Lightroom 5 – Visualize Spots

Dust spots are the bane of photographers. It seems that no matter how much you clean the sensor in the camera and make sure the lens is clean or how careful you change lenses, or even if you don’t change lenses those pesky dust spots quickly come back.

If you shoot nice clear blue skies those dust spots will show like crazy. You clean them up with the spot removal tool in LightRoom and satisfied you publish the image, views/likes/favourites starts to come in and you look at the published image  again yourself and to your horror you discover another couple of dust spots that you didn’t catch the first time around. A new feature in Lightroom 5 called “Visual Spots” that is almost  hidden under the “spot removal” tool is absolutely amazing and can save you a lot of time. If we take a look at this image of a Helicopter against a fairly clear blue sky that I took during the Austin F1 Grand Prix last year. In this version I pushed the post processing a bit to make some of the dust spots strong and obvious. A quick look and we easily find at least 6 glaring dust spots, I have circled the ones I caught right of the bat and probably be the ones I would have fixed first. Then I would probably looked a little closer and found a few more before deciding it had to be it. However when you export your image and sharpen for screen and the social media websites and image compression has done its  part you will probably discover a few more spots…. In LR v5 they improved the spot removal tool and added the option to not only clone but also heal. Best of all you can now drag the tool brush and create no circular patches to repair. But you also have a option called “Visual Spots”, this feature is designed to help you find those pesky dust spots. 1) First click the “Spot removal” or hit the Q key. Dust spot removal 2)  Activate the checkbox in “Visualize Spots” 3) You can now play with the slider to increase the contrast detection for the spots. I pushed the slider up a bit and spots start to pop up all over the place. A small round white circle with a black center is a good indication that you have a dust spot. Don’t just push the slider all the way over to the right and removed the spots you see, start fairly neutral and remove  the strongest “circles” and most if not all of the medium strong ones, then push the slider over a bit and remove a few more. Dust spots and more dust spots... In this image I slid the slider ALL the way over and if you look between the landing gear there is a strong white blip that here looks like it’s probably a part of the helicopter. But it’s actually a very strong spot, when the slider was further left it was a nice circle but at the slider maximum to the right it’s glaring white like it might be a part of the helicopter. And yikes there were a lot of spots, way more than the 6 that I had initially spotted. Time to get busy and click away with the spot removal tool, in this photo I probably removed a good 60+ spots. A dusty race track is a really bad place to swap lenses at and the fact I hadn’t cleaned the sensor for a couple of months before this race didn’t help me any at all. Once all finished up we have got a cleaned up image that is ready to be published, cleared from pesky dust spots. Final image: Red Helicopter against blue sky Final image: Red Helicopter against blue sky – To bad it wasn’t sharper.

Photoshop Tutorial- Mystery Masks

Introduction

Masks can often be a source of confusion and mystery for people when you first set out on your Photoshop journey. However, once you get the hang of them they soon become a “can’t live without it” tool. In this tutorial we will go through some of the basics and how they can be used.

What is a Mask?

Putting it simply, a mask either shows or reveals parts of a layer or a layer effect. Where the mask is White, the layer or effect it is attached too will show through. When the mask is Black, the layer or effect it’s attached to will be invisible. A big plus with this is that we can make an adjustment to part of an image in a non destructive way so the original layer remains untouched.

Lets go through a few steps to demonstrate this. If you want to download the image I’m working on to follow step by step you can find it here by right clicking and “Save image as”. And as always clicking on an image in the tutorial will make it BIG 🙂

Lets Get stuck In

Once you’ve opened the image (Or your own) than the first step is to duplicate the layer, this can be done by selecting the background layer and pressing “Ctrl J” (or Cmnd J on Mac) or by going to the menu bar and clicking LAYER>>DUPLICATE LAYER . This is generally good practice whenever you work on an image. If things go wrong at any point you can always come back to the original.

