Corrupted Catalog

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Today’s Question: I just tried to load my Lightroom catalog and got a message it is corrupt. I tried all the suggestions Lightroom made to no avail. Any suggestions? I have a week-old backup, but will lose a fair amount of data if I have to utilize it.

Tim’s Quick Answer: I would first make some additional efforts to open the catalog, but failing that would want to either restore from a backup or re-import into a new catalog if you had enabled the option to automatically write metadata updates to XMP.

More Detail: Naturally the ideal solution here would be to regain access to the Lightroom catalog that has become corrupted. Unfortunately, if the catalog has become corrupted there isn’t much chance that you’ll be able to recover it. However, you might try quitting Lightroom and then confirming that none of the temporary files are included along with your Lightroom catalog. One simple way to test this out is to copy the corrupted “lrcat” file (the actual catalog file) to a different location, and then double-click to open that catalog file in Lightroom. If that fails, chances are you won’t be able to recover your catalog.

If you had previously enabled the “Automatically write changes into XMP” on the Metadata tab of the Catalog Settings dialog in Lightroom, you can recover most of the information from your corrupted catalog by simply creating a new catalog and importing all of your photos into that catalog, using the “Add” option at the top-center of the Import dialog.

It is very important to keep in mind that some information from your original catalog will be lost if you take the approach of creating a new catalog and importing all of your photos into that catalog. For example, pick and reject flags, membership in collections, the history in the Develop module, virtual copies, and some other details that relate to Lightroom-specific features are not written to your images when you enable the “XMP” option noted above. However, all standard metadata such as star ratings and keywords will be retained if you had previously enabled the “XMP” option in the Catalog Settings dialog.

The last option, as noted in the question, is to recover from the most recent catalog backup. Obviously this means you will lose any information that was added to the corrupted catalog since the time of your last backup. You may therefore need to update information for some of your photos, and even re-import photos that had been imported after your latest backup. But at least this approach will provide you with most of the information that would have otherwise been lost in the absence of a backup.

This type of situation does underscore some of the challenges associated with the use of a catalog in Lightroom. There are many advantages to having that catalog as well, but it is very important to protect yourself from the risk of corruption of your Lightroom catalog, through frequent backups and other workflow practices.

Changing Backup Location

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Today’s Question: You suggested backing up the catalog to the same external drive as the one used for photo storage. Currently my backup is stored on my MacBook Pro. Where do I make this change? I don’t see a setting for that in Preferences.

Tim’s Quick Answer: The location where you want to store the backup copy of your Lightroom catalog can actually be specified within the actual backup dialog that appears when it is time to create a new backup of your catalog.

More Detail: Within the Catalog Settings dialog you can specify the frequency for backing up your Lightroom catalog. The options include backing up daily, weekly, monthly, every time you exit Lightroom, or never. In addition, there is an option to backup the next time you exit Lightroom. However, within the Catalog Settings dialog (as well as the Preferences dialog) there is not an option to specify the location where you want to store the backup.

Instead you can specify the backup location within the Back Up Catalog dialog. The Backup Folder label identifies the current location for your catalog backup, which by default will be the same folder location as your actual catalog files. As noted in yesterday’s Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter, I recommend storing the backup in a location separate from the catalog.

Within the Back Up Catalog dialog you can click the Choose button to the right of the Backup Folder label where the existing path is indicated. You can then choose a new location for your backup, such as the external hard drive where you store your photos if that is the approach you use. Once you change the backup location, that will remain the location for the backup of the current catalog unless you change the location again in the future.

Catalog Backup Location

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Today’s Question: My question is when I exit Lightroom and want to backup files where should I direct it to backup? I have an external hard drive and I back it up using GoodSync. I know my photos are on my external hard drive, but I am just wondering where to store my backup.

Tim’s Quick Answer: I recommend backing up your Lightroom catalog to an external hard drive. If you are using an external hard drive as the primary storage location for your photos, I recommend using a folder on that same drive as the location where your Lightroom catalog backups are stored.

More Detail: When it comes to making a backup of your Lightroom catalog, I feel it is important to ensure the backup is stored in a location that is different from the location where the source catalog is stored. After all, if you need to recover from a backup because the hard drive containing your Lightroom catalog failed, your only option will be to recover from a backup on a different storage device.

By default Lightroom will store the backup of your catalog in the same general location as the original catalog. I recommend changing that default location to a drive that is separate from the drive where your catalog is stored.

