The noise reduction in Lightroom is actually quite good, to the point that I no longer feel the need to employ third-party plug-ins for noise reduction within my workflow. I would therefore first suggest that you test the noise reduction capabilities of Lightroom as a first step. Especially at relatively modest ISO settings (which certainly includes values up to 2500 ISO for most cameras) I don’t think you’ll find any real advantage to using software outside Lightroom for noise reduction.

If you prefer to use a third-party tool for noise reduction, it is certainly feasible to incorporate that software into a Lightroom based workflow. In many cases you’ll find that the noise reduction software can be used as a plug-in with Lightroom, so you can send a photo directly from Lightroom to the noise reduction software. In other cases you may need to export a copy of your processed photo and then use the noise reduction software to process the image.

When using third-party software to apply noise reduction, I recommend applying all of your key adjustments within Lightroom before sending the image to the noise reduction software. That would include overall exposure and color adjustments at a bare minimum.

Other adjustments, such as sharpening or perspective correction, are not as critical in terms of applying them to the RAW capture in Lightroom before using noise reduction software to further process the photo.

As a general rule, I prefer to process the RAW capture as completely as possible within Lightroom, before sending the image to other software. However, there may be a need to further refine the image in Lightroom after applying noise reduction. Most of these adjustments will not create a problem in terms of quality.

For example, after applying noise reduction you may find that you need to apply a bit more sharpening to the image. Or perhaps after performing noise reduction you realize you need to apply a perspective correction. It is much less critical that these types of adjustments be performed on the RAW capture, in contrast with adjustments that affect overall tonality and color.

In short, get the image as close to a final interpretation as possible before sending it to a plug-in for noise reduction (or other adjustments), but don’t worry if you find you still need to apply additional adjustments within Lightroom on an image that had been processed using a third-party plug-in.

Image Delete Mystery


Today’s Question: When I’m browsing an image that is included in a collection in Lightroom, sometimes I want to delete the image. Within the collection there is only an option to remove the image from the collection, not to delete it. How can I delete the photo, especially if I’m not even sure which folder it is in?

Tim’s Quick Answer: To delete a photo in this scenario you can first right-click on the image and choose “Go to Folder in Library”. Then right-click the image again, and choose Remove Photo. You can then confirm that you want to delete the photos from your hard drive within the dialog that appears.

More Detail: When you add a photo to a collection in Lightroom, you’re not actually creating a copy of the original image. Instead, you are creating a reference to the source image in the context of the collection. When you are browsing an image in a collection the “Remove from Collection” option replaces the “Remove Photo” command. You’ll therefore need to navigate to the source photo to delete the image.

To navigate to that source folder you can right-click on the applicable photo and then choose “Go to Folder in Library” from the popup menu. Lightroom will then take you to the source folder for the image, with the selected image remaining selected. You can then right-click on the image a second time and choose “Remove Photo” from the popup menu.

In the confirmation dialog, if you truly want to delete the image, I recommend choosing the “Delete from Disk”. Obviously if you decide you don’t actually want to delete the photos you could click the “Cancel” button. I don’t, however, recommend using the “Remove” option. If you click the Remove button, the selected image will be removed from the Lightroom catalog, but won’t actually be deleted from your hard drive. In other words, the image will still be taking up space on your drive, but you won’t really know the image is there because it is not referenced within your Lightroom catalog.

Note, by the way, that the “Go to Folder in Library” command can be incredibly helpful when you’re performing a search across your entire Lightroom catalog, and then want to navigate to the folder for a specific image you’ve located so you can view related images.

Image Cleanup Tools


Today’s Question: Is there any tool in Lightroom that can do what Content-Aware Fill in Photoshop can do?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The short answer is “no”. Lightroom does include the equivalent of the Healing Brush, but the Content Aware technology is currently only available within Photoshop.

More Detail: The image cleanup tool in Lightroom is called the Spot Removal Tool, which perhaps helps to make it clear that it is really intended for relatively simple image cleanup tasks, such as removing spots caused by dust or other contaminants on the image sensor in your camera. The Heal option for the Spot Removal Tool provides the same basic functionality as the Healing Brush in Photoshop.

The Content Aware technology is by comparison significantly more advanced. With Content Aware you are getting a variable blending of pixels based on the actual content in the area of the image you want to remove a blemish.

This is one of the reasons that Photoshop remains an important component in a Lightroom-based workflow for many photographers. And yes, I do realize that many photographers would prefer to have Content Aware technology (among other features) included in Lightroom so they could eliminate Photoshop from their workflow.

Unless Adobe decides to add the Content Aware technology to Lightroom, for the best cleanup results within a Lightroom-based workflow I highly recommend using Photoshop. Once you’ve performed all of your adjustments within Lightroom’s Develop module, you can send the image to Photoshop using the Photo > Edit In command. Then employ the Content Aware technology (and make use of any other desired features in Photoshop.

When you’re finished working in Photoshop, simply choose File > Save to update the new file created as part of this workflow, and then choose File > Close to close the image. When you return to Lightroom you will find this new derivative image next to the original capture.