Lightroom Previews – and getting Lightroom to fly

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(Pipeline, Hawaii, 2015).

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Introduction

In this article I will talk about Lightroom Previews and their effects on freeing disk space, restoring missing files and enhancing performance.  This might seem an obscure and esoteric topic but there are items in here of interest to everyone using Lightroom, even including people on old and slow PCs.  We will discuss:

  • What are previews?
  • Saving disk space by trimming your Lightroom catalogue
  • Missing and excluded images
  • Regenerating missing images
  • Speeding processing with smart previews
  • Optimising performance in Lightroom and Photoshop

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What are Previews?

Lightroom creates a variety of previews to speed up display and processing of images.

Standard previews are by default the number of pixels your screen is wide so you can quickly see an image filling up the screen.  This only applies to the Library module (except briefly in the Develop Module while the RAW file renders).

1:1 previews allow you to zoom in to 1:1 in images displayed in the Library Module (i.e. not in Develop).

There are also smart previews but we will discuss them separately later.

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You can see the settings defined for your previews in the Edit/Catalog Settings/File Handling dialogue.

  • Standard previews default to your monitor resolution.
  • The setting “Preview Quality:  High” relates to thumbnails.
  • You can set to discard your 1:1 previews after a day, a week, a month or never.

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You can define previews when you import files, by specifying a value for “Build Previews” under File Handling in the top right corner of the Import dialogue.

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Alternatively, you can select files in Lightroom and use the command Library/Previews/Build Standard Previews or Library/Previews/Build 1:1 Previews.

If you don’t have a problem with disk space you might as well retain 1:1 previews indefinitely and create them while importing files.  This slows down import but makes Lightroom run faster.  If you don’t define 1:1 previews, Lightroom will create them on the fly with a significant impact on performance in the Library module.

 

Saving disk space by trimming your Lightroom Catalogue

One of the ways you can improve the performance of Lightroom is to use an SSD as the hard disk for your catalogue.  Since the storage capacity may be small, the size of your Lightroom Catalogue may become a problem.   For example, when I put my catalogue on my new 500GB hard drive (an M.2 SSD), I found I was left with less than 10% free space, too little for reliable performance.  So I had to find a way to reduce it.

There are four elements associated with the catalogue

  • The Catalogue itself. Mine was 3.6GB.  I have seen people advocate clearing Develop versions in Lightroom but that seems to me a waste of time.  You lose functionality and only save a couple of gigabytes, which does not solve the problem.
  • Catalogue backups.  I had 22.7GB here and you can save some space by deleting old backups but this wasn’t enough to solve this problem.
  • The Cache. Many versions ago, Lightroom benefited from a huge cache but this is no longer required.  The default is 1GB and you can have more than that but 10GB will be plenty for most people.  Stored cache files may build up to a few GB and you can clear them with Edit/ Preferences/ File Handling/ [Purge Cache].
  • The Previews. This is where all the files were, 391.3GB in my case.  Reducing this is not as easy as one might think.

 

Catalogue backups offer some scope for space saving by changing the drive where you store the backups.  You can’t set this from inside Lightroom but you can change it in the dialogue that appears when Lightroom is about to make a backup.  It also makes sense from a security point of view to have the backups on a separate drive to the catalogue.

Previews is where all the action is though for saving space.  We saw above that you can discard 1:1 previews after a day, a week, a month or never.   I had mine set to Never but you’re supposed to be able to remove them with the command Library/Previews/Discard 1:1 Previews.  I decided to remove all 1:1 previews for images rated at less than 3 stars (85% of my images) but it only reduced the stored previews by 0.4%.  I then read on an Adobe performance guide that this only works where the standard preview size (2560px in my case) is less than half the resolution of images from your camera (4193px for the Nikon D3s).  So I reduced the standard preview size to a low number, reopened Lightroom and tried again.  That was better but not much.  I only reduced the stored previews by 5%.

So that left only one option – to delete the Previews file and start again.  In other words, I deleted the folder Lightroom Catalog Previews.lrdata under the folder for the Lightroom catalogue.

Whoompa!  Previews to zero!  Lightroom still works!

So what do I need previews for again?