If you store your photos on an external hard drive, I think it makes perfect sense to backup your Lightroom catalog to a folder on the same external hard drive where you store your photos. This approach has the added advantage of ensuring that when you backup your photos you are also backing up your backup copies of the Lightroom catalog, providing additional redundancy.

Of course, if you store your Lightroom catalog on an external hard drive along with your photos, then I would recommend storing Lightroom’s backup of the catalog on a different hard drive, such as the internal hard drive on your computer. The key is to store backup copies separate from the source files being backed up.

Remove Chromatic Aberration

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Today’s Question: Is there any reason not to turn on the “Remove Chromatic Aberration” checkbox in Lightroom for every image, without bothering to check whether the image has chromatic aberrations in the first place?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I consider it very safe to enable the “Remove Chromatic Aberration” correction for all images, though there is a chance that saturation will be slightly reduced along contrast edges within the photo.

More Detail: The “Remove Chromatic Aberration” checkbox found in the Lens Corrections section of adjustments in the Develop module in Lightroom (and also available in Adobe Camera Raw) enables you to apply an automated correction for chromatic aberrations (color fringing) in your photos.

This feature is very convenient, and for about half the images I work on that include chromatic aberrations, simply turning on this checkbox will remove the color fringing to the point that no further correction is required.

Because the “Remove Chromatic Aberration” feature is looking for color variations along contrast edges, there is some risk that saturation will be slightly reduced along some of the contrast edges in your photo that didn’t exhibit chromatic aberrations. However, this impact would affect such small areas of the photo that I don’t consider it a significant concern.

Therefore, I would feel perfectly comfortable enabling the “Remove Chromatic Aberration” checkbox for all photos. You can even streamline that process by either updating the default adjustment settings for the Develop module, or by creating a preset that you apply during import for all photos.

Healing Tools in Photoshop

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Today’s Question: What is the difference between the Spot Healing Brush tool and the Healing Brush tool? They seem to provide the same capabilities.

Tim’s Quick Answer: There are two key differences between the Spot Healing Brush tool and the Healing Brush tool. The Spot Healing Brush tool includes the “Content-Aware” technology, and the Spot Healing Brush tool also chooses the source of each image cleanup area automatically.

More Detail: To be sure, the Healing Brush tool and the Spot Healing Brush tool are very similar to each other. Both enable you to perform cleanup work in your images, removing blemishes and other distractions by replacing those areas with pixels taken from other areas of the photo.

The Healing Brush tool is the more basic of these two tools. It does not include the Content-Aware feature that is available with the Spot Healing Brush tool (and that is also found in other tools in Photoshop). That does mean that in some cases the Spot Healing Brush tool is the better choice for cleaning up blemishes in complex areas of your photos.

In addition, with the Healing Brush tool you need to choose the specific source area for pixels that will replace blemishes within your photo. So if, for example, you wanted to use the Healing Brush tool to remove a dust spot from the sky, you would first hold the Alt/Option key while clicking on a clean area of sky, and then paint over the blemish to replace it with a copy of the source pixels.

Because the Spot Healing Brush tool chooses the source area automatically, you don’t need to choose a source of cleanup pixels yourself. Simply paint over blemishes within your photo using the Spot Healing Brush tool, and Photoshop will cleanup the blemish for you automatically.

In general the Spot Healing Brush tool provides more advanced and automated cleanup. Therefore, it is often the first tool I go to when I need to cleanup a blemish in a photo. However, in some cases the automation that is included as part of the Spot Healing Brush tool can produce results that aren’t quite ideal, in which case you might want to exercise a little more control over the cleanup work by using the Healing Brush tool instead. And of course there are other cleanup tools that may be helpful in certain situations as well.

Perfect Selections?

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Today’s Question: Is it really necessary to make sure that a selection in create in Photoshop is absolutely perfect before using that selection to make a layer mask for a targeted adjustment?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Actually, my personal preference is to not worry very much at all about whether a selection is perfect before using that selection as the basis of a layer mask in Photoshop.

More Detail: In many respects you can think of selections and layer masks in Photoshop as being the exact same thing used in different contexts. Both serve as a form of stencil, identifying specific areas of an image while excluding other portions of an image. Therefore, in the context of a targeted adjustment or a composite image, you can achieve the same result regardless of whether you start with a perfect selection or instead work to refine the resulting layer mask.

