Image Editing Software Review: PortraitPro 15

mWhen it comes to portrait photography, there seem to be two predominant schools of thought. The first says that retouching is bad, that people should be presented as they are and retouching is a no-no. The second school of thought says that when people have their portrait taken, it should be an idealistic representation of the person, flattering the subject and minimizing any flaws.

The truth, however, probably lies somewhere in the middle. When people have their portrait taken, they want the photographer to make them look as good as possible. Most portraiture requires some level of retouching, and truth be told, retouching was in vogue long before the digital age. Digital photography, however, has brought with it some new tools. One of those tools is PortraitPro 15, from Anthropics Technology.

An example of a portrait retouched using PortraitPro 15

An example of a portrait retouched using PortraitPro 15.

Overview of PortraitPro 15

PortraitPro 15 is available as a standalone application, or as a plugin for Photoshop, Lightroom, or Aperture. There are three different versions available; Standard, Studio, and Studio Max. PortraitPro Standard is the standalone version, which also has a few other limitations. PortraitPro Studio and Studio Max can both be used as plugins, and they also offer a variety of other options including RAW file support, color profile support, the ability to read and write TIFF and PNG files in 16-bit mode, and a batch dialog. The Studio Max version also offers a Full Batch Mode to greatly speed up your workflow. Compare all editions of PortraitPro 15 here.

Before and after using PortraitPro 15

Before and after using Portrait Professional 15

Getting started with PortraitPro 15

Getting started in PortraitPro 15 is simple. If you’re using the standalone application, simply open the file you wish to work on. From Photoshop (if you’re using the Studio or Studio Max version), go to the Filters menu and Select Anthropics > Portrait Professional.

Once your image is open, PortraitPro 15 will detect the facial outline of the subject. It will sometimes detect gender and age, or it may ask if the subject is male or female or a young girl or boy under 12. You will then be shown a side-by-side comparison, with the image on the left showing the outlines of the face that the software will use for its retouching. These outlines can be adjusted to provide better accuracy, but the software does a pretty good job of selecting facial features on its own. On the right is a preview of what the subject will look like after the retouching is applied.

On the far right, you will see a navigator window that allows you to move around the image easily. Beneath that is a list of presets so you can easily apply a particular look to your subject. Beneath the presets is a group of “Portrait Improving Sliders”. These sliders include;

  • Face Sculpt Controls
  • Skin Smoothing Controls
  • Skin Lighting Controls
  • Makeup Controls
  • Eye Controls
  • Mouth and Nose Controls
  • Hair Controls
  • Skin Coloring Controls
  • Picture Controls

Each of these groups of sliders affects different aspects of the image and provide an incredible amount of control over the retouching process.

Before and after using PortraitPro 15

Before and after using PortraitPro 15.

Some of these sliders, particularly Face Sculpting may seem a bit controversial. Like most digital photo editing tools, you can certainly go too far with its use. But, there are times when it has come in handy and improved the subject, such as when one eye may not be fully open. As with all things, moderation is the key to using these sliders.

The Basic Retouch

Gender Selection in PortraitPro 15

When you open an image using PortraitPro 15, the application will ask you to confirm the gender and age of your subject.

Whether you choose to use the plugin version or the standalone version, the workflow is the same. From Photoshop you’ll select Portrait Professional from the Filters menu, and from Lightroom, you’ll select “Edit In”, which will open the current image in PortraitPro 15. If using the standalone version, simply go to File > Open.

Facial features selection

PortraitPro 15 will try to automatically detect the age and gender of your subject and try to select their eyes, nose, and mouth. If it is unable to detect the gender and age, or any facial features, you will be prompted to do this. Selection, if needed, is easy. You’ll click the outer corner of the left eye, hit next, then click the outer corner of the right eye. Hit next again, and you’ll be prompted to click the tip of the nose. You’ll continue until the eyes, nose, and mouth are selected. PortraitPro will then find the top of the head and the jawline.

The main screen of PortraitPro 15

The main screen of PortraitPro 15

First editing steps

Once the selection is made, PortraitPro will automatically adjust your image using the Standard settings. From here, you are free to choose a different preset or start moving the sliders to better retouch your portrait.

The first slider I adjust is the Face Sculpt Controls. I will say that I’m not a huge fan of this adjustment so normally I just turn it off. There are times it can get too aggressive and will really alter the look of the subject’s face. You can minimize the amount of adjustment using the Master Fade slider to amend the overall look, or the individual sliders to only affect certain features. For instance, I will often set all the sliders to zero but then use the Eye Widening slider if the subject happens to have a sleepy eye. I do try and keep the digital plastic surgery to a minimum.

Skin Smoothing

The next slider group is the Skin Smoothing Control. This set of sliders does a nice job of minimizing wrinkles and removing blemishes. You do need to be careful when you have a subject with freckles or beauty marks that you want to retain. Again, adjusting the individual sliders will help you find the right amount of smoothing without making things look too plastic, and the Touch Up Brush will allow you to remove strong blemishes without affecting the overall skin texture.

Skin Selection PortraitPro 15

If you need to adjust the area affected by skin smoothing and lighting, you can manually paint in your selection.

PortraitPro offers some quick tips when you select the various sliders. In addition, you may notice that the application hasn’t quite selected all of the skin you want to be retouched, due to changes in tone. Or, conversely, that it has selected areas which you don’t want to be affected, such as clothing with colors close to the skin tone, or hair. You can adjust the skin selection by clicking View/Edit Skin Area and adding or subtracting from the skin selection using a brush, similar to applying a selection by using a layer mask in Photoshop.

Before skin smoothing

Medium skin smoothing applied.

Heavy skin smoothing applied.

Skin Lighting

The Skin Lighting slider controls can actually adjust the lighting on your subject. This is another set of sliders that are best used with care, but a judicious adjustment can help improve your image. Going too far with it, on the other hand, will result in images that have a definitive fake look to them. You have the ability to adjust shadows to the left or right, a kick light to the left or right, and even adjust the angle of your main light.

Before skin lighting effects applied.

Skin lighting medium applied.

Skin lighting heavy applied.

Makeup

The Makeup Controls sliders allow you to add digital makeup to your subject. Everything including lipstick, mascara, eye shadow and eyeliner can be added or enhanced here. As with the Face Sculpting and Lighting Controls, you will want to be careful not to overdo things here. But again, I’ve had occasions where a little eyeliner or a change in lipstick color has helped the image.

By the same token, if you are taking a portrait as a starting point, you can create some incredibly different looks by changing the subject’s makeup. This makes it an excellent tool if you are creating a digital illustration from a photo.

Skin Smoothing Controls PortraitPro 15

The skin smoothing controls inside PortraitPro 15

Before make-up applied using PortraitPro 15.

Make-up added.

Make-up added heavily, this is over done.

Facial feature control sliders

The Eye Control sliders do a nice job of enhancing the subject’s eyes and bringing them out. Brightening the irises, sharpening the eyes, and whitening them are all done here. You can even change the eye color and add catch lights. The biggest mistake I’ve made (and seen others make) is going too far with the whitening, giving the eyes an unnatural glow. Eyes can be adjusted individually, so you have a lot of control over their look.

Before eye controls applied.

Eye controls medium applied.

Eye color change applied.

Mouth & Nose Controls are sliders to enhance the mouth and nose. Here you can adjust the saturation of the lips, their brightness, and contrast. You have the ability to make the same adjustments to the nose.

Hair and skin sliders

Hair Controls is a set of sliders that I like a lot. You have the ability to re-color hair, adjust the shine, reddening, and vibrance. In addition, as with the skin selection, you can adjust the hair selection. Especially cool is the Hair Tidying Mode, which allows you to smooth and soften the hair. It can give the hair an almost painted look, which is one I tend to like, but again, it is possible to go too far.

Skin Coloring Controls allow you to adjust skin color, add a glow, or a bit of a tan. In addition, you can add cheek coloring here and adjust the exposure on the face.

Before skin coloring

Tan skin coloring applied.

PortraitPro 15

On the right side of the application window, you’ll find a navigator, a list of presets, and the Portrait Enhancement Sliders.

Picture Controls

Finally, the Picture Controls slider allows overall adjustment of the color temperature, tint, exposure, contrast, and vibrancy. You can also crop here. If you’re using Photoshop or Lightroom, these adjustments are better handled there, after retouching. But if you’re using the standalone version, this is an excellent way to finish off your image.

Once you’ve finished with the face you’re working on, you click the Next button at top right, and either click “Return from Plugin”, or “Enhance Another Face”, if you have more than one subject in your photo.

Pros of PortraitPro 15

PortraitPro 15 is an excellent application for quick and easy retouching of portraits. Blemish retouching, eye enhancing, and cleanup of hair is simple and can PortraitPro 15 can provide a nice finished look to a portrait. In addition, the ability to adjust lighting can give added pop and make a flatly lit portrait much more interesting. The same goes for the ability to add or enhance makeup. It’s easy to see the effects of the changes you make usingPortraitPro and compare them to the unretouched photo, so you can judge the edits as you work.

