Monday, July 27, 2015

Buying a Mac or a PC

I love the fist pump baby. He makes me laugh every time. But I'm not posting this for LOLs. I think this is a genuine conversation that needs to be had.

We've all been told many times that Macs are THE computers for the photographic industry. Mac evangelists will tell you that they are SO good that they're worth the considerably larger price tag. Many will tell you that they had a PC that crapped out after two years, but their Mac is still going strong after five years.

Let's assume for a moment that this is true. (It's not true, but let's pretend that it is for the sake of discussion.) Let's also assume that you, the potential computer purchaser, are (a) not exceedingly wealthy, and (b) do not yet own all your other dream gear - that sweet prime lens, that beautiful studio lighting kit, heck, even that amazing mentoring session with that famous photographer in another state.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Mangled watermarks on Facebook

Occasionally people complain to me that their logo goes all blocky and unclear when it's used as a watermark on their photos on Facebook.  On further enquiry, I generally find that this happens with logos of very vivid colours, or plain logos placed onto areas of very vivid colour on the photo.

Yes, this is because of the aggressive jpeg compression that Facebook applies to our photos, which photographers are always eager to complain about at any opportunity.  As I've insisted in the past, we can't blame Facebook for doing this.

Jpeg compression is not Facebook's creation, though. It was devised many years beforehand.  And it is the nature of jpeg compression that very pure primary colours get degraded more than most.  I don't understand how it works, and it's not important that you do either.  We must simply accept that it is so, and find ways to manage it.

Blue or green screen for background replacement?

If you're taking photos on which you intend to change or replace the background, you might think that a blue or green screen would be best to shoot against.  That's the "traditional" way, right?  But actually, it's a bad idea.  That colour bleeds into hair, and around edges, and it's a replacement nightmare.

This is the order of your options:

BEST: Shoot against the actual colour you want in the photo - no editing necessary.

NEXT BEST: Shoot against a colour which is very similar to the colour you eventually want - minimal editing necessary.

MIGHT BE OK: Shoot against a dark neutral colour if your subject has light hair, or a light neutral colour if your subject has dark hair - the natural contrast will help you replace the colour in editing, but can still be tricky.  (Example)

BAD: Shoot against green or blue (or any other bright colour, really).

VERY BAD: Shoot against a mixed/busy background.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Creamy / silky / perfect / angelic skin

This question is asked a lot.  "How can I get that creamy skin?"   There are a few very important aspects to consider:

1. Understand that you're comparing somebody's web-size image with your full-size one

Photos always look better on the internet, especially when you know exactly how to do it right (size, format, sharpening).  Don't make the mistake of looking at skin in somebody else's photo at its small web size, then at your own photo at full zoom - that'll drive you batty.  Be reasonable.

Be especially aware that skilful web sharpening, which makes eyes and hair razor sharp but leaves skin alone, enhances the illusion of "creaminess" of skin.

2. Understand that you're looking at the end result of somebody's hard work

Don't upload your photos straight from the camera, and immediately throw up your hands because the skin ain't creamy.  Quality takes skill, time and effort.

Smart Objects: What they're for, and what they're NOT.

For the last few versions of Photoshop and Lightroom (not Elements), there has existed the ability to open photos from raw to Photoshop as Smart Objects.

If you do this, the base layer appears as the filename, instead of the usual "Background":

If you have opened a raw file this way, you can double-click the layer to return to the raw program and make further edits.  There are a lot of people who use Smart Objects religiously, because of this "go-back-ability".  And at face value, it seems like useful functionality, right?


Monday, July 6, 2015

Order of layers for complex pixel edits.

I've written a great deal in the past about non-destructive editing, and its importance for a sensible Photoshop workflow.  In essence, all adjustment layers go on top, and pixel layers at the bottom.  This is because pixel layers block out any layers beneath them, rendering them un-re-editable (ok, not a real word, I know!)

Mostly, when I've discussed pixel layers in this context, I've concentrated on cloning.  But pixel edits can take many forms:
Let's get one out of the way right now.  Noise reduction must be done in your raw program. If you've left it to Photoshop, you've left it too late.  Go back and fix it.

