Photo Cascadia Blog
Posts Tagged ‘processing’
My favorite way to experience photography is through print. It’s hard to describe the tremendous satisfaction I get when viewing my own prints, or prints from a photographer I admire. I’ve always enjoyed printing myself. I learned to print in the darkroom in my college photography classes and when I moved to digital I taught myself how to make my own prints at home. As my photography progressed people started to ask if they could buy prints of my images. Eventually, I started doing art festivals and gallery shows to share my work and make more print sales. Whether you plan to print yourself, or have prints made by a dedicated print shop it’s essential that you understand a few basic concepts about color management and preparing images for print.
We live in an increasingly screen based culture. The majority of photography I see is on some sort of screen. A lot of photographers I meet who are starting photography exist almost exclusively in the digital universe. Eventually though, you, or someone you know might want a print made of your photos. Photographic printing can be daunting at first, but it’s very satisfying to see your own images in print, and you will be a better photographer if you understand the fundamentals of color management and print preparation. In this article, I’ll share five essential tips for getting you and your images ready to print.
- CALIBRATE YOUR MONITOR:
It’s hard to stress how important this is. There is no point spending hours processing your photos for print if you haven’t calibrated your monitor. It’s the foundation of color management, and brings everyone into a common color standard. I remember when I got started in photography many years ago, I read on some forums about the importance of calibrating my monitor. At the time I was more concerned with acquiring more lenses and gear and didn’t see why it was a big deal. When I started printing I learned a hard and expensive lesson. The first prints I made were a huge disappointment. They didn’t look like what I saw on my monitor at all, the colors were off and it came out really dark. With a little more friendly advise I finally invested in a decent calibrations package. Once I calibrated my monitor I realized two important things. One, it’s really helpful when everyone is using the same color standards and profiles, otherwise what may look red on my screen could look orange, or purple on another. Two, I had my monitor set way too bright. Reflected light from a print will never look as bright as transmitted light from a screen. Lowering screen brightness much better reflects how an image will print. Here is a link to the colormunki screen calibrator I use now. Very easy to use and profiles really accurately. All of their products work really well, but I like the customization options with the colormunki display model: http://xritephoto.com/colormunki-display
- UNDERSTAND BASIC COLOR MANAGEMENT:
Whether you are printing yourself, sending your files to a dedicated print shop, or preparing an image for a publisher, you will get much better results if you understand the basics of color management. There are two basic concepts to understand when managing color on your computer. The first is using the correct color space when exporting from Lightroom, or Adobe Camera Raw and the right color setting in Photoshop. I always use the Pro Photo RGB color space as it has the widest color gamut, I prefer to start my editing with as many colors as possible especially if I will be printing the image. The second concept is using the right printing profile. If you’re having someone else print for you, it’s still important to understand printer profiles. You can use a printer profile to soft proof your image and get a preview of how it will look when printed with the specific printer and paper they use. Printer profiles are scripts used by the printer to adhere to color standards, they help the printer produce an image that looks as close to what you see on your screen as possible. I’ll talk more about soft proofing in the next section.
- SOFT PROOFING AND HARD PROOFING:
Soft proofing is using software such as Lightroom, or Photoshop to preview a printer profile. Soft proofing attempts to simulate what the image will look like when printed on a specific print paper with a specific printer. I think soft proofing is useful to get you in the right ballpark, but I don’t trust soft proofing completely. It is still pretty unreliable when trying preview exactly what a print will look like. I use soft proofing to get me close and then I order a test print which is called a hard proof. Once the test print is made, or arrives from a print shop, I can evaluate it and make any adjustments that I think it needs. This method is what I rely on when making prints for customers, art shows and galleries. The videos below help explain soft proofing in Lightroom and Photoshop.
Great video on soft proofing in Lightroom: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8M9B8ABOb9U
Another video about basic soft proofing in Photoshop: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y47uoKE_dAs
- SHARPEN APPROPRIATELY FOR EACH PRINT MEDIUM AND SIZE.
