Archive for the ‘Image Processing’ Category

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.

Previsualization, Possibly the Most Important Thing I do in Photography

Friday, March 15th, 2013

by Zack Schnepf

Previsualization is one of, if not the most important thing I do in photography and in art in general.  It’s also one of the hardest things to teach.  I use previsualization in the field and in post processing to envision what I want the final image to look like.  This is extremely important and something that you learn over time.  Previsualization is an abstract concept, it can be hard to grasp, and takes time to develop.   So what is previsualization and how do you use it to improve your photography?

When I’m in the field looking at the scene, light, atmospheric conditions, and trying to come up with a visually striking composition; I’m previsualizing and building an idea of an image in my head.  This process can be painstaking, or it can be unconscious.  Most of the time it takes a lot of mental energy.  If I’m doing it well, it’s kind of a Zen consciousness, I’m thinking like a painter imagining what I want the final image to look like.  This allows me to adjust my composition and helps me figure out if I need to use multiple exposures or an advanced capture technique to create a certain look.

For example, when I was capturing Second Beach Sunset I was with David Cobb.  Both of us were previsualizing, trying to figure out where the sun would go down and how best to use it with the other compositional elements to compliment the conditions.  We found this pool and I constructed a mental image of what I wanted the final image to look like.  This is an ever evolving process and as the sun was setting I moved a bit to help capture my previsualized mental image.  I also knew it was a very dynamic scene so I adjusted how many individual exposures I would need to get all the raw data I needed in Photoshop.  This is an important part of the process I try to teach students in the field.  When I’m in the field, I’m thinking many steps ahead, I’m already imagining what I will need in Photoshop to create the vision I have in my head.  That can be how many exposures I need, as well as how each exposure should look to make my job easier when I get into Lightroom and Photoshop.  Sometimes it means removing distracting objects in the frame, or increasing my shutter speed for a particular exposure to freeze motion of a foreground element.  All of this is part of the previsualization process for me.

Second Beach Sunset

Second Beach Sunset

I also use previsualization when I’m processing.  When I’m in Lightroom evaluating the raw data I have.  I’m previsualizing what I want the final image to look like.  This gives me a direction to move toward.  From there, I figure out which techniques I’ll use in Lightroom and Photoshop to create my final image.  Previsualization is what drives my creative process.  It holds the entire workflow together for me and provides direction from capture, through processing, to print.

I go into detail on how I use this mental technique in my Tonality Control Video, it’s available here:

To see a list of field workshops I’m offering this year click here: 2013 Workshops

How To Remove Noise In Camera Raw 7.0 by Kevin McNeal

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013


Mount Rundle Sunrise After Noise Removal In Camera Raw 7.0

Mount Rundle Sunrise After Noise Removal In Camera Raw 7.0


Recently I revisited some older images from the past few years. I am sure we all have some images in our past that we wish we could have done something different. For me, many of my images were underexposed to get detail in the sky we no regard for the foreground. Things have changed significantly with my post processing and advancements in Photoshop and Camera RAW. So much has happened behind the scenes in terms of the engine and workings in Camera Raw in the last few years. In this article I am going to try to explain how I now go about removing noise from my images.

To begin with I am using Adobe Photoshop CS6 and Camera Raw 7.0. To find out what version of Camera Raw you are using check the top of the Camera Raw box where it tells you as well as the camera model. To apply the best results in the noise removal sliders you must be using the latest version 7.0. As previously mentioned, with every new Camera Raw and Photoshop comes a remarkably improved feature that makes rescuing older images possible. Without a doubt one of those features that has changes my post processing methods is the noise removal within the actual Camera Raw. Let me start off my mentioning the fact that I never throw away my images and keep the original raw images in a separate folder. I name this folder so I never lost the originals. With so much happening in terms of digital processing it is smart to keep the original files to revisit later. We have no idea of the potential of where digital processing might lead to in the future. For the very reason it is critical to me to keep everything I shoot. Many photographers have different methods and will disagree with this but this is what works for me. There are as many right and wrong answers in how to do thing. It has to be very confusing for someone just beginning digital photography. I have always encouraged my students to do what works best for them and to stay consistent with the process.

