Posted by: In: Books, Guidebooks 06 Mar 2013 1 comment Tags: , , ,

I spend a lot of time reading. At times, I come across a book that is really well written, as well as informative and useful.

Bryan Peterson’s book – Understanding Exposure, (3rd Edition) is a testament to this ethos, and is simply genius in its descriptive ability to draw the reader in.

As a photographer of a few years now, I have been to evening classes, and spent a lot of time on photographic forums, picking up bits and pieces here and there, but nowhere have I found a book that so simply breaks down the photographic process as this. Even taking an A-Level didn’t educate me as well!

The author somehow takes the most simple of sentences and continues to draw the reader in. It’s almost as if you’re understanding it as you read it without actually knowing that you get it. It’s like a fine ale (if you’re a beer drinker) or good quality chocolate (if you’re a woman), or the Book Of Answers if you’re a photographer.Understanding Exposure at Amazon

I’ve been sat here a while now, thinking of ways to describe just how useful this book is, but sitting back and looking at realms of (now deleted) text, I wondered how useful that is to you, as a potential buyer.

I thought I knew it all, and to be honest, in my cluttered mind, I did know a fair bit. But this book sets everything into a logical order, and explains it with such childlike simplicity and clarity, that I found myself re-learning everything again, only this time, in the proper order. And to an engineer like myself, I was being told why I was doing it that way. Sometimes, once you grasp the concept of “why”, the rest all falls into place. A bit like the magic of hyperfocal distance…

Photography is all about exposure. The amount of light hitting your sensor/film. That’s it. It’s about obtaining that balance. It’s about how to manage/juggle shutter speed, ISO and Aperture to get the right exposure for you. And the emphasis is always on the last two words there. For You. And that’s another great thing about this book. It isn’t about telling you what to do to make a great photograph. This is about equipping you with basic fundamentals to allow you to make a great photograph. There is a huge difference.

As an example, I always used spot metering to evaluate the exposure in a scene. I didn’t really know why, I just did. I pointed the spot at my subject, took a reading, recomposed, then took the shot. That’s fine in most circumstances, but there are forms of photography where it’s not so clear. A sunset for example, or a long range shot of the moon. Within these pages, the explanation is so clear that it’s obvious where you need to meter from in order to take such a shot.

I read this on holiday. And spent a lot of time shaking my head in wonderment as things were explained to me that I really hadn’t bothered with before. But these things were explained with such simplicity, it was more a wonder of how I managed not to “get it” before.

If you have a few quid in your wallet, spend it on the shopping and order this on your card. No matter what level you’re at (professional photographers excluded!) you’ll find this book brilliant.

The book itself is a big glossy softback with some lovely images inside. It’s also got some bad ones too that illustrate how not to do it. The first few chapters are devoted to absolute basics and defining the “Exposure Triangle” of Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. These three ingredients are key to understanding different aspects of an image. Peterson tackles each of these three subjects in depth and explains what happens when you have high or low variations of the three options. By understanding what to expect with an Aperture of (for example) 2.8 or a low shutter speed of 1/20 second, or a high ISO of 1600, you as a photographer can elect to make these changes secure in the knowledge of what the effect will be on the final image.

The last major section of the book talks about light itself. This is an unusual chapter and really opens ones eyes to the way light falls on subjects, and how important it is to be able to recognise this. Different types of day and different types of weather can drastically affect how light falls on a subject. My 52 challenge this year is an exercise in learning about light. The same subjects all year round, but images taken in different lighting conditions and at different times of the day can dramatically effect the outcome. The most important aspect of this book is its ability to break down what might first appear quite complicated and make it seem simple. Even now, it still makes me smile when I read it.

Last of all, there is a section about special techniques. The use of filters, multiple exposures, HDR and flash are all discussed within the premise of the previous content. It’s a nice ending to a book that should be on every amateur photographer’s shelf. Well worth the investment!

Thanks for reading!

Ian

So Topaz have released a new version of their BW Effects and I have been playing with it this week. I did do a review of their version 1 release here so this is more about looking at the differences. Of course if you have version 1, you get a complimentary upgrade which is very nice!

Upgrading?

If you’re upgrading, it’s worth following the instructions on their website as there are a few comments worth reading through before beginning. Also, I don’t have a standard install and needed to install BW Effects to a different location which meant putting my license key in again. Once installed though, it seems to work just fine – certainly as a plugin to Photoshop.

