Polarr Online Photo Editor Review

The post Polarr Online Photo Editor Review appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

It’s hard to evaluate photo-editing software without comparing it to Photoshop. You tend to have preconceptions about what it should be capable of and how it should behave – even how it should look. In terms of functionality, many programs will struggle to compete against Adobe. In this Polarr online photo editor review, you’ll find out what you can get for free. Or not much more than free.

Polarr image editor review

The colorful interface of Polarr. You can create specific effects under “Toning” by setting the hues of shadows and highlights.

Online photo editors work in your browser. They can be sophisticated, but the days of some of them (namely, flash-based programs) are numbered. Adobe will stop supporting flash in 2020, so anything that runs off it is likely to vanish or wither away.

Modern online editors are written in HTML5 code. They load quickly, but they also tend to be more basic than flash-based equivalents. Polarr is different. You can use Polarr online in a browser, or you can download it for offline use. There’s also an app for your phone.

Good first impressions

One of the best things about Polarr is its design. It doesn’t try to be Photoshop, and it’s intuitive to use. With filters on the left and most of the tonal and color tools on the right, there are shades of Lightroom about it, but it has a look of its own. You open Polarr, and you want to use it – or at least I did.

Polarr Image Editor review

A favorite Polarr feature of mine is its histogram. It’s neater than any other I’ve seen in online editors. It shows a colors histogram by default, which you can expand into separate RGB histograms. In the absence of a clipping display, it’s useful to see what your edits are doing to the image. You can drag the semi-opaque histogram wherever you want in the frame.

Not-so-good things about Polarr

Like most browser editors I know of, you can’t open hefty 16-bit files in Polarr. You’re limited to editing 8-bit JPEGs. This isn’t bad as long as the quality of the JPEG is high and it hasn’t been saved many times before. However, theoretically, you must submit to a lower-quality workflow.

A more limiting aspect of Polarr is that it exports everything in an sRGB color space. This might be a constraint of its coding, but it’s less than ideal if you want to print your files on an inkjet. For the web and online photo labs, it’s fine. In mitigation, it does embed a profile when saving, which some rival products neglect to do. You do know where you stand with it.

Who’s it for?

Polarr has one or two shortcomings, but it’s still a program with a lot of depth. Who would use it? Anyone looking for the following:

  • A free or cheap alternative to Photoshop and other costly pixel editors
  • Includes built-in special effects and retouching tools so you don’t have to learn complex editing methods or buy plug-ins
  • Auto image enhancer often a good quick fix for eye-catching web pictures
  • Intuitive to use, especially if you are familiar with sliders in other programs
  • No big downloads required and quick startup
  • Aesthetically pleasing user interface
  • Ideal for editing images for web or online labs
  • Backed up by an extensive library of online tutorials at Polarr Wiki
  • Option for more complex edits with the Pro version (subscription based, but low cost).
Polarr imaage editor review

The Polarr Wiki website has had a lot of work put into it and includes many written and video tutorials.

Editing with Polarr

Polarr is nice to look at – clean and colorful – but how is it in use? I set out to learn what it could do. If I couldn’t do things the same way I can in Photoshop, what workarounds could I find? Polarr is sophisticated, so I was confident I could perform the most basic processing tasks and more.

Auto Enhance

I never shy away from hitting “auto” or “auto enhance” buttons in editing programs, because sometimes they give you a better starting point. In Polarr, Auto Enhance is aggressive with the Dehaze slider, and that tends to block shadows. You can tweak the result, of course, with the shadows, blacks and contrast sliders for instance. Auto-enhance does work well with flat, hazy images and can create eye-catching results in a single click.

Ploarr image editor review

This was a flat-toned file that has been made quite dramatic by Polarr’s auto enhance feature. The shadows have started to clip, but not anywhere important in this case.

Color and Tone Adjustments in Polarr

Leaving the auto settings and moving onto manual adjustments, Polarr offers Lightroom-style color and tonal controls (the latter called “Light”). It has Temp and Tint sliders for white balance, but no auto-white-balance tool to outrank your eyesight. A Vibrance slider boosts color without clipping.

When adjusting tone, Polarr offers highlights, shadows, whites and blacks sliders, which you move to achieve a full tonal range while watching the histogram(s). This replace a levels adjustment. Whites and blacks adjust large areas on either side of mid-tones. Highlights and shadows adjust only the brightest or darkest parts of the image.

Polarr image editor review

Some basic editing in Polarr (original shown in inset – not part of software). Balancing the exposure a little, warming the color temp and adding some vibrance.

Again, the controls in Polarr are neatly laid out and colored according to their function. The controls haven’t been arbitrarily renamed, so you quickly know what things do if you’ve used other editors. Being mildly obsessive about detail, I miss the clipping display and being able to correct color by numbers (which is what auto-white-balance tools basically do). However, Polarr still has much to offer.

Polarr Curves

Polarr’s curves are modishly minimalistic, and they’re useful for some basic color correction. You have a composite RGB curve for adding contrast, and then there are the separate red, green, and blue (RGB) curves.

Polarr image editor review

Not the finished result, but you can see how the color neutralizes as the histograms align. The left-hand picture is typical of artificial lighting. A blue histogram leaning to the left indicates yellow.

Used in conjunction with the RGB histograms, you can use RGB curves to remove color casts. You do this by adjusting any necessary curves so that the histograms roughly align with each other.

You can place a point in the middle of the curve and pull it up or down, or for shadows and highlights, place a point in the bottom or top corner and pull it along the outer axis. Polarr gives you the input and output RGB values while you work.

Sharpening in Polarr

Sharpening always strikes me as a bit of a dark art in that; whatever method you use, there’ll always be experts out there espousing a better way. In Polarr, you get a clarity slider that sharpens mid-tones and generally adds punch to images (easy to overdo) and a very basic sharpening slider with no radius control. The sharpening might be smarter than I’m giving it credit for, but there aren’t numerous fancy ways to sharpen in Polarr. I’m doubtful that that matters.

Other features and effects

Other useful features I haven’t yet mentioned include an elegant crop tool, a spot-removal tool with heal and clone modes, and distortion correction. Spot removal was a bit frustrating at first with my laggy browser, but it works.

Polarr photo editor review

I made the inset darker so you can just about see the original dust spot, which has been cloned over by the right-hand circle.

Polarr also includes film filters, a text tool with various graphics, and a face retouch tool with skin smoothing for flattering portraits. Plus, you’ll find grain, diffuse, pixelate and fringing effects. You can also add frames to your pictures.

Polarr image editor review

One of Polarr’s film filters (M5) looks suspiciously like the teal-orange “movie” effect, which you either love or hate. Once I latched onto that, I started seeing it everywhere (Outlander, recently). Therapy is ongoing.

Pro Version

The Pro version of Polarr is subscription based, but it’s at a price you may not balk at. The Pro features are cleverly integrated into the free version, except you can’t save a photo that includes Pro edits. A pop-up appears asking if you want to upgrade or try the feature. What are the features?

Masks

The chief advantage of Polarr Pro is the inclusion of masks for localized adjustments. They include radial, gradient, color, brush, depth and luminance masking tools. These are all ways to select specific parts of the image for editing, and they work well.

Polarr image editor review

Masking a bronze equestrian statue for some localized editing. Overlapping edges can be tidied up later.

You can use the brush tool if you want to manually select an area for better control. This includes an optional “Edge Aware” aid that, if used carefully, helps avoid overlapping edges when you’re painting areas in for selection. Brush size, compare, hardness, flow, feathering, erase, view mask and invert options are also present with masks.

Polarr image editor review

In this picture, I’ve brought detail out in a near-silhouetted statue. Of course, I can alter shadows without masking, but other edits like clarity, contrast, exposure and saturation are usually universal.

Overlays

Whether with a mask or separately, you have the option of inserting an overlay effect. That might be your own added background or one of the many included ones (e.g., clouds, sky, weather, backdrops). This is all good stuff for people that like to experiment and create digital composites. A choice of blending modes helps you achieve the effect you’re after.

Polarr image editor review

The sky in this photo was a little washed out, so I’ve dropped one of the more subtle Polarr skies in as an overlay.

Noise reduction

In Polarr, you can’t mask off sharpening in large single-tone areas. So, if your images are noisy and you think the noise will show in the final result, the Pro version offers color and luminance Denoise sliders. These are universal edits that don’t currently combine with masks.

Polarr image editor review

The denoise tool is part of the Polarr Pro offering. Here you can see a before and after with quite a lot of luminance noise reduction applied to the right.

Summary

Aside from the sRGB constraint and occasional lag (perhaps my sluggish PC), I enjoyed Polarr. The sRGB thing may be universal among browser editors, and if you think of Polarr as a way of prepping photos for online labs or the web, it’d be hard to beat. Polarr is uncommonly pretty, which seems superficial, but the attention paid to aesthetics invites use. I’d love to know what you think!

The post Polarr Online Photo Editor Review appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

How to Achieve Monitor Calibration on a Budget

The post How to Achieve Monitor Calibration on a Budget appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

Photographers will often tell you to buy a calibration device for your monitor. It’s the pro thing to do. But do you need one? After all, most of the photo world manages without such a device and still enjoys its pictures.

Monitor calibration X-rite i1 Display Pro

Even among “serious” photographers, many do not have a workflow that fully utilizes calibration. Plus, there are differences between monitors and other devices that calibration cannot always bridge. Color management is not a perfect science.

Calibration versus Profiling

Before going any further, it’s useful to distinguish between calibration and profiling. If you use a hardware device (e.g. colorimeter), it will calibrate your monitor. It then builds a profile based on the calibrated state you just created.
 
A profile describes the monitor so that color-managed programs display colors accurately. Included among calibration settings are black level (brightness), white level (contrast), white point (color temp) and gamma.
Monitor calibration - 3D gamut profile

A custom profile reflects the output of your monitor. This image shows the gamut of my monitor enveloping (mostly) the sRGB color space.

