Tag Archives: Lightroom

Playing with Lightroom 4’s black and white conversion

I don’t convert many colour images to black and white. In general if I want a black and white image, I tend to use black and white film. I know that there are many people who use specialist conversion software, but given the cost of this kind of thing, I’ve never been that keen on going down this route.

Incoming storm, by Loch Scridain, Isle of Mull (click image to see larger version)

Incoming storm, by Loch Scridain, Isle of Mull (click image to see larger version)

However, I think the new version of Adobe’s Lightroom (we’re at version 4 now) has improved the black and white conversion processing no end. I installed it yesterday, and today I played with an image from a visit to Mull last autumn that I have tried to convert to black and white several times, but never in a way that I was really happy with. Perhaps it just needed multiple experimentations, but I do have a sense that it was considerably easier to achieve this result in version 4 of Lightroom than in version 3. I’m not sure I’m completely finished with it as I wonder if it’s maybe a little bit too dark, but it certainly now represents more of how I felt the landscape, the clouds and the weather appeared to me at the time – the fast-moving storm from the loch off picture to the left, across to the mountains. It corresponds to how I envisaged the image turning out when I took it. A minute or two after squeezing the shutter, I was back in my car, as the rain hammered down.

I don’t normally find software releases very exciting, but it seems to me that Lightroom 4 is a significant improvement on version 3. And if you want to get it at a reduced cost, Adobe has it on offer at a cheaper price at the moment to mark the release…

PS In case you’re interested in these things, the photograph was taken on a Nikon D90 with a 10-24mm lens at 24mm (that’s equivalent to 36mm in full frame terms).

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Musings on film latitude and related matters

I’ve posted very little here recently, and have only added a couple of incidental items on my micro-blog.  This has two main reasons: I’ve been very busy travelling for work (Germany, Norway, England in the last four weeks), and I’ve also had quite a backlog of films to scan and process.  Concentrating on film and finding a revised routine to my workflow – now that I think I’ve understood what I’m doing with my new Epson scanner – takes time, and after various false starts, I think I’m finally getting there.  There is now, of course, a bit of a backlog of both film and digital images (I’ve not stopped photographing!), and coupled with a desire to redo the galleries here, you’ll appreciate that I’m struggling a bit…

A beautiful Rollei image, as scanned

A beautiful Rollei image, as scanned

However, this posting is tangential to all of these thoughts!  I have, partly because of the 1953 Project (and yes, there are images to go online from that, too!), occasionally been carrying the Rolleiflex with me as a ‘casual camera’.  This regularly elicits interesting conversations with complete strangers, which can be surprising and very nice.  For example, last week I was dining with a friend in London and after our meal I wanted to photograph her with the Rollei; a couple at a neighbouring table began talking to us about the camera, photography and so on… culminating in a request that I might consider photographing their wedding next year; of course, I declined!

Adobe Lightroom settings

Adobe Lightroom settings

The film I’m using for the 1953 Project is Ilford FP4Plus, which is rated at an ISO of 125.  Ilford’s website says it has ‘enormous latitude for exposure error above and below‘ this speed.  I chose it for the project partly for this reason, thinking it wouldn’t much matter if the exposure was slightly off on my portraits because I could always recover the images once they were scanned in.  I didn’t realise quite what ‘enormous’ meant to Ilford, but these images clearly show that.  The first image above is the scan from the negative (Vuescan reversed the negative for me).  I made adjustments in Lightroom, as this screen capture shows: upping the exposure by four stops, pushing the fill light and brightness up, and then reducing the contrast and clarity settings to bring the grain under control.  Aside from dust removal, these are the only changes I made to the image, revealing… Elizabeth Eva Leach, Professor of Music at Oxford University, with whom I had a stimulating lunch at the beginning of September (click on the photograph to go to her blog):

Elizabeth Eva Leach

Elizabeth Eva Leach

It’s not a great portrait, but it astonishes me that it worked at all, not just because of the film exposure issues: the café was relatively dark and I could barely see anything on the ground glass (so focusing was mostly a lucky guess), the lens was wide open at f2.8 with an exposure speed of 1/10th of a second – and yet it’s reasonably sharp despite all this!  And this isn’t a coincidence: another portrait taken under similar circumstances was just as underexposed and with similar Lightroom adjustments it came out fine too:

Another Ilford FP4Plus sample, with similar exposure settings

Another Ilford FP4Plus sample, with similar exposure settings

What I love about all this is the visceral nature of the film and the process.  For sure, I could have taken these portraits on a digital camera and bumped up the auto ISO settings – but I’m not convinced they would have looked any ‘better’ (they would have been different…).  Of course, even the process of ‘extracting’ an image from an almost entirely black square of film gives me enormous pleasure – it’s like finding a treasure!  I don’t regard myself by any means as a format fetishist, but returning to film does give me huge pleasure: my use of the Mamiya for landscapes makes me photograph with much greater consideration and precision than I used to with the digital camera, and I LOVE that.

