Sunday, 20 March 2011

Adobe Lightroom 3: Tips and Tricks

Attended the recent Focus on Imaging event at the Birmingham NEC, where we were fortunate enough to sit in on a class about Adobe Lightroom. Here are the notes I made:

Adobe Lightroom is used for over 95% of photo editing by professionals - the rest can be completed in Photoshop (which integrates seamlessly into workflow of LR). Lightroom is "non-destructive", which means it doesn't touch the original file, but rather remembers what you have done with it and then you simply decide an export format.  So this would typically mean you shoot in RAW, process in Lightroom, the export into JPEGs.  I've done this recently with two wedding events and it works very well, especially when you utilise the "flag" tool to go through an select / de-select / or even remove the photos you wish to work with.

Short Cut Keys:
  • C = Compare Selected Images
  • P = Pick (see the flags)
  • U = Unpick (see the flags)
  • X = Reject (see the flags)
  • R = Crop - use the "ruler" tool to draw a line along anything in the image that represents the horizon to align straight before cropping. (O = change the gridlines for cropping)
  • N = Survey Mode
  • = White Balance (use the selector key to pick an area of the image that is neutral)
  • L = Lights Out
  • V = Black & White
  • TAB = Increase screen 
  • F = Full Screen Mode
  • J = Show Clipping (i.e. show's red / blue areas on histogram where detail has been lost so you can pull back from either side)
  • Auto Sync = synchronise multiple images to apply the same work, such as white balance or noise reduction if they are all shot in the same space.  Good if you like a pre-set that you want to apply to multiple shots.
  • T = show toolbars
Other stuff:
  • Smart Collections - e.g. noise reduction / High ISO images
  • Create Pre-sets if you want to apply the same noise reduction for example, and this can be applied on import also.
  • Spot Removal tool - handy way to make those unwanted spots disappear, such as a drop of oil on a white plate.
  • Adjustment Brush tool - fantastic when there is a particular area of the image than needs increased exposure - here is a great tutorial I found explaining this properly (the next page on Graduated Filter is great too):
  • Neutral Density Filter - for those over exposed skies, darken the sky from the top down using the above mentioned Graduated filter.
  • Virtual Copies - the beauty of Lightroom working on top of an image rather an inside it means that you can create virtual copies of an image without doing anything to the original file (usually quite big!).  For example, you can try a colour and b/w version of the same shot.
  • Black and White - use targeted filers (little round circle in corner of colour slide box) and apply each colour to test out which is best. Especially good with skies/clouds.
Open an image and go through the list - I found it very useful once I learned the above!

Thanks to Debbie Jones from Imaging Essence who delivered the presentation (

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

1st Published Photo - Dawn on the Banks of Taj Mahal

A photo I took during my time backpacking around India with my compact Sony P120 Cybershot has been published in The Spectator Magazine, as below.  I recommend you get your good travel photos onto TrekEarth which is where this particular photo was picked up from.  It's a great site to learn about the world through photography and develop your skills by sharing comments / feedback with other users.  It also goes to show that it's not the camera that makes the great photo - it's more about the composition of what you take, which can be done with any camera.  

The credit is given in the top right corner of the image. Online version of the above article: All these Indias

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Lens: Canon 50mm f/1.8

I recently upgraded from my kit lens to a prime (fixed) lens - which essentially means a lens at a fixed focal length (i.e. zoom) and therefore has no 'zooming' function.  This particular lens is at 50mm (which on my kit lens scale of 18mm to 55mm is highly magnified).  This means you have to step back to capture the same amount of image as previous compositions, at say 18mm.

The lens I purchased was the Canon 50mm f/1.8 and costs £85 on Amazon (see link).
Considered to be one of Canon's cheapest lens (evident from build quality), it's main advantage, which more than compensates plastic exterior and noisy function is the actual lens within.  At an aperture of 1.8 (remembering that the kit lens only gave a maximum aperture (f number) of 3.5), you get an idea of the power of this lens.  Aperture is essentially how big the whole with which you allow light through a lens is - and the lower the 'f' number, the lower the aperture.  The main purpose of aperture is to allow more light to enter at a give shutter speed, in other words, with an aperture of 1.8 instead of 3.5, less light is required to take the same image.  This is useful when you are in low-light conditions such as indoors (and you do not want to use a flash).

The other main and exciting feature with this lens is the ability to work with Depth of Field. I don't know enough about DoF to explain it properly (lots of the net), but in essence, it is a parallel plane (to the capture medium / camera's sensor) which is in focus with the remain sections in front and behind slows fading out of focus.  Low aperture enables the plane of focus to be really narrow (i.e. shallow depth of field) giving those trademark captures with crystal clear subject and blurry backgrounds.

