My Sharpening Workflow

I have always struggled with the sharpening aspect of digital images.  First of all, I did not realize

that during the process of converting the RAW file the images suffer a slight softening.  This is

why it is necessary to incorporate some sort of sharpening technique to your images.

 

ImageIt is also important to realize that the sharpening process should be the last thing you do to your image

prior to uploading to the web or printing.  Failure to do so can result in unnecessarily sharpening

artifacts or noise which would be obvious in your image.

 

This is a fact I fell oblivous to for the longest time, and I never could understand why my results were so awful. 

The images I posted on the web usually looked over sharpened, and/or overly contrasty, and sometimes I noticed ugly

halos along the edges of the areas where I applied my sharpening.  I finally got to the point where I was afraid to

do any sharpening at all.

 

Then, I discovered the secret.  Resize your image for your desired output, flatten the image and make sharpening

the very last thing you do.  Lastly, utilizing layers in Photoshop, I apply a mask to my sharpening, fill it with

black, and then paint with white, on the mask, back only the areas where I want to apply the sharpening.  It doesn’t

make sense to apply sharpening to areas with no detail or importance.  Sometimes I even drop the opacity on my mask

so that the sharpening does not look overly harsh.

 

Here is another secret I incorporate in my workflow.  When I finish working on an image, I save this file with

all layers intact and un-sharpened.  I refer to this file as my “master file”.  From there, if I want to upload

a copy to the web, I will make a copy of the file, resize it, flatten it, sharpen it and then save it seperately

from my master file.

 

I never sharpen, resize or flatten my master file.  That way, I always have options for how I want to use

the file.

Why I Love Digital Photography

 

I grew up with photography.  I still remember my first camera, a Kodak Brownie.  It used 126 film.  Just open

the back of the camera, pop in the cartridge, close the back and crank the film advance.  Good to go…..

Ahhhh, fond memories.

 My first digital camera was the Nikon D70.  Yay, no more waiting endless hours for my film to be developed.

No more frustration with prints not looking like I envisioned or sloppy handling by the labs which resulted

in dust and scratches on my film. 

 Digital photography was in its infancy and the whole digital concept was a very scary place for most film

photographers, including me. But I jumped in anyhow, and I have never looked back, much less shot a roll of

film.  Now, my film cameras are collecting dust.

 I love instant feedback. I learn very quickly with instant feedback.  One of the many things I love about

digital photography is the ability to see my result instantaneously.  I think I probably learned more about

photography, and my camera, as a result of instant feedback.  Instant feedback also gave me the courage to

experiment and try things I had not thought about trying in the past, because I could see the results and

make modifications as I experimented.

 I have spent many an evening sitting in my lounge chair with camera in one hand, camera manual in the other,

and just going thru all the settings and seeing how they worked.  That got kind of old though because I would

get yelled at for making too much noise (sounds of excitement when I discovered something cool) during the

middle of a movie or TV show, or when I would practice with my flash, using different settings and the

people in the same room with me would complain that I was blinding them. 

 Lastly, I love digital photography because I get to have complete artistic control.  I could never say that

with film.  I always felt my results were in someone else’s hands, especially since I only spent minimal time

working in a darkroom processing black and white film.

 ImageSometimes, I admit, I do miss the smell of film, but that is only a fleeing moment, and then it’s back to being

the photographer I always knew I’d be.

Workflow

The Importance of Developing a Workflow.

In all my years of photography, I’ve learned the value and importance of developing a solid and consistent workflow. The benefits are both many and important.

For starters, you begin to develop consistent results. It also makes it easy to spot any problems you may be experiencing, or isolate any areas where you may need improving. Another benefit to developing a workflow is that it builds structure and confidence in your methodology relating to producing the best possible outcomes. I’m not just speaking about post-processing techniques, but also when you take your gear out to shoot.

Before I go out and shoot, I always take the time to go thru my bag, make sure I have all the equipment I “may need”. Yes, I said “may need”. Too many times I have been out shooting, and I reached into my bad for a piece of equipment, and it wasn’t there. So when I pack for a trip now, I have a check-list. It works for me. I make sure my batteries are charged, camera and lens are clean, spare batteries for my flash are packed, and my tripod is in the truck. Without this, mistakes happen, necessary equipment is not packed and shots are missed. And for me, that is not acceptable, anymore than rushing thru my post processing techniques.

