Luminosity Mask


Today’s Question: During your webinar on targeted adjustments in Photoshop you showed a technique that involved the Threshold command to apply an adjustment based on brightness levels in the image. Could you review the steps involved? I seem to have missed a step when I was trying to reproduce the effect.

Tim’s Quick Answer: There are various ways you can create a layer mask based on brightness levels in a photo, but one of the techniques I commonly use involves the Threshold command. The basic process involves using the Threshold command to create an image that can be used as a layer mask defined by luminance values in the photo.

More Detail: This technique is helpful for situations where you want to apply a specific adjustment to the brightest or darkest areas of a photo. Once you have such a photo opened, the first step is to create a copy of the Background image layer. To do so, simply drag the thumbnail for the Background image layer down to the “Create a New Layer” button (the blank sheet of paper icon) at the bottom of the Layers panel.

Next, change the Opacity setting for the newly created “Background Copy” layer to about 50% using the Opacity control at the top-right of the Layers panel. This won’t have any visible effect at the moment, but will be helpful in the next step.

Now choose Image > Adjustments > Threshold from the menu. This will bring up the Threshold command, which enables you to create an image that is entirely black and white with no shades of gray. The key for this purpose is that we’re able to define the tonal value at which this image will split from black to white.

Because the Opacity for the “Background Copy” layer has been set to about 50%, you are able to see the black and white image as a translucent overlay on top of the underlying image. You can then drag the slider for the Threshold command to define the appropriate split between the dark versus light areas of the photo. When you’ve found a good value, click the OK button to apply the Threshold command.

At this point you have defined the starting point for your layer mask. Bring the Opacity setting for the “Background Copy” layer back up to 100% on the Layers panel. Then choose the Magic Wand tool, and click within either the black or white area of the image depending on whether you want to adjust the shadows or the highlights in the photo.

You can now turn off the visibility for the “Background Copy” layer. With the selection active, you can now add an adjustment layer of the desired type. Be sure to increase the value for the Feather control on the Masks tab of the Properties panel to blend the adjustment into the surrounding areas of the photo.

I’ll have more tips for working with luminance-based layer masks in an upcoming webinar, so stay tuned for that!

Television Presentation


Today’s Question: How should I fill in the Lightroom Export box for images I am sending to Apple TV? Does the size of the TV matter here, analogous to the size of a printed photo? My TV is 48 inches wide.

Tim’s Quick Answer: Most television sets today can be thought of as a larger version of the digital display you’re using for your computer. Therefore, just as the resolution of the display on your computer impacts the optimal pixel dimensions for a slideshow on that display, so too will you want to size the images based on the pixel dimensions of the television’s display. The other settings in the Export dialog would be the same as you would normally use for presenting photos in a slideshow or sharing them online.

More Detail: You should be able to obtain the resolution information for your specific television with relative ease. You can check the owner’s manual, but a quick online search will probably provide the details. In general, most digital televisions today are likely to use a very common resolution, such as “720p” or “1080p”.

For example, the 720p high definition (HD) standard is 1280×720 pixels. The 1080p HD resolution is 1920×1080 pixels. Some television sets will offer a different native resolution, and in some cases you can adjust the resolution as well. In any event, you want to size your images based on the resolution of the display.

So if your television has a native resolution of 1080p, you would want to resize your images to fit within pixel dimensions of 1920×1080. Thus, I would use the “Width & Height” option from the popup next to the “Resize to Fit” checkbox (which should be turned on) within the Image Sizing section of the Export dialog in Lightroom. You can then make sure the unit of measure popup is set to “pixels”, and enter 1920 for the W (width) value and 1080 for the H (height) value.

I would save the images as JPEG images with the Quality setting at the maximum value of 100. I would also use the sRGB option for the Color Space popup. All other settings can be established based on your personal preferences.

The result will be images sized to fit the display resolution of your television, so that the image quality will be as good as possible.

Backup Software


Today’s Question: What program do you use to back up your photos? I keep my main photo folder on an external hard drive and would like to back up to a second hard drive.

Tim’s Quick Answer: I use a product called GoodSync to backup my photos. This software provides a synchronization approach to backing up your files, and is available for both Macintosh and Windows platforms. You can get more info at

More Detail: I outlined my preference for a synchronization backup solution in the September 2014 issue of Pixology magazine ( In short, my primary aim is to have a backup copy that is an exact copy of the original files. In other words, I don’t want to go through a “restore” process if I experience a hard drive failure, but rather want my backup to be a direct replacement for the failed drive.

