Rethinking photo editing

Photo editing has been something that I have been doing since my first ever photo scan in 1998 (I believe it was in June of that year but cannot be completely sure nearly twenty years later). Since then, I have using a variety of tools for the job and wondered how other photos can look better than my own. What cannot be excluded is my tendency for being active in the middle of the day when light is at its bluest as well as a penchant for using a higher ISO of 400. In other words, what I do when making photos affects how they look afterwards as much as the weather that I encountered.

My reason for mentioned the above aspects of photographic craft is that they affect what you can do in photo editing afterwards, even with the benefits of technological advancement. My tastes have changed over time so the appeal of re-editing old photos fades when you realise that you only are going around in circles and there always are new ones to share so that may be a better way to improve.

When I started, I was a user of Paint Shop Pro but have gone over to Adobe since then. First, it was Photoshop Elements but an offer in 2011 lured me into having Lightroom and the full version of Photoshop. Nowadays, I am a Creative Cloud photography plan subscriber so I get to see new developments much sooner than once was the case.

Even though I have had Lightroom for all that time, I never really made full use of it and preferred a Photoshop-based workflow. Lightroom was used to select photos for Photoshop editing, mainly using adjustment for such such things as tones, exposure, levels, hue and saturation. Removal of dust spots, resizing and sharpening were other parts of a still minimalist approach.

What changed all this was a day spent pottering about the 2018 Photography Show at the Birmingham NEC during a cold snap in March. That was followed by my checking out the Adobe YouTube Channel afterwards where there were videos of the talks featured every day of the four day event. Here are some shortcuts if you want to do some catching up yourself: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4. Be warned though that these videos are long in that they feature the whole day and there are enough gaps that you may wish to fast forward through them. Even so, there is a quite of variety of things to see.

Of particular interest were the talks given by the landscape photographer David Noton who sensibly has a philosophy of doing as little to his images as possible. It helps that his starting points are so good that adjusting black and white points with a little tonal adjustment does most of what he needs. Vibrance, clarity and sharpening adjustments are kept to a minimum while some work with graduated filters evens out exposure differences between skies and landscapes. It helps that all this can be done in Lightroom so that set me thinking about trying it out for size and the trick of using the backslash (\) key to switch between raw and processed views is a bonus granted by non-destructive editing. Others may have demonstrated the creation of composite imagery but simplicity is more like my way of working.

Confusingly, we now have the cloud-based Lightroom CC while the previous desktop counterpart is known as Lightroom Classic CC. Though the former may allow for easy dust spot removal among other things, it is the latter that I prefer because the idea of wholesale image library upload does not appeal to me for now and I already have other places for offsite image backup like Google Drive and Dropbox. The mobile app does look interesting since it allows to capture images on a such a device in Adobe’s raw image format DNG. Still, my workflow is set to be more Lightroom-based than it once was and I quite fancy what new technology offers, especially since Adobe is progressing its Sensai artificial intelligence engine. The fact that it has access to many images on its systems due to Lightroom CC and its own stock library (Adobe Stock, formerly Fotolia) must mean that it has plenty of data for training this AI engine.

A display of brand loyalty

Since 2007, my main camera has been a Pentax K10D DSLR and it has gone on many journeys with me. In fact, more than 15,000 images have been captured with it and I have classed it as an unfailing servant. The autofocus may not be the fastest but my subjects tend to be stationary: landscapes, architecture, flora and transport. Even any bus and train photos have included parked vehicles rather than moving ones so there never have been issues. The hint of underexposure in any photos always can be sorted because DNG files are what I create, with all the raw capture information that is possible to retain. In fact, it has been hard to justify buying another SLR because the K10D has done so well for me.

In recent months, I have looking at processed photos and asking myself if time has moved along for what is not far from being a six year old camera. At various times, I have been looking at higher members of the Pentax while wondering if an upgrade would be a good idea. First, there was the K7 and then the K5 before the K5 II got launched. Even though its predecessor is still to be found on sale, it was the newer model that became my choice.

Pentax K5-II

My move to Pentax in 2007 was a case of brand disloyalty since I had been a Canon user from when I acquired my first SLR, an EOS 300. Even now, I still have a Powershot G11 that finds itself slipped into a pocket on many a time. Nevertheless, I find that Canon images feel a little washed out prior to post processing and that hasn’t been the case with the K10D. In fact, I have been hearing good things about Nikon cameras delivering punchy results so one of them would be a contender were it not for how well the Pentax performed.

So, what has my new K5 II body gained me that I didn’t have before? For one thing, the autofocus is a major improvement on that in the K10D. It may not stop me persevering with manual focusing for most of the time but there are occasions the option of solid autofocus is good to have. Other advances include a 16.3 megapixel sensor with a much larger ISO range. The advances in sensor technology since when the K10D appeared may give me better quality photos and noise is something that my eyes may have begun to detect in K10D photos even at my usual ISO of 400.

There have been innovations that I don’t need too. Live View is something that I use heavily with the Powershot G11 because it has such a pitiful optical viewfinder. The K5 II has a very bright and sharp one so that function lays dormant, especially when I witnessed dodgy autofocus performance with it in use; manual focusing should be OK, I reckon. By default too, the screen stays on all the time and that’s a nuisance for an optical viewfinder user like me so I looked through the manual and the menus to switch off the thing. My brief flirtation with the image level display met an end for much the same reason though it’s good that it’s there. There is some horizon auto-correction available as a feature and this is left on to see what it offers since there have been a multitude of times when I needed to sort out crooked horizons caused by my handholding the camera.

The K5 II may have a 3″ screen on its back but it has done nothing to increase the size of the camera. If anything, it is smaller that the K10D and that usefully means that I am not on the lookout for a new camera holster. Not having a bigger body also means there is little change in how the much camera feels in the hand compared with the older one.

