Friday, September 25, 2009

Q&A with Mr J. HOW-TO: Post production workflow

TutorialCommentaryHere is episode 3 in my 'what can I do for you to make you a better photographer and suck less' series. I goes a little like this:

I'm a bit rusty on this, but I've noticed that:

Nobody is using their supplied software to PP their picts.
A lot of people are letting their hosting site resize their picts at upload.
They're PP'ing with their host sites software
If they are PP'ing, they're not fixing sharpness or contrast after resizing.

Any thoughts on this? Since I'm a "hobbyist only" on this, my PP flow may not be optimal. Plus it will help those that really do wish to improve.
- I'wanna B. Better

Well let me start off with this: Post production (pp/PP) work-flow is a lot like cooking. There are a lot of dishes that can be prepared from the same ingredients, it is knowing how to add them and in what quantities that make the food fab or fail.

  • Some folks can't cook or choose not to learn.
    • If the final result of your image is not that important, then maybe frozen dinners are the best option for you. Not very flavorful and all the great, but filling non the less. They get the job done.
  • Some folks cook ... and never should till they have/take a few lessons.
    • There is not much worse to a pp artist then to see an image that has been over worked and ruined by a misuse or to often, overuse, of a method. Mostly it is sharpening that gets overdone.
      • Think of it as salt. A little bit can go a long way. Too much, and the image is no longer palatable.
  • Cooking is an art form when done right.
    • This is self explanatory.
  • With some skill you can make a crap dish still appealing if you know what your doing.
    • This comes down to mostly one thing: practice, practice practice. Know your 'tools' an use the right one for the job at hand.
    • A skilled (well trained or self taught) pp artist can make a fail image fab with a bit of clever manipulation.
    • EXAMPLE: Before and the After.
  • Knowing when to add certain ingredients is paramount as well as how much.
    • Salt is to cooking as sharpening is to pp work. More on this later ...
  • Good prep work needs to be done before to make the process smoother.
    • Before diving in to the the deep pp processes (spot removal, dust and scratches, removing blemishes) make sue you have covered the basic pp areas first. More on this as well.
    • Start off with small amounts and add more if needed. It is far easier to add more spice then to try and remove it.
      Again a no brainer.

Okay, on to the meat of this post and to address the question/statements above.

Quote: Nobody is using their supplied software to PP their pics
First, we need to know if this is an if/then statement. Say:
IF Nobody is using their supplied software to PP their pics. Why not?

... or ...

Since nobody is using their supplied software to PP their pics then they most be using something else.
In this case, I think it is the first option. If I may interject my understanding of that statement, it would go as follows.
Just about every camera on the market comes with software that allows you to modify your images in some way. Why aren't the people using it to make their images look better? It doesn't make any sense.
I agree.

If you want your images to look as good as you can make them, with little to know deep pp knowledge, then one should be using, at lest, the SW that came with your camera. It is usually very user friendly and easy to understand. Pretty much all SW now comes with a help file that explains what it is that each of its functions does and how to best use said function.

The typical SW package will allow the user to do at least some basic editing of their images - the image modifications that a primarily used by the general user. Saturation, contrast, gamma, brightness, crop, rotate, sharpening, color conversion (B&W, sepia, etc.) and a couple others. The higher end cameras will often come with better SW, allowing for greater control of the creative/pp process.

Play with your SW. Even if it is just for an hour or two. If the program comes with a tutorial - go through it. Use an image that you really don't care about as your practice shot. Just remember, there is [almost] always the UNDO button.

Quote: A lot of people are letting their hosting site resize their picts at upload.
In my opinion, this is bad. Period. For one you have no control over the end result. Secondly, most services go for file size NOT image quality. The result is a small, over compressed, partially desaturated, un-sharp, artifact riddled image who's colors are not accurate to the original.

To get good results, you need to do your own resizing and when saving, set the JP(E)G compression settings yourself. From 1-100, I never go below 70 for my JPG quality. To me, any setting lower then that gives unexceptionable results.

Quote: They're PP'ing with their host sites software
Some sites do have this option. For example, Photobucket does. I can not say that I have used it, but I do see that it is there should I want to. I use p-bucket myself for most of my web-posing images. Why? They're free, they give you TONS of space, they're fast and (going to the previous question) they don't re-sample your images. What you put up there is what you get in return.

Remember this about JPG images and online editors: JPG's use a lossy image compression. (The smaller the file, the more of the images original 'data' is lost in the process) Now, if you upload a JPG to your hosting site, it has already been compressed - either by you in a SAVE AS: JPG action, or by your cameras default file type. If you then edit this image online, the resulting file will now have been compressed twice, resulting in a greater loss of data and quality.

