Tag Archives: Landscape Photography

Free Soft Proofing Article

The vivid colours of Artists Palette in Death Valley in the late evening sun. If you want to reproduce colours like these in print you will need to do some soft profile to ensure the image looks right. If you don't, it's going to be very hit and miss.
The vivid colours of Artists Palette in Death Valley in the late evening sun. If you want to reproduce colours like these in print you will need to do some soft profile to ensure the image looks right. If you don’t, it’s going to be very hit and miss.

I have just finished and uploaded an article on how to use the Soft Proofing features in Lightroom 4. You can download the article for free from my Lenscraft website by following this link to the Members Area. You will need to log in as a member to gain access but membership is free and you gain access to a lot of other articles and free information. Alternatively you could just wait until the article is publish on ePHOTOzine in the next few weeks.

Enjoy

Free Lightroom Printing Article

Natural colours like these need special attention when printing. I have found Lightroom to be a particularly good solution.
Natural colours such as these found in the Artist Palette in Death Valley need special attention when printing. I have found Lightroom to be a particularly good solution. Click the image to see a larger version.

Last week was a big week for me. After 5 years of painfully slow service I decided to replace my PC. The PC in question is an old quad core HP with 1TB storage across 2 hard drives running Vista 64bit and 4GB of memory. It was state of the art 5 years ago but is now painfully slow. To give you some idea it takes 40 minutes to start up. My new PC starts in under 30 seconds running Windows 8. I also want to say that I now hate Microsoft with a vengeance for what they have done to the Windows operating system and the amount of time I am now wasting trying to find my way around.

Anyway, the point of this blog post is that it took me most of last week to migrate my computer data and install all my software to the new system. In all this activity I forgot to post that I had just added a new comprehensive article to the Members area of my Lenscraft website covering Printing in Lightroom. So if you are a Lightroom user you can download it for free by following this link – you do need to be signed in as a member but joining is also free.

Alternatively you can wait for it to be published on ePHOTOzine some time in the next few weeks.

Lightweight Panoramic Photography

Death Valley panoramic created from 4 Panasonic GX1 images stiched together in Hugin.
Death Valley panoramic created from 4 Panasonic GX1 images stiched together in Hugin.

I am and always have been a fan of panoramic photography. I’m not sure why but the format (usually somewhere between 2:1 and 3:1 ratio) really appeals to me and makes sense as the way I see the world. Unfortunately, to create good panoramic images you need additional equipment beyond just the digital camera and this tends to go against my lightweight ethos.

Typically to make a good panoramic I need a tripod, panoramic head and stitching software. Unless you are prepared to spend tens of thousands of pounds (or dollars) on a digital panoramic camera, panoramic images need to be shot as a sequence of overlapping images which are then stitched together in specialist software.

I should at this point mention that I am a real stickler for quality so if any aspect of my images is lacking (in my mind) I will not be satisfied with the finished panoramic. This means that I don’t like to handhold my camera when shooting image sequences and always try to mount my camera on a tripod. I would also like to use a panoramic head to avoid problems of parallax error where objects in the various images don’t align correctly, as the stitching software will either distort the images to make them align or leave “ghosting” traces of objects. I do have a panoramic head for my tripod but it’s so heavy and bulky that I seldom take it with me.

This combination of problems means that I need to rely on stitching software to do a good job of aligning and merging images. Until now I had been using either Photoshop or Panorama Factory to complete my stitching. Photoshop seems to do a reasonable job but feels a little clunky and doesn’t give me the fine tuning/image optimisation that I want. It also has a habit of distorting images when I don’t want it to and not aligning all the objects along a stitching seam correctly. It’s usually close but not quite good enough.

As I have never really felt completely satisfied I tried out and invested in Panorama factory. This does a nice job of aligning the elements of the image as well as offering lots of power, but really does need a panoramic head to work properly. It often leaves some areas which are not quite sharp e.g. where fine details such as grass didn’t align exactly between images. My solution to date has been to output the panoramic image as a layered Photoshop file. This allowed me to fine tune the blending to remove blurred areas by adjusting the masks in the layered file. This is time consuming and quite complex even when you know exactly what you are doing with Photoshop masks.

