Archive for the ‘Camera Raw’ Category

5 ESSENTIAL TIPS WHEN PREPARING IMAGES FOR PRINT

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

My favorite way to experience photography is through print.  It’s hard to describe the tremendous satisfaction I get when viewing my own prints, or prints from a photographer I admire.  I’ve always enjoyed printing myself.  I learned to print in the darkroom in my college photography classes and when I moved to digital I taught myself how to make my own prints at home.  As my photography progressed people started to ask if they could buy prints of my images.  Eventually, I started doing art festivals and gallery shows to share my work and make more print sales.  Whether you plan to print yourself, or have prints made by a dedicated print shop it’s essential that you understand a few basic concepts about color management and preparing images for print.

We live in an increasingly screen based culture.  The majority of photography I see is on some sort of screen.  A lot of photographers I meet who are starting photography exist almost exclusively in the digital universe.  Eventually though, you, or someone you know might want a print made of your photos.  Photographic printing can be daunting at first, but it’s very satisfying to see your own images in print, and you will be a better photographer if you understand the fundamentals of color management and print preparation.  In this article, I’ll share five essential tips for getting you and your images ready to print.

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Surrounded by my prints at the Sunriver Art Festival 2016

    1. CALIBRATE YOUR MONITOR:
      It’s hard to stress how important this is.  There is no point spending hours processing your photos for print if you haven’t calibrated your monitor.  It’s the foundation of color management, and brings everyone into a common color standard.  I remember when I got started in photography many years ago, I read on some forums about the importance of calibrating my monitor.  At the time I was more concerned with acquiring more lenses and gear and didn’t see why it was a big deal.  When I started printing I learned a hard and expensive lesson.  The first prints I made were a huge disappointment.  They didn’t look like what I saw on my monitor at all, the colors were off and it came out really dark.  With a little more friendly advise I finally invested in a decent calibrations package.  Once I calibrated my monitor I realized two important things.  One, it’s really helpful when everyone is using the same color standards and profiles, otherwise what may look red on my screen could look orange, or purple on another.  Two, I had my monitor set way too bright.  Reflected light from a print will never look as bright as transmitted light from a screen.  Lowering screen brightness much better reflects how an image will print.  Here is a link to the colormunki screen calibrator I use now.  Very easy to use and profiles really accurately.  All of their products work really well, but I like the customization options with the colormunki display model: http://xritephoto.com/colormunki-display
    2. UNDERSTAND BASIC COLOR MANAGEMENT:
      Whether you are printing yourself, sending your files to a dedicated print shop, or preparing an image for a publisher, you will get much better results if you understand the basics of color management.  There are two basic concepts to understand when managing color on your computer. The first is using the correct color space when exporting from Lightroom, or Adobe Camera Raw and the right color setting in Photoshop.  I always use the Pro Photo RGB color space as it has the widest color gamut, I prefer to start my editing with as many colors as possible especially if I will be printing the image.  The second concept is using the right printing profile.  If you’re having someone else print for you, it’s still important to understand printer profiles.  You can use a printer profile to soft proof your image and get a preview of how it will look when printed with the specific printer and paper they use.  Printer profiles are scripts used by the printer to adhere to color standards, they help the printer produce an image that looks as close to what you see on your screen as possible.  I’ll talk more about soft proofing in the next section.

      Export settings in Lightroom Preferences

    3. SOFT PROOFING AND HARD PROOFING:
      Soft proofing is using software such as Lightroom, or Photoshop to preview a printer profile.  Soft proofing attempts to simulate what the image will look like when printed on a specific print paper with a specific printer.  I think soft proofing is useful to get you in the right ballpark, but I don’t trust soft proofing completely. It is still pretty unreliable when trying preview exactly what a print will look like.  I use soft proofing to get me close and then I order a test print which is called a hard proof.  Once the test print is made, or arrives from a print shop, I can evaluate it and make any adjustments that I think it needs.  This method is what I rely on when making prints for customers, art shows and galleries.  The videos below help explain soft proofing in Lightroom and Photoshop.
      Great video on soft proofing in Lightroom:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8M9B8ABOb9U
      Another video about basic soft proofing in Photoshop: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y47uoKE_dAs
    4. SHARPEN APPROPRIATELY FOR EACH PRINT MEDIUM AND SIZE.
      Each print medium I use requires different levels of sharpening to look it’s best.  For instance, noise from over sharpening shows up easier on metal prints.  Both acrylic and traditional inkjet prints are more forgiving and hide minor noise and digital artifacts better.  Canvas is the most forgiving.  Print size is also something to consider.  What does this mean in practical terms for my workflow?  I’ve adopted a simple and flexible approach to sharpening.  I do normal output sharpening in Lightroom or ACR to correct for softness introduced by camera, lens, and the RAW format.  The amount varies for each image.  I continue with my workflow in photoshop to produce a master file with all layers and adjustments preserved if possible.  If I’m going to make a print, I save a flattened copy of the master file and sharpen it specifically for that print size and medium.  Sometimes it doesn’t need additional sharpening, but if it does it’s usually the last adjustment I make before sending it to print.  As a general guideline, I sharpen more for smaller prints, and less for larger prints.  The is counter intuitive for many people, but I’ve found that smaller prints need more because they lose sharpness when they are scaled down, and large prints tend to show any unwanted effects that might arise from over sharpening.  This is my personal preference and there are other factors to consider including the view distance.
    5. ADJUST LUMINANCE FOR SPECIFIC PRINT MEDIUMS.
      Each print medium has it’s own perceptual brightness and ambient reflectivity.  Like I described in the sharpening section, I save a flattened copy of my master file for each specific size and print medium I print on.  Aluminum prints and lumachrome acrylic prints have high ambient reflectivity and perceptual brightness, therefore they require very little, if any brightness adjustment. Traditional inkjet prints and canvas require a lot more brightness adjustments if you want to replicate the look you see on your screen.

I’ve been printing a long time, and I’ve learned several important lessons from printing over the years.  I’ve noticed that my processing workflow has evolved to accommodate printing.  I now tend to process with printing in mind first, and make specific changes to the file later when posting to the web.  I also have evolved to process in the most editable and non destructive way to preserve the image quality.  I think printing has made me a better photographer and has helped me improve my image quality.

Old video blog about basic printing from Photoshop:  http://www.photocascadia.com/blog/intro-to-photoshop-printing-video/#.WIT_MrGZMUE

Recommended printing companies:  These are the two print companies that I use.  I’ve tried a lot print shops, and these guys both produce incredible, quality prints.  I get my Aluminum prints from: http://www.hdaluminumprints.com and acrylic prints from http://www.nevadaartprinters.com

A Lexicon of Post-Processing Terms in Landscape Photography Today

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

 

Landscape photographers are increasingly turning toward more interpretive modes of presentation in order to express their own ideas about the scenes that they encounter. New techniques in field work and related digital processing have fueled this development, often enabling photographers to produce images that were nearly impossible to achieve in the film era. These techniques address a plethora of age-old problems in landscape photography, from displaying a vast depth-of-field to escaping the constraints of shutter speeds and fixed angles of view. Whether the goal is to overcome limitations of current photographic equipment or to infuse a photograph with creative subjectivity, digital solutions have opened up a new world of options and have generated a world of terminology to go with them. In response to frequent requests for explanations of certain terms, I offer the following lexicon.

