Fake it to Make it – Creating Convincing Photo Composites

The post Fake it to Make it – Creating Convincing Photo Composites appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

creating-convincing-photo-composites

Photo composites – it used to be said that “the camera never lies.”  We used terms like “photographic evidence,” and “photographic memory.” We believed whatever cameras captured were literal representations of fact depicting exactly what you would have observed had you been a witness to the scene.

Then, as editing techniques improved, photographers learned ways to enhance and even alter images.

Well before the days of digital photography, dodging, burning, airbrushing, layering of negatives, hand-painting, and a host of other “analog methods” were used by skilled photographers seeking to enhance and manipulate their images.  Sometimes this was in the name of art, other times to fool the viewer.

creating-convincing-photo-composites

“Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave.” Assignment – depict a Beatles song title or lyric. I used a photo of a Vermont graveyard, made a shot of myself in the backyard, and with some creative compositing depicted the lyric from “Eleanor Rigby.”

Enter the world of digital photography and desktop editing programs.

It wasn’t long before we used the term “Photoshop” not only as a noun as the tradename of an editing program but as a verb describing the manipulation of an image using that tool.  When we now say an image has been “Photoshopped,” we are saying it has been digitally altered.  The camera might not lie, but the photographer can if they choose.

creating-convincing-photo-composites

It took a while to clone out all the footprints from this shot of Bandon Beach, Oregon.

The ethics of photo alteration

So, is altering your image a bad thing? Unethical?

I’d say that depends on your intent and the context in which you’re using the image. We’ve all heard the term “fake news.” If you are a photojournalist whose job it is to depict a scene truthfully, then the rest of this article is not for you. Move along… “creative photo editing” is totally taboo for you. Enough said.

For the rest of us, is photo manipulation acceptable? How much? What kind? Under what circumstances?

Let’s come back to those questions a little later after we’ve looked at some kinds of photo “enhancements.”

Fake it to Make it - Creating Convincing Photo Composites

creating-convincing-photo-composites

A balloon over Boise, Idaho landmarks. One is composited the other a straight shot. Can you spot the fake?

Bad magic

Have you ever had the misfortunate of watching a really bad magic show, the kind where the unskilled magician clearly doesn’t know his craft and the illusions are obvious? You know, without question, there really was something up his sleeve? Bad photo manipulation is like bad magic; neither should be performed for an audience.

If your techniques aren’t convincing, if the substituted sky doesn’t look right for the scene or the person composited into the group shot looks like you cut him out and pasted him onto the photo, you might not be ready to perform your photo magic. Learn how to do the “trick.” Practice, practice some more and show the result to a single critic. When you finally pass muster, only then show your creation to the masses.

SOOC?

Most of us do at least some standard photo editing. I always smile at those photographers who say with pride their images are “Straight-Out-Of-Camera” (SOOC), unedited. That they always “get it right in the camera.” Really?

Unless you’re making only .jpg images (where the camera itself is doing some editing using the built-in .jpg algorithm), you have a Raw image that needs at least basic editing even to be presentable.

Sure, make the best exposure you can in the camera, frame your shot so no cropping will be needed. Pick a white balance appropriate for the scene – those are all good habits. But having to edit your shot to bring out its best? – That’s only logical, IMHO.

creating-convincing-photo-composites

I had nice shots of a storm over a wheatfield and a good windmill silhouette. Creative photo composite at work.

Creative photo composites

Now we get to what is clearly photo manipulation, the creation of an image from multiple pieces. This is the assembling of a final photo composite from separate shots carefully crafted to make something better than you could make with a single exposure.

Do it well, and you can make scenes that depict your creative vision. Create things of beauty that never were but should have been; landscapes with great clouds, gorgeous sunsets, or maybe portraits done in fields of flowers. Do it well, and people will marvel over your creation, unaware of your magic. Do it poorly, however, and you’ll wind up with a Frankenstein monster, a badly-stitched horror assembled from unmatched pieces and parts.

So let’s look at some things to consider when creating convincing photo composites.

Image: I think the scale looks correct here, but a pilot might say a jet wouldn’t come in like...

I think the scale looks correct here, but a pilot might say a jet wouldn’t come in like this on final approach. Both planes are composited into the sunset shot.

Light and shadow

Let’s use an example where we might add a person to a scene they were not originally in.

You have the image of the scene, and you have a separate image of the person. The first question to ask yourself is, does the light direction match? Look at where the light and shadows fall in both images. If the light in the person image is coming from the left, the light in the background scene must come from the left too. Fail to check this, and even the untrained observer will look at your photo composite image and know something isn’t right, even if they can’t put their finger on it.

Sometimes you can flip the person or the background image so the light direction matches; it depends on the scenes you’re working with. Other times you’ll have to look for a different background with a better match.

creating-convincing-photo-composites

The scale may not be correct, but creative compositing is a new fun way to play with your grandson.Pay close attention to the direction and quality of shadows. Compositing images where the light in one piece is harsh with hard shadows and the other where the light is brighter, darker, softer, or in some other way different will be a giveaway of something fishy.

Sometimes you might have to add a shadow manually. Say you’re adding an image of a car to another image of a road. Consider where the shadow of the car would fall relative to the light in the scene. Then blend in some shadows if necessary to make a more convincing photo composite.

Angle

The camera angle and focal length of the lenses used to make the separate shots should match as closely as possible if you want to make convincing photo composites.

A high or low angle background with a differing angle composite overlay isn’t going to look right. This even applies to sky substitutions.

If you want to make photo composites of a landscape and change out the sky for perhaps one that has a nice sunset or better clouds, take a look at the angle of both shots and the focal length of the lenses used.

You’ll be able to tell if something just doesn’t look right.

creating-convincing-photo-composites

A gray rainy day at the Portland Head Lighthouse in Maine. The lighthouse needed a light beam, no? Easy to add one. Convincing? You tell me.

Color

Sometimes this can be the toughest one in getting good convincing photo composites. Images at different times in different locations are almost guaranteed to have slightly different white balances. Mix a cooler piece into a warmer scene, one where the tint is slightly different, or other subtle differences exist, and once again, your viewer will detect that card up your sleeve.

See if you can set a white balance in Lightroom for your base image and then, using the Sync feature, apply that same white balance to your inserted image. Then take both into Photoshop for your compositing work.

Sometimes the best option for avoiding a fight with color differences is to avoid color altogether and go monochrome with your image. A monochrome composite is far easier to pull off than a color one. It’s a good place for beginning “photo magicians” to start.

Image: The moon was in the original shot, but tiny. I enlarged it a bit, but not so much as to be un...

The moon was in the original shot, but tiny. I enlarged it a bit, but not so much as to be unbelievable.

Scale

Pay attention to match the relative size of images in your photo composites. Unless you’re trying to make the model in your shot look like a fairy on that forest log, matching size counts.

The student who missed the group shot of his class, but you later composite him in, probably won’t appreciate it if you make him look like he has a giant head relative to the others in the shot.

Whatever multiple pieces you use to make your image, consider how their relative sizes match.

Image: Fake moon composited in? Not this time. This was a telephoto shot which made the already larg...

Fake moon composited in? Not this time. This was a telephoto shot which made the already large full moon look even bigger.

Anything funny here?

After working to create a convincing photo composite, it can be hard to be objective. You’ve worked hard to get it just right but sometimes may have misgivings about whether everything looks natural.

Or it could be the other way; you’re convinced you’ve created the perfect composite, but have overlooked what to someone else is obvious fakery. This is the time to bring in someone else, someone who has no idea what you’ve been working on, to look at your creation.

Simply ask, “How’s this look?”

Don’t immediately tip them that you did something to the image – see if they detect anything. If they don’t, drill a little deeper.

“See anything unusual?” Pay attention to their answers.

If this is someone who knows your skills, they may suspect you switched out the sky, put that cute bunny in the forest scene, or digitally shaved some pounds from the model. However, even then, they should be able to tell you if your creation is convincing.

Because you can…

The second part of that saying, “…doesn’t always mean you should.”  Or as Uncle Ben told Peter Parker, (aka Spiderman), “With great power comes great responsibility.”

With practice, you may become highly skilled at photo composites. Alter a photo, replace the sky, make it jaw-droppingly beautiful, and no one thinks twice. Even fellow photographers marvel over the sunsets you always seem to catch, the great light, the pristine beaches with no footprints, litter, or people. They chalk up your beautiful images to stellar photo skills, hard work, sacrifice, and a healthy dose of good luck. They don’t realize you made your own luck, as well as that incredible ocean sunrise, with creative photo compositing.

Until one day, the truth comes out…

You’re just an average photographer but a great Photoshop artist.

One guy who understands where to draw the line is noted landscape photographer, Nick Page. I once had a chance to interview Nick on the subject of swapping skies in landscape photography. In addition to being an exceptional landscape photographer, Nick is also a gifted editor. If anyone could fool you with a creative composite, Nick could do so easily.

He could, but he doesn’t.

Image: He could, but he doesn’t. His amazing photos are the real deal. Photo by/courtesy of Ni...

He could, but he doesn’t. His amazing photos are the real deal. Photo by/courtesy of Nick Page.

“With my Landscape photography, I have drawn the line in the sand, (in my head anyway), that I will not composite or swap skies.  For me this comes down to two things,” Nick said.

“My favorite part of landscape photography is trying to chase the light, and have that great light line up with a great location.  This takes tons of planning and effort, and I love that aspect of photography.  If I were to start dropping skies into my landscape photos, I would be robbing myself of the joy of “the Chase.”

And the second thing?  “I want people to know and believe the photos I take are real,” said Nick. “So many of the photographers I follow, I can’t always trust that amazing light they always have in their photos.  Yes, it is an art, but I really enjoy the extra effort of trying to get it for real, and I want people to know and trust that I put in that extra effort.”

Image: Creative photo compositing is a fun way to help tell the story.

Creative photo compositing is a fun way to help tell the story.

As easy as a click – the rise of the robots

We’re headed for a major change in photo editing as we enter the dawn of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) age. For some time now, computers have been able to “recognize” images. Tell Google Photos to search the entire internet for photos of even something improbable, green dogs, and it almost instantly finds many. This is not a keyword search; it “recognizes” the image of a dog and the color green and finds the photos.

Facial recognition? Lightroom can do that.

We already see better and better implementations of AI photo editing tools too. How long will it be before an AI editing program can do a better job than you? Maybe that day is almost here.

Fake it to Make it - Creating Convincing Photo Composites

Image: Sky substitution. Soon you’ll do this with one click with the Luminar 4 Sky Replacement...

Sky substitution. Soon you’ll do this with one click with the Luminar 4 Sky Replacement AI tool.

