What File Browser is and
Let's begin by stating what File Browser isn't. File Browser isn't a
replacement for Windows Explorer or the Apple Finder. In other words
"asset" or "file management" are not File Browsers intended use. In a
sense you could think of the File Browser as a Digital Light Box, but
then that would ignore the fact that it does much more than allow the
digital Photographer to preview a batch of images prior to editing. The
File Browser is a workflow tool, which has been designed so that digital
photographers can, amongst other things: view, rotate, search, sort,
flag, rank and annotate digital image files directly from within Adobe
Photoshop. File Browser also provides you with the facility to automate
Photoshop processes such as: renaming images; insert metadata; convert
camera raw files; build contact sheets and web photo galleries; and
create PDF presentations. However, all of this flexibility comes at a
price with some users finding that it has an unwelcome impact on the
overall performance of the application. Nevertheless, with careful setup
and a better understanding of how File Browser processes and caches
images you should realise significant improvements in your Photoshop
Figure 1 - File Browser Layout
Part 1 - Configuring the File Browser
The key to maximising File Browser performance is for you to ensure
that the special preference settings are optimally configured to meet
your needs. The File Browser preferences can be configured from the main
Photoshop Preferences dialog box (found at the bottom of the Edit
menu on PC's or Photoshop menu on the Mac) or from the Edit menu of the
File Browser itself. Actually, where you choose to configure File Browser
from really makes no difference; the important thing is to do it right.
So, what do the various options mean, when should you deviate from the
defaults, and should you even be concerned?
I'll take the last question first. OK then, the answer to our last
question is YES you should be concerned because configuring the File
Browser preferences wrongly has the potential to slow your computer to a
virtual standstill. Figure 2 below shows the default File Browser
preferences and to be perfectly honest I find little or nothing actually
wrong with these settings. However, since some users have been quite
vociferous in their criticism of these defaults I thought it might be
helpful to offer up some of my own thoughts on each. Hopefully the
following explanation will also shed some light on why some users have
observed a significant reduction in performance since upgrading from
Photoshop 7. I've also added a few tips along the way.
Figure 2 - Default File Browser
Do Not Process Files Larger than: ------- MB. The value you
choose here determines the file size below which the File Browser will
create Thumbnail and Preview; images. The larger the file size the longer
it will take to create the thumbnail and preview images. In a folder with
many large images (especially images with multiple layers) it is possible
that File Browser will take many minutes or even hours to automatically
generate all the Thumbnail and Preview images. Therefore, if your work
typically results in many larger multi layer files you should stick with
the default value or lower.
Tip: Creating the previews and thumbnails for the large or
multilayered images can be done later by simply clicking the image icon
in File Browsers thumbnail palette.
Display: ---- Most Recently Used Folders in the Location Popup.
The default is 10 and I see little reason to change it. For those who
haven't already established where to find the Location Popup I've
identified it (red text) in Figure 1 above.
Custom Thumbnail Size: ---- px Wide. The default size for
custom thumbnails is 256 pixels wide and many users will find this to be
more than adequate. Choosing a larger size may be beneficial when using a
large display or for when you create a customised File Browser layout
with the focus on thumbnails (e.g. Figure 11 below).
Allow Background Processing. This option is Off by default and
generally it's recommended that you leave it Off. When this option is
set to On it will: collect the metadata, generate the thumbnail images,
and preview images whilst letting you do something else in Photoshop.
The problem with allowing File Browser to work in the background is that
it uses processor cycles and can slow down everything else in Photoshop.
This slow down can be very significant and has the potential to bring
even the most powerful of computers to a virtual standstill. At best
you'll see some screen or tool anomalies such as: the Healing Brush
and Clone Stamp tool becoming very slow or unresponsive, and
screen is slow to redraw after zooming or applying filters. Unless you
have very good reason for doing otherwise it would be prudent to leave
this option at its default setting.
Tip: Photoshop users who are in the habit of minimising the
File Browser are in fact allowing it to operate in Background
Processing mode, which may explain why they experience lower than
expected performance, even when this option is Off. You should always
CLOSE File Browser when you're not using it or at least be aware
that when minimised it's still working away in the background.
High Quality Previews. The default On option means that File
Browser generates relatively high quality images that enable you to view
large fully colour managed preview images. Setting this option to Off
will mean that the previews will not be accurately colour rendered and
possibly pixelated, but they will be generated a lot faster. It's also
worth noting that when generating thumbnails/preview images for digital
cameras File Browser derives a lot of information relating to each image
from the Camera Raw database or individual XMP (Extensible
Metadata Platform) sidecar files. This means that as you alter
the white balance or otherwise edit the image within Camera Raw then it
will be the result of these edits that will be previewed. Figure 12
shows a customised layout with the focus on large high quality previews.
Render Vector files.
As the name implies this option allows File Browser to create or not
previews for Vector based formats such as PDF and EPS. Unless you have
very good reason to enable it then it's best left in the default Off
Parse XMP Metadata from Non-Image Files.
