Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Basic Color Management For Photographers - Part III

PART III - Printer Profiling

In Part II we discussed monitor profiling and noted that it was the most important part of a color managed workflow. Today, I would like to discuss another type of profiling…….printer profiling.

Remember how, when profiling a monitor, the calibration and profiling device put together a ‘correction table’ so that colors were ‘tweaked’ before being displayed on the monitor to ensure that they appear correctly? Well, printer profiling is very similar. However, the monitor output only ends up in one one spot that counts, and that is going into our eyes and then on to our visual cortex. But, when printing, the printer output can end up on many different substrates. That is to say that we might want to print on several different types of paper, and each paper type handles and ‘displays’ the printer ink differently. The same ink will look a bit different on each type of paper it is applied to. What this means is that we actually need a different profile (or correction table) for every different paper or canvas that we want to print on. Yeah:

Image by Robin Higgins

Image by Robin Higgins

But fret not, because while I am going to tell you how it’s all done, I am also going to tell you that for basic color management you need not worry too much about it. Why? Because you can easily get these profiles made for you at no cost. I’ll tell you how in just a bit.

So how are printers ‘profiled’ if each different paper needs its own profile? Here’s how:

First, color management in the printer is completely disabled in the printer driver (more on this later, but we have to start somewhere) and a standardized set of color patches are printed out on the specific paper you would like to use. The number of patches to print can be adjusted in the profiling device software, depending on how accurate you want the profile to be, and can range from many hundreds to many thousands of small patches. Despite printing without color management in the printer driver, you still need to pick a media type in the driver in order for the printer to print. One can experiment with what to choose in order to get the best amount of ink put down (for example, matte papers take more ink than glossy papers) and the best color differentiations (like I said, don’t worry too much about this). The patch printout looks something like this:

Color Calibration Patches

Color Calibration Patches

Now, once the patches are completely dry, you take your hardware profiling device and ‘read’ the colors by scanning each patch. Yes, it’s tedious work, though there are expensive devices that can automate it for you. So, the device software now ‘knows’ what actual color the printer outputted onto the paper, and it also knows what each color patch should have been outputted as. Just like with monitor calibration, these color patches are not random….they are very specific colors and the software knows how they ‘should’ look. Just like with monitor calibration, the software can then generate an icc profile that contains look up correction tables. The profile says ‘oh yes when color x is printed on this specific paper it makes it look a bit too yellow, so when the user tries to print that color I am going to give instructions to the printer to put down less yellow in just the right amount so that the color looks right’. And it does the same for the colors of all those patches while also extrapolating the corrections for the colors that are ‘between’ the patches.

Now I have to drop something on you here….the device used to measure the color patches on paper is not the same $200 one that is used for monitor calibration. No indeed. This device is one that costs well over $1000!!

Image by Robin Higgins

Image by Robin Higgins

Remember, up above, I told you not to worry about all this? The reason you don’t have to worry about it is that paper manufacturers do this profiling for you for free. Well, maybe not for you personally, but for consumers as a whole. Why??? Because they want you to make great prints with their papers……so that you buy more paper. For almost every paper manufacturer you can go to their website and download, for free, a printer (also called paper) profile for your specific brand and model of printer to use with their specific papers.

For example, here is a screen shot of various printer/paper profiles I could download for my brand printer if I wanted to print on one of the smooth matte papers made by Hahnemuhle.


These manufacturer generated profiles also come with instructions on how to install them into the correct operating system folders so that the printer knows where to look for them (but you already know the folder location if you read Part II of this series) and, importantly, they also tell you what media setting to use in the printer driver to get optimal results (the printer driver only has media settings for its own brand of paper, so the third party paper company has already figured out what setting works best for their paper and used it to make the test color patches). Now you need to replicate what the paper manufacturer did by printing your photos on their paper with the same media settings they used to make the profile.

These profiles made by the paper manufacturers are really quite excellent, after all they want you to get great results. However, while they are generated from the same brand and model printer that you have (you chose it when you ordered up the profile download), they weren’t made from color patches printed by YOUR exact printer. Yes, you can get in as deep as you’d like. I am going to say that for the vast majority of people reading this, the paper manufacturer’s profiles are really darn close enough and the whole color management thing, while really good, is never perfect anyway. BUT, if you want a profile made for your specific printer, the one sitting in your office, you can either buy the over $1000 device or, alternatively, print out the test swatches on your printer and snail mail them to someone who makes custom profiles. They will do the profiling steps described in the beginning of this post. These custom profiles can be had, at varying quality, for anywhere from $30-$75 for each paper you want to print on.