The key difference here, however, is that with a layer mask you are better able to evaluate the final result by seeing the actual impact on the underlying image. When you are working to refine a selection, you aren’t actually able to see the precise effect of your work in the final image. Instead you have to use a bit of imagination, especially in the context of a selection with a feathered (soft) edge.

As a result, I prefer (and recommend) taking an approach where you create a good basic selection, but don’t worry too much about precision while creating that selection. Then, when the selection has been created, you can use that selection as the basis of a layer mask for either a targeted adjustment or a composite image. At that point you can refine the layer mask to perfection based on a preview of the actual effect in the final image. This enables you to work much more efficiently, since you can evaluate your work on the layer mask based on how your refinements impact the intended result for your photo.

Unwanted Keywords

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Today’s Question: I volunteer at my local camera club and my job is to gather up the winning images from each month, change their resolution, apply a watermark and upload to our gallery. In that process, the keywords attached to those photos by the maker become “attached” to my Lightroom catalog. Each month, I delete the images but the “zero” keywords remain. Is there a way that I can prevent the keywords from other photographers from becoming a part of my catalog?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There are two approaches you could use here. You could create a metadata preset that removes keywords during the import process, or you could remove unused keywords after you’ve removed the photos from your Lightroom catalog.

More Detail: While a metadata preset is generally used to add specific metadata values to your photos, they can also be used to remove the contents of certain metadata fields for your photos. Such a metadata preset could be used during the process of importing the photos into Lightroom.

You’ll first need to create a metadata preset that will remove keywords from metadata for your photos. To do so, go to the Metadata menu on the menu bar and choose “Edit Metadata Presets”. This will bring up the Edit Metadata Presets dialog, which you can use to specify the contents of a metadata preset. Make sure the checkboxes along the right column in the Edit Metadata Presets dialog are all turned off, except for the checkbox to the right of the Keywords field at the very bottom of the dialog.

With the checkbox for the Keywords field being the only checkbox that is turned on, and the actual Keywords text box empty, you can save this result as a preset that will cause keywords to be removed from photos. Click the Preset popup at the top of the Edit Metadata Preset dialog, and choose “Save Current Settings as New Preset” from that popup. Enter a meaningful name (such as “Remove Keywords”) in the New Preset dialog, and click the Create button to create the preset.

When you are importing images that you want to exclude the keywords for, you can simply select your “Remove Keywords” preset from the Metadata popup in the “Apply During Import” section of the right panel in the Import dialog. Just be sure to select a different preset next time you’re importing photos that you prefer to retain existing keywords for.

Another alternative is to simply remove all keywords from Lightroom that are not assigned to any images within your Lightroom catalog. To perform that step all you need to do is choose Metadata > Purge Unused Keywords from the menu. This will cause all keywords on your Keyword List on the right panel in the Library module that are not currently assigned to any photos in your Lightroom catalog to be removed from that list.

Either approach here can provide a perfectly good solution. The main question would be whether you need to view the keywords for the images that will only be in your catalog temporarily for processing, or if you prefer to never import the keywords for those images in the first place.

Causes of Posterization

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Today’s Question: Can you explain how posterization can occur in the first place for a preview image versus a “real” image, as you explained in a recent Ask Tim Grey email?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Posterization is generally caused by applying very strong adjustments to a photo, which reduces the range of tonal and color values available and reduces the smoothness of gradations in a photo. Posterization is most common with images that have a low bit depth, which is why JPEG images are more susceptible to posterization than high-bit RAW captures.

More Detail: Posterization is the loss of smooth gradations of tone or colors in a photo, so in some respects you could say that posterization is the result of adjustments that reduce the total number of tonal or color values.

For example, if you increase contrast in an extreme way, you are compressing the range of tonal values, leaving fewer shades available. A simple example would involve a black and white image of a relatively clear sky. That sky would likely transition from a moderately dark shade of gray to a relatively light shade of gray, for example. Increasing contrast significantly would reduce the number of shades of gray that could be used within that sky, so that the gradation would no longer be smooth.

In some cases a strong adjustment might not be necessary to produce posterization in an image. For example, with some extreme situations simply converting from a high-bit image (such as a RAW capture) to an 8-bit image (such as a JPEG) could result in some posterization.

