I have been experimenting with DxO Photolab again. I really like the software but before I can commit to buying it, I need it to support the Fuji XTrans RAW file format. If I can’t process the Fuji X-T2 files, it’s only going to work for a fraction of the images I shoot.
Then I had an idea. What if I convert the RAW file to DNG first using Iridient XTransformer. I felt sure I had used a much earlier version of DxO to process RAW files.
Unfortunately, my excitement was short lived. DxO Photolabs couldn’t read the file.
So instead of writing about a great work around, I’m going to share an image shot with the Fuji X-T2 and converted in Lightroom. This has then had a little post processing with On1 Photo Effects to emphasise the shadows. The stars around the lights were enhanced very slightly using Topaz Star Effects.
A few blog readers appear to like my recent Trinnacle Rock image, so I decided to publish a video on You Tube demonstrating the editing. But rather than just concentrate on the editing, I have tried to share my thought process around the editing. This explains the how and why of my processing decisions.
Google recently announced that there would be no further updates to the Nik Collection. This is a real shame. These tools are excellent and I personally don’t want to see them fall behind, ultimately becoming incompatible with new operating systems.
I doubt this will change Googles mind but Sascha Rheker has started a petition to Save the Nik Collection. If you have a minute please register your support.
I was recently asked to do a product review for Sleeklens. If you’re not familiar with Sleeklens, they produce a range of photography books as well as tools for Photoshop and Lightroom. In this instance, I was asked to review their Lightroom presets for Landscape Photographers. Their presets are also described as “workflows” for reasons that will become apparent. In addition to various products they have a comprehensive set of tutorials on their website (https://sleeklens.com/lightroom-tutorials/) which is well worth a visit. For those of you who prefer social media have a look at their Pinterest posts (https://uk.pinterest.com/sleeklens/lightroom-presets/).
Ordinarily, this isn’t something I would do; after all I have my own range of Lightroom presets. Despite this, after looking at the excellent customer reviews on their website and interacting with their team, I became interested in trying their products. I also think many of you reading this might also be interested. I’m therefore going to give you as honest and impartial a view as possible.
The workflow I have available to review is called “Through the Woods”. It provides “80 presets and 42 brushes for landscape editing” for Lightroom. My intention is to put these to work on two of my images that are difficult to process images, to evaluate their effectiveness.
Moving onto the installation guides, there were two. One covering the installation of the Presets and the other the Brushes. I started with the Preset installation guide which when opened provides a link to YouTube together with details of the Sleeklens Facebook page. I watched the Sleeklens You Tube video and this clearly explains one of the ways to install Lightroom Presets.
One minor point is that if you don’t understand the difference between a brush file and a preset file, you might try to import both to Lightroom. Doing this won’t cause any problems but it will give a warning message which less experienced users might worry about. It would be helpful if the video made the distinction clearer.
On completion, I could see the Sleeklens presets grouped on the left of the Develop interface, as indicated in the screenshot below.
Next, I turned to installing the Lightroom Brushes. This time the PDF described the process, step by step for both Windows and Mac. But there wasn’t a video Personally, I would like to see a You Tube video as was provided for the Presets. Despite this the PDF document was clear and allowed me to install the brushes without problem.
Using the Presets
With the presets imported to the Develop module I started to experiment with the first sample image, which can be seen in the previous screenshot. Examining the presets, I could see that Sleeklens has adopted an interesting approach (and one I use with my own presets). Two approaches can be used when applying presets in Lightroom:
When you apply a ready-made preset you click the preset and all the adjustments are applied to the image. This is the most common approach taken by many preset providers. It’s quick and easy to do but it can become confusing if you want to then switch to using another preset. Most people forget to reset the image when changing to another preset. This causes each new preset to change some but not all the previous settings. Ultimately you can find yourself wondering how you achieved a certain look and being unable to repeat it
Alternatively you can build up your own preset by layering several presets together. To do this, the presets need to be designed to allow the user to work through categories in order. Each category will build on the previous until you have built up the finished look, hence the term workflow. This is very flexible and gives the user many more variations they can achieve. The downside is that it takes more time.
I’m very pleased to say that Sleeklens has included presets using both approaches in the Workflow set. You receive a range of “single click” presets as well as the presets in the workflow named so they arranged into the different categories.
I started by testing the single click presets with my test image. Not all the presets looked good but there were some interesting effects covering a range of looks. In the following screenshot, you can see the original test image on the left and the resulting image on the right for the preset I liked most.
Personally, I feel the preset has made a good job of adjusting the image and I like the result. This is pretty much how I would have adjusted the image had I been applying changes manually. Next I decided to build a new preset from the workflows.
