the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Posts tagged “Photoshop

Image Evolution: RAW to Print – Autumn Grass

Autumn GrassI recently was completing some long over due editing from shots I took in 2013 and came upon this image. I had not touched it since importing it into my Lightroom catalog nearly two years ago. I decided to see what I could do with it. Below is the original file as imported into Lightroom and the version after processing in Lightroom. The feature image is the finished product out of Photoshop.

I was originally attracted to the image because of the pattern of the yellow grass and the scattering of the red leaves. The scene was in shade on the afternoon of a late fall day in November – there was not much available light. I can’t remember if I was without my tripod, or just too lazy to use it, but I took the shot handheld. To have a fast enough shutter speed to not have camera shake, I upped the ISO to 1600, which resulted in a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second. It wasn’t enough. Viewing at 100% in Lightroom showed the image was not sharp.

I thought it might be saved with the shake-reduction filter in Photoshop, so I opened up PS. Indeed, the shake-reduction filter seemed to work wonders. My workflow is normally not to bring an image into Photoshop until I’m done with it in Lightroom, but rather than go back to Lightroom, I opened up the camera-raw filter and attempted to do my “Lightroom” processing there. (Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom reportedly have the same capabilities.) I was quickly reminded why I like Lightroom better than Adobe Camera Raw and scrapped the image and started fresh again in Lightroom.

In Lightroom, I started, as I normally do, by doing a default lens correction and adding noise reduction to counteract the high ISO noise. Following my normal workflow, I went to the Basic menu and worked on the tone and presence. I started by reducing the exposure by about 1/2 a stop, warmed up the temperature to rid the image of blue tones from the blue sky reflection and adjusted the tint to add a bit of green. I then adjusted the clarity (to the mid 20s) and vibrance (to the mid 30s) sliders to punch up the colors a bit. That’s a bit more vibrance than I normally use, but it seemed like it needed it. The vibrance wasn’t helping the reds enough, so I also added a small amount of saturation.

I then set the white point with the white slider and adjusted the highlights slider down. I normally set the white point, usually increasing it, as a way to improve contrast. It often results in the highlights being lighter than I want; such was the case here – thus the reduction of the highlights slider. It took several iterations to get it where I liked. I then set the black point with the black slider (and thus finish the contrast improvement without using the contrast slider, which I normally leave set at zero – as I did here).

At this point, there was one leaf in the upper half of the photo that was too bright and distracting. So I used the brush tool to dim it down a bit. With that bright leaf now dimmer, I made one final adjustment to the white and highlights sliders. Made a final adjustment to the temperature slider, and punched up the image a bit more by using the dehazing slider and added just a touch of vignette to help focus the eye into the image. The result is the second image below.

At that point, I exported to Photoshop and re-accomplished the sharpness fix with the shake-reduction filter. After working that shake-reduction magic, I followed my normal Photoshop workflow for nature/landscape shots by working Tony Kuper’s triple play actions on the lights and darks (these actions use luminosity masks to affect the contrast, brightness and detail definition – in this case I was most interested in the detail definition).

From there I worked on targeted adjustment to bring my final vision out for the image. I wanted to yellow grass to really stand out, so I made mask for the yellows and used it on a levels adjustment layer to make them brighter. I only wanted this effect on the yellow grass in the center of the image, so I placed the levels adjustment layer in a group and masked the group, allowing only the center portion to be affected.

Next, I thought the greens were too bright, so I again made a mask from the greens and used it on another levels adjustment layer to darken them up a bit.

In looking at the image, I still wasn’t happy with the reds, so I added a hue/saturation layer and bumped up the saturation just a bit on the reds only.

I finished it off by adding a dodging/burning layer, and painting black to darken, I darkened approximately the upper 1/4 of the image as well as a bit on the sides and bottom. This improved upon the vignette I had placed in Lightroom. The result – the image you see above.

It took much longer to write this than to do the actual work in Lightroom and Photoshop. I think, in total, it took about 20 minutes. In looking at it now, I think I may have overdone darkening of the shadows. But that is the beauty of Lightroom, I can easily open the PSD file made by Photoshop and lighten up the shadows a little. Maybe I’ll do that if I ever decide to print it, but otherwise, it is ready to print now.

As always, your thoughts and comments are most welcome.

Raw image with Lightroom default processing

Raw image with Lightroom default processing

Initial processing in Lightroom prior to taking the image to Photoshop

Initial processing in Lightroom prior to taking the image to Photoshop


How Far Do You Go?

