Year: 2021

What’s the best lens for street photography?

Right off the bat I just want to say that there is no right or wrong answer to this question. In truth, the lens you choose is probably going to reflect your confidence levels as a photographer. If you like mixing it up on the street then a 28mm is probably perfect as it gets personal at that focal distance. If you are a little shy or worried about photographing strangers then a longer prime or even a short zoom is probably going to favour your style of photography. The essence of this article then is that, there is no perfect lens for the job, it’s all about you as a photographer!

All this being said, it’s hard to imagine anyone doing street with a long zoom. Candid / street photography requires you as much as possible to blend into a crowd and nothing shouts photographer like a DSLR armed with a long zoom. Equally, a 7mm fisheye is pretty much useless unless you like standing toe to toe with your subject. With that lens you are going to see more that the whites of their eyes and that means getting very personal. While some photographers also spout long and hard about the benefits of vintage glass, which is often manual focus of course, forget it. It’s not 1961 when you had no choice, it’s 2021 when you certainly do. Rely on a manual focus lens / camera combo and I guarantee you that you’ll miss that pulitzer price winning shot when the opportunity arises. In fact I’ll go as far as to say that you’ll miss a lot of really good shots. In street, great images don’t come along everyday so when they do, you need to be nimble and nimble means more often than not, nailing it on auto.

For me, the sweet spot for street and candid photography is going to fall somewhere between 28mm – 55mm in full frame terms although my favourite squeez for candid photography today is the pocket sized Canon G7X, purely because that’s what I own. I use it a lot for street because it’s small and unobrusive and easily fits in a trouser pocket. The 8.8 to 32mm lens combined with the 1″ sensor seem to capture great shots even in low light. In truth though I’d be equally happy with any good quality 1″ sensor compact nowadays, such as Sony, Lumix or Ricoh. Another good option of course is the Fujifilm x100V (or an earlier variant) and the x-Pro series ie 1 through 3. All great cameras for street and candid photography.

Another favourite of mine is my Lumix GX80 which has an M43 sensor. Again it’s small, descrete and very capable. Armed with the Lumix 12-60mm f2.8 (or even just the f3.5 if cash is tight) this is a great street combo because again, it’s small and compact. In fact it might equally be as good with the kit lens, the diminutive 12-32mm. What I certainly wouldn’t take out with me is my Nikon D600, even with a a tiny pancake lens. Way too big. And although I have used my Fuji x-T1 for street photography, especially with the 18-55 and Viltrox 23mm, I still think that this size is too big for serious street. This is because with street photography you really just want to blend into the background, not make a statement along the lines of “hey, look at me, I’m a photographer and I am photographing you!”.

Now I am a member of a couple of Fuji facebook groups and the buzz on these groups is about SOOC photography ie straight out of camera shooting. Like many, I do like the jpegs that Fuji cameras can create, especially with a filmic emulation applied in camera but I maintain that for good street photography it pays to blend in and you’ll do that best with a small, innocuose camera like the Canon G7X or something similar. Because I am as happy playing with RAW as I am with JPEG’s, I don’t worry too much about SOOC although as I mentioned, with the right light Fuji camreas can produce stunning film quality results. As mentioned above, for the serious Fuji street photographer I would suggest that they look at the X100V (or an earlier variant such as the X100F) or perhaps the X-Pro3 (or an earlier variant) if they want lens interchangeability. These two cameras for me, along with many modern compacts are about as perfect as it gets for street and both sit alongside my Lumix GX80 for this very reason.

Recolouring B&W photos using Affinity Photo

Affinity Photo is not for the faint-hearted but put your soul into learning and prefecting it and you’ve got the perfect editing partner for life. That’s not to say that there aren’t some amazing photo editors out there, many for free, just that it is a well supported, hugely capable product from a major author. Serif have left nothing to chance with Affinity Photo and with each release, it just gets better and better. Add to that a healthy, growing userbase with many users adding quality tutorials to YouTube and elsewhere and you’ve got the perfect, practically zero cost alternative to Adobe Photoshop.

