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Photoshop Processing Techniques for Improving Your Prints Part 1: Chromatic Aberration

4 Feb

Chromatic aberration is one of those naturally occurring, technical imperfections of your camera lens that can take your favorite photograph and moderately reduce its overall quality if not handled properly. What is chromatic aberration? Well, you may or may not be familiar with the term although if you’ve looked at enough photographs I guarantee that you’ve seen it before, even if you didn’t notice it. Wikipedia defines it this way…

“Chromatic aberration manifests itself as “fringes” of color along boundaries that separate dark and bright parts of the image, because each color in the optical spectrum cannot be focused at a single common point. Since the focal length f of a lens is dependent on the refractive index n, different wavelengths of light will be focused on different positions.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromatic_aberration)

OK that’s pretty technical. Without getting too convoluted, I define chromatic aberration as color fringing that usually occurs around objects as magenta, blue, red or green outlines or highlights. Chromatic aberration basically occurs from a combination of light, subject matter, aperture selection, and lens quality. It is mostly noticeable in the background of images along horizons and is especially noticeable in mountain scenes captured during the daytime where minor patches of snow are evident.  In some photographs, a small amount of chromatic aberration is acceptable and is usually an easy fix in Adobe Camera Raw or in Photoshop with just the click of a button or the movement of a slider.

Where fixing this problem gets tricky is if there is quite a bit of chromatic aberration that appears in different colors or if you are a perfectionist like I am. Before we get ahead of ourselves let’s quickly discuss how Photoshop or ACR fixes this problem. From how I understand it, what the software actually does is it picks up your image and moves it slightly so that it covers the areas of fringing. However, this isn’t a local selection – it is actually a ubiquitously occurring process in that it moves the entire picture so all areas of your image are affected. The problem with this is that it affects the overall image quality because there is a minor loss of resolution every time this movement is performed. Secondly, the image shift depends on the color so fixing a magenta color fringe won’t necessarily rectify a red one and vice versa. In that particular case, using the software results in a compromise where the color fringing effects can be offset and reduced, but not completely fixed.

Let’s look at an example at how I circumvented both of these issues.  Do you notice the bluish-green fringing around the flowers in the before image below?

Before

Before

After

After

What you are looking at is a small portion of an image that was commissioned by a local bank in Colorado to use for the front of their 2013 calendar. Because the image was being used at approximately 8.5 x 11 for mass distribution I wanted to make it look as good as possible. This was a small fix and it can be a little time consuming. However, if delivering the highest quality product to your clients is must for you (like it is for me) then it is worth the time.  I find the easiest way to fix this problem is with the color replacement tool in Photoshop. In this case, I simply use the color of the flower petals or a neutral grey and trace away the noticeable effects of the chromatic aberration with the color replacement tool. The most important aspect of this method unlike other quick fixes is that it does not sacrifice image quality or resolution. Conversely, it actually makes your image higher quality! I hope you found this post helpful I’d love to read your comments or questions regarding it! My goal is to follow up this post with another blog about Photoshop techniques in the near future.

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Capturing Alpine Wildflowers Part Two

7 Sep

Today we are concluding my two-part series on the technical art of capturing alpine wildflowers.  Let’s jump right into it and talk about some advanced techniques for creating dynamic pictures.

Focus Blending to Create Depth of Field – There are many varieties of this technique available for landscape photographers and I found this one works best for me.  My default area for focusing on an image is centered about one-third of the way into the frame. I’ll refocus and take the same image focused on the extreme foreground and then a third focus point and picture on the background subject matter as well.

After adjusting the exposure, tone, and white balance in RAW, I’ll open my primary image in Photoshop.  I do the same thing for the second image I captured, keeping the settings the same.  I then copy and paste the second image into the same frame as the first one.  Next, I make sure the images are properly aligned by selecting both and using the auto align tool.  Keep in mind, sometimes the tool doesn’t do a perfect job on the first attempt. Zoom in close and double-check the results and rerun the tool if you aren’t satisfied. Once your images are properly aligned,  use an inverse mask on the second image and brush in the parts of the image that are sharper in the foreground.  Please keep in mind this can get kind of tricky when dealing with wildflowers because just the slightest breeze can cause movement in the flowers.  Once you are happy with your results save the file. It is important not do any cropping yet.

Next I flatten the image file into one and repeat the steps using the third image captured for the background.  Normally this step is a little bit easier because there usually isn’t as much detail in the background as there is in a foreground.  Once you are happy with the results you can then begin your regular editing.  I prefer to save the cropping for last during my workflow.

