Monday, July 23, 2012
I had a request for a tutorial on my Facebook page from Jennifer. :)
I would love to know how to get that perfect slight haze and sun glow in pics… the lighting techniques and/or preset for those soft sunny pics.
Well Jennifer, your wish is my command! :)
Step 1: Start with a nice outdoor photo.
Kids are cute, but so are sun bathing rhinos! Ok, maybe just to me. :)
Step 2: Learn the secrets of soft, hazy, golden goodness.
It’s really not as hard as you think. There are two key concepts in achieving this effect when you start with a properly exposed photo (and if your photo is not properly exposed, then fix that first before you apply these changes).
- The “soft haze” effect is a trick of the eye. It is accomplished by turning down the contrast, lightening dark tones, and desaturating slightly.
- The “golden glow” is created by warming up your highlights and mid-tones, and adding both brightness and softness to highlights.
Step 3: Soften and add haze.
This photo already looks a little less harsh and easy on the eyes. Let’s take a look at the changes that were made using just the Basic Panel in Lightroom 4 (though the changes I am making should also work in previous versions):
Note: I did not change the exposure at all. The idea here is that if you want to save all this as a preset at the end of the tutorial, you can do it and still adjust your exposure separate from the soft golden haze effects.
What I did change:
- Turn Contrast down to -75
- Turn Saturation down to -25
- Turn Blacks up to +50 (this is actually removing/lightening blacks to further reduce contrast)
Step 4: Add some gold and a touch of sunshine!
Here comes the sun little darling!
Those rhinos look like they need a little sun, but there is another trick that I like to use besides just the obvious splash of gold from the Split Toning module. Would you guess that I’ve also added some purple in there?
You don’t have to do this, but I like to balance out my shadows with a hint of a complimentary color when changing highlights to keep the photo looking a bit more natural and dynamic. I also don’t like the way that greens look when they have too much yellow in them. A splash of purple in the shadows helps tone down the yellow-green in the foliage to keep the focus on the main subjects in the photos. You could also just call it a personal quirk. ;)
These rhinos look pretty good, but still need a little more smooching from the sun, so let’s tweak the Tone Curve panel a bit. We want to brighten the highlights, but still maintain that low contrast look so we don’t lose the haze. A “zig-zag” pattern (what I call it) works nicely here (see below). I do this because it maintains a balance between the different tonal ranges.
The effect is a bit subtle, but nice, I think. And now, we have happy, sunny rhinos.
Step 5: Save it as a preset
One last step… If you love it, then save it as a preset, but only save the changes to the properties that you adjusted, so that you can still change things like Exposure separately from this preset.
Can this be used on different subjects?
Yes! One thing to keep in mind is that I made this preset on a photo that is more of a landscape than a portrait. What happens if I apply it to a portrait where the subject is much closer and the lighting contrast is much different?
It’s a little too hazy, but no problem. If we see something like this, we can make minor tweaks to bring back a little contrast and brightness as shown below. I turned the Contrast back up a bit, turned the Blacks back down, and brightened with Exposure. I then renamed the preset above as “Sun Kissed - Landscapes” and saved this one as “Sun Kissed - Portraits”.
Happy shooting (and editing)!
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Hot July weather is in full force and the 4th of July holiday is literally right around the corner! To celebrate, I thought it would be appropriate to post some tips for taking better pictures of fireworks. Happy birthday, America!
Use a tripod and bring a flashlight!
If you want to see the light trails really fill out as the fireworks open up, you’ll need a slower shutter speed, and this will require a tripod, especially if you have a camera with a cropped light sensor (your standard consumer level DSLR). You’ll also want to bring a flashlight so you don’t get frustrated trying to fumble around with your tripod and camera in the dark!
When using the tripod, use a shutter release switch or set your camera on a timer.
The last thing you want is camera shake and blurry pictures when you’ve done all the work to set up and use your tripod! To make sure that you aren’t introducing any vibrations and camera shake into your photo, you’ll need to take the picture without touching your camera. You can do this with a remote switch, an attached shutter release cable, or by setting the timer on your camera so that the picture takes on a delay after the camera has stopped vibrating from your finger touching the shutter button.
Shutter speed settings.
There are many thoughts on shutter speed with fireworks. I’ve been able to capture some pretty brilliant ones with faster shutter speeds (faster in this case being 1/125 of a second), but the general consensus is that you want a minimum of 2-3 seconds. You can do this by putting your camera in “bulb” mode. You’ll need that shutter release cable though. If you don’t have one and don’t want to buy one, most cameras will support a shutter speed of a couple seconds.
