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.

Blue Channel Limitations


Today’s Question: In “Evaluating Photos” you talk about the blue channel being the weakest channel. Is there anything I can do in camera to strengthen that?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Not really. Creating a good exposure, or even better an exposure that is as bright as possible without losing highlight details, will help ensure a relatively “strong” blue channel. But the blue channel in an RGB image will still generally be the “weakest” of the three channels in terms of overall quality.

More Detail: In general you will find that wavelengths of light that fall into the “green” range will generally be strongest in a photographic scene, with the “red” range typically being second. The “blue” range is generally the weakest. This is partly because more green and red light tends to be reflected in typical photographic scenes, and partly because image sensors (and the human visual system) are less responsive to blue light.

As a result, you’ll often find that the blue channel in an RGB (red, green, blue) image tends to be the weakest channel, with more noise and less overall detail than the other two channels. When the photograph was captured under relatively bright lighting conditions, the relative lack of quality in the blue channel won’t represent a serious problem. But when noise (and lack of detail) in an image is of particular concern, the blue channel is likely to be a significant contributor to the problem.

While there isn’t much you can do other than ensuring an optimal exposure, it is worth being aware of the potential for challenges with the blue channel, and to review all of the channels as noted in the “Evaluating Photos” course in the GreyLearning library.

If you’re not already a GreyLearning subscriber, you can sign up for the “Everything” bundle to gain access to the “Evaluating Photos” course as well as all of the other courses in the library. You can get more details here:

TIFF Transparency


Today’s Question: How do you get transparency in a TIFF file?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Transparency in a TIFF image is achieved by either erasing pixels or (preferably) by using a layer mask to hide pixels. However, most applications will not automatically reflect that transparency.

More Detail: This question was something of a follow-up to a question (or two) that previously addressed the PNG (Portable Network Graphics) file format, which supports transparency. What transparency means in the context of a PNG image is that most applications will actually support the transparency, so that whatever is “behind” the image will show through in transparent areas. For example, PNG images with transparency are often used on a website for situations where you want to be able to change the background color of the website without having to modify the PNG image.

For TIFF images the situation is slightly different, since TIFF images are typically used for scenarios that are different from the typical scenarios for PNG images. For example, while PNG images are often used for websites, TIFF images are typically used for printing and other situations that tend to call for larger overall image sizes (and in some cases more advanced features).

For some applications (such as page layout applications) a saved selection (or other layer mask or alpha channel) in a TIFF image can automatically be used as a mask for the image. In other words, even if the master image actually contains a full rectangular arrangement of pixels, an alpha channel can be used so that only the area defined by a saved selection or layer mask is shown when the image is placed in a document.

So, if you want to preserve transparency when saving a TIFF image, you really just need to preserve any layer masks, saved selections, and alpha channels that were used to create that transparency in Photoshop. Just keep in mind that only certain applications will actually present the image with that transparency, since the image is at that point a layered image that for the most part can be thought of as a Photoshop-only image file.

Consolidating Subfolders


Today’s Question: I find that I have created a sub-folder, I assume during import, and I really did not want to. Can you tell me how to get rid of this sub-folder so I have a single folder?

Tim’s Quick Answer: This task involves two basic steps. First you want to move the photos from the sub-folder into the parent folder. Then you want to remove the (now empty) sub-folder. Both of these tasks should be performed directly within Lightroom.

More Detail: To move the photos into the parent folder, you’ll naturally want to first navigate to the sub-folder that contains some of your photos. In other words, simply click on the name of that folder in the Folders list on the left panel in the Library module in Lightroom.

Next, make sure there are no filters applied to your images, so that you’re actually seeing all of the photos in the current folder. You can confirm this by selecting “None” on the Library Filter Bar, which can be made visible by selecting View > Show Filter Bar from the menu.

You can then select all photos in the current folder by choosing Edit > Select All from the menu. Then point your mouse at the thumbnail for one of the selected photos, and drag and drop to the parent folder in the Folders list on the left panel. You will see a dialog asking you to confirm that you want to move the photos on your hard drive, where you can click the Move button to finalize the task.

