Archive for the ‘Lightroom’ Tag

Friday Foto Talk: Black & White, Part III   6 comments

A sea cave on the southern California coast I entered recently. See below for color version. 21 mm., 6 sec. @ f/9, ISO 200; tripod; converted in Nik Silver Effex 2.  A little selective color was left.

This mini-series on black and white (B&W) imaging concludes with some tips for post-capture.  Be sure to check out Part I and Part II, as this post builds on those two.  My main goal in doing these is to motivate you to do more monochrome images.  It really can help your color photography.  You learn to pay more attention to texture and tonal variations.  Although I focus here on landscapes, B&W is great for any kind of subject.

As mentioned previously, I think it’s just as valid to make a B&W image by deciding later to convert from color as it is to shoot for B&W during the capture phase.  But you should find that the more images you convert to B&W on the computer the more often you will shoot specifically for B&W while you’re out photographing.

My little boy is sorely missed. 116 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/4, ISO 200; handheld; converted in LR.

My little boy is sorely missed. 116 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/4, ISO 200; handheld; converted in LR.

Here is my general procedure post-capture:

  • Work from the RAW color image.  I always shoot RAW, which is by default color.  You can set up your camera to display in monochrome on the LCD, but the image file (as long as it’s RAW) always includes color information.
  • Import & apply keywords.  If I had shot specifically for B&W during capture, I already know in general what’s going to be converted to B&W.  For those images I apply the keyword “B&W” and usually “monochrome” as well.  If everything from the shoot is to be B&W (a rarity for me), I apply those keywords on import.  If you have a favorite B&W preset you may want to apply that on import as well, but I don’t generally use import presets.
A fishing cabin along the Quinalt River, on my recent trip up to the wonderful Olympic Peninsula.

A fishing cabin along the Quinalt River, on my recent trip up to the wonderful Olympic Peninsula.

21 mm., 1/5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100; tripod; converted in Nik Silver Effex.

21 mm., 1/5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100; tripod; converted in Nik Silver Effex.

  • Decide which images to convert.  Probably a more common situation is to not know exactly what images I’ll be converting to B&W.  So just after importing the shoot into Lightroom, key-wording & rating the selects leftover from culling, I consider whether some images might look good in B&W.  Again, texture and interesting tonal variations catch my monochrome eye, as do old-timey subjects.
  • Set aside my B&Ws to-be.  A good idea is to push the shots you want to convert to B&W temporarily into a collection you have set up for the purpose.  Just make that the target collection by right-clicking, then for each one you’d like to convert type ‘b’ while it’s selected.  Make virtual copies so you can work on the virtual copy instead of the original.  This way you have the convenience of being able to compare the two side-by-side after you’re finished.
Color version of the image at top.

Color version of the image at top.

  • Try some presets.  I have some presets I downloaded from the internet and the ones that come with Lightroom.  I’m not a huge preset person, which is probably not the best thing for efficiency.  But there are enough there to give me a nice start for quickly converting to B&W while in Lightroom.  So I take the virtual copies and try some different preset looks.  Sometimes it’s a look I like, so I spend more time editing to come up with a final image.  But for the majority of B&W images I…
I love the soft texture of this white-tail doe's fur in B&W. From Glacier N.P., Montana. 600 mm., 1/2000 sec. @ f/8, ISO 640; hand-held; processed in LR.

I love the soft texture of this white-tail doe’s fur in B&W. From Glacier N.P., Montana. 600 mm., 1/2000 sec. @ f/8, ISO 640; hand-held; processed in LR.

  • Go to Silver Effex.  Nik’s Silver Effex is the gold standard for black and white editing.  It is used most commonly as a plugin for Photoshop or Lightroom.  For example in Lightroom I just right-click the image, hover over ‘edit in’, then choose Silver Effex 2.  A dialog box comes up and I always edit a TIFF copy of the RAW image.  By the way, I occasionally use Topaz’s B&W plug-in.  It’s also very good.

