Tag Archives: processing

Experimenting With Avoiding Heat Haze

Summer weather means lots of sunny days but also means lots of heat haze.  I was at Boeing Field one sunny afternoon and there were two jets parked across the field that I wanted shots of – one was an Illinois ANG KC-135R and the other was a Falcon 20.  Looking through the viewfinder, both of the were shimmering in the heat haze that a warm and reasonably humid day brings.  This is the downside of summer in the Pacific Northwest.

Not long before I had watched a video on YouTube about photographing Saturn through a telescope.  The image of Saturn was all over the shop but they were using a software technique to take multiple images and build a more stable and sharper final image.  It worked reasonably well and this got me thinking about how to do something similar.  In the past I have used Photoshop to blend together multiple images to remove the moving elements of a shot like people or traffic.  I wrote about it in this post.

I thought I would see if something similar could be done.  I put the frame rate on to high and steadied myself before firing off a few seconds of shots.  I wanted a lot of images to provide the best opportunity for the statistical analysis to find the right solution.  Importing this in to Photoshop as layers and then auto aligning them allowed the analysis tool to do its thing.  I don’t think the result is quite what I want and I may experiment with different analysis methods – median versus mean for example – to see which ones are most effective.  However, there is clearly a smoothing out of the distortion and, if I needed to get a shot on a hazy day when there wouldn’t be another chance, I would definitely fall back on this approach to see whether it produced something more usable.

Variations in HDR Processing

While scanning through some images, one of the shots that showed up in my catalog was an HDR processing of some shots of a US Army Chinook.  It had been processed with a plugin that I had previously experimented with.  I thought it looked over vibrant but I was impressed with the way the dark interior of the helicopter had shown up while the outside was also well lit.  I decided to have another go at processing the images.

I used Lightroom initially to do the processing.  It came out surprisingly well and looked not unlike the outcome from the plugin.  However, there was some ghosting on people in the shot and there was a lot of chromatic aberration.  I have noticed issues with Lightroom making a worse job of it than Photoshop so I decided to try HDR Pro in Photoshop as well and use Camera Raw for tone mapping.  The outcome was very similar from an overall perspective.  However, the ghosting was virtually eliminated and the aberration was not apparent either.  It clearly is still a better bet than Lightroom.

Facial Symmetry

After four months of no hair cut, I finally managed to get some clippers and set about cleaning up my head.  I won’t share the awful look that I had developed (and the current look might not be that great either) but I did have Nancy take some pictures before and after.  While she was taking the after shots, I asked her to take a couple that were directly head on.  I was interested in facial symmetry.

I had seen articles in the past about how some people have quite symmetric faces while others didn’t and I had been meaning to try this out for myself.  I got a shot that was nice and head on so took it in to Photoshop.  There I duplicated the layer and flipped it horizontally.  Aligning it centrally was a bit of a choice because you can move it around a little and just widen or narrow the face.  I got it to a place that seemed about right.  The fact my face is asymmetric means that there isn’t an exact center to align against.

I then added a layer mask to two versions of the image to blank one side or the other out.  The result is two versions of my face using either the left or the right side.  The difference between them is quite stark.  My jaw is slightly lopsided as is my nose and so one version has a far broader look to it while the other is a lot thinner.  It’s like two different people.

Another Look at the Hoh Rain Forest

I was recently watching a video of a landscape photographer and he took a trip to the Hoh Rain Forest on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.  Nancy and I went there on a vacation a few years ago and I posted about it here.  I decided to go back and look at some of the images from that visit and see what I liked.  I had taken a bunch of photos in multiple locations on that trip and I found that I had not really given many of the shots any effort.

I decided to take a look at both those that I shared in the original post but also some “new” ones.  I realized that a little effort made the images so much more interesting.  The rain forest is so lush and there is so much green that it almost seems unnatural.  I brought down the exposures a bit and did punch of the saturation a little.  It does look a little overdone but I assure you it is actually a reflection of what the place is really like.  I think digital cameras tend to tone down greens a bit and, when the place you are looking at is all green, this is a bit of a problem that needs to be addressed.

Oho is about four hours drive from where we are now.  A bit of a trek for a day out but I think a trip over to that side of the peninsula is definitely something we should do again before too long.  We can also check out the coastline over there which is really stunning.

