What's it all about?

This blog is about photography and photoediting. Its purpose is to provide hints and tips and links to interesting and useful resources for digital photographers, regardless of their level of expertise or experience. It is aimed at people who use digital SLR cameras and who process their images using the latest versions of Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

The author of this blog is Glenn Springer and you can read more about him at his web portal at faczen.com. Information on workshops, and links to everything is at photography.to. Glenn's original blog, which is an ongoing journal of his photographic meanderings goes back to 2006 and contains many additional hints and tips, as well as representative images that he has made. Gallery quality prints are available through his Smugmug gallery site. It is an interesting place to visit to see a variety of quality images, as well as an ongoing general journal of photos going back several years.

Photography workshops are scheduled every few weeks starting in the Spring. For an overview of what's happening, please visit the photography.to website.

The most recent blog post is below. Scroll down to the bottom to see the list of previous postings or search for any particular topic.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Non-destructive Dodge & Burn in Photoshop

I came across a really neat trick the other day and I would attribute the concept if only I could remember where I read it! I didn't come up with this, I found it but it's so neat that I had to share.

You can always dodge (lighten) and burn in (darken) non-destructively by creating a duplicate layer and working on that layer not on the original or background layer. But if you want to change the effect, you have to do it the whole layer at once.

This trick works just like painting on a mask: you can reverse the effect by switching the colour (black or white or a shade of grey) that you're painting with. Here's how it works.

Open an image you want to work on and create a new layer

Fill the layer with 50% grey

Change the blend mode to "Overlay" (you can also use "Soft Light") and rename the layer "Dodge & Burn Overlay" so you don't forget what it is.
         Here's how it works. In overlay mode (or soft light), blending 50% grey with your image has no effect. However if you LIGHTEN that grey, it SCREENS your image, or lightens it. If you DARKEN the grey, it MULTIPLIES the layers or darkens it.

Use a brush at relatively low opacity (say 20%)

Paint with black or dark grey on the overlay layer in those areas you want to darken

Paint with white, or lighter grey, in those areas you want to lighten.

Of course, you're looking at your original image while you're painting. If you turn off all the other layers, here's what the overlay layer might look like after you've painted on it:

Want to lessen the effect? Switch colours (the "X" key will toggle between the foreground and background colours) and paint over the area you want to change. Don't like what you've done? Paint with 50% grey and the changes are gone.

This works for saturation too! Not quite the same way, though. Create another blank new layer, and change its blend mode to "Saturation".

ANYTHING you paint on that layer will reduce the saturation of what's underneath it – doesn't matter what colour you paint with. Use a low opacity brush and paint over the offending brightly coloured bit. If you do too much, use the eraser tool on the saturation layer.

A really slick method of non-destructive dodging and burning that gives you precise levels of control, and it's easily reversible.

Here's an image I shot today that I used this technique on:

The rock in the foreground was too dark so I dodged it. The embankments in the distance were too light, so I burned them in. The orange leaves near the bottom were too brightly saturated. The rock face on the right needed to be darker. I made all these gentle changes by painting on the Dodge & Burn or the Saturation layers I created. The whole thing took 5 minutes, not including doing screen captures for this article!
This image itself wasn't that simple. It was a 5-shot HDR created in Photomatix Pro 4, then imported into CS5. These were slow exposures shot at ISO 100, with an 8x ND filter on the lens and aperture set to f/29. Shutter speeds ranged from 1/13 sec to 1.3 seconds. I selected the water and put it on a new layer and then applied Topaz Adjust 4 smoothing to it. I selected the underlying layer (everything else) and applied Topaz Adjust but in detail mode to that layer to bring out some sharp details. I did the dodging and burning I described above. Back in Lightroom, I used the adjustment brush to further soften the water, and we're done.

I'm not sure I got the effect I really wanted, but it's pretty close to what I had in mind.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Shooting Tethered

In this post we're going to look at shooting digital images while tethered to a computer. We'll look at what it is, why you might want to, what's involved, what you can and can't do, and a quick caveat (which means "beware!" if you didn't already know that). I'll be talking about Lightroom 3's capability to hook up your camera.

What is tethered shooting?

It means shooting pictures with your Digital SLR while it's connected to a computer. I've always wanted to try that, but (here's a Canon vs. Nikon thing where I come down on the wrong side!), Canon cameras had the capability to do it built-in, while if you had a Nikon, you needed to buy a relatively expensive piece of software to do so. I can't speak to the Canon side, but although I always wanted to try it, I didn't want to have to pay for it. So I never bought the Nikon software. All of that is changed with the advent of Lightroom 3.

What does it do for you?