For example, here’s a dawn image from the Mamiya taken on Velvia 50 of the Ratzeburg Küchensee in northern Germany this August.  I remember taking quite a while to compose it in order to make sure the twisted twigs were below the tree line, whereas I think with a digital camera I might have fired off a good half-dozen shots at different heights and then hoped one had worked when I was back at the computer – but here I composed slowly and carefully, got it right, and then made… two exposures (er… the first one had a misplaced graduated filter that I noticed after squeezing the cable release!).

Küchensee, Ratzeburg

Küchensee, Ratzeburg

(I’ve lightened the exposure by half a stop and added a little fill light, otherwise it’s as it came from the scanner.)

In a few weeks’ time I’m off to Assynt with Bruce Percy.  I’m really looking forward to this, and though I’ll take my Mamiya, I will mostly use the Nikon D90 so that images can be readily critiqued by Bruce and the group.  I’m keen to observe myself with this, as it were: I’m sure my recent return to film will have changed how I use the digital camera for landscapes.  Before going to Assynt, I’m also going to the Isle of Mull for a week of secluded reading – and I may just take a photograph or two whilst I’m there…

On laziness, composition and zoom lenses

One of my main gripes about Nikon’s so-called ‘super zoom’ for DX cameras, the 18-200mm lens, used to be the distortion that made curves out of straight lines (mine is the older version, but the new version still has the same levels of distortion, as I understand it).  And then came the fantastic new version of Adobe Lightroom and it was possible to fix all that at the click of a button.  Then Nikon introduced a firmware update to the D90 and other cameras that took care of all this in camera – so you might see a sagging horizon in the viewfinder, but the camera now works out compensatory adjustments to remove this distortion, and you would see straight horizons directly on the camera’s screen (by the way, that link is to the Mac version, but if you haven’t yet upgraded to a Mac, there is a Windoze link somewhere too).  Both fixes work for dozens of lenses.

So: on a recent excursion through a woodland outside Edinburgh, I thought I’d just take this zoom and leave the primes at home: exactly the opposite of what I’d been doing for quite a while now (I was only really using the zoom for portraits).

But I’d forgotten how lazy a zoom like this makes me!  Here are two tree images from that walk.

Trees

Trees

The first is not particularly great, but it sort of works.  The four dark trees are offset by the dried out white wood at the bottom of the image, and there is a kind of lead-in through the trees framed on either side by the differently toned greens of the trees on both left and right from just above the white wood.  Shot at 95mm (i.e. about 142mm in 35mm format), it still has just about enough depth to make it look like an interesting woodland.  I’m not going to be framing this and putting it on my wall, but it is vaguely passable.

More trees

More trees

But this image really doesn’t work.  I was initially attracted by the white cross/plus at the top of the image – an interesting feature that I wanted to set in the wider context of the trees around it.  It was only visible from a particular angle, which I happen to have found.  But this image is a victim of my laziness brought on my using the zoom: shot at the full length of 200mm (300mm in 35mm terms!), it is completely flat and totally boring, as all the detail of the surrounding trees just blends into one amorphous mess.  I should have walked towards it, used a much shorter focal length (that cross would still have been visible) and shot it then – but somehow, when composing, I completely ignored/forgot that wide-angle lenses increase the illusion of depth, whilst telephoto lenses diminish it.

At least this little exercise ensures I’ll take my prime lenses with me next time and just work a bit harder at the composition, including using the zoom facility known as ‘walking’ – and then this kind of silliness is less likely to occur… I hope!

Getting there, slowly

One of the problems with being off work with an arm injury (and therefore being unable to use the computer properly) is that editing photographs is also a problem: many of the mouse movements are difficult, and repetitive actions strained my arm and hand in ways that prevented me from doing anything very much with any of my images.  And using my Wacom tablet was out of the question – and still is.

Now, I have far too many photographs in my optimistically-named ‘temp’ folder in Lightroom 3, just waiting for me to sort and edit them (oh, and go through the mindless but necessary tedium of adding keywords). For almost all of the photographs in that limbo state, this delay is not a problem – they are just my private photographs. But shortly before the accident I had volunteered to take photographs at an event at my son’s school: the older pupils were running a fashion show to help raise some funds, and these photographs needed to be processed urgently. And… I must be getting better since not only am I beginning to use my cameras again, I have also managed to finish the edits on the fashion show, editing photographs in batches.

