March 21, 2011

How to View Raw Files with Old Photoshop or Elements Versions

Many of my students have new digital cameras and want to shoot and process raw files from them. But these same students have older versions of Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Photoshop Elements. When they try to view their raw files with the Bridge or Organizer, they just get a placeholder icon instead of a picture. This means that the version of Adobe Camera Raw installed on their computer does not recognize the new camera raw files.

One solution, of course, is to update Camera Raw (free from the Adobe web site). But often the new version of Camera Raw is not compatible with older versions of Photoshop or Elements. For example, the most recent version of Camera Raw is 6.3. This version only works with Photoshop CS5 or Elements 9. If you have an older version of either program, updating Camera Raw does not work for you.

But there is another solution and it's Free! If you convert your raw files from the native camera raw format (e.g. CR2 for Canon, NEF for Nikon, etc.) to Digital Negative format (DNG), any version of Adobe Camera Raw since 2.3 can display these files and allow you to process them with older Camera Raw versions. All you need is the Digital Negative Converter, available for free download from the Adobe web site. Be sure to click on the link that matches the type of computer you are using (Windows or Macintosh).

Adobe Digital Negative Converter Set-up Window

After you download and install the software, start the application to convert your files. Here's a quick set of steps to follow.
  1. Select the folder of raw images you want to convert to DNG. If some of the raw images are in subfolders, check the box to include the subfolders.
  2. Choose where the new DNG files should be saved. I recommend creating a DNG subfolder inside the original folder of raw images. So choose Save in New Location. Click on Select Folder and make a new DNG folder. If you checked the subfolders option in step one, also turn it on in this step.
  3. You can choose to give your converted files a different name than the originals, but this is optional. I suggest you leave the file naming as Document Name (which keeps the original name)  and skip this step.
  4. Last you set the preferences for the new DNG raw file. Click on Change Preferences. If you know which version of Camera Raw your old software is using, select the version number that matches. If you don't know, just stay with the default choice of Version 5.4 and later. Leave the JPG Preview as Medium Size. Do not turn on Embed the original raw file unless you plan to use the camera manufacturer's software later to work on your images. Click OK to save your choices.
  5. Double check all your choices in the Digital Negative Converter, then click the Convert button. The DNG Converter starts processing your files automatically. After it is finished, click the OK button to return to the main setup window. 
  6. You can now choose another folder of raw images to convert to DNG. Or if you're finished, click Exit to quit the program.
DNG Converter Processing Raw Files

When the conversion is completed, open Adobe Bridge or the Elements Organizer and navigate to the new folder.Your raw images should now be visible and available to be edited with whatever version of Camera Raw you have installed. 

Your original raw files are not deleted in this process. Once you confirm that the DNG raw files work for your software, you can go back and erase the original raw files (CR2, NEF, etc.) if you want to save disk space.

Adobe's Digital Negative Converter is not changing any of the content or appearance of your image. It is just changing the order in which the data is stored in the file to make it accessible. For more details about DNG files and their advantages, check out this video by Julieanne Kost.

March 14, 2011

Organizing Old Photos

Winter Horses

In an earlier post, I described a way to bring order to all the photos on your hard drive. If you missed the article, I recommend you read it before continuing with this post. In this article, I describe how to get all your old photos into the same location so it's easy to find them and back them up for safe-keeping. You should be familiar with navigating your computer to find folders and with copy and paste techniques before following the instructions in this  post.

(Remember, you can use Picasa or other software to organize your photos for you, but they will not move your pictures from their current location.)

Make a Year Folder
Since I recommend using the Pictures folder as the biggest container for your pictures, this is where we will start. And I recommend starting with the most recent old pictures first. In our example, this would be pictures taken in 2010. In other words, work backwards in time.

1. Create a 2010 folder inside your Pictures folder.

Search for Pictures by Year

2. Use the computer's Search or Find command to look for any photos made between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2010. In most cases, your digital photos will all end with the same four characters
If you add a star (*) in front of those four characters
the computer will find all photos no matter where they live.

