Category Archives: editing software

Why use a real editor for smartphone images?

We all have heard the myth of why iPhone (or any smartphone) cannot take a good picture. By now you have seen in this blog, many images that are very respectable and if I had not said they were from an iPhone, you would have thought they were from a “real” camera. But, to really get the best out of your smartphone picture, you need a real desktop editor. Not an app on a very small screen. I use Lightroom and Photoshop by Adobe for a few reasons. One is that Lightroom is an asset management system and will let me keep track of ALL 80,000 of my images. It is also a kick butt editor that is very easy to get fast and smart results from. A bit of icing on the cake is you can buy it outright for about 150.00 dollars or you can pay 9.99 a month for it AND Photoshop CC. That’s right!! For about 2 dollars a week, you can have the defacto standard for editing and management. For this post, I will be showing what can be done with Photoshop since it does things like skin retouching better than Lightroom. Photoshop works really well at what I call “Heavy Lifting” editing. Lightroom does amazing work for very fast and general edits but when I need to replaces parts or have very fine control over the editing, I use Photoshop.

When I say all of this in my iPhone class, the next question is “Why”? Why do I need this? If you are just posting to Facebook or other social media, then you don’t. But, if the iPhone has turned into your main camera and you want some really nice pictures to print and hang, then you want to use the right tools to get there.

Here is a typical iPhone shot taken on the fly just before the Disneyland “Big Thunder” ride takes off. I liked the overall expression but I didn’t like the splash of bright light on her face or the background. I used PureShot on the MAX quality JPEG setting. This setting gives me over 3x the data to work with. The normal iOS image is about 1.5 Mb and the MAX is a bit over 5Mb in size.

Iphone image before Photoshop Editing

Here is the Photoshop edited version where I’ve used normal glamour retouching techniques to clean up the bright light, smoothed out skin tones, cropped it and tilted it slightly. I also used a slight blur on the overall image. I even removed myself from one of the sunglass lenses.
Edited iPhone Image using Photoshop

You can see that the iPhone image edits just as well as any other image from a “real” camera when using a real editor. The tips and tricks you know work the same. And just like any other JPEG, you need to edit with a gentle hand to avoid artifacts. For this edit, I use many layers and my Wacom tablet.

All this extra data really comes in handy when you want to pull down highlights or bring up shadows on an iPhone JPEG. Normally you cannot do either very well but with the MAX quality JPEG, it works pretty well.

None of this editing could have been done on the iPhone using an “app”. We do not have the apps and we do not have the fine control of a stylus needed on such a small screen. Even on the iPad, it would have been difficult at best.

Ultimately it is all about control and flexibility as to why use a real editor on your smartphone image. Again, this is wasted effort if all you are going to do is post to Facebook which destroys image quality anyways. But if you want really nice images, this is why.

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Pushing the iPhone Post Processing

The iPhone is really the most widely used “smartphone” on the planet. They are everywhere and some of us revel in pushing them far beyond what the Apple engineers dreamed we could do with them. One of the strongest features of the iPhone is also one of it’s weakest. Everyone loves the camera and apps of the iPhone. Those of us that know enough hate the JPEG processing currently used on the iPhone and iOS7. With iOS 6.x, the JPEG was somewhat loose on it’s processing and could easily handle being manipulated by apps and external software like Lightroom or Photoshop. But, with iOS 7, the processing of the JPEG was changed to a more highly compressed version and the end result is that the OEM JPEG cannot withstand nearly as much editing as it used to be able to.

This has lead me to work more with third party apps like ProCamera 7and PureShot. Both of these have excellent choices for saving files with uncompressed TIFF as an option. A difference is that PureShot offers a MAX JPEG that is very, very good with not too much post processing and quite a bit of data to work with. How much more? Well, the default Apple iOS camera app saves the 8 megapixel image as a 1-2 Mb JPEG file at 72 dpi. Pure on the other hand in MAX JPEG mode, saves about a 5Mb file at 300 dpi. The image dimensions have not changed, they are still 3264×2172 but the AMOUNT of data is significantly more going from 2 megs to 5 megs. This means you can really push the image around in post processing much more than with the standard Apple image. An added feature is you can embed your own copyright info into the metadata when the image is taken.

Pure Home iPhone 5S

Pure MaxJPEG screen iPhone5S

This image was taken in very bad conditions for the iPhone. In other words, extreme contrast in light going from very dark shadow to very bright light. Normally speaking, the iPhone (and most smartphones) doesnt have a prayer of getting a good shot. They just do not have the exposure latitude needed. But with PureShot, I knew if I got the highlights right and not blowout, I could pull up the shadows in post since I had so much data. Not only did I do that, I also applied a 25% crop which didn’t bother the image at all.

