Tag: lightroom

iPhone 8 Plus Initial Test Shots

Three years ago, I shot everything on full frame. Since moving to digital from 35mm and 4×5, it had been my “quest” to reach the same level of image quality as my 4×5. With the Nikon D800E, image quality was finally there and well surpassed that of 4×5, although I did not have access to the tilts and swings of the larger format, bellows camera.

Two years ago, after hefting my full frame D800E and lenses around the Galápagos Islands with 23 students, I decided a change was needed. That’s when I began exploring 1″ sensor “bridge” cameras: first the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000, followed by the Sony RX-10iii, which I have happily settled on. I’ve now travelled with it to Iceland twice and to England, not to mention numerous day hikes here in southern Ontario. I am very pleased with the IQ and can easily make fine photographic prints up to 13″ and 17″.

iPhone 8 Plus

Last week I (finally) entered the mobile phone era with an iPhone 8 Plus. (BTW – Check out Freedom Mobile: over the two year contract, I will only be charged $600 for my $1095 iPhone 8 Plus! Use the link here and you and I will earn a $10 credit!)

A small gallery of photos from Christmas Eve Day, down by the Speed River, Guelph.

Why the iPhone 8 Plus? Why, its camera, of course! It has a two-lens camera system: one is a nice wideangle (for smartphones) f/1.8 28mm lens; the other, a f/2.8 56mm lens. It’s portrait mode creates beautiful photographs, artificially blurring the background, and, with the right app (in my case, I’m using the ProCamera app) I can save the photo in RAW format, using Adobe’s DNG format. Imagine, raw from a phone. Is it any good, though? I’ll let you be the judge. You can learn more about the camera in this article in Popular Science.

These were shot over the last couple of days while we’ve had beautiful, but cold, wintry days here in southern Ontario. The stark lighting is a real test for any camera system as the dynamic range is extreme. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well the iPhone handled the contrast. From what I understand, the camera now always does exposure blending by taking three exposures almost simultaneously then automatically combining them into a single photograph, commonly called HDR.

The photo below was made along one of the many backroads we took driving down to Burlington on Christmas Day. The late afternoon sun was made hazy by the falling snow – a scene that was begging to be photographed. I took a number of different shots and settled on this one, slightly cropped from the full photograph. I saved it as a raw file, to ensure maximum latitude while processing. That being said, Apple’s new HEIF file format (PhoneArena review), which iOS 11 now uses instead of JPEGS ticks many of the boxes for advantages: up to 16-bit colour (jpeg is 8-bit) including animation and transparency, yet a smaller file size (about ½ compared to jpeg) and far superior compression with fewer artefacts.

Web version with border and white framing from Lightroom and LR/Mogrify
This is the initial raw file, cropped, but not processed. It appears dark as the emphasis was on retaining the highlights. The full-size image is linked for you to view pixel-level quality.
Here is the full-resolution (linked) processed version of the same file.
Lightroom Before/After comparison with processing values to the right.
Portrait mode, no flash

So far, I’m pleased with the results. Even the Portrait mode is well worth the additional cost of the “Plus” version of the iPhone 8. And the Slow-Synch flash, which doubles as a flashlight/torch, is a bonus which provides very pleasing fill light. Why not an iPhone 10? The additional cost pushed it over my budget. Besides, the iPhone 8 Plus is built on tried and tested technology.

I’ll be shooting more with it over the next few days, so if you have any questions or comments, fire away.

Will it replace my other photo gear? For walking around, yes, but for serious photography, not yet. Who knows, though, the iPhone 8 Plus might still have a few tricks up its sleeve.

Are you editing your photos?

None of the photographs I make and publish are straight out of the camera. They could be, but they wouldn’t have the same impact as there are always improvements to be made. Besides, I want the photograph to represent what I saw and felt, not the machinations of an inanimate box with optics.

If you are shooting jpegs and you’re perfectly happy with them, then perhaps spending the time to learn and do photo editing is not for you. But, if you aren’t satisfied and you can see improvements to be made then read on…

Just to be clear, I’m editing with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, the industry-standard, fully professional app used by millions of Mac and Windows photographers around the world. However, there is a fairly steep learning curve for LR and it’s not the app to use for casual editing. Years ago, I started up the BYO Laptop course on Lightroom at Mohawk College in Hamilton. After 10 weeks of covering all the basics and some in-depth work on importing, organizing, developing, pre-sets, printing, books and black-and-white etc., users still found they needed to be actively and regularly using LR so as not to forget all it’s intricacies. Lightroom is an amazingly complete app, and I use it everyday, but it can be overwhelming without some good tutorials.

LR’s Before-After view showing the difference editing can make – not significant for this photo, but certainly an improvement from dull to glowing.

If you want to get started editing photos, begin by identifying the photos in your collection needing some improvement. We all have photos that need “rescuing” from mistakes we’ve made like under– or overexposure or poor composition. These are mistakes that should be corrected in-camera, but may be a good starting point for you to learn the extent to which photos can be “processed”. No doubt, though, you probably have others that are just lacking that bit of extra “umph’ (I know, how photographic!) to raise them from good to brilliant. Often it’s a slight adjustment to contrast, a raising of the shadows or taming of highlights or a little extra saturation.

This is where craft meets artistry. Photo editing works best if you have a preconceived “visualization” of what you want the photograph to look like. Many photographers start with a “meh” photo and try to breathe life into it using push-button pre-sets. While this can work, and it can teach you what’s possible, it’s better to start with the vision of what you want the photo to look like, then work towards it by learning what each of the options can do, and not do, for you.

