Hints & Tips

A Lightroom Classic CC Workflow

George Theodore, November 6, 2017

The following makes a couple of assumptions. First, that Lightroom is the editing software of choice. If not, I believe the outlined steps can be applied to alternative programs preferred by the reader. Second, that the reader has some familiarity with the software (for example, what a Graduated Filter does and how it’s used). If not, there are video presentations on YouTube, Creative Live, Kelby One, Julieanne Kost at jkost.com, Matt Kloskowski or Lynda.com that will get you started. Or you can merely Google that particular feature (eg. “grad filter in Lightroom”).

So, let’s dive in.

If we look at the right hand side in Adobe Lightroom’s Design Module, we might be led to believe that the order in which Adobe lists adjustments is one that should be followed from top to bottom. I don’t think so. I’m going to suggest that we work from generalized adjustments – those that affect the entire image – then proceed to more localized adjustments that affect only the part of the image selected. And, we’ll adjust tonality before colors. We’ll begin by making desired compositional changes.

As an aside, if we don’t like the change applied, we can delete it by using Command Z (Control Z for PC). And, in Lightroom, it’s sequential (i.e. doing it twice will delete the last two adjustments, etc.).

OK, let’s get started:

1.   Scrolling own to the Lens Correction panel we’ll check the boxes for Remove Chromatic Aberration and Enable    Profile Corrections. If Lightroom has our lens profile in its database, it will apply the correction.

2.   We’ll skip this step if our image has no distortions to perspective (buildings that lean back, etc.). If it does, let’s find the Transform panel and make any necessary adjustments to correct the distortions. Check Constrain Crop to maintain the original dimensions of the image. We’ll make the required corrections and, yes, using Upright or Auto is OK and may or may not work. If it doesn’t, we’ll try Guided, Level, Vertical or Full. Finally, we can go directly to the sliders and try it manually.

3.   CROP. We’ll use command R (control R for PC) or click on the crop icon at the top and make the desired adjustments for area selection and straightening.

4.   Next – let’s do some clean up: dust spot removal, hoping over to Photoshop to invoke Content-Aware, etc.

Once our image is cleaned up and desired changes made to our composition, we can start making tonal adjustments beginning with those that will apply to the entire image.

5.   Down to Camera Calibration, we’ll choose (or won’t – not a “must-do” but I like it) a Profile from the drop down menu where it says Adobe Standard. This step is really one of individual choice and may vary from image to image. If this oversaturates our image, we can delete the step and try another profile or quickly make an adjustment using the Saturation and/or Vibrance slider in the Basic panel.

6.   If necessary or desired, we’ll move to the Graduated Filter tool above the Basic panel.  We’ll often use this to lighten or darken large parts of the image (skies for example). Holding down the shift key to make our selection straight, we’ll drag from top to bottom, bottom to top or from one side to another – wherever adjustments are needed. We can also use the filter at angles but don’t use the shift key here.

We can also use the Adjustment Brush tool to make similar changes where the Graduated Filter isn’t feasible due to geometric configurations.

Now, if needed, we’ll invoke Range Mask to make any adjustments to areas where we want to mask any adjustments we made via the Graduated Filter or Adjustment Brush. Or, use the Brush in the upper right corner of the panel (not to be confused with the Adjustment Brush tool above the panel) to delete, erase, etc. as needed. The Brush is changed from add (+) to erase (-) by holding the alt/option key while brushing. Close the panel when done.

7.   In the Basic panel, we’ll adjust Temp if needed to modify our White Balance: left to cool, right to warm. We can also use the drop-down menu at the right.

8.   Next, setting the Dynamic Range of our image: the range from the darkest to lightest tones in our image. Three ways to do this:

a. Making sure the histogram panel is visible, grab the Whites slider and move it to the right until the highlight warning comes on (the little up arrow at the right edge of the histogram), and then back off a little. Move the Blacks slider the opposite direction. Of course, if our image is already at one or both these extremes, we’ll touch them up especially if highlight warnings are already on,

b. Holding down the option key (alt for PC) move the sliders until you see the first indication of color, then back off slightly or

c. Holding down the shift key, double click on each slider’s center arrow or on the words Whites and Blacks.

