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Category: Technique & processing

Deep space in Photoshop

[recreated from pdf after blog crash]


As part of my research for OCA assignment 4, I looked at the feasibility of creating a deep space scene in Photoshop for placement of my ‘apple as moon’ in a context rather than a black- out space directly from the shoot.

I found this is possible by creating a new file an first filling the background layer with black. The next step is to add noise (or stars) using the ‘add noise’ filter and apply gaussian blur to the noise so the stars are not too sharp. Then the levels adjustment is used to increase the black eliminate some of the noise (so creating space between the stars).

I then layered this effect with different levels adjustments. And finally added some coloured layers (deep blues and yellows) to give more complexity to the scene.

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 22.16.00

Not shown in the screen shot above, but photoshop lens flare does a good impression of a bright star.

For further development of this method, I intend to use brushes to add a white speckled layer of brighter stars.


BluelightningTV [website], YouTube video. Photoshop: How to Quickly Create Stars, Planets and Faraway Galaxies. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czhJfC1SuU0. [accessed 23.8.15]

Photoshop essentials [website]. Starry night sky effect. Available from: http://www.photoshopessentials.com/photo-e!ects/starry- night-sky-e!ect-photoshop-cs6/ [accessed 23.8.15]

Panoramas in Lightroom

To test the new panorama functionality within Lightroom, I took 4 photos of a scene in the English Lakes. No tripod – just handheld to give the functionality a real test!

Here’s a screen shot of LR – just select the photos, right-click, select ‘photo merge’ and then ‘panorama’. A few self-explanatory options are then presented and LR then combines the images to create a panorama – it is incredibly smart at aligning the individual photos (even with my hand-held shots).

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 07.44.56

And the finished test image ……


Nik colour efex

Here I show my experiment in processing with the Nik efex processing adds-ins for photoshop. The Nik collection is detailed and available from their website. My objective for this particular image was to create a stylised version of a colour street photograph that would add drama to the scene.

Here is the straight RAW file, with only basic corrections made in Lightroom. The image was shot for 1/125 sec at f/8 with a 28mm (efl) Fujinon lens.

Basic LR processing

There is action in the shot, but its business and distance from the camera makes it difficult to distinguish and for the eye to follow. My approach with the Nik software was to load an unsharpened version of the file into Photoshop and create a smart-object layer in which to apply various Nik filters. I used the following filters Dfine for noise reduction, Sharpener Pro for basic global sharpening, and Colour efex pro to add colour filters and targeted adjustments.

The adjusted image is below. It has a heavily stylised, unnatural feel but I find its graphic quality more compelling than the straight Lightroom image.

Nik adjustments

This raises questions in my mind on how post-processing might be perceived by the viewer – a welcome graphical adjustment or an obvious disconnect from reality, rather than a more subtle disconnect represented by light post-processing.

I’ll explore this with my contemporaries in the OCA level1 Facebook group.


Nik collection website [online]. https://www.google.com/nikcollection/ [accessed 23.6.15]

The low light photography field guide

In my research the ‘language of light’, I’ve been looking into the technicalities of low light photography and as well as some online research, read Michael Freeman’s book, The Low Light Photography Field Guide.

As usual with Freeman, the book is clearly and concisely written. It is very much a technical guide rather than a creative guide, but this is what I wanted. The text is in three main sections; a) a general introduction to Low Light including sensor limitations, light sources, colour temperatures, camera settings and post-production aspects; b) specific information on working handheld in low light, including steadying techniques, explanations of sharpness and types of blur, and noise, along with related post-production techniques; and c) working locked down using a tripod, including multi-exposure and blending techniques and applications within different types of software.

The book left me with a greater understand of possible technical approaches to low light photography and practical aspects. For example how good camera handling increases the chance of useable shots at relatively low shutter speeds.

What it did not address was the calculation or estimation of correct exposure settings for bulb exposures of over 30 seconds.  I was surprised and disappointed that this was not mentioned at all. For now, I am left experimenting with Gock’s approach of taking a light reading at a high ISO of 6400 (roughly a x60 multiple of 100 ISO), reducing the ISO to 100 and apply a 60 multiple to the time value at ISO 6400 – so broadly time in seconds becomes time in minutes. As my Fuji X-T1 as a minimum ISO of 200, I then need to divide the calculated time by two.

