Tag Archives: editing

HDR Tech Comparison – What’s Up Lightroom?

A while back I saw a Scott Kelby video on YouTube about the HDR functionality in Lightroom and that in Photoshop.  I had assumed that they were the same prior to seeing his video but he showed that the Photoshop version of the HDR was significantly cleaner than that in Lightroom.  I was interested in how this could be but I wasn’t too concerned.  The Lightroom version was so easy to use I figured the impact was not so much that it would show up in my shots.

Then, I found out I was wrong.  I was in the cockpit of the Comet at the Museum of Flight’s restoration facility at Paine Field.  I took a sequence for HDR because the cockpit is very dark but the view out of the windows is much brighter.  It isn’t particularly important since the view outside is nothing special but I did it anyway since I was there.  The lighter shot had quite a bit of shadow noise and, when I created the HDR in Lightroom, the noise was very conspicuous on the finished version.  I decided to try it in Photoshop to see what happened.  The difference was significant.  I include both of the full shots as processed along with the section of cockpit shadow so you can see the impact.

Video Editing With DaVinci Resolve

While it is not what it was designed for, I have been using Adobe Photoshop for my video editing for quite a while now.  It did enough for my purposes so I couldn’t see the point in investing in new software purely for video.  However, I was talking to someone hat was starting to play with video creation and they wanted something to work with, so I looked around at what was available.  I saw that DaVinci Resolve, while available as a full feature video editor commercially, came also with a free version that seemed to have a lot of the features that the basic user could want.

Since I was potentially going to recommend this, I figured I ought to try it out myself first to see how it worked.  I have to say I have been very pleased with it.  There are clearly plenty of features in even the free version that I am unlikely to take advantage of.  It is also a lot more user friendly than Photoshop when editing video (which is hardly surprising given that is what it is designed to do).  I have played with a few edits now and I am starting to get the hang of it.  One lesson I have learned so far is to choose the continuous save option.  I spent a lot of time on an edit and the software locked up after lots of work.  The whole thing was lost.  Now it keeps a running save going (although I haven’t tested that properly as it hasn’t crashed since).  This looks like it is my new go to for video work.

My Revised Workflow

My approach to processing images after a shoot is something that constantly evolves.  I have written about how I do this in the past but a few things have changed since I wrote that so I thought I would write up the latest approach in case it is of any use/interest to any other shooters out there.  I should say at the start that my workflow is based around the use of Lightroom.  If you don’t use Lightroom, this might not be of any use to you although I imagine that a similar process could be achieved with other software.

One thing to highlight at the start is that, when shooting aviation (and that is the majority of my photography), I aim to slightly overexpose my shots.  I have found that going a slight bit over and then bringing the exposure back down in post-production gives a better balance of exposure across the shots and also makes for more pleasing sky colors.  This is something I do when shooting RAW.  If you shoot in JPEG, this might still work but your latitude for adjustment afterwards is a bit reduced so you might not get the same effect.  I don’t shoot in JPEG so I can’t state what happens.

All the shots are imported in to Lightroom and I will form a Collection Set for the shoot.  I don’t have specific folders for shoots, nor do I have a renaming convention.  I keyword all shoots and this is how I manage files and find things later.  Keywording is a story for another day.  Within the Collection Set, I shall create a series of Smart Collections.  They vary depending on what I have shot.  There will always be Not Rejects, Rejects and Picks.  Then, depending on what else there is, there might be Videos, Time Lapse, Blend Stack, Pano Originals, Pano Edits, HDR Originals and HDR Edits.  I keyword any of these types of shot with that term so the smart collections will pick them up.  The Smart Collections may be looking for a date range or shoot specific keywords depending on what I have been shooting.

The aim for all of this is that I get a Smart Collection which is unrejected shots which doesn’t include and shots from HDRs, panos, time lapses or blend stacks.  I don’t want to get rid of those shots by mistake and I want to be able to edit those shots at a convenient time.  Then the Not Rejects folder becomes my focus.  I am aiming to get all of them roughly corrected for exposure so I can make decisions about which shots to keep.  I will be looking for sharpness/focus issues and exposure variation can really mess with how you perceive sharpness.  I will open a shot up in the Develop module and I will have the Grid view on the second monitor.  I can now select shots with the same exposure and choose Auto Sync.  Then a change to one shot will be reflected in all of them.

It used to be that I would select the shots by eye.  Then it occurred to me that the Metadata filter is powerful here.  I select the filter of shutter speed and then I can select each shutter speed in turn.  Now it is easy to select the similar shots and edit together.  This really speeds up the quick edit process.  I know tweak whatever needs tweaking and get everything basically okay.  I won’t bother with detailed editing unless a shot is going to be used for something further.  Now I select all files and, in the Library module, select Render 1-1 Views.  Then I head off to do something else for a while.