Each print medium I use requires different levels of sharpening to look it’s best. For instance, noise from over sharpening shows up easier on metal prints. Both acrylic and traditional inkjet prints are more forgiving and hide minor noise and digital artifacts better. Canvas is the most forgiving. Print size is also something to consider. What does this mean in practical terms for my workflow? I’ve adopted a simple and flexible approach to sharpening. I do normal output sharpening in Lightroom or ACR to correct for softness introduced by camera, lens, and the RAW format. The amount varies for each image. I continue with my workflow in photoshop to produce a master file with all layers and adjustments preserved if possible. If I’m going to make a print, I save a flattened copy of the master file and sharpen it specifically for that print size and medium. Sometimes it doesn’t need additional sharpening, but if it does it’s usually the last adjustment I make before sending it to print. As a general guideline, I sharpen more for smaller prints, and less for larger prints. The is counter intuitive for many people, but I’ve found that smaller prints need more because they lose sharpness when they are scaled down, and large prints tend to show any unwanted effects that might arise from over sharpening. This is my personal preference and there are other factors to consider including the view distance.
- ADJUST LUMINANCE FOR SPECIFIC PRINT MEDIUMS.
Each print medium has it’s own perceptual brightness and ambient reflectivity. Like I described in the sharpening section, I save a flattened copy of my master file for each specific size and print medium I print on. Aluminum prints and lumachrome acrylic prints have high ambient reflectivity and perceptual brightness, therefore they require very little, if any brightness adjustment. Traditional inkjet prints and canvas require a lot more brightness adjustments if you want to replicate the look you see on your screen.
I’ve been printing a long time, and I’ve learned several important lessons from printing over the years. I’ve noticed that my processing workflow has evolved to accommodate printing. I now tend to process with printing in mind first, and make specific changes to the file later when posting to the web. I also have evolved to process in the most editable and non destructive way to preserve the image quality. I think printing has made me a better photographer and has helped me improve my image quality.
Old video blog about basic printing from Photoshop: http://www.photocascadia.com/blog/intro-to-photoshop-printing-video/#.WIT_MrGZMUE
Recommended printing companies: These are the two print companies that I use. I’ve tried a lot print shops, and these guys both produce incredible, quality prints. I get my Aluminum prints from: http://www.hdaluminumprints.com and acrylic prints from http://www.nevadaartprinters.com
Landscape photographers are increasingly turning toward more interpretive modes of presentation in order to express their own ideas about the scenes that they encounter. New techniques in field work and related digital processing have fueled this development, often enabling photographers to produce images that were nearly impossible to achieve in the film era. These techniques address a plethora of age-old problems in landscape photography, from displaying a vast depth-of-field to escaping the constraints of shutter speeds and fixed angles of view. Whether the goal is to overcome limitations of current photographic equipment or to infuse a photograph with creative subjectivity, digital solutions have opened up a new world of options and have generated a world of terminology to go with them. In response to frequent requests for explanations of certain terms, I offer the following lexicon.
These terms are those that pertain to recent developments, advancements in field work and related post-processing made possible by the digital era. I have intentionally omitted common terms that have direct counterparts in darkroom development, such as dodging, burning, and cropping. This list is hardly exhaustive and is intended to highlight those techniques that have been most significant in landscape photography of the last decade. In addition, I have included terms that describe some newer techniques that I am increasingly asked to explain.
Blends combine separate image files or else different treatments of a single file into a final image. Blending requires the use of layers and masking in editing software such as Adobe Photoshop. A ‘blend’ is generally distinct from a ‘composite’ in its use of source files created during a single photography outing at a particular location.
Possibly the most essential of all blending techniques for landscape photographers is the Exposure Blend, which allows for selective control over tones in an image. A typical use of an exposure blend would be to present sky and land areas of a scene such that they appear to be in balance tonally, as the human eye might see them. Unlike the use of graduated filters, exposure blends allow for targeted tonal changes in any location of the image and at any level of opacity. These blends might combine different exposures produced as separate files or else differently processed iterations of a single raw file. Exposure Blends are typically achieved with freehand masking or with luminosity masking.
Focal Length Blend:
This type of blend combines frames of a single scene that were shot at different focal lengths. The typical use of this kind of blend is to overcome the effects of “pancaking” or diminution of background features caused by the use of a wide-angle lens. By combining a longer focal length for a background with a wider one of a foreground, photographers can restore the prominence and presence of background features that might otherwise appear less impressive than they would in person. Focal Length Blends require manual blending using hard-edged masks.
One of the most versatile types of blending, the Perspective Blend allows the combination of frames shot using different nodal points. The most common type of Perspective Blend is the so-called “Vertorama”, which is essentially a vertically oriented panorama. Perspective Blends can also combine slightly different camera heights or angles that allow more descriptive or expressive views of certain foreground features without compromising the desired view of the background. Perspective Blends can be achieved with automated stitching software or with manual blending.