Personally, I think it depends on what types of fireworks you’re shooting photos of. Some of them explode quickly, and others open up very slowly, like a flower. If you are thinking about shooting a particular show that is displayed frequently (a local theme park perhaps), you could do some recon ahead of time about the types of fireworks being shot off. It might help you to prepare for which shutter speeds you want to play with. For example, if there are multiple small fireworks being shot off at once, you may want to keep your shutter speed limited to a few seconds to keep from having your photo blown out by all the light sources. If one large firework is being shot off at a time, you will want a longer exposure, from the time it launches, to the time when the brightest points begin to fade after the explosion.
Fireworks should be thought of in a similar way to shooting photos of the moon. It’s a single bright light source against a (hopefully) dark sky. I generally like an aperture between f/7 and f/14 for this. If you aren’t comfortable shooting in full manual mode, you can shoot in shutter priority mode and let your camera handle the rest. If you are, then play around with it and have fun.
When it comes to fireworks, you want to keep this on the down low, when possible. The fireworks are bright enough that they will definitely get picked up by the camera. The problem happens when other light sources start to get picked up too. When taking photos at night, it is usually recommended to turn the ISO up in order to pick up little details that might otherwise be lost. For fireworks, however, higher ISOs meant that you’ll pick up residual light pollution. Try to keep it at 100 if possible, and definitely not higher than 200.
Make sure your flash is turned off.
I preach a lot on this blog about not using the auto settings so you can make your camera do your bidding. If you choose to ignore my nagging on this matter, please remember to at least disable your flash for fireworks photography. :)
Scope out the area ahead of time and pick a good spot to camp out in.
Believe me when I say this is one of the most important things. You will be competing with other people who are not only taking pictures, but just tilting their heads up and watching. There will be many people who get there early and pick a spot to park themselves in. I frequently watch the fireworks at Disney, and the park guests are camped out at least a half hour before the fireworks. Even an hour before, people start to get settled into spots along the boundaries of where they can stand for the best view.
Don’t let this frustrate you! Have a good time and get creative! :)
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
As I’ve been working on the Lightroom preset packages in my shop, I thought it might be a good idea to explain how to use the features that come bundled in them - develop and adjustment presets.
Even if you aren’t using the presets from my shop, this information should be useful since Lightroom comes preloaded with some default presets that you can play with, and there are many available on the web.
Installing Presets and Adjustment Brushes
Navigate to the directory where the Lightroom resources are stored:
- Vista/Win 7:
- Win XP:
Documents and Settings/[username]/Application Data/Adobe/Lightroom
You will see folders named “Develop Presets” and Local Adjustment Presets”. Simply copy the preset or brush (adjustment) files into the corresponding folders and restart Lightroom.
Selecting a Preset
Selecting a preset is easy. You can hover over the name of the presets to see a preview, and when you see one that you like, simply click it, and it will be applied to your image.
You can also make adjustments to the preset settings after it’s applied if you find that it is slightly too bright or not quite bright enough.
Adding an Adjustment as a Brush
Adjustment layers are amazing. You can paint only certain parts of a photo (e.g. to brighten hair or whiten teeth), or you can paint an entire photo to mix and match overlays on top of your presets.
Adjustments can also be applied to the original photo without selecting a preset.
To apply an adjustment with the brush, click the brush icon from your tools panel, and when it expands, select the effect you want to use from the drop down list.
To adjust the intensity at which a brush is applied, leave the Flow slider set to 100%, and adjust the Density slider to the level that you want to apply the adjustment (e.g. 50%).
To make sure you cover the entire photo without missing any spots, you can check the “Show Selected Mask Overlay” check box to see your brush strokes highlighted in red as a mask on the photo.
Another neat thing about applying an adjustment, is that after you have painted it on, you can select a different one from the drop down and Lightroom will update the effect that was applied to the photo.
You can also click “New” and paint multiple adjustment layers onto your photo.
Adding an Adjustment as a Gradient
Applying an adjustment as a gradient is similar to applying it as a brush. The main difference is that instead of painting it on, you will drag guidelines across the picture. As you do this, you will see the graduated effect applied to the photo.
To access the gradient adjustment panel, click on the gradient icon and when the panel expands, select the effect you want to use from the drop down. You will have access to the same adjustment effects as in the Brushes panel.