 

  • Edit in Silver Effex.  Again there are a selection of built-in presets, along with a nice selection of film looks that you can add on.  I have made a few of my own presets too.  Through the use of so-called control points, the program gives you the ability to work on small areas of the image.  There are a lot of toning options too.  By clicking save the image comes back into Lightroom as a TIFF, where I may need to do a little tweaking.  This is when I scan around and clone out sensor spots, something you should always do at the very end of editing.
Springbok "pronk" through the grasslands of Namibia. 400 mm., 1/1000 sec. @ f/8, ISO 200; hand-held; converted w/cream tone in LR.

Springbok “pronk” through the grasslands of Namibia. 400 mm., 1/1000 sec. @ f/8, ISO 200; hand-held; converted w/cream tone in LR.

  • Double-edit the odd color image.  Sometimes, not often, I will edit an image for color either using Lightroom or a plug-in, then decide to convert it to B&W as well.  For example I’ll take an image into Nik Color Effex & edit to a final color image.  After it’s back in Lightroom I make a virtual copy and convert that to B&W within Lightroom.  The image at bottom was processed this way.  Or I’ll go into Silver Effex, in which case there’s no need to make a virtual copy (you work on a TIFF copy).

I’m careful with this procedure, as it’s possible to end up with something that looks a bit over-edited.  One great thing about working from Photoshop instead of Lightroom is that you can edit in the plug-in on a layer.  That way you can lower the opacity of the layer, making the editing effects more subtle.  I’m most comfortable with Lightroom however.

I know, a bit long this time.  Sorry ’bout that!  Happy (black and white) shooting!

Bollinger Mill and covered bridge, Missouri, in sepia. 19 mm., 1.3 sec. @ f/13, ISO 50; tripod; processed in Nik Color Effex then converted to B&W in Lightroom.

 

 

Friday Foto Talk: Post-Processing – Part IV   10 comments

The aptly-named Blue Lake in Washington's North Cascade Mtns.

Aptly-named Blue Lake in Washington’s North Cascade Mtns.

This continues my mini-series on post-processing.  Check out Parts I through III here.  The goal is to get you started, not to give blow-by-blow instruction on specific post-processing techniques.  For one thing I don’t consider myself qualified to go into detail on any computer-based skill.  For another, I don’t think I’d like the way my blog would look with screen shots of software instead of pictures.

Once you’re more or less proficient in Lightroom, and have managed not to lose too many images (remember after importing any image into LR, never ever do anything with that image outside of LR!), you may want to explore extra software programs.  You don’t have to of course.  Lightroom is great as a start to finish solution.  But it can be a nice option for select shots.

I hesitate to recommend some of what I’m about to say.  There is, I think, entirely too much following going on in popular photography.  Has it always been this way or is it just the internet?  Choice of subject is only one way we ape one another (sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands, for e.g.).  The way we edit our photos is a minefield as well.

A recent shot from Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico.

A recent shot from Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico.

I’m not saying you should avoid using a technique you picked up from a fellow photographer, one that is enjoying popularity at the moment.  But I am saying you should only use it if it helps the image reflect your own aims and style.  As with life in general, I think the easiest way to pursue your own style and not follow someone else’s is to keep things as simple as possible.

That said, for a few select images, you may want to…

TRY OTHER SOFTWARE

Depending on the image, you can try other editing techniques (let’s call them “extras”) to get the specific look you want.  All depends on the mood you want to create.  Oftentimes you’ll need to apply one or more extras just to get an image to look like what you saw and experienced.  With many images this can be accomplished with standard editing in Lightroom or Photoshop.  But with others extra treatment may be called for.

Many people think the more you work with an image the further from reality it gets.  That’s not necessarily true.  If you’re not careful and thoughtful about your approach, you can certainly “overcook” any image.  But you can do that with very little work as well.  Also, as mentioned in Part I of this series, images often come out of the camera looking more dull and flat than the scene appeared at the time.

I'm so pretty: impala in the Luangwa Valley, Zambia.

I’m so pretty: impala in the Luangwa Valley, Zambia.