Once the process of moving the selected photos is complete and the sub-folder is empty, you can remove that sub-folder. To do so, simply right-click on the sub-folder and choose “Remove” from the popup menu.

This process of consolidating folders is covered in Lesson 7 from Chapter 2 in my course “Cleaning Up Your Mess in Lightroom”, which can be found in the GreyLearning video training library here:

Larger Image Exports


Today’s Question: Is there a way to adjust the export file sizes in Lightroom? I would like for them to be just a tad larger than what I’m currently getting.

Tim’s Quick Answer: You can most certainly specify pixel dimensions (image size) for photos you export from Lightroom, including creating an image that is larger than the pixel dimensions of the original capture. The options related to output size can be found in the Image Sizing section of the Export dialog.

More Detail: By default, when you use the Export feature in Lightroom to create a derivative image, that image will have the same pixel dimensions as the original capture you’re exporting. Obviously, in many cases you will want to change the pixel dimensions for that derivative image, such as for creating an image file for printing at a specific size.

If you turn on the “Resize to Fit” checkbox in the Image Sizing section of the Export dialog, you can specify the output dimensions you want to use. Note that in order to resize the image you are creating as part of this process, you need to have something other than “Original” or “DNG” selected from the Image Format popup in the File Settings Section of the Export dialog.

With the “Resize to Fit” checkbox turned on, you can then specify the output dimensions using the various options. The settings available allow you to choose from a variety of methods for describing the output size of the image being exported, the dimensions, and the unit of measure.

Note that there is a “Don’t Enlarge” checkbox that you can turn on if you want to make sure that the image you are exporting can’t be sized to dimensions that are larger than the original image. This will help ensure that, for example, you aren’t risking a reduction in image quality for lower-resolution source images. But if you leave that checkbox turned off you can specify dimensions that are larger than the original dimensions for the image you’re capturing, and the derivative image will then be sized based on the settings you have established.

I should add that here I’m referring to the overall pixel dimensions of the image file being created during the export process. The Quality setting also impacts the file size when you are creating a JPEG image from your source photo. That file size doesn’t relate directly to the potential output size for the derivative image, but rather to the overall quality. In other words, when it comes to producing derivative images for high-quality output I would focus on the actual pixel dimensions of the image, not on the file size (in megabytes, for example) of that image.

Offline Images in Lightroom


Today’s Question: When I removed my hard drive from the laptop, the photos in Lightroom showed as “this file is missing”. Is this correct? Should the original source remain plugged in order to work in Lightroom? I do understand that I won’t be working on the original photo.

Tim’s Quick Answer: When the source images are not available on the computer you’re using for Lightroom, the images will indeed show as “missing”. There is no need to be alarmed, provided you know that the photos are only missing because your hard drive is disconnected. And even while the drive is disconnected, you can still update metadata and perform certain other tasks based on the Lightroom catalog.

More Detail: Because Lightroom employs a catalog to maintain information about your photos, you can work with your photos to some extent even when the source images are not available. For example, you can still view thumbnails and previews of your photos, because Lightroom generates those images for reference and maintains them with the catalog rather than with the source photos.

You can also update metadata, such as assigning star ratings, adding keywords, and other details, since that information is written to the catalog as well. If you generate Smart Previews for your photos you can even work in the Develop module and even export copies of your photos based on Smart Previews, all while the source files are unavailable due to the disconnected hard drive.

So, while there are situations where you need to have the source photos available to Lightroom, you can also perform a wide variety of tasks even when you have disconnected an external hard drive that contains your photos. This is one of the benefits of using Lightroom to manage your photos, as opposed to other software tools that do not employ a catalog.

Sensor Crop Factor


Today’s Question: When using a camera with an APS-C sensor (that we will assume for ease of calculation has a crop of 1.5X). If there is a 50mm lens on that camera, the field of view is actually equivalent to 75mm lens because of the crop factor. So when I look through the viewfinder of the camera, am I seeing a 75mm view? When I take the photo, does the photo itself take on the 50mm or the 75mm field of view?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The “crop factor” determines the field of view actually seen by the image sensor for the current lens, and also impacts what you see through the viewfinder. So with your example of a 50mm lens on a camera with a 1.5X crop factor, the viewfinder would show an angle of view equivalent to a 75mm lens, and the captured photo would reflect that angle of view as well.