This option enables File Browser to extract metadata from non-image
files such as the sidecar files that are created by applications such as
Adobe Illustrator. The default setting is Off and currently I see little
reason to enable it.
Keep Sidecar Files with Master Files.
This is without doubt the most important setting within the File
Browser preferences dialog, and if I had no more time or space to
explain what it does then I would simply say - "LEAVE IT ON". Why
do I say to leave it On? Simple, doing so should ensure that everything
you do with or to your images (e.g. keywords, flags, metadata,
etc.) within File Browser will be recorded and stored in a sidecar file
that travels with the original image. This workflow can be further
improved by configuring the Camera Raw preferences to also store
individual image settings in the sidecar file (see figure 3 below).
Figure 3 - Camera Raw
Figure 5 -
File Browsers File Menu
As I mentioned above moving or renaming an existing folder will mean
that the File Browser needs to rebuild a new dynamic cache for that
folder, and as we know this can be very time
consuming. File Browser provides a means of ensuring that this time is
minimised, but it must be used correctly and at the appropriate time. By
choosing Export Cache
from the File menu you are
in fact instructing File Browser to create a localised version of
the dynamic cache for the selected folder.
Again for simplicity I will call this version of the cache the Local
So what's special about the local cache? The
local cache is static; i.e. it doesn't get
updated when images are added or changed. The
local cache is created at a point in time from the data making up the
dynamic cache. Once exported the local
cache is stored as
three files (i.e. AdobeP8M <metadata>,
AdobeP8P <preview images> and AdobeP8T <thumbnail images>)
within the same folder as the
actual images. Therefore all of
the data associated with the images that existed within the folder when
the local cache was originally created will be saved. This data includes:
the Thumbnail and Preview images,
Metadata, Flags and a lot of other important
information. However, any subsequent changes to the images, folders or
sub folders will not be recorded by the local cache.
Tip: If you rename an
image a folder or sub folder, append metadata,
rotate or even flag an image then always
follow that action by exporting the cache. Remember the local cache does
not automatically keep track of changes so you
must manually update it after making any kind
of change to an image or folder.
There are arguments for and against exporting the cache
but I think the advantages far outweigh the
disadvantages. One of the disadvantages
that you will probably have already observed is
an increase in the amount of
hard-disk space used. This
happens because two sets of cache data are now stored (one dynamic and
the other static). However, the local cache
can actually be viewed upon as a backup,
which can also substantially reduce the time needed to rebuild the
dynamic cache should the need ever arise. Even
better is the folder mobility and naming flexibility that having a local
cache offers. Best of all you can save the images
complete with cache files to CD or DVD for future use in the knowledge
that they'll be instantly ready for use.
So what does Build Cache for Subfolders do?
Well that's a tad more complicated and might be easier to explain using
an example project. Figure 6 shows the folder structure that I tend to
follow for each photo-shoot. Typically the master folder for the shoot
will include a number of subfolders. The example shown in figure 6 has
subfolders for each day and/or the camera used on that day, although this
can vary a lot according to the specific circumstances of the shoot.
Figure 6 -
Typical Job Folder Structure
Unless you specifically instruct File Browser to
build a cache for subfolders then it will look no further than the
selected folder. Taking the Iceland 2004 Raw Images folder in
figure 6 as an example. By pointing to this folder File Browser, by
default, caches details on that
folders contents (i.e.10 subfolders). However,
since this folder itself doesn't contain any images then no thumbnail
images, metadata or previews will appear in File Browser window. To build
a useful cache; i.e. extract the thumbnails, gather the metadata and
generate the previews you must either point to
each individual subfolder or choose "Build cache for Subfolders" from the
File menu. Be aware that choosing "Build cache for subfolders" means that
Photoshop will dedicate all of its resources (normally depicted by the
progress bar appearing on screen) to building the cache, which means that
you will have no access to Photoshop until the cache is complete.
This may not be a bad thing, but don't go thinking that it will
significantly speed up the process of building the subfolder caches.
This brings me to a "Gotcha". When you
choose "Build cache for subfolders" don't be fooled
into thinking that you can simply follow it up by choosing "Export the
Cache". If you do all that happens is that the
three files associated with the master folder
(Iceland 2004 Raw Images) will be exported. If there were
images in that folder then the local cache will have the data for them,
but there will be no local cache exported
contents of the individual subfolders.
To export the cache correctly you must select each individual subfolder
and then choose Export cache. It's time consuming but worth the effort.
The last two File commands that I've highlighted are Purge Cache
and Purge Entire Cache.
Fortunately purging the cache is something you'll need to do on very
rare occasions (e.g. if it gets corrupted).With
Purge Cache you are only deleting the
dynamic cache for the selected folder;
therefore if you've previously created a local
cache then this version will remain. It's the
fact that the local cache remains that catches
many users out. No sooner have they purged the
cache than all the thumbnails, etc reappear. The headache gets worse when
in desperation they choose Purge Entire
Cache. With this option
all of the dynamic cache files are deleted, but
again the local version will remain
intact, and you guessed up pops all of the thumbnails.
