Adobe Bridge – The Digital Photography Workflow Handbook

Adobe Bridge

Adobe Bridge has been part of Photoshop since CS1 was released and is continually being improved. Bridge is basically “image management lite” and forms (appropriately) a bridge between various Adobe applications. Used in combination with the current version of Adobe Camera Raw, Bridge behaves like a kind of mini Lightroom. Bridge can recognize and handle more image and multimedia formats than Lightroom, but it uses an extended cache structure rather than a real database of its own. This makes it more difficult to search through large amounts of data and can lead to long-term data consistency problems.

Bridge is, however, extremely flexible and highly configurable with respect to its Views and the information they contain. Once you are used to using Bridge, you can define different Workspaces for use with different tasks. You can organize various Views and information panels into Collections that can be viewed and manipulated in other Adobe applications. Bridge includes a number of preset Collections that you can change to suit your own needs. Bridge also includes other filtered views that can be accessed via the Views menu.


Adobe has, sensibly, moved some Photoshop tools to Bridge in the CS4 version of the program. This new arrangement concerns functionality that (potentially) deals with multiple images, such as the contact sheet and web gallery tools.

The default Bridge workspace is divided into four main panels (Figure 1-26):

  1. Folders: This is where you select the folder for the images you want to view or manage, depending on which mode you are using.[22]

  2. Content: This is usually shown as thumbnail previews, whose size is adjustable using a slider at the bottom of the panel. You can also view your content as a list (showing some file details) or as a detail view (showing all file details). The default settings highlight the currently selected item.

  3. Enlarged preview: This helps when making selections, especially if the list icon is too small to judge adequately. The size of the preview image can be adjusted.

  4. Metadata: This includes the filename, the shooting and last processing dates, and EXIF and IPTC data (we will describe these in detail later). EXIF data cannot usually be edited, whereas most image browsers include IPTC editing functionality.

Bridge has a very flexible user interface. You can show or hide most of the individual panels, providing more desktop space and a clear overview of the work you are doing.


EXIF metadata are written to the image file by all modern digital cameras. These include information regarding the camera model and the lens used, as well as the shutter speed and the aperture. This information is very useful when it comes to selecting and processing images later.

Figure 1-26. Using Adobe Bridge as an image browser. Here you can see the various configurable panels.

The first time you open a folder in Bridge (or most other image browsers), the program will use generic icons (like , or similar) as placeholders for your images while it generates thumbnails. Bridge uses the Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) module to produce thumbnails of RAW images and saves them in a separate cache so they don’t have to be regenerated the next time you look in that folder.

Images are opened using a double click, and you can usually select which application your browser uses to open and process your images in the program preferences. Bridge automatically opens ACR to process RAW images and Photoshop to process all other compatible image formats.[23] Most image browsers also offer a choice of programs via a context menu (usually accessed via a right click).

You can also drag images directly from your browser into your image processing program. In Mac OS X, you can drag images to applications that are open in the Dock, such as a RAW editor other than ACR.

The Bridge “Review” Mode

The new (as of CS4) Review mode is designed with photographers in mind and is ideal for initial selection and later, more detailed selection processes.

Figure 1-27. Review mode offers a fast and efficient way to view, select, and mark your images for processing.

First, select the images you want to preview in the content window, then activate Review mode.[24] Bridge then switches to full-screen, virtual light box mode and displays the first selected image in large format with the others arranged as thumbnails around it.

You can then navigate from image to image using the arrow keys ( and ) or you can select an image directly by clicking on it. The key removes the active image from the current view[25] and clicking on the active image activates the loupe, which you can then drag around the image using the mouse. rotates the image to the right and to the left.

You can then use the to keys to rate the active image with an appropriate number of stars, while removes any stars you have already applied. You can also use the to keys to apply color coded toggle labels to the image (as described in Figure 1-33). Pressing the delete key marks the active image for deletion.


Pressing the key shows a menu that lists all the available keystrokes and their effects.

opens the active image in Photoshop, opens it in ACR, and opens all images in Photoshop (or all images in ACR).[26]

Pressing closes Review mode and returns you to the previous Bridge view.

Review mode offers a fast and efficient way to view, select, and process your images. Pressing the key activates Full Screen Preview mode, which then displays the active image in a larger format than Review mode. The same keystrokes apply here as in Review mode. Slideshow mode is activated using and displays the currently selected images one after another. You can apply stars, toggle labels, and delete flags here too.

RAW Preview Generation

As with most image browsers, you don’t have to import images into Bridge to work on them – you simply have to navigate to the appropriate folder. Once preview images are generated, each file is represented by three separate objects:

  1. The image (or data) file itself

  2. The preview image (RAW files are displayed as JPEG previews)

  3. A separate metadata file where ACR stores information regarding processing steps that have been applied to the image or IPTC metadata. This file can also be used by other programs to save other information relating to the main file.

Bridge preview images are stored in the same cache file that ACR uses.

The image data file is always present, whereas the other components are optional (or can be hidden). IPTC data can be embedded in the image file itself[27] or in the Bridge database, along with RAW editing settings. The Bridge “database” is not a real database, but is rather a large file containing file structure information for the images concerned.

If you use Bridge to apply IPTC data to a RAW file, Bridge creates an additional data file to store this information. If you then make adjustments to your image using ACR, the corrections you make are stored in the separate file. All Adobe applications use the XMP format for these files, which are saved using the name of the image file and the .xmp extension.

If you try to open a RAW file directly in Photoshop or from Bridge, ACR checks to see whether the file has an associated XMP file. If this is the case, it loads the presets and corrections contained therein and saves any additional settings back to the XMP file when the RAW file is closed. If this data is not present, ACR uses its default settings to open the image file.

Figure 1-28. XMP files are very small. These are the sidecar files for our “CR2” RAW files.

XMP files can contain large amounts of varied data, including proprietary processing data from other, non-Adobe programs. Some RAW editing programs simply ignore the Adobe ACR or Lightroom sections of an XMP file and create their own segment for storing image processing information. Lightroom stores image processing information primarily in its own database, but optionally it can be set to store the same information in an XMP file. If you open a RAW image in Lightroom, the program checks to see if an XMP file is present; if that is the case, it transfers the XMP data to the Lightroom database.

Bridge creates image preview thumbnails using ACR and stores them in its own Cache file.[28] Bridge can be set to save cache data to a central cache file, or to separate cache files in each image folder. We always use the latter method.

The Cache label indicates that the information stored there is of a temporary nature and serves to speed up various image processing tasks. The cached preview images simply help the program to create and display them more quickly without having to first open and read the full image file. This greatly accelerates the viewing process for full image folders, and Bridge automatically regenerates any missing thumbnails.

If the cache file should become corrupted, it is a good idea to delete it, using either your computer’s operating system (Finder or Explorer), or the Purge command in the Cache section of the Bridge Preferences dialog. In order to preserve the integrity of the images managed by Bridge, it is important that you only change image filenames using the Bridge Tools ▸ Batch Rename ... command (or a single image by renaming the image icon in Bridge) and not using Finder or Explorer.

[22] The Folders window also contains a Favorites tab, where you can put folders that you use regularly for fast retrieval.

[23] You can configure ACR/Bridge to open TIFFs and JPEGs using ACR. This is done in ACR Preferences.

[24] This mode can also be activated using or .

[25] The image is only removed from the current view, not deleted.

[26] The program that is activated also depends on the type of file you are opening and on the way ACR is currently configured.

[27] Bridge only does this for RAW files saved in DNG format.

[28] Bridge preview images are not saved separately, but as data sets in a single Bridge Cache (.bc) file.