Skylum Software recently announced its new Luminar 4 editing software with “AI Sky Replacement.”  Not only can it replace the sky in a photo, but it also does it with no selections, layers, or masking.  It claims to handle even detailed images such as fine tree branches extending into the sky. And, it goes even a step further, using the colors of the replacement sky to better match the scene.

Mixed emotions

I must confess, I have mixed emotions about software editing tools that better the skills I’ve learned after hundreds of hours slaving over a hot computer [Me too – Editor]. Or that don’t require I earn that great shot by setting the alarm for 4:30, shivering in the pre-dawn cold, and hoping the clouds and color are just right only to be disappointed. One-click to a beautiful shot?

Could I, in good conscience, enter a contest with such a shot and accept an award for “my” image? The one made with artificial intelligence instead of just my intelligence and skills?

Image: The Yellowstone Bison endure harsh winter conditions. Think this one was originally a part of...

The Yellowstone Bison endure harsh winter conditions. Think this one was originally a part of this shot? You’ve been “buffaloed.” Added with compositing.

Photography and “real” art

I have to think that when photography first entered the scene, traditional artists, painters, sketch artists and those who created their art from scratch by hand had to scoff. Photographers had no artistic skills, and they weren’t “real artists.”

Later, we transitioned from purely mechanical cameras to automatic ones and from film to digital. Autofocus? Auto exposure settings? Auto white balance? Pshaw!

How about processing negatives and film in chemical baths, working with negatives and enlargers, dodging and burning with real tools and real photographic paper? Do you say you do that all now in a computer with a few clicks of a mouse? That if you make a mistake, you can simply undo it and not have to throw away your work and start all over?

You call yourself a “real photographer?”

Image: Experiencing the 8/21/17 total eclipse was amazing. I used creative photo compositing to sequ...

Experiencing the 8/21/17 total eclipse was amazing. I used creative photo compositing to sequence my shots for this image.

Image: I made a shot of the forest near Crouch, Idaho the day before the eclipse. The next day I cap...

I made a shot of the forest near Crouch, Idaho the day before the eclipse. The next day I capture the “diamond ring” image of the eclipse. It did look like this, but I’m not sure I could have captured this in one shot. Creative photo compositing.

Conclusion

You get the point.  As technology marches on our tools change, we find easier ways of doing things and more people are able to become involved, not having to spend years learning complex skills.  More people can, with some technological assistance, produce better images.

One last thing to remember however, the human touch, the “soul” of your photography, your personal vision will never be replaced by “artificial” intelligence.  Wise photographers still appreciate the special skills of artists who create beautiful images by hand.  Wise digital photographers still appreciate the skills of analog film photographers who created great photos with very basic equipment.  And, perhaps one day, you and I will appreciate the skills of a robot photographer and an AI editor.  Or maybe not.

 

 

 

The post Fake it to Make it – Creating Convincing Photo Composites appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Fake it to Make it – Creating Convincing Photo Composites

The post Fake it to Make it – Creating Convincing Photo Composites appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

creating-convincing-photo-composites

Photo composites – it used to be said that “the camera never lies.”  We used terms like “photographic evidence,” and “photographic memory.” We believed whatever cameras captured were literal representations of fact depicting exactly what you would have observed had you been a witness to the scene.

Then, as editing techniques improved, photographers learned ways to enhance and even alter images.

Well before the days of digital photography, dodging, burning, airbrushing, layering of negatives, hand-painting, and a host of other “analog methods” were used by skilled photographers seeking to enhance and manipulate their images.  Sometimes this was in the name of art, other times to fool the viewer.

creating-convincing-photo-composites

“Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave.” Assignment – depict a Beatles song title or lyric. I used a photo of a Vermont graveyard, made a shot of myself in the backyard, and with some creative compositing depicted the lyric from “Eleanor Rigby.”

Enter the world of digital photography and desktop editing programs.

It wasn’t long before we used the term “Photoshop” not only as a noun as the tradename of an editing program but as a verb describing the manipulation of an image using that tool.  When we now say an image has been “Photoshopped,” we are saying it has been digitally altered.  The camera might not lie, but the photographer can if they choose.

creating-convincing-photo-composites

It took a while to clone out all the footprints from this shot of Bandon Beach, Oregon.

The ethics of photo alteration

So, is altering your image a bad thing? Unethical?

I’d say that depends on your intent and the context in which you’re using the image. We’ve all heard the term “fake news.” If you are a photojournalist whose job it is to depict a scene truthfully, then the rest of this article is not for you. Move along… “creative photo editing” is totally taboo for you. Enough said.

For the rest of us, is photo manipulation acceptable? How much? What kind? Under what circumstances?

Let’s come back to those questions a little later after we’ve looked at some kinds of photo “enhancements.”

Fake it to Make it - Creating Convincing Photo Composites

creating-convincing-photo-composites

A balloon over Boise, Idaho landmarks. One is composited the other a straight shot. Can you spot the fake?

Bad magic

Have you ever had the misfortunate of watching a really bad magic show, the kind where the unskilled magician clearly doesn’t know his craft and the illusions are obvious? You know, without question, there really was something up his sleeve? Bad photo manipulation is like bad magic; neither should be performed for an audience.

If your techniques aren’t convincing, if the substituted sky doesn’t look right for the scene or the person composited into the group shot looks like you cut him out and pasted him onto the photo, you might not be ready to perform your photo magic. Learn how to do the “trick.” Practice, practice some more and show the result to a single critic. When you finally pass muster, only then show your creation to the masses.

SOOC?

Most of us do at least some standard photo editing. I always smile at those photographers who say with pride their images are “Straight-Out-Of-Camera” (SOOC), unedited. That they always “get it right in the camera.” Really?

Unless you’re making only .jpg images (where the camera itself is doing some editing using the built-in .jpg algorithm), you have a Raw image that needs at least basic editing even to be presentable.

Sure, make the best exposure you can in the camera, frame your shot so no cropping will be needed. Pick a white balance appropriate for the scene – those are all good habits. But having to edit your shot to bring out its best? – That’s only logical, IMHO.

creating-convincing-photo-composites

I had nice shots of a storm over a wheatfield and a good windmill silhouette. Creative photo composite at work.

Creative photo composites

Now we get to what is clearly photo manipulation, the creation of an image from multiple pieces. This is the assembling of a final photo composite from separate shots carefully crafted to make something better than you could make with a single exposure.

Do it well, and you can make scenes that depict your creative vision. Create things of beauty that never were but should have been; landscapes with great clouds, gorgeous sunsets, or maybe portraits done in fields of flowers. Do it well, and people will marvel over your creation, unaware of your magic. Do it poorly, however, and you’ll wind up with a Frankenstein monster, a badly-stitched horror assembled from unmatched pieces and parts.

So let’s look at some things to consider when creating convincing photo composites.

Image: I think the scale looks correct here, but a pilot might say a jet wouldn’t come in like...

I think the scale looks correct here, but a pilot might say a jet wouldn’t come in like this on final approach. Both planes are composited into the sunset shot.

Light and shadow

Let’s use an example where we might add a person to a scene they were not originally in.

You have the image of the scene, and you have a separate image of the person. The first question to ask yourself is, does the light direction match? Look at where the light and shadows fall in both images. If the light in the person image is coming from the left, the light in the background scene must come from the left too. Fail to check this, and even the untrained observer will look at your photo composite image and know something isn’t right, even if they can’t put their finger on it.

Sometimes you can flip the person or the background image so the light direction matches; it depends on the scenes you’re working with. Other times you’ll have to look for a different background with a better match.

creating-convincing-photo-composites

The scale may not be correct, but creative compositing is a new fun way to play with your grandson.Pay close attention to the direction and quality of shadows. Compositing images where the light in one piece is harsh with hard shadows and the other where the light is brighter, darker, softer, or in some other way different will be a giveaway of something fishy.

Sometimes you might have to add a shadow manually. Say you’re adding an image of a car to another image of a road. Consider where the shadow of the car would fall relative to the light in the scene. Then blend in some shadows if necessary to make a more convincing photo composite.

Angle

The camera angle and focal length of the lenses used to make the separate shots should match as closely as possible if you want to make convincing photo composites.

A high or low angle background with a differing angle composite overlay isn’t going to look right. This even applies to sky substitutions.

If you want to make photo composites of a landscape and change out the sky for perhaps one that has a nice sunset or better clouds, take a look at the angle of both shots and the focal length of the lenses used.

You’ll be able to tell if something just doesn’t look right.

creating-convincing-photo-composites

A gray rainy day at the Portland Head Lighthouse in Maine. The lighthouse needed a light beam, no? Easy to add one. Convincing? You tell me.

Color

Sometimes this can be the toughest one in getting good convincing photo composites. Images at different times in different locations are almost guaranteed to have slightly different white balances. Mix a cooler piece into a warmer scene, one where the tint is slightly different, or other subtle differences exist, and once again, your viewer will detect that card up your sleeve.

See if you can set a white balance in Lightroom for your base image and then, using the Sync feature, apply that same white balance to your inserted image. Then take both into Photoshop for your compositing work.

Sometimes the best option for avoiding a fight with color differences is to avoid color altogether and go monochrome with your image. A monochrome composite is far easier to pull off than a color one. It’s a good place for beginning “photo magicians” to start.

Image: The moon was in the original shot, but tiny. I enlarged it a bit, but not so much as to be un...

The moon was in the original shot, but tiny. I enlarged it a bit, but not so much as to be unbelievable.

Scale

Pay attention to match the relative size of images in your photo composites. Unless you’re trying to make the model in your shot look like a fairy on that forest log, matching size counts.

The student who missed the group shot of his class, but you later composite him in, probably won’t appreciate it if you make him look like he has a giant head relative to the others in the shot.

Whatever multiple pieces you use to make your image, consider how their relative sizes match.

Image: Fake moon composited in? Not this time. This was a telephoto shot which made the already larg...

Fake moon composited in? Not this time. This was a telephoto shot which made the already large full moon look even bigger.

Anything funny here?

After working to create a convincing photo composite, it can be hard to be objective. You’ve worked hard to get it just right but sometimes may have misgivings about whether everything looks natural.

Or it could be the other way; you’re convinced you’ve created the perfect composite, but have overlooked what to someone else is obvious fakery. This is the time to bring in someone else, someone who has no idea what you’ve been working on, to look at your creation.

Simply ask, “How’s this look?”

Don’t immediately tip them that you did something to the image – see if they detect anything. If they don’t, drill a little deeper.

“See anything unusual?” Pay attention to their answers.

If this is someone who knows your skills, they may suspect you switched out the sky, put that cute bunny in the forest scene, or digitally shaved some pounds from the model. However, even then, they should be able to tell you if your creation is convincing.

