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.


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.


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.



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.

How to Edit Fireworks Photos Creatively

The post How to Edit Fireworks Photos Creatively appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

I hope you had a chance to read my previous article, “Eight Tips for Better Fireworks Photos” before going out to make your fireworks images and found that helpful.  If so, you should have some good shots to work with here.  If not, these techniques will still work for you if you have some other good fireworks photos.  Either way, let’s see if I can teach you how to do the basic editing on your fireworks images. Then, how to creatively composite your shots and take the “wow factor” up another notch.

How to Edit Fireworks Photos

You shot in Raw, yes?

I realize that beginning photographers may be making their images with their camera set to save only the .jpg file, perhaps not having the editing tools or having learned to edit a Raw file.  While that’s not a deal-breaker, you will find doing so causes the camera to do much of the editing itself, using the camera’s built-in .jpg algorithm to “cook” the final image for you.  Perhaps while you are still a novice image editor, (cook), editing raw files can seem intimidating, and you may feel the camera is a better cook than you are.

The trouble is, with something like your fireworks photos, you will want as much latitude for creative editing as possible as well as much file information as the camera originally captured.  Letting the camera create a .jpg image lets it make the creative decisions and also throws away information you might have needed.

You will still be able to use the steps outlined here to edit a .jpg file.  Just understand things might not work as well.  One final plug for shooting Raw files before moving on – Almost all pros do, and that’s the level of work you want to create, right?  ‘Nuff said.

2 - How to Edit Fireworks Photos

This effect is what I call the “boom-zoom-bloom.” You’ll have to read Part One of this series if you missed how to create it.

Editing tools

The workflow described here assumes you will be using the editing programs I use for working with my images; Adobe Lightroom Classic and Photoshop.  Other editing programs may work equally well such as Photoshop Elements or another favorite of mine, Corel Paintshop Pro.  Use what you have and know; just understand the steps here are using the Adobe programs.  I will also sometimes use plug-in filters such as those in the Nik suite, Topaz Labs or Aurora.

Basic editing of a fireworks photo with Lightroom

This is my workflow with an image in Lightroom.  Much of the work simply involves moving each adjustment slider up and down to see what you like.  Playing is encouraged.

  • White Balance – You shot in Raw, right? Good, because if so, you can take the white balance wherever you like. Play with the Temperature and Tint sliders and get the colors you like.  Because fireworks have no “correct” color your viewer expects, you can pretty much adjust white balance however you like.  Although, if you’ve included foreground objects, you may want to use those as a reference in determining what is realistic.
  • Basic Controls – Play with the Exposure, Contrast, and other sliders to bring the image to your liking. If your highlights are a little bright, (but still not blown out), you can bring them back with the Highlights slider. You might also want to bring down the Blacks if the sky needs darkening
  • Adjust colors with the HSL/Color sliders. You can play with the Hue, Saturation, and Luminance sliders to tweak colors to your liking. Don’t forget to try the Targeted Adjustment Tool to pick and adjust specific colors in your image.
  • 3 - How to Edit Fireworks Photos
  • Dehaze – The Dehaze tool could be your friend and help reduce smoke in the shot if it became a problem.
  • Clarity and Texture  – These controls can give your fireworks images extra sharpness and pop.  Also, try sliding these controls toward the left for different looks.
  • Vibrance and Saturation – With standard photography, these two are typically used conservatively, particularly Saturation which is a bit of a sledgehammer. With firework images, however, often you are going for “pow,” so go ahead and play… it’s your shot.  Oversaturation will blow out details.  Watch each histogram RGB channel.  A histogram off the right edge means you’ve oversaturated that color.
  • Detail – Some sharpening can be good. The two best tools in this group for fireworks images are the Masking Tool and Noise Reduction/Luminance. Sharpen your image as desired.  Then, hold down the Alt key, (Option on Mac), and drag the Masking slider to the right.  What appears white will be sharpened, what is black will not.  The idea to allow the fireworks to be sharpened, but not the dark sky. As for Noise Reduction, if you shot at a low ISO you probably won’t need much. Use as little as needed here.
  • Consider saving settings as a Preset.  If you’ve used the sliders to get your image just right, you might want to apply the same settings to some of your other fireworks photos.  Saving the settings as a preset will allow you to apply the same look with a single click.

Other tools

I mentioned using plugins as options in your editing.  The sky really is the limit here.  Here are a few I have and sometimes find useful with fireworks photos:

Nik – Color Efex Pro, Viveza

Topaz Labs – Adjust, Denoise, (probably others too, I just I don’t have them).

Aurora HDR – You can work with a single image here not needing multiple shots as with traditional HDR work and can get some interesting looks.

Compositing for drama

Sometimes the best fireworks photo is a composite of several photos.  You can layer multiple images and create your own grand finale.  You can also put fireworks over places where they weren’t, but to your thinking should have been.

Confession time.

The image of the Boise (Idaho) Depot I used in the previous article, (and repeated above), is a composite.

They do have fireworks shows over this iconic landmark in our city; I’ve just never been there for a show.  I did, however, have nice nighttime images of the depot and also fireworks photos from another time and place.  With compositing, I created the image I wished I could have captured live but wasn’t there for.  What can I say, creative license, right?

So, you have a great fireworks photo.  You have a great night shot of a landmark or scene where you’d have liked to have captured a fireworks show.  Here’s how you make those come together.

Time for layers

If you only edit with Lightroom, this will be the end of the road for you.  Lightroom doesn’t do layers and they are a must for this technique.  Photoshop does layers, as does Photoshop Elements, Corel Paintshop Pro, and probably a few other editing programs.  Layers capabilities are a must for compositing. So, your editing tool of choice must have them.

Compositing images is a pretty advanced technique in some cases. However, because the background of your fireworks photo is likely to be black or very dark, things become much easier.  Learning compositing using fireworks images can be a great way to begin learning about layers, masks, and compositing in general.

Step-by-step compositing

  1. Open your fireworks image in Photoshop (or your editing program of choice).  You can open Photoshop first and then open the image or send it from Lightroom – (Photo/Edit In/Edit in Adobe Photoshop)

    How to send an image from Lightroom to Photoshop for editing. You can also send multiple images as layers in Photoshop, useful when doing the “Grand Finale” composites described later in this article.

