How many times in a day are you faced with having to make a choice? What time do I need to wake up? What should I wear? What should I eat for breakfast, etc…. That’s within the first hour of the day. Everyday we have to make hundreds if not thousands of decisions. How do we know what to do, which path to take?
As an Artist, the decision making process is amplified. As we walk through the creative process we often second guess ourselves. What lens should I use? What background do I put my subjects in? White or black dress, hat or no hat, etc… The list of creative options goes on and on. Do you ever feel a bit overwhelmed?
On one hand the creative process can be the most exhausting, nerve racking experience an Artist has to go through. Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could make a creative decision knowing that you are 100% right every time? I’m going to let you in on a secret that will revolutionize your photography.
First, have you ever watched American Idol, the X Factor, or one of those types of shows where the judges give advice? What do they say over and over. “Take a risk and be yourself.” “Do what feels right, and let it all hang out.” You see, originality will always trump those who copy. When you copy someone’s artistic vision, you will always blend with the masses because there is a line out the door of copiers. If you be yourself, you will stand out from the crowd.
So, how does the creative process work in the real world? For starters, there is this annoying voice that seems to chatter over our shoulder as we come to a crossroad and have to make a creative decision. It goes something like this, ”Are you sure you doing it right? Someone’s not going to like what you’re doing,” and it goes on and on. You start to think about your photography teacher and what he or she would say. And of course there are your friends, colleagues, not to mention the social media crowd. All this chatter is playing inside your head as you are trying to figure out which modifier you should put on your strobe.
Since you were born you have been practicing one thing over and over. From what shoes to wear to what music you listen to, you have been formulating what you like and dislike. It turns out, you are pretty good at it. You have a personality, temperament, history of years on this planet, that all play a factor in your decision making process. It all feeds into your intuition and is the culmination of who you are. It’s your uniqueness.
I have a quote that I repeat over and over to my workshop attendees, “You are unique, one of a kind, there is no one on the planet just like you.” This thing called your intuition is the ticket to you being a creative force. If you are in sync with your intuition, it will never lead you astray. NEVER! How do I know that? Because Art is the manifestation of self-expression. The creative process should be driven by the very core of who you are. No one should be able to tell you you’re off track.
The problem with most Artist/Photographers, is we never really trust our intuition and are constantly being swayed by other’s opinions. Often our creative process lacks the skill-set to compete in the marketplace. If you want to be a world class violinist you have to practice your craft six to eight hours a day. Just ask one. It’s no different in photography. The best photographers in the world out practice 99.9 percent of all other photographers on the planet. They take a risk by following what comes natural, their intuition.
When I set up my lights and build a portrait, how do I know I am on the right track? When it feels right! That’s right, when my intuition, my feeling and my emotions tell me it is right, I can’t go wrong. Because I end up with something that is unique that fits me to a T. A flash meter will never tell you where to put your lights, or what modifier to use, or how far you place it from your subject. This is reserved for the creative mind and falls on the shoulders of your intuition. Stop listening to the chatter of other’s opinions and follow the single greatest asset you posses as an Artist, your very own intuition.
Three Years of Shotkit | Photographers & Their Camera Gear
Hey guys, this is Mark here from a site you may have heard of called Shotkit. Thanks for having me here on ScottKelby.com – it’s truly an honour.
I started Shotkit back in 2014 to scratch my own itch of wanting to know what my favourite photographers carried in their camera bags.
Everyone knows that a good camera does not a good photographer make, but most of us in the industry are still very passionate about the photography equipment we use… and whilst few like to admit it, we’re all a little curious about the camera gear used by others!
Since 2014, Shotkit has morphed into a popular blog for all things photography and gear related, but the raison d’être of the site is still a place for nosey photographers to have a snoop at the gear of their peers.
To celebrate Shotkit’s third birthday, I put together a one-minute slide show of the hundreds of successful submissions I’ve received over the years. Keep your eyes peeled for Scott Kelby’s own gear load-out… or I should say, one of his many!
After receiving so many submissions from photographers from around the world, I’ve been given a unique insight into the most popular photography equipment in use by professionals today.
As perhaps no surprise to many of you, wedding photographers outnumber all other genres of submission to Shotkit. It’s also unsurprising that the wedding photography gear in use around the world is by and large, very similar across the board.
Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see how other camera formats continue to disrupt the industry, with photographers of all genres slowly switching to the best mirrorless cameras available, mostly from the likes of Sony, Fuji and Panasonic.
Whatever your stance is on the great mirrorless cameras vs dSLR debate, the future of cameras which rely on cumbersome mirrors to capture images is looking admittedly bleak.
Personally, I’ll be sticking with my trusty dSLR for a few more years though, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one…
Whilst I continue to publish a new photographer and their gear every other day of the year on Shotkit, I spend the majority of my time writing content for the Shotkit Blog, the newsletter, a range of ebooks, and most recently, development of an interactive tool for Lightroom & Photoshop Shortcuts.
