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Emotional Challenge 2

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Processing in Nik Analog Efex 2
Processing in Lightroom,  Photoshop and Nik Analog Efex 2

Recently I posted a blog entitled Emotional Challenge where I spoke about my recent interest in the emotional aspect of photography and how we could create images that had more emotional impact. As an initial example I posted the image of a seagull flying over the sea. Now some of your reading this will be relating the image of the seagull to seaside holidays, perhaps recalling childhood memories. Others though may have an entirely different perspective of the image.

If you are not from a climate where the seagull is a common sight on the coast you may not have any emotional memory to attach to the image. Instead you may see a huge open stretch of water with a bird gliding graceful over it and flying off into the distance. For you the emotional message in the image is one of freedom.

Today I have posted a few variants of the image that are also intended to add further layers of emotion, using various tricks or rather emotional triggers.

The first variant below has cropped the image to a square format. Whilst this possibly doesn’t give as dynamic a composition as the standard rectangular image, it is none the less a trigger. Some people will associate the square format with older cameras. The other change in this example was the vintage effect. Here lighting and colouring have been used to create the impression of older photography. All these changes were achieved quite quickly in Lightroom using the crop tool and a few gradients.

Processing in Lightroom
Processing in Lightroom only

The next example is a little more complex. This takes the Lightroom conversion and applies effects using Nik Analog Efex 2 (which is a recent release). The effects here are light and colour adjustments, blur, vignette, dust and an edge effect similar to the old Polaroid film.

Old film effects in Nik Analog Efex 2 only
Old film effects in Nik Analog Efex 2 only

In the next two examples the results of the Nik Analog Efex filter have been added as a layer in Photoshop to the Original Lightroom image. The blending mode has then been changed on the Nik layer. In the first of the two the blending mode is set to Soft Light.

Lightroom and Nik versions blended in Photoshop using Soft Light mode
Lightroom and Nik versions blended in Photoshop using Soft Light mode

In this second image the blending mode is set to Overlay.

Processing in Nik Analog Efex 2
Lightroom and Nik versions blended in Photoshop using Overlay mode

All these images are likely to mean different things to different people but all are likely to have an effect. If we can isolate the emotional triggers from great images and then learn how to recreate these in our own work, our photography will improve. But this carries two significant dangers. Firstly people are likely to either love or hate your work. Secondly your work can become a cliché and the effects boring.

I never said it was easy.

Quality costs but it also pays

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Olympus EM5 with 14-45mm lens. Lee Seven 5 0.9ND Graduated filter. Post processing with Nik Color Efex and Viveza. f/11 at ISO200 for 1/13" handheld.
Olympus EM5 with 14-45mm lens. Lee Seven 5 0.9ND Graduated filter. Post processing with Nik Color Efex and Viveza. f/11 at ISO200 for 1/13″ handheld.

Looking back some 3 to 4 years, I was a devoted user of Lee Filters although they were far from perfect. I didn’t think the quality was great and I can point to examples of colour shifts in my work. When I moved to Micro 43 I found the Lee 100mm filters were too large so I switched to using Hi-Tech 85mm filters and then more recently the Hi-Tech 67mm.

I was very pleased with the Hi-Tech filters and they were also much better value than the Lee equivalent. That was at least until I purchased the Sony RX10. When I use the 85mm Hi-Tech filters with this camera (the 67mm filters vignette badly) I find the sky takes on a purple tint. I can correct this in Lightroom using the grad tool but it’s annoying. What’s interesting is that this isn’t a noticeable problem when I use the filters with the Olympus EM5.

Now enter the GM1 and I found a similar problem was now occurring with the 67mm Hi-Tech filters. It’s not as strong an effect as the 85mm filters on the Sony but I can still notice it. Again, the effect isn’t noticeable when using the filters with the Olympus EM5.

It was this small but very frustrating tint that has taken me back to the Lee filters. I decided to bite the bullet and invest in the Lee Seven 5 filters, and I’m so pleased that I have. These filters and holders are very well made indeed. Best of all there is no discernible colour shift on any of the cameras I use. What really hit home for me was when I used the 0.9 Grad for this image and found the effect to be perfectly natural. If there was going to be a colour shift it would be with this filter but the results are excellent.

If you are thinking of investing in the Lee Seven 5, my view is that the expense is well worth it.

What are your favourite filters?