Now, as I mentioned, Affinity Photo is not for the fainhearted but if you know Photoshop, you’re already more than half-way there. I bought my version of Affinity Photo back in 2019 and I used the pandemic lockdown to throw myself into it. That doesn’t make me an expert, far from it, but I have yet to find something that Affinity can’t do. Where it differs from Photoshop, other than in price and the lack of a yearly subscription, is in the number of people developing presets for it. Whatever you need to do, Photoshop probably has a preset to help you automate the task. That’s not to say that Affinity Photo doesn’t have similar features, just that currently at least there are fewer people building add-ons (Serif calls these Macros) for Affinity Photo. Now doubt as time goes on, that situation will change.

Before I go futher, this article is not meant to be a HOW TO for Affiity Photo. These are best created using video as you really need to see the process rather than read about it. All I am trying to do here is to introduce an interesting creative process which is to convert an old 1940’s post card sized photo into a colourful, period acurate image. Lets take a closer look at this particular image.

Home Guard, West London, 1940’s

The primary reason for doing it was because it contains an image of my grandfather Frank, who served in the home guard during WW2. Frank, for those interested, is bang in the centre, top row. This then is a labour of love and is still very much work in progress as far as I am concerned. So far I have completed perhaps 80% of the editing work with the concrete road and finishing refinements still to do. There’s no hurry on my part as there’s no client to wory about but had there of been, a job like this would take perhaps 4 – 6 hours depending on the level of detail required, historical accuracy and overall refinement needed.

Now, although I have said that I don’t intend to talk about the exact process of re-creating this image in colour, I do need to talk though the strategy and process as this is important in understanding how we can create a colour accurate image of wartime 1940’s. The only real way to do this then is to find relevent colour images from that period or failing this, find appropriate colour images from things such as renactments which utilise, for example, authentic uniforms from that same period. Same goes fo rthe buildings, roof and road colours. Given the lack of colour images of this type from that period, the latter approach then is much more feasible. For a start, in the 1940’s B&W was the predominant film stock used and while colour film existed, google searches don’t always deliver the necessary results. The other thing to remember, since we are going to gradient map the colours we find in more modern photos onto the B&W image above, the highlits and shadows in that image play an equal part in contributing to the reality of the final result. For this reason we not only need to find a colour accurate scene, we also need to find one with similar lighting and tonality conditions ie light and shade.

Having found relevent photos to use as a guide, we can now create swatches that will help us to recreate the colours, for example of the uniforms, on the B&W image. Here, you can see that the sampled colours from the above photos have been applied to the B&W image as reference colours. On Affinity Photo these are on a seperate top layer. From left to right we have uniform lows, mids and highs, in the centre facial colours again from lows, though mids to highs and on the right, the colours sampled from the door of the barracks, again lows, mids and highs. Amazingly, this is all we need to begin the fascinating process of recolouring the B&W image.

As previously mentioned, the process of applying the colours from the swatches is done using a Gradient Map. For example, in the case of the skin colours we simply sample the colours above setting the low on the gradient map (which is in red) to the darkest shade, the mid colour (green) to the mids and the lightest colour to the highligh (blue) colour. This is perhaps better explained by the reference image below which shows the default colours applied to the image. Here red depicts shadows, green depicts the mids and blue depicts the highlights in the original B&W image. Of course we aren’t just talking about 3 tones, you can add as many points on the gradient map as you like by simply sampling colours between low and high and adding them to the map.

This all being said, let’s take a look at where the image is right now as I write this article so I can talk more about the process and the refinements that I still need to make. In this image, I have applied four gradiant maps. One is applied to the uniforms, another to the skin tones, a third to the buildings and finally, a fourth to the roofs. Of these I am least happy with the ashphelt roofs and will revisit this shortly to lower the harshness of the blacks and to add some texture.

