Digital Image Editing Tips

  • Sizing Images Made Easy (Easier?) On The PhotoCascadia Blog

    Sizing images for screen and print output may be one of the most confusing and misunderstood concepts in digital photography, which is deceiving because it appears pretty basic on the surface. Even after more than a decade of moderately hardcore Photoshop use I still find new ways to confound myself in this area. This topic is steeped in misunderstanding, urban legend, faulty logic and general confusion. Screen resolution vs. print resolution? What is the correct resolution for the web? To resample or not to resample? How much can I enlarge an image for printing? Why shouldn't I upload a bunch of full resolution 21 megapixel images to Facebook or email them to grandma?

    I have published an article on the Photo Cascadia Blog that I hope will help clear things up a bit and allow folks to get a firm grasp on exactly how best to size images for different purposes. However, if you are a recreational photographer who isn't concerned with optimal image output, you should maintain your blissful state of mind and avoid reading this article at all cost.

    If you are already involved in using Photoshop or other photo processing applications to size your images then it could be a worthwhile read. You might be interested to know that screen images don't need to be 72 ppi (pixels per inch) and that, in fact, ppi resolution doesn't have any affect on how images appear on the screen? And what about always printing at a certain resolution such as 300 or 360 ppi? The reality is that resolutions as low as 180 ppi can produce prints that look the just as good to the eye as higher resolutions and sometimes even better. Check out the article to learn more and find out my personal guidelines and workflow tips for sizing images.

  • New Blog On PhotoCascadia - Dust Spot Removal

    My most recent article is now up over on the PhotoCascadia blog. Dust spots are a constant thorn in the side of the digital slr photographer. It seems that no amount of cleaning and care in changing lenses ever fully keeps dust from sneaking back on to our sensors. I hate to think how many hours of my life have been spent cloning dust spots off of my images. Even worse than having to remove the spots is to find out that not all of the spots were visible in the unprocessed raw file, but after making contrast, luminosity and clarity adjustments they show up. Depending on the developing techniques used it can be anywhere from difficult to near impossible to get the spots out without artifacts at this late stage in the game. The worst is when they go unnoticed until the image has been enlarged and printed.

    In my article I share a very simple technique that can be used to help reveal sneaky dust spots so they can be dealt with right at the beginning of the Photoshop workflow. You can read the article on the PhotoCascadia blog.

  • Digital Image Processing Video Tutorials

    Digital cameras and image processing have revolutionized photography. There was a time when photographers had a holistic view of photography, mastering both the technical skills with a camera and the artistic skills in the darkroom to develop and process their images to perfection. Embracing the two sides of photography, capture and processing, allowed them to showcase their personal vision in their images. The advent of 35mm color slide film photography shifted the focus away from processing and placed greater emphasis on camera technique, with certain limitations. While camera technique is as important as it ever was, digital image processing has provided a path for photographers to get back in the "darkroom" and regain the creative control of developing and processing images.

    In three separate video tutorial series I share knowledge, philosophy, guiding workflow and specific techniques that I use to process and develop my photographs.

    Photoshop Basics For Nature Photographers Price: $39.99
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    New to Photoshop? Learn to apply Photoshop to your outdoor, landscape & nature photography including Bridge and Camera Raw, plus the basic layout, tools, palettes, adjustments and filters you need to know to get started processing your outdoor photographs using the power & precision of Photoshop CS.

    This tutorial series is for Photoshop beginners or those who want to fill in gaps in their skills. Based in CS5, almost all of the content is also applicable to earlier versions of CS and Photoshop Elements.
    Includes 23 video tutorials with over three and a half hours of content.

    Digital Processing Workflow For Nature Photographers Pre: $44.99

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    This tutorial series helps you establish an organized, best practice, non-destructive workflow . The workflow progresses through image organization, raw processing, and non-destructive Photoshop techniques. Topics include image clean up, color and contrast, selections, adjustment layers, masks and soft proofing for print as well as creative processing techniques that I use.

    These tutorials are based in Photoshop CS5 but most of the workflow is also applicable to earlier versions of CS and Photoshop Elements.

    Includes 30 video tutorials with over four hours of content.

