Cropping and Adjustments

Today’s Question: Should I make adjustments to an image before cropping, or crop first and then make adjustments?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In many respects it doesn’t really matter whether you crop before or after applying adjustments to an image. However, it is important to keep in mind that in either case you might cause yourself to make different decisions than if you had performed the steps in a different order. In other words, being thoughtful about the impact of your workflow order can be important in some cases.

More Detail: If you apply a crop early in your workflow, you might remove areas of the image that you might have otherwise kept if you applied your adjustments first. For example, there might be an area near the edge of the photo that you feel is distracting. In this case you might choose to crop the area out. If, however, you had applied adjustments first you may have found that the area actually adds to the image. Perhaps highlight details just needed to be toned down, for example. In this type of situation it would have been better to apply adjustments first.

On the other hand, applying adjustments before cropping the image might cause you to apply those adjustments in a way that is different than you would have after the crop. A good example would be adjustments for the black and white values in a photo. If the area of a photo you cropped out happens to include the brightest and/or darkest areas of the photo, that could have a significant impact on the settings you use for the black and white point adjustments. In this case it would have been better to save the cropping for after the adjustments.

Of course, because the challenge here can be a factor regardless of which order you apply adjustments versus a crop, it can be challenging to anticipate the best approach for a given image. This is one of the many great benefits of working with a non-destructive workflow. By applying adjustments and cropping with a non-destructive approach (in either Lightroom or Photoshop, for example) you preserve the ability to go back and forth among the various adjustments and the crop, so you can fine-tune each based on the impact of the other.

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Is JPEG Capture “Bad”?

Today’s Question: With the recent talk about Adobe not updating older versions of Camera Raw, among other issues such as slow updates for new RAW formats, how bad an idea would it be to shoot in JPEG instead of RAW so you don’t have to worry about software updates?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Shooting in JPEG (rather than RAW) most certainly streamlines certain elements of your workflow, but it also increases the risk of quality problems in your photos. However, if you ensure excellent exposure and accurate white balance in the camera, the only major issue to be concerned with is the potential for visible artifacts in the images caused by JPEG compression.

More Detail: With JPEG capture, there are certainly risks related to reduced flexibility for optimizing your photos. For example, a JPEG capture will always be an 8-bit per channel image, whereas a RAW capture can be processed to a 16-bit per channel image. This translates into a greater risk that gradations of tone and color will not be as smooth in JPEG images if you need to apply strong adjustments to those photos.

Of course, if the JPEG capture looks perfect (or close to perfect) right out of the camera, then you don’t have to worry about strong adjustments causing problems with image quality. So, if you’re confident in your ability to achieve accurate exposure and white balance settings, you don’t have to worry too much about image quality problems being introduced by strong adjustments.

That said, even with absolutely perfect photographic technique, you can’t avoid the issue of compression artifacts with JPEG captures. Even at the highest quality setting, JPEG captures will have compression applied to them in order to produce a smaller file size. That compression always has at least a slight negative impact on image quality for JPEG captures.

In some cases the compression artifacts may be very difficult to see. But they will be there. Frankly, the risk of having JPEG artifacts in photos is a critical factor from my perspective. In other words, while I am perfectly comfortable in my ability to capture images that require little or no adjustment (most of the time), I’m not willing to risk having compression artifacts visible in my photos.

The “insurance” provided by RAW captures when it comes to applying strong adjustments to tone and color is certainly appealing. And the potential for greater dynamic range and other benefits to overall image quality is appealing. But the real reason I avoid JPEG capture is the presence of JPEG compression artifacts in those captures.

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Custom Printer Profiles

Today’s Question: Last week you talked about printer profiles for various papers. When a profile is not available for the paper and printer you’re using, is it possible to build one yourself?

Tim’s Quick Answer: It is possible to build your own profiles if you have a tool that allows for this, such as the ColorMunki Photo from X-Rite (http://timgrey.me/photocolormunki). There are also a variety of companies and individuals offering custom printer profiling services if you prefer not to build your own profiles.

More Detail: Building a printer profile is relatively straightforward. You start by printing a specific image that includes a series of color swatches. You then “scan” the color swatches on that print using a spectrophotometer, which is a special device for measuring color precisely. The resulting information is used to build a custom profile for the specific printer, ink, and paper combination you used to print the image with the color swatches. That profile can then be used to produce highly accurate prints with that specific print setup.

