2 Methods for Creating Duotones in Photoshop

The post 2 Methods for Creating Duotones in Photoshop appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

This article looks at two methods for creating duotones in Photoshop. But first, what is a duotone?

Think of a duotone and you’ll imagine an image composed of two distinct hues. Easy so far. But a typical printing-press duotone uses black ink and another color, the net result being a photo that is monochrome by many people’s definition. No black appears in the final image unless the initial grayscale image was clipped, which photographers generally try to avoid.

Two methods for Creating Duotones in Photoshop

This photo uses two distinct blue-cyan hues laid over the original black (using a gradient map), but it’d qualify as monochrome in most circles.

A sepia image often comes from a duotone process, yet many people think of sepia pictures as monochrome.

Indeed, they are monochrome in the end but try producing a sepia effect in Photoshop using a single brown color. You’ll notice it tends to look flat. You can try some wild curves adjustments, but you really need black or dark gray in there to give contrast.

sepia monochrome aand duotone

Using duotone mode to create two sepia photos. The top half is duotone with a mixture of dark gray (near black) and dark brown. The bottom half is what you get with dark brown only – monotone.

For our purposes

We’ll look briefly at the classic black + one color method of creating duotones, not least because that blend tends to create more tasteful results. But I’ll also show you how to produce two-color images in Photoshop CC using two methods: duotone mode and gradient maps.

Method 1: duotone mode

To access Photoshop CC’s duotone mode, you first need an 8-bit grayscale image. But before you convert to grayscale, you might want to do a normal black & white conversion. That way, you can use the color sliders to get the best starting point before shedding data.

The process of creating a classic duotone in this way is described well in another article. Either pick one of the many presets available in Photoshop or choose your own color combo. Then adjust the contrast in the two “inks” as desired using the built-in curves adjustments. Technically, this produces a duotone, even if it’s monochromatic by some definitions.

Creating duotones in Photoshop

A two-ink duotone photo that is nevertheless monochromatic in appearance. Only by clipping the original grayscale image can you get true black into the photo.

Tip: in order for your second color (or “ink”) to be the one that imbues the image, you need the first “color” to be neutral (i.e. the default black or dark gray). Otherwise, the two colors blend. To achieve two distinct colors, there’s more to do.

Two distinct colors in Duotone Mode

It is possible to produce a two-color image in Photoshop’s duotone mode. Let’s say you have two colors selected (e.g. black and orange) and you want to make shadows blue. This is what you’d do next:

  • Click on “Overprint Colors” to open a dialogue box.
  • Click inside the color square next to “1 + 2” to open the color picker.
  • Move the picker around and choose a blue, observing its effect on the image in real-time.
  • Close “Color Picker” and “Overprint Colors” boxes.
  • You’re done! Convert back to RGB for conventional web or printing use.
Two methods for Creating Duotones in Photoshop

By clicking on “overprint colors” in duotone mode you can lay a second distinct hue over your darker tones. In this instance, I’ve chosen dark green.

Method 2: gradient maps

Like duotone mode in Photoshop CC, there are many gradient map presets you can try out. Some of these use a single hue or multiple hues, so they might be monochrome, tritone or quadtone in some cases. But a classic two-color gradient map will give you a duotone result with discrete colors.

Duotones in Photoshop CC.

Using a normal blend mode with a gradient map produces a two-color image without black. There’s a distinct lack of contrast, though this varies depending on the colors chosen.

The method for creating a duotone using gradient maps is here:

  • Open a black & white adjustment layer (don’t do anything with it yet).
  • Open a gradient map adjustment layer and set a “contrast” blend mode (e.g. overlay, soft light, hard light, etc).
  • Click on the gradient to edit its colors.
  • Double-click on the lower left and right sliders to open the color picker and select your shadow and highlight colors. A single click on either slider produces a slider in the center, which you can move if you want to alter the transition point between colors.
  • Adjust color sliders on the black and white layer if you want to selectively darken or lighten parts of the image.
  • Adjust opacity on the gradient map layer to taste.
  • Flatten layers.
Creating duotones with gradient maps.

You’ll bring the contrast of the original image back in by selecting an overlay, soft light, hard light or color blend mode.

When you’re going for a subtle duotone with off-black and off-white colors, you can skip the black and white layer. Just use a gradient map layer with a normal blend mode. Note, however, that this precludes the possibility of reducing opacity (which brings color back in) or selectively adjusting different tones. The extra B&W layer adds versatility.

The normal blend mode also looks pop-arty if you choose bold colors, so it’s good for creating graphic posters or flyer pictures. In this mode, it’s worth bearing in mind when picking colors that a color from low down and one from high up on the picker graph gives more contrast. The nearer the two hues are to each other in terms of “picker height,” the less contrast you’ll have in terms of brightness. Other blend modes add contrast, so this only applies to “normal.”

Blue and orange duotone.

Another gradient-map duotone using a “normal” blend mode. Blue and orange are complementary colors (approx). Photo: Pixabay

Of course, if your shadows and highlights are so close to black and white that their hues are hard to detect, you’re effectively back to creating monochromes. The semantics don’t matter provided you’re not entering duotone photo competitions with pictures that look mono.

Compressing the tonal range

When using the color picker to select your shadow and highlight colors, any hue you pick above the base or below the top of the graph compresses the tonal range (or dynamic range) of the photo. At least, that is the case if you perform a separate edit or use an adjustment layer with a normal blend mode.

If you’re going for a graphic image with two bold colors, the tonal range is almost immaterial. You can let it fall where it may. But with mono images and subtle duotones, dynamic range is more important. We’re always taught to aim for a full tonal range in our photos so that the data goes end to end on a histogram, but actually compressed data sometimes looks good. It gives online photos more of a print feel in the absence of deep shadows and dazzling highlights. Try it!

Understanding the color picker in Photoshop.

The hard left of the color picker goes from pure black to white, bottom to top. The same principle applies to colors. They go from pure black to full saturation. In this instance, I’ve compressed the tonal range of a black and white photo by 5%, lifting shadows slightly and subduing highlights.

Just as you can compress the tonal range of an image using curves or levels, so you can using gradient maps and the color picker. You could do similar in duotone mode by adjusting the endpoints of the built-in curves so that the curve is less steep. Conversely, making curves steeper increases contrast and eventually clips shadows and highlights.

compressing the tonal range of photos

What I did in the above picture using the color picker is the same as doing this in curves. Selecting two duotone colors using a normal blend mode will also compress the tonal range unless you choose the most saturated hue and black. (The baseline of the color picker is always pure black.)

Choosing colors

If you’re looking for colors that go well together, try using the Adobe Color Themes extension in Photoshop CC. You needn’t have an image open to experiment with it. Set your background and foreground colors via the extension in the tools palette, and they’ll automatically transfer over to a gradient map when you open one. Complementary colors are perfect for duotones.

Creating duotones in Photoshop CC

With this photo, I’ve set complementary foreground and background colors in Photoshop CC using the Adobe Color Themes extension. Then I’ve opened a gradient map, which applies the two colors automatically.

There are several websites dedicated to finding colors that work well together, including Adobe Color. These typically include the hex numbers, which you can copy and paste into the Photoshop color picker to reproduce the exact same hues.

Final thought

In times past, a duotone was used as a cheaper alternative to color halftone printing. Today, you could figuratively think of it as a more expensive alternative to black and white. I wouldn’t suggest it’s better (of course it is not), but it’s another way to convey mood. Sometimes you can hint at the color that was in the original photo. Or, you can just make some far-out pop art. There are many possibilities.

 

2-methods-for-creating-duotones-in-photoshop

The post 2 Methods for Creating Duotones in Photoshop appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

3 Photo Keywording Tools for Little or No Cost

The post 3 Photo Keywording Tools for Little or No Cost appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

Most dictionaries don’t recognize “keyword” as a verb, yet keywording is seen as an arduous task by many photographers. Despite the mundanity, if you want to find specific photos amid a large collection, it helps to keyword them. This article looks at three keywording tools that will hasten the work for little or no cost.

Three Keywording Tools for Little or No Cost

Manual vs automated

The main benefit of laboriously keywording every image yourself is accuracy. You know every word you enter applies to that photo. Or, you have a good-faith belief that it does. Good keywording often involves research, especially if you’re keywording with the aim of selling or licensing photos.

