A flock of pigeons in a gravel parking lot. They are in a spot of sunlight, between two spots of shade.

Light and Shadow: Two Weeks of Lightroom

My Lightroom education the past two weeks has been to alternate two tasks: reviewing forum posts for tips, tricks, and common dilemmas; and uploading, adding metadata, and organizing a limited number of images. I have some work to redo based on my forum reading. Within Lightroom, I have focused on establishing a backup, adding keywords and captions, and experimenting with formats for the title field. I sense that I am still resisting obvious paradigm shifts.

Lightroom Queen

Peter Krogh’s books pointed me to Victoria Bampton as a Lightroom (Lr) resource. I discovered she is the Lightroom Queen behind items in my various Google searches. She has written a number of books (to address the different Lr products/plans) and manages a series of forums for Lr users, where beginner and advanced users are welcome.

I am using Lightroom, which used to be referred to as Lightroom CC. It’s still confusing to just call it Lightroom, because there is such a long history of various products, services, and plans. The Lightroom Queen forums refer to Lightroom as “cloudy” to distinguish it from Lightroom Classic. I have concentrated on reviewing posts related to “cloudy.”

Basically, I am reading all of the posts in the “Lightroom desktop apps (cloud-based service)” forum, 1-3 pages of posts per day, just to educate myself. It is a little tricky, because as I get to older posts (early 2019 and further back), features have been added by now that address some of the post concerns. I’m not sure how far back I should read, as the information will become more and more dated.

I’ll need to tackle Victoria’s books for Lr (she updates them to reflect Adobe releases), and she also has a blog I want to read through.

A red brick building against a cloudless blue sky. The building says Barteldes on the left side and Seeds on the front side. A fire escape is visible on one side.
Reviewing forum posts feels like planting seeds: Barteldes Seeds building in Denver’s LoDo.

Backups: local storage

Before uploading too many images into Lightroom, I wanted to consider storage options. The idea behind the cloud plan is that you don’t have to worry about backing up everything on various hard drives, etc. You trust Adobe to handle that. Of course, who does? Maybe someday; it’s a paradigm shift. I’m actually ready for that, but my husband isn’t. There is an option to store locally, so I have selected that. As best I can tell, the local storage is of unedited originals, no metadata (or not all metadata?); hubby and I agreed this is sufficient. We have Time Machine to back up our hard drive, so we have that redundancy as well.

I’ve seen comments on the Forum stating that the intent of local storage really isn’t for backups, although they acknowledge it can serve that purpose. I’m still figuring it out.

A men with his back to the camera is beginning to walk down a set of outdoor stairs. His legs are no longer visible. A park and buildings are visible in front of him.
Cloud storage? The future. Walk into it.

Adding metadata

I am still struggling with this a bit. I have worked out a format for the title field of my images, but it is a long format. Krogh doesn’t include anything descriptive in his titles – just his name, date, and numbering. I am beginning to see the value of his approach. People in the forums debate how detailed file names and title fields should be, versus relying on keywords for that purpose. What information to enter into the caption field was pretty clear; it is intended to be long-form, so that is how I use it.

Lightroom is a database, and if you are still tempted to organize using folder structure and file name structure, it starts to feel like a square peg in a round hole. You actually cannot edit the file name in Lightroom (cloudy). Can I get comfortable with this? Some users cannot. The Lightroom Queen says “…it just doesn’t matter.” Except that it still feels like it does, or should…or used to. I recognize that I am trying to use the title field as a file name field; is this what I should do? Probably not. Do I need to loosen up on my desire for structure? Probably so; further research required. Another paradigm shift.

The facade of a building. The building is white, but most of it is not visible. Most of the photograph is a metal sculpture with three vertical panels.
The structure represented by this building facade in downtown Denver is what I seek for my images in Lightroom (maybe too much).

