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This tutorial actually covers every type of image, color or black and white. For landscape, you might process the sky alternately from land but, this process is especially relevant to Leica Monochrom shooters who work on monochrome files from the start.

Black and white imagery is simple and the power of an image comes through the composition, but the instantaneous impact is down to the dark room process. Imagine Ansel Adams’ photography without the beautiful contrast work he employed to varying degrees and sections of each and every one of his photographs? Great photos, still, but so much less impact.

I will work through an example to show how I utilize masking, within Photoshop, to get the best from the major areas in an image. It’s not a great composition, so apologies up front.

This image above is straight from the camera. No in camera settings applied, so it is tragically bland. Thankfully the Monochrom files retain immense levels of detail.

There are 3 areas to concentrate on.

  • I want to see a great range of soft tones in the woman and with a good level of contrast, but not so much she looks hollowed out
  • The window display is behind glass and I tend to process reflective areas harshly with great clarity and contrast
  • The masonry work should look worn, but still bright. This means very little clarity/structure

The image below is processed for the woman, but the window display is lack lustre and the masonry looks the worse for wear.

This next image is processed for the window display, but the harsh nature of the process leaves the woman over ‘processed’ and the masonry is just awful.

And lastly, below, we have processed for the masonry work and brought back some of its majesty, whilst reflecting age and wear.

Photo manipulation is probably off somewhere celebrating a near 100th anniversary, so I can have my cake and eat it!!

A warning for you color photoshoppers – your selection accuracy for the purposes of layer masking should be a lot more accurate than the ‘mostly accurate’ method I show here for monochrome work.

You should have all your specific layers stacked in a single image within photoshop. Having only processed them, they should all be down to the pixel aligned ;-)

Remember with layer processing that the topmost layer will be seen first and, if set to 100% opacity, you won’t see anything under it!

I will select the masonry from the ‘Masonry’ layer first and I will not select round the woman’s legs because she will be the topmost layer!

I will use the selection tool to select the masonry.

Click to show the Refine Selection dialogue.

It’s clearer to me to have unselected portions of the image highlighted in red. Click on the ‘View’ drop down to select this option.

I simply use the brush tool to ‘paint’ my selection edges and let Photoshop find the ‘edges’ for me.

You should end up with a more elegant selection edge, like so…

With the ‘Masonry’ layer selected, I can simply click on the ‘Mask’ button…

… and Photoshop will create my mask based upon my refined edge selection!

The layer should now have a mask applied. Black areas will not show, but white will. Shades between black and white, within the mask, will be grades of opacity depending on how near they are to black or white.

Here are the layer masks, clearly showing woman, on top hehe, window display and masonry work…

… resulting in our final image. Click on it for a larger 1600 pixel version.

Again, apologies for the choice of image, but we have a clear demonstration that a single image wide process will not provide desired results but, with layer masking, we are allowed to process elements of the image however we wish.

 

MW-T Pro Mono Workflow sml

Just to let you all know, I will be bringing out a DVD with a series of video tutorials for the conversion of colour images to black and white.

The videos will cover conversion to monochrome with, or without, tools such as Silver Efex Pro 2.

There will be instruction on dealing with conversion of portions of the image using accurate pro level masking.

At least half the instruction will deal with the production of exhibition quality black and white.

Initially, focus will be on working with Photoshop. Shortly after I will release videos for achieving these results in Lightroom.

Example conversion styles below…

Generations [Explored]

Impressed

Best Friends Forever

Hard Sell On The Vintage Cameras

Calm

 

There may be some teaser videos during October, but stay tuned.

Michael

I’ve had my Monochrom for a while now, in excess of 5000 captures and I have a solid workflow; I can produce the image I thought about at capture time.

This is a significant point and raises a question for all of you.

Do you visualise the final image when you first see the scene to be captured?

I do and it’s the principal reason I have a good percentage of keepers. A large part of this is knowing that a composition won’t work but, in no small part, visualising the final image means I’ve already processed the image before I get to the computer.

I’ve already written a piece on how I process images from the Monochrom and here you can find Leica Monochrom Workflow.

Has anything changed?

I have a better understanding of how the contrast blend modes, Soft and Hard Light, affect my images. This means I choose and manipulate Silver Efex Pro 2 filters more accurately to achieve the contrast I need. That’s definitely down to practise.