    Processing For Extended DynamiRange Price: $44.99

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    These advanced tutorials provide instruction in powerful techniques that will help you overcome the limitations of cameras to properly record high dynamic range light. Techniques include raw processing, Photoshop adjustments, exposure blending and luminosity masking.
    These tutorials do not teach how to use HDR software. The techniques are all based on Photoshop adjustments and layer masking techniques. Proficiency with Photoshop CS is essential. Not compatible with Photoshop Elements.
    Includes 29 video tutorials with over four and a half hours of content.
    Digital Workflow And Extending Dynamic Range Set Price $79.99 Add to CartView Cart
    Get Digital Processing Workflow For Nature Photographers and Processing For Extended Dynamic Range together at a special price.

    Tutorial Samples

    Photoshop Basics

    Processing Workflow

    Extending Dynamic Range

  • How Many Exposures To Bracket For Exposure Blending Or HDR?

    As photographers we frequently struggle to overcome the limitations of our equipment in order to create the photographs we envision. One of the biggest limitations of traditional photography is the narrow dynamic range of light that can be contained in an image compared to what we see.

    Techniques for blending exposures vary from simple to highly complex. They can be accomplished using skilled layer masking techniques in Photoshop. We also have the option to use one of a rapidly growing list of exposure blending programs commonly referred to as High Dynamic Range (HDR) software.

    One of the most common questions I'm asked in classes and workshops on the topic of bracketing exposures for exposure blending and HDR imaging is, "how do you know how many exposures you need to bracket?"

    The goal is to capture all the dynamic range tonal information in a scene in a series of exposures. The sequence of images below shows four exposures I took of a high dynamic range scene on the Columbia River. Having all the shadow and highlight information recorded in the various exposures allowed me to blend them using layer masks to create the final image. I could have also used one of many HDR applications to blend the exposure values.

    To read the full article I wrote on the Photo Cascadia Blog go HERE.

    In the first exposure I noticed that both the shadows and highlights extended beyond the ends of the histogram.

    By underexposing a stop I was able to contain most of the highlights.

    Underexposing two stops enabled me to retain detail in even the brightest highlights.

    Finally I overexposed by two stops to get an exposure in which no shadow detail was clipped. I did take an exposure one stop over exposed but didn't end up using it in the final image.

    After careful blending using layers masks I did some additional processing for color and contrast to arrive at the final image.

    You can read the complete article on the PhotoCascadia.com blog.

    Please leave a comment or question below.

  • Important RAW Adjustments For The Best Large Prints

    As a fine art landscape and nature photographer, one of my goals is to create the very best quality master files of my images that will produce prints with great detail, sharpness and clarity even at very large sizes. While the topic of how to create the highest quality prints in a digital workflow is deep and complex, I am going to share three simple RAW adjustments that are often overlooked but can make a big difference in the final quality of large format printed images.

    RAW sharpening, RAW noise reduction and removal of chromatic aberrations could determine the success of this image as a large gallery print.

    My latest article on the Photo Cascadia blog covers three simple but often overlooked adjustments that can be made during the processing of RAW files that will add subtle but critical quality to images destined to be printed as large format fine art or gallery prints.

    Before chromatic aberration removal

    After chromatic aberration removal

    Many photographers are educated on how to best prepare RAW files for white balance, contrast, clarity, and color but either don't know or forget to also make adjustments for RAW sharpening, noise reduction and removal of chromatic aberrations. All three are quick and easy to deal with and can create serious problems in large fine art prints if they are not attended to.

    My article goes through each adjustment, what it does and how to use it, along with before and after examples. If you are using expensive camera equipment, practicing careful camera techniques and spending quality time processing your images in the computer for best print output, then you should absolutely know how to use these three simple RAW adjustments. The full article can be viewed on the Photo Cascadia blog HERE.

  • Never Hurts to Check

    Bandon Beach, OregonIt never hurts to check back through old images. I apply a fairly rigorous editing process to my images. After a shoot I download the images and then begin the deleting. Using Adobe Lightroom I first find any images that are out of focus, poorly exposed, etc. and delete them. Next I go through and flag all the images that I think may have some promise. Looking at just the flagged images I now go through again and give each image a rank from one to three stars, with three stars being the top level images. Finally I give color codes to some of the stared images, red to indicate a prime select and yellow to indicate a basic stock image. Once this is done I am now able to quickly get back to the best images from a shoot as well as sort them by their potential future use.

