Archive for the ‘Image Processing’ Category

How To Successfully Photograph Northern Lights by Kevin McNeal

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Northern Lights Over A Winter Cabin

One of my dreams has always been to photograph the Northern lights under a fresh blanket of white snow. A few years ago I got a chance to photograph the northern lights in the Canadian Rockies. I happened to be on a workshop at Abraham Lake shooting winter landscapes when we received an unexpected stunning display of lights. At this point I had no experience and was not sure even how to do it; all I knew was the photography mantra, “expose to the right always”. So I made the mistake of shooting the northern lights for thirty seconds or more to get the scene exposure on the right side of my histogram. During my moments of excitement and panic I did not even think to look at the images, just the histogram. I learned a hard lesson that night as the final result was a series of images that had all been overexposed. This overexposure caused all the Northern lights to blend together with no detail or patterns. A lot has happened since then in terms of camera equipment technology and photographer progress. With the year 2014 being a great year for Northern Lights I thought I would write a brief article on my experience and what I have learned.

Converging Points Of Patterns

When it comes to locations and where to find the right places to shoot the Northern Lights there are a few places that always win the hearts of photographers for their visual beauty. As most know the Northern Lights are called that for a reason, because they are seen in the higher areas of the Northern Hemisphere. The areas that I find the truly most scenic are Iceland, Norway/Scandinavia, Alaska, and Canada/Yukon. Each has its pluses and minuses which are beyond the scope of the article.

Northern Light Pancakes

Northern Light Pancakes


This year has been predicted to be a fantastic year for Northern Lights so I decided to plan several trips based around photographing them. For my first trip I visited the countries of Sweden, Finland, Norway, and more specifically the Lofoten Islands. I had never been there and had seen all the images with fresh snow and snow capped mountain peaks. It was exactly what I had been looking for. From research I knew driving would be extremely difficult in the Lofoten Islands so I decided to take a photo tour where I would not have to worry about that. If you have ever photographed with me you know that was a smart decision. It was nice to be able to just be taken to places without worrying if I would end up lost and frozen somewhere in the night. Some nights it was -28 and a few seconds in this temperature and you felt the numbness already. The other advantage of taking a photo tour is the instructors will know the best places to go when the Northern Lights do happen. The last thing you want to be doing is trying to find a place when the lights occur. Not only was this advantageous to have instructors take you to the right places but they also have the knowledge of where the lights are most likely to happen and when. This was really helpful so that you did not have to stay up all night looking out the window when you have already been shooting all day.

Northern Lights Down At The Shore

So how are you supposed to photograph Northern Lights?  With experience the following is what I have found works best.

The first thing I want to talk about is shutter speed and how long you should expose the image. This depends on the light available at each scene and the elements of the scene. The most important aspect I found to be essential to shooting aurora is to make sure you don’t overexpose. What I found works best to capture detail in the Northern Lights is anywhere from five to twelve seconds. Any more than this and the lights just blur into one another and you lose the stunning movements of the lights. I adjust the shutter speed based on how fast the lights are moving. When you get high action movement in the lights adjust your settings to have a shutter speed of five seconds. This short shutter speed will allow you to capture all the stunning patterns and movement of the Northern Lights. When the lights are barely visible I was up around twelve seconds.  I adjust my ISO so that I would be able to get the proper shutter speed.  I photograph with a Nikon D800 with a 14-24/2.8 lens, a good camera and lens combination for night photography. I found that most of my images were taken at ISO 1600 and a few at ISO 3200 for the short bursts of light. In hindsight most of the images that I took at ISO 3200 are too noisy for large printing. It goes without saying that newer cameras will do better with noise and low light situations. I also recommend using a lens that has an aperture of 2.8 or less. Shooting an f/4 lens I was not able to shoot the lights with minimal noise and fast enough shutter speed. If possible an aperture of 1.4 or 1.8 would be even better. For focal length I always use as wide angle a lens as possible. Using a 14mm lens I was able to capture most of the patterns in one image. I have seen plenty of fantastic images with a fish-eye lens as well.

Frozen Reflections Of Northern Lights

So, what happens to the rest of the elements in the image when shooting specifically for the Northern Lights?

