Tag Archives: technique

Rescuing an oldie

Lochnagar
Lochnagar

I was browsing through my old files today and came across this photo of Lochnagar which I had taken on 28 May 2010. The original shot was somewhat “thin” but I felt it offered some prospect of redemption so I opened the develop module in Lightroom and set to work.

Here’s the before and after comparison:

Lochnagar – before and after

I felt that this image would benefit from some “thickening” of the colours and contrast and also that the sky could made just a little more dramatic.

Here then, is the story of how I used Lightroom to go from the original to the final image.

The first thing I always do is to Enable Lens corrections and tick for that. I also usually tick to Remove chromatic aberration. After that I make sure the image is straight and then it’s off to the Basic panel.

Basic panel

Usually, this is a light touch approach in here, but this image needed more intense responses to get it to how I wanted it to look. I didn’t work down this panel in sequence but started with the exposure which just needed to come down a little. My next stop was to adjust the whites and blacks, increasing the whites and reducing the blacks until the points where clipping began and adjusting to just short of the clipping point. This already made a big difference. Next stop was to adjust both Clarity and Dehaze, working with both pretty much in tandem until the balance between the two was producing the effect I was looking for, Both of these are adusted here much more than I would normally be happy with, but the image did need it. Both also affect contrast and after experimenting with that a little, I left that slider alone and moved on to the Tone curve.

Tone curve

Here, as you can see, I made very slight adjustments to the dark tones and highlights for a very gentle S curve. I need to emphasise that in processing photos I am not looking for specific settings values but judge the effect being made by eye. I constantly look at before/after comparisons to see how the work is progressing. Next up was a little work on the colour channels where I wanted to enhance the sunlight falling on the corries and flank. And so to the HSL panel.

HSL panel

Here I felt I only needed to make slight adjustments to the red and orange channels where I pushed the hue on both a little more towards orange and then very slightly increased the saturation. Another check of the before/after comparison and I felt we were nearly there. The final destination was for some sharpening.

Detail pane

My approach here is to control the sharpening carefully. To do this I first apply just a little sharpening then holding down the Alt key inclrease the masking until I see only the white parts that I want to actually apply the sharpening to. For landscapes I tend also to reduce the radius to 0.5 and leave the detail as is. Again, holding down the Alt key for the black and white screen I adjust the Luminance to minimise grain (noise) to what I think is an acceptable level, The black and white screen allows this to be visualised more easily. This image also needed some colour noise reduction, probably as a result of the extent of the clarity and dehaze adjustments made earlier. Finally, I made a trip back to the Basic panel to cool the colour temperature just a tad. And that’s it.

It’s worthwhile revisiting old shots occasionally to see what’s there and what might be worth a little more editing work. It’s also good practice for the virtual darkroom.

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Mr Bass Man

Mr Bass Man

Mr Bass Man

I took this photograph back in 2011 at a graduation concert. This was no studio shot but the stage lighting lent itself to this low-key treatment. The shot was taken with my camera mounted on a mono pod for some extra stability. The exposure was 1/125 sec at f5.6 with an ISO of 1600.

I wanted a fast enough exposure to minimise camera shake with a focal length of 105mm and I also wanted a shallow depth of field, hence the high ISO. This necessarily introduced some “noise” to the image. I’m not against that per se, but at times it just needs to be managed if it’s distracting. So, here’s a summary of how I processed this image.

As usual I opted to remove chromatic aberration and enable profile corrections under the Lens Corrections tab in Lightroom. After that, I proceeded with as light a touch as I needed to create the final effect I wanted.

In the basic panel I brought the highlights down a touch then lightened the whites and darkened the blacks to just short of the clipping point.I also slightly increased clarity and vibrance, just enough to add a little punch to the colours.

In the HSL panel I made very slight adjustments to the hue, saturation and luminance of the red and orange channels.

Sharpening required more careful attention. Holding down the Alt key to guide myself with the black and white rendering, I increased the masking until I was only going to affect the edges with sharpening. This entailed masking being at 93. I then applied some sharpening (32) with the radius at 0.5 and the detail at 10. Working by eye I increased the noise reduction for luminance until I was happy with how it looked. This ended up at a setting of 24. There was some noticeable colour noise on the bass man’s right forearm so I increased the noise reduction on that until I was happy with the appearance. That resulted in a setting of 27.

