20 March 2011


We had a stunning sunset - no, that's not quite true - we had a wonderfully varied sunset last Sunday. There were lots of different cloud layers and the sun was lighting them up differently as it sunk to the horizon. This created a constant shifting in colour and light.

It started off with a general pale yellow glowing of the sky and it was this that grabbed my attention. So I took my camera out into the front yard and started taking photos of different parts of the sky. Whilst (I love using this word!) the sky as a whole was beautiful, colourful, and varied, I chose to take photos of smaller segments. I often find that the big picture looks wonderful when you're looking at it, but it doesn't work well as a photo. And the reason for that is that I find myself looking at lots of different parts of the sky and then aggregating these pieces to give me the full picture. With a photo, that's a lot harder to do. Especially if you have power lines, roof lines, and trees "messing" things up.

I took over 40 images, which I finally pared down to four. Here's a sample of the photos I took (not the ones I kept). Even though the sky was fascinating, most of the photos didn't translate what I saw into something that works when seen in isolation.

But I like playing around with my photos nowadays to see what different settings do to them. So I pushed the blacks, increased contrast, added more saturation (see my previous post Photo Editing). I nearly kept this photo, but felt that the "dragon" was too obvious and would stop people from seeing this as an image of wonderful clouds.
Fire-breathing Dragon
With images that don't have a clearly obvious subject matter, I'll often rotate the image to see if the change in orientation brings out the colours and lines more strongly. When I rotated some of the images they ceased being clouds and looked like the earth viewed from outer space with fire raining down on it (hence the title of this post).
Given the terrible events that have affected this region (Asia-Pacific) in the last few months - floods in Australia, destructive earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan - I felt that these images were reflective of the devastation visited on our planet.
Earth Wars 2, Blacktown
You can see the other two images that form this trilogy by clicking on the one above, or by visiting the Art gallery.

But I can't leave you in such a depressing mood, so here's a more traditional view of sunset clouds, also taken at the same time.
Evening storm clouds, Blacktown
There's a couple of other new photos that I've added and you can see all of them by visiting the Recent gallery.

17 March 2011

Photo Editing

What do I do with my photos after I've taken them? What's my general approach to processing?

The first thing to know is that I shoot RAW and I frequently “shoot to the right”. In other words, I deliberately overexpose the image to get as much information as possible. I make sure the histogram is as far to the right as possible without overexposing (clipping) the highlights.

Next, for my editing, I use Adobe Lightroom 3.0 (LR). While I have Photoshop CS installed, I hardly ever use it because I find LR gives me all the tools I need. Note, if you don't have Lightroom, you can still follow what I'm doing in Photoshop because Camera Raw is the common engine in both Lightroom and Photoshop.

When I import my photos I apply a medium level contrast level curve which I’ve modified to add more contrast in the mid-tones by increasing the steepness of the curve.

I also use, what I think used to be, a common import setting for blacks, brightness, and contrast.

I’ll then try the Auto tone setting just to see what it looks like. What it does is essentially:
  • Set the black point by increasing the Blacks until the LHS of the histogram starts to clip
  • Increase exposure (or decrease exposure and add Recovery) until the RHS of the histogram starts to clip
  • Adjust Brightness to suit.

Next, I’ll add Noise Reduction because I find that, even at 100 ISO, I get noticeable noise since I often shoot in low light conditions.

After that I’ll add a bit of Punch (a predefined setting in LR):

Then I’ll play around with the White Balance to see what I like best. I’m a sucker for reds and yellows, so I’ll often increase the WB.

Finally, I’ll probably add more mid-tone contrast (this is what makes things “pop”). I’ll typically push Lights and Darks to 50 (+/- respectively).

I’ll also play around with Clarity (which is all about local contrast) as this adds more texture (increase) or softness (decrease, especially if combined with low sharpness). I may fiddle around with local adjustment depending on the image, but that’s basically it in a nutshell.

I found David duChemin’s book Vision and Voice to be an excellent reference on the effective use of Lightroom – all about what you are looking for in the image and not just a technical manual. I strongly recommend it.