When shooting just for the lights, the rest of the elements went completely dark and had no detail. This meant I had to do another exposure just for the rest of the scene and manually blend the two images together in post processing.  It is vital that you use a strong tripod with a sturdy ballhead to prevent any kind of movement during the shot especially when shooting on the ice. The first night of shooting Northern Lights we visited a frozen lake surrounded by mountain peaks. The creativity of shooting Northern Lights has been improving and the best images today almost always include the foreground. So being that I was on a frozen lake I looked for ice cracks that would provide great leading lines to connect the foreground to the background. To properly expose the complete scene you need to take at least two images. One image should expose for the Northern Lights and a second image that exposes for the foreground and the other elements in the image. A critical consideration for exposure in the foreground is the elements present. If there is plenty of snow, especially in the foreground, your exposure will be much less. After the images are taken I usually shoot another image with my hand in front of the lens to signify the end of the series of images. Later in Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Bridge I can stack those images as the same set or series. This is very helpful later on when trying to sort what image goes with what. So I shot the Northern lights at ISO 1600 for nine second and then exposed for the foreground ice, which was anywhere from thirty to sixty seconds. I then manually blended the two in Photoshop.

River Reflections Of Magic

The next component to photographing Northern Lights successfully is Aperture and focusing. Aperture is a constant from my experience. I need to be at an aperture f/2.8 (lower if I had a faster lens) always to get a fast enough shutter speed to capture the patterns in the Northern Lights. Combining an aperture of f/2.8 and ISO 1600 allowed me to achieve a shutter speed of less then ten seconds. The trickiest part for me was the focusing. I started by focusing on the background first to make sure I got the Northern Lights in focus. I set this up by looking at my LCD live view and focusing on a star in the distant sky. I go in at 100% preview until I find a bright star and then rotate the focus until it is sharp. Once that has occurred you can shoot the background Northern Lights with the assurance you have those sharp. Double check after by checking the LCD review of the image at 100% to see if all the stars are sharp. You know you are in the right area if you are focusing on infinity and then pulling back a smidge from that. If that all seems like too much work you can practice test shots during the day and marking on your lens where the background is in focus and use that mark on the lens later when shooting Northern lights. There are other ways that people use to focus on background stars but I found these methods worked best for me. Once you are confident the background Northern Lights are sharp, refocus for the foreground without moving the tripod or the camera position. If you are going to later blend the two images together in post processing there can be no movement in the camera. In my experience this was the hardest part in the process. I tried a couple of images where I shot one image focusing only on the background but all my foreground elements would be soft. So I would say it is imperative to refocus for a second shot. Once I got the hang of that process I took it one step further and took several images focus bracketing at several different increments blending all the images in post processing.

Best View In The House

How do you focus in the foreground when everything is in complete darkness? The answer is bringing some sort of light like a LED light or your headlamp. Find an object in the immediate foreground you will want to include in the image, shine the your light on it and then focus on that. Use the LCD preview at 100% to make sure everything is sharp. There are many techniques that people suggest when it comes to focusing on subjects in the foreground, but for me I chose the most important element of the foreground I wanted and used that. This works well except if you are in a group or a workshop where everyone is photographing in the same area. Shooting with several other participants in the workshop in a wide open space with head lamps buzzing everywhere lead to contamination of light in most of my images. Even though people are spread out, any kind of light that people use can show up in your images. No matter how far away I seemed to get away from the group I could see other photographers flashlights in my images. So be wary if in a group situation. For this reason I tried to avoid using any light and use my best estimate for focus. This proved to be a big mistake and I lost several images to the foreground being soft.

Mystery Ocean Under The Stars

To overcome this obstacle I decided I needed to wait till the next day. I would practice during the daylight and mark my lens where the optimal sharpness point should be; choosing to focus on something one-third into the foreground scene. When testing I looked for a similar situation that I would find myself in while shooting the Northern Lights. I was looking for something where the foreground element would be similar such as a rock, ice crack, etc. This foreground subject would be right in front of me with the mountain peaks in the far background. Once I found the spot of optimal sharpness I marked this on my lens. I could then go straight to that focus point the next time I was in the dark and shooting in a group situation. I want to note this was not the ideal situation and the focus was not always a 100% but it was the best I could do under the circumstances.

The last thing I did was take some time to just enjoy the Northern Lights without doing any shooting. Just enjoy the amazing show that so few people ever get to see!

If you have any tips that you have found helpful when photographing the aurora consider sharing them in the comments as I’m sure others would love to read them.

Hard Proofing for Optimal Fine Art Prints

Monday, January 20th, 2014


Sometimes I find that producing a print that looks as good hanging on the wall as I want it to can be a challenge. In many cases, as long as I have carefully developed my images on a calibrated monitor, ordering a print through a print lab or printing on my own photo printer yields very good results.  However, there are times when producing a print that looks right displayed in it’s intended location is elusive. The light source in which a print is viewed greatly affects its apparent brightness, color and contrast and the particular print media will also affect resolution and sharpness.