Before and After

Before and After

Cons of PortraitPro 15

My biggest issue with PortraitPro 15 is that it’s easy to go too far with an adjustment and suddenly your image looks fake or digitized, almost like a 3D animation. Like most photo-enhancing filters, a little goes a long way and moderation is required. In the right hands, PortraitPro can be an awesome editing tool. In the wrong hands, it can return some ugly results. Additionally, PortraitPro appears to have some issues when one eye is covered by hair or a hat, or when the face is at a 3/4 angle to the camera. So in those situations, you’ll need to pay extra attention to your selections, and in the case where one eye is hidden, set all sliders for that eye to zero.

My other issue with PortraitPro is that it does seem to be a resource hog. As soon as I enter the plugin from Photoshop, the fan on my 2014 iMac (with the max amount of RAM) starts up and keeps going until I’m done. Some of the adjustments are slow, and on my machine, adjusting the outlines takes a moment as my computer catches up.

Before & After PortraitPro 15

Before & After

Bottom Line

Overall, I love PortraitPro 15 and the ability it has to retouch portraits quickly and easily. While I prefer not to use all of the features all of the time, such as face sculpting or skin lighting, things such as skin smoothing and eye retouching really help give my portraits a finished look. The learning curve is not terribly high and it is fairly easy to tell when you’ve gone too far. It’s become an essential part of my portrait workflow.

See the three editions available on Amazon. The Studio version is a great value.

Before & After PortraitPro

Before & After PortraitPro

Before & After PortraitPro

Before & After PortraitPro

The post Image Editing Software Review: PortraitPro 15 by Rick Berk appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Customize Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

I’ve written before about how your images are being processed. This is true regardless of whether you shoot RAW and process in software such as Lightroom or Photoshop, or JPEG and allow the camera to make color and contrast decisions for you. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of the canned in-camera picture styles the camera manufacturers prepackage in their cameras. Some are too contrasty, while others don’t offer enough color saturation for my taste.

Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

A landscape image using a picture style I created in Canon Picture Style Editor.

 

While all of today’s digital cameras have some ability to adjust the processing decisions being made by selecting and adjusting Picture Styles (in Canon-speak) or Picture Controls (in Nikonian terms), many people aren’t aware that you can be even more creative and create your own styles using desktop software provided by Canon and Nikon.

There are two reasons why you would do this. First, if you do not like processing RAW files, or just prefer “getting it right in camera”, but would still like to be able to create your own look to your images, creating a custom picture style is an easy way to do so. Second, if you’re undertaking a project which would require processing large numbers of files, having the camera use a custom look for these images takes away a lot of processing grunt work.

Canon’s Picture Style Editor is available on the Canon EOS Solutions disc which is packaged with the camera and is also available for download via the various Canon websites, under Drivers and Downloads for your specific camera. Nikon’s Picture Control Utility 2 is available via Nikon’s Download Center.

Canon’s Picture Style Editor

Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

Canon Picture Style Editor

Canon Picture Style Editor offers a tremendous amount of control over the final look of an image. Once inside the application, you’ll be prompted to open a Canon CR2 file you’ve taken. A popup will appear advising of the best way to adjust the picture style. First, make the basic adjustments. Next, you should make adjustments to the six color axis. Finally, make adjustments to specific colors.

Make the adjustments you want

In the Basic Adjustments, you select the Base Picture Style to start with, and then you can adjust Sharpness, Contrast, Color Saturation, and Color Tone using the labeled sliders. You can also create a custom tone curve here.

The three adjustment panels found in Canon Picture Style Editor - Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

The three adjustment panels found in Canon Picture Style Editor

Once the Basic adjustments are done, you can move to the six color axis. Here you can adjust Red, Green, Blue, Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow values including Hue, Saturation, and Luminosity. For further color adjustments, you then click on the Specific Colors tab and again make adjustments there including Hue, Saturation, and Luminosity, as well as Tone Curve.

The number of adjustments available within the Canon software allows for a wide variety of styles for your images. Canon has several downloadable picture styles available so you can see what’s possible, but the ability to create your own really make this utility a great addition to your workflow, especially if you dislike post-processing. Effects such as selective color, muted color, highly saturated color, and more, can be created in-camera.

Selective Color Picture Style

On the left is an image using Canon’s Portrait picture style. On the right, is a selective color picture style I created in Canon’s Picture Style Editor. You have to know which color you want to show through before the shot is taken, but conceivably, you could create several selective color styles and upload them to the camera.

Adding the styles to your camera

Custom Picture Styles - Canon

To upload your new custom picture style to your Canon EOS camera, you need to connect the camera to your computer with a USB cable. You also need Canon’s EOS Utility Software, which is provided on your EOS Solutions CD, or is available on Canon’s website.

Once inside EOS Utility, select Control Camera, then Camera Settings/Remote Shooting. You’ll see a window open up that displays the camera settings. Beneath that will be a shooting menu, where you’ll see the heading for Picture Styles. Click on Register User Defined style. A window will open up where you can select from three slots to register a user-defined style. Select one and then click on the Open Folder button to select the picture style file you created and upload it to your camera. Once it’s in the camera, you can select it the same way you would with the pre-loaded picture styles.

Nikon Picture Control Utility

Nikon Picture Control Utility - Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

Nikon Picture Control Utility

Nikon Picture Control Utility Adjustments - Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

The adjustment panel for Nikon Picture Control Utility

Nikon’s Picture Control Utility is a bit more limited in its adjustments than is the Canon application, but you still have a fair amount of control to create new image styles. When you open the application, you’ll see a listing of the Nikon Picture Controls on the left. These are the same as you see in-camera when you select the Picture Control menu on your Nikon. On the right hand side, you’ll see the adjustments you can make, which include Sharpening, Clarity, Contrast, Brightness, Saturation, and Hue. You also have the ability to create a custom tone curve if you prefer, rather than using the Brightness and Contrast sliders.

While I prefer the greater control over color that Canon provides, Nikon’s Picture Control Editor allows you good options to create your own look for your images.

Uploading to the camera

Uploading them into your camera is even easier than Canon’s method. Simply connect a Nikon formatted memory card to your computer, and at the bottom of the application window, click Use In Camera. You’ll want to use a descriptive name for your picture control so that you’ll know what you’re choosing when selecting it in camera. This will automatically save the picture style to your memory card.  Insert the memory card into your Nikon camera and in the Camera menu, select Manage Picture Control. Select Load/Save and you’ll see any Picture Control files you’ve saved to the card and be prompted to add them to the camera.

That’s all there is to it. In addition to saving the picture control to a memory card, you can save it to a file on your computer, and also use it in Nikon’s Capture NX or View NX software.

Gritty Portrait Picture Control - Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

The image on the left is shown using Nikon’s Portrait Picture Control. On the right, is a custom Portrait Picture Control created in Nikon Picture Control Editor.

Summary

In the digital age, it’s sometimes difficult to differentiate your images from the millions of others out there. One way to do so is in post-processing. But that’s not something every photographer, be they professional or enthusiast, wants to deal with.

Creating custom picture styles takes a few minutes on the computer, but allows you to create a look that is distinctly yours. By uploading it to your camera you can then apply it to images you make from that point on. Have you created any custom picture styles for your work? Share samples in the comments below!

Custom Landscape Picture Control - Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

On the top is the image using Nikon’s Landscape picture control. On the bottom is the same image with a custom picture control I created. I adjusted to tone curve to reduce contrast and increased color saturation to provide better color in my landscape images.

Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

On the left is Nikon’s Standard picture control, while on the right is a custom picture control I created.

Canon Muted Color Picture Style - Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

The left image was shot using Canon’s Portrait Picture Style. On the right is the same image where I created a more muted look.

Canon Picture Style - Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

On the left is Canon’s Landscape picture style, on the right is a custom picture style I created for landscape images.

The post How to Customize Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles by Rick Berk appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Review of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens

Review of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens

Portrait sample using the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens.

Last summer I had the opportunity to test out the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 Art lens and review it for dPS. I absolutely loved the lens, so when the opportunity arose to try Sigma’s 85mm f/1.4 Art lens, I jumped at the chance.

I continue to be excited by Sigma’s lineup of Art lenses, as they offer incredible image quality for a great price. Several of my photographer friends were singing this lens’s praises since it began shipping, so I was eager to see if it lived up to its reputation.

Review of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens

The Sigma 85mm F1.4 DG HSM A

First Impressions of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens

As a Nikon shooter, I tested the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens in a Nikon mount. The first thing I noticed about this lens is that it is an absolute beast. The lens is 3.7 inches wide by 5 inches long (94.7mm x 126.2mm), and weighs in at a whopping two and a half pounds (1113 g / 39.3 oz.)!  Compare this to Canon’s 85mm f/1.2L II lens, which weighs in at four ounces lighter and is more than an inch and a half shorter. The filter thread is 86mm, compared to 72mm for the Canon one. For another comparison, Nikon’s 85mm f/1.4G is also more than an inch and a half shorter and 2/10 of an inch slimmer, weighs more than a pound less than the Sigma at 595 g / 21oz.), and accepts a 77mm filter.

Specs

The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens consists of 14 elements in 12 groups, featuring two low dispersion SLD elements and an aspherical element to help reduce chromatic aberration. The construction of the lens feels as solid as other Sigma Art lenses I’ve used. The metal barrel has a nice finished look, the switches and focusing ring have a high quality feel to them and they are easily located when looking through the viewfinder. The ribbed rubber focusing ring takes up a large portion of the lens barrel and provides a long, smooth throw, perfect for manually focusing if you desire.

