Category Archives: Software

Image Fact Sheet Launched

Captured on an Olympus OMD with 14-45mm Panasonic lens. Converted to Black and White using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2
Captured on an Olympus OMD with 14-45mm Panasonic lens. Converted to Black and White using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2

Something I said that I would do a few weeks back was to explain more about how I created this image, as well as explain some of the creative decisions I made. Well, I have put all the information into a new Image Fact Sheet, which you can download for free from my Lenscraft website. You don’t even need to sign up as a member (although it would be great if you did – membership always has been and will be free).

I hope you find the new fact sheet useful. I plan to publish more of these in the future and will announce them here when I do.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Back to the Future

Captured on an Olypus OMD EM5 with Panasonic 45-200 lens
Captured on an Olypus OMD EM5 with Panasonic 45-200 lens

Back in the 1980’s there was a company in the UK called Athena. They had shops in many high streets and produced what at the time was amazing artwork for people to hang on their wall. I remember as a teenager having two pictures (purchased from Athena) of a Porsche 940 and Lamborghini Countach hung on my bedroom wall.

If you went into any of their branches they would have a huge selection of artwork and cards for sale with some of the most iconic (for the 80’s) images and there was nothing else like it. There was the famous image of the lady tennis player scratching her behind that I’m sure graced the wall of many a student bedsit. There was the image of a woman’s mouth biting a cherry as her lip dripped (not as gruesome as it sounds).

There were also images of spectacular and tranquil landscapes taken from far away exotic places such as Greek beaches and Monument Valley in the US – please remember that I was 21 before I could afford a trip beyond the UK and the world back then was not as small as it is today. I remember looking in awe at these images and wishing for 2 things:

  1. I could visit some of these locations
  2. I could take photographs that were this beautiful and amazing

This second point was rather unusual as at the time I didn’t do photography, although I had always wanted to try. The equipment was however far beyond what I could afford and in any case, everyone I spoke to about my desire told me how difficult it was to use an SLR and that I should forget it. Nothing like giving a kid encouragement.

So, why am I telling you all this?

Well, yesterday I created the image you see above whilst preparing an illustration for a book. Whilst this image is not my usual genera, I do like images of flowers and I quite liked this one having made my adjustments in Photoshop. In fact it looked great on screen and I decided to run off a quick A3 print on gloss paper to see what the printed image would be like. The result I thought was exactly what I wanted to create and perhaps this was a new direction in which to develop my style.

When my wife came into my office. I asked her if she liked the image. She paused and said “yes it’s nice”. Then she paused again and said “but it’s a bit retro”.

“What do you mean” I said, “RETRO?”

Her reason for thinking it was retro was because it “looks just like those images from the 80’s that Athena used to sell”.

I’m now wondering if I have finally achieved something that I have always subconsciously aspired to or if photographic tastes are about to go full circle.

I hope you like the image.

 

Version 2 minus a couple of distracting blobs
Version 2 minus a couple of distracting blobs

New Photoshop Book Launch

Cover of my new Photoshop Book
Cover of my new Photoshop Book

I’m very pleased to announce (and with great relief) that my new Photoshop Book “Essential Photoshop: How to use 9 essential tools and techniques to transform your photography” is now live on Amazon (here is the link to it Amazon.com for US readers). The book is designed to support beginners and those who are not confident users of Photoshop, progress to an Intermediate level as quickly as possible.

This book is a little longer than my usual guides at approximately 200 pages and presents a comprehensive, but easy to understand system for editing photography. It’s extensively illustrated, with numerous worked examples, all of which are supported by a download file from my website (www.lenscraft.co.uk). The download contains all the images for the worked examples, in Photoshop PSD format, with the layers still in place. This allows readers to see the actual edits that were made to the images, in order to produce the screenshots for the book.

The approach outlined in the book can be applied to all versions of Photoshop back to version 6 (or possibly earlier) which was released in the year 2000. It doesn’t however apply to Elements; that’s a future book.

The book is available in Kindle format for just $3.99 (£2.69). Don’t worry if you don’t have a Kindle device as you can download a free Kindle reader application for your PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone or Android device by following this link.

For anyone who is a registered member of my Lenscraft website you will shortly (depending when you are reading this) receive an email detailing how for a limited time, you can download the book for free. If you aren’t already registered, you can still register and receive similar notifications as I launch future books.

Happy editing.

Black & White Converter Update

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.

Some Points I Learned or Relearned

The mast set against a stunning sky.
The mast set against a stunning sky

Today I wanted to share another of my images from my moorland walk at the weekend. This particular image is of the transmitter mast located on top of the moors and is backed by a superb sky. I captured the image on my Olympus OMD EM-5 using an Olympus 9-18mm lens at 18mm. I didn’t use any filters (except for a clear glass lens protector) and the image was converted to black and white using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. In creating this image I learned (or relearned things I had forgotten), a few points that may be interesting to you:

