A couple of weeks ago it was my turn to have a computer disaster. It’s been over a decade since I had any serious issue, so I’ve been very lucky. On this occasion, a power outage caused my OS to stagger, then finally topple over. Power outages have never caused any problem before, but I recently updated to El Capitan on this old machine, and it wasn’t a “clean” install. I just let Apple dump it on top of the old OS. I’d already done that a couple of times, and it appears to have whinged about it.
I used to own DiskWarrior. I owned it against just such a day, dutifully upgrading without ever having the disastrous need for it that I was now presented with. Most of my data was backed up, but I honestly didn’t want to wipe the OS drive and install everything from scratch, nor did I have a backup of my Mail for the last 3 months, although that wasn’t really critical. I wanted whatever could be saved to be saved so I could continue to be my usual lazy self and get back to creating as quickly as possible. Fortunately I was somewhat prepared with a backup boot drive. I bought DiskWarrior again, fingers crossed that it would save me some bother, and with the new understanding that if I ran it monthly, it might actually help protect me against OS crashes like this going forward.
I got lucky. DiskWarrior repaired the directory system enough that almost all of my data was there, all my applications remained (although I appear to have lost activation for some (not Adobe), and I only had to reinstall the OS—yes, still lazy and I installed it on top of what was there. But that was the whole point. I just didn’t feel like spending a couple of weeks tracking down every app and serial number and doing all that setup. At least Adobe’s Creative Cloud makes that easy, but most of my “support” apps don’t. I would rather spend more time ensuring I was completely up-to-date with multiple backups.
The takeaway from all this is that I, and probably many others, will never quite do enough. We’re not IT folk who spend our days maintaining and safeguarding all our data—both system related and what we create. Something might get lost. However, we need to make sure we’re as redundant as is reasonable. Anyone reading this blog is probably here because s/he creates art and preserves history, and that effort shouldn’t be lost just because we no longer work with analog materials. Multiple storage solutions along with finding a relative or good friend who will keep some discs and/or hard drives off-site for us, and a regularly scheduled system for backing up to these solutions is as important as the time we put in to the creative side of working with computers.
Good software like DiskWarrior for the Mac, or easy to use, flexible, yet complete systems for automatically backing up our data, and being redundant in our backups, doesn’t come cheap. But neither does our time come cheap that we spend acquiring the right equipment and assets, learning to use it all, and then developing our creativity to make meaningful art and historical documents. Be safe out there. I intend to attempt to do a bit more to be safe, even if I am basically very lazy and this stuff bores me half to death.
Last week I wrote about the Digital Scrapbook Day and Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales, and some advice I’d read on a few blogs about how to get ready for them—essentially, how not to blow the budget. Of course I did just that right off the bat with those wonderful budget-busting sales they like to call doorbuster sales, or Flash sales because they’re gone in an eye-blink. The stuff you buy, of course, stays with you no matter how many times you blink your eyes in disbelief at all you just bought. And now what the heck are you going to do to organize it and keep it from getting lost amidst all the megabytes, even terabytes, of other digital assets? Good advice I read was to take some time to clear out the older kits and assets so you wouldn’t be completely overwhelmed and driven out of hard drive space.
That’s good advice that I don’t often take, however. It’s good advice if you always work with individual kits, using just the papers and elements that the designer has included. It’s also good advice if you can’t afford the extra storage space it takes to keep all your scrapbook and art journaling supplies available to you without searching the archives for them. But if, like me, you often mix elements and papers from different kits, and if you can afford the additional drives to store them on, it’s nice to be able to quickly locate that brush or frame or cute kitten you remember having that you think would be perfect. You won’t mind trying different elements, either, to see what works best, if you can do that quickly. So I tend to mix “retirement” (archiving) with keeping some older kits still on my drives.
Just keeping more kits on hard drives doesn’t do enough for me, though. I can’t remember what’s in all the kits. I did try keywords, but that was way too tedious and cumbersome. I use them for photos, but not for digital assets anymore. I finally hit on a couple ways to organize that easily reflect my changing interests, and don’t demand too much of my time. The time I do spend is offset by saving time during the creation process, as well as helping me remember what I have.
