Tag: Software

Adobe Photography Program closes 8 December 2013

As we’ve become busier, the site has become much quieter and I can see that it has been more than a year since I last wrote an update. In that time, we have continued to work with photographers at all levels on workflow, colour management and print making; we’ve made ‘digital’ prints for exhibitions (the last being Sir John Ramsden’s excellent exhibitions of photographs from 1980s Vietnam in London and Hanoi in 2013) and helped many others to make their own prints, organise their collections, process photographs and get their images online. Business as usual, in other words.

Photoshop Photography Program

Today, I’d like to remind readers and subscribers that the deadline for joining what Adobe calls its Photoshop Photography Program has been extended to Sunday, 8 December 2013. This offer gets you Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CC plus any updates released during the year for £8.78 a month, including VAT; this offer was once open only to those who owned Photoshop CS 3 or later but is temporarily (I assume) open to those who own neither Lightroom nor Photoshop. At this price, if you are currently making do with an old version of Lightroom and perhaps Adobe Photoshop Elements or something similar, this is an excellent offer. As an owner of both Lr 5 and Photoshop CS 6, I upgraded to Photoshop CC on its release but was automatically switched to this plan when it became available; the cloud activation and licensing have worked faultlessly so far.

Not entirely cloudy

The Creative Cloud versions of the Adobe apps don’t run ‘from the cloud’ in some mysterious way — they’re installed locally on your machine, just like their predecessors, and run in exactly the same way. They work online and offline. (Almost every photographer I’ve spoken to has been confused by the name ‘Creative Cloud’.) The idea of a CC app like Photoshop CC is just that all updates released during your subscription term are included and that there will be no major version releases going forward (like Photoshop CS 4, CS 5, etc.). Instead, new features will be added via installable updates when they’re ready. In addition, you get some cloud storage options for your documents.

The downside of this scheme is that when you stop paying, you lose all Adobe Photoshop functionality and not just the right to future upgrades. At this price, though, I don’t see that being a problem for any serious users of the software — it makes sense even if, like me, you owned a copy of Lr 5 already.

Capture One Training

All the hullabaloo earlier this year about the initial Creative Cloud pricing (which saw Adobe’s marketing and sales departments at their worst) has been good for the competition. Phase One’s Capture One Pro is newly revitalised in its current release (version 7) and I like it much better than previous releases. As part of the work I do at Ravensbourne as a sessional lecturer, I qualified as a Phase One Certified Professional this summer and now offer training and support on Capture One, in addition to Photoshop and Lightroom. If you’re trying to decide between all these options, write or call and we can offer some independent advice. (We don’t sell any of this software or hardware and are not associated with either of the publishers.)

That’s it for now. As always, one-to-one training and phone support is available on all the above.

Next post: January 2015, by my calculations.

Lightroom 4 is out

Lightroom 4 box

The results we saw in tests of Lightroom public beta were very positive so we’re pleased the final release follow so quickly.

Aside from soft proofing, which works very well, output quality for high-contrast images is up (retention of colour in highlights, in particular) and some odd bugs, like the use of local adjustments causing loss of highlight colour in areas that you weren’t painting on (!) have been quashed. It’s easier to get convincing and pleasing results in fewer steps. It’s also a great plus to be able to add noise reduction or colour-temperature changes to specific places.

Bug fix, Library module

You can now move many folders from one location to another at the same time by command-clicking (ctrl-clicking in Windows) to select the folders and then dragging any one of them (with the command or ctrl key released). In Lightroom 3, this functionality would silently fail — only one folder would be moved — and none of the point upgrades addressed it; in version 4, it works. It sounds like a small thing but we’ve often had to answer calls from photographers asking how to rearrange a folder structure in Lightroom and we’ve had to tell them to do it folder by folder.


The upgrade procedure from Lightroom 3 to 4 has been smooth for our machines and leaves a copy of your original LR 3 catalogue in place. Nevertheless, back up everything before you begin. As with the upgrade from Lightroom 2 to 3, you’ll see an exclamation mark next to an image that uses the older process version while in Develop mode. You can click that icon to update that image or all the images in the filmstrip. Resetting an image will also update the process version. Although LR 4 will make some attempt to preserve the look of an adjusted image when moving from process version 2010 to version 2012, you’ll likely have to tweak things to get them looking right — but the end result will likely be better than it was in LR 3.

Computer performance — check first

The new process version (2012) does place a heavy load on older hardware. If you’re running an old machine and a high-resolution camera, now might be a time to start looking for a new computer. If you’re unsure about your machine’s performance, download the trial version of Lightroom 4 first. It’s free to use for 30 days.