Because you can…

The second part of that saying, “…doesn’t always mean you should.”  Or as Uncle Ben told Peter Parker, (aka Spiderman), “With great power comes great responsibility.”

With practice, you may become highly skilled at photo composites. Alter a photo, replace the sky, make it jaw-droppingly beautiful, and no one thinks twice. Even fellow photographers marvel over the sunsets you always seem to catch, the great light, the pristine beaches with no footprints, litter, or people. They chalk up your beautiful images to stellar photo skills, hard work, sacrifice, and a healthy dose of good luck. They don’t realize you made your own luck, as well as that incredible ocean sunrise, with creative photo compositing.

Until one day, the truth comes out…

You’re just an average photographer but a great Photoshop artist.

One guy who understands where to draw the line is noted landscape photographer, Nick Page. I once had a chance to interview Nick on the subject of swapping skies in landscape photography. In addition to being an exceptional landscape photographer, Nick is also a gifted editor. If anyone could fool you with a creative composite, Nick could do so easily.

He could, but he doesn’t.

Image: He could, but he doesn’t. His amazing photos are the real deal. Photo by/courtesy of Ni...

He could, but he doesn’t. His amazing photos are the real deal. Photo by/courtesy of Nick Page.

“With my Landscape photography, I have drawn the line in the sand, (in my head anyway), that I will not composite or swap skies.  For me this comes down to two things,” Nick said.

“My favorite part of landscape photography is trying to chase the light, and have that great light line up with a great location.  This takes tons of planning and effort, and I love that aspect of photography.  If I were to start dropping skies into my landscape photos, I would be robbing myself of the joy of “the Chase.”

And the second thing?  “I want people to know and believe the photos I take are real,” said Nick. “So many of the photographers I follow, I can’t always trust that amazing light they always have in their photos.  Yes, it is an art, but I really enjoy the extra effort of trying to get it for real, and I want people to know and trust that I put in that extra effort.”

Image: Creative photo compositing is a fun way to help tell the story.

Creative photo compositing is a fun way to help tell the story.

As easy as a click – the rise of the robots

We’re headed for a major change in photo editing as we enter the dawn of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) age. For some time now, computers have been able to “recognize” images. Tell Google Photos to search the entire internet for photos of even something improbable, green dogs, and it almost instantly finds many. This is not a keyword search; it “recognizes” the image of a dog and the color green and finds the photos.

Facial recognition? Lightroom can do that.

We already see better and better implementations of AI photo editing tools too. How long will it be before an AI editing program can do a better job than you? Maybe that day is almost here.

Fake it to Make it - Creating Convincing Photo Composites

Image: Sky substitution. Soon you’ll do this with one click with the Luminar 4 Sky Replacement...

Sky substitution. Soon you’ll do this with one click with the Luminar 4 Sky Replacement AI tool.

Skylum Software recently announced its new Luminar 4 editing software with “AI Sky Replacement.”  Not only can it replace the sky in a photo, but it also does it with no selections, layers, or masking.  It claims to handle even detailed images such as fine tree branches extending into the sky. And, it goes even a step further, using the colors of the replacement sky to better match the scene.

Mixed emotions

I must confess, I have mixed emotions about software editing tools that better the skills I’ve learned after hundreds of hours slaving over a hot computer [Me too – Editor]. Or that don’t require I earn that great shot by setting the alarm for 4:30, shivering in the pre-dawn cold, and hoping the clouds and color are just right only to be disappointed. One-click to a beautiful shot?

Could I, in good conscience, enter a contest with such a shot and accept an award for “my” image? The one made with artificial intelligence instead of just my intelligence and skills?

Image: The Yellowstone Bison endure harsh winter conditions. Think this one was originally a part of...

The Yellowstone Bison endure harsh winter conditions. Think this one was originally a part of this shot? You’ve been “buffaloed.” Added with compositing.

Photography and “real” art

I have to think that when photography first entered the scene, traditional artists, painters, sketch artists and those who created their art from scratch by hand had to scoff. Photographers had no artistic skills, and they weren’t “real artists.”

Later, we transitioned from purely mechanical cameras to automatic ones and from film to digital. Autofocus? Auto exposure settings? Auto white balance? Pshaw!

How about processing negatives and film in chemical baths, working with negatives and enlargers, dodging and burning with real tools and real photographic paper? Do you say you do that all now in a computer with a few clicks of a mouse? That if you make a mistake, you can simply undo it and not have to throw away your work and start all over?

You call yourself a “real photographer?”

Image: Experiencing the 8/21/17 total eclipse was amazing. I used creative photo compositing to sequ...

Experiencing the 8/21/17 total eclipse was amazing. I used creative photo compositing to sequence my shots for this image.

Image: I made a shot of the forest near Crouch, Idaho the day before the eclipse. The next day I cap...

I made a shot of the forest near Crouch, Idaho the day before the eclipse. The next day I capture the “diamond ring” image of the eclipse. It did look like this, but I’m not sure I could have captured this in one shot. Creative photo compositing.

Conclusion

You get the point.  As technology marches on our tools change, we find easier ways of doing things and more people are able to become involved, not having to spend years learning complex skills.  More people can, with some technological assistance, produce better images.

One last thing to remember however, the human touch, the “soul” of your photography, your personal vision will never be replaced by “artificial” intelligence.  Wise photographers still appreciate the special skills of artists who create beautiful images by hand.  Wise digital photographers still appreciate the skills of analog film photographers who created great photos with very basic equipment.  And, perhaps one day, you and I will appreciate the skills of a robot photographer and an AI editor.  Or maybe not.

 

 

 

The post Fake it to Make it – Creating Convincing Photo Composites appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

How to Achieve the Perfect White Balance in Lightroom

The post How to Achieve the Perfect White Balance in Lightroom appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

perfect-white-balance-in-lightroom

Achieving the perfect white balance in your pictures can seem like a futile gesture. Don Quixote tilting at windmills is as nothing compared to finding the harmony that exists somewhere between 2,000 and 10,000 Kelvin! Photographers have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad by their desire to get their pictures looking pixel-perfect with the ideal white balance that seems ever just out of reach. Fret not! With a few tips on adjusting white balance in Lightroom, you’ll be turning out beautiful photos in no time.

perfect-white-balance-in-lightroom

Understanding white balance can be a little tricky, but basically, what you are doing is giving your camera or computer a reference point to calculate all the colors in an image. It’s similar to explaining the size of something like a box or a bowl. Unless you have precise measurements, you need to compare it to a common object, so people have a frame of reference.

Image: White balance is like a banana: it’s a reference point.

White balance is like a banana: it’s a reference point.

Digital cameras use white balance as a way of knowing how all the colors in an image should appear. It’s true north on the color compass, so to speak, and helps inform the values for every other color in the image. By using white balance as the foundation for color calculation, your camera will then adjust what everything else is supposed to look like.

Since colors change under different lighting conditions, white balance is often the key to getting your pictures to look just how you want them.

Image: Temp: 5250K, +39 Tint

Temp: 5250K, +39 Tint

The image above has a crisp, bright appearance that seems fitting after a midsummer rain shower. This is mostly due to setting the white balance to mimic the tones of natural daylight.

Image: Temp: 7274K, Tint +26

Temp: 7274K, Tint +26

A change in the Temperature and Tint resulted in an image that seems as though it was shot in the early morning, or perhaps in a warmer climate. This one feels more comforting, while the top photo might be more true-to-life.

All cameras have an Auto white balance setting, which tries to interpret color based on an analysis of the perceived lighting conditions at the time a shot is taken. However, that doesn’t mean it’s the correct white balance. It’s just one particular value that your camera thinks might be appropriate given the algorithms it has been programmed with by the manufacturer.

The nice thing about white balance is that, like almost everything artistic, it’s entirely subjective. You can make your white balance be whatever you want! It’s a tool to make your pictures look not how someone else thinks they are supposed to look, but how you want them to look. Realizing this helped me immensely over the years, and refocused my editing process altogether. No longer do I look for the correct white balance, but instead, I try to find an accurate white balance given how I want my pictures to appear.

How to Achieve the Perfect White Balance in Lightroom

Shoot in RAW

You can use myriad tools to set your white balance at the time you shoot your pictures. Most cameras have presets like Sunny, Cloudy, Fluorescent, etc., to make sure your white balance is properly calibrated for your given shooting conditions.

However, the option that gives you the most creative freedom isn’t any of these at all. It’s the Photo Quality setting, and the first step to achieving white balance nirvana is to shoot in RAW. This lets you fine-tune the white balance ex post facto so you can edit and tweak in Lightroom rather than worrying about getting it right when you click the shutter.

perfect-white-balance-in-lightroom

Adjust the sliders in Lightroom left or right to change the color temperature and tint. Click the eyedropper to select a neutral color for setting the white balance. Use the Select Menu in the top-right to access various white balance presets.

Post-processing is where the real fun begins because when you shoot in RAW, you can edit your picture however you want. If you want your pictures to look warmer, you can adjust the white balance sliders accordingly. If you prefer a cooler look, you can do that too. The point is there is no correct value for white balance on any given picture – the end result is what matters. What that looks like can be entirely up to you.

Setting white balance in Lightroom

Changing white balance in Lightroom is fairly simple, but there are various options you can use to make the process easier and more customizable.

I like to start with the Eyedropper Tool, which lets you specify white balance by clicking on an area of your photo that is almost white. You’ll get the best results if you click on a slightly gray area. As you hover the eyedropper around your picture, you will see a preview of the results in the top-left corner.

Image: When selecting a target neutral color, look for a portion of your image that is slightly gray...

When selecting a target neutral color, look for a portion of your image that is slightly gray and not pure white. This is just a starting point though and should not be thought of as the final word on white balance.

Finally, you can specify your own white balance just by dragging the Temperature and Tint sliders left and right. You can streamline your editing process by copying and pasting the values into other pictures or use the sync feature to instantly apply them to an entire batch.

Finally, the way to set white balance is by using the preset options in the drop-down menu. These options are just preset values for the Temperature and Tint sliders similar to the white balance in any digital camera.

perfect-white-balance-in-lightroom

Creative customization

The mechanics of changing white balance are one thing, but the effect of changing white balance is another matter entirely. Say it with me: there is no such thing as correct white balance. Instead, your goal should be to create an accurate white balance – one that reflects your artistic intentions in terms of color, mood, and emotion.

Consider the following picture as an example. I shot this file in RAW and this is the result using Auto White Balance.

perfect-white-balance-in-lightroom

Temp: 4650K, Tint: +30

It looks fine, and there’s nothing wrong with the picture, but look what happens with a few clicks of the Temp and Tint sliders. I raised the Temperature and lowered the Tint, and the result is an entirely different image.

