Square Brush in Elements

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Today’s Question: One of the articles in your most recent issue of Pixology details the procedure for changing the shape of a brush when used with certain tools such as the healing brush tool, etc. I often have use for a square rather than round shape brush when editing an image. My question is this: Can this adjustment be made in Photoshop Elements, on is it available only in Photoshop. And, if so, what is the appropriate procedure?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, you can access a crisp square brush shape in Photoshop Elements by using the Pencil tool in conjunction with one of the selections among the Square Brushes option within the brush settings.

More Detail: The Pencil tool (rather than the Brush tool) is the key if you need a consistently crisp edge for the brush. You can think of the Pencil tool as essentially being the Brush tool with a Hardness setting that is always at 100%.

Once you’ve selected the Pencil tool in Photoshop Elements, make sure the Tool Options panel is displayed. You can simply click the “Tool Options” button along the bottom toolbar to bring that panel up. Then click the popup below the “Pencil” label at the left side of the Tool Options panel. At the top of the popup menu that appears, you can click the Brush popup to display a list of brush shape options. Select “Square Brushes” from that list, and you can then choose from the square brush shapes at various sizes.

You can, of course, then adjust the Size slider as needed. With one of the Square Brushes options for the Pencil tool the result will always be a square shape with a crisp (non-feathered) edge.

Strong Color Correction

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Today’s Question: What is the best way to remove yellow from photos when the photographer did not use a flash?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There are two approaches that will likely help here. You can apply a strong shift with a Temperature adjustment, or use a technique for removing a strong color cast in Photoshop.

More Detail: The first approach would be the simpler. Very often in this type of situation simply shifting the Temperature slider significantly toward blue (away from yellow) will provide a good solution. This is possible even if the photo was not a RAW capture. For example, you could use the Camera Raw Filter in Photoshop, even with a JPEG capture. The same adjustment is also available in Lightroom and other software tools.

If the color cast is too strong for a simple Temperature adjustment, then I’d employ a helpful technique in Photoshop. Start by dragging the thumbnail for the Background image layer to the “Create a New Layer” button (the blank sheet of paper icon) at the bottom of the Layers panel.

Next, choose Filter > Blur > Average from the menu. This will process the Background Copy layer so that it contains only pixels of a single color, representing the average color for the full image. That is essentially the color of your strong color cast. You need the opposite color though, so choose Image > Adjustments > Invert from the menu to invert the color to the opposite value.

Next, on the Layers panel, click the popup at the top-left of the panel (the default value is “Normal”) and choose “Color” from that popup. This will set the blend mode for the Background Copy layer to Color, which will cause it to alter only the color (but not the tone and texture) of the underlying image.

Finally, to reduce the strength of the new color cast, reduce the Opacity setting for the Background Copy layer using the control at the top-right of the Layers panel. Start at a value of about 50%, and fine-tune from there for the best color.

With either of the above adjustments you may need to enhance overall saturation and contrast to compensate for other issues in the image. But the strong color cast should be something that can be resolved with one of the above approaches.

Screen Capture Time-Lapse

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Today’s Question: Your answer about time-lapse software got me thinking about a project I’ve had on my list for a while. I’d like to record a time-lapse video of me working an image from start to finish. Can you recommend an approach for this?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I suggest using simple screen capture software, configuring the software for a reduced frame rate. You can then use virtually any video editing software you’d like to adjust the playback speed of the video to create the time-lapse result.

More Detail: The first step here is to capture your screen video, showing the editing process you have planned. I prefer iShowU HD (https://www.shinywhitebox.com/ishowu) for screen captures on Macintosh computers, and Camtasia (https://www.techsmith.com/camtasia.html) for Windows computers. These tools (or other screen capture software) enable you to specify a frame rate. You can use a relatively low frame rate (perhaps even one frame per second) to reduce the overall file size of the video you’re recording.

Regardless of the frame rate you use for capturing the initial screen capture video, you can then use video editing software to increase the playback speed for the video you recorded. The specific approach here will depend on the video editing software you’re using, but for example in Adobe Premiere Elements you can use the Time Stretch feature and in Premiere Pro you can adjust the “Speed/Duration” setting for a video clip to speed up playback.

The result can then be rendered to produce a new video at the desired speed, compressing the time you’re presenting in the video. For example, if you speed up by a factor of thirty, you can present a one-frame-per-second capture at an output rate of thirty frames per second. In other words, a process that took you thirty minutes to perform can be presented in a time-lapse video that is only one minute long.