And so editing is needed simply to bring life back into a digital image.  This applies much more with digital than with film, which is one reason some still think film yields a more natural look than digital.  But this doesn’t have to be true.  All it takes to avoid the lifeless and flat look of digital is to use a purposeful approach.  Lightroom can get you there in many cases.  But if you find yourself, at least with some shots, spending an inordinate amount of time in Lightroom’s Develop module, trying a variety of presets, banging your head against the wall, and still not getting the results you’re after, it’s time to look at other programs.

I thought I'd throw in a photo to prove it's not all about nature with me.  I call this one, "take that tough boy"

I thought I’d throw in a photo to prove it’s not all about nature with me. I call this one, “take that tough boy”

Close in to Tumalo Falls, Oregon.

Close in to Tumalo Falls, Oregon.

WHAT ROLE PHOTOSHOP?

I recommend taking an image into Photoshop (or Photoshop Elements to save $) if there is complex cloning to do: taking out people or power poles and lines, for example.  Also use Photoshop to merge two or more images into a composite.  A composite is when, for example, you take that great portrait you got and then move just the person into a beautiful natural scene you shot last summer.  Or when you want to add a dramatic sky to a more interesting foreground.

Photoshop can do a whole lot more than this of course.  But it takes real time to learn how to become both proficient and time-efficient with Photoshop.  By the way, if you’re wondering whether or not to go for Photoshop or PS Elements, it depends on how serious you are, especially about printing.  The full version of Photoshop CS works in 16 bit color while Elements is in 8 bit.

In other words when you go from Lightroom into Elements you are cutting the color depth of your image in half.  The fuller color depth can yield slightly smoother color transitions in some images, noticeable by discerning viewers on large, high quality prints.  But you almost certainly won’t see any differences, especially on digital displays.

A tree, by itself, that I liked.

A tree, by itself, that I liked.

There are other differences between PS CS and PS Elements, but you might be surprised at how many advanced functions are shared between the two programs.  One more factor to consider:  Elements is still available as a stand-alone program, whereas Photoshop CS is only available as a cloud-based program, where you pay monthly.

Only you can decide how deeply you want to get into Photoshop.  I will say that many (or most) pros have made the transition to Lightroom for the lion’s share of their post-processing.   A lot of people still love Photoshop, and it is certainly powerful.  But if you aren’t already proficient, and of course if you don’t want to become a graphic designer or digital artist, Photoshop is a bit like using a full complement of tractors, plows and other farming equipment to work your little backyard garden.

That’s it for now.  Next week (I promise!) we’ll go into the wonderful world of plug-ins.  Have a wonderful weekend, and keep up that holiday spirit!

 

Good night!

Good night!

 

Friday Foto Talk: Mixing White Balance   3 comments

Geese fly along Yellowstone National Park's Hayden Valley.

Geese fly along Yellowstone National Park’s Hayden Valley.

This week we talk about a fairly simple way to enhance your photograph in post-processing: mixing white balance.  I always use Lightroom 4 to bring my photos on to the computer and do the basic editing.  Normally this is the only program I use, but sometimes I will use Photoshop Elements or a plugin (Topaz, Nik, etc.) to perform a task that is difficult to do in Lightroom.  I shoot in RAW.  One big reason I do is because this is the only way you can change white balance after taking the picture.  If you shoot in Jpeg you need to choose your white balance before taking the shot, and then you can’t change it on the computer.

These photos you see, by the way, are quite small Jpeg versions created from the RAW photos.  They are small to make them not so good for downloading, which is illegal anyway since they’re copyrighted.  Click on an image for purchase options.

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What is white balance?  It’s simply a color scheme for your picture.  Take a look at a color wheel (google it).  Think of it as a sort of graph for color, where colors on the opposite side of the wheel represent extremes.  Sometimes colors out in the world will be relatively pure, but mostly they will be a mix of these extremes.  For example the color blue, as in a deep blue sky, is the opposite of the color yellow or orange (gold), as in a golden sunset.  But think of what you see (and what you photograph) as a mix, a balance between the extremes represented by the color wheel.