Image: Temp: 6758K, Tint: -9

Temp: 6758K, Tint: -9

This version feels much warmer and more intimate than the original, almost like rain has fallen on a parched plant. To change the image again, we can adjust the sliders for different values.

perfect-white-balance-in-lightroom

Temp: 3448K, Tint: +38

In the final version, the viewer is left wondering if those are drops of water or ice. The picture feels cold and distant and evokes an entirely different emotion than the second version.

Which image is the right one?

They all are, and for different reasons.

The point is to know what effect white balance has on your pictures and understand how to change it to get your images to look how you want them to look.

I use this technique all the time when shooting portraits. I used to fret and worry about finding the best white balance for each of my pictures when, in truth, I was putting the white balance cart before the emotional horse. Instead, I now ask myself what I want my clients to feel when they look at their pictures and then adjust white balance (along with other settings) accordingly.

The image below has been processed using Auto white balance.

Image: Temp: 6000K, Tint: +1

Temp: 6000K, Tint: +1

Much like the previous example with water drops on leaves, the results here aren’t bad. It’s a perfectly serviceable image that the client would probably be happy to have in their home. However, a few clicks on the white balance sliders can have a dramatic impact.

Image: Temp: 8285, Tint: +5

Temp: 8285, Tint: +5

This picture has a warmer tone and feels more comfortable. One might argue that the top picture is more true-to-life, while another person could prefer the saturated tones of the lower. The options for adjusting white balance, as with anything in photography, are endless. However, the point is to create an image that is pleasing to you.

Take a break

You might look at any of the examples in this article and immediately prefer one particular white balance setting over another. This happens to me during much of my editing sessions, as well. I find myself drawn to one version of a picture while entirely disregarding another. I find, walking away from my computer to reset my eyes is the best option.

After a brief respite from editing, I often find my initial editing preferences dashed to pieces. It helps me see my photos with a set of fresh eyes, especially after removing myself from technology even for just a few minutes. I often find that photos take on an entirely different appearance when coming back to them from a break. I will usually try new things with white balance that I didn’t think of initially.

Image: Temp: 5500K, Tint: +11

Temp: 5500K, Tint: +11

In the photo above, I went back and forth from warm to cool and back again before settling on a middle-ground approach that I preferred. If I had gone with my original instinct, I don’t think I would have liked the final result. Shooting in RAW, as well as trying different white balance options and finally taking a break from editing altogether, helped me arrive at what I felt was the best result.

How to Achieve the Perfect White Balance in Lightroom: Conclusion

Ultimately, the subjective nature of something as fundamental as white balance can seem a little scary. If there is no correct value, how can you even know where to start? There’s nothing wrong with using Auto, but I encourage you to experiment and try new settings you might not have thought of.

Just because your phone or your computer tells you that your picture should have a certain white balance doesn’t mean that’s the correct value. There is no correct value with creative editing! Tweaking and customizing the white balance is a great way to have creative control over your images to make them look the way you want.

Do you experiment with your white balance in Lightroom? Share with us your thoughts in the comments!

The post How to Achieve the Perfect White Balance in Lightroom appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

How to Make a Manual Lens Correction in Lightroom

The post How to Make a Manual Lens Correction in Lightroom appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

The job of a camera lens is straightforward: it bends and focuses light, and it does so through the use of several curved pieces of glass that move back and forth. It sounds simple but is actually a lot more difficult than it might seem. Byproducts of all that glass are anomalies such as chromatic aberration and barrel distortion which can mar an otherwise beautiful image. Lightroom can fix these on its own to a degree, but to really take control of your pictures you can use the Manual Lens Correction panel to fine-tune your image until it’s pixel-perfect.

How to Make a Manual Lens Correction in Lightroom

Understanding Chromatic Aberration

Before wading too deep into manual lens corrections, it’s important to understand what causes issues such as chromatic aberration in the first place. Different colors of light travel at different wavelengths. As a result, when the glass elements of a lens bend the incoming light, it can be quite tricky to make everything line up properly on the camera’s image sensor. This is especially prominent when shooting at the widest possible aperture since it gets really difficult to get the light to behave properly when you let so much in at once.

The result is purple and green fringes when you see hard edges in a picture. It can also produce distorted images that look either squished or puffed out in the middle. Cheaper lenses, or lenses with very wide apertures, don’t have as many glass elements to correct for these issues. It’s also why lenses like the Nikon 105 f/1.4 or Canon 85mm f/1.4 cost (and weigh) so much! They have a lot of special glass inside to correct for the problems that often happens with their less expensive counterparts.

How to Make a Manual Lens Correction in Lightroom

If you don’t have a few thousand dollars to spend on ultra-sharp lenses, you can fix these image issues in Lightroom.

When you shoot in RAW, you can use the Automatic option. This does a fine job of removing purple and green fringes and fixing barrel distortion based on what it knows about the characteristics of your lens.

Image: Click these boxes to have Lightroom automatically attempt to fix lens-related picture problem...

Click these boxes to have Lightroom automatically attempt to fix lens-related picture problems.

Nine times out of ten it does the job quite well. However, sometimes you will want to tweak things for yourself or just do the entire operation on your own. This is where the Manual option really comes in handy.

Manual Lens Correction

The Manual Lens Correction panel contains three options, each of which you can control separately.

  • Distortion lets you re-shape your picture so it’s less puffed-out in the middle.
  • Defringe deals with purple and green fringes at areas of high contrast, particularly with a lot of backlighting.
  • Vignetting is for lightening or darkening the corners of a picture.
Manual-Lens-Correction-in-Lightroom

The Manual Lens Correction option gives you full control over lens corrections.

Distortion

This is a common issue with many lenses that isn’t always very obvious. However, once you notice it, you’ll start seeing this phenomenon all the time. Fortunately, the fix is simple. It’s usually just a matter of dragging the Distortion slider to the left or right.

Image: Something’s not quite right here. The composition is fine but the middle is bulging out...

Something’s not quite right here. The composition is fine but the middle is bulging out like a balloon.

As you drag the slider, you will see a grid appear over the picture which can help you get just the right value. Look for straight horizontal or vertical lines in your picture, and drag the slider until they line up with the grid.

Manual-Lens-Correction-in-Lightroom

The roof of the building gives a nice guide when correcting for distortion. It’s not quite lined up with the grid yet, but pushing the distortion slider a bit more will fix the problem.

The Constrain Crop option makes sure the final image stays within a square or rectangular boundary. If you adjust the slider too far to the right, the image can get a little too warped. However, checking this option will fix this by essentially zooming in on the picture as it’s being adjusted to avoid an extreme pincushion effect.

Manual-Lens-Correction-in-Lightroom

 

Final image:

How to Make a Manual Lens Correction in Lightroom

Defringe

This is where you can easily correct purple and green fringes that can show up on your pictures. You can adjust the sliders manually, but my preferred way is to use the eyedropper tool to select specific areas of purple and green fringing that you want to remove.

The picture below is straight out of the camera with no lens correction applied. Notice how the edges of the bench have what appears to be slight purple and green outlines. These are caused by the light being bent and shaped by the camera lens. Once you know to look for these sorts of issues, you start seeing them all over the place!

How to Make a Manual Lens Correction in Lightroom

Here’s a close-up view of the same picture. Notice the purple curve at the base of the seat and the green edges at the knurled edge that goes horizontally across the frame.

Manual-Lens-Correction-in-Lightroom

To manually correct these instances of chromatic aberration, Lightroom needs to know what range of colors you want to remove. Use the eyedropper tool to select either a purple fringe, a green fringe, or both, and then fine-tune by adjusting the sliders for Amount and Hue.

Manual-Lens-Correction-in-Lightroom

After selecting your purple and greens with the eyedropper tool, Lightroom will do its best to remove those specific colors around any high-contrast edges. You can fine-tune the defringing by adjusting the Amount and Hue sliders, but I usually find that Lightroom does a fine job just with a few clicks of the eyedropper.

How to Make a Manual Lens Correction in Lightroom

When viewing the full image, you can see these instances of chromatic aberration are now gone, and the picture is much more pleasing as a result.

How to Make a Manual Lens Correction in Lightroom

This operation can be extremely useful with portraits, which are often shot using larger apertures. Even if you don’t shoot close-ups for a living it’s nice to know that this simple, fast fix is available to you.

Vignetting

This option works much like the regular Vignette tool in Lightroom. You can use it to make the corners of your picture lighter or darker, depending on whether you drag the slider to the right or left.

Nearly all lenses exhibit some degree of vignetting, especially when using their widest aperture, but you can easily correct them using this tool.

Manual-Lens-Correction-in-Lightroom

Original image, straight out of the camera.

Sliding the Amount all the way to the left darkens the corners of the picture. It’s subtle but effective at drawing the viewer’s attention to the subject in the middle.

Image: Vignette amount -100

Vignette amount -100

Conversely, sliding the Amount all the way to the right makes the corners lighter. This is often useful to correct for the vignette that is inherent in many lenses at wider apertures.

Image: Vignette amount +100

Vignette amount +100

Conclusion

While you can use Lightroom’s automatic lens corrections, it’s nice to know how to correct for things like chromatic aberration, distortion, and vignetting on your own using manual lens correction. The best part is that none of these edits are permanent and you can undo your changes any time due to the non-destructive nature of Lightroom. So if you just want to try these out and see what happens, go right ahead!

 

manual-lens-correction-in-lightroom

The post How to Make a Manual Lens Correction in Lightroom appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Your Comprehensive Guide to Photography Post-Processing Software

The post Your Comprehensive Guide to Photography Post-Processing Software appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Herb Paynter.

My recent article, 3 Alternative Post-Processing Applications that Challenge the Adobe Throne, presented just three of the many post-processing software packages available (both free and paid) that provide excellent post-processing capabilities. In this article, I’ll give you a much longer list of post-processing software. To be impartial, I’ll list the titles in alphabetical order.

Your Comprehensive Guide to Photography Post-Processing Software

DXO Photolab 2

A few of the titles added by readers in the Comments section of the “3 Alternatives” article impressed me with their power and innovative design. I’ve been editing digital images with every software package available since late 1986, and I thought I’d seen most of them. However, it seems that the list of capable editing software grows weekly.

As you will notice, I do not mention ALL the software available for download or online use. Those that made the cut will be actual production titles with a minimum set of well-designed editing functions.

To be honest, I’ve looked at a significant number of offerings that are little more than public domain routines. They are not fully implemented or even adequately defined. These were considered but not listed.