    However, I need to stay in the practice of going back and looking through the images that didn't receive a star or a color label from time to time. Often I will find a great image that slipped through the cracks or that I had a bias against at the time, but looks more appealing once I have distanced my mind from it a bit. The photo above of one of the rock formations and beach near Bandon is one such photo. When I took the photo I was hoping for a brilliant sunrise, so when the dawn came with gray conditions I was disappointed, but still dutifully took a few images. My lack of enthusiasm for the day affected how I saw this image when I was first editing the group of images it was in and it didn't make the cut. Nearly a year later I came across it while searching for different beach images. Now that I have had time to distance my mind from the fact that there wasn't a colorful sunrise the image really stands out to me. Now I rather like the dramatic, dark and somewhat ominous feel and muted tones. I have also moved the image quite a bit higher in my ranking system.

  • High Dynamic Range Photography Techniques

    This article is adapted from a presentation I recently gave to the Southern Oregon Photographic Association.

    High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography is a type of photography that has seen a rapid growth in popularity recently. There are Flickr groups dedicated to it and it comes up regularly in photography forums across the web. In its most recent incarnation HDR photography involves combining multiple exposures of a scene using HDR imaging software, the most popular of which is Photomatix by HDRsoft. Just do a Google search for HDR photography or Photomatix and you can see thousands of examples of Photomatix HDR images.  The image below is typical of a lot of HDR images you will see out there. Some are technically excellent, some are uniquely artistic, some are captivating and some are just plain bad.

    The purpose of HDR photography is to create an image of a scene that has a greater range of light values than can be normally be captured by a single film or digital image. Depending on how it is used, HDR imaging software can allow the photographer to create an image that is closer to what the human eye perceives when looking at a high dynamic range scene. However, more and more it is being used to create surreal, whimsical or fantastical photo illustrations that don't necessarily reflect the human experience but fall into a whole new genre of photographic art (check out the Flickr group).

    I often use the basic concepts of HDR imaging in my work because I like to photograph in very extreme lighting situations that are awesome to experience in person, but impossible to capture with a simple click of the camera shutter. Sometimes I use HDR techniques to create images that are pure fantasy. Most often my goal is to attempt to recreate my personal experience in a way that is more accurate than my camera can record. Therefore, much of my HDR photography does not have the stereotypical cartoonish, haloed, surreal look that you will find in a lot of the current HDR images being made. I also do not normally use Photomatix or other HDR software to create my HDR photos. Rather, I employ a variety of other techniques first, depending on the situation, and turn to software as a final option.

    Before I get further into this discussion of high dynamic range imaging allow me to back up a bit and put a little context on the term "dynamic range". Most simply put, dynamic range, as it applies to photography, is the difference between the maximum (brightest) and minimum (darkest) measurable light intensities for a given scene, film, sensor, screen, etc. This range in photography is often referred to in terms of stops. A stop equals a doubling of the amount of light. A one stop increase in light results in double the light intensity and two stops results in four times the light and so on. The following dynamic range values are open to much debate among photographers and a lot of different values can be found depending on who you read or talk to.  So to avoid getting an argument started, let me point out that I'm using values I borrowed from other sources and only use them as simple reference points, not as the final word on what the exact values may or may not be.

    The human eye is said to have a dynamic range of as much as 24 stops. This would indicate that from the darkest shadow detail the eye can see, to the brightest highlight, the light intensity can double 24 times. That's a bit misleading however, because as we scan a scene our eyes adjust rapidly to darker and brighter areas and our brain quickly composites the various information into what seems like a single image. In reality, if a person is to look at one part of a scene without scanning (this is closer to how a camera does it and is called instantaneous dynamic range) , the dynamic range of the eye is something closer to 14 stops. However, we normally perceive a scene with the greater effective dynamic range because we naturally scan with our eyes.

