alan frost photography

in monochrome with occasional colour lapses

Posts from the ‘Photoshop’ category

Portland Bill Lighthouse with the Leica M9-P

portland-bill-lighthouse

Although we are frequent visitors to Dorset we have never visited the Isle of Portland before, well until this week. Portland is approached from the town of Weymouth and strictly speaking it’s not an island, as it can be reached by road over a causeway from Chesil Beach. Only four miles long by one and a half miles wide, Portland juts out into the English channel and is very exposed to the elements.

At its southern most point lies Portland Bill with its prominent lighthouse which is virtually surrounded by old quarry workings of Portland Stone. This famous building material has been mined since Roman times, and from the early 17th Century was shipped to London for the construction of many buildings. St Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, The Tower of London and The Bank of England to name but a few.

Portland has three lighthouses but only the one pictured in this post is operational. Built by Trinity House in 1906, it stands 41m tall and was automated in 1996.

As an aside and for those who like reading about cameras and processing etc, this shot was taken with a Leica M9-P and 50mm f1.4 Summilux lens. The M9 was Leica’s first full frame digital rangefinder camera and was introduced back in 2009, so is now some 8 years old. Superceded by the M240 in 2013, which only this week has been replaced by the new Leica M10. A remarkable camera I’m sure and whilst technology has moved on considerably since the M9 first appeared on the scene, it still performs extremely well. Of course it is not as advanced and has its limitations in use, but the image quality is still outstanding. The image was processed in Lightroom and Silver Efex.

Lake District 121 – pre-visualisation and post processing techniques

This is the penultimate entry about my 121 workshop with Paul Gallagher in the Lake District. There will be a final post concerned with ‘black and white’ printing to complete the series.

When Paul and I first met in the lounge of The Crowpark Hotel in Keswick, one of the things I said I would like to learn more about was how to pre-visualise the finished photograph before releasing the shutter. To start to think of the photographic workflow as one cohesive process, as opposed to a number of separate steps from seeing, to taking, to processing and finally to print or uploading to the web. This one step followed by another had largely been my way of doing things to date, so I wanted to try and link these stages together and change the way I thought about my approach to photography.

Common sense told me that what happens during each stage must have an impact on the next, and so on down the line. I guessed that by pre-visualising the finished image at the outset, decisions could be made at each stage, as the finished image could already be seen in the mind’s eye. The skill therefore would be to know what might be possible and to take the photograph with this is mind.

For me this idea of thinking ahead was best demonstrated when Paul and I drove through Newlands Valley. I spotted a small group of trees on the horizon and although when we first arrived at this scene the clouds were universally grey, there was some movement in the sky, so we set up our cameras for the shot in the hope that the sky and light would improve…….and after about 20 minutes it did.

Straight out of the camera the RAW image looked like this; not too inspiring you might think but Paul had already talked me through his pre-visualisation of the ‘finished’ shot. I used a 1 or may be 2 stop graduated filter just to balance the exposure values between the sky and the foreground.

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1

Back in the digital darkroom and using Lightroom I applied a ‘preset’ to boost the clarity, remove any chromatic aberration and apply a modest amount of sharpening. The next stage was to adjust the saturation and luminance of the blue channel, knowing that when the image was converted to black and white there would be the opportunity to increase the contrast in the sky. Having made these adjustments the RAW image now looked like this.

20130223-P2230146.jpg
2

An improvement on the first image but hardly a photograph to get excited about. The next stage was to import the RAW file into photoshop and then convert the image to monochrome. Using ‘Image’ – ‘Adjustment’ – ‘Black and white’ a window opens which allows you to make adjustments to a range colour channels. Having boosted the saturation and luminance of the blue sky in Lightroom, I further darkened the blue channel to a value of -80. The resulting image is shown below.

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3

You might be forgiven for thinking this image is now worse than the colour version and I would probably agree but the next stage really brings the photograph to life. A ‘levels’ adjustment layer was applied and now the image looks like this.

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4

However  some further fine tuning in photoshop was required. A number of ‘curves’ adjustment layers were made to selected areas of the image, before finally sharpening the trees and the foreground, but not the sky. The final adjustment was to crop the photo to balance the composition. Paul is a great believer in cropping to suit the image and not be concerned whether or not the end result conforms to one of the common aspect ratios – i.e. 3×2, 4×3, 5×4 or 1×1. Why be constrained by uniformity if a more custom approach is adopted and enhances each individual image? When I went on the workshop to the Isle of Eigg with Bruce Percy he was a very keen advocate of 5×4 or 1×1, couldn’t stand 3×2, but rarely I think breaks away from the first two aspect ratios. His choice of course but it was good to hear another view. For now I will keep my options open and simply show the finished image.