Think of it this way: a JPG image is like a soda can that you smashed flat to make it smaller for storage. When you edit a JPG image you are, in essence, expanding that can again. This time, it has wrinkles, folds and bends in it that it did not start with. You do your thing and save it as a JPG again - adding more damage to it and further decreasing it's quality. Eventually, if you do this enough, your can is no longer viable and is ruined - the quality has been degraded to such a point that it is hard to see what the original can even looked like.

Re-sample once. Save once.

QUICK NOTE: there is a difference between resizing and resampling. You resize an image in a photocopier by blowing it up or making it smaller. Any bad spots are made more obvious in the process.
When you resamlple an image, it is more like you're redrawing it from scratch - just smaller or larger than the original.

Quote: If they are PP'ing, they're not fixing sharpness or contrast after resizing.
This is important and I will address it now along with what I use as my PP workflow. Here are the steps I take and the order I take them.

NOTE: I use Lightroom 2.5 & Photoshop CS3 - Lightroom first, then Photoshop. For the moment, I will write the below as if I used Photoshop only. In the steps below that are adjustments to the 'look' of the image and that do not actually edit the pixels, I use ADJUSTMENT LAYERS. Never tweak the original if at all possible.

1) Noise reduction. If it needs it, that is. I use two different reducers. Noise Ninja and Noiseware. NN works (ideally) with profiles that are for your specific camera. Noiseware does 'learned' profiling and had FAR more options for fine tuning the removal.

2) Color correct your images. It is best to start off correct rather then to try and fix. I use a gray card. They are cheap and easy to use. If you can afford them, a Gretag MacBeth Color Chart or the awesome Spyder Cube, are great too.

3) Adjust your brightness and contrast. A image that is too dark or too bright are just painful to look at. An image that has poor contrast can often look 'flat' and boring. I predominately use the LEVELS tool in photoshop. With it you can make the blacks black, the whites white and even fix color casts that are tinting the image.

4) Remove the dust, lint, hairs, scratches, blemishes, zits and whatnot from your images. In photoshop, this is best done with the HEAL tool - NOT the CLONE tool. The HEAL tool uses a source point. It extrapolates from it, and the destination area, to create a natural look that p-shop sees as the best combination of both. Works VERY well.

5) Selective adjustments. These are the ones that you do to only a portion of the image. Brighten the eyes. Whiten the teeth. Sharpen an area.

6) Resample to the size you want. For web postings, I usually go for a size between 500 & 800. They are large enough to see 'what is going on' and still provide decent detail, while staying within the confines of most forums image posting restrictions.

7) Sharpen for the web. Remember, like salt, a little bit goes a long way. On average I use SMART SHARPEN with a setting of around:
Amount: 200%
Radius: 0.2 pixels
Remove: Gaussian Blur
This adds detail to the small areas w/o being overdone.

8) Use the SAVE AS to save the file. NEVER overwrite your original file. You may need it later.

9) Upload the file to a service that neither resizes/resamples nor recompresses your files. Both are, again, bad!

I hope that this information is useful and will help you to produce good quality images that you are proud to display.

Good luck!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Q&A with Mr J. QUESTION: More of the image in focus

TutorialCommentaryI got the another PM from one of my fellow members over in the forum. Being the cool guy that I am, I once again decided to place the contents here for all of you to enjoy, praise, extol the virtues of ... you know ... Okay, fine. You caught me. I'll just be happy if you read the friggin' thing.

So the PM goes like this:

"I read your comment about chromatic aberration and I have another question about the same image. What adjustments would have to be made to have more of the image in focus? Would the f-stop needed to be adjusted? Longer lens further away from the subject? I have tried similar shots with similar results. If you can help me, that would be wonderful!"
- Narrow Focus

Well, you are right on both counts as to what may help. First, I want to state what chromatic aberration is for those who may not know.
CA is usually seen at very bright portions of an images next to darker ones and is due in part to the internal glass (elements) of your lens. Here is a great article that explains it very well in addition to one way to remove it in photoshop: CORRECTING CHROMATIC ABERRATIONS


NOTE: All the info below is based off of a D-SLR camera with interchangeable lenses, since it is what I have, but the idea will work with a P&S with macro capabilities as well.

The amount of the image that is in focus is commonly referred to as it's Depth of Field.

If your image has a shallow/short DoF, then there is only a small portion of that image that is sharp and clear.

If your image has a deep/long DoF, then there is good portion of that image that is sharp(er) and clear(er).

You can have it both ways, just not both at the same time.

Here is the thing about DoF - know what it is that you want going in to the shot so that you can make the best use of the DoF you have available to you.