The topic of photographer workflows is one that I’m passionate about (I’m an avid follower of Scott’s excellent Lightroom Killer Tips), and I intend to explore the subject more in 2017.
Using keyboard shortcuts in the software we use for post production every day as professional photographers is an important step in spending less time behind a desk and more time behind a camera. I hope this shortcuts tool will be a step in the right direction in helping us all achieve this.
As for the Shotkit blog, posts such as the best cameras under $500 and the best camera bags may seem like an Amazon affiliate link carnival to some (!), but they’re actually very popular posts, especially for beginner photographers who need some advice about their first purchases… not to mention of course those of us with a dose of the dreaded G.A.S.!
I’ve tried to include a selection of links to some of the most popular blog posts published on Shotkit in this article, but the truth is, I’ve really only scratched the surface.
From photographers showing off their best work and favourite photography gadgets and gizmos, to gear reviews, business advice and creative inspiration, there’s something on Shotkit for everyone. I hope you enjoy reading Shotkit as much as I do putting it together!
I’ll close this guest post off by thanking Scott, Brad and the team behind ScottKelby.com and Lightroom Killer Tips for producing such incredibly useful content for photographers like us. Sites like these are a constant inspiration for both my own photography work and my work with Shotkit.
I’m looking forward to seeing you part of the Shotkit Community and I encourage you to submit your kit!
Now, which photographers’ camera bags would you most like to take a peek into? Leave their names in the comments below…
I’ve always been fascinated by the nature of creativity. There are all the usual questions, of course… What is creativity? Where does it come from? How close do I have to stand to a creative person for some of it to rub off on me?
The last question comes with certain social restrictions (also possibly certain restraining orders), but the first two we can sit and discuss over coffee. Even better, we can put the results of that discussion to use, make the answers work for us. Ready? Go!
If I had to nail down a working definition, I’d say creativity is seeing and thinking about and exploring new connections. We tend to view creativity as having some element of surprise – when we see something we would call ‘creative,’ it’s almost always because there is something we didn’t expect, and it usually is built from pieces we know that are put together in new ways. It shows us a connection we had not previously considered.
In the world of digital photography, this shows up in works of photographers like Erik Johansson, Kirsty Mitchell, and Cheryl Walsh, among many others. Connections, however, are not just between conceptual elements. They are also between tools, interactions with media, and technical pieces. Check out the beautiful work of Bonny Lhotka who uses unique transfer process to create amazing physical pieces, or the sculpture of Andrey Droszdov.
How can we make use of this notion that creativity is seeing connections? Well, we can give ourselves more opportunity to see connections, for one thing. And we give ourselves opportunity by setting up situations where we’re likely to be exposed to new things, especially new thoughts. Like most things, it takes practice, and practice is something we generally know how to do. But for practice to be useful, we have to want to do it, and we have to do it with intent. One technique I’ve had success with is directed experimentation. The basic idea is to do what you already know how to do, but change one thing.
That by itself is not enough, though. You have to be receptive to the previously unseen, and you have to let it get into your head so you can hang on to it for future use.
The secret sauce is to pay attention when the connection is made, and that’s what loses some people. It’s not necessary to go in looking for any specific revelation – in fact, that can be counterproductive. What you are aiming for is to provide the raw materials and set up the situation where your mind can wander a bit, but then condition your reflex to store that connection when you are triggered by surprise. Going through your normal routine lets your mind work more subconsciously, and that one change is what seeds the possibility of a new connection.
A great way to get yourself to plant this seed is to ask yourself “What if?”
Let’s say you’re a portrait photographer. You know your craft and get great results, but you want to spice things up. “What if” you say to yourself with a devilish grin, “my model was facing the other way?” You’ve changed one thing. Without any other action or thought, you look through the viewfinder. Hopefully at this point, you start asking yourself some other questions. Should the lights be adjusted? How will you show emotion or character? Are other things in the scene jumping out that you previously missed? If you think this is a weird concept, check out Tony Gale’s personal project of women’s backs(link contains artistic nudity).
Not only are you seeing something new, you’re engaging and thinking. You’re paying attention. More importantly, you’re present in the moment. And you’re unconsciously making new connections. The next step is to save those connections actively. Let the seed germinate.
For the human mind to really hang on to things in a meaningful way, it generally uses language to describe the things. Feelings and memories can be incredibly powerful, but they’re difficult to act on or share without putting words to them. This is especially true for new concepts, and every time you get creative, you’re working with new concepts. When you discover something, when you’re surprised, delighted, thrilled, annoyed, or bored, use words. They can be in your head, you can write them down, you can talk with someone, but use words. The seed sends out roots.
By describing what you’re thinking, feeling, or seeing, you’re better able to retain memory, but you’re also able to build on it. In the portrait example above, you might suddenly notice the angle of your model’s shoulders, so think about how you’d explain that. Maybe you go into Photoshop and start drawing gesture lines like an animator over the pose and that gives you an idea about movement or relationships. As a side benefit, you might discover a career in stick-figure cartooning. It’s been known to happen.