  2. Open your other location photo, also in Photoshop.  You will have the fireworks photo and the scene photo each on separate tabs at this point. Just a note when selecting the scene photo: Select one that has a logical view, angle, and lighting that it will seem consistent with having fireworks in the shot.  Obviously, a daytime image or an image without much sky is just going to look weird.
  3. Go to the image of the fireworks.  Crop it to include just the fireworks section you want if you didn’t do this in Lightroom first.  Then Select All (Ctrl-A, Cmd-A on a Mac), Copy (Ctrl/Cmd-C)
  4. Go to the other tab with the Scene and hit Ctrl/Cmd-V for Paste.  The firework image will be placed as a layer on top of the scene image.
  5. With the fireworks layer selected, select the Screen blending mode.  The dark parts of the sky will become transparent and the fireworks will be superimposed over the underlying Scene image.

    Use the Screen blending mode and the black in the fireworks photo will become transparent showing the underlying image.

  6. You will need to place and size the fireworks where you want them over the Scene shot.  Use Free Transform for that.  With the fireworks layer still the one selected, Ctrl/Cmd-T.  Then hold down Shift and drag from a corner handle to resize while maintaining the aspect ratio of the fireworks image.  Click, hold and drag in the middle of the shot to move the overlying fireworks where you like.  Don’t worry about some of the fireworks perhaps appearing in front of things.  You’ll handle that in the next step.

    The fireworks moved and sized to put them where desired. Note: leaving a little overlap will add depth and make the composite look more realistic. You’ll clean-up in the next step.

  7. To touch up areas where the fireworks might overlap an area they should be behind, (note the fireworks overlapping the tower in my shot and the roof at the bottom), you will create a Layer Mask. Click the icon that looks like a rectangle with the dark circle in the center  A mask will be added to your fireworks layer.
  8.  With Black selected as your foreground color and the mask selected, use the brush tool to paint out areas where the fireworks overlap the foreground.  You want the fireworks to look like they are behind any foreground objects.
  9.  You may find areas in the fireworks layer weren’t black enough that the Screen blending mode eliminated them.  This might work for you –  With the fireworks layer selected, (not the mask, the layer itself), open the Camera Raw Filter (Ctrl-Shift-A).  Just the fireworks layer will appear in Camera Raw.  Take the Blacks slider down (left) to see if you can darken the problem areas.  Also, try the Shadows and Exposure sliders, but pay attention to how the fireworks are affected.  When you click OK, you will be returned to the Photoshop main window.  See if the problem is gone.  If not, use the brush on the mask as you did in step 8 to clean up any remaining areas.
How to Edit Fireworks Photos

This grand finale was captured in one 6-second shot and is not a composite.

The Grand Finale

The most exciting part of a fireworks show is when they shoot off a flurry of fireworks in rapid-fire fashion.  It can also be one of the harder parts of the show to photograph.  Sometimes the intensity of so many fireworks bursting in the air can result in a blown-out, overexposed mess with the settings used for most of the show not right now.

What to do?  How about creating your own finale with the compositing technique we just explored but this time, layering several fireworks images to build-up your finale shot.

How to Edit Fireworks Photos

When things really got crazy during the grand finale, the same 6-seconds was too much and the image was blown out. Look at the histogram. There’s no recovering highlights when they are pushed off the right side of the histogram. Way too overexposed!

Use the same steps as with the composite image we just covered. Stack up several layers of fireworks shots each on its own Photoshop layer.  Then turn on the Screen blending mode on all layers but the bottom one.  Use the technique as before, blending and masking as necessary.

Here’s what that might look like.

Position and clean each layer with a mask as before where necessary.  Voila!  Your own grand finale.

How to Edit Fireworks Photos

Fun even when the smoke clears

For most spectators, the fun of a fireworks show is over when the last boom is heard, and the smoke clears. As a photographer with editing skills, however, you can continue to create all kinds of exciting images with the fireworks shots you captured.  Using the editing and compositing techniques here will not only help you produce some great fireworks images but grow your editing skills in general.

Now, go have a “blast.”

Feel free to share your fireworks images with us in the comments below.


How to Edit your Fireworks Photos Creatively


The post How to Edit Fireworks Photos Creatively appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

How to Make Interesting Abstract Smoke Photos

The post How to Make Interesting Abstract Smoke Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

How would you like to learn a little “photo magic?” A magician not wanting to reveal his secrets might tell you his trick was all done with “smoke and mirrors.” The expression speaks of a kind of deception used to fool the viewer. No fooling here though, as you’ll learn the technique. You really will photograph smoke and later, mirror your image to add even more interest. So it really is smoke and mirrors. Shall we begin?

Abstract smoke photography - Firebird

Can you see the Firebird? How was this done? Read on for the tricks to this abstract magic.

Tools for the trick

Here’s what you will need to create your photo:


Most cameras will work for this kind of photography. Being able to use manual control and manual focus will make things easier. You will also need to be able to fire a flash mounted off-camera using either a wired or wireless method. A lens which will allow you to focus on an object a few feet away will be best. The shots shown here were done with the Canon “nifty fifty”, a 50mm f/1.8 prime lens mounted on a Canon 50D camera. For a relatively inexpensive lens, it is very sharp.

Abstract Smoke Photography - Use stick Incense

A package of 40 incense sticks from the dollar store is probably enough for a lifetime of smoke photography.


You will want an external flash you can mount off-camera. The pop-up flash on the camera won’t work for this. You will be mounting the flash off to the side of your shot so it illuminates the column of smoke pointing perpendicular to the direction you’re pointing the camera. Having a light stand on which you can mount it will be helpful. You also don’t want any of the light to hit the background or flare into the camera, so a snoot which will direct the beam of the flash at the smoke column works well. You may also be able to fashion a “barn-door” arrangement with cardboard (or even tape). Whatever works to keep the light only on what you want – the smoke column.


The flash will provide plenty of light and also freeze the action, so you really aren’t concerned about motion blur. The advantage of a tripod is simply to help you compose and frame the shot and provide some consistency.  If you don’t have a tripod or simply prefer to handhold your camera, that’s okay too.

To better see the smoke and also give you more flexibility later in editing, a black or very dark background will work best. Black posterboard, black cloth, the black side of a reflector, or whatever you have should work. Because the column of smoke you’ll be photographing will be relatively small, you won’t need anything very large.

Smoke-producing object

Incense, the kind that comes in stick form, works very well for this kind of smoke photography.  It’s cheap, burns for a long time, and produces just the kind of smoke needed.


