Software

Alternatives to The Creative Cloud 4

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Today, I’m going to continue my series looking at alternatives to Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription. I do this because not everyone is happy to rent their software on subscription. Personally, I quite like the renting arrangement as it gives me access to the latest versions of Lightroom and Photoshop.

Despite being a big fan of Photoshop, I’m going to share an alternative that is equally as impressive and flexible, yet costs less than Adobe Elements. The software is Affinity Photo from Serif.

Affinity Photo used to be Mac only, but recently launched version 1.5 which is also available on Windows. I believe the regular price for the software is just under £50. When I purchased my copy, there was a 20% discount available which made this an absolute bargain.

Some people refer to Affinity Photo as being a Photoshop Clone. Personally, I don’t think that it’s a clone, it just offers similar tools. If you know how to use these tools in Photoshop you should have no trouble at all using Affinity Photo.

Here are a few of the features that have impressed me:

There is an excellent RAW converter which includes brush and gradient tools for selective adjustments.

Affinity Photo screenshot 1
Screenshot of the RAW Converter

Once you have developed your RAW file you are then able to apply manipulations with the many tools in Affinity. As with Photoshop, Affinity supports the use of adjustment layers and masks. The following screenshot shows just some of the adjustments available.

Affinity Photo screenshot 2
Some of the adjustment tools in Affinity Photo

In the following screenshot, I have applied a black and white conversion filter followed by a Curves adjustment to create an Infrared effect.

Affinity Photo screenshot 3
Example Black & White Conversion

In addition, a great selection of adjustment layers, there is a great range of filters provided. At this point, some of you might be saying but what about special features such as Panoramic blending that are found in Photoshop. If you are, then your also in luck. Look at the following section taken from the File menu in Affinity Photo.

Affinity Photo screenshot 4
Section of the Affinity File manu showing some further tools. Reminds you of Photoshop doesn’t it?

I could go on and on but if you’re interested in a very competent replacement for Photoshop, I would suggest visiting the Serif website and reading up on Affinity Photo. It really is an excellent piece of software.

I’m very much looking forward to the iPad version being released.

Alternatives to the Creative Cloud 3

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This image has nothing to do with the post, I just like it.

Today I would like to share a further idea about an alternative to the Adobe Creative Cloud that you may not have considered.  Or, perhaps you have considered it but ruled it out for possibly several reasons. That alternative is Adobe Elements.

Now please don’t dismiss this suggestion immediately. Elements is a good package, it’s just that it’s a little limited. It includes a nice organiser which is a cut down version of Bridge. You can use this to easily organise, rate and search for your images. Elements also has sufficient editing tools to produce good results when working with photographs. Best of all, it’s quite easy to use.

What appears to rule Elements out for most photographers is not its features but its limitations. Personally, I would find editing all my images in 8-bits worrying. I would miss the ability to create smart objects and I would cry over the loss of the Curves tool (which I find essential).

But what if you could solve these and other problems? Would you then be interested in using Elements? If you’re thinking ‘maybe’ then you should investigate The Plug-in Site, especially their enhancements for Adobe Elements:

  • ElementsXXL – Adds up to 640 powerful features to Photoshop Elements that were previously only available in Photoshop. These are included as new menu items, icons, buttons, key shortcuts and dialogs, to integrate Elements interface.
  • ActionsXXL – Allows users to create, record, play and save Photoshop actions. ActionsXXL also offers a Batch feature for automatically processing multiple documents or image files with actions, scripts and other features. You can even use actions created in Photoshop.
  • LayersXXL – Adds up to 180 photo and design features to Photoshop Elements that were previously only available in Photoshop. These are all designed to help you work with Layers in Elements.
  • MetaRAW – Extends the functionality of the Adobe Camera Raw plugin in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. It lets you open camera raw files with Adobe Camera Raw, which are normally not supported by it, and allows applying Adobe Camera Raw as a filter to image layers.
  • Filter HUB – A powerful replacement for the Filter menu of Photoshop and Photoshop Elements and offers many advantages over it. It supports built-in filters (from the Filter, Adjustments and Enhance menus), filter plugins and third-party automation plugins.

