Monitor Calibration Tools

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Today’s Question: After viewing your “Color Management for Photographers” video training course, I have decided that I need to calibrate both my monitor and printer. Which product do you currently recommend for this?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The display calibration tool I consider to represent excellent quality at a good price (and therefore the product I recommend most) is the ColorMunki Display from X-Rite, which you can find here: http://timgrey.me/munkidisplay

More Detail: There are, of course, a variet of options available. While I highly recommend (and do own) the ColorMunki Display, I actually use the X-Rite i1Display Pro package (http://timgrey.me/proi1display). This tool does offer a bit more control over the calibration process, but frankly it isn’t control that is really needed. In other words, I continue to use the i1Display Pro because I own it, but if I were buying a new monitor calibration tool today I would opt for the ColorMunki Display.

There are also a variety of other options available, including some very good tools from DataColor. That includes, for example, the Spyder5EXPRESS package, which you can find here: http://timgrey.me/spyder5x

The most important thing is that you use a package that includes a high-quality colorimeter. This is the device you actually place on the display to read the color and tonal values presented by the included software. Those values are then used to determine the compensation required for the display to be as accurate as possible, which forms the basis of the new display profile that will be created by the software you’re using to calibrate the display.

Blurring a Background

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Today’s Question: In many cases I would like to keep my foreground subject in focus while blurring the background. Sometimes my backgrounds have more detail than I’d like.  I’d like to use Gaussian Blur [in Photoshop], but if I make a selection of my foreground to protect it from the blur, for some reason the blur causes a “bleed” of color from the edges of my selection. Any suggestions on how to work around this?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The simple solution here is to use the Lens Blur filter (instead of the Gaussian Blur filter) in conjunction with a saved selection. The Lens Blur filter can use the saved selection as a mask, which will protect the areas you don’t want to blur and prevent the “bleed” effect you’re seeing with Gaussian Blur.

More Detail: Note that this technique was covered in detail in the article “”Step by Step: Blurring a Background”, which appeared in the March 2015 issue of Pixology magazine (http://www.pixologymag.com). The basic process involves working on a copy of the Background image layer, creating and saving a selection of the area you want to blur, and then applying the Lens Blur filter with the saved selection set as the mask for the filter.

In the days before the Lens Blur filter was available (it was introduced with Photoshop CS), it was possible to work around the limitation of the Gaussian Blur filter. This involved creating a selection of the area you wanted to blur, then applying a one-pixel Gaussian Blur to the selected area. You could then contract the selection by one pixel using the Contract command (Select > Modify > Contract) with the value for “Contract By” set to one pixel.

By repeating the process of blurring and contracting, by one pixel at a time for each, you are effectively building up the blur by an increasing amount as you move the selection outward from the edge of the area you’re protecting. You can automate this process with an action, but it is still far less efficient than using the Lens Blur filter combined with a saved selection.

Selections while Painting

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Today’s Question: When painting on a layer mask [in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements] where I am trying to completely protect an area, I sometimes use a selection tool to only select the area I want to work on. This permits me to brush with ease and not worry about touching the protected area. Is this a procedure you ever use?

Tim’s Quick Answer: This is certainly a very helpful technique, and something I do in some situations, especially when the area where I need to clean up a layer mask follows a straight line.

More Detail: In most cases, if I need to create a layer mask that includes a straight edge I will have used a selection as the starting point for the layer mask. Alternatively, I might create a selection after creating an initial layer mask, and use the Fill command (found on the Edit menu) to fill the selected area of the layer mask with white or black as needed.

In situations where I need to work with precision to fine-tune the edge of a layer mask, I’m generally using a very small brush and am zoomed in very closely on the area I need to work on. Creating a selection in these types of situations could certainly be helpful, but I typically find that when I’m working in this way I am focused on individual pixels and therefore don’t gain a significant benefit from having a selection.

But again, there are certainly many cases where using a selection while painting to refine a layer mask can be very helpful. When you have a selection active, you can only paint within the area defined by that selection, even if you are painting on a layer mask. In this way, selections can be very helpful for protecting areas of the layer mask you don’t want to modify, while refining areas that need some additional work.

Brush Hardness for Masking

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Today’s Question: In the “always versus never” department, do you always use a soft-edge brush when painting on a layer mask for a targeted adjustment in Photoshop? Do you never use a hard-edged brush?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I almost always use a soft-edged brush when painting on a layer mask for a targeted adjustment. In rare cases when I am working with a very small brush size with an area of the image that includes an abrupt transition, I will use a hard-edged brush (or a relative high setting for Hardness). But those situations are rare.

More Detail: When applying an adjustment that only affects one portion of an image, it is important to have a degree of transition between the areas being adjusted and the areas not being adjusted. This is especially important when the adjustment you’re applying is relatively strong.

When the adjustment is relatively subtle, there isn’t as much need for a transition between the areas being adjusted versus not. When there is an abrupt transition between the subject you’re adjusting versus the rest of the image, you don’t need as much transition. And when you’re working with a very small brush size, the transition doesn’t need to be as significant.