So now you know what goes on behind the scenes in making printer/paper profiles and you know how to get and install them without having to spend the time and money to make them yourself. Aren’t you glad you read all the way through : )

So how does one use those profiles now that you have them installed? That will be the subject of the next post, which will be the final one in this series.

Comments or questions? Just click on comments link below and I will do my best to answer them.

Using Channels To Create Masks In Photoshop

I’m not a big fan of having to make masks in Photoshop. It’s easy when you are just brushing in tones, saturation, contrast etc. But when it comes to having to make an actual accurate mask for, say, an extraction….well, just the thought is painful.

I ran across this excellent video about using the alpha channels in Photoshop to make accurate masks and really learned some interesting and useful techniques from it. It is a bit long at one hour and twenty minutes, but it is divided into individual chapters for easier digestion. It starts out simple but rapidly becomes quite advanced. I found watching it to be time very well spent and thought I would share it with those that might be interested.

Intentional Camera Movement

‘Intentional Camera Movement’ (which until a few years ago was simply known as ‘hey, look at this cool photo I made by shaking my camera’ - but I guess ‘ICM’ is a bit easier to say than ‘HLATCPIMBSMC’), is a process by which one can make abstract images in-camera. While usually one wants the camera to be perfectly stable when the shutter is open in order to make sharp images, the technique of intentional camera movement seeks just the opposite. Here the idea is to intentionally move the camera while the shutter is open in order to make abstractly blurred photographs.

I have seen many ‘guides’ that suggest different techniques, but my feeling is that there is no right or wrong when it comes to this……experimentation is the key. It is difficult to state a ‘proper’ shutter speed because it depends on how fast one is moving the camera and if the subject is itself moving or not. Once you get a composition that looks promising, the key is to try multiple different variations in shutter speed and speed of camera motion until you get something the is pleasing and ‘just seems right’. It really pays to experiment, as sometimes even when it looks good on the camera LCD the image isn’t quite as compelling on the larger computer screen. It pays to change it up and decide if you have a ‘keeper’ later, once you get home.

That said, here are a few tips I can offer:

  • Your shutter speed can be slowed down by choosing a smaller aperture; the image isn’t going to be ‘sharp’ anyway, so don’t worry about diffraction effects at very small apertures

  • If a small aperture doesn’t get you a slow enough shutter speed for the effect you are looking for, add a polarizer or a neutral density (not a graduated neutral density) filter….or both

  • Even though you will be moving the camera, I still like shooting these types of images on a tripod….it makes it easier to keep the camera moving in just one direction, if that is the effect you are looking for. Of course the tripod is not at all necessary, I just personally find it useful

  • I find that I most often get pleasing results if I move the camera in the same direction as the dominant lines in the composition (ie up and down for trees and side to side for a shoreline). But try other directions as well

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill


In this particular image of trees, I moved the camera along the vertical axis while the shutter was open. In specific, this was made at ISO 100 at f11 with the shutter open for 2 seconds. I actually liked the appearance of the left side of the photo better than the right, so I selected it in Photoshop, used CTL-J to duplicate it onto its own layer, CTL-T to go to transform in order to flip it horizontally, and then the move tool to shift it over so that the left side of the image was mirrored on the right.

An Admission

In the past, I have spoken about having taken Sebastian Michael's "Photoshop Artistry" course, which is truly a superb course if you have an interest in learning more about 'grunge techniques' (though I really don't like that term since it seems to harbor negative connotations). But I have an admission to make, I haven't been doing my homework!  

While I have put some of the techniques taught into use, there are also a series of weekly exercises, or 'challenges', which gets one to use all the various techniques in order to really cement them in. I hadn't done them. One of my friends has started to take the course as well, and we have decide to do the weekly assignments and trade the files to see how each other work. The accountability to each other of doing the assignments is a motivating factor to actually get them done. In addition, I think that seeing how we each individually implement and interpret the techniques will be fascinating.

I don't plan to post my results every week, but thought if I end up with some images that I really like (the purpose of the assignments is to get facile with the techniques, not create masterpieces) I would post them. Well, I do like the result of this first assignment, which was to take an image and add two textures, an edge effect, a vector, and to utilize a 'painting with light' technique. In addition, any other adjustments could be used.

Here is the result:

Gone Fishing    © Howard Grill

Gone Fishing    © Howard Grill

Here is the fully processed image that I used for the assignment before adding anything, one that had been 'finished' and that I enjoyed even without any further manipulations. 

