Which Catalog Files to Back Up


Today’s Question: I am currently using GoodSync for all my backups, thanks to your class on backups. I even backup my data using a Sinology NAS, in a fast and efficient way. But how should I backup the Lightroom Classic catalog? Copying the complex structure of the catalog folder takes a long time and I am not confident about this process. Should I first make a backup in Lightroom Classic and after that make a backup of this file?

Tim’s Quick Answer: While copying the entire folder that contains your Lightroom Classic catalog can serve as a backup, I recommend using the built-in backup feature. This ensures only the data that is really necessary gets backed up and provides the opportunity for the catalog integrity to be tested and for the catalog to be optimized.

More Detail: Along with the catalog file that contains most of the information about your photos for Lightroom Classic, there are a variety of other “helper” files that are stored in the same folder as the primary catalog file. However, some of the files in this folder don’t really need to be backed up, and they can be quite large as well.

For example, the previews file contains all the previews Lightroom Classic generates, such as the standard previews used when viewing a full image and the 1:1 previews that are generated if needed when you zoom in on a photo. There’s no need to back up these previews, as if you ever needed to recover from a backup of the catalog, you could simply rebuild the previews.

In addition, by default Lightroom Classic stores any catalog backups you create in a “Backups” folder that is contained within the same folder as the catalog itself. That further means you are potentially copying much more data than you need if you copy the folder containing the catalog each time you want to create a new backup copy.

Instead, I recommend using the built-in backup feature in Lightroom Classic. You can configure the frequency for this backup on the General tab of the Catalog Settings dialog. When you are prompted to back up the catalog, I recommend making sure that both the “Test integrity before backing up” and “Optimize catalog after backing up” checkboxes are turned on.

Note that you can also specify a different location for these catalog backups in the Back Up Catalog dialog, by clicking the Choose button to the right of the Backup Folder field. You could, for example, have the catalog backup stored on the drive you’re currently using as the destination of your backup. If you wanted more redundancy you could also store the catalog backups on another drive that will in turn be backed up to a backup drive.

It is important to keep in mind that backing up the Lightroom Classic catalog only backs up the information about your photos that is contained within the catalog. This backup will not include your actual photos, so you’ll want to be sure you’re backing up your photos separately.

Preserving Virtual Copies


Today’s Question: If things like virtual copies are not preserved when you select “automatically write changes into XMP,” [in Catalog Setting for Lightroom Classic] what do you do to preserve them?

Tim’s Quick Answer: To preserve virtual copies in Lightroom Classic you can either ensure that your catalog remains safe, or export copies of the virtual copies to create new files reflecting the changes applied to virtual copies.

More Detail: I recommend turning on the “Automatically Write Changes into XMP” checkbox on the Metadata tab of the Catalog Settings dialog in Lightroom Classic so that standard metadata updates are preserved along with the source image file in addition to being saved in the catalog. However, this does not preserve some of the features that are specific to Lightroom Classic, such as virtual copies.

To preserve virtual copies, you can of course just make sure your catalog remains safe, since virtual copy information is only stored within the catalog. That means backing up the catalog regularly as a basic starting point. I also highly recommend using the built-in catalog backup feature in Lightroom Classic with the “Test integrity before backing up” checkbox turned on when you perform the backup. This will help ensure that any problems with the catalog are detected and repaired before they become a serious issue.

In addition, you could create additional copies of the virtual copy, so you have a file representing the virtual copy saved beyond the catalog. For example, you could export the virtual copy using the “Original” option selected for Image Format. In the case of a raw capture this would create a copy of the original raw capture along with an XMP sidecar file representing the metadata from Lightroom Classic, which would include the adjustment settings from the Develop module. You could also choose the “Same folder as original photo” option for the Export To popup, and turn on the “Add to This Catalog” checkbox so the additional raw capture representing a different interpretation of the image is preserved alongside the original capture both as an additional file on the hard drive and in the Lightroom Classic catalog.

You could also export a copy of the virtual copy to another format, such as exporting as a TIFF image that would include all the adjustments as part of the new derivative file created as part of this process. You could also use the options to export that copy to the same folder as the original and add the derivative copy to the catalog so it would be alongside the original capture as an additional version.

The point is that by either protecting the Lightroom Classic catalog so you will have long-term access to the virtual copy, or by creating an additional file based on the virtual copy, you can help ensure that you always have access to virtual copies in addition to original images.

Printing with Clipped Highlights


Today’s Question: If you print an original capture with blown-out highlights in the image, will the printer even apply ink to those areas – or will that portion of the photographic paper simply be blank? If so, would this be another reason to use a negative value for Whites so you at least wind up with a gray color in those areas?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, if areas of an image are blown out to pure white, that means there won’t be any ink put down in those areas when the image is printed. I do generally recommend darkening the highlights slightly in this situation so there will be ink on the paper for the entire image.