With a synchronization backup, you are creating an exact copy of the source data structure. That means that after your initial backup the software only needs to update files that have changed since the last backup. In other words, each backup will take a relatively short amount of time, all things considered.

There are, of course, other backup solutions available, including other software that enables a synchronization approach to backup. However, I’ve found that GoodSync provides the features I need, and is relatively easy to configure. I’ll also have a video course on the use of GoodSync available soon in the GreyLearning video training library (

Image Recovery


Today’s Question: I recently took a CompactFlash (CF) card out of my camera, inserted it in a card reader and got a shock when all my shots had disappeared. I suspect the CF card may have lost the file allocation table. Is there specific software you would suggest for trying to recover the pictures that were on the card before I pulled it out of my camera?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I highly recommend PhotoRescue from DataRescue for recovering images on digital media cards (and other storage devices). You can download a free trial that enables you to see exactly what images can be recovered, and then purchase a license to actually recover the images. You can find the trial download on the DataRescue website here:

More Detail: There are a variety of software tools available for recovering lost photos, but I’ve found PhotoRescue to be among the best.

It is worth keeping in mind that in most cases when you delete photos or even format a digital media card, the photos can still be recovered as long as you haven’t written new images over the space on the storage device where the photos are located.

This is possible because generally when you delete files or format a card, the data on that card isn’t actually removed. Instead, the file allocation table (which serves as a table of contents for the storage device) is updated to indicate that the files are no longer on the device, and that the space on that device is therefore available.

Software such as PhotoRescue is able to locate files on the space that appears empty on the storage device. Any photos that had been stored on the device and that have not since been over-written by new files can potentially be recovered.

As noted above, one of the benefits of PhotoRescue is that you can download a free trial version to evaluate a digital media card. The software will show you thumbnails of all photos that were located and that can therefore be recovered. In other words, you don’t need to pay for the software until you know it will be able to recover your lost photos.

PhotoRescue is offered in both a “Wizard” and “Expert” version. For most users I recommend the “Wizard” version as being the easiest to use.

Condensation Redux


Today’s Question: [As a follow-up to a question earlier this week about condensation risks when bringing your camera in from the cold] Any suggestions for the opposite time of year, a cold room on vacation going out into the heat of the day? You said a couple hours to adjust, but when on vacation that isn’t always an option. I have read that you shouldn’t leave the camera in a car because it gets too hot.

Tim’s Quick Answer: The key to minimizing condensation on a camera is to have the temperature of the camera match the air temperature. Therefore, you want to take steps to keep the camera warm, since a cold camera brought into relatively warm and humid air is likely to result in condensation.

More Detail: The first thing I would do in this type of situation is try to make sure that the camera doesn’t get cold in the first place. For example, keeping the camera in a well-insulated bag (or adding insulation to the bag) can help keep the camera a bit warmer. You could also increase the temperature of the air conditioning, or turn off the air conditioning an hour or two before you’ll be leaving.

You’ll also often find that some areas of a home or hotel room either don’t have air conditioning vents, or have vents you can close. For example, the bathroom in many hotels tends to be minimally affected by the air conditioning in the room. You can keep the camera in such an area to further help prevent the camera from getting cold.

If the situation enables it, you can also place the camera in a different location altogether. It is true that a car in the sun will tend to get extremely hot, and thus isn’t an ideal location for your camera. But a car that is in the shade can be a good location. You might also be able to find an area outside where the camera can be safely kept, such as a balcony. A garage can also serve as a good place to keep the camera, since it is relatively secure and generally not air conditioned.

The key is to figure out a way to minimize the extent to which the camera will be cold when taken into a warm environment. With a little bit of planning in advance, you should be able to find a solution.

Of course, in some cases such as with extreme humidity levels, even keeping the camera warm won’t prevent condensation. In those cases having a few extra lens cloths available can be tremendously helpful, so you can remove any condensation from the lens before capturing a photo.

Time Machine Backup


Today’s Question: I use Time Machine on my iMac for backups. The iMac has external LaCie Hard Drives. Are the external drives included by Time Machine in its backup sequence?