Time-Lapse Software

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Today’s Question: I’ve been doing a lot of nighttime shooting of the northern lights, and star trails. With the northern lights, I’ve been looking for a software program that will allow me to make a time-lapse video of 300-400 images.  Any suggestions??

Tim’s Quick Answer: My preference is to use video editing software to assemble time-lapse videos. This provides the additional benefit of being able to apply additional adjustments and effects to your final video. I use Adobe Premiere Pro for this purpose, but you could also employ Adobe Premiere Elements (http://amzn.to/2ovHnIH) if you prefer a more basic tool.

More Detail: With video editing software you can include still images, and specify the duration for each still. For example, if you specify that each still should be displayed for one frame, then for every thirty photos you’ve captured you’ll end up with one second of time-lapse video.

In Premiere Elements you can specify a default number of frames for each still image within the Preferences dialog. You can then import all of your still photos into your project, select them all, and add them to the timeline.

Another approach you could use in Premiere Elements would be to use the “Time Stretch” feature. With this approach you don’t need to specify a still image duration before you get started, letting the software fine-tune that setting by applying the “Time Stretch”.

You can find Premiere Elements (download version for Macintosh) here:

http://amzn.to/2ovHnIH

Note that Premiere Elements is also available for Windows, and you can also opt to purchase the software on DVD if you prefer.

Copyright Shown in Photoshop

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Today’s Question: In some of your videos covering Photoshop I noticed that the filename for the image includes a copyright symbol in front of it. How do you get that copyright symbol to show up?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The copyright symbol displayed in front of the filename for an image you’ve opened in Photoshop appears automatically if the Copyright Status in metadata is set to “Copyrighted” rather than “Unknown” or “Public Domain”.

More Detail: It is important to note that the Copyright Status field that is available within Adobe applications (including Photoshop, Bridge, and Lightroom) is an Adobe-specific feature. In other words, other software tools for managing photographic images may not support this metadata field.

That said, if you’re using Adobe software products to manage your photos, you can apply a “Copyrighted” status to your photos. That, in turn, will cause the copyright symbol to appear within Photoshop if the image is opened. This might not exactly prevent someone from using a copy of your photo without permission, but it couldn’t hurt to have this additional information in Metadata.

In Lightroom you can find the Copyright Status field by choosing the Default set of metadata fields from the header of the Metadata section of the right panel in the Library module. In Adobe Bridge or Photoshop you can find the Copyright Status field by for the selected image by choosing File > File Info from the menu.

While this particular field is specific to Adobe software products, I do feel it is worth updating the Copyright Status to “Copyrighted” for all of your photos. It is worth pointing out, by the way, that an image is technically copyrighted by you the moment you capture the photo. So even if you don’t submit your images to the Library of Congress to register your copyright, you can still apply the “Copyrighted” status to the image.

Of course, if you do submit images to the Library of Congress to register your copyright, then you may want to use the Copyright Status metadata field to identify images that have been submitted for copyright registration versus those that have not yet been submitted.

Facebook and Copyright

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Today’s Question: What is the situation with Facebook and ownership of a photographer’s images? I don’t post many photos but am still concerned. I’m also a member of a photographer’s collective and many of our members post frequently.

Tim’s Quick Answer: In my opinion (as a non-lawyer with no formal legal education) the “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” included as part of Facebook’s Terms of Use make it very clear that you retain the copyright to all images you post to Facebook. Obviously there is some concern that others may steal copies of photos you share, but from a legal perspective you retain ownership of your photos.

More Detail: I fully recognize that many photographers are concerned about the terms of use that apply to the photos they share in a variety of ways. For example, it is somewhat widely known among photographers that some photo contests include terms of use that provide unlimited and perpetual use of any photos you submit, even if you never win any prize in the contest.

In my opinion, however, Facebook has drafted (and updated) their Terms of Use in a way that respects the rights of photographers. To begin with, the “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” makes it clear to me that when you post any content to Facebook, you retain any legal copyright over that content. You are simply providing a license to Facebook so they can actually host your content and make it available on the Facebook platform.

For example, section 2 of the “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” begins with this text:

“You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings.”

Furthermore, you have control over the privacy settings for any content you share on Facebook. For example, you can choose to make the post public so anyone on Facebook can see it, or to share it only with friends you are connected with on Facebook.

Personally, I view the ability to share my photos in this way as providing some degree of benefit to me. For example, when I share photos during one of my field photography workshops, in reply I often receive inquiries from photographers who want to join me for a future workshop. To me the potential benefits outweigh the risks of image piracy, but it is up to each photographer to determine what they are comfortable with.