The biggest improvement in Camera Raw for me is the improved features of Noise Removal. Previous to the latest Camera Raw I used different third party noise removal programs like Noise Ninja, Neat Image, and Topaz just to name a few. They all have done a good job in the past with certain images but others not so much. So with latest Camera Raw I was curious to see the changes in the new and improved Noise Removal. When opening up older files in the new version of Camera Raw, there is a highlighted exclamation point in the bottom right corner.

                             Important click on the image to see the full image


    The exclamation point is highlighted with a red box

The exclamation point is highlighted with a red box



If you look to the right at the sliders before updating the image you will see different options. These are the older sliders that did not do such a good job of noise removal as seen in the image. The image is especially evident in the sky.



Noise In Image Before Updating Image To Camera Raw 7.0

Noise In Image Before Updating Image To Camera Raw 7.0



This is Camera Raw asking you whether you would like to update the older file with the new advancements. Right away after clicking on this update button you will see a huge improvement. The noise in the sky has almost been all removed by just updating the image.



Noise After Image Is Updated In Camera Raw 7.0

Noise After Image Is Updated In Camera Raw 7.0



Without having to do any adjustments you will see an immediate result in tonal contrast, better colors, and most importantly a massive improvement in the noise removal before even having to do any adjustments. I will start with the process of how I implemented these changes into my post processing workflow.


The Red Box Is Where The Noise Reduction Sliders Can Be Accessed

The Red Box Is Where The Noise Reduction Sliders Can Be Accessed




A Closer Look At The Red Box To Locate The Noise Reduction Slider

A Closer Look At The Red Box To Locate The Noise Reduction Slider


The Details Tab That Includes The New Improvement of Noise Removal and Sharpening

The Details Tab That Includes The New Improvement
of Noise Removal and Sharpening






As you can see from the Details Tab in the previous example the Noise Reduction works in conjunction with the Sharpening. These two are meant to work together and should be applied by adjusting both to get the best results. I always start with the Noise Reduction Sliders and get a good baseline of minimal noise before adjusting the sharpening sliders. I will talk how I go about sharpening images in a future blog. Each image is different when it comes to noise so there are no default settings that I could tell you to do, as each image would have to be evaluated separately.
Taking a closer look at the noise removal sliders we have two main categories; Luminance Noise and Color Noise. Luminance Noise is the digital equivalent of film grain. In the example below you can see the noise in the sky where the pixels of variation in the sky are evident. The image below that shows an example of color noise where this is most apparent in the most underexposed areas of the image. This is especially evident in the dark trees and water.



An Example Of Luminance Noise

An Example Of Luminance Noise


An Example Of Color Noise

An Example Of Color Noise




Once you can better identify the difference between the two then it becomes easier to use the sliders to your benefit. In most cases you will find both types of noise in the image and must be dealt with according to the appropriate slider. Before I adjust the sliders I always zoom in to 100% magnification or more to really zoom in on the noise. I always look at the shadows within the image and this is where you find most of your noise especially with underexposed images. Never adjust the sliders at less than 100% magnification. Start moving the sliders around until noise is reduced but the quality of the image is not degraded. I have found in most examples it is important to be conservative with adjustments and to leave a slight amount of noise rather then overdoing it and getting soft or blurry results. The reason you want to be careful of using too much noise removal is that image can become texture less and take on painterly characteristics. This gets away from the image looking like a photographic image. The following example shows how the water and trees have taken on a blurry look and almost distorted look. The results don’t look natural.




An Image With Too Much Noise Removed - The Water And Trees Are Blurred

An Image With Too Much Noise Removed – The Water And Trees Are Blurred


In the example above restraint has been shown so that a small amount of noise remains but the details in the trees and especially the water have are still intact. Remember that textures are an important aspect of a good photograph and really enhance impact and depth in the image. The noise removal tools in Camera Raw do a great job of removing noise even in higher settings. The important elements of an image such as saturation, sharpness, and hue variety are not harmed.




