About This Digital iDarkroom Primer

This Primer on the new digital darkroom is provided on this blog to arm new DSLR photographers with the fundamental knowledge needed to become familiar with the evolving digital technologies and be able to apply them to their emerging interest in the photographic art. To read this Primer in logical order, please begin with the oldest post and read to the most current. Click HERE for Table of Contents.

Along the way, you'll find, photography tips, photography techniques and an ample dose of solid photo basics to help you feel comfortable in your digital darkroom.

A sister site, Hub's Camera, covers the fundamental mechanics of using your new DSLR camera. Then visit Hub's Photography Tips for basic but essential tips on all things photographic. Links to both of these sites can be found in the right-hand column of this page. Happy shooting!

"Hub's iDarkroom" is a non-commercial, educational service of Hubbard Camera LLC.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Part 20 - Cropping Digital Images

Without a doubt, the first and most frequently used function in any digital imaging program is the Cropping Tool. Cropping has been basic to photography since its beginning.

Cropping determines the dimensions and boundaries of the final image. In addition, cropping ultimately determines the artistic and aesthetic placement of the central focus of any image.

Cropping occurs twice during the creation of a photograph:
  • The first crop is performed in the camera as the photographer composes the picture in the viewfinder. The photographer decides at this time the limits of the scene that will be contained within the 4 borders of the picture as well as the elements (objects) that will be captured.
  • The second crop takes place in the iDarkroom. Digital imaging programs contain cropping tools that allow the photographer to perform a final technical and artistic adjustment to define the dimensions and element contents of the final image.
A fundamental rule in photography is to crop in the camera. Photographers have long been advised to compose the image in the viewfinder as it is to appear in the final print. There are sound reasons for making this recommendation.
  • Aesthetically, cropping the image in the camera forces the serious photographer to focus on the rules of good composition and to mentally visualize the final image.
  • Technically, cropping in the camera produces a digital file that requires less cropping in the iDarkroom which interprets to sharper final prints. Excessive digital cropping and/or enlarging reduces the resolution and, consequently, the quality of the final photograph.
In the real world, photographers walk a fine line when they consider cropping. Yes, professional photographers will "pre-visualize" the final image and crop accordingly as they compose the picture in the field or studio. However, to provide some margin of error, most professional photographers will leave a small excess of the original scene on each of the four sides of the viewfinder image. The final cropping almost always takes place in the iDarkroom.

Because of the importance of cropping to photography, virtually every digital imaging program offers tools to perform this function. I will use cropping examples with Adobe's Lightroom and Photoshop. Most imaging programs will offer a tool with similar functionality.

Original picture as shot without iDarkroom cropping.

This is my sample picture for walking through Lightroom and Photoshop's cropping functions. To match the pre-visualized image of this outstanding photographer (me), some cropping refinement is required.

The area to be eliminated (or "cropped out") is shown in light brown.

Shown above is the same image with the areas to be eliminated shaded in brown. Notice: I am not concerned about the size of the final image at this stage. I am only concerned with the contents of the image appearing within the borders of the final print.

Cropping Screen with the Lightroom's Develop Module

Lightroom's cropping tool (red box above) is available from the program's Develop Module. Clicking on this tool reveals the window shown above. A free-hand cropping icon (shown in green) is available for a click-and-drag cropping. Or, handles that appear on each corner and the center of each side can be clicked-and-dragged to a new location. (Normally, I use the six handles to define the cropped area.)

An additional convenience provided in Lightroom is the inclusion of "rule of thirds" indicators. Faint grid lines that divide the picture into thirds horizontally and vertically are overlaid on the picture. The four intersections of these grid lines (shown in blue) are the "rule of thirds" points for subject placement. The locations of these points change dynamically as the crop (border lines) is moved -- nice touch for beginning and advanced photographers alike.

Lightroom's Develop Module with Crop Indicated

Here is a closer view of the Lightroom screen with the crop lines positioned. The image areas in dark gray will be eliminated (cropped) from the final digital picture. By pushing the "enter" key, the crop will be performed, and the final image appears.

Remember from our previous discussion about the non-destructive editing features of programs like Lightroom and Apple's Aperture, the original digital file is NOT being altered. The information about the crop just performed will be included along with any other corrections in a separate file and applied to this image whenever it is displayed on the monitor. The original uncropped and unaltered file is ALWAYS retrievable.

Let's compare this cropping technique to that used by Photoshop and many similar programs.

Photoshop's Crop Tool (in red)

In Photoshop, the cropping tool is always present on the left-hand tool bar as shown in the red circle above. This icon has become almost universal and looks similar in other editing programs. Clicking on this tool activates the cropping function.

The Photoshop crop is indicated and ready for execution

In the picture above, the crop tool (a click-and-drag functioning tool) has been positioned as indicated by the "marching ants" marque. After releasing the mouse button, the area to be "cropped out" will be shown in dark gray (above). Notice, much like Lightroom, that six positioning handles also appear when the mouse button is released (red circles above). Using these handles allows for final precision positioning of the borders of the crop. Hitting the "return" or "enter" key completes the cropping function.

Final cropped picture

Remember, Photoshop and similar editing programs work on a destructive editing process. In other words, the original file HAS been altered. So, perform a "SAVE AS" command and use a new file name NOW. This will ensure that the original file will NOT be overwritten and destroyed.

Simultaneous Cropping and Sizing

It is possible to perform cropping and image re-sizing at the same time with the cropping tool. Having this capability allows the photographer to specify the desired specific print size and print resolution while performing the cropping.

Original picture before cropping and re-sizing

This picture requires cropping to correctly position the subject. In addition, I know that a final print with the dimensions of 10" x 8" at 240 ppi is required. With Photoshop's cropping tool, I can perform both operations at once.