You can also find various companies and individuals who will build profiles for you at a fixed fee (generally around $30 to $100 per profile). Many years ago I actually used to offer just such a service. Later I recommended a couple of service providers. However, the providers I recommended in the past no longer offer this service, and I prefer not to make recommendations for specific providers unless I have personally tested their services. However, an online search for “Custom Printer Profiles” will provide many options you can choose from.

And again, if you want to build your own printer profiles you can use a tool such as the ColorMunki Photo, which you can learn more about here:

http://timgrey.me/photocolormunki

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Printer Profile Availability

Today’s Question: Is there a general source for ICC printer/paper profiles where the manufacturers of the printer and paper are different? I have an Epson 3880 printer and bought some HP premium plus glossy photo paper.

Tim’s Quick Answer: As a general rule you can find profiles for most third-party photo papers, supporting a variety of different printer models, directly from the paper manufacturer. However, that generally excludes support for a combination of printer and paper from two different printer manufacturers.

More Detail: If, for example, you had purchased paper from a company that does not manufacture printers (such as Red River Paper, for example, available at http://www.redrivercatalog.com), you would generally find that profiles are available for most popular printer models.

However, in your case you have purchased paper from one printer manufacturer (HP) with the intent to print on that paper using a printer from another manufacturer (Epson). As you can imagine, HP would very much prefer that you only print on an HP printer, and so they have an incentive to provide ICC profiles for their papers only for use with their own printers.

In some cases you may get good results by using an ICC profile for a different paper that has similar properties to the paper you are actually printing with. However, more often than not you’ll find that this approach doesn’t provide the most accurate prints.

Therefore, if you want to use paper from one printer manufacturer to print with a printer from another manufacturer, you will generally want to skip the ICC profile altogether. Instead, you will need to choose the option to let the printer (rather than your software, such as Lightroom or Photoshop) manage the colors for the print.

You can then use the various settings in the printer properties dialog to make adjustments through a trial-and-error process to find settings that will produce an accurate print. Once you have those settings established, you can save them for use anytime you are using that specific printer and paper combination.

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PSD Compatibility

Today’s Question: An earlier question related to concerns about not being able to open PSD files in the future. It has been my plan to switch to Photoshop Elements when my Photoshop CS6 is no longer serviceable. That, of course, assumes that Elements can read the .psd format. Is that a valid assumption?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Photoshop Elements is able to open Photoshop PSD files, but with a couple of significant caveats. Layers for a 16-bit image would not be supported, and features not supported in Photoshop Elements would not be available if they are included in the PSD file created in Photoshop.

More Detail: If your primary concern is simply being able to access your PSD images without necessarily having access to the layers, you can open a flattened version of the PSD image to retain the 16-bit per channel version of the photo without layers. You can also convert the layered image to the 8-bit per channel mode to retain the layers. Both of these options will be presented if you open a 16-bit per channel PSD image with layers using Photoshop Elements.

If you choose to convert the bit depth to 8-bit per channel in order to retain the layers for the PSD image, it is important to keep in mind that features from Photoshop that are not available in Photoshop Elements will still not be available. You would simply see a placeholder layer, for example, with no ability to make changes.

So, for example, if your PSD file contains a Curves adjustment or a Vibrance adjustment, since those adjustment layers are not available in Photoshop Elements you would see a placeholder adjustment layer within Photoshop Elements, but you would not be able to make changes to the settings for those adjustment layers.

In other words, the bottom line is that Photoshop Elements can serve as a good “emergency” fallback way to access images that have been saved in the Photoshop PSD format, but there is a very good chance you will lose access to many of the adjustments and other features you took advantage of originally for the image in Photoshop.

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Adobe DNG Converter

Today’s Question: I’m surprised that you didn’t recommend converting to DNG so it could be processed as a RAW, and not an image format.

Tim’s Quick Answer: I’m surprised too. In yesterday’s email regarding updated support in Photoshop for new RAW capture formats, I should have mentioned that the Adobe DNG Converter (which is free) can be used to convert new RAW formats to the Adobe DNG format so those DNG files can, in turn, be processed with older versions of Adobe Camera Raw.

More Detail: In yesterday’s email I addressed the issue of Adobe Camera Raw (and Lightroom) not supporting new RAW capture formats. There are two elements to this. Even with the latest version of Adobe Camera Raw, support for new RAW capture formats takes a little bit of time (generally a month or so, but usually not more than about three months after the release of the new RAW capture format).

Furthermore, older versions of Photoshop (before the CS6 version) are no longer being updated at all with support for the newest RAW capture formats. That is why I mentioned that an upgrade to Photoshop CS6 or Photoshop CC would be necessary to ensure support for the latest RAW capture formats.