The image here has detail still in the water and trees

The image here has detail still in the water and trees


Once you are happy with the results of the noise removal zoom back out to reevaluate the results. This is an important step in the process. In previous version of Camera Raw with the noise removal sliders there was only the option of a luminance and color slider, which in most cases really flattened the image due to the lost detail in the image.


With Adobe Photoshop and more specifically Camera Raw 7.0 the addition of the sliders that reintroduce detail and contrast have been added. Now with the Luminance Detail and Luminance Contrast sliders as well as the Color detail slider we get excellent results.




Luminance Detail And Contrast Sliders

Luminance Detail And Contrast Sliders


Color Detail Sliders

Color Detail Sliders



This is the reason why I now use the noise removal sliders in Camera Raw 7.0 as my main tool for removing noise. I start with the Luminance slider and remove the noise to a satisfactory level then use the Luminance Detail and Luminance Contrast to bring back details into the image. I then deal with the color slider separately and then use the color detail slider to bring back detail in the areas lost to the color slider. As you can see in the example below the before image has the tree outline morphed and blurry almost like a painting. The after image brings back all the details to the edges of the tree while still keeping the noise removed from the sky.





Before-  Luminance And Color Detail Sliders Were Added

Before- Luminance And Color Detail Sliders Were Added



After-Luminance And Color Detail Sliders Added

After-Luminance And Color Detail Sliders Added


Noise is always most visible in the shadows so make sure to really zoom in to take a closer look at the shadows. Once I am satisfied with the noise removal in the image I will move onto my Sharpening Details to really bring back some of the lost edges due to the removal of noise. I will talk about sharpening in a future article.

The most important aspect of the noise removal in Camera Raw is that it is non destructive versus third party noise removal applications which are destructive.


Can the new Camera Raw save every image? The answer to that is no but it does do a great job on most images.
It is still critical to get the exposure right in camera and apply the basic principles of photography exposure. Can you use Camera Raw in combination with third party noise removal programs like Noise Ninja? I find that some images are completely removed of noise in Camera Raw and other images need more help.  The addition of third party applications like Noise Ninja can help an image with certain areas of noise that Camera Raw is unable to. Using both applications would ideally be your best bet in my opinion. Just like anything in photography there are many ways to achieve the same results.

Increasing Your IQ

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

By Adrian Klein

If you are looking to increase your intelligence quotient then I will admit I am not sure how much this will help. What this may do is help you improve your overall image quality (IQ). There are the obvious answers while you are capturing the images like use low ISO settings, capture RAW files and more. What I will cover are steps that are not always standard in our thought process (mine included) or not always done in the correct order to get the best results.

These are pieces of the processing puzzle I think about when I get a print sale for a large image from an old relic on my site that probably should have been removed as my standards have risen. Most “offending” images are gone from my site today yet I am sure there are a few stragglers. When I fail to do some of what I note below as part of my initial image processing it can be much harder to do after the fact when I am preparing the file for printing (e.g. removing chromatic aberration as the last step). Now days I actually have a checklist to review each time.

There are other pieces to my processing, it’s never a standard process of do these 12 steps and your images is done. This is not my complete set yet these are main components in relation to where I try to keep them in the processing timeline. The decision of what to do early in the process or near the end is something that can impact IQ in the final result.

Top 4 – First

1. Remove Color Fringing: I saw color fringing yet it’s also known as Chromatic Aberration. This is no fun to remove at the end of processing. I have done it a couple times at the end where it can be very time consuming and tedious. Here are examples zoomed in showing with and without color fringing.


Chromatic Aberration – Before and After Fix

2. Remove Sharpening: There are those that prefer to leave the default that programs like Photoshop Adobe Camera RAW use. That was me. No I opt for no sharpening up front. Mainly I do this because it should be the last step. Additionally sensitive areas like the sky or dark areas don’t need any help getting noisy. They do a good job on their own already. Also removing the sharpening helps you understand what parts of the image might be having noise issues.

