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HDR In Photoshop CS5

Friday, May 7, 2010

Unless you've been hanging out in Antarctica (without an internet connection), you probably know that Adobe has been developing Photoshop CS5 for quite some time. They released this upgrade on April 30th, and one of the most anticipated new features is the program's revamped HDR processing, now called Merge to HDR Pro. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, and involves combining three or more exposures of the same scene in order to extend the dynamic range of a photo. While a single exposure can capture detail in a dynamic range of 4 to 6 stops, you can extend this range by shooting the same scene at different exposures and then combining the images into one using HDR processing. Prior to CS5, the Merge to HDR feature was cumbersome and lagged behind the more popular Photomatix Pro in its ability to blend exposures together.

In CS5, Merge to HDR Pro is a much simpler process and in my mind can do just as good a job as Photomatix. That said, if you are used to the controls in Photomatix, you will find CS5 a challenge at first, as the controls are different. However, with practice you will find it to be just as easy to use.

Stacking Images For Extended Depth Of Field

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

In close-up photography we are dealing with shallow depth-of-field, even at small apertures. There's nothing we can do about it in the field - physics is against us. Small camera-to -subject distances always result in one narrow plane of focus. However, it is possible with software and good shooting techniques to combine multiple images, focused at different points, and create an image with extended depth-of-field. In the above flower image, I combined seven different images using the Auto Blend feature in Photoshop CS4 to create one image with all three flowers in focus.

The technique is fairly simple by following these steps:

1) Put your camera on a tripod, compose your image, and determine the proper exposure (shoot in manual exposure mode.)

2)
Take anywhere from 4 to 10 exposures, slightly changing your focus point for each exposure. I usually start with the front of my image in focus and move into the scene with each exposure, but Photoshop doesn't care how you do it. Eliminating movement of the subject is key, so on windy days this technique might be close to impossible to pull off. Also, be sure to use the same exposure and white balance settings for each image.

3) Download your images to your MAC/PC and open Photoshop. You can use RAW, JPEG, or TIFF images - they all work. Bring your images into Photoshop by using the FILE-- Scripts-- Load Files into Stack command. Be sure to check the box for "Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images"

4) Go to your layers palette. You will notice each image is on its own layer. Highlight all the layers (click on the top layer, then shift-click on the bottom layer.)

Customizing Your Identity With Lightroom's Identity Plate

Thursday, April 1, 2010

When I first started using Lightroom three years ago, I thought its identity plate was just a way to have a fancy way of displaying my name at the top of the Lightroom window, but once I got into using the powerful Print Module, it became clear that the identity plate was a really cool feature that lets you add your logo or fancy type to prints, cards, posters, even slide shows. The identity plate is accessed from the Edit menu by selecting Identity Plate Setup. This brings up a pop-up window where you can create either a styled text identity plate or use a graphical identity plate. Using text is straightforward - just choose your font and color like in any program. The font size is only important in regards to how it displays at the top of the Lightroom window - when printing you can resize to match your output. Once you've created the text you like, be sure to save it by clicking on the window next to "Enable Identity Plate" and choose "Save As." A great feature is that Lightroom lets you save as many identity plates as you need that can be accessed at any time directly from the Print, Slideshow and Web modules.

Batch Processing In Photoshop

Friday, March 19, 2010

Before programs like Lightroom and Aperture were available, creating actions in Photoshop and then batch processing groups of images with those actions was the best way to make changes to multiple images without having to do the work one image at a time. Lightroom has certainly reduced the frequency with which I use Photoshop for batch processing, but there are still certain actions I use that can't be done in Lightroom. In this post, I'll explain how batch processing in Photoshop works by detailing how I create and execute an action that adds a border and watermark to an image. In reality, I now use a Lightroom plug-in to do this (more about this at the end of the post,) but not everyone likes to bother (or pay for) plug-ins.