These terms are those that pertain to recent developments, advancements in field work and related post-processing made possible by the digital era. I have intentionally omitted common terms that have direct counterparts in darkroom development, such as dodging, burning, and cropping. This list is hardly exhaustive and is intended to highlight those techniques that have been most significant in landscape photography of the last decade. In addition, I have included terms that describe some newer techniques that I am increasingly asked to explain.

Reunion by Erin Babnik

 

BLENDS

Blends combine separate image files or else different treatments of a single file into a final image. Blending requires the use of layers and masking in editing software such as Adobe Photoshop. A ‘blend’ is generally distinct from a ‘composite’ in its use of source files created during a single photography outing at a particular location.


Exposure Blend:

Possibly the most essential of all blending techniques for landscape photographers is the Exposure Blend, which allows for selective control over tones in an image. A typical use of an exposure blend would be to present sky and land areas of a scene such that they appear to be in balance tonally, as the human eye might see them. Unlike the use of graduated filters, exposure blends allow for targeted tonal changes in any location of the image and at any level of opacity. These blends might combine different exposures produced as separate files or else differently processed iterations of a single raw file. Exposure Blends are typically achieved with freehand masking or with luminosity masking.

Click for more: Example 1 (By Sean Bagshaw) | Example 2 (By Chip Phillips)

Focal Length Blend:

This type of blend combines frames of a single scene that were shot at different focal lengths. The typical use of this kind of blend is to overcome the effects of “pancaking” or diminution of background features caused by the use of a wide-angle lens. By combining a longer focal length for a background with a wider one of a foreground, photographers can restore the prominence and presence of background features that might otherwise appear less impressive than they would in person. Focal Length Blends require manual blending using hard-edged masks.

Click for more: Example 1 (By Erin Babnik) | Example 2 (By Erin Babnik)

Perspective Blend:

One of the most versatile types of blending, the Perspective Blend allows the combination of frames shot using different nodal points. The most common type of Perspective Blend is the so-called “Vertorama”, which is essentially a vertically oriented panorama. Perspective Blends can also combine slightly different camera heights or angles that allow more descriptive or expressive views of certain foreground features without compromising the desired view of the background. Perspective Blends can be achieved with automated stitching software or with manual blending.

Click for more: Example 1 (By Erin Babnik) | Example 2 (By Erin Babnik)

Time Blend:

A Time Blend collapses together different moments of a natural event, allowing for a more extensive narrative or a more descriptive presentation, similar to what a video might accomplish. While an Exposure Blend might combine different moments that are only seconds apart (or less), a Time Blend could include instances that span across minutes or even an hour or more. A typical example would be a scene with fast-moving atmosphere and quickly changing light that showcases the most significant moments of the event. Another common variation on the technique is combining different shutter speeds in a single image, such as having a longer shutter speed to blur moving water and a shorter one to freeze foliage movement. Time Blends typically require freehand masking.

Click for more: Example 1 (By Erin Babnik) | Example 2 (By Enrico Fossati)

Twilight Blend:

This technique was developed to overcome problems of extreme dynamic range during twilight or night. The basic approach is to photograph land portions of a scene with ample ambient light separately from the night sky, keeping the camera in position on a tripod as long as it takes to create good exposures of both the land and the sky (typically about an hour). Twilight Blends can be achieved with freehand masking or with luminosity masking and usually require a substantial shift in white balance for the land portions of the image.

Click for more: Example 1 (By Miles Morgan) | Example 2 (By Michael Shainblum)

Close Encounter by Erin Babnik

 

STYLIZATIONS

These effects accentuate or augment a scene in ways that emphasize a mood and contribute to the style of a photo’s final presentation.


Glow/Light Bleed

When light shines through atmosphere that diffuses it substantially, any shadow areas behind the light lose contrast. The effect is often a pleasing, “glowy” one that emphasizes the light source. This natural phenomenon can be accentuated dramatically or even imitated outright by overlaying pixels that add brightness and diffusion. These pixels might be layers of bright color or selected areas of a blurred and brightened copy of the image file. The opacity of the effect is generally highest closer to the light source, typically requiring freehand application for naturalistic results. Photographer Ryan Dyar is widely regarded as the greatest pioneer of this technique, and his portfolio contains many images that exemplify it.

Click for more: Example 1 (By Ryan Dyar) | Example 2 (By Kevin McNeal)

Light Painting

Light Painting in processing is akin to dodging and burning in that it selectively brightens or darkens areas of an image, often with a change in hue involved as well. A typical application might add brightness and warmth to selected highlight areas and add cooler hues to darker ones in order to emphasize visual hierarchy, to direct eye movement, or to emphasize depth. Light Painting is usually best controlled with a combination of luminosity masks and freehand application, and it may involve the use of numerous layers that build up to a result like glazing techniques in oil painting. (Note that this is a processing technique that should not be confused with in-field “Light Painting”, which involves using artificial light sources and long exposures in low light situations.)

Click for more: Example 1 (By Erin Babnik) | Example 2 (By Ted Gore)

Orton Effect

This effect does have a direct counterpart in darkroom development, but I decided to include it in this lexicon because it has been widely adopted and adapted in the digital era. Photographer Michael Orton originated the technique using slide film in the mid-1980’s as a means of emulating the “Pen and Ink and Watercolor” technique of painting that produced a dreamy effect through its combination of media with different qualities. To create a similar effect with photography, Orton sandwiched together two slides that he took of a single scene, one slide with high detail and little color, along with a second slide that was out of focus and very colorful. Digital applications of this idea are numerous, ranging from subtle treatments that simply offset the effects of web sharpening, to more emphatic treatments that lend a painterly, glowing quality to an image. Numerous software filters, plug-ins, and scripts exist for automated applications of the effect, and of course manual applications are possible using layers in Photoshop.

Click for more: Example 1 (By Zack Schnepf) | Example 2 (By Chip Phillips)

Ruby Tuesday by Erin Babnik

 

FUNDAMENTAL TECHNIQUES

The following techniques are among those that have been foundational in the more progressive strands of landscape photography in the digital era. They have opened up new options for composition, subject matter, conditions, locations, and timing to the extent that they lie at the heart of a distinct zeitgeist that has become evident in the last decade.


Focus Stacking

Focus stacking combines files shot with different focus points in order achieve a greater depth of field than would be possible in a single file. With this technique it is possible to have sharp focus on features at the very closest focusing distance of a lens while also having the same level of sharpness for everything else in a scene, all the way out to infinity focus. There are numerous standalone software programs that can automate the process of focus stacking, and Photoshop has stock features for focus stacking as well. Focus stacking can also be achieved manually via blending with layers and masks, although a manual blend is easiest to achieve with images that do not require  the combination of many focus points.

Click for more: Example 1 (By Erin Babnik) | Example 2 (By Justin Grimm)

HDR

The acronym for “High Dynamic Range”, this term describes any process that combines different exposures for the purpose of increasing the range of tones in an image beyond what is achievable in a single exposure. Many photographers reserve this term to distinguish automated processes that effect image tonality globally in a photograph, as distinct from manual blending techniques that allow highly selective control over tones in an image (see Exposure Blending above).