There is rubber sealing around the lens mount to protect against dust and moisture, as well as oil repellent coatings on the front and rear elements. Sigma also states that the lens’s hypersonic motor (HSM) has 1.3x more torque than its predecessor, allowing the lens to focus faster. Minimum focus distance is 33.3 inches, similar to competitors’ lenses.

Review of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens

The Sigma 85mm F1.4 DG HSM A

Fast glass

The fast maximum aperture of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art makes this lens a workhorse for many applications. At f/1.4, you’re getting a lot of light through the lens and onto the imaging sensor, making it ideal for low light situations. In addition, that fast aperture allows for use of lower ISOs, helping to minimize noise. Finally, working at wider apertures such as f/1.4 mean you can force your viewer to look exactly where you want by creating images with extremely shallow depth of field.

Accessories

The lens ships with a high quality padded soft case, ideal for transporting the lens. Sigma also provides a sizable plastic hood, ideal for helping to eliminate lens flare off the sizable front element. The hood locks into place securely and offers good protection from impact as well.

The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens is compatible with Sigma’s USB dock, which helps facilitate the updating of firmware, lens calibration, or other customizations such as focus parameters. Unfortunately, I was not provided with the USB dock for this review. My first time shooting with the lens I found it to front focus quite a bit. This was corrected by using my Nikon D810’s AF Fine Tune feature, but in my 25 years in photography, that’s a feature I’ve never had to use before, so I was a little put off by the need to do so.

In Practical Use

Once the AF issues were corrected, the lens was awesome to use. The autofocus was fast and quiet and the lens was tack sharp. The beauty of a portrait lens at f/1.4 is the ability to blur the background way out of focus and have the sharp areas of the image really jump out at you. This made the initial front-focusing issues all the more of a problem because when you photograph using such shallow depth of field if you miss your focus, you really miss it! It’s imperative that you’re precise and that the lens can be counted on to focus where you tell it to.  See this article I wrote: Fast Glass: Tips for Working With Wide Aperture Lenses for more that.

The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art is an excellent portrait lens. The bokeh is buttery smooth and the contrast and sharpness make for a beautiful look to the image straight out of the camera. Repeatability of focus was a bit of an issue at times, and I occasionally had to refocus the lens when taking multiple shots at the same distance.  While for me it wasn’t a major problem, it’s worth noting when you may need to work under greater pressure than what I was facing in my test shoots.

Portrait sample with the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 art lens.

Portrait sample with the Sigma 85mm F1.4 Art lens.

Other applications

The lens does exhibit some focus breathing when changing focus from one distance to another. Focus breathing is where objects in the image become more or less magnified as the focus is changed. This won’t be a major problem for still shooters unless you are focus stacking, but for video shooters, this may be a slight cause for concern, especially when doing drastic focus pulls.

While I did not have a chance to use the lens under these circumstances, I was struck by how quickly the lens focused and thought it would have made an excellent lens for photographing sports such as basketball, back in my sports photography days. In addition, the excellent image quality and wide aperture mean the lens can be used in many other situations. Those include; landscape photography, when either a moderate telephoto focal length is needed, or when photographing a flower, tree, or another object when you want a shallow depth of field to blur the background or foreground.

Wildlife Example Using Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art

Wildlife example shot with the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens. Photo courtesy Dennis Clark / dennisaclark.com

Pros

When properly calibrated, the lens is tack sharp and provides stellar image quality. Build quality is outstanding, and the lens felt good in my hands. The autofocus was fast and smooth, as well as quiet. Image quality was outstanding.

Price-wise, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens is a bargain, comparatively speaking. The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G retails for $1599, while Canon’s 85mm f/1.2L lists for $1899 (at the time of writing this review). At $1199, the Sigma provides outstanding image quality at quite a bit less than its competitors. The lens is available in Nikon, Canon, or Sigma mounts.

Portrait sample using the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens

Portrait sample using the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens.

Cons

This lens is heavy. Combined with a pro body, you could be lifting almost 6 pounds every time you take a shot. For wedding and portrait photographers who might want to use this lens a good portion of their workday, that means a lot of heavy lifting and arm fatigue after a while.

Also, there is no image stabilization on the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art. While neither Nikon nor Canon offers image stabilization on their fast 85mm offerings, it should be noted that Tamron’s SP 85mm f/1.8 lens, while a stop slower, does have that feature. That allows the lens to be handheld at shutter speeds slower than could be achieved with the Sigma at 85mm f/1.4.

 

Summary

The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens is an outstanding value that provides incredible image quality at a good price. While I would prefer it to be a bit small and lighter, there’s no denying that the bottom line for image makers is image quality and the Sigma delivers that. Four stars.

Review of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens

Portrait example using the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art

 

Review of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens

Another portrait example using the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art

Review of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens

Portrait example using the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens.

Review of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens

Nature example using the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art. Photo courtesy Dennis Clark / dennisaclark.com

The post Review of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens by Rick Berk appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Overview and Impressions of the new Macphun Luminar Software

Macphun Luminar

An image edited using Macphun Luminar image editing software.

At some point, after you pick up your first digital camera, the question of image editing arises. For years, the leader has been Adobe with their package that includes Lightroom and Photoshop. However, lately, other software companies have been dipping their toes in the waters of image editing applications. One of the latest is MacPhun, makers of the Macphun Creative Kit.  Their entry into image editing, available for Mac OS X based computers only, is called Macphun Luminar.

Luminar is a standalone application for nondestructive RAW processing and image editing, but can also be used as a plugin for Lightroom, Photoshop, Aperture, and Apple Photos. The application window and tools available are identical whether it runs as a standalone or as a plugin.

Overview

When opening Luminar, you’ll be presented with a window that gives you two options; Load Image or Batch Processing.

Luminar opening screen

Macphun Luminar workspace

Luminar’s workspace is clean and easy to navigate.

Selecting Batch Processing allows you to drag and drop images, or load them from folders on your computer. You’ll then be prompted to choose certain settings such as a preset to apply (more on the presets later), as well as where you would like the images saved, what type of file to save as, resizing, and file naming. In addition to the opening dialog, Batch Processing is also available from the File menu within the application.

I’m a little disappointed that I can’t see a preview of the preset I’m applying to the batch, but overall, the process is easy to understand and runs pretty efficiently.  I processed a batch of 24 RAW images in just under three minutes on my late 2013 iMac.

The other option you see when starting up Luminar is “Load Image”. This allows you to open a single file and edit it to your liking, and then export it in any number of ways. I kind of wish Luminar had a file browser to allow me to view thumbnails, rather than just the “Load Image” dialog.

Workspaces

Macphun Luminar Portrait Workspace

You can change the workspace according to your subject matter. For instance, selecting Portrait brings up a different set of tools than does Landscape, or Street.

You can customize the application by using one of the workspaces available, which automatically brings up a set of filters appropriate for the subject matter.  The preset workspaces include Black and White, Landscape, Street, and Portrait. You can also create your own workspace based on the filters you find yourself using the most (see above).

Editing window

Macphun Luminar

When selecting Add Filter, this window listing available filters appears, allowing you to select from dozens of filters to apply to your image.

Once you have a file opened, you’ll be presented with the editing screen. The main window will show your image. Across the bottom, you’ll see the Preset Panel. This shows various presets that can be applied to your image. In addition to the default presets, Macphun has a selection of preset packs available for download on their website (some are free, some are for purchase). The presets are separated into various workspaces, including Outdoors, Portrait, Street, Dramatic, Basic, and Travel.

Luminar sliders

On the right side of the screen, you’re presented with the layers panel which shows the different layers you have in your current image. Similar to Photoshop, layers can use different blending modes, and the opacity of each one can be adjusted to give you exactly the look you want. A Transform tool is also available to work with the layers if needed.

Beneath the Layers palette, you’ll find the sliders to adjust the filters currently in use. Each preset uses various filters that can be adjusted using these sliders. You can also create your own look simply by adding the filter or filters of your choice from over 40 available. In addition, each filter has a separate blend mode that can be changed to adjust the look as well.

Macphun Luminar

A RAW image before processing with Luminar on the left, and after on the right.

Toolbars and palettes

On the right edge of the screen sits a toolbar, which houses various tools including Move, Masking Brush, Gradient Mask, Radial Mask, Transform, Clone Stamp, Eraser, Denoise, and Crop.

Any of the panels and palettes within Luminar can be shown or hidden with a click of the mouse, making it easy to customize the workspace to your liking.

Luminar-Export-Dialog

The Luminar Export Dialog

Once you’re done making your edits, Luminar offers an easy interface to share your images to various photo sharing and social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, 500px, Smugmug, Flickr, Messages, and Mail.

Luminar sharing options.

Macphun Luminar portrait preset

A portrait edited using the Black and White Fashion Magazine preset under the Portrait presets in Luminar.

Pros of Luminar

Macphun’s Luminar, as a standalone application, offers an excellent option for those who don’t want to get involved in a subscription service. Luminar is currently available from Macphun for $69, making it an easy way to get started editing RAW photos with a powerful image editor. For those already using Photoshop or Lightroom for their editing, Luminar works as a plugin that provides all of the powerful editing options of the standalone.

Luminar is easy to use, with a multitude of sliders that are pretty self-explanatory and provide for fine control over image effects. In a very short amount of time, you can be editing your RAW files and exporting finished images in a variety of formats, including TIFF, JPEG, PNG, GIF and PSD. If you’re familiar with MacPhun’s interface in the Creative Kit, Luminar will be easy to figure out.