Adobe’s new pricing is surprising but welcome: officially £86.57 excluding VAT for the full version and less than £50 ex-VAT for an upgrade. That’s roughly half of what you’d have paid for Lightroom 3 just six months ago.

Adobe Lightroom 4 from Amazon UK

Here are Amazon UK links for the full version and upgrade version of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4. There’s also a student and teacher version of Lightroom 4 here. (But remember that you need to show eligibility in order to get the student and teacher version running — without it, you won’t obtain a serial number.)

If you run the trial version first, you can buy a retail copy or buy from Adobe directly to convert your trial to the full version, without losing any work — you just need a serial number to activate the software after the 30 days are up.

Lightroom 4 training

If you’re a Lightroom 3 user interested in a top-up course to cover Lightroom 4 specifics or have been using Lightroom causally and would now like to use it in depth, please write or call (333 577 5703).

We also have a Lightroom training day scheduled for photographers who are new to Lightroom or who haven’t yet got to grips with it — it’s a one-day course on Wednesday, 23rd May at Four Corners in London. It costs £100 plus VAT. Click here to book. (The training day was originally scheduled for 10th May but we moved it to avoid a date clash.)

Lightroom 3, Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop CS4

Some good news and updates recently for users of Lightroom and Photoshop CS4. Along with the good news is continued confusion in various online forums about Adobe Camera Raw and its relationship with Lightroom so here’s an attempt to explain some of what the two have in common.

What is Adobe Camera Raw?

Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) is a software plugin used by Photoshop to decode (or “demosaic”) raw files. A version is supplied with every new copy of Photoshop (and Photoshop Elements) and the plugin is regularly updated as new cameras are released because new cameras mean new types of files for the ACR plugin to understand. Any new major release of ACR (like ACR 6.0, 7.0, etc.) is usually available only for the latest versions of Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. The current version for Adobe Photoshop CS4 is ACR 5.7, released last week and available from Adobe as a free download. It works with Photoshop CS4 and Photoshop Elements 8.

Links to the (free) Adobe Camera Raw 5.7 downloads:

Does Lightroom use Adobe Camera Raw?

No, not directly. Lightroom’s decoding (or demosaicing) of raw files doesn’t rely on the ACR plugin itself so installing a new version of ACR won’t change Lightroom’s rendering or allow it to read new types of raw files. However, Lightroom and ACR share functionality and code—it’s just that Lightroom’s implementation is contained within the application itself. A new release of the ACR plugin for Photoshop usually means a corresponding release of Lightroom. The two are independent but usually updated together.

Adobe Camera Raw 5.7 and why it’s important for Lightroom 3 beta 2 users

ACR 5.7, like Lightroom 2.7, offered support for raw files from newly released cameras but that’s not the reason for this article. Version 5.7 also included a nice surprise for users of Lightroom 3 beta 2. It turned out to include the code to allow it to decode raw files using the new raw decoding engine contained in the Lightroom 3 betas—specifically, Lightroom 3 beta 2. This code is what gives Lightroom 3 its much improved colour noise reduction (see previous articles here and here) and finer detail. Till now, if you were working in a Lightroom 3 beta and chose “Edit in Photoshop” (command-E on the Mac, ctrl-E on Windows), you’d see an error message in Photoshop CS4 (if you were using LR3 beta 2) or just wonky results (in LR3 beta 1). When you install ACR 5.7, that problem is gone, allowing you to work on a raw image in Lightroom 3 beta 2, then open the raw file (including your Lightroom edits) in Photoshop CS4 and continue to do pixel-level work. Very nice.

A few weeks back, we wrote about the new and old process versions for Lightroom 3; what ACR 5.7 offers is really a way for Photoshop to work on raw images that you edited in Lightroom using the 2010 process. It doesn’t allow you access to the new noise-reduction controls directly from Photoshop but it does appear to respect the settings that you used within Lightroom 3 beta 2.

Sidenote: when you work on a raw image in Lightroom and choose “Edit in Photoshop”, Lightroom doesn’t immediately create a TIFF and send it across to Photoshop—the ACR plugin within Photoshop reads the original raw file and the list of changes you’ve made in Lightroom and applies those changes itself. The TIFF gets created only when you save the file in Photoshop. Now that version 5.7 contains a raw decoding engine that’s compatible with Lightroom 3’s, this process works again for users of CS4 and Lightroom 3.

What all this seems to suggest is that there will be a version of ACR for Photoshop CS4 that will remain compatible with the final release of Lightroom 3, meaning that you don’t have to update to Photoshop CS5 immediately to keep tight integration between Lightroom and Photoshop. If that’s true, it’s a very welcome gesture.