And I have a new sharpening technique, which I will detail in this post.

It’s probably best to work through an example. Here’s an image, as exposed, but resized.

Images straight from the Monochrom are simply exposures. All the detail and tones are in there and they just need manipulation.

Personally, I use Photoshop CS6 and Silver Efex Pro 2. It really saves time, but do be careful as it can be misused. For example, High Structure filters will texturise the walls and paved floor so much so the scene will look like a nuclear bunker.

The first layer is a base layer, 017 Full Spectrum. Structure +45 and Dynamic Brightness +30.

Here’s an important distinction with SEP2. If you start the filter program from the floating toolbox window, SEP2 will take your entire image and flatten it. That’s what you will work with.

If you select a layer, in Photoshop, and then go through the menus, Filters > Nik Software > Silver Efex Pro 2, you will only work on the selected layer within the Nik software.

I always process from the background layer, which was the output from Adobe Camera Raw. Always.

Select the background layer, through the menu go to SEP2 and I choose the 023 Wet Rocks Filter. Film Type to Neutral. Dynamic Brightness +30, Midtone Brightness +15, Contrast +10, Structure +25. All other settings remain untouched.

I chose Wet Rocks because its higher structure lends itself well as a contrast layer.

You have to move this new layer to the top and to set its Blend mode to ‘Soft Light’.

This is already a better result, but it’s too dark. Did you know…

A Curves Layer set to a Blend Mode of Screen, opacity 40%, is basically an extra stop of exposure.

I want to concentrate the viewer’s gaze on people in the centre of the image, so I will apply a mask to this curves layer, which will look like this in the layer palette.

To get the radial mask effect, use the Gradient Fill and select the Radial Gradient.

You can also cheat a little and imply more contrast than there is by adding a further contrast layer to the outside using an inverse radial gradient mask!

Duplicate the Soft Light contrast layer and set it to Hard Light.

Apply the mask we just talked about. Invert the mask in Images > Adjustments… > Invert

I’m happy with the process, so far, and I will double check exposure levels by going into Image > Adjustments… > Levels. Click on Auto with the preview ticked to see how much the image levels change. My monitor is calibrated and so i don’t usually see much difference. It’s a good basic indicator you have missed exposure though!

Do not underestimate the effect of correct sharpening. If applied correctly the viewer shouldn’t really be aware of it. Not enough or too much will be quite obvious.

Here’s what I do.

Flatten all the existing layers from processing. Now duplicate this one layer 3 times!
For each of these new layers, apply the High Pass Filter, then set to Blend Mode Overlay…
First layer – Not the base layer! – High Pass, Radius 4.0 pixels. Layer opacity 20%.
Second layer, High Pass, Radius 2.0 pixels. Layer opacity 20%.
Third layer, High Pass, Radius 1.0 pixels. Layer opacity 40%.

Flatten the image and you can now resize for screen. My images, landscape, are set to 1600 pixels and I use the ‘Bicubic (Best for smooth gradients)’

If you didn’t work in sRGB, which the Monochrom uses so this shouldn’t be an issue, convert the color space to sRGB. Also convert the image to 8 bit.

Here is my final JPEG image.

Cynical Father

Please send questions if I’ve not explained anything sufficiently. And, of course, there are a good number of ways to process the Monochrom’s images. This is just my own potion.

Thanks for reading
Michael

This post was going to be about sharpening your images. Its effectiveness for maximising impact in your own photography, most especially when showing work for competitions.

And here’s an image, from a cell phone, to show how effective sharpening can be.

2012-08-23-0028  2013 comp

Except it doesn’t really work, because I processed it. I boosted the saturation and the contrast which, let’s face it, is the very definition of sharpening. The improvement in this image is attributed to a balanced effort of colour processing and additional sharpening which, if correctly applied, should be crisp without noticing any pixels!

So, the direction of the post has stepped back to the importance and effectiveness of processing your images.

I don’t know why but I am still surprised to find people who don’t process their images. They’re quite accepting of this fact and, a significant proportion, are quite proud of their images straight out of the camera.

