Portrait and Neutral Backgrounds

Leica M8 with Summilux-M 50mm

As you might have guessed from my last few posts, I have been experimenting in the studio recently with different backgrounds.  The one above is a paper called platinum.  Its nearly perfect for taking a white balance reading and one can also easily use photoshop to remove the model and place her on other backgrounds.

Adobe Lightroom Mobile Update – RAW Support

We had another update to Adobe Lightroom Mobile and this time they seem be indicating that we now have RAW support for the Mobile version.

This was a big thing for me as I have blogged about in the past.  Though Lightroom Mobile already supports DNG, I do want Nikon NEF support.

So I just had to give it a go.  I use Lightroom Mobile often to do a quick edit from when I am street shooting using my Leica.  The edits are usually just quick adjustments and crops.  This time the test was very simple I just grabbed my Nikon D800 and shot a few snaps of the dog and a few flowers in the garden.

Screen Shot Adobe Lightroom RAW Sync

So after a few quick snaps I grabbed my iPad 9.7 Pro and imported the RAW files.  All looked good and this worked without issue.  I then dived onto my Desktop computer and checked out the ‘From LR mobile’ Collection set.

There I saw my photographs arriving.  The question was what format?  Lightroom reported them as RAW and I also browsed to the file location in finder to confirm and there my files were.  So we now have full RAW support in Lightroom Mobile, thanks Adobe.

F Stops

F Stops

A lot of new photographers get very confused about F-Stops.  Basically with each F-Stop your reducing by half or doubling the amount of light hitting the film or sensor.

The numbers look odd, but thats because they are rations of diameter to focal length.

Get the Light Close

Get the Light Close - edit completed
Get the Light Close – edit completed

If you want good contrast and soft light and shadow in your studio flash photographs the key is to get the light close to your model.

Straight from Camera - Lightroom Defaults Applied
Straight from Camera – Lightroom Defaults Applied

The light here is very close to the model, a very large soft box above the model giving strong directional light, but with very gentle soft shadows, this is caused by the light being so close to the model.  The camera was a Nikon D200 with a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom shot at about 90mm.  This shot is straight from camera with my Default Lightroom D200 People pre-set applied.  This applies a little sharpening and a mask, a little contrast and some fill.  As its stands its pretty good, but I wanted to clean up the skin a little so it needed a round trip to photoshop.

Flattened Contrast
Flattened Contrast

To make the Photoshop work a little easier I dropped the contrast and slightly brightened the image, then it was off to Photoshop.

Photoshop
Photoshop

This is an old image but I wanted to see what the latest version of Photoshop could do with it.  With the skin cleaned up I whitened the eye and darkened the pupil a little, added a touch of blur to the skin to soften it then darkened the background.

Then back to Lightroom, for a final finish; add contrast, a make the image a touch darker and then crop.

All in all a quick edit and I have to admit Photoshop is getting faster at this kind of thing.  Most of this I could have done in Lightroom but taking it to Photoshop and using layers just made it faster and easier.

Scanning 35mm Film

Canon A1 Fujichrome Slide Film Taken in the late 1980's
Canon A1 Fujichrome Slide Film Taken in the late 1980’s



I am slowly getting the hang of film scanning.  Getting everything clean is the first and major step, after that is relatively simple.

I am using SilverFast which came free with my scanner.

The way I am working is as follows.

  • Step One clean and mount the film and scanner plate
  • Select Frames and delete all to get rid of the old frame settings
  • Select Pre-Scan, at this point it does a basic scan

SilverFast and Frames

  • Select Frames, Find Frames and select the appropriate film holder, in this case Filmstrip 35mm

SilverFast 35mm Film Settings

  • I then select my resolution 6400 ppi for film and then select the film Vendor, film type and ISO.
  • Then its a tweak to the Midtones to make the files a little flatter and easier to working on post production, I use +5.
  • Select Copy settings to all frames

Now for the time consuming part.