What’s New?

topaz_bwfx

The email from Topaz states that there are colour filter improvements, a better grain engine, more control over the special effects with a preview pane and a redesigned user interface. The biggest improvement by far is the preview pane though. One of the problems with BW Effects was the fact that you had to actually make the change before you could see the effect. With their presets all now having a preview pane, you can get the general idea before you click. This is a great boost to time spent processing. There is also a “Last Used Settings” preset which is extremely handy if you forget to save your last used composition settings!

The User Interface is definitely improved too. It’s not just marketing speak! It feels more intuitive and less crowded. One thing I’d really love though is the option to turn previews off. As someone that likes to skim through them just for fun before getting to the serious business of B&W’ing a photograph, it can get intrusive waiting for the PC to process the preview every time my mouse goes to the left of the screen.

I’ll be brutally honest here and say I can’t really see any difference to the grain engine. Perhaps dedicated film enthusiasts would disagree but it’s a function I rarely use anyway. After shooting HP5+ and seeing the lovely analogue grain on that it feels… odd… trying to recreate it in the e-Darkroom. Topaz say that these are often requested features, so I must be in a minority. As this is a free upgrade though, I am not going to make a big deal out of it.

Lastly, I thought I’d take a look at the colour filtering options. I really love this capability as it allows true creative control over your image. Colour can be a distraction to a photograph and vibrant bright colours will tend to fall to the extreme end of the B&W spectrum (white or black) when processed electronically. Having control over this is essential. Take, for example, a man in a lurid bright pink T-shirt. Converting to B&W would make this almost white, but having control over the reds allows you to reign that T-Shirt back to middle-grey to let the viewer focus on the story of a scene/image rather than “that big blob of white”.

bweff_origi

The only true way to compare improvements would be to do a side by side comparison of a photography with lots of colour in it.

So here’s an image I took earlier. It’s a landscape shot with some blues and greens in it. I deliberately pumped up the saturation of those colours to hopefully better illustrate how this all works.

What I’ve done is taken several screenshots of how BWEffects compares to BWEffects 2 with the same settings. I’ve also done an “approximation” in Photoshop just for curiosity sake to see how that compares too.

Initially, I reset all the settings in both plugins to utterly neutral. This was so that I’d be starting from the same page. I also wanted to make sure both programs don’t do anything “odd” with a basic raw image. To get to this state, you need to click those drop down arrows on the right hand side and uncheck everything to make sure there is no image modification going on. Below we have a full sized Before/After of the UI and the raw image. I’m happy to say that the image looks the same to me in both programs. You can also see the new UI look which isn’t massively different from the old one. That darker background to version 2 looks better to me though.

So now that we know we’re starting from the same point, we can look at how version 1 handles colour filtering against version 2. I made a note of the slider values and made the same adjustments to both images. the resulting shots below are screen captures so you can see there’s no other strangeness going on. No other changes were made, so this is perhaps a harsh test, but I just wanted to see the difference. Here you go!

It’s most certainly different! You can see how version 2 has a much more subtle effect when moving the sliders to the same points. It’s a more refined control which really helps. I’ve gone for a striking process here, pushing green and yellow towards the “white” end of the spectrum and darkening the blues to give an infra-red feel. it really is quite a dramatic difference between version 1 & 2 as you can see.

ps_proc

It also might be easy to say “version 1 is worse”, but for me, it’s just different. I prefer more refined control, and version 2 seems to have this.

To the right here, you can see my Photoshop comparison, using teh B&W conversion tools available there, and they have the same sledgehammer type feel as version 1 (though not quite as pronounced). That’s not to say that v1 is “just like Photoshop”. far from it. Version 1 has a myriad of other controls (detail sliders etc) that do different things. I’m only looking at the colour filters here.

For me – this function alone is worth the upgrade from v1, and I feel that anyone looking to pick up BWEffects 2 without upgrading (i.e. paying for it) is going to get a very decent affordable software package. There are still some improvements to be made (in my humble opinion). I’d like to see images updated as you drag the sliders rather than having to drop them and wait for the software to process the result. I also don’t find the local adjustment brush very useful, but then I have access to layer masks in Photoshop which are much more powerful.

Finally, if you haven’t yet picked up BWEffects and are looking to do so, TopazLabs are offering a 30% discount until 28th February with the code bwfx2.

Link to Topaz Labs

Thanks for reading!

What is High Pass Sharpening?