Building a Preset
Next, I decided to switch images and to build up my own preset using the workflow presets. Whilst it takes a few more clicks, it does give much greater flexibility. The Sleeklens approach of offering both styles of preset in the same package is to be commended.
In the following screenshot, you can see my starting image prior to any adjustments. This is a RAW file, taken straight out of camera.
The image was captured using a Nikon D800 and a 0.6 (2 stop) ND grad filter was used to control the exposure of the sky. As you can see, this is a rather drab scene with rocks and seaweed that are too dark, whilst the sea is a little under exposed despite my using the graduated filter. The colour has also been largely removed by the cameras auto white balance setting but this has produce a blue colour cast where the scene was a warmer sunset.
When you start to use the Sleeklens presets you will notice they are organised into categories. This is achieved by prefixing the preset name with a number for example, all the presents in the base adjustment are prefixed by “1-Base”. This allows you to select one of the presets from each of the categories to build up your complete workflow. For this example, I selected the base preset “Extend Dynamic Range”. This offers an immediate improvement as you can see below, although the highlights in the scene are now a little too bright.
To correct the highlights, I use the next category (2-Exposure). Here I select the “Less Highlights” preset which also works very well as you can see below.
Next in the list of categories in the list is Colour Correction. Here I want to tackle the blue colour cast which is starting to appear a little Cyan. To adjust this, I decide to try the “Reduce Blue” preset.
This is an improvement and I’m now feeling a little happier with the tones and colour balance. Despite this I’m still a little worried about the colour balance not being warm enough. The reason for my uncertainty is that the colours in the image are quite weak. To address this, I decide to use the next category (Tone/Tint) and select the “Color Pop” preset.
Having done this I can see clearly that the image is still looking a little too blue. I decide to try a second preset from the same category which is “Warm it up”. The image is now looking much better but I must admit that I didn’t expect this.
The reason I hadn’t expected the second preset to work well is that I expected presets from the same category to replace each other rather than build on each other. My expectation was for the “Color Popp” effect to be removed and replaced with “Warm it up”. In this instance, its worked well but that might not always be the case so this is worth watching out for.
Finally, I decide to use the “Add Clarity” preset from the Polish category to finish off.
I did consider using one of the Vignette presets as I’m a big fan of this technique. The reason I decided not to, was I didn’t find one I thought was suitable. I also feel a few more vignette options would benefit the collection. In the end, I added my own vignette effect manually.
At this point, I was relatively happy with the effect I had built up and so saved it as a new “All in One” preset for future use.
With all the global adjustments applied, it’s time to work selectively on the image, which is where the Brushes come in. The term Brushes may be a little misleading as these aren’t just used with the Brush tool, but any of the selective adjustments (Gradient, Brush and Radial filters). They work just like presets but apply to the sliders that are revealed when you select one of the tools. The plan is to use these to warm up the sky and then open-up the dark foreground rocks.
For these adjustments, I will use the Gradient tool selecting one of the Brushes from the collection. The first one I use is “Color Warmer” which I apply to the sky. Notice how the colour of the sky has improved but remains quite natural.
Next, I create a second Gradient selection but this time for the foreground. Having made the selection, I try different brush presets, deciding the “Brighten Shadows” is best to lighten the foreground rocks without affecting the surf on the water.
The image is looking more as I now imagined it to but I want to emphasise the movement in the water. To do this I use the Radial filter to select the centre of the image. I then apply the “Basic – Contrast & Clarity” Brush. You will notice that in the next screenshot the surf and waves are much better defined.
Finally, I make some selective adjustments using the Brush tool and the “Warmer” Brush adjustment. You can see the finished image below.
And here’s the image again as a side by side comparison with the starting position.
I’m sure you will agree this is an improvement on the starting position.
Are there any Downsides
I did find a couple of limitations whilst using the presets. The first is that some of the settings are being carried between the different brushes and presets where I didn’t expect them to be. It’s possible to select some of the coloured brushes and then have the colour carried over to another that doesn’t have a colour setting. This is possibly the most problematic issue but it doesn’t prevent the presets from working well and its even something you might want to happen. The only other niggle I have is that I would like some additional presets and brushes. At times, it felt as though there were a couple of tools missing. But then again, I’m quite fussy. To their credit, I have been in touch with Sleeklens to pass on this feedback which they appeared to be grateful for. They are a company which appears keen to improve their products.
This is a nice set of presets with a lot to commend them. I enjoyed using the settings and brushes. I’m particularly impressed that they have taken the layered or workflow approach, allowing you to build up new presets (which you can then save). I have certainly seen more limited presets sold for a lot more money. If you like your Lightroom presets this company is worth checking out.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.