An example of a "blue-hour" shot of the iconic Crown Point over the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

An example of a “blue-hour” shot of the iconic Crown Point over the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

 In other words, each time you go outside and look around, you are seeing a particular white balance in the colors of each scene.  Sometimes when you face one direction you will see one color scheme, and then you turn around and see a different one.  The most dramatic differences in white balance come as the day moves along.  During pre-dawn and again during deep dusk hours you get a fairly cool lighting scheme, rich in deep blues.  That’s why this time is called by photographers the “blue hour”.  When the sun is very low and reflecting off of a scene (such as in the image below) you are in “golden hour”.  This is a time when the light is very warm and rich in yellows and reds.  In mid-day, depending on the weather conditions, a pale blue scheme can dominate.

(A disclaimer for scientifically-inclined readers: I know that the more blue a light, the warmer it is.  Red is cooler light than blue.  But we are talking artists here, and for these purposes blue is thought of in cool terms while red is considered warm.  So reverse your thinking.  I know – artists!)

Simple front light on this pronghorn antelope has a uniformly warm color scheme (white balance).

Simple front light on this pronghorn antelope has a uniformly warm color scheme (white balance).

Now take a look at your white balance adjustment in the software you use to edit your photos.  In Lightroom and most other software, it occupies a position near the top of your panel.  That’s because it is usually good to adjust your white balance before you do anything else.  But also notice that the adjustment includes two sliders.  In Lightroom they are labeled temperature and tint.  Temperature takes care of the balance between blues and yellows, while tint takes care of the green vs. magenta balance.

(Sorry I am just not going to put screenshots in this blog, at least not right now.  Bring up Lightroom or have a book or tutorial open if you want to follow along.  You will need to play with it yourself anyway to get the hang of it, and I don’t think a screenshot here will help you in the long run.)

 This post will not go over all the ins and outs of setting white balance in your camera and then again adjusting it (provided you shoot in RAW) once you are in front of your computer.  Instead I will (finally) jump into the main topic, that is how to incorporate different white balances into your photo.  I will use Lightroom 4 to explain, but programs like Aperture, GIMP, etc. are quite similar.  I’ll also assume you know how to use two tools in Lightroom: the graduated filter tool (shortcut M) and the brush tool (shortcut K).  Get a Lightroom book or go online for basic Lightroom tutorials to learn how to use these tools.

This is a back lighted scene, where the sun is low and the white balance is uniformly warm and golden.

This is a back lighted scene, where the sun is low and the white balance is uniformly warm and golden.

The photos above illustrate something about this subject that I think is very important.  It is a photo that naturally contains areas of different white balance, and it is these that I like to work on with mixed white-balance techniques.  In the image of the geese in Hayden Valley, the top and bottom of the photo are blue and cool while the middle has nice warm golden front light.  The other photos above have uniform white balances, and so changing white balance in part of the photos would result in unnatural effects.  The reason I think this is important is that I do not want to introduce strange color schemes into my photos, at least for 99% of them.  Although I do enhance things, I don’t like to see an image on my computer screen that is significantly different from the one I saw in the field.  Again, there are exceptions that prove this little rule of mine.

Back to this image from Yellowstone’s wonderful Hayden Valley.  In the river, the deep blue results from light back-scattering toward my shooting position.  I had my camera set to auto white balance for this image, and given the perfect front light I didn’t have to adjust the global white balance in order for me to retain the great warmth that was part of the original scene.  Water that is front-lit like this often has as deep a blue as you can possibly want, so I did not adjust the white balance in this part of the image.  The sky, which is blue because of back-scattering as well, originally had a paler blue color.  The second image from top, by the way, is the image before I did my selective white-balance adjustment.

Since I wanted the sky to match more closely (but not exactly) the blue of the water, I used Lightroom 4’s graduated filter tool.  This is located at top of Lightroom’s Develop panel, and is shaped like an upright rectangle with a graduated shading inside.  Clicking and dragging from top to bottom, I put the middle of the grad. filter at the contact between sky and land.  Once it was in place, I then adjusted the temperature slider to the left a modest amount (9 points).  I also bumped up clarity and contrast a bit, to bring out the clouds; and voila!  I had a deeper, bluer sky to better match the deep blue of the river.  Though this is a subtle difference, it certainly adds some pop to the image I think.