If you don’t own a calibration device, you can still calibrate a monitor manually, but you can’t profile it.

The disadvantages of calibrating a monitor without a device are as follows:

  • Human eyesight is unreliable, so the more you “eyeball” during the calibration process, the further astray you may go.
  • You cannot physically measure the monitor’s condition (e.g. luminance in cd/m2). That means you can’t return it to the same state with each calibration.
Monitor calibration weakness of human vision

This optical illusion demonstrates how easily deceived the eyes are. Squares A and B are identical in tone. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Do you need a calibration device?

A calibration device isn’t expensive compared to camera bodies and lenses, but the best can cost a couple of hundred dollars or more. The $200 question, then, is do you need one?

Yes: if you use an inkjet printer and want “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” results. In that case, a calibrator is vital. You need accurate profiles for soft-proofing, where you preview print colors before printing.

Yes: if you’re a pro or semi-pro shooting color-critical subjects (e.g. products, fashion).

Probably: if you pay for Photoshop CC, otherwise you are undermining its color capabilities. That said, many Adobe features are not dependent on pin-point color accuracy.

Maybe not: if you’re a stock photographer, since there is no direct client or color-managed chain. One of the world’s biggest libraries, Alamy, has millions of non-color-managed photos on its website.

Maybe not: if you get your prints done at the mall or via the Internet. In that case, the need for a calibration device is less. Why? Because most labs are not color managed. So, a disconnect exists even if you calibrate and profile.

Monitor calibration soft proofing

In Photoshop CC, the ability to “proof colors” depends on an accurate monitor profile as well as an output profile. If you identify a need for this feature, you also need a calibration device.

The need for a calibration device might hinge on your approach. Content is almost everything in photos. Most people viewing your pictures will not be privy to the color you saw on your monitor.

Black & white level calibration

The less you do to a monitor, the less you cause problems like banding, and the better it performs. You needn’t adjust all the settings a monitor has. Even when using a calibration device, many people leave gamma and white point in their “native” condition.

monitor calibration gradient test

You’ll be in a minority if you can view this gradient without seeing any banding, lines or colors (it’s in grayscale). The more you adjust your monitor, the worse this effect will be. But it will only rarely affect photos.

With the above in mind, you could just calibrate the black and white levels. This ensures you can see shadow and highlight detail while editing, preferably in subdued lighting. The process would be something like this:

  • Reset the monitor to default settings.
  • Using black level patches, lower the brightness setting until the darkest patch (#1) is not visible, then brighten it so it is — barely.
  • Using white level patches, adjust contrast if necessary to make the brightest patch (#254) just about visible.

(The #254 pattern on the Lagom site is hard to see except under very subdued light, so #253 will suffice.)

The numbers used to set black and white levels are the same as in an 8-bit image or a levels adjustment (i.e. 0-255). Thus, “0” is pitch black and “255” is the whitest white. All levels in between should be visible.

Most monitors are too bright out of the box. Aside from being poor for editing, this reduces the lifespan of the backlighting.

Free calibration software

There are a couple of free software-only calibration programs. Although they create a profile for you, this profile is not based on the output of your monitor since no measuring takes place. At best, it will be a generic profile taken from your monitor’s EDID data, which may be better than the sRGB alternative.

QuickGamma (Windows)

QuickGamma is a free program that lets you calibrate gamma and black level, but I’d suggest calibrating the latter as described earlier. (I think scrutinizing individual patches is less error prone than squinting at a ramp.) One benefit of QuickGamma v4 is that it can calibrate multiple monitors.

Budget monitor calibration - QuickGamma software

Screenshots of the QuickGamma utility program.

 
If you want to adjust gamma, follow the instructions supplied with the download. I’d advise against adjusting red, green and blue levels unless you see a color cast in the gray bands. Stick to adjusting the gray level if possible. Should you want to adjust the red, blue and green levels, try using this page with the software.

QuickGamma creates a profile based on generic monitor EDID data or sRGB. The first should be more accurate. The profile carries the calibration data, which loads separately on startup. (Windows Desktop does not use the profile.)

Calibrize (Windows)

Calibrize is a simple utility for adjusting black level, white level, and gamma. Unlike QuickGamma, it can only handle single monitors. It doesn’t let you set gray gamma, so you are forced to tweak red, green and blue levels. Adjusting these RGB levels is easier than in QuickGamma, but you’ll still need to squint at the screen to do it.

To build a profile, Calibrize also uses the EDID color data within most monitors. If this is unavailable, I’d guess it uses sRGB.

Budget monitor calibration - Calibrize software

The first and second screens of Calibrize software.

Windows & Mac built-in calibration

Apple and recent Windows operating systems have built-in calibration tools. Personally, I find third-party calibration tools and pages to be better than the Windows utility, particularly regarding the target images used.

I’d suggest these choices for Apple calibration: generic monitor profile, native or 2.2 gamma, native white point. Note again that native settings better preserve the capability of the monitor.

Budget monitor calibration - Windows calibration

This is the image for setting black level (brightness) in Windows. To me, the black “X” seems too bright, which results in a screen that’s too dark.

A paradox exists in calibration in that, the less you do, the better a result you may get. Ironically, you often have to pay for the privilege of doing less in calibration software. Basic programs don’t always allow it.

DisplayCal

Another way you can save money is to buy a basic calibration package and pair the included device with DisplayCal software. In some cases, it’s the complexity of the software that dictates the cost of the calibrator. DisplayCal is one of the best calibration programs, so you’ll gain all the features you need for less money. Be sure to check its compatibility with any device you intend buying.

(DisplayCal is free, though you may wish to contribute towards its upkeep.)

Budget monitor calibration - DisplayCal powered by ArgyllCMS

Screenshots from DisplayCal, which pairs with many calibration devices on the market.

Your call

The aim of this article is not to talk you out of buying a calibrator. If you’re just starting out in photography, you needn’t rush into buying one. Equally, if you don’t like color management or can’t get to grips with it, there is less need to gauge monitor output.

Calibration devices aren’t so expensive, but anyone on a budget has my sympathy. Photography isn’t so cheap. I can also understand the desire to keep things simple. If you can identify with any of that, I hope this article has given you some useful low-cost calibration ideas.

The post How to Achieve Monitor Calibration on a Budget appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

Get Low and Aim High – How to Use Low-Angle Photography to Great Effect

The post Get Low and Aim High – How to Use Low-Angle Photography to Great Effect appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

One way you can make photos stand out is to compose them from an unusually low viewpoint. But why is low-angle photography so effective?

Good photography is hard to define, not least because there is always an element of subjectivity in judging it. Even when you have firm ideas about what great photos look like, there is no guarantee you’ll create them frequently. In fact, the more honed your tastes become, the less easily your own photos are likely to satisfy you.

Low angle photography - gate shot from below

Shooting this Prague gate from below gave it more visual impact and a cleaner composition.

Is there any secret to taking eye-catching pictures? If so, I wish I could harness it. There’s one idea I try to bear in mind: show people things in your pictures they don’t see in their day-to-day lives. That means looking closely and seeing details, noticing the unusual, emphasizing the point of interest, keeping things simple, and knowing what to exclude. What is it you have seen and want to convey?

Low angle photography - statue looking downwards

Statues shot from below often work well when the subject looks down at the camera.

Used creatively, low-angle photography meets the criteria of being unusual and will often make viewers look twice. However, it needs a bit more thought than just pointing the camera upwards.

Getting low, aiming high

Of course, low-angle photography isn’t a radical idea in the context of photographing architecture or statues, because they will often rise above you anyway. Unless you photograph these subjects from distance, you’ll always be pointing the lens upwards. But even with these subjects, you need to get the angle of the shot right and consider what qualities you’re aiming to accentuate.

Low angle photography - St Dunstan's Hill in London

In this slightly eerie photo, the street name at the right adds extra interest and gives the picture scale.

If you’re photographing less lofty subjects such as people, animals or plants, you’ll have to get very low to make the perspective unusual. This, of course, could draw attention to you as a photographer, so you might have to shake off any inhibitions. Concentrate on the shot and you’ll soon forget about what other people think.

Architecture & statues

In the case of architecture, more ornate buildings (e.g. Gothic) aren’t always best shot from directly beneath, because all their detail becomes obscured or lost. You could photograph them that way and pick out a detail such as a gargoyle using shallow depth of field. The same can be done with statues on occasion, whereby you focus on an interesting part of the statue from below and isolate it.

Low angle photography - Canary Wharf in London

Three buildings add to the enclosed feeling of this photo, while the carefully positioned clock lends it some scale.

Modern buildings like office skyscrapers often have the benefit of windows and lines, which narrow and converge if you photograph them from immediately below. This is an effective way of directing the eye towards the top of the building. Use of diagonals is an old trick for leading the eye into the picture, but you might need something else to make the shot a great one: perhaps a dramatic sky or cloud above the building.

Low angle photography - statue of Emmeline Pankhurst in London

Using a shallow depth of field, I isolated the eyeglass in the hand of famous suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, London.

Camera angle

There is no obligation when standing under a building or any other subject to keep it central or horizontal in the frame. By rotating the camera, often you’ll find an angle that increases the slightly giddy impression of towering height. This effect should not be underestimated. It’s a useful trick in low-angle shooting to make the viewer feel slightly disorientated.

Low angle photography - architecture

Left: Silhouette of Rouen Cathedral. Right: One Canada Square – the tallest building in the UK when I shot it. The presence of a second building adds to the giddying effect.

When pointing a camera upwards inside a church or cathedral, I avoid including small sections of detail at the edge of the frame. Instead, I rotate the camera until everything in the picture looks intentional and not something I didn’t notice.

Low angle photography - Rouen Cathedral

This is an obvious shot to take of the Crossing Tower in Rouen Cathedral. The main trick lies in composition and finding an effective angle.

