New Tutoral Published

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I have just uploaded a new Lightroom tutorial to the members area of my Lenscraft website. It covers the key controls in the Develop module and is one of a few that I am currently working on.

 The article will probably go live on ePHOTOzine in the next could of weeks but members have the opportunity to read it first and also download it as a pdf file for offline viewing.

 Enjoy

 Oh yes, and if you are wondering about the image it’s a shot from a few years back which I have reprocessed with my new Nik software. It was shot on a Canon 400D which isn’t really lightweight but my processing was. The conversion only took a couple of minutes work.

Color Passport Update

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In past blogs I have discussed how useful I find the Color Passport from Xrite. Initially I used this to set my white balance in the GX1 so that the AWB setting I tend to use almost 100% of the time is more accurate. Previously this was setting the colour temperature to 4,700K and the tint adjustment in Lightroom to 0. Having created a custom white balance the colour temperature has increased to 5,400K and the tint to +8. These are significant corrections and ones that I probably wouldn’t have landed on myself.

The other thing I have used the Color Passport for is to create a custom calibration profile for the GX1. Again this is having a dramatic effect as the contrast increases, pinks have become more vibrant, orange less saturated and blues and greens look more natural. I now use this profile as the starting point for all my conversions for the GX1.

The other night I was adjusting images before sending them to my stock library. My workflow for this uses a separate package for keywording and Lightroom for the RAW file conversion. What I happened to notice when doing this was that the thumbnails in the keywording application appeared more natural than the image in Lightroom, despite having used my custom camera calibration. After a little adjustment to the calibration slider I found setting the Green Hue to -33 and the Green saturation to -11 gave me much more natural Landscape greens.

Now I don’t know if this setting will work for all images so I decided to apply it to other shots in the batch. I created a custom Lightroom Preset and applied it to a few others. Yes they improved but there was also an interesting side effect with some. Applying the preset seemed to change the histogram substantially. Histograms that lacked contrast and that were gathered in the mid tones now extended across a greater tonal range and in some instances filled the histogram. Looking more closely at these images I found the details appeared crisper (which might be expected from improved contrast) but the luminance noise appeared reduced even though I hadn’t applied any noise reduction. Whilst you might struggle to see what I am talking about at this reduced resolution, here is a comparison from the above image (click the image to enlarge).

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I will keep a close eye on this in the future, but it seems to have given a promising improvement to quality, which is all important with stock images.

Opportunity or Rip Off

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I have now been a Panasonic LX5 user for around 18 months and have been incredibly impressed by this little camera. I love its small size, its RAW files, its fast super sharp lens and its great little sensor. And whilst it’s only a 10Mpixel sensor I can easily create A3+ prints that look stunning. I was therefore very excited the other day when I read on the Online Photographer Blog that the LX7 is being released.

At the mere thought of the LX7 my mind went crazy with all the improvements that might be incorporated. Whilst the sensor and lens combination are great at A3+ I would ideally have liked a 14Mpixel sensor. Perhaps also a tilting LCD display and a built in EVF. Perhaps the lens will have its zoom range increased to 24-120 like the legendary Sony R1.

 I was however a little taken aback when I read the spec to find out it was quite like the LX5. Admittedly the lens is even faster and supposedly sharper, whilst the sensor is better at producing clean, noise free images. This wasn’t however the huge step change I had hoped for and I now wonder if some of the other manufacturers e.g. Sony with their RX100 20MP wonder are pulling ahead.

Having spent some time reading the specifications I doubt I am going to spend the £450 necessary to upgrade my LX5 which on paper looks to have a similar spec. Perhaps when I come to use one I will appreciate the great lens and sensor sufficiently to want one – but I can’t help thinking I might be getting ripped off.

New Tools for Lightroom

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As I have said before in my blogs, I am a huge fan of Lightroom because of the speed and ease with which it allows you to edit your images, converting them from RAW files. I find that in the majority of cases I can get at least 80% of the way to my final image by just using the tools Lightroom provides. It’s then a case of exporting these images to Photoshop for some final “pixel polishing”.

Well this all changed at weekend when I decided to invest in some of the Nik software packages. To be honest, it was the free copy of Viveza 2.0 that came with my recently purchased ColorMunki that convinced me to try Nik’s Black and White conversion software. When I downloaded this for Photoshop (and by the way I was very impressed by the package) I noticed they had a Lightroom version and that I could buy all their packages for use in Lightroom at about half the price of Photoshop.

Over the weekend I took the plunge and purchased the Lightroom collection of Nik plug-ins. As soon as I started to use these I found that I was able to produce higher quality, finished images without the need to step outside Lightroom. This approach is a huge time saver for me and really strips my processing workflow back to the essentials.

That’s not however the end of the story because being able to use these plug-ins within Lightroom got me thinking what other plug-ins do I use that might work with Lightroom. Following up on this I was able to install and use a version of Photomatix HDR software in Lightroom. I then found I could download a free piece of software from Topaz Labs that made their plug-ins available in Lightroom.

Now one limitation of Lightroom is that it doesn’t have the capability to support Layers and Masking, something I use extensively in Photoshop. I remembered something about On One Software developing a package called Perfect Layers that provided this capability so thought I would investigate. That’s when I found I could download Perfect Layers 2 for free from the On One website, I assume because they will be releasing Perfect Layers 3 shortly.