The first method of organization was to take up more hard drive space duplicating some of the files and placing them into organized folders of their own. Not everything gets put into those folders. I call them “favorite shells” or “favorite scene papers,“ etc, but my “favorites” include papers and elements I think will be useful outside the kit they come with. At first I thought I might be sorry to give up drive space to a lot of folders containing duplicate files, but I’ve found that I constantly use these folders to add something to my pages. They’re a big part of what makes retiring some kits possible.
I do “retire” kits more often now that I have the best of them still in my folders of favorites, but I also keep their previews in folders so I don’t forget that I have them. The preview is just the small JPEG file that comes with each kit. I copy these into a folder of previews, then put them in stacks (which you can do with either Adobe Bridge or Photoshop Elements Organizer). For example, kits that are primarily red and green go in one stack, while the orange and yellow kits are in another, all in a folder for color sorting. I’ve also sorted copies of the previews into different folders using different criteria, such as a Theme folder giving me Vintage or Winter kits in their own stacks, or a folder of Presets, such as glitter styles and edge brushes.
The stacks of previews often give new life to kits. I spot kits, old and new, that go together when I’m sorting them. I then sort them into a folder that previews kits that pair well, the same way designers often partner with each other to create a kit, and now I can use them together to create a whole new look. Previews have also become a quick look inside my creative world. I’ve discovered that I have a strong affinity for certain color schemes and themes, even if I don’t have need more going by what I have to journal or scrap. I now consciously try to expand my creative horizons by looking for new styles and palettes, and when I see another Autumn or Seaside kit (huge favorites of mine), I try to resist them if they look too much like what I already have. That way I do mind my budget a bit better, although I still can’t resist a good Flash sale.
Folders that collect things you didn’t know you wanted
I’ve been MIA here for awhile, partly because of family obligations and work, but mostly because of an issue for which I only recently got help. I’ve been battling the disappearance of my system drive storage on my old Mac Pro for some time now. At first I thought I’d simply allowed too much non-essential stuff to get on the drive. I cleared it out and moved anything I could. But my drive kept being eaten by files the OS called “Other.” Not photos, movies, or apps. “Other,” whatever that is. I wasn’t gaining much space back by moving everything I could find off the drive, either. Free space continued to decline. I was getting a bit frantic and my computer wasn’t running very well anymore.
“Other” had to be in either my User Library or my System Library. I searched through my User Library files more than once looking for the culprit. I clicked on folder after folder, and pressed Cmd-I (Info) to have the OS calculate the size of the folder. I worried that my drive might be going bad and it was actually misreporting what space what being used. I spent a lot of time attempting to be organized and fully backed up in the event of a catastrophic failure.
Nothing was working, but not long ago, I performed another Get Info on the Adobe folder inside the Library’s Application Folder. The OS calculated some 100+ GBs, not nearly enough in the entire folder to account for the loss, but by sheer chance I left that panel open while I focused on other folders. They, too, weren’t large enough to account for the disappearing storage space.
Suddenly something happened I had never seen before. The Info panel for the Adobe folder updated its file size—and there was the culprit. Somewhere in that folder I had lost ~300 GBs. The Mac usually says “Calculating. . . “ until it reaches the final size for a folder, but in this case, it gave me a size, then continued calculating.
Inside that folder I still couldn’t find what was taking up space. I opened folder after folder, checking the size if I found a lot of files in it. I finally sought help from Adobe experts. I knew it was something in there, but a lot of folders I opened had nothing in them, and the ones that did have a lot of files didn’t amount to much. The experts suggested I check the Media Cache Files folder inside the Common folder.
But it had nothing in it! Oh, wait. . . wait for it. . . wait for it. . . It had so much inside it that it took my computer some time to display that it had any files. It turns out that if you own the full Collection, which includes Premiere Pro and After Effects, the Media Cache Files folder comes with it. Any video you download to play later, from any source, is cached at its full size in that folder, and it isn’t deleted when you later delete the video you watched.
Adobe is just trying to be helpful. Adobe assumes that you want the video cached in full to speed up playback, so it obliges whether or not you ever use an Adobe application to play your videos. Unfortunately, since I wasn’t using Premiere Pro or After Effects in any significant way, I was completely unaware of that folder’s existence and had several years’ worth of videos piling up in the cache. The videos themselves had already been deleted from the drive they were stored on, so I never suspected the culprit.