Photoshop's cropping and resizing functions

With the cropping tool selected (red circle above), I can type in specific dimensional attributes in the width, height and resolution boxes (shown within the green circles above). In this case, a width of 10", a height of 8" and a resolution of 240 ppi are typed into the boxes.

Caution: When you don't want to automatically re-size an image to specific dimensions or PPI resolution, these boxes must be blank. Using the "Clear" button (yellow circle above), will erase any specified sizing in the width, length and resolution boxes.

Areas to crop are shown in dark gray and the constrained 8"x10" print area is visible.

Now, as the click-and-drag is performed with the mouse, the crop is constrained to the proportions of 8"x10". Any crop can be accommodated when you perform this operation, as long as it conforms to the proportion of 8 by 10. The crop and re-sizing is completed by hitting the "return" or "enter" key.

Final cropped and re-sized image

Check the properties of this image and you will discover that the new cropped image is 8 inches by 10 inches with a resolution of 240 ppi. Remember to save this file under a new file name to prevent overwriting the original file. Most modern image editing programs incorporate this time-saving feature in their cropping tools.

You will find that the cropping tool is one of your best friends and most utilized tools. Because of the frequency of use, cropping will soon become second nature.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Hub's iDarkroom Table of Contents

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Part 19 - Storing Digital Images

If there's a downside to your new found photographic passion, it's the fact that there's almost no limit to the number of pictures that can be taken. There's no film to buy. There are no film processing costs. And DSLR data storage cards can be used over and over to spread their cost over hundreds or thousands of pictures.

With almost no cost involved, today's DSLR photographers shoot more images than ever. Now the issue is the safe storage of files. Not only the data files from the camera's storage cards, but all the variations made from the files during post processing in image editing programs. Just one file might give birth to several more. Here's an example of the versions in the life of just one digital image:
  • The original camera file that was copied and saved to your computer's hard drive.
  • One file in the same size as the original file that has been edited, corrected and saved.
  • One file that was re-sized and saved for use on a website.
  • One file that was re-sized and saved to make an 8"x10" print for your den.
  • One file that was re-sized and saved to appear in a magazine or newspaper.
In this case, one original file generated the need to save 4 new files. Multiply this scenario for all your best images and you are soon experiencing a computer hard drive that's overflowing. Most disturbing is the vulnerability of these fragile and irreplaceable files. There are dozens of ways this data can be lost forever, like:
  • power surges
  • jarring or dropping a hard drive
  • virus attack corrupting the hard drive
  • computer being stolen
  • the hard drive wearing out over time from normal use
  • your 8-year old types "reformat"
  • alien computer abductions.
It's obvious some regular and "adhered to" back up process is necessary for image security and peace of mind. The Internet is filled with suggestions for backing up your images -- some good, some bad.

I will describe the procedure I use for backing up and storing my images. My method is not necessarily any better, but it has provided me with the confidence to know that my images are protected and always retrievable.

To start with, my primary imaging computer is an iMac. (No, that's not a recommendation, it's just the digital imaging computer I grew up with and am most comfortable using.) The current Mac OS has an automatic back up feature called Time Machine. I have a dedicated 750GB hard drive that is used by Time Machine to provide an HOURLY backup of my "changed" or new files.

I use the Time Machine feature as a secondary backup (sort of a "just in case" copy of my files). My primary back up device is a 1 terabyte Seagate external hard drive that stores an exact copy of my computer's hard drive that is created every morning at 2 a.m. using a backup program called SuperDuper. This primary back up drive is connected to my computer by Firewire (rather than USB) to provide faster copy speeds. If you have more than one computer or are part of a network, this "image-dedicated" back up drive can also be installed to allow back up over the network.

Seagate Free Agent, 1 Terabyte External Hard Drive

Here is the process I follow for uploading and protecting the files coming from my DSLR:
  1. Using Lightroom's import feature I transfer the files from my data card to a dedicated Lightroom image folder.
  2. I then make a second copy of the same files into a dedicated holding folder on my external terabyte hard drive.
  3. I then erase the original files from my data card for re-use.
  4. SuperDuper and Time Machine perform their timed back ups to ensure my original and edited images are backed up on two separate hard drives.
  5. Over time the Holding Folder on my terabyte drive grows in size. When the folder reaches 4 gigabytes, I copy the folder to a DVD for long term storage. The files in the Holding Folder are then erased in preparation for the next series of images. I am very careful to store my DVDs in a safe environment to maximize their life.
There is much dispute over the life expectancy of CDs and DVDs, but they are the best alternative available today. The better (and more expensive) DVDs do have a longer projected life expectancy. Since there's little likelihood that these DVDs will be needed on a regular basis, it's a good idea to consider storing them off-site (i.e. safety deposit box, under grandma's bed, etc.). If the worst ever happened and something catastrophic happened to your digital darkroom, your original image files would be safe.

In total, I have 4 copies of my original files and 3 copies of any new or altered versions I create from the original image files. Although my procedure isn't bullet proof, it does allow me to sleep better at night.

Not long ago, the expense of 750GB and 1 terabyte drives made this back up process financially prohibitive and other alternatives like storing images on Internet services were more attractive. However, the cost of large capacity hard drives has dropped dramatically and is within the reach of most photographers. Be sure to research and compare hard drives to determine the positives and negatives that real users are experiencing.

Finally, with the exception of Time Machine, these same procedures are adaptable to any PC platform and operating system.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Part 18 - Resizing Digital Images

Like an enlarger in a traditional darkroom, images can be re-sized in the digital iDarkroom to suit the requirements of the job. The computer replaces the enlarger, and a new set of tools as well as technical jargon are used to make these necessary image conversions. This article will provide the basic information required to re-size pictures to their required dimensions and resolution.

