Distributing camera raw files along with their development history from Adobe Lightroom

I’ve written previously about how Adobe’s photo management applications such as Bridge and Lightroom use Sidecar (.XMP) files to store details of raw file edits without affecting the original image (and how that doesn’t quite work for JPEG or TIFF images).  On my system though, I found that there were no .XMP files because I had been storing the history inside my Lightroom catalog (I’ve since adjusted the catalog settings to automatically write changes into XMP) but it’s easy enough to generate an extensible metadata platform (.XMP) file for an image by either, exporting the image and selecting Original as the format in the file settings (this will save the .XMP file alongside the raw image), or, by selecting Save Metadata to File from the Metadata menu.  Either way, the resulting .XMP will be available for use in other applications (e.g. Bridge) and can be distributed with the raw image file if further processing is to be carried out on another computer.

Turning off Adobe Photo Downloader in Mac OS X

I used to use Adobe Bridge with Photoshop on my Mac for all my image editing, until my friend Jeremy Hicks extolled the virtues of Adobe Lightroom to me. Nowadays, Lightroom forms the basis of my photographic workflow, with Photoshop CS4 called in to do any advanced editing, but all the basic stuff (raw image conversion, cropping, minor adjustments and filtering) is done in Lightroom.

Lightroom includes its own photo import tool, so I was getting annoyed when two downloaders popped up every time I connected a camera or memory card… eventually I found out how to turn of the Adobe Photo Downloader – there is a checkbox in the general preferences for Adobe Bridge.

General Preferences in Adobe Bridge

I’ll still need to use something else for video files (as the Lightroom importer only recognises images) but 95% of what I shoot is photos and there’s still the option of using the Image Capture program that ships with OS X for video on those devices that are not recognised by the Finder (e.g. my Canon Digital Ixus 70).

Improving the performance of Adobe Bridge CS3

The computer I use for my digital photography workflow is not exactly underpowered – it’s a 2008 Apple MacBook with a 2.2GHz Intel Core2Duo CPU, 4GB RAM and a 320GB hard disk – so I couldn’t understand why Adobe Bridge (CS3) was taking so long to do anything. Sure, I do have around 15,000 digital photos and over 9000 of them are in a single folder but I was seeing more than my fair share of spinning beachballs (the Mac equivalent of the Windows egg timer – which itself has been replaced with a halo from Windows Vista onwards).

I googled around a bit and didn’t find much at first but then I stumbled across an Adobe User to User Forums post from Ramón G Castañeda where he says that:

“The Bridge that come with CS3 now makes extensive use of the GPU on your graphics display card, That’s new.

If your graphics card is underpowered, enabling Use Software Rendering will actually help performance.”

Of course – my MacBook has an integrated graphics chipset and, whilst that’s fine for the photo editing that I do, drawing all those thumbnails in Bridge was going to bog it down a bit. So I turned on software rendering, restarted Bridge and the difference was very noticeable. Sure, CPU utilisation took a hit – but previously the two CPU cores were idle as they waited for the underpowered GPU to catch up.

Enabling software rendering in the preferences for Adobe Bridge CS3

From reading around, other configuration items that can make a difference include:

  • Make sure there is plenty of free disk space available – and that it’s not fragmented.
  • Organise images into subfolders.
  • Increase the size of the camera raw cache (1GB of disk space will hold about 200 raw images – I bumped mine up to 10GB but I’m not sure if that’s made any difference yet).
    Adjusting the cache size for Adobe Camera Raw 4.5
  • Make sure your PC/Mac has plenty of memory (2GB minimum) and a fast disk (RAID 0 is good if you have a decent workstation but is not an option for laptop users like me).