Luminosity Masking

A luminosity mask is a blending tool that allows precise targeting of tones in an image. The most common uses of a luminosity mask are exposure blending, dodging, and burning, but these masks are useful for a huge variety of editing tasks, including color work, light painting, adding light bleed, and creating custom Orton effects, among others. A luminosity mask is a type of “found mask”, which is any mask created from one of the eleven standard channels available in different image modes within Photoshop. The channel that all luminosity masks derive from is the Gray channel, which contains only the luminance values for a given image. Channels that contain color values, such as the Red or Blue channels, can also be very useful and work in the same way that luminosity masks do. Because found masks use gradations of tones or colors that exist as pixels in a photograph, they are much more precise for blending tasks than freehand masking is, and they are less likely to produce unwanted ‘halos’ and artifacts, as can happen easily with simple applications of hard-edged masks (that is, those created with selection tools such as the Lasso Tool). There are numerous Photoshop action sets available to create luminosity masks quickly and easily, the most popular being those available from Tony Kuyper.

Click for more: Example 1 (By Sean Bagshaw) | Example 2 (By Adrian Klein)

Hard Mask vs. Luminosity Mask

Stitching

Stitching refers to the process of seamlessly combining frames shot by panning a camera horizontally, vertically, or both. There are numerous standalone software programs for creating stitched images, and some are very sophisticated, allowing photographers to stitch together frames from very wide focal lengths and from different nodal points. Photoshop also has features that enable automated stitching, and of course manual solutions exist as well.

Click for more: Example 1 (By Marc Adamus) | Example 2 (By David Thompson)

Warping

Warping is a selective distortion of an image that has countless uses. Common examples include altering the relative proportions of certain parts of a scene, pulling unwanted edge details out of the frame, shifting regions of an image within the frame, correcting leaning features, and adding curvature to straight elements. Warping can be accomplished with the very edge of an ultra-wide-angle lens or with software tools, but blending with another layer of image data that contains normal proportions for the rest of the scene is usually necessary in either case. Although numerous software programs have warping features, Photoshop includes the most variety of them and offers the greatest amount of control, especially given the option to use masking for more targeted effects.

Click for more: Example 1 (By Ted Gore) | Example 2 (By David Thompson)

Backdraft by Erin Babnik

 

WHEN, WHY,  AND HOW MUCH?

My own preference is to use processing solutions creatively but conservatively, always striving for a high level of naturalism and subtlety and without creating images that have no basis in my own experiences. Nonetheless, those limitations are merely my preferences for my own output, and I enjoy seeing compelling photographs that push beyond the limits that I might set for myself. Perhaps the most important consideration for any type of processing is the rationale for choosing a particular technique. Like any decisions in art, those that work in the service of a creative goal are more likely to produce satisfying results. Anything done with intention tends to register with more viewers, allowing them to discover points where craft and ideas come together in powerful, meaningful displays of creative choice.

**Special thanks to the artists whose images are linked in this article and who collaborated with me on the selection of them!


Can you guess which of these techniques went into the photographs displayed in this article? Do you have any questions about any of these terms? Would you like to suggest terms for inclusion in future versions of this lexicon? If so, please feel free to chime in below.

 

ErinBabnikWebLogoWhiteText

Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

New HDR and Panorama Photo Merge in Lightroom CC (2015)

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

 

In the video tutorial below I demonstrate two exciting advances in the April 21 release of Lightroom CC (2015), Photo Merge to HDR and Photo Merge to Panorama. Lightroom has gone through substantial improvements over the years to give photographers more control in developing their images. However, until now, techniques involving the merging of more than one exposure or frame had to be done in Photoshop or third party software. Now you can merge multiple exposures to create HDR images all within LR and you can also merge frames to create both vertical and horizontal panoramas. Wow! Nice job Adobe.

Four exposures merged to an HDR raw file and adjusted in LR CC before opening in PS for additional developing.

Four exposures merged to an HDR raw file and adjusted in LR CC before opening in PS for additional developing.

Both merge features combine raw files to produce a merged DNG raw file, which is brilliant! This means we can merge first and make our adjustments directly to the merged raw file, which I assume retains all the adjustment capabilities of the originating raw files. In addition, the merged HDR or pano DNG can be opened as a tiff file in Photoshop for additional developing there.

Lightroom Photo Merge to HDR is similar to the 32-bit HDR tiff file processing capability that was first introduced back in LR 4 and which I demonstrated in a previous video blog and also include in my Developing for Extended Dynamic Range video series. This process is now greatly simplified in Lightroom CC and no longer requires Photoshop!

Photo Merge to Panorama allows you to stitch, crop and develop multi-frame panoramas without needing to go to Photoshop or some other image stitching application, and the panoramic DNG file can be fully developed in Lightroom like any raw file.

Three frames merged into a DNG panorama and adjusted in LR CC before opening in PS for additional developing.

Three frames merged into a DNG panorama and adjusted in LR CC before opening in PS for additional developing.

Finally, you can create high dynamic range panoramas by first creating merged HDR files for each frame in the pano series and then merging these HDR raw files into an HDR panorama. The resulting output is a high dynamic range panorama raw file that can be fully developed in Lightroom.

While working with merged HDR images in Lightroom still doesn’t provide the same degree of fine control that you can get when manually blending exposures in Photoshop, and I don’t think it handles the most extreme dynamic range as well, it provides an excellent and efficient option for many situations. Photographers who only use Lightroom can now create blended high dynamic range images and panoramas like the rest of us, which is huge for them. I also think that photographers who have previously used Photoshop or other applications to accomplish these types of multi-image blending tasks will find the new functionality of Lightroom to be a great benefit in many cases.

NOTE: Many people have had trouble getting Lightroom CC (2015) to open after it has been installed from the Creative Cloud desktop app. If you have this issue try logging out of your Creative Cloud desktop app (logging out, not closing it) and then logging back in. This fixed the issue for me and many other folks on the Adobe forums. Also, LR CC installs along side LR 5, so you can open either one unless you uninstall LR 5, and this can be a little confusing. LR 5 shows up as “Adobe Photoshop Lightroom” and LR CC shows up as “Adobe Lightroom” on my computer. It would have been nice if Adobe had labeled them Lightroom 5 and Lightroom CC instead.

Why I Don’t Bracket Images Anymore -Kevin McNeal

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015
Final Result - Sunset At Cinque terre

Final Result – Sunset At Cinque terre

While starting out in photography I owned nothing but Canon cameras. I owned the Canon 5d Mk1 and moved way through the series. It all started with the Canon 5D Mark 2, where I would religiously bracket at least three images for every scene. The results I got with my Canon when I just shot a single exposure for the scene was often not enough coverage in terms of tonal range. What was happening was that I would end up either blowing highlights or blocking the shadows.

It was the general consensus that several years ago to capture dynamic range in any photography scene you needed to take several photos. This would range from-3 under exposure to +3 overexposure. I would bracket at 1-stop exposures so that I included the wide spectrum of tonal values in the scene. At the time, several third-party applications were coming out as well as Photoshop that would be capable of merging several images into a single Image. When arrival of these applications, HDR (high dynamic range) became the big thing. It was really fascinating to capture so many images and merge all of them into a single file. The results for the time we’re Incredible and people started to compare it to medium format photography. But like a lot of things in photography, HDR went too far and quickly received a bad name.