  • Zoom into the first frame and adjust the frame to capture all the image
  • Tweak the histogram if necessary
  • Go to next frame and repeat

Once all frames are done I then select batch scan and have it uniquely number each file and place them in a watch folder.

Lightroom auto import

Its then over to Lightroom where I configure Auto Import.  I have found the the default developer settings I use for my Nikon DSLR are a good starting point and I have Lightroom add the current date to the scans filename.

I now go off and have a cup of coffee and leave the computer to do its stuff, the scanner putting the images into the watch folder and then Lightroom automatically importing them, adding some developer settings and meta data and adding them to my main Catalogue image store.  If you have a lot of images to scan you can then use this time to prepare your next batch of scans.  The Epson V850 came with two sets of holders for each main type of film, 35mm mounted slides, 35mm film, medium format and 5 x 4 large format.

 

Monitors and Prints

Calibrated for NEC SpectraView Reference
Calibrated for NEC SpectraView Reference

I used to have the issue that many photographers suffer from; you send you image off to be printed and it comes back to dark.

Now my images come back much closer to how I envisaged them, and when printed by myself they are very close to what I see on the screen.

So what has changed, well first it got better when I started profiling my screen, usb screen profilers do not cost that much money and are definitely worth it.  Secondly I now use a NEC SpectraView Reference Monitor, this is as close to Adobe RGB as current displays can get and gives a very accurate display.

Lastly I now soft proof using paper profiles from the manufactures website.

I recently came to print one of my Black & White on a new paper I had not used before (Tecco PL285 Luster).  The image was quite dark and moody of a bleak marsh and a single bare tree.

I have split toned the image and the highlights have a slight blue tint and the shadows and mid tones a light sepia tint.

In Lightroom V5.3 I went into soft proofing and selected my paper profile, all of a sudden the image looked blue.  This paper has a definite cold tint.  I created a soft proof copy and adjusted the mid tone contrast to suit the paper and removed my blue tint from the image. I then tinted the image quite heavily all over sepia until the soft proofed image looked like the original.

Calibrated for Print
Calibrated for Print

I then printed and what came out looked like the original print, soft proofing in a colour managed environment had worked.  If you compare the bottom image with the top its hard to believe that when the bottom image is printed on Tecco PL285 Luster it looks like the top image but it does.

Soft proofing is still an inexact art, a monitor no matter how good and yet match the colour gamut but it is currently the best way forward.

In many ways it shows how arguments of cameras based on jpegs displayed on a web page are ridiculous, you cannot judge a camera from the web.  Ultimately only you shooting with it in your style, your kind of photographs and putting the resulting files through your work flow are going to show if that camera suites you.  And a camera that suites you may not suite others.

 

Paper Comparison Test 1 – Epson Hot & Cold Press, Natural, Bright & Hahnemuhle

Paper testing – Matt Papers and Canson with BK Ink as a Control Paper

At the weekend I finished typing up my notes from my testing of the Epson papers and comparing them with a few others I had around, I hope you find my notes useful.

The papers tested here are all heavy weight cotton papers, they feel good in the hand and they have a matt finish.  They all use the MK Black Ink not the photo black so they can never give as intense rich blacks as typical glossy photo paper; with these papers its all about the feel and the texture, they are object of art to hold and to experience.

Lightroom Settings

I also printed the test images on Canson Infinity Baryta Photographique, rated by many photographers and fine art printers who I trust as one of the best papers currently available for Image Quality, Dynamic Range and Sharpness.  This is not a true matt paper and uses the Photo Black Ink.

All these images were uprez’ed in Lightroom V5.3 to 720 ppi as all were above 360 ppi and printed to my new Epson 3880 at 2880 dpi.

Printer Settings

As I had selected 720ppi I needed to make sure Finest Detail was selected.  I believe in the manual it says to use this only for vector graphs, but I know of some one who knows the Epson printer driver software team and this setting tells the printer driver that the computer operating system is out putting at 720ppi and not 360ppi and you get better quality.  Note if your a canon printer user use either 300ppi or 600ppi.