If I am totally honest with myself I shouldn’t have invested in Panorama Factory if I wasn’t prepared to use a panoramic head but I was swayed by the cost. You see, when I did my testing a few years back PTGui was really the best option given how I wanted to shoot but I was put off by the cost. PTGui is only a graphical front end for Panorama Tools (which is a freeware package) and I just wasn’t prepared to pay a hefty license fee for something built around the genius of another’s work. This was the wrong decision and I think I should have purchased PTGui.

As I have now decided to make panoramic work a major feature of my photography I have recently downloaded the trial version of PTGui and PTGui Pro once more. I have to admit that I am very happy with the ease of using the software which can be highly automated saving me time and effort. This sits well with my lightweight philosophy. The only problem; I am still reluctant to pay the license cost as I would need the Pro license.

That’s when I came across Hugin which is also a graphical front end for PTGui. It feels remarkably similar to PTGui in terms of operation and it appears to be just as capable with very similar features to the Pro version of PTGui. The image above was created from 4 images captured on a Panasonic GX1 which was tripod mounted. I tried the stitching in Photoshop and Panorama Tools but I could see problems. PTGui did a great job but so did Hugin with an almost identical result even down to how it determined the stitching – not surprising given they both have the same stitching engine.

Now you might be thinking that I am about to repeat my past mistake of not paying for the best tool because of the cost. I don’t however know at this stage which is the best tool. And, Hugin is freeware so there is no cost other than in my time to learn and experiment with the package. I might still decide to invest in PTGui but so far Hugin is doing a great job and meeting all my requirements. If you are interested in shooting and stitching panoramic I think this is a great package that’s well worth investigating and it’s free.

The best thing to have with you in a Desert

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Shot on a Sony RX100 using a limited depth of field. Post processing in Nik Viveza.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Shot on a Sony RX100 using a limited depth of field. Post processing in Nik Viveza.

Stop for a moment and think about the answer to the following question. What is the single best thing to have with you in a desert?

The answer is a Sony RX100.

If there is one subject matter I really love to photograph its sand and where else do you find lots of sand but in the Desert. On my recent visit to Death Valley I therefore headed straight for Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes near to Stovepipe Wells. I have seen many images of the area and whilst they all look a little clichéd, I love them.

The temperature in the dunes was only in the 90’s but having left behind freezing conditions only a couple of days earlier it was a little demanding. This was further amplified by the direct sunshine and the clear sky. This made me happy that the camera I was carrying was the Sony RX100 which is very light and fitted easily in my pocket.

I quickly found that having a small compact camera allowed me to explore different angles and compositions very easily as well as get in very close to the sand. Getting low and close also compensated to some degree for the limited wide angle of 28mm on the Sony. Looking around I could see many of the DSLR users shooting from the usual height whilst stood up. Most looked particularly uncomfortable carrying large camera bags.

The other advantage of the RX100 over my GX1 as I found out later is that the GX1 has dust on the sensor. This is a problem in dusty desert conditions but a well sealed compact camera unit doesn’t succumb to the problem.

And if you do get lost in the Dessert, the battery in the RX100 seems to last all day so you can keep yourself amused whilst waiting to be rescued.

Captured on a Sony RX100. This strange landscape is caused when pools of water in the sand dunes dry out. I like to call it desert paving and its rock solid. Post processing in Nik Silver Efex.
Captured on a Sony RX100. This strange landscape is caused when pools of water in the sand dunes dry out. I like to call it desert paving and its rock solid. Post processing in Nik Silver Efex.

Back to Blogging with Zabriskie Badlands

Sunset at the Zabriskie Point Badlands. Captured on a GX1 with 14-45mm lens and post processed using Nik Viveza
Sunset at the Zabriskie Point Badlands. Captured on a GX1 with 14-45mm lens and post processed using Nik Viveza

I’m now back from a trip to the US and thought I would restart blogging with some images from the trip.

The first area I visited was Death Valley and the photograph shown above was taken at Zabriskie Point in the valley. It’s a bit of an odd place to visit in terms of Landscape Photography as the clear sky tends to limit when and how you shoot. My own preferrence when shooting landscapes at sunset is to have plenty of broken cloud which will colour up with the low sun. Here however the sky is clear much of the time so you don’t get the colourful sky. You can however achieve rather dramatic side lighting as shown on the hills here. In case you are wondering, these hills are just mud and gravel but they are rock solid and painful if you happen to slip on them.

The image was captured using my Panasonic GX1 and 14-45mm lens which was tripod mounted. There was plenty of light around so it wasn’t necessary to tripod mount the camera but I didn’t want to take any chances. I also think tripod mounting works well in any light and ensures very sharp images.