Adobe's Photoshop will be used as the editing tool, but the lessons learned here are applicable to nearly all image editing software. As you become more proficient with your own image editing software, you'll discover that there are several ways of re-sizing an image. But the most basic and most common method will be explained in this primer.

Photoshop workspace with original image, "Histogram" and "Image Size" window

The illustration above is a portion of Photoshop's workspace and shows the picture to be used in this article, the Histogram and the "Image Size" window. The picture is taken directly from the camera with no editing applied. For my purpose, this picture requires some cropping, image enhancement and resizing. It's these steps that will be walked through and discussed.

Accessing the Image Size tool in Photoshop is straightforward.

Accessing the Image Size Tool in Photoshop

To activate the Image Size tool in Photoshop, use the "Image" drop-down menu in the main bar and select "Image Size..." (shown above).

Close up of the "Image Size" window

Here's the Image Size window in a size that's actually legible. Most of the explanations and procedures in this re-sizing article require the use of this Image Size tool. The information initially presented in the Image Size window provides the current technical "size" details of the image as well as entry boxes for altering any dimensions.

The Pixel Dimensions section (red box) shows the size of the image in terms of pixels. In this case, the dimensions are of an image that came directly from the camera -- 3872 pixels wide by 2592 pixels high. The Document Size section (green box) indicates exactly how large the image would be if printed right now. In this case the measurement scale is set in inches. So a print from this image would measure 16.133 inches by 10.8 inches with a resolution of 240 pixels per inch. (Document Size is the measurement for the entire printable area -- not necessarily the size of the picture on the document. More on printable area in just a moment.)

My first editing task is to crop the image to include only the portion of the picture needed for the final print.

Cropping Tool in Photoshop can be seen as the marque lines in this screen picture

Use of the cropping function will be explained in later articles, but for this example notice the cropping marque lines (the marching ants as Adobe would say) that define where my cropping will occur. (I'm taking a little image area off each end of the picture.) With the crop area visually defined, hit ENTER. The crop is completed and appears on my monitor.

The new Image Size information after the crop was performed.

Remember the original size of this image was 16.133 inches by 10.8 inches. The new cropped size (seen above) is 14.917 inches by 10.8 inches. This new dimension reflects the fact that I cropped (approximately) one inch off the ends of the original picture. The crop function has also caused the overall file size to become smaller. The number next to the words "Pixel Dimensions" indicates the current file size. This cropped image reduced the file size from 57.4 megabytes to 53.1. What happened to the other 4.3 megabytes of image information? It was trashed.

Next I SAVE the image under a new name to avoid corrupting my original image file.

Then with a little Photoshop magic I apply the color, density, saturation, etc. adjustments needed to create a masterpiece. (These steps are not covered in this article.) When done making corrections, I again SAVE the file.

Cropped image with corrections applied as seen in Photoshop

That was easy. Now I need to re-size the image for its intended use. Some of the possible uses include:
  1. Producing a print from my printer
  2. Producing an image file for reproduction in a printed publication
  3. Producing an image file that can be used in a digital slide show or on the Internet.
Each of these possible uses has unique image size parameters. It's these parameters that determine the specifications entered into the Image Size window.

1. Resizing the photo for printing on your home printer

You'll see much debate on photo blogs and forums about the resolution (pixels per inch or PPI) required to make a good print in your iDarkoom. The recommendations range from 200 to 300 PPI. I know from my career at a major photo printer manufacturer that my printer works best at 240 PPI. Using a pixel per inch setting higher than 300 has little or no impact on the quality of the final print. So, when I set up an image for printing at home, 240 PPI is my target resolution.

All I need to know now is what size I want to make the print. For example's sake, let's size the existing 14.917 inches by 10.8 inches x 240 PPI to fit on a standard 8"x10" piece of photo paper with at least a 1/2 inch border for framing purposes.

Image sizing for an 8"x10" print

First, the Golden Rule for re-sizing operations: Reducing the physical dimensions or the resolution (PPI) of an image is OK. Enlarging any of these parameters will introduce some degree of quality and visual imperfections. More to come.

In the picture above, I have entered a new value for the width of this image -- 9 inches. The height of the image AUTOMATICALLY changed to the correct proportional value -- 6.516 inches. Why did the height change when I entered 9 inches for the width? Because I checked the box labeled "Constrain Proportions". This instruction tells Photoshop to keep all sides in proportion to the original image. This relationship is shown in the green box above by the lines and padlock icon. Change one height/width dimension, and the remaining dimension changes automatically to constrain the proportions.

Since I want the image to print at a resolution of 240 PPI, I do NOT want the original resolution of 240 PPI to change. I ensure this PPI is retained by CHECKING the RESAMPLE box shown in red. If I had not CHECKED this box the resolution would also have changed in proportion to the new 9" width dimension I entered. (With RESAMPLING off and since I technically made the picture smaller than the original, the PPI number would have automatically increased to reflect the smaller image size.)

If you're asking why the height dimension shown in the Document Size area is 6.516 and not 7 inches to give me a 9"x7" print on the 8"x10" piece of paper, then please read my article entitled "Proportions in Photography" on my Hub's Photography Tips blog site.

Clicking on OK completes this re-sizing operation. Then SAVE the image, and you're ready to print.

It's time to explain "printable area" and its relationship to Document Size. In the above example, the Document Size is the "printable area". Consequently, the pixel dimensions of the image and the Document Size are exactly the same. Document Size does NOT refer to the paper being used in the printer. It only refers to the size of the complete image that will be sent to the printer.

