Hints & Tips


George Theodore, December 30, 2018

Right off the bat, I’d say this is a dynamite photo editor. With the Library module added you can keep your files organized any way you want. You can create albums, apply ratings, sync adjustments and all adjustments are non-destructive. The edit module gives you more adjustments (they’re called “filters”) than you’ll probably ever need. The presets (called “looks”) are pretty good and they’re adjustable; too much of a certain look – just dial it back. I found nothing lacking in editing. Well done Skylum.

As to the Library, library does not mean database. There’s no keywording. So, if you use the full power of Lightroom’s relational database, you won’t find it here. You can’t do a search of all your sunset files. Now, that’s not necessarily bad news because I have found relatively few photographers use this feature anyhow even though they use Lightroom. So, if you don’t use keywords to find images, keep reading.

There’s no color management; no “Print Module”, no proofing; no paper profiles. If you try File/Print, you’re presented with a simple dialog box that merely wants to know if you’re printing glossy or matte. So, you’re using the printer to manage color. I use Epson’s 3880 and when I choose Matte paper in the printer dialog box, the media type shows “Glossy” and visa-versa - very confusing (maybe they rushed to market a little too soon?). If you have a stand-alone Photoshop, you can export and use Photoshop to print. If all this doesn’t mean anything to you, if you don’t print in-house, no problem. 

You can’t see file names in grid view and the film strip of your photos is on the left and pretty narrow and non-adjustable. The “Info” module consists only of file name, camera, lens, exposure settings and histogram. That’s it. No keywords (as mentioned earlier), IPTC, xmp, geo-tagging, captions, etc.

Skylum has provided a roadmap for upcoming changes and updates and among them is keywording. I don’t see anything about printing/color management however and that, alone, makes it a non-starter for me. 

All that said, there’s a lot of really good things happening here. If your need for organizing is relatively simple and your main need is for editing and you don’t print in-house, then go get it. From a pricing standpoint, you can’t beat its $69 price – no subscription. And, as I said earlier, the edit module is super. Finally, I’m cheering for them. If they do follow through with keywording and captioning and then, down the road, add color management, we’ll have a viable competitor for Lightroom and Adobe needs that.


Focus Stacking

George Theodore, December 28, 2018

If one were photographing a landscape from relatively close up to infinity, an aperture setting of f/16 – f/22 would be chosen to render the image sharp front-to-back. The problem here is that with smaller apertures, diffraction causes a degradation in resolution at the far end of our picture. Picture a garden hose closed to its smallest opening; the water becomes a misty spray. Light acts similarly when forced through smaller and smaller holes (apertures).

One solution is to use an aperture such as f/8 (usually the sweet spot of a lens) where the light comes in almost at right angles to our sensor but now we may find we’ve shortened our depth of field. Focus Stacking to the rescue.

This process is similar to shooting HDR but, instead of changing the exposure, we’re going to vary focus. Try this: Manually, on a tripod and in Live View, focus on the closest part of your image, shoot, focus a little further out, shoot and continue changing your focal point and shooting until you reach “infinity”. For landscapes, I’ve found that four to six focal points at f/8 generally does the trick. Several recent camera models have focus stacking “built-in”; i.e. Nikon’s Focus Shift setting in the D850.  Set the start position, enter the number of shots and interval and let ‘er rip. The camera takes the series of images varying focus as it moves through the image front to back (infinity). Neat huh?

But, whether done manually or automatically, we need to stack and blend the images in post processing. Our cameras don’t perform that function internally (yet!). Open the images in Lightroom, choose “Photo/Edit in/Open as Layers in Photoshop”, then in Photoshop,  Select/All Layers, then “Edit/Auto-Blend Layers” (check the box “Stack Images and Seamless Tones and Colors”), click OK, flatten the image and save.

For many years, photographers have used Helicon Focus mostly for macro work. And, since the software basically blends layers, there’s no reason it can’t be used for landscape work as well. The advantage of Helicon Focus is you can save the image in a raw DNG format. Simply specify Raw in – DNG out.

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Adobe Lightroom

George Theodore, November 2, 2017

By now, you’ve heard the news: Adobe has come out with a new Creative Cloud (CC) version of Lightroom. Well, two actually - Lightroom Classic CC and Lightroom CC. What was Lightroom CC is now Lightroom Classic CC and is desktop-centric. In other words, like the old version of CC, you store and back up images on your own disc drives.

Lightroom CC is now a cloud-centric solution that allows you to edit from any device – even your phone - and is meant for more casual shooting with only 1TB of storage in the Cloud for $9.99/month. Lightroom CC has many limitations - no plug-ins, export to JPEG/sRGB only, no Print, Book, Web or Slideshow Modules, no Tone Curve adjustments, no renaming, no HDR or Panos and more. One feature of Lightroom CC is that it uses Adobe Sensei artificial intelligence to search for your images - no keywording required. I tried it - it's a bit spooky but it works. At the Adobe MAX presentation, a search on all images with "people" did indeed return pictures that included people and a further search on "kids", returned pictures of children AND a goat. Limitations aside, it does fill the need for a large swath of consumer social-media concentrated photography.