Desert Abstract 2One of the challenges of shooting in RAW format is deciding what and how much processing to do. (Tangent – why is RAW capitalized? It is not an acronym such as JPEG or TIFF. It simply means unprocessed. In Wikipedia, it isn’t capitalized. But somehow, it doesn’t look right to me. I’m usually a stickler for correct writing – just ask anyone at my day job where I edit everyone’s reports; they may even call me a grammar nazi – but leaving it uncapitalized when every other file format is capitalized seem wrong. So grammar nazi or not, I’m capitalizing it.) When shooting in JPEG mode, the camera does the processing for you. You can always tweak it later, but the majority of the work is done. With RAW, you should do the heavy lifting and process the image yourself, at least if the default processing by your RAW converter program (Lightroom in my case) doesn’t do a good job. And it is rare when I find I can’t do a better job processing than the default.

But the question remains, what to do and how much? Some might answer, just enough so that it looks like it did in real life. But what is that? Take, for example, the images presented here. These are shots of water seeping out of sandstone near Moab, Utah. I’ve included both my processed versions and the original RAW versions from Lightroom with zeroed developing (with all the sliders set to zero – realize, however, there still is some processing involved, it is impossible to present true RAW images, some processing must occur to translate the images into something humans can view). I took these images in the shade on a sunny, blue-skied morning. So these were naturally lit by a broad, blue sky, which cast a rather flat, blue light onto the sandstone. Does that flat, blue light truly show what I saw, or do my processed versions show what I saw? The answer is up to me as the maker and you as the viewer. Did I go too far?

Well, what did I do to turn the RAW images into the finished images? They were first processed in Lightroom, correcting for lens distortion and chromatic aberration. Then I set the white point and the black point to add contrast, took a little off the exposure, and adjusted the highlights and shadows to bring detail into the blacks and whites. I added some clarity to add a bit of sharpness and some vibrance to add saturation. I then adjusted the color temperature, increasing it to remove the blue tint. I then added a radial filter to lighten the water patterns and darken the rest. And finally, made minor changes to many of these adjustments to fine tune them.  I then took the images to Photoshop, performed Tony Kuyper’s triple play to add punch to the highlights and shadows, lighten up the orangy-browny vegetation on top, and added a “smart glow” to punch up the color a bit. In total, it took about 10 minutes each to do all this work.

I’d think the most controversial of these changes would be the changes to the color, in particular adding vibrance and the smart glow.  The rest is pretty standard old-school darkroom photography made digital (except perhaps the Kuyper triple play, that doesn’t really change the images that much).  The problem here is deciding what is too much in terms of the color. Because the subjects were in shadow, it is difficult to determine what the colors would look like in the sunshine. And of course, what sunshine are we talking about? Sun at noon? Sun at sunset?

I guess the answer is it depends. Did I take it too far? I don’t think so; you may. But these are close to what I wanted to show when I took the images. So for me, the answer is no; I processed them as I thought proper. For you the answer may be different. If you think so, let me know your thoughts.Desert Abstract 1

Desert Abstract 2 - RAW

RAW image unprocessed

 

Desert Abstract 1 RAW

RAW image unprocessed

 


In Celebration of Pi Day, I Give You Phi

Golden spiral overlay in PhotoshopToday is Pi Day. I’m not sure how Pi relates to photography, but Phi does. Pi the ratio of  a circle’s circumference to its diameter, an irrational number approximately equal to 3.14159. Phi is also an irrational number, approximately equal to 1.61803. Phi is also called the golden ratio. It is the ratio obtained when a line is divided into two unequal parts such that when the longer part is divided by the smaller part the answer is the same as when the whole length is divided by the longer part. (It makes much more sense when you see it as a diagram.) Pi and Phi are somewhat related in that the product of the two numbers (phi times pi) is found in golden geometries.

I am not a mathematician, but I suspect the product of Pi and Phi is related to golden geometries because Phi is an expression of the golden ratio. And the golden ratio is special in photographic composition. Phi, the golden ratio, presents to the human mind a very pleasing relationship. Besides photography, it is found in architecture, painting, and music, as well in nature.

The golden ratio has been used for art since practically forever. The Parthenon is covered with instances of the Phi. It can be found in artworks such as the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper. It is even found in Darth Vader’s mask.

The rule of thirds works, in my opinion, because it is an approximation of Phi. If you take the sweet spot defined by Phi four times in a frame, you get a pattern similar to the rule of thirds, but a little less easy to define on the fly when looking through your viewfinder. Luckily, both Photoshop and Lightroom offer crop overlays that show the golden ratio grid.

The golden ratio can also be expressed in a spiral. A logarithmic spiral with a growth factor of Phi is known a the golden spiral. Again, both Photoshop and Lightroom also have crop overlays based on the golden spiral. The sweet spots of the golden spiral are also close the those of the rule of thirds.

It is easy to access these crop overlays in Lightroom. The various crop overlays in Lightroom are found under the Tools pull-down menu. Or when using the crop tool, use the shortcut of the letter “O” to cycle through the various crop overlays. When using the golden ratio overlay, you can cycle through the various orientations of the spiral (placing it in different quadrants of the image) by using “Shift O”. The same shortcuts are used in Photoshop when using its crop tool.