Semi-automated

One way to speed up keywording is with the quick keyword lists you find in all software with built-in DAM (digital asset management). Such lists normally need building first, but they cut out typing and thinking time once installed. A similar system is used in paid-for keyword tools.

ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate - keywording - quick keyword lists

An ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate quick keyword list, which you can expand if necessary to include many keywords. I also have an organized keyword list under construction.

Automated

An even faster way to keyword is by using image recognition software. This populates keyword fields quickly. The main drawback is having to remove a few words from most photos. That’s not a bad trade-off when it works well, since deleting words is less taxing than adding them. You’ll still need to add a few keywords yourself, because software like this tends to identify subjects generically.

Three keyword tools for little or no cost

Keyword software ranges from expensive to free. It can be standalone, plugin, SaaS or web-based without charge. You’re unlikely to want to pay for keywording unless there’s a chance of return on investment. Below are three keywording tools that have little or no effect on your bank balance but which might save you time.

Any Vision Lightroom Plugin

The Any Vision Lightroom Plugin uses Google Cloud Vision technology to recognize the content of photos and populate the LR keyword field accordingly. It’s clever stuff. You can try the same technology out here on image files under 4 MB in size. Google Cloud Vision is the engine behind Google image search. The plugin is available on trial for the first 50 images, after which you must buy a license for whatever price you can afford or deem suitable.

Does it work? I’ve found it to be useful for everyday photos, and it even recognizes a few iconic buildings (e.g. Flatiron building). Yes, I have to cut out a few keywords, but I keep more than I delete. It’s not so good with plant portraits, as it tends to fill the keyword field with the names of various lookalike flowers. But once you know its weak spots, it’s good to have on board.

Any Vision Lightroom plugin

Any Vision impressed me by identifying the location of this photo (Lyons-la-Forêt), though I’ll still need to add and subtract a few words.

To get Any Vision working after the trial, you must obtain a Google Cloud Key. That’s linked to your Google billing account, but unless you keyword over 1,000 photos a month, you won’t be charged a thing. Bear in mind you won’t need to analyze every image (i.e. you can copy and paste).

IMS Keyworder

The online IMS Keyworder tool is simple to use. Just enter one or two keywords that best sum up the content of your picture, hit enter and click on relevant photos to create more keywords. The keywords that appear are ranked for their popularity with microstock searchers – customers that look for and download photos. This gives you a clue as to how vital a keyword is to your image.

IMS Keyworder - free image keywording tool

IMS Keyworder shows you how popular search terms with microstock buyers. You can also see how often each keyword appears among your selection.

Other handy IMS features include the ability to bring up a list of synonyms and create templates. You can also embed keywords, descriptions, and captions directly into JPEGs on your PC. This online software is free with the option of making a voluntary payment to the developer.

Xpiks Keyworder

Xpiks is a good open-source program that, like IMS, draws its keyword suggestions from microstock photo libraries. You still need the Internet to use it, but the software exists on your hard drive. And that makes it more versatile since you can add keywords to bigger file formats in the absence of bandwidth restrictions.

Among the useful features of Xpiks are XMP/IPTC/EXIF metadata editing, translation, autocomplete, search facility, spellcheck and, of course, keyword suggestions. If you happen to contribute to microstock libraries, you can also upload photos straight from Xpiks.

Three Keywording Tools for Little or No Cost - Xpiks keyword program

A photo of Mont Blanc in Xpiks with 30+ keywords sourced from several similar microstock photos.

Other keywording tools

Among the other third-party keywording tools I’m aware of (free or not) are the following:

  • Akiwi – online drag and drop image recognition, free
  • Excire – Lightroom plugin with AI technology that lets you search without keywords, 99€ one-time cost
  • fotoKeyword Harvester – by Cradoc fotosoftware, long-established company, not free
  • Keyword Perfect – by A2ZKeywording.com, responsive developer, not free
  • Keywords Ready – online image recognition technology with 50-image monthly limit, free
  • Microstock Keyword Tool – online tool that harvests keywords from microstock photos, free
  • MyKeyworder – image recognition Lightroom & WordPress plugin, small donation to remove restrictions
Three Keywording Tools for Little or No Cost

Akiwi has a cleanly designed webpage that is simple to use. Image recognition helps you find a maximum of 15 keywords per image.

Keywording tips

If you break keyword lists up into categories and sub-categories, you’ll have the basis of a methodical keywording system. The problem with adding words randomly without any system is one of consistency: you’ll rarely end up with the same set of words twice. And that may force you into trying multiple search terms later when it comes to finding pictures. Even if you use keywording tools to help you, it’s handy to have your own lists of words to add on top.

Excire Lightroom plugin

Excire recognizes content but adds keywords sparingly. It’s a paid-for Lightroom add-on that can search your library to some extent without keywords.

The number of keywords you should add is open to debate, especially if you’re licensing photos for publication. You don’t want to waste picture researchers’ time with loosely related words, but you also don’t want to make photos invisible through minimalism. The same applies for your own purposes. About 10-25 keywords often suffices. Some photos might need more. It’s wise to stick to common words where possible. Long or formal words are less likely to be used in search terms.

Keywords Ready - free keywording tool

The 50-image limit of Keywords Ready is limiting for prolific photographers, but this is free software. It gave me a good selection of words for this photo, save for one or two exceptions (I wouldn’t add “material property”).

Final say

I hope this article has led you to some useful keywording tools. If you get to the stage where you have thousands of untagged pictures, modern AI software will help you narrow down a search. Paid-for keywording software tends to be more methodical than the free stuff. It usually includes a large lexicon of categorized words. But free or inexpensive programs will help you get the work done and make your library searchable.

Have you used any of these? What are your thoughts? Or do you use other keywording tools? Share with us in the comments below.

 

photo keywording tools

The post 3 Photo Keywording Tools for Little or No Cost appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

Catalog Photos Like a Pro: ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 Review

The post Catalog Photos Like a Pro: ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 Review appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

ACDSee software has been around since the earliest days of digital photography. For 20 years, it’s been competing with Adobe Photoshop. Today, with Adobe offering its top image-editing programs by subscription only, there’s more room than ever for alternatives. ACDSee offers a compelling subscription model of its own, but it also maintains a full suite of standalone products. Photo Studio Standard 2019 is among them, and I’ll review it here.

ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 - default layout

The default layout in Manage mode of ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019. You can move things around as you wish and close any panes you don’t need.

Aimed at keen photographers with growing photo collections, ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 is ideal for sorting, finding, and viewing photos. It also has a set of editing tools that will quickly make your pictures look good for the web or printing. We’ll look at all this in detail. To avoid wasting anyone’s time, this program recognizes and opens raw files but it’s not a raw editor or metadata editor – it’s a pixel editor. You have no control over how raw files are processed and can only save 8-bit files.

Embedding ACDSee metadata into DNG files

Preview of a DNG file. You can embed ACDSee metadata into DNG files, unlike other raw formats.

This review of ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 will include the following:

  • Starting up
  • Manage mode
  • Photos mode
  • View mode
  • Edit mode
  • Other features
  • Conclusion

Starting up

One thing that struck me immediately about ACDSee software was how quickly it opened. Sometimes I wait 2-3 minutes for Photoshop CC to start. There are technical reasons for that, like the plug-ins I have loaded into it and its sheer girth. Perhaps it connects to my Adobe account, too. Whatever. Photo Studio Standard 2019 opens in around 15-20 seconds every time.

Manage mode

Digital asset management (DAM) is the great strength of ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019. In Manage mode, the software offers all you need for sorting and locating your images. Like many people, you may already have your folders arranged chronologically. This is handy for sifting through them using the folder pane of ACDSee, but the software gives you lots of other ways to find pictures.

ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 - folder pane

Here, I’m using the folder pane in Manage mode to browse photos. I’m not the best organizer, but I do have most folders labeled chronologically.

Calendar pane

I latched onto the Calendar pane within minutes of opening ACDSee. Even if you have your folders arranged by date, it’s so quick to rifle through your photos month by month using the calendar. You can widen the search by choosing multiple months or use single days to narrow it. I used this feature straight away to dig out a few files I might’ve overlooked as potential stock photos.

