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Experiments in colour

I’ve been watching and reflecting on colour; how are the subdued, complementary colours obtained in movies or television dramas? Or in the cinematic style of some photographers. There is something more happening in post-processing than fine tuning of colours and exposure adjustments. This post records my online research and an experiment in ‘colour grading’.


RGB is the colour-model mostly used in digital photography and video. It is an additive model (so compound colours are formed by adding primary – red, green, blue) based on light rays, not mixes of ink or paint. In contrast, artists (painters) recognise red, yellow, blue as primary colours – as we learn in school; and the print industry CMYK Color System (Cyan – Magenta – Yellow – Black), which reflects the base colour of inks used in printing. In a nutshell, there is more than one type of colour system and at first this can be confusing. Here is a useful RGB colour wheel from Bluelobsterart.com. Some things to note about this colour wheel and the information it shows.

  • rgb-color-wheel-lgThe primary colours of red, green, blue split the 360 degree spectrum in thirds. The wheel starts and finishes with red; one notices the same with the colour picker in LR and Photoshop.
  • The numbers show the amount of the primary colours contained within each colour on the wheel. They work on a scale of 0-255 (not a percentage). For example, the colour red comprises 255 red, zero green and zero blue. These same numbers are the ones shown in LR and Photoshop when one hovers over an image with the colour picker; the software is telling you how the colour is made up in the RGB system. 255 represent a fully saturated colour, 0 represents a fully desaturated (or no colour).
  • Without delving too much in to the theory of colour combining, colours on the opposite side of the wheel are complementary, meaning that they provide the strongest contrast when placed next to one another. For those with Adobe Creative Cloud membership, the colour.adobe website provides an RGB colour wheel that allows one to experiment with different colour schemes and save the results. The same capability is provided directly within Photoshop (windows/extensions/adobe colour themes).

Photoshop tools

Brief reminders from review of YouTube instructional videos referenced below. Basic methods are using curves adjustments (most control); selective colour adjustment layer; or a colour look-up adjustment layer (PS built-in preset).

  • Starting point should be to remove colour cast before applying colour grading (black / white points /
  • Colour balance – allows for adjustment of colour in each of the tonal ranges: highlights, mids, shadows etc.
  • Curves adjustments with layers – using luminosity blend mode for only lightness values (ie not affecting colour saturation) and using colour blend mode for colour only adjustments (ie not affecting brightness values).
  • Note that when adjusting curves of individual colour channels each channel is used to affect its own colour and it’s opposite (eg Red stripped out gives cyan).
  • Use of channels for selections / mask creation relating to specific colours (eg reds for skins).
  • Colour cast removal through layer filled with 50% opacity of opposite colour (invert colour selection on layer) – principle that opposite colours cancel one another out, making neutral colour. Level of opacity changes degree of adjustment.
  • Channel mixer – includes presets: find one that creates high contrast in the image and then reduce opacity if necessary to bring through adjusted colours.

Lightroom tools

Fewer options and flexibility in LR than PS, but effect can be added by using individual RGB channels, split toning, and selective adjustments.

Worked example

My starting point was this RAW file and my aim was to create image with a sinister gang-land feel to the colours (these young men were actually perfectly friendly!) :

Morocco raw

Below is a LR edit, cropped to 16:9. Key adjustments were adding blues to the shadows (curves channel adjustment); split toning to add more blue to shadows, and green tint (sickly) to the highlights. It was trick to control the application of adjustments precisely within LR but the colder shadows and brighter highlights (skin) successfully add contrast.

Finally the PS attempt (or three).

Click to view as gallery

Of the three approaches, the colour lookup method was the least successful – #2 – (an automated approach, rather than crafted). The curves approach – #3 – created the most colour contrast between the skin-tones and the background tones, reflecting the greater degree of control. All three of the PS attempts create a more cinematic, desaturated look than I achieved in the LR example.

