Category: Lightroom

Ethiopia: Adobe Spark

A couple of firsts for me on this trip, besides the sites, scenery and experiences:

  • Adobe Lightroom Mobile: I finally succumbed to Adobe and have purchased a subscription to Lightroom Mobile CC (CAD 6.49/mo). This allows me full access for editing photos made using the raw and hdr-raw features of the LrM camera on my iPhone. And, once the photos are in the cloud, space is saved on my mobile devices by just keeping the Smart Previews on my phone and iPad.
  • After a day of shooting, I would go through my images deleting duplicates. As I am travelling, not knowing how things would visually develop, I tend to take more ‘lead up shots’: the best I could get at the time, not knowing if conditions or angles would improve. If they did, great, I would simply delete those ‘lead up’ shots.
  • At first I was editing on iPhone only. Given the very slow upload speeds here in Ethiopia, I couldn’t work on the iPad. The smaller screen size of my phone worked, but almost made me blind as even the bifocals didn’t help. I ended up taking off my glasses and holding the phone up to my face for my blind eyes to see clearly!
  • Once photos were in the cloud with Smart Previews on the iPad, editing became a breeze – even easier than with Lr on the laptop! I can’t wait to get home and try it with an Apple Pencil; it should be even easier.
  • I’ve been rather disappointed with the performance of the SanDisk iXpand flash drive I purchased prior to the trip. I was hoping it would be a reliable place to keep large files, especially videos. While it has worked in that I have removed videos from my phone, it often (three of four times per use) needed to be unplugged and rebooted, which, understandably, is annoying.

  • TrackMyTour: Each evening, I would add photos and narrative to Waypoints created in TrackMyTour, which you are most likely already aware of from this blog (Ethiopia 2019). It’s not quite the app I would prefer for this, but it seems to be the best option of the myriad travel blog apps out there.
  • Adobe Spark Page: I’m also trying out the free version of Adobe Spark Page. While I find its themes and options highly limiting, it can be used to create a dynamic (though not interactive) photo essay. I can pull photos in from a few different sources including Lr Mobile and Apple Photos. Adding videos is a pain though, as they need to be online via YouTube or Vimeo; not easy to do with limited bandwidth and time. You can see my Spark Presentation Ethiopia 2019 online.

    If you have any questions or comments, please add them below – and don’t forget to re-share this post.

    Tiffany Falls, May 2017

    This morning, I led a one-on-one workshop for artist Susan Leite, a member of the Hamilton Camera Club, who missed my presentation of Creating Compelling Landscapes. Tiffany Falls Conservation Area in Ancaster, Ontario, is one of those near-ideal places to learn about landscapes. A well-maintained, and easily-walked side trail of the Bruce Trail leads up the valley, across two bridges to a platform in front of a class cascade waterfall – Tiffany Falls – some 21m (70 feet) high.

    As the point of this morning’s workshop was specifically landscape photography techniques, we were looking for “classic” landscape views that would include a strong foreground element set in the context of the background, connected through the mid-ground with a leading line, a “pathway” that would help the viewer navigate through the photograph. Assembling these elements is the job of the photographer. They are “out there” far more often than many photographers realize; recognizing them and actively, purposefully composing the photograph to include them is what makes them work.

    At times, though, it is a challenge: as we noted this morning, much of the valley and river bank has the scrubby-looking remains of cut trees. Trees that naturally fall have an organic look to them; cut trees have sharp, rather obvious and totally un-natural edges where they were chain-sawed. There were also many parts of branches left from the cuttings that have not decomposed as one might expect leaves and small branches would do over a season or a year, so they, too, left (to my eyes anyway) a bit of a slash-and-burn eye-soar to an otherwise beautiful valley. If you have ever felt the need to remove unwanted outgrowth of trees and plants, consider going for a removal service.

    So, that’s a bit of the context of the location. The morning, itself, was overcast and still, making for near-ideal conditions for photographing in a forest. The contrast was easily managed; just the sky, filtering through the upper canopy, created difficult lighting. Photographers learn quickly, though, the importance of being flexible and working to the conditions provided by Mother Nature: when given a white sky, work to eliminate it from photos – and that’s we did.

    This morning, thanks to the recent rain, Tiffany Creek had an excellent flow. It’s been a cool, wet spring – ideal for gardeners and photographers of nature and landscapes . So often, the rivers and waterfalls of southern Ontario suffer from a lack of water. Not this spring – the rivers have been well-flushed!

    The Basic Set-up

    Both Susan and I were using “bridge” style cameras – hers, a Lumix FZ-200 with an excellent Leica lens, and my Sony RX10iii – on travel-style tripods (both MeFoto Roadtrips). We had both come to the same conclusion regarding carrying equipment in travel-style conditions: less is more! We were both using ND filters and my Polarizing filter. The ND filters slowed shutter speeds to capture more movement in water; the polarizing filter reduced the glare off the water and foliage (see comparison photo).

