Category Archives: NIK Color Efec Pro

From Oops to Acceptable!

Are you “that guy”?  The one who comes to family functions with your camera?  In our family it’s usually me.  I just can’t help it, and I’ve been at it for quite a while.  If it’s you, you’ve probably heard the same moans and groans that I have.  But, you are also doing the family a great service!  Things change over time, especially kids and grandkids.  You may be capturing those fleeting moments that will never come again, and looking back at your photos most of your family will agree.

I found myself in a family function a couple of weeks ago.  For reasons I can’t explain I got out my trusty old Canon 40D and 50mm F2.5 and new Tamron 70-200 f2.8.  All of this gear fit nicely into my Tamrac medium sized slinger bag.  I could have brought my much newer 60D or Sony NEX3, but just wanted to use the 40D that day.

It was fun sitting back and snapping a few frames without having to intrude in the grandkids play or interrupt conversations.  The faster lens that I had with me also allowed some indoor shooting without flash.  This was a great event to welcome back an out of town family member, an addition to the family, and bring four generations together (offering many photos ops)!  As the day wore on, I did end up popping the flash on, and setting it to fill rather than provide all of the illumination.

For this post, I want to share just one of those moments.  To start off, here’s how my camera was set up:

  • F/5.6
  • 1/200 second
  • ISO 200
  • Auto white balance
  • Aperture priority
  • RAW
  • Fill flash (to soften any shadows caused by high midday sun).

Here’s the original as it came out of the camera:

While it’s not bad, it could also be a lot better.  To critique this, I’d have to say that I’m not pleased with the overall composition.  I like my subjects expression, it’s not one of those kids mugging for the camera forced smiles.  And her hair is a little wind blown, very natural for a kid at play.

Leaning against a tree seems to work, and there’s no look of discomfort here.  I think main problem area is how her hands are cut off.  Unfortunately it looks like she has two long stumps instead of arms.

There’s another distracting element, and that’s the exposure.  It was the middle of the day, no clouds in sight, and very bring out.  Not really the best time for photos, but sometimes you have no choice.  The background is on the verge of being completely blown out, and there are some hot spots on my subject.

Luckily, I had the camera set for RAW.  Shooting in RAW has it’s advantages, and being able to adjust your original exposure by up to 2 stops is definitely one of them.

When I open the file in Photoshop, the 1st thing that happens is Camera Raw starts:

As you can see, there are quite a few adjustments that can be made, including Exposure.  In the next screen shot I made a couple of small tweaks.
You can see by the pointer/arrows where I made my adjustments.  To try and tame some of the bright areas I decreased the exposure by 3/4 of a stop, and increased my blacks by 10.  This seemed to add just enough contrast to the scene without going overboard.
Before opening the image in Photoshop, I’m going to crop it here.  No real reason to do it in Camera Raw rather than Photoshop, it’s really your choice.  I did it because I wanted to see how this would look as just a head and shoulders shot, and I like it much better.  
Now that I’ve finally gotten the image in Photoshop, there’s really only one thing I want to do.  I have a filter by Nik Colorefex for portraits called DarkenLighten Center.  Here’s what it looks like:

The only adjustment I made using this filter is the placement of center.  For this photo, I put the center right on her nose.  Here’s the result:

Personally I like this version much better.  Most of the distracting brightness of the background has been eliminated, and by focusing on a larger head and shoulders shot theres more personality and playfulness jumping out of the image.
For the critics, yes I agree with you, I could have done any number of things differently to make this the perfect image.  But this is what I had to work with and made the best of it.  This shot isn’t going on the cover of a magazine or will probably not win any awards, but it makes me happy!  And I’m sure that the rest of the family and some friends will agree that this shot did capture this little girls personality perfectly in that moment in time!
My intent in sharing all of this is to encourage anyone reading to take your camera to family events.  Don’t worry about the comments or any complaining.  Without being too much of a pain, grab some shots.   Some will be better than others, but that’s ok.  Maybe some of the information above will help you tweak a couple of shots you didn’t think worked into something worthy of your scrapbook or online album!
* Thanks to Andy for giving me permission to use this image, I appreciate it!

A Little More HDR!

Seems that I can’t get enough HDR.  Personally, I like the look and it doesn’t matter if the image is subtle or extreme.  For me, I think it’s very creative.  Not everyone likes it, and that’s ok too.  To each his own.  There’s an argument that it’s not real, or that it’s not photography.  I think that’s just silly.  If you don’t like it, don’t look!  It’s kind of like the tired old argument of which is better, Chevy or Ford?  Does it really matter?  Art is a very subjective and personal thing.  Is photography art?  Depends on who you ask, I say yes!

Getting back to the subject or HDR, I had another opportunity to dabble in it yesterday.  I spent some time with the family at Downtown Disney.  I’ve never been here before, and wasn’t sure what to expect.  So, I took my trusty Sony NEX3 along because of it’s small size and big performance.  It was the perfect choice for snapshots of the family and more thoughtful shots of the place.  The other thing is that being so small it doesn’t really attract unwanted attention (like my Canon 60D with the big white L lens).  With the NEX3 I could easily move around and quickly grab shots without too much trouble.

