Workflow

Why I use Nik from Photoshop

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Views at Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA
Views at Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA. Four images shot with a Canon 400D, merged in Lightroom and edited in Photoshop using Nik Viveza and Color Efex.

Recently I posted a video on You Tube explaining why I like to use the Nik Plugin’s from Photoshop rather than Lightroom. This came about because in all my Nik videos I start with a RAW file in Lightroom This is then converted to an image that I edit in Photoshop. A couple of people asked why and so I recorded the video for You Tube.

The video has been very well received but given it’s only had a few hundred views. To ensure everyone has access to the information I decided to also post this blog. Whilst I am referring to the Nik Collection in the video, the same argument applies to most filters.

The problem I have when using a plug-in for Lightroom is that you can end up creating lots of new files. This can be hard to manage and quickly becomes messy. If you are working on a RAW file you have no option but to convert the RAW file to an image before editing it with (what Lightroom calls) an external editor. This creates a new file, duplicating the original RAW file with adjustments.

After you have edited your image, you may need to apply a second filter to the image. When this happens, you have the option to work on either another copy of the image file or apply the adjustments to the image you created previously. The first option creates yet more image files. The second provides no “back-out” in case you make a mistake; you would need to start again from the RAW file.

Photoshop is better option as each adjustment filter can be applied as a new layer. The Nik Collection even has a setting you can use to automatically.

Once you are working with layers in Photoshop, other options are available to you:

  1. You can reduce the opacity of the layer if you find the effect you applied is too strong.
  2. You can use layer masks to hide or reveal areas of adjustment in the image. For example, you might like the sky in the adjusted image but not the rest. You could use a layer mask to hide the adjustment but then paint back the adjusted sky. You can even create quite complex masks using luminosity and channel mask techniques.
  3. Perhaps the biggest advantage is that you can convert layers in Photoshop to Smart Objects. When you apply a Nik filter to a Smart Object, all the settings you apply in Nik are saved, including control points. This means when you save your finished image as a PSD file, you can open and adjust the settings in your Nik filter, even moving control points.

If some of this doesn’t make sense, watch the video below. If you want to know more about the Nik workflow, look at my book “Nik Efex from Start to Finish”.

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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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Shooting Autumn in the Lakes Part 2

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Clappersgate Bridge, The Lake District. Fuji XT2 + 10-24mm lens.
Clappersgate Bridge, The Lake District. Fuji XT2 + 10-24mm lens.

I have posted a follow up on You Tube to my “In the field” video. This time I’m shooting Clappersgate Bridge in the Lake District. This is a classic view and especially so in the Autumn when the trees are golden as you can see above. I then go on to show the processing you can use to enhance similar autumnal scenes.

I hope you enjoy the video and find it helpful.

[If you are reading this in an email you won’t be able to see the video. Click the following link to watch the video on You Tube]

Shooting Autumn in the Lakes

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Captured using a Fuji X-T2. Processing using Lightroom and Viveza. Watch the whole thing on You Tube.
Captured using a Fuji X-T2. Processing using Lightroom and Viveza. Watch the whole thing on You Tube.

In case you haven’t yet seen, I have uploaded my latest video to You Tube. This shows an element of the location where I was shooting, including the location details (I am listening). This is then followed by how I processed the image using Lightroom and Viveza.

The feedback on You Tube seems quite positive so far. Do let me know if you like this style as I will create a few more.

If you are reading this as an email, the video won’t display. Please visit the blog post or my You Tube channel to view the video.

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Best Micro 43 Lenses for Landscape Photography

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Olympus EM5 with Panasonic 45-150mm lens. Want to know more about how this image was shot and edited? Check the video at the end of the blog.
Olympus EM5 with Panasonic 45-150mm lens. Want to know more about how this image was shot and edited? Check the video at the end of the blog.

Over the past week I have received at least four emails asking what Micro 43 lenses I would recommend for Landscape Photography. I can also see quite a few people reading a related post I created back in 2012. Given my advice has changed since I wrote the original post, I thought it was time to revisit the subject. If you would like to know more about the image above, check out the video at the end of this blog post.

Before I share my own recommendations, I believe there are a few points that need to be taken into consideration. These are:

  • Camera Ergonomics
  • Flexibility
  • Shooting Style
  • Budget
  • Quality
  • Features

You should consider these points carefully in order to come to your own conclusions. These points will also help you to understand my answers.

Camera ergonomics

Micro 43 is an extremely flexible format with a large range of available lenses. Unfortunately, not every micro 43 lens will suit every camera in the micro 43 range. The lenses may fit the camera and operate correctly, but are the two well matched. For example, the Olympus 12-40mm may feel great when used on the Olympus EM1. But place the same lens on the tiny Panasonic GM1 and it would feel completely out of place. If the lens makes your camera difficult to work with, it doesn’t matter how good a landscape lens it is.