All of these can be purchased either individually or together in the Elements Bundle for a substantial discount. The only drawback is that most of the products are only available for Windows.

In case you’re wondering, no I don’t get any commission from this. I just like to share good ideas with fellow photographers.

Alternatives To The Creative Cloud 2

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Blencathera, The Lake District. Captured as a RAW file using the Olympus EM5 and processed in Exposure.

A little while back I published a post concerning alternatives to the Adobe Creative Cloud. Whilst many people love using Lightroom and Photoshop (myself included) some don’t like the Adobe Subscription model. Today I will share the first alternative that might appeal to some of you; Exposure from Alien Skin.

I suspect many people reading this won’t have come across Exposure, or perhaps I should say Exposure X2 which is the latest release. Of those that have, you might be forgiven for thinking of it as a plug-in for Lightroom and Photoshop. Indeed, it can be used as an enhancement filter but it’s also a standalone solution.

The Browser is reasonably quick and allows for basic flagging and tagging of images. You are then able to filter the images in a folder based on flag, colour or star rating. This is all basic stuff but if you organise your images based on date shot and don’t need to add keywords, it might be all you need.

Exposure will read a range of image file formats including RAW. It would though seem to be limited to RAW files it recognises as my older version, Exposure X doesn’t recognise my Fuji X-T2 RAW images (the new X2 version of the software will though).

When editing images in Exposure you can take two approaches. The easy way is to use one of the many film pre-sets that ship with the software. In all honesty, I think these are brilliant and will produce a digital rendering very much like the films they simulate. It’s very quick to achieve good results with the pre-sets and you can also create and save your own.

The other alternative is to use the editing tools of which there are many. These are well thought out and surprisingly flexible. For example, you have a film grain tool that allows you to simulate different film sizes, roughness, colour variations, processing and then apply this in varying levels to the shadows, midtones or highlights. The tools are developed well beyond Lightroom in some respects.

In addition to the usual editing tools there are several special effects that can be applied to simulate all manner of old film effects such as light leaks, scratches, fading etc. My personal favourite is the Infrared processing that simulates the halation effect found in infrared films such as Kodak HIE. I use this tool frequently when processing my digital IR images.

If you haven’t guessed by now, Exposure is very much a film simulation tool but despite this you can create some very impressive adjustments. The limitation of the older versions (such as mine) is that the adjustments are global. With the new X2 version you also gain access to a layers feature which includes layer masking. I suspect this alone will persuade me to upgrade in the near future. There are also other feature which move the software towards being a one stop image editor.

I have been using Exposure since version 5 (that’s about 5 versions back) and I really like the results that can be achieved. The images you can produce have a feeling of maturity and sophistication that is difficult to explain. Where Exposure scores highly in my opinion though is in Black and White conversion and vintage film effects.

Newlands Valley, The Lake District. Captured with the Olympus EM5 and converted for a vintage photo look with Exposure X.

If you are looking for an alternative to the standard Creative Cloud tools, this is one worth evaluating.

Alternatives to the Creative Cloud 1

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Marloes, Pembrokeshire
Marloes, Pembrokeshire. I shot this image in 2009. Had I not added keywords that I could search on in Lightroom, I would have struggled to find it again.

I recently read that Adobe is withdrawing the traditional full purchase option from Lightroom and Photoshop and that only the CC versions would be available. This means you would need to pay a monthly subscription rather than make a one-off payment for a version of the software. Checking the Adobe site just now I can see that only Lightroom and Elements are available as a “traditional” purchase option.

Whilst I subscribe to Creative Cloud and am very happy to do so, I know a lot of people don’t like the subscription model. Given this, it’s my intention to share some alternatives over the coming weeks that you might want to consider if you don’t want to go down the Adobe CC route.

To set some expectations though, I won’t be covering every alternative and I won’t be looking at lots of alternatives in a single blog post. Instead I will be posting from time to time as new ideas come to light. I also won’t be doing a comprehensive review of software, I will leave you to do that with the trial versions that most software companies offer.