So if you use Lightroom I would suggest a little investigation into third party plug-ins/editors could prove to be very valuable.

Color Checker Passport

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A little while back I mentioned that I was unhappy with some of the colours being produced by my GX1 and also LX5. The greens seemed a little too green and the image overall had a slightly blue cast to it. This inspired me to purchase a Color Checker Passport from X-rite as it could be used to produce a custom calibration for your camera which can then be used in the develop module of Lightroom. Well I have now purchased and used the passport and can report on its performance.

My first reaction when opening the packaging is that you don’t get a lot for your money. The passport itself is small and made from plastic. There is a CD containing the software which you load to your computer but there were no instructions other than a link to the X-rite site. In the end I watched a very good video of how to use the passport and software to generate a profile and all was clear.

The passport is basically a colour checking chart and grey card contained in a plastic cover. It’s small, light and fits neatly in your pocket. The first thing I used was the grey card in order to create a custom white balance for my GX1 (I won’t describe how to do this here as each camera is different). This was very simple and once the white balance setting was registered made an instant improvement to the images, removing the blue colour cast preventing the greens from looking quite so sickly.

Next I took two reference pictures of the colour chart in the passport. One was in direct sunlight and the other in shade, both taken around midday under a sunny sky. Back at home I converted the RAW files for the two images into DNG format using Lightroom and then loaded these to the passport software. A click of a button and 20 seconds later and my profile was ready.

Restarting Lightroom and switching to the Develop module I could see my new conversion profile which when selected had an immediate impact on the image. I noticed that the image contrast improved and some colours (red in particular) became much more vibrant and realistic. Colours also looked completely natural.

I wondered if this result had been a fluke so repeated the process with my LX5. The results were even better and the images now look very lifelike. The image here is of the edelweiss flower (I hope I spelled that correctly) which is actually quite rare and grows at altitude in the Alps. I found this particular flower at around 2,600m under a bright blue sky and took the picture on my LX5. The colours having used the “passport color checker” appear completely natural and subtle.

This tool is quickly becoming an indispensible accessory in my camera bag. I just need to remember to use it.

New Lightweight Tool

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Lightweight Photography is not just about using lightweight cameras, sometimes it’s about using streamlined processes to make life easier or about tools that can fulfil more than one function and so lighten your load. I have just made one such purchase and I want to share my experience with you. The tool in question is the “ColorMunki Photo” which I’m sure many of you will know about and perhaps a few of you own this.

The ColorMunki provides a simple and fast way to profile your monitor so you can be sure the colours in your images are being accurately represented on the screen. It also allows you to profile your printer (the main reason for my purchase) as well as profiling cameras and LCD projectors. The later will come in useful where I give presentations to camera clubs and often run into issues with my images projecting too dark.

My previous approach to colour management was to use the” i-One” monitor profiler from X-Rite (who also make the ColorMunki). In comparison to the ColorMunki the “i-One” takes much longer to complete the profile and isn’t as user friendly. For printer profiles I tended to use either custom made profiles purchasing from a remote profiling service or sometimes made my own using VueScan and a desktop scanner. The first option is time consuming as you need to rely on the postal service whilst the second option wasn’t really reliable. Since I switched to using a Canon Pixma 9500MkII I have struggled to generate good profiles and if I’m truthful, gave up.

My experience of the ColorMunki is that it performs the two functions above (monitor and printer profiling) brilliantly. It’s very fast, easy to use and the results are fantastic. My printer seems to be using less ink but more importantly the results seem to be much more vivid. Prints I had previously thought were good seem to have just come to life with the new printer profiles I have generated. The profiles also seem much better than the generic profiles you can usually download from paper manufacturer sites.  To say I am delighted is an understatement and I wanted to share this positive experience with everyone.

Two Heads are Better than One

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I had an interesting weekend in terms of photography. I didn’t take a single image but I did improve my work and made some substantial breakthroughs. What gave raise to this? Well one of my friends came over and we spent time reviewing our work and suggesting improvements.  This was great in terms of development but it also allowed me to discuss some frustrating aspects of micro 4/3 photography with a second person. The most frustrating of these is the colour produced by my Panasonic cameras when converting RAW files.

You see I have long thought that the RAW files from my LX5, GF1 and now GX1 produce colours that don’t seem entirely natural. Greens, reds and blues all seem too strong and saturated. It is however difficult to judge on your own so yesterday was a great opportunity to discuss this with a very knowledgeable photographer whose views I trust. The result was that we agreed the colours were off. Whilst the image at the top is a black and white conversion I am showing the original colour image here together with a colour adjusted version we created.

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The original colour image with the defauilt RAW settings is shown above

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Here is the corrected image. Notice the orange of the cylinder on the right. In the uncorrected image this is a false orange and is also over saturated. Also notice the red plastic can on the left. In the original this looks raspberry and is too saturated.

To create the colour adjusted image we needed to:

  • Increase the colour temperature by 300K
  • Shift the Orange Hue and reduce its saturation
  • Reduce the saturation of blue in the scene

These are subtle adjustments but they are enough for your brain to pick up that something isn’t quite right.

The reason for these odd colours is not however down to Panasonic but the Adobe software I am using to convert the RAW files. It’s the calibration Adobe bundles with their colour engine that is causing the issue. I have therefore taken the step of purchasing a colour passport checker to use with my Panasonic cameras in future. I hope this will allow me to correct the problem and will report again in the future.