I chose to create this article to inspire others to have a go. We all have family photo treasures, many in B&W, and in my view, simply adding colour to a face immediately brings it to life. The last time I saw my grandfather was 40 years ago but looking at his face here, irrespective of the fact that the resolution of the image is terrible, it immediatly bought back wonderful memories of spending precious time with him when I was a boy. Master builder, mandolin player and a great father and grandfather, as is so often the case we don’t know how good things are until we lose them.

Affinity Photo is an amazing image editing tool. Serif offer a short trail period if you wish to give it a go. With special offers, Affinity Photo can be purchased for about £25 which is basically stealing. If you do decide to try it though, my suggestion is to persevere as if it was your only editing tool. You can’t pick up and put down Affinity as you can something like Luminar Ai or even Lightroom, it requires practice and patience. Put the effort though in and you’ll be rewarded by some some amazing editing tools on which to build real editing ability.

It doesn’t matter what you photograph – just make it your best shot ever!

I’m writing this article because I am seeing an increasing number of what I consider to be relatively poor photographs among the varous groups I frequent, at least in terms of subject, composition and lighting and this appears to be a growing trend It’s almost as if pointing the camera at anything and clicking the shutter is enough to say, look at me, I’m a photographer. Truthfully, it’s all just noise, detracting from the really good stuff that gets hidden away in those very same groups.

Now, I’ve said before in a previous post that I don’t understand the rush to post your photos on facebook. It’s the same really for other social interest groups, including Instagram which at least does give you a profile of images to show off. That being said, if you class yourself as a photographer, whether new to the genre or an old hand, we all need to stop accepting that meadiocre is good enough and start pushing for great. If we don’t do this collectively then we simply can’t improve and continuous improvement is what makes us better. I know from my own experience, and never more so than recently when I had to reconstitute a lot of my photography from it’s earliest days, how I have changed as a photographer and hopefully how I have improved with time. A lot of this improvement has come from the help and support of others as well as from my own personal development and my interests as a photographer and as an artist. What I thought was really good four years ago is no longer necessarily what I think is good today.

Of course, what I consider poor may differ hugely from what you consider poor and I think that is part of the problem. However, while we may differ on the stuff that interests usand makes us hit the like button, what shouldn’t differ in what we agree makes a good image. For me this is very simply:

  • Content
  • Composition
  • Exposure

If any one of these three items is missing then that photo really shouldn’t see the light of day. And turning it into a HDR masterpiece isn’t going to help. You can’t turn a pigs ear into a silk purse as they say!

When you look at an Ansel Adams photo you know, assuming that you know something about photography, that it’s an Ansel Adams photo. There’s just something about the depth of tones, the subject matter, composition and the overall exposure that screams Ansel Adams. You don’t even have to like landscapes to value his images. Everything is in the right place, everything has the right exposure and the subject always captures the imagination. When you look at images from Cartier-Bresson or another great candid photographer, for example Robert Doiseneu, Vivian Maier, Saul Leiter, Fred Herzog or Diane Arbus and indeed, any number of others, again, everything you could possibly need to tell a story is all there. Nothing is missing. Does this mean that photography is easy? Well, in truth yes but in order to sell it to others, you just need to think a little more about the story you are trying to tell before you press the shutter button. Of course you then have to rely on the viewer understanding your message or your story and that is not so easy, especially looking at what some photographers think is a good image!

Of course, we are dead lucky to live in an age where the modern camera does all the hard work. Exposing your image correctly, and getting everything in focus really shouldn’t be a problem. Even if for some reason it is a little dark or a little too bright, five minutes in post really should be all it takes to nail it. So, while some minor latitude may be required in the technical areas, all we really have to do then is to find the amazing compositions that tell a great story. Easy really! Well, no, it’s not and that’s why most images today – and I’m talking of the millions of images taken daily on everything from a smart phone to a Hasselblad – just don’t work. That’s where experience comes in, that’s were looking at successful photographers and their images pays off and that’s where talking and listening to others pays dividends. You might be the next Cartier-Bresson, self taught, self critical and extremely capable but chances are, you aren’t. Very few are. That doesn’t mean though hat you have to accept your own images as being good, let alone the output of others as being good. If you suck up photography as a sponge sucks up water without question you’ll become a better photographer. Just don’t spend your time sucking up the dross you see on facebook and thinking that this is good photography. Sadly, it all to often isn’t.