Sara dueling Darth Maul Disneyland Jedi School

With the standard iPhone app, you would get blocked out shadows and no hope to get them back or you would blow the highlights. I did the processing on Snapseed but in Lightroom, I could push it even harder. Lightroom excels at highlight recovery even if you cannot see them on the iPhone and has excellent shadow enhancement tools.

Here is the original image from Pure without any post processing
Sara vs Darth Maul Disneyland Jedi  untouched

And here is the same image cropped and retouched in Lightroom. You can see I could crop tighter, there is now details on Darth Maul’s outfit that didn’t show up in the Snapseed image and the Jedi sign is not looking like it melted. The post processing tool you use, makes a HUGE difference in the final outcome of your image. Don’t be married to the idea “I’m only going to use my iPhone”. You are cheating yourself doing that. The iPhone works very well but a real editor makes a difference.

Since I’m working with PureShot, even cropped as it is, I can still print an 8×10 without any issues if I wanted to. I was able to export out at 2500 pixels and 240 DPI without any issues

Sara vs Darth Maul Disneyland Jedi  Lightroom

This image shows that you can really push an iPhone image as long as you use the right tool to shoot with and the right tool to process with. I could push this image more to bring up some of the trooper’s white armor but I spent only 30 seconds in Lightroom to make a point.

I shot with PureShot but ProCamera 7 can produce the same results but using uncompressed TIFF files. Their JPEG is not quite as robust as Pure’s. I love the split focus and exposure of ProCamera but Pure shoots faster. So you decide which is more important to you and your style of shooting. I use both depending the situation.

*** edited 6-2-2014 to Pure screenshots ***

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Christmas Time in November

Oh yes, it is THAT time again with Christmas just around the corner. But, do not fear, you can make the killer gift for the extended family or friends by using all those pictures you took over the year. You can make books, cards, magazines, calendars and more using Instagram shots, Hipstamatic pictures, iPhone pictures, Droid pictures or pictures from any other camera.
iPhone catalog of images
And we ALL have hundreds and hundreds of pictures from the course of the year to pick from. Digital film doesn’t really cost us a nickel so we shoot much more than just a few years ago.

I offer many of these services as add on features to my photography sessions. I can do a themed session or do some photoshop magic for that one of a kind portrait for the gift of a lifetime.

You can always have some fun with the traditional family portrait. In this image, my own family and I decided to play off our Apple addiction that is well known in the family. everyone really liked that my oldest daughter was “in” the iPad and looking up at the youngest. That was a very simple trick with telling my oldest how to look when a friend took her picture since she was out of state at the time.

A Very Merry Apple Christmas

You can take the card into a whole new direction by compositing the family into some other place like, say, a snow globe which plays well off the fact we live in Southern California.
Final Snow Globe of Sweeneys

But for a real gift, there are many, many options in today’s digital world. You can easily use software like MyPublisher and build a very nice book with the year’s highlights in pictures for the grand parents. In this example, I made a picture book of my daughter’s first trip to Paris, France as a remembrance for her. This twenty dollar book was one of the best gifts I had given her (her words).

The best part of a picture book is that with the newest software from the vendors, they require no special Photoshop skills or expensive software. With iPhoto, the ability is built in and with vendors like MyPublisher, they give you the app for free to build the book. Other vendors like Adorama use online software and your web browser to build the book.

Amanda's Picture Book Paris France

There are dozens of printing houses that can do this type of book and Apple even has it as a built in option in iPhoto. You will hear of MyPublisher.com, Blurb and Lulu.com for a few common names. But there are many more including some books available from stores such as Adorama, Costco and Kodak.

You can decide if you are going to tell a specific story or just have a compilation of pictures from the year highlighting key events. I would strongly suggest that you write a few sentences with each picture or group of pictures so when someone is looking at the pictures, they can be reminded to what the pictures are about.

You can make calendars through many of these companies or you can buy templates with a dozen different designs ready to go with just your pictures added to finish it off. The calendars can be a single month, a year at a time or the more traditional flip calendar. You can have one, two or more pictures per month or year. You can do a lot with the newest templates and many of the templates are offered by the same fold that publisher the picture books. There are also templates available that you can use and then print anywhere you want including your own home with your own printer. In the sample below I used a Photoshop template and a picture I had taken at a school. I then printed out the new calendar at home with my own printer. My cost was twenty dollars for the template kit which has a dozen different calendars and about five cents for the printer paper and ink.
Olivia with 2014 calendar

Calendar templates are available from many sources such as Photoshop Island, RedBoot and others.