The other thing about using words, especially when you’re trying to describe something to another person, is that you’re forced to find common ground if you truly want to communicate. And that frequently means finding simpler and clearer concepts that you can stick together. Which brings up deconstruction. Sometimes before you can build up, you have to tear down.
Deconstruction is frequently just another thought process. Look at something and allow yourself to wonder. Start with, “why?” Why did I get this effect when I twiddled this knob? Throw in some “how?” to the mix: how do these things relate? Move into the future with a few “what if?” questions and you’re just primed for success. What if I put this one weird rule in place for my next photoshoot? You don’t have to answer completely, let alone correctly; you just have to create the space for the answer to eventually reside. In our seed metaphor, deconstruction is the process of providing basic nutrients. It’s fertilizer. You can laugh if you feel like it.
Deconstruction isn’t just for language, though. You can use it with your tools. This brushed ink portrait was the result of limiting myself to the Threshold adjustment layer in Photoshop as a starting point, then using the Smudge tool with the Bristle Brush to refine it. I didn’t have a solid plan going in except to start exploring the Threshold tool. I call this a Limited Challenge because I set a rule for myself going in, limited to and requiring only one tool as a starting point. Where deconstruction is the fertilizer, practice is the light and water. And this is the end of the plant analogy.
Let’s pause a moment to see what we’ve got…
If creativity is being able to see new connections between things, we can use experiences in order to have more things to connect and thus increase our chances of being creative. But experience isn’t just going out to see new things, it’s also seeing old things in new ways. We can do this with simple changes, and we take advantage of the results of those changes by thinking about and describing them. Describing them allows us to find more common elements to put together, and helps us see the basic components that make things fit. We can begin describing things by asking ourselves questions about what we’ve experienced, thus making connections.
See what I did there?
And here’s the point of that little diversion: don’t build up expectations of your own creativity. Either it happens now or it doesn’t until later; it generally takes its own time; and it’s frequently unexpected. But you’ll have a much better chance if you set yourself up for success. Here are some of my favorite exercises for inviting creativity to come in and have coffee.
Set yourself up for surprise and seeing connections by experiencing new things
Describe what you’re seeing, thinking, or feeling about the connections
Change One Single Variable – Directed Experimentation
As I noted earlier, directed experimentation is awesome, easy, and it’s what I do most often. For me, this usually involves Photoshop or lighting, but it can really be anything, including rules. Take a process that you know really well and pick one thing to tinker with. Change the horizon line in a landscape, add a colored gel somewhere, swap layers around or change blending modes, whatever. Don’t get too hung up on sticking to the one thing, but do try to limit what you do so there’s some way to control it. Remember to pay attention!
Change Everything Except One – Limited Challenge
Think of this as related to the last exercise, but instead of picking a variable, you’re picking a rule. Give yourself just one rule to explore, and beat it up. Years ago, I was part of a huge Photoshop forum that devised some really amazing challenges. We would choose one tool in Photoshop that absolutely must be used, then we’d give some other guidelines or goals. For example, we might have asked you to create a landscape using only Lens Flares. You could warp, liquify, mask and blend, but all pixels had to start from the Lens Flare tool.
Ask Questions – Why & What If
This is the most common thing I do, but it takes a lot of energy and honesty with yourself. Pause a moment with whatever strikes you and engage, right then and there. Make a mental (or real) list of elements that grab your attention and ask yourself why they interest you. Be as specific as possible in your analysis, but don’t seek truth beyond what’s true for you. This is part of paying attention and being active in your viewing. What if another artist had tackled the same concept – how would it be different? This is mostly for viewing art, but can be applied to anything that catches your eye. Allow your mind to wander, but don’t try to capture everything – keep the connections you discover and toss the rest.
Some seriously creative folks genuinely do all of the stuff above automatically. It just happens internally and organically for them. Some have to nudge it along, and some pour blood, sweat, and tears into the process before anything useful happens. Can you imagine cleaning up after that? Anyway, the most usual thing I’ve discovered is there’s a mix. To be sure, some people just seem to do all of this better than others. But some of us just don’t feel creative at all, or at least not as often as we’d like. We don’t get it, we are flabbergasted at just how creative some people are. Well, here’s a dirty little secret about all those so-called “creative geniuses” out there: they are indeed creative geniuses. That does not mean all of them do it naturally, nor that all of them just work their keisters off to maintain their creativity. Some do, some don’t. But I don’t believe that creativity is an inherent characteristic that you can never achieve if you don’t start with it at birth.
Bonus! Make mash-up lists
This one can lead to some really wacky ideas. I use a spreadsheet with a randomizer function to pull words from different lists and put them together. I’ve got one that describes scene elements, one for Photoshop tools and functions, and another with just random dictionary words. There are several online generators for free, too. The point is to give yourself a project framework, then use a mashed-up combination to challenge yourself.
