2018-11-26: Monochrome Monday

Wishing everyone a wonderful week ahead!

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A cheetah seen on Phinda Game Reserve during a morning game drive.
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A lion resting in the shade in the afternoon heat on Ngala Game Reserve.
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A leopard pausing alongside our vehicle during an afternoon game drive on Londolozi.

2018-10-07: Topic of the month – Comparing results from different software

After my dive into Luminar in August and Topaz Studio in September, I decided for October I would look at the three editing programs that I use, and see the results in different situations.  Throughout the month of October, I want to explore which is the best tool for the job in different conditions.

Before I forget through, I won’t have a post next Sunday, as I am off attending a photography workshop, but will resume the Sunday series on October 21.

The first scenario I decided to tackle was low light images.  This is something that I encounter a lot when out on safari (or even when photographing the local nature during my morning walks with Spencer).  There are a lot of interesting sightings and situations that happen before the sun comes up, after the sun has set, or in deep shade.   When these scenes require a fairly fast shutter speed, it can result in the ISO getting cranked up to try to get a correct-ish exposure.  I say correct-ish, because what is correct is to the eyes of the photographer, and two people viewing the same scene may have drastically different interpretations of how they want it to look.

I have chosen three series of images to work with.  Each of the different scenes were shot at the same time, under the same (or very similar) lighting and atmospheric conditions.  I’ve not attempted to process each image exactly the same using different software, but rather try to bring out the very best in the image using the tool available to me in the different programs.  Here we go!

The first image series was from a sighting of lion cubs on Londolozi in the early evening. The cubs were very young, and likely this was the first time their Mom would have brought them to a kill.  They were deep in a thicket, so with both the shade and approaching night, there was not a lot of light to work with.

All of these images were shot on my Nikon D610 at 1/640 sec, f5.6, ISO 6400.  All of the images had some strange colour casts from the deep shade and a lot of noise from the high ISO.   After the fact of course, I wish I would have lowered the shutter speed a little to bring in a bit more light, but the cubs had been all over the place playing, and I’d made my choices based on that.  Live and learn.

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On1 Photo Raw version.

I tried editing the On1 version twice, and this was the best result that I could get.  I find the tone to be fine, but I don’t think that the software did a great job of dealing with the noise, especially in relation to retaining detail.  I’m going to say a good chunk of that is likely down to my use of the program, and I should probably educate myself on the noise reductions features a little more to see if I can extract better results in the future.

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Edited with Topaz Studio.

I think the Topaz Studio option is the most successful image of the series.  I took advantage of the tools I had available to me, and opened the Denoise 6 plugin from Topaz Studio to work on the noise.  I find that plugin very effective at really high ISO levels, such as 6400 or 12800.  The colours appears the most true to life to how I remember the scene, and there is a good balance between removing the noise, and retaining the detail.

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Edited with Luminar.

I think the Luminar version is the least successful.  I don’t feel I did the best job in correcting the colour cast using the software (even with so many options available to do so) and the colours appear a bit over-saturated compared to the other two options.  There is still a fair amount of noise in the background and the foliage, as removing any more of it rendered the image too soft and almost cartoonish.

My second series of images are of a cheetah family found during a wind storm in the late afternoon on Phinda Game Reserve.  It was overcast with rain on the way, and the group was huddled together, and rather nervous with not being able to properly hear the potential of other predators in the area.  These images were all shot at 1/400sec, f5.6, ISO 4000, on a Nikon D610, and were shot an hour earlier in the afternoon than the lion images about.  They are definitely easier images to work with.

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The On1 Photo Raw version.

In this case, I think the On1 version is my favourite.  I find the colours have come out very close to my memory of the scene, and there is great balance between being able to reduce the noise in the background foliage, and retain excellent detail in the fur.

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The Topaz Studio version.

I find this version to be great in terms of noise, detail and contrast, but the colour cast is both too cool and too magenta.

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The Luminar version.

