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Category Archives: Software
I was a little surprised when Google announced a month or so ago that they had acquired Nik Software, the company that brought us the excellent Silver Efex Pro and HDR Efex Pro photo editing software.
The acquisition made sense on the level that Google had already acquired Piknik the on line editing suite aimed at entry level photographers and that Google + has been more enthusiastically taken up by photographers than perhaps any other sector, but I’m sure I was not alone in fearing for the future of the earthbound applications.
Given the general feeling of trepidation, the announcement last week that Google were making the entire suite available for $149 took everyone by surprise – and the news that they would upgrade existing customers at no cost was as welcome as it was surprising. A couple of forums reported problems with downloads and support for installation, so I waited until yesterday before e-mailing Nik Customer support to see if I was eligible. They responded within minutes, to my surprise and after I had supplied the license key for my installed version of Silver Efex Pro sent me the download link within about five minutes.
The software installs on top of existing Nik software, no complicated uninstalling required and I carried out some preliminary experiments to check that it was all working. Installed easily and seems to work just as well as it always did.
Well done to Google for this – I’d already bought Silver Efex Pro and HDR Efex Pro, now I have Color Efex Pro, Sharpener, DFine and Viveza at no extra cost. Color Efex Pro consists of a set of pre-defined adjustable filters for colour enhancement, Sharpener does what it says on the tin, very effectivley. DFine is a very effective noise reduction application that allows you to choose which areas to reduce noise in. Viveza is the flagship editing application allowing the user to control contrast, luminosity, brightness, saturation etc.
I’ll be using Sharpener and Dfine, probably more than the other extra applications, but there is something here for everyone and at this price point, it represents excellent value for money.
The technique involves exposing a range of identically framed shots at shutter speeds calculated to expose for points between the darkest and lightest parts of an image. By default, where an image contains extremes of light and dark, cameras only expose perfectly for a part of the picture, whereas the naked eye is quick enough to compensate for the variations in light reflecting from the various surfaces included in the field of vision. The picture here for example might have been challenging because the sky is much brighter than the tree so a choice for a single exposure would be to expose for the sky, leaving the tree as a silhouette, or to expose for the tree, leaving the sky to be blown out. With HDR I take a range of shots at different shutter speeds and build a composite in software to get the optimal exposures combined in one image.
I’ve used Nik Software’s HDR Pro 2 for these shots, partly because I’m a big fan of Silver Efex Pro, their essential Black & White plug in for Lightroom & Photoshop, and partly because I’m trying to achieve results that are on the lifelike end of the scale, something that Nik advertise as a strength of their software. This is an entirely subjective decision, I like drama in a photograph, but like Techno or Heavy Metal, it can be wearing if it’s applied indiscriminately. Objectively, I decided that using realism as a yardstick would present a measurable and repeatable test of the software.
Those familiar with Nik Software will know that the user is presented with a range of presets, choose one that is close to what you want to achieve and fine tune it. All of the presets are achievable from the default image in any case, and some people prefer to start with the default and add to it selectively.
I use Adobe Lightroom to organise my pictures, here the original images are exported to HDR Pro. Note that the behaviour of other Nik plug ins is different, the user chooses “Edit in….”. This is slightly confusing, but makes sense since this is not an edit, but a composite of multiple images. The images are automatically aligned, but that doesn’t mean that you can throw random images at it. Ideally, the shots should be taken using a tripod so they match pretty exactly. I separated the images by one half stop, so in this case from -1.5 to +1 on the meter, giving me six images ranging from darkest to lightest. They don’t have to be in order, I shot the dark darler images progressively from 0 and then shot the lighter images. The software loads the images, aligns them and produces (in time) the default HDR image.
HDR Pro 2 does not work with presets from HDR Pro which may disappoint some people. The reason is the software has been radically overhauled, using new tone mapping algorithms and bringing the user interface into line with Nik’s other programs so legacy presets are now deprecated. It won’t take long before new presets are available, but for now, including the default rendering, there are 28 presets ranging from the realistic, through black & white to the properly hallucinatory. The screen can be split showing both the default and the edit in progress and the controls offer Nik’s proprietory U-Point technology to work on sections of the picture and a range of generalised controls allowing the user to adjust tone mapping, colour, contrast etc across the whole image.
I’m beginning to like this software, it achieves what should be the aim of all software; it allows the user to get on with the creative work rather than wrestle with obscure and obdurate user interfaces. I’m not a massive fan of the overblown school of HDR Photography although the results are undeniably impressive, however HDR is an interesting branch of photography. The software, be it Photomatix, HDR Pro or Photoshop itself is getting more sophisticated and it certainly has a place in the kitbag.