I have no clue why these thoughts cross my mind, but they do. When the shooting gets slow and I’m with some friends and we just start talking to kill the time, my mind wanders to the bad side. Someone leaves their camera sitting on a tripod unattended, I slip over, remove the battery and then go back innocently to my own shooting. There’s the time I slip my CF memory card wallet vertically in the shade of a fellow photographer’s big lens. They can’t see it through the viewfinder but the AF can’t function at all. And of course, there’s the always-immature move of taking photos with another’s camera when they aren’t looking. A photo they definitely would not have taken themselves. My favorite comes from the days of film when someone would ask, “Got any good photos?” I had a dummy roll of film in my vest pocket that I would take out, grasp the leader, pull out all the film and look through it at the sun, then simply shrug. Oh the look on their faces when I did that! My only excuse for all of this is, photography has gotta be FUN!
I’m very blessed with two great sons who had to suffer through dad’s teaching as well as bad jokes. When the opportunity arose though for the shoe to be on the other foot, they made good use of it. Both are great cross-country skiers, something I will never be able to do despite all the help they provided and the fun we had together. Brent said something once though that I will never forget, because it so pertains to photography. I had all the right gear on, had read all I should do, and watched the videos. But falling I did with absolutely no grace. We were up on the mountain and I was soaking wet from falling so many times in my attempt to XC ski. Brent simply looked down at me as he helped me up and said, “You know you’re learning if you’re falling down.”
While simply said and blatantly true, it’s pretty darn deep if you ponder it at all. In order to learn how to ski, you gotta fall down, and a lot until you master staying up. This directly applies to photography. Your photography will only grow if you fall down, fail. The thing is, you have to learn from your failures or you’ll either just keep failing, or worse, give up. Just how can we learn from photographic failures so we can keep growing? Having been falling for four decades and still being able to laugh at myself, I think I might have a suggestion or two to pass along.
It’s Only A Photograph!
The first is to understand this very important principle. It’s only a photograph! The right photograph taken of a powerful subject in a powerful way at a time when its clarity is needed by the world can have a huge impact. And I always remind folks their photographs can change the world. But at the same time, I also realize that if I totally toast a photograph, the sun will still rise tomorrow and life will go on. It is just a photograph. We put so much pressure on ourselves when we’re shooting that really shouldn’t be put there. Ever go back and look at photos you took a year ago, really look at them and think back at your thoughts when taking them? It’s those times if I were standing next to you, I might pull one of my bad photographic jokes on you just to remind you that it’s just a photograph.
The second is to remind you of the KISS theorem…Keep It Simple Stupid (the last word being key). We tend to not only take our photography too seriously but also make it too complicated. While there are times for fun, we go complicated. But making that part of our regular photographic ritual is suicidal for so many reasons. The main reason relates to, it’s just a photograph. When we make things complicated, they become a task, a chore. And how do we mentally treat chores? We tend to put them off. But more importantly in taking advantage of the best teacher we all have for our photography, ourselves, complicated makes learning really hard.
When we KISS, when we are successful, it’s really easy to figure out what we did right so we can repeat it again and again. But when we make it complicated, determining what went wrong is difficult so we run the risk of repeating that mistake. Failure is so important to our learning only when we learn from that failure. There is the practical side of KISS that you might like even more it – costs less! It takes a whole lot less gear and time to KISS than make it complicated. And when you take all you’ve learned, working with KISS and removing the stress of the importance of a photograph, you know what happens in time? You become a better photographer and that’s the whole goal (perhaps why my mind wanders and I cause trouble…hmmmm).
Wanna prove my point to yourself? Next time you’re working in the digital darkroom with a friend and they leave to take a break, take a screen shot of what’s on their computer. Then open that screen shot in Photoshop, make it full screen, and just leave it. They will come back and click on it like a madman to make it work, but nothing will happen because it’s just a screen shot. KISS! Take a deep breath, enjoy the amazing rewards photography brings to us every time we venture into it and remember to not take it too seriously. KISS and the most important thing, you know you’re learning if you’re falling down.
My name is Joe Glyda and I am a commercial photographer specializing in food photography.
I would like to thank Scott for inviting me to be a guest on his blog. This year marks my 40th year as a commercial food photographer. Yes, I am one of those photographers that worked my way through the darkroom and started my career using 4×5, 8×10, and 11×14 Deardorf view cameras that used film.
The one thing I loved about shooting film was, ‘the set’ had to be ready and complete before the film was loaded into the camera. There wasn’t “I’ll just fix it in Photoshop.” Getting it all put together in one shot and looking at the subject upside down and backwards taught me to see the food ‘as a subject’ very differently. Painstaking details went into every shot, as Polaroids were used to get the test shot done, before exposing the film. But seeing that transparency on the light box was extremely rewarding.