Listed below is a wide variety of packages on both mobile and laptop/desktop platforms; a true variety pack that covers the field from hobbyist to professional users. No matter what your preference, you’ll find something here to tickle your fancy and meet your demands.

Your Comprehensive Guide to Photography Post-Processing Software

ACDSee Photo Studio Professional

As was welcomed in my first article, additional post-processing software titles should be added to this list by readers who have discovered (and used) them.

It is important to recognize all such products in a desire for fairness and sharing information. Because this list includes many more titles, I will not mention individual features of these titles, only a brief mention of the product’s most notable features.

This is where you can really contribute…

I’ll rely on you to describe your favorite features and benefits of your favorite titles. Let’s make this a very collaborative group effort BUT with one important request: please be brief and succinct with your comments. Limit your comments to one or two of the features that make your favorite app stand out from all others. That way, we learn from each other without monopolizing the mutual pulpit.

Image: Skylum Luminar 3

Skylum Luminar 3

List of photography post-processing software

ACDSee Photo Studio

Publisher: ACDSee Systems International

Website: https://www.acdsee.com/en/index/

Trial: Free/30 days

Price: $60 Mac/Win/Mobile

Afterlight 2

Publisher: Afterlight Collective

Android Website: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.fueled.afterlight&hl=en_US

Apple Website: https://apps.apple.com/app/id1293122457 

Trial: Free/30 days

Price: $60 Mac/Win/Mobile

Affinity Photo

Publisher: Serif

Website: www.affinity.serif.com

Trial: Free/30 days

Price: $50 Mac/Win/iPad

Capture One

Publisher: Phase One

Website: https://www.phaseone.com/en/

Trial: Free/30 days

Price: $299 or $20/month Mac/Win

Darktable

Website: www.darktable.org

Price: Free

Exposure X4.5

Publisher: Alien Skin

Website: https://www.alienskin.com

Trial: Free/30 days

Price: $119 Mac/Win Computer

Fotor

Publisher: Fotor

Android Website: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.everimaging.photoeffectstudio&hl=en_US

Apple Website: https://apps.apple.com/app/id440159265?referrer=click%3D8cd7ac09-77a3-42f6-9005-ed622bd3e17f

Price: Free

Gimp

Publisher: Gimp

Website: https://www.gimp.org

Price: Free Mac/Win Computers

Google Photos

Publisher: Google

Website: https://www.google.com/photos

Price: Free online

Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic

Publisher: Adobe Systems

Website: https://www.adobe.com/creativecloud/photography.html

Trial: Free/30 days

Price: $10/mo Mac/Win

Your Comprehensive Guide to Photography Post-Processing Software

Adobe Lightroom Tablet/Computer/Mobile

Online Photo Editor

Publisher: PicMonkey

Website: https://www.picmonkey.com/

Trial: Free/7 days

Price: Starts at $7.99/month

Photo RAW

Publisher: ON1

Website: https://www.on1.com/products

Trial: Free/30 days

Price: $80

PhotoLab 2

Publisher: DxO

Website: https://shop.dxo.com

Trial: Free/30 days

Price: $129 Mac/Win Mobile/Computer

Paint Shop Pro X9

Publisher: Corel

Website: https://www.paintshoppro.com/en/

Trial: Free/30 days

Price: $80 Mac/Win

Anthropics Portrait Pro 2 post-processing software

Anthropics Portrait Pro 2

Photoshop/Camera RAW

Publisher: Adobe Systems

Website: https://www.adobe.com/creativecloud/photography.html

Trial: Free/30 days

Price: $10/mo Mac/Win

Photoshop Elements

Publisher: Adobe Systems

Website: https://www.adobe.com/creativecloud/photography.html

Trial: Free/30 days

Price: $59.99 Mac/Win

Photoshop Express

Publisher: Adobe Systems

Android Website: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.adobe.psmobile&hl=en

Apple Website: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/photoshop-express-photo-editor/id331975235?mt=8&ign-mpt=uo%3D4

Price: Free

PhotoPad

Publisher: NCH Software

Website: https://www.nchsoftware.com

Trial: Free/30 days

Price: $40

PicsArt

Publisher: PicsArt

Android Website: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.picsart.studio

Apple Website: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/picsart-photo-studio/id587366035

Price: Free

Pixlr Editor

Publisher: Pixlr

Android Website: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.pixlr.express&hl=en_US

Apple Website: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/pixlr-photo-collages-effect/id526783584

Price: Free online

Pixlr Mobile Android/IOS post-processing software

Pixlr Mobile Android/IOS

PortraitPro 18

Publisher: Anthropics

Website: https://www.anthropics.com

Trial: Free/30 days

Price: $45 Mac/Win

RAW Therapee

Publisher: Softpedia

Website: https://www.softpedia.com

Price: Free (but only offered on Windows)

Skylum Luminar 3

Publisher: Skylum

Website: https://skylum.com/luminar

Trial: Free/30 days

Price: $70 Mac/Win Computer

Smart Photo Editor

Publisher: Anthropics

Website: https://www.anthropics.com/smartphotoeditor/product/

Trial: Free/30 days

Price: $30 Wind/Mac

Snapseed

Publisher: Google

Android Website: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.niksoftware.snapseed&hl=en_US

Apple Website: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/snapseed/id439438619

Price: Free

Sumo Paint

Publisher: Sumo

Website: https://www.sumopaint.com

Trial: Free/30 days

Price: Free version, but Sumo Pro is $4/month

Topaz Studio 2

Publisher: Topaz Labs

Website: topazlabs.com

Trial: Free/30 days

Price: $100 Mac/Win

Your Comprehensive Guide to Photography Post-Processing Software

Anthropics Smart Photo Editor

Conclusion

Some titles didn’t make this list’s cut simply because they are only marginally useful. Needless to say, in today’s market, there is an innumerable slew of entertainment-level phone/tablet-based image “editing” apps also available. There are way too many even to mention, let alone keep current information on.

Many of these apps are made for the amusement of the younger social media crowd who appreciate more unicorns and stickers than serious editing power. Not to sound judgmental, there is an app for everything and everyone, but this listing is “focused” on actual photo editing capabilities more than the social media aspect.

 

photography-post-processing-software

The post Your Comprehensive Guide to Photography Post-Processing Software appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Herb Paynter.

5 Basic Post-Processing Tips to Instantly Improve Your Photos

The post 5 Basic Post-Processing Tips to Instantly Improve Your Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Nisha Ramroop.

Are you a beginner looking to improve your post-processing skills?

That’s what this article is all about. In it, you’ll discover five post-processing tips that will immediately take your photos to the next level. Best of all, these tips aren’t even difficult to follow, and they require nothing more than the most basic image-editing program.

Let’s dive right in.

post-processing tips boats on water edited

1. Straighten your horizon for professional-looking photos

When the horizon isn’t straight, even the untrained eye picks up that something is off. They might not know exactly what’s wrong, but they’ll be aware that the scene seems out of order.

Which is why you absolutely must make sure your horizon is straight.

Fortunately, it’s very easy to correct the horizon; you can do it in any post-processing program.

Here are the instructions for straightening the horizon in Photoshop:

Step 1: Select the Crop tool

Step 2: Click the Straighten option at the top

Step 3: Click one side of your horizon and drag across the horizon line before you release

Your horizon will instantly straighten!

straightening boats in photoshop

2. Adjust the white balance for natural-looking images

White balance is a setting used to balance the color of the light you shoot, in order to get it close to a neutral white.

You see, when the color of your subject is distorted by the existing lighting conditions, you need to use the white balance setting to save the day.

Now, one way to set the white balance correctly is to get it right in-camera. However, some photographers prefer to shoot in RAW with an auto white balance setting, and then adjust the white balance afterward.

If that’s your preference, then you’ll need to choose your white balance in a post-processing program. It’s generally easy to select a white balance option that adjusts for the lighting of your shot. You’re also free to experiment with different white balance options so you can choose the one that most reflects your creative vision.

For instance, the scene below has a Fluorescent white balance applied to it using Adobe Camera Raw.

adobe camera raw white balance

And here’s the same scene but with a Shade white balance applied:

white balance adobe camera raw post-processing

3. Boost your contrast to create images that pop

Do your images look a little flat?

One of the simplest ways to make your photos pop is to adjust the contrast. A contrast adjustment further separates the darkest and brightest areas of your image. In other words, it makes the dark tones darker and the light tones lighter.

beach scene

Increased contrast, therefore, makes tones stand out and gives your photos a more three-dimensional feel. Compare the image above to the image below; I added contrast to the second image, which gives it a subtle pop.

beach scene with increased contrast

Pretty much every image editor has a contrast slider. And boosting the contrast is often as simple as pushing the slider to the right.

So just remember:

If you’re struggling to make your photos more lively, try increasing the contrast. It’s a simple post-processing tip, but one that really works!

4. Boost the saturation or vibrance sliders for better colors

The saturation and vibrance adjustment sliders usually sit next to each other and can be confusing. Both of these add an extra color punch to your image, but they do so in different ways.

You see, saturation adjusts the intensity of all the colors in your image at once. If you push the saturation slider, you’re going to see color saturation increase across the board. Therefore, it’s an adjustment you want to use sparingly.

Vibrance, by comparison, is a “smarter” saturation tool, one that adjusts only the duller colors in your image. Increasing the vibrance will boost the less-saturated colors, but won’t affect colors that are already saturated.

Look at these two photos:

lighthouse with increased colors

I boosted the saturation of the photo on the left, and I boosted the vibrance of the photo on the right.

Note that when you lower the saturation of your colors, your image takes on a more muted effect, like this:

reduced saturation lighthouse

In general, boosting the vibrance or the saturation will instantly improve your images.

5. Sharpen your photos for the best display on the web

Your images are most likely going to be displayed on the internet.

However, when you export your photos from most image-editing programs, you’re going to end up with blurry photos. Unless you sharpen for the web, that is.

There are a few ways to sharpen in Photoshop. Here is one you can try:

Step 1: Resize your image to the size you want it displayed. (If you sharpen your high resolution/original image and then resize it, the image will appear to lose its sharpness. Sharpening an image at your display resolution works better.)

resizing images post-processing tips

Step 2: Duplicate your layer.

Step 3: Desaturate your new layer (from Menu, Image > Adjustments > Desaturate).

sharpening your images

Step 4: Change your blend mode to Overlay. (Alternatively, you can use the Soft Light blend mode for a more subtle effect.)

Step 5: Now apply a High-Pass filter (from Menu, Filter > Other > High Pass) and choose a radius around 2.0 for an image of 730 pixels (on the long side). The Overlay option you chose above allows you to see how the radius affects the image so you can play around with it.

