File Renaming Strategy


Today’s Question: How would you rename the images in a single folder when those images come from different cameras and/or are a mix of different file formats? For example, I just came back from a week long trip to Wyoming and captured images using my iPhone and my DSLR in RAW format, JPEG format, and RAW + JPEG formats. That being the case, I have a bunch of different out-of-the-camera file names and various file formats.

Tim’s Quick Answer: My preference is to use the exact same file-renaming strategy for all images within a given folder, regardless of which camera was used or what file types I may have captured. In short, whatever naming structure makes sense for one file format should still make sense for other file formats. If that isn’t the case, it is probably time to re-evaluate your file renaming strategy.

More Detail: For example, I generally use custom text and a sequence number as the structure for the filenames for my photos. The custom text generally relates to the trip or subject matter, and the sequence number is simply a way to ensure each photo gets a unique filename. So, for example, a visit to Rome in 2015 might result in a filename such as “Rome_2015_0001.cr2”.

When you rename photos, the filename extension (such as “cr2” above or “jpg” for a JPEG capture) will be retained. My approach is to sort the photos by capture time and then rename with a sequence number so the sequence number will reflect the capture order. In other words, sorting by filename will be the same as sorting by capture time.

If you want to include other metadata values in the filenames, that would obviously create a different result in terms of the actual filename structure. But that filename structure would still work across a wide variety of file formats and cameras. Perhaps you include the camera serial number in the filename, for example, so you can easily identify photos from one camera versus another. As long as a sequence number is included as part of your filename structure, you’ll still have unique filenames for all images.

I personally don’t feel the need to segregate or otherwise organize photos based on the file type or the camera that was used. The file type, for example, is simply another piece of metadata. To be sure, there may be times that I don’t want to see my JPEG captures, for example. But I can easily filter based on that. So my approach is to have a single filename structure for a given set of photos (generally for all photos within a single folder), and use other metadata values as needed to locate the specific images I’m looking for.

For example, in some cases I’m looking for my highest quality images from a trip, and those are most likely going to be RAW captures from my digital SLR. So I could simply filter based on the camera model, or filter based on the RAW capture format, or a variety of other criteria. But I prefer to have a single filename structure with a sequence number that correlates to capture order, to simplify my workflow for renaming photos without giving up any flexibility in my workflow in the process.

Quick Mask versus Layer Mask


Today’s Question: Would you be able to explain when use of the quick mask is appropriate [in Photoshop] instead of a regular layer mask?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The Quick Mask feature in Photoshop is actually a tool for creating and modifying selections, while a layer mask is used to identify an area that an adjustment will apply to (or for creating a composite image). Since a selection can be used as the basis of a layer mask, you could use Quick Mask mode to create or modify your initial selection, then create a layer mask based on that selection, and fine-tune from there.

More Detail: Photoshop includes a variety of different tools for creating selections. Most of those tools involve either tracing along the edge of the object you want to select, or identifying the area to be selected based on sampling within the image.

The Quick Mask mode is an option for creating or modifying selections where you paint with white to indicate areas you want to select, and with black to indicate areas you don’t want selected. So, for example, you can use the Brush tool to identify (or modify) the area of a selection, or you could use the Lasso tool to trace along the edge of that selection. In other words, the Quick Mask mode is simply another tool available for creating and modifying selections.

A layer mask is used in conjunction with an adjustment layer (or an image layer) to apply a targeted adjustment (or to create a composite image). With a layer mask you can paint with white to identify areas you want to adjust (or have visible), and you can paint with black to identify areas you don’t want to adjust (or that you want to hide).

So, Quick Mask mode and layer masks are very similar, in that you’re able to paint with white and black to identify areas of the image. The only difference is the context. You can use Quick Mask mode if you prefer painting to define a selection, and then create a layer mask based on the selection. And regardless of how you created a selection (or whether you created a selection at all) you can also paint with white and black on a layer mask to refine that mask that is being used as a “stencil” for the image.

DNG versus RAW


Today’s Question: What do you lose by using the Adobe DNG Converter to convert RAW to DNG and then import into Lightroom? I am on version 5.7 of Lightroom and recently got a camera that is not supported in that release (primarily used for video but occasionally stills). I am reluctant to upgrade Lightroom, and have been editing the files in Lightroom in the DNG format. What am I missing in terms of the particular camera profiles or anything else by not being on the Adobe supported profile for this camera?

Tim’s Quick Answer: For all practical purposes, most photographers would not be giving up anything at all by converting their original RAW captures to the Adobe DNG format. This is a common approach to working around the lack of support for newer RAW capture formats in older versions of Adobe software applications.

More Detail: There is the potential to lose access to certain “private” metadata that your camera may have included in the RAW capture, and that the Adobe DNG Converter doesn’t know about. However, the actual original capture data and the standard metadata (such as color temperature settings, for example) would be preserved.