I thought I would talk a little about my favorite subject, Food Photography. The unique aspect about commercial/food photography is that it’s ALL about the product. It’s NOT about you the photographer and your style, or your vision. It’s about the client’s vision, who in turn, hires an art director to come up with an approved layout and make the product be the hero. It then becomes the photographer’s responsibility to engage in a conversation with the art director and concur on a plan of action.
In other words, ask questions, LISTEN, then solve the problem.
Engage in a conversation prior to the photo session. Do not wait until the art director shows up to start setting up. Be prepared and ready to go. Do some testing to get yourself familiar with the product that’s about to be photographed ahead of time.
One of the key elements in food photography is finding the products with the right elements of detail that work with all the other elements in the photo. So, in the case of this print ad, what seemed to be an easy shot ended up taking a dozen cheese wedges and twice as many Polaroids to create the cut marks on the cheese wedge so they fell exactly under where the package artwork was to be placed. The client wanted the package to represent the natural look and flavor of real Cheddar cheese. Knowing what the client wants is so very important before the camera is even set-up.
That doesn’t mean photographers can’t have their own ideas or be able to contribute an idea regarding the images. At first, it’s important to leave your personal vision at the door. What I mean is, waiting for the right opportunity to share your ideas with the art director or client, after learning what the vision of the product is. Don’t be afraid to talk to the art director. Take an AD to lunch. Share ideas with them.
This image was part of a year-long campaign which stemmed from a lunch appointment with an AD who just finished meeting the client from Cracker Barrel Cheese. We talked about the client’s needs to make their snacking product look different and more trendy. Polaroid transfers were very popular at the time, so I suggested to shoot the real food on a Polaroid of an empty plate. The art director drew up layouts and our collaboration was a success.
When shooting multiple dishes, it is crucial to work with a prop stylist. They have resources beyond the photographers’ prop room. They tend to watch trends and have a pulse on what’s hot and what’s not. It’s also important to know what foods will last on the set longer than others, especially with multiple dishes. In this case, it was the spaghetti sauce that was put in place last so the sauce wouldn’t run through the tortellini.
In 1986, I witnessed my first retouching job on a Scitex Response-300 computer and knew right then that I had to get into digital technology. By 1993, I was using a Kodak DCS 460 digital camera and stopped using film by 1995. I helped convert the Kraft Foods in-house photography department from film completely over to digital by 1999. I wanted to have more control over the quality of the final image using the digital process. With the art director on set, we could see instantaneously together what we were getting, and make sure the color and direction was correct. Color management in food photography is so important. Food products have a certain color and their companies pay extra to make sure their products are not falsely advertised.
I use an X-rite color checker before every shot series to ensure the color is correct. Changing the color checker every time the light source changes is very important. This will ensure that the color of the food is right on.
Even though Photoshop 2 was a big part of the digital process, at the time, I continued to have the mind set of getting things done on set, prior to engaging the camera. I used the digital technology to my advantage whenever possible. It helped me create these images using digital fire in a campfire scene, and digital water from a pool on the deck while still having full control in the studio. Then creating outdoor lighting effects on the food to match the digital images made them look like they were photographed on-location.
Working with a food stylist is a must when working with food products. The job of a food photographer is lighting, composition, and the technical aspect of the photo session. The food stylist’s responsibility is to make sure the food looks good for the camera. They get the camera position in relationship to the plate from the photographer, and then position the food on the plate to make the food look its best. Dummy food is usually used during the set-up. Dummy food is a representation of the hero food but not yet styled. This helps the photographer light the food and create the composition needed to make the food look great. In this case, the soup was replaced by a salad and the sandwich direction was changed once the client saw the dummy food shot.
My favorite foods to photograph are desserts, for the obvious reason, they taste the best. They tend to be difficult to maneuver around the set during the set-up, but once the hero food is placed on the set, the shot is taken quickly before the food dies. My lens of choice is a Nikkor 100mm macro lens, and in some cases I love to use a bellows attached to my Nikon D800. It brings the texture and details of the food to the forefront. And the clients are thrilled because it shows off their product.
Another kind of food photography that I enjoy doing is packaging photography. It takes more patience because the image needs to FIT in between words, logos, or call-out flags. If there are multiple products, they all have to fit together like a family! Usually in this situation the camera angle is locked down so the position of the image stays the same throughout the series of shots. Notice the color under the plates on these packages change but the plate position does not.
Styles and trends, like in fashion, come and go in food photography. It’s important to watch how these trends influence the images across all media. Over the past year, straight down shots have been the angle of choice. Panera, Qdoba, and Starbucks are a few companies changing their look to this elevated level. I just had a client this month that wanted to see their cake recipe from this angle, and they loved it!
Even some of the car companies are now using this look and some say that it’s because of the increase of drone photography that has inspired the look. But I guarantee you, this trend is not new. It was very popular in the late 80’s, and here is one of my shots of asparagus I did in 1988. I remember an art director back then, saying after meeting with a client, “Do they really want to shoot from above again? I’m tired of this angle” Watch for the new trend to take over, and believe me, it will.