However, I should have mentioned that the Adobe DNG Converter provides a workaround for this issue. Just like Adobe Camera Raw, support for the latest RAW capture formats in Adobe Camera Raw requires a little bit of time. So taking this approach doesn’t provide support for a new RAW capture format any faster than you would get that support in the latest version of Adobe Camera Raw (or Lightroom).

However, with the Adobe DNG Converter you can continue to use an older version of Photoshop to process your newer RAW captures. The Adobe DNG Converter is a free download, and allows you to convert your RAW captures to the Adobe DNG format. You can then process those DNG files in an older version of Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom, even if the original RAW capture was in a newer format not supported by your software version.

You can download the free Adobe DNG Converter (and get more information about this tool) through the Adobe website here:

https://helpx.adobe.com/photoshop/digital-negative.html#downloads

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New RAW Format

Today’s Question: I just bought a new Nikon model, the D5500, only to discover that Photoshop/Adobe Camera RAW has not been updated to process that camera’s RAW files. What is the best procedure until Adobe’s software is updated: use Nikon’s software to process the RAW image, then convert it into a tiff to finish up in Photoshop? — or convert the image into a TIFF immediately and then open it with Photoshop’s Camera RAW? (I don’t know if it affects your answer, but I use Photoshop CS5.)

Tim’s Quick Answer: There are two issues here. You will need to upgrade your software if you want to be able to process RAW captures with your new camera using Photoshop. If you don’t want to upgrade, you’ll need to process your RAW captures with other software (such as Nikon’s software) before opening the images in Photoshop.

More Detail: Adobe is no longer updating Adobe Camera Raw for Photoshop CS5 or earlier. In order to get support for the latest camera RAW formats in Photoshop, you will therefore need to upgrade to Photoshop CS6 or to the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop. With the Photography Plan subscription you will gain access to both Photoshop CC and Lightroom, with ongoing updates to both during your subscription.

If you choose not to upgrade to a newer version of Photoshop, you will need to find a different workflow. And, of course, while you’re waiting for Adobe to update Adobe Camera Raw to support the new RAW capture format for your camera, you’ll need to adopt this sort of workaround solution in any event.

The basic approach here would involve using RAW-processing software to convert the RAW captures to a TIFF file, and then open that resulting TIFF image in Photoshop. My recommendation is to take advantage of the RAW-processing step to apply at least basic adjustments to optimize the resulting image. In general I favor the software provided by the camera manufacturer for RAW processing, though there are other options available as well.

This issue of “delayed” RAW support can be a little frustrating for Photoshop users, as it adds an extra step to your workflow. It is even more challenging for Lightroom users, however, because you aren’t able to work with the unsupported RAW captures within Lightroom. You therefore need to create derivative TIFF images for the short term, and then “revert” back to the original RAW captures once Lightroom is updated with support for your new camera.

Unfortunately, since camera manufacturers continue to update the RAW capture formats used by new cameras, this sort of workflow challenge is likely to remain with us for some time.

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Camera Raw Options

Today’s Question: Regarding Adobe Camera RAW and Photoshop’s Camera RAW filter — what is the difference? I usually open Photoshop, then select Browse in Bridge. When I then open a RAW image, which processor am I using? When I open an unlayered TIFF image using that procedure, a Camera RAW dialog box automatically appears — is that Adobe’s Camera RAW or Photoshop’s filter?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The basic difference here is one of timing. Adobe Camera Raw is a tool for processing RAW captures, though it is also able to process TIFF and JPEG images with the same adjustments. The Camera Raw Filter in Photoshop provides the same set of adjustments, but for images that have already been opened in Photoshop (and therefore have already been converted from the original RAW capture format if applicable).

More Detail: The Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) feature in Photoshop was originally a plug-in that was added on so that RAW capture formats could be converted to a proper pixel-based image format using Photoshop. Prior to the release of ACR, it was necessary to process your RAW captures using other software before working on your images in Photoshop.

More recently, Adobe updated ACR to enable it to open and process TIFF and JPEG images, in addition to RAW captures. Obviously if you process a TIFF or JPEG image in ACR you aren’t achieving the benefits of working with a RAW capture, but this support provided some benefits for a streamlined workflow. In your case this option is enabled, which is why your TIFF image is being opened via Adobe Camera Raw upon opening in Photoshop, even though ACR is not actually required for opening a TIFF image.