The obligatory gasp about Photoshop CS5’s content-aware fill

Photoshop CS5 looks like a very strong release for a certain type of photographer. If you haven’t already seen the content-aware fill demonstration, you’ve been missing out so take five minutes to watch it now. It’ll make your jaw drop.

More Lightroom 3 features revealed: correction for lens distortion

The final version of Lightroom 3 (and ACR 6.1) will allow us access to lens-correction features that have long been lurking.

Distortion correction has been around for a while in Lightroom

For some compact cameras that shoot raw and for some Micro Four-Thirds camera-and-lens combinations, both Lightroom and ACR have been providing behind-the-scenes corrections of lens distortion. Users of the Canon S90, the Panasonic Lumix LX-3 and some wide-angle Micro Four-Thirds lenses (such as the excellent 20mm Panasonic f/1.7) have seen automatic correction of very significant barrel distortion but Lightroom 3 (and ACR 6.1) will extend that benefit, in some form, to the rest of us.

Control over the degree of correction

Many users of the cameras and lenses mentioned above probably didn’t even know that their images were being corrected, sometimes for an eye-popping level of geometric distortion. The feature just worked, unbidden, behind the scenes. Adobe’s engineers generally seem to have matched the correction that the camera manufacturers applied to JPEGs generated by the camera and/or the results produced by the raw converters shipped with the cameras, meaning that by design, images from cameras like the S90 and LX-3 show some residual level of barrel distortion after automatic correction within Lightroom—correction over which the user has had no control, till now. With Lightroom 3, we’ll be able to fade the degree of correction for things like vignetting and distortion.

The best bit: we’ll be able to profile our own lenses

Out of the box, the lens-correction feature will support some lenses from Canon, Nikon and Sigma (who even issued a press release about it) but potentially the strongest aspect of Adobe’s implementation is that we will get a mechanism to allow us to profile our own lenses for optical defects. There are other solutions to the lens-correction problem (DXO Optics Pro, for example, or PTLens) but Adobe’s looks like it might be the strongest so far for a couple of reasons: firstly, the existence of an easy way to profile your own lenses (the proof of the pudding will be in the tasting, of course) and secondly, the apparent concern of the Adobe Lightroom/ACR team to get local corrections working well with this new feature. This is harder than it sounds: say you’ve removed a spot of sensor dust from an image or you’ve added saturation and sharpness to a an area of a photograph: quite how should Lightroom react when you later switch on the automatic correction for lens for distortion? Should it even let you switch it on if you’ve applied local corrections?

Head over to Tom Hogarty’s blog post, where he shows how it’s all going to work. Congratulations to the Lightroom team on what looks to be an excellent implementation.

Switching between old process and new process in Lightroom 3

Lightroom 3 is built around a new, improved demosaicing engine (the raw converter code that makes a full-resolution, full-colour image out of your raw file). It also includes the older conversion engine used in Lightroom 2 and earlier so to see the full power of Lightroom 3, you need to make sure you’re using what Adobe calls the 2010 process (that’s the new raw conversion engine) on each of your raw files. The old engine is referred to as the 2003 process. (In Lightroom 3 public beta 1, they were called process version 1 and process version 2—the new names are a definite improvement.) This is a per-image setting so you can choose which images use which process and can mix old and new in one catalogue.

How do you tell which process you’re using?

As of Lightroom 3 public beta 2, the main sign that you’re using the old (2003) process is the unmissable presence of an exclamation mark in the lower right of your image when you’re in the Develop module. The symbol appears next to any image that’s using the old engine and looks like this:

To switch to the 2010 process, just click that warning symbol. You’ll get the chance to review the before-and-after changes and to apply the changes to the whole filmstrip. Comparing the the changes side by side at 100% can be a useful way to understand the differences between old engine and new.

Above; the box you see when you click the exclamation mark in the Develop module

A warning about noise reduction and sharpening

In Lightroom 3 public beta 2, released today, local sharpening controls (brushes, gradients) and luminance noise reduction are both much more powerful than they were in Lightroom 2. You might find some settings for sharpening, negative sharpening and luminance noise reduction that you’d used previously to be way too high for the new versions so carefully review as you update your work.

To switch back to the 2003 process

To remind yourself of how a picture looked using the old demosaicing engine (aka process version 1 or the 2003 process), you can always switch back. In Lightroom’s Settings menu, go to Process, where you’ll see a choice between the 2003 version and the 2010 version. (The old process is labelled 2003 because Adobe Camera Raw—or ACR—dates back to that year. Even though Lightroom was only released in 2006 as a public beta, it shares code with ACR, which means that at some point, there will be a version of the ACR plugin that has offers this new raw conversion engine, too.)