With a bit of practice, you can imagine the golden ratio proportions in your viewfinder, and you can always perfect the composition with the crop tool in Lightroom and Photoshop. So if you want to move beyond the rule of thirds, remember Phi – the golden ratio – a photographer’s compositional mathematical friend.

Golden Spiral overlay in Lightroom

Golden Ratio overlay in Photoshop

Golden Ratio overlay in Lightroom

 

 


Creating a Tilt-shift Look

Port of SeattleMy intention this morning was to get a lot of work done. Instead, I sat down at the computer and played with Photoshop. I long have wanted to learn how to create the tilt-shift look in Photoshop. You know the look, that of a miniature toy town or city. So instead of working, I asked Mr. Google how to do it, and he directed to a tutorial by Denise Lu. It is quite easy.

1. Pick a photo. It seems to work best with a wide view, taken from a high angle so you are looking downward on the scene. Two of the images here were taken from the Smith Tower in Seattle and the third from the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

2. Open the photo in Photoshop and create a duplicate layer so you are not working on the background layer.

3. Enter the Quick Mask Mode (the shortcut is the Q key) and select the Gradient tool. With the gradient tool, select the reflected gradient (the 4th mode over on the gradient tool bar).

4. Draw a gradient starting in the area you want to be in focus and extending to the area out of focus. You can hold the Shift key down to make sure your gradient is straight. A mask (default color red) will appear on the screen showing the area to be in focus. You will likely have to play around with it to get a mask exactly where you want it.

5. Exit the Quick Mask Mode (hit the Q key again) and from the filter pull-down menu select the Lens Blur filter.

6. Pick a radius of somewhere between 20 and 40, at least those are the values I used. The Lens Blur filter screen will let you preview the results.

7. Consider adding saturation with a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and extra contrast with a Levels or Curves adjustment layer to make the result look for toy-like.

And that’s it! The hardest part is getting the gradient in the proper place. If you have a building sticking out of the in-focus area, such as in my image of Paris here, you can use other selection tools to de-select that portion of the building after leaving the Quick Mask Mode but before applying the Lens Blur filter.

Have fun!

Paris

Seattle


Moon Troubles

Full Moon TacomaI have trouble photographing the moon. Okay, it’s not so hard before for the sun sets (which is why the best full moon pictures are typically taken the day before the full moon and, consequently, before the sun sets), but after dark, I have lots of problems. There is just too much contrast. The moon is bright, basically as bright as anything lit by sunlight on a cloudless sunny mid-day. Everything else is dark. The dynamic range of any scene with the moon is too much for a camera to handle.

Perfect time to try some HDR photography, right? Maybe, but I’ve never gotten it to work well. I’ve always get funny looking light artifacts around the moon; all my attempts at using HDR for scenes with the moon have looked awful. How about shooting one exposure for the moon, one for the rest of the scene, and combining them in Photoshop. Again, maybe you can do that, but every time I’ve tried it, it doesn’t work – there’s too much glare around the moon and I can’t get the sky to look right.

Last month when I wanted to photograph the full moon rising behind the Glass Museum in Tacoma, I was disappointed when there were clouds on the eastern horizon and the moon wasn’t visible. Less than an hour later, the moon rose above the clouds, and though it was no longer aligned with the Glass Museum, it lined up nicely with the cable bridge over the Thea Foss Waterway. Nice shot, I thought, except now it was way too dark to capture both the moon and the with a single exposure. I set up the tripod anyway and took a series of shots, hoping that perhaps the contrast would not be too extreme.

Later, when I downloaded the shots, I was disappointed to find out contrast was too great – moon troubles were visiting me again. I tried HDR (once again) and was disappointed with the results (once again). I was frustrated. At that point, I figured someone else must have an answer to this problem, so I spent some time researching moon photography on Google. Most advice centered around photographing during twilight before it was too dark. Not helpful in my case. After a bit of searching, I found a YouTube video (which I can’t find again to credit here), where the photographer used HDR for only the moon and the area of sky immediately around it, a single image for the rest of the shot, then combined the two images in Photoshop. He then re-imported the resultant image into Photomatix for additional tone mapping, which I thought wasn’t necessary. But the first part sounded interesting.

I had a series of seven images, shot one f-stop apart. I imported all into Photomatix and worked it for the moon only. I re-imported the HDR moon image into Lightroom. Then I took a single image from the original seven and worked it in Lightroom for the foreground only. I also worked the HDR moon image in Lightroom to approximately match the sky to the sky (away from the moon) in the foreground image. I exported both images to Photoshop into a single document, with the foreground image as the background layer and the HDR moon image laying on top. I used a layer mask on the HDR moon layer to mask out everything but the area around the moon, feathering the mask match the sky in the underlying layer. The two skies didnt quite match, so I used a curves layer with a clipping mask on the HDR moon layer to get the tone of the two skies to be more similar. Once I was satisfied with the result, I continued with my normal Photoshop workflow to finish the image.

