Lightroom on a Laptop


Today’s Question: My work takes me on the road for 40 weeks a year. I would really like to sell my iMac [desktop computer] and connect a large Apple display to my MacBook Pro [laptop computer]. Would it be advisable to run my master Lightroom catalog on my MacBook Pro using the 2TB solid-state drive?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I can tell you from personal experience that you absolutely run Lightroom very effectively on a well-configured laptop computer. In fact, because I similarly am traveling much of the year, my MacBook Pro has become my primary computer for all purposes, including running Lightroom to manage my catalog of over 300,000 photos.

More Detail: There are, of course, some advantages and disadvantages of using a laptop computer compared to a desktop computer, especially when it comes to image management.

One of the key potential advantages of a desktop computer is that you are generally able to configure a desktop with better performance specifications compared to a laptop computer. It is often possible to employ faster processors (or more processor cores) as well as more memory (RAM) on a desktop computer. You will also often be able to make use of more video memory (VRAM) and a faster graphics processor unit (GPU) on a desktop computer.

So, in general it is possible to achieve greater performance with a desktop computer compared to a laptop computer. However, I have found that a well-configured laptop computer can provide excellent performance for Lightroom and other critical tasks.

In addition, a laptop provides some advantages in terms of portability. Obviously there is the direct advantage of being able to move your computer from place to place. But perhaps more importantly, by having your Lightroom catalog on a laptop computer that you travel with, you’ll avoid the challenges associated with trying to manage multiple catalogs. In addition, you’ll avoid the perhaps greater challenge associated with attempting to transfer key files (such as your Lightroom catalog) between multiple computers when you depart for or return from a trip.

In other words, using a laptop computer as your primary (or only) computer can be a tremendous benefit if you travel frequently. Rather than keeping track of which files are on which computer, or trying to make sure you are always working on the latest version of a file, you simply bring your laptop with you when you travel and use the same laptop when you are at home. The result can be a much more streamlined workflow compared to other approaches you might take involving multiple computers.

Panel Thumbnail Size


Today’s Question: Is there a way to increase the size of the thumbnails for the layers of my images on the Layers panel in Photoshop?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes! You can adjust the thumbnail size for the Layers panel as well as the Channels panel by choosing “Panel Options” from the panel popup menu found at the top-right corner of either of these panels. Then choose the desired thumbnail size and click OK to close the dialog and apply the change.

More Detail: It can be very helpful at times to have a large thumbnail for each of your layers on the Layers panel in Photoshop. Of course, at other times it can also be helpful to have smaller thumbnails, or even no thumbnails at all, such as when you are working on a document with a particularly large number of layers.

Fortunately, several options are available, ranging from “None” for no thumbnails, all the way through “small”, “medium”, and “large” sizes for the thumbnails. Note that each of the sizes is represented by a graphical icon rather than by any text. But you can choose one of the sizes in the applicable “Panel Options” dialog and click OK to apply the change. And, of course, you can switch back and forth between the different sizes for the thumbnails based on what is most helpful for your current task.

Rename in Bridge?


Today’s Question: [As a follow-up to the questions recently about renaming photos in Lightroom:] Adobe Bridge has more robust renaming capabilities than Lightroom. Is there a way to use Adobe Bridge to rename photos without breaking the Lightroom catalog?

Tim’s Quick Answer: No, you cannot use Adobe Bridge to rename photos that are being managed in Lightroom. Doing so would cause the file names on your hard drive to be changed, but those changes would not be reflected in Lightroom. As a result, the photos you rename outside of Lightroom would appear as “missing” photos within Lightroom.

More Detail: Both Lightroom and Adobe Bridge employ what is essentially a template-based method of renaming photos. Both offer most of the same features, but there are a few additional options available in Adobe Bridge that are not available in Lightroom. For example, the Batch Rename feature in Adobe Bridge allows you to use a “String Substitution” option where you can essentially “search and replace” text within existing file names.

However, as noted above, if you are using Lightroom to manage your photos, you cannot use Adobe Bridge or any software tool outside of Lightroom to rename your photos. In essence, once you’re using Lightroom to manage your photos, all tasks that relate to your photos should be initiated within Lightroom. That is especially important as it relates to image-management tasks.