People

Photographing people from a low angle produces some interesting effects. If you look at old “film noir” movie stills, you’ll see a lot of shots where the camera is pointing upwards. This gives portraits a moody feel and empowers the subject because he/she towers above the photographer and, ultimately, the viewer. The downside of shooting from below is that it can be unflattering, often making subjects look broader in the body and fatter in the face.

Low angle photography - casual portrait from a low perspective

A somewhat moody low-angle portrait. You’ll see a lot of low angles as well as low-key lighting in old film noir movies.

You can shoot from low angles in street photography, too, whether from the hip or the ground. Be careful when shooting from the ground that you’re not invading anyone’s privacy by pointing the camera upwards—stay aware of your surroundings and watch who is entering the frame and how they are dressed.

Low angle photography - Venice Carnival

This shot at the Venice Carnival was taken from ground level. Without any prompting, the lady in the middle obligingly leaned over towards the camera.

The mere act of taking street photos from a low level may not, in itself, create a successful photo (if only it were that easy). You still need to have seen something interesting or out of the ordinary and the composition must be right. You might notice a detail at ground level and juxtapose it with the people above it.

Animals & pets

Many people photograph their pets from above, but if you get down to their level you can almost humanize them. That is to say, you’ll often capture their character better than from above. Like human subjects, photographing a pet from floor level gives it more power. An example of this might be if you photograph a cat preparing to pounce—you’ll put yourself in the position of the cat’s prey.

Low angle photography - Birman cat

Cats often take on that regal, aloof look when photographed from below.

Flowers

Sometimes you’ll get good results when shooting flowers from a low angle. One benefit in good weather is that you might get a plain blue sky as a background. Blue goes well with red and yellow – the three together form a triadic color scheme. It also blends well with orange (e.g. California Poppies), since blue and orange are complementary colors.

This low-angle shot from many years ago was completely unsighted. I was aiming to contrast life (flowers and bumblebee) with the WW1 gravestone and tragedy of war. I don’t know that I succeeded, but the idea still resonates.

Of course, it may not be color that inspires you to photograph flowers from below. You might want to emphasize a long stem or capture the translucent qualities of a flower’s petals against a bright sky. You might go for the dramatic effect of many flowers looming over the lens—a bit like a miniaturized forest.

Low angle photography - flowers

These flower shots from below aim to show the sunlit semi-opaque petals as well as color and shape. The fact that they are tall flowers makes this treatment easy even with a bulky SLR.

Trees

Trees are a prime candidate for low-angle shooting, either individually or collectively. Like buildings, you need to stand immediately below them to make the shot even slightly unconventional and maximize the effect. Such photos aren’t always striking unless there is an interesting branch formation or pattern above, so you should take care in picking a subject. Colorful foliage is an obvious thing to look out for, too, especially during fall.

Low angle photography

I shot this mainly for its bark pattern and texture, using the blue sky as a pleasing backdrop. Interesting branch formations or foliage colors might also prompt you to take such pictures.

Equipment

You don’t need any special equipment to shoot from low angles, but obviously a flip-out LCD screen is a useful thing to have. If you don’t have that, at least digital photography costs nothing to experiment with, so you can shoot blind until you get what you want. This was how I first took low-angle photos—with repeated unsighted exposures. A wide-angle lens might help you accentuate height sometimes with its sweeping view of the world, but this is not a necessity.

I hope this article inspires you to shoot some great low-angle photos, whatever the subject. Good luck, and please share with us in the comments below!

The post Get Low and Aim High – How to Use Low-Angle Photography to Great Effect appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

3 Top Cell Phone Photography Apps (Android or iOS)

The post 3 Top Cell Phone Photography Apps (Android or iOS) appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

One of the nice things about photography is that you don’t need an expensive camera or exotic lenses to produce good photos. Although such gear ensures the best image quality, to some degree that need has been nullified by the way today’s photos are shared. When viewed on a high-res smartphone or tablet, the technical imperfections of a phone image all but vanish. Cell phone photography is as legitimate as any other form of photography. Or is it?

In recent years, as the Internet has grown in power and influence, cell phone photography has become widely accepted by picture libraries and agencies. A huge market exists for web pictures, and it doesn’t always take DSLRs or even compact cameras to supply it. After inheriting an iPhone a few months back, and acquainting myself with various apps, I began sending phone photos to picture libraries.

When it comes to cellphone photos, libraries are surprisingly open-minded about the use of filters and effects. A conservative approach to editing is not necessary and may even be unhelpful. This article looks at three of the apps I use most for preparing images: MIX, PS Express, and Snapseed. Any of these three allows basic manual adjustments of color and tone. So instead of attempting repetitive in-depth reviews of all three, I aim to show you some of their individual features.

Three top cell phone photography apps

The opening screens of MIX by Camera360, Adobe PS Express and Snapseed by Google. All three are available for iOS or Android phones.

MIX by Camera360

MIX is filter-oriented with 100+ free filters and some in-app purchases. Of course, it also lets you make straight edits to your pictures (e.g. brightness, saturation, contrast, sharpness, spot removal). I’ve always liked presets and filters. If other photographers know exactly what they’re going to do with every photo, I’m not one of them. Sometimes it’s fun to try out different stuff and hit a few buttons.

Cine Filters

When you want to apply a color cast to an image, the Cine filters in MIX work well. They have various effects, including warm-up, cooling, and a classic orange & teal combo for movie-style color contrast (try Googling “orange and teal photography” to discover more). Using these filters is a bit like tuning the temp and tint sliders in Lightroom. They affect the white balance of the image.

Three top cell phone photography apps - teal and orange Cine filter from MIX

This orange (warm-up) and teal look is similar to an effect used in modern movies and comes from one of several Cine filters in MIX.

Slide Film Filters

As my photography predates the digital age, filters that imitate last-generation slide films appeal to me. I can’t testify as to their accuracy, but if I want a deep blue sky or just a bit more punch in color and contrast, MIX gives me an easy solution.

Three great cell phone photography apps - MIX Slide Film filters

These deep-blue skies were achieved with the Fuji Velvia Slide Film filters in MIX and are true to the effect often seen in Velvia transparencies.

Holiday Sky Filters

Being an old-school slide shooter (or old at any rate), I struggle with the idea of grafting new skies onto photos, but then photography rarely tells the whole truth. MIX offers a range of Holiday Sky filters that might just rescue disappointing photos. To make artificial skies seem realistic, you must take notice of how the light falls in your photo and make sure it doesn’t blatantly conflict with the new background. There’s also a MIX “Magic Sky” filter series for more dramatic effects.

3 top cell phone photography apps - MIX holiday sky filters

Sky grafting might be anathema for some, but Holiday Sky filters in MIX make it easy to replace a dull sky.

Adobe PS Express

As a long-time user of Photoshop, I tried PS Express hoping for a level of familiarity. I wasn’t disappointed. You can adjust photos using the same editing sliders found in other Adobe products: much of the toolbox seems intact.

Transform

If you shoot architectural photos, one of the best things about PS Express is its ability to easily correct the verticals and/or horizontals of a building. This avoids the “falling over” effect you get when pointing a camera at architecture. It helps if you leave space around the building when photographing it, otherwise, the transform tool will slice the edges off it.

Three top cell phone photography apps - transform tool in PS Express

The verticals in this photo of Florence were corrected with the Transform tool in PS Express.

Filters

PS Express has a decent selection of filters. I’m fond of the ones that apply a vignette, such as Basic/Autumn or B&W/pinhole. These give photos a sense of drama, and like all vignettes focus attention on the middle of the photo. You can give your photos a lot of mood with these filters.

Three top cell phone photography apps - PS Express pinhole filter

The PS Express B&W Pinhole filter focuses attention on the face of this effigy in Rouen Cathedral.

Text

Adding text to photos can seem a complicated process in some apps and programs, but PS Express makes it easy. You can easily create website graphics, greetings cards or memes and have plenty of control over fonts and opacity. As well, you can send your creations as layered PSD files to Photoshop CC on a computer.

Three top cell phone photography apps - PS Express text

Adding text with different fonts, opacity and colors is easy in PS Express.

Snapseed by Google

Developed by Google, Snapseed is an intuitive app that offers single-click “Looks” (filters by another name) and “Tools” for adjustable edits. It’s capable of great results with as little or as much input as you want. Among the tools, you’ll find anything from regular brightness, contrast or saturation sliders to more adventurous edits like “Double Exposure” or “Grunge”.

Looks: Fine Art

For black and white conversions, I find the “Fine Art” filter in Snapseed particularly pleasing. There is always a full range of tones to pack plenty of punch without much loss of shadow or highlight detail. The pictures are also very clean—no mid-tone noise in skies like there is with some B&W edits.

Three top cell phone photography apps - Snapseed fine art filter

The Snapseed Fine Art filter gives a well-balanced B&W conversion with a pleasing range of tones. I use it as my B&W cell phone default.

Tools: Drama

The Drama tool can easily produce overcooked results if you’re not careful, but it’s useful for bringing out the detail in clouds and/or lifting an otherwise dull photo taken on an overcast day. You can adjust the filter’s contrast effect as well as saturation to fine-tune the result.

Three top cell phone photography apps - drama tool

The Drama tool emphasizes mid-tone contrast and bleaches saturation on its default setting, often resulting in more dramatic skies.

Tools: Lens Blur

Snapseed’s Lens Blur tool lets you emphasize a particular area of a photo by controlling background blur and vignetting. The “Transition” slider lets you control the feathering area between the main subject and background, enabling natural-looking results.

Three top cell phone photography apps - Snapseed lens blur tool

The Snapseed Lens Blur tool emphasizes the face of this wooden sculpture of Christ in Venice.

Summary

The apps in this article will not be new to seasoned smartphone photographers, but I hope I’ve inspired others to use their cell phone cameras creatively. Phones have their limitations for some genres of photography, but that’s true of any camera and lens combo. They offer unrivaled portability. And while cell phones aren’t often seen in pro photography, they don’t rule out the chance of publication. Smartphones and their apps let you express yourself in countless ways.