Soft proofing in the computer is helpful for getting a print under perfect lighting conditions to more closely match the way it appears on the screen. I have a previous article and video on soft proofing in Photoshop if you want to check that out.  While soft proofing is good for compensating for paper color and brightness, it can’t help anticipate how the texture of the paper, viewing distance and room lighting will affect how the image will look when viewed in its environment.

Hard proofing is a way to make fine adjustments for such variables.  Hard proofing is the process of printing a test print, evaluating it in the intended viewing conditions, making adjustments, printing again and repeating this process until you are satisfied with how the print looks. Obviously, hard proofing can be time consuming and expensive. I don’t do extensive hard proofing for every print I make, but when a print isn’t living up to expectations I use a technique allows me to get the print right. This technique can be used to optimize any variable that will affect how your final print will look, such as brightness, color balance, contrast, saturation and sharpening.

The Photoshop Creative Cloud Conundrum: Stick To Your Guns or Bite The Bullet? by Sean Bagshaw

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

If I’m going to spend time writing an article I would much rather be writing about a creative image developing technique or sharing stories and images from a recent photo trip than debating the merits of a software company’s business choices. However, in this case, I’m making an exception because, not including my actual camera equipment, Adobe Photoshop is the single most important tool I use. I know this is the case for many people who follow the PhotoCascadia blog as well. Now was the time to write because the decision to move to Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription model or stick with Photoshop CS6 is becoming somewhat time sensitive.

Unfortunately, Images like this one are only possible with the use of layer masking techniques in Photoshop.

If you are not already a Photoshop CS user or if you have already subscribed to Adobe’s Creative Cloud, this conversation probably doesn’t impact or interest you much. If you are not aware of the factors involved in making the choice, allow me to bring you up to speed.

For a few years, Adobe has been developing a cloud based, subscription model for most of its professional software, including Photoshop. In the first half of 2013 they announced that while Photoshop CS6 would still be available for purchase and supported (for an undisclosed duration), they would no longer be offering new versions of CS under the old perpetual license model. Owning a perpetual license means that once you pay for the software you are able to use it indefinitely. Instead, anyone who wants to use updated versions of Photohshop must move to Photoshop Creative Cloud (CC), which is only available with a subscription and not a perpetual license. Under Adobe’s current subscription terms, you can only use the software as long as you pay for a subscription.

I’m not opposed to the cloud concept or a subscription model per se. There are many advantages and the actual experience of using Photoshop is effectively unchanged. The Creative Cloud enables Adobe to release updates and new features in real time instead of waiting for the release of a new version. It also gives Photoshop some cloud based functionality and connectivity that many people may find useful. I can also see why it is a good business model for Adobe. Perhaps the most fundamental is that as a program matures it isn’t possible to produce monumental upgrades and improvements as frequently. With fewer people feeling new versions are worth the upgrade price, the subscription model is one way to ensure a continued income stream necessary to stay profitable as a business.

There have been a host of inaccurate fears and rumors floating around the web that caused the real issues related to Creative Cloud to become a bit obscured. Some are about not being able to use Photoshop CC unless connected to the Internet or only being able to store image files in the cloud and not on your computer. Such concerns aren’t founded. This article does a good job of clearing up many of these erroneous concerns.

TIF or PSD files containing Photoshop layers can't be opened by software from other companies and are not fully supported by Adobe programs like Lightroom of Photohsop Elements.

TIF or PSD files containing Photoshop layers can’t be opened by software from other companies and are not fully supported by Adobe programs like Lightroom or Photohsop Elements.

Initially there was also a big backlash from Photoshop CS users about the price of a Photoshop CC subscription. At $20 a month for a “Single App” subscription, the cost of subscribing to Photoshop is more than double the cost of upgrading a perpetual Photoshop license with every other new version, which has been the requirement.

There is also concern in the Photoshop user community that the terms of the Creative Cloud subscription stipulate that when a subscription is no longer paid that Photoshop CC becomes deactivated. This is perhaps the bigger concern for me. For example,  if I was to stop a subscription to Photoshop CC after 10 years of paying $20 a month, a $2400 expense, I would essentially be left with nothing. True, I would still have all my image files and the freedom to access them with other software. Unfortunately, as someone who uses Photoshop layers as part of a non-destructive workflow (one of the main reasons to use Photoshop in the first place), all of my layered PSD and TIF files would still only be accessible by Photoshop. So really, once I move to CC I am pretty much committed for life and this just doesn’t seem right.

