Tag Archives: photography

New Tools for Lightroom

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As I have said before in my blogs, I am a huge fan of Lightroom because of the speed and ease with which it allows you to edit your images, converting them from RAW files. I find that in the majority of cases I can get at least 80% of the way to my final image by just using the tools Lightroom provides. It’s then a case of exporting these images to Photoshop for some final “pixel polishing”.

Well this all changed at weekend when I decided to invest in some of the Nik software packages. To be honest, it was the free copy of Viveza 2.0 that came with my recently purchased ColorMunki that convinced me to try Nik’s Black and White conversion software. When I downloaded this for Photoshop (and by the way I was very impressed by the package) I noticed they had a Lightroom version and that I could buy all their packages for use in Lightroom at about half the price of Photoshop.

Over the weekend I took the plunge and purchased the Lightroom collection of Nik plug-ins. As soon as I started to use these I found that I was able to produce higher quality, finished images without the need to step outside Lightroom. This approach is a huge time saver for me and really strips my processing workflow back to the essentials.

That’s not however the end of the story because being able to use these plug-ins within Lightroom got me thinking what other plug-ins do I use that might work with Lightroom. Following up on this I was able to install and use a version of Photomatix HDR software in Lightroom. I then found I could download a free piece of software from Topaz Labs that made their plug-ins available in Lightroom.

Now one limitation of Lightroom is that it doesn’t have the capability to support Layers and Masking, something I use extensively in Photoshop. I remembered something about On One Software developing a package called Perfect Layers that provided this capability so thought I would investigate. That’s when I found I could download Perfect Layers 2 for free from the On One website, I assume because they will be releasing Perfect Layers 3 shortly.

So if you use Lightroom I would suggest a little investigation into third party plug-ins/editors could prove to be very valuable.

Color Checker Passport

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A little while back I mentioned that I was unhappy with some of the colours being produced by my GX1 and also LX5. The greens seemed a little too green and the image overall had a slightly blue cast to it. This inspired me to purchase a Color Checker Passport from X-rite as it could be used to produce a custom calibration for your camera which can then be used in the develop module of Lightroom. Well I have now purchased and used the passport and can report on its performance.

My first reaction when opening the packaging is that you don’t get a lot for your money. The passport itself is small and made from plastic. There is a CD containing the software which you load to your computer but there were no instructions other than a link to the X-rite site. In the end I watched a very good video of how to use the passport and software to generate a profile and all was clear.

The passport is basically a colour checking chart and grey card contained in a plastic cover. It’s small, light and fits neatly in your pocket. The first thing I used was the grey card in order to create a custom white balance for my GX1 (I won’t describe how to do this here as each camera is different). This was very simple and once the white balance setting was registered made an instant improvement to the images, removing the blue colour cast preventing the greens from looking quite so sickly.

Next I took two reference pictures of the colour chart in the passport. One was in direct sunlight and the other in shade, both taken around midday under a sunny sky. Back at home I converted the RAW files for the two images into DNG format using Lightroom and then loaded these to the passport software. A click of a button and 20 seconds later and my profile was ready.

Restarting Lightroom and switching to the Develop module I could see my new conversion profile which when selected had an immediate impact on the image. I noticed that the image contrast improved and some colours (red in particular) became much more vibrant and realistic. Colours also looked completely natural.

I wondered if this result had been a fluke so repeated the process with my LX5. The results were even better and the images now look very lifelike. The image here is of the edelweiss flower (I hope I spelled that correctly) which is actually quite rare and grows at altitude in the Alps. I found this particular flower at around 2,600m under a bright blue sky and took the picture on my LX5. The colours having used the “passport color checker” appear completely natural and subtle.

This tool is quickly becoming an indispensible accessory in my camera bag. I just need to remember to use it.

New Lightweight Tool

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Lightweight Photography is not just about using lightweight cameras, sometimes it’s about using streamlined processes to make life easier or about tools that can fulfil more than one function and so lighten your load. I have just made one such purchase and I want to share my experience with you. The tool in question is the “ColorMunki Photo” which I’m sure many of you will know about and perhaps a few of you own this.

The ColorMunki provides a simple and fast way to profile your monitor so you can be sure the colours in your images are being accurately represented on the screen. It also allows you to profile your printer (the main reason for my purchase) as well as profiling cameras and LCD projectors. The later will come in useful where I give presentations to camera clubs and often run into issues with my images projecting too dark.