In this first blog post I would like to consider just what Creative Cloud provides from the photographer’s perspective. You to determine how important each aspect is to you, as everyone will be different.

Asset Management

This is the ability to tag and sort images as well as perform searches using a variety of criteria. Typically, you would need to be able to search quickly on variables across potentially hundreds of thousands of images to identify the one(s) you want.

This is provided by Lightroom and to some degree Bridge.

RAW Conversion

If you shoot in RAW format, as many photographers do, you will need to convert or develop the RAW file into an image format. This will typically involve applying adjustments to the images as part of the conversion process.

This is provided by Lightroom or in Photoshop through Camera RAW.

Image Adjustment

The ability to enhance or adjust an image. Adjustments may be as simple as changes to colour or tone. In some circumstances, we may need to make more complex changes such as remove an object or change its size, shape or the perspective of the image.

Lightroom provides a level of adjustment capability but in some respects, this can be quite limited. Photoshop is much more flexible and powerful.

Print Output

Creating prints from your images and the ability to go through a Soft Proofing process is in both Lightroom and Photoshop.

Other aspects of CC that might be important to you are things such as are they supported for Mac and Windows. Do you need support for 16 bit editing or even 32 bit editing? Is there full colour management support so you can select a colour space within which to work? Do you need to work in CMYK, RGB or even LAB? How important is overall workflow to you? Some people hate switching between applications and need a level of integration.

If you’re thinking of a move from CC or even just buying more software, I would strongly recommend working on a few images and making notes of the aspects and features you use. You might not realise these are important to you until they are gone.

Next time I will look at one or two possible alternatives to CC.

Friday Image No. 118

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Holme Fell, The Lake Distirct, England
Trees on Holme Fell, The Lake Distirct, England. See the blog text for image details.

Yet another week over and we are rapidly approaching Christmas. Then it’s soon going to be New Year and I will be beating myself up that I haven’t achieved half of the things that I wanted to with this blog and my website (Lenscraft). When I select the image above to share I thought that I had shot it recently. Now that I look back I realise it was from the 5th November. It seems like yesterday but it’s a month and a half ago.

The image was captured using a Fuji XT2 and the excellent Fuji 16-55 lens. The camera was tripod mounted as the lens, despite being excellent lacks any stabilisation. Despite shooting at ISO 200 I used f/10 to ensure full depth of field. I probably didn’t need to use such a small aperture but I’m really feeling my way with the APSC sized sensor at present. Had I been shooting with the Olympus EM5 I would have been using f/7.1 and been confident of front to back sharpness. The EM5’s smaller Micro 43 sensor makes the increased depth of field at wider apertures possible.

In addition to the above equipment I was also using a Lee 0.3 (one stop) ND Graduated filter to hold the exposure in the clouds. The other filter used was a 105mm polarising filter which screws to the front of the Lee 100mm filter system.

When it comes to post processing, I have recorded the entire thing and posted it as a video on YouTube. Here is the link in case your reading this as an email.

Link to Video

If you’re on the lightweightphotographer website, you will see the video embedded below. I hope you enjoy this and have a great weekend.

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Sharpening the Fuji X-T2 RAW

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Sunrise in the Peak District
Sunrise in the Peak District. Fuji XT2 + 16-55 lens + 0.3 ND Grad filter.

I have now been shooting with the Fuji X-T2 for a couple of months. Whilst I have only had a few outings, I’m very pleased with the results. I like the handling of the camera and also the lens quality despite a couple of problems. In fact, the 10-24 and 16-55 lenses are nothing short of exceptional.

There is though one problem that has niggled me for a while and this is the “Wiggly Worm” pattern. You tend to find this in areas of fine detail when converting RAW files using Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW. This is a real shame, especially as I use Lightroom for much of my cataloguing and image management.

To illustrate the problem, a look at the image below which has been magnified at 2:1 in Lightroom; you may need to double click the image to open it at full resolution (I was also running my Mac at 2048 x 1152 when I took the screen shots so this will magnify the image further).

Section showing Wiggly Worm pattern. Click to topen the image at full resolution.
Section showing Wiggly Worm pattern. Click to topen the image at full resolution.

