Photo Cascadia Blog
Archive for the ‘Lightroom’ Category
Note: Readers have asked some great printing questions in various locations, so I’m compiling them along with my answers at the end of the article so they are all in one place.
I often get questions about how I prepare an image for printing with an online print lab for best results, so I’ve collaborated with Artmill.com to create this tutorial which we hope will help you get great prints.
Printing online can be as simple as uploading phone pics to a lab directly from your smart phone or as advanced as working one on one with a professional print master to go through a multi-step hard-proofing process to fine tune every aspect of the final piece. Most of us who are photography enthusiasts will take an approach somewhere in the middle. Just a few simple pointers can really elevate the quality of your prints.
In the video below, I take you through my process of preparing an image for printing online. In both Lightroom and Photoshop, I cover how to address color accuracy, contrast, sizing, sharpening and the most common print challenge…prints that come out too dark. In the video, I unbox the print so you can see how it turned out.
Artmill was kind to provide the promo code OUTDOOREXPOSURE for my viewers/readers. You can use it at http://www.artmill.com to get 15% off your first order.
For more tips on printing make sure to read Zack Schnepf’s article on the Photo Cascadia blog: www.photocascadia.com/blog/5-essential-tips-when-preparing-images-for-print
You can also view my tutorial on soft proofing in Photoshop: https://youtu.be/ND_GzCueX4s
Just to be clear, I don’t work for Artmill and I was not paid to do this video. We felt some information on this topic would be welcomed and they were kind enough to provide the printing. The print itself will be auctioned as part of a fundraiser for the public library here in my home town.
Your Q’s generated by the video and my A’s:
Q: I’ve been wanting to try an online print, but worried I would mess it up.
A: If you haven’t printed online before I suggest ordering a small test print on photo paper first and if you like what you get, then order a larger, more expensive print. Some labs even offer a free small sample print on your first order for proofing purposes.
Q: I have had such awful experiences with online prints! Always dark, grainy, out of focus.
A: It’s important to remember that the print can only be as good as the original image file. Issues that may not be noticeable at a small size on screen, such as noise or soft focus, will become very obvious in a large print. It’s important to zoom in to 100% magnification to inspect and evaluate images. If you see noise, focus or other issues that bother you at this magnification then they will be visible in a large print…and the larger the print the more visible they become.
Q: When you were in Photoshop did you increase the size of the image? I always thought this would make it blurry and lose sharpness and detail.
A: Yes, I did enlarge the image in the video…both in the Lightroom example and the Photoshop example. If you want to print a photo bigger than the size it comes out of your camera it must be enlarged somehow. You can either do it or the print lab will do it…but somebody is doing it. There are two ways that Photoshop can enlarge images for printing. It can either increase the number of pixels in the image (interpolation) or it can increase the “size” of the pixels (decrease the pixels per inch). Taken far enough, both of these methods will eventually lead to decreased image sharpness and detail. But Lightroom/Photoshop now do an excellent job enlarging. I find that I can at least double the output size of my original image file and still get excellent results. For example, without any enlarging an image from my 30.4 megapixel Canon 5D4 will print at roughly 15 x 22.5 inches at 300 ppi. This means that I can enlarge up to 30×45 at 300 ppi with very good detail and even up to 40×60 or larger if the image is very clean or when printing on textured paper or canvas, which doesn’t show as much fine detail anyway. Depending on the viewing distance, you could potentially go even larger. I have printed wall murals 15 feet high that look great because you have to stand back several feet to view them. They are not as sharp up close, but that’s not how they are meant to be viewed. So, if you want to print images larger than they come out of your camera I say go for it!
Q: Before you apply the sharpening for print, do you remove all other sharpening that might have been applied before in Lightroom?