An example should help. Many photographers make the artistic decision to print their picture on paper larger than the image they are preparing. This layout can be accomplished in Photoshop by enlarging the entire "canvas" that the picture occupies.

Canvas Size Window in Photoshop

A function called Canvas Size under the Image pull-down menu activates the window shown above. Size values can be entered in the height and width boxes to increase the size of the canvas. It's important to remember that Canvas Size function doesn't enlarge the image. Instead it adds new canvas space AROUND the existing image.

Using the example picture, I want to print the original cropped file (14.917 inches by 10.8 inches) onto a 13"x19" piece of fine art paper. I also want to control exactly where on this large piece of paper my image will appear. To make this happen I:
  • enter the new canvas width and height information into the boxes (green oval),
  • instruct the computer to place my image in the center of this new canvas by clicking on the CENTER box in the Anchor selection section (blue oval), and
  • select "white" as the color of my canvas using the canvas extension color menu
Notice that the size of this file has now increased to 81.4 megabytes -- due to adding the extra white canvas area to the file.

New 13"x19" Canvas

Now the monitor displays the original picture placed on a 13"x19 white canvas. The picture-only portion of the canvas was then moved upward on the canvas by one inch to give it the proper visual positioning for mounting.

One more time, open the Image Size window and the impact of changing the canvas size is apparent in the Document Size section.

Image Size information after the canvas was enlarged

The new Document Size is 13"x19" even though we know that the image on the canvas is 14.917 inches by 10.8 inches. The entire 13"x19" canvas is the printable area and is reflected in the Document Size. In addition the Image Size window reports that the file size is now 81.4 megabytes. So, (in the Image Size window) Document Size equals the actual image size only when the Canvas Size equals the actual image size.

2. Producing an image file for reproduction in a printed publication

OK, National Geographic Magazine has called and wants to use this picture in an upcoming issue. Happens every day. Right.

The magazine's specifications require an image with a PPI of 300. I SAVED my initial cropped and corrected image file, and it is currently sized at 14.917 inches by 10.8 inches x 240 PPI.

All I need to do is re-size the image to National Geographic's specifications.

Resizing for magazine publication

Opening the "Image Size..." window, I can change the single variable -- Resolution -- in the Document Size/Resolution box (shown in green) to 300. This time, however, I UNCHECKED the RESAMPLE box (see above). Consequently all three dimensional attributes are LOCKED together and the width and height of the image AUTOMATICALLY change to remain in proportion to new 300 PPI entry. (11.933 inches by 8.64 inches) Clicking OK will complete the change. Then SAVE the altered file under a new name. (Impress others by including the words National Geographic in the new file name.)

When the photo editor at National Geographic receives this file, it will be given final sizing as it is placed in their digital publishing program. All that's left to do is cash the check.

3. Producing an image file that can be used in a digital slide show or on the Internet

All of the images I use for Hub's photo blogs must be resized to accommodate the specifications of my visitors' monitors. This means that I must place images into my blogs that have a PPI of 72. I also limit the height and width dimensions of these images to a maximum value of 6 inches for either side. So now I have my parameters, let's convert the same picture for use on this blog site.

Resizing for Internet or Monitor Slide Shows

The original images I produce for these blogs are always larger than the image that is ultimately placed on the blog page. To reduce the size of my images, I use the "Image Size..." tool as shown above. This example picture is horizontal (wider than it is tall). I enter "6" in the width box. Because the "Constrain Proportions" box is CHECKED, the Height dimension automatically changes to 4.344 inches. I've also CHECKED the RESAMPLE IMAGE box to allow me to enter a new PPI of 72 in the RESOLUTION box (inside the green oval).

Clicking OK completes the action and results in an image with the dimensions of 6 inches by 4.344 inches by 72 PPI. I SAVE this file under a new name, and it's ready to upload to my blog page.

Note: The Resizing Golden Rule states that enlarging a picture beyond its original dimensions and PPI constraints is to be avoided. As has been stated in earlier articles on this blog, making this type of enlargement involves interpolating the image. To make this happen Photoshop and all image editing programs must "make up" digital data. In other words, in order to provide enough pixels to comply with your enlargement request, the software must "guess" what the missing pixels would have been. Photoshop is pretty good at guessing, but it's still just a guess.

So if you must enlarge a picture larger than its technical specification, do it sparingly and keep the enlargement as small as possible. In practical terms, if the file out of your camera is capable of making a horizontal print that's say 12"x9" without any interpolation at 240 PPI, can you enlarge the picture to 14" wide with the same 240 PPI without noticeable quality loss? The anwer is YES. Can you make a print that's 24" wide? The answer is again YES. But at this more extreme enlargement size, you will see a quality difference. In fact, you can make this picture ANY size you want, but the more it's enlarged the more noticeable the imperfections caused by interpolation will become.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are several ways to re-size pictures using today's image editing programs. The method explained here will be used for the majority of your work and is common to most imaging software.

If you have questions or comments regarding this primer on re-sizing digital image files, please let me know.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Part 17 - Getting Started with Layers

If there was a single feature that catapulted Photoshop to the top choice position for photographers and graphic artists, it has to be LAYERS. Today, and a decade after Photoshop first introduced layers, the feature has become a standard, must-have capability of every serious image editing program. At the same time, "Please explain layers", is one of the most frequent requests I receive at seminars and workshops from beginning photographers.

This post will provide the basic instructions for using layers in Photoshop taking a very simple, but very typical, project.