However, in most cases I will use at brush with at least a slightly soft edge. It is somewhat common for me to increase the Hardness value for the Brush tool above 0% when painting on a layer mask, but extremely rare for me to increase that Hardness value all the way to 100%.

Import to Existing Folder

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Today’s Question: In situations where I organize my photos into folders based on subject matter (such as street photography near my home, which I do frequently), I want to import photos into an existing folder using Lightroom. Is there an easy way to set the current folder I’m working with as the destination for importing, so I don’t have to type the folder name precisely in the “Into Subfolder” box when importing?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The simple solution here is to right-click on the folder you want to use as the destination for the images you’re going to import, and then choose “Import to this Folder” from the popup menu that appears. This will bring up the Import dialog, with the selected folder automatically set as the destination location for copying the photos you are importing.

More Detail: You can also specify a particular folder location as the destination for photos being imported, using the control at the top-right of the Import dialog. At the far top-right corner of the Import dialog you will find a summary of the current destination to which photos will be copied. That area is actually a popup, and you can click on that popup and then choose “Other Destination” from the popup menu to bring up a dialog that allows you to choose a specific destination folder. But in my mind it is much simpler to right-click on the desired target folder in the Folders list on the left panel in the Library module, and choose the “Import to this Folder” option from the popup menu.

Note that you can still create a sub-folder within the target folder by turning on the “Into Subfolder” checkbox toward the bottom-right of the Import dialog and entering a folder name there.

Blur Effect

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Today’s Question: Can you tell me how you got the blur effect in the New York skyline photo you shared on 500px yesterday? I’d like to give this a try.

Tim’s Quick Answer: The image you refer to was created using a “zoom blur” technique. Using a zoom lens you set exposure settings that will produce a slightly long exposure duration, and then you change the zoom setting during the exposure.

More Detail: If you didn’t see this particular image, you can find it (and follow me on 500px!) using this link:

https://500px.com/photo/110232149/new-york-skyline-zoom-blur-by-tim-grey

In this specific case the exposure time was 1/8th of a second, which is a relatively fast shutter speed for this type of effect. Generally I aim for a longer exposure duration, so I can adjust the zoom setting for the lens a little more slowly.

There are numerous variations you can take with this effect, but the basic ingredients are relatively straightforward. With the camera (preferably) mounted on a tripod, you establish the settings for the exposure and frame up the scene as desired.

If you want to have an effect where the image is entirely blurred, I recommend starting to adjust the zoom before triggering the exposure, and making sure you are still adjusting the zoom setting when the exposure finishes. It can take a little practice to get the timing right, but the sound of the shutter mechanism operating is very helpful for providing a sense of how fast you’ll need to adjust the zoom setting.

You can also create an effect that combines both a still image and the zoom effect by either starting the zoom adjustment after the exposure has already been started, or stopping your adjustment of the zoom a little before the exposure ends.

The key here is to have fun playing with different variations on technique, and see what you like. The results can be unique and interesting, and the process can be a lot of fun too!

Full-Resolution Export

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Today’s Question: Can you please list the steps for exporting full-sized images from Lightroom 6 to my desktop?

Tim’s Quick Answer: To create full-resolution copies of photos when using the Export feature in Lightroom, you want to either make sure the “Resize to Fit” checkbox is turned off, or that the Image Format option is set to “Original” (which will disable the “Resize to Fit” option).

More Detail: The Export dialog in Lightroom provides you with a variety of settings that enable you to customize the derivative images you are creating based on the specific purpose for the exported images.

If your aim is to create full-resolution copies that are really just copies of the original images, you can simply choose the “Original” option from the Image Format popup in the File Settings section of the Export dialog. This will cause the images to be copied in the same file format, with the same pixel dimensions as the original image. In the case of RAW captures, this will cause the original RAW capture to be copied to the destination location, including an XMP sidecar file that includes any adjustments you applied in the Develop module. Just keep in mind that those adjustment settings are only understood by Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw (via Adobe Bridge or Photoshop).

If you are creating images for purposes of printing, you actually will generally want to resize the exported images based on the final output size, and then save as a TIFF. If, on the other hand, you are simply creating a full-resolution archival copy of the image (for example) then you could export with the “Resize to Fit” checkbox turned off, and set the Image Format option to TIFF.

You can specify the location where you want the derivative images to be saved in the Export Location section at the top of the Export dialog. For example, you could choose the “Specific folder” option from the Export To popup, and then click the Choose button and set the desktop as the location. You can also turn on the “Put in Subfolder” checkbox and enter a name for the folder you want the images saved in on the desktop.

If you want to be able to easily make use of the same settings in the future, you can create a new export preset by clicking the Add button toward the bottom-right of the Export dialog. Once all settings are established as desired, you can click the Export button at the bottom-right of the Export dialog, and Lightroom will create the derivative images based on your settings.

HDR versus Tone Mapping

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Today’s Question: How would you differentiate HDR from tone mapping?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Tone-mapping is actually one of the steps involved in creating an HDR (high dynamic range) image, but it is also possible to use tone-mapping adjustments on a non-HDR capture to produce a creative effect for the photo. So in general I would say that HDR is a process for assembling multiple exposures into a single image, and tone-mapping is a process for applying adjustments to a photo, including for HDR images.