Note: The bigger your image, the larger your radius will be.

If the sharpness doesn’t look good on the entire image, you can use a layer mask and paint black over the areas where you want to hide the effect.

Step 6: Save for the web (from Menu, File > Save for Web). Check the Convert to sRGB box if unchecked.

Conclusion

If you’ve just begun your photography journey or if you’re looking to improve your basic editing skills, then these post-processing tips are a great place to start.

In fact, basic editing is often all you need to dramatically improve your photos.

So follow these tips, and watch as your images improve!

The post 5 Basic Post-Processing Tips to Instantly Improve Your Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Nisha Ramroop.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

The post How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Silky water effects, streaked clouds, motion-smoothed with an ethereal look; long exposure photography seems to be in vogue as photographers discover the looks that can be created. There are multiple ways to achieve this. The most basic is to buy a standard neutral-density photography filter which cuts the light, allowing you to use long shutter speeds without overexposing your shot. You can achieve exposures minutes long, especially when using 10-stop ND filters like the Lee Big Stopper or even the 15-stop Super Stopper.

I recently did an article on an alternative way to make long exposure photos, “Try this DIY Neutral Density Filter for Long Exposure Photos.” I encourage you to read the piece and learn how a piece of welding glass can be a budget substitute for more expensive photographic ND filters.

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This is the same location I used for some of the other shots in this article but taken when the river was much higher and faster. The biggest difference is that I used DIY welding glass ND filter to achieve this shot. See my other article for this technique.

This article teaches you a third method of making long-exposure images with no filter at all. Unlike the welding glass trick which pretty much requires your final image to be monochrome so as not to have to fight the heavy color cast, this works great in full color, with no filter at all, and no color cast present. It’s a great method to simulate long exposure.

The technique uses a stack of multiple images of the same scene then processed with a Photoshop process called Image Averaging. It’s really quite simple and has some advantages over traditional methods with ND filters.

Advantages over the traditional ND filter method

When doing traditional long exposure photography with an ND filter you will be making long exposures.  (Duh!)  There are a few challenges with this:

  • If during the long exposure you bump the camera or things move in the shot you don’t want to be blurred, you will need to re-do the shot.
  • Long exposures can often be several minutes in length. Double the time if you also enable in-camera noise reduction. If it takes 2-minutes to expose and another 2-minutes for the noise reduction to work, you will only be making a shot every 4-minutes. This can really slow down your work, and if the light changes during that time, you could miss it.
  • With very dark ND filters, you won’t be able to see anything through the lens once the filter is in place. You will have to compose your shot, pre-focus, then mount the ND filter and make the image.
  • Determining exposure will take some calculation. You’ll check exposure without the filter then use a calculation tool to determine the new shutter speed the ND filter requires. Often this will need some tweaking after you see your shot and…yup, another re-do will be needed.
  • If back in editing you see the shots and wish you’d gone for longer or shorter shutter speeds to change the look, too bad. You’d have to go back and reshoot – if that is even possible.
Image: In fairly bright sunlight, even with the ISO at 50 and aperture at f/22, 1/5th of a second wa...

In fairly bright sunlight, even with the ISO at 50 and aperture at f/22, 1/5th of a second was as slow a shutter speed attainable while maintaining proper exposure. This was with no filter.

 The advantages of the Image Averaging method

The advantages of using the image stacking method are essentially the opposite of those things just stated above:

  • You’ll be making multiple images rather than one long one. If one of the images in the group has a problem, you may be able to eliminate it and use the rest to still successfully create the effect.
  • You can see what you’re doing! Not shooting with a dark filter means you’ll still be able to see, compose, use auto-focus, auto-exposure, and even image stabilization if you shoot handheld.
  • No calculation! Without the addition of a dark filter, you eliminate this step.
  • Adjust the length of your “simulated slow shutter” later in post-production. Want more or less blur? You can change your mind later.
  • Are conditions too bright for a standard long exposure shot? Maybe you only own a 6-stop ND filter, and daytime conditions are too bright to let you get the length of exposure you’d like. You can combine both methods to simulate a longer exposure than possible with the ND filter alone.
  • Are people in the shot you’d like to remove? Because they are likely to move during the multiple shots, when the averaging process takes place, they will vanish!
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Make people disappear! Notice on the inset the people walking in the river, but on the completed shot, 15 images, each 1/5th of a second = 4 seconds simulated. They are gone.

Making the shots

Setting up and shooting the images you need for your image-averaged creation is much the same as any photography. Here are the factors and steps to keep in mind:

Composition still counts!

Because you introduce a long exposure blurred effect does not mean that you will have automatically created a good photo. Still consider how to carefully compose your image. Take into consideration that moving objects in the shot will blur and look simplified with less detail. Good long exposure shots often emphasize the contrast between static, non-moving objects (buildings, rocks, trees, etc.), and moving objects like clouds and water. Include both in your shot.

Shoot on a tripod

I mentioned you could do this handheld and, well…maybe you could. However, even with this technique, you will still want to shoot at the slowest shutter speed possible. That way, you won’t have to make too many shots for combining. Once you get much slower than 1/30th of a second (and faster than that if if you’ve just had coffee), handholding your camera is probably going to ruin your shots.

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All Images ISO 50, f/22 . Top left – No filter – 20 images each 1/5 second = simulated total = 4 seconds. Top right – No filter – 35 images each 1/5 second = simulated total = 7 seconds. Bottom – 6-Stop ND filter – 15 images each 20 seconds = simulated total = 5 minutes.

How many shots?

This technique simulates long exposure by combining multiple shots.  The simple formula is:

(# Shots) x (Shutter Speed of each shot) = Total simulated shutter speed effect (in seconds)

Let’s plug some numbers into that and see the result.  Set your camera for the lowest ISO possible.  I can get my Canon 6D down to ISO 50.  Some cameras will have ISO 100 as the lowest.  Use whatever you can.  Set your aperture to the smallest aperture possible.  Meter with those settings and see how long you can make each individual shot and have it properly exposed.  Say we were able to do this in the shade: 1/4 second, f/22, ISO 50.  To get a simulated shutter speed of one minute (60 seconds), we’d need to make 240 shots.

240 shots x 1/4 second (.25) = 60 seconds

That’s a little unwieldy, and stacking 240 shots in Photoshop may cause your computer to choke. So what to do? Perhaps you don’t have an ND filter in your bag, but you do have a circular polarizer. It will help reduce the light. You mount it and now find you’ve lost 2-stops. So your exposure can be 1 second, f/22, ISO 50. Plug that into the formula, and you get:

60 shots  x 1 second = 60 seconds

If you’re shooting in lower light conditions, you may be able to get a slower shutter speed to start with. That will mean you can take fewer shots.

To make your job easier (and the computers as well), always try to get the slowest shutter speed you can for your shots. That will mean you can create the simulated long exposure with fewer shots.

Say you did have a 6-stop ND filter in your kit. You mount that, and now your settings are 16 seconds, f/22, ISO 50. Now, to get that simulated 1-minute exposure, you’d just need about four shots. Why not make 10 while you’re at it and you can simulate a 2.6 minute (160 seconds) exposure?

Had you done this traditionally, and had a 10-stop ND filter, you could take the unfiltered exposure down from 1/4 second, f/22, ISO 50 to 256 seconds (4.2 minutes), f/22, ISO 50. So, to get the same effect with a 6-stop ND filter as you could with a 10-stop by using image averaging, take 16 shots.

16 shots x 16 seconds each = 256 seconds (4.2 minutes)

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35 images each 1/6 second combine to simulate a 6-second exposure. Shooting into the sun, it would probably be impossible to make a 6-second exposure without a filter.

Forget the math, make the shots!

If all that math made your head hurt (it did mine), here’s the simple way to get what you need so Photoshop can do its magic:

  • Use a tripod.  You don’t want to do all this and get shaky shots.  That will waste all your work.
  • Do what’s necessary to shoot with the slowest shutter speed you can get with the equipment you have.  In the camera, that will usually mean setting the lowest ISO and smallest aperture.
  • If you have a polarizer or ND filter, use those to get the shutter speed even slower if you can.
  • Make lots of shots for each stacked image you will create.  Depending on how slow you were able to get your shutter speed, a few dozen isn’t too many.  You don’t have to use them all when you get into editing, but having more will allow a longer simulated effect.

Putting it all together

This recipe assumes you will be using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop in combination. You don’t have to use Lightroom. You can get your individual images into a stack in Photoshop another way if you need to (though using LR is much easier). Using Photoshop, however, is mandatory. Also, to use the Smart Objects function described, you will need a version of Photoshop that is Version 14.2 or higher. Older versions of Photoshop won’t have this.

There are ways to do this with older versions in a more manual process. If you have an older version, you will need to do a little online research to learn that technique. I used the latest version of Photoshop at this writing (Photoshop CC 20.0.4).

Let’s look at this step-by-step process visually…

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1. From Lightroom, select the sequence of images you will use.  Edit the first one in the sequence to your liking.  Then select all of them and use the Sync function so all have the same settings as the first.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

2. With all selected, send the images from Lightroom to Photoshop by going to Photo->Edit In->Open as Layers in Photoshop. (Photoshop will open, and the images will appear as layers in a stack). If you have a lot of images to be opened and stacked, this can take a while. Let it work.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

3. With all the layers selected, in the menu select Layer->Smart Object->Convert to Smart Object. This can take a while to do its work. Be patient.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

4. With the Smart Object layer selected, from the menu select Layer->Smart Objects->Stack Mode->Mean. This can also take a bit to work.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

Wait for it…wait for it…and…

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Presto!  You will have a simulated long-exposure image made from your stack of shorter exposures.  20 images each at 3.2 seconds, f/22, ISO 50.  No filter used.  Simulated long exposure of 64 seconds.

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The water in this section of the river was pretty calm anyway, but look at the before and after areas pointed out by the arrow where the original shots were 3.2 seconds vs the combined 20 shots x 3.2 seconds = a simulated 64 seconds.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

5. To finish up, go to Layer->Flatten Image.  Then File->Save As and save the finished image where you like.  If you want to give the completed image some additional tweaking, you can do that with Photoshop or Lightroom as you would with any other image.

Remember…

That’s the magic!  Here are a few things to remember for best results:

  • Consider your composition.  Look for a scene where you will have a combination of static objects that won’t move during the sequence and those that will.  An image with both will be more compelling.
  • Use a tripod.  You can do this handheld if you must, but know that any camera movement will be translated as a blur in the final result.
  • Do what you can to get as long a shutter speed with each image in the sequence as possible.  Drop your ISO to the lowest setting, use a small aperture, and use polarizing filters or whatever ND filters you have.  Longer exposures for each shot mean fewer images are needed to create a simulated long exposure.
  • Overshoot.  You don’t need to use all the images in a sequence if you decide you don’t want as much blur. However, if you don’t shoot enough, you might later wish you had them.
  • As you work through the steps, some things can take a long time.  Be patient and let your computer work.  If the process crashes, it could be you don’t have enough computer resources and will have to settle for a smaller stack.
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5 images, each 6 seconds = a simulated exposure of 30 seconds. No filter used.