So I chose to explore a few applications and found one called exposure fusion within a program called Photomatix Pro which merged all images together to include all the dynamic range and yet receive realistic result. I was very happy with the results once I learned to fine tune the application but nevertheless took a lot of time to post process images in HDR.

I realized that I was spending a good portion of time now post processing and lot less time in the field shooting so I was always looking for a better solution.

A few years had passed and lots of people still were involved heavily with HDR even though cameras were getting better and better. Digital cameras were now getting behind the movement of more megapixels. The change came for me when Nikon decided to put out a D800 at 36 megapixels. I waited and waited for Canon to follow suit but it never happened. At this time I chose to make the move over to Nikon from Canon because the Nikon D800 had been receiving rave reviews. For my business this was perfect. I could now make larger prints and have the option to crop within the image. This cropping would allow me to eliminate things from the image and still have enough resolution in the image to print large.

In the beginning, the transition was hard and slow moving from Canon to Nikon but eventually it was a saving grace. One of the most unexpected benefits was the dynamic range of the Nikon D800. I immediately noticed that I was capturing the whole scene in terms of tonal range in a single file. For a while I thought this might be a mistake. But exposure after exposure I was able to post process the images from the single file.

As time went on, I began to grow more confident in being able to take a single exposure. Eventually I was not even bracketing as a backup except for situations of extreme contrast. I even noticed I was able to under expose the image and then bring out the shadows in post-processing. With the Canon if I had tried to bring out the shadows I would always have noise that would show throughout the image. This was not the case with the Nikon, which was pretty amazing to see and still is nice to demonstrate to people who shoot Canon.

Shooting one single exposure allows you really to focus on the composition and light. It has also had the added benefit of really allowing me to get into the scene and not worry whether I have everything I need in terms of exposure.

I now own the Nikon D810, which is even better and such an amazing camera when it comes to controlling highlights and avoiding blocked shadows in a single exposure. I shoot freely in low light situations and don’t worry about covering the tonal range of a scene.

When it comes to the histogram on the Nikon D810 I am often asked one should look for when shooting one exposure. Through trial and error I have found excellent results with the histogram if I aim to most of the data and information just to the left of the middle, which would mean I slightly underexpose the image. I know this goes against everything we have been taught from before with exposing to the right, but the Nikon D810 is a revolution and is changing the game. Aiming to have my information on my histogram slightly to the left I do need to make sure I don’t have any clipped highlights as the Nikon is much better at shadows then it is with clipped highlights. So when focusing on a landscape scene I generally will set the exposure on my foreground and go about a half stop to one stop under while making sure I don’t blow the highlights in the sky. I always like to review my histogram after each image just to make sure all the information is present.

The Original Camera Raw Image One Stop Underexposed

Original RAW file underexposed a stop

Original RAW file underexposed a stop

 

Histogram With Information Underexposed 1 Stop to the left

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 6.21.43 AM

 

The Long Exposure On The Water

Long Exposure Of The Water

Long Exposure Of The Water

I will be very curious to see in the upcoming months if the new series of Canon 50 Megapixel cameras will focus on dynamic range or will it just be a megapixel monster?

Needless to say I am a very happy with the results of the dynamic range of the Nikon and look forward to get out and shooting lots more now that I don’t have to bracket!

Four Takes on the Same Scene: Getting Creative by David Cobb

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

Four Takes on the Same Scene: Getting Creative

By David Cobb

This fall I conducted a photography workshop in Glacier National Park through the Pacific Northwest Art School, and the fall color was some of the best I’ve seen there in years. One afternoon we headed out to an aspen grove to capture fall color and I used the opportunity to practice pans, zooms, and multiple exposure images, which I like to do in the fall when the light is still bright on the trees. I also figured it would be a good time to teach these techniques to those interested. I remembered reading a book by photographer Freeman Patterson, who would throw a hoop in his backyard and then try to come up with original images while staying within that hoop. To help expand our creative thinking, I thought I’d try a similar exercise while keeping my tripod in place.

Aspen Grove Multiple Exposure

Multiple Exposure image – 5 shots on 1 frame

I first started with multiple exposure images and set my camera to three images on one frame, then took three shots while moving my camera slightly (between each shot) in the shape of a V. Depth-of-field is of little importance here, since you’re going for the “impressionistic look.” Three images weren’t enough to capture the impressionist “feel” I was after though, so I increased it to five images on one frame, taking each shot in the shape of an X and moving my camera each time no further than one-quarter of the distance of my baby fingernail. That did the trick, and I was able to capture the impressionist “feel” I was after.

Aspen Pan

Panning my camera vertically while taking my image.

Next I started to pan my camera up and down while taking a shot. Each person moves differently, so a time that might work for me might not work for you. Instead, concentrate on your follow-through with the camera. If you anticipate stopping when you hear the shutter click, the image will look a lot less fluid and probably won’t be very good. Once everyone got the hang of that trick, we moved onto another–this time zooming while shooting. You can get some interesting results with fall color when you zoom and shoot, but I have learned that when you zoom in on a solid object (like tree bark) your image will be more successful.

Aspen Blur

Zooming my lens while taking the shot

Once the sun set over the distant ridge, it was time to take a “normal” shot. I framed the image in my usual way by using my live-view in conjunction with the zoom to make sure of my focus. This automatically turns on camera lock-up, so the image should be tack-sharp. With aspen leaves I often turn up the ISO, since the leaves are quaking, and I pull the trigger. This image can be used as a reference shot to compare against those more “creative” images taken earlier.

People in the group were learning and having fun and I walked away with an idea for a blog. I think that’s a good day of photography.

Aspen Forest

A normal shot, taken once the sun went over the ridge

Sony a6000 Mirrorless Camera Review

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

To start off I know Chip covered this camera in one of his recent posts yet I figured I would provide my thoughts and images for what it’s worth.

As I was packing up for a backpack trip this past spring my DSLR equipment seemed heavier than usual. Tip top shape I was not yet a lazy couch potato waking up from winter hibernation was not me either. At this point I figured it was time to start shopping for a mirror-less setup that would shave significant weight for backpacking, long hikes and other travel situations where lugging bulkier or heavier gear was less than optimal.
I looked at a number of models online reading many reviews and talking to some photographers as well. Eventually I settled on the Sony a6000 and Sony lenses, for a number of reasons. It’s the newest model in what has been known as the NEX series. The Sony a6000 is a 24.3MP APS-C HD CMOS with BIONZ X image processor. ISO range 100 to 25,600. Shutter Lag of only .02 seconds with 11 fps and weighing well under one pound!

I have had the camera for a couple months now on several outings, even to photograph a wedding for a family member. This has given me enough time to detail my thoughts and opinions which fall in both the good and the not so good sides.

Sony a6000 Camera Review

My Sony a6000 with the 16-50mm OSS kit lens. Taken with iPhone.

What I like

Weight – One of the primary goals was to buy a good interchangeable lens system that shaved many pounds from my DSLR setup. Weight details come from weighing my gear on a mailing scale, not product descriptions. The lightness did not go unnoticed on my first backpack trip using this setup. I will let the data do the speaking here.

Canon to Sony Weight Compare

Size – Besides The Sony a6000 weighing in at less than half the weight of my Canon DSLR setup it’s about half the size too. This photo shows my typical Sony and Canon setups for comparison. As small as it is I can put it with the pancake mid-range lens in a coat pocket to carry around if desired (tad too large for most pant pockets). I am pretty sure I sounded like a broken record to my wife after explaining my excitement a half dozen times that I had to contact f-stop to send me their new tiny micro ICU because their “small” size I have was too big!

