Category Archives: Tips and Tricks

The Importance of Settings Presets

Between writing my eBooks and teaching my photography workshops, I’ve used a lot of processing tools in a variety of ways.  Usually, when I’m teaching, my students will be frantically writing down settings that I use to try to remember the various techniques for sharpening or color enhancement.  Certainly, it’s important to keep notes of the settings that you use often, but many people overlook the simplest way of them all to maintain your commonly used settings– saving presets.

Let’s face it, post-processing isn’t something that we want to spend hours doing.  Time saved in post can be time used for making more photographs.  Almost every image editing suite I’ve used offers the option of saving custom settings so that the next time you edit an image, you can quickly reproduce the exact color or sharpness setting that you took hours to create the day before.

The mechanism by which you store saved settings will depend on your editor, so you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the appropriate help topics or the user manual to determine the way to save settings.  Once you do that, you can quickly reproduce certain “looks” and other effects without having to consult your handwritten notes.  The other nice thing about using presets is that they provide you with a viable starting point for further fine-tuning.  For example, you might have a generic tone curve that you use to adjust image contrast for portraits.  Once you apply the basic tone curve, you can tweak it to suit the nuances of your specific image.  Other times, the factory default settings can be a bit extreme, and a user-defined preset can allow you to use a tool with a starting point that is more to your liking.  Often time you’ll see this with special effects filters.

Good candidates for saved presets:

  • Sharpening: USM, High Pass, or Smart Sharpen
  • Levels & Curves (contrast)
  • Saturation/Vibrance (color)
  • Black & White conversion
  • Special Effects filters
When a tool lets you save your settings, take advantage of this time-saving feature!

Happy shooting!

-Jason

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Lightpainting in Garden of the Gods

After what has seemed like an eternal winter, the weather here in Colorado is finally warming up.  Moreover, we seem to have shaken the 60 mph winds that made photography difficult last week.  I finally got out to attempt a project that I’d been previsualizing for some time; lightpainting the Siamese Twins formation in Garden of the Gods.

I’ve photographed this formation before during the daytime; it’s a popular spot to catch the juxtaposition of the twin rock towers with the summit of Pikes Peak between them.  But I’d never hiked to it at night.

The Siamese Twins, in the classic daytime capture.

Lightpainting is a technique whereby you artificially illuminate your subject with a flashlight or lantern.  This technique enables you to control the exact placement of light in the scene and you can use it to selectively illuminate subjects of interest.  I headed up to the Siamese twins with my gear in a Think Tank “Streetwalker Pro” bag.  I had my D3s, 16-35/4, 24-70/2.8 and a 70-200/2.8 VR II.  I also had my Gitzo tripod and a couple of strong flashlights.  I reached the formation about 20 minutes after sundown and I set up.

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Future, thy name is SSD

It seems like every six months or so, you see a newer, faster microchip processor hitting the market.  My original Mac SE, which cost me $1800 (with educational discount) in 1989, ran at a whopping 8 megaHertz.  Today, we have dual-core, quad-core, and even octal-core machines running from 2-3 gigaHertz.  That’s fast.  Memory is faster, graphics cards are faster, everything is FASTER!  Except, that is, for your hard drive. Yes, while hard drives have gotten faster over the years, they now represent the weak link in your ability to load and process data.  Let’s face it, most computers are not processor-limited anymore.  Any halfway decent machine is going to run fast, and unless you are into hard-core video rendering, even the lower end of the processor line-up will be very good.

But back to those hard drives.  They rotate.  They have moving parts.  They can fail.  My wife’s hard drive failed after barely a year in a brand-new iMac.  The good news is that I’ve seen the future, and it is amazing.  Solid-state drives (SSDs) are computer equivalents of the flash memory we use in our cameras.  No moving parts, and damn near instant read times.  SSD’s have been out for a few years; I first saw them showing up as an expensive option in the Apple MacBook Air.  I had no idea why anyone would want to pay such a premium for a drive that had less capacity than the standard HDD.  Until I saw the light.

First of all, consider how we use our laptops.  For many of us, the laptop is the “travel” computer.  We have a primary desktop computer at home to do our heavy-lifting.  A clean install of my OS (in my case, Mac OS 10.6) with my critical applications runs about 45GB.  Even with a 120GB drive, that still leaves me a good bit of free space.  On my laptop, I don’t need to store every NEF I’ve shot or my entire music collection (hello, iPhone), so a 128GB drive is actually plenty.  Moreover, I usually travel with a 250GB FW800 drive to store my images on, anyway. Continue reading Future, thy name is SSD

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Just Browsing my NEFs

One of the things I like about shooting in RAW is that I have the ability to override my in-camera settings during post-processing.  The RAW safety net is tremendously useful, even if you get most things “right” on a shoot.  One thing I don’t like, however, is using software that automatically throws away my in-camera settings because it thinks it is smarter than me.  When I preview my images, I want to see what I had shot in-camera, even if I got it “wrong” (I like to learn from my mistakes).

I’m mostly talking about image browsers, here.  All these products that are “RAW saavy.”  That’s really just code for  “built-in RAW converter” that will ignore all your in-camera settings.  The problem with multiple RAW converters is that each one works with its own set of instructions.  If you use Browser “A” to view your files, then process them in Application “B”, when you go back to Browser “A,” you won’t see any changes in your image previews.  This conundrum is why we’re seeing a big push towards “soup to-nuts” products like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Apple Aperture.

Take for instance, the scenario where you shoot NEFs using different Nikon Picture Controls.  By default, you can make four different core settings in your camera:

  • Neutral
  • Standard
  • Vivid
  • Monochrome

When you look at the LCD preview on your camera, you can tell the difference between the images. Neutral is low-contrast and low-saturation, while vivid is high-contrast and high-saturation.  And monochrome, well it’s black and white.

Now consider what happens when you download those same four images and preview them in a browser that has its own RAW engine:

Click to see more…
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Using Color Control Points to Emphasize Subjects

Little Blue Heron, Shark Valley, FL. Nikon D300 and 600mm f/4 AFS VR Nikkor lens

Some people assume that the Control Point technology found in Capture NX2 and Nik Viveza is something you use to make radical image adjustments, like changing the color of a sky.  Not so.  In fact, some of the most powerful adjustments I make with Control Points are subtle ones, intended to accentuate a subject against its background.  The image above is an example of where I used Color Control Points (in this case, in Capture NX2) to enhance the subject.

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