    We set our cameras to Aperture Priority, using Exposure Compensation to adjust exposure when clipped highlights showed in the histogram. In these situations, shutter speed is less important than the need for adequate depth-of-field to maintain sharpness from foreground through the background. Obviously, in breezy conditions, shutter speed matters, but with the still morning, we had some leeway. With small-sensor bridge cameras, this is achieved in the ƒ5.6 range. On the 1″ sensor Sony, ƒ5.6 is equivalent to ƒ15 on a full-frame system; with Susan’s FZ200’s 1/2.3″ sensor, ƒ5.6 is the same as ƒ31 on a FF system – plenty of depth of field for most landscapes! Any smaller than ƒ5.6 will result in increasingly unsharp edges due diffraction, the bending of light through the smaller aperture.

    We also had a discussion about ISO. To maintain the highest image quality, I always recommend using the lowest ISO that will provide the maximum dynamic range (the difference between pure white and pure black). For many DSLRs, it’s ISO200. For the Sony RX10iii, it’s ISO64; the FZ200, ISO100.

    Susan also set up her self-timer to delay each exposure by 2 seconds to eliminate camera shake from shutter activation by hand. Using tripods that were shorter than normal for comfortable viewing, we also chose to use the LCD for final compositions. However, working on a tripod can be very restrictive when composing, so I always recommend using the quick release to remove the camera and actively compose “free-hand” by moving in and out, up and down and side to side. You really need freedom of movement to find that compositional “sweet-spot”, then set-up the tripod to match that precise location.

    In the field…

    Now for some photos. We both agreed, the ferns and other greenery along the river bank were great foreground objects with lots of detail. As well, the river itself provided and natural pathway through the various scenes. When the river seemed rather straight, it was important to manouevre to “help” it into a more diagonal position; diagonals are always preferred for compositions as they create more dynamic movement than straight lines.

    ƒ5.6 @ 1sec., EV-1, ISO64 w/ Polarizing filter and ND filter

    Wandering up the trail took us to this point, where we could just begin to see the waterfall through the trees. The foreground element was in place with the greenery and rocks and the curve of the river became the natural pathway through the scene.

    The 1-second exposure provided appropriate movement to the water while the -1 exposure compensation was required to prevent the highlights in the distant waterfall from clipping.

    I highly recommend this method of exposure, where you expose as “high” as possible on the histogram without clipping the highlights – commonly referred to as ETTR or Expose To The Right. This allows more photos to be recorded in the shadow areas, reducing the amount of noise when the tonal values of shadow areas are lifted. Due to the beautiful, lower contrast lighting of the morning, this technique wasn’t absolutely essential, but it is good practice to get the most out of any sensor.

    The overall appearance of this initial exposure is a bit on the dark side. The shadows are open, and the whites are near white, but the mid-tone greens appear drab rather than lively. That’s okay! The camera is simply a tool for recording a file that can then be processed – just like negatives were processed – into a final photograph that matches the way I saw the scene. The camera can’t do it all. Jpegs from many cameras are excellent, but there are still techniques that can be applied to further improve the photograph. This is way shooting raw files has become the default, especially amongst fine art photographers. It’s the difference between a “machine print” from a negative and a custom print, made by yourself or a professional printer. Learning a few simple manipulations in an app like Lightroom can go a long way to improving your photographs.

    On Screen…

    Back at home, in Lightroom, I made the following adjustments. Lightroom is designed to be handled “top down” starting with White Balance then moving through Exposure, Contrast, etc. I often start with Whites and Blacks, using Lightroom’s “Auto-Whites” and “Auto-Blacks” feature (NOT the “Auto” button you see there) to pin down the darkest and brightest pixels. Holding the Shift key and double-clicking on the word “Whites”, then doing the same on “Blacks” will do just that.

    From there, I move to Exposure. Now, you might think “Wow, +1.20 in Exposure is a lot!”, but it really isn’t. Exposure in Lightroom lifts the mid-tones – exactly the tonal range that needed lifting. Rather than using the sliders, which can be rather clunky and imprecise, I use the number boxes and increase exposure using the cursor key while looking at the photo (not the adjustment slider!). The Cursor will raise the value by 0.10 each time; holding Shift and pressing the cursor will raise the value by 0.33. When making adjustments, it’s better to start out with big leaps and going past the “ideal”, rather than trying to creep up to it in small hops. Once you beyond what”looks good” you’ll know right away; you can then use the fine tuning of 0.10 increments to nail down the ideal increase.

    This same principal is true for all the other adjustments: use the cursor keys for +/- 1; Shift-Cursor changes it by +/- 10. The Shadows improved with a small bump to +20. Clarity – the adjustment to raise or lower local contrast – is great for giving very fine separation between light and darks, such as the edges of leaves or the bright water agains the dark. But too much clarity can make the photograph look artificially etched, so +10 “worked”. Bumping the Saturation to +10 gave the leaves just a little more punch.

    With the gross changes made, it was now time to look at how I might shape the photograph using graduated filters and local adjustment brushes. Here is the photo with those initial tonal adjustments. It’s bright and has a three-dimensional presence. But, to me, the foreground area in front of me seems just a bit too bright. Pulling in a Graduated Mask with decreased Exposure, seemed to work except the greens seemed dinghy, so I increased the Clarity and Contrast. This allowed the greens in the mask to better match the greens in the rest of the photograph.

    This shows the area that was masked, followed by the resulting photo.