There are lots of reasons why shooting tethered is a good idea.
  • Workflow. In the old film days, you shot your pictures, then either sent the film out to be processed or disappeared for a time into the darkroom, perhaps you could read a negative but you typically had prints or a contact sheet printed, and only then did you discover that the label on the can was upside down, or the lighting wasn't what you hoped, or it was out of focus.
With the advent of digital, that all got easier. Now you shot your pictures, took the card out of the camera, plugged it into the computer, uploaded the images and you could have a look at how they came out. It became 20 times faster and easier than the film days.
Shooting tethered, you could take a picture, then immediately look at it on your computer in all its wondrous glory and decide if the image is what you wanted. Immediately.
OK, you've got me. All of the other reasons I was thinking about kind of fall under the category described above. You save time. But the real advantage is that you can proof things  instantly on a big screen. Is that exposure correct? Can you get away with shooting at f/8 or is that not enough depth of field? Did the model undo too many buttons? Did she blink or have a funny expression on her face? Does the client (who's looking over your shoulder) like the shot or do you need to keep going? It makes your workflow much more efficient and interactive.

One more thing. It's really, really cool.

What do you need in order to shoot tethered?

There are a whole bunch of solutions out there, most of which you have to pay for, to allow you to tether your camera to the computer. As I mentioned above, Nikon has something called "Camera Control Pro 2"  which allows you to control your camera remotely. It costs $225 in Canada. It does allow you to do more things than the approach I'm going to describe next, though.

Lightroom 3 has the built-in capability to control your camera from your computer, provided your camera is on the list! The list is not long: there are 17 Canon models, 9 Nikons and one Leica on the list that I have. Open LR3, hit f1 for help and type in "tethered" for a list. There are some things it won't do, compared to the manufacturer's software, though.

So in order to shoot tethered, you need 3 things:
  • Lightroom 3 or better
  • A camera that's on the list
  • A USB cable.
That's it! Scott Kelby said it well: "It's so simple, Adobe did a beautiful job with this".

Open Lightroom. In the main "File" menu, pull down to "Tethered Capture" and click "Start Tethered Capture"  on the flyout. You get a really simple little menu that wants to know where you want to store your images and if you want to do anything to them while you're importing them.

Click "OK". You'll now get a camera control bar that will recognize your camera as soon as you plug it in and turn it on. It looks like this:

You can see your camera settings, and that big button on the right is your shutter release! Click it, and you take a picture! A few seconds later, the image appears on screen in Lightroom and you can do whatever you normally would do in LR. You can blow it up, adjust it, crop it, export it, print it, anything! It's a normal image in Lightroom and you didn't have to transfer it in, it's already there! Slick.

What won't it do?

It won't let you adjust your camera from the computer. Just fire the shutter. That's pretty good, but it's too bad you can't adjust focus or tweak settings while looking at it onscreen. I would LOVE to be able to zoom in to 300% and adjust focus live. The manufacturer's software will let you do that. Maybe in Lightroom 4...

OK, here are some quick points to ponder.

  • While the camera is connected to the computer, it's sucking power out of your battery. More than normal, just like when you plug it in to upload images. Have some spares on hand, or use an AC adapter.
  • This isn't going to do you a lot of good while shooting an NBA game from courtside, or crocodiles feasting on kudu on the Nile river. But in the studio, or on location in a studio-like setting, you're going to love it.
  • If you use the shutter release button on the screen, you have to wait for the picture to be processed (a few seconds) before you can take another shot. If you use the normal shutter release on the camera, it works the same way it always does. The images get uploaded and you get to look at the last one, but you could scroll back and see the others if you want.
  • Your camera is connected to the computer by a cable. Nobody has come up with a wireless device for this yet (as far as I know), so you're stuck within USB cable distance of your computer. So what happens when someone trips over the cable? One of three things:
    • your camera goes crashing down to the floor.
    • your computer goes crashing down to the floor.
    • the cable rips out, taking with it some very expensive electronics. Be careful.
On Larry Becker's blog, "cheap shots", he talks about a cheap solution to hold the USB cable securely in the camera. Google it.

Here's a shot from my first tethered session yesterday. I took about 10 exposures to fine-tune it, to balance the light from the strobe illuminating the floor of the light tent and the light on the subject from the other two strobes. I would have had no idea how it looked any other way.

You're going to love shooting tethered. I do.

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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Using HDR for interior (architectural) shots

I had my bathroom renovated and thought I would take a few pictures as the work progressed. I did, and you can see some of the steps on my Journal blog at http://www.faczen.blogspot.com/. Search for “renovation”. When it was all done, I wanted to take a shot that would show how nice the room looks now. And in the process, I realized that this was the perfect opportunity to use HDR.

In this writeup, I’m going to go through the main steps that took me from an ordinary photo to an image that I think captures the essence of the renovated room (OK, I know it’s a bathroom, and the ‘essence’ is not what we normally want to experience, but you know what I mean!).

The purpose is to show you some of the things you may want to do when creating an HDR, and a few other techniques for post-processing thrown in. Is this a step-by-step tutorial? No. My goal is to make you think about some of the steps you could take to create a final image and maybe to give you some ideas.