Armed with this technical information, I will now experiment with some shots!


Freeman M. The Low Light Photography Field Guide. Ilex ebook. Amazon Kindle edition. [accessed 6.6.15]

Gibson A. Gibson Photography Blog [online]. Using Bulb for long exposure photography. Available from: http://www.andrewsgibson.com/blog/2012/05/using-bulb-long-exposure-photography/ [accessed 6.6.15]

Gock A. The Newcastle Photographer [online blog]. How to calculate exposures quickly at night timehttp://gock.net/2010/02/how-to-calculate-exposures-quickly-at-night-time/ [accessed 6.6.15]

Managing white balance with live-view (Fuji X-T1)

Light at different times of day, in different weather conditions, under different artificial light sources has different colours. Unless the light has a strong tint, we don’t notice the colours of light with the naked eye as our brains make corrections to bring the colours back to their ‘normal’ colours. So, no matter what the time of day or what type of clear artificial light, we perceive white as white.

On the other hand, cameras are not sophisticated enough to make these corrections automatically without error (auto-white balance can be tricked) and photos end up with whites or other colours that are not quite as we visualised them.

Cambridge in Colour describes the colours of light and the different K (kelvin) measurements of the light:

Color Temperature Light Source
1000-2000 K – Candlelight
2500-3500 K – Tungsten Bulb (household variety)
3000-4000 K – Sunrise/Sunset (clear sky)
4000-5000 K – Fluorescent Lamps
5000-5500 K – Electronic Flash
5000-6500 K – Daylight with Clear Sky (sun overhead)
6500-8000 K – Moderately Overcast Sky
9000-10000 K -Shade or Heavily Overcast Sky

The colour spectrum moves from orange (for candle light) through neutral (around 5000K) to blue (in shade).

There are several conventional approaches to dealing with this to ensure photos do not end up with an unwanted colour-tint:

  1. Rely on the camera’s white balance (WB) settings to make the correction, for example select ‘cloudy’ or ‘tungsten’, which should do a reasonable job in lighting conditions that are not complex/multi-source.
  2. Use a neutral reference (eg grey card, or neutral grey in the scene) to set a custom white balance setting for you camera for a specific shoot. Usually done by simply selecting custom white balance, pointing at the neutral object and pressing the shutter.
  3. In post-processing of RAW files (in LR) – either by manually adjusting using sliders or using the dropper to select a neutral colour in the image (or even a separate image of a grey card shot at the same time).

However, I was impressed by Lovegrove’s approach using live-view on the Fuji X-T1. Rather than selecting one of the standard settings for unusual light conditions, he selects the K (kelvin setting), which allows scrolling through the full spectrum of light temperatures. He then uses live-view to inspect and adjust the image created by the camera until it meets his vision. I’ve used this and it’s fantastic being able to watch the colour of light change right before your eyes in live-view. So, effective WB adjustment on the hop without wasted time in LR later!

WB auto by camera
WB auto by camera
WB adjusted in live-view
WB adjusted in live-view

I would assume that this approach would also work on other cameras with live-view functionality.


Cambridge in Colour [online]. Tutorials: white balance. Available from: http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/white-balance.htm [accessed 2.6.15]

The Lovegrove Blog [online]. Fuji X-T1 settings. Available from: http://www.prophotonut.com/2015/06/02/fuji-x-t1-settings/ [accessed 2.6.15]

Perfect prints every time review

Following assignment 3, which required the submission of prints, I decided to read further around good practices for printing workflow. I read a number of Robin Whaley’s lightweight books in the past and found them concise and to the point – enough explanation of the principles to get me pointing in the right direction for the practical.

Perfect prints every time takes no longer than a couple of hours to read, but I found it a great help in better understanding the ways of and reasons for a print workflow. The book dispels myths about print size and digital image size, explains the principles of colour management and its application in Lightroom and Photoshop, and discusses the approach to output sharpening and soft proofing.