A full moon shines on the Goosenecks, a series of incised meanders on the San Juan River in SE Utah.

A full moon shines on the Goosenecks, a series of incised meanders on the San Juan River in SE Utah.

Sometimes I will decide to go with a fairly cool (blue) white balance globally, across the entire photo.  Then upon looking at it I decide that some part of the image needs more warmth.  That was the case above, with the image of the Goosenecks in Utah.  This time I dragged the graduated filter from bottom to top, made it very narrow and placed the center at the horizon.  I added back some of the warmth I took away, and then some, by sliding the temperature slider to the right 16 points.  Then I noticed the river below was not the way I wanted it, so I used the adjustment brush in Lightroom.  This is located at the top of the Develop panel, just right of the graduated filter tool.

My adjustment for the brush – temperature 12 points to the left – took away most of that warmth I had added with the graduated filter.  I also bumped exposure and saturation up a bit to make the river stand out a little better in its deep shadowy canyon.  Other than some normal contrast, clarity and sharpness/noise reduction adjustments, I did not do anything else to this photo.  Note that it was taken under a full moon, thus saturation in the rocks was there but subtle (thus my desire to make it a bit less subtle).

A canyon in Zion National Park is flooded with warm light even from a sunset that has not yet turned the sky to gold.

A canyon in Zion National Park is flooded with warm light even from a sunset that has not yet turned the sky to gold.

In the photo above, I used two graduated filters plus a couple adjustment brushes.  I began with the graduated filters.  One was for the top third of the photo, and involved sliding the temperature slider to the left (blue/cool).  I wanted to accentuate the blues that were still in the sky as the sunset had not really begun to peak yet.  This was despite the fact that the canyon’s red rocks were catching all of the warm colors.  The other graduated filter, therefore, was for the bottom third of the photo.  I slid the temperature slider to the left (orange/warm) this time to accentuate that warmth a bit.

I was trying to capture the early stages of a sunset in that interesting location.  I cleaned up the middle third by using a couple adjustment brushes: one with temp. warmed a bit (orange bias), the other with temp. cooled a bit (blue bias).  Where the sky transitioned between a warm white balance below and a cool one above, I painted the clouds with the warm brush and the sky with the cool brush, to accentuate that transition.  In addition, for the warming brush, I also slid the tint slider a bit to the right (magenta), because there was a subtle pinkish glow to the clouds that I wanted to bring out.

A rare desert rainstorm has left pools of water among the granite and saguaro of Baja California Norte, Mexico.

A rare desert rainstorm has left pools of water among the granite and saguaro of Baja California Norte, Mexico.

The photo above involves a combination of graduated filters and brushes as well, with subtle changes in white balance for each.  I included this one because it involved a challenge.  It’s not challenging because of the adjustments themselves, but because with the shadows and sharp (but beautiful) light transitions, it was difficult to retain a natural color cast.  What do you think?  Does the image look natural to you?  Does it have impact (does it “pop”) without looking like an HDR image?  Often even professional photographers get “too close” to an image.  Like a writer, they get too comfy in front of their work and as a result lose some objectivity.  It’s important to step away and come back to it after a day or so in order to see whether the color cast still looks natural.  Hey!  I just thought of another topic for Friday Foto Talk!

A pronghorn antelope rests in Yellowstone National Park's Lamar River Valley.

A pronghorn antelope rests in Yellowstone National Park’s Lamar River Valley.  A subtle decrease in white balance in the sky via graduated filter.  On the pronghorn, an adjustment brush with slightly increased exposure, temperature and saturation was used to help bring out the subject.  These changes bring out the contrasts already in the scene.

An example of a photo that has a natural difference in white balance between the landscape and sky.  You could elect to add a graduated filter to the sky and change its white balance, but it's easier to either increase vibrance or increase saturation of the blue channel in Lightroom.

An example of a photo that has a natural difference in white balance between the landscape and sky. You could elect to add a graduated filter to the sky and change its white balance, but it’s easier to either increase vibrance or increase saturation of the blue channel in Lightroom.

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