In particular, if you save a JPEG image (which is always only 8-bits per channel) at a relatively low Quality setting, there is a higher risk of posterization. In the context of Lightroom, for example, if you use a low Quality setting for the previews (this setting can be found in the Catalog Settings dialog) there is a higher risk of posterization in your JPEG previews displayed in the Library module. But chances are it is only the preview that is affected, and the Develop module will show you the actual quality of the image.

Posterization in Lightroom

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Today’s Question: I have an image that shows posterization [the loss of smooth gradations of tone and color in an image] in the Library module [in Lightroom] but when I go to the Develop module it does not show up.  I have seen it 3 or 4 times and was wondering if you could explain this.

Tim’s Quick Answer: The short answer here is that the Develop module presents a more accurate preview, and that the Library module presents a JPEG preview of your photo. Therefore, the preview quality in the Library module will not always reflect the true quality of the underlying photo.

More Detail: There are several factors that affect the preview you see in the Library module in Lightroom. To begin with, that preview is a JPEG version of your original capture, which by definition will not reflect the full quality of the original capture in many cases.

In addition, you can actually adjust the resolution and quality of the preview that is rendered for the Library module. To do so, first bring up the Catalog Settings dialog by choosing Catalog Settings from the Lightroom menu in the Macintosh version of Lightroom or from the Edit menu on the Windows version. On the File Handling tab you can adjust settings for the size of the preview image to be generated as well as the overall quality of that preview. This latter setting relates to the Quality setting when saving a JPEG image.

The aim of the Library module is really to enable you to quickly browse and manage your photos, and so the JPEG preview approach makes sense. But of course in some cases you need to evaluate the true quality with the most accurate view of your photo as possible. In those cases I highly recommend using the Develop module within Lightroom. There might be a slight delay in updating the previews for your photos in the Develop module, but in some cases it is worth accepting that delay in return for a more accurate view of your photos.

As a general rule, I recommend using the Library module when you are organizing and performing a basic review of your photos. When you need to evaluate the true quality of your photos, use the Develop module to browse the images. And when you need to evaluate sharpness I recommend using the 1:1 zoom setting within the Develop module.

One Folder for All Photos?

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Today’s Question: Why not just put all the images into one folder? If I’m very diligent about populating all pertinent metadata fields and adding keywords, won’t that be the means to locate most desired subsets of images using search?

Tim’s Quick Answer: While the metadata included with your photos can be invaluable for locating your photos, personally I still prefer to use folders to organize photos. My general aim in this regard is to provide an additional layer of organization, and to provide a workflow that is somewhat independent of whatever software I might be using (such as Adobe Lightroom) to view and sort photos based on metadata.

More Detail: In many respects this is something of a philosophical question. After all, the folders we create on our hard drives aren’t really physical objects. In fact, you could think of the folders you create on your hard drive as being just another type of metadata applied to your photos. Just as you can add photos to collections in Lightroom, so too can you add them to folders on your hard drive, and then filter the images based on which folder (or collection) you added them to.

However, the folder structure on your hard drive can be thought of as being more “durable” than some of the other metadata you might apply, since those folders are created and managed at the operating system level, rather than potentially being managed at the application level. That is a particular concern with metadata that is specific to an application rather than to an established metadata standard.

For example, in Lightroom the pick and reject flags, membership in collections, and virtual copies are all Lightroom-specific features that would no longer be available if you suddenly stopped using Lightroom to manage your photos.

So, my preference is to add the layer of organization that a folder structure can provide, and to ensure that at least some of my overall organizational workflow will still be available even if the software I am otherwise using to manage my photos were to suddenly become unavailable for any reason.

Having said all that, I don’t personally recommend going to a lot of trouble to create a folder structure and then sort photos into individual photos. For example, I generally recommend against the practice of creating folders for individual subjects (or categories of subjects) and then moving every single image into the appropriate subject-based folders.

In general I keep my photos from a single photographic trip, outing, or photography session within a single folder, and try to use a name for that folder that will be helpful when it comes to locating those folders later.

With software such as Lightroom, of course, you can always bypass your folder structure to search for photos from your entire catalog based on other metadata values. But personally I prefer to maintain a meaningful folder structure for my photos.

Of course, my preferred approach isn’t the right solution for all photographers, so I encourage you to step back and think about what might make the most sense for you both in terms of the amount of effort required to implement your workflow along with what approach will help ensure you’re always able to find the specific photos you need when you need them.