When my family moved to Vancouver, Washington a couple of years ago, we left behind our family and friends who were located in the midwest and east coast. Not long after our moving announcement, I started receiving concerns from relatives about Vancouver's close proximity to Mount St. Helens -- about 40 miles to the east. This "east of the Mississippi" concern seemed like an ideal situation for some photographic humor. The components of the image I envisioned are shown below.

Hub's Palatial Vancouver Estate -- no St. Helens in sight

Mt. St. Helens

My goal was to combine these two images to produce a believable image that made St. Helens appear to be in the backyard of our new home. This was definitely a job for Photoshop LAYERS feature.

Layers can be compared to pieces of clear plastic that are layered on top of each other. Each of these layers can contain any portion of the final overall image. Walking through this project should make this concept more easily understood.

I started by opening both images in Photoshop. I first worked on the image of the house by selecting all of the parts of the original house image that I wanted to retain in the final combined image. (The various methods for selecting portions of a picture will be covered in other posts.)

The areas shown in red have been selected for use in the composite picture

The Photoshop image above shows all the selected areas shaded in red. This portion of the original image will be placed in a layer ON TOP OF the Mt. St. Helens picture.

The area shown in red above will NOT be used in the combined image

Still looking at the original picture, the area shown in red above was NOT selected and will not be used in the combined picture. It's important to note that this red area (since it is NOT selected) will appear as CLEAR in the final image. In this case, CLEAR means that anything contained on the layer(s) behind will be seen through this "clear window".

With the house selected, I next performed a "copy" from Photoshop's Edit menu. Now I clicked on the picture of St. Helens to activate that window. Then I perform a PASTE from Photoshop's Edit menu.

Two operations will happen automatically during this PASTE command:
  • A new blank layer will be created in the St. Helens picture (laying immediately on top of the Mt. St. Helens image).
  • The image that I selected in the original house picture will be PASTED onto the newly created layer.
Shown below is the result of this PASTE operation.

Image with the selected house picture "pasted" onto the layer above the St. Helens background image.

Here the house "layer" (top layer) is peeled back to show the hidden portions of the St. Helens image in the background layer (bottom layer).

The first picture above shows the results of pasting the house image onto the original St. Helens image. The second picture above has peeled back the top layer (house) to reveal what is hidden of the St. Helen's image. Notice: all that is seen of Mt. St. Helens is the portion of the original image that was BEHIND the CLEAR area of the house picture.

The "Layer" menu window for this completed project

The Layer menu shown above indicates the layers of this image and their relationship to each other.
  • Background layer = Mt. St. Helens
  • Layer 1 (located above the background layer) = The selected portion of the original House picture.
Notice each layer is displaying an "eye" icon (inside red circle). Clicking the "eye" icons turns that layer on-and-off to allow the user to check the contents of each layer.

The Background "eye" icon is clicked to OFF (red circle) to show only the house layer

It is important to understand that each of these layers are very much "independent" images. They can, and should be, considered to be two separate pictures. Any layer can be individually selected and any Photoshop tool or function applied.

Mountain layer selected and Blue added

In the picture above, I selected the mountain layer (background) and used the color controls to exaggerate the blue and demonstrate that each layer can be treated as separate images. This feature allows you to apply any Photoshop function to any image layer in your picture.

So with the image now complete, I only needed to add a caption (shown below), print out several copies of the picture and mail it to my nervous relatives. Needless to say, I received several phone calls from my shocked friends and family.

"Our Realtor said we would be safe."

This completes the initial "layers" primer.
The project in this example required only two layers. The number of layers is, in reality, only limited by the memory inside your computer. In some editing projects, I have created 50+ layers to produce the final image and effect required by the assignment. Be aware that adding and saving layers will produce larger image files. Photoshop offers several different types of, and uses for, layers. As a result, future iDarkroom posts will have much more to say about layers. You'll find that "layers" and the endless creative possibilities this feature delivers will become one of your most appreciated iDarkroom tools.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Part 16 - Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture

The last two posts covered the topic of organizing digital image files. The capabilities and search flexibility of programs like Adobe's Lightroom and Apple's Aperture have brought a new level of image organization and retrieval to the individual photographer that was previously the exclusive territory of sophisticated corporate image storage systems.

What's currently muddying the waters are the enhanced editing features that these organizing programs are bringing to the market. The question now being asked is: "Do I need a dedicated photo editing program, like Photoshop, or are the editing features now included in Lightroom and Aperture enough for my needs?"

This post will lay the basic groundwork towards making that distinction apparent, and ultimately help in making your "buy - no buy" decision. The best place to start is to understand the editing features these new programs offer. I will use Adobe's Lightroom for my examples, but similar features and tools can be found in Apple's Aperture. (These editing tools will be briefly described in this post. How and when to use each of these editing tools will not be covered in this primer.)

Main Lightroom Workspace

Shown above is Lightroom's primary workspace. The various modes of Lightroom are located at the top of the screen as Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print and Web. The previous two discussions took place in Library Mode (yellow box). This mode contains the organizational features of this program including keywording, metadata, image ranking, film strip, preview area and the image search function.

But even in this Library Mode some limited image status and editing operations are available. So, as an image is selected (click on image in central preview area or on an image in the film strip at bottom), an image histogram is displayed (shown in yellow) and several coarse editing functions become active (shown in green box). The histogram in Lightroom displays the levels for all the primary colors (red, green and blue) as well as the secondary colors (cyan, magenta and yellow) for a more detailed look at the digital make up of the selected image.

Quick Develop Function in Library Mode

Here are the controls available for coarse image corrections in Library Mode. These controls are not nearly as elaborate as their sister function in the Develop Mode, but they do provide a quick way of making initial adjustments to individual or groups of selected images. For example, if a particular group of your images have a slight green cast, all of the images can be selected at once and their white balances adjusted to add more magenta (magenta is the opposite of green) and reduce the green cast. In the same way, a group of images that are too dark can be lightened as a group using the coarse exposure control.