Catalog pane

The ACDSee Catalog pane gives you several ways to find what you’re looking for: color labels, keywords, ratings, saved searches, categories, and auto categories. Of course, you have to add most of this info yourself to the images, but that’s easy using the software. Auto categories come from EXIF data, so you can filter results by the lens or aperture used, for instance.

cataloging photos with ACDSee software

There are various ways to filter photos in the Catalog pane, some of which rely on you having rated, keyworded, labeled, tagged, or categorized your photos already. In this screenshot, I’m looking at photos taken with a particular lens.[/

Map pane

ACDSee includes a Map pane. Drag your photo(s) onto the place where they were taken, hit Save, and the GPS coordinates are automatically embedded into the EXIF data. Cool! That wasn’t a feature I expected at this price point (Lightroom has it), but it does show how thorough this software is in what it does.

Embedding GPS coordinates into photos

Dragging a photo or several photos onto a spot on the map and hitting “Save” embeds GPS coordinates into the metadata.

Shortcuts pane

The Shortcuts pane offers a way of bookmarking files you know you’ll often need. It makes it that little bit quicker to find any special photos – perhaps a collection of your best-ever shots.

Image Basket

Another neat feature of Photo Studio Standard 2019 is the Image Basket. Normally, when I’m preparing a gallery for the web, I create a new folder on my desktop to work from. The Image Basket is a way of gathering original files together without having to copy them elsewhere.

Keywording in ACDSee

Keywords are an invaluable way of quickly finding what you’re looking for, but they can be time-consuming to add. ACDSee is ahead of Adobe in this respect. It’ll import any keywords you’ve added elsewhere to the IPTC data, but it has excellent keywording capability of its own.

Adding keywords to images

The ability to create large keyword sets of up to 250 is enough to satisfy any lexicologist. I wouldn’t normally need that many, but 40 or 50 isn’t uncommon. Adobe software is restrictive in this respect.

A welcome feature of the new ACDSee ‘Quick Keyword’ tool is the ability to use 25 rows by 10 columns of words (i.e., up to 250 keywords). In Lightroom, you can only have 9 keywords max per set – a source of frustration for many users. ACDSee has its own metadata field that is stored in the database rather than embedded in the file, but you can embed it into suitable file formats.

Photos mode

In Photos mode, ACDSee catalogs all images from the location(s) of your choice and puts them on display so you can scroll through them. Like the Calendar pane, it’s an easy way for you to search visually and find pictures. Hovering the cursor over a thumbnail brings up a larger preview with vital info such as image dimensions, file size, and folder location.

ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 - Photos mode

Photos mode on the daily setting. You can scroll through your whole database, but it’s still divided by daily, monthly or yearly headings.

View mode

Double-click on a photo in Manage or Photos mode and you’ll bring up a large view of the image in ACDSee’s View mode. Various viewing options are available as well as useful editing tools like Auto Light EQ™ and Auto Lens. You can rapidly scroll through files in this mode and tag images or add ratings, labels, keywords, and categories. It’s an extension of Manage mode if you want it to be. Clicking on Edit mode from here takes the open picture into editing.

ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 - View mode

View mode is the place to be if you want to browse large previews of your pictures. Double-clicking on any picture in Manage or Photos mode brings you here, too. You can also perform a few basic edits in this space or categorize photos.

Edit Mode

ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 has plenty to offer in terms of editing but something has to be sacrificed at this price point, and that’s parametric (non-destructive) editing. Photo Studio Standard is a pixel editor only, so you make physical changes to rendered images. You can still leave the original file untouched, but as soon as you finish editing and save a file, there’s no going back and tweaking your adjustments. This is more important if you’re in the habit of reworking pictures or if you edit extensively and want your work to be reversible.

Repair

There are a couple of tools under the “Repair” heading. The red-eye reduction tool is something I’d probably never have a need for, but I tested this with a public domain image. Works well – easy to use.

Correcting redeye in photos

With this close-up view, I found myself wishing the size of the adjustment would go slightly larger, as it barely covered the dilated pupil. But still, the red-eye has gone. Most portraits won’t be as near to the subject. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

One of the few glitches I encountered in ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 was a malfunction among the repair tools. I can get the Heal tool to work, and it does a nice job of blending the sampled pixels into a new area. But the Clone tool hasn’t worked for me even after a reinstall. I just get a blacked-out image. This appears to be a bug in the program, as it works flawlessly in other ACDSee software I have on my PC.

Add

Under the “Add” heading you can insert text into your photos or a watermark (the Watermark feature is new in 2019). The default watermark is the ACDSee camera logo, but you can use your own graphic if you want. There are also borders, vignetting, special effects and tilt-shift choices here.

tilt-shift photo effect

The Tilt-Shift tool makes Manhattan look miniaturized.

Personally, I’d be most likely to use vignetting out of these, as it helps direct the viewer’s eye and is a useful photographic tool. It can be fun to add borders to your photos, too, which you can customize in this case with a wide selection of textures or any color you choose.

I counted 54 special effects in ACDSee’s collection, and each is modifiable in some way. Even the ones that don’t instantly appeal might work for you with some adjustment, so there’s a lot to go at. Among my favorites are Collage, Lomo, and Orton. The latter is great for creating a dreamy look.

ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 - Orton special effect

This is the Orton special effect, making a peaceful scene even dreamier.

Geometry

Under “Geometry”, ACDSee provides rotate, flip, crop, and resize tools. There are some thoughtful touches among these tools, like the ability to control darkness outside the crop area. The Rotate tool also has a cropping feature, so you can level the picture up if necessary and correct wonky horizons.

When resizing, the default algorithm is Lanczos, but it’s worth experimenting, depending on what you do with your photos. Lanczos gives a sharp result when downsizing, for instance, but if you want to back off that a little and achieve smoother edges, try Bicubic.

Exposure/Lighting

ACDSee offers some powerful tools under “Exposure/Lighting,” not least its excellent Light EQ™ technology alongside traditional tools like levels and curves. Light EQ™ is similar to curves, only better in some respects since it treats highlights, mid-tones, and shadows separately. That’s only possible to a degree using curves without layers.

ACDSee Light EQ technology

Here, I’m using ACDSee Light EQ™ to adjust the tone of the image. By having the Exposure Warning switched on, I can ensure a good tonal range without losing detail in the shadows or highlights. As soon as pixels appear in red or green, I back off the adjustment slightly. I have the histogram showing the blue channel, as that’s the nearest to clipping at both ends.

The auto buttons in these exposure/lighting controls are also worth a hit every now and again. Personally, I find the auto setting in Light EQ™ tends to make things too bright, but it might provide a better starting point.

You can set your black and white points using eyedroppers in levels and also define the clipping limits under “tolerance.” (Don’t worry if this means nothing to you – it’s only one of several options.

I should mention, too, that ACDSee provides an Edit Brush and gradients with many of these controls, so you can apply edits to selected parts of the image.

Color

Under “Color,” you’ll find White Balance, Color Balance, Convert to Black and White, and Color LUTs. The White Balance tool is excellent, though, like all white balance tools, it relies on neutral tones in the image to use as reference points.

You could also correct color using the Color Balance tool, especially in conjunction with the floating histogram. A good thing about the ACDSee histogram is you can stretch it out as far as you like for a detailed look at tonal distribution. There’s a hue/saturation tool alongside color balance.

Using the histogram - ACDSee software

You can make the floating histogram as compact or elongated as you wish.

“Convert to Black and White” is new to ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019. Based on the colors you know are in the image (e.g. blue sky), you can adjust their brightness to alter the contrast of the final result. This also lets you emphasize different areas of the photo. Good stuff! Contrast is also affected by the RGB percentages, which must always add up to 100. A high proportion of red usually creates more contrast in cloudy blue skies, for instance. Colorized monochrome images are possible, too, under Convert to Black and White.

ACDSee Convert to Black and White

Using the new “Convert to Black and white” feature, I’ve increased the brightness of cyan a fair bit to make the fire-escape steps stand out more. Then I’ve colorized the picture with sepia-like brown tones.

One of the best things in ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 Edit mode has to be Color LUTs. These let you alter the look of your photos (often drastically) via numerical color shifts. They’re like photo filters on steroids. ACDSee LUTs are good, but you can also download LUTs from the web and load them into the program.

Using color LUTs in photos

The lower half of this picture has the ACDSee “Turin” Color LUT applied to it. Look closely and you’ll see it’s darker with deeper blue windows and yet has a more cyan sky. You can use the Edit Brush or gradients on many edits.