I found the quality of the images edited in Luminar to be excellent, but as in Creative Kit, I thought some of the presets needed to be dialed back a bit for the best results. The variety of effects and options available really lets you customize the look of your images as well. I found some presets to be excellent starting points, but then by adding another filter or two, I was able to get exactly the style I wanted for my image.

Macphun Luminar

An image edited using MacPhun Luminar.

Before/after

Layered files

As of a recent update to the program, there is now the ability to save images as .lmnr files, which will save the layers and work done on an image, so you can come back to it later. A nice feature similar to saving as a layered PSD file. 

Cons of Luminar

As someone who’s used Photoshop for years, I found that some of the tools, such as the clone stamp, worked differently than I expected. This is easily overcome as familiarity with Luminar grows, but it took a little while before I got results I liked.

One other puzzling question is, why isn’t there native support for Macphun’s Creative Kit? MacPhun indicates in their product FAQ that there will be support for plugins eventually, but it would seem to make sense to have that powerful suite of plugins available from Day 1. Once support for plugins is available, Luminar becomes an even better value, in my opinion.

Macphun Luminar

Landscape image edited using Macphun Luminar.

Luminar, while an excellent photo editor and RAW processor, lacks certain tools available in Photoshop, such as the ability to output to CMYK, have multiple print layout options, or add text to an image. While many will never have a need to do any of that, it is a distinction that should be made, especially for those who like to add a watermark to their images being shared online.

Finally, Luminar lacks an asset management component like Lightroom, so for those who like to create catalogs, collections, and add keywords and descriptions to images, you’ll still need to use Lightroom while using Luminar as a plugin.

Macphun Luminar

Edited and exported using Macphun Luminar.

Final Verdict

Macphun Luminar has a simple to understand interface and a lot of great features that make it an excellent RAW processing application. Its flexibility to work as either a standalone application or a plugin for Photoshop, Lightroom, and other photo applications means that Luminar will be easy to integrate into your current workflow. My first thought, however, is that its primary market is people who want a powerful photo editor that is simpler to use than Photoshop, without paying a subscription fee every month.

Luminar offers some excellent editing tools, and with over 50 presets, it’s easy to get started towards the look you want. The interface is easy to understand, with self-explanatory sliders clearly marked to allow you to adjust the effect to your liking. If you’re just getting started with processing RAW files and photo editing in general, Luminar is a great choice.

Luminar is available from Macphun’s website for $69, for Apple computers only (currently, supposedly a PC version is coming in the future tbd). Here are a couple more before and after images of what you can do with Luminar. Have you tried it? What are your thoughts?

The post Overview and Impressions of the new Macphun Luminar Software by Rick Berk appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Choose the Right Camera Mode to Get the Shot You Want

When starting out in photography, one of the scariest and most confusing things for a beginner is deciding which camera mode to use. While the automatic modes provide a bit of a safety net for those just starting out, there will come a time when you either want to or have to, take greater control of your camera to get the results you desire. But how do you know what camera mode to use?

Aperture Priority Mode

Aperture Priority mode is a perfect choice for a scene like this where you know you’ll want deep depth of field to keep the entire scene in focus.

First off, I won’t discuss any of the automatic modes here. A full discussion of what those do can be found here: Camera Modes Explained for Newbies. What I’d like to do here is discuss specific situations and the appropriate mode for each. Before we dive into that, I’ll explain the basics before we move forward.

Aperture

The aperture is the opening of the lens, which determines exactly how much light enters the camera and strikes the imaging sensor. The aperture also affects the field of focus from foreground to background, otherwise known as depth of field. A shallow depth of field is one that has a sharp focus on the subject, while objects in front of or behind the subject are out of focus. Deep depth of field is when the entire image is in sharp focus from foreground to background. And of course, you can have a depth of field that is somewhere in between those two.

Aperture is shown as a number on your lens, usually as a ratio. For instance, lenses with a maximum (widest) aperture of f/1.8 will have a very shallow depth of field. That same lens set to f/16 will have a deeper depth of field. An easy way to remember this is smaller numbers give you less and higher numbers give you greater depth of field.

Aperture Priority

When you know you want the background blurred, setting a wide aperture to create a shallow depth of field is key. Aperture Priority mode can be used in cases like this (keep reading to learn more on that a bit later).

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed determines the amount of time light strikes the sensor when it enters the camera. The faster the shutter speed, the less light strikes the sensor. In addition, shutter speed is directly responsible for how movement is rendered in an image. Shutter speeds are referred to in fractions of a second, such as 1/125th, 1/60th, or 1/1000th. Faster shutter speeds, such as 1/500th, freeze motion, while slower shutter speeds, such as ½, 1 second, or even 30 seconds,  will show motion as more of a blur. The longer the shutter speed, the more blur motion will create.

ISO

Your camera’s ISO determines how sensitive it is to light. Lower numbers such as ISO 100 or 200 mean your camera is less sensitive to light and are used in bright situations, such as in direct sunlight. When there is less light, such as in shade, or indoors, you might use a higher ISO such as 800, 1600, or 3200 to make your camera more sensitive to light. ISO plays an important part in the various situations I will discuss going forward, so always keep in mind that you can change this setting, and don’t be afraid to raise your ISO if needed.

Camera Modes

Before going any further, I want to clarify that there are multiple ways to get a specific desired result with your camera, using any of these modes. Once you understand the relationship between shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, you’ll be able to do whatever you like in any of these modes.

But which mode is best for which situation? You’ll have to visualize your image to decide.

Program Mode

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Program Mode resides on the advanced side of the camera mode dial, usually denoted by a P. In this mode, the camera will set the aperture, ISO, and shutter speed for you. So when should you use Program Mode?

Program Mode is good when you’re not looking for any effect in particular. Your camera, when set to Program Mode, will attempt to give you a proper exposure that can be handheld, meaning you won’t be required to use a tripod to steady your camera. This is a good mode for when you’re just casually photographing and just want to be sure your exposures are right.

It is a lot like Automatic Mode in that regard, except that you have the ability to override, or shift, the exposure the camera sets, as well as many other settings such as white balance and picture style. In addition, while in Auto mode, the camera will pop your flash up when it thinks it needs more light. But in Program Mode the flash will not pop up unless you tell it to.

Aperture Priority

On some cameras, this mode is simply denoted by an A on the mode dial, while on Canon cameras it is denoted as Av, meaning Aperture Value. In any case, in this mode, you set the aperture and ISO you want and the camera will set the appropriate shutter speed for you. So when should you use Aperture Priority mode?

Aperture Priority

When you want a shallower depth of field, such as in a portrait, using Aperture Priority and setting a wide aperture is an excellent choice.

To determine the answer, visualize your finished image in your mind’s eye. What do you want it to look like? Generally speaking, if you’ve decided that the most important factor in your image is a specific depth of field, you’ll want to use Aperture Priority Mode so that you can force your camera to give you the depth of field that you want. For instance, if you’re making a portrait, you probably want your subject in sharp focus, but you may also want the background to be a little blurred, to keep your viewer’s focus on the subject. An out of focus background can create a setting without distractions for the viewer. So you might decide you want to use a fairly wide aperture such as f/4, to create enough depth of field to keep your subject sharp, but let the background blur nicely.

But watch your shutter speed too

It’s important to note, however, that you also need to keep an eye on the shutter speed setting. While the camera will set this for you, unlike in Program Mode, the camera is not going to try and give you a fast enough shutter speed to handhold. If there isn’t enough light, this will result in a slower shutter speed that may not be fast enough to freeze any subject movement. This could result in a slight blur due to unsteady hands or slight movement by your subject. If the shutter speed chosen by the camera (based on the aperture you’ve set) isn’t fast enough to freeze motion in this situation, you’ll need to raise your ISO. Raising your ISO will effectively increase the shutter speed given for the aperture you’ve set.

Aperture Priority Landscape

Aperture Priority is a great choice when photographing a landscape where you want a deep depth of field, and the shutter speed doesn’t need to be set at anything specific to capture motion a certain way.

For landscape photography

Another situation for Aperture Priority would be a landscape photo, where you may want greater depth of field to keep the entire scene in focus. In this situation, your primary goal is to get lots of depth of field to keep the entire scene in focus, so you’d set an aperture of f/11 or even f/16 to capture a greater amount of the scene sharply. In this situation, if you’re using a tripod, the shutter speed may not be as big of a factor for you.

But if you’re handholding the camera,  you will want to pay attention to the shutter speed the camera sets to ensure it’s fast enough to avoid camera shake. In addition, if there is moving water or clouds, or the wind is blowing the trees or grass, you’ll want to ensure that the shutter speed the camera sets is appropriately stopping that movement to your liking. If not, you’ll want to adjust your ISO so the camera sets a more appropriate shutter speed.

Shutter Priority

Panning using Shutter Priority

When you know you need a specific shutter speed, such as this image where a panning technique was used, Shutter Priority is often the best choice.

Shutter Priority is usually denoted using an S on most cameras, while Canon uses Tv, representing Time Value to denote Shutter Priority mode. Shutter Priority Mode is just the opposite of Aperture Priority. In this mode, you set the shutter speed you want, as well as the ISO, and let the camera choose the appropriate aperture.  This mode is an excellent choice when you’ve decided that rendering motion in a certain way is the key component of your image.