The Luminar version again looks a bit over-saturated when compared to the other two versions, but I believe I did mention during my Luminar review that the sliders are very sensitive, and you can go overboard with things very quickly.  The interesting thing is, both the Topaz Studio and Luminar versions are fine on their own, and if I posted a single image, there would probably not be a comment regarding colour casts or of the saturation.  It’s only when viewing them all together that these issues become apparent.

The last set of images is from my last morning on safari, which I got to spend watching a beautiful leopard and her two tiny cubs.  I’ve written about the sighting at length, so I won’t go on and on about it, but if you missed it the first time around, you can check out a post here.  In the linked post, there’s also a bit more information on the lion cub sighting shown above.

All of these leopard images were shot at 1/640 sec, f7.1, ISO 6400.

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Edited in Luminar.

I’m really pleased at the job that Luminar did on this image.  I actually went in and desaturated some of the green tones a little, since they were looking a bit radioactive.  The noise inside the hollowed out log cleaned up nicely, and there is good detail in the mother leopard.

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Edited in On1 Photo Raw.

While the noise and the detail look good in this version I did with On1 Photo raw, I’m not as happy with the way that the colours turned out.  I just couldn’t seem to get it quite right.  The tree trunk has a very blue cast to it, and the greens are perhaps a little too punchy.

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Edited in Topaz Studio

The version I edited in Topaz was the most challenging, given the focus within the darkest (and noisiest) part of the image.  I again used the Denoise 6 plugin, and found it did an excellent job of removing noise and retaining detail.

The leopard images aren’t perhaps the fairest of comparisons, since they are all zoomed in to the scene at different amounts, but I didn’t want to edit three nearly identical images, since that gets a little boring.

For my purposes, I am finding that for lower ISO ranges, all the software performs admirably, and I can get good results from any of the software options I have available to me.  Once I climb into the ISO 6400+ range though, I think Topaz is the clear winner, specifically when using the Denoise 6 plugin.  Of course that could be camera dependant as well.  All the images in this post were shot with my Nikon D610, which I don’t even own any longer.  I’ll have to work on this experiment again when I have some high ISO images from my Fuji XT-2, and see if the results are the same, or different.

 

 

2018-09-30: Topaz Studio Week 4

My month of Topaz Studio is coming to a close.  As with my month of Luminar, taking this time to dive into the program has left me feeling a lot more confident using it, and now it is another tool in my photo editing toolbox that I can use to bring out my vision in the images I have created.

Rather than focus on one specific thing for this post, I wanted to share some of my favourite things about the program.

Bringing out amazing contrast and detail

Back when I used Lightroom and Photoshop, Topaz Detail and Clarity were plugins that I would use when I wanted to highlight texture, especially in feathers and fur.  The precision contrast and precision detail adjustments are the same tools found in detail and clarity, though they are still available as the plug in versions or as clarity and detail in studio, which give access to all the fabulous presets that those programs had.  On this cheetah image below, I decided to use the precision contrast and detail rather than the in studio version of detail and clarity.  Since these are sized for the web, some of the fantastic texture of the fur may be a bit lost, but it is definitely there.

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Prior to editing, this cheetah doesn’t look bad, but not great.  Keep in mind that this is a raw image and no matter what, it needs some editing to look its best.
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Using Topaz Studio, I was able to use precision detail and contrast to really highlight the beautiful texture of fur on this cheetah.  Cropped for composition and the usual colour correction adjustments completed as well.

Creating my artistic impression images

I’ve always enjoyed the Topaz Impression and Simplify plug-ins, allowing me to create painterly and whimsical effects to my images.  Sometimes over to the top, sometimes subdued, those programs allow me to create something different with my images, and I love the flexibility they give me.

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A bull elephant crossing the Boteti River to join other members of the bachelor herd that had congregated on the other side earlier in the day.   This version was created in Topaz Studio using some of the adjustments, and then working in Impression in Studio until I had the dreamy feel I was looking for.