Detail

Sharpen, blur, noise, and clarity all lie under the “Detail” heading. These are all pretty standard. The sharpen tool is like unsharp mask with amount, radius and threshold settings. Typically, you use a low radius for high-frequency photos with a lot of fine detail or a higher radius to bring out coarse detail across a wide area. A sharpening mask slider would be a nice bonus here if I were compiling a wants list. That would be quicker than selective sharpening with a brush.

Other Features

In case all the above isn’t enough, there’s more. For instance, the external editor feature in Manage mode lets you swiftly open images in other programs. Perhaps that will be Photoshop or it could be ACDSee Photo Editor 10, which would complement Photo Studio Standard well.

ACDSee also has a dashboard that gives you stats on equipment used, database size, and photo counts that show you how prolific you’ve been at various times.

ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 dashboard

The ACDSee Dashboard, indicating prolific use of a Sony RX100 in my case. There are numerous other stats available.

You can create PDFs, PowerPoint files, slideshow files, zip archives, contact sheets, and HTML albums straight out of ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019, too. There really isn’t a lot you can’t do.

More new stuff

ACDSee also introduced AutoSave and Auto Advance features in 2019. AutoSave does away with the “do you want to save changes?” dialog when you move onto another image. Auto Advance is good for rating, labeling, or categorizing photos, as it moves onto the next image automatically once you’ve clicked.

Also new in 2019 are customizable keyboard shortcuts, support for HEIF files (used on later iPhones), and print improvements that let you adjust for differences between what you see on screen and what your printer produces.

Conclusion

As much as I understand the benefits of SaaS and subscription software models, I think there will always be a market for standalone products that consumers can update when they want.

ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 is, first and foremost, a great photo organizer. I’ve never seen better. It’s quick as a browser – doesn’t hold you up – and it gives you workflow choices. There are lots of nice touches to make tasks easier. It’s not especially advanced as a photo editor, but you can achieve a lot without layers, 3rd-party plugins, and even Adobe’s unassailable repair tools.

If like me, you prefer taking photos to organizing them, ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 is the ideal way to get your collection under control. It drills into your database from several directions and helps you find any picture. Many people will want to supplement the editing capabilities with other programs, but you won’t find much better than this for photo management.

Disclaimer: ACDSee is a paid partner of dPS

The post Catalog Photos Like a Pro: ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2019 Review appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

Are Early 2000s Digital Cameras Secondhand Bargains?

The post Are Early 2000s Digital Cameras Secondhand Bargains? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

Today, digital photography is ubiquitous, but there is still a demand among enthusiasts for classic film cameras. By all accounts, the analog medium has made a comeback over the last 2-3 years. What you don’t often hear of is people hankering for older digital cameras, even for the sake of nostalgia. Technology has moved on, but has it moved on so much that they are obsolete? Or are early 2000s digital cameras secondhand bargains? We’ll find out.

film cameras - Olympus OM10

There is still plenty of love out there for old film cameras. This is an Olympus OM10 (c. 1978-87).

Inescapable truths

Those of us that have been shooting digitally for over ten years probably don’t miss the early days of post-processing. The sensors were noisier and there was no in-camera dust removal. One way or another, a lot of time was spent trying to clean things up. Less advanced, too, was the software we used to process photos. Trying to recover highlights or remove noise, for instance, was harder than it is today. Photos were abandoned that might be saved with modern editing.

Canon EOS 5D sensor dust

The original Canon EOS 5d (c. 2005) had no dust-cleaning capability. Neither did I. Whenever I had the sensor cleaned, dust spots quickly reappeared.

Aside from noisier, dirtier sensors and editing limitations, exterior hardware on cameras was also inferior in the early days. LCDs were smaller with a lower resolution, and electronic viewfinders weren’t as clear. The benefit of a bright viewfinder shouldn’t be underestimated, and it’s still a feature of higher-end cameras today over entry-level models (e.g., pentaprism vs. pentamirror optical viewfinders).

Sensor resolution

With camera age comes the question of sensor resolution. Modern cameras have high-res sensors. More resolution gives you more freedom to crop pictures after the event and still end up with a decent-sized print. It’s like having an extra lens. Many photographers prefer not cropping pictures, but it’s a luxury that didn’t always exist. In the “old” days of low sensor resolution, there was more discussion among photographers on interpolation methods. People wanted to make their digital files bigger so they could create larger prints. That subject is now almost archaic.

Panasonic FZ-28 CCD sensor

The CCD sensor of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 (c. 2008). Despite having a smaller sensor than the earlier FZ30, the FZ28’s resolution was higher. Advances in sensor technology are frequently used to increase resolution rather than substantially decrease noise.  Photo: Thomas Bresson [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Glimmer of light

Despite the drawbacks of using old digital cameras, some had useful features that are rare or even extinct today. And the minuses are mostly surmountable. Let’s examine three cameras that are all 10+ years old and see what we can do with them. All of the following are eminently affordable on the secondhand market: more so than many classic film cameras.

Old camera #1: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1

Even by today’s standards, the 2005 10.3-megapixel Sony DSC-R1 is an innovative camera. It never sold well, but it had a unique combination of a fixed 24-120mm Carl Zeiss lens, an APS-C sized CMOS sensor, full-time live-view LCD display (a first at that sensor size), and live histogram. The technical quality was/is excellent.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1 - early 2000s digital cameras

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1 is a bridge camera with a large APS-C sensor. It was unusual in 2005 and remains so today.

The main limitation of the Sony R1 is a sensor that gets noisy above ISO 400 combined with an absence of image stabilization. This is not a camera you can easily use for high-quality interior photos without a tripod. You have to employ old-school sturdy shooting methods with controlled breathing, a good stance, a steady hand, and a camera braced against pillars or posts if necessary.

Sony R1 JPEG and fill flash

This is a Sony R1 JPEG with a bit of fill light from the built-in flash. I persist with the raw files despite their slowness in writing.

At ISO 160-200, Sony R1 pictures are clear with great color. At ISO 400 they’re still good. When viewed at 100%, the images are satisfying with lots of detail. On the minus side, raw files take a long time to write on the R1 (several seconds, typically). This was never a rapid-fire camera for those aiming to pull the most quality from it. The R1 takes CF cards or Sony memory sticks – no SD cards.

The quality of the R1’s Carl Zeiss T* 24-120mm lens doesn’t disappoint. Exposure: 1/160th sec, ISO 160, f/8, approx 40mm equivalent focal length.

The R1’s WLF (waist level finder)

The flip-out 2″ LCD of the R1 didn’t appeal to everyone as it swivels upwards, effectively making the camera bigger. It’s already quite a bulky bridge camera. Personally, I love the fact that the LCD screen can slot flush into the top of the camera, turning it into a waist-level finder. That’s great for candid portraits or street photos, even if you have to wait for those big Sony raw files to write (you can shoot JPEGs). The camera has an electronic viewfinder that’s dimmer and lower resolution than you’d expect from today’s cameras, but it’s usable.

Sony R1 waist level finder

I’m not aware of any other digital stills camera that allows this. The LCD is only 2″ wide, but that allows it to slot neatly into the top of the camera like a WLF.

Of all the digital cameras I’ve used, the Sony R1 is one of the few that I haven’t sold over time. I can’t bring myself to get rid of it because of its quirkiness and quality. For those familiar with him, well-known US photographer and blogger Kirk Tuck was still singing the praises of the R1 just a few years back. This is a secondhand bargain if you can cope with the cons.

Old camera #2: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30

The main problem with the 2005 Panasonic Lumix FZ30 is the noise from its 8-megapixel CCD 1/1.8″ sensor. Even at ISO 80, it’s there. That aside, there are many appealing features. The 12x Leica-branded optical zoom lens with image stabilization is sharp across its whole range. Despite its age, the electronic viewfinder in this camera isn’t bad, even if the dioptric dial nudges out of place too easily. I tend to use the EVF more than the 2″ flip-down LCD.

The 12x optical zoom of the Lumix FZ-30 is fairly modest by today’s standards and isn’t very wide at the wide end. But still, you get good long-lens versatility that doesn’t seem to exceed its Mega O.I.S. ability (Optical Image Stabilization).

Offering all the exposure control you’d expect from an SLR, the Lumix FZ30 also allows raw shooting – a strong point in its favor. With today’s processing, and by restricting your photography to base ISO where possible, you can achieve good results. Limiting? Yes, but you get 36-432mm versatility for your trouble. The stabilization is effective, allowing you to make use of that long zoom at relatively low speeds with good technique.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 controls - early 2000s digital camera

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 feels well made and gives you as much control as you want. Aside from allowing raw files, it captures modest VGA res video (typical for its age).