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10 images, each 1/4 second combine to give a 2.5-second simulated exposure. This can be a great technique to use for getting silky water effects when you don’t have an ND filter and only need a longer exposure of a few seconds.

Final thoughts

Is this a better method than using an actual ND filter? Like so many photographic things, the answer is probably…it depends. Maybe you don’t have a filter or have one with you. Perhaps you don’t need a really long exposure, but just one a little longer than you can get with a low ISO/small aperture combination such as when seeking blur on a waterfall. Maybe you need to vanish people and don’t want to make a single multi-minute shot for various reasons. Alternatively, perhaps you have an ND filter but need an even longer exposure than it can give you.

There are lots of reasons to add this How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging Technique to your bag of tricks. Give it a try, and I’m sure you’ll have fun. Share your images with us in the comments!

 

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The post How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

5 Nature Photography Editing Tips to Create Stunning Images in Seconds

The post 5 Nature Photography Editing Tips to Create Stunning Images in Seconds appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

Do you ever feel like your nature photos are just a bit…bleh? Like they could use something more?

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It’s a common problem. Because while you can be a master of light, composition, and camera settings, there’s still one thing you need for amazing nature photography:

Editing.

You see, editing is how you make your nature photos shine. It’s how you add a final touch to your images. It’s how you take a slightly bland image, and make it into something truly stunning.

In this article, I’m going to share with you nature photography editing tips so you know exactly how you can create amazing nature photography edits.

And you’ll come away with the ability to enhance every single one of your nature photos.

Sound good?

Let’s get started.

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1. Straighten and crop to emphasize your main subject

First things first:

If your nature photo is crooked…

…then it just won’t work. No matter how amazing the content.

(This is especially a problem for landscape photos, where crooked horizons are extremely obvious.)

You see, a crooked photo is just disorienting. It causes the viewer to get caught up in being imbalanced and makes them forget all about the subject.

So the first thing you should do to enhance your nature photos:

Check to make sure your photo is straight. And if it isn’t, straighten it! Pretty much every photo editing program offers straightening tools, so make use of them.

I handheld this swan photo, and so it required a bit of straightening:

5 Nature Photography Editing Tips to Create Stunning Images in Seconds

Once you’ve straightened your photo, it’s time to think about cropping.

Now, if you’ve composed carefully in-camera, you won’t necessarily need to crop. But it’s easy to miss something small while looking through the viewfinder. Maybe there are some leaves dangling in the corner of the frame!

In which case:

Crop!

By removing distractions, you’ll make your photo stronger overall. You should also crop to improve your composition. For instance, you might crop slightly to place your main subject on a rule of thirds gridline.

Or you might crop to place a symmetrical subject smack-dab in the middle of the frame, like this:

5 Nature Photography Editing Tips to Create Stunning Images in Seconds

Basically, just think of cropping as a second, more measured chance at composing.

Use it to nail the perfect final composition. But don’t think that you need to crop each time a photo comes up. And try to get the composition right in-camera.

After all, crops automatically reduce resolution!

2. Drop the blacks and up the whites to add interest

If you think that your nature photos are looking a little flat, then you might be suffering from a common problem:

Low contrast.

Low-contrast photos generally lack interest. There’s not a clear difference between the subject and the background, so the whole shot just seems to blend together.

Fortunately, this can be fixed pretty easily with a bit of post-processing!

First, basically, every photo editing program offers a contrast slider. For a quick-and-dirty edit, go ahead and boost up this slider.

However, I’d go for something a bit more controlled.

In Lightroom, for instance, I like to use the adjustment sliders to drop the blacks and increase the whites, like I did for this photo:

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You can also use the tone curve function to create a nice s-shape, which will give you the same effect.

If my image is fairly low contrast to start with, I’ll add a touch of contrast and then leave things be.

But if my image already has a lot of light and dark tones, I like to push the contrast further. This is especially the case if I’m taking photos in black and white.

Therefore, I’ll add to the blacks until the deepest shadows are close to losing detail. And I’ll increase the whites until the brightest parts of the photo are almost clipped.

3. Clean up your subject with a bit of Healing or Cloning

Now it’s time for some careful adjustments.

You see, many subjects in nature photography could use a bit of cleaning up. Because they tend to have dirt or blemishes that interfere with the overall look of the photo.

For instance, I often clean up my flower photos. Insects chew holes in the petals, or the tips of the flowers start to wither. And if I were to leave these elements in, they would simply distract from the overall shot.

5 Nature Photography Editing Tips to Create Stunning Images in Seconds

If you’re a bird photographer, think about cleaning up the bird’s surroundings. There are often stray branches in photos of woodland birds. There is often dirty sand and distracting shells in photos of shorebirds.

On the other hand, I would not advocate making extensive modifications to your subject. I like to portray nature as close to reality as possible. And that means holding myself back from altering my subject in any deep way.

I generally use Lightroom’s excellent healing tool to remove these blemishes. But any clone tool will do the job. It’ll just require a bit more work.

4. Simplify the palette with Color Adjustments

In nature photography, I advocate simplicity:

Simpler shots are generally best.

But that doesn’t just go for composition. It’s also true for color.

In other words, for a stunning photo, you should try to limit the number of colors you include. One color works just fine. Two is nice. Three is good. Four is reaching the upper edge.

After that, the colors contribute a sense of chaos to the scene, which is exactly what you don’t want.

Fortunately, you can work on simplifying your color palette after you’ve taken your shots.

5 Nature Photography Editing Tips to Create Stunning Images in Seconds

All you have to do is use the color adjustment sliders. In Lightroom, these are the hue, saturation, and luminance (HSL) adjustments.

Here’s a couple of ways you can simplify your colors:

First, you can desaturate any colors that you want to deemphasize, and saturate any colors you’d like to bring out.

Second, you can change the hues of several colors to look more similar. For instance, you might make greens slightly bluer and blues slightly greener, so that everything leans toward a balanced middle color.

Third, you can darken any problematic spots of color. If you have a splash of orange in the background that you just don’t like, you can dial it back by simply darkening the oranges.

Unfortunately, there’s no set formula for working with color adjustments. But I always recommend you keep a final goal for the photo in mind: simplicity.

5 Nature Photography Editing Tips to Create Stunning Images in Seconds

And I should note: It’s easy to overdo color adjustments so that you end up with a garish, oversaturated scene. I suggest that you always check your color edits the day after you’ve finished, and make sure that the edits still seem to make sense.

That way, you can be sure that you haven’t taken things overboard.

5 Nature Photography Editing Tips to Create Stunning Images in Seconds

5. Use a subtle Split Tone to give a polished look

Here’s your final piece of advice for nature photography post-processing:

Use (subtle) split toning!

Now, split toning is a bit complex:

It allows you to choose a color to add to the shadows of the image, and a color to add to the highlights of your image.

For instance, you can add a yellow to the highlights, and make the whites of the image look very warm:

5 Nature Photography Editing Tips to Create Stunning Images in Seconds

Then you can add a blue to the shadows, and make the dark parts of the image look very cold:

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In fact, yellow/blue split toning is extremely common in cinema, because the warm/cold contrast makes the visuals more compelling.

Now, in nature photography, you don’t want to split tone to the extent they do in cinema. The point of a nature photography split-tone is to subtly enhance the colors.

So here’s what you should do:

Once you’ve finished your main editing, head over to the split-toning options in your editing software. This isn’t an edit offered by every post-processing package, so check to see if it’s something you can do.

Then simply play around with the split toning options. Be careful to keep things pretty minimal. You don’t want to grossly alter the colors of the photo. You want something subtle.

The yellow-highlights, blue-shadows split-tone is one that works pretty consistently, so it’s something that I suggest you try.

But feel free to experiment with many split-tone options.

And pick the one you like best for a wonderful finishing touch!

5 nature photography editing tips to create stunning images in seconds: next steps

Nature photography editing is just the thing you need to add a bit of punch to your photos.

So I suggest you have a consistent post-processing workflow, one which allows you to take your pictures to their full potential.

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That’s how you’ll really create a polished nature photography portfolio.

Which nature photography editing step do you think is most useful? Let me know in the comments right now!

 

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The post 5 Nature Photography Editing Tips to Create Stunning Images in Seconds appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jaymes Dempsey.

How to Use the HDR Panorama Photo Merge in Lightroom Classic CC

The post How to Use the HDR Panorama Photo Merge in Lightroom Classic CC appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

Not long ago I wrote about Four of the Latest Updates to Lightroom Classic CC. In it, we talked about some of the fresh features Adobe has recently added to Lightroom. One of those great new additions was the single-step HDR Panorama Photo Merge. That’s a mouthful of a name, but it’s an incredibly useful tool that allows us to combine multiple bracketed exposures into a seamless high dynamic range panoramic image in, as the name suggests, essentially a single step. In this article, we’re going to delve a little deeper into the new single-step step HDR Panorama Photo Merge (geez) feature and show you exactly how to capture and combine your images to make a beautifully executed panorama.

What is an HDR Panorama?

High dynamic range (HDR) photographs and panoramas are nothing new to the world of photography. In fact, neither are HDR panoramas.

HDR photos are simply images combining multiple exposures to form a final photo that exhibits tonal and/or focus ranges far beyond a single exposure. Along those same lines, panoramic photos are images stitched together that carry a visual perspective beyond what is obtainable from a single exposure (with a few exceptions).

As you may have guessed, an HDR panorama combines multiple photographs to produce a wide perspective composite image featuring high dynamic range.

Previous methods for merging multiple images to produce HDR panoramic photos were generally tedious and required venturing over into Photoshop. Luckily, with the new HDR Panoramic feature introduced in v8.0 of Lightroom Classic CC, you can now efficiently combine your images with just a few clicks of the mouse. Let me show you how I made the above HDR pano combining twelve separate bracketed photos right inside of Lightroom.

Obtaining your images for merging

The first and arguably most crucial part of creating your HDR panorama begins inside your camera.

Lightroom places some stringent criteria on the images you can combine using it’s single-step HDR Panorama function. ALL of these rules must be met by each one of your images prior to merging.