A Time Blend collapses together different moments of a natural event, allowing for a more extensive narrative or a more descriptive presentation, similar to what a video might accomplish. While an Exposure Blend might combine different moments that are only seconds apart (or less), a Time Blend could include instances that span across minutes or even an hour or more. A typical example would be a scene with fast-moving atmosphere and quickly changing light that showcases the most significant moments of the event. Another common variation on the technique is combining different shutter speeds in a single image, such as having a longer shutter speed to blur moving water and a shorter one to freeze foliage movement. Time Blends typically require freehand masking.
This technique was developed to overcome problems of extreme dynamic range during twilight or night. The basic approach is to photograph land portions of a scene with ample ambient light separately from the night sky, keeping the camera in position on a tripod as long as it takes to create good exposures of both the land and the sky (typically about an hour). Twilight Blends can be achieved with freehand masking or with luminosity masking and usually require a substantial shift in white balance for the land portions of the image.
These effects accentuate or augment a scene in ways that emphasize a mood and contribute to the style of a photo’s final presentation.
When light shines through atmosphere that diffuses it substantially, any shadow areas behind the light lose contrast. The effect is often a pleasing, “glowy” one that emphasizes the light source. This natural phenomenon can be accentuated dramatically or even imitated outright by overlaying pixels that add brightness and diffusion. These pixels might be layers of bright color or selected areas of a blurred and brightened copy of the image file. The opacity of the effect is generally highest closer to the light source, typically requiring freehand application for naturalistic results. Photographer Ryan Dyar is widely regarded as the greatest pioneer of this technique, and his portfolio contains many images that exemplify it.
Light Painting in processing is akin to dodging and burning in that it selectively brightens or darkens areas of an image, often with a change in hue involved as well. A typical application might add brightness and warmth to selected highlight areas and add cooler hues to darker ones in order to emphasize visual hierarchy, to direct eye movement, or to emphasize depth. Light Painting is usually best controlled with a combination of luminosity masks and freehand application, and it may involve the use of numerous layers that build up to a result like glazing techniques in oil painting. (Note that this is a processing technique that should not be confused with in-field “Light Painting”, which involves using artificial light sources and long exposures in low light situations.)
This effect does have a direct counterpart in darkroom development, but I decided to include it in this lexicon because it has been widely adopted and adapted in the digital era. Photographer Michael Orton originated the technique using slide film in the mid-1980’s as a means of emulating the “Pen and Ink and Watercolor” technique of painting that produced a dreamy effect through its combination of media with different qualities. To create a similar effect with photography, Orton sandwiched together two slides that he took of a single scene, one slide with high detail and little color, along with a second slide that was out of focus and very colorful. Digital applications of this idea are numerous, ranging from subtle treatments that simply offset the effects of web sharpening, to more emphatic treatments that lend a painterly, glowing quality to an image. Numerous software filters, plug-ins, and scripts exist for automated applications of the effect, and of course manual applications are possible using layers in Photoshop.
The following techniques are among those that have been foundational in the more progressive strands of landscape photography in the digital era. They have opened up new options for composition, subject matter, conditions, locations, and timing to the extent that they lie at the heart of a distinct zeitgeist that has become evident in the last decade.
Focus stacking combines files shot with different focus points in order achieve a greater depth of field than would be possible in a single file. With this technique it is possible to have sharp focus on features at the very closest focusing distance of a lens while also having the same level of sharpness for everything else in a scene, all the way out to infinity focus. There are numerous standalone software programs that can automate the process of focus stacking, and Photoshop has stock features for focus stacking as well. Focus stacking can also be achieved manually via blending with layers and masks, although a manual blend is easiest to achieve with images that do not require the combination of many focus points.
The acronym for “High Dynamic Range”, this term describes any process that combines different exposures for the purpose of increasing the range of tones in an image beyond what is achievable in a single exposure. Many photographers reserve this term to distinguish automated processes that effect image tonality globally in a photograph, as distinct from manual blending techniques that allow highly selective control over tones in an image (see Exposure Blending above).