Why Not Shoot an M-21 While I’m Here

I was at the Museum of Flight for the IPMS exhibit but, while I was visiting, I figured it would be churlish not to take a picture of the M-21 that dominates the main hall.  It is actually a bit difficult to photograph and there is a lot of contrast with the background and it is always busy so a bit cluttered.  I knew it wasn’t going to be a great shot but decided to crop tighter on the airframe and shoot bracketed exposures and maybe go with an HDR process.  It isn’t great but it came out better than I had expected.

Negative Lab Pro

In previous posts I have described my efforts at scanning old negatives using a digital camera, macro lens and a light table.  I have had mixed success with the process for converting the negatives into positives with some films responding better than others.  I was okay with the output but thought things could be better.  A YouTube video showed up on my page that was about scanning negatives with a digital camera and I decided to watch to see if they did anything different to me.  The technique for shooting the negatives was similar enough but they introduced me to a Lightroom plugin called Negative Lab Pro.

I downloaded a trial of the software and gave it a go.  I was sufficiently impressed with the output that I stumped up the cash for the full version.  It isn’t cheap but, given that I can now use it on several thousand images, I figured it was worth the investment.  The plugin requires a small amount of effort.  I revert the images back to a normal San without any of my previous edits and conversions.  The first thing to do after that is to take a white balance reading from some of the visible edge of the film to neutralize any color shift.  Then you crop in on the image.  Apparently, it is important to avoid getting any unexposed edges in shot as this messes with the algorithm.

Then you open up the dialog box.  It analyses the image and does a conversion.  You then get some basic sliders to tweak the settings such as exposure and color balance.  There are some auto setting check boxes but I haven’t found them to be too helpful so far.  Then you click okay and the image is ready to do further editing in Lightroom.  You can also do batch conversions of images if you want although I think it is probably better to focus on individual processing.  I have been playing with this on a range of images so far and I like the results.  My old negatives are not that great and this is not going to suddenly make them amazing but I am impressed how much more I can get out of some of the scans using this software.

Learning a Better Way to Blend in Photoshop

I occasionally use the Statistics function in Photoshop to blend multiple images in order to get rid of the distractions that I don’t want like people or vehicles.  Up until now, this has been a real pain to do.  I would identify the images in Lightroom but would have to open Photoshop, go into the Statistics function, use the browse function in there to select the images and then it would run everything in one go.  This was not a convenient way to go and the output image then needed to be manually added to Lightroom which is not handy.

It turns out that there is a better way.  This may have been in Photoshop all along and I never knew or it could have been a recent addition.  Either way, it is there and I shall now use it for future projects.  I have even created a Photoshop action to cover the process and assigned a function key so it will now do the heavy lifting without my intervention.  It all starts out in Lightroom.  Select all the images that will be used for the blend.  Then use Edit>Open As Layers and a new document will open in Photoshop with all shots as layers.

If everything has been shot on a tripod, things will be properly aligned by default but I often do these things on the spur of the moment so they are hand held.  Consequently, while my efforts to keep pointing in the same direction are not bad, the first task is to select all layers and Auto Align layers to tidy things up.  Next, go into the Layer tab and, under Smart Object, convert to a Smart Object.  This may take a little while.

Next step is to go back into Layers>Smart Objects>Stack Mode.  This brings up the same options as you get through the Statistics function.  Select Mean and send it on its way and you end up with a shot that, depending on the number of shots taken and the clear space in enough of them, results in a clear shot.  Usually I find that I haven’t got enough shots of the right type to get everything to disappear so some ghostly elements may remain but they are certainly less distracting than the figures in the original shots.  I have no idea what the other modes will achieve and the descriptions Adobe provides in their help files are so obscure as to be virtually useless. Instead I shall have to experiment with them to see what happens.  Thankfully, now I have this new method, I can undo the last step easily to try each option which would not have been possible using the Statistics dialog.  Another win!

Blending to Remove Traffic

During a previous visit to Vancouver, I experimented to blending images of the same scene to remove objects I didn’t want included.  When photographing the bridge at Deception Pass, I decided to have another go at this.  The bridge was very interesting but I found the traffic on the bridge to be a distraction.  Looking at some of the shots afterwards, it wasn’t as bad as I thought at the time but, even so, I decided to try processing the shots.

This was the same approach as before.  Load all of the images into Photoshop using the Statistics function and use Median to average things out and hopefully remove the items that I didn’t want to appear.  It seemed to work pretty well.  The top shot has the output while the one below is one of the input shots cropped in along with the final result to show what was removed.