But again, when it comes to the Terms of Service for Facebook, I don’t find anything that causes me to be alarmed, or that would cause me to be uncomfortable sharing my photos through Facebook.

If you’d like to read the full contents of the Facebook “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” by following this link:

https://www.facebook.com/legal/terms

HDR Bracket Settings

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Today’s Question: What do you recommend for the number of brackets for HDR [high dynamic range] capture and the f stop interval?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The real answer here depends in large part on the specific lighting situation for the scene you’re photographing. But in most “typical” HDR scenarios you are generally safe with about five exposures separated by two stops each, perhaps using seven exposures to provide a little extra “insurance”.

More Detail: When it comes to an HDR capture versus a single exposure, it isn’t as simple as needing to bracket versus not. In some cases you might be able to accomplish your goals for a scene by simply adding one additional exposure that is one stop brighter than your initial exposure. In other cases you may need to capture many more exposures to cover the full range of tonal values present in the scene you are photographing.

Generally speaking, I find that the types of situations most photographers face when HDR becomes necessary can be captured with a total of three exposures separated by two stops each. Most cameras enable you to bracket a total of three exposures, so this is an approach just about any photographer can take if they prefer to use automatic exposure bracketing (rather than manually adjusting the exposure for each frame).

Many cameras now support five, seven, or nine exposures for automatic exposure bracketing. This provides you with greater latitude for two issues. First, it helps ensure you’ll be able to cover the full range of exposure values for a wider variety of scenarios. Second, it provides you with a little insurance for situations where you needed to apply some exposure compensation above and beyond the exposure bracketing.

For example, a basic automatic exposure bracketing situation might involve a shot at a minus two-stop exposure, a shot at an even exposure, and a shot at a plus two-stop exposure based on a meter reading for the scene. But a given situation might actually require a minus three-stop exposure, a minus one-stop exposure, and a plus one-stop exposure in order to properly cover the range of exposure values within the scene. Having a greater number of exposures provides some additional latitude to cover this type of situation.

If you’re using two-stop exposure increments (which is what I recommend using) for HDR, chances are that nine exposures will be more than you need the vast majority of the time, and even seven exposures are probably more than you’ll need much of the time. But I would rather have too many exposure options than not enough, so I tend to favor using seven exposures separated by two stops each.

As for the separation between exposures, there is no need to use one-stop increments for HDR capture. Two stops will provide all of the overlap that HDR software needs to assemble an excellent result.

DNG versus TIFF

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Today’s Question: Is Adobe DNG better than TIFF? I saw an advertisement that indicated that the default file format when taking pictures is typically JPG or TIFF, both of which have limited editing options. It went on to explain that Adobe DNG was an uncompressed raw file format with higher quality image than a JPG or TIFF and greater editing capabilities.

Tim’s Quick Answer: In the context of capturing photos, I would say that Adobe DNG is indeed somewhat better than TIFF. DNG is also most certainly better than JPEG in terms of overall image quality and flexibility. In general I would say that DNG is on par with proprietary RAW capture formats in terms of image quality and post-processing flexibility.

More Detail: In a general way you can think of the Adobe DNG (Digital Negative) file format as being a variation on a proprietary RAW capture, minus the “proprietary” element. That is because the Adobe DNG format is openly documented by Adobe, which is aimed at providing a degree of peace of mind for photographers.

A variety of cameras now offer the Adobe DNG format as a capture option within the camera. Many cameras also offer proprietary RAW capture formats. Virtually all cameras support JPEG capture, and some cameras support the TIFF file format for capture (though this is becoming a rare option to find in a camera).

I would say that if your camera offers a RAW or DNG capture option, that is always your best choice in terms of potential image quality and flexibility in post-processing. The TIFF file format will generally provide very good image quality, but with a file size that is about three times (or more) larger than a RAW or DNG capture file without as much flexibility in post-processing. In other words, as a general rule I never recommend using the TIFF capture option in any camera that supports this option.

The JPEG capture option will provide the lowest quality with the least amount of flexibility in post-processing. That doesn’t automatically make JPEG capture a bad thing, but it certainly represents a compromise.

So in general I would say that I do agree with the statements included as part of today’s question. I would just hasten to add that if there is a proprietary RAW capture format available in your camera that will provide the same potential benefits as an Adobe DNG capture in terms of capture quality and post-processing flexibility.

Some photographers feel more comfortable using the Adobe DNG format compared to proprietary RAW capture formats, because the former is openly documented. Other photographers prefer to employ the proprietary RAW capture format, such as to take advantage of special features that are only available with that capture option combined with the software provided by the camera manufacturer for processing the images.