Unless you have an absolutely calm day with no wind, shooting outdoors probably isn’t going to work. Even the slightest air currents will affect your smoke pattern. Shooting indoors, particularly in a modern home, might be a good way to test your smoke detectors but having the alarm go off just as you’re getting started with your work is rather disruptive.  I found shooting in the garage to be a good option. It was dark, the air was still, and after the session, it was easy to open the door and clear the smoke. Just be aware of the requirements needed; still air, no smoke detectors, (or at least temporarily disarmed ones), the ability to make the room dark, and a door or window you can open afterward to clear the smoke afterward, and you’ll be set.

Abstract Smoke Photography - Setup diagram

Setting up

The diagram above shows a basic setup. Put your camera on a tripod a couple of feet from where you will place the incense stick.  Taping the stick to light stand may allow you more flexibility in positioning it in the frame, but whatever you use, you will want to frame the shot so you put just the tip of the stick at the bottom of the frame, leaving a couple of feet above for the column of smoke. Whether you use a portrait or landscape orientation with your camera is up to you, just remember the smoke will drift around. Being a little loose with the framing isn’t a bad idea, you can always crop later.

The background should be a couple of feet behind the incense stick. If you light properly, it won’t show anyway so this isn’t crucial.

Position the flash on a light stand so it’s to the side of the camera and points perpendicularly to the camera angle. You will be side-lighting the smoke. Some photographers also put a reflector on the opposite side to bounce a little light on the other side of the smoke. You can experiment and see if you like that.  The shots here use only the one flash. As mentioned above, what is crucial is that no light fall on the background nor flare into the camera lens. A snoot is the easiest means of achieving this.

Abstract Smoke Photography - smoke photo straight out of camera

The smoke patterns are constantly changing and no two will be alike.

Camera and flash settings

In the darkened room where you’re working, use a flashlight or other dim lighting so you can still see the incense stick and do your framing. Focus on the tip of the stick, then turn off the autofocus so the focus stays locked.  Leaving on autofocus will almost guarantee frustration, as while shooting, the camera lens may hunt, trying to find and focus on the drifting smoke.

Shoot in Raw mode, (which you usually do, yes?) Doing so will allow greater editing flexibility later.

Set your camera around ISO 200, f/8 and about 1/60th of a second for starters.

Leave the flash off.

Make a shot before lighting the incense in the darkened room.

You should get a totally black frame and that’s what you want with no flash.

Now put the flash in manual mode and set it to about half power. You should have already connected it to the camera with a cord or perhaps set up a radio trigger so it will fire when the shutter is tripped.

Make a shot with the flash on and you should be able to just see the tip incense stick.  If so, you’re now ready to get smokin’.

Abstract Smoke Photography - The Seahorse

This image is straight out of the camera. Note the tip of the incense stick at the bottom right.

Making your photos

Light the incense stick, blow out the flame and a thin column of smoke will rise from the tip.

Make a shot and check it. Is it focused?

Be sure, as you don’t want to make a whole series only to later find out they aren’t sharp. If you need to adjust your focus or perhaps go to a smaller f/stop for more depth of field, do so now.

Also, check the exposure. If things are too bright, drop the flash power or reduce the ISO. If the smoke is too dim, do the opposite. You want to clearly see the smoke, but nothing else.

If all looks good, keep making shots. Occasionally wave your hand near the smoke column or gently blow on it to vary the smoke pattern. You will want some variety so you can later choose your favorite shots.

Abstract Smoke Photography - Smoke photo mirrored and colored with a gradient

This is the same image as the one before it, but horizontally mirrored and colored with a gradient.

Basic editing

What program you want to edit with is up to you. You will want to adjust the blacks so as to leave only the white smoke details. Then adjust the whites, highlights, shadows, exposure, and contrast by eye, tuning the shot to your liking.

If there are elements you wish to eliminate, paint them out with a black adjustment brush or use layers and masks in Photoshop if that is your preferred technique.

Abstract Smoke Photography - horizontal and vertical mirroring

The Gordian Knot – This image was mirrored both horizontally and vertically and then colored with a gradient.

Mirrors and colors and abstracts, oh my!

You got the smoke, now what about the mirrors? Yes, the white smoke patterns on a black background are interesting but you can take this much further. I used Corel Paintshop Pro, but Photoshop would work too. Or for that matter, any photo editor that supports layers will work. (Keep in mind Lightroom does not support layers so while you can edit, colorize, and do other things with it, the mirroring part is beyond its capabilities).

Here are the basic steps:

  • Open in your basic edited smoke image. Select the entire image and copy it.
  • Paste the copied image on top of itself as a new layer.
  • Mirror (flip) the upper layer horizontally or vertically. (In Photoshop, Edit, Transform, and Flip Horizontally or Vertically).
  • Change the blending mode on the upper layer to Lighten. You will now see the upper layer mirrored and superimposed over the lower layer and some interesting patterns will be created.
Abstract Smoke Photography - Alien Gas

Alien Gas – A straight smoke shot later colored green.

Abstract Smoke Photography - Negative version of smoke photograph - Purple Haze

Purple Haze – Now, take the image above, reverse it so it’s a negative, (the black becomes white and the green becomes purple), then mirror it both horizontally and vertically.

You can move the layers so they overlap each other in various ways and change the pattern. You might want to make the canvas larger and put the mirrored image next to itself or even have multiple layers with the image flipped both horizontally and vertically.

You’ve now entered the realm of abstract art and anything goes.

Maybe you’d like to add some color?

Create another layer at the top of the stack and fill it with a gradient.  Now use the Overlay or Soft Light blending mode and watch your smoke take on the colors of the gradient.

If you’d like to hand-paint the smoke,  create a blank layer at the top. Turn the blending mode to Overlay, and using the Brush tool (and a color of your choice) to paint the smoke, watching the white smoke take on that color while the black is left untouched.

Try putting a photo on the upper layer and switching the blending mode on that layer to Overlay.

Abstract Smoke Photography - The Witch Doctor

Like Rorschach inkblots, what you see is very individual. I call this one – The Witch Doctor

Something I find fascinating with these abstract smoke compositions is that they resemble Rorschach InkBlots. Everyone interprets them differently and can see different images in what are, after all, just random patterns of drifting smoke. The titles on these shots are what I interpret.

What do you see?

Smoke in other photos

You may have reasons to want to include smoke in your photos that is not an abstract interpretation. The same basic technique can work with side lighting.

The “Smokin’ Hot Peppers” was lit with two flashes, one on either side of the vase and an incense stick placed in and behind the peppers in the vase.

Abstract Smoke Photography - Smokin Hot Peppers

A flash on either side of the subject was the only difference here, otherwise, this image uses the same technique.


