Sunday, February 07, 2010

Lightroom article part 2: Importing your Images

Some feedback…
Several people have given me some feedback about my Blog. I love feedback, it makes me feel like I’m not writing into a vacuum. I’ll mention 3 in particular:
One person told me that she does drop by whenever I send an update notice. She’s non-technical and not a photographer but she says she enjoys looking at my pictures and reading about what’s going on (you know who you are! I’d love to get you on the other side of the lens some time!). Anyway, I try to include some non-technical stuff in every posting and as a reminder, most of the pictures I take are up on the monthly galleries if you want to see more than just the few I comment on in the Blog.
I had a response on the lens sharpness issue I mentioned last time. Thanks, Darren. I had forgotten about a great photography resource: the Ken Rockwell site. Ken evokes either love or hate, some people are really not impressed, but I think he does a lot of worthwhile research and is one of the first places to go when you’re thinking about buying new equipment or just want some hardware analysis. Here’s his page on how diffraction affects sharpness when you vary the aperture on a lens:
Another person wrote and asked when I’d be continuing the LR articles. I knew he was an active photographer, but I know him from another discipline so it never occurred to me that he is the ideal candidate for a switchover to LR, and was waiting to read what I had to say before committing. Coming up! The next chapter is below.
There’s lots of ways you can give me feedback: a place to comment at the bottom of each blog post, you could send me an email, tell me in person, call me… if you’re getting my updates and don’t really want them, let me know too! For what it’s worth, I’m seeing about 100 visits every time I put up a new posting.

How about getting together to shoot some pictures?. I have loose plans for a photo trip this summer (I don’t want to call it a “photosafari” or “photoexpedition”. The former is reserved for when and if I can get to Africa! The latter is kind of pretentious). I have no interest in doing weddings, but I know someone who loves to, so drop me a note and I’ll hook you up. If someone said, “would you like to go back to Newfoundland and spend a couple of weeks touring around shooting pictures”, I’d say “WHEN?”. I’m thinking probably the North Shore of Lake Superior this year; or if it works out, a trip to Ireland and/or Scotland. I don't know why — just a place I'd like to go. We’ll see. Get in touch if anyone wants to hook up and do some stuff.

I have a list of photo destinations I'd like to visit — do you? I'd love to hear from people and have a chance to compare lists. eMail me, and I'll compile something I can post here (I won't publish names).

By the way, the whole story of my 2006 motorcycle trip to Newfoundland is at the beginning of this blog, way back here. The other thing you might enjoy, if you haven't seen it, is the ProShow A/V presentation that I created. You can download it here (it's not that big in today's terms: about 35Mb if I recall, and it's safe). You will be asked to install the viewer software which is also safe and non-invasive. Turn your speakers on to enjoy the background music, and have a look! I'd go back there again in a heartbeat.

Here's an older image, dating back a couple of years that I finally got around to editing. It was taken somewhere along the Blue Ridge Parkway on a motorcycle holiday trip Iris and I took a couple of years ago.

There’s not an awful lot going on, the past few weeks. I spent a couple of days in Toronto, my usual business meeting and a great dinner with friends, as well as a visit with the kids in Uxbridge.

Computer Stuff
While I was in TO, I made arrangements for my father’s computer replacement to be delivered, which is the point of this paragraph. As I mentioned last week (oh, wait: I think I wrote it in the LR article that follows this!), his computer died. I think it was a motherboard thing which caused the power supply to blow, and the tech (a plug for Bob, “the Greek Geek” here: not only does he know what he’s doing, but he’s responsive, friendly, quick and inexpensive. If you need PC help, call Bob at AlphaONE Technologies (416) 528-3231 or email him at Be sure to tell him I sent you.

Anyway, my parents were lucky: the hard drive had not crashed so Bob was able to recover everything without too much hassle and get them back to where they were. Even a small change in layout or procedure is a problem for my folks (I hope I’m as sharp as them when I’m approaching 90, but you know, they’re kind of overwhelmed by the technology). But suppose the hard drive had crashed? They would have been totally lost. They’ve come to rely on the computer, not only for communications and recreation but also for keeping their financial records, correspondence, etc.