On1 PhotoRAW 2022 – Getting better with Age? Maybe.

Disclaimer! I’m a big fan of On1 PhotoRAW. As a user since On1 PhotoRAW 2018, every major upgrade has improved the software dramatically. In On1 PhotoRAW 2019 we welcomed Portrait Ai which made it a lot easier to fine tune portraits albeit with some limitations, for example relighting of subjects which for me is a very important feature. For this reason it isn’t close to what can be achieved using PortraitPro Studio, which is a seasoned exponent of the perfect portrait, if sometimes the results can be a little overdone. Nonetheless, the results, up until now, have been pretty good and I was hoping to see incremental improvements with Portrait Ai in On1 PhotoRAW 2022. More on Portrait Ai later.

On1 PhotoRAW 2021 is a pretty solid application for photo editing. In my eyes it’s right up there with Lightroom and even shares a few features with Photoshop. I’ve been using On1 PhotoRAW 2021 for about a year now, alongside Affinity Photo for the really heavy lifting, and it’s my go to everyday editor. That doesn’t mean to say however that it is the only editor I have tried over that time. Since 2018 I have also used Luminar 2018 through to Luminar 4 and more laterly, I spent a month solely with Capture One. As I mentioned, I have also used Affinity Photo extensively although only when I’ve run out of ideas on On1. Although these are all good editors, I always come back to On1 as for me, it has everything that I need to edit my images on a day to day basis. Not surprisingly then, I was pretty keen to be one of the first in the queue to receive On1 PhotoRAW 2022 which was released just a few days ago. Armed with a 25% couplon code I found on the web, plus my customer discount, I bought the standalone version of On1 PhotoRAW 2022, together with the plugin bundle for just £90 GBP. Normally I wouldn’t bother with the plugin bundle, it would also have only cost me £50, but since this has now been seperated out from the core system, I thought I would hedge my bets for use with Affinity Photo, especially NoNoise Ai as this is proving to be a great addition to On1 PhotRAW 2022. I also want to access the batch capabilities of Resize Ai, whicih I am told exist in the standalone plugin, although time will tell.

Right off the bat I hit problems with getting On1 PhotoRAW 2022 to load. Now I have to say, if you have a massive HDD or SSD with lots of spare capacity then my experience here isn’t going to be yours. It turns out that migrating data from On1 2021 to On1 2022 requires quite a lot of disk space, especially if you have thousands of images. I have a feeling that if I had retained the catalog image size at Standard (I recatalogued at Minimal) that I would have needed a whole lot more disk space. Minimal though does seem to bring down the cache size so my photo data (which was what needed migrating) required just 33GB of free space to complete the migration process. That being said, the free space on my internal drive (a fast 500GB SSD partitioned as C: and D:) was only 15GB so somehow I needed to find an additional 20GB of free space. That’s not easy when you have a lot of applications loaded!! After an hour of moving stuff around, for example moving Dropbox and OneDrive from C: to D: and deleting all of the remnants of earlier versions of On1 from my Roaming directory – there was another 7GB of crap in there – I managed to just squeeze out enough free RAM to achive the migration of On1 2021 to 2022. The good news is that I now have 27GB free disk space on C: so that’s a bonus! So, after a short battle I was all good to go and On1 PhotoRAW 2022 completed its setup and was now running OK.

Once loaded, and based on some recent posts on the support forum re optimisation and speed, I undertook a few experiments with moving around the SCRATCH and Browser Cache and eventually settled for putting them both on the internal D: SSD drive. Some commentators say this is wrong but that disk is so much faster than anything else I have access to that I really don’t have a choice. More on this later!