For example, we can see a shot I took of a goose eating bread on a winters day - the head is in focus and relatively clear compared to the background which is 'blurred' - this demonstrated the potential of this 50mm lens:
Goose captured using Canon 50mm f/1.8 Lens
More examples of 50mm lens images can be found on the 50mm Flickr Group.

Vignettes - darkening the edges of photos

With my recent discovery of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3, I have found the vignette tool to be very helpful in post-capture processing to give a professional and creative look.

The process of a vignette was originally (and still can be) and unintended effect of the lens due to the way it curves outwards allowing less light around the edges of the capture. As you can see from this example image, vignetting allows the image to have greater focus in the centre by darkening the edges.
With Vignette (and other processing)

Without Vignette - Original Photo as Shot

The simplest way to apply this vignette is using Lightroom (which is what I used above as well as for my other images).  There are three options, but the default "Hightlight Priority" is the best one to use as this ensures minimal loss of detail around the edges, where it does exist.  

This below video gives a good introduction and example of how to apply this effect properly (using Lightroom) to your images.  I found this very useful, recommend you watch it!

Slightly more difficult, but probably more commonly used is the Lens Correction Filter in Photoshop.  For a guide on how to do this in Photoshop, click here.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

HDR Done Right: Digital Photography School

Thanks to my work colleague Alan, I was introduced to the website Digital Photography School which gives great tips and guides on photography.  

One thing I have been experimenting with is High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging which basically means you get a wider range of luminance, i.e. combining a range of dark and light exposures to give a much deeper fuller image.  For a more accurate explanation, see Wikipedia on HDR.  Now, the proper way to do this type of imaging is to take at least 3 exposures, typically one or two stops either side of a balanced metering (i.e. one too dark, one too light and one just right).  Then using one of the programmes out there (or Adobe Photoshop CS5) you can combine the images to give you the HDR image.  Alternatively, if have not been able to capture multiple exposures of the same composition, you can use "HDR effect" that can be produced in Photoshop (which is what I've ended up doing on some of my shots).

As a beginner, there is a tendency to over-do things... which is what I've probably done.  However, I sometimes think you have to cross the mark to really know where it is! Digital Photography School shows how to do HDR properly with some good sample images: 19 Beautiful Examples of HDR done right

My experiments with HDR:

More London Offices

The Bull, Bull Ring Birmingham
Other experiments with HDR on Flickr.

Recently discovered on my Canon 1000D the "Auto Exposure Bracketing" (AEB) function (see page 80 of the Instruction Manual).  Find this through the Menu button and you can set the camera to take 3 images on one click of the shutter - at a predetermined stop either side of where you meter in addition to the metered shot (best done using full manual mode).

My Journey: Painting with light...

...corny, but true! Photography is simply painting with light, revolving around the fundamental concept of exposure - the process by which we vary the amount of light hitting a capture medium in order to create an image.  Everything else seems to be additional extras to make the image look better.

My digital photography journey began in December 2006 when I took five weeks off work to go backpacking around North India.  The mostly pre-arranged tour was aptly named "Unforgettable India" and took us around Rajasthan and along the Ganges towards Varanasi.  With my compact Sony P120, I was able to take lots of photos and found the lustre and colours of India tantalising through a lens.  My only regret back then was capturing all those photos at 3 mega pixels instead of the full 5 mega pixels to save on memory card space! 

A selection of the best photos from this travel adventure are displayed online here:

After coming back, my relationship with India blossomed and so did my appetite for photography.  I made my first 'photobook' using which turned out really impressive - with many people giving feedback suggesting I take up photography properly! :)

Following this encouragement, I made several other trips to India and began sharing online using Flickr, which I found to be the best serious photography sharing site on the net (Recommend signing up to Flickr Pro, which for around £15 a year gives unlimited storage and uploading).

Just before going on a one year voluntary service programme (Indicorps), I was inspired by my girlfriends' recent purchase of a Digital SLR to go out and buy one myself.  I'd been holding back because of cost, but literally the day before I was to fly, I walked into the local Jessops and purchased my Canon 1000D (Kit Lens) camera! (Spent a large amount of my savings, which wasn't much, but figured I rather living in debt than regret :-) )

I knew my year in India would be very photogenic and I was determined to use it in the spirit of service, which was to be the over-riding philosophy for the year.  And I was able to - from capturing rural students to village festivals, and returning these back to the smiling faces.

The reason for starting this blog is to share my growth and development in digital photography.  I have found it so helpful to learn from people along the way, be that through physically showing me new ways to capture or recommending websites on post-capture enhancing.  And this is my way to pay it forward... in addition to being a space for me to return to as and when I need to refresh my understanding.

I hope you find it useful!

All of my photos (most of them unprocessed) on Flickr.