Friday, November 7, 2014

The bl**dy Adjustment Brush

It's quite common, in my group, for people to post about weird graininess in their raw files.  Mostly, this is because they've used the stupid bloody Adjustment Brush.  More specifically, because of the "Auto Mask" function therewith.

My disdain for the Adjustment Brush goes further than the dodgy Auto Mask function, though.  I am fundamentally opposed to that tool, period.

I've always said that raw processing isn't really editing, so much ... it's actually an extension of photography. The things you do in raw are the things you do (or perhaps, *should* have done) when you take the photo. Adjusting the exposure in raw is akin to adjusting the exposure triangle to control the light through the lens when shooting; adjusting the white balance is akin to setting correct white balance in camera; noise reduction is akin to ISO setting ... do you see what I mean?

So, it's my belief that becoming a good raw editor actually helps you become a better photographer. Consistently having to fix your exposure in raw makes you think about how you could have done it better in camera, and so on.

One of the aspects you learn about is light. How it's hitting your subject, how you messed up, how you should position them better next time.

The adjustment brush makes a mockery of all that. You can quite easily be dreadful  raw processor, not really know what you're doing, not be learning a damn thing about your photography, just be fixing your bad lighting with this "saviour tool".

I learned to edit raw in CS2 (I never used ACR in the first CS). It didn't even have the Recovery and Fill Light sliders, let alone the brush. And it made me an EXCELLENT raw editor. I wish everyone was forced to learn raw processing on CS2.

Lastly ... it's just a poor alternative to the exquisite control you get in Photoshop or Elements, with layers and masks. That's where selective editing lives. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Brush Tool - Difference Between Opacity and Flow

Frequently on this blog you've seen me talk of painting with a low-opacity brush for one reason or another.  I use varying brush opacities all the time.  But I don't think I've ever mentioned Flow, nor do I use it in my work very often.

What's the difference?  Well, take a look at this example.  On the left, I've painted one long squiggle at low Opacity (but full Flow), and on the right, at full Opacity, but reduced Flow:

That's the difference.  At reduced Opacity, no matter how many times you go over the same area in the same stroke, you don't get more "paint" on that area.  To get more paint, you have to paint with a new stroke (a new click of the mouse button, or tap of the stylus).

Whereas at reduced Flow, you can keep the mouse or stylus held down, and each time you go over an area in the same stroke, it applies more paint.

Why don't I used it in my work?  Honestly, because I've never taken the time to learn it.  Even as I'm typing this, I'm thinking "Gee, I bet there are benefits that I'm missing out on by not using Flow more often."

So I'm adding it to my list of things to play with and learn.  And I suggest you do the same, when time permits.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Proof Setup: Working CMYK: Not really

This is our iron.  Presently it's set to "Cotton":

Now it's set to "Wool":

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Wide Gamut Myth

Or: Why you must work in sRGB

I'm writing this post in hopes of preventing some of the recent damage from yet another CreativeLive disaster. I despair when I think of the thousands of workflows that are complicated, and the countless images that are ruined, by persistent advice to edit in large colour spaces.

It's terribly sad that so many prominent photographers sabotage the workflows of emerging photographers by advocating Adobe RGB or even ProPhoto RGB as the working space of choice. I don't think this sabotage is deliberate (although it certainly might be in some cases). I think these photographers simply enjoy the false impression of "expertise" that such advice gives them. "Oh, that guy works in Adobe RGB - he must be an expert!" WRONG.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Weddings: A plea to all photographers

In my line of work, I receive quite a number of emails that go like this:

"I hope you can help us. We got married in [insert month/year here] and our photos are really bad. They're [insert flaw here - blurry/dark/etc]. How much does it cost for you to fix them so that we have some memories of our day?"

Often these emails go on to say "We've been trying to contact the photographer but s/he won't return our calls."

Very often I can't help these poor people, and my heart bleeds for them.

So I'm putting out a general plea to all photographers, everywhere. For the love of God, don't start shooting weddings until you're completely sure you DON'T SUCK.

Second shooting, sure. But as the main shooter? That's incredibly weighty responsibility. Two people's happiness literally rests in your hands. If you can't, as a bare minimum, hit focus most of the time, and competently clean-process the images afterwards, you're NOT READY. Keep finding opportunities to practice and learn and improve until you are.

Thank you.



Too often on photography forums I see this issue descend into the "They get what they pay for" debate. Statements such as "People shouldn't choose the cheapest photographer if they don't want crap photos", or the old "Pay peanuts, get monkeys".

This boils my blood.  I have no patience for victim bashing.

This is about the responsibility of a photographer offering a service. If I get food poisoning eating at fast food outlet, nobody except a moron would say it's my fault for not eating at a more expensive restaurant. The food industry has certain standards to which even the cheapest establishments must adhere by law. Such laws do not exist for photography, but the standards sure as hell should. End of story.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Distortion or Perspective Correction Tutorial [Elements]

If you have Photoshop, please go to this page instead.

This tutorial is for those times when you need the lines in your photo to be straight and square.  It'll be most useful to real estate photographers, but everyone has a problem with lines from time to time.

Apology: I don't know how this method works if you use Lightroom in conjunction with Elements, sorry.  But Lightroom has its own distortion controls in the "Lens Correction" tab, so try those and see if they give you sufficient control.

Step 1: Open

Process your raw file in ACR in the usual manner, then press "Open Image" to bring it into Elements.