Classic is, of course,  the more robust having added features like luminosity masking via a new "range masking" feature. Speed has improved by using embedded JPEGS to sort through images. The “Photography Plan" subscription, currently at $9.99/month, now includes both Lightroom Classic CC and Lightroom CC along with Photoshop CC 2018. This is the plan that will continue to be favored among professionals and other advanced level photographers. You can select to not install Lightroom CC if you won't have any use for it.

Now the bad news. Adobe is concentrating all its efforts on the cloud. There will be no stand-alone product (also called perpetual license) beyond the current Lightroom 6 although they'll be updating it for new cameras and fixing bugs for a yet undetermined time as they have over the past couple of years. No upgrades - no LR7 - what you have is what you'll have. This will anger quite a few since, when Adobe introduced the Creative Cloud, it implied they'd continue to support a non-subscription version indefinitly which led many to believe upgrades would be available. Well, it's been pretty clear that's not the case since improvements to the Cloud version have not migrated over to LR6. I imagine there will come a time when LR6 will not run on future operating systems. I can hear the angry rush to the exit for many.

Fortunately, there are other options available from ACDSEE, Corel and Capture One (quite a steep learnning curve on that one). If you don't have use for a cataloging feature, then ON1 Photo Raw, DxO, and Iridient Developer are a few of the RAW converters available. I use Iridient for some of my Fuji stuff and it’s excellent. For a long time it was Mac only but it’s now available for Windows too. Luminar, a product from Macphun is accepting preorders for its 2018 upgrade that features a digital asset management module. Let the battles begin!

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George Theodore, February 27, 2017

ISO Refers to the Sensitivity of Your Camera’s Sensor. Not!

Here’s yet another myth that belongs in the dustbin along with “you get more reach with a lens on an APS-C sensor than with a full-frame sensor”.

ISO in our digital cameras is not the same as ISO in film. Film is produced for a particular sensitivity to light and you can't change that sensitivity midstream through a roll of film. In our digital cameras, we can choose whatever ISO we want whenever we want. But, it has nothing to do with sensitivity. In fact, ISO “happens” after the shutter closes.

Here’s the way it works.

  • We increase ISO
  • The light falling on the sensor is reduced
  • We activate the shutter capturing an underexposed image
  • Shutter closes 
  • The signal from the sensor is amplified to achieve the desired brightness.

That’s it.

Because ISO is applied after exposure, some opine that ISO, therefore, has nothing to do with exposure. Well, perhaps not the same way it did with film but ISO settings do influence how much light falls on the sensor so maybe we can say it affects exposure indirectly.

So, where does noise come in? When the exposure contains fewer photons (underexposure) any noise generated becomes a larger component of the sensor’s final output signal. When that signal is amplified, both “good” and noisy parts of that signal are amplified. The total signal divided by the noisy part is what we refer to “signal to noise ratio (SNR)”. When the image is underexposed, the SNR is low which means we see more noise.

Therefore, there are more artifacts present in a higher ISO image. And, those artifacts are nothing like the grain we saw in high ISO film. Grain was kind of interesting; artifacts are just plain ugly. So, as we always tell our workshop participants: “Shoot at the lowest ISO required”. Of course, we’ll accept noise if that’s the only way we can capture a particular image.

Now, when you hear someone say “ISO changes the sensitivity of the sensor” you can, with confidence, say “no it doesn’t”. Some say, ISO “affects the camera’s sensitivity to light”. That’s not right either. ISO is all about simple amplification or “gain”. It's like turning up the volume on your TV.

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Back-Button Focus

George Theodore, January 9, 2017

I’ve used Back Button Focusing (BBF) for a very long time. And my reasons are simple: (a) it locks focus, (b) the shutter button now has but one function – shutter release, (c) after achieving focus with BBF, I can touch up my focus manually if I choose, (d) it allows me to move around a little – I can even move my tripod – and as long as the distance between me and my focal point remains constant there’s no need to refocus and (e) if something crosses between me and my subject, my focus won’t change.

But, the one thing BBF will not do is guarantee a sharp image and I have enough not-so-sharp pictures to prove it.  There was a recent post (I forgotten where) that stated BBF improves image sharpness – nonsense.  You want a sharp image? Use good technique – tripod, solid surface, use of shutter release cable or other remote triggers or hand hold properly and at appropriate shutter speeds (for you). BBF has absolutely nothing to do with getting the image sharp. All it does is separate the functions of shutter and focus.

I also use BBF for wildlife – but the faster or more erratic the movement, the tougher it is to use. For example, I sometimes find it difficult to track birds-in-flight with BBF but that’s just me.  In these situations, I’ll often revert to using the shutter release button to assist focusing.

I find more and more photographers using BBF. If you haven’t tried it, you should consider the benefits and give it a whirl. Cameras differ in how you set up BBF but it's basically using your AF-ON button to focus and defeating the focus function of your shutter button. Consult your owner's manual.

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