Rename One Photo


Today’s Question: If one were not interested in developing a methodical template-based renaming system, why not just simply add the desired text in the File Name box in the Metadata section of the Library module?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The only reason I prefer to use the template-based renaming feature in Lightroom is that it provides a consistent workflow regardless of whether you want to rename a single image or multiple images. But if you want to rename a single image without using the template-based approach, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that as long as you rename that image from within Lightroom.

More Detail: This question was a follow-up to a question last week about appending text to the file name of a photo in Lightroom. I provided a workflow for creating a template that can be used with the “Rename Photos” command. With this approach, you would be using the same workflow regardless of whether you wanted to append text to the file name for one photo or multiple selected photos.

It is possible to rename a single photo by simply changing the text in the “File Name” field of the Metadata section of the right panel in the Library module in Lightroom. If you don’t see the “File Name” field near the top of the Metadata section, choose “Default” from the popup to the left of the Metadata header and you’ll see that field.

If you click the mouse into the File Name field, you can update the actual file name and the change will be reflected on your hard drive as well as within Lightroom. Simply press Enter/Return on the keyboard once you’ve typed the updates to the file name, and the change will be applied.

Tablet Recommendation


Today’s Question: Do use a Wacom tablet or similar device?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, I use a Wacom Intuos Pro, and consider this to be a powerful tool for photographers to use when optimizing their photos. I prefer the medium size Intuos Pro, which you can learn more about here:

More Detail: The way I generally describe the advantages of a tablet compared to a mouse is to imagine signing your name with a mouse on your computer versus using a pen. A tablet such as the Wacom Intuos provides the same basic experience as a pen, which can greatly improve the accuracy and precision of your work.

In the context of optimizing photos, I generally find a tablet most helpful when applying targeted adjustments or creating composite images. So, for example, I find a table tremendously helpful for painting to define the area to be affected by a targeted adjustment, to draw selections to be used as the basis of a layer mask in Photoshop, to dodge and burn with various techniques depending on the software being used, and more.

Some photographers find they prefer to use a tablet as a complete replacement for their mouse, using the stylus to select items from the menu and to click buttons, for example. Personally, I prefer to use a mouse for more of what I consider the “normal” computer tasks, using the stylus only when I am performing a task that I feel benefits from the use of a stylus on a tablet rather than the use of a mouse.

It is worth pointing out that it can take a little bit of time to get completely comfortable using a stylus and tablet in place of a mouse. Some photographers transition very quickly, feeling comfortable with the stylus after just minutes or perhaps hours. Some photographers find that it takes a few days to get completely comfortable with the use of a stylus.

I do feel that for most photographers it is worthwhile to work with a stylus, because of the precision it provides for certain tasks. Keep in mind that it does take some time to get comfortable with the stylus. I usually find, however, that if a photographer takes the time to get comfortable using a stylus, they quickly decide that a stylus is a critical component in their image-optimization workflow.

Crop on Resize?


Today’s Question: Won’t resizing a picture to 1920 by 1080 pixels change the aspect ratio? Most pictures aren’t 16 by 9 natively.

Tim’s Quick Answer: This is a follow-up to a question about exporting photos from Lightroom for the purpose of presenting those photos on a television display. When you choose the option to resize photos when exporting from Lightroom, the aspect ratio of the photos will not be changed. That is because when you specify the “Width & Height” option in the Image Sizing section of the Export dialog you are only specifying the “container” you want the image to fit within. The image will not be stretched or cropped as part of this process.

More Detail: In some cases it is possible to alter the aspect ratio of a photo when you are resizing it. For example, in Photoshop you can use the Image Size command to resize an image. If you turn off the “lock” control (Constrain Proportions) then you can indeed change the aspect ratio of the photo.

In Lightroom, if you want to change the aspect ratio of a photo you need to use the crop tool. You can specify the aspect ratio you want to use from the Aspect popup, and then adjust the crop as needed. When you apply that crop, the aspect ratio of the image will obviously be altered. This would allow you to ensure that the image is resized to precise pixel dimensions for both the width and height, for example.