Sony a6000 and Canon 5D setup for size comparison.

Sony a6000 and Canon 5D setup for size comparison. Taken with iPhone.

Speed – Shutter speed is lightning fast. I am very in impressed with it but I guess I shouldn’t be with the 179 point phase detection and 25 point contrast detection system. The double digit 11 fps from this sized camera is mighty good. The auto-focus works very well with good results. If the camera is on you can be that person that aims, focuses and snaps a sharp photo in… well, a snap. Notice I said camera powered on. If it’s not you will have to wait up to 5 or 6 seconds for the camera to power up which is a little slow.

Price – Considering I am used to spending $2k to $3k for just a camera body this one rings in lower than most lenses I use for my Canon setup. At $650 without lenses ($750 with kit lens) it’s hard to go much lower price wise. Additionally 2 out of the 3 lenses I bought, 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 OSS and 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS kit lens, that run on the cheaper side are decent lenses. The 55-210 I bought on sale for a whopping $148 and the 16-50 came with the camera for an additional $100. The 55-210 is better than I expected and the 16-50 does the job but is definitely soft on the edges, plan to crop about 10% to 15%. But what can you expect for the price!? The next best option with similar range is the 16-70mm for $1k which I am debating getting for myself. The 10-18mm f/4.0 is $850 (and the most I have paid for a full plastic lens) yet it’s a pretty solid wide angle. And for you prime users there are a number of options all with decent price points and good reviews when paired with this camera.

Menu and Controls – From all that I have seen prior NEX cameras had much less user friendly menu which is one reason it kept me at bay, picture oriented which for me is slower and takes longer to find what you need. That said I find the overall ease of navigating the menus a fairly short learning curve. It’s all text based now and similar to Sony a7 series. Adjusting the aperture and shutter in manual mode is easy and only a couple clicks for ISO adjustment. My hand grips the body rather well. It’s as small as a camera can go. Any smaller and it would be too small for me.

Dynamic Range – This is good too. What I am able to pull down from the highlights and pull up from the shadows is fairly decent. You still want to shoot to the right yet it’s good to know I have a little wiggle room here. Below is a sample comparison with the raw file and the single processed shot.

Comparing the raw file to the processed file. Processing in ACR only. Sony a6000, 16-50mm and ISO 400.

Comparing the raw file to the processed file. Processing in ACR only. Sony a6000, 16-50mm and ISO 400.

EVF – Although this also falls in the negative category the one advantage is that you can use this to image review for already taken images and zoom in for the details. Rather than separate setups for your large LCD, simply put your eye to the eye piece and the image review changes to the EVF automatically. This is helpful in bright situations where it’s harder to see the LCD.

Apps and Wireless – Although I don’t use them all it’s nice to have a myriad options for how you take photos and get them onto your phone or computer. For example they have a free phone app called PlayMemories (although limited in features) will allow you to trigger the shot and send a 2MB file to your phone if you choose.

IQ/ISO – This really is one that ends up in both the positive and not so positive category. Overall it’s amazing to see what a small camera with 24MP can produce. In the right situations and ISO it produces a very clean file with excellent detail. Not that I shoot much JPG yet the in camera processing produces a cleaner less noisy JPG vs RAW at higher ISO’s. That said I can clean up the noise pretty well on the RAW so that it’s almost as clean. Here are some examples around ISO.

 

Sony a6000 test photo along the Oregon Coast. This is from a single file at ISO 400.

Sony a6000 test photo along the Oregon Coast. This is from a single file at ISO 400.

This is a close up crop at 100% of the grass in the larger image above at several different ISO's. You can see a significant difference from 400 to 1600. All images shot RAW.

This is a close up crop at 100% of the grass in the larger image above at several different ISO’s. You can see a significant difference from 400 to 1600. All images shot RAW.

Sony a6000 with 16-50mm kit lens and ISO 400 and Hoya NX Polarizer.

Sony a6000 with 16-50mm kit lens and ISO 400 and Hoya NX Polarizer.

Zoomed in 100% on flowers from image above. RAW file without sharpening. Plenty of detail considering this is a landscape photo and this only one small piece.

Zoomed in 100% on flowers from image above. RAW file without sharpening. Plenty of detail considering this is a landscape photo and this only one small piece.

Video – Although I am not a big video guy this seems to produce good videos from the little I have played with this feature. It’s full HD 1920 x 1080 with 30 or 60 fps.

Could Be Better

This is where most of what I like about the camera stops, albeit the positives are significant for me. Realize besides an iPhone for snap-shots I have been shooting with only a full-frame Canon DSLR for many years now so I tend to get picky about certain things. Also some of what I list is not meant to be a knock to the a6000 but rather things to simply be aware of. Below is my list in no particular order.

Battery Life – What can I say other than this thing EATS through batteries faster than a 5 year old eating through his Halloween candy stash. Keep in mind that although I have live view on my Canon DSLR I don’t use it unless I need to so I am used to a single battery lasting many days for most of my shooting. My perspective might be different if I was heavy live view user prior to this camera. For the Sony I would say plan on using 1 to 3 batteries a day depending on how much you are using your camera. Total battery life is around 90 min. If long exposures or video is your thing I would have an arsenal of batteries.

IQ/ISO – In Chip’s post he mentioned images looking good to ISO 400. I would say that is true, maybe up to 800 at most. After that it really goes downhill for me which is unfortunate. This will limit bumping up the ISO if you are into night photography or working with low light often. That said depending on your end goal cleaning up with noise removal tools has vastly improved the last few years and go a long way to making a decent image from the ISO 800 to 1600 range as long as you are using good glass. Using the cheaper lenses, not so much.

Weather Resistance – Keep in mind this camera is not weather resistant in any way, or the lenses I bought for it. I got caught in a major downpour on the Oregon coast only carrying my camera in my thin coat jacket pocket. I am sure it was quite a site to see me jogging with my four year old daughter in one arm and using my other to try and cover my pocket with the camera as we searched for cover. It survived but lesson learned.

EVF – I know some folks like electronic view finders (EVF) yet for me optical is much preferred despite one comment about the one piece I like about it. It’s very noisy in low light which gets tougher to ensure sharp manual focusing.

Battery Charger – Really this is lack of charger. Who plugs in their camera to charge!? I would have preferred Sony raise the price $25 and simply include the charger. It seems odd that I need to buy this separate.  Not to mention there is no visible sign that the battery is fully charged without turning on the camera, another strike against direct charging. I bought the Wasabi Charger and extra batteries from Amazon and it’s working fine to also charge my two Sony batteries.

Sounds – I run my Canon as silent as possible. The only sound you hear is the shutter. That said I cannot figure out how to turn off the sounds for auto focus, timer, etc which I would rather not have. If you are reading this and I missed how to do it please email me. This would be welcome news to my ears.

Bracketing – For landscape photographers being able to auto bracket with timer is a big deal. I am used to using a remote trigger yet if I forget it or it breaks I know I can always use auto bracketing with timer on my Canon. Not an option on the Sony. Additionally from my testing don’t even bother trying to press the shutter for bracketing on a tripod. Your images are almost surely to come out soft or blurry. I bought the Sony RM-VPR1 Remote.