  • Standard previews let you quickly see the image full screen in the Library module.
  • 1:1 previews let you zoom into 100% in the Library module, for example to compare the sharpness of one image against another to determine what to delete or what to retain.  This doesn’t apply to viewing images in the Develop module or zooming in one-to-one because there you are accessing the actual RAW file.

My next step was to create new 1:1 previews using the Lightroom command Library/Previews/Build 1:1 Previews (see previous image).  I decided to create them for all my images with 3 stars or more, plus current working folders.  That took a long time.  More than a day and a half for 23,000 images.  After that I had a previews folder 141.4GB in size, 64% smaller than it was.  That solved my disk space problem.  Lightroom also seemed to create standard previews for all images automatically, which I wasn’t expecting.

 

Missing and excluded images

Do you have missing images or images unintentionally excluded from your catalogue?
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On the left-hand side on the library module, right click on a folder and select “Synchronise folder…” .

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The Synchronise Folder dialogue appears.  It may show you have photos in that directory that have not been imported into Lightroom, or photos in the catalogue that are missing on your hard drive.

If [Import New Photos] shows images in that folder that are not in Lightroom, you can click [Synchronize] to import them and see what they are.  After the import, you can select them all under “Previous Import” at top left of the Library Module and then click on their folder (left pane in Lightroom) to compare the new selected images with the ones already there.  They may be images you want to have in your catalogue or they may be images you meant to delete from the disk but instead just removed from Lightroom.

Missing photos may simply have been moved in Windows Explorer (so Lightroom doesn’t know where they are).  If you have some, you can click [Show Missing Photos] to see what they are.  You can then click on the little exclamation mark that appears at the top right corner of an image to locate them.  Alternatively, the missing images may have been deleted or lost.

However, before you remove any previews, especially 1:1 previews, you should check that you don’t really need them.  As we shall soon see, you may soon be able to use the previews to recreate missing images.

 

 

Regenerating missing images

A few years ago, I had three hard drives fail within a week, two in my main data drive (a RAID array) and one in my Drobo backup (essentially another RAID array). When the smoke cleared (metaphorically), I realised I had holes in my backups.  Whole directories of files now showed in my Lightroom catalogue as missing.  Fortunately, I left them there and did not delete the previews.  Quite recently, I realised I could regenerate those missing images which were still in my catalogue, using Jeffery Friedel’s Preview Extraction Tool.  Because they were 1:1 previews I was able to recover them as full-sized jpegs, good enough to print from.

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You can have to copy the regenerated images to a different location, but you can copy them all into a single folder or preserve a whole folder structure.  You can also retain image metadata and Lightroom’s metadata including star ratings and colour labels.

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Speeding processing with smart previews

Normal previews and  1:1 previews speed operations in the Library Module; smart previews speed processing in the Develop module.  They are actually miniature RAW files and save in a folder under your catalogue taking about 2% to 5% of the space of the photos themselves. They were introduced some years ago as a means to let you keep processing while disconnected from your data when travelling.  However, they are just as useful to greatly improve response time in normal editing.

First you need to generate the smart previews, which you can do on import or by the command Library/ Previews/ Build Smart Previews (see third screen shot above).

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In current versions of Lightroom (from CC2015.7 and 6.7), you can select a checkbox to use smart previews instead of originals for image editing.  (Edit/ Preferences/Performance).

Changes transfer instantly to the original RAW files, and stay there even if you discard the smart previews.  The only limitation is for sharpening and noise reduction; custom sharpening done on a smart preview will not transfer well to the original file.  However, if you zoom to 1:1, Lightroom is showing you the original file so it is safe to use smart previews with custom sharpening, as long as you do that at 1:1.

If you are using an earlier version of Lightroom, you need to trick it that your folder is offline.  If you close Lightroom, rename the folder say by adding ” xxx” at the end, then reopen Lightroom, you are working with your smart previews.  To transfer the changes to your RAW files, you will need to close Lightroom and rename the folder back.

You might retain smart previews indefinitely if you’re not short of disk space.  Still, you only use smart previews when you’re processing in Develop module so you may not need to keep them for long.  Unlike the 1:1 previews, discarding smart previews works OK.