When the rendering is done (I don’t try and do anything else while it is underway because, while you can do other Lightroom tasks, everything gets pretty sluggish.  It is easier to wait.  I may even shut Lightroom down and restart it after the rendering is done because it seems to like the chance to clean itself up.  Then I go to the first of the Not Rejects shots.  I have it full screen on the main screen and then zoom to 100% on the second screen.  The Smart Collection is set up to show any file that is not marked as a reject (or all of the other stuff I mentioned earlier) so now I can click through the shots.  If a shot is good, I Right Arrow to the next one.  If it is bad, hit X and it disappears.  Now I can run through the whole shoot and quickly get rid of all shots that are not good, be they unsharp, chopping off a bit of something or just clearly useless.

When this first pass is done, I am now left with a bunch of shots, many of which are very similar.  Since I know they all are basically acceptable, I can now select all the ones that I won’t have a need for and hit X.  Very quickly I am down to a far more manageable number of shots.  Then I can pick which ones I want to do something with.  Hit P for those and they will automatically appear in the Picks Smart Collection and I can come back to them at any time.  If I have shots that will be used for a specific piece, I may create a Collection specifically for that publication and just drag the shots in so I can deal with them at any time.

That pretty much sums up how I handle a shoot.  Some will have pano shots, some will have HDR, occasionally there will be time lapses and often videos.  Sadly, the integration of video between Lightroom and Photoshop is non-existent so I have yet to have a good process for video editing.  Maybe one day Adobe will fix that.  They tempted us by having video in Lightroom but they never took it any further despite the fact that the opening in layers option for stills would be ideal for video editing.  One day…

Enfuse for HDR

I am a little late to discovering the Enfuse plugin for working with HDR images.  I started out many years ago using Photomatix.  At the time, it was the go to software for creating HDR images.  Then Adobe got a lot better with their HDR software within Photoshop and I started to use that.  Even more recently, Adobe built HDR processing in to Lightroom and I didn’t need to go to Photoshop at all.  The HDR software worked reasonably well so I stuck with it.  I sometimes felt that it didn’t do as good a job of using the full range of the exposures but it was okay.

I wasn’t entirely satisfied though so have kept an eye on other options.  Someone mentioned Enfuse to me so I decided to give it a go.  It is a plugin for Lightroom and, in the free download, you can try it out but with a limitation on the output image size of 500 pixels.  Obviously this isn’t useful for anything other than testing but that is the point.

The first thing I tried it on was a shot I made at Half Moon Bay looking up at a P-51 Mustang prop and directly into the sun.  This is certainly as much of a range of exposures as you are likely to get.  The perfect thing for an HDR trial.  The results in the small scale file seemed pretty impressive so I decided to buy the package.  There is no fixed price.  You make a donation via PayPal and get a registration code.  I am impressed by the quality of some of the work people put out so I am happy to donate for what they do.  With the software activated, I reran the P-51 shots.  Below is the version I got from Lightroom’s own HDR and following it the version from Enfuse.

C59F8003enfuseHDR.jpg C59F8003-HDR.jpgI did have some issues initially.  Lightroom was not reimporting the image after it was created.  This turned out to be an issue with the way I named the file in the dialog and a tweak to that seemed to fix things.  Strangely, it had been fine on the trial so I have no idea why it became an issue but it is done.  I also played with a slightly less extreme case with an F-22 and, as above, the Lightroom version is first and the Enfuse version is second.  I was really pleased with the result on this one with a very natural look to things.  So far, I see Enfuse being a useful tool for my HDR going forward.

AU0E0447enfuseHDR.jpg AU0E0447-HDR.jpg

Haze Filter

The Creative Cloud version of Lightroom drops new features in to the software when the updates are installed. This is a nice thing to have happen but, unless you are paying attention, you might not be aware of some of the new features. It took me a while after the last update to learn that a new filter had been added that was designed to take haze out of images. This is a great idea. I have experimented with trying to remove the effect of haze in shots before but, because the effect varies by distance, it can be quite tricky to get something that doesn’t look totally wrong.

QB5Y5727.jpg QB5Y5727-2.jpgI have not played with the filter a lot but I did decide to try it out on a shot I took at Crater Lake a few years back. Wildfires had resulted in smoke in the air which meant the usual clear view across the lake was obscured. I thought I would see how the filter worked out. Above are the before and after shots. It is an improvement but obviously isn’t going to rescue a totally messed up shot. I did try a more aggressive setting but that looked wrong itself so this was the one I went with. We shall see if this has other uses for me over time.

