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

Photographing Black & White Landscapes

Solitude

Final Image Processed in Lightroom

Landscapes often rely on colour for impact but they don’t have to and in many cases the absence of colour can improve the image. In this post we focus on Black & White landscapes,when they work and how to capture and process them.

Personally, I find black and white landscapes work best when there is texture, shape or tone to work with, colour can distract from the image in these cases but black and white removes the distractions and focuses the eye on the key elements of the image.

Let’s look at the original RAW file

RAW file Straight out of Camera

RAW file Straight out of Camera

I took this in early afternoon in mid summer, this has resulted in harsh light and washed out colours, so why did I take it?
I was attracted to the line that run across the scene and felt it would make a good candidate for black & white.
Once the image was captured, the next stage is processing and conversion of the RAW file. I use the following method:

  • Import image into Lightroom or an image editor of your choice which allows handling of RAW files.
  • Decide on crop – I cropped out roughly a 3rd from the bottom of the image to make a panoramic style image and place the horizon on the lower 3rd
  • I have a selection of Lightroom presets. I chose the one which was closest to the final image I had visualized.
  • Add a graduated filter to gradually darken the sky from the top of the image to the horizon.
  • Add a similar graduated filter from the bottom of the image to darken the foreground and enhance highlights.
  • The combination of these filters leaves a lighter area along the horizon helping to draw the eye to this area.
  • Using the brush tool, selectively darken areas of the image to deepen shadow and give depth.
  • Using the brush tool, selectively lighten areas; the path, cloud and grasses in foreground.
  • Using clone tool remove small cloud to the left of the image

In total the processing took less than 10 minutes and has transformed a bland, featureless image into a strong image highlighting the repeating lines of the path, horizon and grass and contrasting  light and shadow.

Tips for shooting from your airline seat

I love to travel, and I think travel and photography just go hand in hand. When I travel by myself, or without the kids, I always try to make sure I get a window seat (when the kids are coming with I let them have that window seat because I’m nice like that). I like that window seat so I can take aerial photos; I just cannot help myself.

In this article, I will share some tips for improving in-flight photos to help taking pictures out of that airplane window.

Leaving Las Vegas

Leaving Las Vegas

First, try to get a window seat near the front of the plane or in front of the wings for a unobstructed view. Seatguru.com is a superb resource to discover the seat locations on the plane so can be a valuable tool in getting your best chance for good shoots. Try to avoid the seats behind the wing, the engine exhaust can distort and create blur.

The most fascinating views, happen right after take off and shortly before landing, so make sure you have your camera out before the plane leaves the gate or risk missing at least one of these interesting views. Make sure to have the lens hood attached to the lens this will help in dealing with reflections on the window. It is extremely tempting to press the hood right up against the window, but resist this urge as it will transmit vibrations to the camera. Get as close to the window as you can without touching it. Turn off your overhead lights in your row of seats to minimize reflections and then use your hand to block off as much light as possible, avoid touching the lens hood with your hand if your hand is resting up against the window, and try to make some overlap between your hand and the lens hood. Do not use a polarizer, as these more than likely will produce color banding in the windows.

If the window got a lot of scratches or smudges, be prepared to change into auto focus, especially if the camera autofocus has difficulty focusing. A neat little trick to avoid getting the scratches and smudges visible in your image is to use a high aperture value, and in the worst case all that will show is a small spot that will resemble a dust spot against bright backgrounds like the sky, but nothing that the spot removal tool cannot easily take care.

Keep your camera to your eye and be prepared for when the plane banks, this will provide a marvellous view of the ground. If your taking off before sunset and land well after sunset, try to figure out at what time sunset is and keep an eye on the sunset. A sunset from 30,000 feet can be truly spectacular and looks nothing like a sunset seen from the ground. It is an extraordinary opportunity to make a sunset photo that will stand out from all the rest.

The above image titled “Leaving Las Vegas”As my flight took off from McCarran International airport in Las Vegas, NV was taken using these tips. I used a Sigma 24-70mm F/2.8 lens zoomed in to 44mm to get a bit closer to the Vegas Strip. The exposure made with a Nikon D80, was 1/125 sec, at f/8, ISO 100, since I got lucky and the plan was decidedly new, so the window had almost no scratches I could use a relatively low aperture setting.

Playing with shadows

Playing with shadows

Playing with shadows

Shadows are all around, the harsher the light the more well defined the shadows will be harsh light tends to produce far more compelling photos. Just look around they are everywhere.

Look for shadows that interplay with each other or something that creates a striking contrast. Shadows are ideal subjects for black and white processing, but can create truly compelling pictures even in color.

The tricky part to photograph shadows is to determine the exposure. Using any auto exposure mode will often lead to an overexposed image, this because the cameras light-meter will try to compensate for the dark areas and brighten up the picture and bring out details in the shadows. This is not necessarily desirable, but could not it just be fix in post processing? Sure, but why not expose it correctly in the camera from the start, and reduce the time in the digital dark room. To control the correct exposure, in shadow photography it is best to stick with manual exposure mode or otherwise utilize negative EV exposure, for best result, the histogram should be pushed far to the left.

Personally, I prefer to use negative EV exposure. I believe it is quicker and easier for me to change EV exposure, then switch between different camera modes. This allows me to be ready for the next photo whatever it might be.

Happy Snapping my friends!