For the more advanced users, you can always make a story book by building the pages in Photoshop using templates and then exporting the resulting page out as a single JPEG file which you then print as a single page. In this graduation album, I made the pages in Photoshop and then used each page as a single picture printed on each page.
Graduation Album Pages

Also posted in Album Software, Articles, DIY, editing, lightroom, osx, technique

Be Anywhere or Anything You Want with Compositing

The art of compositing opens up a whole new world for photographers and the client. You can be anything or anywhere you want with a bit of preplanning and work. Many people think you have to set up a green screen like Hollywood but in reality, it causes issues with improper lighting. Shooting on a white or black background is much more forgiving and considerably easier to work with. The color selection of the background is really immaterial to a large degree, the still photographer needs the contrast between subject and background to get a clean “cut out”. Proper lighting avoids what is called “spillover” or contamination of the subject with unwanted light and color from the background. I tend to shoot white as much as possible since any spillage looks just like some extra light unlike the day-glow of a green screen.

The image below was shot on a white background with single octobank light. I could have used strip lighting for a more edgy look but this was a “off the cuff” shoot at the end of a family portrait so I used what I had set up.

Olivia on white background

The background was a stock photograph from Depositphotos.com that saved me from having to drive into some sketchy areas on a weekend to get graffiti shots. Note!! Always take element shots when you can and keep them in a library. I take various texture shots and odd bits here and there just for stuff like this.

The Photoshop tool “quick selection” is your friend for this type of work. It’s fast and very easy to get decent results right away. Of course, the more time and effort you put into the selection, the better the results will be. For some work you will find the pen tool to be a better choice but that is a topic for a different day. To get the hair, you can push up the radius up and up. As you go up, Photoshop will go further out from the edge to look for what it thinks to be part of the selected subject based on color.

Olivia Graffiti portrait

You can also use compositing for enhancing images such as I did here for a Christmas card. It was something of a joke for the family since we live in a “non-snow” locality while most of the family lives in snow country. I took a family portrait which I shot against white, a picture of a snow globe, a picture of a local pier at the beach and use a technique for “making snow” in photoshop. This all combined into one image that went on the annual Christmas card. And yes, this is a service I offer and not just for the holidays. Compositing can be the adding of a new board me member, removal of an unwanted person/place or thing and much more.
Final Snow Globe of Sweeneys

You can also use compositing to show off someone or someone’s skill. In this last image, the subject made her costume by hand for Halloween and I composited her into her own movie poster that fit the theme of the costume. To be sure, a composite of this type is not just a “drap and drop” cutout inspite of what some software packages would lead you to think. It takes some time and few tricks to get everything to work together. I hope you can start to see that composting can really open up a world for the more artistic image or a precisely tuned image.
Queen of hearts Composite

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So many words and a new book for iPhone photography

I’m in the last few laps of editing for my new iBook on Successful Iphone Photography. The writing of the book is easy, the editing will kill you. But I’m having a fun with this project. I’ve tried to put in imaginative images that I’ve taken with my iPhones and have gone outside the box to get some cool shots. This book is not a vanity project or an “art” project. God knows there are enough of those around. It’s just “here is how to get solid images from the iPhone”.

 

Here is a preview of some of the images being used in the book. None of these are traditional iPhone images but I have some of those too in the book. These are images to get you thinking about you can do with your own phone. The only limit is what you put on yourself.

 

Double shot of coffee

Nothing like a cup of joe in the morning ?

iPhone 4S using a Hoya R72 IR filter for infrared

Who says you cant shoot IR on the iPhone

Half a Moon with the iPhone

I had several people call me out and say there was not any way this could have been an iPhone shot. I have the EXIF data and the original file. Go ahead, make my day

Using Movie Filmmaking rigging and a iPhone

This was taken using suction cup, ball heads and rigging that I normally attach movie cameras or DSLRs to cars and trucks. This was a fun shot complete with the gaffers tape holding the neutral filter stack over the olloclip lens on my iPhone

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80 / 20 rule or how good is good enough

Point and shoot cameras are a dying breed. Virtually everyone now has a smart phone with a camera and that includes myself. Yes, I have my very expensive cameras for projects and assignments but in truth, often times for myself, I’m shooting with my iPhone. Why? Because it’s “Good enough”. For 80% of the time, it’s perfect for what I need in my daily life. Would I shoot a wedding with it? Only if you paid me AND signed a contract saying as much. For most people, it’s the old 80/20 rule where the 80% is close enough. The iPhone or other smart phone is 80% close enough and they dont need or even want that last 20%.