This is a camera that yields detailed pictures, is quick to handle, has long battery life and doesn’t hold you up with big raw files. One frustrating aspect is the need for 2GB SD cards to run it, which many people will not have in this day and age. It doesn’t accept SDHC cards (4GB+).

This is a 100% section of an FZ30 file with Adobe’s “enhanced details” and some basic masked capture sharpening applied in Lightroom. The detail isn’t at all bad at base ISO and unsharpened noise is unimposing. (Best viewed full size @ 1500 pixels.) Exposure: 1/500th, f/5, ISO 80.

Although noise is an issue with the Lumix DMC-FZ30, that is less important now than 14 years ago when the camera came out. Software like Topaz AI Sharpen, though not perfect, is good at suppressing noise and bringing out detail. The tools in Lightroom and other programs have also improved no end. Old cameras become more viable as processing technology advances.

Panasonic Lumix FZ30 - Early Digital Cameras

Exposure: 1/160th @ f/4 – ISO 80. The focal length is 52mm, equating to around 250mm in 35mm terms. Image stabilization is probably helping a little here.

Old camera #3: Canon EOS 450D/Rebel XSi

I wouldn’t recommend early digital SLRs to anyone based on dust problems alone, but that becomes a non-issue four generations in. The Canon EOS Rebel XSi (450D in Europe) came out in 2008. It was an entry-level DSLR offering many benefits over previous models. Among them were a sizeable 3″ LCD, Live View with phase and contrast detection AF, spot metering and a bigger, brighter viewfinder.

Canon EOS 450D - Rebel XSi

The lightest camera among the three even with its lens is the EOS Rebel XSi (450D). The kit lens is good, but a cheap 50mm f/1.8 would make even more of the camera’s excellent sensor.

The Rebel XSi is small and light by SLR standards and won’t give much satisfaction to metal-loving traditionalists. It doesn’t feel substantial. However, it’s understated and functional, and lets you go about your work stealthily. No-one is going to think you’re a pro, no matter how well you hold the camera. The most noticeable flaw is some wacky white balance results from time to time, especially under artificial light. Shooting raw, that’s not a deal-breaker.

Caanon EOS 450D - eary 2000s digital cameras - bargains

This 100% view (with capture sharpening) shows good detail from the 18-55mm Canon kit lens. A 50% view creates more of a real-world impression, so this is okay at full size.

As you might expect from a Canon CMOS sensor, noise levels are low with the EOS Rebel XSi (lower than the Sony R1, for instance). Obviously, they’re not as impressive as a high-end camera from today or even yesterday, but you can risk ISO 800 or even max ISO 1600 images for some indoor shots and polish them up later. Better still, you can make use of live view, manual focusing and a tripod if circumstances allow.

Canon EOS 450D - Topaz Sharpen AI

Topaz Sharpen AI is good at sorting out detail from noise, though you have to check over the result for artifacts. This is an ISO 800 shot viewed at 100% with Topaz sharpening and noise suppression. This type of software is only going to improve.

A question of balance

If you’re using heavy “L” series lenses, they may not sit well on the Rebel XSi. It doesn’t have any heft. The original 18-55mm kit lens is sharp, lightweight and has good image stabilization. A modern equivalent of the Rebel XSi would give you more resolution, more advanced processing (a little quicker, less noise at high ISOs), a higher res LCD and video. All this was available in the camera that superseded it in 2009 – the EOS Rebel T1i (500D). But the stills photographer looking for a bargain DSLR might find an answer in the Rebel XSi. It has just enough and a bit more.

Canon 18-55mm IS kit lens - EOS 450D - bargain early 2000s cameras.

This 50% crop gives you a good idea of what the 2008 18-55mm kit lens can do, albeit through a compressed JPEG. There’s not much to complain about quality-wise, even if the sensor promises more.

Conclusion

With modern processing at our disposal, digital cameras from the early part of this century have more potential now than they had when new. Especially those that shot raw files. Yes, you’ll find it hard to go back to them if you’ve spoiled yourself with ultra-high-res LCDs and mega-bright EVFs. But some of the downsides in old cameras have upsides of their own: less brightness and resolution means better battery life. Low-res sensors mean not editing football-pitch-sized files.

You wouldn’t use old cameras if your living relied on the best high-ISO performance. Still, any of the three models I’ve discussed can easily produce a publishable, high-quality photo if you accept their constraints and process the files carefully. Other than the Sony R1’s slow write times, the cameras are quick and easy to handle.

So, with one or two caveats, I’d say early 2000s digital cameras can definitely be bargains.

Do you use any of these cameras, or have any to add to this list? Please share with the dPS community in the comments below.

 

The post Are Early 2000s Digital Cameras Secondhand Bargains? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

How to Add Functionality to Photoshop CC with Free Extensions

The post How to Add Functionality to Photoshop CC with Free Extensions appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

Using extensions in Photoshop is like putting scaffolding on Mount Everest. The program already has more features than you probably need. But you can add more functionality by using free extensions. Photoshop CC even invites you to “Find Extensions on Exchange…” on the Windows menu.

Finding Photoshop extensions

When browsing the Adobe Exchange site for extensions, take note of what products they’re compatible with. Otherwise, you’ll end up downloading stuff that won’t install. Naturally, free extensions are less likely to be up to date. Some of the paid add-ons are worth a look, with the caveat that you can’t always try them out first.

Extension installers

You can install Adobe extensions easily by using either Anastasiy’s Extension Manager or the ZXP Installer. (I use the latter.) Drag the .zxp file onto the app, and the extension will be waiting next time you open Photoshop. (Or at least it should be.) You can also use Adobe’s Creative Cloud desktop app to install and uninstall extensions.

Installing Photoshop CC extensions

If your extension doesn’t load automatically through the Creative Cloud app, try Anastasiy’s Extension Manager or the ZXP Installer.

Three great free extensions

Some great up-to-date extensions are available for free. They might be a segue from an unpaid product to a paid one or have some other sales angle, but they’re still handy additions to Photoshop.

Here are three free extensions that work with Photoshop CC in 2019 (version 20.0.4 as I write).

Adobe Paper Textures Pro (Russell Brown)

This extension lets you easily add paper textures to photos. The downside is the supplied textures are web-size only, so you can’t add them to big files without losing definition. Of course, it’s designed to hook you into buying full-res textures from Fly Paper. But if you’re into this type of editing, it’s probably worth it, as they appear to be high quality.

Photoshop texture overlay

A textured digital photo using one of the supplied Fly Paper overlays in Adobe Paper Textures Pro.

To make Adobe Paper Textures Pro fully functional without costing you anything, you can download free full-res texture images from other web sources and load those up instead. The textures automatically blend with your open image, so it’s quicker than creating layers manually. In the past, the extension has drawn a few negative reviews. But it has behaved well for me, and despite the odd glitch, it’s a lot of fun to use.

Adobe Paper Textures Pro and a separately sourced texture overlay.

Interactive Luminosity Masks (Sven Stork)

Being able to select different areas of luminosity within an image can be useful when making local edits. You might want to adjust the contrast or tone in one area and not another. Or perhaps you want to avoid sharpening noisy, darker areas of the image or apply noise reduction to the shadows.

The Interactive Luminosity Mask lets you select highlights, mid-tones or shadows, and also allows a customized choice with a zone mask and picker.

Using a luminosity mask in Photoshop - free extension

A luminosity mask exposing shadow areas only for adjustment. You can invert the selection if you want to protect an area rather than edit it.

The extension also includes saturation masks. These were once useful for selectively increasing saturation, but the vibrance slider made that a little redundant. Even so, there’s still a lot of value in being able to use color to make selections. For instance, you may want to avoid sharpening large single-tone areas such as skies. This add-on lets you select areas of low, mid or high saturation, or manually pick a color using the zone mask. You can even launch channels and commonly used adjustment layers from within the extension.

Facebook Grid Cover (Bojan Živkovic)

Photography on Facebook - free extensions

Facebook grids force you to curate your own photos if you want to create a good one. That’s always a useful exercise. This add-on set of actions works flawlessly.