Above: switching between processes using the Settings menu

Alternatively, you can now choose your process version from a new menu item in the Camera Calibration section of the Develop module (lower right).

Above: the new Process menu inside the Develop module’s Camera Calibration section

Use virtual copies and the compare function

When you begin to use Lightroom 3, it can be useful to make a virtual copy of a picture and use the old engine (2003 process) and the new side by side on the same image to get a feel for the difference between the two raw converters. For the full effect, choose a high-ISO image, with local sharpening applied. The second public beta now includes an option to view images side by side when you convert from the old process to the new but it can be useful to do it manually, particularly for images in which you’ve used many brushes. Compare results at 100% using the compare function (hit C in the grid, with both versions of the picture selected) and you should see a significant—and sometimes dramatic—difference in quality.

Why do some or all files use the old process version in Lightroom 3?

If Lightroom 3 can tell that you’ve done some work on a raw file in Lightroom 2 or a pre-v6 release of Adobe Camera Raw, it will keep using the 2003 process for that image so that the picture continues to look just as it did in Lightroom 2. That’ll happen if it sees an XMP sidecar file next to the raw file and can tell that the XMP file was created by Lightroom 2 or ACR 5.x or earlier.

What are the main differences between the 2003 process and the 2010 process?

The new 2010 process uses the new demosaicing engine in Lightroom 3, offering finer detail and better rendering of high-ISO work, among other things. Dramatically improved noise reduction, too, and much more powerful local sharpening controls. (Brushes, gradients.)

For an early and subtle example of the difference in quality between version one and version two with default settings, even at low ISO, see an earlier post on protecting fine colour detail in Lightroom 2. Towards the end, it contains some Lightroom 3 screen shots of the example image—there’s a clear difference in the way that colour noise reduction works.

Now that Lightroom 3 beta 2 is available and contains working luminance noise reduction, we’ll post more example files soon. Initial testing suggests very impressive NR results but it will take more time to be absolutely sure.

Lightroom 3 public beta 2 has been released

[Update: that was quick! Lightroom 3 public beta 2 is out and it looks good. Luminance noise reduction that—at first glance—seems to work extremely well and an easier way to switch between the old raw conversion engine and the new. I’ll leave the rest of this post intact but it’s now outdated, less than an hour after it was posted as a pointer to a rumour.]

The free Lightroom 3 public beta was released in 2009 and was a big hit, particularly among low-light shooters, but the beta is due to expire at the end of April. Could it be that there’s a new version on the way before the final release? Take a look at this thread at the (usually very useful) Lightroom forum over at the Luminous Landscape. Apparently, there was an announcement that even made it to DP Review before being pulled. Perhaps by the time you read this, it’ll actually be out. This is the Adobe page to check.

If there is another public beta on its way and if it offers a peek at the new luminance noise reduction that Adobe has been working on, it will be very welcome. We’re keen to see how the luminance NR compares with third-part solutions like Noiseware, Noise Ninja, Topaz Denoise and Neat Image.

Photoshop Elements 8 offer at Amazon UK


Update 12th April 2010: the price of Elements is now back to normal. The offer lasted till 11th April 2010 so over three weeks in total. Still very good value but the prices mentioned below are no longer available from Amazon directly . The article will stay up since it provides some detail on using Elements with Lightroom.

First, our apologies to the regular Photoshop users among you and to those of you outside Europe. You can skip the rest of this note.

We don’t plan to do this sort of thing often but we received e-mail today from Amazon UK mentioning that it is now listing Photoshop Elements 8 at less than £50 as of 16 March 2010. That price includes VAT and shipping. This is the boxed, retail DVD and by UK standards, that price is an absolute bargain. (US readers who are still reading will raise their eyebrows at that description but sadly, it’s true.) The list price is £75 and it routinely sells on Amazon for £65.

It comes as a Mac version (Intel processor only) or a Windows version and both are currently at the same price.

Compared with most of the newer image editors intended for casual and occasional use, Elements wins hands down. It now offers layers, full Adobe Camera Raw compatibility, adjustment layers, and layer masks (for adjustment layers). It even offers smart sharpening and a version of the context-aware scaling function that you find in the full Photoshop (attempting to keep people and buildings in proportion while you stretch the image).

Who’s it suitable for?