More Detail: In the context of printing a photo, in most cases if an area of the image is pure white there won’t be any ink put down on the paper in those areas. For very small areas such as with tiny specular highlights this may not be a problem at all. However, if the area is moderately large it can look a bit odd to have no ink in that area of the print. There will generally be a bit of a texture or gloss difference, for example, where there is empty paper surrounded by areas with ink coverage.

To compensate for this issue, I recommend toning down the highlights in the image so that the areas that are pure white will at least have a value darker than white, such as a very bright gray. This will ensure that ink will be applied to the print in these areas.

This can be accomplished by reducing the value for the Whites slider in Lightroom Classic or Camera Raw, for example. In Photoshop you could also reduce the value for white with a Levels adjustment, dragging the white slider under Output Levels to the left to darken the value of white. In all cases this adjustment should generally be very slight, providing just enough of an adjustment that areas of blown out white aren’t entirely white.

Tab Visibility in Photoshop


Today’s Question: Having just installed latest update to Photoshop (Mac), I find that the tabbed image windows use a theme that I cannot adjust. The small “X” that is used to close the window now is just barely visible. I would like to add more contrast to that “X”. Is there a way to do that?

Tim’s Quick Answer: You can’t adjust the contrast for the tabs in Photoshop, but there are a few options that might make it easier for you to deal with this (admittedly frustrating) issue.

More Detail: The tabs for images you have open in Photoshop don’t have much contrast for the small “X” that appears to the left of the document name on each tab, which you can click to close a document. But there are a few options that you may find helpful.

There are different brightness settings for the overall interface. These have virtually no impact on the contrast for the “X” that appears on the tab for each open document, but I do find that at least to my eye the medium-dark option provides a slight benefit. This is the second out of four options for the Color Theme setting found on the Interface tab of the Preferences dialog. This is also the setting I recommend as being the best for not interfering with your evaluation of the overall brightness of an image.

You might also find it helpful to use the option to have large tabs rather than the smaller size. To enable this option turn on the “Large Tabs” checkbox found on the Workspace tab of the Preferences dialog. This doesn’t make the “X” on the left side of the tab any larger, but it does provide a bit more room for finding the right spot to click. Also note that when you hover your mouse over the “X” that area will be highlighted, which makes it a little easier to determine exactly where to click.

Another option that you may find more helpful is to make use of a keyboard shortcut to close the current tab. You can press Command+W on Macintosh or Ctrl+W on Windows to close the currently active tab. If you need to switch tabs you can click on a tab to make that tab active. Note that the active tab will have the document name appear brighter than for inactive tabs. You can also switch among tabs by pressing Ctrl+Tab on Windows or Command+` on Macintosh (that symbol is the grave accent, which also has the tilde character on the key that is found at the top-left of the keyboard).

If you really find the low visibility of the “X” on the tabs, you might even consider using floating windows rather than tabs. You can drag a tab away from the dock area to make the document a floating window, for example. You can also turn off the “Open Documents as Tabs” checkbox on the Workspace tab of the Preferences dialog so by default when you open an image it will be in a floating window rather than a tab. This will certainly make the button for closing the window much more visible, but you may also find it distracting to work with floating windows rather than tabs.

Managing Clipping with Levels


Today’s Question: In response to your answers about setting the black point and white point to avoid clipping, would the same concept apply with the Levels adjustment in Photoshop?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, you can compensate to some extent for clipped highlights or shadows with the Levels adjustment in Photoshop. You would just need to use the Output Levels sliders for this purpose, because the sliders for the black and white point don’t allow for a “negative” value.

More Detail: As noted in the past two installments of the Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter, in Camera Raw or Lightroom Classic you can set the black point and white point for a photo with the Blacks and Whites sliders, respectively. If an image exhibits lost shadow or highlight detail in the original capture, you can use a negative value for Whites to tone down the blown highlights, and you can use a positive value for Blacks to brighten up the clipped shadows.

In other words, you can use a positive value for Whites to brighten the brightest pixels, and a negative value to darken those areas. You can similarly use a negative value for Blacks to darken the darkest pixels, or a positive value to brighten those areas.

If you’re using the Levels adjustment in Photoshop you set the black and white point using the Input Levels sliders. Those sliders are found directly below the histogram, with the black value at the far left and the white value at the far right. Normally you would move these sliders inward to set the black and white point for the image, holding the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on Macintosh to enable the clipping preview display while doing so.

However, if the image has clipped shadow or highlight areas based on the original exposure, you wouldn’t want to bring the black or white Input Levels sliders inward. Instead, you would need to use the Output Levels sliders to brighten the shadows or darken the highlights.