More Detail: And HDR image is a high dynamic range image that is generally assembled from multiple individual exposures. When you assemble multiple exposures into the initial HDR image, the result is generally a 32-bit per channel image (or sometimes a 16-bit floating point image. In both cases the result is an image that contains a much greater range of tonal values than can be presented in a “normal” 8-bit or 16-bit per channel image.

Once you’ve created the initial HDR image, the next step is to perform a tone-mapping adjustment. This step essentially takes the extreme range of tonal values in the initial HDR image and maps them to a “normal” range of tonal values, generally producing a 16-bit (or 8-bit) per channel image as the final result.

Often you will perform the tone-mapping adjustment as a step in the overall process of creating the final HDR image, but this step can also be performed separately. For example, you could send a set of photos to Photoshop in order to make use of HDR Pro to create a 32-bit per channel HDR image, and then you could use the Develop module in Lightroom to apply the tone-mapping to that HDR image.

It is also possible to apply the same tone-mapping adjustments to a non-HDR image. You won’t magically create a greater dynamic range in the image, but you can create the impression of greater dynamic range by darkening down the highlights and brightening up the shadows, for example.

So, if you want to create an image that contains the full range of tonal values in a scene that contains too great a range to be captured in a single image, you’ll need to produce a “true” HDR image by capturing multiple exposures at different exposure settings. Regardless of whether you’ve captured a “true” HDR image or a single capture, you can still generally apply tone-mapping to the image to apply various adjustments.

But again, it is important to keep in mind that the only way to expand the true dynamic range of an image is to assemble multiple captures into an HDR result. Just because you apply tone-mapping to a photo doesn’t mean you have automatically expanded the dynamic range represented in the image.

Don’t Delete?

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Today’s Question: I remember a long time ago I heard you say that you don’t delete photos. Is that still true (if it ever was)? It seems to me that deleting photos is necessary to avoid filling up a hard drive with photos I’ll never use.

Tim’s Quick Answer: It is true that I almost never delete photos, but I certainly don’t recommend that all photographers adopt this approach. It is an approach that I prefer to take, but that isn’t right for all photographers.

More Detail: There are certainly situations where I will delete photos. For example, if I have captured an image that is clearly bad (such as when I press the shutter by mistake while walking with my camera) I will often delete that photo at that time if I am not in a hurry and am not photographing a subject that requires my attention.

I will also sometimes delete photos after I’ve imported my images into my Lightroom catalog, such as when an accidental capture was made with the lens cap on.

But in most cases I don’t bother taking the time to delete my outtakes. Instead I identify my best images from a photo shoot (in my case using star ratings) and then filter my images by star rating so that at any given time I am only looking at my best photos.

This approach enables me to retain all of my outtakes as “just in case” images that can be used if I decide one of my favorites from a photo shoot exhibited a particular problem. It does cause me to have more photos in my catalog (about 300,000 and counting) than I really need, and to fill up my “photos” hard drive (currently 4 terabytes) faster than I otherwise would.

It is important to keep in mind that my decision not to generally delete photos is really a philosophical decision. I have simply found over the years that I prefer to keep (nearly) all photos I capture, and then filter those photos based on specific attributes so I’m only viewing a relatively small number of photos at any given time.

For those interested in exploring this topic further, and learning more details about why I don’t generally delete photos, you can read my article “To Delete or Not to Delete” in the February 2013 issue of Pixology magazine. If you’re a current subscriber and missed that issue, you can send an email to renee@timgrey.com and she will be happy to send you that back issue. And if you’re not already a Pixology subscriber, you can sign up now and request this back issue (and others) at no additional cost.

You can learn more about Pixology magazine here:

http://pixologymag.com/

Background Eraser

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Today’s Question: I saw a tutorial about the Background Eraser tool in Photoshop, and it seemed like a good tool for creating composite images. I’ve never heard you talk about this tool. Is this a tool you recommend for compositing?

Tim’s Quick Answer: No! I do not recommend the use of the Background Eraser tool in Photoshop, because it is a destructive tool (meaning it removes pixels permanently). Instead I recommend using a layer mask to achieve the same basic result.

More Detail: In theory you could use the Background Eraser tool on a copy of the Background image layer, in order to create a non-destructive workflow using a “destructive” tool. However, I consider a workflow employing a layer mask to be much more flexible.

The basic approach in this case involves creating a selection of the area you want to keep in the final image, so that the area to be removed (or in this case just hidden) is not selected.

For example, you could use the Quick Selection tool to select the area to keep, or select the area you don’t want to keep and then invert the selection by choosing Select > Inverse from the menu.

You can then select the layer you want to hide pixels from. If that layer is the Background layer, double-click on the thumbnail for the Background image layer on the Layers panel to convert this layer to a normal layer. Then click the “Add a Mask” button (the circle-inside-a-square icon) at the bottom of the layers panel to add a layer mask to the current layer based on the current selection.

You can then, of course, continue fine-tuning the layer mask for your final effect, such as by painting on the layer mask with black to block pixels or white to reveal pixels.