Overall, there is a fair degree of craft in this work and, with practice and experience, one would expect improved results. What I take from this is that the practice of post-processing is as almost as importance to the practice of camera-work to creating a final vision.


Color.Adobe [website]. Available from: https://color.adobe.com/create/color-wheel/ [accessed 21.5.16]

Colormatters [website]. Color Systems. Available from: http://www.colormatters.com/color-and-design/color-systems-rgb-and-cmyk [accessed 21.5.16]

Phlearn [Youtube channel]. How To Apply Cinematic Color Grading To Your Photos. Available from: https://youtu.be/aaMfMZEFetc [accessed 21.5.16]

Photoshop Learning [Youtube channel]. Cinematic Color Grading (Movie Looke Effect) – Photoshop Tutorial. Available from: https://youtu.be/GFuenozbiE0 [accessed 21.5.16]


Stitching together a landscape

During a family weekend in the English Lakes, I decided to take some photos for a later technical exercise in Photoshop and Lightroom – stitching together individual images to create a large format landscape composite. Here are my notes on the process for future reference:

  • Equipment – sturdy tripod and camera, plus good walking boots.
  • Tripod – set level, so it can be rotated through the scene with the camera maintaining a horizontal line across all shots.
  • Set camera in portrait aspect to avoid elongated landscape when stitched.
  • Camera settings – set all to manual to avoid changes between each shot. In this case, I also used a bracket exposure.
  • Camera movement – move around a third of a frame between each shot. Too much and the image will not stitch well in LR/PS. For this image I took four sets of shots.
  • In LR – use photomerge/pano to combine the images of the same exposure. I used 4 at standard exposure for 1 pano and 4 at under exposure for a second pano (darker sky for details).
  • Blend the two panos in PS, using the sky for the under-exposed image.
  • Make post-processing adjustments either in PS or LR (mostly LR used in this case)

The final image is set as the featured image for this post. Thumbnails of individual shots are below.

landscape contacts

Lesson for next time is to set the middle exposure (for the bracket) to provide a more even exposure of the whole scene rather than worrying about blowing out the sky (the under-exposed shot should take care of that). Alternatively, use a grad filter.

Lightroom workflow

[Updated to include contact sheets]

I take far more photographs than I did before I started my OCA photography course and my workflow is creaking under the strain. My current folder structure is simply year/month, so without the use of tags (which I’m also not using consistently) it can be tricky to locate images – this is the first area for research. The second is to find an effective way of generating contact sheets using meta-data or flags in a selection work-flow that will automatically flow into printed contact sheets – so it becomes a seamless digital to analoguesque flow.

Nigel’s learning log (a fellow OCA student) provided a helpful starting point for me, where he explains a more professional structure for Lightroom, using shoot date (or first date of multi day shoot), shoot name, and sub-folders that contain images at different levels of progress. However, having watched the PHlearn video, which details the steps for manually creating a folder structure, I wondered whether there was an alternative approach using LRs in-built tools for organisation, including collections.

Anderson outlines some principles and tools built into LR:

  • Use folders with descriptive names
  • Flags: none, accept, reject
  • Colours: red, yellow, green, blue
  • Use Star ratings: 1 to 5
  • Keywords: general to specific
  • LR collections / smart collections / nested collections (eg full shoot, picks, selects)
  • Presets
  • Optimise catalogue
  • Importance of short-cuts for efficiency
  • Meta-data ‘cheat sheets’.

