2018-10-28: Birds

As mentioned last week, I decided to go with bird images for my last round of editing images with On1 Photo Raw, Topaz Studio and Luminar, seeing how the results compare with the different software choices.  I thought bird images would be a great choice because there are lots of fine details in feathers that need to be enhanced, and often things like distracting backgrounds that need to be minimized.

In very broad strokes, I’ve come to realize editing an original image in Topaz Studio that requires colour correction is not something I enjoy doing, and not something I will try to do moving forward (until they provide some updates to that portion of the interface).  I don’t find that the colour temperature slider works well enough to deal with complicated colour scenarios, and I can get much better results using On1 Photo Raw, or even Luminar.

The first images I picked are of a purple roller that I spotted on the banks of the Boteti River in Botswana.  I decided to edit original images in each program, rather than correcting colour first in On1 Photo Raw and editing the resultant images.  For a series of images, it’s obviously not a good strategy, but I really wanted to see the different colour rendering and how well I could adjust the images.  The results are mixed.

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First up is an image from Luminar.  Despite desaturating the blues, the sky still looks a bit too blue and oversaturated.  The roller was quite a distance away from me; all of the purple roller images were shot at 300mm, and I think Luminar brought back an acceptable amount of detail in the feathers.  There’s only so much you can do with images of a small bird on a distant tree!
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This is the version from Topaz and try as I might, this was the best I could do with the sky.  I find it has an odd colour cast, but I am happy with the detail in the feathers.
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This is the On1 Photo Raw image.  I think the sky in this version is the most true to life.  The focus seems a little bit off, but I only had these purple roller images to work with, so I made the best of it.  This is the only time I have ever seen a purple roller, so despite the image series being far from perfect, I still wanted to edit and share them because they really are a striking bird.

Next up are some wattled cranes, also seen along the banks of the Boteti River while staying at the fabulous Leroo La Tau camp.  While these images were all shot on the same morning, the light was changing very fast and the birds were moving around relative to our vehicle, so some images were shot into the sun and others with the sun at my back.  Wattled cranes are listed as a vulnerable species; our guide Calvin had been so excited to see a group of this size while we were out on game drive.

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First up is the Luminar version.  You can tell from the white hot sky this was shot well after sunrise, and that the sun is already quite high in the sky.  I think what I like best about this version is the shimmery effect of the grasses behind the cranes.  There is a bit of a warm cast to the image, especially when compare to the On1 Photo Raw version.
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This Topaz version was shot earlier in the morning, with the sun at a more forgiving angle.  I love the postures in this image, with the three birds foraging while one appears to be on sentry duty.  I did colour correction for this first in On1, as I gave it a quick go in Topaz and was just getting frustrated with the results.
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Here are the wattled cranes edited using On1 Photo Raw.  I think this and the Topaz versions are the most successful in terms of colour rendering. 

Up next are one of my favourite birds, the beautiful lilac breasted roller.  Unlike the purple roller, I have seen this bird on all my trips in Africa, and have gotten a few really good shots over the years.

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The version from Luminar.
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The version from Topaz.
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The version from On1.

These roller images are the best ones for comparing the software, since the bird is fairly close and the light unchanging.  I am finding the version from On1 looking a little crunchy when compared to the other two, and the Topaz version lacking a little bit of contrast.  I think I was able to bring out the colour and tones the best with Luminar on this particular image.  I found Topaz was able to bring out a lot of fine detail in the feathers without making the image look crunchy (it’s hard to see on a web sized image, so you’ll have to take my word for it).  I think the On1 version could have done well with backing off the tonal contrast a couple of points; though if that version had been posted in isolation, I would be very happy with it.

I started getting some editing fatigue looking at so many similar images, so I decided for the last few, I would just pick a few one-off bird images, and edit one of each in the various programs.

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I edited this image of cormorants using On1 Photo Raw.  This was shot during the early morning on Phinda Game Reserve, at one of the large dams on the property.  It was a chilly, misty morning, and this cormorant was flying in while hippos were calling the in background.  It felt like the reserve was just starting to wake up while we were sitting here.
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This is an African Hoopoe edited using Topaz Studio.  I found the colours in this image flat (no fault of Topaz this time) and thought the image would work much better in black and white.
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This is a flock of red-billed quelea heading to a roosting spot at sunset.  This was probably the largest flock that I have seen, spotted while staying in the Okavango Delta.  I know from watching nature programs that these birds can flock in extraordinary numbers.