There are a few applications available that are coming close to replacing the functionality of Photoshop, but to date they are not fully compatible with or have all the capability of Photoshop’s layers and layer masks. They might provide a good alternative for people not dependent on Photoshop’s layer system. I will keep an eye on them for future expansion of functionality and compatibility with Photoshop layers. Two that seem particularly promising are GIMP and PhotoLine.

For now it is still possible to go back to CS6 once a subscription to CC is terminated and Adobe has said it will support CS6 with the next version of both Mac and PC operating systems. Whether they will continue support beyond that is not known, but it seems unlikely that CS6 will still function on the operating systems of 2024.

My suggestion to Adobe was to use the model cell phone companies do. Subscribers commit to a two year subscription. At the end of the two years one can choose not to re-up. The software would still work (like your cell phone still works after the contract ends), but will stop receiving updates and support. Renewing the subscription for another two years would keep the updates and support flowing. Needless to say, they haven’t taken me up on my suggestion yet.

So, what’s the conundrum you may ask? It seems pretty cut and dry. Either you do not accept the Creative Cloud subscription terms and you make due with CS6, or you do accept the terms and you get a subscription and move on.

It turns out that in September Adobe made the decision even more challenging. Essentially they bet that some holdouts might give up principles for the right price. Responding to the outcry and lack of subscriptions from photographers they offered a special Photography Package to anyone who already owns Photoshop CS3 or newer, providing an upgrade to Photoshop CC plus Lightroom 5 for $10 a month with a one year contract, seemingly a much more reasonable deal. The hitch is that the offer expires at the end of December, placing pressure on holdouts such as myself to resign to sticking with CS6 forever, giving in and subscribing now or paying $20 a month for Photoshop CC at some point in the future. Well played Adobe. Note: within hours of posting this article I learned that Adobe has now opened it’s $10 per month Photoshop CC + Lightroom 5 subscription to anyone until December 2, 2013. (no previous Photoshop CS purchase required). Read more here.

So what have I decided to do? I bit the bullet and signed up but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should too. For the type of image developing I do, there aren’t really any other options than Photoshop. Since part of my job is as a digital photography educator it is also important that I’m teaching with the most current tools. Without new versions of CS coming I’m pretty sure I would be forced to subscribe to CC eventually. I decided it would be better to try it out at $10 a month now than be forced into it at $20 a month later. After my year is up I will take a look at how, and if, the subscription model has evolved and determine how to proceed from there.

What are you doing or going to do? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts on the matter. They may help others decide whether to stick to their guns or bite the bullet.

Protecting and Tracking Your Images Online

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

By Adrian Klein

I touched on this topic in early 2012 on this blog with the post New Photography Copyright Laws – Where Do You Stand when SOPA and PIPA were the buzz acronyms making their way through the online world. Although that buzz died down the subject of image copyright continues to be a topic that brings many passionate opinions. The vast majority of us share our work online for good or for bad. Frankly I am not sure how you would maximize your photo business starting out today without an online presence including social media.  Meaning we need to be taking proactive measures to protecting  our work even though the reality is if you want 100% assurance it’s never used without your knowledge you simply cannot post it online.

On this topic a few weeks back I decided to do a little searching with tools at my disposal. Most links took me to social media sites where people marked my work as a favorite or shared it with their friends or otherwise benign uses. Whether you agree with me or not I am not going to get wrapped up in every little usage like some folks do, it’s simply not worth my time. I am primarily concerned with businesses that would be using it in way that can help with their profit or cause (using on website, in publication, etc). That said it did not take too much time to uncover uses of my work that I did not agree with and was unaware of.

Searching Online

GoogleImages and TinEye

Looking for my images online I used the two most common solutions, Google Images and  TinEye. They seem to do pretty well and comparing the two I found more links with my work on Google Images than TinEye . Likely you already know of these yet if have not used them before and you have images posted online it’s worth some time to see if what they come back with your images. I do question the relevance of Google’s “Visually Similar Images” search returns. Often it was similar in colors but nothing more.

I then reached out to the offenders found during my searches and infringing uses were removed promptly. In one case I had good dialogue with a office manager that seemed to genuinely lack an understanding on which images are okay or not okay to use online. Regardless if the company is playing ignorant or not, they are paying my invoice for what I feel is a small sum for illegal use of my image by a business.