Perfect? No. But in the end, after a lot of work, the result is the best moon image I’ve ever captured after dark. What do you think, is it any good? And please, if anyone has some better way to handle my moon troubles, be kind and let me know.


A Rose by Any Other Name

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Shakespeare might be right about roses, but I’m not so sure about the came can be said about photos of roses. I have the accompanying image of a rose currently in the Ocean Shores 2014 Juried Photography Show.  In preparing for the show, I printed it last week on canvas and really liked the result. However, when I turned the canvas into a gallery wrap, I stupidly ruined it, scratching off some of the ink and making white spots on the canvas. Easy enough fix – just print it again. Wrong!

First, an aside about printing. Printing photos seems like it should be easy. But, if you want to get the color right, it is not. Everything needs to be calibrated. You need a calibrated monitor so that the color you see on your monitor is the same color sent to the printer. You need a printing profile, so that the printer knows the correct way to print the color. Add in a less-than-intuitive printing menu in Photoshop and a similarly unintuitive printer setup menu and you have a recipe for printing problems. Well I have a calibrated monitor, and a profile for the canvas I was using. Plus, I am familiar with the menus, at least enough that I should know what I’m doing.

So, I printed another canvas, and it looked totally different. So, I thought, I had some setting wrong; so again, I printed another canvas. Still not the same. I found my profile for the canvas was actually for the Epson 3880 printer and I have an Epson 3800 printer. I downloaded the correct printer profile, and carefully printed one more time, making sure all the printer settings were correct. Yes, I had the correct settings, but it still looked different from the original. It was at that point I realized that I had printed the original canvas incorrectly and that I liked that incorrect version the best!

At this point, I was starting to run low on canvas. I had enough for perhaps three more attempts to re-create my printing mistake to get back to the result I liked. On the final attempt, I got it right and re-created the original canvas. It turns out, I told Photoshop to let the printer control the color management (mistake) and then told the printer to make no color adjustments (not a mistake if Photoshop controls the color management, but certainly a mistake if the printer is supposed to). Regardless, I had the version of the rose I liked.

However, when I got ready to varnish the canvas, I brushed some dust off it, and ended up with a couple of white spots! Turns out I didn’t blow the dust off the canvas before putting it in the printer and ended up printing on the dust instead of the canvas (another mistake). So, in the end, I used the one that was printed totally correct (with the correct profile and all the correct settings), made it into a gallery wrap, and submitted it to the show. Funny thing is, that if I had printed it correctly the first time, that is the same print I would have had in the beginning.

I always try to learn from my mistakes, but in this case I made so many mistakes on printing this canvas that I’m not even sure what the lesson is. Two things I did learn (or more correctly re-learned): 1) pay close attention when printing to make sure you get all the setting correct, and 2) there is always more than one interpretation of an image, so don’t be afraid to experiment with your processing (rather than leaving it up to printing mistakes to find something you like better).

Here are two versions of the image, which I’ve titled “Rose #3.” Which do you like better?

This version is true to my processing of the image, ie. this is what I was originally trying to print and, in the end, what I ended up with as a final product.

This version is true to my processing of the image, ie. this is what I was originally trying to print and, in the end, what I ended up with as a final product.

This is similar to what my first print looked like when I mistakenly (and unknowingly) used the wrong printer settings. At least on the canvas, I like this version better.

This is similar to what my first print looked like when I mistakenly (and unknowingly) used the wrong printer settings. At least on the canvas, I like this version better.

 


Thinking of Black and White

I love black and white photographs. I think black and white photographs may have been what really started my life-long passion for photography. In my pre-digital days, I had a wet darkroom in the back of the pantry of our kitchen. Though I did a little color processing, it was black and white processing that I truly enjoyed. I loved watching those pieces of photo paper magically transform and reveal an image when soaking in the developer bath. Those days are now long gone; I sold most of  my old darkroom equipment for pennies on the dollar and even just threw some of it away when I moved to Tacoma.

But I still love black and white, though I don’t do much of it. I want to change that. Recently I downloaded a copy of Silver Efex Pro. I was excited to give it a try, since so many photographers make great black and white photos with it. Today I tried it out. Today I failed. It causes Photoshop to crash on my computer. I think I may have a video card issue. Luckily, I am planning a computer upgrade in the near future, and that may solve the problem.

But I still had the urge to make at least one black and white image today before getting to my other pressing work – fun before work, right? So I tried using the black and white adjustment layer in Photoshop and was not happy with the results. It caused some of my brush strokes applied in Lightroom to show and pixelated the sky. So I resorted to Lightroom for my black and white conversion. Though it is powerful, it doesn’t allow the type of targeted black and white adjustments I was hoping for that one can make with Photoshop or Silver Effect Pro.