So let’s look then at what On1 PhotoRAW 2022 gives me that is new. In truth the changes to the front end are fairly minimal so it still looks like On1 PhotoRAW 2021 albeit that more is going on now in the RHS panel than in previously versions. The various other panels, i.e. the LHS panel which contains the Browse, Catalogues and Presets areas, and the bottom of the screen which is a filmstrip of the current folder all still work in practically the same way so migrating my brain to On1 PhotoRAW 2022 was a lot easier than migrating my data!!

My immediate thoughts on what I have played with the most over the past few weeks or so, this is the DAM, NoNoise Ai, Resize, Portrait AI and a fleeting glimpse of Sky Replacement are improving with time. Whether I have some hardware incompatiabilities I don’t know but overall, performance seems a little more sluggish on the editing side, in particular in masking and painting of local effects than in On1 PhotoRAW 2021. Now I don’t intend to use On1 PhotoRAW 2022 for Sky Replacement, it’s not something that interests me, but I will use Portrait Ai occasionally (when I don’t need the power of Affinity Photo or PortraitPro Studio 21) and I’ll use the DAM and it’s associated smart tools pretty much all the time. In my opinion, the DAM is one area where On1 has really done a good job, especially in it’s search features and albums.

So, without further ado, here’s my first thoughts at On1 PhotoRAW 2022 as a user rather than as a reviewer. Now, before you read on, your hardware is going to differ from mine. If you have an old PC or laptop with 12GB or less RAM and limited resources my experiences could well mirror your own. What I tell you here then could help you to resolve these and improve your usage of On1 PhotoRAW 2022. If you have a power PC or new laptop, I suspect that you will have very limited problems. If in doubt, download the trial and use it. I intend to expand on this blog post later, indeed I already have, as I get to grips with more of it’s capabilities over time but here are a few of my early observations.

General Usage – UPDATED 12/10/2021

Because I have been an On1 customer for several years now the overall user interface is very familiar to me. As mentioned above there have been some cosmetic changes to the Browse screen but for existing as well as for new users, this won’t be a problem. Here’s what you’ll see when you open up On1 PhotoRAW 2022.

When you first open On1 PhotoRAW 2022, assuming you’re a new user, you won’t see any catalogs. You’ll need to create these before On1 PhotoRAW 2022 can do it’s magic. Basically creating a catalogue means that you point On1 at the folders where you keep your images, for example I have one folder called Pictures under which I have all of my images in various subfolders. By adding the top level folder as a catalog ie Pictures, all of the subfolders below this are also cataloged and with them, every image in my collection. You don’t have to do this of course, you can catalog any of your folders which contain images in any way that you wish. One tip for laptop users though, for your folders set the image preview size to MINIMAL as this hugely reduces the size of your PerfectBrowserCache. I mean we are talking orders of magnitude smaller here with no particular degredation in what you see on screen.

Performance in browse is pretty good now but very occasionaly I do see the “On1 is not responding message” at the top of the screen. This is much less often now that I have moved the cache to an internal drive which is 10x faster than the USB handicapped Seagate T5 I initially tried. It’s only momentary and is no longer as annoying as it was. Finding the right location for your cache is of real importance as it does affect general usage such as browsing, masking and brush (local) editing.

Editing an image is straight forward, highlight an image and click on the Edit icon top right of the screen. This opens the image as well as making a number of presets available down the LHS panel. On the RHS you have a variety of editing tools, basically these are the same as in On1 PhotoRAW 2021. Under the Develop tab you’ll find the new NoNoise panel so watch out for this as it is hidden away. Like most editors, you can use a pen tablet for editing which should make editing a lot quicker and more accurate but so far I have not found this to be the case with On1 PhotoRAW 2022. The mouse is a tad slower to use in local adjustments, ie there is more lag when doing masking etc but the pen tablet is very much slower again. The point I want to make here is that I run Affinity Photo and On1 PhotoRAW 2022 on the same laptop so the same hardware. Affinity Photo is blisteringly quick, especially for brush intensive work while On1 PhotoRAW 2022 is incedibly laggy. This was particulalry noticable in the Sky Replacement module. Given that Affinity Photo works flawlessly and On1 doesn’t points the finger at On1 PhotoRAW 2022 code, or more particulalry perhaps, how it interacts with the hardware available. as being a big part of the problem. On1 really need to get on top of this in future releases because at the moment whenever I have brush intensive work to do I fire up Affinity Photo. In the meantime I have been able to slightly improve brush performance in On1 PhotoRAW 2022, more on this later.