To make more critical corrections, Lightroom users select the Develop Mode in the top bar of the main workspace.

Lightroom's Develop Mode Workspace

Although the above picture is small, it does help orientate you to the Develop Mode workspace in Adobe's Lightroom. Here a picture was selected in the Library Mode to be adjusted. "Develop" (see green box) was selected from the top bar to reveal this image editing workspace.

Lightroom's Histogram and Treatment Tools in Develop Mode

That's better. In this close up view of the right-hand side of the Develop Mode workspace, the first of Lightroom's editing tools can be seen. Again a histogram is always visible and will reflect -- in real time -- any changes you make during image editing. Among the tools available are:
  • White balance control (color temperature and tint)
  • Recovery, fill light and blacks
  • Brightness and contrast
  • Presence (controlling overall clarity, vibrancy and saturation).
All of these tools are represented as sliders to allow precise control of the adjustment. Any adjustment made using these tools is immediately reflected in the large preview image in the center of the screen.

Tone Curve, Hue, Saturation, Luminance, Color and Grayscale control panels

The editing tool bar on the right of the screen has its own vertical slider to provide access to more editing options. Here the Tone Curve is shown as well as the slider controls for Hue, Saturation, Luminance, Color and Grayscale. Again each slider control allows for very precise control and any adjustments are previewed immediately on the large center-screen image. A helpful feature is available on several controls that makes visual adjustment much easier. In the above example, Saturation is shown to be active. Notice the small circle to the left-hand side of the word Saturation. Clicking on this button converts your pointer/cursor to an on-screen saturation tool.

Cursor Saturation Tool Example

Here's the cursor saturation tool (within the green circle) as it appears on the large preview image. I can now be very specific about the color that I'm adjusting. In this case, the cursor is located on top of a yellow portion of the sunset. With a combination of click/hold, I can drag the cursor up or down to increase or decrease the saturation of the yellow in the entire picture. While performing this operation, the sliders in the Saturation portion of the tool bar will move to reflect precisely the change being made. Pretty cool. This feature is available with several of Lightroom's image editing tools.

Detail and Lens Correction Options

The final two editing controls in the right hand options bar are "Detail" (for precisely controlling image sharpness) and "Lens Correction" (to adjust for or simulate imperfections common to lenses). The sharpening functions of Lightroom are very precise and flexible. See the Sharpening post in Part 13 of this iDarkroom primer for more information.

Cropping, Red Eye and Straightening Controls

Immediately below the large central preview image are the controls for setting the preview image (i.e. full screen, side-by-side before and after view, etc.). In addition, a Red Eye function is available as well as all cropping and straightening functions. Cropping and straightening are very intuitive within Lightroom and performed in real time with guidelines on the large preview image.

Lightroom's Pallet of Preset Effects

The final feature to be mentioned in this primer are Presets. Adobe has included a selection of predefined effects that can be applied to any image (shown above). The presets in Develop Mode are listed on the left-hand menu next to the large central preview image. As the user passes the cursor over each optional preset a small preview image is displayed (red box above) to provide visual feedback on the effect each preset will have on the selected image. In the example above, the preset labeled "General - Grayscale" is selected and all of the Lightroom corrections required to convert the selected image to a grayscale (B&W) image are applied. The result is immediately shown in the center-screen image.

Lightroom as well as Apple's Aperture - not covered here - also have significant additional features that make them a nearly universal imaging product:
  • Slideshow production including music and multiple export options
  • Web gallery production including a broad selection of gallery styles
  • Extensive Printing Options offering unique printing formats for numerous purposes including contact sheets and fine art layouts.
The distinctive feature unique to Lightroom and Aperture is contained in how all the corrections made during editing are applied to your original digital file.

They aren't!

In photo-speak, all of the actions (regardless of how dramatic or extensive) that you make during image editing are NOT applied directly to the original image. This is called non-destructive editing. Although you see the changes being made on-screen -- before your very eyes -- all corrections made are held by these programs as a set of instructions that are applied when the image is subsequently viewed, edited, exported as a new image file, viewed as a slide show, or printed. The original file is NEVER altered. The corrections are contained in a small text file that becomes permanently associated with each image file in your collection. (Consider this information as "image editing" metadata.)

Unlike the standard procedure of saving an original file, making corrections and then saving the new edited image under a new file name to preserve the original, Lightroom and Aperture save all that hard drive space and file organization chaos by maintaining a very small text file that allows these programs to apply the corrections within the program each time the image is accessed.

Then which type of program should a photographer choose -- a dedicated image editing program like Photoshop or an all-in-one software package like Lightroom or Aperture? Much of the answer is determined by the photographer and the images he/she wants (or is required) to produce. Although it's highly likely that a professional photographer's computer will have both types of programs, it is also becoming more and more frequent for these photographers to do the majority of their work in Lightroom or Aperture.

Why is this?

Most working professionals -- especially commercial and studio photographers as well as photojournalists -- have become extremely proficient at capturing a technically and compositionally accurate image in the environments they typically encounter. Their need for extensive image editing is minimal. However, their need for organizing and editing speed as well as the ability to meet tight deadlines is extremely high. So a typical workflow (under "normal" conditions) for these pros might be something like:
  • Download all images from camera's storage card and generic metadata into Lightroom or Aperture
  • Review all images and determine images to be used for the assignments (selects)
  • Apply image-specific metadata to selected images
  • Perform any corrections that can be applied to all images
  • Perform any corrections necessary to specific images
  • Export images in required format (with Lightroom corrections applied)
  • Transmit images to their editor or client.
Remember this is only an example. Each photographer has his/her own personal workflow. But they will generally include similar steps. For these pros or any skilful photographer, Lightroom or Aperture is capable of performing all the steps in their workflow. So, many photographers have drifted to using Lightroom or Aperture the majority of the time.