    By comparison, slide film has a dynamic range of around 5 stops, print film around 7 stops and the data contained within a quality digital RAW file closer to 10 stops. The average scene you might photograph has a dynamic range of about 10 stops but the kinds of extreme lighting scenes that I like to photograph are often in that 14 to 24 stop range of human vision, and sometimes even beyond.  So the problem is that much of what we photograph is within the range of what our eyes can see, but outside the ability of a camera (film or digital) to record all at once. The result is that we often take images that either have shadows that are totally black (underexposed), highlights that are totally white (overexposed) or a combination of both. This can be really frustrating when you remember seeing an amazing sunset over a luminescent ocean, but your photos show only dark, muddy waves and a featureless white sky. Enter the need for HDR photography.

    HDR photography is basically any technique for creating an image that contains a higher dynamic range than can normally be captured in a single frame in a camera (either film or digital). There are actually many ways to extend the dynamic range of a photograph , but a great number of digital photographers are now going strait to the computer software solution. While there are some great advantages to the "Photomatix" approach, I'll point out some reasons why it might be worth it to have some other tricks in the HDR tool box as well.

    So, what are some of the different ways to create higher dynamic range images? The ones I'm most familiar with include:

    1. darkroom techniques (available to traditional film shooters with serious darkroom skills)
    2. graduated filters
    3. careful processing of a RAW image file
    4. double processing a single RAW image file and manually blending the two versions together using photo editing software
    5. manually blending multiple bracketed exposures taken in the camera
    6. using HDR imaging software to automatically blend a set of bracketed exposures.

    As it turns out, HDR photography is almost as old as photography itself (there is some good historical information on Wikipedia). In the late 1800's photographers developed darkroom techniques that enabled them to create single images from two or more separately exposed negatives. This allowed them to produce a positive print that maintained the right exposure in both a bright sky and a dark foreground. Later, Ansel Adams and friends developed the Zone System which was designed to identify the best exposure for any scene that would later allow for the greatest degree of tonal information to be recovered in print. While not truly HDR because he was still working within the limits of a single exposure, his techniques did greatly improve the ability to get a high level of dynamic range from the negative to the print.

    Graduated filters are perhaps the least post production intensive way to create HDR images. A graduated filter is generally a piece of glass or plastic that has a gradient on it that fades from dark (usually neutral gray unless a color shift is desired) to clear. The dark half of the filter is usually placed over the brighter sky with the transition lining up with the horizon and the clear portion over the darker foreground. The darker portion of the filter "holds back" some of the light (usually 1, 2 or 3 stops worth) while the clear portion lets all the light through from the darker foreground. While this doesn't actually extend the dynamic range of the film or digital sensor in the camera, it does help balance a high dynamic range scene so that all the tonal information can be captured within the range of the camera (see example below). The biggest advantage to using graduated filters is that everything happens in-camera so there is no additional post processing time required. All darkroom and computer based HDR techniques require anywhere from several minutes to many hours of additional time. On the down side, graduated filters have a straight transition line that is very difficult to fit on a scene that doesn't have a straight horizon, often resulting in a dark "grad line" cutting across trees, mountains, buildings or any other dark objects that project above the horizon.

    Shooting and processing RAW image files (most current digital SLRs have the ability to shoot RAW files as well as jpegs) isn't technically an HDR technique because it only uses the light captured in a single exposure. However, there is so much data captured in the RAW format that during processing using a RAW converter (many exist but most cameras come with RAW software.   Programs like Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop also support RAW processing) it is possible to recover both shadow and highlight detail that appeared to be outside the dynamic range when the image was taken. The degree of latitude, often one or more stops in either direction, can be enough to create a final image that has a much greater dynamic range than what the camera appeared to capture (see example below / click to enlarge). The advantages to this are that it is fast, easy and all done with a single exposure. One downside is that even RAW files are limited to how much dynamic range they can contain, so it only works to a point. Another is that trying to recover too much detail from deep shadows in this way can result in a high degree of digital noise.

    Sometimes, I find that a single RAW file contains all the tonal range that is needed for a properly exposed image, but I'm not able to get the entire image to look good with a single RAW conversion. In these cases I will do what is called double processing the RAW file to create two different exposures and then manually blend the exposures using various blending techniques in Photoshop. Exposure blending is a tricky art/skill in itself that takes a lot of practice to do well. Alone, it could be the focus of a multi-day workshop (I'll have to work on offering one), so there isn't time to go into depth here. I have a very basic post on the topic HERE. In the examples below, the first image was RAW processed to have the desired sky exposure. The second is from the same RAW image file, this time processed for the desired foreground exposure.  The third is the result of blending the two exposures in Photoshop. This technique works great as long as the entire dynamic range of the scene is contained within the RAW file. For that reason this technically isn't a true HDR technique either, but the results can be a much greater dynamic range than could be achieved by single processing the RAW file and way beyond anything that could be done with a jpeg capture or film.

