Air Canada brings a pair of A220-300s in to SEA each evening – one from Toronto and one from Montreal. They leave the following morning with the Toronto flight heading out early and the Montreal flight following a couple of hours later. The Toronto flight one weekend was the TCA special aircraft so I decided to head out and catch it departing.
The day started very overcast and gloomy but there was a sign that things were going to get better. This did happen but things were still not great when the jet departed. The light had improved a bit but the cloud was still there. When looking at the shots, I figured it was time to make use of the masking options that Lightroom offers. The latest update has improved their usability somewhat. First I drop the exposure of the shot overall to get the sky looking roughly how I want it. Then I select the aircraft suing the Subject option. It does a pretty reasonable job but I do then refine it with an addition brush to bring in the bits it has missed and a subtract brush to take out the detail areas where the mask has overlapped.
The new option is the click on this mask and choose the Duplicate and Invert option. This gives me a sky selection that matches what I have got for the aircraft. For the sky, I can work on the white balance to bring it back to something more cool which suits the overall look of the shot. I can similarly work on the white balance for the jet to make the reds pop more in the livery. The exposure can be brought up a bit with the shadows helping a little while bringing the blacks down while improve the contrast.
All of this is pretty straightforward. One nice feature of the latest update is that you can actually apply the same settings to multiple images. The brush adjustments are not going to work well for this so it is best to do the overall selections and sync to the various images and then, if a shot is worthy of further work, the refining of the mask can be done afterwards. If you know which shot is the best, you can just focus on that one.
I have played around with focus stacking a lot in recent years. Having a macro lens and a pandemic has given me plenty to opportunity to try stuff out. I was reading something along about stacking and it mentioned software call Helicon which is said was the standard for stacking software. I have been using Photoshop to date and, while it does a pretty good job, you do get some odd artifacts sometimes. I decided to download a trial of Helicon and see how it does.
I waited to use the trial until I had a bit of time available. The trial last 30 days but I wanted to make good use of it. Once I had installed it, I went through all of my focus stacks and ran through the software. It has a Lightroom plugin which made it easy enough to use. I found it was not so happy with some of my handheld stacks where alignment became an issue. Photoshop coped with that well. For the better planned shots, it worked a lot better. Overall, it seemed to do pretty well.
However, there was something that it struggled with. I had been playing with some shots of a memory card holder that I had shot when I had nothing better to do. Photoshop stacked them without any problem. The shots were in color but everything was either black or white. When Helicon tried stacking them, it introduced some strange purple coloration. I have no idea why it did this. It was almost like a chromatic aberration filter in reverse. I suspect there is a way to understand the more detailed settings and fix this but it was a weird outcome. Since I want something simple that basically works, this made me decide that buying the full version wasn’t worth it. I have already paid for Photoshop so I shall stick with that.
One of the nice aspects of mirrorless cameras is using the tilting screen to see the shot while holding the camera away from you. I took advantage of this when I was near a swan at Mottisfont. We were walking alongside the water and the swan was swimming towards us. I wanted to get a close shot from low down but swans are not always the most friendly beasts. Getting myself down there didn’t seem like a good plan. Holding the camera out while looking at the screen seemed a better idea and the swan, while not totally enthusiastic, was less annoyed that way.
The latest version of Lightroom Classic was recently rolled out. It comes with a bunch of new additions and refinements. The one that caught my eye was the addition of content aware remove. There was already the cloning tool and the healing tools built in and these could do a lot of what you might want. However, these have now been supplemented by content aware removal. The tool is really straightforward to use but you can customize it if you like, both by choosing what area to use as a reference and also the ability to get it to try again if you don’t like the result by hitting Refresh.
The thing I wanted to try out was using it to remove power lines. These can sometimes be a bit of a pain when taking shots but, rather than use an aviation shot with some power lines crossing it, I happened to be looking at a photo I took in California of some railroad which had a bunch of lines strung across it. I wasn’t bothered about making a great shot. I was just interested in what the tool would do with the power lines. It was surprising effective. Too close an inspection would show the flaws but, if you look at the overall image, it came out quite well with very little effort. I have the before and after shots here for comparison.
Quite a while back, I saw a shot that someone had composited of a Typhoon display over an airfield where they had the jet throughout its routine to show its route through the sky. I liked the idea and, while it was totally different, it got me thinking when I was up at Heritage Flight Museum. They had the Skyraider on the ramp but not flying. It was ready to go but hadn’t yet been signed off.
However, they did do an engine run for the visitors and unfolded and folded the wings a few times. Having got some basic shots, the idea of the Typhoon display popped in to my head so I shot a sequence of shots of the wings as they folded and unfolded. I took way more than actually was a good idea. I imported them all in to Photoshop as layers and then hid all of them except one and then progressively added some back to get the wings in different positions. If I had used them all it would have just been a blur of wings.
With the ones I wanted selected, I changed the blend mode for all but the base layer to Darken and that meant the dark wing elements overlaid anything brighter behind them. The result was a composite with multiple wing positions all showing at once. I think it came out quite well. I thought I might have issues with hiding things I didn’t want to or having to much movement between shots but that wasn’t a problem in the end.