Remove RAW Sharpen - Before and After

Remove RAW Sharpen – Before and After. The image on the left with the default ACR sharpening and the image with all sharpening removed in ACR.

3. Noise Reduction: A small amount of noise does not normally have much impact or if you only create small images. Looking to go big and that noise on your monitor will be more noticeable in print. I do most up front yet will add a tad more at the end of if need be. Zoom in 100% minimum (if you are not doing this already). This is normally how you can spot the noise especially in the sky or shadows, and some of the other points in this post. If you notice it zoomed in 100% or less you will certainly notice it in a large print.

Remove Noise - Before and After Fix

Remove Noise – Before and After Fix. The grass on the left with noise and the right with it removed. Zoomed in 200%.

4. Highlights and Shadows: Doing your major work with highlights and shadows through painting or luminosity masks I try to do before working with the colors. Changing this after working through vibrance and saturation can make for a slightly different look than changing the colors and then working the highlights and shadows.

Bottom 4 – Last

1. Colors – Saturation and Vibrance: I usually do this shortly after the top four steps. At this point the image is ready to start work with what suites you’re fancy for adding color into the image. My personal preference being masks.
2. House Cleaning – Dust spots: The reason I leave this until the end of my process is because if I find during processing that I need to go back to the RAW file and pull something in (say from a sky with dust spots) then I am bringing those back to deal with again. I know you can remove these in RAW and Lightroom it’s simply my preference to wait until near the end.
3. Dodging and Burning: Any minor tweaking in highlights and shadows I wait until close to the end. If I am doing significant work with this aspect of processing then it should be earlier on with luminosity masks or the like.
4. Sharpening: This should be the very last step. The reasoning is simple. You want to sharpen the right amount based on the final output and size. How much you sharpen for a web size file vs a 20×30 inch print is significantly different. Note – your final file of which you produce desired web and print files should always remain unsharpened.

Next time you are opening a file to process maybe this will give you steps in the process to think about. Processing is a personal experience for many of us and I am sure there will be those that have thoughts that differ from mine. This is simply a moment in time of how I look at my image processing today. Like many aspects of photography it will likely change again. How about you?


Create A Custom Luminosity Mask Workspace In Photoshop by Sean Bagshaw

Monday, January 28th, 2013

I thought I would share one of the quick tips from my upcoming video tutorial series called “The Complete Guide To Luminosity Masks”. In this short video segment from the series I show how to set up a custom workspace in Photoshop for efficient use of luminosity mask techniques. If you already regularly use luminosity masks, or frequently access the Channels Panel as part of your workflow for any reason, I think you will find this tip useful. The default Photoshop placement of the Layers Panel and Channels Panel in the same panel grouping requires tedious switching back and forth between the two. In this short video segment I show how to set up a custom Photoshop luminosity mask workspace that will greatly improve and simplify your luminosity mask workflow. I hope you find this tip useful. Make sure to choose the 720p Quality setting for best viewing.

About The Upcoming Video Series: The Complete Guide To Luminosity Masks

Many dedicated outdoor photographers and image developers are already aware that Tony Kuyper’s Photoshop luminosity mask techniques are a powerful image adjustment tool. Tony first published his luminosity mask techniques and action sets in 2006. Since then they have changed  how photographers around the world, including many of us here at Photo Cascadia, are able to develop images. Luminosity mask techniques offer a level of control over image adjustments that can’t otherwise be achieved.

If you are not already familiar with Tony Kuyper’s work you can check it out at Tony’s sandstone abstracts from the American Southwest are true works of art. His eye for light and composition and skill for creatively developing his images were born out of experience with film and in the traditional darkroom. On his website, Tony has a large library of written tutorials that explain his luminosity mask and other advanced image developing techniques. He developed these techniques so he could achieve more artistic control over his image processing.