In this example, I am going to create an action that does the following: resize an image to 500 pixels wide, add a black border, and add a copy of my logo over the image. If you are going to follow along, you'll first need to create a file with your logo that is also 500 pixels wide and has a transparent background. If you don't have a graphical logo, you can just create a document with your name in type. Create a new document (File---New), and in the pop-up window, make it 500 pixels wide and make sure you choose transparent for the background. Click OK. To type your name, just use the type tool (hit the letter T on your keyboard to activate it) and choose a font you like. I like to use a white watermark, but you can use any color you want. Save the document.

Now you're ready to create your action. First, open an image file. On the actions palette, click on the new action icon at the bottom of the palette (it looks like a page with the bottom left corner turned up.) If you don't see your action palette, click on Window--Actions (alt-F9). Give your action a meaningful name in the pop-up window and click record. Now you will see a red circle at the bottom of the actions palette that means Photoshop is recording everything you are doing. (This is just like recording a macro in Excel or Word.)

First, resize your image, using Image--Image Size. Be sure Resample Image and Constrain Proportions are checked on, and change the pixel width to 500. Click OK. Next Click on Select--All (Ctrl-A, Command-A), then Edit--Stroke. This brings up a pop-up that lets you choose the stroke (a.k.a border) size and color. Choose your stroke and click OK. Next open your watermark image file. Copy this image (Select--All, Edit--Copy), then close the file. Once back on your main image, paste the watermark, then choose the Move Tool, by typing the V key, and reposition the watermark image to where you want it (I usually put mine in the bottom of the frame.) Flatten your image (Layer--Flatten Image). Now you're done, but you first need to stop recording, by clicking on the stop button at the bottom of the action palette (it's the black square.)

You can now, apply this action to any open image or to a folder full of images. To try it out, open another image, highlight your new action in the action palette by clicking on the action name and then click on the play button at the bottom of the action palette. Photoshop will process your image using everything you recorded. Simple.

Here's the result of the action I created.

To run the action on a folder of images, choose File--Automate--Batch... This will bring up the batch processing window, where you choose your action and the location of the source files you want to process. You also need to choose a destination for your processed images. Choosing None, will leave your images open in Photoshop. Choosing Save and Close will save the images in their current location, overwriting the original files. I usually choose Folder, which lets me specify a location where Photoshop will deposit the processed images, leaving the originals intact.

The beauty of actions in Photoshop is that you can record just about any group of tasks, with the major exception being print commands (you can record these, but they usually don't work right.)

If you use Lightroom, you can achieve the above action by using a plug-in called Mogrify, which is donation ware, published by the folks at The Photographer's Toolbox: photographers-toolbox.com

Adding Contrast to Give Photos More Life

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Without bright sunshine, many outdoor photos seem a little lackluster. This is because there is a lack of contrast in the scene, which means that the tones captured in the image (primarily mid-tones) fit into a narrow range. This can be seen in the histogram, where you will usually see a bell shaped curve lacking either blacks or whites or both. Without rich blacks and bright whites, images are always going to appear a little dull. To get this type of image to really "pop", you need to do two things: make a proper exposure and then add contrast in post-processing. Fortunately, both are fairly simple tasks.

Images like this one of Mount Washington in New Hampshire have plenty of color, but look dull straight out of the camera due to a lack of contrast. For this version of the image, I added blacks in Lightroom.

When shooting a scene with low contrast, be sure to expose it so that your mid-tones are exposed as mid-tones, or up to a stop brighter. Sounds obvious, and it is, but if you underexpose your mid-tones you will have a hard time getting them to look right without introducing noise. After exposing your scene, check the histogram and adjust your exposure as necessary to get the peak of the bell curve to be in the middle or slightly to the right. It will still look dull, but we'll fix that in post.