Here’s one last trick that could work for you when you want something that looks like smoke but you’re in a no-smoking workspace.

Get some dental floss, fray it a bit, and tie it to a penlight or small flashlight letting the light shine down the length of the floss and onto your subject.

Now make a long exposure during which you keep the floss constantly moving. Smokeless smoke, just another option to have in your bag of photo tricks.

Abstract Smoke Photography - Pseudo Smoke Effect - Simulated Smoke

Looks like smoke, but it isn’t.


You’ll find that photographing smoke is all about the lighting. Side or backlighting will work best and a dark background helps the smoke show up better. Beyond that, it’s simply a matter of experimenting.

Give it a try and make a little photo magic. And share with us in the comments below!



The post How to Make Interesting Abstract Smoke Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

10 Lightroom Tricks That Will Make Your Life Easier

When it comes to Lightroom, there is a lot to learn, and we tend to pay the most attention to the big things like understanding how to organize images and which sliders to use to improve our photos. But there are also lots of little Lightroom tricks that will improve your workflow and just make your life easier when it comes to working with your photos.

In this video, I’ll show you 10 of my favorite tricks that will make your life easier in Lightroom. There is also a summary of these items below the video for your reference. Enjoy!

1. Build Previews

Have you ever noticed that when you view images full size in the Library Module and you move from one to the next, sometimes Lightroom shows a message that says “Loading…” and it takes a minute for the photo to display properly? You can get around that by building previews before you start working on a group of images.

To do this, choose Library > Previews > Build Standard-Sized Previews.

I generally build standard-sized previews which are just big enough to fit in the Lightroom window. You can also build the 1:1 Previews which means you can view each image zoomed-in at 100% without having to wait, but that takes longer.

Building the previews first does take a bit of time, but you can do something else while Lightroom is busy with this task. Then when you are ready to work on your images, Lightroom will be really fast.

2. Auto Advance

When selecting your Picks or adding a star rating to images in the Library Module, you can have Lightroom automatically move to the next image, making it very quick to go through a selection of photos. To turn this setting on choose Photo > Auto Advance.

3. Solo Mode

In the Develop Module, there are a number of panels which, when expanded, can make it necessary to do a lot of scrolling to move between them. But with “solo mode”, only one panel can be opened at a time which means no more scrolling.

To turn this on, right-click to the left of one of the develop module panel titles (such as “basic”) and choose Solo Mode.

4. Quickly Reset a Slider

When you make a change to a slider in the Develop Module, and you simply want to reset it back to zero, you don’t have to actually move the slider back. Simply double-click on the name of the slider and it will reset.

5. Letter O Key

Did you know there are quite a few different crop overlays you can use to help you crop your photos just right? Click the crop tool in the Develop Module, and then try repeatedly pressing the letter O on your keyboard to rotate through the various crop overlays.

6. Letter F Key

When you think you are done and you want to view a larger size of your image to make sure everything is just right, press the letter F on your keyboard to view the image full screen. Press F again to go back.

7. Letter L Key

Another way to view your image without distractions is to use the L key on your keyboard. Press it once and all the sidebars and your desktop will turn grey. Press it again and everything goes black except your actual photos (this is called Lights Out). Press it a third time to return to normal.

8. Backslash Key

As a final check when you think you are done with your processing, press the backslash key on your keyboard to see the “before” version of your image before you made any changes in Lightroom. Press it again to see the “after” version.

9. Virtual Copies

If you want to make another version of an image without changing the original, you don’t have to actually make a copy of it on your hard drive. You can simply create a “virtual copy” and apply different settings to it. This virtual copy takes up no space on your hard drive and allows you to play with different looks.

10. Sync Settings

After you have finished processing one photo in a group, you can apply those exact settings to all the other photos in the group. This makes it very fast to process a whole group of images.

Go to the Library Module, select all the photos you want to apply the settings to, including the one you have processed, and click the “Sync Settings” button in the lower right corner of your screen. You can then choose whether to sync all or just some of the settings to the selected photos.

Lightroom can be overwhelming! If you want to learn the essentials of Lightroom so you can get started quickly and easily, check out my video course Launch Into Lightroom. In 22 short videos that total a little over 2 hours, you’ll be off and running.

The post 10 Lightroom Tricks That Will Make Your Life Easier appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Speed Up Your Photo Editing with the Right Lightroom Workflow

Processing photos is fun for me. But as much as I like doing it, I like being out in the field making new photos even more. That’s why I’ve developed a Lightroom workflow that helps me get the job done as quickly as possible.

Following these steps, you’ll learn how to make adjustments to a whole batch of images and then apply image specific adjustments to bring out the best in each frame.

Before you begin, choose a batch of photos taken at the same time under similar lighting conditions. I usually go through and pick my favorite photos from a shoot first, and then work on those.

How to Speed Up Your Photo Editing with the Right Lightroom Workflow

Step 1: Make Global Adjustments to the First Photo

In the Develop Module, pick the first photo in your batch and make the following adjustments to make it look its best.

Remember there are no rules with the sliders other than a little goes a long way. Just go with your gut. And if you’re not sure what a slider does, just take it to one extreme and then the other and you’ll be able to see exactly what is going to happen.

Camera Calibration

You’ll find this at the bottom of the develop module on the right-hand panel. I like to set this first because it makes such a dramatic difference to the color and contrast in an image. Simply go through the drop down box and pick the one that looks the best.

White Balance

Next go up to the top of the develop module and start working your way down. The first slider is white balance and there you can choose from the items in the drop down box. Again, simply choose the one that looks best.

Highlights and Shadows

Try darkening the highlights by moving the slider to the left and lightening the shadows by moving the slider to the right. You don’t want to go so far that you’ve removed all contrast from the scene, just enough that you have more detail in the highlight and shadow areas.


The clarity slider will add contrast to the edges of things making them appear more crisp. Try nudging it a bit to the right. On the other hand, if you want your image to be softer and dreamier, you can move the clarity slider to the left.


The vibrance slider is more subtle than saturation since it adds color to the parts of your image that are already less saturated.


Most photos need a little sharpening. In the Detail Panel, try moving the sharpening slider a bit to the right.


In the Effects Panel, add a slight post-crop vignette to draw the eye into the frame by dragging the slider slightly to the left.

How to Speed Up Your Photo Editing with the Right Lightroom Workflow

Before any adjustments in Lightroom.

How to Speed Up Your Photo Editing with the Right Lightroom Workflow

After the basic adjustments have been applied in Lightroom.