Shooting sports

For example, suppose you are photographing a sporting event. Most likely, you’ll want to freeze the action of the athletes on the field. To do so, you need a fast shutter speed, such as 1/500th or even 1/1000th. In shutter priority, you’ll need to again keep an eye on your ISO to ensure that the camera is giving you a proper exposure. Usually, the exposure indicator in your viewfinder will flash to show that at the current settings, proper exposure cannot be achieved. In this case, raise the ISO to achieve the correct exposure for the shutter speed you want.

Shutter Priority for Fast Action

You might want to use Shutter Priority Mode when you know you need a fast shutter speed to stop action, such as when photographing sports.

As another example, let’s say you want a slower shutter speed to create a panning effect. Again you would set the correct shutter speed to create the effect, and let the camera adjust the aperture. Any time the primary concern is the appearance of motion in an image, Shutter Priority is a good choice for shooting or camera mode.

Panning in Shutter Priority mode

Another example of using a slow shutter speed to create a panning effect in Shutter Priority Mode.

Manual Mode

Once you’re comfortable with changing settings and you really want to take control of your camera, Manual mode is the way to do that. You will set all of your settings according to how you want your final image to look. There is one caveat, however. Your settings will also be dependent on the available light in the scene. So if you want a fast shutter speed, and deep depth of field, you’ll probably need to raise your ISO a bit. Or compromise on one of the other settings as well.

Watch the meter

Just keep an eye on your camera’s meter and it will help you find the right combination of shutter speed, ISO, and aperture. The other modes do a nice job of taking some of the load off your brain by allowing you to choose one setting to have priority, but sometimes you just need to take full control.

Silhouette in Manual Mode

Manual Mode is the best choice when you want to create an effect that the camera’s normal exposure modes just don’t normally do, such as this silhouette.

Exposures long than 30 seconds

One instance where you’ll need to do this is when creating an exposure longer than 30 seconds. Today’s cameras don’t have shutter speeds for longer than that, so you would need to calculate in your head how long to keep the shutter open, and then use the Bulb setting to do so. Any time the camera can’t properly calculate exposure is a good time to use Manual Mode.

manual-mode-long-exposure

When creating images using a long exposure, such as this one with an exposure time of two minutes, Manual Mode is the best (or possibly only) choice.

Another time to use Manual Mode is when the lighting in a scene is especially challenging, such as when there are a lot of dark shadows. Your camera will try to expose for the deep shadows, causing the highlights to overexpose. Using a manual setting to override the camera’s choices will work well in achieving a satisfactory exposure.

Summary

As I mentioned, there are many ways to capture an image and arrive at similar settings. But each time I’m out photographing, I go through the following checklist in my head:

  1. Do I want deep or shallow depth of field?
  2. Do I want to stop action or is some motion blur okay?
  3. Which of the above two choices is more important for this image?
  4. Is one of the priority modes suitable for the available light of the scene?

The answer to those four questions should lead you to the correct mode for the shot you want.

Shutter Priority for fast action

Shutter Priority can be used when photographing sports to set a fast shutter speed to stop action.

The post How to Choose the Right Camera Mode to Get the Shot You Want by Rick Berk appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Review: Neat Image 8 Noise Reduction Software

In the early days of digital cameras, noise was a much bigger problem than it is these days. DSLRs routinely top out at high ISO ratings that film shooters and early DSLR users could only dream of. In those early days (the early 2000s), when ISO 800 was typically the upper usable limit of high ISO, noise reduction software became a must-have for those of us who were post-processing our files and wanted them to look less like sandpaper and more like something we’d be willing to display. Neat Image was one of the first noise reduction applications I used at that time.

Neat Image 8 Review

While it did a nice job, at that time, all noise reduction software was problematic in that it tended to give images an overly smooth, almost plastic or painted look that did a lot of damage in the fine details of an image. Neat Image was no exception in this regard, so I used it sparingly. Over the years, I found myself gravitating to other noise reduction plugins and applications, such as Nik DFine, Topaz DeNoise, and more recently, Macphun’s Noiseless. When I saw that Neat Image had recently been updated to version 8, I was excited to give it a try and see how it stacked up against the others. While Neat Image 8 is available as a standalone app or a Photoshop and Lightroom plugin, I will be focusing on the plugin version, as that suits my workflow better.

Overview of Neat Image 8

Neat Image Profile Screen

Upon opening Neat Image 8, the Device Noise Profile screen is the first thing you see.

Neat Image 8 is a fairly simple software to use, although upon first opening the plugin it can appear a bit confusing. You will be presented with multiple views of the image you are working on; a full-color preview, and the R, G, and B components of the image. There are four buttons at the top left of the screen; Auto Profile, Load Profile, Auto Match, and Auto Fine Tune. In the center are two tabs, Device Noise Profile, which is the tab the plugin starts in, and Noise Filter Settings.

Analyze image

Once the plugin is open, you’ll see the four different versions of your image. The easiest way to get started is to simply click “Auto Profile” and let Neat Image analyze the image. Once complete, a box will highlight the area that Neat Image has selected to use for noise analysis. Neat Image looks for an area with minimal detail for best results. If you select your own area to analyze, make sure it’s an area that contains minimal detail.

Neat Image 8 Adjustment Sliders

These sliders allow you to tweak the noise reduction to your liking after Neat Image has applied the noise profile to the image.

Filter settings in Neat Image

Now that you’ve analyzed the noise levels in the image, you’ll want to click on the Noise Filter Settings Tab. The preview will switch to the full-color image in the center and the R, G, and B channels will disappear. At the bottom left is a zoom toggle to zoom in or out of the image as desired. You’ll also have the ability to change the preview to various other options, including the RGB preview, a Luminance and Chrominance preview, as well as individual channels. Neat Image will then apply the noise filter settings based on the analysis as done above.

You can tweak the settings using the sliders at the right side of the app window. You’ll have the ability to adjust quality, the noise reduction amount, recover detail, smooth edges, sharpen, and fine tune the filter itself. In addition to the sliders, Neat Image comes with some presets, such as Recover Fine Details, Apply Less Noise Reduction, Apply More Noise Reduction, Reduce Noise and Sharpen, and more. You can also create your own presets for future use. These settings put Neat Image among the most customizable noise reduction applications I’ve used.

oaks-neat-image

Pros

For me, noise reduction has always been a love-hate relationship, always battling with a balance between preserving detail and reducing unsightly noise. One of my favorite things about Neat Image is the software’s auto profiling ability, customizing the noise reduction to each image as needed. While Nik Collection’s Dfine 2 also does its own image analysis, it doesn’t offer the customizability that Neat Image does. And Neither Topaz’s Denoise 5, nor Macphun’s Noiseless offer any kind of image profiling, with both requiring you to simply select a preset on your own and go from there.

Neat Image 8 does an excellent job of maintaining detail while reducing noise in an area with little or no fine detail, such as skies.

night-sky-neat-image

Cons

With all the customizability, of course, comes a bit of a learning curve in terms of use. Neat Image does offer tutorial videos on their website to help get you started, but for those of us who are less patient and just want to dive in, it can be frustrating. I had one or two false starts when I first downloaded Neat Image 8, before finally going to their video tutorial to give me a jumpstart.

Neat Image 8 side-by-side comparison.

Side by side comparison of an image shot at ISO 2500, before and after Neat Image 8.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the ability to auto profile an image, adjust settings to personal taste, and use presets for repeatability of noise reduction, makes Neat Image an excellent choice for photographers who battle noisy images for any reason, including shooting long exposures, low light photography, or high iso photography such as indoor sports, events, or weddings. Neat Image is available starting at $39.90 per license.

lighthouse-neat-image-v8

neat-image-comparison

leaf-neat-image

leaf-neat-image-comparison

The post Review: Neat Image 8 Noise Reduction Software by Rick Berk appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Six Tips For Using Filters to Improve Your Landscape Photos

One of the secrets to good landscape photography is the way in which you capture various elements of the scene. Sure, you can let your camera do the heavy lifting and figure out the exposure. But a landscape photo doesn’t have to be a literal interpretation of what you see, or of what your camera sees when left to its own devices. While post-processing can help make adjustments to an image so that it’s less literal than what you saw, making certain adjustments at the time of capture is more important, giving you something special to work with when the time comes to edit the image in post. Using filters such as polarizers, neutral density, and graduated neutral density filters can help you capture the scene in more creative ways. These tips for using filters can help you start making these adjustments and creating more dynamic images.

Filter Tips

The following tips can help you start making these adjustments and creating more dynamic images.

1 – Use a polarizer to improve the sky

Using filters - a polarizer to reduce haze in an image.

A polarizer cut through the morning mist to reveal blue sky in this shot of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I believe every photographer should have a polarizing filter in their camera bag because of how useful they can be. Polarizers work by filtering out light that is reflected directly toward the camera at specific angles. When photographing a landscape with a blue sky, haze can occasionally cause the sky to be less vibrant. Using a polarizer, you can minimize the haze and reveal the true blue of the sky. This will work best when aiming the camera at a 90° angle from the sun; in other words, with the sun to your side.