If you have a big hard drive this may take a while. If there are lots of pictures, you may want to find just six months' worth at a time (e.g. January 1, 2010 to June 30, 2010).

Once the computer has completed the search, it will display the pictures in a window.

Put the Pictures in the Year Folder

3. From the Edit menu, choose Select All. After the pictures are highlighted (selected), go back to the Edit menu and choose Move.

4. Navigate to (locate) your Pictures folder and open the 2010 folder.

5. Click inside the 2010 folder. From the Edit menu choose Paste. The computer will move all your 2010 pictures into this folder.

At this point you can go back to your Pictures folder and make another year folder (2009). Then repeat the process described above. Or you can continue to work with the 2010 pictures to organize them inside the year folder. That's what we will do now.

Separate the Pictures by Month and Date Folders
At this point, you may not have any idea of the location, event or subject of all these (hundreds) of pictures! So it will be a little difficult to give them descriptive names as I suggested in my earlier article. But you can fairly easily group the pictures by date taken. Here's how.

1. In the year folder, choose to view the photos by "Details" so that you can see the date associated with each photo.

2. Sort the pictures by date. On a Windows or Mac computer just clicking on the word Date at the top of the column usually sorts the pictures in ascending order. Scanning through the list, you can see which pictures were all made on the same date.

3. Create a new folder with the first date, for example 01-01 for January 1st, New Year's Day.

4. Click on the first picture name with that date. Hold down the Shift key and click on the last picture name with that date. All these will be selected (highlighted).

5. From the Edit menu, choose Move.

6. Double click on the 01-01 folder to open it.

7. From the Edit menu, choose Paste. All the appropriate pictures will be moved into their new home.

8. You can open this new folder and view the photos as thumbnails to see what they are about. Then you can add a brief descriptive name after the month and date, if you want to.

9. Repeat these steps for each date in the list.

10. When you are finished organizing the 2010 pictures, burn a CD or DVD back-up of each folder and/or copy the 2010 folder to the external hard drive. You will have to use several CDs or DVDs to back up all the pictures.

Take Your Time
This is a BIG JOB! I recommend that you do it in stages, a little at a time. If you start to become tired, you are more likely to make mistakes in organizing your photos that might be hard to correct. So work at it a little bit at a time.

Eventually, all your photos will be stored in one location on your hard drive, in folders with helpful names, and backed up for safe-keeping. Congratulations!

March 9, 2011

Learn to Make Quality Black & White Prints with Lightroom

Black & White Photo of Low Hills, National Bison Range, Montana

Getting good black and white prints is a challenge with inkjet printers as well as some photo labs. The problem comes from using color inks or traditional color photographic paper to reproduce an image with no color. In order to make a black & white print, the colors have to be combined to cancel out all color, leaving just the brightness values. But the pigments in ink and dyes in photographic paper are not pure. So the combo often creates a color cast. There are a couple solutions, depending on your preferred printing method.

If you are using an inkjet printer, set  the printer to use only the black ink. This removes the colors from the equation. However, not all black inks are pure black. Some may exhibit a warm or cool appearance, especially under some artificial light sources. Inkjet printers that have more than one black ink cartridge usually produce better quality black and white prints than ones with single cartridges.

Choosing black ink only

If you prefer to have a lab make prints for you, check for a company that prints on black & white photographic paper. This eliminates the color dyes from the process and ensures that you get a picture that is truly black, white and gray.

A third option can work for either inkjet prints or lab prints. Instead of being disappointed with random color casts in your black and white prints, add a color that you find appealing. A traditional and favorite one is sepia, a color that can range from a light yellow brown to a dark red brown, depending on your taste. By adding a bit of a color tint to your black & white image, it is no long black and white but a subtle monochrome color photo. This often reproduces well on both inkjet and photo lab prints.

Sepia Photo of Dry Goods, Garnet, Montana

If you'd like to learn more tips about printing your photos, join me in Missoula, Montana, for my basic printing from Lightroom workshop. We'll cover both making your own inkjet prints and ordering prints from online or local photo labs. Details and registration are available online.