As with adding brushes to an adjustment layer, you can also apply multiple graduated layers to your photo. This lets you do some pretty fun things, like fading one adjustment into another one across your photo.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
The first day of summer is quickly approaching, so I thought it would be appropriate to write about outdoor photos. The weather is nice and we are all taking our cameras outside, right? =D
In this entry, I’m going to talk about how you can fix some of those outdoor lighting problems in Adobe Lightroom… you know the ones… where your subject is dark and under-exposed, and everything else is too bright. They are not difficult to fix, and you can save this process as a pre-set to use for fixing other photos as well.
Let’s start with a larger view of the original image. The background is properly exposed, but the couple in the front are dark and shadowy. The composition is otherwise good, so don’t throw out that photo just yet. We can fix it!
Add Fill Light
Turn up the Fill Light with the goal of balancing the light levels in the foreground with the background. Sometimes, this isn’t possible without. If not, just aim to get the features more recognizable without adding a lot of grain and distortion to the photo. Try to keep it looking natural.
Turn up Exposure
Now that we’ve added some Fill Light, we can think about adjusting the exposure. I like to adjust Fill Light first because Exposure works better when the lighting in your photo is more evened out.
Use Histogram as a Guide to Light Balance
The Histogram is an amazing feature that you should take advantage of both in the camera and in your software. It has the ability to show you where your highlights are blown out and where your darks are too dark. By highlighting these areas while you are making adjustments, you can ensure that you keep the important parts of the photo balanced - in this case, the happy couple. The goal here is to make sure that there aren’t any over-exposed areas on the bride and groom. A little in the background is OK, but not too much because we don’t want it to be a distraction.
Turn up Recovery to Heal Over Exposure
There is a bit too much over-exposure in the background, so let’s turn it down a little bit. We don’t need to get rid of it completely though because I have plans to frame this out with a nice vignette at the end, and the shadows added by the vignette will turn down most of the remaining highlights that would otherwise distract from the center of the photo.
Turn up Contrast
Now that we have the lighting evened out a bit, I think the subjects could “pop” a bit more. This photo feels slightly hazy to me. I turned up the contrast to compensate for this and to bring more attention to detail in the photo.
Turn up Clarity
Clarity is not sharpening! It is a contrast adjustment specifically to the mid-tones of your photo, but it also has the ability to bring more attention to detail. You can use it to soften skin, or to fine tune the amount of detail in the mid-tone range of a photo. I turned it up slightly here. The difference is subtle, but I think it was needed here.
Warm up White Balance
The photo feels a little cold to me. The room had fluorescent lighting and the photo was shot in front of a window. I turned up the white balance just a bit more in the golden range to warm it up a bit.
Turn Down Highlights with Tone Curve Adjustments
Some of the highlights are still a little bit extreme for me now that I’ve adjusted my contrast values. If you’ve never played with Tone Curves before, it gives you an amazing amount of control over tonality ranges in your photos. They are fantastic for evening out photos where you have lighting imbalances, and for creating faux HDR effects. Maybe there will be another tutorial on that at another time.Anyway, I turned down the highlights to help even things out a bit more.
Brighten Skin Tones with Luminance Settings
This is a one of my secret weapons in editing with Lightroom. I like to selectively brighten skin tones to make them more of a focus in the photo. The sliders that I adjust depend on the skin tones of the individual. Sometimes, adjusting just red and orange is enough. Sometimes, it’s orange and yellow. In this case, I adjusted all three to compensate for skin tones in both people.
Turn Up Black
It may be hard to tell from the web-sized version, but the adjustments made to lighten up the darker areas lightened the blacks in the jacket too much, and now there is some film grain that I’m not happy with. I turned down the blacks to make the tux a bit more… black.
Turn up Exposure Again
I do this a lot… I’ll fine tune and adjust things, sometimes multiple times throughout the process. Now that I feel good about this photo being evened out (again), I want it a bit brighter. Remember what I said about adjusting Exposure. Try to get the photo’s lighting evened out as much as you can before you play with this adjustment. I like this photo being slightly brighter.
Take Note of Grain and Fix it.
In cranking up the Exposure, I introduced more film grain. I try to save adjusting the Detail sliders as a last resort because I don’t like to take away from the details in the photo, but sometimes, it can help a lot! You might not notice too much at high res, but if you export the photo to a web size, the smoothing of the details will be much more apparent.
Notice what a difference it made! Turning down Luminance removes the graininess, and turning down color removes blocks of chromatic aberration. Turn them down only as much as you need to in order to make these things blend into the photo. I turned them all the way down here because it was a big problem, but generally, if you can avoid going that low, you should try not to.