My previous approach to colour management was to use the” i-One” monitor profiler from X-Rite (who also make the ColorMunki). In comparison to the ColorMunki the “i-One” takes much longer to complete the profile and isn’t as user friendly. For printer profiles I tended to use either custom made profiles purchasing from a remote profiling service or sometimes made my own using VueScan and a desktop scanner. The first option is time consuming as you need to rely on the postal service whilst the second option wasn’t really reliable. Since I switched to using a Canon Pixma 9500MkII I have struggled to generate good profiles and if I’m truthful, gave up.

My experience of the ColorMunki is that it performs the two functions above (monitor and printer profiling) brilliantly. It’s very fast, easy to use and the results are fantastic. My printer seems to be using less ink but more importantly the results seem to be much more vivid. Prints I had previously thought were good seem to have just come to life with the new printer profiles I have generated. The profiles also seem much better than the generic profiles you can usually download from paper manufacturer sites.  To say I am delighted is an understatement and I wanted to share this positive experience with everyone.

Two Heads are Better than One

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I had an interesting weekend in terms of photography. I didn’t take a single image but I did improve my work and made some substantial breakthroughs. What gave raise to this? Well one of my friends came over and we spent time reviewing our work and suggesting improvements.  This was great in terms of development but it also allowed me to discuss some frustrating aspects of micro 4/3 photography with a second person. The most frustrating of these is the colour produced by my Panasonic cameras when converting RAW files.

You see I have long thought that the RAW files from my LX5, GF1 and now GX1 produce colours that don’t seem entirely natural. Greens, reds and blues all seem too strong and saturated. It is however difficult to judge on your own so yesterday was a great opportunity to discuss this with a very knowledgeable photographer whose views I trust. The result was that we agreed the colours were off. Whilst the image at the top is a black and white conversion I am showing the original colour image here together with a colour adjusted version we created.

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The original colour image with the defauilt RAW settings is shown above

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Here is the corrected image. Notice the orange of the cylinder on the right. In the uncorrected image this is a false orange and is also over saturated. Also notice the red plastic can on the left. In the original this looks raspberry and is too saturated.

To create the colour adjusted image we needed to:

  • Increase the colour temperature by 300K
  • Shift the Orange Hue and reduce its saturation
  • Reduce the saturation of blue in the scene

These are subtle adjustments but they are enough for your brain to pick up that something isn’t quite right.

The reason for these odd colours is not however down to Panasonic but the Adobe software I am using to convert the RAW files. It’s the calibration Adobe bundles with their colour engine that is causing the issue. I have therefore taken the step of purchasing a colour passport checker to use with my Panasonic cameras in future. I hope this will allow me to correct the problem and will report again in the future.

Select the Right Aperture – Part 3

The final post in the series…

Compact mirror less cameras such as Micro 4/3 are slightly different from this. Most seem to be good performers from wide open, hit their best performance when stopped down by one stop and then gradually tail off as diffraction kicks in. The cameras do however have a huge advantage in terms of their smaller sensor size increasing the depth of field. A typical Micro 4/3 camera has a sensor with a 2x magnification. This also means my depth of field is also effectively doubled. I know that at f/7.1 on a 14mm lens (28mm equivalent) I can achieve a full depth of field. My LX5 has an even smaller sensor so by the time I have stopped down to f/3.5 at 24mm equivalent focal length I can achieve sharp focus from 1m to infinity.

So how do you use this advantage?

Firstly understand how your lenses perform at each of the apertures. When are they at their sharpest and when do they suffer from problems such as diffraction.  This gives you your ideal range which you should try to keep within.

Now select the focal length of the lens you will use. This has a big impact on depth of field with longer lenses having less depth of field than wide angles. I suggest selecting the focal length first as I see this as a more important consideration in composition than depth of field.

Once you have composed your image consider how much depth of field you need to achieve. A number of important factors come into play here:

  1. The focal length of the lens as wider lenses give a greater depth of field than telephoto lenses at the same aperture
  2. How far you are from the closest point you want in focus. The nearer this is to the camera the less the depth of field.
  3. The size of your sensor as small sensors give a greater depth of field at the same aperture than larger sensors
  4. Where your point of focus is. The depth of field at a given aperture extends roughly 1/3 in front of the point of focus and 2/3 beyond.

The reason I was able to shoot my New York Skyline image at f/2.8 is that my point of focus was at infinity and I was shooting at the wide angle end of my lens. These points alone were enough to give me the depth of field required. Once you have mastered the points above you suddenly realise the common wisdom of stopping your lens down to its smallest aperture often isn’t correct and won’t give you the optimal image.