By rotating the polarizing filter while composing your shot, you can see the effect the filter will have. Be sure you don’t go too far. It is possible to over polarize the scene, creating a darker blue splotch in the sky that will make the use of the filter obvious and the image appear unnatural. This is especially possible with ultra-wide angle lenses that take in a huge expanse of the sky. In the image above, a polarizer was used to reduce the amount of morning mist in the valley and show the blue sky behind the mist.

2 – Use a polarizer to reveal what’s underneath the water

Using filters - a polarizer cut down on reflections on the water's surface.

A polarizer can reduce reflections on the surface of the water to allow you see what’s beneath the surface, and add visual interest to a scene.

Often when photographing a stream or lake, the light may reflect off the water’s surface to such a degree that it’s impossible to see what’s below. However, there may be times when there is something of interest underneath the surface, such as rocks, fish, or logs from fallen trees. Using a polarizer, you can reveal as much or as little of what’s beneath the surface by eliminating the reflecting light.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing either. You can nuance the effect by rotating the filter just a little bit, to retain some reflecting light while still seeing beneath the surface. In the image above, on the left, no polarizer was used and the reflected light prevents you from seeing below the water’s surface. On the right, a polarizer was used to reduce the reflected light on the water’s surface, allowing you to see the rocks beneath the surface.

3 – Use a polarizer to reduce reflections on wet rocks

using filters - Photographing wet rocks

In this image, light reflects off of the wet rocks by the waterfall.

using filters - A polarizer can reduce the reflected light from wet rocks.

In this image, a polarizer was used to reduce the reflected light from the wet rocks.

When photographing a waterfall, where there are generally a lot of wet rocks, light can reflect off of them, making them appear shiny. On occasion, that reflected light may be so strong that it detracts from the image. Using a polarizer can reduce the reflected light and reveal more detail in the rocks, adding interest to the image.

As with the water reflections discussed above, you can nuance the effect by rotating the filter to get the right balance of reflected light and detail underneath. In the images above, you can see how the highlights on the rocks can be reduced if desired by using a polarizing filter. Again, by rotating the filter as you look through the viewfinder, or on the live view screen, you can watch the effect happen and adjust it to your liking.

4 – Use Graduated Neutral Density Filters to darken the sky

Using filters - graduated neutral density filters for a better sky.

The difference when using a graduated neutral density filter can be very apparent, as seen in the comparison of these two images.

When photographing the landscape, especially at sunrise or sunset, there is often a high amount of contrast between the sky and the foreground. That forces you to make exposure choices to determine what will be exposed properly. While digital cameras are much improved with regards to dynamic range in recent years, nature can still push your camera to its limits in terms of how much can be captured in a single image.

Graduated neutral density filters can help to reduce the dynamic range of an image, by darkening the brighter areas, like the sky, so that it falls within the range of what the camera can capture. Use Live View on your camera to see the positioning of the filter over the lens, especially when using a hard-edged ND graduated filter. Watch the way the foreground exposure changes in relation to the sky, as it is possible to overdo a good thing. If the sky gets too dark in relation to the foreground, try a less dense filter, for instance, a 2-stop ND grad rather than a 3-stop grad. Above, the image on the left was taken without the use of a graduated neutral density filter. On the right, a 3-stop,

Above, the image on the left was taken without the use of a graduated neutral density filter. On the right, a 3-stop, soft-edged graduated neutral density filter was used to darken the sky. Notice it also has the effect of brightening the foreground in relation to the sky, bringing out more detail in the darker area in the bottom left.

5 – Control the motion of water

Using filters - an ND filter to control the motion of water.

A neutral density filter can be used to help capture the motion of water in a scene.

Because of its nature, moving water is often the most dynamic part of an image. You can create a different mood simply by changing the way you capture water. Longer exposures tend to be more calm and peaceful, while shorter exposures can capture the violence of a crashing wave, or the power of a river going over the falls.

Since shutter speed controls the effect of motion, by using neutral density filters you can evoke both moods by limiting the amount of light that enters your lens. Thus, you can adjust the shutter speed to give you the effect of motion that you want. You may not need a filter for faster shutter speeds, but if it’s a bright day and you want to slow things down, you’ll need a neutral density filter to do that.

Using a 3-stop ND filter is usually fine for waterfalls to slow them down just enough to get a nice creamy look to the falls, but when capturing waves on the ocean, it may not be enough to get the effect you need. Sometimes four or even five stops of neutral density is needed to get the exposure you need to slow it down to capture water the way you want. Adding a 10-stop neutral density filter will allow you to slow down your shutter speed to a minute or more, eliminating waves completely, creating a calm scene that feels quiet and peaceful as opposed to the crashing waves pounding the rocks or beach.

In the image above, a 3-stop neutral density filter was used to slow down the exposure just enough to allow the water’s motion to be captured as it crashed on the rocks. In the image below, a 10-stop neutral density filter was used to slow down the exposure further, to a full 2-minutes, creating smooth water and a calmer looking scene.

Using filters - a 10-stop ND filter to smooth water during a long exposure.

Using a 10-stop ND filter, you can make water appear calm by using a long exposure. This is a two-minute exposure.

6 – Create motion in clouds

Using filters - Clouds appear as normal when no ND filter is used.

When no neutral density filter is used, clouds are captured as we see them.

Using filters - a 10-stop ND filter to achieve a slower shutter speed of 60 seconds, I was able to capture the motion of the clouds as they passed over New York City.

Using a 10-stop ND filter to achieve a slower shutter speed of 60 seconds, I was able to capture the motion of the clouds as they passed over New York City.

As a landscape photographer, clouds are often the focus of an image or at least a strong component in the composition. Clouds add depth and drama to a good landscape, creating background interest. But you can also manipulate the clouds to your creative advantage as well, capturing their movement and blurring them to create a sense of flight and speed in your scene. By using a strong neutral density filter, such as Lee’s Big Stopper 10-stop ND filter or Vü Filter’s 10-stop offering, you can slow down your shutter speed to allow the motion of the clouds to be captured.

The proper shutter speed to capture cloud movement will vary, depending on how fast the clouds are moving. The longer the exposure, the more movement you will capture. An exposure of 30 seconds to one minute for fast moving clouds, such as in the image above, will result in a motion blur where the clouds still resemble clouds. An exposure of two or three minutes will result in the clouds becoming streaks of color across the sky, unrecognizable as clouds anymore.

Conclusion

One of the complaints I hear about using filters is that it takes too much time to put them on the lens, or it slows you down. I prefer to think of it as being deliberate about the shot I am trying to capture, and making sure that my camera captures exactly what I want.

Do you use filters? What’s your favorite technique using on-camera filters? Please share in the comments below.

The post Six Tips For Using Filters to Improve Your Landscape Photos by Rick Berk appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Preparing Your Images for Print and Display

If you’re into photography at some point you’ve probably had the desire to print and display your work. Whether it be for exhibition in a gallery or local community center, to hang on your own wall, or to give a print as a gift to a friend or loved one, you want to present your work in the best way possible. Treating it as the piece of art that it is. Displaying your printed work can sometimes result in a lot of angst, due to problems printing, decisions with regards to matting and framing, and finally, lighting.

Displaying Your Images

Many photographers believe an image isn’t fully realized until it has been printed and hung.

“The negative is the equivalent of the composer’s score, and the print the performance.” – Ansel Adams

While situations, intentions, and desires may vary from one photographer to the next, here are a few things to consider when preparing an image for print and display.

home-display-of-prints

Monitor Calibration

Before you even choose which route to go with in terms of printing your images, you have to address the biggest issue facing photographers today – monitor calibration.

The settings you have applied to your computer screen can drastically affect the way the image looks on screen. And while you may have edited the image to look fine onscreen, when you go to print it, there is a very good chance your printed output will look nothing like what you saw when editing. To solve that issue, you have to match your screen to a known standard. One that sets the color and brightness so that what you see on screen will translate to what comes back from the photo lab, or out of your printer.

Calibrating Your Monitor

Unless your monitor is properly calibrated, you can’t be sure that the vibrant colors you see on screen will be the same as those seen in a print.

There are several available options for monitor calibration, but they all do the same thing. They get your monitor set to a known state that the printing engine can translate to similar output. In other words, what you see onscreen is what you get out of the printer or lab! Finally, it’s important to realize that the lighting under which your print will be displayed will affect the way the image looks. Too cool lighting will make it look bluer, while fluorescent lighting will make it greener, and tungsten lighting will warm the tones.

Finally, it’s important to realize that the lighting under which your print will be displayed will affect the way the image looks. Lighting that is too cool will make it look bluer, while fluorescent lighting will make it appear greener, and tungsten lighting will add warm the tones.

Type of Print

Obviously, if you plan to display one or many of your images, the first thing you need to do is have it printed. You have several options available, and while none are wrong, some are better than others. The simplest option, in terms of work for you, is to use a photo lab or print service. If you like more control, you can choose to print the images yourself on your own photo quality inkjet printer. Even then, there are things to consider.

Making Prints

When you do decide to print an image, you have several choices to make, include what process to use, what media to print on, and how it should be finished.

There are two main printing methods prevalent today, depending on where you go for your prints of digital images:

Inkjet prints:

Inkjet prints are produced by placing tiny drops of ink on paper or canvas to produce an image. Professional inkjet printers tend to have more colors than consumer models, with high-end printers now featuring up to 12 different color inks to create a richly colored image.