For many years, people have been requesting video tutorials showing how to use Tony’s techniques and actions. I began using luminosity masks soon after Tony first published his tutorials and I touch on them in some of my classes and video tutorials. In the fall of 2011, Tony and I began talking about the need for good video instruction to support his written materials. In November of 2012 I began producing a series of videos intended to directly support Tony’s techniques and actions, as well as share some of my own insights and techniques. When I began production I thought that it would take me a couple of weeks to complete them. I have now been recording and editing the videos for over two months! I’m finally nearing completion and the videos will become available on my website, Tony’s site and here on the Photo Cascadia site soon. The videos series will be called “The Complete Guide To Luminosity Masks” and contain over 40 segments on luminosity masks and other techniques. Stay tuned for announcements about their release.


Forget About the Golden Hours of Light – Part II

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

By Adrian Klein

It’s not just photographers searching for glowing sunrise and sunsets. As I had Pandora going the other day an electronic music artist I like came across the screen “In Search of Sunrise…” with a rich and warm glowing sky.  Although the context is different it reminded me of this topic. Well when you are done clamoring over sizzling reds, spicy oranges and golden yellows then read on (and I am not talking about the peppers on your piping hot plate of Mexican food but rather the golden hour light). As I have mentioned before in all seriousness I do get excited when I am at a scene in the right golden hour light yet it’s not my sole goal anymore.

Before I dive in here is the link to the prior post for those that might have missed it. Now for a few more reasons (as if you needed more) why you can skip the golden hours and come home with amazing imagery.

5. Creativity Spark: I have found when I am free to wander an area during the day and think I won’t have anything to photograph I end up finding possibilities that I might not have thought about otherwise. Just a few of these included…

-       Long Exposures: During the day with solid neutral density filters I have captured some work that I was rather pleased with going this route.

-       Various Filters: Although I do more in the digital darkroom I still have a couple for the field from colored to graduated neutral density.

-       Lens/Filter Limits: Forcing yourself to carry one lens and working with it for the outing. I do this when I go on a hike and feel like carrying a lighter load.


Coastal Blues

A two minute exposure during midday along the Oregon coast using a 10 stop neutral density filter and polarizer. Simple yet effective. I decided to play around with this scene while sunning my face in the dappled sunlight.


6. Natural Look: If you are a photographer that prefers the more realistic and documentary look then the daylight hours are likely going to be more your style. This relates some to what Kevin talked about in a recent post about how much Photoshop is too much. This is completely a personal preference. No matter what time of day the image is captured I enjoy viewing work from extreme HDR to complete plain Jane natural.

There is a very high use of filters from Smartphone apps to third party plug-ins for Photoshop that the majority of images these days have filters applied whether in the field or done in post. In the future I feel a number of us will start to move back to less. I relate this to a Bizarro cartoon in the paper a couple years back poking fun at tattoo-less people becoming the oddballs. The point being less can be more or unique.


Sierra Waving

“Sierra Wave” clouds forming midday over Green Lakes in Three Sister Wilderness during a backpack trip in 2011.


7. Snap Shots: I like looking back at my very early days of digital photography when I knew next to nothing and I believed the camera was supposed to do it all. Most of these images will never been seen by others yet for me they snap shots of moments that I truly cherish.

I spent a number of years shortly after getting sucked into the DSLR portal taking almost zero snap shots. I have come to regret this. Now it’s usually my iPhone that acts as a tool for snap shots and composing a scenes potential to decide if the DSLR needs to come out.

Most of these snapshots (at least for me) are taken during the daytime.


Mt Hood - Mount Hood Wilderness

Mt Hood in the Mount Hood Wildness in midday light. I did end up pulling out the DSLR for this one and it’s snap shot I am glad I took.


8. Stormy Skies: This may be the last point to make in this series of posts yet it is certainly not the least significant. In fact it probably should have been first! Many trips at the start or end of storms have proven to be not only memorable experiences yet fine photographic opportunities.