So, what about some of the other main features?

Backup & Restore – UPDATED 12/10/2021

New to version On1 PhotoRAW 2022, Backup & Restore provides a much needed way to protect our valuable work. Although I had some initial problems with this feature, after re-installing On1 PhotoRAW 2022, this seemed to clean up a lot of problems, Backup & Restore seems to be working OK now. Fortunately I have not had a reason to use the restore function as yet but backing up takes about 5 minutes for my particular setup. That does seem like an eternity when you are watching the screen but in reality it is a small price to pay for peace of mind.

DAM (Digital Asset Management)

I mentioned above that the DAM is one of my favorite features of On1. The DAM in 2022 appears to be little different to On1 2021 and indeed, earlier versions. It has the same layout as for 2021 – catalogued folders, browse, presets, albums, advanced search, tethered shooting and recent files. These all exist in the LHS panel under three tabs. Performance of the DAM is also on par with 2021 although for me this was improved by choosing minimal for image information / rendering – it also crushes the size of the PerfectBrowserCache file which when set to Standard size was absolutely huge, some 300GB at one point. Nowadays I have this down to around 6GB so I recommend this option for fellow laptop users. It’s still a little quirky in use though, for example I have some catalogued images that are orphans ie they take up space in the catalog but theres nothing there to edit and as such, you can’t delete or move them from a search query. This confused me initially as I had set them to a red flag, along with others I wanted to delete but deleting all of the images was impossible while the orphans remained in the search results. Annoying but not the end of the world especially now as I have isolated them. On1 Support told me it was probably my graphics drivers or my inability to setup my GPU properly as these are common problems/ However, since these are bang uptodate via the Nvidia Experience application I use and I do know how to set up the GPU to work with On1 I personally don’t think so. Besides, I have found 608 orphaned thumbnails – all Fuji BTW – when I undertake a search, use Dates which is also a search tool, and this points the finger at the database behind the software. Surely On1 Support will have a solution for this problem which I await with interest!

There’s been no improvement in Smart Organise as far as I can tell, it still can’t find similar images for the most part. I don’t know what On1 thinks a similar image is but I would have thought ones that look identical should fit that criteria. The good news is that Dates, which I have just mentioned above, and which allows you to drill down into images from various years also finds duplicate images (because they are from the same year) across the whole of your catalog. This means that I have a super simple and quick way of clearing out duplicates. Of course if that fails, I also have access to CC Cleaner which also does a great job of finding duplicates with the same names. Dates BTW also finds all of the orphaned thumbnails which do clutter up the screen somewhat.

Advanced search is still good with lots of options for tracking down individual images etc. So is the adding of meta-tag info in bulk or to individual images. I use this feature a lot. Not sure removing the rating info from the bottom browser bar in Browse is a good step as I kinda liked it there. However, it’s still available but now in the RHS panel under Info which I find to be a little less useful.

