Laptop Size


Today’s Question: I noticed you were using an Apple laptop. It looked like the 13 inch MacBook Pro? I am about to purchase a laptop for traveling in my new camper. Is the 13-inch display large enough to comfortably work in Lightroom or Photoshop?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, I am using a 13-inch MacBook Pro as my primary (actually, pretty much exclusive) computer. With the Retina display I am very comfortable working with this display size for working in Lightroom and Photoshop, as well as editing my videos in Premiere Pro and laying out Pixology magazine in InDesign.

More Detail: To be sure, my priorities are a little different from those of many other photographers, because I travel rather extensively. Because I am rarely home for more than a couple weeks at a time, and am often away from home for weeks on end, it makes sense for me to use a laptop as my primary computer platform.

It has been more than five years since I’ve owned a desktop computer, and I don’t miss it at all. With a laptop I always have my familiar computer and my data no matter where I am.

I do feel that the 13-inch display size is a good compromise. To me personally a 15-inch or larger display results in a laptop that feels more bulky and less portable. And a smaller display isn’t as comfortable to work with.

With previous laptops I felt that I was compromising significantly due to the relatively low display resolution. I simply didn’t have much screen real estate to use for some of the key applications in my workflow. But with the Retina display I am now perfectly happy. I prefer the higher resolution setting (referred to as “More Space” in the Macintosh preferences), which produces a display that appears like a resolution of 1680×1050 pixels. In other words, I have what is very close to a full 1080p high definition display, which works well for demanding applications such as Photoshop and Lightroom.

It is worth noting that if you’re going to use a laptop as a primary platform for working with Photoshop and Lightroom, you’ll want to opt for a relatively powerful laptop. That means opting for the fastest multi-core processor available, upgrading the memory to 16GB of RAM (or even more), and taking advantage of the hard drive (or SSD drive) option with the highest capacity available.

Rotate Without Crop


Today’s Question: Crop is an indispensable feature, and the rotate feature usually has crop built in. But sometimes I don’t want to crop when I rotate, and sometimes I want to reposition the object of the photo creating white space at the edge, or even expand the borders in all directions. Is there a software function that will automatically back fill the white space? Else I need to use the Clone Stamp tool to add sky, trees, mountains, or whatever is in the background.

Tim’s Quick Answer: There are a couple of options I would recommend in Photoshop. These are the Content Aware Fill, and manually duplicating a relatively large area of pixels.

More Detail: The first option is more automatic, but the results can be a bit mixed. First, be sure that when you are using the Crop tool that you turn off the “Delete Cropped Pixels” checkbox on the Options bar. This will ensure you can always use the “Reveal All” command found on the Edit menu to expand the canvas so that all pixels in the image are visible.

Next, create a copy of the Background image layer by dragging the thumbnail for that layer to the “Create a New Layer” button (the blank sheet of paper icon) at the bottom of the Layers panel. This will create a Background Copy layer that you can use as the basis of the Content Aware Fill technique.

Now you can create a selection in the “blank” areas created when you rotated the image without cropping into the image. I recommend working with one side of the image at a time to help improve the overall results. With a selection active you can then choose Edit > Fill from the menu. In the Fill dialog choose “Content Aware” from the Contents popup. I also recommend turning on the “Color Adaptation” checkbox to improve color rendering. Click OK and the selected area will be filled with pixels taken from the image.

The quality of results with Content Aware Fill can vary considerably. Sometimes it works great, and sometimes not so great. Keep in mind, however, that you can use other tools such as the Clone Stamp and the Spot Healing Brush to improve upon the results without too much effort.

When the Content Aware Fill approach doesn’t work very well you can use a more “manual” approach to filling in the empty areas of the image. Start by creating a selection of an area that would represent a good fill for the empty area. Then choose Layer > New > Layer via Copy from the menu, or press Ctrl+J on Windows or Command+J on Macintosh. This will duplicate the selected pixels onto a new layer. Use the Move tool to drag that new layer into position to cover up part of the empty portion of the image. You can then use a layer mask to blend areas in, and employ the Clone Stamp and Spot Healing Brush tools to perform additional cleanup work on a separate layer.

The various “automated” capabilities for image cleanup in Photoshop can provide you with a great starting point, though in many cases you’ll still need to perform additional work to produce a satisfactory result. Fortunately, a combination of “automatic” and “manual” approaches can minimize the amount of time and effort required to produce great results.