    This is an improvement, but now the water in the river seems a bit dinghy. I felt the whites of the turbulence should have better separation from the darker river bed. Using an Adjustment Brush, I painted over the river water, adding additional contrast (30), reducing the shadow values by -30 and increasing the clarity by 40 to provide that local contrast separation. lastly, I made the tones cooler using the Colour Temperature adjustment. I find the rock of the river beds in this area to be rather yellow, often with algae; cooling it down a little helps to “restore” the river, if only photographically.

     This photo shows the area of that was “brushed”. These Grad Mask and Adjustment Brush features of Lightroom allow an almost infinite series of adjustments, that I find even more intuitive than Photoshop layers. As well, they add virtually nothing to the overall file size as they are simply instructions in a text file as opposed to pixel-level changes. To accomplish the same “feats” in Photoshop, would bloat the file to be 3, 4, 5, even 10x larger than the original. It’s the beauty, and simplicity, of non-destructive  editing.

    Crop and Transform to straighten

    Finally, the photograph was coming together, but needed a little more “massaging”. First, I’ll take you back to my printing days in the darkroom. Often we would introduce a very light vignetting of about 10%. It’s not apparent to the viewer, but it acts in an almost subliminal way to contain the eye within the photograph, especially in prints that would be matted in white then framed. The white mat draws the eye to the outside; the vignetting helps to pull it back in again. Lightroom has Vignetting under “Effects” and, really, -5 to -10 should be enough, but not too much to make it obvious.

    Lastly, I felt the scene could use a little cropping and straightening, as shown in this photo. Ideally, this is done in the field and I lament having to do so on screen, but adding a slight “Transform” of -10 on the Horizontal and +20 in Aspect returned the image to what I remember of the scene. There is, now, a progression of light from the top, where one would expect it, gradually dimming to the bottom, where one would expect it to be darker, given the canopy of trees above.

    In the gallery below, I’ve included the four progression images so you can see the subtle changes that may not be apparent looking at them separately as they are presented above. As well, you’ll find a few other photographs from this morning. If you have any questions, be sure to add them to the comments below.

    Grand River – AM and PM

    Yesterday was one of those ideal August days for photography: cold overnight and warm during the day, not to mention a super moon in the evening!

    Grand River Morning – On a cool, foggy summer morning, the Grand River valley between Elora and West Montrose is filled iwth mist in this view from Pilkington Overlook in Inverhaugh in southern OntarioI was down to my favourite location along the Grand a few days ago, about ½ an hour late for the mist rising, so I kept my eye on the weather for another cold night and Saturday night was just that – down to 10°C overnight. This meant Sunday morning would dawn with great mist over the water and the Grand River did not disappoint.

    I started at Pilkington Overlook (between Elora and West Montrose) spending about 15 minutes looking for just the right view with fog filling the valley. I never did find it (I always have trouble there finding just the right view), however, I did come away with one (shown at right).

    Sunrise and Mist, Grand River - On a cool summer morning, mist fills the moist, floodplain of the Grand River between Elora and West Montrose in southern OntarioThen, I moved down to the flats below by the Eighth Line bridge. Spectacular. Although the sun had already risen above the valley, it was just coming over the valley edge by the time I drove down there – a golden sunrise with mist swirling around. Having been there just a few days before, I knew exactly where I wanted to set-up each photograph. It was just as well, for within 30 minutes, the show was over – the mist had evaporated. There was still beautiful sunshine that would make lovely summer morning photographs, but without the mist, it just seemed lifeless. Again, just as well – our daughter had promised to make Sunday breakfast and I didn’t want to be late!

    In that 30 minutes, I managed a few different set-ups, looking up and down river, each with a different focal length from very wide through to short telephoto (105mm). I disdain straight lines in nature photos, so I always worked to incorporate the curving, leading line of the river bank. I was also able to make a few long exposures to blur the water, using the NDx8 and ND500 filters. The air was so still – nothing moved! Wonderful.

    Summer Sunshine, Grand River - Sunrise over the wildflowers along the banks and floodplain of the Grand River at Inverhaugh, between Elora and West Montrose in southern OntarioOne thing I am always startled by is how well the Nikon D800E handles exposures made with the sun in them when processed in Lightroom. (The lenses also behaved with only one small flare spot, daily removed in LR.) For example, the photo above was made at the exposure recommended by the camera (i.e. I did not add exposure compensation). Lightroom successfully brought the highlights of the sun down to something manageable. They don’t have any detail, but then again, there is no detail in the sun to be had! Also, the foreground was not so dark that it couldn’t be brought back to life by increasing the Blacks and the Shadows – all without introducing scads of grain, which is often the case with raising shadow areas.

    It was a similar case for this photograph to the right, made a little later. Although I reduced the in-camera exposure by 1 stop, the shadows were still recoverable and still have lots of life.

    Super-Moon Rising, Grand River - In August of 2014 the Moon was closer to Earth than at any other point in the year - a supermoon or perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system. This view is over the Grand River between Elora and West Montrose.In the evening, I was back again, for the light around sunset, the super moon and the light after dusk – this time with Laura, . It’s funny how long it takes for the sun to set when you are waiting for it. I used The Photographer’s Ephemeris app (for Desktop, iOS and Android) to determine where the moon would rise and the time it would rise. In fact, earlier in the day, I spent about an hour examining different locations within an hour’s drive of home to determine which would be best. At first, we were going to Spencer Gorge for the view (and I would try that next time, for sure), but having been to the Grand River earlier in the day, I thought, what the heck – why not return.