There are many ways to add contrast to an image in post-production, but probably the worst way is to just use the contrast slider in Camera Raw/Lightroom or the Brightness/Contrast adjustment in Photoshop. There are several techniques that are more nuanced, which I'll describe here. Some I've detailed in previous posts, but hey, I figure half of you reading this post weren't paying attention last year when this blog was brand new.

Finding Inspiration And Making Connections

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Last week I attended the 16th annual Nature Photography Summit, hosted by the North American Nature Photography Association in Reno. This was the tenth summit I’ve attended and I continue to find great benefits from attending. The summits are a mix of skills building breakout sessions, portfolio reviews, an industry trade show, and beautiful keynote presentations by some of the world’s best nature and conservation photographers. Every year I pick up some great new skills from the breakouts. The highlights of the skills sessions for me this year were Kevin Adams’ in-depth treatise on night photography, and Ian Shive’s and Rob Sheppard’s discussion on the emerging world of shooting video with DSLR’s. As great as the breakouts are, I find that the biggest reward from attending the summit for me is making connections and finding inspiration. This event is a great way to begin the year full of excitement and wonder and the energy to formulate my own projects for the coming 12 months.

I can honestly say that I probably would not have been able to take the leap to being a full-time photographer nine years ago if I had not attended several NANPA summits and made connections with other professionals in the industry. While I have made a few sales as a direct result of showing my work at the summit, a much bigger boon to my career has been meeting and learning from both photo editors and other photographers who have become friends over the years. At my first few NANPA summits, I learned simple things about how to present my work and how to talk to editors that were a huge help in becoming a professional. Most of these tips did not come from actual breakout sessions, but from incidental conversations and the phone calls and e-mails that followed. Now I find that by just asking around in between breakout sessions, I can pretty much find out anything I need to know, whether it is the specifics of a Photoshop technique, a question about a piece of gear, or feedback on marketing ideas I have. As a group, photographers seem to be generous with their time and knowledge, and whether you are a beginner photographer or seasoned pro, networking at an event like NANPA can pay big dividends down the road.

Getting Feedback

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

As I plan for my upcoming trip to Reno next week for the North American Nature Photography Association's (NANPA) Annual Summit, I'm inspired to talk about how we as photographers improve our craft. Books and tutorials are great ways to learn about photography, but to truly excel as photographers we need to get our work out there in front of people and get some feedback. This is why many new photographers, especially nature photographers, have traditionally gravitated to camera clubs and more recently, to photo sharing sites like Flickr and user forums like those on Naturescapes.net. These are great places to have your work critiqued by peers, and you can quickly find out if your skills are up to snuff, or if new ideas you are trying are translating well. Photography classes and workshops that feature critique sessions are a good option as well for those willing to invest a little more effort and money.

I am a big fan of portfolio review events where you pay a fee (usually $50.00 and up) to meet with a picture professional for 20 or 30 minutes. These can be magazine photo editors, photo reps, fine art gallery owners, stock agents, etc. - the top professionals in the world of photography. Most events let you choose who you meet with ahead of time, so you can tailor your portfolio to your reviewer. That way, if you are looking for gallery representation, you can create a portfolio of maybe twenty large fine art prints. On the other hand, if you are looking for stock representation, you might bring a laptop with 100 or so of your best low-res files with stock potential. The NANPA Summit has a great portfolio review event that I have participated in for years, learning many lessons and meeting editors that are now friends and clients. Even though I have been a full-time photographer for about 10 years now, I still go to at least one portfolio review event every year. The feedback is invaluable and the cost is minimal compared to how much money I spend on other marketing efforts.

Of course, asking for feedback means you might hear some things you don't want to hear. That's o.k. if you go in with a non-defensive attitude and the desire to learn. Most reviewers find nice things to say to everybody. As an artist, those words feel good, but may be less important than the criticism you hear. I once had a reviewer tell me my images were as strong as Art Wolfe's (not sure what was in that reviewer's coffee that day!), which gave me a big ego for a day or two, but in the end did less to further my career than the reviewers who made suggestions that helped me edit my work more tightly, or present it in ways that were more professional.