9.   Exposure – move the slider to the left or right “to taste”. It's usually just a slight touch up.

10. Highlights and Shadows – as above, adjust “to taste”.

11. Clarity: found under Presence in the Basic panel, this is mid-tone contrast. We’ll move it according to our taste (tweak left if it’s a portrait to decrease wrinkles).

12. Tone Curve: There are many tutorials on line about how to use this more extensively and I’ll try to add one of my own in the future. Here are three basic ways to adjust contrast using the curve:

a. The easiest - at the bottom of the panel, choose between Linear, Medium and Strong Contrast at the drop down menu.

b. Next easiest - make your adjustments directly on the curve.

c. Hardest - grabbing the Target Adjustment Tool (TAT) in the left corner of the Tone Curve panel and choosing the lightest and darkest tones between which we want to create contrast we’ll apply the changes directly on the image. Slide up to increase, down to decrease. (Note: that doesn’t always mean the very lightest and darkest tones in the image).

13. Sharpen: In Lightroom, sharpening can actually be can be applied anywhere in the editing process but I stuck it in here because that’s the way I work: Let’s scroll down to the Detail panel and apply sharpness. We’ll make sure we’re looking at our image at 1:1 or 100% to ensure we don’t over-sharpen.

Using the Sharpness and Detail sliders, we’ll make our adjustments.

Backing out to “full view” and holding down the alt/option key, we’ll Mask out any areas where we don’t want or need sharpening (blue skies for example). Masked out areas appear black, sharpened are white. Drag the slider to include/exclude areas of the image

We’re done with tonal changes - now over to colors:

14. Vibrance: Our smart saturation adjustment in the Basic panel under Presence – adds saturation where it’s lacking; leaves already saturated colors alone. Adjust “to taste”.

15. Saturation: Depending on the image, we may only have to tweak this slightly and we’re careful not to oversaturate; we’ll slide to the left if necessary.

16. The HSL panel: Here, we can make adjustments to lighten or darken (Luminance), adjust Saturation or change the Hue of any color. The best way to do this is to access the TAT in the upper left corner and apply directly to the image. This will make changes to the color(s) chosen wherever those exist in the image. Again, sliding upwards increases the effect, downward decreases.

17. Scrolling down to Effects, we’ll adjust Dehaze “to taste”. Dehaze is designed to remove atmospheric haze and helps to clear up the image. It’s amazing but don’t overdo.

We’re done with general adjustments to our image and now are ready to make preferred or required localized changes. Unlike changes made via the HSL panel, these adjustments will be applied only to where we choose:

18. At the very top, use the Adjustment Brush or Radial Filter tool to choose specific areas of the image to make any adjustments - dodge, burn, lighten, darken, etc. Using either tool, use Feather to assist in localizing the adjustment and when using the Adjustment Brush, select Auto Mask where needed to mask changes from adjacent areas.

Note: the Radial Filter is designed, by default, to mask the area inside the circle so the adjustment will affect the area of our images outside that circle. Don’t ask. So, if we want to apply the desired adjustment inside the circle, we click on “invert” at the bottom of the panel.

With the panel still open, we can also use the Brush (the one inside the panel) to add or delete the adjustment (+)/(-), where necessary, to further tighten the localization.

Note: we can make use of the Graduated Filter to make local changes but this doesn’t happen very often.

19. If we want to add Vignetting to emphasize a portion of our image, we’ll scroll back to Effects and apply it there.

20. Finally, we’ll look up and down our panels to check adjustments that need a tweak. More often than not, exposure and/or white balance get slightly modified by the other adjustments we make.

There - we’re done! At first glance, this might look quite daunting. You’ll be surprised though, with a little practice, you’ll fly through these adjustments. Note that we didn’t touch the Contrast slider and that’s because I rarely use it preferring to make those adjustments with Whites, Blacks, ShadowsHighlights, Clarity and the Tone Curve. However, there may be times when it comes in handy. But beware; this is a sledgehammer approach so be careful with it.

As stated at the start, we’ve concentrated here on steps in Lightroom only. There are several plug-ins from ON1, Topaz, Nik, Alien Skin, Seimeffects and others that combine some of these steps (and some in Photoshop too) and it’s certainly OK to use them (I do). I think though having a grasp on what Lightroom can do on its own is a good start to understanding the process of editing.