What I am delaying for now

  • I’ve taken a break from watching tutorials. Some were way too dated, or were focused on Lightroom Classic (definitely no point watching those if you aren’t subscribing to a plan with Classic). Even for the “cloudy” tutorials, after the first few segments, they all seem to jump into editing. I’m just not ready to focus on that; I am still figuring out how I can consistently organize my images and apply metadata. It was one of the Udemy tutorials referenced in my prior post that first made me aware of the local storage option, so they have been useful, to a point.
  • I want to read Peter Krogh’s DAM 3.0 book, but I think Victoria Bampton’s Lr books need to take precedence. Krogh covers a broader range of material, and I need to stay focused on Lightroom for now.
  • I joined Scan Your Entire Life (SYEL), but I have not returned to scanning at this time. Once I discovered the Lightroom Queen forums, I decided it was best to invest time in understanding the nuances of Lightroom. I want to establish certain standards up front before I get too many images scanned and uploaded; I desire to minimize rework (I’ve accepted there will be plenty). SYEL does address Lr and other tools for managing photos, so I should peruse it next, after I have consumed most of the relevant (i.e., “cloudy’) Lightroom Queen material. I did pay for an annual membership to SYEL, so I shouldn’t delay too long. Maybe SYEL can help me decide on file naming (does it matter?) and how to use the title field.

Make it YOURS

The journey for each of us will be different as we collect family memories (older ones, newer digital ones) and decide what to do with them. Considerations include identifying tools, establishing ultimate goals, and determining how much time and effort we can (or want to) put into a final product. Make your journey just that: YOURS.

A darkened alley in a city has the letters Y-O-U-R-S strung across it, from the front of the alley to the back.
YOURS: an alley in downtown Denver.

A bed of pink tulips are in bloom in the foreground, with a couple of large rocks among them. A large apartment building and several smaller buildings appear in the background.

Seeing the Light: Lightroom

I’ve been debating what software or application to use long term for organizing photos. When we invested in an iMac (~2014), I expected I would use the Photos app indefinitely. Slowly over the years, I realized that might not be the case. Yesterday, I purchased a monthly plan for Lightroom (Lr), the cloud version. In this post, I’ll summarize my decision for choosing Lightroom as well as my first 24 hours using it. Future posts will address additional Lightroom features, as I discover and utilize them.

A debate with myself

For the past 4-6 years, I used Photos on my iMac. I experienced at least one upgrade of the Photos application in that timeframe, which was uneventful. The Photos app has been easy to use, but I have occasionally experienced minor problems, including navigation, keying data, and identifying people. I successfully organized a subset of my photos into 174 (!) albums, added keywords, and performed basic editing. I also created several slideshows.

The question that has been in front of me for several years was whether Photos was the best long-term tool for my use. I am not a professional photographer. I need to have access to the functionality mentioned above, and I would be happy with additional functionality, provided it is not overwhelming. So, I have always remained alert to alternative software and applications.

In addition to managing photos for myself and my husband, I have volunteered to digitize my parents’ family photos. I want a tool that can facilitate sharing with two sisters, a niece, and two nephews. I want all of these photos to be in the same application as my own photos, but I also want to be able to distinguish them. The organizational tools need to enable this.

Migrating photos from one system to another is not easy. There have been attempts over the years to standardize things within the industry, but it hasn’t happened yet. I don’t want to feel that I am stuck in a particular system (like the train cars on the bridge, below). It is important to me that I have multiple export options and that I will not lose metadata in the process.

An old iron viaduct housed several train cars, one painted pink, the others painted blue. The entire viaduct is fenced off.
These cars aren’t moving off of this old viaduct in Denver, CO.

You (still) get what you pay for

In Unmasking Free Online Storage, I addressed “free” storage. The article is over three years old, but my views have not changed. I still believe in paying for quality service, support, features, and design.

My first exposure to Lightroom

I was first introduced to Lightroom via Peter Krogh’s The DAM Book (DAM = Digital Asset Management), which I read in 2016. I heard more about Lightroom as a member of APPO (Association of Personal Photo Organizers). A couple of years ago, Adobe introduced Lightroom CC (now just Lightroom), which it distinguished from Lightroom Classic. I was curious but found articles on the topic overwhelming; I didn’t understand enough to process what the differences were. And so I waited, and kept using Photos. But, I was careful about how much I uploaded into Photos – I still sensed that I would be migrating at some point.

A church steeple and four windows, viewed from the side of the church. The church is a light brown stone; the four windows are arched. A gold cross is atop the steeple.
Things that are meant to help you can still feel intimidating: St. Elizabeth’s in Denver, CO.