However, other photographers in the industry or in the non-professional ranks -- including fine art photographers, architectural photographers, photographers shooting for illustrations or advertising, etc. -- have a critical need of performing fine adjustments throughout the entire image. As a result, stand-alone imaging programs like Photoshop are a necessity in their work.

The strength of dedicated image editing programs like Photoshop is found in the almost limitless image control they provide to their users. Unlike Lightroom or Aperture where the corrections made are almost always to the entire image, Photoshop-like programs allow control over the individual components of a digital image -- down to the individual pixel level. Layers can be applied. Actions can be utilized. Cloning can be achieved. Delicate masking can be accomplished. HDR and panoramas can be accommodated. Paths can be constructed. Text can be introduced. These are some of the options not currently available in Lightroom or Aperture that are considered essentials to the work of many photographers.

In the end, the photographer must choose based on his/her image editing requirements. Because of the different strengths of each type of program, both are likely to be found in a photographer's iDarkroom.

It will certainly be interesting to watch the evolution of Lightroom and Aperture as Adobe and Apple continue to add more and more dedicated image editing program features. Who knows, we may be heading towards an all-in-one software solution.

Which would I recommend?

That's tough. But if I were just starting out -- and understanding the importance I place on keeping digital images organized and accessible -- I would probably buy either Lightroom or Aperture first. Putting organization considerations aside, the editing features of Lightroom and Aperture are extensive and certainly powerful enough for newcomers.

I would learn the ins and outs of these programs including all the image editing tools and functions. Then when I had conquered the tools and as my finances allowed, I would purchase a dedicated image editing program like Photoshop to cover the full range of my editing needs. Virtually everything I learned while using Lightroom or Aperture would transfer to shorten the learning time associated with most dedicated image editing programs.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Part 15b -- Organizing, Storing and Retrieving Image Files

This article is a continuation of Part 15 - Organizing, Storing and Retrieving Image Files.

The last post explained how to import images from your camera or stored on your computer's hard drive into image management or organizing software -- in this case, Adobe's Lightroom. Once the images have been imported, the next step is to provide the information that these programs require to organize the individual images and make their later retrieval a simple matter -- regardless of how many images you have in your entire collection.

Adobe Lightroom's Workspace

Seeing the entire Lightroom workspace is difficult using images that fit within the blog template. So sections of the workspace will be enlarged in each segment of this post.

The picture above shows the entire Lightroom workspace. I've attached descriptive words (in yellow) to this full workspace view to highlight the areas that are common to most image management software.
  • Library Mode: Only the organizing and storage features to this class of software will be discussed in this post. For Lightroom, these functions take place in the Library mode -- shown in white lettering at the top of the screen. Other modes in Lightroom include: Develop, Slideshow, Print and Web. (These modes are topics for future articles.)
  • Thumb Nail Window: In the center of the workspace is the area reserved for larger thumbnail images of the images in either the folder you've selected or as a result of an image search you have performed.
  • Image Folders: The left hand menu bar displays a complete list of the image folders you've created and stored in Lightroom. In this section resides the folder created in the last post.
  • Scrolling Filmstrip: At the bottom of the workspace is a film strip that can be scrolled to show all the pictures selected. Users can scroll through their images quickly using this feature. Clicking on any filmstrip image will result in showing a larger thumbnail in the center pane for closer inspection.
  • Keywords: This is the area that displays current keywords associated with the selected image. Additional keywords that are specific to this image can be entered in this box.
  • Metadata: This area is reserved for displaying and modifying the metadata of the selected image. (Click here for the discussion of Metadata in Part 14 of this iDarkroom blog.)

The "folders" pane (circled in yellow) in Lightroom's workspace

It's probably becoming obvious from these descriptions that we are now at the level of organizing each INDIVIDUAL image. The importing accomplished in the last post provided a basic gross organization of the images. All files were placed in a folder unique to a particular shot or event (shown in "folders" pane above). At the same time, images were provided metadata and keywords that were common to ALL images in this folder. Now we can describe individual photographs to identify what makes each unique. It all begins with information entered in the right hand column of panes.

Lightroom Histogram Pane

The top pane contains a histogram of the image that is currently selected. Although this histogram won't be altered, it does provide a graphic that is several times larger than your camera's version as well as an opportunity to take a closer technical look at the exposure made in the field.

The pane for viewing, changing and adding keywords

The keyword window below the histogram shows any keywords that are currently associated with the SELECTED image. These initial keywords were assigned to this image (and all others in the group) by the photographer when the file(s) was originally imported into this folder in Lightroom. Now's the time to enter words that specifically define this image. For example, this folder contained pictures of landscapes, people, scenery, water falls, babbling brook, towering trees, sunrise, etc. taken at the Old Grist Mill in Clark County, Washington in 2008. So every picture in this series shares these keywords. The picture that is currently SELECTED is of a waterfall in the park. By adding the keyword "waterfall" to the list for this image, it's now different from all the others. This is the first step in locating this image two years from now. Enter keywords that identify/describe this particular image.

Lightroom's Metadata Pane Showing EXIF Metadata

As explained in Part 15a, two forms of metadata are commonly associated and travel with each image -- EXIF and IPTC. The picture above shows the EXIF metadata (as selected in the yellow hightlighted pull down menu). This information isn't editable. EXIF data describes exactly how this SPECIFIC picture was taken (i.e., camera name, f/stop, shutter speed, ISO, shooting mode, etc.). Instead of taking notes, the camera records this important reference material automatically and includes it with each picture file. You'll see later that you can even use this information to find particular pictures. For example, if you wanted to locate all pictures that were taken with your Nikon D200, you can do that based on each picture's EXIF metadata.