There are pros and cons to each of the programs; Topaz and the colour correction issues I have been having, Luminar with the lack of adjustable luminosity masks, and with On1, I don’t find the noise reduction function is a good as some other options.  But saying that, all the options are robust programs that have a lot of great features, it’s just a matter of learning how to use the tools to your best advantage.  I don’t feel like I am in any type of editing disadvantage by choosing to use these software options over the more common Lightroom and Photoshop scenario (that I also used for several years).

From these editing immersions and comparisons, I think I am a getting a little closer to knowing where all these options fit into my workflow.

 

2018-09-24: Monochrome Monday

I’m still doing my month of Topaz Studio editing, and decided on a different approach for the images today.  I did the initial colour and tone correction in On1 Photo Raw, and then sent it over to Topaz Studio for further editing.  I did that because the first image shown, of the leopard cub, was rendering so flat in Topaz Studio as a raw file that it would have taken a lot of work just to get it back to a place to start editing.  I figured I would do the same for the other images, just to keep things consistent.

From a workflow perspective, it has definite advantages as the edited image appears back in On1 complete with all my keywords and other tagging that I use, so it is one less step to have to do to organize things.

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A precocious leopard cub exploring a fallen tree over a swamp.  Londolozi, May 2017.
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This magpie shrike was a perfect candidate for a monochrome treatment, being a black and white bird.  The acacia thorns and blue sky in the background did little to enhance the image.
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An African Wild Dog on a pathway through the Khwai region of the Okavango Delta.

Wishing everyone a great week ahead!

 

2018-09-23: Topaz Studio – Week 3

So far I have been concentrating on learning to effectively use Topaz Studio for standard editing, like I would do through On1 Photo Raw or Luminar.  I still have a ways to go to figure out exactly how this would work into my regular workflow, but I decided to do a departure this week and play around with photo art instead.  I watched a few tutorials during the week and one of them featured a new (to me) adjustment called AI Remix.  The effects that the presenter was creating looked really interesting, so that’s where my focus has been this week, along with the more familiar to me adjustments through impression and simplify.

This first image was shot with my Panasonic camera whilst in Botswana, and it was after the sun went down so the image was incredibly dark and noisy; completely unusable as a regular photograph (just being 100% honest).  But, I loved the posture of these two bull elephants jostling in the shallows of the Boteti River, and knew I could make something fun with the image, even if it wasn’t an something that I would traditionally mark as a keeper.

 

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For this image, I did some basic adjustments first to brighten the image and remove some of the noise, and then played around with a combination of AI Remix (Platinum Rose) and Glow.  For me, the posture of the trunks was the most important element of the image, and I feel the boosted saturation of greens and oranges behind the elephants really helps to showcase their shapes.

 

This next image is of a goliath heron.  I wanted to simplify the details without losing all the texture and pattern of the feathers, and bring out colours and tones that reminded me of old film images.  The result looks like a cross between a painting and a snapshot from an old point and shoot camera, but for me the image works.  Perhaps because it brings back memories of the type of pictures I would see around cottage properties when I was younger.

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A goliath heron spotted along the banks of the Boteti River in Botswana.

This last image is bit hectic, but it fits with the subject, the amazing African Wild Dog.  The combination of adjustments I used diffused the background significantly, but in doing so brought out repeating patterns of triangles in the vegetation which corresponds with the triangular shape of the dog’s ears.  It almost feels like the dog rushed through a huge pile of fallen leaves and quickly laid down, while the leaves slowly drifted back down to the ground.

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Creating painterly images or abstracts from photos isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it is something I enjoy playing around with once in a while.  Topaz Studio definitely provides a lot of different options to use to create these types of images.  Because I own the Topaz plug-in collection, I have access to a lot of these tools that aren’t available within the free portion of the software.  The AI Remix adjustment is one that I currently have on trial, and it’s something I would need to experiment more with to figure out if it is a tool I’ll want to have available once the trial period is over.

2018-09-16: Topaz Week 2

I am continuing to enjoy working in Topaz Studio, and now that I am getting more comfortable with the interface, I am starting to notice some differences that may affect how I use the program for future images.