The post 3 Top Cell Phone Photography Apps (Android or iOS) appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

How to Choose the Right Color Profile For Sharing Images Online

Many people have problems with the color of their photos when they publish them online. There are several reasons why this might be so, but the most common culprits are the color space of the image and whether or not the profile is embedded. Both color settings can radically affect web browser color and how your photos look.

Let’s look at some of the potential pitfalls more closely.

The Importance of Embedding the Color Profile

Whenever you edit your photos in an editing program like Photoshop, you are doing so using a specific RGB working color space. To be sure of preserving the color you see when you’re editing, you need to embed the profile before saving the image.

In simple terms, the ICC profile is a translator. It enables different apps and devices to interpret the color as you intended. If you get into the habit of embedding profiles into your images as you save them, you’ll reduce the chances of color looking wrong on the web or in print.

ProPhoto RGB image with embedded profile - How to Choose the Right Color Profile For Sharing Images Online

The rich color in this ProPhoto RGB image will look okay in many browsers despite not being sRGB as normally advised. If it looks muted and drained of saturation to you, it’ll be because you are viewing it in a non-color-managed browser. By embedding the profile, I’ve given it the best chance of looking as intended to the majority of people. On a wide-gamut monitor, the colors will pop a bit more.

Embedding the profile into an image adds about 3-4 kB to the file size, so the only time it makes sense to exclude it is when you’re uploading vast quantities of photos to the Internet.

If you must leave the profile out, making sure that the image is in the sRGB color space will limit any resulting damage. Two or three of the more popular browsers will still display the color faithfully because they automatically guess the profile correctly (i.e. sRGB).

Although most browsers have improved in their handling of color recently, it’s still good practice to embed the profile. Don’t leave it out without good reason.

Prophoto RGB image with no profile - How to Choose the Right Color Profile For Sharing Images Online

Because the profile has been left out of this same ProPhoto RGB image, the brightness and color will look terrible in most browsers and on most monitors. By contrast, a missing profile for an sRGB file would be undetectable to a large number of people.

How to Embed the Profile

Embedding the profile into images is usually just a case of checking a box when you export the photo. If such an option doesn’t exist, the default will either be the predefined working space of the program, or it’ll be sRGB for web-specific output.

If you want to check the color of your web images before publishing, open them directly in a browser (preferably a reliable one like Chrome) and see how they compare to the original in your photo-editing program. Be a little wary of uploading images to platforms that strip out the profile, though these will not typically be photo gallery sites.

embedding the profile into web photos - How to Choose the Right Color Profile For Sharing Images Online

Embedding or stripping out profiles usually only requires you to check or uncheck a box when saving. This is the “save as” pane in Photoshop.

Converting to Profile

You can use “convert to profile” in Photoshop to create an sRGB image, which is the safest color space choice for the web. Be sure not to overwrite the original file and save it this way, because larger color spaces are a better choice for outputs such as inkjet printing.

Do not use “assign profile” for profile conversion, as it causes a color shift and is not meant for this purpose.

Using convert to profile in Photoshop - How to Choose the Right Color Profile For Sharing Images Online

Using “assign profile” in Photoshop to convert between profiles will cause a color shift. Color in the right-hand image above has gone flat as a result of assigning an sRGB profile to an Adobe RGB image. You must use “convert to profile” if you want to create an sRGB version of your photo for the web.

Why Monitor Gamut Matters

Color management needs at least two profiles to work (image profile and monitor profile in this case). If you publish images without profiles embedded, you’re relying on the viewer’s browser to guess the color space correctly.

When color management is absent from the browser or app for whatever reason, the following statements are true:

  • An Adobe RGB image looks roughly correct on a wide-gamut display.
  • An Adobe RGB image looks muted in color on a standard-gamut display.
  • sRGB images look roughly correct on a standard-gamut display.
  • An sRGB image looks oversaturated in color on a wide-gamut display.

Note that an Adobe RGB image without a profile embedded looks muted in most situations and must be avoided. Browsers will guess the color space to be sRGB if they guess at all.

standard gamut monitor exceeding srgb - How to Choose the Right Color Settings For Sharing Images Online

The graph above shows the difference between a standard-gamut Dell monitor (colored outline) and the sRGB profile (dotted outline). Even on a regular desktop monitor, some colors are quite likely to exceed the sRGB color space and look too saturated when viewed in Microsoft browsers.

In the monitor above, it’s reds that are most exaggerated in that situation. If you haven’t profiled your monitor or if the gamut of the screen is contained by sRGB, you won’t encounter this.

Browser Behavior 2018

To understand color profiles, it helps to know how different browsers behave with color. I tested five browsers for this article to give you an idea of what to expect. Feel free to query this if you think any of these observations are wrong:

Google Chrome

Chrome is a fully color-managed browser that assigns sRGB to any “untagged” images (i.e. those without profiles embedded). It reads all embedded profiles.

Opera

Opera is a color-managed browser that automatically assumes photos to be sRGB if the profile is missing. Like Chrome, it reads all profiles, including Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB.

Firefox Quantum

You can configure Firefox to assign sRGB to any untagged photo. It reads all embedded color profiles.

If you happen to run two monitors, Firefox does not maintain full color management across both of them. For optimum color, you must dial in one monitor profile then stick with that monitor. This only applies if your monitors have custom profiles.

Microsoft Edge/Internet Explorer

Microsoft Edge has a half-baked solution to color management. It reads different color profiles and converts everything to sRGB for display. The main problem is that it doesn’t use the monitor profile. Thus, it works best if your monitor does not exceed sRGB in gamut. Otherwise, you’ll see wayward colors.

Safari (for Windows)

Safari can read profiles in images and uses the monitor profile (unlike MS Edge or MS IE), but it does not assign a profile to an image if one is missing. In that situation, it displays color wrongly as Microsoft Edge does.

Web browser proof colors - How to Choose the Right Color Settings For Sharing Images Online

In Photoshop, you can use “Monitor RGB” proof colors to show you what the photo will look like in Internet Explorer on your own monitor. You’ll need to convert the image to sRGB first. If colors look brighter than they do without proofing, it means your monitor’s native gamut exceeds the sRGB profile.

A second experiment is to view the proof colors of an Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB image using “Internet Standard RGB”. This will show you how photos in bigger color spaces look on the internet if you omit the profile.

Choosing sRGB for the Web

The reason why sRGB is a safer choice of color space for the web is that most displays or monitors are not wide-gamut. Thus, if the profile goes astray or is stripped out, or if a device or app doesn’t support color management, the color will still look okay. This is what Microsoft’s browsers rely on to work.

If you want the color of your photos to look “okay” to the widest possible audience you need only do two things:

  1. Make sure the image is in an sRGB color space either by using it as your working space or by converting to sRGB before uploading to the web.
  2. Embed the sRGB profile into the image before saving.
Photoshop save for web - How to Choose the Right Color Settings For Sharing Images Online

Photoshop’s “Save for Web” lets you convert to sRGB at the very last moment by checking a box. If you leave the box unchecked, the photo is saved in whatever color space you edited it in. You can’t strip the profile out with this checkbox: it’s purely for conversion.

Other Choices: Adobe RGB and ProPhoto RGB

Since most popular browsers are now color savvy, the possibility of using other color spaces on the web exists. You could, for instance, publish photos with an Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB profile embedded, and they’d still look good to most people. To a minority, they’d look better.

The color of wide-gamut monitors typically exceeds Adobe RGB in places. Hence, there is theoretically a reason for publishing photos in ProPhoto RGB. However, this is offset by the dire color that results when the profiles are missing or ignored. It’s high risk.

Adobe RGB is an interesting prospect for the web because it still benefits users of wide-gamut monitors. Importantly, it doesn’t look as bad as ProPhoto RGB when things go wrong. However, if you publish in Adobe RGB, you’ll still be doing so for a relatively small audience.

If you do use these wider-gamut color spaces for the web, you absolutely must embed the profile. As soon as that goes astray, the color in your photos will look a bit flat to many people. In the case of ProPhoto RGB, it’s likely to look awful.

sRGB color vs wide gamut monitor color - How to Choose the Right Color Settings For Sharing Images Online

This 3D diagram (above) shows the sRGB profile encompassed by the profile of a wide-gamut monitor. In particular, you’ll note the extended range of cyans and greens in the latter.

The idea of using larger color spaces on the web is appealing, especially if you’re a landscape photographer for whom these colors are often truncated. It means you’d be making more use of your camera’s capabilities. However, it’s inherently riskier and you’ll be playing to a relatively small audience. The safe choice is still sRGB.

In Summary

Although modern browsers are more flexible, sRGB is still the safest choice of color space for the web. Again, this is because it roughly matches the gamut of most electronic displays. Using bigger color spaces risks draining your photos of color, especially on tablets or smartphones that may not be color-managed.

I hope this has been of some use. Feel free to ask questions if you need any clarification.

The post How to Choose the Right Color Profile For Sharing Images Online appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Genuinely Useful Photoshop Actions

I use Lightroom for basic editing and raw conversions, but I still like to tweak my photos in Photoshop. Mostly, that’s just about familiarity. I’m a Photoshop addict. Technically, it makes sense to do as much editing in the raw convertor as possible—perhaps all of it—but I like the blank canvas that is Photoshop more than the frog-marched workflow of raw convertors. Besides, there are still things you can see and do in Photoshop that aren’t possible in Lightroom.

Although I might spend a fair while in Photoshop doing labor-intensive things, for the most part, I’m looking to edit photos quickly and naturally so they might be broadly acceptable for publication. I want my pictures to look good without going down the path of fancy effects, which would often narrow their salability.