Step 2: Sync Settings

In the Develop Module, select all the photos in your batch (including the one you just edited) from the filmstrip at the bottom of the screen. Then click the Sync button at the bottom of the develop panel.

How to Speed Up Your Photo Editing with the Right Lightroom Workflow

Voila! All the adjustments you made to your first image have now been applied to the whole group.

Step 3: Make Final Adjustments to Single Photos

The following adjustments need to be made to each photo individually since they are rarely the same in a batch.

Crop and Straighten

If necessary, use the crop tool to adjust the crop. Maintain the aspect ratio of your image by holding down the shift key on your keyboard while you crop. You can also use the angle tool located inside the crop tool to make sure any horizon or shore lines are straight by drawing a line from one side to the other.

How to Speed Up Your Photo Editing with the Right Lightroom Workflow

Don’t Miss a Dust Spot

Using the spot removal tool, check the box next to “Visualize Spots” below the image to help you see the dust spots more easily.

How to Speed Up Your Photo Editing with the Right Lightroom Workflow

Radial Filter

Use the radial filter tool to increase the exposure very slightly on your main subject which will help to draw the viewer’s eye to it. Remember to click the “invert mask” checkbox to affect the area inside the circle. Otherwise, the default is to affect the area outside the circle you draw.

How to Speed Up Your Photo Editing with the Right Lightroom Workflow

Radial Filter in Lightroom.


I find that processing photos is more fun when it doesn’t take forever! Now with time saved doing basic processing, you may choose to take your photo into another photo editor to add special effects. Or you can just call it done and get back out in the field doing what you love: making photographs.

Want more? Try Anne’s Lightroom video course: Launch Into Lightroom to learn everything you need to know to get started in just a couple of hours.

The post How to Speed Up Your Photo Editing with the Right Lightroom Workflow by Anne McKinnell appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Lightroom Mastery: The Power of the Adjustment Brush

If there is one thing I wish I would have spent more time learning early on in my time with Lightroom, it’s the adjustment brush.

Lightroom is an incredible editing tool, arguably the easiest one to use, and the quickest to learn. The one thing that took me a while to wrap my head around when starting out, was how to use the Adjustment Brush. In this article I’d like to share a quick excerpt from the new Lightroom Mastery course I created for Digital Photography School. I hope you find it helpful.

Why the Adjustment Brush is Great

Lightroom excels at making changes to the entire image (global adjustments) super simple and effective. It really becomes a joy to use Lightroom once you get the hang of it. Need to pull up the shadows in an overly-contrasty image?  No problem; just pull up the shadow slider.  Need to correct for overexposure?  Easy – just drop the exposure slider.

But what do you do when you need to make a change to a very specific area (local adjustments), and you don’t want that to affect the rest of the image? This is exactly when you want to call upon the power of the Adjustment Brush.

Look at the difference an adjustment brush made in the sign, as well as brightening up the lower right corner.

Look at the difference an adjustment brush made in the sign, as well as brightening up the lower right corner of this image.

How the Adjustment Brush Works

Instead of making a global change to the entire canvas, the Adjustment Brush enables you to get very specific and just paint over where you would like to make changes.

This sounds simple, but is incredibly powerful – you now have the ability to affect big change in many different areas of your image, without resorting to bouncing the image over to Photoshop. Hey, I’m all about simplicity, and if I can get all my edits done in one program versus two, I’m all in!

A Perfect Example – Corvettes and Chrome

A good friend had just come to visit me from China, we decided to walk around the neighborhood and managed to catch a parade. It may not look like it, but this was in November in San Diego, one of the benefits of fair weather every day. I caught this image of this beautiful car driving by:

Lightroom adjustment brush, lightroom mastery course, lightroom mastery, dps, corvette, chrome, parade

I darkened the sky a bit and applied some more contrast to the ground and ended up with this:

Lightroom adjustment brush, lightroom mastery course, lightroom mastery, dps, corvette, chrome, parade

That looks good, but the photo really wasn’t capturing how bright the chrome wheels and bumper accents were. In short, I needed to do some local editing on just those pieces. Adjustment brush to the rescue!

Time to Shine – Creating a Chrome Adjustment Brush

Deciding where to start when creating your custom brush

I knew the key to making this photo pop was getting that chrome to come back to life. I first clicked into my Adjustment Brush window (hit K on your keyboard or select the Brush tool from the top of the right hand panel in the Develop Module) and reset all the sliders back to zero. Since the wheels were not facing the sun, they were underexposed and caught in shadow.

Creating the brush itself

Lightroom adjustment brush, lightroom mastery course, lightroom mastery, dps, corvette, chrome, paradeI decided to increase the exposure +1 stop, bump the shadows up to +28 to correct the darkness, and increase the whites to +20 to make the highlights in the chrome pop.

For good measure I increased the clarity to +30 to make sure the edges in that chrome highlights were nice and snappy. Here is what the adjustment window looked like before I started painting (see right)

This was an educated guess as to what I thought would work. If this worked well, I could leave it. If it didn’t, I could always move the sliders after painting, to change it as necessary.

Painting with the Adjustment Brush – best practices

There are a few guidelines I like to follow when painting with the Adjustment Brush. Here a few helpful tips to make this easy:

  • Use a brush size that is a bit smaller than the area you are trying to paint.  It helps if you don’t “color outside the lines”, although that is an easy fix if you do. A quick tip here: if you use a mouse with a scroll wheel you can change the size of your brush by scrolling up and down. It works the same with my Apple magic mouse.
  • Check the box for Auto Mask if you are painting something with fine edges you don’t want to go over. Auto Mask does a good job of keeping your brush inside the lines even if you go outside, which saves time.
  • I like to see the mask I’m painting versus the effects of the mask I’m painting. To have the mask show up in red either click Show selected mask overlay or simply click the O key on the keyboard to toggle the mask on and off.

Let’s get painting!

I quickly painted over the wheels, front bumper, headlights, and any other chrome I could find. It’s a bit difficult to see, since the mask is nearly the same color as the car (you can change the mask color by clicking Shift+O repeated times until you find a better color) but here is what the mask looked like after my initial run:

Lightroom adjustment brush, lightroom mastery course, lightroom mastery, dps, corvette, chrome, parade

Using the eraser tool to clean up mistakes

Wow, I’m apparently terrible at coloring inside the lines! In all reality, going outside the lines on this image didn’t make a noticeable difference, but we might as well do this right.