As you have noticed, deep DoF images are more prevalent in commercial use where the entire subject needs to be in focus in order to show detail. Buildings, clothes, cars, landscapes, items, etc. Shallow DoF lends itself far more to the artistic side of photography and is used to emphasize a certain area with sharp detail, leaving the rest in a softer focus.

NOTE: there is a DIRECT relation between light amount, f-stop and shutter time. If you have a constant light source and maintain a set ISO (film speed), every time you change your f-stop, your shutter speed with change as well. Smaller apertures mean longer shutter times. Longer shutter times means more chance for blur to occur from camera shake. Bear this in mind when shooting at smaller f-stops. It is here that a trigger release and shutter lock-up starts to come in very handy.

Here is how the distance to your subject relates to your DoF:

As a general rule the further you are from an object, the larger DoF area you will have. The closer, the narrower it becomes. This is also true with the length of your lens. The shorter/wider the lens is in mm's, the larger the DoF. The longer the lens, the shorter the DoF. For example a 10mm lens has almost no DoF wide open (or it would be better measured in feet) while a 100mm lens like mine, can have a DoF as shallow as 0.25-0.5mm.

In the shot below taken with my 100mm Tokina macro at f/8 at its minimum focus distance of 11.8" (30cm), the sharp DoF was about 0.75mm - after that you can start to see the blur increase.

Note the two 45's.

On that watch, their distance in height from one another is about 1.25mm, yet the 45 on the bezel is already starting to blur ... at f/8. At f/2.8 it was completely blurry.

Here, I used my Canon 70-300 IS USM at f/5.6 at 300mm from about 50 feet. With this lens at its max zoom, you can see that the usable DoF is around 6-10 feet while the sharp DoF is about 1.5 feet - and - it was shot at f/5.6 not f/8 as above. That is because of the length of the lens and the distance to the subject.

The rider was brought 'closer' with the zoom, thus separating him from the background and shortening the DoF.

The interesting thing is: both of these images were shot completely different yet have shallow DoF. Isn't it great?

Ok. So here is how to use lens length in conjunction with your f-stop:

If you have say a 100mm macro lens, you are able to get fairly close to your subject - that means your usable DoF will be very small. Understanding that, if you want more of your watch to be in focus, say somewhere around 4-6mm, you will have to increase your f-stop to at least f/16 or higher.

What you need to do is experiment with your cameras aperture settings.

Start by setting your camera to it's version of Aperture Priority. This will let you control the size of the cameras aperture (measured in f-stops) and forcing the camera to take care of the rest of the settings based off of the aperture you choose.

The first thing to do is start off by looking for your lens's 'sweet spot' - the smallest aperture you can use while still retaining perfect clarity at the point where you focused. Any aperture above that sweet spot may bring more of the background in to focus but at the cost of sharpness of the focal area.

Once you have found it, this will be the f-stop that you do not want to pass unless loosing sharpness at your focus point becomes less of an issue. Say, when shooting landscapes at distance.

Now, all you need do is shoot your subject at all the aperture settings (up to that sweet spot). Start at the larges (smallest number) and go one step at a time.

For mine that would be: 2.8, 3.2, 3.5, 4.0, 4.5, 5.0, 5.6, 6.3, 7.1 8.0, 9.0, 10, 11, 13, 14 & 16

When done, pick the one(s) you like best or that fit your need. After a while, you will learn what f-stop work best and not have to shoot at all of them, just a couple up and down. This often called AEB bracketing (auto exposure), and it is part of most DSLR's custom function options.

Ok. If you have a longer lens, say the awesome Canon 180mm macro. You will now be farther away from your subject, increasing your sharp DoF area some. You may go from 4-6mm at f/16 to 6-10mm at f/8.

A P&S camera falls in to the position somewhere between both of these examples.

Usually the macro function only works at close range, limiting your DoF to the short end. You might then choose to zoom in and increase your DoF some, but at the (usual) cost of image clarity and sharpness. Due in part to the actual distance, lens quality and possible camera shake.

I hope that has, is some way, answered your question and will aid you in taking better images of your watches in to the future ... and beyond!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Q&A with Mr J. QUESTION: can photoshop help improve my pictures?

TutorialCommentary I got the following PM from one of my fellow members over in the forum and I decided to post the answer here so that anyone who has the same general question, can hopefully glean some useful information.

"hey how you Beau i have a canon xsi i would like to get better at my picture taking can photoshop help improve my pictures can you point me in the right direction please thank you."
- Photoshopless in the WG Land

Well, let me start off with an anecdote that might help.
A writer and a photographer were both at a signing in a local mall; sitting next to each other.

The writer leans over to the photg and says

"Your images are truly outstanding and beautiful. You must have an awesome camera."