If you don’t have the full collection of Adobe software, you should be spared the consequences of also owning this particular folder. There are probably other cache folders from your OS or other applications that may also be building up a very large cache—Bridge comes readily to mind, although I’ve never seen it get that big, and Lightroom Backups will also eventually add up. From time to time, you should check on your cache folders.
But if you do subscribe to the entire Creative Cloud, or use the full Creative Suite, even if you don’t use the video applications themselves, I suggest you check on the folder to see if it’s threatening to bury you in cached files.
On Windows, the path is C:\Users\insert your Windows name here\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\Common\Media Cache Files
On the Mac, the path is (user) Library\Application Support\Adobe\Common\Media Cache Files
Needless to say, I’m looking forward to once again enjoying my computer as a creative outlet, rather than feeling I’m trapped inside the Matrix.
Using Bridge, Lightroom, and Photoshop Elements Organizer
I have a lot of photos—some come from my family going back 150 years, some I took in the days of film and have managed to scan, and some are from my digital camera. Like everyone else, I now seldom take one carefully crafted photograph when I can easily take one hundred, and then I have to find that one in one hundred later on. Fifteen years ago I would sort and duplicate photos to folders on my hard drives as my main organizing strategy. Several photos could belong in different categories, and copying them to each of those categories meant filling up my drives—fast. Not putting them in their different categories, however, meant searching for the one folder they landed in. Enter Collections, some smart, some dumb, but all saving space on my disks, and reducing the time it takes to locate the best of the best, or at least the ones I need right now.
Bridge, Photoshop Elements Organizer, and Lightroom all let you create Collections, but Elements calls them Albums. Each interface is slightly different, but basically they work about the same. You locate and select photos you want to keep together logically, but that don’t have to be in the same folder, such as vintage car photos, pictures of your cat, or the best two hundred photos out of the three thousand you took on your weekend trip to Disneyland. Instead of moving the files on your drives into new folders, you create an alias to their physical location, in the case of a Collection/Album (dumb), or you create and save search criteria that a Smart Collection/Album executes every time you open the Collection.
The advantage to Smart Collections is the photos are automatically added to your Smart Collection/Album when you Import photos that meet the search criteria to your catalog (Lightroom and Organizer) or put them on your hard drive under the directory the search criteria calls for (Bridge). The downside is the search can take a long time each time you open the collection, depending upon the scope of the search. The search has to be performed fresh every time.
I usually create Smart Collections/Albums for types of photos I take over time, although you should establish other criteria for any frequent searches you do for photos. Lightroom considers Smart Collections so important to an efficient workflow, it even creates some for you when you install the program, including the really useful “Without Keywords” Smart Collection.
My camera files are stored on my drive under a main folder (such as Camera Raw Files), with subfolders for each year. I create the subfolder for the year, but let Photo Downloader in Bridge or the Organizer generate the subfolders based on the date they were taken. You can easily create a similar setup when you import photos into Lightroom. This makes for a lot of folders to search through if you do it manually.
Once a year, it snows here. It’s a special enough occasion I always try to get some pictures. When I add keywords to the photos, I add “snow” as one of the keywords. Because I saved a search using the Raw Photos folder as the location, every time I open the Smart Collection for “Snow,” any folder inside the main folder that contains a file with that keyword will show up. I haven’t moved a single file, but when I want to scrap one of my snow pictures, I only have to look in that single “Snow” Collection.
I use (dumb) Collections for projects that are more temporary and restricted than Smart Collections. They’re dumb because they can’t think to search for anything. You can create them after you’re run a search and the dialog will ask if you want to include the search results in your Collection/Album, but it will never run that search for you.
What’s so great about dumb Collections, though, is you can put any photo you want into it. You don’t have to dream up some complex search criteria that would probably dredge up more photos than you wanted to deal with. So if you wanted to create a photo album from some of your Cancun vacation photos, but not all of them, you create a “Cancun” Collection/Album, and while previewing your Cancun photos, drag the ones you want into that collection. The actual photos, of course, remain in the same location on your hard drive, so if you physically move them somewhere else on the drive or delete them, a dumb Collection won’t be able to find them.
In Lightroom, you can make the Collection a target Collection, then simply press “b” to add a selected photo to it.
Lightroom uses Collections for yet one more reason. If you use Lightroom Mobile, you can sync a Collection to your phone or tablet. Now you can sit on your couch or wait for your order to get filled at the deli while making basic edits to your photos, but only after you’ve created a Collection that can sync between your desktop and your device.