The only other disadvantage from a workflow standpoint relates to the fact that with the Adobe DNG format all metadata is added to the DNG file rather than to an XMP “sidecar” file. I prefer to enable the option in Lightroom to write metadata updates to my original captures (found on the Metadata tab of the Catalog Settings dialog). This provides a real-time backup, and also ensures compatibility across different applications that might show the metadata for my images.

My preferred backup solution involves synchronizing my source drive to a backup drive. With RAW captures if I make a change to an image, only the XMP file on my hard drive is actually updated, with the RAW file remaining unaltered. That XMP file is very small compared to the original RAW capture, so my synchronization backup requires very little time. By contrast, the same update for a DNG file would cause the entire DNG file to be updated, resulting in more data needing to be synchronized during backup.

But in terms of the actual contents of your photo, there is really no significant reason to avoid the conversion to Adobe DNG if you prefer not to upgrade to the latest version of Lightroom (or Photoshop). All of the original pixel data will be preserved when the Adobe DNG Converter processes your captures. That said, my personal preference would be to preserve a copy of the original RAW capture files, just in case those ever prove useful in the future.

Display Calibration Update?


Today’s Question: Do you feel there’s value for the money invested in purchasing the latest model colorimeter if you already own and use one from two or three models earlier?

Tim’s Quick Answer: As long as there is no reason to suspect that your existing colorimeter is no longer providing accurate results, in my opinion there is no reason to purchase a newer colorimeter.

More Detail: For those unfamiliar, a colorimeter is a device used to measure the color and tonal values presented by your computer’s monitor display, which in turn are used to create a profile for the purpose of ensuring a more accurate display on that monitor.

To be sure, there have been some improvements with the latest models of colorimeters. However, from my perspective the accuracy of older colorimeters (going back at least a few years) is still very good. So as long as you are getting accurate results with your monitor calibration and profiling, I don’t see any reason to upgrade.

Of course, for anyone who is not already calibrating and profiling their monitor display, I very highly recommend purchasing a package that includes a colorimeter and associated software for ensuring the most accurate display possible. One of the tools I consider to represent the best value in this regard is the ColorMunki from X-Rite, which you can learn more about here:

Quick Selection Trouble


Today’s Question: In the last few days I’m unable to use the Quick Selection Tool [in Photoshop]. I can have a plain blue sky and once I drag the quick selection tool over the sky I just get a sausage shaped selection the diameter of the tool. No pixels outside the diameter of the tool are selected. Have you any suggestions what the problem could be?

Tim’s Quick Answer: If you’re getting a selection with an odd shape when using the Quick Selection tool in Photoshop, the issue is almost certainly that you have the “wrong” layer active on the Layers panel. In most cases the best solution is to simply turn on the “Sample All Layers” checkbox on the Options bar for the Quick Selection tool.

More Detail: The Quick Selection tool will by default only sample the currently active layer on the Layers panel. So, for example, if an adjustment layer is active you will only be creating a selection based on the contents of the layer mask for that adjustment layer. Similarly, if you have an image cleanup layer active on the Layers panel, the Quick Selection tool will be creating a selection based on that layer (which likely contains relatively few pixels) rather than being based on the overall image.

The simplest solution is to turn on the “Sample All Layers” checkbox on the Options bar after selecting the Quick Selection tool, so that your selection will be based on the overall composite pixel values in the image, rather than being based on the currently active layer on the Layers panel.

In some cases, of course, you may prefer to create a selection that is based on the contents of a specific layer. In that case, you can turn off the “Sample All Layers” checkbox on the Options bar, but you then need to be sure to select the desired layer on the Layers panel by clicking on the thumbnail for that layer.

It is worth noting that the size of the brush for the Quick Selection tool can also have an impact on the selection that is created. If the brush size is too small, the selection will not cover a large enough area because the tool will not be sampling enough pixel values. You can adjust the brush size using the left and right square bracket keys (‘[‘ and ‘]’) on the keyboard. In general I recommend using a brush that is as large as possible for the area you need to select whenever you are working with the Quick Selection tool.

Missing Thumbnails


Today’s Question: I understand the exclamation point in Lightroom’s grid view (I think) but I thought that I should still be able to see a preview even if hard drive containing image was disconnected. Can you offer a solution?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Under “normal” circumstances you should indeed be able to see the thumbnails (and even the larger previews) for all of the images in your Lightroom catalog, even when the source images are not available. For any images for which a thumbnail or preview is not displayed, rendering new previews when the source images are available should solve the problem.