Think about the unique storm photos you have seen whether in a physical gallery, the local news channel or online. They certainly grab your attention and likely were captured during daylight hours.

Wind Swept - The Painted Hills, Oregon

Bunch grass blowing hard in the clouds and wind coming through on this midday storm system rolling through. Additionally I used a longer shutter to allow the grass to move as much as possible.
Painted Hill National Monument – John Day Fossil Beds, Oregon


Golden Trees - Rural Highway in Montana

During a drive from The Tetons to Missoula, Montana I came across this amazing light from a storm system about to take me over. Slowing down from 75 mph to final shot was all less than two minutes. Who says this can’t be an action sport!

Now go ahead and throw caution to the wind skipping sunrise and sunset. I am sure you will surprise yourself with what you come home with.

Non Destructive Dodging And Burning In Photoshop by Sean Bagshaw

Monday, November 12th, 2012

Dodging and Burning (selectively lightening and darkening areas of an image) are terms that have been passed down from the darkroom. Dodging and Burning can be used to create better tonal balance, enhance drama, increase dimension or guide the viewer’s attention. In the realm of digital developing there are many techniques for selectively lightening and darkening areas of an image.

An image of the Little River as my camera captured it.

Little River

Dodging and burning (as well as some other adjustments) have been used to enhance tonal balance, contrast and dimension in the image.

One popular non destructive technique involves creating a 50% gray layer set to the the Overlay blending mode and then using that to darken or lighten the image with either the Dodge and Burn tools or with the Paint Brush tool set to either black or white. A PhotoCascadia reader recently sent us a question wondering if their are advantages to using the Dodge and Burn Tools instead of the Paint Brush Tool in combination with a gray Overlay layer.

In this short video tutorial I demonstrate the 50% gray layer technique and take a look at misconceptions many people have about how the Dodge and Burn Tools work in conjunction with it. I also give a brief demonstration of a powerful technique for non destructive dodging and burning with a 50% gray layer using Luminosity Selections. This is a technique that Tony Kuyper calls Luminosity Painting. It gives control of specific tonal ranges when dodging and burning that people mistakenly assume they are getting when they use the Dodge and Burn Tools with a 50% gray layer.

To learn more about Luminosity Selections, Luminosity Masking, Luminosity Painting and other similar techniques that I mention in the video you might want to check out these references:

I hope you find this short video educational. If you have any questions please leave them in the comments below and I’ll respond as best I can. I’d also love to hear about other dodging and burning techniques that you find effective.


How Much Is Too Much When It Comes To Photoshop – Kevin McNeal

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012


Thors Well Sunset - Oregon Coast

Thors Well Sunset – Oregon Coast


Every photographer, at one point, when sharing images on social media sites has been asked if the image is “photoshopped”. With digital cameras and technology advancing at such a fast rate the question of whether it is “digital art”  or a “photographic image” is at the heart of many debates. So how do we determine what is too much when it comes to “photoshopped” images? Many people believe the answer lies within the individual. Each photographer has the creative license to present the images as they choose to. The problem arises when colors look unnatural and over the top. Speaking from my experience, when I process an image my goal is to present the image as I saw it.  Is every image I publish an exact reproduction of the scene. Of course not. However, my images do faithfully represent how I remember the scene and how I felt at the time. I think every image has a story and it is the job of the photographer to get this across to their audience. When it comes to images and acceptability among the photography community there is a wide range of approaches.

For example, some photographers choose to combine multiple exposures together in a process known as HDR. This method captures the whole tonal range of the scene from darkest to light by combining several exposures together. HDR images have become a subject of much controversy over which people have a wide range of opinions.The results vary from beautiful to “over the top”.  Some who lean more toward traditionalism feel that every photographic image should come from a single exposure and that each image should be presented as it was captured by the camera. For me I use a combination of methods that enable me to achieve a final image that tells the story I want to tell. From my perspective there is no right answer to which approach is correct.

