ND Not Neutral

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Today’s Question: After reading a few comparative reviews on 10-stop neutral density (ND) filters, I purchased a Tiffen 77mm WW IR ND 3.0 as maybe the pick of the litter. Being new to 10-stop ND filters I tried it out taking two shots of the same white picket fence, one at 1/1000 of a second and one with the filter at 1 second. While, the histograms happily looked similar, the ND filter seems to have generated quite a large green cast.Any input would be appreciated.

Tim’s Quick Answer: There is certainly a degree of variability in terms of how neutral a neutral density filter really is, and this is especially true when it comes to very strong (such as ten-stop) ND filters. That said, I have had very good results with the top filters from Singh-Ray and B+W.

More Detail: As the strength (density) of a neutral density filter increases, it also becomes increasingly difficult to achieve a neutral result. Thus, for stronger ND filters I consider it especially important to spend the extra money for a top-quality filter. In my experience Singh-Ray filters generally produce the best results, but B+W filters also provide excellent results (generally at a slightly lower price point).

For relatively weak ND filters, it is not as challenging to achieve a neutral result, and so I think it is reasonable to opt for a less expensive alternative if that is your preference.

In any event, when using any ND filter there is some risk of color shift, and so I consider it critically important to take advantage of your camera’s RAW capture mode so you will have maximum flexibility in optimizing the color after the capture.

In most cases I find that the color shift caused by a neutral density filter is relatively linear and consistent, so correction during RAW processing is not generally problematic. My primary ten-stop ND filter is from B+W, and I find that this filter results in a slight to moderate warming of the photo that can easily be corrected with the Temperature and Tint controls during RAW processing.

Hiding Text Selection

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Today’s Question: When I add text to my photos, I often like to change the color of the text to a color found within the photo. But when the text is selected so I can change it, I find it very difficult to choose a color when the text appears with the opposite color. Is there a better way to choose a color than going back and forth between choosing a color, deselecting the text, then re-selecting the text when I decide the color wasn’t quite right?

Tim’s Quick Answer: You can simply choose View > Extras from the menu to hide (or reveal) the highlighting for the text while you’re working, or press Ctrl+H on Windows or Command+H on Macintosh. This will allow you to hide the highlighting so you can see a “real” preview of the changes you make to the text attributes.

More Detail: For Macintosh users it is worth noting that the first time you use the Command+H keyboard shortcut from within Photoshop you’ll be asked if you want to use this keyboard shortcut to hide Photoshop or to hide “Extras”. This is because the Macintosh operating system uses the Command+H keyboard shortcut for hiding the current application, while Photoshop includes this keyboard shortcut for hiding extras. Once you’ve chosen an option the first time you use this keyboard shortcut, you won’t have to confirm your choice in the future. And, of course, you can always use the menu command if you prefer.

Haze Reduction

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Today’s Question: Using Lightroom, is there a way to minimize “haze” in digital photographs?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, indeed! You can greatly reduce the appearance of haze in your photographs using the Clarity adjustment. This adjustment is found in both Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw. A positive value will reduce the appearance of haze, and a negative value will create a more ethereal look for the photo.

More Detail: The Clarity adjustment produces a result that is similar to sharpening, but with an effect that applies across a larger range of pixels. In other words, instead of enhancing contrast between individual pixels, the Clarity slider allows you to enhance contrast along larger transitions. The result is similar to sharpening, with an enhancement of overall detail and a reduction of a hazy appearance.

One of the great things about the Clarity adjustment is that there is very little risk of problematic artifacts in the photo. While you need to worry about the creation of visible halos when applying a strong effect with sharpening, there is little risk of such artifacts with the Clarity adjustment.

It is important to ensure you don’t produce an overly “crunchy” appearance by using an extremely high value for Clarity. But in many cases you can use a moderately high value for Clarity without introducing any problems for the photo, with the benefit of a significant reduction in the appearance of haze in the photo.

HDR Increments

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Today’s Question: Is there a benefit to using one-stop increments for the individual exposures of a high dynamic range image? I have been using this approach, but a fellow photographer recently told me that two-stop increments are just as good. What’s your opinion?

Tim’s Quick Answer: As far as I’m concerned there is no real benefit to capturing photos with one-stop exposure increments compared to two-stop increments when creating a high dynamic range (HDR) image.

More Detail: As long as you cover the full tonal range of the scene, with reasonable overlap between exposures, you will be able to achieve good results for the final HDR image. I almost always separate my individual exposures by two stops when capturing a sequence of images for an HDR image.

The only time I use a one-stop increment between captures is when the images are being captured with the camera mounted on a tripod, I have plenty of time to work without any concern of the scene changing, and I’m feeling especially detail-oriented.

When I have captured HDR sequences with a one-stop increment I have actually perform tests where I create two versions of the HDR image. The first image uses all of the images captured at one-stop increments, and the second image uses every other capture, resulting in two-stop increments. From a quality perspective the results have always been the same with both approaches.

What I consider to be more important than one- versus two-stop exposure increments is to cover the full range of tonal values in the scene. I also make a point of ensuring that the brightest exposure is captured so that the darkest areas of the scene are relatively bright, helping to ensure high detail and minimum noise in those areas.