With the new software like Snapseed and Photoshop apps, you can do alot with the phone or iPad that even a year ago seemed out of reach. You can now get iPhoto for the iPad.. really? a real editor and photo manager on an iPad? Oh yeah.. now we are styling.

So here is an image taken with the iPhone and edited on the phone using Snapseed software. Pretty amazing !!

 

I love shooting 30 second video clips for one group I’m active with on Facebook. Why? Because it’s a fun way for people to really get to know me by HEARING me speak and watch me talk about something. I’ve included a small sample here of my “Cooking Show” for my friends on Facebook.

As Pros, we sometimes forget that the 80/20 rule really does apply in alot of ways. AS consumers, we live in great times but all the apps will not make you a professional photographer. If you want a professional shot, you need to track one of us pros down for that critical 20% of your life when the iPhone picture just wont do. But also remember  that with a bit of work, that small phone can take some amazing images.

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Retouching a bride for a vintage look

Brides are beautiful and because of that, the bride puts a temendous amount of effort and money into this one day. One of the jobs of the wedding photographer is to see that beauty in the bride regardless of circumstances or environment. It also means that at times you need to shoot knowing full well you will be doing something specific in post to make the vision a reality.  This bridal shot which I took at Serra Plaza was one of those moments that I knew I had to shoot with postprocessing in mind and adjust accordingly.

When I reviewed the image in Lightroom, the raw  image had some basic qualities that I thought would make a really good solid image in Black and White. At the time, the key issue to me was that the quality of light was shall we say, less than optimal. It was very late in the day and we were in the shadow side on top of everything else. There was a mix of daylight on her face and some type of sodium light behind her and over her head.  There also was the same fact that  hall lead to a bank ATM and it had a massive concrete trash can off to one side. But I knew with some cropping, I could clean it up quite a bit.  And I also felt that I could clean up the image best in Black and White and dump the mixed colors.

Basic Bridal Color Portrait

Basic Bridal Color Portrait

In the image below, you can see the results of the cropping and the initial Black and White conversion. At this point, I had not removed the trash can or done any major retouching. But you can already see how the black and white treatment really brought the image to life in spite of the lousy lighting. I used Nik’s SilverEfex Pro 2.0 for the conversion and as always, it just works really well to get a clean black and white image.

First pass of bridal conversion to B/W
In the final image here, I used the content aware fill tool in CS5 to remove the trashcan on the left side. Back in Lightroom 3, I also applied a sepia like tone preset called “Silver Dust Hue” from Gavin Seim’s workflow presets. to the image to give a very light vintage look to it. And I darkened the corners a touch. I paid very close attention to my bride to make sure I did not ruin the skin tones or the details on the dress. Remember, along with the look of the bride, its ALL about the dress.  Ruining the details on the dress will ruin the image for the bride, she paid a lot of money for the dress so you had better show it off to the best of your ability.
Final Bridal Portrait with all Retouching

Now we have a keeper of an image and it took about 40 minutes start to finish. I put one version into a digital frame and it looks spectacular.

 

 

 

 

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Shooting Portraits with vintage cameras and film

Who says film is dead? Not by a long shot around here. I just got a roll of 120 Ektacolor Kodak Pro 160 film back from the lab and scanned in a few of the negs. I shot this roll of film using my 1958 Yashica model D TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) camera. This camera is older than I am by a few years and after 90 dollars for refurbishing, it takes awesome pictures with that great vintage depth of field and “feel” to the picture.

 

Portrait using Yashica 120 film camera and adjusted with photoshop CS5This picture was taken out the front door of my house and I took two of them since the girls would not sit still and were goofing around.  So it’s a bit of a marriage of modern software using CS5 Photoshop and vintage film. I did a head swap on the center subject and did some basic color balancing and sharpening.  But that is pretty much it and what you see is what came out of the camera.

It only takes a few days to get the film back from the lab and then I load up my Epson 4990 and scan away. Once the film is scanned, I treat it like any other digital film with one exception, I do not run any noise reduction software on it. The grain of the film is a significant part of the charm of the look and feel of film and I dont want to loose that to overly agressive software.