Weight – Of course you are wondering why in this section when the light weight was such a plus. Well it’s not a negative to the camera or lenses by any means. It’s simply something to be aware of which is that using a very light camera and lens setup on a lighter tripod is more susceptible to shakes and vibrations resulting in soft shots. Hanging your pack from your tripod can help yet it’s not fool proof. Don’t forget to chimp your images because what you think is sharp might be anything but.

Dial Size – For me it’s not an issue yet I could see someone with larger hands finding the controls tougher to work with, especially the dial on the back. That circle dial controls many functions and isn’t much bigger than a dime. Again I cannot blame Sony because with a smaller camera comes smaller buttons and controls. If you tend to shoot mostly in auto mode then this is less of an issue.

Lens Selection – Although able to buy a wide, mid and telephoto Sony lenses that are good, overall they need to beef up their lens selection (this applies to APS and full frame). It would be nice to buy higher quality lenses for all the same focal ranges I have with my Canon. Hopefully this is coming soon. My only real complaint with the current lenses I have is are soft in the corners. A little bit of lens correction and or crop goes a long way and still leaves a big file.

Sony a6000 with 55-210mm at 210 and ISO 400. Handheld.

Sony a6000 with 55-210mm at 210 and ISO 400. Handheld.

Sony a6000 with 16-50mm at 16mm and ISO 200, f/16 and .5 seconds

These are 100% crops from the corner of an image (obviously different scenes but I realized I did not do it for the same scene). There is definitely a quality difference on the edges between the 10-18 and 16-50.

These are 100% crops from the corner of an image (obviously different scenes but I realized I did not do it for the same scene when I went to write this). There is definitely a quality difference on the edges between the 10-18 and 16-50 lenses. RAW files with no processing or sharpening. I forgot to note in the text on the image yet both were shot at f/16.

Conclusion

Overall it’s a good mirror less camera system with room for improvement to be great. For any hobbyist or photo snapper it’s a dream. For someone looking to high quality work for prints and stock it’s good to meet the needs with some exceptions that I covered above. I did not buy this to replace my DSLR system and I would not recommend that unless you have a old or bottom end DSLR. This is a great compliment to your DSLR system for when you have to or simply desire lighter traveling and still want great quality photos. The price is certainly right. I spent about $2,000 for my full setup which includes the body, three lenses, two polarizers, battery charger, four batteries and remote trigger.

Is Digitally Bracketing Exposures A Good Idea? By Sean Bagshaw

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

On the topic of creating high dynamic range (HDR) photographs I was recently asked a question about the viability of taking a minimal number of bracketed exposures in a high contrast situation and later filling in the gaps in the exposure range with digitally generated exposures. While this isn’t a new concept in high dynamic range photography, it is one that comes up frequently and isn’t entirely intuitive. I felt that others might benefit from reading the Q&A or sharing their own thoughts on the topic.

The contrast range in this scene was too great to be contained in a single exposure.

The contrast range in this scene was too great to be contained in a single exposure.

QUESTION: I photograph with a Nikon D5000. One of the features I am less than satisfied with is that auto bracketing is limited to three exposures. Sometimes that is simply not enough. The conventional wisdom seems to indicate:

1. don’t spread out your brackets more than one or two exposure values (EV).
2. Lightroom/Adobe Camera Raw can safely push/pull an exposure ±2 EV

What if I exposed three captures -3 EV, 0 EV and +3 EV? Then I should be able to make virtual copies of these in Lightroom, spreading each ±1 EV and the ends also ±2 EV. I would then end up with effectively an 11 stop range which is large enough for all but the most extreme lighting conditions I have encountered.

Do you think this technique has a decent chance of producing a quality HDR image? Note that my goal is to produce fine art prints, so to be useful for me it would have to produce very clean digital negatives.

Bracketed exposures from -3 EV to +2 EV

Exposures bracketed in camera from -3 EV to +2 EV

ANSWER: The first consideration is how the high dynamic range image will be created. You can combine bracketed exposures using one of many HDR software applications or you can manually blend exposures using masking techniques. Exposure requirements will vary depending on the contrast of the scene and the blending technique. Having a full set of exposures at one stop increments can be more important for HDR software than manually blending exposures. HDR software usually does best (and often requires) being given a full range of exposures with narrow and consistent EV increments, as you point out. One stop is common, but I know people who go to extremes and bracket in 1/2 or 1/3 stops. I don’t use HDR software in my workflow. All the HDR software I have used tends to create image quality and adjustment control issues of various types, regardless of how the bracketed exposures were created.

Even though I usually take a full range of exposures, often only two of the exposures are required when manually blending using masking techniques. If I have one complete exposure for the sky and one complete exposure for the landscape, then I only blend these two exposures and keep my life simple. This video from my Extending Dynamic Range tutorials demonstrates a simple two exposure blend.

You may get lucky while using your camera’s three shot auto bracket feature and find that you captured the precise two exposures you need for such a blend, but since every scenario is different there isn’t a reliable way to reproduce this every time.

In more extreme contrast situations there may be brighter areas of the sky or very extreme areas of shadow and highlight in the landscape that require the use of additional exposures. When manual blending, one can make decisions about which exposures and how many exposures to use on an case by case basis. Having a full range of exposures to choose from is helpful in this respect. Blending exposures with masks is a challenging skill, but with practice I find that better control and better final image quality can be achieved. Some very fine printed images are being created with HDR software to be sure, but if the best quality is your goal you will eventually run into some downsides.

So, if you don’t capture a full range of exposures is it a good option to fill in the gaps digitally? As you describe, it is possible to create virtual copies in Lightroom with different EVs. Per the “conventional wisdom” Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw certainly can be used to push or pull exposure. However, to what degree this can be done and what can be considered “safe” is subjective. It depends on whether you push or pull the exposure and what side affects you are willing to accept.

If the best image quality is your goal, having “properly” exposed captures can be just as important as the number and increment of those exposures. What constitutes a “proper” exposure isn’t necessarily intuitive. Digitally reducing  exposure (pushing) in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw is generally “safe”. In fact it can actually be preferable. One way to hide noise in an image is to digitally decrease exposure making the image darker. Intentionally over exposing (also known as Exposing To The Right or ETTR) and then digitally lowering the exposure produces better image quality. This is why ETTR is commonly advocated in digital photography. When it comes to bracketing, digitally creating +1 EV and +2 EV exposures from a +3 EV capture in Lightroom should give great results in the mid-tones and shadows. The highlights will be clipped but these should be contained in your darker exposures.  For a more complete run down on the virtues of ETTR and some examples check out this article by Jeff Schewe.

Digitally increasing exposure (pulling) is where you will run into problems. Dark regions of an image are very data poor so they have a low signal to noise ratio. The reason they are dark is because relatively few photons (signals) were collected by the sensor. Digitally increasing the exposure of underexposed images boosts the signal but also boosts the noise. With a low signal to noise ratio the noise will overpower the signal. An image captured at -3 EV and then digitally lightened two stops to -1 EV will show substantial quality issues. For best image quality it is preferable to avoid lightening dark areas as much as possible.