Setting up a digital photography workflow: preferences for Adobe Bridge, Camera Raw and Photoshop CS3

A couple of weeks back, I wrote about Adobe Photoshop CS3 from a photographer’s perspective and in this post I’ll outline some of the application preferences for Bridge (CS3), Camera Raw (4.x) and Photoshop (CS3) that may be useful when setting up a digital photography workflow (with thanks to David Tunnicliffe, who originally provided me with the bulk of this information):

  • In general (at an operating system level):
    • Add some memory (noting that each PC or Mac will have a limit in the maximum amount of memory it can support and that 32-bit operating systems can only access approximately 3.2GB).
    • Resist the temptation to compress hard disk drives – disks are relatively inexpensive and the available storage capacity is increasing rapidly.
  • Bridge (CS3: my installation is at v2.0.0.975; some extra information here relating to features introduced at v2.1):
    • General: adjust the background colour – dark grey will generally provide a non-distractive background; if Bridge is to be used for importing images when a camera is connected, select the appropriate checkbox under Behavior; remove items from the Favorites list that will not be used (e.g. Start Meeting).
    • Thumbnails: enable Adobe Camera Raw for JPEG and TIFF file handling; 400MB is the default maximum file size for the creation of thumbnails and should be more than enough for most photographers (unless they scan images at very high resolutions); high quality thumbnails can be useful; however conversion on preview is an intensive operation and should be avoided.
    • Playback: few photographers will be interested in media playback options (new in v2.1 – not present in v2.0).
    • Metadata: select/deselect as required – few photographers will need audio, video, or DICOM; GPS is becoming more relevant with the advent of location-based services.
    • Labels: edit the description to match the colour coding system in use – together with ratings, these can be useful for sorting.
    • Keywords: Can be used to build a hierarchy of keywords (new in v2.1 – not present in v2.0).
    • File type associations: edit if required to change the application that is associated with a given file type. Generally, these may be left at their defaults/
    • Cache: Clear the cache if problems are experienced with thumbnails (new in v2.1 – not present in v2.0).
    • Inspector: not really relevant unless using Adobe VersionCue to manage workflow.
    • Startup Scripts: these can be disabled if not used but I have left them at the default settings (removing scripts will accelerate application load times).
    • Advanced: this is the place to clear the cache if there are issues with thumbnail display; international settings for language and keyboard are also set here; software rendering should be avoided if there is suitable graphics hardware available to do the work instead.
    • Adobe Stock Photos: probably of limited use to people who would like to sell their work! In fact, the service was discontinued in April 2008 and can be uninstalled from Bridge.
    • Meetings: Only relevant with Adobe Acrobat Connect.
  • Camera Raw (my installation has been updated to v4.5.0.175; the version originally shipped with my copy of Photoshop CS3 was v4.0):
    • Preferences (available in other Photoshop applications whilst loaded): save image settings in sidecar (.XMP) files; apply sharpening to preview images only; Camera Raw cache defaults to 1GB and can be purged if issues are experienced; JPEG and TIFF handling selected (not available in v4.0).
    • Main interface: ensure Preview is selected.
    • Workflow options (link at the bottom of the ACR window): Adobe RGB (1998) is probably the best colour space for most photographers (Sean T. McHugh explains more about the comparison between sRGB and Adobe RGB 1998); use 16-bits per channel; use size and resolution to upscale (for better results than applying interpolation in Photoshop).
  • Photoshop (CS3: v10.0):
    • General: Color picker should be set to Adobe; Image interpolation should be selected according to purpose but bicubic smoother is probably the most useful for photographers.
    • Interface: Select remember palette locations.
    • File handling: select the prefer Adobe Camera Raw for filetype options if you want to open JPEG or RAW files in Adobe Camera Raw (recommended); increase the length of the recent file list if required; disable version cue if not required.
    • Performance: Photoshop is memory hungry but don’t let it take more than 70% of the available RAM (that is the default) – use the ideal range as a guide; adjust scratch disk settings if you have multiple disks available; enable 3D acceleration if supported by the GPU; increase the number of history states if possible.
    • Transparency and Gamut: ensure opacity is set to 100% (default setting).
    • Units and rulers: minimum print resolution for new documents should be 300ppi (72ppi is fine for screen).
    • Plug-ins: this is only relevant if you have plug-ins for an old version of Photoshop or in a strange location.
    • Cursors; Guides, Grid, Slices and Count; Type: Nothing to change.