More Detail: I really wish we could start using “angle of view” rather than “focal length” to describe the behavior of a given lens. In the days of film photography the general use of focal length made some sense, since 35mm film was arguably the film format used most often. But even with film photography there were different film frame sizes, resulting in different behaviors for a given lens focal length depending on what film size was being used.

Today the situation is perhaps even more confusing, with digital cameras offering “full frame” 35mm sensor sizes, “cropped” sensors of various sizes, medium format imaging sensors, and more. Thus, there is either confusion about what the focal length of a lens really is, or about what the behavior of that lens will be.

For example, the primary lens on the iPhone has an actual focal length of around 4mm (which varies depending on the specific model of iPhone), but with the small sensor size of the iPhone that lens behaves like a lens with a focal length of around 30mm (again, depending on model). Talking about “effective” focal lengths is cumbersome and potentially confusing, and talking about actual focal lengths doesn’t clearly describe the behavior of the lens.

When you are using a sensor with a size that differs from a single frame of 35mm film, the behavior of the lens will be different than a lens with the same focal length would be on a 35mm camera. That is because the image circle projected by the lens is being “cropped” due to the smaller sensor. That change in the field of view is reflected by the image captured by the sensor, as well as by the viewfinder of the camera.

Note, however, that in many cases the viewfinder of the camera is not showing you a 100% view of the actual final image. Some viewfinders, for example, show around 95% of the total field of view being captured by the sensor. But in general you can expect the final image to be cropped based on the cropping factor of that sensor, and for the viewfinder to reflect that cropped view of the scene.

White Balance Settings


Today’s Question: Can you address Auto White Balance (AWB) versus choosing Cloudy or Sunny or a given Kelvin temperature? AWB tends toward a blue cast. Is that fixed in the RAW file and can that be removed by changing temperature in Lightroom?

Tim’s Quick Answer: If you are shooting in RAW mode, the white balance settings you establish in the camera are purely metadata settings that establish the default adjustments when processing the RAW capture. Therefore, setting an optimal white balance compensation in-camera provides only a workflow benefit, not an image quality benefit. For JPEG captures, of course, the settings are fixed in the image, making those white balance settings important for JPEG capture.

More Detail: Current digital cameras generally do a very good job of determining a good setting for the white balance compensation, resulting in relatively accurate color in your initial captures. That is especially true under “normal” conditions, such as daylight. However, as noted in the question today, those settings are not always optimal. Fortunately, for RAW capture you have complete flexibility to refine your settings when processing the images after the capture, with no penalty in terms of image quality.

For RAW capture the white balance settings (generally a color temperature and tint setting) are simply metadata values. Those values will become the default settings for the RAW processing in Lightroom, Adobe Camera Raw, or other software. But you can refine those settings as needed to get the best final result, without any negative impact on the image quality.

In other words, from the standpoint of image quality, it doesn’t matter at all which setting you’ve used for white balance in the camera if you are shooting in RAW mode. No matter how inaccurate the settings are, you can adjust in post-processing.

Of course, from a workflow standpoint it is generally advantageous to have the color as accurate as possible in the initial capture. Thus, you may want to choose a specific white balance preset (such as Daylight or Cloudy). You can also dial in a specific Kelvin value to shift the balance between blue and yellow. For most cameras you’ll also find a Tint control, allowing you to make adjustments on a green/magenta axis. You can even use a “custom” option in many cases, where you photograph a gray card or other neutral target and use that image as the basis of an automatic in-camera white balance adjustment.

You might even find that setting the “wrong” white balance preset provides you with a good starting point. Using the “Cloudy” or “Shade” setting even on a sunny day, for example, will result in a photo that is a little warmer (more yellow) than you would otherwise achieve. Again, this isn’t critical for RAW captures, but may provide you with a workflow advantage, and a more pleasing image to review on your camera’s LCD display.