Continued research

I attended an APPO conference in Raleigh, NC, in 2018. Peter Krogh was the keynote speaker. He also had a display table and a breakout session. His presentations featured Lightroom, so I was further exposed to it at this conference. After (too) much debate, I purchased Krogh’s The DAM Book Guide to Organizing Your Photos with Lightroom 5. It took me another year to begin reading the book. After finishing it, I realized I was going to proceed with Lightroom.

I researched the Lightroom options. Lightroom [CC] vs. Classic was making more sense to me; I had learned enough to comprehend the differences. I was getting much more comfortable with cloud storage, the appeal of sharing and accessing via multiple devices, and everything being synced immediately. Although my photos are important to me, they are not my livelihood. I don’t want to have to manage a series of drives for backups. I do want a backup beyond Lightroom, and I am confident I will incorporate something into my workflow for that (future blog post).

A red stone sidewalk with an iron fence on the right side. The fence is casting a shadow onto the sidewalk. The sidewalk extends to the end of the photograph.
A path forward: Ninth Street Park in Denver, CO.

My first 24 hours with Lightroom

The Adobe site has a variety of tutorials for Lightroom. I watched several of them (3-5 minutes each). Investing 30 minutes of my time was enough for me to realize that the navigation and features felt comfortable; things were not so different from Photos, and I knew that I would not be at a loss. There were three different Lightroom plans. I didn’t want Classic, so that left one option, for $10 a month and 1 TB of storage. It’s easy to add storage if needed. I really don’t know how much storage I will ultimately need (for my own photos plus those of my parents). I digitized files as JPG previously, but I intend to digitize as TIFF from this point forward (TIFF files are much larger, but not lossy). Being able to easily increase storage for a reasonable fee is a nice feature. So far, I have imported about 30 photos into three albums.

It took me a while to find the Info button so that I could enter Titles and Captions (File Name is a different field). I have added Keywords. I don’t want to load too many photos too fast, as I am still experimenting with Title formats. Peter Krogh recommends MyName_Date_#### for File Names (the #### is for consecutive numbering of images). I am not sure if I will be editing File Names; I need to research whether it is possible to do so in Lr. I considered applying Krogh’s File Name approach to the Title field. Since I am not a professional photographer, I figured I could skip the MyName portion, but then I realized that portion could help me distinguish my own photos (SCKO), from my parents’ family photos (CAMPBELLJM), from grandparents’ photos (ZIMMERMANDE, CAMPBELLJH).

A list of 12 Title field examples appears, each one has YYYYMMDD in the middle.
I am still evaluating options for the Title field in Lightroom.

Krogh recommends that all photographers utilize the Copyright field, since we all post so much online. So, I am populating that field as well.

Additional resources I need to tackle

I am very much a Lr beginner. I see my path, but I am moving along it slowly. Just as we are all working to navigate a COVID-19 world one day at a time, I will continue forward on my Lightroom journey one step at a time.

A headshot of a woman wearing a bike helmet and sunglasses, with a pink and tan bandanna tied over her nose and mouth.
Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic: face mask experimentation for a bike ride.

I have identified a few next steps, before I load any more photos into Lr:

  • Udemy training via Denver Public Library (free!): three courses; I expect I will start with the bottom one.
Three Lightroom courses are listed, each with an icon/visual on the left, then a brief course name and description, then ratings (all 4.3 stars or higher).
A screenshot of Lightroom courses offered by Udemy, available via the Denver Public Library.
  • scanyourentirelife.com: this site offers a membership; while I was a member of APPO, I didn’t want to spend the additional money. Now that I have decided to focus on my own photo collection (versus digitizing for others), this site seems like a better fit.
  • LinkedIn Learning: Learning Lightroom CC (under two hours, $29.99). LinkedIn Learning was formerly lynda.com. I always found the courses to be excellent, but since this one will cost me, I think I’ll give the Udemy courses a try first, supplement with the Adobe tutorials, and then determine if this is worth the price.
A single course offered by LinkedIn Learning, with an image of a cathedral on the left and the course name and duration on the right.
A beginner Lightroom CC course offered by LinkedIn Learning; I like the release date of late 2018.
A stone floor, wall, and stairwell. The wall has three square or rectangular areas cut into it, as it serves as a summer kitchen. Flower pots are all around.