Here's a listing of some of the best portfolio review events in the U.S.:
NANPA Annual Summit, February 16 -19, 2010 in Reno, NV: napa.org

FotoFest 2010, March 12 - April 1 in Houston, Texas: fotofest.org: biennial 2010

FOTOWEEK DC, usually in the fall: fotoweekdc.org

Center's Review LA, January: visitcenter.org: programs.cfm LA

Center's Review Santa Fe, June 3-6, 2010: visitcenter.org: programs

Palm Springs Photo Festival, March 28 - April 2, 2010: 2010.palmspringsphotofestival.com

Griffin Museum of Photography, May 7 and 8, 2010: griffinmuseum.org

Photo Nola, New Orleans, LA, usually in December: photonola.org

If you know of additional events with portfolio reviews, please list them in the comments. Thanks!

Lightroom Quick Tips

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The owl has nothing to do with my post this week, but I thought I’d show it because this little guy is a good reminder that winter can be a great time for wildlife photography because you can often find species in your area that are not normally around. It seems that in my neck of the woods (coastal New Hampshire,) there is often a cooperative owl that migrates down from northern climes to entertain photographers. Last year, it was a great grey owl. This year it’s this screech owl who has been sitting in a tree adjacent to Route 1A in Rye, New Hampshire for about a month. Check local birding hotlines and listserves for potential opportunities in your area.

Now for this week’s official post, I’ve put together five Lightroom tips that should help speed up your workflow on a daily basis:

1) Keyword Sets. In my recent post, New Year's (Workflow) Resolutions (outdoorphotographer.com: community/blogs,) I discussed the virtues of keywording your images in order to better organize your image catalog. The Library module in Lightroom, makes it easy to add keywords by using the Keywording and Keyword List panels. You can type keywords right in the “Keyword Tags” box, or in the “Click here to add keywords” box. If there are certain words you use on a regular basis, consider creating keyword sets that contain these terms. You’ll see the Keyword Set box at the bottom of the Keywording panel. You can add a keyword to an image from a keyword set by just clicking on the term. When you select multiple images in Grid view, clicking on a keyword adds it to all the selected images. Lightroom comes with a few sets installed – Outdoor Photography, Wedding Photography, Portrait Photography – but to harness the power of this feature, you need to create your own sets. For example, I’ve created a keyword set named Northeast States, which is a set of the most common states I shoot in. No more trying to type Massachusetts correctly! To create a set, click on the arrows next to the current keyword set name and choose Edit Set. You can toggle through your keyword sets by typing Alt-0. Also, when you hold down the Alt key, you will notice that a number appears next to each keyword in your current keyword set. Type Alt+ the number to add that keyword to your currently selected image(s.)

Making Big Prints

Friday, January 15, 2010

Selling prints of my work has always been more of a side business during my career, as I focused primarily on producing imagery that was used in print or on-line venues, and most of the prints I do sell are in the small to medium size range: 8” x 10” to 12” x 18”. However, during the last couple of years I have been selling more big prints as I have started exhibiting my work more frequently. These bigger prints have caused me to re-think my sharpening techniques in Photoshop (see my previous post, Sharpening Basics, outdoorphotographer.com: community/blogs.

New Year's (Workflow) Resolutions

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

We photographers all love to shoot whenever we get a chance, and I think most of us love to play around with making our pictures look great, either in the darkroom or in Photoshop. We'll spend hours learning how a camera trap system works or how to apply layer masks in Photoshop. What we all hate however, is spending the time to develop a proper workflow. It's tedious and takes a different kind of critical thinking than the creative thinking we like to do with our photography. However, a proper workflow can improve our efficiency at processing thousands of images and insure that our images won't get lost in a digital disaster. In the spirit of the coming New Year, I offer these workflow resolutions to get us all on track for a better digital photography world.

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