Most importantly, if you have spent any time searching for photos to use in a project, you should never have to do that twice. Create a Smart or dumb Collection/Album whenever you have searched for photos that exist in more than one folder, or even in the same folder if you want to use a small subset of several hundred photos or more. It’s easy to remove photos from a dumb Collection, and easy to delete an entire Collection once it’s served its purpose. You’ve already done the hard part by selecting the photos in the first place, so save the results instead of searching over and over.
A couple of friends and I are taking the online Photoshop Artistry Fine Art Grunge course, and brushes are often used to help us create this style of image. These brushes are mostly what traditional artists call stamps. You don’t drag with the brush to paint, but simply click in place on your image. Photoshop ships with some, and you can find such brushes everywhere on the web.
The course provides us with quite a few brushes, and one friend was having trouble installing and finding her brushes, even though she’s used Photoshop for several years. As I walked her through the process of loading and accessing her brushes, I thought again that, yes, it is very confusing to have so many panels and proxies that use brushes, all needed for different tasks at one time or another. Perhaps I’ll take each panel in turn one of these days, trying to explain it all. No doubt I’ll learn even more myself by attempting to make sense of it. I think it just grew organically and was never part of anyone’s 5-year plan.
But this time I want to talk about finding those brush sets bought or found on the web, and now we have to try to recognize them in the Brush Presets panel (or one of its proxies). They all get thrown into one “drawer,” one right after the other with no separation, no means of identifying them if the teeny Thumbnail preview isn’t good enough (and it’s not), or if you can’t remember what “Sample19” or “Grunge3” looks like in use when you’re in List view (and I never can). Everything about the Brush Presets panel, except for the nifty last-used section, discourages us from experimenting by making it so hard to find anything we liked ever again.
So when my friend said, “There are too many brushes to find anything,” I not only sympathized because I can never find anything either, I also tried to think of what we could do to help ourselves—at least until hopefully Adobe addresses this problem. Anything to encourage us to use the brushes in our scrapping, our art journaling, our fine art grungy fantasy creations. What sprang to mind involved more work than I wanted to do, but isn’t that often the way? I’ve created custom sets for Layer Styles and Swatches before, and I keep them separate in their respective panels by adding a White swatch at the beginning of every palette, or the No Style style at the beginning of every set of Styles. That way I know at a glance where one set stops and another begins, and I have my favorite glitter styles separate from my favorite metal styles or my favorite shadow styles.
I’ve never done this with brushes for the silly reason that there isn’t a No Brush brush—but, I remembered, there is a ‘No’ symbol in the Custom Shape Symbols library that ships with Photoshop. I can make a brush from any shape; all I have to do is create the shape in a document, say 300 pixels square, and then save it as a brush (Edit> Define Brush Preset). Pop into the Preset Manager (yes, it shouldn’t have to be this involved), and save that new brush as its own brush set—so that’s what I did.
Now any time I want to create a custom brush set, I first load the ‘No’ brush preset, then add the brushes I want to be in the set. I name the ‘No’ brush something descriptive to identify the set, and save them altogether with my descriptive name. And if I want all the brushes that Anna Aspnes, for example, put into her “DifferentStrokes7” set, I can first load the ‘No’ brush into the Brush Presets panel, then her complete set, and I can still tell the set apart from any other brushes I’ve loaded without having to save it altogether first.
Now I not only can find the brushes I want in the Brush Presets panel more quickly, I don’t have to slow down my computer keeping so many loaded. I simply had to spend some TV watching time creating my favorite custom sets. For this image from a Photoshop Fine Art Grunge challenge assignment, I was better able to locate the splatter , grunge, and edge brushes I wanted, and the project was a lot less frustrating to complete.
Recently Creative Live had their Photoshop Week with professional instructors such as Chris Orwig and Ben Willmore. Creative Live, if you don’t already know them, streams free classes on a variety of subjects that creatives are involved in, and sells access to those classes afterwards. Even though I’m reasonably advanced in Photoshop, there is always some feature I’ve forgotten to take advantage of, or a way to use it that I’ve never thought about. Ben Willmore had a tip for creating a file with presets applied to an example image. I’d once had a plug-in for Photoshop actions that used previews I created so I had some idea what “ACF6A25” did before I ran the action. I knew having previews could save a lot of time; I simply hadn’t remembered to take the time to create those previews.