Select the Right Aperture – Part 2

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Copyright: Robin Whalley, 2011

Continued from previous blog…

So, looking at the use of aperture to control depth of field is actually a very effective tool for doing this and depth of field is a key creative decision you need to make when capturing your images. Let’s say you want to create a portrait but the background is distracting. The solution is to open the aperture wide to throw the background out of focus and isolate the subject. If you are shooting landscapes and want to achieve the maximum depth of field so that everything from the foreground to the distant background is sharp, you would select a small aperture. Sure there are other factors at work here which can emphasise the impact of the aperture but they do just that, emphasise the effect. The priority should still be to select the right aperture for the image.

Now let’s consider some of the problems that come with the aperture control and lenses. The first occurs when we stop the lens down to its smallest aperture. This often results in diffraction and potentially distortion. I once had a wide angle Pentax lens that when stopped down to its smallest aperture would bend and distort images in the corner. Diffraction is a little different and will result in soft and slightly out of focus images. Again I remember when I was first starting in photography and I had a cheap wide angle Tokina lens that suffered badly from diffraction. Not understanding this I would stop down the lens to f/22 and the results were always poor.

At the opposite end we can open up our aperture as wide as possible. Most lenses however don’t go very wide with a maximum aperture in the range of f/3.5 to f/5.6 (particularly true of zooms). At their widest aperture most lenses are also soft, especially in the corners. Many also suffer from uneven lighting and tend to vignette due to light fall off in the corners – not always something you want. Higher quality lenses from top manufacturers such as Zeiss and Leica tend to be the exceptions and will still perform well when wide open or stopped down. Unfortunately they are also expensive.

This then leaves most of us with an area of optimum lens performance which is usually 1-2 stops above wide open for usually 1-2 stops. With a typically zoom lens on an SLR this is probably in the range of f/8.0 to f/12.0. Does that sound familiar?

To be continued.

Select the Right Aperture – Part 1

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Last Thursday night I was presenting at Bolton Camera Club. It was a good evening with lots of discussion, especially when I pulled out the sample prints I had taken. A lot of the members looking at the prints made from my LX5 compact Camera were surprised by the not only the quality and detail displayed but the “relatively wide” aperture I had selected. The image above was shot at f/8.0 yet it’s sharp from front to back. My New York Skyline shown in an earlier post was shot at f/2.8 and everything is in focus, even viewed close up printed at A3+.  The member of Bolton Camera Club are not however alone in this surprise as it’s something I experience often when talking to club members from all over.

Selecting the right aperture for a scene is something we tend to do automatically once we have been in photography for a while. Unfortunately the aperture selection in lightweight cameras might not be quite as you expect it and you could end up making choices that have a negative impact on your photographs. If you stop and think, there are only a couple of reasons why you might want to control your aperture:

  1. To control your depth of field
  2. To control your shutter speed (increase or decrease)

Now I’m going to be controversial and say the only reason you should be changing your aperture is the first one. The second option, to control your shutter speed is in fact a trade off from controlling your depth of field. If you disagree good (you have your own opinion) but stay with me and understand my argument. It might just change your perspective on photography.

So let’s deal with the “misconception” of using aperture to control shutter speed and why I argue against this. My reason is that it’s actually a relatively ineffective when used in this way. If you want to change the shutter speed for creative reasons (which should be your first priority) it will be because your current speed if either too slow to freeze action or it’s too fast to introduce creative blur and motion.

Let’s say I want to freeze motion so I open up my aperture as wide as I can. This will increase the shutter speed but at the expense of reducing the depth of field in the image, something I might not want.  Often such a reduction in depth of field will affect the aesthetics of the image and will change it completely. A better option is to increase the ISO setting as this is more effective. It will introduce noise but you can always address noise if it becomes too great in other ways. Another solution which is often overlooked is to use flash to help freeze motion. In the end you might need to adjust the aperture as well as these solutions but this needs to be a deliberate decision and you need to be aware of the impact on your image as well as the drawbacks.

Now if you want to slow the shutter speed you might try to stop down the lens to as small an aperture as you can. This will however introduce diffraction as we will cover later as well as affecting the aesthetics of the image. Rather than this approach try reducing the ISO you are using. Again, this might not have sufficient effect or you might already be shooting at the slowest ISO your camera can support. The best option however is to use a Neutral Density (ND) filter placed over the lens. These come in various strengths up to 10 stops and are incredibly useful. An alternative option might be to use a polarising filter which usually takes out 3 stops of light.

To be continued.