A: I learned from the photography gurus, Mac Holbert and Jeff Schewe, to think of image sharpening in three phases: input sharpening, creative sharpening and output sharpening. Input sharpening is the fine sharpening you can do in LR or Camera Raw to tighten up the fine edges and optimize clarity that is lost with digital cameras (caused by low pass filters and pixel bleed). Creative sharpening is the interpretive and often localized sharpening (or blurring) and clarity work we do during the developing process to help guide the eye, create depth and dimension and showcase elements. Output sharpening is the sharpening done to an output copy to optimize the image for the particular output at the particular size. For example, an image sized to 1000 pixels wide for viewing on the internet has different output sharpening needs than an image sized to 18,000 pixels wide for a 60 inch print on canvas. All three of the sharpening passes are independent of the other and need to be determined on a case by case basis based on the qualities of the image and the intent of the photographer. But, in short…all three types of sharpening work together so don’t remove one to add the other. You do want to carefully evaluate and adjust them as you go to make sure that they are working in concert with each other, however.
Q: Do you also increase the exposure, contrast and vibrance when printing on your home printer?
A: Yes I do, but at home I can also soft proof with the ICC profile for my printer and the paper I’m using and I can run test prints and make adjustments until I get it just right…so the process is a bit more scientific.
Q: You selected the printer resolution of 2880 x 1440 in Output Sharpener Pro. How did you know what to select there?
A: This is another question you could ask your lab to find out what settings they use and be the most accurate, but the differences will be slight. On my own printer that is the ink dot resolution I print with. I didn’t ask Artmill what printer resolution they use so I went with that to be safe. Choosing a lower resolution in Sharpener Pro adds more sharpening to compensate for fewer dots of ink. If I don’t know the ink dot resolution the printer will put down on paper I feel it is better to err on the side of under sharpening than over sharpening.
Q: Are the Nik/Google plug-ins still available? It was great when Google made them free…but then I heard they were going to stop offering them. If they are still available then people should grab them while they can.
A: Yes still available at the moment. There are other options as well, including PhotoKit Sharpener 2.0 by PixelGenius, Topaz and others.
Sean is a full-time photographer and photography educator. You can see more of his images and find out about his video tutorial courses and upcoming workshops, tours and classes on his website at www.OutdoorExposurePhoto.com.
The video tutorial below shows how to save image files that exceed the TIFF file size limit as PSB files and also how to access them in Lightroom and Bridge. This is a challenge that is becoming more common as digital camera resolution increases and as stitching multiple images to make super high resolution photos becomes more popular. I hope you find it helpful. If you have any questions or tips for working with large image files that you have found helpful make sure to share them in the comments section below.
As digital camera resolution continues to increase, with 30 to 50 MP cameras becoming the norm, and as photographers employ more advanced PS techniques with lots of layers, smart objects and luminosity masks, it is common to bump up against image file size limitations. PSD files have a maximum file size limit of 2GB. TIFF files have a 4GB size limit. Unfortunately Photoshop doesn’t do a good job of predicting final saved file size when there are a lot of layers, masks and smart objects involved. So even when the file size indicator shows a file size of less than 4GB you will often get an error message when trying to save. I find that many of my images indicate a file size of less than 3GB but actually exceed the 4GB size limit.
I frequently get questions from photographers wondering what to do when their images exceed the size limit. When an image exceeds the 4GB tiff limit the solution is to save it as a PSB file, where “B” stands for big. PSB files have a size limit of 4 exabytes! I had never heard of an exabyte before, but apparently it is a million terabytes, so the PSB format should do the trick for just about any image considering that my computer only has a measly 8 terabytes of hard drive space anyway.
PSB files are a the solution, but they don’t come without their own issues. You can see them in Bridge, but they don’t generate a thumbnail, so you can’t tell what the image is just by looking at it.
If you are a Lightroom user then you currently can’t even import PSB files into your Lightroom catalog at all. This is a problem for me because I do use LR extensively for cataloging and locating my images. If I don’t see an image in LR I quickly forget it even exists. It also means that I can’t include the image in Lightroom slide shows, collections or print it from Lightroom. Even if I do remember that I have a particular PSB image it is a hassle trying to hunt down where it is so I can open it in PS. It would really be nice if Adobe would add PSB support to Lightroom, but I’m not the first person to say this and so far they haven’t.
