22 Dec 2013

Clarity: Why I love Photoshop Elements 12

For far too long I relied on Canon's DPP and Serif's PhotoPlus 4 for my photo processing, using Canon's Zoombrowser to do an initial review of photos before deciding which ones to process (I always shoot in RAW, so there will always be some processing, even it if it isn't very much). A couple of months ago, however, I was forced to give up my usual methods, after purchasing my first ever Mac (the retina display was just too tempting). Neither Serif nor Zoombrowser are compatible with Macs, so I had to find an alternative. I managed to reinstall the newest version of DPP, but Canon's Zoombrowser equivalent for Macs (Imagebrowser) is absolutely horrible - you can't just open photos and review them, you have to separately import them first, which is not ideal when you save your photos on external hard drives that you're plugging in and unplugging all the time. Additionally, it kept crashing, and so I gave up.

I tried Gimp for a while, but it just didn't feel great to me. I read a few reviews and decided to give Elements 12 a go. I'd tried the most recent version of Lightroom back in April when the beta version came out but didn't like the way you had to import photos again - it just didn't suit my workflow. Elements, on the hand, allows you to open photos straight from the directory where they are saved. I played around with it for a while, making similar adjustments as I'd made in DPP with the exposure, photo style etc. but the thing I discovered that sold it to me is the Clarity controller. The shadow and highlight recovery sliders are also way better than on DPP, but it is the Clarity function that has made all the difference (and made me actually buy the programme once the free 30-day trial was up). It is also a great deal faster than DPP, which even on my brand new powerful Mac takes forever to process and save.

Once the RAW adjustments have been made there's the usual host of adjustments, masks and filters (the clone button is brilliant, adding copyright text is simple, correcting perspective is easy, etc.). I don't do a huge amount of processing, and now I've discovered the clarity function I need to do even less!

Here's a couple of examples of a long exposure photo I took underneath Bournemouth Pier just after sunset recently, shown after conversion to jpeg with no adjustments, and then shown processed in DPP and Elements.

This is the original just saved straight off from a jpeg (with copyright text added in Elements). There is very little detail in the dark shadows and the sky is overblown and the photo looks dull.
This one was processed using Canon's DPP - the shadows are still lacking any oomph and the highlights are overblown. If I turned up the contrast the shadows just got too dark and the highlights even more overblown.
Last but not least, this was processed in Photoshop Elements 12, which I think is the most pleasing of the three. There's more detail seen under the bridge than the eye would be able to discern, but I've tried not to overdo it and make it look like an HDR shot (it is easy to go a bit over-the-top with the clarity and make images look hyper-real (or rather, unreal)).
I'm looking forward to exploring the package even more (eg how do I get the thumbnails big enough to actually see the shot before opening it? etc.). But for now, DPP is going to take a backseat and Elements is the one for me.

More photos of my recent trip to Bournemouth Beach can be found on my website.

21 Dec 2013

Timing is Everything - Capturing the Perfect Moment

I recently read something a photographer wrote about how photography is all about getting the light, composition and moment just right (which makes it sound quite simple). Those three factors come into each photo and determine whether it's a good one or not (although a little post-processing can sometimes help if one of those is slightly off). This rang very true with me - especially when it came to the moment aspect - in relation to a photo capturing movement that I took in Iceland back in March (which I like to call "The Octopus" and which was featured as National Geographic's Photo of the Day in June). I guess it's common sense that the "moment" should be the crucial determinant in capturing a shot involving movement.

The three photos below should illustrate the point quite clearly. Each one has exactly the same composition (the tripod wasn't moved between shooting the three shots) and the lighting was the same (not great!). I took the photos using the same ISO (100) and the same aperture (f/16 as I wanted the whole scene as sharp as possible). In order to expose the shot correctly, the camera's meter then altered the exposure length depending on the amount of white foam/black sand present at each moment (I was shooting in AV mode). I had a neutral density filter on (can't remember if it was the 3- or the 6-stop one), which allowed me to capture a longer exposure than without; this was perfect for capturing a slight movement in the water trails. I'd already spent a good few hours in the same spot on a number of different occasions experimenting with various exposure lengths - from split-second to capture the power of the waves, to 30-second shots to show the tranquility of the scene, and many lengths inbetween. To me Jökulsárlón beach represents both a mixture of power and tranquility, so the 1-2 second exposure length range gave a nice combination of both of these things.

Trying to capture the wave movements was very hit-and-miss, although it did get a little bit more predictable once I'd taken a few shots. I became a little better at working out when the wave was going to break and how long the water would hang around before trailing back to the sea, over the icebergs or rocks. Whether glorious trails were produced was partly a matter of timing, but definitely involved some luck too. I was using a 2-second timer on the camera in order to prevent camera shake, so I had to factor that delay in too before pressing the shutter. Pre-empting wave behaviour is a fun thing to try!

Here are the results and you can see how the before and after shots just don't do it. I've done a little post-processing on each of them, boosting the contrast and saturation a little.

Photo 1 - 0.8 seconds - the wave was "hanging around" before its return to the sea. I actually quite like this shot, but there's no "wow!" about it.
Photo 2: The Octopus itself - everything was just right! 1 second exposure taken 7 seconds after the first one.
Photo 3: Too late! A 2-second exposure (now the foam had gone), taken 8 seconds after the Octopus; the moment's gone, the trails have gone - no more Octopus!

So, the moral of the story? Well, if you're capturing movement in photography, then timing really is everything. A moment like this happened in that second and that second only. The next second it was gone. The next wave was different; the trails would never flow like that again. Each piece of ice is unique and is eventually moved, taken away or broken down by the force of the waves. I took a good few hundred photos on that beach over a period of a few days, and although I was pleased with many of the images, none of them quite stood out like The Octopus.

More photos of my trips to Iceland can be found on my website, including more photos of waves on Jökulsárlón beach.