In many ways, the K5 II works very like the K10D once I took control over settings that didn’t suit me. Both have Shake Reduction in their camera bodies though the setting has been moved into the settings menu in the new camera when the older one had a separate switch on its body. Since I’d be inclined to leave it on all the time and prefer not to have it knocked off accidentally, this is not an issue.  Otherwise, many of the various switches are in the same places so it’s not that hard to find my way around them.

That’s not to say that there aren’t other changes like the addition of a lock to the mode dial but I have used Canon EOS camera bodies with that feature so I do not consider it a step backwards. The exposure compensation button has been moved to the top of the camera where I found it very easily and have been using perhaps more than on the K10D; it’s also something that I use on the G11 so the experimentation is being brought across to the K5 II now as well. Beside it, there’s a new ISO button so further experimentation can be attempted with that to see how it does.

If I have any criticism, it’s about the clutter of the menus on the K5 II. The long lists through you scrolled on the K10D have been replaced with a series of extra tabs so that on-screen scrolling is not needed as before. However, I reckon that this breaks up things too much and makes working through the settings look more foreboding to anyone who is not so technical in mindset. Nevertheless, settings such as the the type of file to capture are there and I continue to use RAW DNG files as is usual for me though JPEG and Pentax’s own RAW format also are there. For a while, I forgot to set the date, soon found out what I did and the situation was remedied. The same sort of thing applied to storing files in different folders according to the capture date. For my own reasons, I turned this off to put everything into a single PENTX directory to suit my own workflow. My latest discovery among the menus was the ability to add photographer and copyright holder information to the EXIF metadata attached to the image files created by the camera. With legislative proposals that dilute the automatic rights of copyright holders going through the U.K. parliament, this seems a very timely inclusion even if most would prefer that there was no change to copyright law.

Of course, the worth of any camera is in the images that it produces and I have been happy with what I have been getting so far. The bigger files mean less images fit on a memory card as before. Thankfully, SDHC card capacities have grown even if I don’t wish to machine gun my photography altogether. While out and about, I was surprised to apertures like F/14 and F/18 when I was more accustomed to a progression like F/11, F/13, F/16, F/19, F/22, etc. Most of those older values still are there though so there hasn’t been a complete break with convention. The same comment applies to shutter speeds where ones like 1/100 and 1/160 made there appearance where I might have expected just ones like 1/90, 1/125, 1/250 and so on. The extra possibilities, and that is what they are, do allow more flexibility I suppose and may even make it easier to make correct exposures though any judgement of correctness has to be in the eye of a photographer and not what a computer algorithm in a camera determines. For much of the time until now, I have stuck with an ISO of 400 apart from a little testing in a woodland area of an evening soon after the camera arrived.

Since the K5 II came my way a few months ago, I have been meaning to collect my thoughts on here and there has been a delay while I brought mu thinking to a sensible close.At one point, it felt like there was so much to say that the piece became larger in my mind that even what you have been reading now. After all, there are other things that I can adjust to see how the resulting images look and white balance is but one of these.The K10D isn’t beyond experimentation either, especially since I discovered that shake reduction was switched off and it has me asking if that lacking in quality that I mentioned earlier has another explanation. Of course, actually making use of my tripod would be another good suggestion so it’s safe to say that yet more photographic explorations await.

Photoshop CS2 workout

I am in the process of adding new photos to my online photo gallery at the moment and the exercise is giving my Photoshop CS2 trial version a good amount of use. And the experience also adding a few strings to my bow in graphics editing terms, something that is being helped along by the useful volume that is The Focal Easy Guide to Photoshop CS2.

The biggest change that has happened is that to my workflow. Previously, it took the following form:

  • Acquire image from scanner/camera
  • For a camera image, do some exposure compensation
  • Create copy of image in software’s own native file format (PSPIMAGE/PSP for Paint Shop Pro and PSD/PSB for Photoshop)
  • Clean up image with clone stamp tool: removes scanner artifacts or sensor dust from camera images; I really must get my EOS 10D cleaned (the forecast for the coming weekend is hardly brilliant to I might try sending it away).
  • Save new version of image following cleanup.
  • Reduce size of digital camera image to 600×400 and create new file.
  • Boost colours of original image with hue/saturation/lightness control; save new version of file.
  • Sharpen image and save another version.
  • For web images, save a new file with a descriptive name
  • Create JPEG version
  • Copy JPEG to Apache web server folders
  • Create thumbnail from original JPEG

The new workflow is based upon this:

  • Acquire image from scanner/camera
  • For a camera image, do some exposure compensation; there is a lot of pre-processing that you can do in Camera Raw
  • Create copy of image in software’s own native file format
  • Clean up image with clone stamp tool and create new file with _cleaned as its filename suffix. I tried the spot healing brush but didn’t seem to have that much success with it. Maybe I need to try again…
  • Add adjustment layer for level correction and save file with _level suffix in its name.
  • Add adjustment layer for curves correction
  • Add adjustment layer for boosting colours with hue/saturation/lightness control
  • Flatten layers and save new image with _flatten suffix in its name
  • Sharpen flattened image and create new version with _sharpened suffix in its name
  • For web images, save a new file with a descriptive name
  • Create JPEG versions in Apache web server folders; carry out any resizing using bi-cubic sharpening at this point.

There remain a few things that I could do to improve on this. For instance, separation of raw, intermediate and final photos by storing them in different directories is perhaps one possibility that I should consider. But there are other editing tricks that I have yet to use as well: merged and blended layers. Bi-cubic smoothing for expanding images is another possibility but it is one that requires a certain amount of caution. And I am sure that I will encounter others as I make my way through my reading.