Micro Blending – Micro blending is sub category of blending for depth of field. The technique is pretty much the same as the one I just described, except you are specifically blending for one small part of the image.  Let me give you an example.  Suppose you completed the steps above and your wildflowers look good. You then notice a couple of errant flowers that show movement from a slight breeze. You go back and review all of your shots of the scene and because you bracketed,  you find a shorter exposure that has those flowers rendered more in focus.  What you can do is adjust the settings in ACR to match your current picture setting and open that image up, follow the above steps and blend in just the flowers you need.

I hope this explanation of my depth of field blending techniques is useful to you. If so, or if you have any other comments or suggestions, I’d love to hear from you. Have a wonderful Labor Day Holiday.

The technical art of capturing alpine wildflowers

26 Aug

Wildflowers are a joy to photograph. The colors, shapes, and sizes can add so much personal expression and emotion to an image. There is a multitude of creative approaches to employ while developing a vision for the subject.  Today, we explore some of the most effective techniques used to capture wildflowers. It is part one of my new series and I hope that you find it useful.

Composition

Fields of wildflowers offer the opportunity for show stopping photographs of epic proportions.  However, the margin for error is even smaller than normal and proper attention to detail must be precise in order to execute a stunning picture.

My first method of approach is to determine a point of view. How low or high do I want to get with my camera? Obviously the lower the perspective, the more prominent your foreground. This technique increases drama and brings your viewer into the picture. However, there are potential hindrances as well.

For instance, what about the flowers directly behind your foreground? Are they colorful and do they add or detract from your image? Would an overview of the area work better than getting low to the ground? Remember, a moving your camera just a few inches up or down or to either side can truly affect your composition,  so be aware of everything you are photographing. Take your time, look around, and experiment.

A stunning floral display accentuated by a glimpse of rare alpine light. The angle of the field of flowers and the varying lengths of growth worked wonderfully for this photograph.

The heighth, width, and overall size of the wildflowers plays a huge part in composition as well. Smaller and stocky wildflowers are generally  easier to capture than taller, lanky ones because they don’t catch as much wind and they don’t obscure other flowers.  On the flip side, the large ones take up more space in your composition and the differences in height can add texture and variety to your pictures as well.

In addition to size, the spacing of flowers is critical. Are the flowers evenly spaced  or do they occur in clumps? Is the color evenly distributed across your image or is it unbalanced?  Finally, are you looking to photograph an entire field or  prominently capture one clump?

My approach:  Find the biggest and best fields of flowers and work around that. I prefer as many flowers in my images as possible.

Best advice:  Experiment with both vertical and horizontal compositions of the same scene. More often than not, I find my first hunch for presentation is wrong when photographing scenes with wildflowers.

Techniques

Wind is the biggest natural obstacle in successfully executing wildflowers shots. It doesn’t take much, just a little breeze to really mess things up. Fortunately, in today’s digital age we can overcome many natural limitations by exercising a little bit of patience and creativity.  Let’s go over some techniques that can help.

Wind played a major factor in the capture of this shot. Multiple blends were necessary to keep the flowers from moving and to blend for depth of field. The differences in color from the previous image are mostly a result of a much warmer white balance or higher color temperature used as the basis for editing this picture.

1) Take off the polarizer – In one of my all time favorite photography books I learned that a polarizer should not be used within an hour of either sunrise or sunset. While this filter can be very useful in reducing glare while photographing wildflowers – if wind is an issue and it is a sunrise or sunset – take it off and spare yourself the extra exposure time.

2) Utilize your ISO speed – Depending on the quality of your camera and the size of your print, ISO speed can be raised considerably without any noticeable decrease in quality.  That is,  if exposure and focus are correct coupled with the right aperture settings.  For example, I recently compared a 16 x 24 print shot at ISO 400 with another shot with the same camera and lens at ISO 100 and I literally could not tell any difference in quality.

Getting back to the flowers – unless it is deathly still – try to keep your exposure times to less than one half of a second to prevent any kind of motion blur in your flowers.

My approach: Take lots of pictures of the same composition and blend out the blurry flowers if necessary.

Best advice:  Be patient – wait for the wind to die down. Even if the light changes – you still have a chance of pulling off a successful blend.

We’ll stop here for today and pick up this topic next week with more tips and techniques for capturing wildflowers. If you like post or have any tips of your own – I’d love to hear from you!