The photographer smiles and says

"Thank you very much. By the way, I read your book. It was very well written and hard to put down. You must have a fantastic pen."
With that said, you have to look at your tools for what they are. Tools. Your camera is a tool just as photoshop is a tool - neither of which will produce great images on their own. What makes great photography is the artist behind the tools - or in this case, the lens.

Your Canon XSi is a 12.2mp camera which is PLENTY large for great pics - so you have that covered. What is important, when it comes to the world of DSLRs, is that you have good GLASS.

You can throw a $100 lens on a $7,000 dollar 1DS Mk III and your pics will suck. In contrast, you can put a >$450 dollar lens on a $475 XSi and take FANTASTIC images.

In general you can not equate the cost of the camera body with the quality of the images. The bodies cost is attributed to it's feature set. More better features = more $$. In reality, the body is just a box to hold the sensor ... all the 'magic' happens through the lens.

A $2 hammer will pond nails just like a $20 one.
Photoshop is a fantastic tool, in the right hands. Just like a knife is to a surgeon, photoshop is to a good editor. A scalpel in the hands of a meat packer makes him a butcher - and trust me - photoshop used the wrong way will, indeed, butcher your images.

What photoshop has the power to do is: take a good image and make it outstanding. The catch is knowing how to make that happen. What steps are needed to polish the pixels till they gleam.

I can say this about my images: if they look good to anyone, it is partially due to the fact that I have spent 1000's, if not 10's of 1000's of hours in that photoshop. The other 90% is because they were not bad to start with.

This is the focus of this post.

You asked of photoshop can 'help improve my pictures' and the answer to that question is Yes ... if you have something to improve upon. Let's think woodworking and making a desk, for a moment.

You have to start with a good piece of wood, plans/blueprints, have the proper tools to cut and assemble the wood into the a fore mentioned desk and the ability/talent to do so. Once you have the desk ready, it needs to be 'finished'. Sanded, stained, re-sanded, wiped free of dust and coated in resin, varnish, lacquer, oil or whatever strikes your fancy. Polish to a shine and you now have complete desk. Done

Photoshop is what lets you finish your works of art. The thing to know is that it needs to be ready for finishing for the process for it to do any good. There is no point in polishing a log.
So, with all the analogies out of the way, here is the direction I can point you in. Actually, it's a few directions but you can get to them all from where you are.
  1. Know your subject
    • Be aware of the properties, habitat or habits of your photographic focus.

  2. Use the right tool for the job
    • You usually don't want to shoot elephants with a macro lens.

  3. Have a plan before you start firing away
    • Think about the end result you want after all the shooting and editing is done and what you need to get there.

  4. Think about your environment in relation to your subject
    • If you shoot people outside, at noon, in the summer, on a cloudless day, they will squint. How do you avoid that?
    • If the subject is shiny, you may need to remove sources of reflection, change the light source and position or a combination of everything.
    • If the subject is heavily back-lit, you may need some fill flash to keep from having silhouettes - unless that is what you planned in step 2.

  5. Remember the 'Rule of Thirds'
    • You have to see it to know what it is. Check out what Wiki , Digital Photography School and BetterPhoto have to say.
    • Know that there are exceptions to the rule - like shooting a full watch face, front on or most product photography.

  6. Be aware of the background
    • Remember, anything in the image that doesn't not directly add to the composition or the story, is a distraction. I do mean anything. Lights, shadows, reflections, dust (when shooting macro), hair, etc.

  7. Diffuse your light source whenever possible
    • It is a RARE occasion when you want harsh shadows and blaring light. Soften it up.

  8. Have a good sturdy tripod
    • Here is a blog post I did about this very subject: The Tripod: A Force for Good or Tool of the Devil

  9. Take your flash off of the camera
    • If you have an external flash, get it up, left, right, anywhere but attached to the hot shoe. I made this for mine: Creating your own HOT shoe 2 extension cable.
Those are some of the basic things you need to be aware of to take better images. Another thing you can do was suggested by a very well known and well paid friend of mine, Mr Scott Bourne. He says that ... and I will paraphrase:
If you want to take better pictures, go look at 10,000 images. Examine them. Determine what makes them good, or bad. Look at the lighting, composition, color, contrast and subject. The use of positive and negative space. By this sheer exposure and observation you will improve your photography 100% and proper composition will start to come second nature ... all without ever snapping a shot.
In addition to that. You are shooting digital, free of the cost equated with learning like I did with film.

Shoot till your cards melt, then buy new cards and melt them. Keep the good and delete the rest. Practice, practice, practice.

I hope that this helps and in some way, will facilitate in nudging you in the proper direction towards better photography.