Finally, the secret to good food photography is backlight. The food looks best when the shadow falls under the front of the food to act as a base for the food to sit on. The light from behind the food creates a highlight effect along the top and back edge of the food to give the food a heroic effect. Fill cards are used to bounce the backlight back into the front of the food, creating a soft and pleasing appetizing appearance.
In summary, remember these five steps when working with food:
Listen to the client, It’s ALL about the product, not you!
Talk to the art director, engage in discussion about the project prior to the session, don’t wait till the day of the shoot.
Use a color management system to get accurate color.
Hire a professional food stylist. (and a prop stylist when necessary)
Backlight most food subjects for ultimate results.
Using these simple ideas will make your food images more appetizing and give the illusion that they are jumping off the page.
On Feb 19th, 2017 Lightroom celebrated it’s 10th anniversary, which also happens to be the day I celebrated 10 years of providing Lightroom Help Desk support. Huzzah! I’ve had the honor and pleasure of helping a lot of people in that time, and I owe that all to Scott. Being invited back for a second guest post here is a privilege, and I figured it was the perfect opportunity to share back some of the most important (and hopefully useful) Help Desk advice I’ve given in that time. Here are the top 10 things every Lightroom user should know*:
*Disclaimer, these tips are intended to be helpful, but don’t just do them without understanding all of what is involved. If you have any questions feel free to reach out to me directly before you act, and I can help you with your specific situation.
1. Set Your Default Catalog
The most important thing every Lightroom user needs to know is where your Lightroom catalog is located on your system. Even if you think you know, it’s worth taking a moment to make sure (you’d be surprised how many people find it is not where they expect). With Lightroom open, go to Lightroom > Catalog Settings > General (Win: Edit > Catalog Settings > General), and note the name of the catalog and the path to where it is located. Is it where you expected? If so, great! If not, here’s how you can move it to a new location:
Click the Show button on the General tab of the Catalog Settings to open the folder containing your catalog in your file browser.
Quit Lightroom. If prompted to backup, click skip for now.
Copy the folder containing the Lightroom catalog (.LRCAT) and its associated preview caches to the location you want it to be stored (pick a locally connected internal or external drive).
Once the copy operation is complete, double-click the catalog file to open it back into Lightroom. This way you can make sure all is working fine, and the new location will be included in the preferences.
Now, whether you moved your catalog or not, this next step is important. I highly recommend that you manually configure this catalog to be the Default catalog (in other words, don’t use Load most recent catalog). To do this, go to Lightroom > Preferences > General (WIN: Edit > Preferences > General), and set the When starting up use this catalog option to the specific catalog you just opened.
Remember, if you moved your catalog to a new location, don’t forget to go back and remove the original folder containing your old catalog. Having a good backup in place is good idea too (which I’ll cover in a bit).
2. Know Where Your Photos are Located
It is equally important for all Lightroom users to know how to find exactly where a given folder or photo resides on your drive from inside Lightroom. There are a few ways to identify where your folders and photos exist on your drive. The easiest is the good old right-click contextual menu. Go ahead and right-click any folder in the Folders panel and choose the Show in Finder (WIN: Show in Explorer) menu. This will open your file browser right to that folder and show you where it exists on your drive.
Similarly, you can right-click any photo and access that same Show in menu to take you right to that photo in your file browser. You don’t have to go that far to find that information though. If you just hover your cursor over a folder you should see its path revealed in a tooltip popup. So take a moment to make sure you know exactly where all of your photos are located on your drive.
If they’re not where you want them, then let’s look at how to move them.
3. Know How to Use Lightroom to Move Photos and Folders
Now that you know where your photos are located it is in your best interest to use Lightroom to move them if you need to put them somewhere else (with one exception that I’ll cover in tip 5). Moving photos between folders or moving entire folders is as easy as drag and drop. By using Lightroom to do the moving it not only moves the photos to the new location, but it also keeps the catalog up to date with where the photos can be found. You see, Lightroom stores the complete path to each photo in the catalog, and if anything in that path changes outside of Lightroom you end up with a situation where Lightroom tells you that your photos are offline or missing (here’s a link to an article I wrote on how to reconnect missing photos). This is easily avoided by doing the moving inside of Lightroom.
So to move a group of photos (or even just a single photo) from one folder to another try this:
In the Folders panel, select the folder containing the photos you want to move.
Press G to jump to Grid view.
Select the photo(s) you want to move, and drag/drop them on the folder you want them to be moved into. The destination folder will highlight in blue to signal it is the target of the drop.
Lightroom will then do the moving, and update the catalog accordingly. You do need to have a destination folder already showing in the Folders panel to complete the move, so let’s look at how to add a folder next.