This is the time of year for Poppies to show their faces. Only this year there’s not been a lot of sun and finding the Poppy fields has proved rather more difficult than I expected.
This shot was obtained via a comment made on Flickr that mentioned there were Poppies in a field about twelve miles away from where I live. So into the car and off on the search. These poppies were about half a mile from the road and I needed to climb over several barbed wire fences to get to them! And I obviously wasn’t the first, there was quite a well worn trail.
To get this shot I used a Lee 0.6 Grad ND Filter to bring the sky down to the same level as the fields and the Lee Polarising Filter to bring the clouds out a little more and bring up the blue of the sky. I then shot nine overlapping exposures from a tripod , very low down to get close to the Poppies on the right hand side and to make sure the camera stayed in the same plane throughout. I used the Canon EFS 17-55mm lens, which has pretty much become my favourite lens these days. Wide enough to do convincing landscape photography but not so wide as to include my feet! More seriously I don’t get as much vignetting with this lens combined with the filters as I do with the EFS 10-22 Wide Angle lens.
In post, I used a program called AutoPano Pro to stitch the nine exposures together, imported the completed panorama back into Lightroom and made a few adjustments to light and shade to bring out the best of the shot. Its the firsttime I’ve used this program and I’m impressed with the results. I’m not sure if this is the best workflow – from the perspective of image quality I may have been better advised to do the adjustments before the stitching, but I was concerned I might mess up the matching of the shots.
More experimentation required, I’ll write up the results!
This photograph is one that I’ve been meaning to take for ages. The bandstand in Brighton is one of the most popular venues for weddings and if there isn’t a wedding there’s usually a photographer cluttering up the view. Today, I walked past and sure enough there was a photographer. It was a very grey day and as I walked, I started to think of ways of getting a good image.The flat grey sky wasn’t going to do me any favours, so I decided to go for a high contrast, bleached out look in post production. I stopped and looked back and the photographer was packing up. As an added bonus there were very few people around so I went back and took a series of shots quite fast, not worrying about the colour, but trying to get the geometry right.
This shot was desaturated and the contrast boosted in Lightroom, then converted to black and white. I used Silver Efex Pro to get the high contrast, bleached out look and was pretty happy with the result. Sometimes even the bad days are good!
So yesterday evening the Brighton Photographers Group put on a Star Trails expedition and I found myself along with about nine other photographers, shaking with cold in a deserted field above Birling Gap, watching the skies anxiously for a break in the clouds.
It was the first time I’ve tried Star Trails and having read up a bit beforehand, I was reasonably confident of getting some kind of a result. What I hadn’t reckoned on was the cold!
The photograph here is a composite of six five minute shots.
I set the camera (a Canon EOS 7D) up as follows.
EFS 17-55mm Lens
When I got home, I loaded the images into Lightroom and exported them untouched as jpeg. Then I used a program called StarStax to build the stack. Once that was done I brought the picture back into Lightroom and tweaked it slightly to bring out the colours.
Wear more clothes!
Take a hot drink!
More seriously, next time I do this I’m going to take a context shot, a tree or building to set off the trails. As a first attempt I’m pleased I got a result, now I can trust the technology I can be a little more creative!
Thanks are definitely due to
Dade Freeman for setting this up
Simon Anderson for demonstrating how it should be done and sharing the techniques he used
Noctography(Mark O’Neill?) for sharing techniques and advice
Brighton Photographers Group for being a friendly and generous bunch of people!
The news that Instagram has been acquired by Facebook leaves me with mixed feelings I’m afraid. I’m pleased for the guys at Instagram obviously, their hard work over the last few years has given them prime position in the iPhoneography space and now they are getting the tangible rewards. Long may they party…
As a user however, I must admit to being profoundly disappointed. I liked Instagram a lot, preferring it to Hipstamatic and as a compulsive iPhoneographer I found it more convenient, more user friendly and more fun. I liked it just the way it was. As a Facebook user, I rarely use the photosharing capabilities. I don’t like the way it randomly clips the picture to shoehorn it into your stream and I’m not overly keen on the terms and conditions that suggest my pictures may not be entirely under my control.
Displaying photographs on a website is very different to displaying them on a mobile phone and as a photographer I want to exercise some control over the look and presentation of my photographs. I don’t get that from Facebook, which is why I use 500px, this website and Flickr.
I’m also having misgivings about the lack of choice that corporatism is beginning to inflict on us. The tendency is to consolidate, which means less competition and often, since corporates are driven entirely by the need to satisfy shareholders, a reduction in quality as costs are rationalised. And, being a gentleman of a certain age, I prefer my outsiders. I was always a Rolling Stones fan rather than a Beatle!