The point is that in terms of image quality and processing flexibility the DNG and proprietary RAW capture options are quite similar, with a handful of nuanced decisions that can be made based on the specific needs and preferences of each photographer.

Exporting Photo with XMP

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Today’s Question: Is it possible to export a picture [from Lightroom] along with an XMP sidecar file, on demand, such as when I need to send a picture to a magazine?

Tim’s Quick Answer: If your photo is a proprietary RAW capture you can export a copy of the original capture file along with an XMP sidecar file that contains most of the metadata for the image (as well as Lightroom adjustment settings from the Develop module). However, it is probably best to use a different format (such as TIFF or JPEG) for this purpose, so that the adjustments you’ve applied will be included as part of the pixel values. You can also choose which metadata to include within that exported copy of your master image.

More Detail: When you export a photo from Lightroom you have the choice of which file format to use for the resulting file. You also have some choices related to which metadata you’d like to include in the resulting image. And of course there are other settings to choose from as part of the Export process.

As a general rule I recommend using a TIFF (or JPEG) image when exporting a copy of a photo for publication in some form, depending of course on the specific requirements of the output process being used for the photos. Among other things, that will ensure that you are providing an image file that has all of your adjustments applied to it, and the metadata you’d like to include saved within that image file.

If you send a copy of the original RAW capture, along with the XMP sidecar file, then you are depending on the recipient of those files to have Lightroom (or Adobe Camera Raw) in order to view or process your image with your adjustments applied to it. If for any reason you ever need to use this approach, you can simply choose the “Original” from the Image Format popup in the File Settings section of the Export dialog. An XMP file will be created along with a copy of the original RAW capture as part of the export process.

If you choose an option other than “Original”, such as “TIFF” or “JPEG”, then an XMP file will not be created as part of the process. Instead, any applicable metadata will be stored within the image file that is created as part of this export process. You can choose from several options using the Include popup in the Metadata section of the Export dialog. For example, if you want to minimize the amount of metadata information included within the image file you might choose the “Copyright & Contact Info Only” option from this popup.

The key is to understand what type of file is best suited for your particular needs. For the example of a magazine submission mentioned in today’s question, a TIFF or JPEG file will generally be preferred. But when sending files to others for any purpose it is always important to understand their specific requirements, taking into account what you’re comfortable sharing in terms of file types, overall image size, and metadata details.

External Drive Speed

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Today’s Question: You recommended only using a very fast hard drive if you are going to store your Lightroom catalog on an external drive. But how do you determine if a particular hard drive is fast?

Tim’s Quick Answer: You want to ignore the maximum theoretical speed you might see in the promotional materials for a given hard drive, and instead try to determine the sustained data transfer rate the drive is actually capable of, the maximum speed of the interface used to connect the drive to your computer, and the speed capabilities of your computer with regard to a connected hard drive. In general I would suggest choosing an SSD (solid state drive) device that connects with the fastest data connection available on your computer.

More Detail: Unfortunately, it isn’t generally very easy to determine the actually data transfer speed capabilities of a hard drive. The best solution (which isn’t very practical) would be to perform actual data transfer tests on a wide range of hard drives. However, such tests aren’t widely performed and published in a way that would make it easy to choose a particular drive.

In some cases, the speed rating I see on packaging and in advertisements for hard drives reflects the theoretical maximum speed of the interface connecting the drive to the computer. In the case of USB 3.0, for example, you might see an indication that the drive supports up to 600 MB per second, when in fact a more realistic expectation for an external hard drive connected via USB 3.0 would be on the order of 100 to 200 MB per second.

This misleading advertising is (thankfully) not as common as it used to be. Instead most hard drive manufacturers seem to be simply leaving sustained transfer rates out of the specifications, and instead only telling you that the drive supports, for example, USB 3.0. To me this is just a clever way of leading you to believe that the drive will transfer data as fast as USB 3.0 will allow, which isn’t true in most cases.

When you can find an indication of the sustained data transfer speed (such as through online tests and reviews), that can be very helpful information. Otherwise I would opt for an SSD (solid state drive) storage device over a “traditional” hard drive with spinning platters, and I would opt for the fastest data connection you are able to use with your computer. With a traditional hard drive there is also a general correlation between the speed at which the platters spin (such as 5400 or 7200 rpm), so when you have the choice I would opt for the faster rotational speed.

But ultimately, even with the same specifications, a variety of different hard drives will be capable of transferring data at different rates. You can help tip the odds in your favor by opting for the fastest connection your computer supports and opting for an SSD drive. But whenever possible it is best to see actual performance testing results so you have a better sense of the performance you can expect.