Flexibility & Shooting Style

It’s a little difficult to cleanly separate these two areas so let’s cover them together.

Consider if you would prefer to work with prime lenses or zoom lenses. My own preference is for zoom lenses as sometimes you can’t get into position with a prime lens. I would much rather have the flexibility of using zoom lenses.

Consider the focal ranges you want to cover with your lenses. My kit covers 9mm to 150mm (or 18mm to 300mm in full frame equivalent). Would this suit your needs for Landscape? Do you need greater coverage of focal lengths or is such a large range unnecessary?

How will you carry your equipment? I use a small shoulder bag in which I carry the camera and main lens as well as two additional lenses.

Budget

The price of some lenses may be restrictive, especially if you are purchasing them new. Some lenses are quite difficult to obtain second hand so you might not have any option but to purchase them new.

Quality

Lens quality is of paramount importance to me. I want to render images that are superbly sharp and which contain lots of detail. This might not suit our style of photography or you might place other features ahead of image quality. A further example of this is lens distortion (Barrel and Pincushion). Although I say lens quality is paramount, I don’t really mind some level of distortion. If this becomes too obvious, it can usually be corrected by software during post processing.

Features

Are there any features that you need in a lens? For example, you may require the lens to be water resistant. One feature that I find important is the ability to mount filters to the front of the lens. Personally, in common with many landscape photographers, like to mount graduated ND filters on my lenses to help control exposure. Some ultra-wide angle lenses such as the Panasonic 7-14mm won’t accept such filters. The 7-14mm lens is a super performer but the frustration it caused me when trying to use filters resulted in me selling the lens.

Do you need image stabilisation in your lenses? I shoot with an Olympus EM5 which has in camera stabilisation so having a stabilised lens is not important to me. If your shooting with a Panasonic Micro 43 camera, this might not be the case. Equally, if you work exclusively on a tripod, you won’t need this feature.

How about having a constant fast aperture or close focus range? You need to think about these.

My Recommendation

Based on everything I have said, my current recommendation for the best Micro 43 lenses for landscape photography are:

  • Olympus 9-18mm
  • Olympus 12-40mm
  • Panasonic 45-150mm

These lenses are in my core kit and the ones that I take with me when travelling. All of these perform excellently, producing very sharp images and resolving fine detail. Of the three, only the 12-40mm is large. The other two are tiny for their focal range. I am prepared to accept the additional size and weight given the lens is weather sealed and has amazing optics. It also has a very close focus distance even at the 40mm end which makes it a pseudo macro lens if I don’t have room for one. In fact, the 12-40mm is such a great lens for my style of photography, it remains on the camera probably 90% of the time.

In the past I have worked with a Panasonic 14-45mm kit lens from a GF1. These are excellent lenses and available at a good price second hand. This is a good option if you don’t want the size, weight or cost of the 12-40mm lens. It’s sharp and versatile but lacks a little on the wide end of the focal range (for my preference).

If your confused by the multitude of lenses available in the Micro 43 range, consider the areas mentioned carefully before committing to a purchase. Whilst my lens choice is perfect for my needs, they may not be suitable for you.

If you like this video be sure to subscribe to my You Tube channel.

Robin Whalley You Tube Channel

Further Fuji Thoughts

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rwhalley_xt1_2016_09_10_dsf3221
Fuji XT1 + 16-55 f/2.8 lens.

At the weekend I managed to take the Fuji XT1 out for a full day’s photography. In short, I loved using it but there was a nagging concern throughout that my images were being affected by the possible water colour effect. Am I right to be worried or am I imagining problems where there aren’t any?

Here’s an update following the day:

Initially I purchased two lenses, a 10-24mm and 18-135mm. The 18-135mm was always going to be a bit of a compromise in terms of image quality but I reasoned that the trade-off between optical performance and the convenience of using one lens was acceptable. In the end, a lot of the images I found unacceptable were shot with this lens so it went back.

A lot of the “image failures” I have found relate to loss of fine detail in rocks and foliage, particularly in the mid distance (20m-100m). The Lightroom and Photoshop RAW converters do seem to exaggerate this effect but I suspect quite a lot of the problem relates to the lens:

  • I may have bought a bad copy of the 18-135mm as a lot of people love this lens and swear by it.
  • It could be diffraction was setting in earlier than I would expect from a quality lens and this could then be exaggerated by the RAW conversion.
  • It could be (very fine) camera shake from using the lens at longer apertures although the IS should deal with that. I also saw this with the camera on a tripod so I don’t believe it’s the issue.

Whatever the cause, the lens has been exchanged for a 16-55 and 55-200 which appear to produce good image quality more consistently. Whilst I can still detect a problem with Lightroom RAW conversion using images shot with these lenses, it’s now much less of a problem and the images are acceptable. Both of the lenses are good performers and the 16-55 is outstanding. Although it doesn’t have IS, the optics are excellent and the focal range is perfect (for me).

