Tag Archives: photographer

REVIEW: Lightroom 4 Prepares For The Future

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 has been available a few months but only in the last week Adobe has included Lightroom in Adobe Creative Cloud subscriptions, which is potentially even bigger news than the new version 4. Photographers who have purchased Creative Cloud subscriptions now get Lightroom whenever and wherever they want it, and that makes Lightroom even more relevant than before. I’ve been working with Lightroom 4 since it was released and Adobe has made some smart improvements to the application that embrace new digital technology.

I believe the most vital improvements in Lightroom 4 happen in the new adjustment brush features. Lightroom became much more useful when the adjustment brush was added a couple years ago, but Lightroom 4 lets photographers make spot adjustments to counter moiré, reduce noise or adjust white balance. The white balance adjustment is very useful and I was surprised no one thought to spot-adjust white balance before. I was so surprised I actually launched Lightroom 3 to confirm it!

Lightroom 4 white balance adjustments

Basically, the Temp and Tint sliders in the Develop module can now be adjusted within a single adjustment brush point on the photo or as a general adjustment across the photo. My color correction techniques have always emphasized correction across entire images—color casts and white balance mistakes will almost always affect everything the camera sees. However, there are a few times when multiple light sources can skew results in a part of an image. There are also many photographers today who want to be more creative with their images than just getting the color correct. These photographers will really enjoy the new controls available in Lightroom 4.

I am also really excited that Lightroom 4 now supports video formats. Prosumer cameras have been shooting video for a few years now and it’s becoming mainstream—some photographers like Vincent Laforet are experimenting with the art form while wedding and event photographers are supplementing their income shooting video as well as their usual photos. Adobe worked to make Lightroom 4 provide a complete video workflow. I don’t think Lightroom 4 provides a complete workflow—it’s missing basic features like sound editing, though Creative Cloud users will have all the software they need for video editing. But Lightroom 4 does provide easy importing and exporting to Facebook and Flickr as well as to your hard drive. I think exporting to YouTube is essential though.

Lightroom 4 does provide Quick Develop module tools for video editing, which is where workflow comes in. Photographers can change exposure, white balance and all the tone controls used for images. You can also trim clips and capture a poster frame for presenting the video. This is the extent of video editing in Lightroom 4, and I think it’s a decent enough editing suite for photographers in the field but a photographer who wants to sell his video footage should invest in Creative Cloud, CS6 Production Premium or Adobe Premiere Elements. Amateur videographers should really consider Premiere Elements, though serious photographers might want to invest in CS6 Production Premium (or, better yet, hire someone who already has mastered Adobe’s video applications.)

Lightroom 4 map module

One of the most visually spectacular new features in Lightroom 4 is the Map module, powered by Google Maps, that lets photographers place their photos in specific locations. It’s a thrill to navigate the world in Lightroom 4 and see exactly where your photographic journeys have taken you, but I have a feeling Adobe will have to constantly play catch-up with advances in GPS and mapping technology. 3D mapping is starting to emerge and I think tagging photos by building floor as well as GPS location would be useful. I also thought the process of matching photos up with their locations was tedious (except when the photo already had location metadata). If there’s no location data, you can drag-and-drop photos onto the map to set their location. This is probably as good of a manual system as you can get, but it’s still a slog.

Lightroom 4 boasts improved shadow and highlight recovery, and you’ll have to learn some new sliders in the Develop module to master this. In Lightroom 3, the Basic sliders in the Develop module included exposure, recovery, fill light and blacks along with brightness and contrast. (Brightness and contrast have been together in Adobe’s settings lineup since the early days of Photoshop.) In Lightroom 4, exposure and contrast are together and the other four sliders are highlights, shadows, whites and blacks. It’s confusing to consider whites and highlights two separate things (same with shadows and blacks) and there aren’t many differences between the two that I can see. Generally, the Highlights and Shadows sliders will affect darks or lights without ruining the other and will avoid excessive contrast. I still prefer working with the Tone Curve settings to pinpoint the tone regions I want to work on, though I like how fast and easy I can produce results with the Highlights and Shadows sliders. If you don’t have time to work with the curves, try the new sliders.

Lightroom 4 soft proofing

For photographers who make prints of their work, the new soft proofing in Lightroom 4 might be useful. A “soft proof” is an on-screen representation of the final printed product, and it’s often hard to get a precise soft proof since a screen and a sheet of paper are two totally different substrates. I’ve relied on hard proofs on paper since the beginning of my career. Lightroom 4’s soft proofs look like they might be helpful but I still don’t trust them completely—there are too many factors in printing that can skew the results. But what I do find really useful in Lightroom 4 are the new gamut warnings which will show regions that are too bright or too dark to display any detail. Lightroom 4 will provide not only printer gamut warnings but monitor gamut warnings too, which I’ve not seen before.