Duplicating the background layer is good practice when editing just in case you make a mistake

What we are going to do is change the colour of one of the peppers by using a mask. To do this we will first add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. This is achieved by either clicking on the icon that is a circle coloured half black and half white at the bottom of the layers tab, then selecting HUE/SATURATION from the pop up menu. Or by clicking on the HUE/SATURATION button in the Adjustments tab. The image below shows the location of the button and the Adjustments Tab.

When you do this you should see a window pop open in the adjustments tab (The location will vary depending on what version of PS you are running and how you have your workspace set up) The window will have three sliders, Labelled “Hue” “Saturation” and “Lightness” as seen in the image below. You will also see that in the Layers Tab, an adjustment layer has been created, and it already has a mask attached.

This is where you will find the Adjustments Tab and the Add Adjustment layer Button
Notice that the new Hue/Saturation layer (in Blue) has a mask already attached

We are going to use the Adjustment layer to change the colour of the peppers. As Hue and saturation only affect colour, the background will remain white. So grab the top slider and move it left or right to change the colour. I went for a nice shade of purple found at -62 on the hue slider.

If you move the Hue Slider to a value of -62 you will see the peppers go purple. The adjustment effects the whole layer because the mask is set to white

The first thing you will notice is that all the peppers are now a pretty shade of purple but we only want one purple pepper. The reason the adjustment is effecting the whole image is because the mask on that layer is white. Remember that where the mask is white it lets the effects of the layer show through. The next step is to turn the layer mask black to hide the effect from the whole image. Single click on the mask so it is selected, then Invert it. To do this either press “Ctrl+i” (Cmnd+i) or make sure the mask is selected then on the menu bar click IMAGE>>ADJUSTMENTS>>INVERT .

Make sure the Layer mask is selected by left clicking it, then invert the mask.

You will now notice that the peppers have gone back to being red, and that the layer mask icon on the adjustment layer has turned black.

Paint the effect back in.

To make just one of the peppers purple, we need to tell the layer mask where the effect needs to be visible. We do this by simply painting the mask white. Select the brush tool by clicking this icon2013-08-04_205252

Alternatively press “B” on the keyboard and select a round brush with a hardness of around 60%. Select white as the foreground colour for the brush by pressing “D” on the keyboard which is the shortcut for selecting the default colours of white for foreground and Black for background. Now make sure you have the mask selected and just paint over the pepper that you want to make purple.

Paint WHITE on the layer mask to let the effect show through

The beauty of masks is that if you make a mistake you just change your brush colour to Black (If you press “X” on the keyboard this is the shortcut to swap background/foreground colours) and paint the mask black again to hide the effect.

If you want to change the colour of another pepper then just repeat the steps, The mask controls the effect it is applied to. Add another adjustment layer by selecting Layer 1 then clicking on the Adjustment layer button (Circle half black and half white at the bottom of the layers tab) and selecting Hue/Saturation. You can change the colour again with the slider (I went for a sickly green at +67 on the hue slider) Again the adjustment effects the whole image until we invert the layer mask by selecting it and pressing “ctrl (cmnd) + i “ Now just paint white on the mask where you want the pepper to be green.

You can use as many Adjustment layers as you like, each layer comes with its own mask that allows you to control where the effect will be seen

Now at any point you can click back on an adjustment layer and change the settings and the changes will only be visible where the mask is white.

Masks are capable of doing much MUCH more than this, but hopefully this tutorial will have helped you grasp some of the basics and get your mind round how they work. In the future we will look at some more complex ways of manipulating masks. Cheers for reading guys, and please feel free to leave any questions in the comments section 🙂

Photoshop Tutorial- Soften Skin, Keep the texture.

Introduction

Softening skin is something that can come in very useful for anyone who likes to shoot portraits, whether it’s just for a hobby or full beauty/portfolio head shots. This technique is very useful because it Keeps the texture of the skin whilst the same time softens areas of imperfection. You can see the before and after effect in this beautiful image of my face 🙂

I'm no model, but after 15 years of working outside my skin is perfect for this tutorial :-)

I’m no model, but after 15 years of working outside my skin is perfect for this tutorial 🙂

This technique is fairly simple to achieve using only a few layers and two filters. read on to find out how. Continue reading

Photography Techniques – Low Key Portraits

Ever wondered how to create a “Low Key” portrait like this?