Photoshop Elements will suit you if you don’t need to do much retouching outside Lightroom or Aperture but do need to clone out a stray object or element or if you need to run third-party noise-reduction plugins or something else requiring Photoshop. It will also suit you if you previously outsourced most of your own post-processing (or provided your clients and editors with images that weren’t retouched) and are only now beginning to do more of it yourself. It’s an excellent, low-cost way of beginning your Photoshop journey.

Elements 8 compared to Photoshop CS4

For occasional use, Elements 8 has only three significant weaknesses compared with Photoshop 11 (CS4).

  1. It doesn’t allow you to do as much work on 16-bit files as the full version of Photoshop does
  2. It doesn’t offer any access to the LAB colour mode
  3. It doesn’t allow you to convert to CMYK.

(It’s also not a 64-bit application but neither is the full Mac version of Photoshop CS4.) Both LAB mode and the ability to work at 16-bit depth are useful but for many people who do most of their work (including local adjustments) in a raw converter like Lightroom or Aperture, these things might matter less than they once did.

LAB mode in Photoshop is very powerful but relatively few people use it today, particularly after recent additions to Photoshop’s functionality, offering the “fade to luminosity” function. (That’s not to say LAB isn’t useful, powerful or under-rated—it’s all those things and fans of LAB mode will be horrified, of course, to read all this. It’s just relatively unusual to see people actually use it today, now that editing in RGB is as powerful and capable as it now is.)

You’d convert to CMYK if you’re preparing press-ready work (for magazine or book adverts, say). Again, you’ll already know if you need it. If you ask nicely, many publications’ prepress folks will do the conversion from RGB to CMYK themselves if you provide them with tagged files that you produced in a colour managed workflow.

Working in 16-bit mode, particularly in a larger colour space like Adobe RGB (all things we will discuss in future articles) is a way to help preserve smoothness of tone and colour, among other things. It will help avoid banding and other colour artefacts. The banding and other issues are mostly likely to appear when you do lots of work to the contrast, saturation and exposure of part or all of an image, particularly in areas of the image the show smooth surfaces

If you have used Lightroom, Aperture or another raw converter to do most of the grunt-work, like exposure compensation, highlight recovery, tone, white balance, contrast, dodging and burning) on a raw file, you’ve done most the things that would cause problems with 8-bit files. Performing some further minor work (some cloning or healing in small areas) on an 8-bit file is not usually something to worry about.

In addition, if you’d like to use Photoshop to run a noise-reduction plug-in like Neat Image or Topaz Denoise, the plugin will usually work in 16-bit mode in Elements 8. If you intend to use layers to blend the post-NR image with the regular image, you need to convert down to 8 bits so the conversion after you’ve run the noise-reduction routine to minimise the effect. (Elements 8 opens and saves 16-bit TIFFs—it’s just that layers and some of its own built-in filters and functions don’t work in that mode. Luckily, the third-party NR plugins work fine.)

Lightroom integration with Elements 8

Above: setting up Lightroom to work with Elements 8 for work that will remain in 16-bit throughout.

Lightroom integration with Photoshop CS4 is deeper than with other image editors like Elements. However, Elements offers most of what you need: in Lightroom’s preferences, perform a one-time setup. You specify that Elements 8 is your image editor, you tell Lightroom which colour space to use when creating an export file and which format to and bit depth to work at. Once you’ve set it up once, you’ll have a keyboard shortcut (for example, command-option-E or ctrl-alt-E) to invoke Elements but you can also right-click an image inside Lightroom and edit in Elements that way. Because it’s set up, the bit depth, file type and colour space will be taken care of automatically after that.

Lightroom also allows you to set up Elements 8 in different ways (16-bit TIFF, ProPhoto, 8-bit TIFF sRGB) so that you get a choice of options for each image that you send to Elements: you would choose the most appropriate for the task at hand.

Above: examples of what you might see when you right-click an image in Lightroom having set up different ways of sending an image to Elements 8.

If you do work that requires you to shift to 8-bit mode, first switch to a smaller colour space. (ProPhoto RGB is not a sensible choice for 8-bit work. More on colour spaces another time.)

What you don’t get with Elements 8, compared with CS4, is the smart objects integration, the HDR-from-raw-files integration and the ability to create panoramas from your raw shots.

To run noise-reduction plugins

If you were using Photoshop Elements to run a noise-reduction filter like Neat Image or Topaz Denoise, you’d choose to work with 16-bit TIFFs in something like Adobe RGB space. Lightroom will create a TIFF that contains all your existing Lightroom edits and will send it to Elements. When you finish and save your work in Elements, you’ll see the edited file in Lightroom, next to the original. Lightroom will handle the 16-bit TIFF as it would any other file, allowing you to export JPEGs, print, etc.