  1. The Olympus OMD has either has no Anti Alias filter or a very weak one (I suspect it’s the latter). As a result the images are incredibly sharp in comparison with my Panasonic GX1.
  2. The Olympus 9-18mm lens is also incredibly sharp, or at least my particular lens is. It appears to be sharper and better at resolving detail than my Panasonic 14-45mm when also used at 18mm.
  3. The OMD isn’t noise free. I have seen lots of claims that it is but don’t believe them. Even at ISO200 (its base ISO) there is noise but it appears to be mainly luminance noise and very high frequency. This means the noise is hard to distinguish and it looks pretty much like extremely fine film grain.
  4. You don’t actually notice the noise in the images until you use something like Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 and its structure slider. When pushed hard this seems to highlight the noise. To be fair to the Olympus it is much better than any of the other cameras I have used, even the 5D. The 5D suffered (perhaps suffered is too strong a term) from Low Frequency noise that could be accentuated by darkening the blue channel during B&W conversion. I prefer the Olympus.
  5. If you are converting your image to B&W pass it through noise reduction software first, even if your think there isn’t noise present. You can achieve great quality with no noticeable noise by doing this. The resulting image will then withstand any enlargement much better.
  6. Nik Sharpener Pro is a super sharpening solution (my favourite had always been Focal Blade). Using the control point tool I was able to target the sharpening on the mast but leave the sky untouched. Trying to do this conventionally using layers and masks would have been very time consuming.
  7. Using Nik Sharpener Pro I was able to target different areas of the sky to avoid sharpening it. I could then also adjust the Local Contrast and Structure sliders to produce a more natural look to the sky.
  8. When I printed this image on an Epson 3880 I set the print driver to use Epson ABW mode. Within this I was able to set the level of “darkness” for the final print. This offers the levels “Dark, Darker and darkest”. In the past I have followed the advice to set the driver to “Darker” but this time I set it to “Dark” and the results are better. If you are using an Epson printer with ABW mode it may be worth experimenting with this. If you use another printer make try experimenting with the driver.

Hope you like the image.

New Nik Silver Efex Book Launched

Cover image for my new Amazon Kindle book
Cover image for my new Amazon Kindle book

I am very pleased to announce that I have just launched my latest book. It’s called how to create “Dramatic Black & White Photography using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2“. It’s priced at just $3.99 or £2.68 and is available from Amazon as a Kindle eBook. Don’t worry if you don’t have a Kindle as Amazon provide free Kindle reader software for the PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone and Android platforms.

If you are not familiar with the Silver Efex Pro software, I have to tell you it’s one of the best Black and White conversion tools on the market today. I won’t say the best as that’s a personal opinion. What I can tell you is that it’s an extremely popular plug-in for editing packages such as Photoshop, Lightroom and Elements, and for very good reasons. It’s a favourite of many professional photographers and will when used correctly produce stunning monochrome conversions from colour images. Unfortunately the software was quite expensive, but all that recently changed when Google purchase Nik software and slashed the price of all the packages.

My new book covers all aspects of the package including both the interface in detail. I explain how the different sliders and tools work and how these can be applied to achieve improved conversions. As will all my books, this one is supported by worked examples, the files for which can be downloaded from the Members Area of my Lenscraft website.

If you use or are thinking of using Nik Silver Efex Pro and want a book to support you, please take a look on Amazon.

Changing My Mind Again

GX1 infrared converted camera with 14-45mm lens. Conversion to Monochrome in Silver Efex Pro with RAW conversion in PhotoNinja.
GX1 infrared converted camera with 14-45mm lens. Conversion to Monochrome in Silver Efex Pro with RAW conversion in PhotoNinja.

I have written in the past about two things that I would like to give an update on. The first is the software I use to perform Infrared RAW file conversion. The other is my impressions of Photo Ninja. As you will see in a moment the two are now linked.

When I first ha my Panasonic GX1 camera converted to shoot Infrared I had thought that I would be able to shoot images in RAW format and process them in Lightroom or Photoshop. I had read that there was a problem in doing this with Canon and Nikon RAW files as Adobe software rendered the image as shades of red with no other colour present. This prevents you from converting the image using “false colour” (do a search on Google for colour Infrared to see some examples). It also seemed to limit the quality of the image conversions as most of the image data was coming from just the red channel.

I wasn’t however worried by this problem as no one was reporting an issue with Panasonic conversions from Infrared RAW files. Unfortunately I can confirm it is a problem and also conclude that there can’t be many people using infrared converted Panasonic M43 cameras. If you want to know what I am talking about, here is an example of the above image in Lightroom 4.

GX1 Infrared RAW file in Lightroom 4
GX1 Infrared RAW file in Lightroom 4

My initial solution to this issue was to use the SilkyPix software that ships with Panasonic cameras that shoot RAW. This gave good results in managing image colour and allowed me to set a true white point so that images didn’t appear red. Once I had upgraded this (I took advantage of a very cheap special offer) the image quality was OK if not a little too smooth for my liking.

More recently I had some very promising infrared images but felt that none of my RAW converters were doing justice to the levels of detail present. I decided to try out the PhotoNinja software again and the results have convinced me to purchase the full version of the software. Yes it’s expensive but the results are visibly better. This is not just with Infrared images but colour also. Take a look at the comparisons below.

Lightroom conversion at 100% with plenty of sharpening adjustment
Lightroom conversion at 100% with plenty of sharpening adjustment
SilkyPix conversion with some sharpening
Silky Pix conversion with some sharpening
PhotoNinja conversion at 100% with some sharpening
PhotoNinja conversion at 100% with some sharpening

These are conversions from Lightroom, Silky Pix and PhotoNinja, all taken from the same RAW file. I should caveat this a little in that I know exactly what I am doing with Lightroom but am pretty much a novice in using SilkyPix and PhotoNinja. It’s therefore likely that better results can be achieved with both of these. It’s the same story in colour also with the PhotoNinja conversions producing more detail, especially if you sharpen them further post conversion.

Lightroom conversion at 100% with sharpening
Lightroom conversion at 100% with sharpening
PhotoNinja conversion at 100% with some sharpening.
PhotoNinja conversion at 100% with some sharpening.

Wondering why there is no SilkyPix comparison? Well it kept crashing when trying to open the files. I suspect there is a compatibility problem with Windows 8 but I need to do a little more digging. You might also notice the much better colour rendering from the PhotoNinja software which is far closer to the scene as this image was shot about 20 minutes before sunset in direct light.

So, if you are looking for a RAW converter to give the highest level of quality (and don’t mind the price) I would certainly take a look at PhotoNinja.