 

 

Optimising performance in Lightroom and Photoshop

The specification of your PC is one of the main factors affecting the performance of Lightroom and Photoshop.  I wrote an article about that a while ago.  A new generation of chipsets and motherboards has come out but everything else should be pretty much unchanged:

Adobe also provides useful guides to optimising performance in Lightroom and Photoshop:

 

Summary

  • To increase Lightroom performance by running it on a small fast SSD, you may need to reduce the size of your Previews file
  • You may be able to recover deleted or lost images by regenerating files from the 1:1 previews
  • Standard and 1:1 previews speed Library module operations; smart previews speed Develop module operations

Exporting Digital Images for CPS Competitions

This is for Lightroom users who enter Canberra Photographic Society competitions.

If you enter a  Projected Image or a Print competition, you will need to upload digital images to the CPS Smugmug site.  In order to do that, you will first need to export to a jpeg on your local drive.  I will show you how to do that with a Lightroom export preset that is largely automated so that you only need to update the image file name.

First, select an image in the Library tab in Lightroom,

  • then click the [Export] button at the bottom of the left pane.
    • (Alternatively, you can right click the image and select [Export…]).
  • The following screen will appear.

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Export

(Click on this image to see it larger in a separate tab)

Here I have clicked on my saved preset CPS Digital Export. All I have to do now is to update the file name and then click [Export].

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So how do we create the preset?  We start from a blank screen and fill it out as follows:

  • Export To:
    • Select [Hard Drive] from the drop down at the very top (probably the default)
  • Export Location
    • Export to [Specific Folder]
    • Click [Choose…] to specify what folder you want to use
  • File Naming
    • Check [Rename To:] and specify [Custom Name] from the dropdown
    • Specify a default filename in [Custom Text] such as “A_Open_XXX_MurrayF”
      • A_Open or B_Open.  Change later to A_Set or B_Set for specific files
      • I use XXX as a placeholder for a quick image description (eg “Eagle” or “Chameleon”)
      • Instead of MurrayF, use your name: first name plus first letter of surname
  • File Settings
    • Image Format = [JPEG]
    • Color Space = [sRGB] or [Adobe RGB (1998)]
    • Quality = 80 (or other value you may prefer)
    • Check [Limit File Size To:] and set it to [2048]K
  • Image Sizing
    • Check [Resize to Fit:] and select [Dimensions] from Dropdown
    • Specify [2048] x [1536] [pixels]
      • (This will work for both landscape (H) and portrait (V) format images)
    • Resolution 72 pixels per inch
  • Output Sharpening
    • Sharpen for Screen, Amount Standard (this will be default)
  • Watermarking
    • Leave unchecked

Now you have specified all the details; you just need to save the preset.

  • Below the preset area at the left, click [Add]
  • Specify the name for the preset (eg “CPS Digital Export”) and click [Create]

So now you have the preset, you don’t need to make any of those changes again apart from modifying the filename to suit.

Next time you need to export a digital file for a CPS competition:

  • Click [Export…]
    • This brings up the Export dialogue box
  • Select the preset you created
  • Modify the file name
  • Click [Export].

 

Sharing and Learning: a worthy goal

Last night Steven Shaw won the Ted’s Hedda Morrison Portfolio competition with a magnificent set of portraits of mountain gorillas. Julie Garran was awarded a Highly Commended for her portfolio of Indian men and Matt James received a Highly Commended for his portfolio of textures from Uluru. Congratulations to the winners and to all the entrants for the high standard of entry. We thank judge David Paterson for his considered and insightful comments on all the work and we thank Ted’s in Petrie Plaza for sponsoring the competition and providing the prizes.

Last night I asked the audience present for feedback and suggestions regarding CPS programs and services. I asked for suggestions as to what our goals are and for ideas for activities, themes and set topics. I asked people to identify what they liked and what they didn’t like. Eleven people responded – many thanks to those who took the time to write a note.

One response identified the first meeting of the month as a favorite activity because of all the discussion. Another member liked the local excursions best followed by competition nights and then talks by specialists. A third liked the combination of training and competitions and liked having a Set Topic each month. Printing and Portraits were mentioned as topics of interest.

There were four requests for more technical workshops on post processing and printing.

One member suggested that we hold an orientation evening once or twice a year for new members unfamiliar with the club structure.

There was a request for something more in April for those not going on the Weekend Workshop (which was aimed at new members and less experienced photographers). There was also a request for more weekends away.

There was a suggestion that we publish a list of good locations for photography in Canberra for animals, architecture, landscapes etc. so that visitors and new photographers have some ideas about where to go.