We own and use both CS4 and Elements 8 (for which we paid a good deal more than £49!) here at Shoot Raw, just to make sure we keep up-to-date with both. We can recommend Elements 8 for photographers who don’t spend a huge amount of time doing advanced Photoshop work or for people beginning with Photoshop, who’d like to get familiar with the application.

One more thing: if you were to buy Elements at £49 and then upgrade to Photoshop CS4 today at the Adobe UK site, you’d end up saving £30 over the cost of just buying CS4 outright from Adobe. Though it’s impossible to say this with absolute certainty, that saving is likely to continue when CS5 is released.

Amazon UK is marking this is “for a limited time only”. No idea how long it’ll last. We’ll try to update or delete this note when the offer has gone.

Disclosures and disclaimers

We earn commission from Amazon UK if you click one of the links and check out and pay for a product within that shopping session. That’s nice but the commission (about £2.50 per copy of Elements that you pay for during your visit to Amazon from our links) clearly isn’t reason enough to plug the product. We’re recommending it because it’s good (as long as you understand its limitations—see above), because the sub-£50 price is an absolute bargain and because Amazon UK is a reputable seller. (On which subject, we’d recommend that you buy directly from Amazon rather than one of its resellers—look for “Dispatched from and sold by Amazon.co.uk “.)

The Mac version:

Below: the Windows version

Coming up

We’re going to start a series of articles looking at exactly which camera settings affect the data in your raw files when you work with Lightroom and how. We’ll be looking at the primary exposure controls—shutter speed, aperture, ISO—and secondary camera settings like saturation, sharpness, contrast and colour mode (meaning options like Adobe RGB and sRGB). Over the series, we’ll be giving you definitive answers and explaining the technical language.

If you were sent a link to this post, you can subscribe by e-mail or RSS to receive all future articles in full. It’s free.

Ten backup tips for Adobe Lightroom users

Here’s an article about backing up your work when you’re using Lightroom. It offers ten tips for backup, addressing common mistakes and misconceptions about what photographers should back up and how. It’s a long article but you can skim it very quickly and see if any of the headings tell you something new. If you have no inclination to read it but you think you should do something about making backups of your work, you can always call us.

1. Your Lightroom catalogue is critically important. You need to back it up.

Lightroom maintains a collection of information called a catalogue. The catalogue tracks the names and locations of all the images you import into Lightroom together with the changes you make to those images. Brushes, gradients, keywords, ratings, crops, colour and contrast changes—everything you’ve done to every image in Lightroom is in that catalogue. The Lightroom catalogue has a filename that ends with .lrcat. Find the catalogue and make sure it’s being backed up. See screen shots below to learn how to identify your catalogue file.


Above: the Lightroom catalogue icon as it appears in Mac OS X. This particular catalogue is called (fairly obviously) Shoot Raw.

Below: how to find the location and filename of your Lightroom catalogue after choosing Catalog Settings inside the Lightroom application. This example shows a brand new, empty Lightroom catalogue.
Test Lightroom catalogue

2. Back up your image files—they are NOT stored in your Lightroom catalogue

Lightroom doesn’t usually alter your original image files at all, whether you shoot raw, JPEG or TIFF. It uses the original files together with the changes recorded in the Lightroom catalogue to generate all its previews, prints and exports, including web galleries. So: back up both your catalogue and the image files that Lightroom sees.

3. Run your backups when Lightroom is not running

This is an important point that many photographers miss when using Lightroom. If your backup software (something like Time Machine, if you’re on a Mac) backs up your data while you’re working in Lightroom, there’s a good chance that even if it manages to grab a version of that all-important Lightroom catalogue, what it gets might be useless when you need to restore it and you’re in a major, major panic. So make sure you run your backup software when Lightroom itself is not running.

4. RAID isn’t backup. Neither is a Drobo.

If you keep your pictures and Lightroom catalogue on a Drobo or on a suitably configured RAID and you experience the failure of a hard drive, you can usually continue working without data loss. That’s very useful but on its own, it’s not a substitute for a proper backup plan. A backup plan is more likely to protect you against human error and software glitches.

Here are some examples. Let’s say you accidentally ask Lightroom to remove and delete some original raw files instead of the low-res JPEG versions that you once generated for client approval. Or imagine that your Lightroom database becomes damaged and refuses to open. Neither a RAID nor a Drobo will save you. You can’t go back in time and pull back an older version—if your Lightroom catalogue became corrupt yesterday, it’s the corrupt version that’s now safely duplicated across the RAID. There’s no guarantee that you can undelete the raw files you deleted, especially if you don’t discover your mistake for a fortnight. If you one day make a change to a complex, layered file in Photoshop and accidentally saved only the flattened version—how do you get last week’s version back to remove one of the changes?