First off, I have noticed that there can be a dramatic difference in how Topaz renders the raw file prior to having any processing done, and it seems to be very dependant on which camera I was using.  This lion image was shot with my old Nikon D610 (which I traded in late last year for a Fuji XT-2).

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This is the unedited image, exported from ON1 Photo Raw.
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This is the unedited image from Topaz Studio.
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For comparison purposes, this is the raw file out of Luminar.  The results are quite similar to the On1 version, especially in terms of the colour rendering.

As you can see, with this image there are fairly dramatic differences in the colour rendering, the amount of contrast and detail in the image, and how bright the image is.  The raw file appears to have a significant magenta cast in the Topaz file, compared to a more neutral tone in the On1 raw file.  I have been finding colour correction a bit tricky with Topaz so far.  I think of all the tools I have available to me, Luminar does the best job at correcting colour and especially removing colour casts.

But, even though I started from a different spot editing the raw file in Topaz than I would have from On1, I am happy with the results I was able to get with the image.

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Here is the finished image.  I spent time with this gorgeous lion early one more whilst on Londolozi Game Reserve in South Africa.  May, 2017.

With this next image, the difference in colour rendering was far less between On1 and Topaz Studio, so as with all photo editing, images do need to be looked at on a case by case basis.  The landscape image below was shot with my Panasonic FZ1000.

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The unedited raw image from On1 Photo Raw.
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The unedited image from Topaz Studio.

In contrast to the lion image, the raw file in Topaz Studio looks better to me than through On1, a little bit brighter and with a bit more detail.

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Here is my final edit of this image through Topaz Studio.  I was able to bring out depth of colour and detail in the image, without completely removing the grainy haze from the sand storm that was kicking up in the distance.  Taken at Hoanib Camp in Namibia, April 2017. 

Here is an image from this summer, shot with my Fuji XT-2.  I sure miss sitting outside watching the hummingbirds zip around the yard.

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Unedited from On1 Photo Raw.
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Unedited from Topaz Studio.

The difference in rendering on the Fuji files is far less dramatic.  The one out of Topaz looks flatter, but that’s what the editing process is for.

Here is the edited image:

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Edited through Topaz to bring out the detail, and get rid of the distracting elements of the background (in this case by cropping them out).  On second glance I could have made the image a bit brighter, but since the purpose of this exercise was to look for differences in how the raw image looked, I’ll leave it as is.

After doing a few of these image comparisons, I am finding that there is a consistent, dramatic difference in the way On1 and Topaz render files from my old Nikon camera, with the files being significantly more “true to life” in the On1 rendering.  Since I don’t have the Nikon anymore, this isn’t an issue that will plague me beyond finishing up the backlog of images I have that I would like to edit, so I can make smart choices about what software to use when.  The differences between the raw rendering with files from my Panasonic or Fuji cameras is not so dramatic, and if I am using Topaz Studio, I have a better starting point with files from those cameras than I do with the Nikon files.

 

 

 

2018-08-21: Flamingos – Before and After

I had flagged this image to include with my Monochrome Monday post yesterday, but when I started editing this in Luminar, I was so impressed with the transformation, I thought it would make for a good before and after post.

These flamingos were far away; I had the Panasonic at full 400mm zoom and they still are really small, so I shot this mostly as a proof image.  With a digital camera, there is little downside to snapping a photo or two even if you don’t think they will be great.

At least you have a record of what you saw, and it might actually turn out okay.  Needless to say this isn’t getting printed to hang on my wall, but it is a great example of how far you can recover a rather drab image.

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Here is the before image, even before straightening the horizon.  It almost pains me to post a shot that crooked, but before means before any editing.

As I said, I brought this into Luminar planning to include it with my black and white shots, but all it took were a few sliders to bring to colour and texture of the image back to life.  

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I saved a split shot with the before and after (I really like this view option, I find it much more helpful than toggling before and after on and off).  You really get an idea of how flat and lifeless the image was out of camera, and how much detail and colour be recovered.

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I edited this in under five minutes, so it definitely wasn’t a big time investment to play around and make this image the best it could be. 