A luminosity mask is a blending tool that allows precise targeting of tones in an image. The most common uses of a luminosity mask are exposure blending, dodging, and burning, but these masks are useful for a huge variety of editing tasks, including color work, light painting, adding light bleed, and creating custom Orton effects, among others. A luminosity mask is a type of “found mask”, which is any mask created from one of the eleven standard channels available in different image modes within Photoshop. The channel that all luminosity masks derive from is the Gray channel, which contains only the luminance values for a given image. Channels that contain color values, such as the Red or Blue channels, can also be very useful and work in the same way that luminosity masks do. Because found masks use gradations of tones or colors that exist as pixels in a photograph, they are much more precise for blending tasks than freehand masking is, and they are less likely to produce unwanted ‘halos’ and artifacts, as can happen easily with simple applications of hard-edged masks (that is, those created with selection tools such as the Lasso Tool). There are numerous Photoshop action sets available to create luminosity masks quickly and easily, the most popular being those available from Tony Kuyper.
Stitching refers to the process of seamlessly combining frames shot by panning a camera horizontally, vertically, or both. There are numerous standalone software programs for creating stitched images, and some are very sophisticated, allowing photographers to stitch together frames from very wide focal lengths and from different nodal points. Photoshop also has features that enable automated stitching, and of course manual solutions exist as well.
Warping is a selective distortion of an image that has countless uses. Common examples include altering the relative proportions of certain parts of a scene, pulling unwanted edge details out of the frame, shifting regions of an image within the frame, correcting leaning features, and adding curvature to straight elements. Warping can be accomplished with the very edge of an ultra-wide-angle lens or with software tools, but blending with another layer of image data that contains normal proportions for the rest of the scene is usually necessary in either case. Although numerous software programs have warping features, Photoshop includes the most variety of them and offers the greatest amount of control, especially given the option to use masking for more targeted effects.
WHEN, WHY, AND HOW MUCH?
My own preference is to use processing solutions creatively but conservatively, always striving for a high level of naturalism and subtlety and without creating images that have no basis in my own experiences. Nonetheless, those limitations are merely my preferences for my own output, and I enjoy seeing compelling photographs that push beyond the limits that I might set for myself. Perhaps the most important consideration for any type of processing is the rationale for choosing a particular technique. Like any decisions in art, those that work in the service of a creative goal are more likely to produce satisfying results. Anything done with intention tends to register with more viewers, allowing them to discover points where craft and ideas come together in powerful, meaningful displays of creative choice.
**Special thanks to the artists whose images are linked in this article and who collaborated with me on the selection of them!
Can you guess which of these techniques went into the photographs displayed in this article? Do you have any questions about any of these terms? Would you like to suggest terms for inclusion in future versions of this lexicon? If so, please feel free to chime in below.
Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and 500px.
Here is a quick little video on some tips for adding shadow detail to your images in Photoshop.
For more image editing videos, check out the videos page on my website. Enjoy!
In the last part of this series I talked about starting the process of pre-visualization in the field, you can read the first part of the series here: http://www.photocascadia.com/blog/pre-visualization-part-1-starting-the-process/#.VB9OpksyPiM Just as important, is continuing the pre-visualization through my digital processing workflow. In this segment I’ll talk about how I use my pre-visualized idea to control my image throughout the workflow.
Just like in the field, I want to have a roadmap to help guide me through the processing. I remind myself what I’m trying to achieve with this image and what I’m trying to communicate. This helps to guide me while processing. Typically, this leads to a lot of problem solving, trying to figure out what tools and techniques in Lightroom and Photoshop will help me realize my final vision. I usually experiment quite a bit. Along the way I discover what is working toward my final vision for the image and what is not. A lot of times I like to walk away from processing and come back later, this gives me a fresh perspective and a chance to re-evaluate how the image is turning out according to my vision.
This is just a guide however. During this process I’ll often evolve my overall vision for an image. If a particular technique is working really well and starts to take the image in a new direction that I find compelling I’ll consider adjusting my pre-visualized ideas. It’s common for images to turn out even better than I had imagined, of course it goes the other way as well. I’ve had many stubborn images that just don’t turn out the way I had anticipated, but most of the time they come pretty close to my pre-visualized idea.
Here is an example of carrying the vision I had for this image in the field through my digital processing workflow. The color, tone, and overall mood was being lost in the Raw capture. It took a lot of work in Lightroom and Photoshop to bring out the potential I had seen in the field. Having that pre-visualized idea in my head helped to realize my vision for this image. Even though this was a single exposure capture, I used many of the tools and techniques that are covered in my Tonality Control Video, you can learn more here: http://www.zschnepf.com/Other/Videos2