Questions/Comments: george@amnaph.com

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Adobe Lightroom

George Theodore, November 2, 2017

By now, you’ve heard the news: Adobe has come out with a new Creative Cloud (CC) version of Lightroom. Well, two actually - Lightroom Classic CC and Lightroom CC. What was Lightroom CC is now Lightroom Classic CC and is desktop-centric. In other words, like the old version of CC, you store and back up images on your own disc drives.

Lightroom CC is now a cloud-centric solution that allows you to edit from any device – even your phone - and is meant for more casual shooting with only 1TB of storage in the Cloud for $9.99/month. Lightroom CC has many limitations - no plug-ins, export to JPEG/sRGB only, no Print, Book, Web or Slideshow Modules, no Tone Curve adjustments, no renaming, no HDR or Panos and more. One feature of Lightroom CC is that it uses Adobe Sensei artificial intelligence to search for your images - no keywording required. I tried it - it's a bit spooky but it works. At the Adobe MAX presentation, a search on all images with "people" did indeed return pictures that included people and a further search on "kids", returned pictures of children AND a goat. Limitations aside, it does fill the need for a large swath of consumer social-media concentrated photography.

Classic is, of course,  the more robust having added features like luminosity masking via a new "range masking" feature. Speed has improved by using embedded JPEGS to sort through images. The “Photography Plan" subscription, currently at $9.99/month, now includes both Lightroom Classic CC and Lightroom CC along with Photoshop CC 2018. This is the plan that will continue to be favored among professionals and other advanced level photographers. You can select to not install Lightroom CC if you won't have any use for it.

Now the bad news. Adobe is concentrating all its efforts on the cloud. There will be no stand-alone product (also called perpetual license) beyond the current Lightroom 6 although they'll be updating it for new cameras and fixing bugs for a yet undetermined time as they have over the past couple of years. No upgrades - no LR7 - what you have is what you'll have. This will anger quite a few since, when Adobe introduced the Creative Cloud, it implied they'd continue to support a non-subscription version indefinitly which led many to believe upgrades would be available. Well, it's been pretty clear that's not the case since improvements to the Cloud version have not migrated over to LR6. I imagine there will come a time when LR6 will not run on future operating systems. I can hear the angry rush to the exit for many.

Fortunately, there are other options available from ACDSEE, Corel and Capture One (quite a steep learnning curve on that one). If you don't have use for a cataloging feature, then ON1 Photo Raw, DxO, and Iridient Developer are a few of the RAW converters available. I use Iridient for some of my Fuji stuff and it’s excellent. For a long time it was Mac only but it’s now available for Windows too. Luminar, a product from Macphun is accepting preorders for its 2018 upgrade that features a digital asset management module. Let the battles begin!

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Punch Up the Color

Tom Bol, March 25, 2017

Here's one of Tom's "old" magazine articles reproduced and edited:

“This is a really nice image.”  I tell Jay, a photo workshop participant.  I’m teaching a landscape photo workshop, and this afternoon we are doing image critiques.

“I like the horizontal line, the foggy atmosphere, and the silhouetted person on the sidewalk.  But there is one thing I would do different.”

“Maybe crop out the side of the tree?”  Jay asks.

“No, I think the tree is okay.  I think you need to crop out the red stop sign.  Everything in your shot implies a tranquil, sleepy scene…except the bright red sign.  Red distracts the viewer from the man, and implies danger and action.  This scene is all about calm.  To improve the image, you need to use color that supports the image concept.”

Color is a critical design element in an image. Some photographers, like Peter Turner and Eric Meola, have based their careers on photographing color.  Color is their subject matter, not a supporting element.  But for many photographers, color is an after thought in their image.  I’m guilty of this mistake as well.  I could change the color in post-production, but this doesn’t excuse my oversight when I captured the image.  Color needs to be considered in every image.

Here’s the million-dollar question: What color(s) is best for your shot? The good news is learning color theory is simple.  And once you understand what color implies, you can use this knowledge to create stronger images.  Just remember one concept when you are composing an image.