This was an enjoyable evening, and the pupils’ enthusiasm was infectious – not much sullen strutting up the catwalk in evidence here!  Even dubious fashion items (a leather kilt, anyone?) were worn with pride, and many of the young women clearly felt like princesses in their prom dresses and the like.  (Must remember not to mention the forthcoming examinations to them…)

School fashion show

School fashion show

Relaxing in the sun

Ngoni relaxing in the winter sun

Ngoni relaxing in the winter sun

I’m not going to create a new blog entry for every image of Ngoni that I process, but this is one of my favourites!  There is something rather mad about being out in the snow in a bikini, but she continually assured me she wasn’t too cold (I was in my thermals, standing in the stream to capture this!).  Before you think I’m a sadist who enjoys inflicting cold on my models, one thing you can’t see is that Ngoni is not really sitting in the snow, but on a hot water bottle wrapped in a white cotton bag – her bum and thighs were probably the only part of her that was really warm!  I’m beginning to put together some images for a little gallery here, but in the meantime I thought it might be interesting to describe a little some of the processes behind making this image.

Trying to capture her naked skin against the mass of white snow was not completely straightforward, partly because (for the camera, at least), the snow dominates the scene.  The camera’s white balance (set to ‘shadow’) still managed to make everything look rather blue, and the snow overwhelmed the camera’s meter, even though I metered for her face (in camera, I didn’t use a lightmeter as I was trying to be as fast as I could to prevent her from getting too cold!  Key settings were ISO400, f4.2, 1/60s, the aperture being designed to create a relatively shallow depth of field).  But because the camera struggled a bit with the dynamic range, along with correcting the white balance and other general edits in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, I needed to carry out some editing just on her body, and others just on the background, involving a tedious selection process (Photoshop’s magic wand etc. found itself being rather confused by the white bikini and the snow, and Ngoni’s legs and the bridge, making a totally manual selection necessary).  Still, this allowed very precise edits to be made for Ngoni and the environment.

Also, although she is, of course, the main feature of this photograph, she occupies a relatively small portion of the overall scene.  I felt that her rather pale makeup, which worked so well in the other shots from the day, got a bit lost here, so I made some adjustments to her makeup as well, which in the small image here is most noticeable in the form of much darker ‘lipstick’ being used.

I love using Lightroom!

Ngoni at the window

Ngoni at the window

I do love Adobe Lightroom’s “Develop” module!  This image of Ngoni was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.  The Photoshop edits were fairly minimal, and should probably have been done in Lightroom too… this would no doubt have speeded up the editing.  The most substantive changes (from cropping to colour HSL settings, clarity, saturation, etc.) were all done in Lightroom, and I really like the end result: I think it almost looks like a pencil drawing.  Lightroom makes this kind of processing so fast and simple, I would recommend it for every photographer.

Ngoni is actually standing in front of a door here; I’ll be putting up a gallery of images of our shoot together fairly soon, but for now, this image on RedBubble shows the context.

Event photography: Africa in Edinburgh!

Directors with Jean-Marie Teno

Directors with Jean-Marie Teno

Photographing at my first wedding in May, I found it a very pressured experience, but this last week I’ve been engaging in a different kind of event photography.  Together with my friend Mabel Forsyth I’ve been photographing for the Africa-in-Motion film festival, one of the largest African film festivals outside Africa.  This involves us photographing at selected events (the organisers have not booked us for every one of the myriad events that make up the festival) and ensuring images taken in the evening are available for press use by the next morning.  There is a pressure in doing that, because there are usually a substantial number of images that need to have quick edits performed on them and made ready within hours of the event happening – no 15 months for edits allowed here!!

I have found all this (a kind of photojournalism, I suppose) to have a certain appeal: composition and ‘getting it right first time’ are important here, as is the need to quickly assess an image as 1) good, 2) good enough provided it’s edited a bit, or 3) not good enough/rubbish (hopefully not too many in the third category!), and then thinking about which edits are needed to improve each image.  Having edited more than several hundred images in a couple of nights, I realise that the only edits that I have really been performing are related to cropping, occasional red-eye removal, adjusting/lifting exposure, and noise reduction.  For sorting, editing and exporting large numbers of images very quickly, Adobe’s Lightroom 3 has been simply invaluable: I haven’t needed to open Photoshop once (Photoshop will be used for editing a selection of images for high quality print usage after the Festival, of course).

The reception

The reception

One of the interesting things about my crops that I have noticed is that most of them have automatically become 4×5 crops.  Without consciously realising it, I have made this my default crop size for portraits; I was aware I was doing this (or going with completely square images) for landscapes, but I’ve been shooting just (environmental) portraits these last few days.  The standard 6×4 size that SLRs produce (for historical reasons, it’s the size that 35mm film went with) is too long and thin for me and I generally prefer squarer shapes.  That much I knew.  But after editing over 200 images in one evening, I realised that most of them had ended up in 4×5 format too… an interesting little development on my part, I think.

The festival is still going strong at the time of writing, ending next week with a fashion show – I’m looking forward to that!

There is a gallery of images here from the festival that I’ll occasionally add to as time goes by (especially from the fashion show), but the festival Facebook page and (I think) the website are showing more images, including ones by Mabel – so check out the photographs and if you are nearby, go to some of the excellent events being organised in the festival!