And that was it – those are the only adjustments I made to the image that came out of the camera.

This shot is one of my personal favourites as I feel the lighting captures the mood so well.

Avoiding landscapes on steroids

I shot this photo in the pass of Killicrankie, Perthshire, on 11 November and, as usual shot it in RAW. I thought it might be interesting to walk you through the editing I did to get to the final image and I’ll try to explain my reasoning as we go.

Here’s the original shot as it came out of the camera.

Killicrankie

Killicrankie

My aim in editing landscape shots like this, is to get as close as possible to how I saw the scene with my own eyes at the time. There are a few standard initial steps I take in my work flow and I always begin in Lightroom. Seldom do I need to use Photoshop, though there are occasions when that’s definitely required.

The first thing I do is go to lens corrections and tick two boxes there: enable profile correction (which compensates for lens distortion) and enable chromatic aberration – I can’t see any chromatic aberration in this shot, but I don’t think ticking this box does any harm, just in case.

Next it’s off to the basic panel and there I could see that there was a nice looking histogram so there’s no need to do anything with the exposure (at least not at this point – sometimes other adjustments have an effect on exposure which later needs a little correction). The histogram looked very like a standard bell curve with nothing bunched at either end, so no blown out highlights or over-cooked blacks. I decided therefore to increase the whites and reduce the blacks to just before the point where clipping occurs – just to see what that did to the image which was too “thin” compared to my memory of the scene. A quick check on before/after showed that this had introduced a little more contrast and enriched the colours a little. Definitely making headway to “thickening it up”.

The next steps were to drop the highlights a touch, just enough to bring the top of the histogram off the top of the scale and no more, and to add a very small amount of dehaze, which helped to add a little sharpening in the mid-tones. Another quick before/after check to make sure I was still headed in the right direction and I was happy to move on and consider what next. I decided to take the vibrance up a fraction, judging the effect by eye, and moved away from the basics panel.

Looking now at the colours, I was happy with the yellows and greens but felt the purple and magenta tones were just a little muted compared to my memory. So to the HSL/colour panel and minor adjustments to the purple and magenta channels. In each of those I pulled back the hue a little to the left (different small amounts on each), and slightly boosted the saturation before reducing the luminance. All these changes are small and subtle but collectively begin to add up – which is a good reason for never being heavy handed in any one element. Another before/after check and we are looking good so far.

I still felt it needed just a little more “depth” so went to the tone curve and set it to medium contrast and checked before/after. Actually, I kept the before/after window open and clicked the tone curve on and off several times just to decide if I wanted to stick with that adjustment or abandon it. I decided to stick with it.

By this time I felt we were almost there but notices that some highlights had blown out so used the adjustment brush to make local changes to the highlights.

I usually have a look at sharpening, and I find that Lightroom does a good enough job with this, though if I was being really fussy I’d probably do this in Photoshop with a high pass. Working in Lightroom, with a shot like this (and don’t take this as a rule, always trust your eyes) I set the sharpening to around 30. The Alt key I drag the masking slider way to the right. This gives a black and white screen and only the white areas are affected by the sharpening. In this case I needed to slide all the way to 99 until I was happy. I aslo reduced the radius slider to 0.5 and the detail slider to 4. Another before/after check and I was happy with how it was now looking. I felt it was now a more accurate representation of how I had seen it and that it wasn’t overcooked in processing. Landscapes on steroids don’t look good – at least that’s my opinion.

The only remaining question for me was one of composition. This entailed just sitting and looking at the image for a while and pondering if there were any distractions that I could/should crop out and also what final crop ratio I would prefer. I wasn’t sure about the evergreens at the top right of frame and, to be honest, As a leading line, I’d have preferred the railway to enter the frame bottom left, but I was hampered by physical location at the time of shooting. So, what followed as a period of trial and error with different crops. I rather liked a wide format 16×9 crop but was still unsettled by the central entrance of the leading line of the railway. Finally I settled on a square crop which allowed me to bring the leading line in from the bottom left of frame and I was happy to leave just a hint of the evergreens top right.