If you've been following my Journal blog, and especially if you're a member of the award winning Richmond Hill Camera Club (congratulations to all on winning the Stu Freedman Trophy at the Greater Toronto Council of Camera Clubs competition this year -- without my help this time! LOL), you would know that I created a presentation on HDR for the Imaging Conference, and I promised to convert it to a blog post. THIS IS NOT IT. But it will tie in nicely when I get it finished!

Is this a really great image? Nah. But infinitely better than the original!

Step 1: Visualization

I wanted to show the textures in the wood, capture the warmth of the lights (an aside here. There’s daylight from a window behind me. I didn’t think it would be enough. Also, the lights are not warm at all: I bought 6500K – daylight – bulbs and should not have. I’ll get some warmer ones and use these in my computer workstation area), and the really great colours of that towel hanging on the door. There are deep shadows on the front and sides of the vanity that I wanted to penetrate.

Step 2: Exposure

The front of the vanity is the darkest area in which I want to capture detail, so it needs to be in Zone III or more. So if I set the wall on the right as Zone V, I should be close. I had the ISO cranked ‘way up at 3200 and the aperture at f/4: as wide as it would go on the 12-24mm lens. I was hand-held – no room for a tripod – I was squeezed up against the wall in the bathtub. In the end, the lightest exposure was at 1/50 second. So I set the camera to 1/200 second in Manual mode, set the D300 to do 5 exposures ranging from -2EV to +2EV and banged off 5 frames in high speed mode.

Step 3: Merge to HDR

I have several programs I can use to do this. I chose this time to use Photomatix 4, directly from Lightroom. This image shows the workflow:

Now just sit back and wait for Photomatix to do its thing. There are a couple of choices you have to make, depending on if you were handheld or on a tripod (aligning the images) or if there was anything moving in the image (remove ghosting) but basically, just hit go.

Step 4: Toning the image

Photomatix is going to present you with some presets to look through. You’re not looking for the one that gives you your final image, you’re looking for the one that takes you closest. You’re going to be tweaking from there. In this case, I thought the “grunge” setting was the closest, although I really wasn’t looking for a rough image. Now you start playing with the sliders on the left. The first thing I did was to cycle through the five smoothing settings and in this case, I thought the most pleasing one was the middle one. The picture looks too grainy and bright for me, though

So I brought the Gamma up, added a little extra saturation and got rid of some of the grain and noise by adjusting the four smoothness controls. The critical one is the ‘Micro-smoothing’ but I didn’t want to crank it all the way up because you compromise apparent sharpness that way. When you’re done, hit “Save and Re-import” and your image will show up in the appropriate folder in Lightroom.

Step 5: Post-production

Well technically step 4 was post-production too, but we still have more to do. You could do some colour balancing adjustments, tweak the exposure, change the noise reduction and sharpness, all that good stuff in Lightroom now, but I wanted to do something else first, for which I had to go to Photoshop. So I did. Since I hadn’t done anything in Lightroom yet, I chose “Edit Original” when presented with that choice.

First Things First. I shot with a 12mm lens at an angle, so stuff is distorted. If you straighten the image to make the edge of the medicine cabinet on the left vertical, then the wall on the right is way off. That’s what you use “Perspective cropping” for.

Select the crop tool, clear any presets, then drag to select most of the image. You’ll get a different menu bar at the top when you do, and you’re going to want to select the “Perspective” tickbox as shown.

Now drag the bottom corners of your selection until the edges align with the features you want to be vertical. You may have to play with this a bit. If it doesn’t come out the way you expected, just step back in the history and try again. Photoshop will now create a rectangular image from your selection. If you used to use a view camera with a tilt lens, this is a similar effect. Click in the image to confirm. Magic!

Note that I could have levelled the image here too, but I like the way Lightroom does that, so I saved it for later. OK, what else? There was quite a bit of colour variation across the image. So I used hue/saturation adjustment layers with appropriate masking to vary the colours.I didn’t want the toilet paper roll in the lower right corner, so I used content aware fill to get rid of it. It didn’t work right away, so I had to take it, and the right wall, to a new layer and work there without distraction from other things in the image.

Since I’m really a fan of Topaz Adjust, I opened a duplicate layer with it and used just a little bit of adjustment – in this case I chose the “simplify” preset as a starting point, to smooth the image more. I added a little extra saturation and noise reduction too. Back in Photoshop, I copied the colourful towel to a fresh layer and boosted the saturation. The lights above the medicine cabinet were completely blown out. I copied them to a fresh layer and used the burn and dodge tools to give them a better look with a hot spot in the middle where the bulbs themselves are. There was still too much green in the image so I did a levels adjustment on the green colour channel.

Back to Lightroom. A little tweaking, crop to 8x10 proportion and we’re done. Here’s the final image:

The total time taken to process this image was about 30 minutes. It took me a lot longer to do it again with screen captures, etc so that I could write this up! One thing that amazes me is the lack of apparent noise, given that the camera was set for ISO 3200! And by the way, this was a small room: the width you’re looking at is only 6 feet and the camera was less than 8 feet from the door in the picture. Love that wide angle lens!

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