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Sea and cloud scape. Shot with an Olympus EM5 and processed using Nik Silver Efex
Sea and cloud scape. Shot with an Olympus EM5 and processed using Nik Silver Efex

I’m really interested in something and need your help. I love photography software and in particular filters and editing tools. I’m always on the lookout for new software that’s good and want to know what recommendations people have. Here are a few of the filters I already use in my workflow:

  • Nik Collection
  • Topaz (B&W Effects, Star Effects, Adjust, Detail)
  • On One Software Perfect Photo Suite
  • Photomatix (HDR)
  • Photo Wiz (B&W Styler, Contrast Master, Focal Blade)
  • Neat Image Noise Reduction
  • Qimage Ultimate (printing)
  • Akvis Magnifier (resizing)
  • Helicon Focus (image stacking)
  • Hugin (panoramic stitching)

Now I don’t want just names of filters and adjustment tools you have heard about, I want recommendations of tools you use and think are great. What do you recommend I look at?

Friday image No.017

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Long exposure on Filey Brigg using an Olympus EM5, 9-18mm lens at f/8.0 and 8 stop ND filter
Long exposure on Filey Brigg using an Olympus EM5, 9-18mm lens at f/8.0 and 8 stop ND filter. Click to view larger image.

It’s back to images from my Filey trip for this week’s Friday image. This was shot from Filey brig and is a long exposure taken during the day. It’s a 6 second exposure which I captured on the Olympus EM5. I used a Hi-Tech 8 stop ND filter from their ProStop IRND range (here is the link to a 10 stop on amazon). I have to say that I am really impressed with these filters. They give a blue colour cast to the image but it’s really nice and something that I decided to accentuate in this shot. The image quality is very good and I am going to buy some more of these in different strengths to give me more choice. As I am using them with Micro 43 I only need the 67mm size so they become very affordable.

There is something about a simple image such as this that I find quite relaxing.

Hope you like the image and have a great weekend.

Infrared Filters

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Canal near to my house. Shot on an IR converted GX1 but with an IR850nm filter on the lens. Halation effect added in Photoshop.
Canal near to my house. Shot on an IR converted GX1 but with an IR850nm filter on the lens. Halation effect added in Photoshop.

Over the weekend I published my spring newsletter. Those of you who subscribe and who have had an opportunity to read the latest issue will know that the main article explores the options for infrared photography (including some that cost very little). As I was writing this it got me thinking that I wanted to shoot some Infrared film using my Hasselblad XPan which I haven’t used for about a year.

Choices for film are very limited these days so it was either Ilford SFX (which isn’t really a true infrared film) or Rollei IR400. I purchased a few rolls but realised I didn’t have a 49mm Infrared filter for the XPan lens, so needed to turn to eBay. I also realised I had sold my light meter thinking (incorrectly) that I wouldn’t need it again, so ended up needing to buy another.

Anyway, whilst searching for a 49mm Infrared filter (720nm strength) I also had a quick look for an 850nm Infrared filter and found quite a few. For anyone who is unfamiliar with these filters they will block out light with a wavelength shorter than the filter strength. For example a 720nm filter blocks light with a shorter wavelength, effectively blocking visible light but allowing infrared wavelengths through.

The reason for wanting a 52mm 850nm IR filter (which incidentally only cost £10 including postage) was so I could use it with my Infrared camera. When I had the camera converted to infrared I had a choice of having it fitted with either 720nm filter or an 850nm filter. The 850nm filter gives a more dramatic effect and can only be used to produce black and white images. I opted for the 720nm filter as this allows you to create some false colour effects. By using a screw in 850nm filter on the lens it’s like having my camera converted with the stronger filter.

When the new filters arrived I checked them. The 720nm filter made no difference to the IR camera but blocked the visible light from a standard (unconverted camera) so I knew it was a good filter. The 850nm filter when attached to a lens on my infrared camera caused a loss of about 2 stops of light making it very usable for handheld shooting. It also caused a colour shift to blue in the image but this is probably because I didn’t bother setting a custom white balance. The blue tint was easily corrected during the RAW conversion.

Now here’s the interesting thing, when I used the 850nm filter on the infrared camera, although the shutter speed was slower by 2 stops, the image quality was better. I didn’t take sufficient images to check this out properly but across about 10 scenes, the 850nm images appeared to have sharper and finer detail in all cases. I can’t explain why as in fact I had expected the opposite to happen. I’m going to keep a close eye on this as the light starts to get stronger and better for shooting infrared.