I can easily avoid the problem by switching to Iridient Developer or RAW Therapee but I like working in Lightroom. I have therefore been looking at how to reduce the “Wiggly Worm” effect and I think I have hit on something.

I had originally put the effect down to the demosaic routine that converts the RAW file. But I have changed my mind and now think it’s the sharpening routine that creating much of the problem. The example I showed above was created using the default Lightroom Radius setting of 1, an Amount setting of 45, a Detail setting of 75 and Threshold of 10. The culprits that seem to exaggerate the problem are the Amount and Masking sliders.

Masking causes the sharpening effect to be concentrated onto the edges in the image. Only when the Masking is set to 0 is the entire image sharpened. The “Wiggly Worm” effect seems to be created when the edges in areas of fine detail become exaggerated. Effectively the edges are becoming over sharpened, which is why the Amount slider has such an impact on the result. You only need to increase it slightly and the effect is emphasised. The Detail slider has less of an effect because it sharpens only very high frequency details.

So, what does this mean and how can you use it?

Limit the sharpening applied in Lightroom. Here is the same example but sharpened using much less aggressive settings.

Section with alternate sharpening settings.
Section with alternate sharpening settings.

This used the settings or Radius = 0.8, Amount = 30, Detail = 30 and Masking = 0. The image is a little softer but much more natural.

Following this approach, I have found I can minimise the “Wiggle Worm” effect whilst producing images with greater detail. Although the images coming from Lightroom are slightly softer, they respond so much better to additional capture sharpening using Nik RAW Sharpener or Photoshop Smart Sharpen. You can see a further example here viewed at 100% magnification.

Section of image following application of Smart Sharpen, viewed at 100% magnification.
Section of image following application of Smart Sharpen, viewed at 100% magnification.

You may now be wondering why bother with Lightroom capture sharpening at all and simply apply Capture Sharpening in another tool. Well, I tried this and to my eyes at least, a small amount of Capture Sharpening in Lightroom seems to produce better results when sharpened a second time outside Lightroom.

But does all this pixel peeping matter? My answer to this question is yes and no.

If you are going to be displaying your image on the internet, then you will most likely be down sampling them. The act of down sampling will remove some of the “Wiggly Worm” effect and can even remove it completely depending on how much you reduce the image size. If you are going to be printing the image, the softening effect of printing will also remove the pattern. For these reasons, I say that it doesn’t matter.

Where this effect does cause a problem, is if you are submitting your images to others for inspection. A typical example might be when you submit images to a stock library for sale. Here they probably will pick up on the pattern and might well reject the images.

 

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Infrared Simulation Using Nik

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Realistic Infrared simulation using the Nik Collection. Watch the video to find out how.
Realistic Infrared simulation using the Nik Collection. Watch the video to find out how.

I have seen many articles and videos over the years suggesting ways to create infrared simulations using regular colour photographs. Most of these fall short, possibly because the authors don’t appreciate the true characteristics of infrared. One example I read simply suggested using the channel mixer in Photoshop and using it to turn a blue sky black.

The best tool I have seen for simulating the effects of Infrared film a standard colour image is Alien Skin Exposure. This is also one of the tools I turn to when converting my digital infrared images as it allows me to simulate the halation effect often seen with Kodak HIE film. Unfortunately, as great a tool as Exposure is, it’s costly.

So how can we create a simulation using Nik plug-ins? Well, there is an Infrared film simulation in Nik Color Efex Pro but it’s not very convincing and doesn’t produce the halation effect. Nik Silver Efex Pro did once have an optional preset you could download from the Nik website but this has been removed. In any case, the preset wasn’t very believable.

This video features my simple solution based on combining a couple of filters in Nik Color Efex with a monochrome conversion in Silver Efex Pro. It’s quick to do and is quite effective.

[If your reading this as an email you won’t see the video. Please visit the YouTube channel link below to view.]

If you like the video why not subscribe to my You Tube channel and be sure not to miss future videos. Use the link below to access the channel then click the subscribe button in the top right.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYMWL3WXU9QMeOUhD3lOpEw