Gone Fishing    © Howard Grill

Gone Fishing    © Howard Grill

They are the same yet different and I enjoy them both. Which do you prefer? Is the transmitted emotion different between them?

Digital Photo Art

I loosely consider that there are four types of Photoshop users.  Remember, this is a pretty loose definition!

  1. Graphic designers 
  2. Photographers who use Photoshop to 'develop' their RAW images and process their photos (ie everything starts out as 'real', no matter what it is ultimately made into)
  3. Digital artists that create work starting with a blank canvas and who fill that canvas with their own creations using the tools available in the program (ie nothing is 'real')
  4. Something in between, where 'real' photographs are composited with other photos, layered with textures, vectors, typography and other artwork

I have always fallen into group #2, and I am sure that, for the vast majority of time, that is where I will stay. But I happen to run across an intriguing course related to being a Type 4 user.  I was intrigued by it because of the course 'pamphlet', the enthusiasm of the instructor, and the fascinating pieces of artwork that one can create using these techniques.  It also looked far out of my comfort zone, which I think is a good place to go every so often! If nothing else, I thought that learning new Photoshop techniques could only help me with the work that I usually do.

So I signed up and took it! 

You couldn't find a more enthusiastic, invigorating, easy to follow teacher than Sebastion Michaels.......his philosophy about art and living an artistic life is one that closely matches mine and perhaps closely matches yours as well.

It was, without question, worth every penny. Many of the techniques have proven useful to know for 'straight' photography as well as for this type of work.  And, though I don't know how much of this type of work I will ultimately produce, I can attest to the fact that it is fun and an excellent way to release creatively..... a freewheeling way to experiment and exercise the creative juices.

It is with some trepidation that I show my first piece created with techniques I have learned in the class. The trepidation is because this type of work is way, way out of my comfort zone. This piece only just touches the surface of what can be done and pales in comparison to what some of the folks in the class who are more experienced in this type of work have been able to produce.

If you have an inkling that you might like to produce work like this, give the course a try.  I don't think you will be sorry.  And what you learn are skills that are definitely transferable to more 'straight' image processing as well.

Photoshop Composite

© Howard Grill


Technibition......sure it's a word.  But I wouldn't try using it in Scrabble just yet because I just coined the term.  So do your best to make it go viral and don't forget to attribute it to me! What is technibition?  It is when the various choices made available by technology leads to the 'paralysis of analysis'.  Perhaps it can best be explained by example.  You are out in the field and presented with a beautiful landscape.  In the old 35mm slide days you found the best composition and took the shot after deciding on the appropriate aperture and shutter speed for the exposure. Maybe you take two or three photos, bracketing the exposure. After all, film is expensive and in the end you can only choose one exposure (of course, as we moved later in time there was the opportunity for scanning the slide and making more decisions from there).  But these days, if one is technically savvy, there are more options. One can do exposure bracketing for HDR, multiple exposures for focus stacking, and since there is no cost for each exposure why not multiple shots changing the point of focus a bit to see what works better in the final image.....same with the aperture and depth of field, multiple shot panoramas, multiple shot HDR panoramas, can get a headache just thinking about it.

And then when you get home and download the images you will have a whole array of the same shot to choose from.  And that is where things get difficult, because it is now work to choose the 'right' one from the bunch.  Do you compare every single one to see which is sharpest.  Do you really need focus stacking or did that shot at f16 have adequate depth of field?  Is that f22 shot better or is it softer because of diffraction?  Or maybe the image is good, but not good enough to merit going through the work of doing all those comparisons.

There you have it. That last sentence is the result of 'technibition'. Technology has thrown a sandbag in your path because of all the options it offers and perhaps for that reason you end up not making a print at all.    And technibition is far more common when the lighting is perfect or when you are on that once in a lifetime trip.....because you want to make sure you got it right. I know, because I have been 'technibited' many times!

Having been technibited, I have given this some thought.  I believe the answer is not that there is too much technology at all.  It is simply the result of the photographer's uncertainty as to what the goal or endpoint is.  If one has a better idea of what their vision is and exactly why they are making an image then the technology becomes a partner to achieve a superior result.  If the vision isn't clear, then the technology becomes a confusing distraction.  That is not to say that one can't have a clear vision but also have more than one usage in mind and therefore make the photograph using more than one technique or technology.  But in my mind, the key is to then have multiple discreet, thought out ideas and not do random shooting.  One thing is for sure, it isn't always easy!