Until then, here is a solution that will enable you to see PSB images in Lightroom and Bridge. It’s less than perfect, but better than nothing. I’ll also mention that I didn’t figure this out. As with most of what I know about photography, I learned it through the kindness of others who are smarter than I am and I’m just paying the knowledge forward. Check out the video to see how to save PSB files and how to access them in Lightroom.
Sean is a full time photographer and photography educator. You can see more of his images and find out about his video tutorial courses and upcoming workshops, tours and classes on his website at www.OutdoorExposurePhoto.com.
In the video tutorial below I demonstrate two exciting advances in the April 21 release of Lightroom CC (2015), Photo Merge to HDR and Photo Merge to Panorama. Lightroom has gone through substantial improvements over the years to give photographers more control in developing their images. However, until now, techniques involving the merging of more than one exposure or frame had to be done in Photoshop or third party software. Now you can merge multiple exposures to create HDR images all within LR and you can also merge frames to create both vertical and horizontal panoramas. Wow! Nice job Adobe.
Both merge features combine raw files to produce a merged DNG raw file, which is brilliant! This means we can merge first and make our adjustments directly to the merged raw file, which I assume retains all the adjustment capabilities of the originating raw files. In addition, the merged HDR or pano DNG can be opened as a tiff file in Photoshop for additional developing there.
Lightroom Photo Merge to HDR is similar to the 32-bit HDR tiff file processing capability that was first introduced back in LR 4 and which I demonstrated in a previous video blog and also include in my Developing for Extended Dynamic Range video series. This process is now greatly simplified in Lightroom CC and no longer requires Photoshop!
Photo Merge to Panorama allows you to stitch, crop and develop multi-frame panoramas without needing to go to Photoshop or some other image stitching application, and the panoramic DNG file can be fully developed in Lightroom like any raw file.
Finally, you can create high dynamic range panoramas by first creating merged HDR files for each frame in the pano series and then merging these HDR raw files into an HDR panorama. The resulting output is a high dynamic range panorama raw file that can be fully developed in Lightroom.
While working with merged HDR images in Lightroom still doesn’t provide the same degree of fine control that you can get when manually blending exposures in Photoshop, and I don’t think it handles the most extreme dynamic range as well, it provides an excellent and efficient option for many situations. Photographers who only use Lightroom can now create blended high dynamic range images and panoramas like the rest of us, which is huge for them. I also think that photographers who have previously used Photoshop or other applications to accomplish these types of multi-image blending tasks will find the new functionality of Lightroom to be a great benefit in many cases.
NOTE: Many people have had trouble getting Lightroom CC (2015) to open after it has been installed from the Creative Cloud desktop app. If you have this issue try logging out of your Creative Cloud desktop app (logging out, not closing it) and then logging back in. This fixed the issue for me and many other folks on the Adobe forums. Also, LR CC installs along side LR 5, so you can open either one unless you uninstall LR 5, and this can be a little confusing. LR 5 shows up as “Adobe Photoshop Lightroom” and LR CC shows up as “Adobe Lightroom” on my computer. It would have been nice if Adobe had labeled them Lightroom 5 and Lightroom CC instead.
On the topic of creating high dynamic range (HDR) photographs I was recently asked a question about the viability of taking a minimal number of bracketed exposures in a high contrast situation and later filling in the gaps in the exposure range with digitally generated exposures. While this isn’t a new concept in high dynamic range photography, it is one that comes up frequently and isn’t entirely intuitive. I felt that others might benefit from reading the Q&A or sharing their own thoughts on the topic.
QUESTION: I photograph with a Nikon D5000. One of the features I am less than satisfied with is that auto bracketing is limited to three exposures. Sometimes that is simply not enough. The conventional wisdom seems to indicate:
1. don’t spread out your brackets more than one or two exposure values (EV).
2. Lightroom/Adobe Camera Raw can safely push/pull an exposure ±2 EV
What if I exposed three captures -3 EV, 0 EV and +3 EV? Then I should be able to make virtual copies of these in Lightroom, spreading each ±1 EV and the ends also ±2 EV. I would then end up with effectively an 11 stop range which is large enough for all but the most extreme lighting conditions I have encountered.