One person suggested that we use the hearing loop for those with poor hearing.

One response requested that we not mess with the Competition scoring.

Sharing and learning was identified by one respondent as their goal. Given that our currently stated mission is to “help members achieve their photographic potential” I hope that means that we are on the right track, although there is always room for improvements.

If you would like to add something or comment on these suggestions please reply to this post, talk to one of the committee members or drop me an email (president[at]cpsaus.org).

All suggestions are welcomed and the CPS committee will follow up on each one. In response to the requests for more technical workshops talking about processing images we will introduce a “Processing Demo” at the beginning of each Workshop night. A member will choose one of their own images and demonstrate the steps that they employed to go from an initial capture (most likely a RAW file) to a final image. I will start off the series at the upcoming workshop on 17th May. I expect the demo to last about 15 minutes, after which members will show and share their own images. The theme this month is Photojournalism and workshop attendees are asked to bring a favorite news image and some of their own “images that changed your world”. This topic aims to encourage people to think about the impact of photographs as an agent for change both globally and personally.

Nik Software Suite is now free

Google has announced that the Nik software suite is now free.  This is a powerful yet easy to use suite including Analog Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro, Vivesa, HDR Efex Pro, Sharpener Pro and Dfine.

I think I paid $US450 for it some years ago.  When Google took it over eighteen months ago, they reduced the price to $US150.

There is good and bad in this.  The good is that it is a great product and if you do not have it you should download it and use whichever modules work for you.  Silver Efex Pro in particular is an easy and powerful method of monochrome conversions.  You can find tutorials here.

The bad is it may have a limited life expectancy.  There appears to have been no updates since Google took it over and Google may not be prepared to maintain it for future operating system changes.  The question remains whether they are committed to such powerful and easy to use products for the serious photographer or whether in future they will be focused on more superficial products for the mass market.

FastRawViewer

(News from the Ether).

A new product, FastRawViewer may be of interest to some.  It is made by the same people that produced RawDigger.  As the name implies, it is a viewer with minimal editing capabilities.  Its value is that it offers a genuine RAW histogram, that you don’t get in Lightroom for example, or I would think other RAW processors. It also offers focus peaking to help assess sharpness.

This means that you can quickly scan your RAW files and determine which are accurately exposed (with no blown highlights) and perhaps sharpness.  You can then assign stars or colours to your selected images and these will come across when you import them to Lightroom.

  • If your images are already in Lightroom, the stars or colours you assigned don’t come across automatically.  You will see a little vertical arrow at the top right of an image.  If you click on that you get a warning that metadata has been changed and can select [Import Settings from Disk].  You can do this for many images at a time.
  • Alternatively, if your images are already in Lightroom, you could remove them first before assessing them in FastRawViewer.  (Press Delete, then select Remove rather than Delete from Disk)
    • Ratings will then show automatically when you re-import the images to Lightroom
    • However, if you have made changes to the images in Lightroom and you have Edit/Catalog Settings…/[Automatically write changes into XMP] unchecked, you will need to first save metadata to file (Metadata/ Save metadata to file or [Ctrl][S]
      • In other words, in Lightroom you can write change to the catalogue or also write them to sidecar files.  If you only save to the catalogue and remove images from the catalogue without first saving the metadata to file, you will lose any changes you have made).

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Maui Taxi

Here is an example of the main screen.  I also have an array of thumbnails to select and navigate with on a separate pane in my other monitor .  You can see overexposed areas by pressing [O] and underexposed areas by pressing [U].  There are both in this image.  The underexposed areas (with no detail) are behind the grille and do not matter.  The overexposed areas are mainly reflected sky on the windscreen and probably do not matter.  If I really wanted to correct that in Photoshop, I could sample the windscreen colour, apply that to a blank layer at just off full white and blend using “Darker” blending mode.  It is, incidentally, an infrared image and this is not its final appearance.

When I first checked FastRawViewer out last month, it was too slow on my PC to be usable, taking around six seconds to turn over from one image to the next.  Nasim Mansurov did not find this in his review so it may depend on how your PC is configured.  However, having downloaded the new version 1.1.1, speed is no longer a problem for me so it becomes usable.  It’s quite cheap.  You can download a trial for free and it only costs $US20.