More photographs will follow once I have had the opportunity to download and sort them.

The Black art of Colour Management

Sunset images can be particularly challenging to edit and print if you don't have a colour calibrated workflow. Captured on a GX1 and edited with Nik Viveza.
Sunset images can be particularly challenging to edit and print if you don’t have a colour calibrated workflow. Captured on a GX1 and edited with Nik Viveza.

In my last post I discussed some of the choices we photographers now have in choosing paper surfaces for printing. Someone raised a question that I responded to about how to get the colours accurate but I think this subject deserves a more in depth answer; so here is a little more on the subject.

The secret to getting prints to look the way you want them to is all wrapped up in Colour Management. This can be a very simple process but it can quickly become a wide discussion with lots to confuse. I will try to keep this simple and discuss two areas of colour management that are essential to achieving accurate colour (and for that matter black and white) prints. These are:

  1. Screen calibration
  2. Printer calibration

It’s necessary to have an accurately calibrated screen so that you have confidence the colour you see on screen is the colour of the image. This is really vital because you could make your image look great on screen only to find you have compensated for all kinds of colour shifts and contrast problems with your monitor.

There are software solutions that allow you to calibrate your screen visually but these will never be as accurate as a hardware solution that measures the colours on screen, creating a specific profile for your monitor. There are a number of solutions available that will quickly allow you to generate a bespoke profile for your monitor and I suggest you invest in one of these. Its money well spent. Which model you invest in will depend on your budget and the approach you intend to adopt for printing.

When printing, it’s necessary to have your printer calibrated to the specific ink and paper. This allows you to ensure colours and tones are accurately reproduced for a given paper. There are three options here:

  1. Download and install the ICC colour profile for your printer and the paper you will be using. This is good but not as good as having a custom profile created for your printer.
  2. Have a custom profile created using a profiling service. This involves printing out a target image which is then measured to generate a profile. You can then install and use the profile for printing. There are a number of such services advertised in the back of photography magazines. Alternatively if you purchase Permajet or Fotospeed papers, they offer this service for free.
  3. Invest in a hardware solution that allows you to generate your own profile. This is good if you have a lot of profiles you want to create or switch papers often. This is the option I have chosen and have purchased a ColorMunki Photo tool. This allows me to calibrate both my screen and printer. So far the results have been exceptional.

Even if you intend to send your prints away to a printer, it’s still necessary to calibrate your monitor.

When it comes to printing, the printer and paper combination you have selected may not be able to represent accurately the range of colours and tones you see in your image. To compensate for this the printer will adjust the colours so that they fit within the Gamut that the printer can handle. This can affect how some colours appear as well as the contrast level in the image.

The solution to this problem is to use soft proofing for your images. Photoshop, Lightroom 4 and other packages will support soft proofing. This involves selecting the profile you are going to use to print your image and then the software tries to represent the image on the screen as it will ultimately appear on paper. There are lots of solutions here so your best option is to look up how to perform soft proofing for your chosen package. I would even recommend you soft proof your image when sending them off to a third party printer.

So, in summary:

  1. Profile your monitor and set it to use the customer ICC profile (most calibration units do this step automatically for you).
  2. Print using a profile generated specifically for your printer and paper combination. You should then use this profile when printing so you will need to print from an ICC aware application such as Photoshop or Lightroom. I use a package called QImage for reasons I won’t go into here other than to say it makes the job easy.
  3. Check your image using soft proofing before you printing to see if you want to make any further adjustments before you print.

Follow these steps and you will end up with accurate colours and tones in your prints.

Feeling Sorry For Myself

Newlands Horseshoe
Newlands Horseshoe

You may have noticed (I hope you have) that I haven’t posted to the blog this week. That’s because I’m feeling sorry for myself. I shot the picture above at the weekend from the summit of Cat Bells in the Lake District. The mountains ahead are one side of the Newlands Horseshoe which was my target for the day. It’s a wonderful circuit that I have done many times and the recent snow flurries made me all the more excited.

On this occasion it wasn’t to be however as my wife started to feel unwell. Turns out she had the flu which I then caught. I thought I could work through it on Monday but I couldn’t and I have spent the last few days laid up in bed feeling dreadful (I can’t remember ever having felt worse). I will have to cut this post short as I need to get some rest again. I can’t wait to feel better and get out with the camera.