    When the dynamic range of a scene is too great to be reigned in with graduated filters or to contain within a single RAW capture, I apply the manually blended multiple exposure technique. The blending techniques I use here are the same as the ones I use with the double processed RAW file technique, and again are a topic for a multi-day workshop. The advantage of this approach is that I can take as many exposures in the camera as I need to contain the complete dynamic range of a scene. Using this technique I can easily take a series of exposures that can contain the full dynamic range of just about any situation, including the full 24 stops of human perception and even beyond. The blending process for combining two or more different exposures is tedious and can take hours or even days, and if not done well the result is obvious and bad. So, I only use it on images that I think are going to be great. There are many advantages. Most important to me is that this technique produces the cleanest, sharpest, artifact free, data rich final images. Another advantage is that I have complete creative and local control over how I blend the exposures and what I want the final image to look like, allowing me to get as close as possible to what I envisioned when I took the photo. In the example below, the dynamic range between the sky and the foreground was way beyond the 10 stops I could contain in a single RAW file. I didn't want to use graduated filters so I could avoid the additional flare they can cause when facing into bright light and because of the irregular shape of the lighthouse projecting above the horizon. I bracketed four different exposures, but was able to create my final image by blending together just the darkest and lightest of them. I think the final result is not only appealing and believable, but also very high quality and noise free which means it looks great as a large print as well as on the computer screen.

    Finally we come to the technique that a vast majority of HDR jockeys are using these days, and that is to combine the tonal values of multiple exposures using HDR imaging software, most popularly Photomatix. The technique for capture is the same as the previous technique, namely shooting on a tripod to avoid camera movement and bracketing two or more exposures that can contain the entire dynamic range of a scene, often in one stop increments. Some HDR images contain as many as seven different exposures or more. Using Photomatix is much quicker than manually blending, usually taking about five minutes or so. The advantages are that when it works well, it can do an amazing job and can sometimes handle tricky areas that are particularly difficult to manually blend. It can be a huge time saver and, as noted earlier, can produce some amazing surreal effects and artistic styles that can't be obtained any other way. However, I usually only go to Photomatix as a last resort because, like with anything, there are trade offs. The controls in Photomatix are fairly blunt, making it difficult to make fine adjustments. Also, I find that what I see in the tone mapping (also a topic for another time) preview window is not always what the image ends up looking like once it has been rendered in its final form. Often times the resulting HDR image has strange color shifts, increased shadow noise, cartoonish colors, halos, edge fringing and an overall loss of contrast. Also, anything that moves in the scene from one exposure to the next creates weird ghost images in the final photo. In addition, the adjustments in Photomatix are only global, so any local adjusting that I need to do has to be done back in Photoshop, not saving me much time in the end.

    In the following example I first blended four exposures of an old house using Photomatix to create the resulting HDR image. The software did a pretty good job in some areas. The image certainly contains a wide dynamic range of tonal values, but I wasn't happy with the color in some areas, the overall contrast or the way that the movement of the clouds between exposures created problems in the final image. In addition, some areas of the sky were still overexposed. I fully admit that my skills using Photomatix are somewhat lacking, but I often find that no matter what I do, some images just don't succeed.

    Photomatix HDR image

    Not satisfied with the result, I decided to spend the time working on a manually blended HDR image. It took a lot of painstaking work, but I found that the resulting image was much cleaner, with better overall dynamic range, color, contrast and sky detail. The manually blended image also has close to zero digital noise, edge fringing or artifacting making it a much higher quality file for creating fine prints.

    Manual blend

    Manual blend

    The next photo (Double Falls) is of another high dynamic range scene. With a bright sky and very dark canyon I knew it couldn't be handled with a single exposure. I shot several exposures and then generated an HDR image using Photomatix. I felt that in this case the program did a pretty respectable job. However, I decided I would also try my hand at a manual blend so I could do a direct comparison. Even at web resolution, my hand processed HDR has greater tonal contrast and density than the Photomatix image. I was also able to make creative decisions about localized luminosity, color and contrast that I could not with Photomatix.