Well, that is my opinion.....and it is just that, one person's opinion.  I would love to hear other opinions.....what do you think??

Out Of Your Comfort Zone

One way to move forward with artistic expression is to push outside of the 'comfort zone'.  Depending on how far 'out there' one is at baseline, that push outside the comfort zone might be what some people consider unique or it could represent what many might consider bland.  But,  in this sort of exercise what matters isn't how different the results appear to one's audience.  What matters is that it is something different for the photographer. So, in going over the types of images that I make, I realized that I typically try to maximize sharpness throughout the photo.  For my 'exercise', I decided to try the exact opposite approach.  Which is to say, I wanted to make photos with minimal depth of field.  To take it to an extreme, I thought the best approach would be to simply shoot with the lens wide open.  This particular photograph was made at f2 using a 100mm lens.



Copyright Howard Grill

I find that I really enjoy the photos I made with limited depth of field.  The exercise has introduced me to a new approach which I think I will be definitely be using more frequently.

So, try something new just for the fun of it.  It's's free.  And you don't necessarily have to show the results to anyone.  But you might just find that you want to!

Canvas Printing And Gallery Wraps I

A few weeks ago, I went to the Three Rivers Arts Festival and walked around a bit looking at the various artists' booths.  I was really quite taken with the artists that were displaying photos that were printed on canvas and made into gallery wraps.  I had been thinking for some time that I really would like to learn how to print on canvas and display my work in this way, but had not done so because I had heard that it was fairly difficult to run the canvas through the printer and even more difficult to apply the needed varnish.  Then, of course, there is the issue of mounting the canvas on stretcher bars.  But seeing these wraps on display made me decide that the time to try was now. I thought I would take two or three posts to write about my experience of learning how to do it and the materials that I chose to use.  But first let me skip ahead to the ending for a was not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be.  If you have an interest in making gallery wraps you should definitely give it a whirl.

My first goal was to do some research.  The issues:

i)  What canvas to use

ii)  What varnish to use

iii)  How to apply the varnish

iv)  How to assemble the gallery wrap

To take each issue one at a time:

i) There are several well thought of inkjet canvases, and I suspect that different ones will appeal to different people based on their individual taste in image output.  I tend to like images that are bright and contrasty and, based on my research, I thought that Breathing Color Lyve Canvas would be a good choice.  Canvas tends to be a bit pricey and some have specific varnish recommendations, so I wasn't planning to try multiple different canvas products if I liked Lyve.

I purchased one of the trial rolls (17 inch x 20 feet) which Breathing Color makes available at the very reasonable price of $29.  The canvas is a relatively bright white.  I can see how some people might find the appearance of the canvas a bit too bright (though no optical brighteners are used) as, in some ways, this tends to detract a bit from the canvas texture.  The appearance is really not too dissimilar from a print on paper.  In fact, it had more depth and contrast than a print on matte paper.  By that I mean that if I were to take an image optimized for printing on a satin or semi-gloss paper and print it on matte paper without using Photoshop to increase contrast and saturation it would tend to look 'flat'.  But my first canvas print, made using the Breathing Color profile for my printer, looked quite good with almost no adjustments.  The only adjustment I made when softproofing with the canvas icc profile was to brighten the highlights just a bit.

I should mention that I had no difficulty whatsoever printing on the canvas or using the canvas in the printer.  I did open the platen gap to its widest setting, as recommended by the manufacturer, as well as using the recommended media settings.  Though you can use both photo and matte black inks with the canvas, a support ticket to Breathing Color yielded the information that the Dmax would be better with matte black ink, which would result in deeper blacks as compared to photo black ink. (As an aside, I can not imagine better customer service than what I received from Breathing Color......rapid and clear responses to all my inquiries)

In short,the initial canvas print with minimal change made to the file I had used for printing on Ilford Gallerie Gold Fiber Silk paper looked really good!  I was psyched to move on!

ii) The choice of varnish was easy.  Breathing Color recommends Timeless varnish for use with Lyve canvas.  Timeless comes in three finishes: matte, satin, and glossy. It can be purchased in pints and gallons.  I decided to try both the matte and satin finishes and bought a pint of each.  A good many people recommend their Glamour II varnish but, given limited time, I wanted to keep life as simple as possible and Glamour II needs to be diluted prior to use while Timeless can be used straight from the can.

Although my experience with the varnishes to this point has been limited, from what I can see thus far the matte finish yields a beautiful, smooth non-reflective finish while the satin, to my eye, gives minimally deeper blacks and a tad more depth with a surface that is mildly reflective when one looks at it from an angle.  Viewed straight on, there is not much reflection.  There is no 'better', just slightly different.