And here is the final result:

Killicrankie

Killicrankie

I hope you like it and have maybe found the explanation of how I went from the original “out-of-camera” shot to the final image interesting and perhaps useful.

Thank you for reading and, if you do, for following me. Why not check out my Instagram account and also follow me there.

 

Be prepared … …for the unexpected

This morning when preparing to go out for the early dog walk I decided to go down by the river as I’d passed a heron recently on that route, standing barely 15 metres away in still water. I didn’t have a camera on that occasion – today was going to be different.

Of course, having the camera along meant that I didn’t see the heron but what I did get was completely unexpected:

a pair of deer

Deer

a pair of deer standing in a grassy clearing beside a stand of trees.

My preparation for something I had anticipated allowed  me to get this shot with the minimum of fuss and was taken within seconds of spotting the deer.  Apart from taking the camera along, how had I prepared and how had that prepared me for the unexpected? Let me explain…

All of my preparation was for seeing the heron, but that also perfectly suited the scenario that I faced here. Before I left home I put on a 55-200mm lens and also fitted the sling harness to the camera allowing me to carry it securely across my body but readily available to pull up and take the shot. As I anticipated that the heron could quickly take off I needed to be ready with a shutter speed fast enough to catch the action and avoid any motion blur from camera shake. I also wanted to have an aperture that would give me a safe depth of field to make sure focus should be OK. I set the camera to manual mode and opted for 1/400sec at f/8. All well and good, but what about ISO? My camera has the option to set ISO to automatic, which is what I did. That way, I can shoot with my preferred shutter speed and aperture and allow the camera to determine the ideal exposure by adjusting the ISO. I find that using evaluative metering tends to work well with this, though I almost always need to make some exposure adjustment in Lightroom.

Therefore, being prepared to shoot the heron, I was also happily prepared for this unexpected sighting of deer. All I had to do was lift the camera, switching it on as I did so, quickly frame the basic composition and shoot. All done within a few seconds. I’m not a wildlife photographer but I do know that it generally doesn’t give you time to set up and carefully consider what settings to go for – being prepared is the key.

Having got that photo, I spotted that there was some cow parsley (I think) just a pace pace or two in front of me. I thought that a shot taken through that would provide an interesting foreground bokeh. As I crouched to frame the shot the deer became nervous and made a bolt for it so I just pressed the shutter release as I was also moving . Here’s the resulting shot:

deer on the run

and we’re off…

It’s not the greatest wildlife shot ever as all the movement that was going on has combined to result in a less than sharp image, but I wanted to demonstrate the bokeh effect that I was wanting – only with stationary deer!

And here is what I shot through for the image above; the gap just right of centre…

cow parsley

Cow parsley

Keep those shutters firing, look out for the unusual and be prepared for the unexpected.

Settings, bleh!

It’s kind of funny the way people are often interested in what camera settings you used. Do you find that?

It’s largely irrelevant, because you can’t go out to the same location at roughly (or even precisely) the same time of day, dial in the same settings and hope to get the same results. Why’s that then? Well, there are so many other variables: the weather conditions will affect the air quality and clarity, it may be overcast when originally it wasn’t, others will probably not be using the same camera and lens and even if they are, they might respond differently; and those are just some of the variables. On top of that there’s the post-processing to factor in.

What’s more important is knowing how to use your settings to get the results you want knowing how your particular kit behaves.

Let me talk you through the above three photos all of which were taken on the same night in Perth, Scotland. I had been to the location before with just my iPhone to take some scoping out shots and get a sense of what I wanted to come back and shoot properly. That pre-shoot visit was really helpful in allowing me to get a sense of how the lighting was working, the scale, and some preferred vantage points. Based on that, I began to think about what kind of shots I wanted to achieve and how I would go about getting them.