Location Tracking


Today’s Question: You showed a technique for using the GPS in your phone to provide locations for pictures, by using synchronized times (adjusting for time zones). What app are you using on the phone? When I travel to a foreign country, what settings do I need to be sure to have set correctly so that my phone’s GPS works but I’m not hit with lots of extra data or phone charges?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I use an app called “GPSTrack”, which is only available for the iPhone and iPad. And when traveling internationally I recommend that you not enable “airplane mode”, because doing so will disable your GPS receiver. Instead, I recommend turning of the cellular data and other features so that you don’t have to worry about international voice and data charges but can still take advantage of the GPS receiver in your mobile device.

More Detail: To be sure, one of the easiest ways to avoid a surprisingly high cellular phone bill after an international trip is to set your mobile device to “airplane mode” so that all of the cellular features are disabled. Unfortunately, using this approach also disables the GPS antenna in your mobile device, so you cannot take advantage of GPS tagging for photos captured with that device, and cannot use apps such as GPSTrack to record a track log that can be synchronized with your photos later.

Therefore, my recommendation is to become familiar with the configuration settings for your mobile device, so you can disable the cellular features that can lead to high data charges without disabling the GPS receiver that enables the option to record location information with photos captured on a mobile device or through the use of a track log.

In the case of the iPhone, for example, you can go into the Cellular section of the Settings app and disable Cellular Data as well as Roaming. By doing so, you can ensure you will not incur charges for cellular data, while still being able to track your location using the GPS receiver built into your phone.

Split ND Obsolete?


Today’s Question: There is an article in Outdoor Photographer posting Monday about “Mastering the Grad ND” filter. With the capabilities in Photoshop/Lightroom (specifically the Gradient Filter tool), is there a substantial difference in using the filters over creating the same effect in post?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In general I would say that I consider the graduated neutral density filter to be obsolete. The various options for applying graduated adjustments provide an alternative for many situations. And when the dynamic range of the scene exceeds the abilities of your camera, capturing multiple exposures to blend into a high dynamic range (HDR) image is generally a better solution compared to the use of a graduated neutral density filter.

More Detail: One of the frustrations of working with a graduated neutral density filter is that it is graduated in a linear way. Many real-world scenarios prove to be a challenge with a graduated neutral density filter, due to a foreground subject extending above the horizon. Such an object will be darkened toward the top along with the sky, creating an obvious clue that a filter was used for the photo.

In situations where a graduated neutral density filter provides a minor advantage, a gradient adjustment in post-processing can often provide a similar (or even better) adjustment. For situations where a graduated neutral density filter is not a great solution, a graduated adjustment in post processing will also prove challenging.

However, you can produce a superior result in many challenging situations by simply capturing multiple exposures and combining those into a single high dynamic range (HDR) image.

In short, I never employ a graduated neutral density filter in my own photography. If the dynamic range is not beyond the capabilities of my camera, I can simply capture a single exposure and then apply a targeted adjustment when processing my photo.

For situations where the dynamic range of the scene exceeds the capabilities of my camera, I will capture a sequence of exposures that I will blend together into a single high dynamic range (HDR) image in post-processing, producing a better result than I could have achieved with a graduated neutral density filter.

DOF Preview Button


Today’s Question: Could you please discuss the use of the DoF button on the front of the camera? I see how the image in the viewfinder darkens as one stops down, but now what? How do you use that?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The depth of field (DoF) preview button available on many SLR cameras enables you to preview the effect on depth of field caused by stopping down the aperture. It can be difficult to see well because of the darkening of the view through the viewfinder, but the change is there.

More Detail: With a digital SLR, under normal circumstances the aperture remains in the wide-open position until you actually take a photo, at which point the aperture closes down to the setting you have established and the camera takes the picture (with a variety of other tasks also being performed by the camera, of couse).

Because of this behavior, when you are looking through the viewfinder you are viewing the scene at maximum brightness in terms of the available light and the maximum lens aperture opening. That also means you are viewing the scene with minimum depth of field, since you are looking at an image projected by the lens based on a wide-open aperture.

The DoF preview button causes the aperture to be closed down based on the current exposure settings on the camera. The result is a change in the visible depth of field, based on the overall conditions (such as distance to subject). In other words, you are seeing the scene the way the image sensor will see the scene. However, you don’t have the benefit of longer exposure times with your eyes, which can make it difficult to evaluate the darkened scene you are viewing through the viewfinder.

Because of this issue, my recommendation is to employ the Live View feature of your camera in conjunction with the DoF preview button, if your camera offers a Live View display. If you make sure the exposure preview option for your Live View display is enabled, you should be able to achieve a preview that represents a good exposure (except under very dark conditions) even when holding the DoF preview button.