Here are the “rules” for images you plan to merge into an HDR pano directly from Adobe:

  • All the images in your selection must contain the exposure metadata – Exposure time, f-number, and ISO.
  • Each set of bracketed exposures in your selection must have the same number of images. For example, if you chose to bracket with three images, then all the sets in the selection must also use three images.
  • Every set of bracketed exposures in your selection must have the same exposure offsets. For example, if your first set has exposure offsets of (0, -1, +1), then all other sets in the selection must follow the exposure offset pattern. The image sets can have different exposure values; only the exposure offsets pattern must be consistent across all the sets.
  • Each set of bracketed exposures must be captured contiguously. For example, if you’ve considered a bracket size of three while capturing the images, then the first three images in the sequence become part of a bracket set. The next three images in the sequence become part of another bracket set, and so on.
  • Within a set of bracketed exposures, the images must not have the same exposure value.

While you can shoot your images in either a vertical or horizontal orientation, it is a good idea to use vertically orientated photos in you plan on displaying them digitally. This avoids extremely long, yet narrow images. Of course, this is entirely up to you.

Combining the images

Now that you’ve made it through the rather exacting process of actually obtaining your photos for merging, the rest of the operation is refreshingly easy to complete.

Selection

First things first. In the Library Module of Lightroom Classic CC select the images you want to use for the HDR pano. An easy trick to select all of your images at once is to select the photo at the beginning of the series and then hold down the shift key while clicking the last photo in the series. This automatically selects all your bracketed exposures at once. It also saves you quite a few mouse clicks if you are using a high number of photos.

Once you’ve got all of your photos selected, right-click on any of those images and choose Photo Merge, and then HDR Panorama.

It’s here where you learn for sure whether all of your images meet the requirements for merging. If not, you will receive the soul-crushing message ‘Unable To Detect HDR Exposure Bracket Size. Merge To Non-HDR Panorama Instead?’ That means Lightroom will merge the photos into a normal non-HDR pano if possible.

However, if you’ve done your duty, and you obtained all of your images correctly, your photo will appear as a preliminary smart preview. From here, it’s just a matter of controlling how you want Lightroom to handle the final merging of your images. You’ll have quite a few options that will affect the ultimate product.

Projection modes

Think of projections as the shape of the canvas on which Lightroom paints your finished HDR panorama. There are three different projection modes from which to choose based on the nature of the panorama you are creating:

  • Spherical: This aligns and transforms the images as if they were mapped to the inside of a sphere. This projection mode is great for ultra-wide or multi-row panoramas.

  • Cylindrical: This projects the panorama/HDR panorama as if it were mapped to the inside of a cylinder. This projection mode works well for wide panoramas, but it also keeps vertical lines straight.

  • Perspective: This projects the panorama/HDR panorama as if it were mapped to a flat surface. Since this mode keeps straight lines straight, it is great for architectural photography. Extremely wide panoramas may not work well with this mode due to excessive distortion near the edges of the resulting panorama.

Boundary Warp

The amount of Boundary Warp is a way to stretch your merged HDR pano so that it more or less fills the frame of the selected projection mode. With Boundary Warp, you have a slider that ranges from 0-100 that allows you to preserve any content of the photo that you may lose after cropping.

Experiment with different Boundary Warp settings until you reach a happy medium between distortion and content preservation.

Auto settings/crop

These settings work extremely well to save you some editing time at least on the front end. The auto-crop and auto-settings functions allow Lightroom to trim and process your finished HDR panorama automatically. While you, of course, can crop and process your image manually after merging, I’ve found the auto settings function gives consistently outstanding results.

Stacking

Consider stacking as an afterthought of your post-panorama post-processing. It’s a way for you to keep all of your ducks in a row, so to speak, and is especially useful if you’ve used many photos to construct your HDR panorama. Choosing the stacking option literally stacks all of the images used for your HDR panorama merge into a group with the merged image placed on top. This aids in keeping your filmstrip tidy and saves physical space in the Library Module.

Once you have made all of your selections for the HDR pano merge, it’s time to click the ‘Merge’ button. This begins the process of combining the images into a single DNG file.

After the merge is complete, you will have an image which you are free to finish processing just as you could with any other digital RAW file. This includes adjusting the auto-cropping and, of course, the auto settings. This achieves the final image that we saw from earlier.

Final considerations

Remember that any HDR image is already by its very definition a composite photo. As such, it is a combination of many different exposures which, if pushed too far, can result in an incredibly fake-looking final product. Always keep your HDR images within the realm of passable reality unless you are intentionally going for a hyper-realistic appeal. Along those same lines, make sure the photos meet all the criteria for HDR panorama merging listed above.

Furthermore, attempt to previsualize the final merged photo in your mind and shoot your images according to the tonal range and perspective you wish to achieve. When in doubt, it’s always better to have too many images to work with than not enough.

Have some HDR Panorama photos you’ve created inside of Lightroom Classic CC? We’d love to see them! Feel free to share them in the comments.

 

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The post How to Use the HDR Panorama Photo Merge in Lightroom Classic CC appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Adam Welch.

Lightroom Texture Slider vs. Skin Smoothing

The post Lightroom Texture Slider vs. Skin Smoothing appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

One of Adobe’s recent feature updates to Lightroom has profound implications for photographers who retouch their portraits. While in-depth alterations are best handled in an app like Photoshop or Affinity Photo, Lightroom’s brush tool has been a good choice for basic retouching for many years. Users can dial in specific settings to help skin appear softer and smoother, or select a preset defined by Adobe. However, these retouches have typically employed the Clarity slider, which is great for a lot of situations but not exactly ideal for portraits. Thankfully, the new Lightroom Texture Slider option aims to solve this and a whole lot more.

Lightroom Texture Slider vs. Skin Smoothing - 1

Before I get too deep into the Texture option, it’s important to know that it’s not just for tweaking headshots. It is specifically designed to either increase or decrease the detail on textured surfaces. These can be cloth, rocks, plants, skin, or anything that has a non-uniform appearance.

If you want to smooth the texture to make a surface appear more glassy, slide the Texture option to the left. By contrast, if you want to enhance the look of any textured object, just slide the tool to the right.

Texture vs. Clarity vs. Sharpening

Texture is fundamentally different from other tools such as Clarity or Sharpening, each of which has long been a staple in many portrait photographers’ workflows. Clarity works by increasing or decreasing contrast specifically along edges, or areas of already-high contrast. It primarily affects mid-tones and not the lightest and darkest portions of an image. Sharpening makes the edges of objects and surfaces much more vivid. It has some additional parameters like Radius and Amount that can be fine-tuned to get you just the right balance.

Lightroom Texture Slider vs. Skin Smoothing - 2

Each of these tools has a specific purpose, and they can be used alone or together to create specific results. If you usually do basic portrait retouching by using the Brush tool and selecting the Soften Skin option, you may have noticed that it’s merely a combination of Clarity and Sharpness. Texture, on the other hand, is specifically designed by Adobe to alter the appearance of textured surfaces.

If you have traditionally done some basic retouching using Clarity and Sharpening, you might be surprised at how effective the Texture option is.

The Soften Skin brush preset in Lightroom is just a combination of -100 Clarity and +25 Sharpening.

Retouching with Texture

While you can apply texture globally by using the option in the Basic panel of Lightroom’s Develop module, portrait photographers will appreciate that it can be applied selectively using the Brush tool. Select the Brush option and then look for the Texture slider, which is right above Clarity, Dehaze, and Saturation. You can also configure parameters like Size, Feather, Flow, and Auto Mask though I would recommend leaving the latter turned off if you are editing portraits.

Click on your photograph and brush in the Texture adjustment the same you would with any other adjustment. Be careful to stay in the facial region and not brush into hair, clothing, or other parts of the image. You certainly can apply the texture brush to other elements of your picture later on, but to start with stay focused on the face.

Lightroom Texture Slider vs. Skin Smoothing - 3

Original image with no brush adjustments applied.

As you brush in the Texture adjustment, you will see rough areas of the skin become smooth. I recommend starting with a value between -25 and -50. This retains most of the original look of the portrait while smoothing things out just a bit.

If you have never worked with the Adjustment Brush tool, you might take a minute and look over these five tips that could speed things up or make your work a lot more efficient.

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Texture -50 adjustment brush applied to the cheeks, chin, and nose.

The resulting portrait has a smoother, softer appearance where the Texture adjustment was applied. Details such as pores and wrinkles remain, and color gradients and shifting tones are also preserved.

This is much different than the results typically produced by using the Skin Smoothing option, which employs a mix of negative Clarity and positive Sharpening.

Lightroom Texture Slider vs. Skin Smoothing - 5

Image with Soften Skin adjustment applied to the same areas.

This third image looks as though petroleum jelly has been smeared over the camera lens. The woman’s cheeks are missing the subtle color variations from the original image. While the skin is certainly smoother, it also looks more artificial.

To show how these images look in direct relation to one another, here is a graphic that shows all three versions for three seconds at a time. First is the original, then the Texture adjustment, then the original again, and finally the Soften Skin adjustment.

Lightroom Texture Slider vs. Skin Smoothing

You can create your own Adjustment Brush preset if you don’t want to rely on the Soften Skin preset. But if you have traditionally used the Clarity option, you may find it pleasantly surprising how vastly improved your results are by using Texture instead.

Comparison two

For another comparison, here are three more images to help you see the difference between Texture and other methods of softening skin.

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The original image with no skin softening adjustments applied.

Applying a Texture -50 Adjustment leaves the pores, stubble, and small wrinkles intact but smooths them out just a bit. It’s a subtle change that doesn’t alter the original too much or make the face appear artificially smooth.

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Texture -50 applied to the cheeks, chin, nose, and forehead.

A custom skin smoothing adjustment of Clarity -75 and Sharpness +15 makes the young man’s forehead and cheeks appear fake and plastic. It’s not a great look for a portrait.

Lightroom Texture Slider vs. Skin Smoothing - 8

Clarity -75 and Sharpness +15 applied to the same areas.

Looking at the three images sequentially shows the effect in a more pronounced fashion. The Texture adjustment gives a much more natural result while the final image seems over-processed and fake.

Lightroom Texture Slider vs. Skin Smoothing - 9

Conclusion

There’s a lot more you can do with the Lightroom Texture slider, and it’s useful for a wide variety of images aside from portraits. Some photographers like to reduce texture in the face and increase texture on hair and clothing for a punchier look.

My recommendation is to open up some of your images, especially portraits or headshots, and try it out for yourself. You might be surprised at how well it works.

Have you used the Lightroom Texture slider? What are your thoughts? Please share your thoughts (and images) with us in the comments section.

 

Lightroom Texture Slider vs Skin Smoothing

The post Lightroom Texture Slider vs. Skin Smoothing appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

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