Having a consistent and reliable workflow, in my opinion, is as basic as my gear.

Letting Off Steam

I remember back when digital photography first arrived on the scene, I proclaimed myself a purist.

(definition of purist: One who adhears strictly and often excessively to tradition). I felt very

strongly that Digital Photogrpahy was NOT going to be my choice of self expression. I was a true

film photographer, and anyone who jumps over to the dark side, well, they’re not true photographers.

I laugh at myself now when I look back at this. This was only just a few short years ago too. 🙂

Ironically, today, when I surf the web, I frequently come across individuals who are still holding onto

this philosphy, cursing anyone and everyone who uses Photoshop to alter an image. Interestingly enough,

this is now one of the few things that really evokes a strong negative emotional response from me.

In the days of film, one used a darkroom to process and manipulate film. Yes, I did say “manipulate”.

Do you think that Ansel Adams did not manipulate his negatives and prints?

He was the master. If he were alive today, my bet is that he’d be a Photoshop guru.

Digital captures require manipulation, the degree of which still resides in the mind and soul of the artist.

RAW digital captures can be compared to positive film. They encompass all of the data that was written

to the card, but un-manipulated, same as positive film (slide film). In the RAW conversion, the digital file

is altered. It is here that the photographer, if he/she so chooses, has the opportunity to manipulate the

data. Just like in the days of film. If the photographer chooses not to shoot in RAW, he lets the camera

make decisions about how that data will be represented. For some, this is okay, for others, it is not.

Now, I don’t usually get into debates of this sort, and it is not my intention to start a big discussion about

the differences. I am simply letting off steam. It angers me when artists pass judgement on another artist’s

mode of creative expression. I am an artist, a photographer, a creative soul. I believe in self expression and

freedom of speech. I suppose this and many other debates will not wither away until the next big issue arrises.

I wish people would stop saying that Photoshop is not a part of Photography. Their ignorance and inflamed views of

themselves make me want to scream.

There, I’ve said it. Thank you for listening.

Slow Times…..

 
 
I often fall into slow periods where I don’t feel very motivated. A while back, I was corresponding with one
of my contacts on Flickr.  He left me with a couple very inspiring quotes.  I often refer to these when going
thru my notebook, which I keep filled with techniques and such.  They help me to remember that I still have a
lot to learn.  Thus, when I am in a slow time, more often than not, I hit the books and tutorials to find my
mojo again.
 
 
1.  “Never Let yourself Feel as Though You’ve Shot The Perfect Phogograph”.
 
                                                                                                                                Steve Korevec
 
and my favorite…..
 
 
2.  “None of us Teaches.  The Person With the Hunger Teaches Himself”.
 
                                                                                                                                Steve Korevec
 
These quotes are so very powerful to me. Thank you, Steve.
 
 

2012

May the New Year’s blessings be kind to you and your families.

Looking back at 2011, it was a year of change, growth, fun, friends and discovery. Yes, it was a good year, and also a not so good year, for me.

I found myself taking a really hard look at what I wanted to accomplish, and how I was going to get there. That meant, making changes. Now, we all know that change can be difficult and sometimes not very much fun. I found myself not enjoying photography as much as I used to. I spent quite a bit of 2011 feeling that way. It wasn’t until the end of 2011 did I start to rebound and find the joy I once had for creative expression.

So how did I recover, you ask? I looked, honestly, at what wasn’t working in my life. Where did I lose the joy? Once I did that, I was able to piece it all back together, bit by bit. I am so grateful for my partner, Rebekah, as she has the patience of a saint, and the compassion I only wish I had. She truly is my source. Thank you, Rebekah.

I spent more time behind the computer than behind a camera in 2011. One of the goals I had set for myself was to pick apart my workflow and see where I could make improvements which would result in a higher quality of work. So I intentionally spend more time digging deeper into my photo editing software (Lightroom, Photoshop, NIK Color Efex, Topaz, Fractalius).