To clean up areas where you’ve overpainted all you have to do is click Erase in your Adjustment Brush window. This will pull up a brush that will erase the mask area when you paint over it. This is important: make sure to click click the A or B brush after using the eraser so you don’t forget and start painting over areas with the eraser versus the brush by accident!

After a quick clean-up I ended up with this, which is much better:

Lightroom adjustment brush, lightroom mastery course, lightroom mastery, dps, corvette, chrome, parade

Let’s turn off the mask and see how it looks

Remember, to turn off the mask you can simply click the O key on your keyboard. Here you see my image after the adjustment brush has been applied:

Lightroom adjustment brush, lightroom mastery course, lightroom mastery, dps, corvette, chrome, parade

Much better!  The chrome wheels and bumper are much brighter now, and look a lot better.  The only thing I don’t like now, is how dark the drivers-side door is.

It’s a pretty easy fix to create a new brush to bring up the shadows, so I’ll do that.

Starting a new mask in the same image

It’s important to think of masks like layers. The wheels and bumpers are painted with one mask, that has one group of settings.

If I want to make a new adjustment brush with different settings for the door, I need to create a new mask, as opposed to just moving the sliders around. If I move the sliders around without creating a new mask, that will make changes to the current active mask (my wheels and bumpers).

To make a new mask just click New at the top of the mask menu. I only increased the exposure setting to +1 to add a full stop of light to the side, painted over the door and rear of the car, and got this:

Lightroom adjustment brush, lightroom mastery course, lightroom mastery, dps, corvette, chrome, parade

Let’s compare that to the second edit before I used any adjustment brushes:

Lightroom adjustment brush, lightroom mastery course, lightroom mastery, dps, corvette, chrome, parade

Before Adjustment Brushes were applied.

Much better!

This is just one simple example, the sky’s the limit!

There are endless possibilities with the adjustment brush. I could have changed the color of this entire car if I wanted to as well.

You can lighten up dark areas of images and vice versa. You can apply sharpening or clarify to individual areas. You can do a whole host of beauty editing like whitening teeth, giving eyes more color,  and more.

If you found this helpful, you will LOVE the new DPS Lightroom Mastery course!


There are far too many excellent tips to learning how to master Lightroom to include in a blog post, so Digital Photography tasked me with creating the best and most comprehensive Lightroom video course on the web!

In Lightroom Mastery I break down everything in Lightroom and teach you more in three hours, than most photographers learn in years. I cover every module, tool, tip, and trick from my 10 years using Lightroom.

During the initial launch, dPS is doing a huge 50% discount on the course!  The price will regularly be $99, but during this special launch it’s only $49!

Go grab the course before the sale is over

You can click this link to learn more about what is included in the course, watch a preview video, and purchase the course!

The post Lightroom Mastery: The Power of the Adjustment Brush by Mike Newton appeared first on Digital Photography School.

tfttf724 – Solar Charging Camera Batteries

Receive free updates Rusty says hi to the “Top Floor Cyberspace Slackers” and asks why we should post process. Chris has some ideas about this. Volker does a road trip in California and wonders if it’s the right decision to leave half his gear back home in Germany. Chris has learned to travel light, so … Continue reading "tfttf724 – Solar Charging Camera Batteries"

The post tfttf724 – Solar Charging Camera Batteries appeared first on PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS FROM THE TOP FLOOR.

Using Levels in Photoshop to Image Correct Color and Contrast

Notice the difference some quick adjustments in the Levels tool can make

Notice the difference some quick adjustments using the Levels tool can make

Image editing is an important part of making your good images look spectacular. Photoshop and Lightroom are packed with tools to help you get your images to look great after you have downloaded them on to your computer. While there are many different tools in Photoshop to enhance your image, there are really only a handful of tools that you will use on just about every image; one of those is the levels tool. Photoshop has a levels tool, Lightroom doesn’t unfortunately. Each photographer has a different workflow when editing images, my suggestion is to follow a process that is the same for each image. When you open up an image in Photoshop or Lightroom, the first step is to look at the exposure. Is the image over or underexposed? At this stage of the workflow, you could be looking at a tool like the Shadow and Highlights adjustment, the next one to use would be Levels.

What is the Levels tool?

Levels tool in Photoshop

Levels tool in Photoshop

Levels does two things in one tool, it corrects the tonal range in an image and it corrects the colour balance. Adjustments made using the Levels tool are not only about getting the exposure on your image correct; it also has a second function and that is, it can correct for colour too. Yes, there are other tools within Photoshop that can do this, but the Levels tool can make it really quick and easy.

The Levels tool uses a histogram to show a visual representation of the tonal range in your image. There is a lot to be said about a histogram, but the most important thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong histogram. If you are unsure about how a histogram works, check out: How to read and use Histograms. On the histogram in the Levels tool, you will see a numerical range starting at zero on the left hand side of the graph, and 255 on the right. In the Levels function, zero represents black and if you have pixels that are at zero, that means there is no detail, they are totally black. The right hand side at 255 represents total white. If you have pixels at 255 that means they are totally white, with no detail. If the shape of your histogram is leaning to the left hand side, that means you have a lot of dark pixels in your image and your image is possibly underexposed. If the histogram is more on the right hand side that means you have a lot of bright highlights in your image and it is possibly overexposed. The middle slider is the mid-tone or gamma adjustment. All the pixels that are not highlights or shadows, fall into this category.

How does the Levels tool work?

When you open the Levels tool, very often your first instinct is to push the sliders into a position that makes the image look brighter. That can work, but I suggest that you do the following: Before you make any adjustments, take a look at your image and see if you can pick up a colour cast. This is a tint or colour that affects the whole image, and is often unwanted. For example, if you have a wedding photo of a bride shot on an overcast day and while everything looks okay, there may be a slight blue hue in the image from the overcast light. This means that her dress looks a little blue instead of white. In a case like this, a colour cast is something you want to get rid of. If however you have shot a summer sunset and the whole scene is bathed in warm orange light, this could also be seen as a colour cast, but in that case you would probably not want change it. One way to find colour casts in your images is to look at an area of the image that should be white and see if it has a tint. A colour cast will vary depending on the light you shot under; it could be green, magenta, blue, yellow, orange, or anything in between.

How to use the Levels tool

Make and adjustment layer for Levels

Make and adjustment layer for Levels

You can use the Levels tool on any image that needs the colour or contrast corrected. If you have an image that needs to have the colour cast corrected, like my shot of the Star Wars Stormtrooper does, then do the following:

  1. Open your image in Photoshop.
  2. Click on the adjustment layer icon at the bottom of the Layer panel and create a Levels adjustment layer, or click on the Levels tool icon in the adjustments panel which is directly above the layers panel.