Next post.....applying varnish and making the wrap!

Lloyd Chambers

There is a sense that everything available on the internet should be free of charge.  Well, there is certainly a lot of free material, but how much of it is good....I mean really good. When I first found the information that Lloyd Chambers makes available as subscription sites, I wasn't overly interested because you had to pay.  But something kept nagging at me.  The "Table of Contents" to his on-line writings sounded good.....I mean really good.  I figured what could I lose but a few bucks, and so I subscribed to one of his subscription only sites.  It was well worth every cent.

Lloyd has put together material that will educate you, help you make choices, and help you to become a better photographer.  His work centers around the technique and technical, as opposed to the aesthetic.  His in depth writing covers topics deeply, leading to your having truly garnered a better understanding of any subject he writes about.  Within a short time I ended up subscribing to three of his topical sites and am glad that I did.  My favorite?  His work entitled "Making Sharp Images".

Check out all his writing.......

His free blog is here.

"Making Sharp Images" is here.  VERY HIGHLY recommended!

His "Guide To Digital Infrared Photography" is here.  If infrared is an interest of yours, this contains a wealth of information.

The "Guide to Zeiss ZF/ZE Lenses" is here.  Don't bother spending your hard earned money on a Zeiss lens until you read what Lloyd has to say about each one.

Finally, his "Guide To Advanced Photography" is here.

Here is a selection of Lloyd's articles that he makes available as sample freebies.

If the table of contents of any of these series captures your interest, just will definitely be glad you did.

Using The Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo Filter

I own the Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo filter and find it quite a useful creative tool.  I thought I was using it properly, but then ran across a YouTube video of photographer Jason Odell explaining how he uses it.  I found the video very helpful. While I had been using the filter reasonably correctly, I did find a few great tips in the video that I will put into use, such as picking a specific white balance setting and not using auto-balance (which is good practice anyway, but more important here) and picking your aperture and shutter speed manually and then rotating the filter to achieve the exposure, instead of vice-versa.

Anyway, I found some nice tips here and thought I would share it.  If you own and use the filter, have a peak at this instructional is well worth the 5 minutes.  Check it out at the link below:

Var-N-Duo Filter

A Rainy Day

Readers seemed to like the  last time I went through the steps of how I processed an image, so I thought I would do so again. I do most of my nature photography early in the morning.  The reason, besides the light being best in early morning and late afternoon, is that it is easiest to get out in the morning while the rest of the family sleeps.  So, this last weekend when it was just me at home  and the rest of the family was away, I saw the opportunity to get out and shoot in the early evening hours instead.  I decided I was going late no matter what, even if the weather report did call for rain.

I headed out to Moraine State Park, about an hour from my home and, of course, the skies opened up with pouring rain just as I arrived (doesn't it always happen that way).  However, since no one was waiting for me at home, I decided to 'wait it out'.  During the rain, I drove around looking for the type of scene I had in my mind when I drove out to the park.  I wanted to make photographs of the soft appearing, pastel colored buds that were emerging on the trees.  And I wanted red ones!

After a bit of driving with the windshield wipers going, I found exactly what I was after. So, I pulled over onto the grass and waited until the rain turned into just a drizzle.  Once it was a drizzle (it never did actually stop), I got out the tripod and equipment and started taking some photos, all the while planning that the final image was going to be an interpretive one.  By that I mean I wanted the final image to depict not just how it looked , but also how it felt to be at that location.

It felt light and airy, as there was a gentle breeze, and it felt bright in a strange way since the sun was just starting to peak through the clouds.  The rain made all the colors very saturated.  And I had an image in my head of the whole scene being very soft focus.  That's how it felt, and that's the way I wanted the image to look.

And so here is the way the photo came out of the camera with no adjustments in the RAW converter.  Not terrible, but it definitely didn't convey the feeling I was looking for:

Straight Out Of Camera

Copyright Howard Grill

How then to get the image to 'speak'?  I used the sliders in Lightroom to make it brighterr and actually added negative clarity in order to give it a soft, ethereal feel.  This was somewhat of an experiment for me, as I don't often dial in negative clarity.  By the time I was done using the RAW converter the image looked like this:

After Processing in Lightroom's RAW Converter

Copyright Howard Grill

I am getting closer here, but it still isn't as bright, open, and airy as I would like it to be.  I brought the image into Photoshop and

1) made the whites whiter using curves

2) added contrast to the midtones using curves

3) removed a bit of the yellow/green cast from the whole image and even more from the tree trunks

These manipulations yielded the final image, which seemed to convey what I had in mind!