    While it is possible to get away with some digital artifacts and pixel degradation in web sized images, my large fine art prints have to be as sharp, clean and noise free as possible. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the Photomatix image had much more shadow noise than the hand processed image, as well as strange color shifts in the water and areas that were still blown out.

    Click to enlarge

    The Photomatix HDR image also experienced edge fringing and loss of sky detail where clouds had moved between exposures.

    Click to enlarge

    So, in conclusion, I find that having multiple techniques to capture and create images when confronted with high dynamic range situations allows me to better express my visual experience and artistic vision through my photographs. Often the use of graduated filters or shooting and carefully processing my images in the RAW format is all I need to properly render the dynamic range of a scene that is just a little greater than average. As the dynamic range of the scene increases I begin to employ more agressive HDR techniques, such as double processing and blending a single RAW file or bracketing multiple exposures in the camera and blending two or more of these by hand. Sometimes I even use combinations of these techniques. Does HDR imaging software have its place? Absolutely. I choose to use it when time is a factor, when the images will only be shown at lower web resolution so noise and fringing isn't as important, when I want to create something that has that very stylized "HDR look" or when nothing else I have tried works. In addition, I'm sure that HDR imaging software will continue to improve and advance. In the not too distant future, I fully expect to see digital cameras that have HDR sensors which will be able to capture 15, 20, even 25 stops of light or more in a single frame, which will make much of this discussion obsolete.

    I'd love to hear other tips, techniques, opinions and experiences regarding HDR imaging, so please feel free to leave a reply or share this post.

  • Photo Tip: Blurry Trees


    Much of my photography is of the greater landscape and I'm often trying to present sweeping vistas with sharp detail. However, I also like to photograph more intimate scenes and abstracts. One of my favorite abstract techniques is motion blur. This can be achieved a few different ways and is a particularly good technique for emphasizing leading lines in a photo while smoothing out distracting elements. The final result can often look more like a painting than a photograph.

    I really like to use motion blur with trees that have staight trunks. The technique is more an art than a science, so a lot of experimentation and throw away images are required to get something that I like. I start by setting a relatively slow shutter speed and making a vertical pan (movement) with my camera. I have found that shutter speeds between 1/4 of a second and 1/20 of a second work best. I move the camera up or down, in as straight a line as possible and depress the shutter release as the camera is moving. At slower shutter speeds I pan slower and at faster shutter speeds I pan faster. It is hard to know exactly what will be in the frame so I repeat the process over and over so that I will have many images to select from. Panning the camera while it is on a tripod can help keep the motion steady and smooth, but also limits flexibility.

    Physically panning the camera is often all I need to do to achieve the abstract look I'm going for. Other times I selectively add more blur by using the Motion Blur filter in Photoshop (Filter>Blur>Motion Blur). To do this I'll create a duplicate layer of the background image and blur the duplicate. Then I'll add a layer mask to the blurred layer and paint with a black brush on the mask to bring through any detail from the original image that I want to keep. This digital blurring technique can also be applied to images that were taken in focus without panning the camera. Digital blurring often takes just as much trial and error as panning the camera.

    Several of my favorite photographers have used these techniques to create some wonderful abstract images, including Jesse Spear, Eddie Soloway and William Niel.

  • Creating Mystery With Motion And Blending

    Griffin's Dream 1

    One of the goals of my photography is to create images that have a sense of mystery and the surreal. Photography is so often based in pure realism, but I find that I am attracted to images that give a glimpse into fantasy or imaginary worlds. Many of my friend DAVID WINSTON'S photos have such a quality and I have also mentioned MICHAEL KENNA more than once. Although their subject matter is very different from my own, I am inspired by the photography of NICK BRANDT and GREGORY COLBERT.

    Dark Places

    In my photography I am often trying to show familiar subjects and locations in a way that is familiar while at the same time mysterious and fantastical. Unique perspectives, purposeful composition, extreme weather, motion and magical lighting can often create something extraordinary in an ordinary setting, but such conditions are not always available. Recently I have been experimenting with some techniques, both in the camera and in the computer, that give me more options when trying to achieve something mysterious and stylized.