If you are using HDR software the following is important to note. As far as I know, no HDR software is capable of reading the exposure adjustments you make to raw or DNG files in Lightroom or Camera Raw. Raw adjustments are only parameters contained in the metada and HDR software does not access these parameters. This means that in order for HDR software to use your digitally bracketed exposures you would first need to open the virtual copies and save them as tif files with different EVs, and then load the tif files into the HDR software.

So, your proposed technique can work to an extent if you take the right steps. In many cases it may even produce very good results. However, to minimize noise, it would be best to create your digital exposures by always lowering the exposure of the brighter frames and not the other way around. For example, generate +1 and +2 EV virtual copies from a +3 EV capture, -1 and -2 EV copies from a 0 EV capture and -4 and -5 EV copies from a -3 EV capture.

There are occasions in which I will create exposures digitally for the purpose of blending. Sometimes I fail to take a complete range of bracketed exposures or I’m not able to use one or more of my exposures due to things moving in the frame between shots. At a minimum I make sure I have one exposure for highlights, one exposure for mid-tones and one exposure for shadows. Usually I try to capture a full range of exposures if I can. This ensures the most flexibility. A properly exposed series of images with one stop increments will give you a more complete gradient of tonal information to work with compared to capturing just three exposures taken at three stop increments.

Taking all of the above into account, let’s address the central motivation behind your question, the limited auto bracketing capability of your camera. If your camera would auto-bracket more than three exposures it is unlikely that you would be considering using digitally created exposures in the first place. I recommend making it a non-issue by not using the auto bracket feature at all, regardless of how many shots your camera will bracket. My camera will auto bracket up to seven EVs but I never use auto bracketing unless I have a specific reason to (such as hand-held bracketing for example). Nearly every scene requires a different number of exposures and the range of exposures is rarely centered perfectly around the meter’s 0 EV. Using an arbitrary number of auto bracketed exposures means regularly capturing too many or too few exposures (in your case with a max of three, usually too few). And if the actual exposure is shifted from what the camera meter picks as 0 EV, then you might have the right number of exposures but going in the wrong direction. Manually bracketing exposures solves these issues. I take my first frame at 0 EV and then I check the histogram. Sometimes one exposure is all I need. If the histogram shows clipping of highlights or shadows or both, then I compensate my exposure up and/or down one stop at a time until I have one frame with a histogram that properly exposes for the shadows, one frame with a histogram that properly exposes for the highlights and some number of one stop increments in between. Sometimes the scene dictates two exposures, or three or five or eight or eleven. Whatever the contrast range requires, this technique ensures that I have what I need, but not more.  This video from the Extending Dynamic Range series illustrates this concept further.

Another manual bracketing technique I use is tonal region bracketing using my camera’s live view feature. In aperture priority mode I move the exposure target box around on the screen to various tonal zones, such as an area of brightest sky, mid-tone land and dark shadows, and take a shot in each zone. The camera automatically adjusts the exposure for each zone as I shoot. The result is a series of exposures that should contain the proper exposure for each tonal zone. They may not be one stop increments, but as long as I have optimal exposures for highlights, mid-tones and shadows I don’t care. Of course, this technique doesn’t work well when using HDR software which expects consistent EV increments.

Finally, not every scene we encounter has high contrast light so bracketing is frequently not necessary. When photographing in balanced, low and medium contrast light situations all the tonal information readily fits within a single exposure. I regularly come across people auto bracketing nine exposures in low and moderate contrast light, just as a matter of habit. In such situations it isn’t necessary to take two exposures, let alone nine. I start with one exposure and look at the histogram. If I see that all the tonal values have been captured, I’m done. Taking valuable time and filling up memory cards with additional exposures is something I do only if I absolutely have to. Many of my images are captured in a single exposure. With a single exposure I attempt to get a proper exposure (ETTR) without clipping the highlights. In post this enables me to decrease the EV and do as little shadow recovery as possible. This gives better results than starting with an underexposed image and trying to lighten it to bring out shadow detail. Again, see the Jeff Schewe article for more insight into why this is the case.

With Lightroom 5 is Photoshop Really Necessary? by Sean Bagshaw

Monday, April 14th, 2014

The answer to this question, as with so many questions, is it depends.

Adobe’s release of Lightroom 1 was way back in 2007, but by that time I had already been immersed in Photoshop for seven or eight years. The purpose of Lightroom was to create an application that improved overall workflow efficiency by utilizing an image database (or catalog) to store metadata changes and image developing parameters without actually needing to change the pixels of the original image file. In the early days I found Lightroom’s ability to organize, keyword and search my image collection to be a big improvement over Photoshop’s bridge. I also found that, while the types of raw image adjustments the Develop Module could make were similar to Adobe Camera Raw, I really preferred the Lightroom interface and how it integrated seamlessly with the other Lightroom modules. But that’s about as far as it went. At that time the Develop module had very few adjustment options and all adjustments were global, which meant that they were applied uniformly across the entire image. Like Adobe Camera Raw, Lightroom 1 was good for making base level adjustments to raw files, but any complex, creative or localized image developing work still needed to be done in Photoshop. Seven years on we have progressed to Lightroom 5 (Lightroom Mobile was just released last week). Each new version of Lightroom has introduced improvements and new functionality. I now consider Lightroom to be a very full featured image developing solution in its own right. But does it render Photoshop unnecessary to the outdoor photographer?

Click on each image to enlarge.

Cape Arago Sunrise with base level adjustments done in Lightroom and additional developing in Photoshop for subtle color balance, targeted luminosity work, clarity and fine detail.

Cape Arago Sunrise – The unadjusted raw image.

Cape Arago Sunrise developed entirely in the Lightroom 5 Develop Module as seen in the video below.

 

 

I find that more and more photographers I interact with use Lightroom as their complete and only image developing application. In addition to these “Lightroom only” users there are also those who use only Photoshop (including Bridge and Camera Raw) and those who utilize both Lightroom and Photoshop as I do.  A common question from all three groups is, with all the current developing features and abilities that Lightroom 5 has, is Photoshop really necessary? In this video chapter from my recently released tutorials, Lightroom Essentials, I demonstrate developing an image entirely using Lightroom. Hopefully it will help some folks get a better feel for if Lightroom is able to do everything they need or not.

In the end, whether Lightroom is the only image developing application you need or not truly does depend on what your image editing goals and expectations are. Lightroom is considerably more affordable than Photoshop, and for many photographers it now has more than enough image editing power and functionality. The following is a bullet list of some features in the Lightroom Develop Module that allow it to function as a complete developing solution for many of us. I teach how I use these features and many more in my Lightroom Essentials tutorials. Visit my website to get more information and watch additional chapters.

  • Spot removal tool now allows for more complex non-circular cloning and healing.
  • Gradient Filter, Radial Filter and Adjustment Brush make it possible to apply “layers” of localized adjustments and even create basic masks to control adjustments.
  • White Balance controls, Tone Curve and HSL controls provide alternate ways to balance and correct colors.
  • Tone Curve provides powerful and flexible tonal and contrast adjustments.
  • B&W adjustments provide tools for creating dramatic black and white images.
  • Like Photoshop, image sharpening can be applied in three stages (input sharpening with the Detail tab, creative localized sharpening using the Gradient and Radial Filters and the Adjustment Brush and output sharping on export or printing) for optimal image sharpness.
  • The Lens Correction tab has tools for making transformations and perspective corrections as well as for correcting lens distortion and vignetting.
  • Because all adjustments are only recorded as adjustment parameters in the Lightroom catalog, the actual pixels of the original image files are not altered so all Lightroom developing is essentially non-destructive and backwards flexible.