This tutorial will teach you an easy way to do it, WITHOUT a studio and using only one Speedlight.

Firstly to kill the jargon around what is and isn’t “Low Key”?

Generally, any image in which most of the tones are dark is a low key image, so if it’s a portrait like this one, or a full body shot where the subject is wearing dark clothing and is stood in shadow it will be classed as a Low key shot.

To Achieve this shot you will need a few things.

  • A camera that lets you adjust shutter speed and Aperture value. (For a basic run down on this, you can check out This Article ) The camera also needs to be able to fire a Speedlight/Flash from a hot shoe/ or sync cord.
  • A Speedlight that has manual power adjustment. 

Setup

You can see from my setup shot that you don’t need a studio, and you don’t need to black out all the light or do the shot in the dark. The flash ideally needs to be on a stand. If I hadn’t have left my DSLR on the tripod to show the setup for the shot, then I would have mounted the flash onto the tripod. This can be done using the plastic feet that come with most brands of speedlights. If you haven’t got one, you can pick them up very cheaply on internet auction sites.

Firing The Speedlight.

I use a radio trigger to fire my off camera flash, but the cheapest way to do it is to buy a TTL extension cord (Also available for very little on-line)This allows you to fire the flash whilst it’s not on top of the camera. One end of the cord slides onto the hot shoe on the top of the camera body, then the other end attaches to your flash.

 Control The light.

The first thing we have to do is set the camera to the highest shutter sync speed that the manufacturer allows. This is the highest speed that the camera can use and still see the light from the flash. It is a little more complex than that, but for the purpose of this exercise it’s not important. You can find the maximum sync speed of your camera in your user guide, or if you’re not sure, stick to a shutter speed of 1/200 of a second. (This is normally the speed for most consumer DSLR’s and bridge cameras)

Once you’ve done that and you are set to the widest aperture your lens will allow, if you press your shutter release you’ll probably have something like this. (Although your subject will probably look more interested than my son does !)

The next step is to get rid of all the Ambient light that the camera sees. This is all the natural light that’s bouncing in and around the room. To do this we adjust the aperture until the light is no longer visible. You can take test shots at each setting and just have a look on the LCD screen to see when you have the right setting. I’ve shown this in the images below, but bear in mind that your values might be different depending on what lens you are using. And the shutter speed needs to remain at 1/200 or whatever your maximum sync speed is.

Once you have a completely black image like the one above, you can bring in the Speedlight. What we want is the camera to only see the light that the Speedlight is giving off.

Setting your Speedlight.

The Speedlight needs to be in nice and close, set to manual (If you set the Speedlight to TTL it will try and put enough light out to properly expose the whole room and that’s not what we want this time) Your Speedlight needs to be set on the lowest power in my case 1/128 of full power.If your Speedlight doesn’t have a power adjustment, don’t worry, I’ll cover that at the end.

This is my result for the first shot.

You can see that there isn’t quite enough light getting onto my subject. So leaving all settings on the camera as they are, we adjust the power on the Speedlight. The power setting is increased up to 1/64 power and the result is below.

Now you can see that the subject is properly exposed, and the background is still black. All that’s left is a slight change in the subject’s position, or moving the location of the Speedlight slightly to put more light on his face where we want it.

Overcoming Problems

If as discussed earlier your Speedlight does not have a manual power control there are several things you can do. Most Speedlights have at least a MH (Manual high) and ML (Manual Low) setting. If this is the case then set to ML, then if you find you still have too much output (The background is lighting up) you can do a few things to combat this.