Clever Feature of Lightroom CC

This one is something that I can attribute to the Kelby media juggernaut. I did not discover this myself but, if you are a user of Lightroom CC and use either the HDR or the panorama functions, this could be of interest. One of my issues with them was that they took a while to bring up a preview. Once you had got this, the processing would work in the background.

It turns out, if you don’t need to tweak the settings and are happy with what you used previously, you can hold Shift and Ctrl and press either M for panorama or H for HDR and it will launch right into processing the whole thing in the background. You can set multiple versions off if you wish and they will all get to work out of sight while you do something else. While my feelings on the outcome of the processing are not universally great and I covered this in some previous posts, it does a reasonable job most of the time and this is an even better feature that is well concealed!

The Spot Healing Brush

I recently put together a post on an old event that I had shot in my film days. It was the demonstration of the BAe 146 at London City Airport and the post is here. When I got the negatives out and scanned them, they were not in good condition. Despite washing the negatives, they still had a lot of scratches and blemishes on them. In order to prepare them for the post, I spent a great deal of time cleaning up the shots.

The tool I used was the Spot Healing Brush in Photoshop. I had used it occasionally in the past but never had I spent so much time using it in one session. It turns out I was not well aware of its functionality and I learned a little about it as I went. I had clicked on the tool and gone to work on it. The brush works by healing whatever you click on. You can click on a spot or draw across a section and it will then heal. However, it defaulted to certain settings which I wish I had known to change. It started out with Proximity as the setting. This makes it sensitive to picking up colors and patterns from things nearby.

At some point, I thought to change it to Content Aware at which point it became so much more helpful. In proximity mode, I found that I could heal many blemishes but I ended up with patterns in uniform color areas that looked very conspicuous. With content aware it came up with a far smoother solution which made for a cleaner result. Skies were the real issue for this and the change worked well.

Also, when working across edges, I found the tool was fine if I went perpendicularly across the boundary. Trying to work along an edge was tricky but if I went straight across the line, the algorithms were clever enough to know to leave the edge intact and just take out the blemish. It is a very cool tool and one I now have a better idea of how to use when required.

LRTimelapse

I have previously written about some time-lapse software that I use based on a recommendation from my friend Jo Hunter.  I used this software for a while before the creator, Gunther Wegner, updated it to a new version and deactivated the version I had.  I was a bit miffed by this but I was able to continue using the export settings from his application within Lightroom but with me having to manually manage the file cropping.  All transition and smoothing capability was lost but I could still make a basic time-lapse.

Sadly, the latest versions of Lightroom have done away with that as well and now I couldn’t even render the video.  Therefore, I decided to take a look at the latest version of his software.  It is now on version 3 so I have skipped a version en route to this place.  I had shot a few sequences recently and wanted to be able to manage them properly so decided to come back and have another go with his application.

There have been some improvements in tidying up the software so the workflow is a bit better.  There is still a certain amount of effort as you switch back and forth with Lightroom.  You have to put all of the images into a single folder while working on them.  This means a modification to my storage strategy but it isn’t difficult to manage in Lightroom and, when you are done, you can revert the images to their original locations and still render the video output.  It might be nicer if he gave you a more flexible approach to selecting files but this is not a hardship.

It has changed a little from what I am used to since now it starts out analyzing the files before you have created keyframes.  Once this is done, you save the xmp files out and reload them in Lightroom.  Define your keyframes and make any edits to them that you want and save xmp again.  Back to LRTimelpase to load the changes and now it does its smoothing very quickly.  Save xmp again and back to Lightroom and now there is an Export setting along with all of the other export options.  No going to the Slideshow module any more.

The results are pretty good.  The new export functionality actually generates a sequence of still images which it stores.  You then head back into LRTimelapse where you have a series of options for rendering a video sequence from those stills.  You can have it automatically delete the stills when it is done or keep them and render again using different output options.  This is pretty flexible although it means you have to pay attention to what you have used so you don’t end up with a ton of stored intermediate images.  The video output looks good.  I am not using the product commercially so do not have the full commercial license.  That will allow output in 4K formats.  I only wanted 1080p HD format for my purposes.  It is a little interesting that 4K is automatically assumed to be commercial use.  With people able to record 4K on GoPros these days and 4K TVs showing up, I suspect this is going to be a more mainstream format before too long.  Maybe it will be in the personal use license of future versions of LRTimelapse.  We shall see.

Was it worth the upgrade?  Yes.  Not least because I wanted to have the capability back that I had lost when Lightroom changed its output but, even so, I have found the new version to be quite a bit more friendly to work with.  I think it will encourage me to work on a few more projects.

Changing My Approach to Panoramas

Ever since Adobe got their act together with the Photomerge function in Photoshop, it has been my default for creating panoramas.  Previous versions were a little unreliable but they cracked it a few versions back and I have not changed my approach since.  However, a recent bit of YouTube exploring has changed that again.  Russell Brown had a series of videos on making panoramas from aerial shots and, while I was watching them because they were aerials, the stuff he came up with on stitching panos was actually more useful to me.