Trees, bloom, buds

Final Processed Image

Copyright Howard Grill

Looking For Natural HDR

I have not had all that much experience using HDR.  In general, I find the cartoonish look that one can (but need not) get very faddish and unimpressive...... just dial up the tone compression.  Sometimes I think that 'look' has become far too accepted.   I  have begun (unfortunately, in my opinion) to see it regularly even in 'high class' photography magazines like B&W/Color. But, I understand it doesn't have to be that way.  In fact, I believe it is far, far harder to produce a natural and believable looking HDR image than a grungy, surreal one.  I used my very recently acquired NIK HDR Efex Pro to generate a realistic looking botanical image which I posted here.  I do have Photomatix as well, but find the NIK product somewhat more intuitive and easier to work with.  So I decided to use the NIK software to try my hand at an HDR landscape shot.  This is from a series of 6 exposures taken at the Swift River in New Hampshire on a workshop with Nancy Rotenberg and Les Saucier that I attended last year.

Swift River, New Hampshire, HDR Image

It isn't perfect in terms of maintaining a natural look, but I think it isn't bad for one of my initial HDR landscape attempts.  The slight haloing around the very distant trees protruding into the sky on the left is not nearly as marked on the full scale image and is accentuated here by having converted the photo to a small jpeg.

Zone Plate And High Pass Filtration

I don't usually write many blog posts about Photoshop techniques, but have been asked a few times about my "Dreamscape" images made using the Lensbaby zone plate optic. The "Dreamscapes" series can be seen here. At any rate, the question I have been asked pertains to the sharpness of the zone plate images, and, specifically, how the images are made to appear sharper than a typical zone plate shot.

First, for those that may not be familiar with the term, zone plate photography is ,in some ways, similar to pinhole imaging. However, instead of using a pinhole to allow light into the camera, a series of clear concentric circles spaced at mathematically determined distances are used for this purpose. What this effectively does is:

i) markedly decrease the shutter speed compared to pinhole imaging, as the zone plate lets in much more light than a pinhole per unit time

ii) impart a unique glowing appearance to the highlights in the image and

iii) make the focus of the image even softer than the same shot made with a pinhole.

For a little more information about zone plates see here.

I very much enjoy the 'dreamy' look that the zone plate imparts, at least for some types of images. However, I have to admit that the images sometime do appear too soft focused for my taste, but, yet, the same image made with a pinhole doesn't quite yield the same effect. For this reason I have often added a 'high pass sharpen' layer to the image in Photoshop.

Here is an example of what it can do to a zone plate photograph (the smallish imagesin the blog make it a bit difficult to see, but I think you can tell if you look is much more apparent on a slightly larger image)

Dreamscapes #1....No High Pass Sharpening
Copyright Howard Grill

Dreamscapes #1...With High Pass Sharpening
Copyright Howard Grill

The method is started by flattening the image. Now the image consists of only a background layer. Duplicate this background layer twice and click the icons to turn these duplicate layers off, making them invisible. Now click back on the background layer to make it active and go to the Photoshop filters and choose High Pass (Filter>Other>High Pass). You get a dialogue box in which you can choose a radius. Choose 75 pixels to start, but this is obviously a ‘jump off’ point for experimentation.

Your image will now look totally disgusting. Don’t worry….just click on the duplicate background layer which is directly above the layer that was just filtered to make it active and then click on the icon to make it visible. The image now returns to the way it looked before starting this whole thing because it is a duplicate of the original at 100% opacity lying on top of the filtered image. Now the fun begins. Change the blending mode of this layer from normal to overlay (or try Soft Light or Hard Light) and the image undergoes an interesting change.

Perhaps the effect is too much? That is why I added the second duplicate layer (which is not visible at this point) on top of the others at the start of the technique. Click on that layer to now make it active and click on the icon to make it visible. The image now appears as it did before starting. But turn down the opacity of this topmost layer to let the filtered look come through and see how you like it.

In this example, I think the technique really 'tightens up' the look and puts the focus squarely on the person without losing that dreamy zone plate look. This works best on simple images with strong graphic lines. But I find that zone plate imaging works best on those types of compositions anyway.