Register Images

Regardless of what I talk about in the below sections one step is register your work with the US Copyright Office (for those of you reading this in the United States). This is the legal way to show you as the copyright owner of the photographs/images. Yes I know the moment an image is captured by a photographer it’s copyright is owned by that person yet legally that is not enough for most lawyers to take a case.  There is always the chance images can be used illegally before you submit if you post through social media,blogs or websites frequently and submit infrequently to the copyright office. However the cost is cheap ($35) plus it’s easy to do, and it could help you down the road. I admit to falling behind on this and the images I had issues with were more recent and I had not registered them. Updated submission is complete and in the mail.

Digital Watermarking


Another solution is applying a digital watermark to an image, in essence a fingerprint. Then a system crawls the web like a spider to return where your image is found (sounds like someone talking late 90’s world wide web speak). There are a number of solutions out there for putting “invisibile” watermarks on images yet for this post I will cover Digimarc for Images (DFI) by Digimarc. I put invisible in quotes since it’s not completely invisible in all cases which I get into detail below. I went with Digimarc for a number of reasons including how long they have been a leader in this space.

As a Photoshop user (most reading this are) you will already see Digmarc as an option under Filters. The thing is that unless you subscribe to the service the tracking data associated to the watermark cannot be modified and you cannot access their search database online. Both pretty important pieces. In order to get full functionality and access to their search database you need to signup.

For the majority of us posting quality looking web sized images online is important. If it’s too soft or too sharp or too pixaleted or other image degradation issues it’s not very inviting to potential viewers. That is why it’s important to pay close attention when applying the watermark.

Digmarc has videos and FAQs to help but here my steps to add:

1)    Complete all your normal processing to the point you are ready to save for web (the digital watermark should be your last step).
2)    In Photoshop go to Filter –> Digimarc –> Embed Watermark
3)    Here choose what settings you want (if any) besides your Digimarc ID and the strength of the watermark. I normally choose strength 3 (default)
4)    Click okay and the watermark is applied to the image

Here is where you need to decide whether to make additional changes to the file before saving it. Personally there places on certain images where it’s too noticeable for my liking (I wish they could truly make it invisible).  The problem areas I notice most is clear skies and dark portions of an image. I don’t like seeing it, I paint out the watermark in these spots and leave it on the rest. After doing this I do the following to test the strength of the watermark.

1)    Go to Filter –> Digimarc –> Read Watermark
2)    Ideally it does not erase very much leaving strength in medium to high range. If the strength moves to low then you need to decide what is more important, the watermark strength or presentation.

Here are examples of images where you can clearly see the difference with and without watermark and other images where is almost no difference to the eye.

AlvordDesert-092713_0234-PC Blog

AlvordDesert-092713_0191-PC Blog

So how is Digimarc panning out for me? That is a good question I can answer down the road. I just started using the service and they say it takes at least a month before a user can potentially start seeing results through their online reporting tool. Additionally most of my work does not have DFI watermarking, meaning images already out there won’t found. I figure if they can report even a small number of unknown uses that other free tools are not picking up it’s worth the reasonable subscription price.

Use Discount Code = Cascadia20 to get 20% off a Digimarc subscription. If you have questions once you are signed up their customer service is great. I have had several questions and all were answered in significant detail within a couple business days.

Beyond using digital watermarking there are two other things I feel everyone should continue to do. Although neither of these will stop anyone from using your image they help keep honest people honest. It’s like locking the doors to your car.

1)    Metadata: Ensure you have correct copyright and contact info in the metadata of your file. I have my name, website and copyright along with title, description and keywords.
2)    Visible Watermark: Although the watermark was Photoshopped or cropped in cases I discovered that led me to this blog post, I still believe a relatively non-intrusive watermark of your name or company is beneficial.

Do you agree we should proactively take steps to protect or track our images before posting online? Have you cancelled your social media accounts over fears of illegal usage? What are your experiences and thoughts on this subject?

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


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

Overlay Dodge and Soft Light Burn Technique by Sean Bagshaw

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

Dodging and burning to creatively lighten and darken areas within a photo is a technique essentially as old as photography itself. In the digital darkroom we now have many ways in which we can make dodging and burning types of adjustments.


Before making creative adjustments.


After creative adjustments including dodging and burning to creatively darken and lighten specific areas within the image.