    The moon rose as planned, but I was not altogether satisfied with the foreground arrangement. I made the best of a difficult situation and came back with one. The tricky part is exposing for the moon, while trying to capture some of the detail in the foreground (without, of course, resorting to making a photo montage by using a moon layer and a foreground layer in Potoshop). The photo at right was exposed for 1/30th at ƒ4 at ISO400. The shutter speed has to be high enough to stop the motion of the rotating Earth (the “movement” of the Moon). To keep some detail in the foreground, I had to use ƒ4. I could have (and perhaps should have) gone to ISO800 to get an aperture of ƒ5.6. The earlier you shoot in the evening, ideally just after moonrise, the more brightness there is to light the foreground. I made a more wideangle photograph that works well composition-wise, but, for me anyway, the moon is too small to be effective.

    I did enjoy shooting some different set-ups, though, as the sun set and for about an hour afterwards. Afterglow provides and interesting cool and low contrast light. Combined with the complete lack of a breeze and shutter speeds of 30 seconds or more are no trouble.

    The next super moon – not quite as super as last night’s – is on September 9th, a Tuesday. Mark it on your calendar and try to find the best location near you.

    Here is a gallery of the photos I made yesterday, both in the AM and PM.

    Field & Screen #1 – A Sunny-Day Landscape from Killarney

     

    Right-click and open this in a new tab to follow along.
    Right-click and open this in a new tab to follow along.

    Something I’ve wanted to do for some time now, is provide a “look under the hood” describing the photography techniques I use to make some of my photographs, both in the field and in post-capture processing on computer. This is the first, using a recent photo from Killarney Provincial Park in Ontario’s near north. I chose it because it was made NOT during the golden hours of sunrise and sunset, but rather in the mid-afternoon (2:39:57PM according to Lightroom!) when many people are active with a camera.

    My wife Laurie and I had stopped for lunch on a quiet bay on OSA Lake – perhaps the most beautiful lake in Killarney with its vermillion blue colour. And, as you can see from the photo, it was a perfect summer day. What is particularly fetching about this part of Killarney are the white quartzite ridges of the La Cloche Range, the 2.5-billion-year-old eroded roots of mountains once higher than the Himalayas. As a photographer, it was the contrast of these rugged hills against the deep blue sky and lake with the rich green of the early summer coniferous forest that caught my creative eye. My goal in photography is to “reveal the art inherent in nature” and this seemed an ideal opportunity.

    When working on any set-up, my mind is constantly going over four key aspects of photography – what I’ve come to call the Photographer’s Toolbox:

    1. How can I use the Ambient Conditions to my advantage? e.g. weather, time-of-day, season and lighting angle, quality and colour of light
    2. What Elements of Visual Design are at my disposal? e.g. foreground anchor, leading lines and pathways, shapes such as diagonals, S-curves, C-curves and triangles, camera angle (high vs. low), horizontal or vertical format and rule of thirds (or not!)
    3. What Technical Controls will enhance the scene before me? e.g. lens, filters, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation
    4. How might Post-capture Processing be used to reproduce what I visualized in the field? e.g. cropping, contrast, clarity, graduated masks, cloning, etc.

    It works like a continually-scrolling flight checklist as I assess the scene and its potential, choose a location and camera angle, set-up the tripod, select the lens and settings on the camera and, ultimately, make the initial exposure and subsequent exposures as I assess the image on the LCD. Granted, the LCD is small, but it is better than what we had in the film days, which was nothing! I enjoy working with the LCD as it is reminiscent of my 4×5 days viewing the (upside-down and backwards) image on a ground glass.

    Actually, the LCD plays a far more important role in assessing exposure. I’m a proponent of the ETTR method: Expose-To-The-Right, which I’ve written about previously: Exposure Part 1: M, A or…? and Exposure Part 2: All Hail the Histogram (both are PDFs of previous newsletters).

    Ambient Conditions:  On this fine sumer day, I had a perfectly blue sky and high overhead lighting – not the ideal for landscapes – but I did have the colour contrasts working for me. The sun was behind me providing rather flat lighting, but again the colour contrasts help make up for it.

    Elements of Visual Design:  The real work began with the all-too-common problem of landscape photographs: foreground. Although we often think of landscapes as being the “grand vistas”, every compelling landscape is anchored with a detailed foreground that invites the viewer to participate in the landscape. Without a decent foreground, everything else simply looks far away and unreachable. A detailed foreground also introduces movement into and around the photograph – very important if you want to keep the viewer’s interest for more than a few seconds.

    In this case, there was some of the pink granite that also graces Killarney’s shores and ridges. But, the photograph needed something more to engage the viewer. Wait a moment… the canoe. I know, it’s a Canadian cliché, but at least it’s not red! Actually, if it was red, it may have been too much with the vivid blues and greens already present. Rather then “place” the canoe in the centre, it kept it to one side to create movement and on a slight angle pointing in the direction I want the viewer’s eye to follow. This is critical (and may sound contrived), but it is done all the time in art: subliminal pathways which cause the viewer to follow a certain path.

