First Steps – Photoshop

I spent the last couple of months watching hours of Photoshop training vids at Kelby Training. Dumping as much in my head as fast as I could. Jumped around to different subjects, lighting, B&W, HDR, portrait retouching, and on and on. I learned a lot, but when I pulled up one of my own pictures I was still at a loss as to what to do with it – how to get it where I wanted it. Too much running around in my head, nothing sticking.

Last week I pulled up a course on ‘Beauty and Portait Retouching’ by David Cuerdon. Great course. I watched slowly, took notes, backed up as I needed and watched it again. When I was all the way through I sat down last Saturday and worked through the whole course – twice.  I applied each principal he taught on his sample image. My original plan was to do it 3 times, but it took me so long the first time I ran out of day. Still, it was a great exercise. Things finally started sticking. All the stuff I’ve been cramming in my head started coming together and making sense.

In the past few days I’ve sat down and played a bit with my own pictures.

This was the first one. My kids have been watching me messing around with Photoshop and Lightroom and they wanted to do it too. K, my 8 year old, wanted to make a colorful sunset. So we started with an HDR TC I took last summer.

K wanted more ‘creative’ coloring. So, I popped up a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and under her direction we changed a few things:

I’m a literalist. I have to push myself to see outside of the box. In theory I don’t have an issue with manipulating a photograph. Photographers have been manipulating images since day one. But when it comes right down to it, 99% of the adjustments I make don’t change the base nature of the image. I even struggle with cropping. It was drilled into my head that most of the work should be done in the camera. Plus, since I shot mostly in color chromes and it was expensive and a hassel to have much post processing modifications made (and I was poor and impatient), I stayed pretty close to what I shot. Now so much more is possible it isn’t an issue of the tools – its an issue with my vision.

K’s little exercise started me thinking about pushing beyond normal bounds. So I pulled up an image I shot my first time out with my D90.


I’ve always liked this image – felt there was potential here. But I wasn’t sure what to do with it. So I dropped a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and played with the color. Some Layer Mask blending and a heavy crop and this was the result:

Still not sure I’ve found the essense of the image, but it is definiately more interesting, more compelling. I see more what grabs me about this image – two of my favorites elements: Texture and Direction.

One more. I was sending images of our cabin to a family member. I have one image I like showing the outside view from the great room. An image of a beautiful snowy day. The exposure is for outside, and the inside is dark. I decided to try and even that out.

I dropped in a Curves Adjustment Layer and adjusted the image for the shadow area. Then I filled the Adjustment Layer Layer Mask with black to hide the affect and painted in the areas I wanted to apply the adjustment with white on the Layer Mask.

It was like turning a light on in the room.

It’s starting to get fun.

An HDR Set

I am still playing around with HDR. Need to keep working with it to see where it fits best in my set of tools.

Here’s a set I did where it made a difference. The scene was a high contrast shot, late morning so the sun was a bit high. But still had some good shape and flow. The HDR added the extra bit of detail and contrast that pushed a slightly washed out image into a interesting image.

I’m still playing with the Detail Enhancer vs. the Tone Compressor. I like the Tone Compressor in my mountain shots – it plumps up the pine trees – a richer green with nicer luminance. Here’s a comparison.

This first shot is the middle image of my 3 shot, 1ev set. I applied base Exposure and Black Lightroom adjustments. I applied a Gradated filter to the sky.

 Base Image

The second shot is the HDR Detail Enhancer version:

 Detail Enhancer

The third shot is the HDR Tone Compressor version:

 Tone Compressor

I'm still around

It’s been awhile.

I’m still working with my photography, with a big of ceramics here and there. I’ve spend a lot of time going through on-line Photoshop courses and building that skill set. It’s coming.

I’ve finished some prints that I really like. I’ll drop them in here over the coming days/weeks.

Actually I stopped writing because I lost the vision. I started getting caught up in how to make money with it – going commercial. The same thing that killed it off when I was doing it before.  There’s something in my head that tells me if I can’t make money at something it isn’t worth doing. That kills the creative drive – drives me in a direction I don’t really like. So I had to let that die. I would like to make enough cash doing it to help pay for it. But on my terms.