Inkjet printers use inks that fall into one of two categories; pigment or dye-based inks. Pigment inks are made of tiny particles that sit on top of the paper, while dye-based inks are absorbed into the paper. Pigment inks are archival and can last up to 200 years or more in the proper conditions (under museum-quality lighting and framing). Pigment-based inks are more expensive but also suffer two main drawbacks. First, pigment based inks can suffer from metamerism, which appears as a shift in the color when viewing the print at an angle. The second drawback is that pigment-based inks are not as vibrant as dye-based ones. Dye-based inks tend to fade more quickly, though some are rated to last up to 75 years or more in proper conditions. Professional printers will usually use pigment-based inks.

Digital C-Print (Lightjet):

This method of printing involves using a laser to expose chromogenic paper, which is then processed in chemicals, similar to a traditional photographic print. It’s a continuous tone print, unlike inkjet which produces tiny dots of ink on the paper to create the image. The laser produces true photographic quality with continuous gradations and tones. Kodak Endura and Fuji Crystal Archive are the two most popular papers used in this process, and both produce archival prints that will last up to 200 years under proper conditions.

Displaying Your Work

While it’s fun to show off your images online, there is nothing quite like having one of your images printed and framed.

Choosing a Lab

Labs offer some decided advantages over printing images yourself. When choosing a lab, you want to find one with a reputation for good quality control and customer service. I’ve found getting recommendations from other photographers to be incredibly helpful when looking for a lab.

Other things you’ll want to consider are their products. Do they print using the method you want? Do they offer the sizes you want? Do they print on media other than photo paper, such as canvas, acrylic, or metal? What kinds of finishing options do they offer? Is the canvas gallery wrapped? Do they offer mounting or framing? Do you want or need those services? Answer those questions, knowing what you want or need, and that should give you a good answer as to whether the lab will fulfill your needs.

Answer those questions, knowing what you want or need, and that should give you a good answer as to whether the lab will fulfill your needs.

Displaying the Print

If you choose to go with a print on metal, acrylic, or canvas, once the print is made, you probably won’t have much else to do. These options are generally finished and require no framing, though a decorative frame can be added to canvas if desired. If you’ve printed on paper, you still have a little work to do.

canvas-wrap

Matting

Paper prints, to be properly displayed, need to be matted and framed. You can find various qualities of mat board, using terms such as “Buffered pH Neutral” or “Acid-Free”. These are basically the same thing, meaning the acid has been removed from the paper to avoid harming the prints. Acid-free mats have a protective lifespan of about 7-12 years.

The next grade of mat board is known as “conservation grade acid-free” or sometimes “museum rag”, which is what you’d want to use for a serious art display in a gallery. In addition to removing the acid, another component harmful to paper, called lignin, is also removed from the mat board. Conservation mats that are acid and lignin free have a protective lifespan of 50 years or more. Conservation grade mats aremore expensive than simple acid-free ones.

Which type of mat should you choose? It really depends on your purpose. If you’re planning to display the print as art in a gallery and possibly for sale, conservation grade mats are the best choice. This helps add value to the print by preserving it, and lets the buyer know you are serious about your work and their potential investment in it. If the use is something less important, such as a temporary display that won’t be for sale, you can certainly save some money and go with a simple acid-free mat.
matted-prints

Framing

Framing prints can present you with some difficult choices, depending on where the print will be hanging. Since you never know where someone may hang a print, for galleries and art shows I suggest a simple, understated black frame, that lets the image breathe and speak for itself.

Framed Print

A matt and frame finish off an image and complete the piece for hanging.

One of the big mistakes I see new photographers and artists make when showing work in a gallery or exhibition is framing their work in overly ornate or colorful frames. When an art buyer purchases a new piece of art, if it is framed already, that frame becomes part of the consideration. By keeping the frame simple and understated, it allows the buyer to view the art neutrally without considering the frame. They won’t feel the frame has to be married to the image and can feel free to consider their own framing choices.

If you want to get really serious about the frames you use, you’ll want to use museum quality framing. Like conservation mats, it is designed to preserve the print for as long as possible. Museum quality framing includes UV filtered glass to reduce the UV rays from the sun that are a print’s worst enemy and keep it from fading. It should include conservation matting as described above, and will have a final layer of archival backing to further protect the print.

The Finishing Touch

Signing Your Prints

An artist should always sign his or her work, on the print, in the corner.

As with any artwork, you should always, without fail, sign your images. Signing your images signifies that you created the image, personally took responsibility for it from capture to print, and lets whoever is hanging the print on their wall know who created it. It adds value for art collectors.

There is always some debate, it seems, but I will go on the record as saying that it is always the print that should be signed, and never the mat. The mat can be removed, and thus, so can your signature. Choose either the bottom left or bottom right corner and sign your prints with a neat, clear signature that identifies the image as your own. Again, you’ll want to use archival ink that won’t harm the print, in a color that will stand out. For darker prints, silver or gold metallic works nicely, while for lighter colored prints, a black ink will suffice. I prefer the Deco Color Liquid Fine Paint Markers to sign my prints, canvases, metal prints, and acrylics. There are several thicknesses available so you may want to experiment to find what works best for you.

artist-pen

Your photos are meant to be seen, not just take up space on a hard drive! So take these tips and start showing your images off. What are your favorite tips for displaying photos?

The post Preparing Your Images for Print and Display by Rick Berk appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Using a Flat Picture Style for Better Finished Images

During my career in photography, I’ve continued to evolve, both my shooting and editing styles, to achieve the results I wanted. Several years ago, while working with film editors on a cinema project, I came across a concept that I decided to apply to my own photography, and I have to say, it has improved my final images a great deal. Let me explain about using flat picture styles.

Finished-Image

When Hollywood studios film a movie using a digital cinema camera, many times the camera will be set to record what is known as Log Gamma. This is similar to the picture styles that we DSLR and camera users have come to know and love. But while picture styles or picture controls are for the most part intended to provide a finished look, Log Gamma does just the opposite. A video file shot using Log Gamma will be very flat, with little contrast and color saturation. The purpose of shooting video this way, is so that it retains as much information as possible about the range of tones in the image, so the colorists who work on the video later can bring out that detail, and create a visual look to the film. This process is called color grading.

As I began to understand what the colorists were doing, I adjusted my workflow to allow me to take advantage of the same concepts. I find that by using a flat, low contrast, low saturation picture style, when I process the RAW file I can bring out better detail and contrast, and avoid clipping in the highlights and shadows.

Choosing a Flat Picture Style

Before Image With Histogram

A flat or neutral picture style will give you an image with the least contrast, maintaining better highlight and shadow detail. This allows you to bring out those details in processing. The histogram on your camera, and later in Photoshop or Lightroom, allows you to see where your highlight and shadow tones fall, to avoid clipping.

I had been shooting RAW for some time, but have left the Picture Style set to Standard or Landscape, for the most part. Once I saw this technique, I decided to change my picture style on my camera to Neutral (for Canon cameras) or Flat (on newer Nikons).

Canon Picture Style

Canon Picture Style

The reason is that the histogram shown on the back of the camera, as well as the image preview, reflect the selected picture style. The result is that if the picture style selected is a more contrasty one, such as Landscape, the histogram will reflect that, and may indicate clipping of highlights or shadows, especially in a contrasty scene.

Clipped Histogram

This histogram shows clipped highlights, meaning detail is lost in the brightest areas of the image.

On my Nikon D810, I use the Flat picture control, because it is the best choice for capturing the full range of tones in the scene, and those tones are reflected on the histogram on the back of the camera when I review the shots. This is important because I need an accurate indication of where the highlights and shadows in a scene fall in my histogram.

Nikon 810 Flat Picture Control

Nikon 810 Flat Picture Control

Nikon picture control

Nikon picture control – if you do not have Flat, choose Neutral or Faithful

The histogram on your camera is a graphed indication of where the pixels in your image fall in relation to highlights and shadows. The left edge represents blacks, the mid-left represents shadows, the middle is midtones, the mid-right is highlights, and the far right is whites. While not all cameras have a Flat picture control or style, most have a Neutral or Faithful picture style or control, that works similarly. Also, most cameras give you the ability to edit the picture styles, so you can turn down the contrast if you like, ensuring that you capture more highlight and shadow detail, and reducing the chances of clipping highlights or shadows.

When you clip highlights, objects in the scene that are clipped will show as pure white with no detail. When shadows are clipped, objects in those areas will show as pure black in the scene, also with no detail. When viewing the histogram, if the squiggly lines that make up the graph are pushed up against either the left or the right side, that is called clipping. When that happens, you are losing detail in the shadows if it’s pushed against the left, and in the highlights if the graph is pushed against the right. By reducing the contrast in the picture style, you’ll reduce the chances of losing detail in the scene.

Shooting RAW, and knowing I’ll be making adjustments in post, it doesn’t really matter what picture style I use, because I can change that when processing the RAW file. But it’s essential to be able to see an accurate histogram on my camera, to ensure I’ve captured as much tonal range as possible.

Processing the RAW File

Image photographed using flat picture control

This image was shot using the Flat picture control, and then the highlight and shadow sliders in Adobe Camera RAW were adjusted to further reduce contrast.