Facebook covers may seem like a frivolous way to spend your time. But creating a grid of photos that look good together isn’t always easy. Even with a simple three-image grid, you may find composing a good online triptych challenging. This extension doesn’t end up in your extensions menu. Instead, it’s an action (or series of actions) that loads initially onto your desktop.

You can pick up to 13 images to go into your Facebook grid cover, and the actions let you switch any one of them as long as the layers remain intact. Whether you run a photographic Facebook page, or just want one for your own cover, this extension will create an eye-catching result.

Further delights

Here are some more free extensions for you to try:

  1. Thomas Zagler’s Free Stock Search is ideal for finding free stock images you can use for things such as digital composites. You could compile a folder of free texture photos and use them with the Adobe Paper Textures Pro extension I talked about earlier.
    Free stock search - free extension

    Free stock photos are useful for overlays in Photoshop. Add texture to your photos or drop in a better sky.

  2. Sven Stork’s Interactive Blender Panel lets you blend pictures together according to tone (highlights, mid-tones, or shadows) and leave the rest of the photo unblended. This is ideal for dropping in more appealing skies, among other things.

    Digitally adding skies in Photoshop

    This is another first-rate offering from Sven Stork. Adding better skies is one use for blending pictures by tone. You can use a layer mask to brush out any unwanted blending.

  3. Anil Tejwani’s Action Launcher provides useful ways to organize your actions, including alphabetically or by favorites. Note: The favorites feature expires after 30 days unless you upgrade to the pro version.

    Photoshop free extensions

    Action Launcher lets you easily filter and organize your actions.

  4. Davide Barranca’s PS Tools lets you lay out all the Photoshop tools you actually use in a pop-out panel and conceal the rest.

    Photoshop tools

    This extension lets you lay out all the tools you usually use and hide the rest. (Note: The panel doesn’t float. The illustration shows screenshots of editing pane and selected tools.)

  5. Denis Yanov’s RealLookLongShadow panel gives you lots of control over drop shadows and their length to make photos or cut-outs stand out.

    Photoshop drop shadows - free extensions

    This extension lets you create longer shadows than is usually possible within Photoshop.

Your recommendations

I hope you find some of these extensions useful or fun. Please feel free to add your own recommendations for free or paid extensions in the comments.

 

The post How to Add Functionality to Photoshop CC with Free Extensions appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

How to Create and Use Gradient Maps in Photoshop

The post How to Create and Use Gradient Maps in Photoshop appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

We often perceive color in digital photos to be “correct” when the neutral tones – if they exist – are indeed neutral. But in the real world, light always has some color cast or other that affects the areas it illuminates. A camera sensor ruthlessly reproduces these uninvited hues, but still, we try to edit photos to reflect our own vision. Gradient maps can either correct color or spin it to your advantage.

Using a gradient map to correct color

A blue gradient map removes the reddish color cast of artificial lighting (as per right of picture). Your choice of hue, saturation and brightness gives you fine control over the result.

You can use gradient maps for dramatic black and white conversions or create different monochromatic effects, but this article focuses on color gradient maps to:

  • Use them to subtly improve photos
  • Separate elements within your compositions using color contrast
  • Make subjects stand out
Color gradient map on a black and white image

This image was originally black and white. Because the fog in the picture creates smooth transitions in tone, you can clearly see what the “robin egg to orange peel” gradient is doing.

What does a gradient map do?

A gradient map at its simplest is a smooth gradation between one color (or tone) and another. Let’s say you have a gradient map that goes from green to orange. When you apply that to an image, the shadows would have a green tint and highlights an orange one. The mid-tones are typically least affected except with more complex multi-color maps.

how a color gradient map works

Here, a black and white gradient occupies the lower half of the image. Above that is a color gradient map, and above that is the effect it has on the lower half once an “overlay” or “soft light” blending mode is applied (soft light tends to be more subtle). Don’t worry if you can see banding.

You might be wondering at this point: why would I want to twist the color of a photo and effectively give shadows and highlights a color cast? This, after all, is virtually the opposite of a white balance correction. One reason is to enrich the colors that already exist in a photo.

Using a color gradient map to enhance colors

For this picture, I’ve created a custom gradient map that emphasizes the orange brickwork and the deep blue sky. This is one way of warming up the building without forfeiting the color of the sky.

Another good reason to use gradient maps is to harness the power of complementary or analogous colors and create more eye-catching pictures. Sometimes, the feel of a photo is more important than the truth, which only ever exists in degrees to begin with.

an old color wheel - complementary colors

An old color wheel illustration. Opposite colors are complementary colors, so they’re a good choice for gradient maps.

If you imbue your shadows and highlights with complementary colors, you will often make the photo a little more eye-catching. It might be subtle, but it still works in your favor. This isn’t a magic bullet that makes all photos great, but it’s fun to experiment with. You’re becoming a colorist.

Creating gradient maps

The simplest way to create a gradient map in Photoshop is to go to your toolbar and set the background and foreground colors to the ones you want at either end of your gradient. Then, when you open the gradient map, the colors are already in place.

If you want to use precise colors in your gradient map – perhaps complementary colors you’ve found on the Internet – you can enter the hex numbers into the color picker pane instead of randomly sampling.

gradient maps in Photoshop - cold hues

Gradient maps don’t have to include radically opposing colors. This one has a cold effect all the way through.

Method 1

This is one method for creating a gradient map:

  1. Open your image in Photoshop.
  2. Go to the toolbar and set the background color (click on the rear of the two squares to bring up the color picker pane). This will be your highlight color, bearing in mind you can reverse the gradient in Photoshop anyway.
  3. Do the same with the foreground color by clicking on the front square. This will be your shadow color.
  4. With the shadow/highlight gradient colors chosen, open a gradient map adjustment layer. At this point, the photo looks drowned by color, but we’re not done yet.
  5. Choose either soft light or overlay blending modes and adjust the opacity to taste.

Needless to say, not all gradient maps suit all pictures. One way to create useful gradient maps is by looking for color schemes on the Internet. There are also websites that discuss the color palettes used in movies or movie scenes, which you can “borrow” for your own photos.

Adobe color themes - complementary colors

You can use “Adobe Color Themes” to find the perfect complementary color for one that you’ve chosen. Create a gradient map accordingly. In this case, the yellow-green hue in the little squares is the opposite color to this patch of purple.

Method 2

A more tailored way to create a gradient map is as follows:

  1. Open your image in Photoshop.
  2. Open a gradient map adjustment layer.
  3. Set the blending mode to soft light or overlay.
  4. Click on the gradient to open the gradient editor.
  5. Click on the left color stop (square slider at lower left), then click in the color window that activates.
  6. At this point, you can adjust the shadow color and see its effect in real time on your photo as you move the color picker around.
  7. Do the same with the right-hand highlight color stop.
  8. Now you have a custom-made gradient map for that image.

Note: you have to use the preset manager in Photoshop to save your gradient maps if you want to use them again. Otherwise, they vanish when you close the program.

Color gradient - layer mask - selective editing

If you use gradient map layers rather than direct edits, you have a layer mask built in. In this picture, I wanted the deep blue-green of the water that contrasts well with the reflecting lights, but I didn’t want to lose the warm shadows in the buildings. I brushed those back in, so the gradient map only affects the water and sky.

Gradient maps vs color LUTs

An alternative to gradient maps is color LUTs (look-up tables), which you can also find in Photoshop and other programs. Rather than applying color according to the tone of the image as a gradient map does, a LUT shifts hues numerically.

The latter often causes a radical change in mid-tone subjects like skies and trees, whereas simpler gradients tend to leave those areas relatively unscathed. But it depends. LUTs, like gradients, vary a lot in their effect.

Comparison between color luts and gradient maps

This is a comparison between an orange-teal color LUT (left) and an orange-teal gradient map. Both are more atmospheric than the neutral image I started with, though the LUT has completely altered the color of the trees to the right. Mid-tones are less changed in the gradient map, but highlights are decidedly more orange.

The starting point: white balance

Whether you apply a gradient map or a LUT, the end result is affected by the preexisting white balance in the image. As photographers, we don’t always want to drain a photo of warm or cold light with a white balance adjustment. It’s frequently this light that makes the picture – adds to its atmosphere. However, such an adjustment ensures a purer result with gradient maps and LUTs.

Color LUTs and gradients are usually designed from a white-balance-corrected starting point. So, if you want to see them as the author intended, consider correcting white balance at the raw stage. This isn’t anywhere near compulsory: you can simply lay these edits over photos and they’ll act as filters. Just know that their effect can be exaggerated, skewed or diminished if the photo already has a color cast.