While getting ready one morning, I saw a little spider in my bathroom. It was wandering around on the vanity unit and would stop for periods of time without moving. I figured I might want to give the macro lens a go and went to get the camera. The introduction of the camera was not ideal for encouraging it not to move but I got a bunch of shots. Unfortunately, they were at a pretty high ISO. However, stacking shots can help with the ISO so the result was okay.
A while later, it was back. This time it had climbed up a cable and this reduced the number of ways it could go. This time I decided to tool up and got a clamp to hold the camera and set things up to shoot a proper sequence for stacking. The shutter speeds were low with the clamp which meant ISO could be a lot better. Here are the results of those experiments. (Sorry to people I know that don’t like spiders but, really, this thing is tiny!)
This post might look like it is an aviation post but, while the examples I am using are planes, this is about software. A while back I downloaded the trial of DxO’s PureRAW product. I liked it but didn’t see enough use for me to justify buying the full version. I was also a little put off by the lack of integration with Lightroom. You had to start in the app and then the output DNG file would be exported to Lightroom.
PureRAW2 has been released so I downloaded the trial version of that to see how well it works. I was interested not only in the processing capabilities but also the new Lightroom integration. Now it is possible to use the application as a plugin so I can go to a file in Lightroom and take it out to PureRAW before the DNG returns.
First, what is my experience of the integration? It is okay but not great. Taking the file out works well and you can get the processing sorted out. The return to Lightroom is not ideal. First, it gives you the option to either put the new files in a DxO folder or to go to a specific folder you choose. I would rather it went to the same folder as the original. That is not available. The second issue is that the re-import process takes a very long time. It was a couple of minutes after closing the file that it showed up in Lightroom. No idea why it takes so long.
Now for the processing. It is very impressive. I was working with some shots from very dark conditions with B-1s taking off. The exposure was heavily driven by the afterburner plumes so the rest of the airframe was very dark. When I tried to bump up the exposure in Lightroom to get something that showed the bare outline of the fuselage, the noise was really bad. The PureRAW DNG was so much cleaner and allowed me to move the exposure around quite a bit. For an ISO 51,2000 shot, this was very impressive. I think the processing is not massively changed from before but it clearly works well.
However, as before, the number of times I would want to use this are not many. The full version is now $129 which is a step up from where the original was priced when I reviewed it. I am still not sure I need it enough to justify the investment. No question, though, that it is a significantly improved tool from the original version.
One of the functions that my new camera has built in is a focus stacking function. I know this is not unique to this camera but it is a first for me so I was keen to play with it. The mode, when enabled, allows you to set how many shots you want taken and set a scale for how close the focus points will be to each other. You then pick you initial focus point and set it off and it takes the sequence of shots incrementing the focus slightly between each one.
The resulting stack of images can then be processed in Photoshop to get the focus stacked output. This is so much nicer than making minor focus adjustments by hand between shots. The sequence gets created really quickly. I also was able to do reshoots easily. On one of the sequences, I had left it on auto ISO so it shot at a really high ISO level. I could reshoot with the ISO set low (tripod mounting means this was not a problem) in no time at all. (As an aside, the focus stacking algorithm actually seems to do a good job of reducing noise as well.)
I experimented with how fine a scale to use. Initially, I was taking way too many shots with very little movement through the image so I coarsened up the scale a bit. The nice thing was, if it didn’t go all through the range, I could just hit the shutter again and it would keep going. Photoshop chunked through the processing pretty well. I was shooting a few things but also experimented with some coins on my desk. Not the most original subject but one that shows the result well unlike the other things I was shooting. The software seemed to struggle a little on some of the coin edges so maybe a finer shoot next time or maybe I should just hand blend those bits.
For a while, I had been thinking about trying to do some night photography of airliners. I had seen some good shots people had got but SeaTac does not have a lot of ambient light to illuminate aircraft flying overhead. It would be better if there was a large public space under the approach that would provide so brightness to work with. I was down at SeaTac to pick up a colleague and knew I would be there as the sun went down so I decided to have a go at some shots.
I used the 70-200 f/2.8 to get as much light as possible. The sun was going down so I was going through quite the transition of lighting conditions. Some were just twilight while other were when things were getting quite dark. The autofocus was also struggling since the center point was being used and the underside of the jet lacked much contrast in the dark. I still got a few usable images. The lack of light means they aren’t too great but it was fun to try something different. Now to find a better location!
Lightroom has three methods for stitching the panoramas together. I tend to use one but for some shots, a different style is beneficial. I was flipping through some shots of an HH-101 Caesar helicopter that I took at RIAT in 2019. I also had a Danish AW101 that I had shot in pano format. The Danish airframe had not been shot as well as it could have been and I did not have sufficient coverage. I decided to try different versions of the stitching to see which one gave the best result. Some result in a more natural look while others look more fish eyed. I can also stitch in Photoshop which gives me more capability for filling in gaps but, with the tricky areas being the rotors, that wasn’t going to work well since the AI is not going to work that out. Stitching also allows some warping to fill edge gaps but this can mess with the alignment of the main part of the image. I tried a couple of versions and they are compared here.