The Epson is best when accepting either 360ppi or 720ppi depending on the printer driver settings.  You can send anything you like and the printer driver will uprez or downrez as required but its not a very sophisticated algorithm, the one in Lightroom is about the best there is.  It even gives better results then Photoshop CC.

If your not using Adobe Lightroom as your printing program then a) why not, and b) ignore what I have written so far and use what the program recommends.

For the test images I picked a selection that is representative of my work.

PaperTestA Studio Glamour Portrait of Lisa.  The red is very difficult for matt papers to handle and out of Gamut for most.

 

Censored to make it family friendly.

PaperTest-5Art Nude High Contrast Black & White of Amy Rose, a very difficult picture to print well with the deep shadows and blown highlights.

 

 

PaperTest-4A Typical Wedding Day Portrait; Crystal and Chris on their wedding day.  The Stone, Tree and Cream suit and white dress a challenging mix of colours for a matt paper to get right.

 

PaperTest-3

One of my desaturated soft landscapes, very suitable for warm textured paper but would the detail come through.

 

PaperTest-2

This was just a grab shot, nothing special but the blue sky, green grass and fine textured stonework would be a good test.

Here are my Notes:

Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Satin

A beautiful natural looking subtle textured paper.

Best Textured for Weddings.

Good general purpose matt textured paper will suit many subjects.

I bought this paper for a particular project and it looks like not only will it work well for that project i’ll be getting more as my go to textured paper.

 

Now get to the main part of this test the Epson papers consisting of:

  1. Epson Hot Press Bright
  2. Epson Hot Press Natural
  3. Epson Cold Press Bright
  4. Epson Cold Press Natural

The Hot Press have a very lightly textured surface, while the Cold Press are a heavily textured almost hand made water colour style of paper.

The Bright papers are pure white and use OBA’s (Optical Brightening Agents) and the Natural are a warm gentle creamy white without OBA’s.

 

Epson Bright

Hot Press

General Landscapes very good natural skies

Suites wedding dresses better then Natural papers.

Good texture; not too textured to interfere with fine detail.

Cold Press

Wonderful water coloured styled paper, lots of texture, suits my soft focus landscapes.

Both brights can be a little two bright for some subjects but slightly more accurate whites then the Natural and blue skies were rendered better then the Natural Papers.

Epson Natural

Hot Press

The white is very warm does not produce accurate colour on some whites, not suitable for weddings as the white dresses become slightly cream.

A warm paper very pleasing for my art nude work.

Cold Press

Very good for some soft focus or destaturated photographs and black and whites.

Heavy water coloured texture and warmth very pleasing but needs right subject.

Natural papers have warmth so can affect whites, gives a pleasing result but not for all subjects.

While I stated the Natural does not have accurate colours for weddings as the whites can come out cream, I can see because of the texture of the Cold Press Natural some wedding customers loving this paper when printed big as it looks almost like a large painting due to the watercolour feel.

Canson Infinity Baryta Photographique

Image quality, sharpness and colour gamut far better the the four Epson papers but then the Epsons are for a very different purpose.

Canson can seem a little cold compared to the Epsons but image quality cannot be matched.

Not as heavy a paper as the Epsons does not give the feeling of quality or make you think you are holding an object of art.

 

Summary

All the papers are very very good and in practice there is very little in it, we are splitting hairs here.  If you need the Dynamic Range and Colour gamut then the Canson is the one to go for.  I was extremely impressed with the Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Satin, noticeably its suitability for many subjects, I shot, Glamour Portraits, Art Nude and Wedding Portraits on it and the gentle texture and good colour suited everything.  I loved the heavy texture of the Epson Cold Press, but this suited only a narrow range of subjects.  The Epson Hot Press did not hide the detail as much and so suited more subjects.  The big question is OBA’s do you go for the Bright or the Natural.  The whites have a better impact on the Epson Bright but behind glass or perspex you would not notice.  The Natural was slightly warm and if your shooting wedding dresses or fashion its not the paper to go for.  What would I pick? Well for me it would be the Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Satin and the Epson Cold Press Natural.  For me they are the best matt papers of these.