Instead of using Photomerge, he uses the same functionality of Photoshop but in individual steps.  The technique involves opening all of the shots as layers in a single file (something you can do straight from Lightroom which maintains the re-import linkage that I like about Photomerge).  Then you select all layers and use Edit>Auto Align Layers.  This gives you the same options as Photomerge.  Apparently, according to Russell, if you have a series of shots where you have rotated position but are looking horizontally, Spherical works best.  If you are looking up or down, use Circular.

The result can be quite distorted if you use Circular but it will all get better soon.  If you aren’t happy, you can undo the step which is a lot easier than starting from scratch which is what you would have to do in Photomerge.  Once the alignment is done, Edit>Auto Blend Layers while take care of the rest of the stitching and blend everything together nicely.  It defaults to a Panorama blending option.

With the blend done, flatten the layers and open Filters>Adaptive Wide Angle.  This will default to a panorama setting and, if you have the distorted output from the Circular settings, now you will suddenly see everything come back to what it should be.  You can tweak this filter to get verticals and horizontals aligned as you wish and then you end up with a good pano output.  Some cropping and filling of blank areas with Content-Aware fill and the job is done.  I shall be taking this approach for all my panos from now on.  If you don’t use this approach already, you might want to give it a try.

Also, you can go to the original source on this and check out Russell’s videos on YouTube.

Changed Workflow

I have changed my approach to editing my pictures quite a bit recently.  This has served two purposes.  The first is to make better use of my storage requirements and the second is to focus more quickly on the better images.  Sadly, this has highlighted to me how I have actually missed out on some of my better work in days gone by.  Not a happy lesson to learn but a valuable one.

I never used to delete images since storage was not a problem.  I did occasionally find images that newer RAW processors could do something with.  However, to be honest that was a rare occasion and, even then, I wasn’t likely to have an outlet for that image.  However, by not getting rid of stuff, I really cluttered up what I had.  Moreover, I would scan through and find images I liked the look of and mark them as favorites.  When I would come back to them later, I would find they were a bit flawed – not sharp enough usually being the problem.  What was worse was that I would search based on ratings and so wouldn’t bring up the next shot which actually might have been almost identical but sharper!

Consequently, I had a workflow that hid the good shots and encouraged me to pick the wrong examples by mistake.  I have now changed all of this.  Part of this is driven by trying to keep storage requirements under control.  I have been shooting a lot of rotor-craft and getting good rotor blur requires low shutter speeds which often means shooting lots of frames to get a few sharp ones.  When you are being buffeted by the down-wash, no amount of good technique is going to be enough!  I do generally shoot more these days anyway so I have a lot to work through.

The first thing after downloading is to generate 100% previews of all images.  I can then set up Lightroom with one side as the full image and the other has the 100% view.  This way I can determine sharpness of the shot at the same time as seeing whether the overall image is okay, i.e. no poles across the shot or noses cut off!  I have copied a process I saw demonstrated online where I assign a job descriptor in Lightroom and then set up smart collections for that job of Picks, Not Rejects and Rejects.  I have also started separating out video clips to another smart collection.  By reviewing the Not Rejects folder, anything rejected gets automatically removed so it thins out as I go.

This certainly brings the numbers down but not always as dramatically as I would like.  I suppose I should be pleased that I am not shooting such a low percentage!  Once I have done this, I can now trust that the shots that are left are all considered usable.  Then I can go through again and weed out the obvious duplicates by picking the best of a given type.  This will really help to thin things out.  The other thing I will do (which I also tend to start as I get further through the first review) is culling those that are just not interesting.  I have come to the realization, far too late, that only the best shots are ever going to see a use somewhere (and most of them won’t either).  Therefore, a relatively uninteresting shot that is sharp and well composed might as well go in the trash unless it has something unique about it.  Most don’t!

This has resulted in me thinning down the shoot far more rapidly.  The review also includes marking as Picks those I particularly like.  Hopefully, this will make it a lot simpler to get to the good stuff in due course.  Now I am also gradually following the same process for the large selection of previous images.  Maybe I won’t have to upgrade my hard drives for quite a while with all of this space I am freeing up and the reduced rate at which I am filling space.

One footnote to all of this.  My NAS runs a backup of everything every night.  When images get deleted, they will be gone from the backup the following night.  However, before anything is deleted, it is all backed up to Blu Ray discs.  That way, nothing is truly gone forever.  However, it would require some serious effort to go back to those discs to find something that is deleted since they are gone from the Lightroom catalog.  However, they are easy to backup so why not?