Do you think this technique has a decent chance of producing a quality HDR image? Note that my goal is to produce fine art prints, so to be useful for me it would have to produce very clean digital negatives.
ANSWER: The first consideration is how the high dynamic range image will be created. You can combine bracketed exposures using one of many HDR software applications or you can manually blend exposures using masking techniques. Exposure requirements will vary depending on the contrast of the scene and the blending technique. Having a full set of exposures at one stop increments can be more important for HDR software than manually blending exposures. HDR software usually does best (and often requires) being given a full range of exposures with narrow and consistent EV increments, as you point out. One stop is common, but I know people who go to extremes and bracket in 1/2 or 1/3 stops. I don’t use HDR software in my workflow. All the HDR software I have used tends to create image quality and adjustment control issues of various types, regardless of how the bracketed exposures were created.
Even though I usually take a full range of exposures, often only two of the exposures are required when manually blending using masking techniques. If I have one complete exposure for the sky and one complete exposure for the landscape, then I only blend these two exposures and keep my life simple. This video from my Extending Dynamic Range tutorials demonstrates a simple two exposure blend.
You may get lucky while using your camera’s three shot auto bracket feature and find that you captured the precise two exposures you need for such a blend, but since every scenario is different there isn’t a reliable way to reproduce this every time.
In more extreme contrast situations there may be brighter areas of the sky or very extreme areas of shadow and highlight in the landscape that require the use of additional exposures. When manual blending, one can make decisions about which exposures and how many exposures to use on an case by case basis. Having a full range of exposures to choose from is helpful in this respect. Blending exposures with masks is a challenging skill, but with practice I find that better control and better final image quality can be achieved. Some very fine printed images are being created with HDR software to be sure, but if the best quality is your goal you will eventually run into some downsides.
So, if you don’t capture a full range of exposures is it a good option to fill in the gaps digitally? As you describe, it is possible to create virtual copies in Lightroom with different EVs. Per the “conventional wisdom” Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw certainly can be used to push or pull exposure. However, to what degree this can be done and what can be considered “safe” is subjective. It depends on whether you push or pull the exposure and what side affects you are willing to accept.
If the best image quality is your goal, having “properly” exposed captures can be just as important as the number and increment of those exposures. What constitutes a “proper” exposure isn’t necessarily intuitive. Digitally reducing exposure (pushing) in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw is generally “safe”. In fact it can actually be preferable. One way to hide noise in an image is to digitally decrease exposure making the image darker. Intentionally over exposing (also known as Exposing To The Right or ETTR) and then digitally lowering the exposure produces better image quality. This is why ETTR is commonly advocated in digital photography. When it comes to bracketing, digitally creating +1 EV and +2 EV exposures from a +3 EV capture in Lightroom should give great results in the mid-tones and shadows. The highlights will be clipped but these should be contained in your darker exposures. For a more complete run down on the virtues of ETTR and some examples check out this article by Jeff Schewe.
Digitally increasing exposure (pulling) is where you will run into problems. Dark regions of an image are very data poor so they have a low signal to noise ratio. The reason they are dark is because relatively few photons (signals) were collected by the sensor. Digitally increasing the exposure of underexposed images boosts the signal but also boosts the noise. With a low signal to noise ratio the noise will overpower the signal. An image captured at -3 EV and then digitally lightened two stops to -1 EV will show substantial quality issues. For best image quality it is preferable to avoid lightening dark areas as much as possible.
If you are using HDR software the following is important to note. As far as I know, no HDR software is capable of reading the exposure adjustments you make to raw or DNG files in Lightroom or Camera Raw. Raw adjustments are only parameters contained in the metada and HDR software does not access these parameters. This means that in order for HDR software to use your digitally bracketed exposures you would first need to open the virtual copies and save them as tif files with different EVs, and then load the tif files into the HDR software.