I’m actually struggling with the whole blogging thing. Is it worth the time? I write it and no body reads it – what is the value?


  • It helps me organize my thoughts, helps me internalize the process
  • It gives me a record of what I did and how I got there. Good to review
  • There’s the possibility that I could get some constructive input from like minded creatives, if I could make it interesting enough to give them a reason to share their time with me.

That’s good for a start.

I have to keep telling myself that this is a long term project – years, not months.

One exciting development – simple but exciting to me.

I was sitting in church a couple of weeks ago and had a vision of a portrait format I wanted to try out. But I’d need some strobes and a studio.

So I called the friend I’d sold my old stobes to a couple of years ago. I suspected at the time that she didn’t really want them that bad, but I sold them so cheap that she couldn’t pass them up. So I called her and asked if she would like to sell them back to me – and she did.  So I have my stobes back. They are old and probably needs a bit of service work, but they make light.

I learned a little bit more about my cool new Nikon D90. I was going to go buy a cable release. Luckily I actually looked at the camera first and noticed there isn’t anywhere to plug in the release cable. So I had to buy a remote release for it. Actually the price wasn’t bad, probably less than a good cable release would cost. Only thing I don’t like about it is you have to be in FRONT of the camera to use it. I can work around that.

Then I tried to sync my strobe to the camera – looked for the sync on the camera – there isn’t one. Back in my day there were just coming out with remote strobe triggers. I actually tried to make one – it kind of worked. It was light triggered. You plugged the sensor into the remote strobe and the light from the strobe on the camera set it off. It worked, but was never really usable. Now, I had to buy a radio trigger. Cool except more money. I checked out the PocketWizard and the Elinchrom Skyport. The PocketWizard sounded like the best long term choice, more powerful, more flexible and twice as much money. The Skyport is solid too. So I went with the Skyport. Going for the good product, easier entry point. If I need get more serious and need more umph I can move up to the PocketWizard. So far I really like it. Easy to use and flawless in during my first (and so far only) shoot this week end.

I pulled some neat shots. Need to put them together and I’ll share the result.

Repeat Attempt

I signed up on the Kelby Training on-line training site. So far its been a good investment in time and money. It is also why I haven’t posted for a while – I’ve been spending a lot of time absorbing.

But to make absorbing effective, it needs to be followed by some doing. I’ve started trying out some of the techniques and ideas I’ve learned.  I’m liking the results.

One of the first things I tried was a second wack at the tramp composite. The same day I shot the pictures of my daughter, I shot some of my son and his friend. While my 7 year old art critic rejected my effort, my son was more impressed. He asked if I would do one for him and being the good father that I am I obliged. It also gave me a chance to improve on my previous efforts.

Here’s the end result:

2009_0620_Adam_Tramp Composite

For the most part it was a repeat of the first try. My selections went a bit faster and cleaner. My shading went better. Overall it was a smoother effort. The primary difference was in the base image. On the first one I pulled up an image of the girls on the tramp and added other images around them. About halfway in I wanted to move them and couldn’t, because I hadn’t generated an image of just the tramp.

So on try #2 the first thing I did was generate an image of the tramp without participants.  I found two images where the jumpers were not overlapping. I stripped the jumpers from the base image. Then I did a Photomerge of the two images to align them. Then I dropped a layer mask on the second image and simply erased the hole away. It worked very nicely. I had a clean picture of the tramp and I was able to position the jumpers more easily.

Photomatix Registration Redo

On my first posting about Photomatix HDR I mentioned that I was disappointed that the registration of the images wasn’t very good. The same images were very tight in the PS CS3 HDR conversion, but didn’t work well when I did it in Photomatix.

In Photomatix, there are two registration options:

  • By correcting horizontal and vertical shifts
  • By matching features

I processed that first image using the first option. I didn’t like the results. I decided to run it again and see how it did.

Here’s the first image I did:


Here’s the new one, I generated using the second option:


The registration is much better. I also played around with the image a bit now that I’m more familiar with the tool and the process. The final look is different, not necessarily better. But the registration was tighter and that’s what I was looking for.