The image here is the result of my efforts today. It is of Cape Disappointment Lighthouse; a 30-second exposure taken after sunset. I like the color version; I really like the black and white version. And I think I could love the black and white version were I to go back and fix some of the defects that my earlier color processing caused that are only visible with the black and white conversion. It seems that black and white conversions, at least the way I like to make them, amplify mistakes in images. Sensor dust spots become more visible; halos from imprecise brush strokes are more obvious; etc. After my computer upgrade, I think I will come back to this image, start over fresh with the RAW file, fix those mistakes and process it specifically for black and white, and again try Silver Efex Pro. Until then I’ll enjoy this slightly flawed image and keep thinking of black and white.

Cape Disappointment Light


Seeing Red – My 2 Cents Worth about Adobe

Seeing Red

The Red Floor in the Seattle Central Library – photographed last Tuesday while conducting a personal workshop. Interested in your own workshop? Give me a call or email.

Many photographers have been seeing red when looking at the Adobe Corporation this week. There’s been a lot of words, mostly nasty, flying around the internet since Adobe’s announcement that they will no longer sell perpetual licenses for Photoshop and their other Creative Suite applications, instead going to a subscription model of licensing. So, being a Photoshop user, I thought I’d weigh in on the subject.

First, I am not surprised, the writing was on the wall after they changed the upgrade policy on Photoshop last year. I can’t say I’m too happy about it, the change will likely cost me more money in the long run. Currently I use Adobe Lightroom extensively, and Photoshop CS6 on a regular basis (but much less than Lightroom). I’d say I do 80 -90% of my post-capture work in Lightroom. In the past, I’ve upgraded Photoshop with every other version (going from CS4 to CS6 last year). I upgrade Lightroom more frequently (going from version 1 to 2 to 4, and I’ll upgrade to 5 when available outside the beta version).

So for now, I’m happy with what I have and will not sign up for a subscription, but I can imagine doing so in a year or two (or if they make Lightroom available only by subscription as well). Actually, the current offer to CS6 owners is quite tempting – the complete suite of applications for $20 per month. Every now and then, I wish I had one of the other CC programs, such as InDesign or Dreamweaver. If those were available to me at no more cost than Photoshop alone? Very tempting. The question is, is it worth it after the price goes up when the special price ends in a year. That, I’m not too sure.

I think that is most photographer’s biggest problem with this change. If the only CC program you use is Photoshop, the cost of the subscription is roughly the same as an annual upgrade (assuming the non-special price of $20/month for Photoshop alone, or even less than an annual upgrade cost with the special $10/month price for Photoshop alone). The problem is, the price is not guaranteed, the price will likely go up. And if you decide you don’t want to ride that train anymore, you are left with no Photoshop at all. Currently, if you don’t upgrade, you still have the old program.

Of course, the other problem is that the change is a change, and in my experience, people are afraid of change. But, this model of software licensing has been around for several years and more and more software companies are going to it. It was inevitable that Adobe would do this. Ultimately, it is the cost of doing business. If you want to use Photoshop, you’ll have to pay Adobe’s price. Is it fair? I don’t know and it really doesn’t matter. I can’t see Adobe going back to the old way.

If you don’t want to pay up? There are other programs to use. Frankly, I probably could get away with using Elements instead of Photoshop, and it will still be sold with perpetual licenses. And there are non-Adobe programs out there as well, such as Corel Paintshop Pro, Pixelmator, or even the Gimp.

So, yes I’m disappointed, but I’m not seeing red. After all, it isn’t the end of the world, it’s just the future of software.


Evolution of an Image: Previsualition to Print

Low Tide, Beach #4
Low Tide, Beach #4

This is the final image, which I’ve titled “Low Tide, Beach #4”

The image above is another from my trip to the beach last month. It is my favorite of the whole trip, and I recently made a print of it. I thought I’d tell you how this particular image went from just an idea to a final print. However, if you want to skip all the details, and just see what the original RAW image looked like, you can just compare the final processed version above with the unprocessed RAW image below.

Prevision: It was near sunset and the tide was low. I had wanted a sunset shot with tide pools in the foreground, but that idea was out because of the fog bank I described in my earlier post . Instead I thought about an image with tide pools and the incoming waves  mist-like on the shore. Because it was so gray out, for color I needed starfish (which are naturally purple and orange on this part of the coast) and green sea anemones. I wanted the starfish and selected tide pool to be the focus, with the rest of the image dark and misty (from the waves).