So, your proposed technique can work to an extent if you take the right steps. In many cases it may even produce very good results. However, to minimize noise, it would be best to create your digital exposures by always lowering the exposure of the brighter frames and not the other way around. For example, generate +1 and +2 EV virtual copies from a +3 EV capture, -1 and -2 EV copies from a 0 EV capture and -4 and -5 EV copies from a -3 EV capture.
There are occasions in which I will create exposures digitally for the purpose of blending. Sometimes I fail to take a complete range of bracketed exposures or I’m not able to use one or more of my exposures due to things moving in the frame between shots. At a minimum I make sure I have one exposure for highlights, one exposure for mid-tones and one exposure for shadows. Usually I try to capture a full range of exposures if I can. This ensures the most flexibility. A properly exposed series of images with one stop increments will give you a more complete gradient of tonal information to work with compared to capturing just three exposures taken at three stop increments.
Taking all of the above into account, let’s address the central motivation behind your question, the limited auto bracketing capability of your camera. If your camera would auto-bracket more than three exposures it is unlikely that you would be considering using digitally created exposures in the first place. I recommend making it a non-issue by not using the auto bracket feature at all, regardless of how many shots your camera will bracket. My camera will auto bracket up to seven EVs but I never use auto bracketing unless I have a specific reason to (such as hand-held bracketing for example). Nearly every scene requires a different number of exposures and the range of exposures is rarely centered perfectly around the meter’s 0 EV. Using an arbitrary number of auto bracketed exposures means regularly capturing too many or too few exposures (in your case with a max of three, usually too few). And if the actual exposure is shifted from what the camera meter picks as 0 EV, then you might have the right number of exposures but going in the wrong direction. Manually bracketing exposures solves these issues. I take my first frame at 0 EV and then I check the histogram. Sometimes one exposure is all I need. If the histogram shows clipping of highlights or shadows or both, then I compensate my exposure up and/or down one stop at a time until I have one frame with a histogram that properly exposes for the shadows, one frame with a histogram that properly exposes for the highlights and some number of one stop increments in between. Sometimes the scene dictates two exposures, or three or five or eight or eleven. Whatever the contrast range requires, this technique ensures that I have what I need, but not more. This video from the Extending Dynamic Range series illustrates this concept further.
Another manual bracketing technique I use is tonal region bracketing using my camera’s live view feature. In aperture priority mode I move the exposure target box around on the screen to various tonal zones, such as an area of brightest sky, mid-tone land and dark shadows, and take a shot in each zone. The camera automatically adjusts the exposure for each zone as I shoot. The result is a series of exposures that should contain the proper exposure for each tonal zone. They may not be one stop increments, but as long as I have optimal exposures for highlights, mid-tones and shadows I don’t care. Of course, this technique doesn’t work well when using HDR software which expects consistent EV increments.
Finally, not every scene we encounter has high contrast light so bracketing is frequently not necessary. When photographing in balanced, low and medium contrast light situations all the tonal information readily fits within a single exposure. I regularly come across people auto bracketing nine exposures in low and moderate contrast light, just as a matter of habit. In such situations it isn’t necessary to take two exposures, let alone nine. I start with one exposure and look at the histogram. If I see that all the tonal values have been captured, I’m done. Taking valuable time and filling up memory cards with additional exposures is something I do only if I absolutely have to. Many of my images are captured in a single exposure. With a single exposure I attempt to get a proper exposure (ETTR) without clipping the highlights. In post this enables me to decrease the EV and do as little shadow recovery as possible. This gives better results than starting with an underexposed image and trying to lighten it to bring out shadow detail. Again, see the Jeff Schewe article for more insight into why this is the case.
The answer to this question, as with so many questions, is it depends.