(Distortion is like Liquify - it must be done as the very first step in your Photoshop editing workflow, immediately after your raw editing, before any layer work.) 

Distortion or Perspective Correction Tutorial [Photoshop]

If you have Elements, please go to this page instead.

This tutorial is for those times when you need the lines in your photo to be straight and square.  It'll be most useful to real estate photographers, but everyone has a problem with lines from time to time.

Step 1: Open

Open your image in Photoshop.

(Distortion is like Liquify - it must be done as the very first step in your Photoshop editing workflow, immediately after your raw editing, before any layer work.)

Step 2: Convert

Immediately go to Layer>Smart Objects>Convert to Smart Object:

It's critical for your image to be a smart object when transforming or distorting.  Smart objects can be manipulated as many times as needed, and never lose their original quality.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

How aggressively can I crop?

So you shot wide, but now you (or your customer) would like the photo cropped aggressively for a tighter composition.  How far can you go and still be printable?

I've written before about "The six megapixel guideline".  There's a school of thought that any file over six megapixels can be printed at any size you like - no restrictions.  I hasten to add this only applies to GOOD photos - ones with great focus and clarity - nothing blurry or noisy.

You might personally decide that six is too small for your standards.  You might choose seven, or even eight. You need a baseline.

Here's my example photo - my daughter chasing an enormous bubble:

Let's say I want to compose it tighter.  How tight can I go, and still have freedom to print any size I wish?

I must interrupt the narrative here to remind you: Never crop during editing!  More info here.

To find out, you choose your rectangular marquee tool:

Make sure your Info Panel is open, and set its units to Pixels:

Draw a marquee roughly where you'd like the crop to be:

Then look in the Info Panel, to see the pixel dimensions of the section you've drawn:

Multiply those two numbers, and the answer is your megapixels.  Remember, "mega" means "millions of".  So you're hoping for an answer of 6,000,000 or greater.

In my example, I multiply 1295 x 1848 ... and get 2,393,160 ... not even 2.4 megapixels!  Nowhere near enough to be useful.  So in this case, I have to abandon my idea of a tighter crop for print.

Of course I can crop tighter for web, since web files are tiny.  And I can print small - 1295x1848 will give me a 6x4 or a 5x7 ok (more info below).  But printing big is out.

If your selection is greater than six megapixels, then your image has passed the first test.  Then you have to proceed to the second test, which is to check the focus and quality.  Zoom in to 100%, and make a frank assessment of what you see.  Are you satisfied that it's razor sharp?  Are you happy that your ISO was low enough?

If you give the quality the thumbs up, then you're good to go.

So, how big can you print?

I've stated that, loosely speaking, a good quality photo that's greater than six megapixels can be printed as big as you like - print it on the side of a truck if you like.

But what about files under six megapixels?  Well, I've created a graph to roughly guide you.

Let's be very clear - this is NOT a bible.  It's a guide only.  Of course you should do your own testing and make up your own mind.  And remember, this graph assumes files of excellent quality and focus:

The green zone is the "Cautious Zone".  That's how big you can print if you want to be ultra-safe.  The red zone is the "Bold or Desperate Zone", for when you really want a bit bigger.

Note: For canvas, you can roughly double the print size in the above graph.

I hope this helps.  Needless to say, please visit me at Ask Damien if you have any questions.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Maintain your professional standards

In discussions about the importance of monitor calibration, it's common to see this argument:

"My clients don't have calibrated screens. If I calibrate mine, my photos won't look the same to them."

This is absurd for two reasons.  Firstly, uncalibrated screens are like human beings - no two look the same, anywhere, ever.  So to suggest that leaving one screen uncalibrated will ensure it matches another uncalibrated screen is complete nonsense.

Secondly, consider this ...

We just had our bathroom renovated. We chose a good builder, and paid him top dollar, and he did an excellent job. He built us a perfect bathroom.

Trouble is, I'm a lazy housekeeper, and I tend to let it get a bit grubby, you know? I don't clean it as often or as thoroughly as I should. If you were to visit right now, the bathroom wouldn't look as good as it did the day the builder finished.

So, does that mean it would have been ok if the builder had done a shabby job? Hell no. We paid him for a perfect bathroom, and that's what we got.

Should your clients be happy to pay you for less than perfect photos? Of course not. Your job is to "build a perfect bathroom", so to speak. To provide wonderful photos, and monitor calibration is a vital part of that.

If your client then views your photos on their awful screen, or hangs them in a room with awful light, so they look less than their best, is that on you? Of course not. 
What your clients do is irrelevant. The onus is on you, the professional, to be correct.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

How to properly re-install Spyder software (Windows)

The Spyder range of calibrators are very good (well, not the Express, it's kinda rubbish, but the Pro and Elite are great) but they have one very annoying quirk.  Once you've calibrated once, they stubbornly hold on to the settings you chose, and it's damned hard to change them.

So, in desperation, many of us completely uninstall and reinstall the software, if we want to start afresh.  Fortunately this doesn't take very long.  BUT ... what the heck??  The settings are still there!  Well, they were still there on my PC, anyway.

This drove me crazy until I figured out the solution.  It's not enough to uninstall the software in the usual way, through the Programs control panel.  After you've done that, you have to go to your AppData folder ...

C:\Users\[your computer name]\AppData\Local\

... and completely delete the Datacolor folder.

Then you can re-install the software, and it'll be back to the program default settings.  You can happily commence calibrating, per my instructions here.

Comments or Questions?

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