For more information about my recommended approach to capturing high dynamic range (HDR) scenes, see the article “Optimal HDR Exposure” in the September 2012 issue of Pixology magazine. If you’re not a subscriber already, you can get more details (and free back issues) at http://www.pixologymag.com.

Aligning Cleanup Work

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Today’s Question: I’m finding it very difficult in Photoshop to clean up blemishes that appear along the edge of an object, in terms of being able to get the pixels I paint (with the Clone Stamp tool, for example) to properly align to the edge. Is there a way to position some sort of “ruler” along the edge to help with alignment? I’ve tried using the grid display, but that doesn’t really help very much.

Tim’s Quick Answer: There is actually a very simple solution to aligning your painting when working with the Clone Stamp tool or the Healing Brush tool in Photoshop. Simply turn on the “Show Overlay” checkbox on the Clone Source panel.

More Detail: The “Show Overlay” option is available for the Clone Stamp and Healing Brush tools, both of which allow you to select a source area within the image to be used for replacing a blemish in another area of the photo. When the “Show Overlay” option is turned on, after you have selected a source area by holding the Alt/Option key and clicking on that source, the mouse cursor will display a representation of the source pixels. You can then use that display to properly align the source pixels with the destination area before actually painting.

The “Show Overlay” checkbox is found on the Clone Source panel. To display the Clone Source panel you can either click the Clone Source button toward the left end of the Options bar after selecting the Clone Stamp tool or the Healing Brush tool, or you can choose Window > Clone Source from the menu.

Personally I find the “Show Overlay” option to be a bit of a distraction, so I prefer to keep it turned off until I actually need it. But when the alignment of pixels for cleanup work is critical, the “Show Overlay” option can be invaluable.

Crop to a Zoom Setting

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Today’s Question: I’ve noticed that sometimes when I’m working with an image in Photoshop CS5 and I magnify the image to say 25% or 50%, this provides what I consider to be an ideal cropping for the image. Is there some way that I can crop the image to what I’m seeing on my monitor? I’ve seen references to say a 50% crop or a 100% crop. How does one do this in Photoshop?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There isn’t a simple way to crop based on a zoom setting, in part because the zoom setting is inversely related to the percentage of the image that is visible. There are, of course, several approaches you could use to crop based on the visible portion of the image, though none of them are especially precise.

More Detail: To begin with, you could apply a crop based on the visible image, by manually adjusting the size of the crop box. With the image sized so you can see the area of the photo you want to keep, you can then choose the Crop tool from the toolbox and click-and-drag from one corner of the image to the opposite corner. Of course, because Photoshop will attempt to automatically scroll the image as you near the edge of the visible area, this can be a little tricky.

Instead, you might prefer to simply apply a manual crop to the image. You could constrain the aspect ratio to that of the original photo if you prefer. To do so, choose “Original Ratio” from the popup at the far left of the Options bar after selecting the Crop tool. You can then adjust the corners of the crop box and the original aspect ratio will be maintained.

By making sure that the “shield” area around the crop box is relatively dark, you can also get a stronger preview of the final effect while you’re working to refine the crop. If you click the “gear” icon on the options bar you can set the value for Opacity, using a value of 75% or more to make sure you are mostly only able to see the photo within the crop box without the distraction of the rest of the image.

While it can sometimes be tempting to crop based on a zoom setting where you can only see part of the image, I think it is also important to keep in mind that when you’re in this situation you aren’t able to see what portion of the image is hidden. Instead you might want to create a basic crop based on the portion of the image that is visible, and then zoom out and refine as needed.

Catalog and Photos Backup

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Today’s Question: Is there any difference (effective or otherwise) between: (1) creating a backup via “Export as Catalog” and (2) copying both the catalog and photograph files outside of Lightroom?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The only difference relates to the process itself, with the net result being the same provided you copy or export all photos and the related catalog files. This assumes, of course, that you ensure that you are copying the same photos (presumably all of them) and that you copy all files related to your Lightroom catalog.

More Detail: The only real issue here is to make sure that you are copying all photos and the full set of catalog files. Both approaches involve a slight risk of “user error”, and thus I encourage taking a methodical approach.

Exporting as a catalog ensures you are copying the full catalog along with the photos. This is the approach I generally recommend for backing up “everything” related to your photos. The key is to make sure you are actually exporting all photos within the catalog when you use this process.

To be sure you export all photos, start by choosing the “All Photographs” option in the Catalog section of the left panel in the Library module. Then make sure no filters are enabled, so all images in the catalog are actually available for selection. Then choose Edit > Select All from the menu to select all of the images, and then choose File > Export As Catalog from the menu. You can then specify where you want to copy the catalog and photos, making sure to turn on the “Export negative files” so that the photos themselves are copied as part of this process.

While you need to exercise a degree of caution when using the “Export as Catalog” option, in my mind there is even more risk of making a mistake when taking a “manual” approach to copying the catalog and your photos. To begin with, the catalog files and your photos might be stored in different locations. And, of course, there are other potential issues involved as well. But provided you copy all of the files associated with your Lightroom catalog and all of the photos referenced by your Lightroom catalog, the net result will be the same as using the “Export as Catalog” command.