Here’s my point: I had backed up their data onto a flash drive a few weeks ago. Sure, a HD crash would have been a hassle, but not a total loss. YOU HAVE TO HAVE BACKUPS. I know, I know, I sound like a broken record, but damn it, it’s important.

In my LR articles, I deal with photo backups. I have some pretty good strategies (Jim, be quiet. No comments from the peanut gallery! Jim is much more diligent than I about backups!). I finally got around to buying another external drive on Friday: The WD MyBook drive has gone down in price again and I bought a 2Tb (that’s 2000 Gb, or 2,000,000 Mb!) drive for only $188 at Costco. The 1Tb version was $109. I figured that while I was at it, why not spring for the big guy.

I’m going to use it as my rotating second backup for my data and systems, and as my primary backup for my archived photos. I have 15,000 images already archived and another similar amount to go. It’ll take me a while to copy them in there, and get them keyworded and organized.

Great resource for business and personal services
I thought I’d take a second to talk about a business networking group I’m involved with, called “LeTip”. We get together every Friday morning (at an ungodly hour!) to exchange business referrals and to network. It’s a great social group as well. I mention them because whenever you do business with someone in that group, you know you’re getting professional and personal attention. It's  a great resource. If you’re involved in any kind of business, you should think about joining. There are chapters all over North America if you're not in the area. Even if you’re not, you’d be amazed at the range of services that my fellow LeTip members can provide. There’s a list here, but I have to tell you I use the services of at least a dozen of these people and it’s always been a great experience. Bob, the “Greek Geek” is one of them: the lawyer that prepared my wills and stuff is another, a printer, a courier… take a second to click the link and see what they can do for you! Let me know so I can get the referral credit. If you want to attend a meeting, you’re very welcome. Drop me a note and I’ll arrange it.

Photo wise, I haven’t really shot anything in a couple of weeks. It’s cold: I don’t really feel like going out and shooting pictures and I have a lot of computer seat time while I’m writing my LR articles, etc. Here are a few casual shots I took. There were a couple of others that I might use – one in particular that has an interesting sky I can use for dramatic effect in a composition some time. I went out in a snowstorm but there was too much water on the lens so the images didn’t work out. There’s one I’ve earmarked as a basis for a painting next time I feel like getting back into doing some.

"Closed for the winter". Wonder when I'll be swimming off this dock again! I'm thinking of entering this as a black-and-white photo in the upcoming club competition.

"Highway 35". I shot this when I went for a walk a few days ago. The loop down to the end of the road I'm on, then back along the highway is about 3 km. The dramatic lighting was enhanced by a graduated filter over the sky (I may have overdone it a bit... depends on the monitor). It was quite cold, the wet road was due to salting, so I was careful to keep the camera out of the spray.
I'm sure I can use the sky portion of this shot elsewhere. I accumulate shots like this, or great textures, for future use creating composite images.
OK. On to the next chapter in the Lightroom saga.

Lightroom article part 2: Importing your Images

What we’re doing here is documenting my conversion to LR, with a focus on “WHY” one would make certain choices, not “WHAT” or “HOW”. For how to use the program correctly, pick up Scott Kelby’s book “The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 book for Digital Photographers” which is available at You don’t have to be a NAPP member to buy the book, but if you do join NAPP, you’ll get a discount and all kinds of other benefits, including a subscription to Photoshop User magazine which is worth its weight in gold. If you decide to join NAPP, use this link so I get my brownie points!

You might also consider contacting Jim Camelford at Jim is the local LR guru and not only does he teach LR courses but he imparts a great deal of wisdom about the right way of doing things.