Trees
Three Trees – the finished photograph
OMD EM5 on a tripod with Panasonic f2.8 35-100mm lens
42mm f13 1/100sec ISO200 

Personally I really like this shot. I love it’s simplicity, the shape and size of the three trees and how their alignment echoes the diagonal line of the clouds. The ability to pre-visualise this shot at the outset is a great skill and is at the very heart of the photographic process. It’s a skill which I doubt is ever mastered but with practice out in the field my knowledge can only grow with time; after all Paul has been practising his art of fine black and white photography for nearly 30 years.  For me though it has opened my eyes to what is possible and that in my view is a great place from which to start.

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Lake District 121 – Post Processing

One of the things I was keen to learn from Paul Gallagher during my recent workshop in The Lake District, was the art, and it is an art, of post processing a RAW file to produce a strong black and white image.

Up until my trip away I had used a combination of Lightroom and Silver Efex Pro2. Rarely would I use Photoshop even though it’s regarded as the ‘daddy’ of all software programs for image editing. Lightroom shares the same Raw converter as Photoshop and is a wonderful tool for your photographic workflow, from importing the images, key-wording, developing and finally to print or uploading to the web. However it does not touch Photoshop when it comes to the fine art of processing a really good black and white image. However I was daunted by the fact that the skills and knowledge to use Photoshop well, take a long time, so I was delighted when Paul demonstrated a few simple techniques which with a little practice I have now been able to apply to the shots I took on the trip.

In the following example the first image on the left is the original RAW file with no adjustments. It’s just as it was when imported from the SD card into Lightroom. The reason for the blue colour cast is down to the fact that this was a 60second long exposure using the Hi-Tech 10 stop ND filter. The second image on the right has simply been converted to black and white and whilst the blue cast has been removed, the image is very flat. The third image is the finished photograph.

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RAW file – straight out of the camera

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RAW file with simple black and white conversion
Wastwater Rocks
Wastwater Rocks – the final image

So what simple steps were taken in Photoshop to arrive at this end result? 
Well, firstly in Lightroom I applied a preset which boosted the clarity to a value of 15 and which also applied some sharpening. Amount 50 – Radius 0.5 – Detail 50 and Masking 0. The preset also eliminates any chromatic aberration   created by the lens I used for this shot – the Panasonic f2.8 12 – 35mm. On this occasion CA would not have been visible given the blue colour cast.
Secondly I exported the image from Lightroom into Photoshop CS5. Using ‘image – adjustment’ I then converted the RAW image to black and white. This was followed by a ‘levels’ adjustment layer to move the black and white points on the histogram, to give a full range of tonal values. The ‘mid point’ can also be adjusted if required but was not changed for this particular shot. 
The next stage was to make local adjustments to certain sections or specific areas of the image using the lasso tool to select the area and then apply a curves adjustment layer. The choice of ‘pixel feather’ is critical to make sure that the adjustment only applies to the area required. This is really where a small but subtle change can make quite a difference. I don’t consider myself to be an artist but there is no question that these small changes are the equivalent of applying the finishing brush strokes to a painting. Poor technique in both cases could ruin a good image, the only advantage of Photoshop is that you can ‘step backwards’ or delete a layer. With a painting it would be much more difficult if not impossible to undo. Knowing when to stop is also very important. An image can very quickly look overworked. Once all the adjustments had been made all the layers were ‘flattened’.  (Layers – flatten image).
The last stage was to apply further sharpening using filters – unsharpen mask. Not all areas of an image require or should be sharpened; the sky for example, so a layer mask should used. I created a duplicate layer of the background layer and applied the sharpening to this new layer so the ‘original’ background layer remained unaltered. Once I was happy with the amount of sharpening (easily previewed) the  again I ‘flattened’ both layers. 
Finally I ‘saved as’ a TIFF file and gave the image a title. Once done this new image is saved in the same folder in Lightroom, so it appears alongside the original image. This is a great advantage as I can still go back and carry out another conversion should I wish.

I think there is still a place for Silver Efex Pro2 in my workflow. After all it has been my default plug in for black and white conversions until now. However my eyes have been opened to new ways of working and I am delighted to have learnt some new skills.

Paul talked about other processing techniques and choices that need to be made before post Processing even starts and I will cover some of these key points in my next entry.

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