Every digital image you capture records the scene in front of you depending on the settings in your camera. The sensor measures the light hitting the cells and the camera processor turns this into an image. Depending on how you shoot, it might be heavily processed into a JPEG file (if you shoot in JPEG format) or it may be lightly processed into a RAW file. Either way – the important fact to remember is that it is processed in some form.

Once you review the image at your leisure, you may decide that it’s not sharp enough and want to do something about it. Some reasons for lack of sharpness are:

  • Missing the focus point: Maybe you hit the portrait subject’s ear instead of their eye and the eyes are a bit blurred.
  • Poor lens quality: Some lenses are not as good as others and things like edges of photographs can sometimes be a bit blurred, especially on wide angled lenses.
  • Lens out of alignment: Maybe your lens is faulty?
  • Not sharp enough: Maybe the processing in-camera (either RAW or JPEG) didn’t sharpen the image enough for you.
  • Movement: You moved during the shot and blurred it.
  • Aperture: Some lenses are considered to be “soft” at their widest apertures. (f1.4 for a 50mm f1.4 for example, or f2.8 on a 70-200 f2.8 lens)

Software can take care of sharpening for you. Lightroom has excellent sharpening tools for example, as does Adobe Camera RAW. However the High Pass sharpening method (in Photoshop) allows you to have a degree of control not only of how much sharpening you apply, but where it is applied too.

So you can see for yourself, here is a landscape image that was a hand-held HDR, so there is a blur to the branches of the tree (you may need to do a page refresh to see the image whilst I iron out some creases). Drag the slider (or just click on the image) to see how sharpening has improved definition in the tree branches but hasn’t affected the sky or foreground.

 

 

High Pass Sharpening In Photoshop (CS5): The Process

The process is very simple and has a lot of flexibility.

  1. Open your image in Photoshop
  2. Duplicate it with CTRL+J
  3. Click on Filter>Other>High Pass. This should make everything go grey. Don’t panic. The pop up box should be asking you for the pixel radius. Now, the radius you set and the effect it has will depend on your overall image size. You want to adjust the slider so that the edges are peeking through the grey. For my 50D which has an example 5000 x 3000 pixel image, I tend to use a radius of between 3 & 5 pixels. On lower resolution images though this will have a more pronounced effect.
  4. Change the Blending Mode from “Normal” to either Soft, Hard, Vivid or Linear light. “Soft” will give a much more delicate effect. Linear light gives a very pronounced effect. I find “Hard Light” to be the best “middle ground”.
  5. (Optional) Reduce the Opacity if you need to. This allows you that last degree of control over the whole sharpening process.

That’s it. Dead simple.

The last step is another optional one. In y example image above, I have just applied sharpening to the trees. How is this done?

Optional Step: Layer Masking

Layer Masking is quite a simple technique and really useful for other areas of Photoshop and not just sharpening. It does require a bit more work though.

If you look down at the right hand lower corner, you should see your background, with “Layer 1” above it (your sharpening layer). Photoshop builds images in layers so you have to imagine that you are looking down at your image (the background layer) through the sharpening layer. What Layer Masking does is “erase” bits of the sharpening layer to allow some parts of your image to be sharp, and others to retain their blur.

  1. On the bottom row, next to the “fx” button, you should see a rectangle with a little hole in it. Hovering over it should give you an “Add Layer Mask” pop up. Make sure your “Layer 1” grey sharpening layer is selected, then click on the rectangle. You should end up with a white box next to your grey layer.
  2. Press “D”, then “X”. This should set your foreground colour to Black and your background colour to white.
  3. Pick a soft edged brush and set the opacity to 50-80%.
  4. Start Painting on your image. Now, wherever you paint black on the mask will “block out” your sharpening. “X” will swap your foreground to white which will “reveal” your sharpening.

If you start getting black paint on your image you’ve probably selected the background by mistake.

This technique allows you to “paint out” sections of the image you don’t want sharp with a very fine degree of detail. So what about when you want to reverse the process? Let’s say you have a portrait where you want the eyes to be really sharp, but not the rest of the face, it’s a very long job to sharpen the image, then spend hours painting everything around the eyes.

In step 1, before you click the “Add Layer Mask” button, hold down the Alt key (Alt+Click). This will create a mask that’s automatically black and you can paint white straight onto the image. This will save a lot of time if you’ve only got eyes to sharpen (for example).

Hope you enjoyed this short tutorial. High Pass Sharpening is a great and simple to use technique.

Ian.