I am always on the hunt for new ways to do things that can improve my photography. You only need to achieve a few small quality improvements and it can quickly add up to dramatic improvements in your work. One area that I had been exploring was RAW converters and some of you might have seen an earlier post I made about Photo Ninja which looked very promising but was quite expensive. My decision was therefore to stick with Lightroom which performs well.
More recently with my new found passion for Infrared photography, I have identified that Lightroom isn’t good for processing RAW files from my converted GX1. The quick explanation of this is that Lightroom can’t set a white point for the infrared image and you end up with an image which is red. This then prevents you from using a technique called channel swapping to produce false colour but it also appears to detract from the quality of the final image when working in black and white. My search was on then for a RAW converter to use with my infrared images.
I returned initially to Photo Ninja which did a good job and allowed me to set a correct white balance. Unfortunately the cost put me off although I did come close to making a purchase and probably would have if it wasn’t for RAW Therapee. This is a free RAW converter which performs well and has some nice features such as allowing me to do a channel swap during the RAW conversion. The only problem is that it’s tricky to use.
I moved on to search for another free RAW converter “Bibble” which it seems has been purchased by Corel and is now sold as Corel Aftershot. This works well enough and is good price. I just had a niggling feeling that I shouldn’t make a purchase just yet.
After a lot of searching and experimentation I remembered that Panasonic Cameras capable of shooting RAW images are packaged with a special version of the SilkyPix RAW converter. This is version 3 of the SilkyPix Developer Studio that has been limited to only working with Panasonic cameras. Whilst it won’t convert my Canon and Sony files it will process my GX1 and LX5 images fine.
After initial experimentation with the latest version I found the images to be super quality, containing lots of detail, appearing nice and sharp, with good colour and being free from noise. They are in my opinion better than those from Lightroom (both traditional and infrared images). Here is a section of the image above at 100% (click the image to zoom in).
The real decision maker for me is when I received an email the day after offering an upgrade to version 5 developer Studio (still limited to Panasonic cameras) for JPY3800 (about £24). Decision made!
I am now therefore using SilkyPix for my infrared RAW conversions and am extremely pleased with the results.
I made an interesting discovery last night as a result of seeing a friends work on Flickr. Ed, the friend in question (who will probably also be reading this at some point) is on Flickr as Vision and Light. His work is excellent but he recently added one image of pine trees in a forest that I find simply stunning. The image looked like it had been shot with an Infrared Camera but it turned out that it was captured on his GX1 and then converted to black and white in Lightroom using a Blue filter (http://www.flickr.com/photos/visionandlight/8421599676/in/photostream).
Now the blue filter isn’t something that I would naturally use as it tends to send most images very dark (unless you have a clear blue sky which turns white). As a result I decided to experiment a little with my own images and in particular the one above. Whilst the Blue filter and even High Contrast Blue filter didn’t work for this image the Infrared filter did. What made me really think however is that I have loads of Lightroom Presets (I have downloaded lots) but I never use them other than as an initial set up for some of my RAW files.
In the past I have tried quite a few different “standard” settings for creating that wonderful infrared look but none have been successful. This particular Lightroom preset (ships as standard in Lightroom) was quite different. When I looked at what was happening, it was quite different to most others I have seen. Whilst the Yellow and Green sliders had been pushed to +100% the Red slider remained at 0%. Unusually the Blue sliders also remained at 0% where the common wisdom is to reduce the Blue slider to say -50% to darken blues. Reducing the blue slider is something I don’t like doing usually as it tends to reveal low frequency noise in areas with lots of blue (such as the sky) and can be very difficult to correct.
So the image you see here is based on the Lightroom present for Infrared. Have however removed the grain and made some fine tuning adjustments to contrast and exposure. With these changes made I then exported the image to Photoshop where I added selective blur to the highlights using Focal blade before final sharpening and printing.
The lesson in this for me is that I shouldn’t ignore ways of working such as using presets. The lightweight route is to minimise equipment and processing to achieve great results. I don’t think the Infrared route I have chosen (converting a GX1) is truly a lightweight route; the Lightroom option may have been better in some respects.
This is just a short post to share that my Viveza book (covering Viveza 2) is now live in the Kindle store on Amazon. It’s priced at USD2.99 which comes out at about GBP1.94 depending on the exchange rate. The book covers all aspects of using the Viveza 2 software and is backed up by image files that can be downloaded from the members’ area of my Lenscraft website.
If you have never tried Viveza I can promise that it will speed up your image editing hugely and that it’s well worth trying the 15 day free trial from the Nik website. My book would of course help you get more out of the evaluation – but then I’m biased.
Since discussing my experiences with the X-Rite Color Passport and using this to generate Camera RAW profiles, I have received a number of requests to share my profiles. Being a good natured sort of chap I have decided to load these onto my Lenscraft website where anyone wanting to can download them for free. The only limitation is that you will need to sign up for free membership of my site to access the download page. Membership also gives you access to free materials as well as the profiles so I’m sure you will agree this is a pretty good deal.
The profiles once installed correctly should appear in the Adobe RAW converters in Photoshop and Lightroom when you load a RAW file for one of these cameras. I find them an improvement on the profiles shipped by Adobe but then they were generated for my cameras so this might not be the case for you.
For a long time now I have been a user and enthusiast for Photoshop. I am however a strong advocate of making photography light weight in all respects and that includes post processing images. I don’t want to be sat behind a computer for hours on end when I could be out taking pictures. No, my life and time are far too valuable for that and this was one of the drivers for me switching to Lightroom. I had reasoned that Lightroom could give me similar results to Photoshop but perhaps, from everything I had read, much faster.