RAID systems and Drobos help eliminate downtime by guarding against loss of data due to hard drive failure but they do not perform the same job as a backup plan. One is not a substitute for the other.

5. Save space: you don’t have to back up Lightroom’s preview files

If you want to save a chunk of space on your backup drives and get faster backups, you can safely ask your backup software to ignore Lightroom previews and Adobe Camera Raw previews. (For my main Lightroom catalogue, the Lightroom previews are fairly modest in size and quantity but they still amount to tens of gigabytes—that’s a lot of backup space for a folder that changes daily and can be recreated at any time by Lightroom.)

Just find your Lightroom catalogue (see screen shots in step 1) and you’ll find the Lightroom previews sat right next to it. See the screen shot below for the icon. Its filename ends with .lrdata. When you’ve found it, tell your backup software to skip this item when backing up.


Above: the icon for Lightroom Previews. This file is created automatically by Lightroom, taking its name from the catalogue name that you choose. In this case, it takes the name Shoot Raw Previews.

6. Don’t rely solely on Lightroom’s own catalogue backup function.

Lightroom can back up its own catalogue file every so often. (Scroll back up to the picture of the Catalog Settings window and you’ll see how and where to activate this function.) The way it works is this: you launch Lightroom and it asks you whether you want to back up the catalogue. You look at the message and you say: no, I’m going to have to skip the backup this one time. Don’t you? Be honest—that’s what you do. You do it because you have work to do in Lightroom right now (that’s why you’re launching the application) and you can remember how long it took last time. You tell yourself that you’ll let it do the backup next time. We all do it.

Above: the all-too-familiar prompt and the impossibly tempting Skip Now button

That’s not the only problem. Are you even backing up the catalogue to a separate volume? And when you’ve finished your marathon Lightroom session, the backup copy that you made before you began is already out of date. Lightroom 3 is going to address a couple of these issues by prompting you to back up when you quit the application instead of when you launch it but there’s more.

The catalogue doesn’t contain your images (see point 2) and is no good without them so you need to back those up separately. If you do that, you have to get the (possibly out-of-date) catalogue and the backup of your images in sync when it’s time to restore. And then there are the Lightroom presets you’ve created and any Lightroom plug-ins you’ve installed: are they getting backed up?

The solution is this: get your backup software to run regularly and automatically when Lightroom itself isn’t running. Get it to back up all your stuff, including your images and your Lightroom catalogue. Test it from time to time. Job done. Lightroom’s own backup is great when you’re working in the field with a laptop and some extra drives but it’s not intended to be a replacement for a backup plan.

7. Don’t rely solely on XMP sidecar files

If you don’t know what XMP sidecar files are, you’re not relying on them at all so feel free to scroll down to point 8.

You can ask Lightroom to automatically create and update files called XMP sidecars. The application will create an XMP file for each image that you have in your catalogue. Each XMP file lives right next to the image that it represents.

Each of these sidecars contains any ratings and labels you assigned the image, some metadata from the camera, the keywords you’ve entered and details of all your Lightroom work on that picture. You can send someone an original raw or JPEG file (not an export) together with its XMP sidecar from Lightroom; the lucky recipient will then be able to import the two things together and use Lightroom to see and modify all your adjustments—even the brushes and gradients. That’s useful. But if you rely on backing up these sidecars instead of backing up your Lightroom catalogue, you’ll find that when you start over in a new catalogue, you’ll have lost all of your Lightroom collections and collection sets.

There’s also a performance hit if you tell Lightroom to automatically generate and update these XMP sidecars all the time. Every time you make a change to a file, Lightroom needs to update its catalogue and the sidecars. Twice the work.

Screenshot of XMP files next to NEF (raw) files
Above: image files in a folder with their XMP sidecar files next to them, one per image. These XMP files were generated on demand in Lightroom, not automatically. (Select the images in Lightroom, hit Command-S. Lightroom will write XMP sidecars for them.) That’s our recommendation—just generate them when you need them.

8. Restore your data as a test

Many photographers will first test their backup schemes only when disaster has struck. That’s not the time to find out that your best work hasn’t been backed up at all or that your Lightroom catalogue can’t be restored. Check everything when the going’s good: restore your data to a spare volume and test that it’s valid and complete.