    Snap 1
    Snap 1 – Composition and Movement

    In this case, your eye first lands on the bright bow of the canoe – the viewer’s eye always lands on the brightest part of the photo first. From there your gaze is guided by the canoe back to the ridges on the left, then it swings across the ridges towards the right, back down to the foreground rock then along the angled shoreline back to the canoe. The tree shadow in the bottom left helps to point your way into the photo again. You will notice the movement around the photo is clock-wise – a natural and intuitive movement for people. If I had placed the canoe on the right side of the scene, there would have been similar movement, but because we, in western cultures, read from left to right, your eye would not as likely be drawn to the empty left side of the photo.

    When composing a photograph, work with the camera off-tripod. This gives you the freedom to move up-and-down, side-to-side, forwards-and-back to find the exact point, as American photographer Fred Picker once said, “where the scene is looking back at you”. For me, that’s when all the elements are aligned to provide a flow through the scene – difficult to describe in text (which is why hands-on “live” workshops are so helpful). I keep in mind the Rule of Thirds but work with it as a guide to remind me to keep things off-centre. Notice the horizon line, where the hills meet the lake, the foreground shore and the canoe itself – nothing is in the centre. This helps create the movement shown.

    Technical Controls:  For most landscapes, I use a wideangle lens; in this case a 24mm ƒ2.8 Nikkor-D. With the camera tilted down and a small aperture (in this case ƒ11), everything from the foreground to the background will remain in sharp focus. I try to keep my aperture to ƒ11 as it is the “sweet spot” for this lens: it provides the maximum depth of field with the minimum softening of details due to diffraction (excessive bending of the light around the edges of a small aperture). I also used a circular polarizing filter. Often I don’t use a polarizer (a) with digital because the resulting blue skies are too saturated; and (b) with a wideangle lens because one part of the sky becomes more polarized than other parts. In this case, however, the polarizer pulled the greens and bright white quartzite from the hills and there was no obvious variation in the polarization from left to right (probably because the sun was directly behind me, lighting the sky more or less evenly).

    I used the exposure recommended by the matrix metering in my camera, then reduced it by 2/3 of a stop. At full exposure, the canoe was showing blinking highlights on the LCD, telling me it was being recorded as pure white. Using exposure compensation to reduce the exposure kept those highlights in check. It made the rest of the photo appear under-exposed, but that’s irrelevant as it is easily corrected in post-processing.

    Snap 2
    Snap 2 – Original raw file with Exposure and Grad Masking

    Post-capture Processing:  So here is the initial raw file opened in Lightroom. By the way – I use Lightroom for all my post-capture processing. I have yet to find a reason to use Photoshop except to blend images for focus-stacking or panoramas, neither of which I do much of.

    My first step is often to click the “Auto” button, just to see what Lightroom does with the file. Its algorithms are usually pretty good, and while never perfect, they give me some ideas about how to adjust the image. Surprisingly, LR recommended increasing the White point, but then controlling the Highlights with reducing them. It may sound counter-intuitive, but LR “sees” the whites as the brightest 5%, and the highlights as the next 15% or so of the brightness scale. This tells me there was a little headroom to raise the Whites – a good thing for clean, crisp-looking photographs.

    The opposite is true for Blacks and Shadows. There was room at the bottom to further drop the Black point. Raising the Shadows adjustment is always helpful for pulling detail out of the shadows. I raised the Clarity slightly to 10 as I found it gave better separation in the small wavelets on the water and better edge to the foreground rock. One thing you will notice (on the original LR view above) is that all my values are round numbers. I know I’m being pedantic about this, but I find the sliders to be ridiculously gross in their adjustments, therefore I use the cursor keys. By holding down the Shift key when “cursing” the values jump by 10 instead of 1. Rarely do I notice a difference of 1 or even 5, but, when I do, I use it.

    Now for the adjustment masks and brushes. I use the Graduated Mask (M) frequently. I excepted to use it for the sky, but found that after the Tone adjustments, the sky was fine and natural-looking. I did add a Graduated Mask to the bottom 1/3 of the image, up to the base of the canoe. I often do this to help “contain” the viewer so they don’t go wandering out of the image. It is subtle (even subliminal), but it works. In this case, I adjusted the Exposure to –0.80. After doing so, the pink granite seemed a bit grey, so I increased the Saturation by 30. In this photo, there was no need for the Adjustment Brush (K).

    Snap 3
    Snap 3 – Cropping

    Next, comes Cropping (R). For this, I made a Virtual Copy (Cmd+’), leaving the Master File as is – fully “processed” but uncropped. When envisioning this scene in the field, I saw it as a long and wide scene, similar to a panorama (2:1 ratio), but not quite, so  I chose a 16:9 ratio. Some photographers are loath to crop – I’m not one of them. I feel that the engineer who came up with the 3:2 ratio in the 1920s (Oskar Barnack of Leica cameras) shouldn’t dictate to me how the world should be viewed. I see in squares (1:1), sometimes in 4/3s (4:3 ratio), sometimes in 4×5 and sometimes in 3:2 as is the original aspect ratio of my camera. There are other times when the prescribed ratios just don’t work – and that’s okay, too.