Well, Lightroom is faster, especially where you want to apply the same adjustments to a group of images. It also makes finding an image a breeze and I wouldn’t be without it now. It is not however a replacement for Photoshop and I find that images adjusted in Lightroom still need some extra “polishing” in Photoshop in order to reach their best. It’s not therefore the huge timesaver I had hoped for.
What has caught me completely unawares however is a Photoshop plug-in from Nik Software called Viveza. It’s a very simple application to use and is accessed from within Photoshop but also integrates with Lightroom. What this plug-in gives me is the ability to make key adjustments to my images whilst targeting specific areas. For example I can edit the blue in a sky whilst leaving the ground and clouds unchanged. Yes I could do this in Photoshop but it would take some delicate selections to ensure I did this with a seamless blend, all of which takes time. With Viveza it takes just minutes, looks completely natural and requires much less skill than with Photoshop.
Having now used Viveza for a couple of months through Lightroom I am finding I do less and less in Photoshop. In fact, it’s got to the stage now where I think I can achieve better results with Viveza than I can using Photoshop. My Photoshop skills, painfully built up over years, now seem largely obsolete.
This is just going to be a short blog today but I’m sure it’s going to answer a question quite a few Lightroom users have. If you shoot in RAW format then you will be using a RAW converter to convert your images to a picture format such as TIFF or JPG. This is one of the common uses for Lightroom which has the excellent “Develop” module (see my Lenscraft website for free membership and tutorials). One of the features of this module is that you can load in lens calibrations for your camera which will apply an adjustment to correct any lens distortion.
It is possible to create your own lens profiles using a lens calibration chart and some free software that can be downloaded from the Adobe website but this is quite tricky and time consuming. Adobe has therefore taken the approach of shipping Lightroom with some standard Camera and Lens profiles that can be selected. These generally correct the major distortions such as Barrelling and Pin cushioning. There are then further manual adjustments you can make to tweak your image. If however you are a Panasonic or Olympus Micro 4/3 user you might have wondered why these cameras are missing from the lens calibration menu.
The answer is simple, Adobe has built the profile correction into the software and it is automatically applied without needing to select the camera and lens. When I first read this I was a little sceptical but I managed to hunt down the confirmation on the Adobe web site with the answer coming from one of their senior engineers.
So all you Micro 4/3 Lightroom users out there, if you are still not happy all the lens distortion has been removed, turn to the manual adjustment sliders. If of course you have a compatible lens calibration chart, the software from Adobe and a lot of time and patience you could always create your own.
If you are a new visitor to this blog then you might have the impression that I am a black and white photographer – not so. What I find however is that I am producing more and more black and white work recently. The reason being is that I think the black and white images shot on my GX1 look great; better than those shot on my Canon 5D or even those shot with true black and white film (which by the way I still use). I have thought a lot about why this is and I believe it is linked to the sensors used in the Micro 4/3 range of cameras.
All cameras produce a pattern of noise in the images they produce. Colour noise looks ugly and is best removed but the luminance noise can be used to your advantage in black and white pictures. Usually you don’t notice this noise but under strong processing it starts to become more visible especially if you are looking on a screen with the image viewed at 100%. With my Canon 5D the noise pattern is very regular, quite light and to be honest looks ugly when enhanced. With the micro 4/3 cameras however this luminance noise is a little stronger and the pattern more appealing. When the images are converted to black and white the noise appears almost like the grain structure in film. The benefit of having this fine structure in your images is not to make it feel like film but to enhance areas of detail so images appear more detailed than perhaps they are. When output to paper the prints definitely have an extra snap to them.
Here then is my workflow for making the most of the micro 4/3 characteristics when producing black and white images:
Shoot in RAW. This gives you the control over how much noise is removed. If you shoot using the in-camera black and white mode you will end up with JPGs which will have had varying degrees of noise reduction applied before you start to work on them. You don’t want this.
Because you are shooting in RAW you will need to convert the image to a TIFF file. I use Lightroom to do this and I apply sufficient Colour Noise reduction to remove all the visible colour noise. With Luminance noise however I set the reduction to 0 so that nothing is removed. I also avoid converting the image to B&W until later in the workflow for reasons I will come to.
Once I have my colour TIFF image I examine it to see if I want to perform any selective luminance noise reduction. I will usually leave all the noise in areas of texture such as grass and rocks but remove noise from areas of clear blue sky. Personally I like to leave some luminance noise in white clouds as it helps me emphasise the clouds later.
I use two tools for noise reduction; Nik Define and Topaz DeNoise. The Nik product is quite subtle and has some great selection tools to control where the noise reduction is applied. The Topaz product is noise reduction on steroids. It can be extremely aggressive but it’s also brilliant. If I want to remove strong noise from the image, this is the tool.
Once I have my “clean” colour image I will convert it to Black and White using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. I do have other black and white converters but what I like about the Nik tool is that I have a “Structure” and “Fine Structure” slider. The effect of using these is that it enhances the Luminance noise so it becomes much more visible and starts to take on the appearance of grain. I should also warn you to take care with this step as once you have enhanced the noise there is no easy way back. Running noise reduction on the finished image won’t have much if any effect.
Now what I can’t show you here is the effect of this workflow on the finished print so you will have to take my word or try it for yourself. This really does enhance the print giving it that something extra, improving the perception of detail and sharpness. You can get some idea of how the screen image will look as a print by viewing your image at 50% resolution from about 12 inches away (a general rule of thumb).
If you have a micro 4/3 camera I hope this has inspired you to give my method a go and I am as always happy to answer any questions.