If you customize a gradient map to suit the image, the need for a prior white-balance adjustment obviously disappears. But this is time consuming compared to having a set of tried-and-tested presets at your fingertips.

Enhancing colors and color contrast

The color in the red lens at the front is brought out by this gradient map and the tone of the wood becomes darker than the original. There’s some cool-warm contrast going on here between wood and glass.

Creating multi-color gradient maps

I find simple two-tone gradient maps more useful and certainly more versatile than complex ones, but you can add further colors to the gradient if you wish. You might add a separate color to mid-tones, for instance.

Use analogous colors (sets of three closely related hues) or triadic colors to inspire you, or customize a gradient to enhance the colors that exist in a photo.

triad colors - triadic colors

I probably wouldn’t go for this look, but it illustrates the effect of a three-color gradient map (violet, green, orange – a triadic combo). The different tones in this abstract architectural shot bring all three into play, albeit with a very subtle orange in highlights.

Here’s the method for adding a further color to your gradient:

  1. Open your image in Photoshop.
  2. Create a two-color gradient map as above (steps 1-7).
  3. Click under the center of the gradient in the gradient editor to create a third color stop.
  4. Click on the newly created color stop to activate the color window, then click in that window.
  5. Choose a third color that complements the image (e.g. for mid-tones) and adjust its effect by changing the position of the middle slider. The small outer sliders alter the area affected by this color regardless of its position along the tonal range.

The more colors you add, generally the muddier and less “realistic” the photo appears, but that may be an effect you’re going for.

mullti-color gradient - Photoshop preset

I can’t think of a useful role for this multi-color gradient map. However, it does serve to show you how colors are distributed across different tones. By initially viewing the image in “normal” blending mode, you get a clear idea of how colors will affect the photo before you switch to overlay or soft light.

Using restraint

You can add gradient maps to photos and many people won’t notice you’ve done it. But that’s not to say they don’t have the desired effect.

Just like in the movies, you’re using color to create a mood or make the subject or foreground stand out from the background. You’re not necessarily trying to draw attention to the color itself, even if it pleases your eye.

Many photographers think in terms of light and dark to create impact, or saturation boosts, but color contrast is a rarer consideration.

Although gradient maps (and color LUTs) are powerful tools for making pictures stand out, it’s easy to get carried away with them. After a period of overdosing, you’ll come to recognize the types of images they work best on and which of your gradients to use where. Here are five free gradients you might like to try out. Happy colorizing!

Try out these techniques and share your images with us in the comments below.

 

The post How to Create and Use Gradient Maps in Photoshop appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

How Using Movies Can Inspire Your Photography

The post How Using Movies Can Inspire Your Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

One of the best ways to “improve” at photography is to look at a lot of pictures. Ask yourself why some photos work and others don’t. This is easy to do with the endless photo books and magazines available. You can also learn a lot from the world of cinema. Use movies to inspire your photography!

bleach bypass filter effect

The bleach bypass effect originated from movies.

Many of the tricks and techniques used in movies are transferable to stills photography. It might be the lighting, the color contrast, the depth of field or the camera angle that gets your attention. Watch your favorite movies and see what you can learn, but also consider watching films you wouldn’t normally watch. Note the names of directors and observe their style.

Lighting

Lighting is obviously an important part of cinematography, but it’s not always discussed in the same terms that photographers are used to. For instance, there is “motivated” and “unmotivated” lighting. The former uses a light source within the frame, whereas the source of unmotivated lighting is unknown to the viewer.

Photographers often leave artificial light sources out of frame. So not doing so and improvising with various lights (e.g., headlamps) makes your pictures instantly more movie-like.

A classic movie lighting technique is three-point lighting. By lighting the subject from the front, back, and side, cinematographers create modeling and separate their subjects from the background. The strongest light is the key light, while the other light sources are fill lights.

Stills photographers are familiar with the hardness and softness of light. Soft light generally comes from a large light source and hard light from a small one. Soft light is often more desirable, but the harsh shadows caused by hard lighting are useful in horror or film noir-style movies.

Inspiring your photography with movies - film noir

A small light source (e.g. table lamp) placed near the subject creates big, bold shadows – film noir-style.

Film Noir

Popular during the 1940s and 50s, and still a reference for today’s movie-makers, film noir uses low-key lighting and often a small light source to create long or bold shadows. You’ll see other tricks, too, like low camera angles to emphasize power in lead actors and instill fear in the viewer. Modern interpretations of film noir are “neo-noir” movies.

Inspiring your photography with movies - film noir

Almost film noir with the banister shadow cast onto the wall via an artificial light.

Color

Cinematographers, like photographers, use various tricks to separate elements in the frame. One way to do this is by using complementary colors to create color contrast. A common example is the orange and teal grading seen in many movie and TV scenes.

orange and teal grading, movie effects, toning

Orange and teal grading, which can be achieved in numerous ways with varying degrees of subtlety. This is still very common in movies and on TV.

Orange and teal are opposite each other on a color wheel, like all complementary colors. These hues are useful for emphasizing skin tones against a dark background, but they also work well in beach scenes, sunsets and sometimes street views.

Color Contrast in Photoshop CC

The latest version of Photoshop CC includes the Adobe Color Themes extension, which can be used to find perfect complementary colors and paint them into photos. This technique works best in unfussy pictures, where you may want to create eye-catching color contrast between two main elements. You might paint a wall green, for instance, to complement a red subject in the foreground.

Inspiring your photography with movies - Adobe Color Themes extension

The Adobe Color Themes extension showing the complementary color for this Harley Davidson paintwork.

You can also create these color contrast effects at the raw stage using split toning or calibration sliders in Lightroom or ACR. The channels sliders in Photoshop are another possibility, as are gradient maps. Try creating a gradient map by dialing in your own choice of complementary colors!

Camera Angles

Even as beginners, photographers soon realize that camera angles are important. In tall buildings, a sloping camera angle emphasizes height and has a disorienting effect on the viewer. Look at stills from Spiderman movies to see this! Buildings are very often diagonal in the frame. Or there’ll be several converging buildings to create a dizzying effect.

The Dutch angle (or Dutch tilt)

In movie terms, slanting the camera to create a diagonal perspective is called a “Dutch tilt”. You’d use it for the reasons described above, although not only with buildings. It wrong-foots the viewer and creates a feeling of tension, uneasiness or instability. Sometimes it conveys a psychological malaise in the subject. The Dutch tilt is a feature of film noir movies, too, as another means of unsettling viewers.

Inspiring your photography with movies - the Dutch tilt, the Dutch angle

The Dutch tilt.

Soft focus effect

In old movies, and not-so-old TV series, leading ladies were often shrouded with a soft-focus effect. Then we’d cut to the rugged leading man in sharp relief. Aside from its romantic quality, this effect has a smoothing effect that conceals skin blemishes and flatters the subject. The idea of routinely beautifying women for “the silver screen” is a little controversial today, but use of soft focus isn’t limited to portraits.

soft focus photo effect - Gaussian blur

Marcel Proust can be my soft-focus model. Note how his bronze skin is smoother in the upper part of the photo. This is a simple Gaussian blur edit.

A subtle soft-focus effect can work quite well with scenery and it’s a useful way of remedying over-sharpening in web photos. Ideally, that shouldn’t happen, but sometimes resizing introduces a slight crunchiness in pictures (as does sharpening without your glasses on).

One easy Photoshop method for a soft-focus effect is to create a duplicate layer, apply Gaussian blur to that layer with a value of about 10 and then reduce opacity. For a dreamy look, you can use an opacity of about 30-50%, but a much lower value will take the edge off sharpening in a web image.

Evoke a film genre

Even if you’re not directly copying a movie technique, you can still try to capture the feel of a movie genre. For instance, a war movie might have somber colors and a grainy look, while you could use a strong vignette and cool or dark tones to suggest a horror movie. Vignettes force the viewer’s eye along a specific path, so they can evoke a nightmarish loss of control if the subject matter lends itself to that treatment.

horror movies, macabre photos

Heavy vignetting and a somber tone get somewhere near a horror movie feel.

Choosing lenses

Cinematographers choose lenses for similar reasons to stills photographers: image quality, lens speed, practicality. They might use a fast telephoto zoom in less controllable situations (e.g. documentary shooting), but often they use prime lenses.