For the non professional photographer each is entitled to his own vision and each has the right to present it as he sees fit. What about the professional photographer? Do they have an obligation to present the scene as it is in the camera or are they allowed to have creative freedom when it comes to post processing? These days it is not uncommon for magazines and photo contests to request that images avoid excessive Photoshop and to attach the original image with the final results.

With the advancements of Photoshop, photographers are now creating images that cross the boundaries into “digital art”. In other words the image combines elements from multiple images or doesn’t resemble anything that could be found in nature. The results are often stunning and beautiful, but the image may look more like a painting than a photograph based in realism. Personally speaking, when it relates to selling images the competition is fierce and often publishers will make a decision to choose an image based on a thumbnail. Therefore, the images chosen often look unnatural. You can see evidence of this in magazines, calendars, and even photo contests. There is no arguing that brightly colored and stylized images are popular these days.


If you make a living from photography what are the guidelines when it comes to realism? I don’t have the answers but I know, in an effort to express myself and my artistic vision, that I often push the limits as far as I can. I am grateful to make my living as a photographer. It seems that as photographers become more skilled in the art of digital image developing the debate over the use of new digital image developing techniques versus a more traditional approach to photography will continue.

Printing Yourself, is it Worth it?

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

by Zack Schnepf

It depends whether you are printing for your own satisfaction or to save money.  Financially, the short answer is unless you have the volume to justify the cost it’s not worth it.  It takes a lot of print sales to justify the financial costs of a good photo printer, inks and paper.  Not to mention packaging, and shipping costs.  There are a lot of other factors though.  Personally, I would be printing my own even if it were only for my own enjoyment.  I like having control from capture to print and I like being able to do print tests to optimize the final image quality.  I also really enjoy printing, and understanding what goes into making a high quality print.  I will admit it was really frustrating learning about color management, profiling, maintenance, and printer setting optimization.  In the end, understanding about printing helps anyone who is serious about photography; color management in particular is important whether you are printing yourself or not.

Financially, it probably took me 3 or more successful art shows to pay for my Epson 7900, inks, paper and packaging.  If I were not doing art shows I would be better off farming out my printing to West Coast Imaging, or another high end printer.  Honestly, even Costco offers good quality prints at a very reasonable cost.  From a financial point of view, printing yourself is probably not the best option for most people.  I personally save a lot of money printing myself, but I do a large volume of prints each year.

Printing can also be an expensive hobby, but an enjoyable one.  I enjoy seeing my work in print, and I love being in control from capture to print.  I have learned a great deal, and become a better photographer because I do my own printing.  It has changed the way I process images, and it’s helped me become more successful marketing my images for stock.  You pay a lot more attention to details when you are doing you own printing, and this makes you pay more attention during your workflow and in the field.

In conclusion, for me, printing myself has been very rewarding.  It’s not for everyone, and doesn’t make financial sense for most people, but it can be a valuable skill, and can teach you a great deal.

Build A Photoshop Action For Soft Proofing by Sean Bagshaw

Friday, September 28th, 2012

We work hard carefully developing our images so they sing on the monitor only to be disappointed that when we print them they don’t quite live up to what we saw on the screen. Part of this is due to the fact that there are differences in the way that monitors and paper transmit light. However, if an image has been properly optimized for printing on a specific paper then it is possible to achieve something that very closely matches what we saw on screen. Printing multiple proof copies and making adjustments between each print until it looks right is one way to approach the problem, but this is time consuming, expensive and wasteful. Soft proofing provides another option. Photoshop (and now Lightroom 4) allow for soft proofing by simulating what an image will look like when printed on a certain type of paper or other print media. Comparing the print simulation to how the image looks on the monitor allows us to make adjustments on screen that will allow the image to match our intent when printed. Soft proofing is a multi step process so it can be time consuming. In this video tutorial I show how to build an action in Photoshop that streamlines the soft proofing workflow so a “proofed” image is created with a single click.

More video tutorials of my Photoshop image developing techniques are available for download at or HERE on the PhotoCascadia site.