For the shots across the River Tay, I was certain that I wanted to soften the water and therefore blur the reflected light which would offer a contrast to the sharper definition on land. To achieve that, I knew I would need a long exposure. However, I also wanted to minimise grain (or noise, if you were raised in the digital age) which might be an issue with a long exposure at night. I opted to shoot at ISO 100, knowing that the relative lack of light sensitivity at this setting would push for a longer exposure. So, I’ve now considered ISO and exposure time (shutter speed) leaving the issue of aperture. Here, I was mainly concerned to shoot near the sweet spot of the lens, the aperture where the lens is sharpest and performs best. For the lens I was using that was going to be somewhere between f8 and f11. So, I opted for aperture priority, setting that to f10 on an ISO setting of 100. I then had a look to see what the camera was choosing for an exposure time. For both shots across the river, that was coming in at around 30 seconds which I was happy would be long enough for the effect I wanted, and so it turned out. Had it been longer, I might have had to consider changing the ISO. It’s a juggling act.

I used the same basic thought flow for the shot of the catering van but I wanted something more subtle here. The plan was to include some human interest but in a way that a slow exposure would blur the movement of the people. However, an exposure time of 30 seconds would be too long and could almost render the people invisible. I was looking for something nearer five to ten seconds, but also wanted to shoot within the sweet spot range and keep the ISO low. In the event, the lighting here allowed me to shoot at f8, stay at ISO 100 and get the kind of exposure time I needed. I’m certainly pleased with the result.

Post-processing was fairly light touch, really and done only in Lightroom. I’ll often use Photoshop for sharpening, but in this instance Lightroom did all I needed. One of the issues with night photography with the range of lights here, is that some areas had highlights that were just too bright so I needed to treat them specifically with the brush tool.

So, there you have it. Don’t be too bothered about what settings anyone used for their photos. I know it’s interesting and I’m as culpable as anyone for often providing that information, but it actually tells you relatively little that’s actually all that useful. Better to understand how to use the settings to achieve the shot you want, whether that’s in a very structured pre-planned way or in the moment when a composition lies before you.

Most of all, have fun and enjoy the good feeling of pulling off a photo just as you envisioned it.

Happy shooting.

A compromise of composition

Kelpies, sculpture, installation

The Kelpies

I don’t know about you, but I usually find myself bristling when I hear or read the words, “…it’s all about…” because I find it seldom is that exclusive. I was on the verge of titling this blog “it’s all about compromise” then had an argument with myself. I’m pleased to say I won.

I am not, therefore, going to say that photography is all about compromise, though that features in so many ways, not least finding the best compromise of ISO, aperture and shutter speed. What I will say, is that this blog is about the compromise of composition.

This was the third time I had photographed these magnificent sculptures called The Kelpies, but my first visit in winter. I like to find different ways of seeing and photographing subjects so set out to look for something unusual. Walking round the side I notices a canal boat moored up with smoke  rising from it’s chimney. I thought that might offer an interesting composition contrasting the ephemeral nature of the smoke with the solidity of the Kelpies.  How then, did this end up as a compromise of composition? Ideally, I’d have preferred to position the boat more between the sculptures to balance the scene a little more and provide more of a leading line. I was physically unable to do so as, to get more to the right, I would need to climb a fence and engage in trespass, which I thought to be a bad idea. That said, had I been able to position the boat as I wanted, I’d have lost contrast on the smoke with it positioned against the sky, and it was the smoke that had captured my compositional attention. I did feel, however, that the fading daylight in the background offered an interesting contre-jour shot and the grey of the winter sky reflected the steel construction of the Kelpies.

The grasses on the left of shot are also something of a compromise. Ideally, I’d have left them out of shot but it wasn’t possible to do so on location with the lens I was using. I debated removing them in Photoshop but decided to leave them in as I didn’t feel they were too distracting. I did, however, remove a lighting pole which was directly in line with one of the Kelpies and definitely spoiled the shot. One compositional advantage of shooting from behind, is that I eliminated the power lines and pylons which are in full view from in front.

I think the lesson here is to accept that sometimes, maybe more often than not, we photographers have to accept compromise in our compositions and the job is to make the best of what we see. Personally, I like to do that with the least manipulation in post.

This was shot at ISO-400, 1/000 sec, f/8 with a focal length of 18mm. I used an auto white balance with the intention of colour correcting in Lightroom if necessary. I used Lightroom to make basic adjustments to highlights, contrast and toning (among others) and used Photoshop to remove the troublesome lighting pole.