Camera Work: I found a several promising tide pools, some of which I showed in the earlier post. I spent a lot of time at this one, I thought the composition looked good, with the tide pool opening to the right rear and the big cluster of starfish. To blur the incoming waves into a mist, I knew I needed a long exposure, which forced me into using a small aperture. The final image was taken at ISO 100 and f/22 for 8 seconds. Obviously I used a tripod. I needed to be close to the tide pool, requiring a wide-angle lens to capture the entire scene. I put on my 10-22mm zoom and set it to 22mm. Finally, I wanted the center of interest to be the starfish on the far side of the pool. This was actually close to the darkest part of the scene. To help I used a flash to light up the far side of the tide pool. The original RAW capture, with just Lightroom defaults, is shown below.

RAW capture

The original RAW capture processed only with Lightroom defaults

Lightroom Processing: As you can see, even with the fill flash, the rock with the starfish was very dark. I knew it would take some dodging and burning work to bring it out to my original vision for the image. However, first things first. I always do global adjustments (those affecting the whole image) first before targeted ones. Usually my first step is to level the horizon and use LR’s lens correction feature. I typically use a bubble level on my hot shoe to help keep the horizon level when I shoot, but with the flash, that wasn’t possible. With the wide-angle zoom, there is a lot of distortion and chromatic aberration, both easily fixed in LR.

lens correction and crop angle

Slight rotation to level the horizon and reduce lens distortion with LR lens correction feature.

Next I adjusted the white balance. I slid LR’s blue-yellow slider to the right (yellow) to add warmth to the image.

adjust white balance

Added some warmth by adjusting the white balance.

The image needed a bit more contrast, so I then set the white and black points by using the Whites and Blacks sliders. In this case, I moved the sliders to broaden the histogram and add just a little clipping of both blacks and whites.

set white and black points

Set the white and black points; adds contrast.

I knew I wanted to essentially invert the luminosity of the image, making most of the image darker and lightening up the back wall (which is dark in the original capture). To most effectively do this, I darkened the whole image by significantly moving the Exposure slider to the left (about 3/4 a stop), then recovered that much in the dark areas with the Shadows slider, moving it to the right.

adjust exposure and shadows sliders

Adjusting to darken everywhere by the shadows using the Exposure and Shadows sliders.

This was generally it for global adjustments, at least initially. Now it was time to work on problem areas to bring out my vision. First, the sky and water was still too light. So I added a Graduated Filter in LR. I used a relatively soft edge, and set the center of the gradient about 1/4 the way down from the top, reducing the exposure by another 1/3 stop. Then to add a bit more contrast to the background rocks and water, I adjusted the Contrast slider on the filter to the right.

add graduated filter

My first targeted adjustment, darkening and adding contrast to sky, water and background rocks with a Graduated Filter.

Next I knew I needed a lot of painting with the Adjustment Brush. First I needed to lighten up the main area of interest – the tide pool and nearby rocks. The following shows where I added the brush and the effect. I added about 1/2 stop with the Exposure slider and even more with the Highlights slider to bring out the highlights.

first brush area

Area of first brush

first brush
Effect of first brush – lighten main area of interest

It was still to dark in my primary subject area, so I painted a second time in the area shown below. This time I added another 1/2 stop in exposure, with lighted up the shadows more, added some “crispness” with the Clarity slider, and bumped up the color with the Saturation slider. (Normally, I do not use the Saturation sliders much in LR. I more typically use the Vibrance slider as a global adjustment. Here, to really emphasis the back wall of the tide pool, I didn’t use the Vibrance slider at all, and only used the Saturation slider with targeted adjustments).

Second brush area

Area of second adjustment brush

add second brush

Effect of second brush – emphasize back wall above tide pool by lighten overall, lighten shadows, and adding clarity and saturation.

Now it was time to work on the water in the tide pool. I wanted the highlights in the water to show better, and for there to be more contrast between the light and dark portions of the water. So I added a little exposure and bumped up the Highlights and Contrast sliders. I also upped the saturation slightly.

Third brush area

Area of third adjustment brush

third brush

Lightening highlights and adding contrast to the tide pool water.

That helped with the water, but I wanted the white areas of the water in the tide pool to be more pronounced, so I painted those areas with another adjustment brush to lighten them up.

Fourth brush area

Area of fourth brush

Effect of fourth brush

Effect of fourth brush – lightening the white areas in the tide pool water

I wanted to add a bit more color and lightness to the starfish and anemones  (on the rock and in the water) in the foreground. So I added another adjustment brush, upping the exposure slightly and adding some saturation.

Fifth brush area

Area of fifth adjustment brush

effect of fifth brush

effect of fifth brush

At this point, I liked the luminosity of the areas I had used the adjustment brushes on, but thought the rest of the image was too bright for my original vision. So I decreased the exposure slider by another 1/2 stop to darken the whole image.

adjust overall exposure

Another overall exposure adjustment to increase the darkness of areas away from the tide pool.