My First Attempt at Focus Stacking

I first read about focus stacking a long time ago and I have been meaning to try it for ages.  The premise is to take a series of shots with the focus set in different positions throughout the scene and then to use software to blend the images together to create on image with focus all the way through the shot.  This seemed like a simple thing to have a try with but I never got around to having a go.  Then I came across a situation that looked like it might be a good example to try.

I was visiting a model show at the Museum of Flight.  I was taking a few photos of some of the more expertly crafted models on display.  I was shooting with a longer lens and using a relatively small aperture to try and minimize the shallow depth of field that you get when shooting small objects close up.  I decided to shoot a model of a Fairey Gannet and the shallow depth of field triggered something in the deep recesses of my brain about focus stacking.  Of course, I had not planned for this so no tripod and just an effort to get focus on different parts of the model without moving the camera too much.

I took the shots and got on with my visit.  When I got home, I almost forgot about the stacking experiment but, fortunately, I did remember.  I exported the images to Photoshop as layers of the same shot.  Then, since they were hand held, I did an Auto-Align action to get them in place.  After that, Auto-Blend was selected.  It seemed to realize that they were a blend stack rather than a panorama – quite clever – and the software quickly did its thing.  Despite not taking too many shots and do it all hand held, the result came out pretty well.  The top shot is the finished product while the lower two show the extremes of the focus range for the original shots.  If I had managed a shot focused right on the back of the fin, the result may have been a bit better still.

My Approach to Shooting and Processing on Crappy Weather Days

This is the finished image. This is pretty much what it looked like to the naked eye (through the viewfinder) when I took the shot given how dark the sky was.

A rare arrival was due on a day that was not good from a weather perspective.  It was dull and rainy and so not what you would hope for.  Conditions like this mean I try to exploit some of the features of the camera and the processing options available.  First, how to set up the camera?  With the light being bad and variable, I went to a pretty high ISO level.  I shot in aperture priority mode and added a lot of exposure compensation.

In my experience, the metering is pretty good when shooting against the sky in clear weather but, when there is a lot of cloud, the camera tends to treat the clouds as too bright and it underexposes the subject too much.  I use a lot of exposure compensation in this case with a setting of +2.0 being used on this day.  The reason I do this is that, aside from the exposure question mark, there is a lot more information available in the lighter end of the exposure curve.  Shooting in RAW gives you options.

This is how the camera recorded the image. This is the in camera JPEG that I extracted from the RAW file using Instant Raw From JPEG.

If you were to look at the aircraft at the time, you would see a dark and menacing sky but you would see plenty of detail on the plane.  The camera does not see that for the original shot.  The aircraft would be very dark.  When processing, this dark area would give you something to work with but the variation in data would be more limited.  Shoot overexposed and you get more to work with.

This approach will only work well if you are shooting RAW.  If you are using JPEG, too much of the usable data will be discarded during the processing in the camera.  To show you what I mean, here are two images.  These are both from the same shot.  One is the RAW file as it showed up when imported in to Lightroom and the other is the embedded JPEG that you can extract from the RAW file and which can be seen when the file is first imported before the rendering is undertaken.  As you can see, the JPEG is over exposed but the RAW rendering seems even more so.

There is way more data in the RAW file though.  Immediately, as I bring the exposure slider back down, the clouds go from being white to quite dark – just as they appeared on the day.  Meanwhile, the fuselage of the aircraft has a lot of the data intact and maintains a lot of the brightness that you could see at the time.  Very little needs to be done with the blacks and they are almost in the right spot by the time the exposure is good for the clouds.  The fuselage might be a bit too dark though.  A small tweak of the blacks and a little boost in the shadows to compensate for too much darkening with the exposure slider and suddenly the shot is looking a lot more like it did when I saw it develop.

My RAW processing baseline always results in a slightly more overexposed shot the embedded JPEG includes. When you first open the image, the embedded image you see in the previous shot initially shows up and then it renders the RAW file. This was the initial RAW rendering prior to any adjustments.

One advantage of shooting on such a crummy day is that the sky is a giant softbox – in this case a very soft one!  The result is that the light is a lot more even than on a sunny day.  The darker look can actually make the colors look a bit more intense than if they were losing out to the whites when the sun is right on them.  While there was only one plane I was specifically there for, playing around with these other shots and working on the technique was a nice extra benefit.