Many years ago I learned the Photoshop technique of dodging and burning areas of an image by painting with white (to lighten) and black (to darken) using a blended 50% gray layer. In a previous PhotoCascadia article I demonstrated the 50% gray layer technique and why it is a better option than using the Dodge and Burn tools within Photoshop. That article gives a great lead in to the techniques in this article. In this article I will expand on the 50% gray dodge/burn technique and share a simple way to get even more control with this type of adjustment.

For some time I have known that dodging and burning on a 50% gray layer set to the Overlay blending mode would give results that differ from dodging and burning on a 50% gray layer set to the Soft Light blending mode. I would choose one or the other depending on what looked better. More recently I realized that one blending mode is often more suited to dodging and the other is often more suited to burning. By separating my dodging and burning on to two different layers I can get the best results from each of the two blending modes and have the greatest control over my dodging and burning.

Both the Soft Light and Overlay blending modes lighten light tones and darken dark tones while blending the 50% mid-tone transparently. That’s why a 50% gray layer becomes invisible when it is set to Overlay or Soft Light. However, Soft Light and Overlay shift the dark and light tones differently.

The Soft Light blending mode shifts the tones towards the lights and the darks less aggressively than the Overlay blending mode. Lightening and darkening with the Soft Light mode will create a lower contrast dodge and burn, and using the Overlay blending mode will create a higher contrast dodge and burn.

Basic Gradiant

Normal Mode

Soft Light 2

Soft Light Mode – Moderate tonal shift from the mid-tones to the darks and lights.


Overlay Mode – More aggressive tonal shift from the mid-tones to the darks and lights.

Depending on your intentions and the characteristics of the tones in the image it is fine to dodge or burn with either blending mode.

However, I have found that in many cases that dodging (painting white) on a 50% gray Overlay layer lightens while maintaining good contrast in the lightened areas. Painting white on a 50% gray Soft Light layer tends to lighten with a loss of contrast giving a very washed out or faded effect.

Similarly, I have found that most often I like the effect of painting black on a 50% gray Soft Light layer to darken. This does a good job of darkening mid-tones while preserving some of the highlights and not over darkening the shadows. Painting black on a 50% gray Overlay layer tends to darken too aggressively resulting in a dull, flat, over darkened effect.

It is quite challenging to explain or visualize these concepts in writing so I produced the following short video tutorial to take you through the steps of setting up the separate dodge/burn layers and show how to use them. Make sure to watch the video at the highest resolution (720p).  I think you will find this dodge/burn technique will be a great addition to your workflow.

Finally, I’ll mention that this Overlay/Dodge and Soft Light/Burn technique can also be used in combination with Tony Kuyper’s Luminosity Painting technique. I briefly demonstrate Luminosity Painting at the end of the video in my previous dodge and burn article. For those who have The Complete Guide to Luminosity Masks videos you can also find a complete tutorial on this technique in segment #31 Localized Adjustments – Luminosity Painting.

For more image developing instruction you can visit If you have comments or questions about this topic make sure to join the discussion in the comments section below.


Thursday, May 30th, 2013

by Zack Schnepf

The number one question I got after I produced my tonality control video is this.  How do you sharpen, and when?  The simple answer is, I don’t sharpen until I’m going to present the image in one medium or another. That means I don’t sharpen at all when I export from Lightroom either; this is my own preference. I find that the more times you sharpen an image the more image degradation you get. If I’m presenting on the web, or on screen, I use the techniques detailed in an older video log.  This explains why our images look so sharp online. You can view it here:

If I’m presenting the image in print, I use a separate workflow.  I’ve tried several advanced sharpening techniques, plugins, and programs specifically designed for sharpening, but I still prefer to keep it simple and use the tools built in Photoshop.  In this video tutorial I walk you through my simple workflow for sharpening for print.

The image I used for this video is 4 exposures blended together using my advanced Photoshop tonality control and multiple exposure blending techniques. I produced a video detailing these techniques, it’s available here:
I will be releasing a new video detailing many more advanced techniques later this year.

The Advantages of Luminosity Masks by Sean Bagshaw

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

I recently produced a series of Photoshop video tutorials called The Complete Guide to Luminosity Masks to help people learn how to use Luminosity Masks in their image developing repertoire. Luminosity Masks are very powerful tools for making refined image adjustments in Photoshop. Their use in landscape and nature photography was originally developed and established by my friend and colleague, Tony Kuyper, with whom I collaborated on the videos. Tony’s Luminosity Masking techniques revolutionized the way photographers like myself, as well as all the members of Photo Cascadia, are able to make adjustments to our images within Photoshop.

