Organizing and Simplifying Through Stacking in Bridge and Lightroom
If you're anything like me, you're probably accumulating more and more image files. Thankfully, Adobe keeps adding features to their software to make our lives easier. One such feature that both Bridge and Lightroom share is the ability to collect similar images into stacks based on when they were taken, what camera settings were in effect, and even how similar their content is.
In Adobe Bridge CS4, image metadata is first examined to find shots taken within 18 seconds of each other. When it finds such shots, it then compares their exposure settings and content. If the exposure varies across the set and the content appears to overlap by at least eighty percent, Bridge assumes the images are an HDR set. If the reverse is true, the exposure stays the same but the content overlaps by less than eighty percent, it assumes the images constitute a panorama set. To let Bridge do its thing, go to the Stacks menu and select Auto-Stack Panorama/HDR.
If you don't see the automatic stacking options in your copy of Bridge CS4, you may have stacking disabled. To enable these options, go to Edit >> Preferences in Bridge (Bridge CS4 >> Preferences if you are on a Mac) and go to the Startup Scripts tab. Scroll down the list of scripts and make sure Auto Collection CS4 is checked. Then close and restart Bridge and it should there now.
You can also manually stack images in Bridge if you prefer. First select the images you want to include and then right-click on one of them. From the pop-up menu choose Stack >> Group as Stack. If you're not a fan of right mouse clicking, you can do the same thing from the Stacks menu after selecting your images. Even if you let Bridge create your stacks automatically you may still need to make a few changes manually since it doesn't always interpret things the way you might.
Once you get your stacks the way you want them, you can use another Bridge automation feature to automatically process those stacks if you want. If you go to the Tools menu and select Photoshop >> Process Collections in Photoshop, Bridge will take each stack based on type and have Photoshop process it as either an HDR merge or Panorama and save the result back in the original folder. You may not always want to process all your stacks this way, but if you do, this could be a huge time saver. Even if you don't want to process everything, you can still do one stack at a time easily. Select the stack and then use the commands under Tools >> Photoshop to process the stack as desired.
Note that Bridge CS4 has some stacking options such as frame rate and onion skin that you are unlikely to use unless you also shoot frames for video.
Lightroom can also stack images, but based only on capture time. To stack things, you need to be in the Grid view of the Library tab. Now right-click on any image and select Stacking >> Auto-Stack by Capture Time. Lightroom does let you control the time between stacks by means of a slider. Set it to a short interval and you will cause the program to make more stacks with fewer images each. Set it to a longer interval and, assuming they were taken close enough together, your images will be collapsed into fewer stacks.
You can also make stacks manually in Lightroom. First select the images you want to group together in the Grid view. Hold down the Shift key to select a range of images, or use the Control key to select images regardless of whether they are next to each other or not. Then right-click on one of your selected images and choose Stacking >> Group into Stack. You can also re-arrange images within a stack in Lightroom with other right-click options.
Both programs collapse all images within a stack to occupy just a single space in the grid and place a small number in the upper left of the stack to indicate how many images are included. To temporarily expand the stack to view the images within, click on the number.
But no matter what you do with your stacks, creating them can help clean up the display of your images so you can concentrate on what you want to do with them rather than wading through all the similar variations. And that's a good thing if you accumulate a lot of images like I do.