2018-07-22: What I’ve seen this week

It’s been a great week for bird watching and wildlife, though I don’t have a ton of images to show for it.  As I expected, the hummingbirds are slowing down dramatically, with only around a half dozen birds remaining, but the purple finches, nuthatches, chickadees and pine siskins remain in force, clearing out two seed feeders every couple of days.  I had a pair of western tanagers through the yard on Thursday, but sadly they flitted through so quickly I couldn’t get any images.  I’ve only had three very brief sightings of the tanagers this year.

After the sadness of finding the destroyed robin’s nest the previous week, I was a bit surprised to find a robin (I assume the same mama, but perhaps a different one) building a nest feet from where the previous one was destroyed.  Fingers crossed she is more successful this time and the cats stay away.

The star of the week though was the bear cub that visited the yard Thursday around lunchtime.  It was on it’s own, and frankly seemed a bit small to be away from its mama, but I never caught sight of any other cubs around or the mom.  He was in the grass near some of my potted plants, making for some nice images out of my dining room window.

I hope you enjoy my choices for the week.

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Taking photos out through a window isn’t ideal, but I do get a great vantage point for creating images.
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Taking a moment to stop and smell the flowers.

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Mama robin tucked into her nest on my well pump house.
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A garter snake that I found basking on the pavement when I was taking Spencer for an afternoon walk.  I was grateful no cars came by while I was walking, and when I returned it had moved into the safety of the bushes.

2018-07-08: Birds and a bunny

Last weekend, I had decided that I was going to carry on with bird posts for the month of July.  I was excited because a robin’s nest was discovered in the yard, and while I didn’t see the babies, mama robin was still in the nest.  I had wonderful thoughts of finding a suitable spot to photograph them, while not getting too close and intruding on their space.  Then on Wednesday morning, as I was leaving with Spencer for our morning walk, I noticed that the nest was off kilter (it was built on top of a hose reel attached to our well pump house).  When I walked a bit closer, I saw that the nest was destroyed, and there were 3 baby robins dead on the ground.

I don’t have any proof, but I believe it was a cat that lives down the road and is allowed to roam outside that did the damage.  There were puncture marks in one of the chicks, but otherwise they were untouched, which leads me to believe that whatever attacked the nest was not in need of food.  Even if a wild cat, fox or other animal was disturbed when they were at the nest, if they were hungry, I would expect them to come back and collect the chicks.  Instead, I ended up having to clean the sad mess up.  I’m not going to share any images from that sighting; no one else needs to see that.

That took the wind out of my sails a bit for bird photos.  I’ve actually decided to not have a formal topic for July, and I’ll just post what I am inspired to share on a Sunday.  Today though, I do have a few bird images from around the yard and neighbourhood.  Who knows what next week will bring.

Before I get to the birds though, there is a bunny I’ve been seeing around the neighbourhood.  It’s not the best image, but I don’t think I am wrong in my assumption that it is a descendant of the bunny that was in the area the winter of 2016/2017.  I’ve linked below to one of the posts that featured the original bunny in the neighbourhood.  In talking with neighbours, there are a couple of these little hybrids hopping around.

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The original bunny

I have been quite excited to see hermit thrushes while out on walks a few times this summer.  Mostly, I just hear them calling from deep in the bushes, but I’ve seen them on different walks hopping around on the road, sitting on fence posts, or up on the power lines like this one.  The link below has some more information about the hermit thrush, as well as a sample of the pretty song they sing.

Hermit Thrush

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The hermit thrush paused here for a brief moment, but only showed off the backside before flying off deep into the bushes.

In addition to the hummingbirds that are going crazy in the yard, I have loads of purple finches and pine siskins (as well as the occasional hairy woodpecker, some juncos and a red-breasted nuthatch family).  I’m grateful there haven’t been any bears in my immediate vicinity, so I have been able to keep the sunflower seeds out for the birds.  I have two large squirrel proof feeders (ha-ha!) that I am filling up every other day at the moment.  I’ve included links to the All About Birds pages for both the birds if you are looking for more information on the species, or want to listen to the lovely songs that I get to listen to while taking my lunch break outside, or while puttering around watering the flowers.

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A group of pine siskins dining on sunflower seeds.

Pine Siskin

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Female purple finch
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Male purple finch

 

Purple Finch

I hope you have enjoyed my selections for the week.

Wishing everyone a fantastic week ahead.