I do find the DoF preview feature to be tremendously valuable when I want to confirm the range of depth of field I can actually achieve for a given scene. This is especially important for situations where depth of field is a particular challenge, such as when you are focusing very close to a subject. When you combine the Live View display with the DoF preview feature, you have an excellent way to evaluate the potential depth of field for a scene, or to fine-tune your exposure settings to achieve exactly the result you want for your photo.

Ever Save a Selection?


Today’s Question: During one of your recent webinars you said that you don’t usually save your selections using the Save Selection command. But you said “usually”. Are there ever any situations where you would save a selection?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes. I would save a selection if the layer mask I created from that selection was going to be altered directly. If I won’t be altering the layer mask directly (or if the selection would be very easy to create again) then I don’t bother saving the selection.

More Detail: From my perspective the primary reason to save a selection is to avoid having to create the selection again from scratch at a later time. So, to begin with, if the selection in question required only a single “swipe” across an area of the image with the Quick Selection tool, I won’t generally save the selection because it would be about as fast (and sometimes faster) to simply create the selection anew.

The primary reason I don’t actually save most of my selections with the “Save Selection” command is that I’m saving the selection in a different way. When you use a selection as the basis of a layer mask, that layer mask is essentially a saved copy of the selection. You can simply hold the Ctrl key on Windows or the Command key on Macintosh while clicking on the thumbnail for the layer mask on the Layers panel, and a selection will be loaded based on that mask.

Of course, in some cases I will modify the layer mask directly, such as by painting on the mask, filling areas of the mask, using the Refine Mask command, blurring the mask, or more. If I will be applying such alterations to the layer mask, I want to preserve my starting point, and so I will save the selection.

In addition, sometimes it is helpful to build up a final selection (or layer mask) in several steps. In those cases I might save two or more individual selections, and then combine all of those together into a single layer mask.

The key point is that the only reason I don’t generally save selections using the Save Selection command is that I will already be saving the selection through a different means, by virtue of creating a layer mask based on that selection.

Private Keywords


Today’s Question: I was following your advice to correct the spelling of an existing keyword in Lightroom, and in the dialog I noticed the “Include on Export” checkbox. What does this checkbox do?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The “Include on Export” checkbox enables you to establish “private” keywords. These are keywords that are included within Lightroom, but will not be included as a keyword for images you export, even if you include keywords and other metadata when exporting images.

More Detail: When you export a photo from Lightroom, you can choose which metadata is included. With this feature it is possible to exclude all keywords from the image. You could accomplish this by excluding metadata altogether, for example, or by choosing the “Copyright & Contact Info Only” option from the Include popup in the Metadata section of the Export dialog.

However, it is also possible to include keywords among the metadata for exported photos, while excluding the keywords you designate as “private”. To make a keyword private so it will not be included in exported images, simply turn off the “Include on Export” checkbox.

You can turn off the “Include on Export” checkbox for a keyword either when creating the keyword or when editing the keyword. In both cases, the checkbox is turned on by default. To add a keyword and turn this setting off in the process, click the “plus” (+) icon to the left of the “Keyword List” header on the right panel in the Library module. In the Create Keyword Tag dialog you can add the keyword, and then turn off the “Include on Export” checkbox to make the keyword private.

You can also change this setting after creating the keyword. On the Keyword List locate the keyword you want to change, and then right-click on that keyword and choose “Edit Keyword Tag”. In the Edit Keyword Tag dialog you can then turn off the “Include on Export” checkbox and click the Save button to save the change.

Too Many Collections


Today’s Question: I now have way too many collections in my Lightroom catalogue. The list of collections is cumbersome. Is there a way to “bunch” them and save them so I can access them and not have to scroll through the entire list when I am looking for a specific image?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There are two features that can be helpful in this regard. The first is the ability to create Collection Sets that enable you to group (and collapse) your collections. The second is the ability to filter the list of collections using a the search box at the top of the list of collections.

More Detail: Collection sets are, of course, the more directly helpful feature for cleaning up a cluttered list of collections. You can create a collection set in much the same way you create collections.

Start by clicking the “plus” (+) icon to the right of the Collections header on the left panel in the Library module. Then choose the “Create Collection Set” option from the popup menu that appears. In the Create Collection Set dialog, type a name for this new collection set, which essentially provides a category for the collections you’ll add to this set. Note that a collection set can also go inside another collection set, providing multiple levels of organization. Click the Create button to create the collection set.

You can then drag-and-drop individual collections into the appropriate collection set. The “spinner” control (the triangle icon) to the left of each collection set allows you to collapse or expand each collection set, to hide or reveal, respectively, the collections contained within the collection set.