Lightroom 4 book module

Lightroom has always had a fairly robust set of output modules (Slideshow, Print and Web) but in version 4 there is a new Book module for creating photo books. I have seen photo books offered by several photo production websites but I usually like to design my own in InDesign. I wondered if Lightroom’s Book module would be easy to use as well as robust, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn there’s a balance between software-generated layouts (see the Auto Layout panel in the sidebar) and fine controls. The Cell panel lets you put white space around images on all sides or each side separately. I found the caption and type tools very intuitive—text was overlaid on images right where I wanted them to be and I didn’t need to handle text frame corners. Everything is done inside the Book module sidebar. I found one user interface element to be particularly annoying: the inability to add photo cells on my own. The pages’ photo layouts are determined by the Auto Layout presets; you can make your own presets but they still adhere to predetermined layouts. You cannot simply drag and drop new images onto the page either, unless a photo cell already exists. The only real way to tweak photo placement is to add padding to photo cells, but this isn’t a great way to do it.

Lightroom has had integrated social sharing for awhile now, but it’s been improved in Lightroom 4 in a way I didn’t really expect. If you share to comment-capable albums (a Facebook album, for example), photos’ comments will be shown in Lightroom 4’s sidebar and you can write your own there as well. Your comments will then appear on the Facebook album entry. I thought this was a really neat way to leverage Facebook’s API and integrate social comments directly into Lightroom. I also love how you can include your Facebook albums in the Publish Services panel and push photos up to it just by dragging them onto the album name.

Lightroom 4 is another quality upgrade for a quality product, and its inclusion into Adobe Creative Cloud makes it available to even more people. On the other hand, I feel Lightroom is a mature application now and some of the features are not so exciting or unique. Other mature applications, including Photoshop and Illustrator, deal with the same problem sometimes. But the improvements in spot adjustments, shadows and highlights, and photo book layout in particular make me say Lightroom 4 is an upgrade worth buying.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4
Adobe Systems
US $149 full/$79 upgrade
Included with Adobe Creative Cloud
Rating: 8/10
Buy at Amazon.com

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 Enters Public Beta


The alternate splash screen for Lightroom 4 with its “Sprocket” codename.

Last week, Adobe announced Photoshop Lightroom 4 and released the photo management software as a public beta available on Adobe Labs. Lightroom has enjoyed a public beta for each of its four iterations and it’s one reason the product has been popular among photographers. “Giving early customer access to new versions of Lightroom has helped our team deliver an outstanding battle-tested product that really stands up to the demands of photographers worldwide,” said Winston Hendrickson, vice president of Digital Imaging Products for Adobe.

The new features in Lightroom 4 are ready to be tried and tested, including:

  • A Map Module that includes location tagging controls and a standard map that places photos in the locations they were shot
  • Video format support for trimming and extracting frames from video clips, applying adjustments to clips and sharing video to Facebook and Flickr
  • Simplified basic adjustment controls
  • Soft proofing features in the Develop module
  • More local adjustment controls such as Noise Reduction and Moiré
  • Templates and tools for creating photo books in the new Book module
  • An email engine within Lightroom for sending mail directly from the application

I saw a quick demo and what I found most interesting were the new Map and Book modules. The Map module provides a really striking visual representation of the photographer’s journey around the world, though it’s probably a bit depressing for the user who doesn’t jet around the world very often. The bookmaking features are intriguing to me, and the Book module exports to PDF or publication at Blurb.com, an online publisher.

There are also many smaller features, including “fast load data” in DNG files for faster load times in Lightroom 4. You can also have a lossy (less than top quality) comp for fast loading. Another nice addition is soft proofing and gamut warnings for screen and print profiles. I’ll be curious to try these but I know it’s traditionally hard to get precise color management exactly right. One more note for holdouts on Windows XP: Lightroom will require Windows Vista and newer with version 4.

Adobe’s press release on the Lightroom 4 announcement is here.

REVIEW: Karen Sperling’s Painting for Photographers: Landscapes

Karen Sperling wrote the first Corel Painter manual when the program debuted in 1991 and can be considered one of the very first evangelists of that product, which is still the gold standard of digital painting applications. So I was excited when she contacted me to request a review of her Painting for Photographers, Volume 2: Landscapes DVD.