But when you use the Export command the existing crop (and thus the existing aspect ratio) will be preserved. Resizing the image will cause the image to be resized within the constraints you’ve defined, but without altering the aspect ratio. In other words, the final pixel dimensions for the image may be somewhat different (in one dimension) from what you entered in the Image Sizing section of the Export dialog.

Adding Text to a Filename


Today’s Question: Occasionally it would be useful to rename a photo that is already in the Lightroom catalog. I simply want to append some descriptive text to the filename for a single photo, while keeping the rest of the filename in place. How is this renaming done?

Tim’s Quick Answer: You can most certainly rename a single photo within Lightroom, including the ability to simply append text to the existing filename. The key is to create a new file-renaming template that includes the base filename plus a Custom Text option.

More Detail: To get started select the photo you want to rename. Then, while in the Library module choose Library > Rename Photo from the menu. This will bring up the Rename Photo dialog.

The first time you rename a photo in this way you’ll need to define a template for the structure for the filename. Start by clicking the File Naming popup and choose Edit from that popup. This will bring up the Filename Template Editor dialog.

In the Filename Template Editor dialog choose “Filename” from the Preset popup. This will enable you to start with a simple template based on the existing filename for an image. In the text box below the popup, click your mouse just to the right of the small “Filename” popup to place the insertion point there. You can then type any text you would like to use to separate the existing filename and the new text you’re going to add. For example, you might want to use a dash character here.

Next, click the Insert button to the right of the “Custom Text” label toward the bottom of the Filename Template Editor dialog. This will add a “Custom Text” field at the end of the filename structure you’re defining.

At this point you can save the new template so it can be used to rename your photos. Click the Preset popup at the top of the Filename Template Editor dialog and choose “Save Current Settings as New Preset” from that popup. In the “New Preset” dialog enter a name for this file-renaming template and click Create to save the template. Then click the Done button to close the Filename Template Editor dialog.

You now have a template you can use to append text to the filename for any photo. At the moment the Rename Photo dialog will still be up, so you can type the desired text in the Custom Text field, then click the OK button to rename the photo.

In the future, you can append text to the filename for any photo by selecting the photo in the Library module, choosing Library > Rename Photo from the menu, selecting the template you saved for this purpose, entering the desired Custom Text, and clicking OK.

Protective Filters


Today’s Question: Do you use any protective filters on your lenses? If so, which filters do you use and why? If not, why not?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I do not use any protective filters on my lenses. My reasoning is, I suppose, mostly philosophical. I like to keep my “workflow” as simple as possible. I also don’t like to buy unnecessary accessories. And at least in theory my aim is to maximize image quality. Naturally this means I take responsibility for not damaging my front lens element.

More Detail: So far this strategy has worked for me, insofar as I have never in my many years of photography damaged a lens in a way that would have been prevented by having a filter on the front of the lens.

To be fair, replacing a filter that gets damaged is much less expensive than replacing the front lens elements (or worse). So there are certainly good arguments in favor of using a filter on the front of the lens purely to protect that lens. I just don’t choose to take that approach.

I should perhaps add that I also don’t use a protective case with my iPhone. So again, this is in large part a philosophical consideration. In theory having a filter on the front of the lens will reduce sharpness to some extent, but with today’s high-quality filters I consider the quality impact to be relatively minimal.

In other words, if you feel more comfortable with an “extra” filter on the front of your lenses to help protect the lens itself, I think you should absolutely use such a filter.

Sharpening Recommendations


Today’s Question: I have a Canon 1D MkIII and Canon recommends these Unsharp Mask settings as a baseline: 250% for Amount, 0.3 pixels for Radius, and a Threshold setting of 1 for low ISO settings and 4 for high ISO settings. I was hoping you could tell me how these figures translate to the details sliders in Lightroom as I would like to do all my basic editing there.