Step 1 – If you need to do colour correction

If your image has a colour cast (the example image does, as there is a slight blue colour because it was overcast weather that day), follow these steps. Not all images need to have the colour corrected, if you are happy with the colour in your image you won’t need to do this. If you do have a colour cast in your image, then do the following:

Bring the white and black sliders to the point where the graph starts moving upwards

Bring the white and black sliders to the point where the graph starts moving upward

Part 1: In the levels tool, click on the drop down box above the histogram that says RGB. This will open up the three channels individually. Click on RED and bring the white slider and black slider in to part of the histogram where it starts to move upwards. Click on the the RGB drop down box again and click on GREEN and do the same, and finally click on BLUE and repeat one more time. This step will only work if there is a colour cast in your image. If there is no colour cast, the histogram will spread to the edges of the graph. In this image, there was a colour cast and this was how the GREEN channel histogram looked.

The red areas in the screenshot above show you where there was no colour information. By sliding the sliders inward to the edge of the graph, you will start to neutralize the colour cast.
Part 2: You will notice that as you make these adjustments, your image may have a very strong colour cast of the channel you are adjusting. Don’t be alarmed, this will all work out once you make the final adjustments.
Part 3: Once you have adjusted for the colour correction in all three colors, you can now adjust the exposure and contrast

Don't be alarmed at the crazy colours you might see during the colour cast adjustments, they will work out in the end.

Don’t be alarmed at the crazy colours you might see during the colour cast adjustments, they will work out in the end.

Step 2 – Adjusting for exposure and contrast

The Levels tool can also adjust your image’s exposure and contrast. In other words, you can use it to make the highlights, shadows and mid-tones brighter or darker – an all-in-one tool. The levels tool is really great to make some quick adjustments to your image, here is how:

Part 1: In the RGB channel, move the white slider in from the right to the edge of the histogram. Do the same for the black slider, adjusting it in to the edge of the histogram on the left. The important tip here is to make sure that you don’t overexpose the highlights and underexpose the shadows. This is called clipping and the best way to see if you are clipping any pixels is to hold down the ALT key when you are adjusting the white and black sliders.
2. Once you have those two sliders adjusted, you can slide the mid tone slider to add some contrast to the scene and this will be the final touch to your levels adjustment.

The final adjustment showing colour correction and contrast correction

The final adjustment showing colour correction and contrast correction

Some final tips to remember

1. Like any tool in Photoshop, if levels is overdone, you will be able to see it in the image. So, be aware of over adjusting your image.
2. Small adjustments always work better than one big adjustment. Make small changes first and see if that works.
3. Use the ALT key to make sure you aren’t losing detail in the shadows and the highlights by clipping your pixels.
4. Add some contrast to your images in levels, that will give your image a bit more pop and will enrich the tones.

The levels tool is a powerful ally to have in your image editing workflow. I use this tool on just about every image I edit. It can really add some contrast and punch to your images so try and use it as often as needed. These techniques take practice, but once you know what to do, the levels tool is quick and easy to use.

Compare the images side by side, there is a subtle but real difference

Compare the images side by side, there is a subtle but real difference

The post Using Levels in Photoshop to Image Correct Color and Contrast by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Simple Post-Processing Tips For Minimalists

Pink Flowers on a cloudy day

Are you a minimalist in terms of your photography? Do you crave simple composition and clean lines in your images? There are many wonderful articles on minimalist photography and simple imagery. In fact Valerie Jardin has a fantastic article on Minimalist Photography – 4 Tips To Keep It Simple right here on Digital Photography School.

This article encourages you to take that approach a step further into post-processing to achieve a clean, timeless look to your imagery. A clean, crisp image always stands the test of time. You don’t have to look very far, just dig into your own image archives from prior years and see which images appeal to you the most.

As a photographer, your greatest achievement is when you are able to capture images exactly as you envision them or see them with your mind’s eye. When you import your images to your computer and the SOOC (Straight Out Of Camera) image simply takes your breath away, you know you’ve got what it takes. While all of us aim for that exact moment of shining glory, sometimes we need to add just a little bit of oomph to the image, simple adjustments that take the image from great to awesome.

Here are some post-processing tips on achieving a great look using simple adjustments. These are all done in Lightroom 5 – a great processing tool for you – using only the Basic and Lens Corrections Panels. The Basic Panel in LR contains adjustment sliders like: Temperature and Tint which adjust White Balance, Exposure and Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks which adjust Tone and Clarity, and Vibration and Saturation which adjust Presence. The Lens Correction Panel in LR primarily contains profile corrections for various Lenses.

Lightroom 5 Basic Panel and Lens Profile Correction Panel

Another point to note is: Use RAW format for your images if your camera has the ability to record images in that format. This type of file format has a lot more leeway in terms of post-processing adjustments. There are several articles in the Digital Photography School’s archives that discuss RAW file formats in great detail.

Post-Processing Steps for Minimalist

1) Enable the Lens Correction

Certain lenses, particularly wide angles, introduce some distortion in the images, especially around the edges of the frame. This is generally more obvious in images that either have horizontal lines, curved lines  or the horizon in the frame. Lens Correction can be done in the Profile tab where you can Enable Profile Corrections. Selecting that box, should bring up the profile of the lens used for that particular image. With each new version of LR (we are currently in LR 5.6) more and more lens profiles are being added to the software.

Note: if you cannot find your lens you can try looking on the manufacturers site or use one that is similar.

In the Profile mode, LR automatically detects the lens used and corrects the distortion. Finer adjustments can be done using the sliders under the Lens Profile. You may have to drop down the list and find your particular lens. Enabling Profile Corrections first eliminates the distortion and sometimes brightens the images just a tad – which might be just what the image needs. For more control, switch to the Manual tab for individual profile correction adjustments.

Left is SOOC; Right is Lens Correction adjustment (notice the wood panel in the top of the image)

The left image is SOOC; the right has Lens Correction adjustments done (notice the wood panel in the top of the image)

2) The Basic Adjustment Panel is your BFF (best friend forever)

80% of all minimalistic adjustments happen in the Basic Panel. White Balance (Temperature and Tint) are the most commonly used sliders. Most adjustments are quite minimal. A few stops up or down generally gives you exactly what you are looking for. Take note that small adjustments are very subtle. If your photograph has people, be cognizant of skin tones and colors as they can vary a lot among people and hence the WB slider numbers will also vary. Other variables that affect white balance are; the type of light (artificial versus natural) as well as the time of day (morning, high noon, or dusk). If your camera has the ability to do custom adjust white balance in camera, you can use that to further reduce this adjustment step. Photographing in Auto White Balance versus Custom White Balance is a personal choice.