I finally bought a copy of Photomatix, so now I’m committed. I believe I understand the basics enough to really start exploring what I can do with it, to use it. I also signed up for the Kelby Training. The first course I ran was Matt Kloskowski’s Real World of HDR course.  It did two things. It filled some holes in what I’ve learned piecemeal of the last few weeks and it confirmed the rest of what I have learned and my conculsions. Matt’s approach is very simple – how to spread the exposure latitiude – not necessarily how to come up with the hard-core HDR affect. But he does show how to do that, he just doesn’t dwell on it. All in all a good course.

FYI – if you’re considering purchasing Photomatix and signing up for the Kelby Training, hook up with Kelby Training first and check out the HDR course. They have a promo code that will save almost enough money on Photomatix to cover your first month of Kelby. I did it in the wrong order, but I stumbled across another promo code so I was good.

On a totally un-related subject – I’ve  been watching the BBC (I think) produced show ‘MI5′. What an amazing show. Gritty, real, touching. The production techniques remind me of 24 – I think they did it first. Either way – I’ve really enjoyed it to this point. Look for it on your local PBS station.

Summer Fun – a composite

A few weeks ago I was sitting in the back reading ‘Within the Frame’. Naturally, I had my camera in my lap while I read. Just to enhance the reading experience. My daughter and her cousin were jumping on the tramp. It hit me that there was a good opportunity to do a fun little composite. So I shot a bunch of pictures and put them all together. Nothing brilliant by any means, but it was some practice in selections and blending. Learned a few things.


I showed it to my 7 year old daughter fully expecting her to be thrilled with it. Instead she scrunched her eye brows together and said that she didn’t like it – she prefers her pictures to be ‘realistic’.

Oh well.

a Pseudo-HDR image

This is a follow up to my last post.

In that post, where I created an ‘HDR’ image from a single RAW file I lightly threw out the following statement:

I guess it isn’t technically an HDR, just the Tone Map.

That’s been eating at me ever since. First, was I full of it and Second, what did that really mean? So I read up on the process and here’s some clarification.

Generating an HDR in Photomatix is a two part process. The first generates the HDR from multiple images. After that is complete the merged image is Tone-mapped. Tone Mapping is where the ‘magic’ happens. Most of the enhancements happen there.

So when you generate an ‘HDR’ from a single image you’re creating a ‘Pseudo-HDR’ that is ready to be tone mapped. This is the explaination from the Photomatix User Manual (pg 7):

Photomatix Pro allows you to create a 32-bit HDR image from a single RAW file. To do this, open one RAW file using File >Open, and Photomatix will convert it into a pseudo-HDR image. It is important to note, through, that an image created with a single RAW file cannot really be considered High Dynamic Range. The important characteristic of this pseudo-HDR image is that it is unprocessed. Its dynamic range is not much larger than the range of an already converted file.

So 1- I’m not full of it and 2 – it means that when we’re processing a single image what we’re really doing (in the Photomatix view of the world) is generating a tone-mapped image.  When we’re processing from multiple images, the first step combines the multiple images, generating a single image with a wider exposure range, then we generate a tone-mapped image.

There is an additional feature within Photomatix – Exposure Blending. This feature allows you to blend images with multiple exposures without the HDR effect. Example – shooting a interior with windows where the outside exposure doesn’t match the inside. You could take an exposure that captures the inside of the room and another that captures the detail in the window and blend them into a single image. I tried that the first time I played with Photomatix just to see what it would do. I haven’t tried it since them. I’ll explore that more later.

HDR from a single image

As promised, here’s my next foray into the realm of HDR. I ran a single RAW image through the Photomatix Tone Map. I guess it isn’t technically an HDR, just the Tone Map. Still, I wanted to see the impact.

The following is from the FAQ section of the Photomatix web site:

You can still use Photomatix when you have shot only one exposure in RAW mode. The big advantage, of course, is that you just need one image, so there is no need to use a tripod or to remember to auto-bracket, and it will also work if the subject is moving

However, the range of “workable” exposures you can get from a RAW file is limited. If you are shooting a high contrast scene, you are unlikely to match the results you would have with taking the scene under different exposures that can cover the whole dynamic range.