4. Keep All Photo Folders Within a Single Parent Folder
I have found it incredibly useful to always keep all my photo folders within a single parent folder on each drive I use to store photos. The reason is that it makes my life so much simpler if I ever need to move the entire photo library on that drive, or if I need to reconnect the catalog to the photo library in the case of a primary drive failure/loss.
In typical Lightroom fashion there are a couple of ways to create new folders. To start, you can go to the Library menu and choose New Folder, or click the plus sign at the top of the Folders panel and choose Add Folder to launch the Choose or Create New Folder dialog. From here you can either choose an existing folder you may have created in your file browser or you can create a brand-new folder. For example, let’s say I want to add a new drive to my catalog and want to select/create a folder on it:
Go to Library > New Folder, to open the dialog for finding and creating a new folder at the location of your choosing.
Create a new folder or select an existing folder. In my case, I had previously created a folder on this drive in Finder.
Note, my screen capture shows the dialog on a Mac, but on Windows you’d get a Windows dialog. This is one of the few visual differences in Lightroom due to the operating systems.
That drive and folder will now appear in my Folders panel. I can drag and drop photos or folders into that folder from anywhere else in my catalog.
Another common scenario is the need to create sub-folders within existing folders to help with your organizational needs. This process works in a similar fashion, but you start by selecting the parent folder you want to create the subfolder within.
Select the folder you want to create the subfolder within.
Right-click to open the contextual menu and choose Create Folder Inside “foldername.” This opens a smaller Create Folder dialog box where you can give the subfolder a name and click Create to complete the process. The subfolder will then appear in the Folders panel. These folders are ready for me to add photos, and even new folders as my organizational needs demand.
Now that I have a parent folder, and a subfolder within it, I can move folders from another drive into this drive by dragging and dropping on my new folder.
5. Know How to Move Your Photo Library to a New Drive
This is useful if you are wanting to move your entire photo Library from an internal drive to an external drive, or if you are running out of space on one drive and want to move to a new larger drive. Now, you could use Lightroom to move the folders as I just did in the previous tip, but I don’t recommend doing that when your entire library is at stake. Using a move command is risky, because if anything goes wrong in the middle of the transfer you could lose data. I prefer a technique that involves copying the folders to the new drive outside of Lightroom, updating Lightroom to this change, and then later manually deleting the files from the original location. Here’s how:
Open Finder (WIN: Explorer).
Copy the entire folder structure (as-is without changing the structure) to the other drive.
Once the copy operation is complete, right-click/ctrl-click the top-most-level folder in the Folders panel and choose Update Folder Location.
In the resulting dialog box, navigate to and select that same top-most-level folder in the new drive (the one you just copied over there).
Lightroom will update the catalog to point to the folder in the new location (and everything inside of that folder). If you have all your folders/photos in a single parent folder then you are done, but if there are additional folders at the same level as that top folder you just need to repeat steps 4 and 5 with those folders. Give it a test run to make sure everything is as it should be before removing the originals. Again, having a good backup in place before you do this is always a good idea.
6. Know How to Back Up Your Catalog
On the subject of backing up, there is a lot to say about backup strategies in general, but in the context of Lightroom catalogs I simply want to address the built-in functionality Lightroom provides. On the Catalog Settings dialog (see first tip) there is a place at the bottom where you can configure Lightroom to create a duplicate copy of the catalog at some interval of time. This is a set-it-and-forget-it type of feature, and its sole purpose is to create an exact duplicate of your working catalog file in a location of your choosing (no photos are included in this backup).
I will assume you already have some sort of full system backup running that regularly backs up all your important files, and so you may wonder if you really need this option running too. Based on the experience of helping people with Lightroom problems over the years I feel that it is in your best interests to take advantage of this built-in functionality. Sure, it may be redundant, but it is free, it is easy, and it may just one day make you weep with gratitude. I set mine to run every time I quit Lightroom, which make Lightroom throw up this prompt every time I exit.
It is only in this prompt that I can choose where I want my backup copy to be saved by clicking the Choose button and selecting a location. I recommend that you choose a different drive than the drive where your working catalog is stored. In my case, my laptop has a single internal drive, so I direct the backup to be saved to my Dropbox folder, which is automatically synced with the cloud and my other computers. I also take this opportunity to check the boxes for testing integrity and optimizing the catalog. Now, just because it prompts me each time doesn’t mean I backup every time. There is a Skip button that I use when I’m in a hurry and just want to quit.
I try to create a backup at least once a week or after I’ve done a whole lot of work. Each time this function runs it saves a copy of your catalog to the folder you chose. Lightroom does not overwrite existing backup copies. As a result you end up with a folder of iterative copies of your catalog. This can be very handy for recovering from self-inflicted problems or from the rare case of catalog file corruption.
7. Know How to Restore From Your Backup
Since a backup copy of the catalog is an exact duplicate of your working catalog at the time the backup was created all you must do to restore from the backup is the following:
Close Lightroom (if open).
Open the Lightroom folder containing your working catalog file in Finder/Windows Explorer.
