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 🙂

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.

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.

Photoshop Tutorial – Selective Colour / Colour Pop

Introduction

This technique is as old as Photoshop itself, in fact it’s older. Ever since the days where the colours of a photo were hand painted, people have been altering colour, or selectively colouring images to create this very powerful effect.

Red Lady

This technique is simple to achieve and anyone with a version of Photoshop should try it out. This simple tutorial will show you the basics of creating a Colour Pop image.

Choosing an image

Any image will work using this technique, but I find the best images are ones in which the item that you want to “Pop” has a good strong colour that is well saturated, and that the rest of the image works well in Black and white. This is why you often see Selective colouring techniques used on a red subject, this is because reds are often well saturated and contrast well against a black and white background.

Duplicate the layer.

I will assume that you already know how to open your image in your version of Photoshop. Once loaded the first thing we need to do is duplicate the layer. There are several ways to do this, but I find the easiest method is to right-click on the layer thumbnail, then select >Duplicate Layer… ­

Right click on your layer, then select Duplicate Layer.

What this action does is create an exact copy of the original image directly on top of your starting image.

Convert To Black and White

The next step is to convert this “Top” layer into a black and white image. To do this, make sure you have the top layer selected on the right hand side, then click “Image” (located on the top menu bar) >Adjustments>BlackAndWhite .

Make sure you select the top layer (single left click) then “Image”>”Adjustments”>”BlackAndWhite”

When you do this you will notice a dialogue box pop up, with several sliders to adjust. For the purpose of this exercise you can ignore these and just press ok.You should see your image be converted into black and white.

Create a Layer Mask.

Layer masks seem to be a mystical force of sorcery according to many people I speak with, but it’s really quite a simple concept. When you put a layer mask over a layer, it hides the contents or effects of that layer where the mask is black, and shows them where its white. That’s as complex as it needs to get for this task.

To add a layer mask, make sure once again that the top layer is selected, then click on the button at the bottom of the layer tab, that looks like a box with a circle in the middle.

The Layer Mask button is located at the bottom right of the screen.

Once you’ve done this, you should see a layer mask appear next to the layer. It should be a white rectangle depending on your settings, but if its black then select it with a mouse click then hold ctrl (cmnd for Mac) and press “I” this should turn it white and reveal the Black and white layer again.

Paint Back The Colour

Now for the fun part. All you have to do is select your brush tool by either clicking th icon on the left hand side, or just press “B”. Make sure that you have selected the mask by clicking on it and that you have black selected as your brush colour, then just paint black on the mask where you want your colour to show through. If you make a mistake, you can undo it by simple painting the mask white again where the effect is unwanted.

Once you are happy with your result click “Layer” (Top menu bar again) then “Merge Visible” This will compress the image back into one layer and allow you to save the file in the format you prefer.

I hope this tutorial has been of some help, and that you enjoy making the most out of your images.

Mobile Photography Tips – Stability

Though I have a DSLR and several other cameras, I still really enjoy taking photos with my iPhone.  I always have it with me, and it gives me the ability to shoot, edit, and upload, all within a few minutes while I am out for a walk.  The photos showcased on sites like iphoneography.com prove that it’s possible to take really nice pictures with a mobile phone.  But it isn’t necessarily as easy as it can be with other cameras, and one of the big challenges is stability.

The iPhone camera can deliver a nice image, but any camera movement can produce a blurry photo.  Unfortunately, the action of tapping on the shutter button on the screen usually causes the iPhone to move slightly just as the photo is being taken.  Unlike some other cameras, the iPhone does not have any optical image stabilization to counteract camera movement.

Here are some ways to reduce or eliminate camera movement on the iPhone:

  1. Press – hold – lift.   When using the built-in camera app, it is not the press on the shutter button that takes the picture, it is the action of lifting your finger back off the on-screen button.  If you press the button, hold your finger on it for a moment, then very gently lift it back off, you can trigger the photo with the minimum of camera motion
  2. Use the volume-up button.  Pressing the volume-up (+) hardware button will also take a photo, but it does it on the down-press, not the lift-up.   If you hold the phone in both hands and carefully press the volume-up button, you may be able to take a photo with less camera movement than when pressing the on-screen button.
  3. Use the volume-up button on your headphones.  If you have the type of headphones that have a separate volume control on the headphone cord, you can also use the volume-up button on the headphones that to take a photo.  This is even better than the volume-up button on the iPhone, because it is possible to press the button on the headphones without moving the iPhone at all.  Use a tripod (see below), or stand the iPhone up against something, and you can take a photo without any camera movement.
  4. Use a timer.  Some iPhone apps like Camera+ have a timer feature that allows the photo to trigger a certain number of seconds after pressing the button.  If you use the timer, you can press the button, then concentrate on holding the iPhone steady with both hands while the photo is taken.
  5. Use a stabilizer feature.  Apps like Camera+ also have a feature that will use the motion-sensor in the iPhone to wait until the camera is still before taking the photo.   This is a great feature, and sometimes it will show you how hard it can be to hold the iPhone still enough.
  6. Brace the iPhone against something.  I do this all the time — if I don’t have a tripod with me, I will hold the iPhone against a wall, sign, etc. to help steady it.
  7. Use a tripod.  The Glif tripod mount will let you attach your iPhone to a standard tripod.  This is a great combination with a small GorillaPod because it can all fit in a pocket.  Of course, while using a tripod you should use either the timer method or the headphone volume-up method to trigger the photo.  Pressing the screen with your finger and moving the phone defeats the purpose of using a tripod.

I hope these tips help you take better iPhone photos.