If you drag the black Output Levels slider to the right, you are brightening the value for black, so that the darkest areas of the image would be brightened. If you drag the white Output Levels slider to the left, you are darkening the value for white, so that the brightest areas of the image would be darkened.

If there is no detail in the original capture due to clipped shadows or highlights, it is important to keep in mind that adjusting the value for the Output Levels sliders won’t magically bring back the detail in those areas. You will therefore generally want to use a very modest setting for the Output Levels sliders, so that you don’t create a bigger problem with a muddy appearance in the darkest shadows or brightest highlights.

Dealing with Blown Out Highlights


Today’s Question: Does this same advice [about dealing with shadows that are clipped in the original capture] apply to the white point as well? In a similar situation with the white point, I find that I can get past this with a combination of the Highlights slider and the Whites slider. Should I not be doing this? Am I making things worse?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Setting the white point for a photo is similar to setting the black point, except that in general it is almost always preferred to avoid clipping for the whites. Just keep in mind that if you reduce the white point for an image that exhibits clipping, you may still end up with a lack of detail in the bright areas of the image.

More Detail: As noted in yesterday’s answer about setting the black point for a photo, in general you want the darkest pixels in the photo to be black. However, if the original exposure has shadow areas that have been clipped to pure black, you won’t be able to recover detail in those areas simply by brightening the black point.

Similarly, if you have lost highlight detail in the original exposure, you can’t actually recover the lost detail with adjustments after the capture. If the brightest areas have blown out to pure white, you can darken those areas, but you can’t recover detail that isn’t represented in the original capture data.

If you reduce the value for Whites and Highlights in Lightroom Classic or Camera Raw, for example, the areas that had been blown out may no longer be entirely white, but those areas will still lack detail and instead be some shade of gray. Making this adjustment can cause the blown-out areas to look a little better (especially in print), but there will still be a lack of detail in those areas. Also, it is important not to darken those highlight areas too much, as doing so can make them look a bit muddy.

Ultimately, clipped highlights for anything other than specular highlights (such as strong lights or bright reflections) is generally problematic for a photo. If you have a photo where the highlights are clipped, you can tone down those highlights slightly (with the Whites and possibly Highlights sliders), or even use image cleanup techniques to add detail to those areas. But it is best, of course, to avoid those blown highlights in the first place. In most cases it is better to allow the shadows to be clipped in order to avoid clipping highlights. You can also bracket the exposures in high-contrast situations so you can create a high dynamic range (HDR) image after the capture, resulting in maximum detail for the final image.

Black Point Challenge


Today’s Question: I’ve been following your tutorials but for some images I find it impossible to set the black point in Camera Raw. Even if I set the black slider to +100, I still can’t get a clear white screen [with the clipping preview display]. In many cases the color that remains is yellow. I don’t know if this is indicative of anything or not. What should I do?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Your description indicates that the source image exhibits clipping in the blacks from the original capture. In this scenario you won’t be able to avoid clipping altogether for the image, so you’ll need to compromise with the Blacks slider value.

More Detail: The Blacks and Whites sliders in Camera Raw and Lightroom Classic enable you to set the black and white point in an image, respectively. The general idea is that for an image that exhibits good contrast you want to increase the value for the Whites slider until the brightest pixels in the image are white, and then decrease the value for the Blacks slider until the darkest pixels are black.

This process can be assisted with the clipping preview display, which shows you when you have clipped the highlights to pure white or the shadows to pure black. This is accessed by holding the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on Macintosh while adjusting the slider for the Whites or Blacks adjustment.

When using the clipping preview display while adjusting the Blacks slider the image will generally show all white initially to indicate there is no shadow clipping. When adjusting the Whites slider in this way the image will generally show all black, which indicates there is no highlight clipping.

However, if you see an indication of clipping immediately when adjusting the Blacks or Whites slider, that indicates there is likely clipping in the original capture. In other words, some detail was lost with the original exposure settings. It may be possible to avoid that clipping, such as by increasing the value for Blacks to avoid shadow clipping. However, if detail was completely lost in the original exposure there’s no way to bring it back with a simple adjustment. Also, increasing the value for Blacks when there is already clipping may cause the image to look a little odd, with dark shadow areas appearing a bit too bright, for example.

When there is clipping in the original capture it is generally best to accept that those areas lack detail, and not try to increase the value for Blacks too significantly, for example. In this type of situation, I generally recommend setting the value for Blacks so that only the areas that were clipped in the original capture exhibit that clipping in the image. In other words, there’s no real benefit to increasing the value for Blacks, and you probably don’t want to reduce the value either. That often means simply leaving the Blacks slider value at zero when your initial adjustment shows there was clipping in the original capture.