Create photoshop actions

One way I can quickly tweak photos in Photoshop CC is to have a collection of Actions available. This article will show you five useful Photoshop Actions (available for download at the end of the article) curated and/or adapted by me that have nothing to do with 1970s summery film effects, light leak effects, or anything like that. Those are for another day.

Make Buttons for your Actions

Before we get down to the Actions, consider putting your Actions window into “Button Mode” once you’ve recorded or downloaded them. This makes actions more usable since it avoids you having to scroll down to find them. Nothing is faster than single clicks to get your images looking good, even if you have to back up sometimes.

You can customize the colors of your Action buttons if you want, perhaps assigning a different color to each type of edit.

Photoshop actions button mode

Observe and Adapt

One of the purposes of this article is to show you some neat tricks in Photoshop that you can incorporate into Actions. You’ll be able to see what’s happening and use the same tools to achieve different or better things. These Actions also make use of channel masks, which enable precise, flawlessly nuanced selections of color and tone for different types of edits.

Channels selections, Alpha channel, Photoshop CC

These Actions make heavy use of channels, selections, and layer masks.

Action #1 Saturation Boost

Ever since “vibrancy” was introduced, the use of saturation masks has diminished. The purpose of a saturation mask is to gradually mask the most or least saturated areas of an image, depending on whether you invert the selection or not. We can still use such a mask to create a saturation boost Action. It is made using Photoshop’s HSB/HSL filter.

HSB/HSL filter

The HSB/HSL filter has a psychedelic effect on the image.

An inverse saturation mask addresses the least saturated areas of the image more strongly, but there’s still an outside chance of clipping the RGB channels with it (i.e. overexposing or underexposing them and losing detail). In this Action, a “blend if” blending option has been added to give extra protection to shadows and highlights.

Method

  1. Create a duplicate layer (Cmd/Ctrl + J).
  2. Apply an HSB/HSL filter (RGB & HSB settings) to the duplicate layer – it will turn a weird color.
  3. Invert the colors of the layer (Ctrl/Cmd + I).
  4. Select the green channel under “channels”, right-click and create a duplicate channel (label it “Sat Mask”).
  5. Go back to layers and delete the duplicate layer.
  6. Back in channels, Ctrl/Cmd + click on the “Sat Mask” channel you just created (you should see marching ants on your open photo at this point).
  7. In layers, create a hue/saturation adjustment layer.
  8. Add +25 of saturation in the hue/saturation dialogue box (or any value that might be useful).
  9. Go to Layer > Layer Style > Blending Options.
  10. Under Blend If > This Layer, move the sliders inwards to 245 and 10 (or in that vicinity).
  11. Hold down the Alt key to split these sliders into two, moving the inner halves to values of 70 and 160. This feathers the selection to avoid harsh transitions in tone. Click “OK”.
  12. Delete the “Sat Mask” channel.
  13. Ctrl/Cmd + E to merge all layers.

50-50 view of HSB/HSL filter and regular photo.

If the effect of the Action is too strong or weak for your liking, you can hit Ctrl/Cmd + Z to unblend the layers and alter the saturation value. Then simply blend again. This action is much the same as using the vibrancy slider only in fast button form.

Action #2 Mid-Tone Contrast +50

This relatively simple action injects contrast into the mid-tone to highlight areas of an image and leaves shadow areas untouched. Adding contrast in this way also intensifies the color. It’s akin to a curves adjustment, leaving the lower part of the curve untouched.

Photoshop contrast

Although it’s hard to appreciate in a side-by-side comparison, perhaps you can see the snappier highlights and slightly increased mid-tone saturation to the left side of this image. Shadows remain untouched.

Method

  1. Go to the channels palette and click on the RGB channel while holding down the Ctrl/Cmd key. This creates a selection on your background layer.
  2. Switch to your layers palette and hit Ctrl/Cmd + J keys, which will paste your masked selection onto a new layer.
  3. Go to blending modes (top left of the layers palette), and select Soft Light. Contrast is added to the mid-tone/highlight portions of your picture.
  4. Adjust the layer opacity to taste (set at 50% in the supplied Action).
  5. Ctrl/Cmd + E to merge down the layers.

Action #3 Refined Clarity

This Photoshop Action is similar to the previous one in that it’s a type of contrast adjustment which protects the shadows. The main difference is that this one uses Clarity, which it borrows from ACR.

In terms of appearance, this Action reveals more textural detail than a straight contrast adjustment by emphasizing edges and small changes in tone. It affects the saturation less.

Clarity slider, clarity settings

The image on the left has some Clarity applied to it, but the shadows are protected to avoid the kind of crunchy look that occurs with a similar amount is applied in a raw converter (right).

(The Clarity slider gives much the same effect as “high radius, low amount” Unsharp Mask sharpening, which was a thing about 10 years ago.)

If you want to give flat images extra pop with a greater impression of depth and detail, this Photoshop Action works well. Once again, it uses a Blend If modifications to refine the result, avoiding the grunge that often makes excessive Clarity unsightly. By tapering the result from shadows to highlights, it does most of its work in the mid to high tones.

Method

  1. Create a duplicate layer (Ctrl/Cmd + J).
  2. Label the layer “Clarity”.
  3. Open ACR by clicking on Filter > Camera Raw Filter.
  4. Drag the Clarity slider to 100% (ignore the harsh result).
  5. Click OK and be returned to Photoshop.
  6. Open the blending options (Layer Style > Blending Options or double-click to the right of the layer name).
  7. Go to Blend If > Underlying Layer. Hold down the Alt key and drag the right-hand side of the shadow triangle on the left all the way to the far right.
  8. Click OK.
  9. Adjust the layer opacity to taste (the supplied Action is set to 60%).
  10. Ctrl/Cmd + E to merge layers.

Action #4 Shadow Noise

In recent years, the Auto button in Lightroom and ACR has improved to such an extent that I sometimes click on it as an alternative starting point. The result is akin to a mild HDR effect. In particular, it tends to cut out the high contrast in images.

Photos that are intended for sale (however optimistically) don’t generally benefit from being loaded with hard-to-see, blocky detail.

In an image such as this one, I might hit Auto in the raw converter to unblock some of the shadows (as is the case in the top section of the picture: notice the railings, man’s coat, and architectural details).

Of course, the problem with bringing out shadow detail is that it invites noise. Depending on your camera and its settings, it might invite a lot of noise. If we create a Noise Reduction Action using a channel mask, we can target the darkest areas of an image. What’s more, the mask is perfectly feathered, so it will seamlessly apply more or less noise reduction according to the tones of the image.

On the right side of this image, you’ll note that the brighter areas are masked off (redder areas) and thus excluded from noise reduction.

The downside of creating a Photoshop Action for noise reduction is that normally you’d adjust the settings according to the properties of each photo. However, there’s nothing to stop you creating several noise reduction actions for different picture profiles. As well, you could integrate a noise reduction plugin that assesses each picture individually.

Method

  1. Create a duplicate layer and name it “Reduce Noise”.
  2. Apply noise reduction to the duplicate layer.
  3. Go to channels and Ctrl/Cmd + Click on the RGB channel, creating a selection.
  4. Hit Shift + Ctrl/Cmd + I to invert the selection.
  5. Click on “Save Selection as a Channel”.
  6. With the selection visible (marching ants) go back to layers and add a mask to your duplicate “Reduce Noise” layer.
  7. Delete the remaining extra channel (“Alpha 1” if you didn’t rename it).
  8. Ctrl/Cmd + E to merge the layers.

Action #5 Web Sharpen

Sharpening is a contrast adjustment, where adjacent edges are made brighter and darker according to their tone to create the illusion of sharpness. The aim is to emphasize these edges without overdoing it and creating haloes.

One way you can control sharpening is with a luminosity mask, which automatically modifies the amount of edge contrast applied depending on how bright or dark it is. The beauty of this is that it’s subjective. Like other channel masks, it fades the effect of your edit based purely on the content of the image. The only control you have to think about is opacity, which might be greater or smaller depending on the size of the image.

channels mask, luminosity mask, Photoshop

By applying a luminosity mask, sharpening is proportionately reduced in the darker parts of the image (shown as deep red). This ensures that less attention is given to any noisy shadow areas, which we don’t want to sharpen. The Action also shields bright highlights from sharpening using a Blend If setting.

I find that this Action at 10% opacity works well on web images of between 800 and 1200 pixels wide.

Method

  1. Create a duplicate layer and name it “Sharpen”.
  2. Open channels, hold down the  Ctrl/Cmd key and click on the RGB channel, creating a selection.
  3. Click on the “Save selection as channel” icon at the bottom of the channels palette. A new channel will appear called “Alpha 1”.
  4. Deselect it by hitting Ctrl/Cmd + D or by clicking Select > Deselect.
  5. Click on your “Sharpen” layer to make it live.
  6. Go to Filter > Unsharp Mask and select a high value of 400-500, a radius of around 0.8 to 1.2, and a value of 0.
  7. Ctrl/Cmd + click on the “Alpha 1” channel in the channels palette (the selection will reappear as marching ants).
  8. Go back to the layers palette and with your “Sharpen” layer selected, click on the “Add layer mask” icon. This modifies the sharpening effect.
  9. Click on Layer> Layer Style > Blending Options.
  10. Move the right-hand slider under “This Layer” to 245.
  11. Holding down the Alt key, split the left-hand side of this slider and move it to around 220.
  12. Click OK.
  13. Adjust the layer opacity to taste (the download action is set at 10%).
  14. Delete Alpha 1 channel.
  15. Ctrl/Cmd + E to merge layers.

Photoshop Action Crashes

Occasionally, for reasons unclear to me, Photoshop Actions seem to crash and will not thereafter work without a Photoshop restart. A sure sign that this has happened, aside from inaction and error messages, is that the button in “button mode” changes color.

Download the Set

Download these actions here for free. To install: open the download directly into Photoshop or load from within Actions.