Design elements need to support one another and point in the same direction. Harmonious design elements create a strong image.  If one design element goes against the concept that the other elements imply, the image won’t be as strong as it could be.

Color Theory

Before we can look at individual colors and color combinations, we need to have a basic understanding of color theory.  One of my favorite questions to ask a photography workshop is, ‘What are the primary colors?’  Usually more than half the class replies red, green and blue.  We live and work in such a RGB world that it makes sense that these are the primary colors.  For the visible spectrum of light, such as in computer monitors, LCD projectors and our DSLR’s (or mirrorless camera) sensor, red, green and blue are indeed the primary colors.  This is the additive color theory model. That is, when we combine them we get white.

But we photographers (and artists too) work in the pigment and paint based world. Here we use the traditional, or subtractive color theory model where red, blue and yellow are the primary colors. When we subtract them we, again, get white. By the way, they’re called primaries because they’re the only colors that can’t be created by mixing any other colors together. Equal part mixtures of any two of these colors result in the secondary colors of green, orange and purple.  And, yes, there are tertiary (or intermediate) colors too. Continued mixing of these colors results in an endless array of hues.  But to keep things simple, let’s just look at the primary and secondary colors and what they imply to the viewer.

Color Significance

Color has been studied and analyzed since the 1400s and Leonardo Da Vinci.  Designers, painters and photographers use these established theories in their work.  Entire advertising campaigns are based around color and its implied meaning.  The significance of color can be different from a cultural standpoint too.  We think of white as representing purity and innocence, a perfect choice for a bride’s wedding dress.  But in some cultures white signifies mourning and death.  Different cultural color associations may affect how you use color in your image.

Below are popular colors and their established meaning.  The next time you’re composing a shot, study the colors in the image.  Do they help or hinder your concept?  Once you recognize the color significance and use it to your advantage, you are on the way to creating better images.  

Red

Red is one of my favorite colors to use in an image.   Red implies love, danger, heat and action.  Red catches the viewer’s eye, and is hard to overlook.  Since I shoot a lot of adventure sports, red works well.  Adventure sports are often about adrenaline pumping action, and red supports this concept well.  But red can have two different meanings in an image.  On one hand red signifies love, warmth and positive feelings.  But red can also be used to signify danger, anger and jealousy.  In creating an image illustrating two people arguing over a traffic accident, red faces would help symbolize anger.  But a couple embracing with red skin tones would signify love.

Blue

Blue has the opposite effect of red.  Blue implies calm and tranquility.  Blue signifies cold as well.  I photograph a lot of assignments in Alaska.  One subject I encounter every year are towering glaciers.  These glaciers are frigid blocks of ice.  What camera technique can I use to help imply cold?  For starters, I want to use a neutral white balance like Daylight, not Cloudy or Shade.  While I use Cloudy white balance for many landscape images, this white balance will add an orange tone and warm up my icy cold glacier, not the right effect for blue fins of ice.  Use blue to support cold scenes, or to contribute to qualm, tranquil scenes.

Yellow

Yellow is a friendly, welcoming color.  Just imagine how many front door mats have bright yellow sunflowers on them.  Beyond the attractive flowers, yellow is inviting people into your home.   Yellow implies cheeriness, happiness, hope and high energy.  If you want to photograph young kids and illustrate the exuberance and joy of playing in the park, yellow is a good choice.  Yellow is an advancing, eye-catching color that will attract a viewer’s attention and create optimism in an image.  

Green

To create an eco-friendly image, green is your color.  Green symbolizes the natural world, spring growth, and good health.  Green creates a soothing feeling and promotes harmony with the surrounding environment.  Many advertisers use green to convey an underlying tone to the product they are advertising.  If you are selling a medicine that makes people healthy and eliminates their stress, green is a good choice.  I was hired to shoot images to illustrate how visiting Alaska ‘brought you back to nature.’  We used numerous sweeping green tundra landscapes to help convey this feeling. 