Turn Down Shadows
I also darkened the shadows in the Tone Curve a bit after this. They were still just a little bright for me. After this adjustment, I think I am pretty happy with this photo now.
Now, we can add the vignette! Not only does it frame out the couple nicely, but it also fixes a lot of the remaining issues with highlights and film grain. Try not to overdo vignettes on your photos though. They can look very cliche if not implemented correctly, and you can definitely have too much of a good thing. You don’t want your professional photos to look like they came out of Instagram.
We’re done! A big congratulations to Lisa and Dean on their wedding! :)
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
It’s no secret that I love black and white photography. In my personal style, I tend to favor high contrast, soft features, and crisp details. You can do some pretty amazing things with black and white photos, and Adobe Lightroom makes it super easy.
I rarely use Photoshop anymore, except for maybe a few select pictures where I am doing a lot of cloning in the background or where I am having to merge multiple photos together. That happens more often than you’d think in family portraits with small children. It’s not uncommon for me to grab faces from multiple pictures to get one good one. ;)
Anyway, Lightroom is so easy and efficient, that it’s really my primary tool (and it’s cheaper than Photoshop too). So, if you happen to be a Lightroom user, I hope you will find this useful. If you happen to be a Photoshop user, you can probably make the same adjustments in Photoshop too, but I’ll be using screenshots from Lightroom.
Here is the original photo:
Desaturate the image
This step might seem like a no-brainer, but there are multiple ways to desaturate an image in Lightroom:
- The Saturation slider in the Basic panel
- The Black & White button in the Basic panel
- The individual color Saturation slidersin the HSL Panel
To be clear, I am using the first option to keep it a bit simpler for this tutorial, but I often prefer the third option so I can use the B&W channel mixer.
Make the details pop!
This black and white image is pretty good, but I don’t really feel like it jumps out and grabs you yet. It needs a little oomph! In the following steps, I will show the changes along with an image capture of the sliders in the Basic panel, so you can follow along with each change and what it adds to the photo.
Increase the Exposure
One of the benefits of shooting in RAW (you all are doing that after reading this blog, right?), is that you can make these kinds of adjustments without losing a lot of image quality. I’m increasing the exposure because I feel the image should be a bit brighter overall, and I’d really like to see the skin start to take on a “creamy” look.
Increase the Recovery value
I’m doing this because increasing the exposure to the point where I liked the effect on the photo blew out some of the facial highlights just a bit too much. The recovery slider brings some of those blown out spots back down a bit to give a more even appearance.
Add Fill Light
When you see the image, you might think it is counter-productive, but I promise it is not. I’m doing this to add some more details to the strands of hair, for the most part. Fill light can also help to even out overall lighting of the image. It will add more light to the darker areas than the lighter areas. Think of it as adding an open window behind you when you’re shooting, except you are doing it in post-production. I had to turn it up quite a bit to see the finer details evened out the way I wanted, but that’s ok. We can fix that in the next step. :)
Now to fix that pesky problem of having our dark areas over-lightened… Just add some more black. Tap it up just until the black background is truly black again. Now, I’m starting to see my style emerge in this photo a bit!
I turned up the contrast just a little bit to make the eyes and hair a little more dramatic. I didn’t have to adjust it a lot though, because the previous adjustments have already created a lot of contrast for me, and I don’t want to lose too much of the detail in the photo.
Repeat after me: “Clarity is not the same as sharpness!” The clarity slider creates contrast in the mid-tones, which can sometimes have the effect of adding more “detail” to a photo with pieces of the image in that range. I find that it works really well for hair and clothing. It works well for eyes, but in general, is not great on skin, because it will make fine lines and blemishes more apparent. We can fix that easily though. Additionally, clarity comes in very handy when creating faux-HDR effects in Lightroom.
The skin is now a little too harsh looking for me, because of the clarity increase, though I’m really happy with the rest of the photo. That is an easy fix though. As of Lightroom 3, there are many wonderful retouching brushes that come pre-loaded with the software. One of them is to “Soften Skin”. The trick when using it is not to paint on eyes, nostrils, or lips. You don’t want to lose any details on these. Big sections of skin like foreheads and cheeks, however… paint away! Sometimes, depending on the angle of the photo, you will also want to avoid the area where the line for the edge of the nose meets the cheek.
The Final Result
Here is the final result. It is a stunning black and white photo that really captures the attention and has some nice professional touches added to it.