Finally

If an Action doesn’t improve the photo as you’d hoped, you can delete or add elements as you wish, perhaps with different settings or to refine the result. I hope this article inspires you to experiment with some of Photoshop’s more powerful tools. Good luck!

The post 5 Genuinely Useful Photoshop Actions appeared first on Digital Photography School.

6 Tips for Aiming Low and Going Unnoticed in Street Photography

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome in street photography is inhibition. Taking candid photos of strangers is not for everyone. Your demeanor should be cool, calm, and confident, even if that’s not how you feel inside.

Looking sheepish or, worse, creepy, is the last thing you want. The way you dress might have an effect. Rightly or wrongly, people will assess you based on their first impression. Think about ways you can blend in.

6 Tips for Aiming Low and Going Unnoticed in Street Photography

If confidence eludes you when photographing strangers, there are other ways of approaching street photography—ways that are passive and non-confrontational.

#1 Pick a background

Before discussing the main topic, let’s look at backgrounds. One way of taking street photos is to find interesting backgrounds and wait for suitable subjects to move into view. This works especially well if you can establish a link between the person entering the shot and your chosen backdrop.

Perhaps you want someone dressed in a particular way or with a specific pattern or color of clothing. Often, style or elegance is enough. When you arrive at the scene before your subject, the feeling of invading his or her space reduces.

6 Tips for Aiming Low and Going Unnoticed in Street Photography

The problem you’re most likely to face with this method is people stopping to let you take the photo, not realizing that they are the vital element. It helps if you’re ready to take the shot in advance rather than lifting the camera abruptly as someone draws near.

Working distance also plays a part: the closer you are the more noticeable you become. Master the art of loitering, and look relaxed while you’re doing it.

6 Tips for Aiming Low and Going Unnoticed in Street Photography

#2 Aim low

Pointing your camera downwards is an easy way to take street photos. As in other areas of life, your presence will be better tolerated if you’re not in anyone’s face. People with a keen sense of personal space are less likely to care about a lens aimed at their feet.

Even if you’re a confident street photographer and have no qualms about taking photos of strangers, some great photos exist at ground level. This is not purely a technique for the shy or meek.

6 Tips for Aiming Low and Going Unnoticed in Street Photography

One famous exponent of low-level pictures is Elliott Erwitt, who is especially known for photos of dogs and their owners’ ankles. You can emphasize the character of a pet by getting down to its level when taking a photo. In effect, Erwitt was humanizing the animal and making the human subordinate.

6 Tips for Aiming Low and Going Unnoticed in Street Photography

#3 Pick a background and aim low at the same time

By combining both the techniques we’ve discussed, the process of taking street photos becomes simpler still. That’s not to say that good results are any easier, but you might feel more comfortable with what you’re doing. The only trait you’ll need is patience.

Choose an interesting low-level background and imagine the type of subject you want to walk across it. Then, wait.

6 Tips for Aiming Low and Going Unnoticed in Street Photography

In a city, you’ll become almost invisible by standing casually around and pretending to fiddle with your camera settings. In fact, the more baffled you look by your own camera, the more innocent you seem.

This is the opposite of the “confident photographer act”. When you look distracted, nobody cares what you’re doing and they’re unlikely to realize that they’re the prop you’ve been waiting for.

#4 Cameras and Camera Settings

You can use any camera for street photography, but some degree of discretion is an advantage. A bulky DSLR with a big lens is likely to get you seen. A smaller rangefinder or compact camera is ideal.

The extra depth of field you’ll get from a compact camera is also useful for this subject matter. You can also configure an SLR to be more of a point-and-shoot camera (high ISO, small aperture).

Taking good street photos is so hard that you need to sort out the technical settings beforehand. There’s usually little time for fine-tuning once you’ve seen the picture.

6 Tips for Aiming Low and Going Unnoticed in Street Photography

#5 Capturing movement

To capture movement in your subject, a camera or lens with image stabilization (IS) is useful. It will help keep the background sharp while enabling movement in your subject.

For this, you could shoot in twilight hours or even after dark. Or else, you’ll need to manually set a slow shutter speed of about 1/8th to 1/30th second and let the image stabilization take care of the background. Compact cameras typically allow low handheld speeds with good results, especially with a wide-angle focal length.

6 Tips for Aiming Low and Going Unnoticed in Street Photography

#6 Background ideas

Photographing people’s lower extremities is easier if you’re on a slightly different level. To that end, slopes, steps, and escalators are ideal. If you don’t want your motives and character being questioned, be wary of your camera position in relation to the subject and don’t take photos that look remotely voyeuristic.

Ground-level backgrounds might include cobbles, grating, wooden boards, road markings, or street art. Above the ground, you could be looking for anything to complement the subject. It might be a wall, shop window, or an advertising hoarding.

The background is as important as the subject – you’re trying to find an interesting juxtaposition.

6 Tips for Aiming Low and Going Unnoticed in Street Photography

Generally speaking, a “fussy” background (one with lots of small detail) is likely to clash with a fussy main subject. The main elements of the picture should not rival each other.

Finally

Aiming low with your photography doesn’t sound like encouragement, but good pictures await you at ground level. Perhaps above all else: learn how to loiter. Stay relaxed, move slowly, lean on stuff, and wait.

Until the moment you release the shutter, you’re only an observer. Try to anticipate, so you don’t have to lift your camera at the final moment. Keep an eye on who’s coming your way. Casually point your camera down and wait for the actor to enter the stage.

The post 6 Tips for Aiming Low and Going Unnoticed in Street Photography by Glenn Harper appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Photograph Crockery and Cutlery

In 1928, Andre Kertész took an iconic photo of a fork resting on a bowl. It’s called “La Fourchette”. Despite its simplicity, or maybe because of it, the photo is striking. The separate parts of the composition are banal—a bowl, a fork, and a table—but the photo is a superb study in light and form. Bold shadows emphasize shape and create a visual intrigue that holds the viewer’s attention.

How to Photograph Crockery and Cutlery

With Kertész’s photo forever lodged in my mind, I’ve taken many photos of crockery and cutlery over the years. Stopping for something to eat or drink is a reason to take the camera out rather than put it away. Although I have a modest collection of antique knives, forks, and spoons at home, eating out while finding new tableware to photograph is part of the fun.

How to Photograph Crockery and Cutlery

Cameras and lenses

You can use any camera to photograph tableware, obviously, but some close-up capability is useful. Smartphones and compact cameras are ideal, as they allow extreme close-ups with lots of depth of field. Cameras with bigger sensors effectively give less depth of field, and often you’ll want lots of it. Also, a small camera is easier to use discreetly at a restaurant table.

Working with shadows

To imitate the Kertész fork photo you need directional light. If you’re taking photos at an eatery, look for lighting opportunities before choosing a table. Window light is directional on a sunny day if there are no net curtains or frosted glass installed.

Bare, clear-glass bulbs create bolder shadows than a fluorescent bulb or shaded light. A table lamp with a tapered coolie shade makes a good makeshift studio light if you move it close to your subject, as it forces its strongest light downwards.

How to Photograph Crockery and Cutlery

Once you’ve identified a suitable light source for creating shadows, how do you make the most of it? Adjusting the position and distance of the light, if possible, will alter the intensity of the shadow. Look at the Kertész photo and you’ll see there is very little mid-tone detail—it’s a high-contrast photo that emphasizes shape.

How to Photograph Crockery and Cutlery

Aside from the depth and definition of the shadow, its angle also plays a significant role. A fork or other utensil resting on the edge of a concave bowl or plate creates an elongated shadow. This distorted shape contrasts with the realistic outline that is cast onto a flat surface with the light at a right angle to the subject.

Looking at form

Not by accident did Kertész choose a fork for his tabletop photo. No other piece of cutlery is as intriguingly formed. However, many types of tableware are elegantly designed, so it’s worth looking closely for photo opportunities. Intricate details often make good photos. As well, you can combine multiple items to make the composition more appealing. The graceful lines of several stacked spoons make a good photo, for instance.

How to Photograph Crockery and Cutlery

Making the most of reflections

When you take photos of shiny silverware, glassware, or cups filled with tea and other beverages, inevitably you’ll see some reflections. Some of these are to be avoided, but you don’t usually want a reflection of yourself in the photo.

On the other hand, the success of the photo might hinge on a good reflection of other cutlery items or perhaps an ornate window or furnishing nearby. This is always worth watching out for one way or another.

How to Photograph Crockery and Cutlery

Whether through shadows or reflections, look for interplay between the different items on the table. At home, try using a mirrored surface to create intriguing cutlery compositions. Place items carefully so that they harmonize rather than merely obstruct each other.

How to Photograph Crockery and Cutlery

Tabletops and backdrops

Whenever a tabletop forms part of your composition, you must make sure that it doesn’t detract from the photo. Just like any background, it has the power to make or break the whole image.

Don’t include it at all if it has a distracting pattern or texture. Look closely at any grain or joins to make sure nothing works against the flow of the photo. In some cases, a well-lit or interesting table surface may play a strong role in the picture. If that isn’t so, it should be low-key.

How to Photograph Crockery and Cutlery

Fancy silverware

Once you’ve exhausted photo possibilities based on light and form, it’s always worth examining the little design flourishes found on a lot of fancy tableware. For this minute examination of detail, you definitely need a macro lens or the close-up facility of a cell phone or compact camera.

How to Photograph Crockery and Cutlery

Armed with close-up capability, you’ll see all kinds of photo chances at a micro-level. Look for little twists and turns in the metal, hallmarks, or even blemishes. These small details often look great when gathered together in a book or printed as a triptych, for example.

How to Photograph Crockery and Cutlery

Dessert

I hope this article inspires you to take great photos at mealtimes, though you must be careful not to spoil the enjoyment of those around you. Take your photos quickly and discreetly. You’ll see cafes and diners in a whole new light. Bonne dégustation.