This two-hour set of lessons covers watercolor and oil painting techniques as well as bonus lessons on oceanscapes and cityscapes. Karen has been painting in Painter for a long time and her training and technique are smooth and confident. She has a painting method that works very well and is based on painterly techniques like building up color and developing the whole canvas first before focusing too much on specific regions. All the lessons are begun from photos rather than en plain air and the photos are included on the DVD, so users can train with the same material after watching the lessons.

I also appreciate the inclusion of art history into the lessons. Karen explains basic painterly concepts by showing works by Hopper and Cézanne, among others. Digital painting straddles the fields of digital art and traditional painting, and you can’t achieve your best work without being versed in both fields.

There are a few aspects of the lessons that I think can be improved. The lessons provide a variety of techniques and examples, but I also some repetition: for example, there’s not a lot of difference in technique between cityscapes and oceanscapes. Also, the paintings that Karen creates in this DVD don’t seem to have much detail. For example, one lesson has a dockside scene with various boats. The final painting is missing almost all of the boats’ masts and rigging, as well as details on the buildings in the background. I would like Karen to demonstrate how these details can be created in Painter because I think they enhance the final quality of the work.

While the content and the delivery is good, I think the production quality of the DVD can be improved. Here are some of the things that bothered me:

  • The lessons feel like they are in a PowerPoint format, with title cards often cutting into the flow of the video. Text overlays and more use of the lower third of the screen would be a better solution.
  • There is a lot of background music being used, and it was louder than Karen’s voice so I had to use volume control quite a bit. She acknowledged the unbalanced sound and plans to correct it on future releases.
  • I also thought some of the music was distracting and would like to hear something less obtrusive.
  • Sometimes Karen would use graphic elements like a color wheel to demonstrate techniques and principles. I think this is very good but it looks like Karen illustrates her points by literally drawing on the graphic in Painter with a hard brush. It looks pretty cheap—a more slick presentation can be created in After Effects or even Photoshop with not much extra effort. I think top-notch production quality is particularly important for digital artists.
  • A lot of the lessons consist of Karen painting in between her lecturing. This is where users get to see Painter in action, but most of the time it is sped up and Karen lets us see only a quick progression of the painting process. We can see Painter settings and the color panel dart in and out of view but can’t discern much other than that. Showing the entire painting process in real time is obviously not feasible, but I would like to see more focus on Painter and how to work with the application.

Painting for Photographers, Volume 2: Landscapes
Karen Sperling
Artistry
US $139.95
Rating: 7/10

BOOK REVIEW: The Hot Shoe Diaries Enlightens and Engages

hotshoediaries

Last year, “Legendary Magazine Photographer” Joe McNally published The Moment It Clicks, which was hyped as one of the greatest photography books ever published. I thought it was a great book, but not perfect—the handling of terminology bothered me, and I had hoped for more writing in a book over 250 pages. But that was in 2008, and this year Joe has published a new book, The Hot Shoe Diaries. Maybe it’s because I’ve had my head down the past few months working for my clients, but this book seems to have had less hype thrown at it—which is ironic, because I think The Hot Shoe Diaries surpasses its year-old predecessor.

More text, more stories, more enlightenment

The Moment It Clicks focuses on a relatively broad collection of photography stories and insights; The Hot Shoe Diaries focuses on lighting, and that focus really brings the book together. The first section of the book is an excellent survey of lighting equipment, settings and Joe’s own secret recipes for success in the field (look for his camera grip technique on page 40). The rest of the book presents a variety of Joe’s stories about lighting problems and solutions he’s encountered—everything from one-light jobs to assignments requiring lots of lights (up to 50!). You’ll also find a small appendix that covers some settings on the Nikon speedlights, but The Nikon Creative Lighting System by Mike Hagen is a far more comprehensive resource.

The Hot Shoe Diaries seems to have a lot more text than The Moment It Clicks, and the stories are just as compelling. I think the focus on lighting actually helped Joe bring together a more interesting collection of tales that really teach readers something great. And I think it’s interesting that there are no footnotes as there were in The Moment It Clicks—I didn’t even notice they were missing.

Something should be said about Joe’s writing style, which is a treat to read but might put off a few people. I prefer a clear, concise writing style with some humor, and sometimes I shake my head a little bit at Joe’s constant use of vernacular, pop culture references and otherwise goofy lines (“Say hello to my li’l frenn!”, “word editors who wouldn’t know a good photograph even if crawled up their zeppelin-sized pantaloons and bit them in their ample buttocks”). Writers normally avoid clichés, but in that second phrase Joe is recharging two clichés with words normally found in children’s books. Despite all this, I still think Joe’s books are fun to read without quite getting too annoying—and anyone who references The Uncanny X-Men at Photoshop World deserves a pass!