Adobe’s release of Lightroom 1 was way back in 2007, but by that time I had already been immersed in Photoshop for seven or eight years. The purpose of Lightroom was to create an application that improved overall workflow efficiency by utilizing an image database (or catalog) to store metadata changes and image developing parameters without actually needing to change the pixels of the original image file. In the early days I found Lightroom’s ability to organize, keyword and search my image collection to be a big improvement over Photoshop’s bridge. I also found that, while the types of raw image adjustments the Develop Module could make were similar to Adobe Camera Raw, I really preferred the Lightroom interface and how it integrated seamlessly with the other Lightroom modules. But that’s about as far as it went. At that time the Develop module had very few adjustment options and all adjustments were global, which meant that they were applied uniformly across the entire image. Like Adobe Camera Raw, Lightroom 1 was good for making base level adjustments to raw files, but any complex, creative or localized image developing work still needed to be done in Photoshop. Seven years on we have progressed to Lightroom 5 (Lightroom Mobile was just released last week). Each new version of Lightroom has introduced improvements and new functionality. I now consider Lightroom to be a very full featured image developing solution in its own right. But does it render Photoshop unnecessary to the outdoor photographer?
Click on each image to enlarge.
I find that more and more photographers I interact with use Lightroom as their complete and only image developing application. In addition to these “Lightroom only” users there are also those who use only Photoshop (including Bridge and Camera Raw) and those who utilize both Lightroom and Photoshop as I do. A common question from all three groups is, with all the current developing features and abilities that Lightroom 5 has, is Photoshop really necessary? In this video chapter from my recently released tutorials, Lightroom Essentials, I demonstrate developing an image entirely using Lightroom. Hopefully it will help some folks get a better feel for if Lightroom is able to do everything they need or not.
In the end, whether Lightroom is the only image developing application you need or not truly does depend on what your image editing goals and expectations are. Lightroom is considerably more affordable than Photoshop, and for many photographers it now has more than enough image editing power and functionality. The following is a bullet list of some features in the Lightroom Develop Module that allow it to function as a complete developing solution for many of us. I teach how I use these features and many more in my Lightroom Essentials tutorials. Visit my website to get more information and watch additional chapters.
- Spot removal tool now allows for more complex non-circular cloning and healing.
- Gradient Filter, Radial Filter and Adjustment Brush make it possible to apply “layers” of localized adjustments and even create basic masks to control adjustments.
- White Balance controls, Tone Curve and HSL controls provide alternate ways to balance and correct colors.
- Tone Curve provides powerful and flexible tonal and contrast adjustments.
- B&W adjustments provide tools for creating dramatic black and white images.
- Like Photoshop, image sharpening can be applied in three stages (input sharpening with the Detail tab, creative localized sharpening using the Gradient and Radial Filters and the Adjustment Brush and output sharping on export or printing) for optimal image sharpness.
- The Lens Correction tab has tools for making transformations and perspective corrections as well as for correcting lens distortion and vignetting.
- Because all adjustments are only recorded as adjustment parameters in the Lightroom catalog, the actual pixels of the original image files are not altered so all Lightroom developing is essentially non-destructive and backwards flexible.
Many photographers find they still need the power, flexibility and precision provided by Photoshop’s multitude of adjustments and filters and its ability to work with layers, selections and masks. Following are just a few of the things that can be accomplished with Photoshop but not with Lightroom.
- Multi image blending techniques including: exposure blending, motion blending, focus blending, star stacking, pano stitching, white balance blending, compositing and much more.
- Using channels to create Luminosity Selections and Luminosity Masks.
- Blending Modes and Blend-if control.
- Ability to access other color modes such as Lab Color.
- Multiple ways to create highly refined selections and the ability to target adjustments with selections.
- Limitless options for creating and combining different kinds of adjustments for color, contrast, clarity, sharpness, saturation and tonal adjustments.
- High level of control, flexibility and precision in Photoshop (with a lot of knowledge and practice) allows images to be refined to a degree that isn’t possible in Lightroom.
Personally, I find that for many images I AM able to work entirely within Lightroom. But for my very best images I need the expanded and flexible adjustment options and the ability to make highly accurate, refined and subtle selections (especially Luminosity Selections) that Photoshop provides. The ability to combine or blend elements of multiple exposures or frames is critical for many of my images as well. For me, both Lightroom and Photoshop are essential tools in my workflow.