This series of articles looks at three of LR’s strengths: “Organizing your pictures”, “Editing your Images” and “Creating Output Files”. LR does many things well, but these three were the factors that convinced me to convert to LR. Combined with Photoshop (PS) LR provides an elegant way to handle your workflow, whether you’re a high volume user or just starting to delve into the world of Digital Photography.

These articles are intended for those who have converted to LR or are considering doing so and want to start it the right way from the beginning. Or those who might need a little convincing!


Summary of Part 1: Organizing your images

Last time I talked about the concept of LR as it relates to organizing your images. Here’s a summary:

  • LR is like those boxes of slides, negatives and prints you have in storage except it’s digital.
  • LR does not contain your images: it only contains database links to your images and a record of any changes you might have made to them within LR (or PS). You have to take care to store the images themselves in a logical and safe place.
  • LR can handle a huge database of images if you want it to, or you can break down your file into several catalogs.
  • To do a backup, you need to keep copies not only of your images but also of the .lrcat LR catalog file. To make it easier, you should keep your pictures within a master folder. Your backups MUST be on a different drive, hopefully in a different location, and you should have more than one of them.
  • You can search the LR database a variety of ways and should classify your images in as many different ways as you can think of. This includes assigning keywords, rating them with stars and colour keys and storing links to them in a variety of ‘collections’, so you can instantly find the picture or group of pictures you’re looking for.
 Part 2: Importing your images

This article is about what you need to think about when you’re importing your images into LR.


When I plug the CF card from my D300 into the card reader (or the SD card from my point-and-shoot, or the camera itself into a USB port on the laptop), I’ve set it so that LR opens and it’s set up to import the images.

You’re doing two things at once here: you’re actually copying the images to your computer, and you’re creating the listings for them within LR. AND, if you’re smart, you’re also creating a backup on another drive at the same time. Why not do it right away so you don’t have to think about it later?

Screen capture of Lightroom's import dialogue

 LR has presets that tell it what to do with the images – convert them to .dng files, copy them to a specific folder on the hard drive, and/or make a backup onto the external drive. I even have a smaller (40Gb) backup drive for the laptop. I automatically create two copies of all the images when I import them.

Converting files to another format is optional
The “.dng” file thing is again your call. I’m converting my RAW images (it doesn’t apply to jpegs), here’s why. I shoot almost everything in RAW format, except on the P&S camera which doesn’t support it. When you make changes to a RAW file (for instance a Nikon .NEF file), the changes are stored in an external file, known as a ‘sidecar’ file, typically named ‘the_same_filename.xmp’. LR may or may not generate this file right away depending how you’ve set it up.

So if you changed the model’s blouse to red from green, or whitened her teeth or removed that zit or cropped the image – any change – those changes are stored in the LR catalog and in the .xmp file if you’ve created one, but not in the original image. Now if you want to send that image to someone else, or keep another copy of the edited file somewhere, you have to keep a copy of the .xmp file too. This is the beauty of LR. You can always go back to the original image as it came out of the camera without any modification. With .dng files (“Digital Negative”, independent of camera brand), the information about the changes is kept in the same file. Technically, a .dng file is also supposed to be about 20% smaller than an original RAW file. So that’s why I’ve decided to convert all my .NEF files to .dng when I import them.

In the interest of keeping things organized, I create a new folder every month (‘2010-02’). Then I tell LR to import the pictures to a sub-folder within that month, which I usually name with the actual day (‘February 18’). Once a month I create a new folder and set LR to put the images there. I do exactly the same thing with the backup file, automatically writing it to the external drive. I use the same folder names.

I rename my images. I don’t use the sequence number generated by the camera because it’s meaningless, and because 9999 images from now, they’ll repeat! I usually incorporate the date in the filename. Some people add a description as well, LR will allow it but it means handling each picture individually. A typical filename would be 20100203-009.dng. Or if it was from a specific assignment, maybe 20100123FAC-063.dng (actually, the FAC ID shoots are an exception for me – I shoot them all as .jpg files because I run a PS action on them and I don’t need the RAW data. That may change).