There are three techniques for using Photomatix with one single exposure taken in RAW mode:

· Technique 1:Open your RAW file in Photomatix to convert it into a pseudo-HDR image, then tone map it.
· Technique 2:Convert your RAW file into a 16 bits/channel image in your favorite RAW converter, open it in Photomatix, and tone map it.
· Technique 3:Create two or three exposures in your RAW converter and combine them in Photomatix as it they were “real” bracketed shots

For good results with these techniques, it is important to ensure the lowest noise level at capture time. For that, set the lowest ISO possible (ISO 100 for instance) and expose for the shadows when taking the RAW image, i.e. overexpose your shot. Even though the histogram of your camera may indicate that highlights will be lost, you should still be able to recover them during RAW conversion (unless the scene is too high contrast, but then a single image will not be sufficient for good results with Photomatix).

Deriving “fake” exposures from a single RAW file (technique 3 above) is theoretically an improper way of creating a 32-bit HDR image. If you intend to use the HDR image file for 3D rendering, then you should not use this technique, as you will not get accurate linear pixel values required for image based lighting. However, if you are only interested in the tone mapped result, then creating “fake” exposures is a valuable technique, as long as you get improved results over technique 1 or 2.

I picked a shot I took a few weeks ago of a hillside of fox tails and other assorted weeds. I loved the texture and the subtle color shift.

I popped the white balance up in the Tone Map since the original exposure range was pretty narrow. This brightened it up a bit. And I popped up the saturation just a bit – because I liked it. I left the rest of the Photomatix settings at their default. After I processed it I pulled it into LightRoom and did the normal LightRoom adjustments – White Point/Black Point and I sharpened it quite a bit (0 to 50).

Then I compared it to my LightRoom adjusted original. The original was significantly brighter (my normal tendency is to over expose everything -comes from being a commercial/fashion photographer in the mid 80’s). So I pulled down the brightness just a tad to bring it closer to the Tone Mapped image.

This is a side-by-side comparison of the full image – the Tone Mapped image is on the right: 

 Again, the differences are subtle, but they are there (click to enlarge).


The Tone Mapped image is just a tad richer in color and when you get real close and personal you see just a touch more detail in the highlights. Here’s a close up of the bottom right corner of the image to help see that (click to enlarge):


The contrast is a touch less and the image just feels a bit more open.

I’ve created larger images and I’ll link them as soon as I figure out how to do that, then you’ll be able to see it better.

Again, what I love about this is the extra level of subtle detail it brings out in the highlights and shadows and the slight increase in richness of the color. It isn’t sharper, its more detailed.

I’m still keeping the HDR/Tone Mapping adjustments to a minimum so I’m not getting the ‘wow’ effect that most of the HDR out there is associated with. We’ll play with that another day. For now, I’m enjoying the subtle touch. And I expect that is what I’ll come back to.

Next time I’ll try Technique #3 – create 2 or 3 different exposures from a single RAW file and run those through Photomatrix.

BW Versions of Yesterday's HDR

Just to take yesterday’s images the next step, I converted the two tire pictures to B&W to see how they fared.

I converted them using CS3’s Black & White  Adjustment tool. To keep the comparison fair, I used the same conversion settings (established for the HDR image and copied on the straight image):

  • Red   27
  • Yellow 30
  • Green 55
  • Cyan 53
  • Blue 188
  • Magenta 60

I adjusted Blue the most to get the detail in the tire the way I wanted it. Yellow darkened the background a bit.

Then I adjusted them both in Levels for Black/White Points and Midrange  (2 – 1.07 – 249). Again, I kept them the same to provide a clearer comparison.

This is the B&W version of the non-HDR image:


This is the B&W version of the HDR image:


And here they are smaller, but side-by-side:


The back grounds are different, but that could be adjusted if I focused on refining each one to to it’s own range.

The straight image pops more because of the stronger blacks – the HDR shows a fuller range of values, dropping the pop factor for the greater range of detail. The full Black and Whites are there, I dialed them in using the Levels adjustment. But since there is less over all it flattens just a bit. But I enjoy looking at the HDR image more – there’s more to look at. Like looking at an Ansel Adams, the more you look the more there is to see.

Now I need to explore pulling an HDR from a single raw, for those moments when you can’t bracket – or when there is a variable element in the image – like a person who refuses to sit completely still. We’ll see where that goes.