Then I restored the exposure values to each of the previous adjustment brushes, adding back the 1/2 stop of exposure only in the brushed areas.

restore brush exposures

Restoring exposure to previously brushed areas to make up for the global decrease in exposure.

Then to further focus the eye to the center of the image, I added a vignette with the Post-Crop Vignette slider.

add vignette

Vignette added to help keep center of image the focus of the viewer’s eye.

With that done, some of the rocks on the left still seemed a bit too bright. So with another adjustment brush, I made them slightly darker.

sixth brush area

Area of sixth adjustment brush

sixth brush effect

Effect of sixth adjustment brush, slightly darkening rocks on left of the tide pool.

And, the white water at the mouth of the tide pool still looked a bit dark to me, so I added a seventh adjustment brush to brighten up this area a bit.

seventh brush area

Area of seventh brush, prior to partial deletion of brush.

seventh brush effect

Effect of the seventh adjustment brush.

At this point, I was close to the final, pre-Photoshop image. However, with all the adjustment brush work, the image had lost contrast (mainly by darkening the highlights). I needed to re-establish the white clipping point to gain back the lost contrast. So I adjusted the whites slider upward and also fine-tuned the color temperature (cooling the image slightly).

WB adjustment_ restore white point

After all the brush work, the image had lost contrast. So I re-adjusted the white point upward and fine-tuned the color temperature.

But with that adjustment, some of the white water at the mouth of the tide pool was too bright, so I deleted part of the seventh adjustment brush.

delete seventh brush

With a portion of the seventh adjustment brush deleted, the white water at the mouth of the tide pool looked better.

Now it was time for some touch-up work with the spot removal tool to remove sensor dust spots (I’m bad, I don’t clean my sensor nearly often enough). The dust spots were very visible because of the small aperture used on the image. I was able to fix all of them except one straddling the surf line near the upper center of the image; I knew I’d need the cloning tool from Photoshop to fix that one.

At this point, I was done processing the RAW image in Lightroom. Though it looks close to my vision, I thought I could improve it a bit further in Photoshop (in addition to fixing the final dust spot). Before sending it to Photoshop, I applied some noise reduction.

final image out of Lightroom

Here’s the final image as it came out of Lightroom, prior to additional processing in Photoshop

Photoshop Processing: The first step in Photoshop was to adjust the global contrast again, this time using Curves, giving it a slight “S” adjustment, and giving the image some more pop.

curves adjustment

Result of a Curves adjustment in Photoshop, slightly increasing the contrast.

I occasionally use a luminosity masking technique, known as the Triple Play, created by Tony Kuyper to improve the shadows and highlights when in Photoshop. I tried it out, and in this case, the Triple Play lead to a slight improvement in both the shadows and highlights.

triple play

Result from using the Triple Play actions by Tony Kuyper

I cloned out the final dust spot that I couldn’t fix in Lightroom. And then refined my previous Lightroom brushwork painting on a dodging/burning layer.

clone and dodge-burn

Final touch-up with cloning one dust spot I didn’t get with Lightroom and a bit of refining with dodging/burning.

The final step was to apply a bit of sharpening and the image was complete. I use an adjustable sharpening action based on the book Real World Image Sharpening with Adobe Photoshop CS2 by Bruce Fraser. The sharpening applied here is intended to sharpen to remove the slight blur caused by the camera. With that, the image was complete and my vision was realized. Easy right?

After the processing was done, the only thing left to do was make a print (I do additional sharpening prior to printing after resizing the image). I made 10×15-inch print, matted it, and it is now hanging at the gallery in Gig Harbor where one of my photo clubs (Sound Exposure) hangs their work.

You might be asking, “how long did all this processing take?” Though I didn’t time myself, it took much less time to do than to write this blog post. I’d guess the complete processing, from RAW to the final photo below (not including printing) took about 30 to 40 minutes. I don’t spend that much time on every shot; but in this case, I think it was well worth it.

final sharpening

The final image after source sharpening in Photoshop. This image is the same as the one at the top of the post and was used to make my final print.

How to Stop the Wind

Tatoosh Range and Wildflowers

Tatoosh Range and WildflowersWind is often the bane of nature photographers. We are often photographing in fairly low light conditions at sunrise or sunset, and often want a wide depth of field, so end up using small f-stops. Most of us know that using high ISOs leads to objectionable digital noise. These conditions all combine to require a slow shutter speed. So what do you do if there is a breeze moving your foreground around. Not a problem with rocks as a foreground, but what about wildflowers?

The above photo of the Tatoosh Range was taken at Paradise on the Golden Gate trail last month shortly before sunset. To get both the flowers and the mountains in acceptable focus, I took one shot with the aperture at set f/16 and the ISO at 100. This resulted in a shutter speed  of 4 seconds (I also used a split neutral density filter). There was a breeze and  it was impossible to get a frame without some movement in the flowers.