Tim’s Quick Answer: No, by default Time Machine does not backup your external drives. However, you can choose to include external hard drives as part of your Time Machine backup if you prefer.

More Detail: Time Machine provides an automated backup solution for Macintosh computers. To the extent possible based on the space available on the hard drive you are using to backup your computer, Time Machine will create hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups beyond that. When the drive gets full older backups will be deleted. Therefore, depending on the storage capacity of the external drive you’re using for your Time Machine backup, and the amount of data being backed up, your oldest backup may not be particularly old.

By default Time Machine will exclude any connected external hard drives from the backup, so that only the internal hard drives are being backed up. However, you can change this setting in the Options for Time Machine.

To get started, connect both the hard drive you’re using for your Time Machine backup and the external hard drives you want Time Machine to include in the backup. Then click on the Apple logo at the far left of the menu bar and choose System Preferences. In the System Preferences window choose Time Machine. Then click the Options button to bring up a dialog that will show you the external hard drives that are currently excluded from your Time Machine backup.

Select any of the external hard drives from the list that you want to include in your Time Machine backup, and click the “minus” button to remove that drive from the exclusion list. Click Save, and your settings will be updated.

Keep in mind that if you want to backup your internal drives and one or more external drives as part of your Time Machine backup, you will need to have an external hard drive with enough capacity to backup all of the data you are including as part of your backup. Furthermore, since Time Machine is designed to preserve older versions of files as well, you ideally want to use an external hard drive for Time Machine that includes considerably more space than the amount of data you are backing up.

Avoiding Condensation


Today’s Question: I have often read that you should seal your cold camera in a bag before bringing it into a warm area and wait until it comes to room temperature. Could you expound? How cold? How warm?

Tim’s Quick Answer: If a cold object is moved into a relatively humid environment, condensation can form. That condensation can potentially cause harm to the camera, such as by causing a short circuit. Sealing the camera in a bag, preferably with a desiccant, can help ensure no condensation forms on the camera. My general rule is that if you need a jacket when you’re photographing, and then are comfortable taking that jacket off when you return indoors, it is probably sensible to take extra steps to avoid condensation.

More Detail: The bigger issue here relates to the dew point, which in turn relates to relative humidity levels. Because warm air is capable of higher humidity levels than cold air, in general there is some degree of risk when bringing a cold camera into a warm environment.

Obviously if a camera has been exposed to cold temperatures for any significant amount of time, the camera itself will get cold. When you return somewhere warm, the humidity in that warm environment can quickly condense on the cold camera, causing potential problems. How much risk there is depends on the humidity of the air.

In theory you can use the dew point to inform your decision about when extra care is needed to avoid condensation. In reality this is more complicated than it might seem. The dew point is calculated based on current weather conditions. The closer the dew point is to the current temperature, the higher the risk of condensation. But the reported dew point relates to outdoor weather conditions, and the conditions may vary significantly indoors where there is heating and air conditioning.

Because of these complications, my recommendation is to be relatively conservative, and to employ some simple guidelines. In short, if the weather outside is cold enough that you are more comfortable with a jacket, and if the conditions you will return to indoors are warm enough that you can comfortably remove the jacket as soon as you are inside, then you should put your camera in a bag before going indoors.

The best approach to avoid condensation on your camera is to put the camera into a bag with an airtight seal while you are still in the cold environment. Putting a desiccant into the bag will absorb any existing moisture, helping to further reduce the risk of condensation. Once the camera is sealed in the bag, you can bring that camera indoors and allow it to come up to room temperature. Under circumstances where this approach is most necessary it will likely take an hour or two for the camera to return to room temperature. Once the camera has warmed up to the current conditions, you can remove the camera from the bag.

It is possible to achieve a good result without the desiccant packs, but I prefer to make use of a desiccant to help minimize the risk of condensation on the camera, especially when photographing in particularly cold environments. For example, these desiccant packs provide a good solution for this type of use:

Format or Erase?


Today’s Question: After I’ve transferred a shoot to my hard drive, does it matter whether I re-format the media card in the camera or simply erase all old picture files, in terms of capture speed, write speed, quality or anything else for my subsequent captures?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I recommend formatting the card in the camera rather than erasing images from the card using your computer, primarily because formatting will recreate the “table of contents” for the file system on the card. This approach can help avoid issues with corruption occurring over time with the file system on the card.