Photo Detective Work in the Digital Age

A bit of detective work is always involved in photo organizing, and not just for old photos. Even with digital devices, timestamps aren’t always correct; you may need to determine photo order and rename files accordingly. A detailed travel itinerary won’t necessarily help you identify key sites such as the Gloriette, Neptune Fountain or Roman Ruin (all at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria). Photos taken on the same day may be from entirely different countries or cities; pay close attention to the timestamps to recreate a day’s journey.

A previous post addressed allocating space in a photo book. This post builds on the earlier one and includes scanning trip memorabilia to personalize a book, an explanation of the detective work mentioned above, and a few frustrations encountered along the way.

Organizing photos from three devices

The photos to be used in an Eastern Europe photo book for my sister’s 2018 trip came from three different devices: a digital camera and two iPhones. I could tell that the camera photos had incorrect timestamps (some showed times of 4:00 a.m.), and I was not sure by how many hours I should adjust them. I elected to compare photos of the exact same location (e.g., a waterfall at Krka National Park) across devices. I was able to determine that the timestamp for each camera file was off by about six hours.

A screen shot of a waterfall on the left and Exif data for the photo on the ri8.ght; the Exif data shows the photo was taken at 4:18 AM on 9/12/201
Waterfall at Krka National Park with 4:18 a.m. timestamp (digital camera).
A picture of a waterfall on the left and Exif data for the photo on the right. The Exif data shows the photo was taken at 10:27 AM.
Krka National Park photo with 10:27 a.m. timestamp, iPhone 7 Plus.

In addition to the time adjustment necessary for camera images, I noticed that the first few camera photos actually had timestamps for the year 2017 (the wrong year often indicates there was a battery issue with the camera). With the exception of the 2017 timestamps, the dates for the camera photos were reliable, but the time-of-day portion of the timestamp always had to be adjusted as I worked to integrate the camera photos with the iPhone photos.

To locate the timestamp for each image on an iMac, I viewed each photo in Preview. Under Tools, I selected Show Inspector and the Exif tab to view the Date Time Digitized and Date Time Original. A previous post discusses Photo date fields (origination, creation, modification) and why the dates that appear in Finder are not the ones you want to rely on for photo organizing.

Converting HEIC to JPG

Some of the images were in HEIC format, others were JPG. My sister and I had agreed the photo book would be designed using Shutterfly, so all of the images had to be converted to JPG (Shutterfly does not accept other file formats). Fortunately, I had done batch conversions for a family wedding in late 2019, so I applied my saved Quick Action to convert all of the HEIC images.

Scanning memorabilia

My sister had wisely saved a small number of memorabilia items to be scanned and included in the photo book as appropriate. Readers familiar with Shutterfly will know about Stickers and Backgrounds, which are particular to each photo book Style. Scanning memorabilia is a way to personalize photo book pages with unique backgrounds and stickers; some examples follow.

  • Scanned memorabilia becomes a “personalized sticker”

This page includes Shutterfly Stickers and a “personalized sticker.” See below for information on the street map as a background.

A screenshot of a Shutterfly photo book page. It has four photographs and a Hotel label. The background is a street map of Vienna, Austria.
The coffee pot and thumb tacks are Shutterfly Stickers; the hotel logo in the lower right was scanned and uploaded to Shutterfly (what I consider a “personalized sticker”).
  • Scanned maps as page backgrounds and images

The scanned street map of Vienna, Austria (above) served as a page background, as did a map that includes the Island of Šolta (below).

A screenshot of a photo book page. The background is a green map of the Adriatic Sea. The page also includes 5 photographs in frames.
The background for this page is a scanned map of the Adriatic Sea; the map was on a brochure for an olive oil factory that my sister toured.
A screenshot of part of a photo book page. It features two photos taken after dark and a map that shows a restaurant location in Split, Croatia.
The middle image is a map showing the location of a restaurant that my sister dined at in Split, Croatia.
  • Incorporating hotel key cards

The key card image of this hotel turned out to be the only picture the group had of it (no one had remembered to take a photo).

A screenshot of a photo book page with a light green background. Split appears in the middle, with two images above and four images below.
The front and back of the Hotel Marul key card (top two images), incorporated here as photos.
  • Postcards: “Personalized sticker” and Shutterfly Sticker

Fortunately, the design of the scanned postcard was a good match for the Shutterfly book style that my sister selected.