 

Papers and OBA’s

Epson 3880If your into printing then there is a hot and vocal debate on the use of OBA’s.

First what is an OBA?

Well its an Optical Brightening Agent.  In the old days this was a coating on the paper, now most papers that have OBA’s have it built into them.

What does it do?

It turns Ultraviolet light outside of the visible spectrum and fluoresces it into white light that can be seen, this then gives a pure bright white that makes the blacks look black and improves the contrast of the image.

So why the debate?

Well back when they first came out the coating wore away, not an issue as then the paper acts like a natural paper, the issue was it wore unevenly and made your prints look blotchy.

Manufactures say they have now fixed this and that they will wear evenly, but many photographers and printers who want the work to last do not trust them anymore.

If your picking a paper that uses OBA’s you also need to consider how it will be displayed; if framed behind glass or most modern perspex then it will not work and you will get a normal white.  If its framed in a room receiving little natural light then again you will not get the affect.

I have been testing some papers recently that have OBA’s and the whites can be better then naturals but there are also other methods to get a better white that can be used.

Speeding up Adobe Lightroom Workflow

Lightroom Import Presets

Once you have imported your photographs into a DAM (Digital Asset Management) Package, then to get the most from your photographs, especially if your a professional photographer who may need to lay there hands on a particular image months or even years later there are a number of key tasks to perform.

First is meta data, simple things like location files were shot, copyright information, basic key wording etc.

Then there is developing the files.  The Adobe Camera RAW engine using process2012 is very powerful but the import process does tend to flatten your images resulting in RAW files that will not look anything like as good as out of camera jpegs.

I have a number presets to speed things up.  First common meta data presents with my copyright information and some location presets for locations where I shoot a lot.

Then there are develop settings, some are camera specific, and also apply basic sharpening based on if they are Landscapes or People focused.

Lightroom Import Preset

The key to really speeding things up though is to set these up with your import presets, thus as you can see above, when I import files from my Nikon D200, if the pictures are mainly landscapes I choose the D200-Landscape preset.  This preset apples my basic landscape metadata and copyright information, it sets a backup hard drive destination so the files get backed up to a second disk during the import.  It applies the develop preset I have configured for my Nikon D200’s and does some basic import sharpening optimised for Landscapes. It then ups the contrast and vibrance reduces the saturation slightly and brightens the shadows.

The Leica M8 presets similarly tweak contrast reduces red channel saturation and applies a tone curve.

Using these imports I can get to a position quickly where I just need to add some detail location information, final specific keywords, white balance and a slight tweak to the develop settings.

Lightroom Develop Presets

Editing – sorting the wheat from the chaff

If I am shooting fixed subjects like landscapes or buildings then is likely to only be a few shots of each scene. When shooting wildlife or people then I can end up with a thousand or more images to have to sort through.Lightroom editing

Well the first job is to get those image on to internal hard disk of my computer. I then import and copy them into the local Lightroom. The import also copied the files to an external disk. Once the majority of the editing is complete the Lightroom files get moved to external disk. By this time Apple’s time machine will also have a copy on its disk so I’ll havE several copies before the memory cards get wiped and I also clear down the local hard disk for the next set of images.

Something to remember with Adobe Lightroom V5 is that you can create something called a smart preview. This enables you to edit and image but not actually have the image with you, great for when your out and a about but wanting to get some work done on an old MacBook Air with only a small SSD inside.

So you now have a thousand or so images sat in Lightroom, how do you quickly find the great ones. Well there are several ways but I find it a lot easier if I use two monitors, one set to grid view and the other set to loupe.  This enables you to flick through the your images in grid view but evaluate them properly.

I also tend to group similar photographs together, you can then just pick a couple of good ones that ones that are very similar.

I also find its good to do an edit close to taking the photographs but also go back over your old work and look again at the ones you did not select.  To often you can chose photographs because of the amount of effort it took to capture and not based on the content.  Time can be a good equaliser.