More Detail: In theory it really shouldn’t matter whether you erase all of the images from a card on your computer or format the card in your camera. As long as the space consumed by those photos has been freed up so you can capture new images, you should be in good shape.

Unfortunately, the file system information on the media card can become corrupted over time, and so it is a good idea to use the format option on your camera to “erase” the card and prepare it to be used for new photos. In essence, this process involves re-creating the file allocation table on the card, which is the “table of contents” used by the card.

Most cameras, by the way, don’t actually remove your image data from the card when you format the card in the camera. The same is true in most cases when you otherwise erase images from the card. The actual image data remains on the card, but the “table of contents” is updated to indicate the photos are no longer there and that the space that had been consumed by the photos is available for saving new images. This is what makes it possible to recover lost images that have been accidentally deleted, even if the card was formatted. As long as you haven’t captured new images (or you use a method of erasing that actually over-writes the image data) you can use special software to recover images you thought were lost.

Auto Exposure Adjustment


Today’s Question: Lately, for a reason I cannot identify, when I open Lightroom (LR5) and Adobe Bridge all of my images are getting an automatic adjustment to their exposure. I know the images are shot (for the most part) at reasonably correct exposures because I can assess them in-camera with the histogram, and they first appear in the Library grid and lower ribbon with decent exposure. But in just a few moments their exposure changes consistently to +2 to +2.5 exposure, causing them to all be over-exposed and blown out. Any ideas as to what I’ve done?

Tim’s Quick Answer: It sounds like you have adjusted the default settings for the Develop module, or that you are applying a preset during the import process into Lightroom. In either case, disabling the applicable option should get you back to “normal” previews for your photos.

More Detail: Assuming you have either created new default settings that include an Exposure (or similar) adjustment or that you have enabled the “Auto” adjustment as part of the new default settings, the key is to reset the default settings in Lightroom.

To reset the Develop adjustments to the default settings, first switch to the Develop module. Then, on the Develop menu on the menu bar, choose the “Set Default Settings” option. In the dialog that appears, click the “Restore Adobe Default Settings” button. This will reset all of the adjustments to the default values.

You’ll also want to confirm within the Import dialog that you are either not selecting a Develop preset at all for the images you’re importing, or that the preset does not include a problematic adjustment. You can check this option in the “Apply During Import” section of the right panel in the Import dialog.

I suspect in this case that you have changed the default Develop settings (or applied a preset), and that you have the option set in Catalog Settings within Lightroom to save changes from Lightroom automatically to the actual image files (or to an XMP sidecar file in the case of RAW captures). This would explain why Adobe Bridge is also showing you the extreme adjustments to the exposure for your photos.

Sort Order


Today’s Question: I use Lightroom 6.0 and when import images from my Canon 7D Mark II there is no order to the images being imported. Are there any settings in Lightroom that will bring order to this problem?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The key here is to make sure you are sorting photos by the “Capture Time” option. When you have imported new photos into Lightroom the sort order will often change to the “Added Order” option. Simply changing the sort order to “Capture Time” will provide a solution.

More Detail: You can adjust the sort order for your photos in Lightroom both in the Import dialog and also in the Grid view once you have imported photos. Obviously within the Import dialog the sort order is not quite as critical, but it can still be helpful to view images in the order they were captured regardless of whether you are viewing the images before or after importing them.

In both cases the option to sort is found below the thumbnail display for the photos. In the Import dialog that simply involves choosing the “Capture Time” option from the sort order popup below the thumbnail display of the photos.

In the Library module after importing photos, the “Sort Order” option is found on the toolbar below the Grid view display. So, if you aren’t already in the Grid view display, press the “G” key on the keyboard to switch to this view option. You can then click the “Sort” popup on the toolbar below the Grid view to choose the “Capture Time” sort option. Note that if the toolbar isn’t displayed you can press “T” on the keyboard to enable it. And if the Sort popup isn’t displayed on the toolbar you can click the popup at the far right of the toolbar and choose the Sorting option to enable the Sort popup.

The bottom line is that you want the images sorted by Capture Time in this case to make it easier to review the photos. This is the sort option I recommend for most photographers with typical workflows.