This is also a good time to apply some preliminary keywords to the group of pictures. What do they have in common? Are they all winter shots at 12 Mile Lake? Give them keywords like “winter”, “12 Mile Lake”, etc. If only some of them contain snowmobiles, don’t add that yet. Were they all taken at the BAD Ride (motorcycle charity ride)? Key word “BAD Ride” but not motorcycle unless they were all shots of bikes. By the way, you can select only some of the images from your card or camera, if you want to give them common keywords, then go back and do it again for another batch with a different set of criteria. Or if you want to store them in a separate folder. Changing keywords later in LR is easy, so you can do it now or later.

Okay, click “import” and watch it go to work. When it’s done, all of your images have been copied to the appropriate place(s) and their listings have been generated in LR. AND you’ve already created a backup.

When you import .jpg files (like this batch which comes from my point-and-shoot camera) you can't convert them to .dng format
If you were just adding existing images to your LR catalog, it’s the same import dialog, but you would tell it not to copy or move the images.

Why do you want to keep your garbage? My 90-year old dad hasn’t figured this out yet – when he deletes an email or a file, he keeps them in the recycle bin. I don’t get it. Does he think this is a good place to store stuff? I finally convinced him to clean it out (somewhat) and I deleted over 6Gb of old garbage. His computer died this week and we’re replacing it, and I’m anticipating a call from him asking where some file or other that was in the trash on the old machine is! If it’s garbage, it’s garbage. THROW IT OUT. If it’s not garbage, for God’s sake, don’t put it in the trash! I don’t know why I have to tell you that, but for some reason, I do!
Sometimes my camera is on high speed – 6 frames/sec. By mistake, I shoot 3 pictures where I only wanted one. WHY KEEP THE OTHER 2? Or I shoot 12 shots of a subject, different exposures, different expression. Choose the best one (or ones) and TURF THE REST. Or that image is hopelessly under- or over-exposed, or you moved the camera, or it was out of focus. CHUCK IT OUT! You are NEVER, EVER going to want to see that picture again. DUMP IT.
Here’s another workflow hint. When I want to keep a temporary copy of something that I need for this session but will never need again, I name the file “temp” (or I include ‘temp’ at the beginning of the filename). For example, I’m creating a composite image in PS and I want to save an overlay separately while I work on the main file, but once it’s done I don’t need it any more. Or I want to store someone’s phone number so I can call them back after I’m done with the call I’m on. Or I’m grabbing some text somewhere to paste into the document I’m working on.

Later, when I’m cleaning out the computer and I come across a file named ‘temp_something’, I don’t have to give it a single thought. Garbage. I don’t have to open it to look at it, or remember what it was. Out.
Once I’ve imported them, I go through the images in LR. As I look through them, I hit “X” to mark them for deletion, “P” (picks) if I really like them, or I do nothing if I’m not sure. You can go through 300 pictures in about 3 minutes doing that. Then go back and select “delete rejected images” and be done with it. Use the “delete from disk” option. It only hurts for a second, you’ll feel better later. Come on, do it. TAKE OUT THE GARBAGE.

(PS: if you were listening, and you had your left brain engaged, you’d realize that when you did your import and created a backup, ALL the images are still there. You didn’t delete them when you took out the trash! But that’s like keeping stuff in the recycle bin…)

You could skip this step. But doing this makes it much easier to come back later. Sometimes I’m looking at my newly imported images and I get sidetracked. I need to go out of the program, or I want to look at another image somewhere. How do I get back to just the new images I was just working on? Select all the “picks” then save them to a Quick Collection. I can convert the Quick Collection to a permanent one later. By the way, you can drag images into other collections as well, without affecting anything else. Suppose you think one of those images might make a dandy art print. You can drag the image into a collection called ‘possible dandy art prints’ or even into a sub collection called, ‘I really like these!’. You can do this any time, and don’t forget, you’re not actually copying the image, you’re only creating a reference to it in the collection.