Personal note: I have seen automatic daily backup schemes that were missing all the important stuff on a drive—backups that were not getting a single thing of use in the event of a hard drive failure. (I am not making this up.) The only thing worse than not backing up at all is thinking that you are when in fact you’re not. Backup software today is much easier to use than it once was but don’t leave it to chance—check your backed up data by restoring it to a blank drive and using it. (After a successful test, delete the restored data!)

9. Start with enough space for two to three times your current data size

If you have a terabyte of data, start with at least 2TB of space on your backup drives. Leave plenty of room for expansion and archive. (See the note about the Drobo, below.)

10. Keep off-site copies of your data

A good single backup volume or RAID set next to your main machine will cover you in the event of hard drive failure but probably not fire, flood or theft, all of which might affect your backups as well. Keep a copy of your data off-site and update it every so often.

If you made it this far, well done. If you’re already doing all the stuff in the article, that’s even better. The biggest problem we see is that photographers either aren’t backing up at all or are not backing up what’s needed. Are you one of them? Don’ t be.

Useful links to do with storage, backups and Lightroom

  • XMP sidecar files. If you’d like to find out more, there’s some background in the Wikipedia article here.
  • Time Machine—backup software that’s supplied with Mac OS X. More info on Apple’s site here.
  • Notes on storage devices. This is from Apple and the notes are pretty basic but will be useful for many—the article is here.
  • Mac Pro RAID. A note on Apple’s site about the software and hardware RAID options you get with a Mac Pro here.
  • Drobo. A Drobo (from “data robot”) is a decent choice for a photographer to use as a backup storage device because it’s so easy to expand its volume as the device fills up. (That’s not a recommendation to keep your work on a Drobo—see point 4. The suggestion is that you keep your work where it is and back it up to a Drobo.)

    Above: a five-bay Drobo S. This version has space for five drives and is quicker than its four-bay predecessor. The bottleneck was the Drobo’s internal CPU and design, which has been upgraded.

    You can add hard drives to the Drobo and it will give you extra backup space without any reconfiguring and without needing to copy your old data across. You can keep working even if a hard drive fails (in the Drobo S, you can have two hard drives fail) or you can take one drive out and put a bigger drive in its place. You still lose no data and you don’t need to manually copy stuff across to the new drive—the Drobo sorts it all out. To calculate how much real, useable space you get when you add drives to the Drobo, use the appropriate capacity calculator on the Data Robotics site here.

    If you’re thinking of buying a Drobo or two, read this first: data on the disks in a Drobo can only be read in a Drobo of that type. So if yours fails—if its power supply goes, for example—you can’t slide a drive out of it, put it into your Mac Pro and read useful data from it. For a backup device, that limitation is an acceptable price to pay for the convenience and scalability that you get in return but it’s one of the reasons we don’t recommend using a Drobo as primary, online storage unless you have another one as a backup. (Drobos are not unreliable—quite the opposite—but it’s important to be aware of that aspect of a Drobo’s design.)

  • Snow Leopard. Time Machine is supplied with Leopard (Max OS X 10.5) and Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6). You can read about Snow Leopard on Apple’s site. It runs Lightroom faster than Leopard but you must remember to switch Lightroom to 64-bit mode to benefit from the speed boost. (Find Lightroom on your hard drive, select it, choose “File=> Get Info” and make sure the box that says “Run in 32-bit mode” is not ticked.) Snow Leopard requires an Intel Mac.
  • Carbon Copy Cloner. Great software (donationware) from Mike Bombich for making a clone of a single drive (for example, your boot drive) to supplement (not to replace) your data backup plan. Download it from Mike’s site.
  • SuperDuper! Alternative to CCC. Like Carbon Copy Cloner, it can be used to make clones of your boot drive, to supplement (not to replace) your data backup plan. Get it from Shirt Pocket.
  • Online backup services. There are several, with Backblaze and Mozy among the more popular. We haven’t used them or set up clients on them but they’re generally well regarded. They usually cost a few dollars a month and the idea is that your stuff trickles, encrypted, up to a central storage pool using your broadband connection. Probably not much good for your entire catalogue (depends how much you shoot) but potentially good for office documents, paperwork and perhaps a collection of your best work. Some services will send you a DVD or drive of your stuff in the event that you need to restore huge amounts of data.

We can help

If you’re a little stuck when it comes to this sort of stuff and you’re located in the UK, we can help. Call us on 020 3092 2907 or mail develop@shootraw.co.uk.

New: the Shoot Raw Store!

A new thing for us: a virtual store, powered by Amazon UK. We’ve put up a dedicated page about it. You can get to the store by clicking here. We’ve sold a few things already, much to our surprise. Thank you for your support—it’s very encouraging and we really appreciate it!