    Snap 4
    Snap 4 – Spot Removal and Post-crop Vignetting

    As I am working through the process, I am always looking for distractions that might catch the viewer’s eye, pulling them away from the point of the photograph. (I’m also looking for dust spots, usually in the sky, that need cloning out!) In this case, there are very few distractions, just some waves in the bottom right of the photo. I used the Spot Removal (Q) tool to clone three small areas as shown in Snapshot 4.

    Lastly, I often add an Effect called Post-Crop Vignetting. This reduces the exposure in the corners and edges of the photograph. When used to a high degree, your photo can look like it was shot through a telescope. In this case, I want to apply just a little for the same reason as the bottom Grad Mask – to subliminally keep the viewer within the photo, away from the edges. It’s a technique that’s been used for decades – way back to the darkroom work done by Ansel Adams. When used correctly it is not overtly noticeable, but works.

    OSA Lake and Killarney RangeSo, now it’s finished! Well, almost. Often, after doing some editing (processing), I will put the photo away for a while and come back to it a few days or a week later. With fresh eyes, I will often see something I didn’t notice before because I was too involved in the details of the image. So far, I haven’t done this; when I do, I will add those steps to this workflow and let you know.

    Note: I’ve made a black-and-white version of this photograph which I think I prefer over the the colour. Here it is: you decide…

    OSA Lake and Killarney RangeIf you have any questions about this process and/or the techniques used, let me know by adding a comment below. When looking through my photos either here, on Flickr or at QuietLight.ca, if you see one you are wondering about, suggest it for a future Before and After column.

    If you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign up to be notified of additions to my blog. This can be done in the side panel to the right.

    Thanks for reading!

    Lightroom 5 Smart Previews are the future!

    SmartPreviewsI am enjoying the new features in Lightroom 5. Although not a significant upgrade from 4, there are a few very helpful tweaks. Specifically, the Radial Filter tool, the Healing Brush (still work to be done on this, but it looks like 5.2 may solve the issues) and the Automatic Perspective Correction (and associated tools) in Lens Corrections are great additions to LR. Each of these features have become part of my typical Lightroom workflow.

    The major change in my workflow resulting from Lightroom 5, has been the adoption of Smart Previews. Regular Previews allow you to add Keywords and perform other Library functions, but you can’t do any processing in Develop without access to the original file. Having Smart Previews allows you to process and, to some extent,  export images without actually having the original image. You might think, “But where would the original image be? Shouldn’t it be on your computer?”. If I was working on a desktop computer with a huge hard drive then, yes, the original image would always be accessible and I would not need Smart Previews. However, I do all my work on a laptop.

    Laptop hard drives are never big enough. I remember swapping out the 256MB hard drive on my MacBook Pro for a 500MB and I thought I had all the room in the world – NOT – especially with 43MB Nikon D800E raw files! Before Lightroom 5, I would keep all of my current year’s original files on the laptop for easy access as they would be the ones I use the most. These would be backed-up as part of my Time Machine back-up routine. Original files  from previous years were kept on a portable drive (and backed-up to a desktop drive) – something I could bring along with me and could be powered from the laptop itself. This was my system for a good five years.

    Now, with Lightroom 5 and Smart Previews, I don’t keep any originals on the laptop – just Smart Previews. In fact, i just moved 101GB of 2013 photos over to the portable drive and replaced them with 356MB of Smart Previews. What a space saver! Even more of a space saver is that I don’t keep Smart Previews of every photograph – only my best – those starred 3 or above. Note: My LR catalogue resides on my laptop so I always have access to all my previous images. It is currently 22GB in size for 35,000+ photographs; 17GB of which are regular Previews.

    My LR5 work flow goes like this:

    1. Import new images  via LR from the memory card into a 2013-TEMP folder on my laptop. Note: I could, at this time, use a checkbox in File Handling to have LR create Smart Previews of all the imported images, but I don’t need Smart Previews for all of them; I only want them for my “best of” images.
    2. After import, I compare, cull, select and edit as needed. This includes adding 3 stars to anything worth spending time on. Out of 100 shots, I may give 3 or more stars to 1/4 or 1/3 of them. Why don’t I toss out the others? I don’t know, I guess I’m a bit of a hoarder!
    3. Once I’m satisfied with the photographs I’m working with, I use Library Filter > Attribute to select the 3 stars and higher photos and make Smart Previews of them by selecting Library > Previews > Build Smart Previews. This can also be done in Library by clicking the icon below the Histogram called “Originals without Smart Previews”. A dialogue box will appear asking for confirmation.
    4. With the Smart Previews created, I move the folder with those images to the portable hard drive and back it up.
    5. I carry on working on my laptop processing images as if they are originals. When I re-connect the portable drive with the originals, the new info is automatically written to the originals. Brilliant, really!

    I’ve just gone back to my 2012 photographs, selected 313 files and built Smart previews of them. The 84GB folder of all photos from 2012 was reduced to 387MB of Smart Previews. Now I’m going to each of my annual folders and doing the same.