My final approach:

  1. File import stage:
    1. LR import setting – file by date: year/month & add to new collection (ie name of shoot). Apply any presets and general key words on import (eg Fuji raw settings and general location or subject). Uncheck any shots that are obvious disasters, so they are not imported.
    2. To add another level of organisation to the file structure – create subfolder within month/year for specific shoot: select all photos in ‘last import’ (ie those imported in step a. Right-click on month folder and specify ‘create folder inside’ and include selected images. This moves all selected images to the sub-folder.
    3. Eliminate any images that a clear failures, but not pickup up prior to import at step a. Use reject flag when scanning through (short-cut X). Then delete selected images, including removal from hard-drive (short-cut cmd-backspace).
  2. Organising and processing images within LR – remembering that collections do not create separate image files, just different views (a bit like iTunes play lists):
    1. Create a ‘collection set’ to hold sub-collections for shoot. Move the collection created on import (a.) to within the collection set (by dragging). Name appropriately (eg collection set – Moscow 9.15 / collection of all images – Moscow – all).
    2. Key-wording. Generally key-wording was added at the time of import (eg Moscow). To search for images of particular subjects later, I add further more specific key wording at this stage. If I don’t pick an image now, it may have a use later.  Example keywords include night, park, river, bridge etc – so generic enough to be useful in a search.
    3. For choosing ‘picks’ to work on further, use the P (pick flag). Then create a ‘smart collection’ so they are automatically placed in one folder (see screen shot). Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 13.11.54
    4. Use colour flags to indicate post-processing status. Green (7) – good to go. Yellow (6) – work in progress. Red (5) – problem / difficulty requiring attention. Blue (8) is for images edited outside of LR. The flags give a visual indicator in the matrix view of the library module and can also be used in LR’s filtering functions. In addition, in the metadata file menu the label names can be edited from colours to descriptive text.
    5. For review comments (for inclusion in contact sheets) – use workflow metadata field ‘instructions’ to record brief comment.
    6. For selects use workflow metadata fields – input  ‘SELECT’ into ‘job identifier’ field and set up smart collection to automatically group the selects.
  3. Organising images processed with Photoshop or add-ins:
    1. Right-click to use ‘process-in option’. The processed image file (a new file) is automatically included in the same collection as the original image file – change colour flag to blue to indicate processed outside of LR.
    2. To keep the different image files organised, I change the copy name (in exif data) to PS edit or another name if it was edited in Nik Efex for example. Then create a smart collection to automatically pull in the image. If you need to locate the image file in its original folder, you simply right-click and choose, ‘go to image in folder’.
  4. Files exported / converted for posting to the web. I know that some people keep copies of these files too on their hard-drives. I see no need for this since the original file can easily be re-exported using the export pre-sets. I simply export to my ‘downloads’ folder, upload to the web and then delete my files from the downloads folder.
  5. For contact sheets – I first looked at this during EYV in the post here, which shows how to use the LR print module to create contact sheets. I’ve updated the ‘photo info’ setting to use the workflow metadata fields used to indicate final selects (‘job identifier’) and provide image comments (‘instructions’). This information now also pulls-through to the contact sheets.

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 23.42.13

This produces a set of contact sheets that look like this:

contact test

I’ve arrived at an approach that doesn’t end up creating duplicate image files without reason and properly utilises LR’s file management tools, rather than manually creating folders on the hard-drive.  It also creates meaningful contacts sheets as part of workflow, without the need to create additional notes outside of LR.


Anderson A [online] (2013). General Light Room Workflow (12 September). Adobe.com [online]. Available from: https://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/how-to/lightroom-general-workflow.html [accessed 20.9.15]

Nigel’s learning log for Photography 1 [blog] (7.9.15).  Lightroom Workflow. Available from: https://pexpix.wordpress.com/2015/09/07/lightroom-workflow/ [accessed 20.9.15]

PHlearn [online] (9.6.2014). Ultimate Lightroom Workflow Guide . Available from: http://phlearn.com/ultimate-guide-workflow-lightroom-photoshop [accessed 20.9.15]


Adobe.com [online] (nd). Create Efficient Lightroom Workflow. Available from: https://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/how-to/lightroom-create-efficient-workflow.html [accessed 20.9.15]

Kloskowski M [online] (2013). Lightroom rate flag label  (12 October). Adobe.com [online]. Available from: https://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/how-to/lightroom-rate-flag-label.html [accessed 20.9.15]



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 ……


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