For this post, I want to show you what I did with a hotel lobby (I wish I could remember the name).  It was very large, and the light was dim.  Not a great combination.  Yes, I have a flash on the NEX3, but it’s tiny, and there’s no way it was going to light up this large space.  I could have kicked the ISO up (say from 100 to 1200 or more), but in this case I left it at 200.  ISO is a setting the adjusts your camera’s sensitivity to light.  The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the sensor.  In the days of film cameras this was expressed as ASA.  With a higher ISO you can increase your ability to take photos in low light.  The downside of this can be a degraded image.  This is especially true with Point & Shoot cameras with smaller sensors.  The high ISO can lead to noise which lowers the quality of the image.  So, I kept my ISO low to try and get the best quality image I could.

Getting back to the hotel lobby, I decided to take a few shots with HDR in mind.  With the Sony NEX3 I set the camera to HDR mode.  This will cause the camera to take several shots at different exposures, and combine them in the camera.  In addition I took a shot in normal, Aperture Priority (AE) mode.  Here’s what I ended up with:

First, the normal AE mode shot:

As you can see, it was pretty dark.  I braced myself against a column to steady the camera since the shutter speed was pretty slow.
Here’s the auto HDR shot:
This one is a little better.  You can start to see more detail in the shadows and dark areas, and the color seems to pop just a bit more.  This one is ok, but I think it could be better!
To reach the final product, I combined the 2 images above in Photoshop using a 3rd party plug-in called HDR Efex Pro by Nik.  This process took the best of both images to create something that really started to give the image the sense of magic and drama that I experienced in that lobby.  The final step was to use another filter from Color Efex Pro called Tonal Contrast.  As you may have noticed, I really like this filter.  The image always seems to come out a little edgy and artsy.  Just my observation, but it works for me.  
The final image is very colorful, has some texture and some beautiful light.  Seems a little on the unreal side, or so it is Disney it could be looked at as Magical!  Either way, I like it and hope you do too!  
Since I got into some tech stuff here (ISO), I may need to go a little more into it in a future post.  Thanks for reading!

Something Old

In my last post, I went through a process of creating an HDR like image, and it was very subtle.  This time I’m going to “grunge” things up a bit.

This image of an old truck is from my last visit to the ghost town of Bodie.  Bodie is located about 13 miles off of Highway 395, near Bridgeport California.  Bodie is a real ghost town, and is kept in a state of arrested decay.  The are all sorts of wonderful old buildings, cars, and other items laying around to explore and photograph.  While wandering around, I came across this wonderful old truck.  Using my Sony NEX3, I took a couple of shots.  This is the one I liked the most, probably because of the unusual angle of the truck, and the puffy clouds in the background.  Since the original image is in RAW format it needed to be opened with a program that could read it, so I used Adobe RAW.  Here’s what it looked like:
Although there are quite a few adjustments I could have made, I chose instead to open the image and do my tweaking in Photoshop.
This is what my screen looked like with the truck image opened in Photoshop:
I think there is a lot of potential for this shot.  The truck is an excellent subject for “adjustments”.  I want to try to bring out the textures of the metal with is flaking paint, scratches, and rust.  So, here we go.
In this screenshot, you can see the truck image is beginning to take shape.  The texture I’m looking for is starting to show in the grass, and the metal of the truck.  Even the clouds are showing a little more personality.
Here’s the truck again, with more adjustment.  Things are really starting to pop now!  Notice how there’s more detail in the shadows compared to the original.  You can almost feel the scratchy, bumpy surface of the trucks fender.  The colors also seem more rich and saturated.
More adjustments have created an even more textured, sharp, and saturated image.  Unfortunately this is starting to take on a fantasy look.  For me, this is a little more grungy than I would like.
So, how exactly did I get my normal truck image to look like the one in the screen shot above?  I used my Photoshop plug-in, Nik Color Efex Pro.  The specific filter I used is Tonal Contrast.  In fact, I used it 3 times.  Each time I used it, it created an additional layer in Photoshop.  It was the last layer that I used to do some clean up work.  I used a mask, and a soft brush to take the clouds and a little of the truck back to the previous layer, softening some of the grunge.  To get the final image, I also cropped in tighter around the truck.  There were some people in the background on the left side, and a distracting building on the right side.  I also had to clone out a telephone pole over the left fender, and a piece of the building still poking into right side behind the bed of the truck.  I also ran a filter to remove noise since there seemed to be quite a bit of it in the sky.   Here’s the final image:
I’m very pleased with the final image.  There is no doubt that the truck is the main subject of the image, and appears larger than life.  The color is vivid, and there is a wonderful sense of texture.  I also like the unusual angle of this shot, it gives it a unique point of view and adds some interest.  In fact, I like this shot so much I printed it at 16 x 20, and put it in a very rough frame.  It looks great!
I hope this all made sense and that it helped give you a couple of ideas.  Don’t be afraid to experiment, and if you’d like, leave a comment on how you “adjust” your images.