Towards the end of the year, sometime around November, I had reached a point where I was so frustrated with the quality of my work. When I compared the number of frames shot with the number of frames deleted, I decided it was time to look closer at my workflow when out in the field. It was here where I feel I made my biggest breakthrough. Too many times, when out shooting, I cursed myself for not bringing the right equipment or not being prepared for a certain situation. I’m talking about not bringing spare batteries, not bringing a monopod, not bringing the right lens, etc., etc. I have even been guilty of picking up my camera, starting to shoot without checking the settings on my camera. This can be a bad thing, especially when you shoot under different lighting situations, indoors vs. outdoors.

I remember posting in a recent blog entry about taking time to slow down. Well, this is a constant issue of mine, one that I feel impacts me immensely, both while out in the field and when behind the computer, as well. If there is one thing I truly feel I need to improve upon, it is this. Slowing down goes against my grain and I resist it. Yes, I am very impatient.

Lastly, but certainly not least, I learned to recognize the true gems I have in my life. I am so inspired and appreciative of the many people who have contributed to me and who have shared their time and thoughts with me. You are a blessing. Thank you.

So now I look forward with enthusiasm, excitement and anticipation. I see big things happening for me in 2012.

The Best Advise

A while back, I was listening to one of my friends talk about her experience at a photography workshop she attended as a result of her success in her local camera club. Her enthusiasm and excitement was thrilling to listen to, and I was so very happy for her positive and inspiring experience. It was clearly very eye opening and fun for her, as she had the opportunity to use some equipment other than what she was familiar with.
My friend shared with me a tip she received about utilizing the AF-L button (Nikon camera) for auto-focusing rather than the tradition shutter release button. I had read about this technique before in my camera manual and a publication put out by Thom Hogan (he writes a lot of technical publications about Nikon gear, and other makes, but mostly Nikon). I had even played with this technique a little, but because it felt awkward, I went back to the traditional way of using the auto–focusing controls. Well, after hearing my friend talk about this, I filed it all in the back of my mind, basicley dismissing it as something I already had tried and didn’t like.

A couple weeks later, I took a trip to Florida for three days of shooting birds, as Rebekah was speaking at a conference. So off I went, confident in that I was going to get some great shots. I saw a lot of my favorite birds, and some that were on my “Must Photograph Before I Die” list, so I was very very excited and couldn’t wait to get back to the condo to download my shots. Much to my dismay, when I uploaded from my CF card, my jaw dropped in horror. I couldn’t believe all the unbelievably out of focus and over exposed images I had shot. Had I not checked the settings on my camera? Ok, after a glass of wine and dinner, I decided the world was not going to come to an end, I had two more days to shoot. I’ll just go back and try again, but this time, make sure I had fresh batteries in my flash and that all my settings were correct on my camera.

Once again, I arrived back at our condo, filled with anticipation and enthusiasm that I was going to be successful. Wrong. What was happening to me? I was sure the world surely was going to end…. More wine and a bubble bath.

What I do when things don’t work out the way I want them to, is break everything down to bits and pieces, and figure out where I made mistakes. I was coming back with unsharp and overexposed images. As I was absorbing everything, I was reminded about two recent conversations I had. One with Rebekah, and the other with my friend, Lea.

Rebekah has told me over and over again, you are too impatient, and always in a hurry. The other conversation was the one I had with Lea, about utilizing the AF-L button on the back of the camera for focusing. I decided it was time for me to make a radical change in the way I approached my photography. I have actually been very unhappy with the quality of my shooting lately, but didn’t know what to do or how to go about making a change that would be an improvement.

On the third and last day in Florida, I went out with no expectations, except that I was going to make a change. I made a couple adjustments in the settings on my camera, basicly deactivating the shutter release for activating the auto-focus, and assigned that function over to the AF-L button on the back of my camera. What this did, was force me to slow down and think about what I was doing. It also stopped me from firing the shutter until the image was sharp. I also fine tuned this technique, depending on the situation, by utilizing manual focus for subjects that were stationary. I ended up taking less images, but that was okay with me as long as the images I did take were good ones. The other thing I did which helped me to slow down was to keep my camera on a tripod. At first, it felt very weird and I didn’t think I was going to be able to keep shooting all day like this, but slowing things down was a blessing, in more ways than one. Lastly, I made sure I had set my camera for spot metering, since I was going to be shooting a lot of white birds, mainly egrets, I needed to get the exposure correct.