I’ll state this clearly and concisely for the record – capture your photographs to the best of yours and your camera’s ability. Get the best light you can. if you need to and can move, do so, use a flash, whatever. Forgive my language, but you simply cannot polish a turd. Photoshop is not an excuse for your shortcomings at capture time. Don’t get me started on people ‘rescuing’ their images by converting to black and white. That’s another post entirely!

Where was I. Oh yes, those deluded people who don’t need to process their images…

If you’ve set up your camera’s picture mode for a bit of extra contrast, sharpening and, possibly, saturation. Or you’ve set Vivid or Landscape Mode, etc. You do realise you are post processing? Well, your camera is and at capture time. You don’t count in my subset of misguided photographers.

These days the sub set of cameras I consider extremely capable of capturing scenes properly is just ginormous. Literally the base to mid end of the compact camera market and cell phones comprise the sub par machines.

The principal reason for editing images is to exert your own particular style on your photographs and this has been going on in dark rooms well before the digital era.

Another reason for post processing is to compensate for the additional layers on top of your sensors. Colour cameras need to deduce colour and require a Beyer filter. In addition, your camera probably also has an Optical Low Pass Filter to correct colour and reduce moire patterning.

My camera is one of the few with a ‘naked’ sensor and still I would not consider putting forward unprocessed images.

Take this one. This image is as captured. No additional settings or processing, but a correct exposure.

LMM1001458 no processingMy good friend, Jarret, drying his underwater housing for his Nikon D300

Jarret
Processed with Silver Efex Pro 2

Try not to get distracted by my choice in processing. What is evident is the detail and textures that were present in the image data and 2 minutes of work has produced this markedly different result.

Here’s another example, again from my Monochrom.

Maintenance - Unprocessed, as shot
These Underwater Photographers are constantly fiddling with their cameras!

Maintenance

Do get serious about processing your images. If you need pointers or assistance, let me know.
Michael

The Leica M Monochrom is, for me personally, the best camera I have used. It captures an inspiring dynamic range, ISO and noise is simply not a concern anymore and images are sharp. I do, however, shoot with all capture settings off; no sharpening, tonal correction, etc. And, just as Ansel locked him self away in the dark room, I intend to photoshop all images and this means, out of the camera, the images are lack lustre. As you can see below.

The images below are split – neutral on the left and processed on the right.

I selected the entire frame for this first image, so no edge cropping or rotation.

L1000953 Compare

The following image was rotated slightly and cropped in, but you can still see the neutral left and processed right sides of the frame.

L1000903 Compare

Editing

I should probably be clear on one thing, I tolerate the post process portion of image creation. It’s certainly not my favourite part of the process, so I am not adverse to use of filter packages – for time saved vs results vs cost they are great value.

Correct the exposure in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR).

My images are all captured and processed in a similar fashion.

In ACR, I’m after an even exposure, relatively low contrast and save the highlights. At the bottom of the ACR window are the image attributes that will translate to Photoshop. I use sRGB – my camera’s colour space is sRGB – for colour space and 16bit.

Open in Photoshop

Identify the primary horizontal or vertical line in the image. If none is available for use with the Ruler Tool, then rotate by eye – Select All > Edit > Transform > Rotate. And crop.

Silver Efex Pro 2

I have come up through the ranks of manipulating images. I know how to convert an image to monochrome and how to boost contrast and manipulate portions of the image. This prior knowledge is extremely useful in knowing how to achieve what I want in Silver Efex 2 quickly, but this ‘apprenticeship’ of manually adjusting images isn’t a pre requisite. You’ll do just fine with Silver Efex from the get go!

Usually a single filter is required. My favourite filters are Modern Full Dynamic, both Harsh and Smooth, Classic High Structure and Vintage Noir 1. Start with tweaking the Structure to about 50%, Contrast around 30%, then go from there.

For both of these images I employed the Modern Full Dynamic Harsh for the base filter.

I will usually add a contrast boosting layer, using a low contrast filter (in Silver Efex) and setting it’s blend mode to Soft Light, somewhere around 20% opacity. It’s just a final tweak to the tones.

There’s always a but though! For the street scene, I mask selected the bushes to the left and used an alternate filter to bring out the textures and lighter tones. In addition, I mask selected the hazy country side in the distance and used yet another filter with a high structure.