If you are familiar with Tony’s work, his written tutorials or his Photoshop actions, then you already have at least basic knowledge of Luminosity Masks. For those just being introduced to Luminosity Masks I thought it would be helpful if I briefly explained what they are and what they can be used for.

Luminosity Masks are actually just one of many ways to create layer masks in Photoshop. Like other types of masks, they can be added to any pixel layer or adjustment layer to control where and to what extent an adjustment or filter will be applied to an image. For example, let’s say I’d like to use a mask to constrain a darkening adjustment only to the sky in this image.

Unadjusted Image

Unadjusted Image

For the purpose of comparison let’s consider a very simple way to generate a mask; painting on a mask with a white or black brush. White areas of a mask will reveal any adjustments made on the layer, black areas will conceal any adjustments made on the layer and shades of gray will partially reveal adjustments depending on how dark the shade of gray is. In the mask below I have painted the landscape black and left the sky white so that the effects of a darkening Levels adjustment will only be revealed in the sky. By using a soft brush I was able to feather the boundaries of the adjustment.

Hand Painted Mask

Hand Painted Mask

Depending on the situation, painting a mask by hand can be challenging and often leaves dark or light halos along edges.

Adjustment Through The Painted Mask

Adjustment Through The Painted Mask

In the next example I created a more precise but non-feathered selection of the sky using the quick selection tool and then created a Levels Adjustment Layer with the selection active. The Levels Adjustment Layer is generated with a mask that automatically reflects my sky selection. This mask constrains the adjustment to the sky like the first mask, but with a very abrupt edge.

Sky Selection Mask

Sky Quick Selection Mask

Depending on how detailed the edges are and how much feathering is needed to make transition zones look natural, this may or may not be the right technique.

Adjustment Through the Quick Selection Mask

Adjustment Through the Quick Selection Mask

There are many instances when a hand painted mask, or simple selection mask, or any number of other types of masks might be the right tool for guiding an adjustment. But as seen in the previous examples they can leave light or dark halos across boundaries or the abruptness of the transition zone does not look natural.

While they aren’t the perfect and single answer to all masking situations, Luminosity Masks can often do a much better job of guiding adjustments in a way that is perfectly feathered into the image and natural in appearance. The example below shows what a Luminosity Mask targeted toward the luminosity values of the sky looks like. Because it is created from the actual luminosity values of each pixel in the image it matches the image pixel for pixel and allows the adjustment to feather itself within the image seamlessly.

Luminosity Mask

Luminosity Mask

Adjustment Through the Luminosity Mask

Adjustment Through the Luminosity Mask

So, where do Luminosity Masks come from? The luminosity values of the color channels in the Channels Panel in Photoshop are used to create luminosity based selections, and these selections can in turn be used to generate Luminosity Masks. In this way Luminosity Masks are just like other methods of creating selections and masks, which means they can be used to guide any type of adjustment or filter, not just Levels or Curves adjustments. Luminosity Masks are simply far more detailed than other masking options. They are also completely self feathering and they allow the user to target different regions of an image based on luminosity or tonal values. Learning to make and use Luminosity Masks takes time and practice. The written tutorials on Tony Kuyper’s website go into great detail on how how to make and use them. Tony has also developed Photoshop actions that streamline the process of mask creation to just a few simple clicks. This video demonstrates how (make sure to view at 720pHD).

Since Tony first published his Luminosity Mask techniques back in 2006 he regularly receives requests for video instruction to support his written tutorials and actions. After he and I discussed the idea for a year or more, we decided to collaborate on a video series, with me writing, recording and producing videos to directly support Tony’s techniques and actions and with Tony consulting and contributing his vast knowledge.

The video segments from The Complete Guide to Luminosity Masks below offer more of an introduction to Luminosity Masks and how I teach them in the video series   Both Tony and I are also happy to answer questions. You can leave me a comment in the comments section below or email me at [email protected]. Tony can be reached through his website,


Tumalo Mountain – Winter Backpacking Trip

Monday, April 1st, 2013

By Adrian Klein

Zack did a post on his successful trip in this same area earlier this winter yet I thought I would share mine since it was a little different experience and imagery. I had been a handful of times over the last half dozen years with little success. The snow never stopped or overcast texture-less skies or little to no fresh snow. They were fun day or overnight trips yet little I was excited about photography wise. Seeing that my fellow Photo Cascadia team members Zack and Sean had success in this region I figured maybe I was due this year too. With a few days open and conditions looking promising a good friend of mine and I headed to Central Oregon.