Good design, plenty of content and essential focus are what makes The Hot Shoe Diaries a must-have for photographers who use lighting beyond their camera’s pop-up flash. This book does more than give us some cool Joe McNally tales—it gives us a long glimpse into Joe’s working world, complete with camera settings, equipment recommendations and detailed lighting setups for some of his most compelling images. This is where great lighting really happens.

The Hot Shoe Diaries
Joe McNally
Published by New Riders
US$39.99
Rating: 10/10

BOOK REVIEW: The Nikon Creative Lighting System

nikoncls

After reviewing The Hot Shoe Diaries, I have lighting on my mind and another lighting book to review: Mike Hagen’s The Nikon Creative Lighting System. Unlike Diaries, this book is a nuts-and-bolts compendium on Nikon’s lighting gear combined with chapters on how to get the most out of the gear and case studies for real-world instruction. It’s very well done and I think photographers working with Nikon speedlights should consider picking it up.

Definitive directions

What I like (and don’t like) about this book is the extensive coverage of Nikon’s speedlights, including the SB-600, the discontinued SB-800 and its replacement, the SB-900. Also covered in detail are the Speedlight Commander Kit (R1C1) and Speedlight Remote Kit (R1). The bulk of the book is devoted to the operation of these five products, which is good for those who sometimes need instructions for all these products in the field. However, it’s not such a good thing if you only own one speedlight—the rest of the pages are fairly useless in this case. I’ve owned a SB-800 for a few years and just picked up a SB-900, and I’m using this book to help master my new gadget.

The rest of the book—which doesn’t constitute many pages—covers general flash knowledge such as flash theory, how to successfully use wireless flash, white balance, using gels and case studies that really help apply the theory to practice. These case studies are really helpful because they are written so each one applies to a particular kind of photography (travel, portraits [outdoor and indoor], events) and lighting setup (one light with cable, pop-up flash, commander and remote, multiple remotes and more). However, while they are helpful they do suffer from a lack of space (each scenario has only a few paragraphs) and might not necessarily present that one scenario a reader really wants to figure out. For a real wealth of real-world experience, The Hot Shoe Diaries is a much better selection.

Take it for what it is

The Nikon Creative Lighting System may not devote enough space for using flashes in the field, but as a comprehensive overview of the Nikon Creative Lighting System it is well-done—clear, well-written and complete. Some readers may feel a glorified book of instructions is not what they need, and if that’s the case then steer clear of this one and use the instruction books that came with the products. But for that particular type of reader who uses several Nikon flash products and can use a book that covers it all, The Nikon Creative Lighting System is very well-done.

The Nikon Creative Lighting System
Mike Hagen
Nikonians Press/Rocky Nook
US$34.95
Rating: 9/10

REVIEW: Bokeh Makes A Mean Bokeh

bokeh

At the end of last year Alien Skin Software released Bokeh, a Photoshop plug-in designed to recreate the “bokeh” effect that’s commonly used when photographers want to blur or tone down a background. I was a beta-tester for the software and was included in the Case Studies page for some Bokeh-improved images of mine. But now I have to remove by beta tester hat and put on my reviewer’s hat, and what I see in Bokeh is a very handy plug-in for photographers retouching with Photoshop.

The Bokeh effect

Bokeh can apply a wide variety of effects to an image:

  • Radial and planar bokeh, applying the effect in a circular or gradient fashion.
  • Aperture effects: areas affected with bokeh can reveal a diaphragm shape of anywhere from three to 11 blades, or a circular or heart-shaped diaphragm. Blades can also be curved inward or outward.
  • Bokeh can have varying amounts of creaminess.
  • Highlight boosting, which can create hot spots if you’re not careful but punches up the image pretty well if you’re judicious with the settings.
  • Vignettes: vignette shape, color, intensity, size and feather are all controllable in Bokeh.

If you’re a photographer, the vast majority of your work with Bokeh will be in creating true bokeh: soft backgrounds, sharp foreground or subject, and possibly some aperture effects or vignetting. For this purpose Bokeh does its job exceedingly well: everything I’ve seen Bokeh produce looks like it was photographed that way. If you’re a mix of photographer, artist and designer like I am, you might find Bokeh useful for more than just recreating bokeh. I found that with a combination of colored vignetting and creamy bokeh I was able to age photos in a very nice way. For the bald eagle photo you see below, I played around with the aperture diaphragm settings to create some five-sided stars. A blue vignette and a little highlighting on the eagle’s head (done in Photoshop—Bokeh can’t do such spot retouching) made the image into a patriotic one.