Importantly, it has increased my enthusiasm for printing images as a tangible output from a digital process. I may even buy a photo printer to get more immediate feedback on the output of my work and increase my learning rate!


Whaley R (2015). Perfect prints every time – how to achieve excellent photographic prints. [Kindle ebook, accessed 20.5.15]

Lightroom smart previews and Dropbox

I use a desktop computer (iMac) as my primary storage and photo-processing kit. Backed-up of course to a portable hard-drive and the cloud. However there are times when I’m travelling (which happens a lot) or just want to sit away from the desktop and edit photos on my Macbook Pro.

The challenge is how to do this without transferring heavy raw files between the two computers.  I’ve found a neat solution involving Dropbox and LR smart-previews. Here it is in brief –

  • Ensure your Dropbox folder is set up on both computers (see Dropbox for help if necessary).
  • On your desktop LR, right-click the folder containing the images you want to work with and select ‘export as new catalogue’. Be sure to uncheck the box for ‘negative files’ and just leave ‘smart previews’ selected. It may not be possible to save the newly created folder direct to your Dropbox folder from LR, but save it somewhere you can find it, then drag it to your Dropbox.
  • Once Dropbox has synced to your laptop, open LR and choose the option under ‘file’ to ‘open catalogue’ and simply point to the catalogue in Drop box.

Your can now edit and make adjustments to the smart-previews as if they were the original raw files. There are two things to watch out for though – the smart-previews are not of the same resolution as the raw files, so you need to check any sharpening adjustments once they have been imported back to the desktop and applied to the raw files. Secondly, editing of smart-previews is not possible in Photoshop.

Once you are done editing, simply ensure Dropbox is synced back to your desktop, and within desktop LR, choose ‘import from another catalogue’, point to the Dropbox catalogue and import. All the adjustments made from the comfort of your laptop will then be magically applied to the raw files on your desktop.

To finish up, tidy up your Dropbox by deleting the catalogue you’ve now finished working with.

If you’re not ready to take a leap of faith with a folder full of photos, why not create a new folder in LR and just try the process out with one or two photos.

Preparing images and contact sheets for the web

I was aware of the need to prepare images for sharing on the web – not good to clog up websites (particularly your own blog!) with outsized image files that are only of use when printing large-scale. I’ve now looked into how best to do this and into some of the jargon surrounding the workflow. In this post I share my approach, based on research and experimentation, for sharing of images and contact sheets to the web.

Ignore the DPI

DPI settings have no effect on how an image is displayed on a computer screen – they are only relevant if a file is printed (when so many dots-per-inch are printed) – dpi should be ignored unless printing. It appears  seems that there is some confusion about this from legacy systems (Apple started it) that set their screen dpi to 72 so that it would match the printer capabilities at the time – what you see is what you print.

If you still need convincing, there is an in-depth article and practical demonstration at photoessentials.com – http://www.photoshopessentials.com/essentials/the-72-ppi-web-resolution-myth/ (accessed 28.3.15)

Single images from Lightroom

I use Lightroom and Photoshop and here I describe a simple flow for LR, for an image that has already been processed. PS requires a different approach, which I don’t cover here.

  1. Set up a user-preset for exporting images with the appropriate settings (file/export to access the LR menu), which I describe below
  2. Once the preset is set, simple select one or many images and LR will process them all and save the jpegs to the folder you specified.
  3. Upload images to the web, using the method available in your web-interface.

Below is an screen-grab of my LR export settings for the user pre-set blog – click to enlarge. A few words on each selection.

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 12.53.31Filing naming – I use custom name – sequence so that if I export a number of images from the same shoot, LR automatically generates jpeg names with the shoot name and an image number.

File settings – this is the most important bit.  Set image format to JPEG and colour space to sRGB for images to render correctly on the web. Quality not only determines the quality of the jpeg, but also its size. It is important not to set this to 100% or very large image files are produced. Also note that this is not a linear scale in terms of file size (so set at 80, the jpeg size is far less than 80% of the full-sized jpeg). I found 80 works well for me, but it is easy to experiment with lower numbers (and smaller files) to see what suits you.