Of course, this is just scraping the surface – these applications alone are probably not the complete workflow and each of them offers far more functionality than most photographers will require. If you’re using the CS3 applications for graphic design work, then you’ll probably have a totally different setup.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 from a photographer’s perspective

Photography has been one of my hobbies for almost 30 years now and for the last four years I’ve been exclusively shooting in digital format but I’m still struggling to work out a decent workflow. Adobe Photoshop CS3 box shotSo, last Friday I took the day off work to attend a short course introducing key features of Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom (provided by my local Adult Education service and presented by David Tunnicliffe) and, at £36 for 6 hours of tuition, it was a bargain. I learnt a lot – and some people might find what follows to be a little obvious – but I’m hopething that for others it might be as useful as it was for me.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 is just one product from the Adobe Creative Suite, providing many more features than most photographers will need as it is designed for the graphics art industry in general. Even so, Photoshop CS3 includes some additional components that may be very useful for a photographer:

  • Introduced with CS2, Adobe Bridge literally bridges the gap between a file browser and the various applications in the Creative Suite, providing digital asset management functionality for organising, previewing and editing images.
  • Frequently updated for new proprietary raw formats, Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) provides the tools to open and edit raw image data from a digital camera. In addition to this, it can also work with JPEG and TIFF files to provide basic editing functionality without Photoshop.

In addition to the CS3 components above, there are two more products that may be of interest:

  • DNG is Adobe’s non-proprietary and royalty-free Digital Negative format which is intended to provide a solution for archival of digital images and has now been embraced by many camera manufacturers – the notable exceptions being Canon and Nikon. I don’t fancy my chances of being able to open .NEF images from my Nikon D70 in 30 years time but I’ll stand a better chance if I convert them to .DNG and Adobe provides a free DNG converter for Windows and Macintosh users.
  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 125x125Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is a product designed by photographers, for photographers using separate library, develop, slideshow, print and web views and including the ability to import (including creating folders), catalogue (with keywords) and backup in one action.

For me, Bridge was a revelation – I use my Mac for photography (so Windows utilities were no good to me) but I’ve always found Apple iPhoto a little too simplistic. It turns out that Bridge (together with ACR) is exactly what I needed to organise my images, open them in ACR (and optionally Photoshop) to perform non-destructive edits, with the changes (and associated metadata) stored in Sidecar (.XMP) files alongside the original image (avoiding the need to maintain multiple copies of images). In addition, now that I’m using Bridge I can drop a couple of utilities that I had previously relied on:

Previously, I’d struggled to get to grips with ACR (in fact, episode 40 of This Week in Photography featured a question from me asking for some guidance) but, armed with the knowledge I gained on the course and Adobe’s understanding Adobe Photoshop Camera Raw 4 white paper, I now understand that ACR is more than just a converter and it’s often all that’s required to make many adjustments to images (the exposure control in ACR let me recover an image that had been three stops underexposed) – and that it can handle JPEG and TIFF files too.

Adobe Camera Raw 4.0

As for Lightroom, David Tunnicliffe was very keen on the product (not surprising as he took part in its development) but, whilst I can see that its potentially useful for a professional photographer and that the ability to import, catalogue and backup images in one go would make a huge improvement to my workflow, I’m still not totally convinced by the interface. Maybe I’ll change my mind at version 3!

Adobe Photoshop Elements 7 125x125For those who don’t want to spend the money on Photoshop CS3 (it is very expensive if you’re not going to use it to it’s full potential) and who can manage without Bridge (which is only sold as part of Photoshop), Photoshop Elements (for Windows or Macintosh) includes enough functionality for many photographers, although some elements are hidden from the interface (find out more about the hidden elements at Richard Lynch’s site). Also, expect to see Photoshop Express become more and more useful over time. Meanwhile, ACR and the DNG converter are free downloads so they are available to Elements users too.

For me, I’m pretty sure that my new digital photography workflow will be built around Bridge and ACR and I expect to be writing some more photography-related posts as that workflow starts to come together.