    Lunar Eclipse

    Three of the oak forest photos accompanying this article are from a series I call Griffin's Dream. I used a slow shutter speed (about .4 seconds or more) and panned my camera vertically during the shot. This caused the trees and grass to blur into streaks of light and dark that look somewhat like brush strokes and help to remove fine details from the scene, leaving only the main elements of form and color.

    Griffin's Dream 2

    In the right kind of light, panning, zooming and other camera motion effects can create a great final image. However, for the Griffin's Dream series the light was very flat giving the scene low contrast and washed out colors, so I employed a second technique to arrive at the final interpretations. In order to increase saturation, contrast and dynamic range in the initially lifeless images I used different combinations of blending modes in Photoshop. Darkroom technicians first developed the practice of stacking transparencies or negatives in various ways to produce different effects, and similar effects can be achieved with blending modes in Photoshop. To use blending modes you start by creating one or more layers that are exact copies of your original image (Layer>Duplicate Layer). Then in the Layers Pallet select each layer in turn and change the blending mode in the drop down menu at the top of the pallet. The blending mode defaults to "Normal", which means that no blending between layers is taking place. For low contrast images I find that a combination of Multiply, Overlay and Soft Light blends work the best, but you have to experiment and see what works for each image. I also individually control the degree of each blend using the Opacity slider on each layer. I think the final result is painterly, surreal and fantastical, more like an impressionistic painting or a forest vision from a child's dream.

    Griffin's Dream 3

  • Photoshop Tip: Two Pass Sharpening Workflow

    Nearly all digital images need sharpening to some degree, and I apply various techniques and amounts of sharpening throughout my workflow. The most important sharpening stage, so that the final image looks crisp and focused, is done as a final step to the image once it has been sized for its intended use. When images are downsized they lose sharpness, as detail along edges is lost in the reducing process. When images are enlarged, the lack of sharpness inherent in digital images is magnified. Using Photoshop's digital sharpening filters makes it possible to increase contrast along fine edges to bring back lost image sharpness. There are many ways to do this, but I have recently developed a technique that I think does quite well. It is important to note that digital sharpening is not a substitute for lack of sharpness in the original image. Proper focus, shutter speed and technique is required at the point of capture to enable good digital sharpening.First, open an image in Photoshop. Then, flatten all layers (if any exist) and size the image for its intended use (print, email, screen saver, etc.). For help on how to size images you can refer to my articles on SIZING FOR PRINTING or SIZING FOR EMAIL. Once the image has been sized it is time to apply sharpening to make it look appropriately sharp. The technique I have developed makes two sharpening passes. The first pass uses the Unsharp Mask filter set to add a small degree of sharpening to larger edges and details to help with the overall crispness and "pop" in the image. The second pass uses the Smart Mask filter set to add a greater amount of contrast to the very finest edges and lines in the image for razor sharp fine detail. Versions of Photoshop prior to CS2 don't include the Smart Sharpen filter, so the second pass can also be made with the Unsharp Mask filter with good results.

    Make sure that you are viewing the image at 100%, or, if it is a larger sized print, 50%. To complete the first, large detail sharpening pass go to Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask. Select a Threshold of 1, a radius of .7 to 1.0 for web images and 1.5 to 2.5 for prints, and an amount in the 50 to 75 % range. I find it helpful to check and uncheck the preview box to dial in the right amount of sharpening. Select OK when you are finished. Now to sharpen the fine edges and details, go to Filter>Sharpen>Smart Sharpen (or Unsharp Mask again if your version of PS is pre CS2). Set the Remove box to Lens Blur, the radius to 0.1 for screen and web size images or .2 to .4 for prints, depending on how large the print will be, and finally, adjust the amount to 100 to 140% or until the desired sharpness is achieved.

    I find that this two-pass sharpening technique does a great job of targeting sharpening to both the larger and finer details separately, especially for images that will be displayed on a screen. As with any sharpening technique, knowing how far to go without going too far is the key and some experimentation is needed to determine the best combination of adjustments for each individual image. Below are samples of a screen sized image. The first is not sharpened, the second is sharpened appropriately using this technique and the final image is over sharpened in my opinion.

    sharp sample

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