The post How to Photograph Crockery and Cutlery by Glenn Harper appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Six Important Aspects of Monitor Calibration You Need to Know

Monitor calibration might seem complex. Perhaps it is, but you’ll soon be comfy with it if you can grasp some of the basic principles. It’s just a question of breaking the subject down. In this article, we’ll look at six aspects of a seemingly dark art, and how to calibrate your monitor.

Six Aspects of Monitor Calibration You Need to Know

1) Luminance / Brightness Level

One thing to know about monitor luminance (or brightness, in simple terms) is that it’s typically the only genuine hardware adjustment you can make to an LCD monitor. You are basically altering the backlighting with a dimmer switch.

The above is only untrue if you select a luminance setting that is lower than your monitor can naturally reach, in which case a software adjustment comes into play. Ideally, you don’t want this, since it eats into the monitor’s gamut (the range of colors it produces) and leaves it open to problems such as banding.

Always use software that tells you how bright the monitor is and lets you adjust it interactively.

Software versus hardware

Software adjustments are the ones that go through the graphics processor, while hardware adjustments are those that bypass the GPU and address the monitor directly. The former may cause problems in some cases, which is useful to bear in mind. Expensive monitors tend to allow more in the way of hardware calibration, enabling a higher image quality.

What setting to use?

Monitor luminance is measured in candelas per square meter (cd/m2), sometimes referred to as “nits”. A new LCD monitor is usually far too bright (e.g. over 200 cd/m2). Aside from making screen-to-print matching hard, this reduces the monitor lifespan.

You need a calibration device to measure the luminance of your monitor and always return it to the same level, as the backlighting slowly degrades. The trouble with using onscreen monitor settings to do this (e.g. 50% brightness) is that their meaning changes over time.

Six Aspects of Monitor Calibration You Need to Know

X-rite i1Display Pro

The arbitrary setting

Although arbitrary, the 120 cd/m2 setting that most software defaults to is a fair place to start. Most monitors can reach that level using the OSD brightness control alone, without resorting to reducing RGB levels and gamut. The setting you use is not critical unless you are explicitly trying to match the screen to a print or print-viewing area.

Dictated by ambient light

Ideally, you should control the ambient lighting in your editing area so you’re free to set the luminance you want. The monitor should be the brightest object in your line of vision. If you’re forced to edit in a bright setting, luminance must be raised so that your eyes are able to see shadow detail in your images. Some calibrators will read ambient light and set parameters accordingly. In controlled situations, this feature is needless and even unhelpful.

The paper-matching method

Many printers set their monitor luminance very low. By this, I mean between 80-100 cd/m2. The idea is to hold a blank piece of printing paper up next to your screen and lower the luminance until it matches the paper, or just set a low level so that this is more likely.

Potential downsides include a degraded monitor image since not all monitors can achieve this low luminance level without ill effect. Still, you could try it. This is about finding what works for you and your gear.

Matching the print-viewing area

Another way printers set monitor luminance is to match it to the lighting of a dedicated print-viewing booth or area. Although the light in this area may differ to that of the final print destination, it’s useful to note that monitor calibration is never quite an exact science. As well, print display lighting is always adjustable in its intensity. Using this method, the monitor luminance might be as high as 140-150 cd/m2. This setting should be natively achievable by any monitor.

2) Color Temperature / White Point

Most calibration programs will default to a 6500K white point setting, which is a cool “daylight” white light. This is usually close to the native white point of the monitor, so it’s not a bad setting, but you needn’t accept the software defaults.

By Bhutajata (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Gentle calibration – native white point

If you own a cheap consumer-level monitor or a laptop with low-bit color (that’s most laptops), it’s a good idea to choose a “native white point” setting. This is only typically available with more advanced calibration programs, including the open source program DisplayCAL.

When you choose a native white point or anything “native” in calibration, you are leaving the monitor untouched. Because this means there are no software adjustments being made, the display is less likely to suffer from issues such as banding.

Correlated color temperature

In Physics, a Kelvin color temperature is an exact color of light that is determined by the physical temperature of the black body light source. As you probably know, the greater the heat, the cooler or bluer the light becomes.

Monitors don’t work like this since their light source—LED or fluorescent—doesn’t come from heat. They use a “correlated color temperature” (CCT). One thing to know about correlated color temperature is that it’s not an exact color. It’s a range of colors. This ambiguity is not ideal when trying to match two or more screens.

Six Aspects of Monitor Calibration You Need to Know - color temperature Planckian locus

By en:User:PAR (en:User:PAR) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This illustration, above, of the CIE 1931 color space plots Kelvin color temperatures along a curved path known as the “Planckian locus”. Correlated color temperatures are shown as the lines that cross the locus, so for instance, a 6000K CCT may sit anywhere along a green to a magenta axis. A genuine 6000K color temperature would rest directly on the Planckian locus at the point where the line crosses, so its color is always the same.

Though color temperatures might not mean the same thing from one monitor to the next, calibration software should be more precise. It’ll use x and y chromaticity coordinates (seen in the graph above) to precisely plot any color temperature. Thus, theoretically, you should be able to match the white point of two different monitors during calibration.

Even if you manage that, gamut differences are still likely to complicate things. It’s often easier to forget about matching screens and just use the better of them for editing.

Matching print output

Your chosen white point won’t always match the light under which you display or judge prints. For that reason, you might want to experiment with settings. Remember you’ll harm image quality if you bend the white point far from its native setting. In calibration, you’re often seeking a compromise and/or testing the boundaries of your monitor’s performance. Once you know these changes may cause problems, you can reverse them easily.

3) Gamma / Tonal Response Curve (TRC)

Digital images are always gamma-encoded after capture. In other words, they’re encoded in a way that corresponds to human eyesight and its non-linear perception of light. Our vision is sensitive to changes in dark tones and less so with bright tones. Although digital images are stored thus, they are too bright at this point to represent what we saw. They must be decoded or “corrected” by the monitor.

Six Aspects of Monitor Calibration You Need to Know

By I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the following license: (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A digital camera has a linear perception of light, whereby twice as much light is twice as bright. Gamma encoding and correction alters the tonal range in line with the human vision, which is more sensitive to changes in shaded light than in highlights. By the way, the gradients in the above image are smooth. Any color or banding you see is caused by your monitor, and harsh calibration will make it worse.

This is where the monitor’s gamma setting (or tonal response curve) comes in. It corrects the gamma-encoded image so that it looks normal. The gamma setting needed to achieve this is 2.2, which is also the default gamma setting in calibration programs. However, this is another setting that you may stray from if your software allows it.

Gentle calibration – native gamma setting

Like the white point setting, the gamma setting is a software adjustment that might degrade the monitor image. If you calibrate with a native gamma setting, you are less likely to harm monitor performance. The only trade-off is that images outside of color-managed programs might look lighter or darker. However, inside color-managed programs, images will display normally.

4) The Look-Up Table (LUT)

Once you’ve dialed your settings into the calibration software, what happens to them next? They’re attached to the ICC profile (created after calibration) in the form of a “vcgt tag”. This then loads into the video card LUT (look-up table) on startup, at which point the screen changes in appearance.

Having said the above, if you’ve chosen only native calibration settings, you’ll see no change to your screen at startup. The Windows desktop may look different under a native gamma setting since it is not color aware. A Mac desktop will remain unchanged.

With expensive monitors, the LUT is often stored in the monitor itself (known as a hardware LUT), bypassing the GPU. One benefit of this is that you can create many calibration profiles and switch easily between them. This is not possible with most lower-end monitors.

5) Third-party calibration programs

High-end monitors come with software that allows all sorts of tricks, but most monitors and programs are less flexible. It’s worth noting, though, that some calibrators work with third-party programs, no matter what software they came with. Conversely, some tie you down to proprietary software, so this is worth checking when you buy a calibrator.

Ironically, one of the things more advanced programs let you do is nothing. In other words, they let you choose “native” calibration settings. Look at DisplayCAL or basICColor programs if you want more flexibility, but check for compatibility with your device first.

Six Aspects of Monitor Calibration You Need to Know

6) Calibration versus Profiling

The word “calibration” is an umbrella term that often refers to the process of calibrating and profiling a monitor. However, it’s useful to note that these are two separate actions. You calibrate a monitor to return it to a known state. Once it’s in that state, you then create a profile for the monitor that describes its current output. This allows it to communicate with other programs and devices and enables a color-managed workflow.

Six Aspects of Monitor Calibration You Need to Know

DisplayCAL info at the end of calibration and profiling. Gamut coverage is the proportion of a color space the monitor covers. Gamut volume includes coverage beyond that color space.

If you can’t afford a calibration device, it’s better to calibrate it using online tools than to do nothing at all. You’ll still need to get the luminance down from its factory level. Check things like black and white level on a website such as this.

You can’t create a proper profile for your monitor using software alone. Any software that claims to do this is using either a generic profile or the sRGB color space.

Finally

I hope this article has helped your understanding of monitor calibration. Ask any questions you like in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them.

The post Six Important Aspects of Monitor Calibration You Need to Know by Glenn Harper appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to do Color Correction Using the Photoshop Curves Tool

One of the most powerful Photoshop tools at your disposal is Curves. Though it’s often only used to tweak contrast, the curves tool is also hugely effective in correcting color. What’s more, learning how to use it gives you a greater knowledge of image editing in general. It’ll enhance your understanding of the histogram and teach you how to edit photos by numbers.

The idea of correct color

Correcting color in images is about removing unwanted color casts. The “unwanted” part is important because some color casts are desirable. For instance, you wouldn’t want to neutralize the warm hue of a sunset. However, you might want to remove the blue color cast that sometimes pervades photos taken on overcast days or in hazy conditions. By removing an unwanted color cast, you’ll reveal the true color of the objects and subjects in your photo and make the image “pop”.

The content of a photo will dictate how you edit it, so you shouldn’t obsess over correcting color in every photo. Many times, you’ll want to do little or nothing to the color. An appreciation of the curves tool and the numbers around it will help you decide what each photo needs.