Perspective correction can sometimes be done in raw.  Do it there if you can, but don't worry if you can't, because you can do it with wonderful precision in Photoshop.  Straightening can be done in raw, but I don't recommend it, because it automatically crops some pixels away, and you might need those later.

The critical thing you need to understand about pixel editing is that each layer hides the previous one, thereby preventing it from being readjusted later.  So it's vital that each step is perfect before moving to the next one.  Let's examine a hypothetical nightmare photo that needs all five types of pixel editing.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Selling digital files? You can't limit print size

These are examples of a type of frequently asked question in photography circles:

  • "What size do I need to make my digital files so the client can't print them bigger than 5x7?"
  • "My contract allows clients to print their own photos up to 8x10, and they have to come to me for anything bigger.  How do I prepare my files?"

The blunt answer is: YOU CAN'T LIMIT PRINT SIZE.

If clients feel like printing bigger, they will. And they won't care how awful the quality is.  And yes, if you've reduced your file size, the quality will be awful.

Even if you have it sternly written in your contract, they probably won't even read it.  This is the age of digital promiscuity - nobody respects the T&Cs that accompany anything digital.

Your only chance of enforcing it is if you have Mafia or Biker Club connections, and can send somebody around with a tyre iron to kneecap your clients who disobey the contract.  Let's face it, not many of us have those connections, and anyway, it's probably not good for business.

So even if you do have a print size clause in your contract, don't reduce the size of your files.  It's not worth the risk.  If your client does break the rule and prints big, the best you can hope for is that it looks great, and their friends see it and book you for sessions.

If you haven't done so already, please read my vital information about selling digital images.

Here's another, slightly different, question:
  • "I'm selling web sized files to the client, but they're not allowed to print them. How do I prepare them?"
As already discussed, sizing won't stop printing.  However, watermarking will.  Go ahead and prepare the images at web size (suggest 720 or 960, the standard Facebook sizes) and WATERMARK THEM.  Put your logo on there prominently.

When I say "prominently", I don't mean it has to be bright and in-your-face.  It can be light and subtle, but it must be in a prominent position that can't be cropped out, or easily edited out.  Over part of their body, or whatever.

If you have Photoshop (not Elements, sorry) do yourself a favour and check out my watermarking action set.  It'll speed up your workflow a LOT.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A fix for glowing backlit ears

Backlit photos can look lovely if done well, but this is always a risk, isn't it?

Ears are so thin, the sun can go straight through them, and they glow like crazy.  Thanks to Angela Beransky for allowing me to use her lovely backlit photo for this demonstration.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The wonderful Dust & Scratches filter

The Dust & Scratches filter (in Photoshop and Elements) is amazing.  Such a simple tool, yet capable of so much magic.

I use it most of all for, yes, dust and scratches, on the historic photos I restore.  It saves me a LOT of time, to clean up little specks in an instant which I would otherwise have to laboriously clone or heal one at a time.

But it's not just for old photos.  Gosh no.  It's becoming famous in Ask Damien for regularly kicking Frequency Separation's ass for all sorts of skin issues - spots and pores and flakes.  It's also brilliant for removing lint from clothing.  Basically, any problem that involves very small detail.

My thanks to Amanda Kitto for allowing me to use this close-up for this demonstration:

She asked me how to remove the little milk spots from the nose.  Dust & Scratches makes it dead easy ...

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The "Handyman" method

Just as it's nice to have a handyman in the family who can fix leaky taps, change lightbulbs, paint the fence, and various other odd jobs that arise around the house; it's also nice to have a handy editing method that can take care of all sorts of little image problems when you need it.

The following method is not fancy, nor is it difficult (though it does require a little patience).  It's the kind of method which you might not need for six months, then suddenly need for three photos in a row.  Learn it, and keep it in the back of your mind forever.  You never know when it will be handy for skin problems, shadow problems, clothing problems, etc.  It works exactly the same in both Photoshop and Elements.

For this demonstration, George Azmy has kindly allowed me to use this small section of a photograph he took.  A lovely photo, but a slightly unflattering view of the subject's armpit, I'm sure you'll agree:

The "Handyman Method" involves two stages - first, a dodge and burn stage, followed by a colour fix stage.

Comments or Questions?

If you have anything to add or ask about this article, please visit me at my Ask Damien page.