IPTC Metadata Window

You might not be able to read all the "fill in the blanks" in this picture, but you can see there's room for lots of information that's specific to this picture. IPTC metadata was originally created with photojournalists in mind. Here all the information about the photographer, the assignment, location, dates, captions, etc. can be entered. You may not need all this information for your photography, but several fields are useful for everyone -- like photographer's name, address, date, etc. You decide what information is important and use these fields to permanently assign this data to THIS specific image.

These are the critical data entry areas and information required to make later retrieval of a specific image a snap.

You mean I have to do all this work for every picture I take?

If you want to maximize the effectiveness of your image organizational software the answer is YES. But, don't panic. Software manufactures have included shortcuts to speed up the process.

Metadata Synchronization Button in Lightroom

The "Sync Metadata" button at the bottom of Lightroom's workspace is one of Adobe's methods for making your metadata life easier. By selecting one image that contains all the metadata you've entered and then selecting all others that require the same information and clicking on the "Sync Metadata" button, your metadata is automatically entered into the fields you specify. For example, in the "waterfall" example above: If you had taken 20 pictures of the waterfall, then you only need to enter the data into one of the waterfall images, select the remaining images and let the "Sync Metadata" feature automatically write the information into the other 19 picture files.

Every program has shortcuts for entering metadata. Check out data entry shortcuts when you are evaluating different software programs.

Most programs also include a few additional options that make the initial job of organizing, sorting and editing pictures even easier and faster.

As hard as it is to believe, not every picture is a winner. But instead of trying to determine which pictures to save before importing them, I recommend you import EVERYTHING. Good and bad. It's actually much easier to make these decisions at the same time you are entering keywords and metadata. Any image can be selected and deleted at any time. So, import everything to save time.

Additional options for classifying or editing your newly imported pictures include:

Color Labeling

These features are presented in the order suggested by Adobe for Lightroom. Color labeling can be used to quickly review ALL of your images. You can apply a color coded label to any of the thumbnail pictures to indicate their importance to your project. (Notice the "red image label" applied to the picture above surrounds the thumbnail picture.)

"Pick" Flag Applied in Lightroom

Once you've made your first cut by color labeling important pictures, you can then make final selections by selecting a "Pick" flag. The flag (upper left corner of thumbnail picture) indicates that this image is your "pick" for final use.

Lightroom's Star Rating System (circled in yellow)

At the bottom of each thumbnail image is a series of stars. Choosing "stars" ranks your images from poor to best (5 stars usually indicating best). It's your call. Rank the image according to your photographic taste. You will also be able to search and sort images based on these star rankings.

Notes: Additional information available on the thumbnail images includes:
  • the size of the image file and its sequence number in all the thumbnails being displayed (shown in green circle)
  • the file name and the f/stop and shutter speed used for this picture (shown in blue circle)
  • information showing if the image has been altered in any way using the program's image editing features (shown in the red circle).
All of this information is customizable. A list of items to display with each thumbnail is available for you to customize these "corner" information displays.

At this point, you've created a complete database of images that can be quickly searched to find individual or groups of pictures that meet your search criteria.

The Lightroom "Find/Text" Menu

Let's walk through one simple search. In Lightroom in Library mode, the Find function is located on the left hand scrolling menu. For this search, I'll look for an image based on a specific keyword, "Clark County". From the "text" pull down menu, I select "Keywords". Notice I could have searched for pictures based on many choices -- title, filename, metadata, etc.

The "Find/Text/Rule" pull down menu

Next I tell Lightroom to search for keywords that match all the keywords I entered from the "Rule" pull down menu. Then I type in "Clark County" in the text field below the "rule" line.

Completed "Find" with results of the search

The results of the search appear almost immediately (this search took less than one second). All of the images found that match the keywords I entered are displayed in the thumbnail window and in the filmstrip at the bottom of the workspace. The details of the search are shown in the yellow circled area. I performed this search on my Grist Mill folder and 65 images matched my request. (I could have searched on multiple folders or the entire picture collection as well.)

The searching features of these programs are extensive and fast -- making it virtually impossible to lose a file that has been properly identified when brought into the program.

For most photographers, these sophisticated image organization programs are worth their weight in gold. Finding a single image among thousands has been a photographer's nightmare since George Eastman was a kid. Today, we can attach image-specific information and permanently include it with the picture. And then leave the grunt work of finding the files to our computers. It's not a miracle, but it is a godsend.

Is this just for professionals? Well, imagine your daughter is getting married and you're in charge of creating a scrapbook of images from delivery room to college graduation as a wedding keepsake. If you had been entering your family pictures into an image management program for all those years, just typing in your daughter's name as a keyword would display her entire photographic history. Pretty cool.

The amount of information you add to your images and the ways you rank your files are totally within your control. However, whatever choices you make, be consistent -- forever. By standardizing your importing and organizing process you have defined your own image management "workflow".

Finally, don't forget that the Lightroom process I have described is only ONE software solution on the market. Check out others -- like Apple's Aperture -- to determine which is most comfortable and usable in your iDarkroom.

But wait! There's more! Although the organization that these programs bring to the chaos of managing thousands of individual images is well worth the price, there's more to most of these programs. Future iDarkroom articles will discuss why many professional photographers are using these programs to perform the majority of their digital image editing and enhancement as well.

As always, if you have questions or comments, please drop me a line.