A neutral histogram

When working with curves, histograms, and RGB numbers, it’s useful to know what the histogram is telling you. There’s no such thing as a right or wrong histogram, per se, since it only mirrors the pixel data of the image, but it will highlight potential problems.

By looking at all three RGB (red, green and blue) histograms at once, you can immediately get an idea of whether or not the image has a color cast. If there’s no color cast, the three histograms will look very similar. A black and white RGB image illustrates this perfectly because it’s completely neutral. In that case, the three RGB values will be equal in every part of the image and the histograms are identical.

Black and white photo with RGB histograms. How to do Color Correction Using the Photoshop Curves Tool

In this black and white RGB image, you can see that the red, green and blue histograms are identical. You won’t get this in a color photo, but if the histograms look similar, especially from the middle to the right-hand side, there is unlikely to be a noticeable color cast.

Getting ready

Before you start in curves, there are a couple of things you’ll need to prepare in Photoshop:

  • Be sure that the “Layers” and “Info” windows are open.
  • Select a “3 by 3 Average” or “5 by 5 Average” sample size for the eyedropper tool.

Easy one-click color correction using mid-tones

Whenever a photo contains an area that should be neutral gray in your estimation, you can use the mid-tone eyedropper tool in either levels or curves to quickly correct any color cast. Simply clicking on the supposedly gray portion of the image will correct the color. It’s usually worth clicking a few times in different areas until you achieve a result that pleases you. There are ways of calculating precise mid-tones in an image to make this method more precise, but guessing often works well and is far quicker.

RGB values of a magenta color cast - How to do Color Correction Using the Photoshop Curves Tool

By dragging the eyedropper tool over this gravestone, we can see that the green value is less than that of red or blue. We might reasonably expect this stone to have a neutral gray color, which would give roughly equal RGB values, but the green deficit (RGB 160, 149, 160) indicates a magenta (opposite of green) cast.

magenta cast color correction - How to do Color Correction Using the Photoshop Curves Tool

By opening curves or levels and clicking on the stone using the middle eyedropper, the magenta cast is corrected. As a result, the green in the photo is stronger.

Using curves and the info palette to correct color

By introducing the info palette into the equation, you can make far more precise color corrections. The technique you’re about to learn also teaches you to evaluate and edit photos by the numbers. Think about this – when you have nothing to compare an image to—no alternative version—it often looks “okay” at first glance. By studying the RGB values, you’ll get a clear idea of any potential problems in the photo.

Before you proceed, it’s important to note that an image always needs “neutral” areas for color correction to succeed. That’s because a neutral tone provides a known reference point that you can work from. Neutral pixels always have identical RGB values (e.g. 128, 128, 128). Any photo that doesn’t contain a neutral tone is difficult to accurately correct. This is true whether you’re adjusting color yourself or hitting an auto-color-correct button. Photographers often use gray cards to introduce a known neutral into the image for color correction later.

10 Steps to Color Correction with Curves

Here are the steps you might take to correct color using curves, the info panel, and histograms:

Step #1 – Select the eyedropper

With your image open, select the eyedropper tool from the Photoshop tools palette.

hotel in Switzerland - How to do Color Correction Using the Photoshop Curves Tool

This is a picture of a hotel in Switzerland before any color correction. There is no strong color cast, but you might detect its cool bias.

Step #2 – Check white RGB values

Hover the eyedropper tool over a diffuse white highlight in the photo with RGB values in the 230s or 240s (try to avoid high 250 values). Use the info palette to see these values.

How to do Color Correction Using the Photoshop Curves Tool

Hovering the eyedropper tool over diffuse white highlights, I can see the blue channel has consistently higher numbers than red or green. The difference isn’t drastic, but it does indicate a blue color cast.

Step #3 – Create a sample point

Hold down the Shift key and click to create a sample point from this white area, which will show in the info palette as #1. It’s possible to move a sample point after you’ve created it by holding down the Shift key and dragging.

Step #4 – Repeat with mid-tones

Repeat this procedure with a neutral gray mid-tone, if you can find one, with RGB values of around 120-140.

color correction info palette - How to do Color Correction Using the Photoshop Curves Tool

Here, we’re creating a mid-tone sample point. Again, you can see from the numbers (RGB 111, 120, 137) that there’s a strong blue presence. The highlight sample point that I’ve only just recorded is stored on the depicted info palette at the left, third down (marked as #1).

Step #5 – Repeat with shadows

Do the same thing with any black, shadow areas with values of about 10-30. After that, you’ll have created three sample points. Since color casts in shadows are inherently harder to see, this third sample point can often be skipped without ill effect.

color correction sample point shadow - How to do Color Correction Using the Photoshop Curves Tool

A shadow sample point from the trash bag records at RGB 20, 21, 29. We can see now that a cold color cast runs through the entire image from highlights to shadows. Once I’ve clicked on this, my three sample points are all stored and displayed in the info palette.

Step #6 – Analyze the three samples

Looking at the three RGB samples you’ve created, you should get an idea of any color casts that are present. You’ll typically see the same problem across all tones from highlights to shadows, though not always. Remember that a low RGB value in any of the three channels indicates an opposite color cast. Thus, a low red value indicates a cyan cast, low green is magenta, and low blue is yellow. This only applies in areas that should be neutral in color (i.e. white, gray, black).

Step #7 – Open a curves adjustment layer

Open a curves adjustment layer. Hold down the Ctrl and Shift (Cmd + Shift) keys and click once again exactly on the center of the second, mid-tone sample point you created (#2). This has the effect of placing a mid-tone point along each of the individual RGB curves.

How to do Color Correction Using the Photoshop Curves Tool

Holding down Ctrl + Shift (Cmd + Shift in Mac) and clicking with the eyedropper tool places a sample point on each of the three RGB curves. This is useful for adjusting specific mid-tones. Here, I’ve opened the red channel to illustrate this. To correct color, you have to adjust the individual red, green and blue channels until the corresponding output numbers on the info palette match.

Step #8 – Correct the color cast

Now it’s time to correct the color cast. On a curves graph, the top right point represents highlights and the lower left shadows. In between are any mid-tone points that you placed on the curve.

Starting with highlights (your #1 sample), open the individual red, green and blue curves channels one at a time and move the top right point either left or down along the outer edge of the graph so that, eventually, the three values match. As you move each point on the graph, the info palette gives you the updated output value.

Usually, it’s best to choose the lowest or middle of the three existing highlight values and match the other two to that (see “tip” below).

curves color correction - How to do Color Correction Using the Photoshop Curves Tool

This is an exaggerated example of a curves highlight adjustment in the blue channel. I’ve pulled the highlight point to the left, which has added blue to the image (far too much blue). Moving the point down the right-hand side of the graph would increase yellow. In reality, these edits will usually be very slight, moving only a small amount either way. The info palette will reflect these changes in the RGB output numbers.

Step #9 – Repeat for all three points

Repeat this process with the mid-tone and shadow points, so that all of the chosen neutral points in the image are in fact neutral. The bottom-left shadow point is also moved along the outer edge of the graph, either upwards or right. The mid-tone point you’ll drag either up or down. If the color looks wayward at the end of this process, it typically means that you’ve picked a sample point that wasn’t neutral. Ensure that your sample points contain no color noise or reflected color. Zoom in on the area you sample to make certain of this.

color correction curves info palette - How to do Color Correction Using the Photoshop Curves Tool

Here you’ll see that all three sets of RGB values have been equalized – for each point, you see the before (left) and after the (right) value (Red on point #1 went from 238 to 239, Blue from 244 to 239). 

Now all points are roughly similar, in other words, all the sample points I took that were estimated to be neutral have been made neutral. Note that the numbers don’t have to match perfectly like this as long as they’re close. In the curves graph, the red channel has been lifted and the blue channel pulled down slightly as a result of my edits. The green channel was untouched in this instance, so the corresponding line cuts straight through the middle.

Step #10 – Remove samples and save

Once the correction is complete, the sample points are removable by holding down Ctrl + Alt (Cmd + Option) keys and clicking on them. You should see the scissor icon when you hold these keys down. To finish, either save the image with its adjustment layer intact or flatten the layers, as required.

Before – uncorrected image.

color corrected image - How to do Color Correction Using the Photoshop Curves Tool

This is the color-corrected image. With the blue cast gone, other colors in the photo can breathe. In particular, the yellow color of the hotel and the green in the grass and trees are more prominent.

Tip: Since moving the endpoints of the curve line affects all highlights and shadows, you should edit conservatively. In particular, avoid choosing the highest of the three RGB values as the target when matching red, green and blue highlight channels. Otherwise, you may find that you blow out wanted detail in the brightest part of the image. Flaws in the shadows are generally less noticeable, but you still risk blocking detail if you adjust all the shadow RGB points to the lowest of the three values. In general, turn the numbers away from their extremes.

Mixed Lighting

The types of correction discussed in this article work best when there are naturally occurring color casts in the image. In mixed lighting, where the light sources are radically different (e.g. incandescent lighting and daylight), you’ll need to painstakingly address each affected area of the image using layers in Photoshop or the adjustment brush in Lightroom. Avoid this type of lighting wherever possible, since it’s difficult and time-consuming to correct in processing.

Finally

I don’t expect that you’ll use these techniques on every image, but I hope they’ll improve some of your pictures and that you’ll enjoy experimenting using curves in Photoshop. This type of mathematical editing gives you a good understanding of histograms and the meaning of RGB values.

Merely hovering the eyedropper tool over a picture while watching the numbers will tell you something about it. If there are no naturally occurring “neutrals” in the photo and you want consistent or accurate color, a high-quality gray card provides a solution.

Please don’t hesitate to fire questions my way if anything is unclear.

The post How to do Color Correction Using the Photoshop Curves Tool by Glenn Harper appeared first on Digital Photography School.