Web Safe Colors


Today’s Question: I was using the technique you described in the “Color Tinting in Photoshop” article in Pixology magazine. When choosing a color in the Color Picker, I noticed the “Only Web Colors” checkbox. When I turned it on, the number of colors available was dramatically reduced. Do I need to use this option if I will share my photo on the web?

Tim’s Quick Answer: No, there’s no need to reduce the number of available colors using the “Only Web Colors” option. This setting is very much outdated, and would cause you to unnecessarily reduce the available colors in your photo to only 216 colors rather than the more than 16.7 million possible colors you could otherwise use for a photo you’ll share online.

More Detail: The “Only Web Colors” option in the Color Picker dialog in Photoshop relates to the notion of “web safe colors”. In the early days of the Internet, many computer displays were limited to around 256 possible color values. The list of web safe colors was created as a way to make sure that any color you used in a graphic or web page could be accurately displayed by (hopefully) all website visitors.

Today’s computer displays are far more capable, able to reproduce a full range of 8-bit per channel colors (more than 16.7 million color values), and in some cases many more than that. Therefore, the notion of limiting yourself to the web safe colors is an antiquated concept today, and one that you can completely ignore.

So, whether you’re applying a color tinting effect to a photo, adding text, or otherwise selecting a specific color in Photoshop, feel free to use any available color even if you’ll be sharing that image on the web.

Editing Photos in Collections


Today’s Question: I have edited photos in Lightroom. I have selected some to be added to a collection so I can look at them as a group. If I continue editing a photo in the collection do those edits transfer to the original photo in the original folder? If I edit the original in the original folder, do those edits transfer to the photo in the collection?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The behavior here would depend on whether you added the images to the collection as virtual copies, or as simple references to the source image. Adjustments applied to virtual copies will not be reflected in the original source image, and changes to the original source image will not be reflected in the virtual copies.

More Detail: If you simply drag-and-drop photos from a folder into a collection, you are simply creating a reference to the original photo within the collection. In other words, in this case you can think of the collection as being something of a “saved search” for specific images. If you make changes to such images in a collection, the original source image will be updated to reflect those changes, because the image in the collection is simply a reference to the original photo.

If you create a collection after selecting images you want to include in the collection, you have the option in the Create Collection dialog to make new virtual copies for these images. In addition, you could of course create virtual copies on your own and then drag those virtual copies (rather than the original source images) into the collection. If you use virtual copies within a collection, then the changes you apply to the virtual copies will not be reflected in the original source photo, and adjustments applied to the original source photo will not be applied to the virtual copies.

You can tell whether a specific image is a virtual copy in a few ways. First, the thumbnails for virtual copies will show a visual of a turned up corner at the bottom-left of the thumbnail, whereas the original source image does not have this indication. In addition, the file information shown above the thumbnails on the Filmstrip on the bottom panel will show the word “Copy” along with a copy number for a virtual copy you have selected. The original image will show the filename without the “Copy” text after it.

Based on these options, you can choose whether you want the photos you add to a collection to match the original source photo, or if you want a different version of the photo. The answer here depends in part, of course, on your intent for creating the collection in the first place. But based on your specific needs, you can choose whether you want photos in collections and their related source images in a folder to retain all changes you apply, or to represent different versions of specific images.

Catalog Backup Too Big


Today’s Question: I just started getting an error message in Lightroom indicating that my catalog is over 4GB and I need to use a third party utility to extract my catalog backup. I have plenty of hard drive space and have no need to do anything exotic. Need I worry about anything? I don’t understand the explanation linked to under “Learn More.”

Tim’s Quick Answer: The error you’re seeing relates to an issue with ZIP files over 4GB in size on the Macintosh operating system. The error is not a major issue, as there are a variety of tools that enable you to extract files from a ZIP file that is over 4GB in size.

More Detail: The basic issue here relates to some limitations with certain operating systems related to ZIP files (or files in general) over 4GB in size. The built-in support for ZIP files on the Macintosh platform does not extend to ZIP files over 4GB in size, in some cases reporting such ZIP files as being corrupted. As a workaround, you can use a third-party tool (rather than the operating system itself) to extract a backup of a catalog that exceeds 4GB. For example, StuffIt Expander (http://my.smithmicro.com/stuffit-file-compression-software.html) provides broader compatibility for extracting compressed files.

Of course, this is only an issue when you need to actually restore your catalog from a backup. Hopefully that will never be an issue for any photographer. But when it does become necessary to restore from a backup, if your catalog backup is over 4GB in size you may need to use a third-party utility to extract the backup.