More Detail: Generally speaking, the previews for your photos are generated when the images are imported into your Lightroom catalog. I recommend using the “Standard” option for previews during the import process. If you have considerable free hard drive space you can also use the “1:1” option. As long as this process completes before you quit Lightroom (or disconnect an external hard drive) the previews will be available and visible whenever you have that catalog open in Lightroom.

When thumbnails and/or previews are not available for some of the images in your Lightroom catalog, you can simply render new previews for those images. You do need to have the images available for that process to work, which means you can’t have any images that display the exclamation point indicating the source file is not available.

So, for example, if all of your photos are stored on an external hard drive, you’ll first need to connect that hard drive. You could then select the images that need to have previews rendered, but in most cases I find it easier to simply select all photos within a folder that has some missing thumbnails or previews. You could navigate to a folder with some missing previews, then choose Edit > Select All from the menu (or press Ctrl+A on Windows or Command+A on Macintosh). Then, while in the Library module, choose Library > Previews > Build Standard-Sized Previews from the menu (if you prefer full resolution previews you can choose “Build 1:1 Previews” from that menu instead).

Lightroom will show you the progress of the preview rendering on the identity plate at the far left of the top panel. When that process is complete, all of the images you build previews for will have both thumbnails and previews visible even when the source images are not currently available.

Discontinuing Creative Cloud


Today’s Question: [As a follow up to yesterday’s question about the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription plans] If I don’t connect to the Internet or, maybe more to the point, if I cancel my monthly payment, what happens to the installed software on my computer and iPad?

Tim’s Quick Answer: If you discontinue your Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, you will still have access to your original and derivative image files, but you will (for the most part) not have access to the software applications included in your Creative Cloud subscription. That applies whether you discontinue the subscription or Adobe is not able to validate that your subscription is current.

More Detail: First, allow me to underscore the point that if you discontinue your Adobe Creative Cloud subscription plan you will not lose access to your source images stored on your local hard drives. If you had saved copies of your photos on Adobe’s servers as part of your online storage allowance, those files would no longer be available. And in some respects the copies of your photos used to synchronize to mobile devices would be unavailable. But your source images would not be affected by this change, and would remain on your local hard drives.

If you discontinue your Creative Cloud subscription, you won’t have access to the applications included in your subscription, such as Photoshop and Lightroom if you signed up for the Creative Cloud Photography Plan. The specific behavior differs from one application to the next. Photoshop would simply not be able to launch, for example. You would still be able to launch Lightroom, but would not be able to adjust your photos in the Develop module, among other limitations.

The applications installed on your iPad would still be available, but without a current Creative Cloud subscription plan the synchronization services would no longer be available, causing those applications to no longer be very useful.

Note that one of the terms of a Creative Cloud subscription plan is the need to connect to the Internet at least every thirty days in order to validate your subscription. In other words, if you have Creative Cloud applications installed on a computer that is offline for more than thirty days, those applications will no longer be available as outlined in the description above.

So, the bottom line is that if you discontinue your Creative Cloud subscription you will still have access to your own files, but not to the Adobe software included in your subscription plan. For Photoshop PSD files or layered TIFF images, of course, that means you may not have any software available that can properly open the files. That said, if you still have a version of the software applications that precedes the Creative Cloud versions (such as Photoshop CS6 for example) and that software still runs properly on your computer, that would enable you to mitigate most of the issues involved with no longer having access to the Creative Cloud applications.

In other words, the Creative Cloud subscription plans are really designed for you to continue paying a monthly subscription fee indefinitely, until you decide you no longer need to access the applications included in that subscription plan.

Understanding the Creative Cloud


Today’s Question: My question may seem naive but I’m only just now getting involved with the Adobe Creative Cloud. Where are my pictures located once I start using Lightroom, and how are my devices known?

Tim’s Quick Answer: This question relates to what is perhaps the greatest source of confusion regarding the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription plans. With the Creative Cloud plans, the software applications you’ll use (such as Lightroom) are still installed on your computer as “normal” software, and your photos will still reside on your local hard drives based on where you have stored those photos.

More Detail: The Creative Cloud plans really only change two things compared to the “old” method of buying a license for individual software applications.

First, instead of having the option to buy the software on a DVD or other media in a retail store, or to have that media shipped to you from an online retailer, the applications in the Adobe Creative Cloud plans are downloaded from Adobe servers in order to be installed on your local hard drive. In other words, the software is still installed in the exact same way. You’re simply downloading the software for installation rather than receiving that software on a DVD or other media.

Second, the Creative Cloud plans offered by Adobe include online file storage and synchronization services. These options are in addition to your local file storage, not in place of your local storage. So, for example, you would still store all of your photos on a local hard drive, but you would have the option to save some of your files to your Creative Cloud online storage so they could be accessed from other locations, or to synchronize some of your photos so they could be accessed from Lightroom on a mobile device or through a web browser.