So this is why I’m cancelling my Instagram account. I’m not convinced that the mobile phone only model is sustainable as the tablet market expands. I don’t necessarily want to share my mobile phone pictures with an internet audience, but when I do, I will send them to EyeEm, the increasingly popular German start up. They have good presentation, a more vibrant community than Instagram (in my opinion) and a nice user friendly way of categorising and tagging pictures. I can share the pictures I want to share with my Facebook friends by linking, without handing the pictures over to Facebook.
Plus, I like to think that I’m doing my bit for the independents, the mavericks, the square pegs. That’s just me I’m afraid.
Is iPhoneography the new punk rock? This was the question I asked in a previous blog post. What I meant was that the iPhoneography craze has all the characteristics of a movement that’s going to upset the status quo. The cost of entry is low, its simple to execute, cost of software is low and the results are sufficiently different from DSLR photography to be identifiable. In those respects at least it has a lot in common with the punk rock movement of the 1970′s.
It is also polarising opinion in a pleasingly similar way. I imagine the transition from analogue to digital was heralded as the end of civilisation at the time and there is no doubt that digital photography has significantly altered the professional landscape. Now that the ability to take a good photograph is accessible to so many more people, the old Hunter S. Thompson saying “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” has never been more true. Perhaps now more than ever, is the time that photographers need to rely on their originality, imagination and talent in order to thrive.
I believe that the iPhone will change the landscape for a number of reasons apart from those cited above. The principle reason being that because of the accessibility and ease of use, it is a great tool for flexing the creative muscles and trying new things out. I can see a time approaching when the iPhone could even displace the point and shoot camera, which with the new generation of mirrorless (MILC or EVIL) digital cameras from Leica, Olympus and Nikon must be feeling the squeeze from both ends.
Mobile phone photography is both fun and rewarding. There is sufficient interest to support magazines and exhibitions and I sold my first “iPhoneograph” last week, hopefully a taste of things to come! Specialist photosharing sites such as EyeEm and Instagram have helped the movement to ‘go social’ and software is coming along in leaps and bounds as well as reasonably priced accessories such as lens attachments. There is even an adapter available to allow the user to mound Canon and Nikon DSLR lenses.
The software I used to create the image illustrating this post is called TrueHDR. I also use Snapseed on both the mobile phone and desktop. The other program I can recommend without hesitation is Filterstorm. On the frivolous, fun side of things, Tiny Planets and Plastic Bullet are both very effective, if limited.
Check out my iPhoneography Gallery. If you’re not already doing it, try it, you may grow to love it!
Followers of iPhoneography will know Snapseed for its iPhone and iPad implementations. It is in my opinion the best value and possibly the most full featured editing app available to mobile photographers. Nik Software of course are equally well known for their professional editing tools Silver Efex Pro and Viveza to name but two. The release of Snapseed for the desktop at £13 in the Mac Store poses an interesting question – who is it aimed at exactly?
I decided to test the capabilities of the software using a problematic photograph I’d taken in Iceland. In the original RAW file, the picture was underexposed because of the unusual amount of pure white snow in the picture. I needed to boost the exposure to bring the snow up to the brilliant white it was in real life, but in so doing, lost the detail of the mountains. Bringing the red jacket through completely overexposed the snow.
I exported the file to jpeg as it was intended for the internet – this immediately set me on the path to a downgraded picture, so it may have been better to have taken the RAW file, however Snapseed does not offer the same degree of control over the RAW image as Aperture, relying on the underlying OS support for RAW in order to deal with the picture.
Snapseed offers two categories of adjustment, Basic and Creative. The Creative adjustments are mainly combinations of filters and textures – not what I was after here. The Basic controls offer Image tuning, Cropping & Straightening and Details. Given the issues I mentioned earlier, the main work was going to have to be selective. I needed to bring out the red of the woman’s jacket and bring up the detail of the mountain in the background.
Snapseed uses the same u-point technology in Image Tuning that Nik apply to their professional tools. Click on the area you need to adjust to create a Control point, adjust the size of the control point so that the changes are localised and then apply contrast, saturation and brightness as required. These controls gave me exactly what I needed. I was then able to use Details to bring out the structure. Time elapsed – about fifteen minutes.
For £13, this software is good value – as a taster for the professional tools it is excellent. I would not use it to create prints or images for print publication, but for internet publication I think its fine.
Positives: RAW Support, Ease of use, speed, price
Negatives: limited feature set (but very reasonable for the price)
Conclusion – although the feature set is limited, it is capable. This is very much a fun application delivering decent results quickly and easily. It does not offer the same levels of resolution as Aperture or Photoshop. Its mobile photography++. iPhone editing for the desktop and an inexpensive introduction to Nik Software!