Orange

Orange is another eye-catching color that attaches the viewer’s attention.  Think of how many distress symbols and objects use orange…life rings, traffic cones, and buoys. Orange stimulates creativity (a good thing!), enthusiasm and appetite.  It also represents warmth.  Similar to red, I like to use orange in my adventure sports imagery.  Orange is hard to ignore and bound to get a reaction from the viewer, a great choice for a gripping adventure sports shot.  Climbers summiting a peak look terrific in bright colors.  Orange parkas create tension and interest in the shot, perfect for the image concept.  If you have blue skies in the shot, then you have a dynamic complimentary color pattern.  Put the same climbers on the summit in brown coats, and you may not even see them.  You don’t want calm, relaxing colors in this image, they defeat the image concept (determination, perseverance, endurance).

Purple

Purple (or violet) signifies uniqueness and royalty.  Purple is a good choice to show something that is special.  Purple is also uplifting and calming, and a color used to reflect spirituality.  If I wanted to photograph a woman practicing yoga and really focus in on the spirituality of the image, purple would be good choice to use in the image.

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ISO

George Theodore, February 27, 2017

ISO Refers to the Sensitivity of Your Camera’s Sensor. Not!

Here’s yet another myth that belongs in the dustbin along with “you get more reach with a lens on an APS-C sensor than with a full-frame sensor”.

ISO in our digital cameras is not the same as ISO in film. Film is produced for a particular sensitivity to light and you can't change that sensitivity midstream through a roll of film. In our digital cameras, we can choose whatever ISO we want whenever we want. But, it has nothing to do with sensitivity. In fact, ISO “happens” after the shutter closes.

Here’s the way it works.

  • We increase ISO
  • The light falling on the sensor is reduced
  • We activate the shutter capturing an underexposed image
  • Shutter closes 
  • The signal from the sensor is amplified to achieve the desired brightness.

That’s it.

Because ISO is applied after exposure, some opine that ISO, therefore, has nothing to do with exposure. Well, perhaps not the same way it did with film but ISO settings do influence how much light falls on the sensor so maybe we can say it affects exposure indirectly.

So, where does noise come in? When the exposure contains fewer photons (underexposure) any noise generated becomes a larger component of the sensor’s final output signal. When that signal is amplified, both “good” and noisy parts of that signal are amplified. The total signal divided by the noisy part is what we refer to “signal to noise ratio (SNR)”. When the image is underexposed, the SNR is low which means we see more noise.

Therefore, there are more artifacts present in a higher ISO image. And, those artifacts are nothing like the grain we saw in high ISO film. Grain was kind of interesting; artifacts are just plain ugly. So, as we always tell our workshop participants: “Shoot at the lowest ISO required”. Of course, we’ll accept noise if that’s the only way we can capture a particular image.

Now, when you hear someone say “ISO changes the sensitivity of the sensor” you can, with confidence, say “no it doesn’t”. Some say, ISO “affects the camera’s sensitivity to light”. That’s not right either. ISO is all about simple amplification or “gain”.

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Back-Button Focus

George Theodore, January 9, 2017

I’ve used Back Button Focusing (BBF) for a very long time. And my reasons are simple: (a) it locks focus, (b) the shutter button now has but one function – shutter release, (c) after achieving focus with BBF, I can touch up my focus manually if I choose, (d) it allows me to move around a little – I can even move my tripod – and as long as the distance between me and my focal point remains constant there’s no need to refocus and (e) if something crosses between me and my subject, my focus won’t change.

But, the one thing BBF will not do is guarantee a sharp image and I have enough not-so-sharp pictures to prove it.  There was a recent post (I forgotten where) that stated BBF improves image sharpness – nonsense.  You want a sharp image? Use good technique – tripod, solid surface, use of shutter release cable or other remote triggers or hand hold properly and at appropriate shutter speeds (for you). BBF has absolutely nothing to do with getting the image sharp. All it does is separate the functions of shutter and focus.

I also use BBF for wildlife – but the faster or more erratic the movement, the tougher it is to use. For example, I sometimes find it difficult to track birds-in-flight with BBF but that’s just me.  In these situations, I’ll often revert to using the shutter release button to assist focusing.

I find more and more photographers using BBF. If you haven’t tried it, you should consider the benefits and give it a whirl. Cameras differ in how you set up BBF but it's basically using your AF-ON button to focus and defeating the focus function of your shutter button. Consult your owner's manual.

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