Once I begin processing the RAW file, I’ll do even more, if necessary, to flatten the image and compress the range of tones within the histogram. This includes using the Highlights and Shadows sliders in Adobe Camera RAW to bring out details on both ends of the histogram.  You can watch the histogram change in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom as you do so, to be sure you don’t go too far. If the highlights begin to look muddy, you’ve gone too far. By the same token, if the shadows start to look washed out, that’s probably too far as well. You want to maintain detail in each, but not lose the depth of tone completely. It’s important to note that this adjustment will vary for different images, depending on where the highlights and shadows fall in the images.

In addition to adjusting the highlights, shadows, and contrast here, I will use the Dehaze slider, Lens Correction, and Spot Removal brush in Adobe Camera RAW. If you prefer, you can use the Vibrance, Saturation, and Adjustment Brush to complete the image in Adobe Camera RAW or Lightroom, but my preference is to work in Photoshop. There I can use a Layers workflow along with masking and Adjustment Layers and with various plugins, to achieve my final image.

Building Up Color and Contrast

Using Adjustment Layers

Using Adjustment Layers in Photoshop, I built up the color saturation and contrast to achieve the final image.

Once I have the image at the desired level of flatness, I then go about building up color saturation and contrast, or in Hollywood terms, color grading my image. After bringing the image into Photoshop, there are a number of ways you can go about this. The first is to use adjustment layers so that you can continually adjust each layer as desired, until you flatten the image for your final output. In addition, if you’re making an adjustment that you only want to apply in certain areas, you can use layer masks to hide or reveal it as desired.

Many of these adjustments will be to personal taste. I personally prefer my images to have punchy color and contrast. So a set of adjustment layers I might use would be Vibrance, Exposure, Hue/Saturation, Curves, and Exposure.  The flexibility of using adjustment layers allows me to direct adjustments where I need them, rather than being forced to make them globally.

Image processed with Nik Color Efex Pro

This is the same image, but I used Nik Color Efex Pro to achieve the final image instead of adjustment layers.

If adjustment layers aren’t your thing, perhaps using a plugin such as Google’s Nik Efex Pro. It’s now available at no cost, and is a software package I highly recommend. I’ve created several presets in Color Efex Pro, and will also use Viveza and its control points to further adjust my image. For landscapes, in Color Efex I have created a preset using Brilliance/Warmth, Pro Contrast, Skylight Filter, Detail Extractor, and Vignette:Lens, that I find to be pleasing for a majority of my landscape images. Depending on the image, I will tweak these settings to meet my vision.

Summing Up

Before and After

On the left is the image with its tones flattened and desaturated, using a Flat picture control and adjusting highlights and shadows as needed. On the right is the image fully processed building contrast and color saturation.

By starting with a flattened file, you give yourself room in the range of tones to build contrast and saturation, without clipping highlights, shadows, or any of the color channels. While shooting with a more finished picture style may look more pleasing on the camera’s LCD screen, or upon import into Lightroom or Photoshop, the contrast has already been adjusted to give it a pleasing look. Any adjustments to Saturation or color may result in a file that at the very least looks overcooked, and at worst, shows evidence of clipping highlights, shadows, or color channels.

An image showing before and after color grading.

On the right is the image with the flat picture style, while the left has been “color graded” in Photoshop.

Building-contrast-2

The post Using a Flat Picture Style for Better Finished Images by Rick Berk appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Lens Review: Sigma 20mm F1.4 DG HSM Art Lens

In my opinion, one of the best developments to happen in photography recently is the stepped-up offerings of third party lens manufacturers. Early in my photography career, third party lenses were decent alternatives for a lower cost option, but my own experience was that the cost savings also came at a cost in performance. Those lenses weren’t as sharp, focused slower, and weren’t built to the same quality of similar lenses by Nikon and Canon (and other camera brands).

Sample image from Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

The Sigma 20mm lens allows for capturing expansive views when photographing landscapes.

Enter Sigma’s Art lineup of lenses. When the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art lens was introduced in 2012, it ushered in a new era of third party lenses, giving users lower cost options while maintaining high image quality and performance. As Sigma has continued to build out their Art lineup, adding a 50mm f/1.4, a mind-boggling 50-100mm f/1.8 zoom for APS-C cameras, and others – photographers are gaining new respect for Sigma as a lens maker. Recently, Sigma announced a new entry, the 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens, and I was thrilled to have an opportunity to try it out.

First Impressions: Sigma 20mm f/1.4 Art Lens

Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Image courtesy of Sigma

When the lens first showed up on my doorstep, I immediately unpacked it to see what Sigma has done.  It is impressive. An ultra-wide angle lens with an ultra-fast maximum aperture, the 20mm f/1.4 Art lens is one with quite a few applications including; photojournalism, wedding photography, street photography, and landscapes, to name a few. If the image quality for this lens lives up to the reputation of previous Art lenses, it’s going to be an incredible lens to work with.

A quick glance at the major manufacturers’ websites reveals that no other lens maker builds a 20mm lens with a maximum aperture as large as the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 Art lens. That fast aperture allows a lot of room for use of shallow depth of field, or for working in low light conditions. It also makes applications such as astrophotography a bit easier as well. The minimum aperture is only f/16, as opposed to f/22 on lenses such as the Canon Ef 24mm f/1.4. While that is not a huge issue, it does mean that when you’re trying to use slow shutter speeds on sunny days, a filter may be necessary.

Detail image of Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSm Art

The bulbous front element of the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens. Photo courtesy of Sigma.

Out of the box, the lens is fairly sizable (90.7mm x 129.8mm / 3.6  x 5.1 inches) and is a bit heavy (950 g / 33.5 oz.). It is considerably larger than my Nikon 24mm f/1.4 G or the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II. The outer barrel does have a bit of plastic feel to it, but the brass mount and considerable heft, assuage any fears of cheap build quality. Constructed of 15 elements in 11 groups, including F Low Dispersion, Special Low Dispersion, and aspherical elements, Sigma claimed class-leading image quality. I found minimal distortion and chromatic aberration in images I shot with this lens, and what I did find was easily corrected in Lightroom or Photoshop. The lens features a 9-blade rounded diaphragm aperture, excellent for soft rounded bokeh in out of focus areas of the image. Minimum focusing distance is 27.6 cm or 10.9 in.

My one disappointment with the lens is the bulbous front element, which eliminates the ability to use either screw-in filters such as polarizers, or the smaller 100mm drop-in filters. While I have a set of 150mm filters, my adapter would not fit the lens, and other manufacturers had yet to build an adapter that works. I am told by several filter manufacturers that they are working on a suitable adapter for the 150mm filter kits on the market.

The Sigma 20mm in the field

Sample image from Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSm Art

Being a landscape photographer, the first thing I wanted to do was take this lens for a spin at one or two of my favorite local spots. While the lack of filters meant I had some difficult choices to make when photographing the sunset, I was anxious to use the wide angle lens to accentuate the foreground and the sky.

The Sigma 20mm f/1.4 Art gave me no issues and focused smoothly on my subject. The 94.5° field of view on a full frame sensor provides a nice panoramic image, allowing you to emphasize the immediate foreground while creating context in showing the background. The necessity of filters will be more dictated by your camera sensor’s dynamic range, but I found on my Nikon D810, I was able to expose for the highlights and recover the shadows in post-production. Sharpness throughout the scene was excellent, with minimal distortion and loss of resolution at the corners. Color and contrast are excellent as well.

20160624_Maureen-Chuck_0611b

My next test was to try the lens at a wedding. I will often employ a wide angle lens for capturing action on the dance floor, and occasionally for environmental portraits of the bride and groom like the image above. I found the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 Art lens excelled in both instances.

On the dance floor, even in low light, I found the lens to focus quickly and accurately. The fast aperture allowed me to minimize my use of flash in the reception hall (below), and use the ambient lighting for a more natural, festive look. In addition, for the formal portraits I used the lens outdoors at sunset for some bridal portraits, and was impressed with the image quality in a high contrast situation. I used an external strobe to light the bride and groom (image above), with the sunset in the background, and stopped all the way down to f/16 for a starburst effect on the sun.

Sample wedding image from Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens

My final test was to do some astrophotography with the lens. In the past, I’ve used both the Nikon 24mm f/1.4 and the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II lenses, and while both were satisfactory, each has a tendency to produce some comatic aberration, especially in the corners.

While I did find some coma using the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 Art, I found it to be less noticeable than either the Nikon or the Canon. The fast f/1.4 aperture allowed me to capture the stars, while using an ISO of 800 and a 15 second exposure time. If nothing else, this lens is an astrophotographer’s dream, being wider than any other f/1.4 lens currently on the market, which allows for capturing expansive sections of the night sky.

Sample images from Sigma 20mm f/1.4 Dg HSM Art lens.

Summary

In the 20mm f/1.4 Art lens, Sigma has managed to build an exceptional, wide aperture, wide angle lens that will suit a variety of photographers, from photojournalists, to landscape artists, street photographers and wedding photographers. Priced at $899, it’s less than half the price of the equivalent Nikon or Canon 24mm lenses, and provides a wider angle. Nikon’s 20mm f/1.8G is as close as the major manufacturers get to this lens, at a cost of $100 less than the Sigma. The Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art is available in Canon, Nikon, and Sigma mounts.

I highly recommend this lens to anyone in the market for an ultra-wide, ultra-fast lens. My one caveat is that if you’re not already invested in a 150mm filter system, you will need to do so if you want to use filters with this beast.

The post Lens Review: Sigma 20mm F1.4 DG HSM Art Lens by Rick Berk appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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