At the end of the day, I was exhausted, mentally and physically. When I finally got to look at my images from the third day, I was shocked at the differences. I had sharp, very sharp images. I had more keepers than throw-aways. I was hesitantly optimistic, to say the least. After going through all my shots from three days of shooting, it was clear that the effort to make a small change in the way I shot, produced some of the best results.

Moral of the story is, for me, slow down, think about what you are doing, come prepared for all possible circumstances, and on a personal level, listen better, to the advise and conversations I have with my fellow photographers. You just never know when their words of wisdom are going to make such a huge impact, as did the conversations I had with Lea Schlosser and Rebekah Thayer. Thanks guys, you do make a huge difference for me.

It’s Been Way Too Long…..

I haven’t posted to my blog since I converted over to WordPress, and I’m feeling uninspired as to what to write about, but yet, I feel the need to share what’s been going on with me lately.

I’ve been in a huge shooting slump. Normally, I can’t wait to get outside and be with nature. But that has felt like a struggle as of late. I have, however, taken a couple trips lately, in which I did bring my camera and did shoot some shots. But that’s different.

I have spent a great deal of time learning new techniques and exploring different ways of processing my work. I like not being stuck processing my images the same way every time, all the time. More specifically, I have spent quite a bit of time playing with and learning about converting my images to black & white. There is definitely a creative outlet with b&w, because all you have to worry about are the tones. Light and Shadows. Depth and Balance. I like that.

What I’ve also been doing, besides brushing off the dust, is revisiting my workflow. What I do when out in the field. What equipment do I need and don’t need. As time passes, needs change, and I feel that is important to take stock of, as a photographer. So, not much inspiration to share today, I just wanted to start back with writing again, as it is very important to me to share. Thanks for listening.

My Favorite Type of Light

My absolute favorite time to go outside and shoot, is on overcast days.  The light is diffused.  I love how this lighting brings out such awesome textures, colors, etc.  I am looking forward to the fall/winter.

I took this shot in my backyard on Sunday.  It was completely overcast, light drizzles.  So amazing how you can obtain such even, saturated colors with this lighting.  It’s definitely my favorite  light source when shooting outside.

No More Blinders…

In a “Quandary”, a state of perplexity or doubt.
I have been in a sort of quandary as of late.  For those who really know me, you’re probably shaking your head and saying, “what else is new”?  Ha, Ha, Ha. 
Seriously though, I need to get this off my chest.
What am I in a quandary about?  Here is my question.  Why would a professional (who is intelligent, resourceful, and knowledgeable) NOT do everything in their power to be competitive? 
I have had this conversation many times, with different people, and have come to the conclusion, that there are many different types of people.  The two I am referring to are these. Those who “do” (backup their words with experience) and those who “talk” (who freely give out advise but don’t speak from experience).
As an artist, a photographer, I study a lot of different approaches to photography and art as a whole.  But I don’t get into discussions and or debates over technicalities, of which there are many.  ie:  HDR (High Dynamic Range), digital vs. analog cameras, color vs. black and white films, the use of Photoshop, what is art and what is not.  Geez, the list goes on and on.  There are many people who have opinions on all these things, and they don’t have a problem sharing. Some even have the best of intentions. The internet provides such a expansive platform for such folks to have these discussions.  I choose not to expend my energy in that fashion.
But what I can’t get over is the number of people who don’t practice what they preach.
I have encountered both types of people, the ones who give freely to others but don’t bother taking their own advise. And the ones who give of themselves, based on their experiences and knowledge. Now you ask, why should this bother me? It really shouldn’t, but in a naive way, it does. I feel as though I am finally taking the blinders off, and seeing people for who they really are.  I owe a lot of my artistic growth to artists who back up their words with experience and knowledge.  Those are the ones I will take away the most knowledge and respect from. These are the people I will continue to surround myself with.  Interestingly, these people thrive on giving to others.  How cool is that.
The talkers, the one’s I listened to while wearing blinders, I will leave behind. They had their place, and their purpose.

I WILL keep learning.  I WILL continue to share my knowledge and experience with others.  NO MORE BLINDERS.

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