This file size issue is not a concern for most Windows users, and frankly it isn’t a major concern for Macintosh users. In this case it would be perfectly reasonable to turn on the “Don’t show again” checkbox in the alert dialog regarding the large catalog size, so that you won’t see this message in the future.

Slideshow Background


Today’s Question: Still another follow-up question [regarding background color when evaluating photos, covered recently in the Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter]. Is it better to use a neutral gray as background in PowerPoint or ProShow? Do the same principles apply to the view of a slide show? I have always used a black background.

Tim’s Quick Answer: Actually, for a digital slideshow presentation I highly recommend using a black background for the photos, in order to help the photos stand out better.

More Detail: When evaluating a photo for the purpose of applying adjustments to that photo, I recommend using a background that will help ensure you are making the most accurate evaluation possible for the photo. That generally means using a neutral gray background with about a 50% luminance value.

When presenting images as part of a digital slideshow, I recommend using a black background. At least in theory, this translates into no visible illumination of the screen around the photo. In actual fact this generally means just minimal light in those areas. But the point is that this will enable the photo to stand out as much as possible.

Keep in mind that at least in theory, a digital slideshow is being presented in a darkened room. That means the focus of the viewer will only be on the selected photos in the slideshow, and their eyes will adjust in terms of overall exposure based on those images.

Regardless, my preference for projected photos (or those presented on any digital display) is generally to have them surrounded by black, so there is nothing competing with the photos themselves. Of course, in a situation where the images presented in the slideshow need to be critically evaluated, you may prefer to have a middle gray background surrounding the photos. But generally speaking I think it is fair that for a digital slideshow the emphasis is on making the images stand out and look their best, rather than a technically accurate evaluation of the photos.

It is worth noting, by the way, that in some cases the presentation may be about more than the photos. In other words, in some cases you may want a more creative presentation that goes beyond a simple black background. But when your priority is an emphasis on the photos in the slideshow, my feeling is that a black background is best.

Solid Color for Targeted Adjustment


Today’s Question: I just can’t get a color from the color swatch in the Graduated Filter to enter the gradient area on the image. With Exposure set at different slider levels to the left, the sky remains dark. I try to put some reasonable blue in and there is no change at all. Any thoughts?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I suspect in this case you are probably either using a color value that is too close to the underlying area of the image, or that your other adjustments (such as Exposure) are overpowering the color effect. I would try moderating the other adjustments, and then select a strong color (such as a very saturated red) to test out the behavior of the Color adjustment.

More Detail: The Color option that is available for the Graduated Filter, the Radial Filter, and the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom’s Develop module (as well as Adobe Camera Raw) enables you to essentially add a color tint into a specific area of a photo. So, for example, you could add a nice blue tint to into an otherwise dreary sky.

To select a color, simply click on the color swatch (the rectangle) to the right of the Color label and choose a color from the popup. That color will then appear in the image based on the current targeted adjustment, depending on which tool you’re currently working with.

If the color you select is very similar to the underlying color in the image, or if the color is very subtle (of low saturation, for example) then the change may not be easy to see within the photo. To get a sense of how this adjustment works, I recommend first selecting a highly saturated color that differs from the color in the area of the image you’re applying the adjustment to.

Once you’ve refined the definition of the area you want to affect within the image, you can modify the other adjustments you want to apply, and fine-tune the color selection for the Color adjustment. Along the way, you may notice that applying strong adjustments (such as with Exposure) may mask the color so that it can’t be seen very easily.

Of course, in many cases you may want a relatively subtle color for the Color adjustment, so that the result blends in to the surrounding image in a pleasing way. But by starting with an exaggerated color and refining from there, you’ll get a better sense of what is possible with this adjustment.

Graduated Transition


Today’s Question: When applying a graduated filter effect in Adobe Camera Raw [or Lightroom], is it possible to adjust how hard or soft a transition you want, just as you can choose in actual graduated filters between hard and soft graduated transitions?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes! The softness (or hardness) of the transition for a Graduated Filter adjustment is determined by the distance of the gradient you define. You can set the size when you initially drag on the image to create the gradient, or adjust the size of the gradient after it is defined to fine-tune.

More Detail: When applying a targeted adjustment in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom using the Graduated filter, there are two ingredients involved. The first is the gradient itself, which determines where the adjustment is visible. The second is the set of adjustments you apply for the Graduated Filter adjustment.