Resizing – I’ve set this to a long-edge of 1024 pixels as this seems to fit nicely on a screen when viewed at 100%.

And finally, I’ve removed most of the meta-data from the image as its inclusion can also increase the size of jpeg files.

Contact sheets

I found manually sharing images and exif data on exposure settings time consuming and a little fiddly. To overcome this, I use the print module of LR to generate contact sheets that automatically create captions including the relevant exif data.

I won’t cover all the details of how to use the print module in LR, as this can easily be found in Adobe’s own online lessons.  Here, I just cover the specifics of setting up the captions to create the exif data. Once you have the contact sheet prepared, you can simply print it to jpeg (remembering to adjust the quality setting to 80 or less for a sensibly sized file) and upload it to the web.

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 13.27.48

This screen-grap, shows the photo-info menu in LR’s print module – click to enlarge. By selecting edit, you can customise and save custom settings for the information you wish to be displaced on your contact sheets. Simply select the require parameters from the drop-down menus and insert. The box at the top shows the inserted fields and above that an example of the resulting caption, based on the current photograph. It is sometimes useful to insert your own text around the automatically generated fields. To do this, just click into the box at the top, in between the inserted fields and type. If you need to rearrange the field order, just drag and drop.

A finally, here is an example of a contact sheet created using the preset above, without any manual keying of exif data.

Orange Splash


Spot focusing and metering

Much of my photography until recently has been Street – I’d usually set up at hyper-focal length (straight-forward on a Ricoh GR, which shows this in-camera) and centre-weighted light metering, tweaking the exposure compensation dial if necessary.  My overall objective being to get a good shot in the moment, while events unfolded around me. Even for more general photography, I tended to stick with the camera set to a range of focus points in the centre of the image and centre-weighted metering.

This course has encouraged me to reconsider my approach in response to a wider range of subjects and photographic challenges. From revisiting books (in particular The Photographer’s Exposure Field Guide, Freeman M, published in UK in 2011 by ILEX) and websites, I was reminded of two important points:

  1. The exposure meter makes an assumption that a scene will, on average, be 50% brightness (grey) and uses this to determine a zero under/over exposure. Depending on the scene and the metering mode this can work fine, but for close detailed work or extremes of light conditions, the meter may not deliver the intended result.
  2. Multi-area focus points will tend to use the points covering the subject closest closest to the camera, so the image may not be sharpest where one would like it – control is lost. Single area focus points reduce the extent of this problem by focusing only on the subject in the centre of the frame – so focus and recompose can work well. However, a pin-point focus will focus on exactly the required spot – not always necessary, but very useful sometimes (for example someone’s eyes).

I performed some simple experiments (with a Panasonic Lumix LX100) to discover how much a difference selecting alternative metering and focusing options can make. In the example below, the focus is the unburnt wood (as good as mid-tone, grey). My preference is the third image (spot metered) that balances the mid-tones and shows the deep tonality of the burnt ashes. So, spot metering delivers an improved result in this situation.

metering modes


For a second experiment, I focused on the burned (black) ashes, which are far from neutral toned grey. In this example, the first spot metered example is a little washed out (trying to make the black grey). However, the 4th image which is also spot metered, but the with the exposure adjusted down 2 stops, best captures the rich dark tones of the embers. Also, the centre-weighted mode does a reasonable job in this case.

metering mode 2


Finally, an example of spot focusing. It’s all in the eyes!


The moving instrument

Experimenting with breaking the rules – in preparation for the ‘my square mile shoot’. UNSTEADY CAMERA. Tried a number of shots’ rotatating, spinning, moving up, moving down, jumping, moving across with the camera as the shot was being taken. I foundthat the best action is in the wrist (a bit like picking a guitar) as there is more control over the movement. Moving across vertical lines just creates a mess. Rotating and moving up/down creates some interesting effects. I was surprised by the vortex! Some examples below. All with Ricoh GR, full auto, ISO 200.