Tim’s Quick Answer: I would recommend starting values for Sharpening in Lightroom’s Develop module that are relatively subtle, and that will give you results that are somewhat similar to the settings recommended for Unsharp Mask. I would use a value for Amount in Lightroom of around 100, a value for Radius of around 0.7, and a Detail value ranging from around 10 to 25, with higher numbers being used for images with less noise and where more texture and detail are present.

More Detail: The settings for the Sharpening controls in Lightroom’s Develop module don’t provide as much latitude as the Unsharp Mask filter (or Smart Sharpen filter) in Photoshop. This is in large part because the sharpening in Lightroom’s Develop module is intended for “capture” sharpening, meaning the compensation for the slight loss of sharpness in the original capture, rather than creative sharpening or output sharpening.

The specific settings you use for sharpening will depend on your intent for that sharpening, the level of texture and detail in the image, and the resolution of the image. The settings outlined above should provide you with a good starting point as you apply sharpening to a photo in Lightroom’s Develop module.

The Amount setting relates to the strength of the sharpening effect. In other words, a higher setting for Amount produces more contrast along texture edges in the photo.

The Radius setting determines the size of the contrast “halo” effect in the photo. In other words, based on the strength of the contrast increase along texture edges in the photo, how large of an area do you want affected by that increase in contrast?

The Detail slider can be thought of as being similar to the Threshold slider in Unsharp Mask, but with a value that is in reverse. In other words, with Threshold in Unsharp Mask you are starting with sharpening that applies to all areas of texture in the photo, and increasing the value reduces the degree to which more subtle texture will be enhanced. With Lightroom’s Detail slider the higher the value the more detail you are enhancing.

Finally, the Masking slider enables you to focus the sharpening only on the highest contrast edges within the photo, versus the entire photo (or somewhere in between). A higher value focuses the sharpening on only edges that represent relatively high contrast.

It is worth noting, by the way, that with all of these sliders for the Sharpening controls in Lightroom you can hold the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on Macintosh while adjusting a slider value to see a grayscale preview of the impact of that particular setting on your sharpening effect.

Luminosity Mask


Today’s Question: During your webinar on targeted adjustments in Photoshop you showed a technique that involved the Threshold command to apply an adjustment based on brightness levels in the image. Could you review the steps involved? I seem to have missed a step when I was trying to reproduce the effect.

Tim’s Quick Answer: There are various ways you can create a layer mask based on brightness levels in a photo, but one of the techniques I commonly use involves the Threshold command. The basic process involves using the Threshold command to create an image that can be used as a layer mask defined by luminance values in the photo.

More Detail: This technique is helpful for situations where you want to apply a specific adjustment to the brightest or darkest areas of a photo. Once you have such a photo opened, the first step is to create a copy of the Background image layer. To do so, simply drag the thumbnail for the Background image layer down to the “Create a New Layer” button (the blank sheet of paper icon) at the bottom of the Layers panel.

Next, change the Opacity setting for the newly created “Background Copy” layer to about 50% using the Opacity control at the top-right of the Layers panel. This won’t have any visible effect at the moment, but will be helpful in the next step.

Now choose Image > Adjustments > Threshold from the menu. This will bring up the Threshold command, which enables you to create an image that is entirely black and white with no shades of gray. The key for this purpose is that we’re able to define the tonal value at which this image will split from black to white.

Because the Opacity for the “Background Copy” layer has been set to about 50%, you are able to see the black and white image as a translucent overlay on top of the underlying image. You can then drag the slider for the Threshold command to define the appropriate split between the dark versus light areas of the photo. When you’ve found a good value, click the OK button to apply the Threshold command.

At this point you have defined the starting point for your layer mask. Bring the Opacity setting for the “Background Copy” layer back up to 100% on the Layers panel. Then choose the Magic Wand tool, and click within either the black or white area of the image depending on whether you want to adjust the shadows or the highlights in the photo.

You can now turn off the visibility for the “Background Copy” layer. With the selection active, you can now add an adjustment layer of the desired type. Be sure to increase the value for the Feather control on the Masks tab of the Properties panel to blend the adjustment into the surrounding areas of the photo.

I’ll have more tips for working with luminance-based layer masks in an upcoming webinar, so stay tuned for that!