As noted in today’s question, the graduated neutral density filters that can be placed in front of the lens to “hold back” a bright sky and even out the overall exposure for the scene are available with transitions of various sizes. In effect, you can find graduated filters with a short versus a relatively long transition for the gradient on the filter itself.

Similarly, you can adjust the distance covered by the gradient for the Graduated Filter adjustment to control the size of the transition between the area of the photo receiving the full adjustment and the area of the image receiving no adjustment.

When you initially create a Graduated Filter adjustment, you can drag across the image to define the gradient. So, for example, you can drag from an area of the sky near the horizon down to an area just below the horizon to create an adjustment that will affect the sky and then transition smoothly to no adjustment for the foreground.

The distance you drag initially determines the size of the transition for the gradient. But you can also adjust the size after creating a gradient with the Graduated Filter. The two outer lines represent the distance of the gradient transition, while the middle line determines the angle of the gradient. So you can drag the outer lines in or out (closer to or farther from) the middle line to adjust the size of the gradient.

And, of course, you can then refine the adjustment controls to achieve the desired effect for your graduated adjustment. In other words, you can go back and forth between modifying the overall “shape” of the gradient and refining the adjustments to be applied, until you’ve achieved the desired result for the image.

Background While Editing


Today’s Question: To piggyback on a question from last week: I edit in Lightroom with the light gray background. Based on what you said today, should my editing background be white?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I do not recommend using a white background when editing your photos on the computer. Instead I recommend a middle-tone gray value.

More Detail: Using a white (or other neutral) border for a print can help ensure that the viewer’s vision will automatically compensate for the color of the light illuminating the print, and therefore perceive more accurate colors in the print.

While the same concept can be helpful in the context of color for an image being evaluated on a monitor display, it is important to also consider the impact on your perception of tonality.

If you use a bright white background for your photos while evaluating adjustments, you’ll tend to perceive that image as being darker than it really is, and you may apply adjustments that result in an image that is too bright. Conversely, if you use black as a border around your image while evaluating that image on the monitor display, you may adjust to make the image appear too dark.

In addition, a dark border will tend to cause you to perceive greater saturation in the image. As a result of all of these issues, I recommend using a background for the photo that is neutral (a shade of gray) and that is around a 50% brightness level.

In the context of Lightroom, you don’t actually have a significant amount of control over the tonal values present in the interface. You can adjust the Fill Color option on the Interface tab of the Preferences dialog, but this only controls the space around the image itself, not the overall Lightroom interface. I prefer the “Medium Gray” option for this setting, which is the default.

My second choice would be to use a black background, since at least in theory with a monitor display that means there won’t be any light emitted around the photo. There are some potential drawbacks to evaluating a photo in this way as noted above, but in general this won’t have a huge impact when evaluating an image. For example, I’ll sometimes switch to the full screen display of an image in Lightroom by pressing “F” on the keyboard to toggle into or out of that view. This provides a convenient way of viewing only the image itself (albeit against a black background) for purposes of evaluating the adjustments you’ve applied to the photo.

5000K Lights


Today’s Question: Where do you buy 5000 Kelvin light bulbs? I get most of my prints made at Costco and their ambient light is suspect at best. I have to take the print out into the daylight outdoors to see what the print will really look like. And then my print will look different in my client’s residence depending on their ambient light situation. How do you deal with this?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There are a wide variety of options for 5000 Kelvin light sources, including replacement bulbs for standard fixtures (http://amzn.to/2h82WIP). There are also custom lamps and viewing booths you could consider. But ultimately the light used to illuminate a print can impact the experience of viewing that print.

More Detail: In an Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter last week I made reference to the fact that a 5000 Kelvin color temperature illuminant was the basis of a color-managed workflow. In other words, color management standards define a 5000 Kelvin light source as the color temperature that should be used for evaluating a print.

Evaluating a print is one thing, of course, but actually exhibiting the print can be something altogether different. In many gallery displays, for example, relatively warm halogen lighting is used to illuminate prints. In other cases you may have relatively cool (slightly blue) LED lighting, or even fluorescent tubes with a variety of possible color values.

In other words, a perfect color-managed workflow in your studio doesn’t always mean a print will be presented in a way that enables a truly accurate view of the colors in that print. The white point adaptation feature of human vision can help compensate for this issue, but it is certainly preferred to have consistent lighting for a print whenever possible.