Left is SOOC; Right has Lens Correction, White Balance (Temp/Tint) adjusted

The left image is SOOC; the right has Lens Correction and White Balance (Temp/Tint) adjusted.

3) Exposure and Contrast go hand-in-hand

The easies way to explain exposure is its ability to brighten or darken an image. Moving it to the right (+) adds brightness to the overall image and moving it to the left (-) reduces brightness. Often times when adjusting exposure more than half or one full stop (i.e. adding more brightness) the overall contrast of the image is affected. The Contrast slider adds more definition between the darks and the lights in the image. Play with the contrast sliders (Contrast and Clarity); they provide an additional pop to the colors in the image that are generally blown out when exposure is drastically increased.

Left is SOOC; Right has Lens Correction and White Balance (Temp/Tint) adjusted

The left image is SOOC; the right has Lens Correction and White Balance (Temp/Tint) adjusted.

Left is SOOC; Right has Lens Correction, White Balance and Contrast adjusted

The left image is SOOC; the right has Lens Correction, White Balance, and Contrast adjusted.

Left is SOOC; Right has Lens Correction, White Balance (Temp/Tint), Exposure and Contrast adjusted

The left image is SOOC; the right has Lens Correction, White Balance (Temp/Tint), Exposure, and Contrast adjusted.

In most cases, minimalistic editing is done at this point. Highlights/Shadows/Whites and Blacks can be adjusted to taste depending on the image. With Portraits, you can also adjust the Clarity slider a bit just to smooth out the skin. For more information on Clarity Slider check out Peter West Carey’s article Lightroom’s Clarity Slider – What Does it Do? in the dPS archives. The easiest thing to remember about the Clarity slider is that it adjusts the edge contrast in only the mid-tones of the image. Go easy with this slider because a little does go a long way and too much clarity, particularly on skin, can provide a very plastic looking skin.

Left is SOOC; Right has Lens Correction, White Balance (Temp/Tint), Exposure and Contrast, Clarity and Highlights adjusted

The left image is SOOC; the right has Lens Correction, White Balance (Temp/Tint), Exposure, Contrast, Clarity and Highlights adjusted.

Left is SOOC; Right has Lens Correction, White Balance (Temp/Tint), Exposure and Contrast, Clarity and Highlights adjusted

The left image is SOOC; the right has Lens Correction, White Balance (Temp/Tint), Exposure, Contrast, Clarity and Highlights adjusted.

As always, the amount of post-processing you do to an image is a personal choice, including the minimalistic option; but it definitely provides for a faster workflow – less than a few minutes per image. In most cases of minimalistic post-processing the adjustments are very subtle. Less time in front of the computer equals more time spent perfecting the art of photography to get those nearly perfect images right out of the camera.

The post Simple Post-Processing Tips For Minimalists by Karthika Gupta appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Correct Skin Blemishes Using the Patch Tool in Photoshop

There are many articles that discuss the overuse of skin smoothing in portrait photography. Photographers strive to find a balance between realistic skin and fixing the imperfections. Obviously, one way to minimize the use of Photoshop for skin issues is to hire a phenomenal makeup artist who can make the skin look realistic and flawless all at the same time. For the times when there are issues with a client’s skin I try to not go overboard and fix every little thing. I want my client to still look like themselves when I am done editing.


Some photographers use the spot healing brush religiously. I never use it. Instead I use the patch tool. My reasoning is that the Patch tool actually takes samples of the pixels and closely matches them to what you are trying to fix. If the results are not quite right, you can tweak them to suit your needs.

Step 1. Open your image

As you can see my model is absolutely beautiful, but she does have a few blemishes on her skin and we are going to fix those before we give the image to her.

Step 2. Select an area and apply a path

Hit Ctrl or Command + J to duplicate your layer. You can add a Layer Mask in case you want to undo anything later.  Then select the Patch tool and draw around the part of the skin that you want to replace (make sure the “Source” setting is selected to patch the source from the destination so it will use information from the area you drag to fix the blemish). Once selected, keep holding your mouse down and move it over to better spot of brighter skin. The skin does not have to be in the same area where you are working. You can use skin from the neck, shoulder, hand, or wherever you find better, smooth skin.


Step 3. Repeat and refine

Repeat the process for any other skin issues. Just keep circling the area you want to replace and dragging the circle over to a clean area. If you change something you did not want to or it doesn’t look right you can use your layer mask to hide it or you can click undo (Cmmd/Ctrl+Z).

Step 4. Reduce dark circles under eyes

Most of the time you will find that some dark circles under the eyes are showing. While it’s actually normal, we want our clients or models to look bright eyed.  If you want to decrease these, simply use the patch tool and circle the under eye area. Drag that circled area over to better skin. The result will be very harsh if left like that, so fade the technique. Go to Edit > Fade Patch Selection and a pop up window will appear. Lower the slider until the fade looks like it will blend in. Repeat the process for the other eye. The percentage of fade you use may not be the same on both sides, depending on the lighting.


Step 5. Review and merge layers

Once you finish, you will see that the skin looks much better and smoother, but the details of the skin are still there without being overly fake looking. If you are satisfied, merge your layers. If you are going to do any further edits, go to your History in the Layers Palette and make a snapshot of the image so you can always come back to it.

Step 6. Brighten eyes optional

Optionally, you can brighten up the eyes a bit. Duplicate your layer again using Ctrl or Command + J. Again, add a Layer Mask in case you might want to change anything later. Select the Dodge Tool and make sure your exposure is set to around 30%. Take a big brush that covers the eye and the brow and in one motion with your mouse sweep over the eye and the brow. You can adjust the layer if it’s too bright or use your Layer Mask and remove the parts that might be too overdone.


The Patch Tool can be one of the easiest and quickest ways to clean up skin and still retain the overall look of your client without making the image seem overdone. After a few times, using the Patch Tool can become like a second nature and skin edits will go quicker. Here is the before and after showing that with just a few motions with the patch tool you can achieve an overall better image where skin looks smoother, brighter, and still looks natural.


The post How to Correct Skin Blemishes Using the Patch Tool in Photoshop by Lori Peterson appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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