When is an A Series Filter not an A Series Filter

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Sunset on the mud flats. ND Graduated filters are a must for shots such as this.
Sunset on the mud flats. ND Graduated filters are a must for shots such as this.

I want to share with you a valuable lesson about filters. Those of you reading this blog regularly will no doubt be aware of the importance I place on the use of filters, particularly ND Graduated filters, for Landscape Photography.

For some time I have wanted to try out the reverse ND graduated filters that have started to become so popular recently. These are just like the normal ND graduates except that they are slightly lighter at the top part of the filter. This means there is a darker band running across the centre of the filter. The idea is that you place the darker band on the horizon where it is typically lighter at sunrise and sunset. This helps prevent the rest of the sky becoming unnaturally dark.

The problem with these filters is that they are unusually expensive. To buy a set of 100mm filters you need to take out a second mortgage and I can’t help but feel that I’m being ripped off. The P series are a little better but still cost upwards of £60 each.

My solution has been to switch to using A Series filters. I can do this as I use micro 43 and compact cameras (forget the recently acquired RX10 for the moment). To give you the complete story a friend had been thinking about the same thing and made the purchase first. I tested the filters on my lenses and all worked perfectly with no vignette so I was happy to make a purchase.

The filters I bought were the HiTech 67mm which are the same size as the Cokin A Series and are the same as my friends. He was using his with the Cokin A series filter rings and holder but I thought that I would buy the HiTech versions. This was more costly but I liked the modular holder and it would allow me to attach a 77mm polarising filter with a separate adapter.

All is fine with the filters and the holder is great.

It was at this point that I decided to purchase a cheap Cokin holder as a spare. Well, the damn thing won’t fit on the HiTech filter rings. They are too thick and slightly too wide a diameter. I checked this again by trying to use a Cokin A Series filter ring with the HiTech holder. That doesn’t work either as the Cokin ring is too small.

So, this lesson didn’t cost me very much (about £10) but I thought it would be worth sharing.

The A Series filters from HiTech are much more affordable as well so my loss is more than compensated.

Black & White Converter Update

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In my last post I was vigorously outlining the benefits of the RX100 and especially the Low Light Hand Held mode. I also presented one of the images I had shot on my recent trip to France and which I had converted to Black and White using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.

Well here is a new version of the image that I have just made using a new Black and White converter (new in that I haven’t discussed it before). I know I have introduced colour in there abut I like this muted tone effect.

Reprocessed version of my RX100 image discussed in the previous blog post.
Reprocessed version of my RX100 image discussed in the previous blog post. Click the image to open a larger version.

If you are wondering what the converter is that I used, it’s Perfect B&W. I expect to post more about these tools in the future.

Lensmate Adapter for Sony RX100

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I'm finally able to use ND Grads with my Sony RX100
I’m finally able to use ND Grads with my Sony RX100

Looking back a couple of months when I first purchased my Sony RX100 I said that I needed some form of adapter in order to use ND Graduate filters with this camera. As most of my work is shot in the landscape, ND graduate filters are an essential accessory for me and I just can’t work without them.

If I compare my LX5 I have an adapter tube that I can screw onto a threaded ring at the base of the lens. The RX100 however has nothing like this which is why after some searching I found the Lensmate solution. I have to admit that this is not a cheap solution and having incurred £12.50 in duty charges when it was shipment into the UK, it borders on being extortionate.

Well the adapter has arrived and it looks like just a couple of small pieces of metal and plastic. Basically there is a ring that sticks to the front of the lens using 3M double sided adhesive tape. Once in place there is a second threaded adapter that mounts onto the ring and clicks into place. This allows you to easily remove any filters with a small 90 degree twist of the adapter.

Now I have to admit that I was a little worried sticking a ring to the front of my new camera. I thought that it looks fiddly and troublesome to mount correctly. The kit does however come with a simple tool that aligns the ring e3xactly. There is a supporting video on the website and having watched this it took me less than 1 minute to attach the adapter and it was perfect first time.

So despite my complaints over price this is a very good design that works very well indeed. I have used the adapter out in the field and it’s perfect. It’s also very light and small enough so that the camera still fits inside the Sony case. If you need a filter adapter for an RX100 then this is worth looking at but beware the price is high.