Apple Preview > Tools > Adjust Color brings up this handy photo editing panel.

If this sounds intimidating, start with one of the best but basic editing apps out there – the one that’s already on your computer: if you have a Mac, it’s Preview (not Photos, not yet); on Windows 10, it’s Photos. Now, I can’t speak to the Windows experience because I don’t use it, so have a look at this article for some guidance.

Apple’s Preview is easy to use because you can open a photo already on your computer and make small adjustments to it. If you only want to edit a few JPEG files, Preview is the way to go – have a look at this comprehensive article from (surprisingly!) Forbes magazine. My only caution with Preview is that what ever changes you make become permanent once you hit “Save”. I highly recommend duplicating the photo first and adding “-Edit” to the filename, so that you can always go back to the original if you mess up.

Photos for macOS and iOS is much more complete. You can use it in Simple mode to make moderate adjustments or you can open a dozen or so various panels for a more complete editing suite (see below). It will edit both jpeg and raw files; more importantly, the editing is “non-destructive”, meaning, it is not changing the original file, but writing the edits in the background as a set of instructions that are applied only when you export or print the photo. Photos also allows you to add 3rd party extensions that further extend its capabilities.

In fact, Photos is almost as good as Lightroom. It only lacks LR’s ability to add graduated masks, adjustment brushes and bulk editing. LR is also the best possible photo app for printing, but that’s a whole different blog post.

The best article I could find to get you started with Photos is this one from MacWorld. There are also dozens of tutorials and videos online; all you need to do is Google, “How do I (fill-in-the-blank) with macOS (or iOS or Windows) Photos?” The other part of learning to edit is simply exploring; e.g. What happens to my photo when I do this?, but be sure to use the “Undo” button (or Command-Z my favourite keyboard shortcut!)

macOS Photos offers much more complete editing when you select “Adjust” then the blue “Add” in the top right.
macOS Photos – This is the simplified adjustment panel.

Other photo editors include Photoshop (Mac/Win), Pixelmator (Mac only) and Affinity Photo (Mac/Win). Photoshop isn’t really a photo editor, it’s more of an image compositor with editing adjustments that can be applied to photos. People still use it for editing photos because that’s all that was available for years. It has since been eclipsed by Adobe’s Lightroom which was designed from the ground up for photography. To fill the price gap between free and Lightroom, Pixelmator was introduced some years ago. It has since been eclipsed by Affinity Photo.

“AP”, as it’s known, is currently the leader of the pack for low cost, high-end editing, even giving Photoshop a run: AP is now considered Photoshop’s most capable replacement at about 1/10th the cost and it has a near equally-capable iOS app for newer iPads. An alternative to Lightroom is the more expensive, but very capable Capture One, used by those who can distinguish even higher-quality raw files from Lightroom’s (or claim to, anyway!)

If you’re bent on learning Lightroom (or any photo editing app, actually), give me a call or drop me an email. I can get you up and running in a few hours.

If you want really good black and white, then consider getting to know Lightroom.

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.

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.

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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.

Process HDR images in Lightroom

I’m not big on HDR, but while surfing this morning, I came across a great tutorial for processing high-bit HDR image in lightroom 4.1. No, you still can’t merge images in Lightroom, but you can take a merged 32-bit HDR file (from Photoshop or Photomatix Pro) and manipulate it in Lightroom as many of the adjustments are now “HDR-aware”. That is, LR now recognizes high-bit images and extends the ability to adjust them. For example, the Exposure adjustment extends to +/– 10 stops!

Here is the link for this tutorial over at LightroomSecrets.com:

http://lightroomsecrets.com/2012/07/process-your-hdr-images-in-lightroom/#more-3839

Lightroom Update

Now that I have over 25,000 images in various Lightroom catalogues, I can perhaps give you a better perspective on how well it’s keeping up.

In a word – amazingly well! Sorry, that’s two words.

Every time I open and work with Lightroom (3.x especially) and push it a little further, I discover nuances in its work flow or tools that make life easier. I am working on a draft of an article describing my Lightroom workflow that, once finished, should help photographers to better understand how and why it is better option than Photoshop (CS or Elements), Picasa, etc.

16.000+ images in one catalogue does not slow it down at all. I do not use a desktop workstation – only a MacBook Pro laptop. To save hard drive space, only my catalogue is on the hard drive – my photos are on a portable (3.5″) 500 GB external USB hard drive which is literally plug-and-play.

For the first time, I have all of my images at my fingertips – anyone or group of which can be called up by keyword or text search in a matter of seconds!! Brilliant!

Some of these images are raw files, tiffs and jpgs made 8 years ago on an early 5MP digital camera. They have come alive in a far superior way and in far fewer key strokes than when I first processed them through Photoshop. It is like re-discovering old negs!

I have a number of different catalogues: a luxBorealis catalogue for my fine art and stock images and a catalogue for each of my clients.

So far, I am, at the touch of a few keys, producing web galleries, prints, slideshows, Flickr uploads and email-sized images. These processes have been customized by creating and tweaking  a number of presets – perhaps Lightroom’s single greatest feature. While I have found presets on the ‘net, they have been most helpful in providing a starting point for fine tuning according to my tastes. The bottom line is that once you have something you like – create a preset of it. Then, when you tweak it to make it even better, right-click and “Update with Current Settings”.

Enough for now. I don’t own shares in Lightroom, nor am I paid by Adobe or anyone else for saying this, but I can’t help thinking how much more productive I am now that I am using Lightroom for processing my images..