For the canal scene, well, I always use an additional high structure and contrast filter for water. Water should appear to be a different substance in images and being so reflective requires high contrast. Set this layer’s blend mode to Soft Light with an opacity around 50%+

Sharpen before resize

Before sharpening, flatten the image’s layers and confirm that Layer > Flatten Image is not selectable. This is likely a result of the rotating process earlier on.

Images, incorrectly sharpened, will have artefacts. ‘Jaggies’ are the most common and you can USM all you like, it looks unnatural!

I use the High Pass filter. Monochrom images are pretty sharp anyway, other cameras require a more liberal ‘dollop’ of sharpening.

Duplicate the image layer. Select the new layer and Filter > Other > High Pass…

My images require only 1.0, but others as much as 3.0. Subsequently, set this layer’s blend mode to Overlay and the opacity to around 60%.

Flatten the image again.

Now we can resize for the internet and ensure you do, no free large images unless you have already thought to do so! When saving as jpeg, don’t compress; save the best version you can.

And that’s how I process Monochrom files. Each image takes me about 2 minutes, but remember that no amount of photoshop will save a poor composition or poorly exposed image. Ensure the capture is super correct.

I hope this is useful – too many photographers hide their workflow as a guarded secret that will unravel them as photographers if revealed. The images will speak for themselves.

Michael

Please do check out my personal digital workflow, detailed in my new post on Digital Photography School.

My post on Digital Photography School.

 

Part 2 will be a reveal on my editing workflow!

Enjoy

Michael

Not sure if you follow this seriously informative site, but I am guest writer there with a post on compositions for buildings.

Here’s a monochrome version of today’s Daily Awesome Photo. I will tackle any portion of the image I think requires its own conversion to B&W, so this means masking and the use of each colour channel to bring out the best in each aspect. Telling you how to do this is sometimes a waste when an example can do the work and you can see the change with each new layer.

Leigh on Sea taken with Nokia 808 PureView

Here’s a link to my Photoshop CS5 PSD file, shrunk to a manageable 700 pixels ;-) Do let me know if you have trouble with it.

Feedback always welcome.

I have a little mental checklist i go through when i pass a building that catches my eye. So I hope this will help others look at different styles for shooting architecture.

Why did it catch your eye? How do you capitalise on this feature?
Price Waterhouse Cooper Building

This is the Price Waterhouse Cooper building and, as you look up near the entrance, you are clearly reminded of Batman! Think about this feature and whether you need to frame in on it or that it enhances the whole building. Can you shoot against the sky?

Can I shoot an elegant composition with the whole building?
Angkor Wat Sunrise Free Desktop Background Wallpaper 2560x1440 iMac 27

Notice this is Cambodia? That’s because I shoot in London and it’s definitely a challenge. Don’t be discouraged though, surrounding buildings often provide a contrast that will contextualise your building; out of place or the opposite?!

So, which bits can we shoot?  Is there a decent Facia?
Moorfields Eye Hospital

I was literally 15 feet from the building, restricted by roads and walls. Look for geometry in a single building face.

  • Are there intersecting lines in the features and fixtures?
  • Symmetrical or seemingly random window placement?
  • How does the sky reflect off this building’s facia?
  • Is there a contrasting object like a sign or lamp post in the scene that would complement the rigid geometry of the facia?

Look up!
Reflected Perspectives

I’ve said this before, but shooting skyward is effective. Reflective buildings will contain more detail where there is a bright day. Some cloud will provide texture. Try to line up the prominent edge or facia with the frame. If it helps, fall back on  golden triangles and thirds for framing. The building’s lines and geometry should be respected, so wonky levels won’t be tolerated!

Leading lines; Shooting to a vanishing point
Urban Landscape [Explored]

Okay, there’s a building in my vanishing point, so this example isn’t a best fit. But the concept is sound. Shoot leading lines into the distance. Train tunnels and corridors, spiral stair cases. We’re talking about buildings here, so is there a repeating geometry or line? It doesn’t have to be the span of the structure, but can be on a wall or a single walkway. I can well imagine a sky scraper will entail shooting to the sky – don’t be dull though, so compose and frame well to make a simple scene grandiose and appealing.

Recap: Single Feature, Entire Building, Facia, Leading Lines, Sky and Vanishing Points.

So, hopefully you have a little to work with when you pause as you walk past a building!

Enjoy
Michael