  • Memorabilia I was unable to use

Not every memorabilia item scanned well. One hotel had a maroon business card with gold lettering. I previewed the scanned image, realized it wasn’t appealing, and didn’t even bother to scan it.

I wish it was possible to upload PNG files to Shutterfly – a way to truly create our own stickers. I was happy with the scanned version of this round paper coaster from a hotel, which Preview allowed me to crop as a circle and save as a PNG file. But, I could not upload it to Shutterfly (remember, only JPG files can be uploaded). A picture of the same item with 90-degree corners was not useful. I ended up not including the coaster in the book.

Itinerary provides guidance

A group of five individuals traveled to Eastern Europe; the trip was coordinated for them by an Ohio-based travel company. A seven-page itinerary (not pictured) was provided for my reference; it was invaluable in determining what section of the trip the various memorabilia items aligned with. The abbreviated version of the itinerary that appears in the photo book (below) shows that for multiple locations, there were day trips to nearby sites.

A portion of a photo book page. The countries visited (4) appear at the top, and the dates in various cities appear below.
Zagreb, Split, and Dubrovnik served as bases – with day trips to the other sites.

By comparing photo timestamps to the itinerary, I was able to determine that photos taken on the same date were actually from three different locations (the GPS tab can also assist, if populated with data):

A photo of a church appears on the left; Exif data about the photo, including the date and time it was taken, appear on the right.
Since this was a morning photo, the itinerary confirmed it was taken in Medjugorje.
An image of a man and woman seated at the side of water, with small boats in front of them, their backs to the camera. Green hills appear on the other side of the water.
Notes from my sister indicated this was a lunch spot between Medjugorje and Dubrovnik; the timestamp confirms this.
An image of a sunset over water appears on the left; on the right, the date and time of the photo appear as Exif data.
The travel group arrived in Dubrovnik for dinner at their hotel (evening timestamp).

There were only a few photos from Medjugorje, so instead of devoting an entire photo book page to this location, I used Ribbon Embellishments in Shutterfly to create a different background within a page for two pictures. The Medjugorje photos were taken on the same day as other images on this photo book page, but at a different time.

A screenshot of a photo book page with two photos from a church in the upper right and six photos of a lunch spot on the water in the lower left.
The purple ribbons in the upper right provide a background that separates the Medjugorje photos from the lunch spot photos.

Allocation of pages in the book

To allocate pages within the photo book, I used the same method described in an previous post. One difference this time around was that I did not select the front and back cover photos in advance. I was not on the trip, so I decided the best approach was to “live” it and create the entire book first; I expected this would enable me to identify which photos best captured the trip as experienced by the travelers. For this particular book, that approach worked well (the feature photo for this post was the book’s front cover photo).

This Excel spreadsheet captures my approach to determining how many pages to devote to each segment of the trip.

A screen shot of an Excel spreadsheet with 7 columns. The far right column explains the reasoning for how many pages are allocated to each part of the trip.
I calculate the number of pages for each event based on how many photos were taken at various locations, then I adjust for special circumstances as noted in red font.

Foreign characters

Shutterfly does offer foreign characters (e.g., umlaut) in some instances. I followed these instructions on how to insert them. Inserting an umlaut on the Schönbrunn Palace page was not a problem, but I was unable to insert a caron for either Šolta or Šibenik (I received the error, “Invalid characters removed”). I tried changing the font within the photo book style, but that did not prevent the error. I got a bit creative on one page and placed the olive from an olive branch Shutterfly Sticker above the S to mimic the caron.

Viennese coffee

I had an unexpected benefit from working on this photo book: an introduction to Viennese coffee. It was referenced on the trip itinerary, and I wanted to give it a try. I made ours with Nespresso Lungo pods (no particular flavor), fresh whipped cream (whipped it myself), and Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate syrup. It has become our standard late-morning treat while staying at home for COVID-19 social distancing.

A screenshot of a travel itinerary fro 9/5/2018 in Vienna. A sentence about Viennese coffee is highlighted in yellow.
Espresso infused with whipped cream? Count me in!
A lime green Nespresso machine holds a small white espresso cup. To the right of the machine are Hershey's Special Dark Syrup, heavy whipping cream, and three Nespesso pods.
Ready to make more Viennese coffee.

Shutterfly photo book style: Vintage Travel. Size: 12 x 12.

Photo credits: Susan D. DiGiacomo and Eugene F. Pushic