New Colorado Wildflower Images

14 Aug

I’ve safely and successfully returned from my journey to Colorado and the wildflowers and mountains were spectacular! It was a very productive trip and I am looking forward to sharing my new images with you soon.  My approach to editing has changed with this trip.  I am using a lot more manual focus blending as well as extra blending for dynamic range.

The first the part of the process is reviewing all my images and then selecting the ones that are the sharpest and that have the best light. Next I determine the white balance and tone of the image and then I manually stack them in Photoshop. Once the images are stacked, I hand blend them and then edit for contrast and color.  Lastly, I’ve been returning to the images over the course of several days to give me time to digest what I am seeing and to ensure that my editing is in synch with my final vision. The result is a slower process, but I want to make sure that I am 100% satisfied with the image before I post them publicly.

Currently, I am about 20% of the way through the editing and I am selecting the pictures as they come to me. Here’s the first image I’d like to share with you. It is an image from Clear Lake entitled “Modularity.”  I’d love to hear your thoughts. I hope to share more with you soon as well as tell you more about my trip!

Find Your Creative Vision Part 4 – Abstract Images

10 Jun

This week’s blog is on how to to craft successful abstract images in landscape photography. We will talk about what to look for, how to express yourself, and also discuss technical tips in the field. I also want to give you a brief professional update as a lot is going on. We recently returned from a wonderful eight day trip to Oregon. More on that in a later blog. Next week we are preparing for our first trip to San Diego to participate in the renowned La Jolla Festival of Fine Arts.

Today our focus is on abstracts. Abstracts offer a lot of opportunity for a number of reasons and make a fine addition to any landscape photographer’s portfolio. To begin, abstract images are less contingent upon spectacular light. In many cases soft, diffused light works best. This is usually true for abstracts involving plants and trees. Depending on the size of your subject and the photographer, wily shooters can use their bodies, jackets, reflectors or anything else capable of casting a shadow on their subject matter. So sometimes you don’t even have to wait for the light!

In other instances, photographers use the reflected glow of the sun to help add drama and color to their images. This works best while shooting in slot canyons or while shooting intimate scenes of water that capture the varied colors of reflected light. Below is a demonstration of how different kinds of direct light can affect the color quality of abstract images.

Taken in the morning

Taken in the afternoon

Taken in the afternoon

Abstract photos normally normally rely on repetition or pattern. This can be expressed in colors, lines, shapes and accentuated by depth. This type of image best allows the photographer a means to express him or herself creatively in ways that will set them apart from others in the field.

I used a high contrast interpretation of this mescal agave plant to accentuate its dominant features and colors.

Another critical consideration is the photographer’s technical execution in the field. This can be the make or break difference in determining the dramatic impact of the image. Considerations such as what aperture to use to showcase depth of field, what kind of exposure works best to capture the subject matter and it colors, will using a filter, like a polarizer, help improve the scene? These are all personal choices left up to each photographer. The best advice I can give is just to experiment with local subject matter. My best abstracts have all been local. There is something about familiarity when it comes to abstracts that has really helped me find my style. It difficult to put into words, I guess it is more of an instinct than it is a tangible quality.

For instance, I live in the desert. So when I am out and about I am looking at desert landscaping and watching the plants for patterns or shapes that interest me. I might find one that I like and maybe the scene doesn’t work or I don’t have my camera gear, but it gives me an idea of something that interests me that I continue to look for in the future. That’s my suggestion to you. When you are around mundane subject matter, pay attention to the little things – even if you don’t get shots it can inspire you for the future.

Saguaro Bulbs

Speaking of which, I hope you find this article inspiring. Please let me know if you do!

Finding Your Creative Vision Part 2 – Seasonal Images

28 Apr

The difference between a seasonal image and the grand scenic (see last post) is the subject matter is based primarily on and around the seasonal element within the landscape. In other words, it is the time of year that makes the image.

The most common images that come to mind are forest scenes. The forest makes excellent seasonal subject matter, especially trees captured in the brilliance of fall, or draped in snow, or possibly cloaked in their freshest colors of the spring. Let’s take a look at one of my personal favorite seasonal images.

This was captured back in the fall of 2006 during my first and only visit to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Without the water, I probably wouldn’t have taken this shot, but it is the time of year that brings this image to life. Let’s dissect the composition.

First, the most obvious aspect of the image is the light shining through the yellow foliage in the background. This leads the viewers eyes through the scene and it also creates a powerful v shape in the background forest, accentuating form. (That shape is somewhat mimicked by the shape of the rock ledge spillway in the foreground) .The color of the trees also help convey depth to the scene by breaking up the monotony of the towering green rhododendron in the mid ground.