Even more recently, Photoshop CC was updated to include a Camera Raw Filter, which features all of the adjustments available in ACR, which can be applied to any image you can open in Photoshop. This primarily provides a workflow advantage for those who are more comfortable with the ACR adjustments compared to other options in Photoshop. It also provides a benefit in terms of improved adjustment options, such as noise reduction that is better than the other filters included in Photoshop.

So, again, the core difference here is that RAW captures would need to be processed by ACR upon opening the image in Photoshop, while the Camera Raw Filter can be used with any image already opened in Photoshop.

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Expose to the Right

Today’s Question: Recently there have been articles and books about exposing raw captures far to the right in order to get better shadow details. Some authors suggest exposing so far to the right that the initial unprocessed raw file looks milky white with blown out highlights that are then brought back into proper exposure using the exposure slider in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom. Can you comment on this practice and what types of images might benefit from “extreme” exposure to the right then “recovery” in the raw converter?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The recommendation to “expose to the right” does have merit. By exposing an image as brightly as possible without losing detail in the brightest highlights, you are maximizing information and minimizing noise. There is a potential disadvantage to workflow efficiency, but you are also maximizing potential detail and image quality with this approach.

More Detail: While there is a potential benefit to exposing to the right, this approach shouldn’t be perceived as a cure for all potential issues related to image quality. My personal approach is to aim for an exposure where the right end of the histogram display reaches into the right-most section of the display (which is generally divided into four or five sections). But if I’m photographing a scene that has a very low dynamic range, I don’t apply an extreme exposure compensation because none of the tonal values will reach into the darkest range of the histogram in the first place.

Achieving the brightest exposure possible won’t have a dramatic impact on image quality under normal circumstances, where you have achieved a good exposure and you won’t need to brighten the shadow areas significantly. If you are already shooting at the minimum ISO setting for your camera, there is good light illuminating the scene, and you have established a good exposure that will require minimal adjustment after the capture, you can expect very good quality.

Therefore, when all is said and done, I treat the “expose to the right” concept as one that represents a good general habit to be in. I tend toward brighter exposures, but don’t stress about using this approach under all circumstances for every photo I capture.

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Removing Moiré

Today’s Question: If a photographer opts to purchase a camera that is not equipped with a Low Pass Filter, is there a way to remove moire effects in Photoshop if they should appear in some images?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, there are several options available when it comes to removing moiré patterns in Photoshop. The first approach would be to avoid them in the first place, of course, by adjusting focal length or other capture settings. But you can also reduce the appearance of moiré patterns using Adobe Camera Raw, the Camera Raw filter, or a simple blur applied selectively to the image.

More Detail: To begin with, you can generally avoid moiré patterns in the first place if you are aware of their potential. Simply by changing the focal length of the lens (if you are using a zoom lens), or changing the lens aperture, you can eliminate the interference patterns that cause moiré patterns. If you’re using a camera without a low pass filter you will obviously be aware of the potential risk, but you also need to evaluate the scene to determine whether there is fine texture that may lead to moiré patterns. Reviewing the images at a relatively high magnification on the camera’s LCD display will allow you to determine if the current camera settings are causing moiré patterns, and you can take steps to adjust your capture settings to avoid those patterns.

If you are processing a RAW capture that contains moiré patterns, you can use Adobe Camera Raw (or by extension, Lightroom’s Develop module) to reduce the appearance of these patterns. Simply select the Adjustment Brush, making sure that all of the adjustments are at their default values. Then increase the value for Moire Reduction to the maximum value of 100, and paint on the image in the area where the moiré patterns appear. You can then reduce the value for Moire Reduction to the minimum level required to remove the interference patterns.

The same adjustments referenced above can also be found in the Camera Raw filter if you are using Photoshop CC for a non-RAW capture (or a RAW capture that had already been processed). Simply choose Filter > Camera Raw Filter from the menu, and use the same controls referenced above.

If you are using an older version of Photoshop without the benefit of the Adjustment Brush in Adobe Camera Raw (or the Camera Raw Filter), you can also apply a selective blur to the image. For example, you can create a copy of the Background image layer by dragging the thumbnail for that layer to the Create New Layer button (the blank sheet of paper icon) at the bottom of the Layers panel. Then choose Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, and apply just as much blur as is needed to remove the appearance of the moiré patterns.

Next, add an inverted layer mask to the Background Copy layer you created by holding the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on Macintosh while clicking the Add Layer Mask button (the circle-inside-a-square icon) at the bottom of the Layers panel. This will add a layer mask that is filled with black, so the blurred version of the image will disappear. Then use the Brush tool with a soft-edged brush to paint with white into the areas where the moiré patterns appear, so that the blur effect only applies to those areas of the image.

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