You could put an ND filter on your lens to reduce the amount of light getting to your sensor. But this is not a cheap option. You could put an ND filter on the Speedlight itself to reduce the power of the output. These can be bought very cheaply, or sometimes “LEE Filters” will send out free sample packs of coloured gels and filters for free on request to one of their suppliers.  The cheapest way, and the solution I often use is to get an elastic band, and fasten one or two sheets of toilet paper over the Speedlight  head. This diffuses the light and makes it softer, and it reduces the output.

I hope all this helps, and don’t hesitate to pop over to the Photography Chat community on G+ to ask for advice and help or to share  your own images done with this technique.

Processing Techniques – HDR Workflow

I’ve recently been having an increasing number of conversations on G+ with people who are new to processes such as HDR and wanted some tips and tricks. When I first became interested in HDR Someone was good enough to share their knowledge with me so I thought it was a perfect time to “pass it on”. As a result I will be putting together a few short tutorials on a few photographic techniques, starting with this one: HDR, Using Photomatix.

There are several very good HDR / Tone mapping packages available, I picked Photomatix because I like the interface and results, that’s not to say other packages are not as good, they are but I prefer Photomatix.

HDR Workflow

I tend to use Adobe Bridge for selecting images, note I shoot in RAW almost exclusively and use a tripod for HDR work. Here I have selected 5 RAW files, although the minimum required is 3. I normally shoot at 1EV steps and will take up to 9 RAW’s depending on the light variance and camera histogram. You can use the Photomatix plugin for Lightroom if you have LR and not Photoshop.

Import to Photomatix

Either Drag & Drop  selected files into Photomatix or use the import pictures facility, here you are faced with a couple of pre-processing options and the chance to specify EV values if you have multiple files with the same value. As you can see from the screenshot, you have the ability to select deghosting (manual or automatic), great for windy days and where movement may occur in the image. You can also automatically align images and crop them to match each other, set colour temperature and reduce Chromatic Aberrations and  noise.

Deghosting

If you chose to manually deghost the image (if not why not?) you will be presented with the screen above. The process is simple, use your mouse, tablet pointer etc. to draw around the ghosted areas, as you can see I have selected areas to correspond to the foliage in the foreground and the clouds. Push the Preview Deghosting button to check the effect.

When in preview you can hit the Return to Selection button to add more areas if needed.

When happy with the deghosting hit the OK button to proceed.

Tone Mapping

Hit the button arrowed and the RAW files will be merged by magical pixel pixies into an image ready for Tone Mapping. This is the fun part where the RAW files are analysed and tweaked to produce something approximate to the final image. At this point you will see progress bars on the screen as the images are being processed and combined.

Tone Mapping

Now the real fun starts, along the bottom or side of the screen you are faced with a series of Tone Mapping presets, these are a great starting point and you can select each in turn to see the effect it has. different presets work best on different scenes and to achieve different moods, but as I say they are a starting point. Here I have selected Enhancer Painterly which tends to give a medium amount of processing leaning a little towards grunge.

Also worth noting the pop out Histogram box, I use this all the time to assess how the changes affect the image.

Fine Tune

As I said above, consider the presets as a starting point, the circled control sliders at the left now provide a myriad of options to fine tune the image. You can adjust pretty much any aspect from Saturation & Vibrance to the various lighting effects. Some of the controls I use a lot are Micro Smoothing, white point and detail contrast. Using a combination of these tends to give a more natural looking image whith whites staying white not turning grey, a little POP to the colours and reduction of halos around bright areas. When you are happy with the result, save the file, using File>Save gives the option to save in various formats (I opt for TIFF) and also to automatically export the image to a photo editing suite (in this case Photoshop). It should also be noted that you can save Tone Mapping settings which will be applied as a start point on the next image (great for doing batches taken under the same conditions).

Final Tweaks

Once in Photoshop I tend to make some basic adjustments such as Levels (it’s that histogram again) and localised highlight and shadow control. Dependant on the subject and my mood I may also make some adjustments to sharpness and blur or perhaps tweak saturation or blend in a layer or 2 taken from the initial RAW files.

The Finished Article