The one thing that a photographer who is not used to with film is the wide exposure range. What normally would abruptly blow out is a nice gradual blowout and even then, you can still pull back detail that a digital file just will not  have available.  The key difference is that film is analog and has several stops of latitude (except slide film) where as digital has about three stops, maybe four stops on a really good day and IF you are shooting RAW. This is why when I first starting shooting digital in 99, I had some issues with getting my exposures correct. I was used to shooting for the shadow details since I could always bring the highlights back with more printing time for that part. Digital required me to shoot for the highlights since when the numbers hit 255, there was nothing left, not even a trace unlike a film negative.

This is probably the biggest gotcha for anyone new to film who has only shot digital. It is a small but critical item for the photographer to know and to remember as they switch around from film to digital and back. But, as you can see, when you get it nailed, you get some really cool images. Long live film 🙂

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More hotlights and vintage portraits

I’m have a ball with my new hot lights. The vintage portrait project is coming together as I work out how to use the lights, get Lightroom and Photoshop to rework color to black and white and get a good workflow down. I’m also relearning how to shoot film as part of this project.

So the last entry on this subject was about shooting with a single light and this week, I’ve taken it to two lights. The idea is to provide some fill and highlights. And lest you think that one needs an expensive studio or alot of room for this style of shooting, that could be further from the truth. The sample shot I have included this week was taken in a 5×5 space right in front of my front door entry way with some white polarplus gaf-taped to the wall. Pretty low tech if you ask me.

So here is the “studio” shot. I have used my Wacom to mark it up a bit. As you can see, not very high tech at all or expensive.

Vintage studio in house marked up

Vintage studio in house marked up

But the results you can get are pretty amazing. I used Lightroom and Seim’s Power Workflow 3.0 Snapped B/W as my basic conversion from color to Black and White. I’m not sure if I’ll stick with this one but it’s a starting point. I then moved it into CS5 and used Focht’s Touchflow Palette to smooth out skin and add a touch of pop. I also used my Wacom to paint in and paint out extreme shadows, hot spots and such.

Blowing a kiss to fans

Blowing a kiss to fans

Not bad for the price of a doorway studio huh? I’ve found a book at Amazon called Hollywood Portraits: Classic Shots and How to Take Them
which goes into quite a bit of detail in how the old school Hollywood shots were created so that has been ordered. I’ve also ordered up Nik’s Silver Efex kit since it’s on sale at Adorama for a killer price. And yes, it soon will be 64 bit which makes those of us running 64 bit Photoshop very happy. You can download a free 15 day trial from Nik and give a workout to see if you like the outcome but I have to say, it makes some really nice B/W conversions.

I’ve mentioned the clone of the Arri lights before but here are the real deal if you are inclined or feel more comfortable with the brand named item. This can be very important if you want to rent out the kit as grip equipment or the like. This is the complete kit with 3 650 watt lights, roller bag, stands, barn doors etc.

 

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Unexpected photoshoots

Just the other day I was talking about taking advantage of shooting in unplanned circumstances. And so it came to pass, I got a call from a friend telling me about a way to get inside one of the old airship hangers in Tustin here Orange County. The base is still owned by the Navy and had been used as a Marine helicopter base and a blimp base among other things. I have taken pictures over the years of the hangers from the outside but I have never been able to get on the inside. So I get a call saying that there will be a tour on saturday and it’s now friday.

Saturday AM, I’m in a crowd of around 150 people, Boy Scouts, reporters and fellow shutter bugs heading down a dirt road to the old runway leading to the North hanger. We even had one of the few remaining airship pilots who used to fly along the coast of CA in WWII. Claude Makin had a wealth of stories and was happily sharing them and answering questions from the public during the tour.

I had my 5 year old in tow and was trying to work out how to shoot a structure that is 180 feet high, 300 feet wide and 1000 feet long. The SB800 is a bit underpowered for this type of “indoor” shooting 🙂

I had brought two lens, my trusty 17-55mm F2.8 and my 11-24 F4. I found myself wishing for a something like a 10mm fisheye but I made do. It was much lighter on the inside than I thought it would be even with the hanger doors closed due to three rows of windows on each side of the roof running the full 1000 feet. They do have lights on the inside but this time they were off. My typical exposures were ISO 200 at F2.8-F4 and shutters running from 1/25 to 1/160.

These selections of my images give a very good idea of what it’s like on the inside on the hanger. Most of these images were processed using the free Kodachrome actions from Michael W Grey. The actions work very well with many types of images, not all but many.

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