    This gives me all the convenience of processing originals without the need of having the portable drive attached. Working from an internal hard drive is always faster than a portable drive. So now I have the best of both worlds – except for one caveat… when I’m printing or exporting full-sized jpegs (or tiffs, etc.) I will still need to plug in the portable drive as the Smart Previews are only 2540 pixels on the longest side (due to be 2560 pixels with LR5.2).

    The move from processing in Photoshop to processing in Lightroom has been a wonderful space saver in itself. I would much rather work with 43MB raw files than a 220MB Photoshop behemoth (and that’s without the addition of any Layers!). Now with even smaller Smart Previews, Adobe is making processing even better. [At least Adove is doing something right!]

    What has spurned me on to doing this is a recent demo on The Grid with Scott Kelby and Matt Kloskowski by Lightroom guru Tom Hogarty showing Lightroom on an iPad. This is why Smart Previews have been introduced – to make Lightroom more light-weight for the limited space of tablets. I, for one, am looking forward to doing initial selects and edits and processing on iPad.

    So, if Smart Previews fit into your workflow, have a look at Julieanne Kost’s video to give you a visual of how all of this works. You’ll find it at AdobeTV. If you have any questions – just send me an email – terry [at] luxborealis.com.

    Lightroom 5 Public Beta Announced

    Last night I downloaded and started to “play” with LR5 Public Beta. It has some wonderful updates that will cause me to use Photoshop even less than I do now (about 1% of shots).

    • Advanced Healing Brush – Yaaaaaaah! Finally a brush rather than a spotting tool. This will greatly speed up the clean up of unsightly branches, grasses, power lines, jet trails, etc. It’s not quite as effective as content aware fill, but that’s not what I’m after as a nature and outdoor photographer;
    • Radial Graduated filter – a very helpful addition for when straight lines just don’t cut it
    • Upright – now, when shooting building, perspective control has become much easier – it really works!
    • Smart Previews – I keep all but my most recent files on an external HD. So if I am doing Develop module updates, I don’t need the external HD plugged in. Not earth-shattering, but helpful nonetheless.
    • Faster? – I’m finding Previews are much faster at loading and when zooming in but my fan runs more and switching modules is not quite as fast

    There are a few more minor changes that you may or may not find helpful, but these are the major updates. In fact, this seems like more of an update than a new version.

    I am looking forward to the final release as who knows what else Adobe might include. For now though – DO NOT DOWNLOAD THE LR5 PUBLIC BETA unless you are willing to create a new, separate catalogue with a few folders of images for testing. Tis is essential – you do not want to be working on your original copies as the changes may not translate exactly from the Public Beta to the Final release.

    If you want to play around with the public beta…

    • read the Adobe release on the Lightroom Journal
    • download the LR5 Public Beta from the Adobe Labs page
    • create a new catalogue; I called mine LR5 Beta and put it in with my other LR catalogues in “Pictures” (WIN: My Pictures)
    • LR5 will copy your preferences from LR4 although it may not pick up your ID Plate;
    • when importing photos to this catalogue, be sure to COPY them (top middle) from folders that already exist in an LR4 catalogue with the Destination set to “Pictures > LR5 Beta”. I put them in a subfolder named for the year (e.g. 2013) and instruct LR5 to Organize “by original folders”

    By following these instructions, you will now have a second copy of the original files: the original file is still in LR4; the second in the LR5 Beta folder. Tis protects your original just incase LR5 decides to hiccup or belch or worse.

    To walk you through the updates, Julienne Kost has produced a few nice videos for Adobe. I can recommend them as great starting points.

    Good luck and have fun!

    Tethered shooting with a Nikon D800e

    It’s frustrating to learn that Adobe has dropped the ball with respect to tethered shooting. Tethered shooting allows you to connect the camera directly to your computer so that as you shoot, the images appear on screen. It’s a set-up studio photographers frequently use and one I am only tangentially interested in as I don’t make it habit of lugging my laptop out into the wilds for tethered shooting!

    Nikon D800e w/ AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4D IF-ED; ƒ4.5 @ 1/1250, ISO1600

    Be that as it may, it is lovely summer morning on the deck with an inquisitive chipmunk as my subject to get tethered shooting working. As a Lightroom user, I was excited to try this out… only to discover Lightroom doesn’t (yet?!) support tethered shooting for the Nikon D800/D800e or D4. A quick online search reveals that Capture One supports it, Aperture supports it, even onOne Software supports it. Why Adobe doesn’t is anyone’s guess. Even the latest version of Lightroom which came out after the D800 – version 4.1 – doesn’t support it.

    I own Aperture, but I don’t really want to have a second photo processing/database app on the go. I prefer to keep things simple by using Lightroom, so I won’t be purchasing Capture1 either (although, it sounds like I should as its raw engine produces superior results to Lightroom). This led me to onOne Software. I have OnOne’s “Perfect Photo Suite” of applications but, being more of a “realist” when shooting nature, I have never felt drawn to the product, nor yet had the need of Layers for Lightroom. However, onOne  does offer a DSLR Camera Remote for iPad and iPhone. The app comes in two parts – the Server that’s loaded onto your computer and the App itself for the iPad or iPhone. Downloading the Server – which is free – allows you to shoot tethered to your computer without having to purchase the app for you mobile device.

