Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Color Range Masking

This is probably something I will never use, but I was amazed at how easy it was!

It would normally be a daunting task to make a selection of all the ropes and riggings in the picture of this ship in order to swap out the background.

Using this tool (Color Range Masking), it took me about 10 minutes start to finish to go from this:

To this:


Thursday, October 20, 2011


Every single picture that comes off your camera can benefit from sharpening. Sharpening is a process which helps to define individual pixels. If you compare an unsharpened photo to a sharp one, the unsharpened picture will look blurry. Sharp is good. 

I purchased a tutorial from Erin Cobb last year that included how she sharpens images. She's a fantastic photographer and I was happy to learn her post-processing tips.

Yesterday in class we learned about the Smart Sharpen filter. This was new to me... Erin uses the Unsharp Mask and so did I. We learned yesterday that the Unsharp Mask is an older technology in Photoshop that is not as effective or accurate as Smart Sharpen.

You can find Smart Sharpen by going to Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen. Once the dialogue box opens, it will look like this:

The Amount slider is like a volume control. You can turn up and down the sharpening. This is a pretty safe control and won't get you into a lot of trouble even at the higher ranges. I start with 150% and go from there.

The Radius slider is what can get you into some trouble. The radius refers to the width of the 'halo' that goes around the pixel. This should really never go above 2... maybe 3. I think the best way to check is to start at 1 and then move up if you need it. Your eye is your best judge. Photoshop allows you to add a ridiculous amount of radius, but Lightroom won't even let you go past 3 (I'm pretty sure) because you don't need it. (Remember, Photoshop was created for Graphic Designers; not all of the functions are good for using on photographs!)

I should mention that when sharpening in Photoshop, you are applying the sharpening to the whole photo (the color information) and not just the luminance. If you are sharpening in Camera Raw, it works in reverse and only applies the sharpening to the luminance, which tends to keep the image looking more realistic and less overly-sharp.

Another sharpening technique that I learned is in Lightroom and Camera Raw. If you use the clarity slider, you are actually sharpening the midtones of the photograph. A good range to move this slider is between 20-25.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Ah, the age-old debate... which file to shoot? JPEG or RAW? (By the way, why we call it RAW,  I have no idea. It's not an acronym. It doesn't stand for anything. It's really just raw.)

Here's the positives for each:

Smaller files (more fit on your memory card)
Processed (some in-camera editing takes place so they can appear sharper and with better color)
Faster (it doesn't take your camera as long to write the file to the memory card)
Not a proprietary file format
You don't need a special program (like LR or ACR or Bridge) to view the files

16-bit pixel depth (holds MUCH more info per pixel)
Larger files (more data = good!)
Easier editing (you can correct a lot more)
White balancing can be done after the fact
Endless possibilities (these files have so much information that, really, right now we are limited by the capabilities of the programs in which we view them. In the future, another RAW editor might be introduced that can do even more with the pixel data. This means that we could go back to our RAW files we took years ago and re-edit. Who knows what kinds of things we might be able to correct in the future.)

JPEG files consist of 256 tones. RAW holds 4,096. What does this mean? When you shoot in JPEG your camera is deciding which 3,840 tones to throw out. JPEG files can only hold 8-bits of pixel depth whereas RAW can hold 16-bits. This is a huge difference.

You are going to notice this difference in bits when you are looking at your histogram in Photoshop while making edits. If you have more than a one-stop over or underexposure to correct, your histogram is going to fall apart a LOT easier when you edit a JPEG versus editing a RAW file. Posterization is going to happen more quickly (gaps in the histogram). NOTE: Lightroom is a big fat liar when it comes to looking at the histogram for posterization. It doesn't show gaps in the histogram and likes to pretend that everything is totally fine even when it isn't! If you have clipping in either the highlights or shadows of your histogram, it's a lot harder to recover/fill those areas.

I used to shoot RAW about a year and a half ago when I was learning Lightroom. I wanted to see what all the hoopla was about. I don't care about the large file issue (memory cards and external back-ups are super cheap these days), but I did find it moderately annoying that the images HAD to be edited. You can just post a RAW file on your blog. You can't just email it. You can't just post it on Facebook. I would selectively edit some pictures (and convert them to JPEG), but not all of them. Later on, I would want to post or print some of the non-edited files and have to stop and edit them before I could do any of that. It was a bit of a pain.

After learning the details of RAW files and trying to edit the same image as a RAW file and then as a JPEG, I've changed my tune. I'm back to shooting exclusively RAW files. I'll probably never go back. I don't want my camera making important decisions for me. I want to be able to correct my image and produce the best possible histogram. Although I don't shoot professionally (and probably never will), I still want to take professional pictures of the things I do shoot. If I were a professional photographer, I would shoot RAW for the simple fact that I'm human, I do make mistakes and I don't want to have selected the wrong white balance setting or have overexposed a shot at someone's important event. I think it's kind of like insurance. For me, half of me is taking the pictures and the other half of me is trying to be present in the moment with my little boy. There are have been plenty of times where I'm laughing so hard or paying more attention to him than my camera settings. The sun will have gone behind a cloud and I haven't compensated my shutter speed enough and ended up with an underexposed picture. This is what happens when you're a mom taking pictures (or maybe I'm the only one??), and I'd rather just have the ability to correct my issue in LR than have to be bummed about missing a good shot.

I've heard people say that since they can nail their exposure, there's no reason to shoot RAW. I still don't want to lose all that information and have my camera making decisions for me. I'd rather take the extra time and edit them myself. Besides, I've gotten SUPER quick about batch editing in LR, so it doesn't take nearly as much time as it used to. The bottom line is that my RAW edits look better than my JPEG edits.

One other thing that has really helped me with this situation is getting better about in-camera culling. Now, I look at the images and delete all the bad ones before I load them to my computer. I was terrible at this before, and I had lots of not-so-good pictures taking up my space. Space is cheap, but there's simply no reason to keep bad pictures.

Lastly, if you wanted to give this a test-run, shoot in RAW+JPEG mode in your camera. You will get one of each file and you can see the process for yourself while still having the JPEG for quick emailing/posting/etc. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Photo Editing

I had an 8-hour Intro to Photoshop class yesterday. It was only 1 credit hour, and the only reason I took it was because I needed to be considered full time in order to get the correct amount of student loans.

I've been using Photoshop since high school, so I was dreading the class. I should mention that the class was for people who haven't ever used the program before... yawn.

This was the big project for the day:

Turning this photo...

...into this. I had to remove the light pole, and add the two other balloon images on the left and right into the picture.

This is not normally the type of editing that I do, so it was good practice.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Young Gallery

On my first night of photography classes we took a look at this amazing gallery.

There was one particular photographer that immediately stuck out in my mind. Nick Brandt's work is incredible. I'm not really into wildlife or nature photography, so it's strange that this is the guy that caught my attention...

What's even more amazing is that this photographer DOES NOT use telephoto lenses -- as in, he get's extremely close (within a few feet) of the animals in order to take their picture.

Not too shabby, huh?