Lastly, look at the leaves on the moss covered rocks. The burnt orange/brownish colors compliment the green of the rocks and provide more visual interest as well. Combined with the background, this type of scenery is only evident diuring a small window of time each year. In my opinion, that is the distinguishing feature of this image – the season.

In this image, taken in Colorado last fall, I used the thinning aspen trees to create depth and accentuate form while utilizing the yellow and green color combo again. Another scene available only during the late fall. This image is inherently much more abstract than the previous one.

In summary, the seasonal image doesn’t utilize the drama of nature’s finest moments to the extent the grand scenic does. Skies may or may not be part of the scene and if they are, there is usually no dramatic color. From a creative standpoint, the seasonal image often plays to the photographer’s resourcefulness in finding a composition where others might not see one. After all, it is hard to miss a grand scenic! While the use of light is vitally important in all landscape photography, the grand scenic is heavily dependent on spectacular light, while there is a greater range of acceptable light when composing a seasonal image.

Stayed tuned for the next segment of Finding Your Creative Vision, hopefully I’ll have that to you by Monday or Tuesday. Have a great weekend!

Finding Your Creative Edge in Landscape Photography Pt.1 – The Grand Scenic

27 Apr

What is the difference between a good landscape photographer and a great one? What separates the top photographers in this genre from the many others trying to emulate them? Is it luck, time in the field, or maybe they have more technical and even physical skills? It couldn’t possibly be their camera equipment could it? Well, what is it?

Today we are starting a new series that I hope will answer these questions and more. My goal is to provide you with a more fundamental understanding of landscape photography and to inspire you to think outside the box to find your own creative advantages.

After several years of regularly studying landscape photographs from an artist’s perspective, I’ve begun to see more clearly the creative nuances many of the top pros use to hone their craft. Before we dive into the creative aspects of the genre, it is important to have a fundamental grasp of the different types of images that are common in this field. I call these sub-genres and we’ll briefly discuss each as it relates to overall understanding of landscape photography. We’ll start with just about everyone’s favorite type of the image – the grand scenic.

If you follow my work at all then you’ve probably seen this image before. Entitled Celestial Alignment, this is probably my favorite grand scenic in my current gallery of images. What exactly is a grand scenic?

Well, I’ll take the definition out of one of my all time favorite photography books entitled “Photographing the Landscape, the Art of Seeing” by John Fielder. This is how Fielder describes this type of image…. "Grand scenics often contain all....(the) photographic toppings, and they employ their use in ways that heighten their impact. Colors are usually complementary, forms are unique and pleasing, the moment clearly transitory, the perspective implies great depth, and the view takes in what is only necessary to make a great composition."

To paraphrase, he is saying a grand scenic normally means a scene with a wide and deep view. This usually includes some type of dramatic sky or at least soft, warm light that compliments and/or accentuates the subject matter. The composition also needs to be precise and well balanced, with strong continuity from side to side and front to back.

Let’s take a look at the image above and examine the foreground elements. There is a definite near to far perspective, with the strongest hoodoos placed in a position that looks out and diagonally across the scene to the sun rising over the horizon. This creates a fluid perspective leading the viewer through the scene, starting in the foreground.

In my opinion, this is also an example of a balanced scene. If you cover up half (any way) of the photograph you’ll see what I mean. No one half is any stronger than the other. If you look at the placement of the sun within the picture, it is classically approximately 1/3rd of the way in from the right and 1/3rd of the way down from the top. In the mid ground, the forest of trees in the canyon breaks up the monotony of the shades of deep oranges and reds produced by the brilliant light reflecting off the natural color of the rocks. Additionally, look at the sides of the image. All the elements are clean, thoughtfully arranged, and cohesive.

Finally, the sky is brilliant and clearly transitory. Anyone who has spent time in the field during the magic hours can surely see this is not a “normal” sunrise. It was highly unusual with the moment lasting approximately three to four minutes.

Capturing a grand scenic is one of the most rewarding experiences in landscape photography because of the rarity of the event. In another sense, the images require a less than average amount of artistic creativity to get them right.

Certainly, in most cases, they require a high level of technical competence having to deal with the high dynamic range of light while executing in the field and in the digital dark room. However, outside of that aspect and the ability to see a strong composition, most of the creative work gets overshadowed by the spectacle of natural phenomena captured.

Well, I’ll wrap this up today and by Thursday we’ll discuss another type of image.

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