We had quite a few of our readers engage in our last “How Was This Picture Made #9” article for the image of the Sokullu Mehmet Pasa Mosque that I posted from my trip to Istanbul, Turkey. While some of the readers did a great job at giving a description of my shooting environment and even correctly guessed the location, the camera and the lens I used for the shot, none of the readers correctly identified the specific challenges I faced when photographing the scene. And to be honest, it would have been nearly impossible to identify those challenges by just looking at the photo, since it is the final, processed version. Let’s go through all the steps that will reveal everything I did to capture and process this image.
Due to overwhelming emails, comments and response we got on our “How Was This Picture Made #6” post, which went viral and got us over 25 million hits (funds from which we are planning to use for the next team retreat on the beaches of Mongolia), we decided to publish the answer to the last post today and not put our readers through the pain of having to wait.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote the article “Four Simple Tips for Better Composition”. In that article, I discussed in-camera techniques for keeping your horizons level and verticals vertical. However, even if you are careful, this is not always possible. This is especially true when trying to take pictures of tall buildings. I received several great comments mentioning that Photoshop’s powerful “Transform” tool can be used to correct the keystoning issues that arise in such a situation. I thought it would be a good idea to follow that last article up with one on post-processing methods for perspective corrections. I will go over a couple of ways to quickly fix horizons in Lightroom and how to easily improve/correct keystoning in Lightroom. I will also go over some more advanced techniques for perspective correction using Photoshop, for when the Lightroom methods don’t quite make the grade. The combination of good in-camera image creation and post-processing perspective corrections should allow you to create images that reflect how are eyes see and our brains perceive the world around us.
As we already mentioned in the previous article “Where are my Mid-tones?“, most raw converters apply some hidden adjustments to a raw shot, often resulting in a bumped mid-tone, clipped highlights, and compressed shadows. This is done to make the shot look good, but can also lead to all sorts of confusion. If you are using or planning to use some raw converter, you may want to know what “beautifiers” it applies, and their price.
When the world saw the very first photographs, the idea of being able to capture the world as we see it took off rapidly. In a relatively short period of time, film photography evolved from black and white to color photography. From there, it made motion pictures possible, allowing us to see the world from our couches at home. When the first digital camera was invented, little did the inventors know that it would later revolutionize the world of photography and media in general. Today, billions of images are captured and shared between people and the number of image recording devices is growing at a rapid, unstoppable rate. There are cameras literally everywhere – in our mobile phones, homes, computers, cars and even in wearables like eyeglasses and watches. We trust these devices to give us a glimpse of reality, documented moments of time that we can go back to and review. And yet with the fast growth, ease of access and use of image and video manipulation tools, we have been seeing more footage that can twist reality: whether we are looking at popular magazine covers, Internet sites or news media, the imagery we see is getting harder and harder to trust, since it is being altered, faked or staged. Media turned out to be a powerful tool to influence and manipulate people, which brings up the question and the importance of ethics in photography. Should photography only be allowed to display reality, or is it acceptable to alter images for presentation purposes? And if manipulation is acceptable, what are its limits, if any? These are very hard questions to answer, but with some common sense, we can create a set of ethical rules and guidelines that should help photographers in determining what’s acceptable and what’s not.
Determining the ideal JPEG quality setting in both Photoshop and Lightroom can be challenging, because we often see two different values to choose from. Photoshop gives us compression levels from 0 to 12 when saving JPEG images through the “Save” or “Save As” dialog, while Lightroom only allows us to input a percentage. While percentages are easier to understand than numbers from 0 to 12, as we relate to 100% being the “best image quality” easier, Adobe also created a confusion as to what number represents what percentage, since the ranges of numbers are not provided in any of the help documents. The truth is, the percentages we see in Lightroom do not really scale from real 0 to 100 in single digits. Adobe simply mapped the 0 to 12 scale to the percentage scale. This ultimately means that changing from one number to another, like from 85% to 90% might make no difference whatsoever in compression or image size, while changing from 84% to 85% would make a big difference.
During our recent photo walk in San Francisco, where we had over 30 Photography Life readers join us for some awesome time together, one of the participants noted that a number of photographers who came to the photo walk were carrying tripods. As we were shooting a brightly-lit scene, his question was – why would you even want to bring a tripod to photograph in bright light? He then pointed out the fact that he almost never carries a tripod, that considering how good the performance of digital cameras is today, that a tripod is unnecessary. While I agreed about the fact that modern cameras are certainly very good at handling noise and the fact that I rarely use a tripod in broad daylight myself, I stated that I still carry a tripod with me when I travel and pointed out one specific situation that took place a couple of days earlier, where a tripod made it possible to capture a dynamic scene that I could not have captured otherwise. I asked if the participants had previously seen the below photo of San Francisco, captured from Twin Peaks (which was in my San Francisco at Night post):
With almost all of our cameras featuring video capabilities (I’m looking at you, Nikon Df), most of you have probably considered going beyond the occasional family video. However, like photography, video requires post-processing for best results, and the prospect of buying After Effects, Premiere Pro, and SpeedGrade just to get your toes wet is daunting for many photographers. What you may not know is that you already have a powerful video-editing program in Adobe Photoshop CC, or CS6 Extended. This is an easy way for photographers to play around with film without purchasing hundreds of dollars worth of software, and is surprisingly effective. I’m certainly not a professional videographer as my example video will show, but I have enjoyed editing a few shorts, just for fun. The two most critical aspects of editing for video (not including cuts/sequencing) are color-grading and sharpening, both of which can be done relatively painlessly in Photoshop using tools you’re already experienced with.
Adobe has been enjoying their place in the software industry for a very long time now. It’s a monopoly, isn’t it? Despite the effort made by Corel, DxO, PhaseOne and others, the benchmark is still Photoshop and Lightroom (even if the latter does not actually lead in every area). In fact, Photoshop has actually become a synonym to the word “post-process” or “edit”. “To photoshop something”, how many times have you heard someone say it? Exactly. And all of this is well deserved, because there simply isn’t any better alternatives. But for us, the users, monopoly is not such a good thing. Lack of proper competition puts the developer in a rather lazy state. Fortunately, an alternative might be in the works, called Affinity Photo (currently in Beta stage). Unfortunately, it is only available for Mac at this time.
Adobe Photoshop is really not about speed. I can’t say it’s ever been – even back when I was using the then-current version 5 (and the more capable 5.5), it was packed full of features and required not only lots of time to even begin to master, but to use for the simple things, too. Not to say it’s slow to work with, exactly, but if you want to accomplish your task quickly without any excuses, Lightroom is perhaps more suitable. It certainly ought to be. Yet if you work slowly and methodically, if you spend not minutes, but hours and even days post-processing a single image or a series, that is what Adobe’s heavyweight is most suitable for. Not for the sort of work where you click a few buttons and move on, but for the patient sort, where every detail matters, where there can be no sloppiness. Simply because of its vast, enormous capability. To own Photoshop just for one or two features is, more often than not, a bit of an overkill.