The only way to remove the local
cache from a folder is to manually delete it. Remember that other
than the Export Cache command all other cache related commands only
affect the dynamic cache.
Part 3 - Working with your
Once File Browser has completed building the cache for a particular
folder and/or sub folders it's time to begin the process of renaming,
appending copyright details, sorting, flagging, etc. However, each
photographer will tend to handle this aspect of their workflow in a way
that best matches their own requirements. Even so you should find that
File Browser has all the tools you need to make this a fairly quick and
straightforward process. In my case I tend to begin by renaming the
images before appending copyright information. The following screenshots
show my normal procedure.
Figure 7 shows the contents of a subfolder from the Iceland project
after it has been copied onto my hard disk and the File Browser cache
built. The folder contains images and the 3 files making up the local or
static cache discussed in Part 2.
Figure 7 -
Image Folder before Renaming
Renaming the Images
Highlight the folder containing the images that you want to rename.
Choose Batch Rename from the File Browser Automate
Configure the fields in the Batch Rename dialog as appropriate.
Remember to export the cache (this is very important).
Figure 8 -
File Browser batch Rename
In the example shown above the files have been renamed according the
location of the photo shoot and given a 4 digit serial number. Remember
that the starting point for the serial number need not be 1. For cross
platform compatibility I always check the appropriate Compatibility
box. Figure 9 shows the renamed images.
Figure 9 -
Image Folder after Renaming Images
The next step is to append the copyright details. For this Iíve
already created a File Info template (Photoshop or File Browser
File menu), which also includes information relating to my web
site, etc. and I recommend that you do the same. With a template renaming
the images and appending the metadata is fairly simple. Without the
template youíll need to type the information into the editable fields
Highlight the folder containing the images and choose Select All
from the File Browser Edit menu - Cmd+A (Mac) or Ctrl+A (PC)
If you have a ready made template you can click the little triangle
button (circled red in screenshot) on the metadata palette to open the
menu otherwise youíll need to type in the information to each of the
Choose the relevant template and File Browser will automatically
begin writing the copyright info into the file (or as a sidecar file if
the images are camera raw format).
Export the cache (again, this is very important)
- Appending Metadata
The process of writing the metadata to file can take a few minutes for
folders containing a large number of images, so do be patient. Once
completed you are ready to write the renamed
and copyrighted images to CD or DVD for safekeeping.
- Customising the File Browser Window Layout
The following screenshots show
two of the customised File Browser layouts
that I use when working my way through the
process described in Part 3. The first (Figure
11) is ideal for viewing large Thumbnails
and reviewing Metadata. I use the second (Figure 12) when I need
more detailed Preview
Figure 11 -
Customised Layout with focus on Metadata and associated Thumbnail
As mentioned earlier I
use the layout in Figure 11 for reviewing and occasionally inserting
Metadata into my images. You can use templates;
the editable fields depicted the pencil symbol to insert Metadata or
alternatively the File Info command found under the File
menu. Editable Metadata can include: details on the image,
copyright information, personal information, keywords to aid searching,
etc. You should note that in the case of camera raw images this data will
not be inserted into the actual image but instead stored as an
XMP sidecar file
within the same folder as the original image.
Tip: Normally the XMP (Sidecar) files cannot be seen in File
Browser, but if you would feel more comfortable with them in view then
choose Unreadable Files from the View
- Customised Layout with focus on High Quality Preview
Configuring the File Browser layout
in Photoshop CS is only limited by your skill at manipulating the File
Browser window itself. Once you've pushed and pulled the various
palettes to the size and
position that you want then it's simply
a matter of saving the layout using the Save Workspace command,
which is found under the Photoshop
- Saving your customised File Browser layouts
On the Macintosh platform the File Browser window
can be moved to a second monitor, but due to interface limitations
imposed by Microsoft the same is currently not possible on the Windows
platform. Obviously not being able to place the File Browser on a second
monitor will restrict the size of the window, but with a bit of planning
and use of keyboard shortcuts it should still be possible to maximize the
window without disrupting your workspace too much.
Tip: Holding down the Option/Alt key whilst double
clicking an image to open it will automatically close File Browser. If
the image is in camera raw format then the Adobe Camera Raw plugin will
Finally. This tutorial
has only scraped the surface
of what File Browser can do in so far as I have
steered clear of any in depth discussion on
features such as Automation and
Metadata. If you need more comprehensive explanations
on any of these topics then I recommend that
you buy at least one of
the following books: -
Real World Adobe Photoshop CS by
David Blatner and Bruce Fraser,
Real World Camera Raw
for Photoshop CS by Bruce Fraser, and
Adobe Photoshop CS for Photographers
by Martin Evening.