Move the “bad” catalog file out of that folder to another location for safekeeping.
Move the latest/greatest “good” backup catalog copy into the Lightroom folder to replace the bad one. Starting with Lightroom 6/CC 2015 the backup copy is also compressed into a zip file to reduce file size (and keep people from accidentally opening a backup copy), so you may need to unzip the backup before you can move it into the Lightroom folder.
Once placed in the Lightroom folder, double-click the catalog file to open it into Lightroom and take it for a test drive.
The backup copy of the catalog has the same name as your working catalog, so you should be good to go. It will only contain all the work up until the moment you made that backup copy, so backup frequently. If restoring from the backup solved your problem, don’t forget to delete the “bad” catalog that you moved out earlier.
8. Manage those Backup Copies
The only downside to running the catalog backup function (aside from the time it takes to run) is that Lightroom will keep putting new copies of the catalog into that folder until the drive is full. The management of the backup folder falls on us. Since we only value the most recent version(s) of the backup copies I periodically go into that folder and delete all but the most recent 2 or 3. Note that Lightroom doesn’t backup the preview caches because those can automatically be regenerated if lost. I’ve seen people regain hundreds of gigabytes of free space after clearing out old backup copies.
9. Know How to Rename Your Catalog
I often hear from people who are using the most up to date version of Lightroom, but have a catalog file named with an older version of Lightroom and it may also have some other numbers in it, such as Lightroom 5 Catalog-2. They wonder if this is a problem, and they want to know how to rename the catalog. First, it is not a problem at all. You can call your catalog file anything you want to call it. Lightroom doesn’t care. However, if you want to rename it to something that makes more sense to you, here’s how:
With Lightroom closed, go to the folder where the catalog resides using your operating system’s file browser; Finder on Mac, and Windows Explorer on WIN.
Using your file browser you can rename the catalog file, but keep the file extension the same (.LRCAT). Then rename the Preview cache and Smart Preview cache (if applicable) the same way, but retain the word Previews and Smart Previews in the name along with the original file extension.
So, for example if your catalog and preview cache was named:
Once renamed, double-click the catalog file to open it into Lightroom. Now you can give it a quick test drive to make sure all is well, and this writes the new catalog name into the Lightroom preference file. Be sure to update your Default catalog setting to point to this renamed catalog (see Tip 1).
10. Create a Custom Camera Raw Default
OK, all those tips were focused on library management, so let’s end on a Develop tip that could speed up your workflow. Lightroom has a set of default processing settings that are applied to all raw photos after import. Did you know that you can customize those settings to start your raw photos down the processing pipeline using your preferred choices? I’m not talking about a preset selected on the Import screen, but rather the built-in default settings. Save your import presets for something creative, and customize the baseline settings.
Let’s go through the steps to customize the default settings to include two of the most common adjustments people ask me about, lens corrections and camera profiles, but feel free to add any other settings you want to customize your process (or not include these if you’d rather not).
Select a raw photo that has not been processed at all beyond the default settings and press D to jump to Develop. Click the Reset button for good measure to ensure it has no other settings applied because every adjustment (even set to 0) is included in the default settings.
Expand the Lens Corrections panel, click the Profile tab if not active already, and check Remove Chromatic Aberration and Enable Profile Corrections.
Note: Including profile corrections can be resource intensive, so exclude this from your defaults if performance is degraded.
Expand the Camera Calibration Panel, click the Profile drop-down menu and choose the camera profile you prefer to be the starting point.
Note: The list of camera profiles varies with the camera model used to create the selected photo.
Go to Develop > Set Default Settings to open the Set Default Develop Settings dialog box. Default settings are specific to each camera model, in this case a Nikon D610, so if you are using multiple camera models you will need to update the defaults for each model separately.
Tip: You can also hold the Option (WIN: Alt) key and watch the Reset button change to Set Default and click that button to open the Set Default Develop Settings dialog box.
Click Update to Current Settings to customize the default settings to include the changes you made.
Note: While it states the changes are not undoable, this just means that you can’t revert back to the Adobe defaults via the Edit > Undo menu. You can always open this dialog box and click Restore Adobe Default Settings if you want to go back to the original settings.
This will only affect raw photos from that specific camera model as they are imported in the future, and if you hit the Reset button on a previously imported raw photo from that specific camera model. You must repeat that process to set defaults for any other camera models you are using. This does not change the settings on any previously imported photos.
I hope you’ve found some of those tips helpful. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have, or come see me at Photoshop World, where I’ll be teaching, and answering questions at the Expert Bar.
You can see more from Rob at photofocus.com and follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Aside from also being a KelbyOne Help Desk Specialist, and Adjunct Professor at NHTI, he is a founding member of Stocksy United (a stock photography co-op). Rob writes the “Under the Loupe” column for Lightroom User Magazine, and is the author of many photography related books. His latest book is Taming Your Photo Library with Lightroom.