Electronic Shutter versus Global Shutter


Today’s Question: For cameras that have an electronic shutter mode available wouldn’t you get the same benefit as from a “global shutter”? I would think in this mode the sensor would not be read row by row, or if it is that it would be so fast as to not be relevant.

Tim’s Quick Answer: An electronic shutter would not provide the benefits of a global shutter, and in fact in many cases an electronic shutter represents a disadvantage compared to a mechanical shutter.

More Detail: In a previous answer I addressed the concept of a global shutter, which is an image sensor that can read the data from the entire sensor at once, rather than reading that data line by line. The line-by-line readout can result in a rolling shutter distortion effect when photographing fast-moving subjects.

An electronic shutter is a feature of some cameras where you can shoot silently because the mechanical shutter doesn’t need to be activated. Instead of using the mechanical shutter to control how long the sensor is exposed to the light passing through the lens, the image sensor controls exposure by turning the photosites on and off.

With an electronic shutter the speed at which the camera can read data from the sensor determines the limitations of the electronic shutter. By contrast, with a mechanical shutter the sensor can activate photosites on the sensor before the shutter starts moving and can deactivate the photosites after the shutter has closed, because the shutter itself controls the flow of light to the sensor.

When a mechanical shutter isn’t in use the electronic shutter can therefore result in a greater rolling shutter effect than would have been present when using the mechanical shutter. Therefore, when photographing particularly fast-moving subjects it is generally better to use the mechanical shutter rather than the electronic shutter option.

Of course, as cameras continue to get faster and faster the risk of the rolling shutter effect is reduced. But as noted previously, the only way to eliminate the risk of a rolling shutter effect is to use a camera that features a global shutter, such as the new Sony a9 III (https://bhpho.to/3FP2f3B).

History State for Reference View


Today’s Question: Can the reference image [in the Develop module in Lightroom Classic] be a prior version in the history list?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, if you use a virtual copy to represent the prior history state for the image.

More Detail: As noted in my answer from November 8th (https://asktimgrey.com/2023/11/08/reference-view-for-optimizing), you can use the Reference View feature in Lightroom Classic to have a reference image displayed next to the image you’re working on in the Develop module. This enables you to apply adjustments based on a different image, such as when you want to match the overall look of one image for another image.

Any image can be used as a reference image in Lightroom Classic, by simply switching to the Reference View and dragging an image from the filmstrip on the bottom panel into the Reference image area.

If you want to use a specific history state for an image as the reference image, I suggest creating a virtual copy for this purpose. Start by selecting the image in the Develop module and selecting the applicable state in the History section on the left panel (or select a snapshot if you’ve created one). Then right-click on the image and choose “Create Virtual Copy” from the popup menu. The virtual copy will inherit the current settings for the image, so it will reflect the history state. You can then set the original image back to the latest history state at the top of the History section.

The virtual copy created based on a specific history state for an image can then be dragged into the Reference image area. This provides the effect of having a specific history state for an image for reference while working on another image in the Develop module.

Image Off Screen when Zoomed Out


Today’s Question: In Photoshop I have my preferences set to use the scroll wheel on the mouse to enlarge or decrease the size. Enlarging isn’t an issue it is decreasing the size. The image slides off the screen or to somewhere other than the center. Is there a check box in preferences to set this so the image stays centered?

Tim’s Quick Answer: You can avoid this behavior when zooming out in Photoshop by turning off the Overscroll checkbox on the Tools tab of the Preferences dialog.

More Detail: When you use the scroll wheel or gesture to zoom in on an image in Photoshop, the area of the image that the mouse pointer is over is the area that will be the center of the zoomed in view. However, when you zoom out the image doesn’t get repositioned within the image area, so you might not be able to see the entirety of the image, for example.

However, if you turn off the Overscroll checkbox on the Tools tab of the Preferences dialog, you won’t be able to scroll the image beyond the bounds of the viewing area. That helps keep more of the image in view, because the entirety of the image is then not allowed to be moved outside the viewing area.

If you prefer using the mouse scroll wheel or gesture to zoom in or out, I suggest turning off the Overscroll checkbox, which will probably provide a solution you’re happy with in this context. It is also worth keeping in mind that there are other ways to quickly zoom in or out to specific settings.

For example, you can double-click on the button for the Zoom tool on the toolbar to zoom to a 100% zoom setting, and you can double-click on the button for the Hand tool to zoom to the Fit Screen setting. You can also press Ctrl+0 (zero) on Windows or Command+0 (zero) on Macintosh to size the image to the Fit Screen setting after you’ve zoomed in on a portion of the image.