March 8, 2011

Learn to Photograph in Any Light

White violet, North Carolina
Enhance your photographic skills by learning to see and work with the light in your surroundings at my workshop in North Carolina this May 8-13. Enjoy spring and the company of other photographers in a supportive, fun atmosphere near the Blue Ridge Mountains. Details and registration are available online.

March 7, 2011

Organizing and Backing Up Digital Photos

Winter Ghost Trees

With all the digital pictures we make so easily with cameras and phones, it's easy to "lose" them on your hard drive. In this post, I'm going to describe some simple steps you can take to organize your digital photos and back them up for safe-keeping.

What I describe below is a Do-It-Yourself method of organizing your pictures. If you would rather trust this process to some photo organizing software, you may want to check out Picasa, a free program from Google. After you install it (works on both Macs and Windows), it will search your hard drive for all photos and organize them inside Picasa. But your pictures will remain scattered all through your hard drive. If you want to organize your photos at the hard disk level, then follow the steps below BEFORE you use Picasa.

The first step is the most important. Decide on an organization method and follow it. Begin with your newest pictures, the ones you download today. Here's what I suggest.
  1. Keep all your pictures in one folder on your hard drive. Both Windows and Mac computers make this easy; they each have a folder already made called "Pictures" (or "My Pictures" on older Windows systems). Use it.
  2. Inside the Pictures folder, create a folder named for the current year (2011). If you just dump your pictures into the Pictures folder, you'll have to look through thousands to find the one you want. This way you break the photos up into annual folders. Next year create a new folder for 2012
  3. Inside the year folder (2011), make a new folder with the month and date you took the pictures and a brief description of the location, event or subject. For example, 02-14-Valentines-Day-Party. I recommend that you use numbers for the month instead of words and that you use two-digit numbers for January (01) through September (09). All computers sort folders and files by numbers before letters. Including two-digit numbers ensures that January (01) comes before October (10).
  4. Download (copy) the new pictures into the new folder you have just created for them.
So now you have the following set-up:

      Pictures folder > 2011 folder > 02-14-Valentines-Day-Party folder

If several people share the computer, then inside the Pictures folder you could make folders with each person's name (e.g Mike and Julie). Inside those folders, continue with the naming suggestion above. Then you might have a folder set-up that looks like this:

Folders for Each Person with Year and Even subfolders

A Note About Names
On all computers there are some characters we use in typing that are not appropriate for folder names (or file names, either). The best technique is to use only numbers, letters, hyphens (-) and underscores (_) for names of folders. (Picture names can include one period before the file extension, such as Photo1.jpg but no where else.) Notice that there is no other punctuation and no spaces in the sample folder names above. This keeps your computer happy.

Back Up
In the world of digital information, including photos, the way to protect the information from damage or loss is to make more than one copy of it. In the digital world copies are just that, exact duplicates of the original photo or folder. In the case of your digital pictures, I recommend you do one of two things to make a back-up copy:
  1. Burn (save) the new pictures to a CD-R or DVD-R disk (do not use CD-RW or DVD-RW disks). In the example, you would burn the 02-14-Valentines-Day-Party folder to a disk. You might want to include the year in the disk title, like this 02-14-2011-Valentines-Day-Party. OR
  2. Copy the pictures to an external hard drive using the same folder and naming structure you created above. 
For example, on a Windows computer the Pictures folder (and the year and event folders) lives on your C drive.  If you attach an external hard drive with a USB cable, that new hard drive might be called the D drive. Select the Pictures folder on your C drive, choose Copy from the Edit menu. Then switch to the D drive and choose Paste from the Edit menu. Now your pictures exist in two places. For future folders, you only have to copy and paste the new folder you make, not all the previous ones.

If you use a Mac, your main hard drive is usually called Mac HD; you can name your external hard drive anything you like. The rest of the process is the same.

For an extra measure of safety, do both: burn a CD or DVD and back up to an external hard drive.

What About Old Photos?
Now that you have an organizing system for your newest photos, you might want to work on all the older pictures you have on your hard drive and put them into this new organization. I'll describe how to do this in another post.