Quickly reviving lost detail

I think my favourite discovery in the Topaz Studio program has been the AI Clear adjustment, and it is one I am absolutely going to purchase to make sure I have it available to me.  Many times I find myself out and about with a great scene in front of me, or a moment I want to remember, but the light is fading or there are deep shadows or perhaps fog (sometimes all of the above).  I have found that the AI Clear adjustment can really get images like these back from looking grainy and soft, to full of detail and life.  It’s just one step in the editing process, but it certainly is a powerful tool.

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The unedited version of Wild Dogs in the Okavango Delta.  This group was far enough from the vehicle that I was shooting at 300mm.  Knowing how quickly the dogs move about, I shot at f11 and 1/800 sec to try and keep as much of the group in focus as possible, and freeze the motion.  These choices meant I was at ISO 6400, leaving a lot of noise in the image.
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Cropped for composition purposes, and then edited in Topaz Studio.  I used quite a few adjustments, but I still had the image finished to my liking in only a couple of minutes.  AI Clear did a good portion of the work at the start of the editing process, tidying up the noise and bring back detail to the eyes and the fur, especially to the alpha pair that are on the far left.

I have really been loving the ease of adding my watermark to my images; it is certainly less cumbersome than that current way I have to do so in On1.  One of the drawbacks I have found with Topaz Studio is not being able to resize and export directly from the program.  It means that for images being posted to the blog or my Instagram page, they always need a round trip back to On1 in order to be resized and exported.  Not a deal breaker at all, but just adding an extra step to the process.

If you don’t have it already, I would absolutely recommend downloading Studio and trying it out.  Given that the program is free to use with several adjustments, and there are 30 day trials for all the others, there really is nothing to lose (except maybe a little space on your hard drive) to give it a go.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my take on the program.

Wishing everyone a great week ahead!

2018-08-05: Processing with Luminar

As I mentioned in my July in Review post, this month I am going to be exploring editing images using Luminar 2018.  When I was still using Lightroom and Photoshop, I used the MacPhun plugins quite a lot (especially the Tonality plug-in) so some of the interface and working of Luminar feels familiar, but I really wanted to take a deep dive with the program and get proficient is using it and develop a workflow around it.

Just to get this out of the way, I don’t have any affiliation with Skylum, the makers of Luminar or with any of the creators of the resources I may mention or share links to.  Luminar is one of several editing programs that I use, and any links that I mention are from my searches online for Luminar editing tutorials and resources.  I’m including links to them in case someone else may find them useful.

In terms of resources, the most logical place to start is direct with the developer.  There are loads of videos on the Skylum Youtube Channel from Getting Started videos to tutorials that deal with specific processing situations such as landscapes and portraits.  I watched a few of the Problem Solving, Core Skills, Quick Knowledge and Inspiration videos when I first got the software to give me an overview of where to find things, and have just watched a few chapters from Anthony Morganti’s Mastering Luminar 2018 as a refresher, since I only used the program once since purchasing it.  Over the coming week I’ll post more resources as I work through them.

I decided to work on an image that didn’t need a lot of work, just some basic refinements including removing dust spots, cropping, adding some detail and contrast, and adjusting the tone of the sky.

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This is the Raw file, exported from On1 Photo Raw.  The only thing I did is add my photo logo and resize the image on export.  I use On1 Photo Raw as my main photo editor and organizer tool.

I sent this image to Luminar from On1 Photo Raw, selecting the “Edit the raw file option”.

The settings I used in Luminar for this image are below:

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Luminar has a handy before and after view; the slider can be adjusted to show more or less of the before image.
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Here is the image edited with Luminar.  I’m not really happy with the logo application, but there is a special preset that can be downloaded to help with that which I haven’t done yet.  To be fair, I’m not 100% happy with the logo function in On1 either.

 

 

 

2018-07-16: Monochrome Monday

A cheetah family portrait to start the week.  There’s always one looking in the wrong direction… 🙂

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A family of cheetah huddle together on a blustery afternoon on the Phinda Game Reserve in South Africa.  May, 2017.