The search feature can also be very helpful no only for searching among a long list of collections, but also for searching for a collection that is “hidden” within a collection set. If you can’t remember which collection set a particular collection is contained within, the search can be invaluable.

To search for a collection (or collection set) simply click into the “Filter Collections” field at the top of the list of collections in the Collections section of the left panel. As you start typing text the list of collections and sets will be filtered based on those collections and sets that match the text you’ve typed.

The combination of collection sets and the search option for collections can be tremendously helpful for minimizing clutter among your collections, and for helping ensure you’re able to find the collection you need when you need it.

Gradually Saving Metadata


Today’s Question: I have been using Lightroom for several years, and have imported about 30,000 photos. In spite of all your training, I have not yet set the catalog option to update the XMP file whenever changes are made. Before I change the catalog setting, I would like to have the XMP data for all the existing photos updated. Is there an easy and controlled way to now update the XMP files for all of my photos? “Easy” means a simple process, and “controlled” means I don’t want to do it on all the photos at the same time, but would rather do it folder by folder.

Tim’s Quick Answer: There is indeed an easy and controlled way to save the metadata for your photos to the image files themselves. You can, for example, select the images in one folder at a time, and then choose the “Save Metadata to Files” command from the Metadata menu while in the Library module.

More Detail: It should be noted that for 30,000 images the process of writing the metadata out to the image files (or the XMP sidecar file in the case of RAW captures) won’t require very much time. Also, if you turn on the “Automatically write changes into XMP” checkbox on the Metadata tab of the Catalog Settings dialog, Lightroom will retroactively update all of your existing images, and that process will happen in the background without a dramatic impact on overall performance.

That said, you can most certainly use an easy and controlled process. You can go folder by folder down the list in the Folders section of the left panel in the Library module so that you are updating a relatively small number of photos at a time. Once you’ve selected a folder, confirm there are no filters set so you are viewing all images in that folder.

Next, choose Edit > Select All from the menu, or press Ctrl+A on Windows or Command+A on Macintosh, so that all of the images in the current folder are selected. Then choose Metadata > Save Metadata to Files from the menu, or press Ctrl+S on Windows or Command+S on Macintosh. You will see a progress bar on the identity plate at the far left of the top panel so you can confirm when the process is complete for the currently selected photos.

You can repeat this process for each folder on the list, until you’ve saved the metadata for all of the images in your catalog. Just keep in mind, by the way, that certain Lightroom-only features are not included as part of this saving of metadata to your images. The options that will be excluded from this process include pick and reject flags, virtual copies, membership in collections, and the history list in the Develop module (the actual settings for your adjustments will be saved, however).

ND Filter Strength


Today’s Question: I regularly watch your Venice video [“Composing Photos in Venice”]. I find it very informative and just love it. Could you tell me which neutral density filter that you use most commonly? I am torn between purchasing the 6-stop versus the 10-stop at this point. Do you find that the 6-stop is more versatile?

Tim’s Quick Answer: If I could only choose one neutral density (ND) filter, it would be the 10-stop version. This provides more creative options in terms of very long exposure times, including the ability to create relatively long exposures in daylight conditions. Also, you can always use the camera’s ISO setting to achieve a faster shutter speed if necessary.

More Detail: In most cases I carry both a 6-stop and a 10-stop ND filter. Between the two, I tend to use the 10-stop version more often. Quite simply, in situations where I want to create a long exposure, the ability to create a longer exposure time is usually advantageous. In other words, if a 6-stop filter will produce a good result, the 10-stop filter will often produce a better creative result.

Of course, a longer exposure doesn’t always produce a better creative result. It is most certainly possible for an exposure to be too long, causing moving objects to completely disappear rather than simply being blurred, for example. And, of course, a long exposure will result in increased noise in the capture as well.

Ideally, I prefer to use an ND filter with a strength that is best suited to the specific photographic situation. But that also requires purchasing and carrying multiple ND filters. If you prefer to carry a single filter, I would personally choose the strongest ND filter you think you’re likely to use.

You can then increase the ISO setting for situations where you need to achieve a faster shutter speed. For example, let’s assume you have a 10-stop ND filter, but you want the effect of a 6-stop ND filter. You can simply raise your ISO setting by four stops to achieve this result. Keep in mind, however, that increasing your ISO setting by four stops means going from (for example) 100 ISO to 1600 ISO, which could potentially lead to significant noise depending on your specific camera model.

The key is to choose an ND filter (or multiple filters) based on your own anticipated usage.