image adjustment

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.

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

Nik Silver Efex Video

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Yesterday I published a new video on my You Tube Channel

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

This is one is another of those videos focussing on the overlooked adjustments. People often overlook some of the most powerful adjustments in favour of the most obvious. If you want to create some black and white conversions reminiscent of film, watch this short video.

I hope you enjoy.

Friday Image No. 110

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Cornish sunset. Olympus EM5 processed using Nik Viveza.
Cornish sunset. Olympus EM5 processed using Nik Viveza.

This isn’t a deliberate ploy to post the same image as last week. This image was taken at the same time as last week’s Friday image but the lighting is stronger. The reason it looks stronger is that the image is processed using Nik Viveza. When I did this, I employed a few adjustment tricks that people might not realise to try. I decided to share these “Secrets of Viveza” using a video which is posted on my you tube channel. I also embedded the clip below.

I hope you find it useful and have a great weekend.

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New XP-Pen

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Tree in Padley Gorge, Peak District. Fuji XT1 + 10-24 lens.
Tree in Padley Gorge, Peak District. Fuji XT1 + 10-24 lens.

As some of you reading this may know, I have recently switched from a PC to a Mac for Photography. Initially it was a move from a laptop to a MacBook. Next came the move from my desktop PC to an iMac. This last move is probably longer term as I need to retain a Windows PC for businesses reasons.

Having paid a not insignificant sum for the iMac I decided it was time to get serious about my image editing. For years I have used a mouse for most editing tasks but at one time I did buy a cheap Wacom graphics tablet. In reality, the tablet was too small, I didn’t enjoy using it and then I broke it. But now the time is right to grasp the nettle and invest in a larger tablet.

What I really want is a larger graphics tablet that would provide me greater control over detailed work. At the same time this tablet needed to fit on an already overcrowded desk without getting in the way. Something around A4 size would probably be ideal. The tablet also needed to have a number of buttons (virtual or physical) which I could program with useful commands. My other requirements include:

  • A nice surface to move the pen nib across.
  • Functional buttons on the pen/stylus.
  • The pen needed to be of a reasonable size and weight to make drawing comfortable.
  • At least 2000 pressure levels allowing the pressure applied to the pen to be interpreted by my software.
  • A resolution of at least 5000lpi.

I started my search with the Wacom tablets as they are a recognised industry leader with a quality product. Their tablets clearly meet my needs but I needed to pay quite a bit, typically in excess of £200. Bearing in mind my earlier experience I couldn’t quite bring myself to pay this.

I decided to search Amazon which revealed a lot of graphics tablets for less than £100. The one that I really liked was the XP-Pen Star03. It met all of my requirements and was only around £50.

View on Amazon

The XP-Pen Star 3 graphics tablet
The XP-Pen Star 3 graphics tablet

I have to admit to being rather dubious of this low price but in the end thought it was worth the risk. Having now used the tablet for around a month, I like it – a lot. It’s useful for applying more artistic editing to images. Do I use it all the time? No.

Where a graphics tablet like this comes into its own is when you to brush in or out adjustments and this depends on the software you use. The Nik filters for example provide excellent Control Point technology so tend not to need a graphics tablet. In contrast, if you work a lot with Photoshop Layers or products such as On 1 Enhance, the graphics tablet brings real benefits.

If you find yourself looking for a graphics tablet to try, I would definitely take a look at the XP- Pen. It works with both Mac and Windows PC’s.

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Resizing Images in Lightroom

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I recently received an email asking if it was possible to resize (increase) an image in Lightroom. I have heard this asked a few times so rather than reply with an email trying to describe the process I thought I would post this short video.

I hope a few of you find it useful.