You don’t actually need to be connected to the Internet to make use of the various software applications (such as Lightroom) that are included in the Creative Cloud plans. You do need to connect to the Internet at least once very thirty days so Adobe can confirm that your Creative Cloud plan has not expired, but otherwise you can continue to work with the installed software applications while offline.

So, the Creative Cloud plans change the licensing structure from a per-upgrade price to a monthly subscription fee, they change the way the software is delivered for installation, and they provide some additional online benefits. But once you have installed one or more applications that are included in your Creative Cloud plan, those applications will operate as “normal” applications just like any others you’ve installed on your computer, and your photos will remain wherever you’ve stored them.

Evaluating Sharpness


Today’s Question: In your “Evaluating Photos” video you discuss zoom for sharpness and you say that you should always zoom to a 1:1 ratio when doing so. Does the absolute need for sharpness have any relation to the eventual size of your print? That is, if I am going to print a 4×6, can I get away with the photo being not quite as sharp as when I am going to print larger sizes? At what size, if any, does sharpness become an absolute necessity?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I would say that the size of the print doesn’t change the need for sharpening, but rather changes the nature of the sharpening you should apply. For a larger print, for example, you will need stronger sharpening than would be necessary for a smaller print. But in almost all cases, sharpening is a necessary step in preparing a photo for print.

More Detail: When sharpening a photo that you are going to print, you’re not just compensating for the factors that reduce sharpness in the original capture, but also for the factors that reduce the apparent sharpness of the final print. Those factors contribute to a situation where it can be very difficult to evaluate sharpening settings for a photo without actually printing that photo.

The size of the final print certainly has a big impact on the sharpening settings, because it has an impact on the size of transitions for the detail and texture in your photo. There is also a secondary impact due to the viewing distance, since larger prints tend to be viewed from a greater distance (though that obviously is not always the case).

In addition, you need to consider the print process you are using. This includes a consideration of the type of printer being used, the type of ink being used, and the paper surface you are printing to. As just one example, in general you will need to apply stronger sharpening to a photo being printed to a matte paper surface than you would need to apply to the same photo being printed to a glossy paper surface. That is because with matte papers the inks will generally spread out more when they come in contact with the paper (this behavior is generally referred to as “dot gain”).

Even with a photo that was captured with perfect sharpness, you will still generally need to apply sharpening to the final image based on the output size and print conditions. Because of these factors, it is difficult to evaluate the sharpening settings based on a review of the photo on your computer’s display.

However, with a bit of experience you’ll start to understand the degree to which you need to “over-sharpen” the image based on the on-screen appearance in order to produce the best print for the output size and paper type you’re printing to, for example. With that experience, I do recommend evaluating the image at a 1:1 (100% zoom) setting in order to ensure the most accurate evaluation of the sharpening effect. But again, it does take some experience to be able to effectively evaluate those results based on the display of the image on your computer monitor.

Filtering by Date Range


Today’s Question: You said [in yesterday’s edition of the Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter] that you could easily filter photos by date or by a date range. I’m stuck on the “date range” part. I’m using Lightroom, and sometimes want to be able to see photos from several days within a single trip. How can I filter by a date range in Lightroom?

Tim’s Quick Answer: When using the Metadata options for the Library Filter in Lightroom, you can easily select multiple criteria within a given column. To select a range of value, click the first value and then hold the Shift key and click on the last value, and all values in between will be selected. To toggle the selection of an individual item on a list, you can hold the Ctrl key on Windows or the Command key on Macintosh while clicking on an item to select or deselect that item.

More Detail: In the context of dates, you have considerable flexibility in terms of being able to select ranges of dates or a collection of random dates, as well as being able to select dates based on year, month, or day.

So, for example, you could filter images so you can see only those from 2013, 2014, and 2015 by first clicking on 2013 and then holding the Shift key and clicking in 2015. This will cause all of the years in between to be selected as well, so that you’ve defined a range of years.

You could also select individual years, months, or days within the range for the currently available images. So, for example, if you wanted to see the photos from Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a given photo trip, you could click on the applicable Monday date, then hold the Ctrl key on Windows or the Command key on Macintosh while clicking on Wednesday, and then hold the Ctrl/Command key again and click on Friday.

Note, by the way, that you can click the “spinner” control (the triangle icon) to the left of any year or month in order to expand or collapse the dates below. So, for example, if you collapse all of the years using the applicable spinner controls, you could have a list of only years. Or you could expand the years and all of the months so you can see the dates for all photos on a per-day basis.

By adjusting which values you’re able to see at any given moment on the date list, and then select specific ranges or individual values by using the Shift key to define ranges or the Ctrl/Command key to toggle additional values. The list of photos displayed will be filtered based on the criteria you have selected within the Library Filter controls.