The use of these lenses has though helped me refine my thinking further.

Lightroom and Photoshop do still produce a watercolour effect as well as some other “problems” that I don’t like. This may not be as bad as it once was but I can still see it in Landscape images, especially where there is fine detailed foliage in the distance. I often see a false pattern effect in the foliage of distant trees and it doesn’t look natural to me.

Click the image to zoom in. Tree foliage takes on an odd look.
Click the image to zoom in. Tree foliage takes on an odd look.

Fine detail in RAW files converted with Adobe also seems to become “blocky” when sharpened which may cause some of the fine detail to become lost.

Click image to zoom in - Grass has a blocky appearance rather than showing fine detail.
Click image to zoom in – Grass has a blocky appearance rather than showing fine detail.

If I use Lightroom for RAW conversion, I now prefer a sharpening Radius of 0.7 or less. I then set the Detail slider to around 85 before adjusting the Strength setting. This usually requires a Strength setting of at least 30-45 but sometimes more. I also leave the threshold at 0 as increasing it also seems to cause the blocky effect I mention. Colour and Luminance noise reduction are both set to 0 and only introduced gradually where problems are found.

Grass is more natural with the finer settings
Grass is more natural with the finer settings (click to zoom or you can’t see the difference)

 

Trees are also more natural
Trees are also more natural (click to zoom or you cant see the difference)

Please keep in mind these are RAW conversion/capture settings only. Once the image has been further processed additional sharpening is applied and the image seems to respond well to the additional sharpening. Images which have the “blocky” effect I mention don’t appear to respond well to additional post conversion sharpening. You may think I’m being picky and it is hard to see from screen grabs, but it does make a difference to the image.

There are definitely better RAW converters than Lightroom and Photoshop for Fuji RAW files. The three best RAW converters that I have found in terms of being able to render fine detail are:

  1. Iridient (Mac only – I have now purchased this)
  2. RAW Therapee (Free but complicated)
  3. PhotoNinja (quite expensive)

All three seem to do a much better job than the Adobe RAW converters and having tried these on a large range of Landscape images they all do a great job. I can’t though decide which is best – it’s probably Iridient.

Incidentally, the size and resolution of your screen definitely plays a part in whether you see an issue with the conversions or not. I have now tested the RAW conversions using a MacBook Pro, iMac 27” 5K retina display and a PC with a 24” screen at 1920 x 1080 pixels. The two Apple machines don’t display any problem when using the Adobe RAW converters but when the converted image is moved to the PC (with the lower resolution screen) the problems can be clearly seen. The images also tend to have been over sharpened for the PC dislay.

When shooting with the Fuji I have noticed a couple of other problems that may be relevant to the question of image quality:

  1. I was trying some long exposure shots with the 55-200 lens. The exposure was around 10” using a 10 stop ND filter and the camera was having difficulty focussing automatically. I switched to manual focus using a combination of focus peaking and focus assist and found I needed to focus at infinity. When I reviewed the results though I found they were out of focus even though I was certain I focussed correctly. At first I thought the problem was camera shake but I repeated the exercise a number of times. Each time I found I needed to reset the focus to infinity between shots suggesting the focus is shifting. When I switched to autofocus and managed to pick up a point in the far distance to focus on. The result was a sharp image. I’m not sure what quite is happening here but I was able to repeat the problem.
  2. After shooting with the very forgiving micro 43 format I may be focussing too near to the camera. This is limiting my depth of field and may be seen in some images as a lack of fine detail in the mid distance (but not exactly image blur). If you then combine this with the “painterly effect” of the Adobe RAW converter, the effect is further exaggerated.

In summary, I am now achieving much better results and love using the camera and lenses. I am even considering stepping up to the XT2 in the future, which was my original plan before encountering this problem.

My tips for Fuji users who suffer from the painterly effect are to try the following:

  1. Pay close attention to lens quality and be honest. Do you see the effect on all images or is it at certain focal lengths and or apertures?
  2. Try a different RAW converter (any of the three I mention seem to minimise the issue).
  3. Be sure to use a fast shutter speed (probably twice as fast as you might otherwise) or tripod mount the camera.
  4. Ensure you select a good point of focus and aperture to maximise depth of field.
  5. Try shooting the same image at various apertures to check where diffraction kicks in and if this causes the water colour effect.

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Sharpening RAW files from Small Sensor Cameras

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France, somewhere near Nontes. Sony RX10, ISO125, f/5.0, 1/250"
France, somewhere near Nontes. Sony RX10, ISO125, f/5.0, 1/250″

If you shoot with a small sensor camera and use Lightroom for RAW conversion, then it’s a good idea to take care when sharpening. Noise can be a particular problem when at low ISO settings but there are steps you can take. This video demonstrates how to avoid the ugly sharpening artefacts that can result and which tend to become exaggerated in later processing.

I hope you find this useful.