Many photographers find they still need the power, flexibility and precision provided by Photoshop’s multitude of adjustments and filters and its ability to work with layers, selections and masks. Following are just a few of the things that can be accomplished with Photoshop but not with Lightroom.

  • Multi image blending techniques including: exposure blending, motion blending, focus blending, star stacking, pano stitching, white balance blending, compositing and much more.
  • Using channels to create Luminosity Selections and Luminosity Masks.
  • Blending Modes and Blend-if control.
  • Ability to access other color modes such as Lab Color.
  • Multiple ways to create highly refined selections and the ability to target adjustments with selections.
  • Limitless options for creating and combining different kinds of adjustments for color, contrast, clarity, sharpness, saturation and tonal adjustments.
  • High level of control, flexibility and precision in Photoshop (with a lot of knowledge and practice) allows images to be refined to a degree that isn’t possible in Lightroom.

Personally, I find that for many images I AM able to work entirely within Lightroom. But for my very best images I need the expanded and flexible adjustment options and the ability to make highly accurate, refined and subtle selections (especially Luminosity Selections) that Photoshop provides. The ability to combine or blend elements of multiple exposures or frames is critical for many of my images as well. For me, both Lightroom and Photoshop are essential tools in my workflow.

What are your experiences with using one, the other or both? Please share or feel free to post questions regarding the use of Lightroom vs Photoshop in the comments below.

Shooting Wildflowers In Summer Season – Kevin McNeal

Friday, October 18th, 2013
Mt Rainier From Tipsoo Lake

Mt Rainier From Tipsoo Lake

One of the most challenging aspects of nature photography is shooting the subject of wildflowers successfully. There are many aspects to learn and nothing is more rewarding when the outcome is positive. I have made many mistakes over the past few years shooting wildflowers and I hope to pass some of this wisdom down to other photographers. Having the right tools in your camera bag is essential to capturing impact in your images. The first goal when shooting wildflowers is to capture vibrancy and color in the wildflowers. When we look at images of wildflowers the first thing that captures our attention about these images is the color that seems to “pop “off the page. You especially want to have a lot of impact in the foreground to grab your viewer’s attention.

Morning LIght On Mt St Helens

Morning LIght On Mt St Helens

Therefore producing wildflower images that contain good color rendition and vibrancy are vital to the overall goal. To make sure that you are able to reproduce the colors you need a filter that can realistically take advantage of the bold colors and then allow it to come through in the image. The filter I turn to in all my wildflower images is the LB ColorCombo Polarizer. The filter offers two successful qualities in an image that boost impact. The first aspect in the filter is the color intensifier so that images taken with the filter will consist of vibrant and bold colors. In many nature scenes this might not be vital but when shooting wildflowers this is critical.

Lupine Surround Pond In The Rockies

Lupine Surround Pond In The Rockies

The essential component to shooting flowers is color. While improving color saturation it also renders the image with a natural color balance so that what you see is what you get. I have tried other filters in the past and found I was getting unusual colorcasts when I used their filters. Not only did I receive a colorcast with other filters but often the colors were also muted. With the Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo the results are excellent when it comes to reproducing accurate results. The second component contained within the LB ColorCombo that gives it a huge advantage over other similar filters is that it contains a warming polarizer within the same filter. In the past you would have to stack filters to get these same results. Shooting wildflowers there is always a certain mood you are looking to convey; I will always lean towards a warmer tone in the image as this really attracts more viewers to your image then cooler tones. So having a warmer within the polarizer I can really take advantage of this as well as gets the best of the warmer tones in the image like the reds and yellows. Thus, the color is accentuated yet remains natural in its overall tone.

Wildflower Meadow In The Grand Teton National Park - Wyoming

Wildflower Meadow In The Grand Teton National Park – Wyoming

One of the arguments I often hear is that I can recapture that color in RAW images so why is it necessary to have this filter. And it always comes back to the notion that it is vital to render the image as close as possible to how the scene was originally. You can add saturation and vibrancy later in post processing but the side effect to that is that you are pulling pixels from the image and thus destroying the image. This is especially prevalent in the shadow areas of an image. The effects become very visible when enlarging an image for larger print. When it comes to reproducing colors through RAW the images maintain their vibrancy without really having to increase the saturation past higher levels.

Mazama Ridge Sunset On Mt RainierMazama Ridge Sunset On Mt Rainier

Mazama Ridge Sunset On Mt Rainier

Another advantage I have noticed with the LB ColorCombo polarizer is the image rendered from the filter remains sharp throughout. With other filters I have noticed a dramatic reduction in quality pertaining to sharpness. This is critical when shooting something in the foreground close to the lens. Whenever shooting wildflowers there is always a fine balance between ISO and shutter speed. In the past I have had to shoot without a filter to capture the flowers without movement. The use of other filters has decreased the shutter speed and not allowed me to capture sharpness and detail in the foreground flowers. Shooting wildflowers with success is much easier now with the newer LB ColorCombo being one stop faster combined with newer cameras having the ability to shoot higher ISO’s with fewer noise pixels.
With the advantages of clarity, color rendition, and color saturation being natural and true to the subject when shooting wildflowers the use of the LB ColorCombo is a definite asset in your arsenal of photography tools.

Sunset In Van Trump Park Mt Rainier

Sunset In Van Trump Park Mt Rainier

Use Lightroom or Camera Raw to Create Natural 32 bit HDR Images by Sean Bagshaw

Friday, August 30th, 2013

Smith-Rock-Sunset

In this video tutorial I share a technique for quickly and easily creating natural looking 32 bit extended dynamic range images using Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop. To be able to perform this technique you will need Lightroom version 4.1 or newer and Photoshop CS6 or newer. (Correction: In the video I state that ACR in CS5 will support 32-bit tiff files. It turns out that ACR version 7 is required to edit 32-bit files and that is only supported in CS6.)

It is common in outdoor photography to be confronted with scenes that have a degree of contrast that is too extreme for the camera to accurately capture in a single exposure. Raw files from the latest DSLR cameras contain more dynamic range than ever before, making it possible to recover an amazing amount of highlight and shadow detail from a single exposure, but there are still dynamic range limitations and pushing a single exposure too far can create problems with noise, particularly in the dark areas.

Most often I use advanced layer masking techniques in Photoshop to manually blend exposures for the greatest degree of control, quality and creative flexibility, but such techniques take a lot of practice to perfect. You might be interested to know that Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw offer a quick and easy to learn way to combine exposures to create extended dynamic range images without the look and quality issues that you can run into with HDR tone mapping software. For a full explanation check out the video.

Update: It is also worth noting that if you own Photomatix by HDRsoft, it can be used instead of Adobe HDRPro to generate 32-bit blended tif files. These will also give you 20 stops of dynamic range to work with in LR or Camera Raw. Some people have shared with me that they think Photomatix does an even better job than HDRPro.  If you have LR 4.1 and an up to date version of Photomatix you are also good to go.

For my complete selection of Photoshop video tutorials including my workflow, other methods for extending dynamic rante and luminosity mask techniques visit www.OutdoorExposurePhoto.com.