This bald eagle image was created with Bokeh's standard effects plus some out-of-the-box application of vignette and other effects.
This bald eagle image was created with Bokeh's standard effects plus some out-of-the-box application of vignette and other effects.

More flexibility

If you’re hoping to use Bokeh for artistic effects like I did, be prepared to run into a few obstacles. Bokeh is designed for photographers, and so the plug-in isn’t designed to create a wide variety of effects. I loved using the “Heart of Hearts” diaphragm shape—it’s included with the plug-in—but there’s no way to create other shapes unless they’re based on a circle or conventional bladed diaphragm. Also, Bokeh cannot do anything to an empty layer, which would have been helpful if one wanted to mask or modify it later. Bokeh does allow you to duplicate the current layer when applying bokeh (click the “Create Output in New Layer Above Current” checkbox) but it flattens the effect with a copy of the original.

Conclusion

Bokeh is another well-designed plug-in from Alien Skin and for photographers who need to recreate true bokeh it’s an excellent tool. I recommend it for any photographer who falls in this category. Creative photographers and designers who want to play with the effects will find a lot of useful tools in Bokeh but keep in mind the plug-in was not really created for this kind of work and there’s sometimes more flexible ways in Photoshop to create the same effects. But Bokeh can do a lot, and I know from personal experience that it can make good photos great.

Bokeh
Alien Skin Software
Rating: 9/10
US$199.00

BOOK REVIEW: The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers


Companion

Derrick Story’s The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers is an interesting book, in that it strives to be a slim “companion” book for photographers out in the field but still aims to cram itself with all the information pertinent to a photographer using Photoshop. The end result is something in between, a book I enjoyed for its compact size and portability but ended up questioning whether it simply has too much information.

Great book for the studio

Don’t get me wrong—I’m the type to encourage information overload. And with that being the case, I’m impressed by the amount of information the Companion packs into its pages. Like many other books, this one focuses on workflow at the beginning and spends a chapter discussing importing images with the Photo Downloader, a component of Bridge that I’ve not found much use for until now. Derrick considers it a very powerful tool for importing photos, and I agree although there are other solutions (I personally use Photoshop Lightroom) and I would doubt most photographers are shooting in the field without an importing strategy already in place.

The book continues with a chapter on rating and keywording in Bridge (again, I use Lightroom for this—but Bridge is the next best thing) and two chapters on Camera Raw, and then the book moves into Photoshop territory with coverage of a variety of tools (Clone Stamp, Levels) and techniques (blemish removal, sharpening, hue/saturation, panorama stitching). The book ends with a small chapter on printing, which (like workflow) seems a little out of place because one would expect a photographer to worry about printing only after returning from the field.

Not enough Photoshop

Out of the eight chapters in Companion, only two cover Photoshop itself. This bothers me—I know Derrick wanted to avoid packing every Photoshop tip into this book, but I think more could have been done. Since this book is about Photoshop CS4, CS4-specific information would have been helpful: not much is said about the Adjustments and Masks panels, two of the most noticeable changes in Photoshop CS4. A photographer out in the field might want a comprehensive overview of these panels handy when he/she is working on images. There’s also plenty of other tips and tricks a photographer may want to reference in a companion like this book.

A lot of copy

When I think about companions, handbooks and pocket guides—whether they are travel guides or Photoshop books like this one—I hope to see the right mix of imagery, copy and information design. These small books get too jam-packed without white space and visual aids like headings and such. Companion does a pretty good job of mixing images in the right place but the copy is served in huge blocks that are rarely broken up with callouts, boxes or other aids. This makes the book somewhat difficult to use when looking up a particular bit of information, which is often the case out in the field. As I alluded to in my subheading above, this book works best in the studio—or reading room, where one can read the book cover-to-cover. A photographer in the field who has to find out fast how to apply a photo filter to an image for a client will be hard-pressed to find the information in Companion.

Conclusion

The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers is a good book, and I would recommend it for beginners or amateurs who could use a small, easy-to-digest guide to workflow, Camera Raw and a few Photoshop techniques for photographers. It is not a complete Photoshop guide or a full survey of new CS4 features, and I might stick it in my camera bag for “just in case” situations but the lack of Photoshop-specific information and ease of use out in the field might keep it unopened.

The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers
Derrick Story
Published by O’Reilly
Rating: 7/10
US$24.99