You can buy into the cinematic look with what used to be called a standard lens – the 50mm prime. These are relatively cheap, though the faster, more expensive models (e.g. f/1.4) sometimes have more pleasing bokeh. And you can close them down a stop or two for sharper results than cheaper lenses at the same aperture. Still, the affordable 50mm f/1.8 is always a great buy. It’s also less prone to focusing problems than ultra-fast lenses.

Shame the modern cars ruin the vintage feel of this photo. I took it with a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 lens, which was well known for its creamy background “bokeh”. Any 50mm lens is useful.

Other prime lenses to consider include a wide-angle 28 or 35mm (or equivalent) and a fast “portrait” lens of between 80 and 105mm. The ability to use a wide aperture gives you more creative choice and helps isolate subjects, though clearly this is not always a cinematic aim.

Studying movies

You can learn a lot about photography just by closely studying movies. If you watch DVDs or Blu-ray discs, you might have the director’s commentary as an extra feature. This gives fascinating insight into the reasons scenes are shot the way they are. A director has the last say in framing and how a movie looks, although the cinematographer also has creative input (e.g. in lighting a scene).

10 Well-Shot Movies

Here are 10 movies from many that I admire for their photography:

  • Casablanca (1942)
  • Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
  • Chinatown (1974)
  • Apocalypse Now (1979)
  • The Shining (1980)
  • Amélie (2001)
  • Children of Men (2006)
  • No Country for Old Men (2007)
  • The Tree of Life (2011)
  • Mr. Turner (2014)

A more extensive list is here. It helps if the subject matter appeals to you, but dedication can overcome this.

Inspiring your photography with movies - DVDs

An unforgettable movie still and a brilliantly shot horror film: The Shining. I don’t tend to watch horror films, but I’ve seen this many times.

Closing shot

The aim of this article is just to get you thinking about movies and how you can use them to inspire your own photography. Look at the style of different directors, the way they frame pictures and the colors they use. Look for their patterns across several movies. Check out the lighting.

I was taking photos for years before I made a connection between stills photography and movies. I spent my formative years gazing at photo magazines without often reading the accompanying text. Since then, movies and their media have evolved. They’re more accessible.

Everything in life may influence our photography on some tangential level, but if you make a conscious effort to understand and repeat cinematic techniques, those that you admire will ingrain themselves in your pictures.

Has your photography been influenced by movies? Feel free to share some of your shots in the comments below.

The post How Using Movies Can Inspire Your Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

How to Use Textures to Create Compelling Photographs

The post How to Use Textures to Create Compelling Photographs appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

Adding textures to photos is a fun way of creating new pictures. In some respects, it’s not very different to printing your photos onto textured paper or choosing frames for them (or both), except the images needn’t leave your computer. You can do this with photos you’ve already taken, though often it’s best to create them with this treatment in mind.

Adding textured backgrounds to photos

Cracked earth photo in the background.

Choosing your photos

You can add textures to almost any type of picture, but this method works well with simple photos where there isn’t a lot of fussy detail. Ideally, you need a sizeable single-tone area that allows the background to come through. Otherwise, you can use a simple texture with a complex photo – the important thing is that the two photos do not fight.

Adding textured backgrounds to photos

A harmless subject, despite appearances.

You can apply this treatment to portraits, landscapes, still lifes, or just about any genre. With still life, you’re at a particular advantage because you can take very simple pictures of subjects against plain backgrounds and then attempt to create something interesting later with a textured background.

Adding textured backgrounds to photos

Melding photos together is not a purist’s approach to photography, but you need only ask yourself one question: do you like the result? Adding a texture to a background is like putting two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together. Do the two parts suit each other? A beneficial side effect of creating these pictures is that you’ll start noticing and shooting all kinds of textures to use with your photos.

Adding textured backgrounds to photos

Splodges of paint in the background.

Finding and photographing textures

You can create your own backgrounds quite easily by photographing textures around the home. For instance, try capturing textured paper, sandpaper, fences, walls, wood grain, baking trays, tiles, canvas, painted surfaces, rusting surfaces or concrete. Mid-tone textures with contrasting colors or details tend to work better than monotonous dark or bright surfaces.

Adding textured backgrounds to photos

Silhouetted trees against a blue painted background.

Try screwing up pieces of paper and then flattening them out for backgrounds. You can even use a scanner for paper backgrounds, which has the advantage of holding them flat while still recording the folds and creases.

Adding textured backgrounds to photos

The same silhouetted trees against brown paper. I wanted to avoid distracting contrast in the paper, so the processing holds off on highlights.

If you want to try this technique and don’t have any texture photographs in your library, you can always grab some to practice with from free photo websites (e.g. https://www.freeimages.com).

Adding textured backgrounds to photos

A French WW1 Croix de Guerre medal, originally shot against a white card background.

Another possibility is to use the in-built textures offered within image editing programs. Photoshop CC has this to a limited extent. There’s also a good textures section in ON1 Effects (standalone or filter plugin) that offers a lot of choice.

Adding textured backgrounds to photos

In Photoshop CC you can reveal the “Texture” filter under preferences. It only works on 8-bit images. This is the Canvas texture.

Photoshop Technique (or similar)

To blend textures into backgrounds, you need an editing program that has layers and blending modes. The second usually comes with the first. In brief, you just need to drag one photo on top of the other and adjust the blending mode between the layers to suit. Sometimes you might need to tweak opacity.

Here’s a more precise workflow:

  1. Open the two images you intend to merge (i.e. subject and textured background).
  2. Ensure that the texture image is the same size as the main photo or slightly larger. If it is much larger (e.g. a full-sized file layered onto a web image), it will appear less sharp.
  3. Using the move tool in Photoshop, drag the texture image onto the main photo. This automatically creates a second layer (“Layer 1”).
  4. Try the various layer blending modes in your layers palette until you find one that suits the image. “Overlay” is one that often works well.
  5. Adjust opacity to taste. If you want to strengthen the effect rather than fade it, you can duplicate Layer 1.
  6. Merge the layers (Ctrl + E) or Flatten Image.

You can do this the other way round and drag the main image onto the texture, but then the opacity slider becomes less useful. You ideally want to be able to fade the texture effect rather than the main photo. Also, if the texture file is larger, having that one on top avoids the need to crop the image afterwards.

Adding textured backgrounds to photos

Using the Brush Tool

Another thing you can do with your textures is to selectively paint parts of the effect out of or into the picture. You might do this if, for instance, you want to create the illusion that an object within the photo is resting on a textured background without being part of it.

Adding textured backgrounds to photos

Using a ON1 Effects texture I’ve created henna-type markings on the hand and used the brush tool to remove the same pattern from the watch.

To do this, you need to create a layer mask on “Layer 1” (your texture photo). Then, making sure the brush foreground color is black – visible in the tools palette – you use the brush tool at 100% opacity to selectively paint the texture out. Hitting “X” lets you paint detail back in again if you get clumsy.

Alternatively, you can do the opposite and create a black layer mask, painting texture into the picture with a white brush.

Harmony

I mentioned earlier choosing textures and photos that suit each other. So, what might that mean? Ultimately, you get to decide what goes well with what, but some textures intrinsically suit some subjects. For instance, old books generally go better with leather, paper or card textures than they do with a brick wall. Metallic objects might go well with rust or oxidation.

Adding textured backgrounds to photos

Another ON1 Effects texture (rice paper).

With human subjects, you might want to infer something else altogether, like cracks for old age or the passing of time. Be careful who you use that on! The bolder the texture is, generally the more limited it is in its potential. You can use paper and canvas textures on almost anything because of their photographic and artistic connection and their unobtrusiveness.

Express yourself

Any picture you produce on a computer rather than in camera will likely attract a degree of cynicism. That’s just the way photography is. But it’s not always healthy to be confined by your chosen craft and feel like you’re not doing anything new. Blending photos in Photoshop is creative, fun and even a little beneficial, since an eye for juxtaposition is a valid photographic skill.

Adding textured backgrounds to photos

Antique Vaseline pots against an old baking tray surface.

Get ready for the strange looks you’ll receive when you begin photographing plain walls and fences. Use a tripod for extra eccentricity ….

Feel free to share your creations in the comments section below.

The post How to Use Textures to Create Compelling Photographs appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Glenn Harper.

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.

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