    And – best of all – it works! Within 2 minutes of downloading, I had it and Lightroom set up so that as each exposure is made, the file appears on screen in Lightroom. While I can’t control the camera remotely – I would need to purchase the iPad or iPhone app for that – the Remote Server tethering works perfectly well – as you can see from the photo above!

    When you first open onOne DSLR Camera Remote Server, it creates a download folder for you. You can create your own folder or go with the one created. Lightroom itself was easy enough to set up. Under File, choose Auto Import > Auto Import Settings… and point LR to the folder created by Remote Server. LR will automatically move the photos from there to a folder you create. This can all be customized for each shoot you do, right down to the file names.

    Anyway, technical gymnastics aside (it’s really only a cartwheel to get you started, nothing like we saw in the Olympics!), tethered shooting is easy to do. For me, I doubt I will use it often, but it’s a great facility to have available. Try it…You’ll like it!

    Update

    With the recent release of Lightroom 4.2, you can now shoot tethered directly with Lightroom. Thanks Adobe for playing catch-up!

    Lightroom: There is more to print resolution than meet the eye

    While surfing today (hey, it’s raining out, why not!), I came across an excellent article from last year by Lightroom guru Jeff Schewe that sheds an incredible amount of light and detail on print resolution. If you are printing your own prints using Lightroom then I strongly suggest you read this article and adjust your printing routine accordingly.

    I’ll warn you, the article is 5 pages long and full of detail that just might cause some head-scratching, but persevere and you will come out the other end much more knowledgeable about printing.

    Here is the link from the magazine Digital Photo Pro :

    The Right Resolution

    The conventional wisdom says set 300 dpi and forget it, but it turns out that there’s more to optimizing image resolution for fine-art printing

    Waxing Crescent Moon

    Last night was a clear night so I thought I would put the D800e to the test by photographing the waxing crescent moon. I should have been out a 1/2 hour earlier to keep some of the dusk sky colour, but such is family life.

    Settings: Nikkor 300mm ƒ4 AF-S IF-ED; ƒ5.6 @ 1/60; ISO200; no filter; on a sturdy tripod & head & MLU; NEF 14-bit raw capture. Each image is cropped to 100% (1 pixel on the jpeg = 1 pixel on the sensor). I tried a few different exposures to get just the right balance of shutter speed without losing highlights. You see, since Earth is spinning, a fast enough shutter speed is needed to stop any motion. when I opened the photos in Lightroom, I noticed that ƒ5.6 is slightly sharper and has no chromatic aberration compared to ƒ4.

    For comparison sake, I have included what I have called “Normal” processing to enhance this specific image to my liking as well as the original Unmanipulated raw file.  Frankly, I am amazed at the detail and sharpness of even the unmanipulated raw file at 100%. Also, there appears to be some significant Highlight “headroom” compared to Nikon’s blinking highlights as the right edge of the moon was blinking on the LCD preview. I’m aware of the inaccuracies of the Preview image on the LCD, but was surprised by how much is actually there “behind” the blinking highlights. When imported into LR, there were no clipped highlights – a function of LR’s reading of the image file.

    Here are the photographs. to see them at full resolution, try right-clicking on a photo and selecting “Open in new Tab”.

    – Enjoy!

    Processed in LR
    Unmanipulated direct from raw file

    Lightroom 4 – Continued success!

    I am certainly enjoying the new Basic panel of Lightroom 4. Yes, it takes some getting used to, but my results so far have always been an improvement over what I could achieve with Lightroom 3.

    The biggest difference I find is how much more precise the adjustments are to specific tonal regions. The best example is in the Exposure adjustment – it really does a wonderful job on the mid-tones without adding highlight clipping with increases or shadow clipping with decreases in exposure. This is at it should be.

    Furthermore, the Highlight adjustment does a superb job with the high 3/4 tones without introducing highlight clipping – again, wonderful. The same can be said with the Shadows – I can open up shadows very nicely and much more precisely than with LR3.

    Something else I’m finding, is that LR4 is much better at handling slightly clipped Highlights. In typical Expose-to-the-Right fashion, when shooting raw I slightly clip my Highlights to achieve slightly greater dynamic range. LR4 tames those Highlights much more smoothly than previously.

    As a result of these improvements, I find I am reprocessing more and more of my LR3-processed images (Process Version 2010) to PV2012. However, in doing so, I don’t like what LR4 does in attempting to match what PV2010 did. I found that I needed to “zero” the Basic palette adjustments (not the masks, though, not th lens corrections, so “Reset” is not an option) and start over. Not a problem as the results were better than what I had previously, but it does mean spending a few minutes tweaking the Basic adjustments. To do the “aerating” easily, I created a Develop Preset called “Zero after PV change” – one click and the Basic palette adjustments are zeroed and ready for me to work with.

    One caveat – Speed: LR4 is slower on my MacBook Pro 2 GHz Intel Core i7 with 8 GB 1333 MHz DDR3 RAM. I notice a lag with switching modules which is annoying. Also, with some adjustments there is a lag.