At this point, I go through the picks again, and look at quality. I’ll assign 1 to 5 stars to each image depending on its quality. Pictures that are part of a group also get a colour rating, usually red. For instance, I may have taken a sequence of 3 or 5 shots intending to merge them as an HDR image, or stitch them together for a panorama.

You may have a different set of criteria for the stars or the colour codes. You can even rename your colour codes so you know what they’re for without having to remember.

I use the following ratings:

  • Star Ratings

    • No star: ‘ho, hum’. This image wasn’t bad enough to warrant throwing it out, but I’ll probably never want to see it again.
    • One star: let me think about this one. I might want to look at it again. I’ll get back to you later.
    • Two stars: this is part of a set. A bunch of images that I might combine into a pano or HDR.
    • Three stars: I kinda like this image. It has potential, but I’ll have to do a bunch of work to use it for anything. I don’t feel like doing it now.
    • Four stars: Nice picture, I’m going to work on this one soon.
    • Five stars: I LOVE IT! I’m going to make $1000 selling this picture.

  • Colour codes:

    • Red: this one is hot. I’m going to come back to this one as soon as I’m finished my import workflow.
    • Yellow: I want to work on this one but after I’ve done all the red ones
    • Green: I finished editing this one and it’s ready to be exported or added to some collections
    • Blue: all done! This is a keeper and it’s all finished.
    • Purple: I don’t use this very much because there’s no keyboard shortcut to it. The 5 star ratings and the 4 colours above are created by hitting 1 – 9 on the keyboard. ‘0’ is reserved for removing the star rating (you need to go to the photo’ menu to remove the colour rating).
    So if I have a picture that I really, really like and I want to start working on editing it right away, I’ll give it a “5-6” rating (5 stars and red). Make sense?

    I just fell in the trap of writing about a “WHAT” instead of a “WHY”. OK, I wanted to share what I do, to get your brain cells churning and thinking about what classifications YOU might want to use. See? It really was a “WHY”!

    Now I go back and keyword the images. I could – sometimes I do – all of this in one pass, but I find it easier to focus on one function at a time. The keyword list can get very long – I heard of someone with literally thousands of keywords. I try to keep it tight. But I think about what criteria I might ever want to search by and when in doubt, add a keyword. For instance “snowmobile”. Or “ice fishing”. I don’t think I’ll ever need to find “Yellow Helmet”, but if you do, then go for it. It doesn’t cost anything except your time.

    You can select one or a group of images and add new keywords. If you start to type them in the circled field, LR will look for matches in your existing keyword list and finish them for you. It's a good idea to do it that way so you don't have close or mis-spelled keywords, for instance using "VW" sometimes and "Volkswagen" other times. You could also type them in the white box, or select them from your existing list or a list of recent suggestions.
    As I came back to re-read and edit this, an example came to mind. I took a picture of a red corvette in my driveway several years ago (not mine. I covet that car. A rebuilt ’75 with a 427 under the hood. One day…). I wanted to look at it again. If you were listening, I hadn’t imported it to LR yet because it pre-dates my 2008 cutoff. Or had I… it was in my group of “favourites”. OK, search keywords for “corvette”…

    AHA! There it is! And another shot, close-ups of the water drops beading on the waxed finish. See? You never know when you might want to search for a specific keyword. Here’s the ‘vette, by the way.

    Recap. Where are we?
    We’ve stored two copies of every picture in separate places. Information about them is in the master LR catalog. We named the images so we could track them chronologically. We deleted all the garbage. We flagged the ‘selects’ and we rated them. We colour coded them for further action. We added keywords to each picture so we can find them again.

    How long did it take? Call it 15-30 minutes for a day’s shooting. Or less if you stop part way through and decide to keyword later.

    So if I want to find all the fall colour pictures taken up in the Haliburton Highlands in the past two years that are sufficiently high quality to be considered for publication in my next book, I can! Easily.