As noted above, you can find a sample of a replacement bulb for a standard light fixture that provides a 5000 Kelvin color temperature by following this link:


In addition, there are dedicated print viewing booths, which provide a full environment for viewing the print under a 5000 Kelvin light source. You can find a sample of such a viewing booth by following this link:


To me the key is to make sure that your print looks perfect under standard viewing conditions. If you include a white matte around the photo you will help ensure that the white point adaptation of human vision will help compensate for the lighting in a variety of different environments. Otherwise, the only other solution would be to produce a print that is fine-tuned for the specific lighting under which it will be displayed. But that can obviously be a challenging proposition!

Using Guided Upright


Today’s Question: Could you please explain how and when to use the Guided Upright control in the Transform section of the Develop Module found in the recent Lightroom upgrade?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Once you’ve selected the “Guided” option in the Transform section of the right panel in Lightroom’s Develop module (or via the Transform tool in Adobe Camera Raw), you can click-and-drag within the image to draw from two to four lines within the image to define lines that should be perfectly horizontal or perfectly vertical. The image will then be transformed to straighten those lines to the extent possible.

More Detail: There are a few things that can help you achieve a better result more easily when using the Guided Upright adjustment.

First, I highly recommend making use of the “Show Loupe” option (which is enabled by default) so you can see a zoomed-in view in a small box adjacent to your mouse pointer. This loupe can be very helpful in making sure you are aligning the lines you draw for Guided Upright precisely along the actual lines you want to straighten in the image.

I also recommend making the lines you draw within the image as long as possible based on the references available within the photo. If you draw very short lines, a tiny mouse movement can translate into a significant change in angle for the line. With a long line, small movements will have a relatively small impact on the angle of the line, helping to improve your accuracy.

When distortion is a significant issue, such as for photos captured with a very wide-angle lens, I also recommend keeping the lines you draw as close to the outer edge of the photo as possible, since that is where the distortion is likely to be greatest.

In theory it is possible to only draw two lines with the Guided Upright control. Those could be two parallel lines to adjust only the horizontal lines or only the vertical lines within the image. You could also draw one horizontal line and one vertical line to correct in both directions. However, whenever possible I recommend drawing two horizontal lines and two vertical lines to provide the Guided Upright adjustment with as much data to work with as possible.

You’ll notice that when you draw your first line in the image after selecting the “Guided” option, there is no change in the image. You need to draw at least two lines for the Guided Upright adjustment to apply. The maximum number of lines is four. I think you’ll find that if you pay careful attention to the lines you use as a reference in the photo, you’ll be able to achieve an excellent correction very quickly and easily using Guided Upright.

Note that the Guided Upright adjustment is only available in the Creative Cloud version of Lightroom, not the standalone version. Frankly, this feature alone may be reason enough to consider a subscription to the Creative Cloud Photography Plan.

Observing a Color Cast in Print


Today’s Question: How do you determine a color cast visually on prints? In one application for membership I was told 4 of my images had color cast in the prints.

Tim’s Quick Answer: It can be surprisingly difficulty to accurately evaluate whether there is a color cast in a print. Your best bet is to use a light source with a 5000 Kelvin rating to illuminate the print, and to surround the print by a pure white background.

More Detail: The human visual system includes a feature referred to as “white point adaptation”. What this basically means is that our visual system attempts to eliminate the effect of a color cast caused by the light illuminating a scene. So, for example, if you see a white object illuminated by a yellow light source, you “know” the object is white even though it actually appears with shades of yellow.

This white point adaptation can effectively cancel out the color of the light source, but it can also cause you to automatically correct for other color problems in a scene, such as when viewing a printed image.

To help compensate, you want to ensure that the print is viewed with a clear reference for what actual white looks like. A 5000 Kelvin light source is the basis of print evaluation with most color management standards, and therefore is the illumination source that should generally be used to evaluate prints.

In addition to a bright and neutral light source to illuminate the print, a pure white background surrounding the print will provide your visual system with a clue as to what white looks like, and thus you’ll be better able to detect a color imbalance in the print.

Of course, even at this point it is not always easy to see the actual color cast in a print. We all have different color vision abilities, both in terms of the accuracy of our vision as well as our ability to differentiate small differences in color. I have found that with practice it becomes easier to detect a color cast in the prints, but it can still be a bit of a challenge to be able to see such a color cast clearly.

I recommend practicing the process of critically evaluating prints under the viewing conditions described above, and you’ll likely find that it becomes easier to detect a problematic color cast in a print.