The Achilles Heel of the Micro 4/3

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The Ribblehead Viaduct in the Yorkshire Dales. The images captured on a Panasonic Lumix GX1 with an Olympus 9-18mm lens. The images were merged to create the panoramic in Photoshop and converted to B&W using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.

Yes you read the title of the blog correctly; there is a weakness with my GX1 and no doubt other Micro 4/3 cameras also. Take a look at the image above to see if you can spot it. I shot this yesterday in the Yorkshire Dales when out photographing waterfalls with a friend. The intention was to visit a few locations starting at Keld which has loads of falls and then work our way south visiting other falls on route. This is one of the best shots of the day with my GX1.

Now the eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed this photograph is not of a Waterfall and that’s because of the weakness I mentioned. I simply couldn’t slow the shutter speed sufficiently to emphasise the movement in the images. Let’s discuss an example.

There was quite a lot of water coming over the falls as it has been wet recently (I’m sure those of you based in the UK will know what I mean) so the speed of the water was quite fast. This is good news for me as it means the shutter speeds are not quite as slow as you might otherwise need. I still however needed to slow the camera down to between 0.3 and 0.8 seconds to create the desired effect.

The base ISO on the GX1 is 160 and there is no way (at least that I can find) to expand this down to perhaps 80 or even 50 (I hope Panasonic are listening because I’m sure they could do this with a firmware upgrade). At the same time I want to shoot with my lenses in their optimal range for sharpness of f/5.6 to f/7.1. When trying to do this however I was finding that even in relatively shaded areas I was just freezing the water.

I did try closing my aperture down to f/13.0 with a couple of ND filters on the front of the lens whilst holding a polarizer in front and it worked to some degree. It still wasn’t great and there was a reflection on the polariser that can be seen on some images.

My 5D MKII on the other hand was set to ISO50 with a lens at f/14.0 and a polarizing filter attached. This was giving me nice long exposures that I could control. Here is an example of one of the shots so at least you can see how nice the locations were.

One of the many waterfalls near to Keld in the Yorkshire Dales. This image was captured on my Canon 5D MKII. It is a single RAW file which was processed in Lightroom and then converted to B&W using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.

I think therefore that I need to add a further accessory to the list of essentials for this camera and that is a variable ND screw in filter. Oh, and if you are wondering what the image at the top of the blog is, it’s the Ribblehead Viaduct which carries the rail line.

LX5 Essential Accessories

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Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Shot with an LX5 and processed in Lightroom with Nik Dfine and Silver Efex Pro 2

I don’t normally like carrying too many accessories for my photography because they can be a bit of a double edged sword. On one hand they help you do things that wouldn’t otherwise be possible but on the other they add size, weight and can hinder your work. There are some accessories however that I do consider essential for the LX5:

  1. Screen protector – I don’t think this one takes much explaining other than to say the rear screen can scratch easily. I use a 3 inch thin plastic screen protector that was made for a mobile phone as they are cheap and do a great job.
  2. JJC lens cap – Where the LX5 lens meets the camera body there is a threaded ring. Unscrew this ring and you can screw on the JJC replacement lens cap. The lens cap is never removed but as you switch on the camera the lens extends through the lens cap which splits into three. When the lens retracts the lens cap closes to cover it again. This has protected my lens on countless occasions and also reduces lens cleaning. This is a great accessory for street photography.
  3. Filter Tube – In the previous point I explained how the filter cap could screw to the lens of the camera. The filter tube follows the same approach and screws to the camera with the lens extending inside the tube. The other end of the tube is threaded and can accept a filter ring to which you can then attach filters. For Landscape Photography the ability to attach an filters such as an ND Graduate is essential. The only downside is that you can only attach either the lens cap or the filter tube but not both together.
  4. My final accessory is really optional and is noise reduction software. If you are keeping below ISO400 with the LX5 and not printing larger than A3, you probably don’t need this but as the ISO creeps up it can become essential. Even if you use only low ISO settings you may be a bit of a perfectionist as I am (I often clean images even from my 5D MkII to remove noise because I am that fussy). I actually use 2 software packages for noise reduction at present, Nik Dfine and Topaz DeNoise. DeNoise is probably the best to my mind but you might have your own preference.

On a final point of interest, many photographers would consider the LX5 to be an accessory for their main camera. If you are one of these people think again and try a day out with just the LX5 and a couple of accessories.