Future Access to Photos

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Today’s Question: I just want to make sure I understand the difference between owning Lightroom 6 versus a Creative Cloud subscription. If I had only a Creative Cloud account and then sometime in the future let it terminate, would that mean that I (or my family) would lose immediate access to all of my photos and the Lightroom method of organization and star rating that I had set up in the library?

Tim’s Quick Answer: If you discontinue a Creative Cloud subscription that includes Lightroom, and you don’t purchase a standalone copy of Lightroom with a perpetual license, you would still retain access to your photos and the information about those photos.

More Detail: If you discontinue your Creative Cloud subscription and do not have a perpetual license to Lightroom as a standalone software application, you would not lose all access to Lightroom. Instead, your copy of Lightroom would become feature-limited. You would still retain access to the Library module, but not the Develop module, for example. By contrast, with a standalone “perpetual” license of Lightroom you can continue using the software without any additional payment for as long as you have a computer capable of running the software.

Perhaps more important, you would retain access to all of your photos. If you take a somewhat conservative approach to how you use Lightroom, you can make sure that your photos also include all of the key metadata (such as keywords and star ratings) even if you can no longer access Lightroom.

For example, you can turn on the option to automatically write metadata changes to the XMP sidecar for your original RAW captures using a setting on the Metadata tab of the Catalog Settings dialog in Lightroom. This dialog can be accessed from the Edit menu on Windows or the Lightroom menu on Macintosh.

For more details on my recommendations about maintaining a degree of independence from your Lightroom catalog, see my article “Declaring Catalog Independence” in the February 2013 issue of Pixology magazine. If you are a current subscriber to Pixology magazine and don’t have this issue, feel free to email Renee at renee@timgrey.com to request a copy. And if you choose to subscribe to Pixology magazine now, we’d be happy to include the back issues as part of your subscription. You can get more information about Pixology magazine at http://www.pixologymag.com.

Multiple Software Copies

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Today’s Question: I purchased the Creative Cloud version of Lightroom for my desktop computer. Can I install a second copy on my laptop so that I can work when I am traveling?

Tim’s Quick Answer: You can have the applications included in your Creative Cloud subscription active on up to two computers at a time. Thus, you can most certainly have Lightroom and Photoshop (and any other applications included in your subscription) installed on both a desktop and laptop computer.

More Detail: You can actually install the applications included in your Creative Cloud subscription on as many computers as you’d like. However, you can only have the software active on two computers at any given time. If you need to switch between computers (such as a second desktop computer versus a laptop you travel with) you will need to sign out of the Creative Cloud application on one computer before signing in on another computer.

It is worth noting, by the way, that working with Lightroom across multiple computers does introduce certain challenges, since Lightroom does not enable you to seamlessly synchronize a single catalog across multiple computers.

You could use a service such as DropBox to synchronize a Lightroom catalog across multiple computers, of course. You could also use a separate “traveling” catalog on your laptop when traveling, and then merge that catalog with your “master” catalog once you return home. But the bottom line is that working with Lightroom across multiple computers does introduce a challenge in terms of Lightroom not providing a synchronization feature for using your catalog across multiple computers.

Hand-Held HDR?

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Today’s Question: I heard someone make reference to shooting HDR images hand-held, which struck me as odd if not impossible. Can you actually get good results shooting multiple photos for an HDR without the use of a tripod?

Tim’s Quick Answer: While a tripod can be a valuable tool for capturing HDR images, it is possible to shoot hand-held. You can use automatic exposure bracketing combined with a two-second timer on your camera, holding very still as the images are captured. HDR software will then align the images, generally with excellent results.

More Detail: Given the choice, I would most certainly use a tripod when capturing the individual frames for an HDR photo. To begin with, using a tripod will ensure nearly perfect alignment of the individual frames (so that less work must be done by software after the capture). Perhaps more important, in many cases when capturing a sequence of photos for an HDR image, you will need to use a relatively long exposure for the image that maximizes shadow detail.

That said, I have captured many HDR image hand-held when the circumstances weren’t conducive to the use of a tripod (such as when I left my tripod in the hotel room when I headed out for some photography).

When shooting an HDR scene hand-held, I start with an initial test sequence to verify my exposure settings and determine how long the longest exposure time will need to be. I make sure I am comfortable hand-holding the camera for that longest exposure time, increasing the ISO setting as needed to achieve an adequately fast shutter speed.

I’ll then adjust the automatic exposure bracketing on my camera to cover an adequate range. In many cases, for example, you can produce good results with a camera that allows three exposures with the automatic exposure bracketing, using two stops between each exposure. If your camera allows more than three photos with automatic exposure bracketing you have even greater flexibility.

I then set the camera to the two-second timer, and frame up the scene. Once I have steadied myself, I trigger the shutter, and wait for the images to be captured. Because the automatic exposure bracketing mode captures the sequence of photos in rapid succession, there is generally minimal movement between frames, and just about any HDR software can properly align the resulting photos into the final HDR image.