So one evening while watching Dr. Who reruns, I decided this was just the right amount of mindless activity that let me both relax with the TV and do something useful. I chose to catalog the presets for the Color Lookup Adjustment layer. That’s one I don’t use very often, mainly because I never can remember what “Fuji F125” is going to do to the different colors and tones in my image. Color lookup tables—abbreviated as either CLUTs or LUTs— are common to the film industry, and can be used to mimic film or darkroom techniques with just one click. Chris Cox from Adobe created starter files to help us make our own LUT presets that anyone with a Creative Cloud subscription can get, and I’ve had a bit of fun doing just that. (Choose Help > Browse Add-Ons, and look for them in the Photoshop free section.) But why am I trying to run before I can walk?—the shipped presets were designed by professionals and all I have to do is figure out what type of photo each works best with. Making a preset “viewer” turns that time-consuming effort into quick work.
I picked a landscape almost at random. The way this type of file gets created, I can later easily swap out the landscape I used for any other photo. I created my standard 10×8 file and dragged the photo from Bridge into the file to set it as a Smart Object. If you want to keep your file size reasonably small, you can resize a duplicate photo to a smaller size before dragging it in, but if you have a size photo that you commonly work with, I’d suggest you take the file size hit and retain the actual size. It will make it easier for you to work with this file later on.
After adding one Smart Object, I copied the layer (Cmd/Ctrl-J) 3 times. I dragged the topmost layer to the far left position, using Smart Guides to show that I was keeping it aligned (View> Show> Smart Guides, or Cmd/Ctrl-U). It also helps to hold down Shift after you start dragging—drag sideways and then hold down Shift, and the file can’t move up or down on the page. Drag up and then hold Shift, and the file can’t move left or right on the page.
I next selected all four Smart Object layers in the Layers panel, then clicked on the Distribute horizontal centers icon in the Options bar to get all 4 layers to space themselves evenly between the first and last photo. After creating one row, I duplicated the entire row and moved it below the first, and repeated this process to fill the page.
Next I added a Color Lookup Adjustment layer to the first photo. I used the icon in the bottom of the Adjustment Layers panel to clip it to the photo so it would only affect that photo (or press Cmd-Opt-G/Ctrl-Alt-G), and then applied the first preset. I renamed the photo layer in order to see at a glance what preset corresponded to each photo, but of course, you could also just open the Adjustment layer to see the name. If there are more presets than you have layers in your file, save the first file, then immediately save it again with the same name and “2” to indicated it’s continued from the first file. This time you’ll edit the exiting Adjustment layers to apply new presets. When all of presets have been used in your file(s), you can simply delete any extra layers.
The reason for using a Smart Object becomes evident when you want to see how these presets will affect a completely different photo. All you have to do now is right-click on the photo’s layer in the first file and choose Replace Contents from the context-sensitive menu. In the dialog that opens, navigate to the image folder you want, select the photo you want, and click Place. Because your example photo is a Smart Object that you copied many times, all of your Smart Objects will be updated to show the new photo you chose with all your Adjustment layers still intact.
Do this with each file for that Adjustment layer’s presets that you have. If your replacement photo isn’t the same size as the original, it won’t fill the layout exactly the same, which is why I suggested you stick as closely to your typical photo size as possible. Any scaling you do to the original Smart Object is remembered and applied to the replacement image. You can see that if you use a small photo and don’t scale it, then replace it with a large photo, which also won’t be scaled, the large photo won’t fit. And vice versa. Scale a large photo down, then use a very small one, and it might wind up so small after scaling you can barely see it. I didn’t say this was the perfect Preset Previewer, but it’s a lot better than not having any Preset Previewer. You might even want to make one set each for horizontal and vertical orientations. The more you do up front, the more useful the files will be in the future.
This setup works great so long as your presets are added with Adjustment layers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work with any of the 3rd party plug-ins that I have, such as Topaz, Nik, or On1 Perfect Effects. These plug-ins always see the whole document, even if each layer is mostly empty after you scaled the original Smart Object. Borders and vignettes follow the document, not the Smart Object layer. Fortunately, unlike Photoshop they all have a way to preview their presets on your current image. However, like playing scales on the piano before playing the piece, creating preview files of presets for some of your plug-ins can help you know what to look for when using the filter presets. But demonstrating that is for another time.