Don't Fight Mother Nature

When out photographing, I have always found working with the prevailing conditions to be a far better idea than stubbornly resisting what is going on around me. Let me be more specific by using an example. If I were to go out with the idea of photographing wildflowers and find that it is a windy day, I am much more likely to return with interesting images if I decide to shoot using long shutter speeds in order to create abstract images than if I decided to 'fight Mother Nature' and insist on trying to get tack sharp images using fast shutter speeds and waiting (and waiting and waiting) for the wind to die down briefly. Sure, I might come back with a sharp image or two after the fight, but I would not have enjoyed myself, would have a feeling of frustration, and would have robbed myself of the opportunity to have tried something new.

Nonetheless, I recently found myself 'fighting Mother Nature' without really knowing that's what I was doing. When I finally realized that I was resisting what nature was giving me I had a much more enjoyable time and came away with a reasonable image or two. Let me explain..... In a park near my house there is a group of three trees. They are special trees, though I don't know what species they are. They are quite short, but have an aged appearance with contorted and twisted limbs. Truth be told, I don't have a very good 'relationship' with these trees. I find them fascinating and intriguing......even a bit mysterious. For a year or two I have intermittently gone to see the trees with my camera but have never taken a single photograph of them! I have never been able to compose an image that I liked despite my feeling that there should be a hundred fascinating images among their twisted and contorted limbs. There has always been a bad background I can't eliminate (the trees are right near a busy street) or the composition doesn't really express what the trees make me feel etc. Sometimes, in situations like this, you are defeated before you even try......having tried so many times you go in with a losing attitude and an adversarial position (yes, I know those trees can't really think....but why won't they let me take their picture???).

Well, on Friday I went back again. There was snow on the ground and I thought that perhaps I could somehow use that as a 'clean' background. Of course, it turned out to be a bright day, something that is a rarity during a Pittsburgh winter (November through March is mostly gray.....if you don't have seasonal affective disorder before you move here you rapidly develop it). Because the sun was shining, there were strong shadows on the snow. I was trying to compose images of the twisted limbs, but every time I thought I was getting something interesting the trees' shadows would clutter the background.

After continuing to circle the trees in order to try to get an interesting composition without a distracting shadow in the background, it occurred to me that I was fighting this way too hard. Why not accept the fact that the sun was there and that unless I came back another time the shadows were simply not going away? Why not work with 'Mama' and use what 'she' was giving me? Why not try to incorporate the shadows into the composition? In fact, why not make the shadow the main subject of the image since, over time, I had been having so much difficulty making an image with the trees themselves as the main subject?

So that is exactly what I did! Once I started accepting the shadows as part of the image instead of trying to eliminate them, compositions became much easier.

Shadow Tree
Copyright Howard Grill

Is this an 'award winning' image?? I think not, but it is the only composition that I felt intrigued enough with to actually make me want to push the shutter button.

After liking the way my prior HDR bare tree image looked, I decided to use the same treatment for this image. The contrast range, given the bright snow and dark tree, lent itself to making an HDR composite of 6 images which was then converted to black and white and toned using SilverEfex Pro.

High Pass Filtration

I usually don’t post information about Photoshop techniques simply because there is an entire universe of websites dedicated to Photoshop that are run by folks who are far more Photoshop savvy than I could ever hope to be. However, every so often I run across a technique that I find really interesting and so, on those occasions, a post about it seems reasonable. Such is the case with High Pass Filtration. Please don’t consider this to be the definitive ‘how to’ regarding this technique but, rather, a jumping off point to look into it in a more sophisticated manner if it seems of interest to you.

The reason I found High Pass filtration interesting is that while ‘surfing the net’ I have occasionally come across images that seem to have a somewhat ‘enhanced’ sense of reality that gives them a very three dimensional appearance. The effect seems somewhat similar to the HDR effect, but tuned down. When I have followed discussions about such images the photographer will often say, when asked, that the image in question was not processed with HDR software.

So, it whet my interest when I ran across a technique which, by description, seemed to be one way to generate this effect. It is done by using the Photoshop High Pass filter to increase contrast. I knew that this filter could be used for sharpening and, of course, contrast enhancement is a form of sharpening.

At any rate, here is a way to use this technique in order to see if it will achieve a desirable effect (plus I made my own little addition to what I read). Once the image you are considering using it on is complete, duplicate the image and flatten it, but don’t sharpen it yet. Now the image consists of only a background layer. Duplicate this background layer twice and click the icons to turn these duplicate layers off, making them invisible. Now click back on the background layer to make it active and go to the Photoshop filters and choose High Pass (Filter>Other>High Pass). You get a dialogue box in which you can choose a radius. Choose 75 pixels to start, but this is obviously a ‘jump off’ point for experimentation. Your image will now look totally disgusting. Don’t worry….just click on the duplicate background layer which is directly above the layer that was just filtered to make it active and then click on the icon to make it visible. The image now returns to the way it looked before starting this whole thing because it is a duplicate of the original at 100% opacity lying on top of the filtered image. Now the fun begins. Change the blending mode of this layer from normal to overlay and the image undergoes an interesting change.

