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.

Backing up and restoring Adobe Lightroom 2.x on a Mac

Over the last few days, I’ve been rebuilding the MacBook that I use for all my digital photography (which is a pretty risky thing to do immediately before heading off on a photography workshop) and one of the things I was pretty concerned about was backing up and restoring my Adobe Lightroom settings as these are at the heart of my workflow.

I store my images in two places (Lightroom backs them up to one of my Netgear ReadyNAS devices on import) and, on this occasion I’d also made two extra backups (I really should organise one in the cloud too, although syncing 130GB of images could take some time…).

I also backup the Lightroom catalog each time Lightroom runs (unfortunately the only option is to do this at startup, not shutdown), so that handles all of my keywords, develop settings, etc. What I needed to know was how to backup my preferences and presets – and how to restore everything.

It’s actually quite straightforward – this is how it worked for me – of course, I take no responsibility for anyone else’s backups and, as they say, your mileage may vary.  Also, PC users will find the process similar, but the file locations change:

I also made sure that the backups and restores were done at the same release (v2.3) but, once I was sure everything was working, I updated to the latest version (v2.6).

A few things for digital photographers to consider before upgrading a Mac to Snow Leopard

If you use a Mac, the chances are that you’ve heard about a new release of the Mac operating system – OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard”.  I haven’t bought a copy yet, largely because I can’t really see any “must-have” features (increased security and improved performance is not enough – even at a low price), but mainly because I use my Macs for digital media work – primarily my digital photography workflow on the MacBook – and upgrading to a new operating system brings with it the risk that applications will fail to work (I already have problems with NikonScan on MacOS X 10.5 and 10.6 is likely to introduce some more issues).

If you are, like me, primarily using your Mac for digital photography then there are a few things, that it might be useful to know before upgrading to Snow Leopard:

I’m sure that I will move to Snow Leopard in time; however these notes may well be useful if you’re a photographer first and foremost and the whole idea about using a Mac was simplicity.  Don’t be fooled by the glossy cover – Snow Leopard may bite you – and, like all operating system upgrades, it needs to be handled with care.

Exporting images from Lightroom to Flickr

Flickr logoAs I’m uploading a set of photos to Flickr to share with family and friends, it prompted me to finish a blog post I’ve been meaning to write for some months now – on the topic of exporting images from Lightroom to Flickr.

Since my friend Jeremy Hicks showed me Adobe Lightroom back in the spring, I’ve become hooked on the ease at which I can import, tag and post-process my images (with only a few minor annoyances around the way that images are handled when I take them into Photoshop for any advanced editing – thankfully most never need to go that far). But Lightroom is only half of the story – what about those images that I need to put on the web to share with others?

I use Flickr for this and I would like to export images directly from Lightroom to Flickr. Thanks to Lightroom’s extensible architecture, Jeffrey Friedl has written an Export to Flickr plugin (found via Adobe) and it does a good job but there is another way too. Thomas Bouve describes how, by creating an alias/shortcut the Flickr Uploadr application to the appropriate folder (Export Actions), you can select to open Flickr Uploadr as the post-processing editor, allowing the images to be uploaded immediately after export.

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).

Camera raw support for my Canon Digital Ixus: enabling DNG support with CHDK

Late last year, Garry Martin alerted me to an alternative firmware for certain Canon cameras – the Canon Hackers Development Kit (CHDK) – and I’ve been running it on my Canon Digital Ixus 70 ever since.

Importantly, CHDK makes no modifications to my camera’s firmware. The appropriate version for the camera model is downloaded and placed in a folder on the SD card that the camera uses and, when the card is write protected, this firmware is loaded at startup. If CHDK is missing or the card is not write protected, then the normal camera firmware loads. In addition to the extended functionality afforded by CHDK (which is significant – Lifehacker wrote a review of CHDK last year), I have full access to the standard camera features but the main advantages I find from CHDK include camera raw support, a live histogram and better battery information (I may also take a look at using it for time lapse photography at some point).

One of the frustrations I’ve had with CHDK is that the raw format it produces is not recognised by any of the major image editing applications (for me, that means using Adobe Camera Raw to interface with Photoshop CS4 and Lightroom 2 on a Mac). I tried installing an application that should convert these files to Adobe Digital Negative (.DNG) format (DNG4PS2) but the pre-built Mac version is known to be unstable on Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) and I was unable to make it compile using the latest source. There seems little point in running it on another operating system when I do all of my digital media work on the Mac, so I went back to getting the camera to store raw files in .DNG format at capture.

Unfortunately, each time I tried this, I was greeted with a message which said something like Cannot load/CHDK/badpixel.bin. Thanks to a comment from James W Manning on Flickr, I was able to work my way through creating this file: downloading a program to analyse an existing raw image taken with the same camera and identify any bad bits to create the required badpixel.bin file (I did need to run this on Windows though – the command was show_bad_b.exe rawfile.crw), which I could then copy to the CHDK folder on my SD card and enable DNG support.

Now my £130 compact camera takes raw images in .DNG format (as well as some JPEGs for reference) and I can work with the raw files just as I do with the ones produced by my DSLR. Of course, the tiny sensor means that the 7 million pixels on my Ixus 70 are inferior to the six million pixels on my old D70 (and way behind my full-frame D700 – more on that in another post!) but the additional flexibility is useful – as is the knowledge that I have the actual data that was recorded by the camera sensor, rather than with any post-processing in camera (e.g. boosted saturation that’s typically used with the compressed JPEG images).

Enabling Adobe Lightroom 2 integration with Photoshop CS3 and later

A couple of weeks back, my friend Jeremy Hicks was demonstrating Adobe Photoshop Lightroom to me. Whilst I’m still not convinced that Lightroom is the answer to all my digital image editing requirements, it it great for managing my digital workflow – and it has the advantage of being integrated with my pixel editor of choice: Adobe Photoshop CS3.

Unfortunately I found that, whilst Lightroom’s Photo menu included Edit In options for Adobe Photoshop CS3, some of the options that would be useful when merging multiple exposures – Merge to Panorama, Merge to HDR and Open as Layers – were all greyed out (unavailable). After a bit of Internet research, I found that I needed to be running an updated version of Photoshop CS3 (v10.0.1) to enable the integration with Lightroom. Some people have also suggested that Lightroom needs to be at least v2.1 (I’m running v2.3).

After the upgrade, the options to in the words of a former Senior Marketing Manager for Professional Photography at Adobe, Frederick Van Johnson) (“leverage the power of Photoshop CS3 to do some of the more complex and niche ‘heavy-lifting’ imaging tasks, while still providing seamless access to the powerful organizational features in Lightroom 2” were available.

Not surpisingly, Lightroom v2.3 (and presumably earlier versions too) are perfectly happy to work with later versions of Photoshop, such as CS4 (v11).

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.