You certainly can stay in warm cozy lodging in Bend to make a day trip out of it yet can mean a morning earlier than the baker at the local doughnut shop to drive and then snowshoe in for sunrise. We wanted more time up there; we opted for snow camping. Driving up to the bottom of the mountain the weather was storming away with a good dose of blowing snow and temps in the low 20’s without the wind chill (forecast said overnight low -3 for wind-chill). Fortunately for us the wind ceased during the night, more on that later.

We loaded up our packs, bundled up and snowshoed up 1000 ft and about 1.5 miles. It was not very far but always feels farther than it is in bad weather, uphill and full pack. After getting pretty close to the top of Tumalo Mountain we came down a little lower where the snow was not blowing as intensely (I learned that lesson on prior overnight trip in the area). After finding a nice spot to call home for the night we dropped the packs and started digging out a flat spot for our tent.

If you have never done this it’s akin to making mini crop circles with the circle stomping to get the ground as flat as possible. With this much fresh snow, warm sleeping bag and shelter from the wind it’s about as comfy as sleeping on my bed at home. Those that have never snow camped assume you must be cold. I certainly do my best to avoid that. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

“There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing”  – Sir Ranulph Fiennes

Our sheltered camping spot for the night.

Our sheltered camping spot for the night.

After we had camp all setup and plenty of daylight to burn we decided to make a jaunt for the top in hopes the weather would break. Before we even got to the top we turned around. The wind was relentless. Mix that with the occasional falling snow and it was damn near whiteout conditions. On the way back to camp I saw the scene below. I was really drawn to it with the open empty minimalist feeling in this white abyss. I gave it a slight blue tint to reflect the ice cold windy conditions.

Into The White - Snow blows past me and quickly fills our tracks as I take a moment to capture this scene.

Snow blows past and quickly fills our tracks as I take a moment to capture this scene.

After arriving back at camp we made dinner our gourmet meal, a la freeze dried food in a bag and called it a night early since we would be rising by 5:00 am as it was. As a side note the late sunrise is one thing I love about winter. If it was summer and a hike to be somewhere for sunrise, sleeping until 5am is something you can only dream. Anyway, in the middle of the night I woke up to the sound of nothing, it was tranquil to say the least. I decided to get out for a peek and of course Mother Nature was calling. The wind had died to a gentle breeze that could hardly be felt, the cloud filled sky now had peep holes to the stars and the almost full moon was making occasional appearances as well. These trees towering over me felt like giant gentle friendly ghosts. It was an amazing feeling and reminder of the payoff being right where I was standing after a large storm was heading for the exit.

We woke up shortly before 5, strapped on our gear and headed for the top of Tumalo Mountain. Still cold as could be yet the wind was close to dead and the skies mostly clear. We could see the first glimpse of daylight as we made our way laying fresh tracks through at times fairly deep snow. Just before sunrise we arrived at the top. I expected the wind to be howling yet much to our delight it was light breezes with periods of calm. Fresh snow, calm winds and a luxury view for sunrise. Does it get much better? I doubt it.

We spent about an hour and a half on the summit capturing the following the scenes.


The sunrise alpenglow lights up the top of Mount Bachelor on a cold winter morning.

The sunrise alpenglow lights up the top of Mount Bachelor on a cold winter morning.

The sun making it's presence known to the the summit snow encrusted trees.

The sun making it’s presence known to the the summit snow encrusted trees.

The trees caked thick with snow and ice as the sun rises and beams right through.

The trees caked thick with snow and ice on the summit as the sun rises and beams through the branches for an amazingly surreal scene.

Looking out into Three Sisters Wilderness South Sister and Broken top peaks floating in and out of the clouds never fully appearing until much later in the morning. I chose B&W for this scene because of the drama wit the lights and clouds.

Looking out into Three Sisters Wilderness South Sister and Broken top peaks floating in and out of the clouds never fully appearing until much later in the morning.
I chose B&W for this scene because of the drama with the shadows/highlights, night cloud layers and lack of color in the scene.

If you plan to hike and camp into Tumalo Mountain or other near by wilderness in winter double check the snow removal days before you go. I believe there are one or two nights during the week that you cannot park your car overnight at Dutchman Flats parking lot because they need it open for snow removal. Should this be on your short list of upcoming destinations a quick Google search and you should find many plenty of info how to get to Tumalo Mountain in either winter or summer.