Perhaps the effect is too much? That is why I added the second duplicate layer (which is not visible at this point) on top of the others at the start of the technique. Click on that layer to now make it active and click on the icon to make it visible. The image now appears as it did before starting. But turn down the opacity of this topmost layer to let the filtered look come through and see how you like it.

A few comments:

1) I have only played around with this technique a bit and found that there are some images that it truly enhances and others that it totally destroys.

2) If an image is found that would benefit from this technique, the entire process can obviously be performed within the original file by duplicating the entire image and placing the entire image on a new layer and working from there.

4) It really is difficult to duplicate this effect with curves....I tried.

3) With the image size being so small, and with the effect being toned down with the topmost layer blogs don't really lend themselves to really demonstrating the effect well…, if it sounds interesting, play around with it on your own images and see what you think. With that in mind I am posting one example. The only difference between these two images was the High Pass filtration step.

Pre High Pass Filtration
Copyright Howard Grill

Post High Pass Filtration
Copyright Howard Grill

Diffraction In Digital Imaging

In the past, it has often been said that the rules of photography are the same whether one shoots digitally or using film. Certainly this is true when it comes to the art of composition, but when it comes to capturing the image there are certain technical aspects that are not quite the same.

The first one that comes to mind is the so called ‘expose to the right’ issue. Most people doing serious digital capture and that are shooting in RAW format are familiar with this concept. In short, most of the data and, therefore, detail that the digital sensor can capture is ‘located’ in the ‘brightest’ stop or two of the image. Therefore, the image should optimally be exposed such that the histogram is pushed as far to the right as possible, without actually clipping. While the image is now overexposed by conventional standards (and therefore this method will not work acceptably well in jpeg format), by shifting the exposure downward in the RAW processor the correct degree of brightness can be achieved and more detail captured than if the exposure had been ‘correct’ by conventional standards.

But you already knew that. What is more interesting is material that I recently read in the magazine Photo Techniques (which is a small magazine in terms of page numbers, but one that is well worth subscribing to). In the Jan/Feb 2009 issue, I learned that there may be significant differences with current digital capture when it comes to diffraction effects and depth of field.

Without going into detail (for that I strongly recommend getting the issue), I would like to provide a quote to whet your interest. In the conclusion of the article by Lloyd Chambers entitled “Diffraction: Resolution Taxed To Its Limits” Mr. Chambers states:

“As megapixels increase, diffraction will become the dominant factor limiting image sharpness, unless and until improved optical designs allow near-diffraction-limited imaging at apertures such as f2, f2.8, and f4. Such lenses are feasible, but will be larger, heavier, and much more expensive than today’s optics. When depth of field is a priority, ‘tilt’ lenses should be used in order to evade the diffraction/depth of field conflict.

To paraphrase an old maxim: f8 and stop there. That simple rule will maintain optimal or near-optimal lens performance and image contrast resolution with today’s DSLRs, while offering reasonable depth of field for many subjects. Stopping down to f11 or f16 is warranted with some subjects, but the contrast compromise should be kept in mind.”

Interesting stuff….the idea that with today’s high quality sensors and optics, diffraction plays a role much sooner (in terms of stopping down to achieve greater depth of field) than when using film.

I put some of this information to use with results that surprised me. I have previously mentioned and shown extreme macro-images I have made from slabs of stone. Though these slabs are flat in the general sense, they are cut with a saw and thus in the ‘macro’ sense are not truly flat. In order to maximize depth of field at high magnification (>1:1) I had been shooting at f16 and f 22. I recently tried shooting at f8 and f11 instead and found that the results were, indeed, sharper. And in this case the depth of field was still adequate with enhanced apparent sharpness. I now shoot all these types of images at f8.

Obviously, when shooting landscapes or other scenes where there are near/far objects that one desires to be in focus, there will be trade offs between sharpness and depth of field. However, it is worth experimenting with one’s equipment, or at least taking shots at a variety of apertures since, in many instances, the improved sharpness will be more desirable than increased depth of field with sub-optimal sharpness throughout.

There are definitely some interesting things to ponder here!