I then shot another image with the aperture at f/11 and the ISO set to 1250. This allowed the shutter speed to be 1/8 seconds. This was enough to stop most of the flower movement; but as you might imagine, the noise was unacceptable.

To get the above image, I processed both photos in Lightroom and imported them into Photoshop. I used the low ISO image as the background layer, then added the high ISO image in a new layer and added a layer mask filled with black (making none of the high ISO image visible). Then, using a soft brush, I painted white on the mask wherever the flowers were soft due to movement from the breeze. The end result is the image above. Below are close two closeups that show the before and after effects of painting the high ISO image onto the low ISO one.

This technique to stop the wind doesn’t always work, but when it does, it can save a shot.

Low ISO

Closeup of the flowers in the low ISO image taken with a shutter speed of 4 seconds. Note the movement captured for some of the flowers.

Blended image

Closeup on the final combined image, where flower movement was covered up by painting out the movement with a image taken with a high ISO and a shutter speed of 1/8 seconds.

 


What is Reality? What is Art?

Twin Ships
Twin Ships

Image 5: Optimized in Photoshop using a RAW file manually converted in Lightroom (image 4).

In my last blog entry, I talked about enhancing digital photos, about RAW versus JPEG digital images.The blog was about people asking, “Is this photo enhanced?” Other similar questions I hear include “Does this photo show what was really there?” or “Has this photo been ‘photoshopped’?” or simply “Is this photo real?”

This subject warrants more discussion than just one blog, especially since the last one was largely a rant. When any camera takes a photograph, the lens opens up and allows light into the camera. For digital cameras, the light falls upon a photosensitive digital sensor (for film cameras, it falls on a photosensitive chemical coating on film). The digital sensor is made up of thousands of tiny small sensors, each sensor making up a “pixel” in the image. The light falling on each sensor is recorded as a different value. At this point, the camera can save the recording as a RAW file, or can process the raw electrical data and save it as some other file format, the most common being JPEG.

A RAW file is not really an image. It is simply a data file in which actual values from the digital sensor are recorded. While some special computer programs can view the information stored in these files and show them as images, most cannot. For example, Photoshop cannot directly show a RAW file as an image. It must first be processed and converted to an image file (such as a PSD, TIFF, or JPEG file) for Photoshop to show it. These special programs are RAW converters, and they have to process the information to show a RAW file as an image. Adobe Lightroom, which I use, is RAW convertor program (with many other features as well). A JPEG file is an image file, it presents information that can be viewed by many computer programs without future processing. It has already been processed. When a digital camera takes an image as a JPEG, it processes the sensor data into an image file. This means that the camera is doing some interpretation of what the image data is supposed to look like. Essentially, a RAW converter program, like Lightroom, does the job of the camera – it processes the sensor data to make an image file. However, it allows the photographer to control the process (rather than letting the camera control it).

Of course, further processing is possible. Either the converted RAW image or the JPEG from the camera can be further processed in Photoshop (or other photo editing programs, such as Picassa). Who is to say what looks the most like reality, the RAW file, a JPEG processed by the camera, the RAW file processed by a RAW converter, or that same image further processed in Photoshop? I can’t answer that question; I don’t think anyone can.

But how about this question, which one makes the best looking image? Or which one best represents the art of the photographer? The answer to those questions can be answered, but the answers depend on the individual and the particular photographer. For me, a RAW image processed by the photographer and then optimized in Photoshop best represents the art of the photographer. And that is my typical workflow. I shoot RAW images. I import those into Lightroom. I do not accept the default RAW processing, but customize it for each image myself. Then, if I’m serious about an image, I further process it in Photoshop. It’s a lengthy process, but it gives the best representation of what I am trying to achieve with my photography – my art.

I’ve illustrated this blog with a series of five images. All were recorded at the same time, from a single click of my shutter. This image of two ships along the Tacoma waterfront was taken with a shutter speed of 25 seconds and an aperture of f/18. One image (first below the featured image) is the closest representation of the RAW image visible – it is the RAW image processed by Lightroom with all the controls set to zero. The next image in the series is the RAW image processed with the Lightroom default settings. The next image is the same scene processed by the camera as a JPEG (my camera allows images to be recorded in both RAW and JPEG formats – a feature common to many DSLRs and some higher end point-and-shoots). The fourth image represents how I processed the RAW file. And the final image (the featured image at the beginning of the blog) is my RAW processed file than further optimized in Photoshop.

Which one do you thinks looks the most “real”? Which one looks the best?

Image 1. Minimaly process RAW image (all Lightroom controls set to zero).

 

Image 2. Default RAW processing in Lightroom.

 

Image 3. JPEG image processed by the camera.

 

Image 4. RAW image which I manually converted in Lightroom.