Before talking about mouse or tablet intensive activities, let’s focus on hardware limitations – UPDATED 12/10/2021

If you read my earlier comments you’ll know that I had problems using a Pen Tablet to do masking and brush editing in Sky replacement and as local adjustments when general editing and I suspect that unless you have something like a power PC or high resource Mac, you may also struggle to get the best from it. Now I’m pretty sure that this can be partially solved by ensuring that your hardware is bang uptodate and using the latest drivers etc. What I did then was to benchmark my hardware to find out where the bottlenecks are in order to avoid them. Having recently bought the well regarded 1TB Seagate T5 SSD after a HDD failure, I have concluded that because it runs off of a relatively slow Super Speed USB port which is now some 4 years old, I am not getting the best transfer rates. My hardware test confirmed this on the T5 as “Performing well below expectations”. The problem then is that I am trying to force a lot of data down a straw when I really need access to a hosepipe!! For this reason I moved all of the On1 cache (Scratch and PerfectBrowserCache) to my much faster internal SSD drive (D:) which has helped improve performance significantly.

Another thing I did was to set up On1 PhotoRAW 2022 as a known application on my Huion X-Pen Tablet. I also set it up as an application in the Graphics Settings on my Windows 10 system. My thinking is that setting this to High Performance can’t hurt. Finally I also made sure that my Nvidia GPU is working with On1 PhotoRAW 2022. Has this helped? Yes, the pen actually moves now but performance is still poor in that there is too much lag in the process making even minor adjustments tedious. IN order to prove my point here, I remembered that I also have Luminar 4.3.3 loaded on my PC. Now, Luminar over the years has in my opinion, gone from a really good, fast editor to something of a toy in it’s latest Luminar Ai incarnation BUT I loaded up the same image as I used with On1 PhotoRAW 2022 and the pen tablet performance was excellent in Luminar 4.3.3 – no appreciable lag. I don’t know what else to say really. Simply put, On1 PhotoRAW 2022 really sucks with regards brush lag when doing masking and local (brush intensive) editing. On1 designers, please please please focus on painting performance and sort out this problem asap!!!

All this being said of course, I can’t solve any USB problem as these are built in to the laptop I am using and running off a 4 year old motherboard. They are what they are. If I am going to make On1 PhotoRAW 2022 fly in the longer term, I am going to need a faster, easier to upgrade PC and that means buyng one or building one myself. Today though, I am stuck with what I have.

Sky Replacement – UPDATED 12/10/2021

Before Sky replacement arrived, the process in On1 PhotoRAW 2021 relied on creating a composite image using layers. The masking tools in that release, although good, often failed to deliver a perfect mask so the inclusion of masking Ai is very welcome. The Sky replacement tools in On1 PhotoRAW 2022 appear to be as comprehensive and somewhat similar to what I have found in Luminar 4 but the results are not quite on par with Luminar. For example, if we take an image with hard edges, such as buildings below or the lighthouse above, the masking is not perfect and some help is required. To a certain extent, this comes about in the Fade Edge slider which does provide the option to harden the edges. Even so, some mask refinement is necessary, most noticebly in lower contrast regions such as in the middle building in the before and after images shown below. This illustrates some of the challenges of applying sky replacement to what should be a super-simple image. Hard edges you would think would cause less problems not more! The header image is another example of what I was able to achieve with relative ease with some simple brushing in of shadows etc after the sky had been replaced (new light source = the challange to make the image look real) but again, the hard edges do cause some problems. My personal view is that On1 have jumped on the bandwagon just to have something which competes with other editors. Personally I don’t think we need it and as such, I don’t really want it. I would much prefer that On1 focus on performance, especially in optimising brush performance in masking and local effects, system stability and useful tools such as noise reduction and resize. These improvements and latter features are very much more important to me than sky replacement will ever be.

The image below by contrast is edited in Luminar 4.3.3 with a custom sky applied. This process was quicker but again, the low contrast building to the right of the main towers did cause problems and I had to push the Close Gaps slider all the way to the right in order to completely recover the building. Of the two programs, Luminar 4 did do the better job here – see below – although it should be remembered that Luminar 4 is a 2nd or 3rd generation product with regards sky replacement.

In summary, On1 Sky Replacement is what you’d expect, a good first attempt rather than a seasoned, streamlined tool. I feel sure that as time progresses that On1 will compete more favourably with Luminar although Skylum’s new offering, Luminar Neo, is likely to raise the bar still further.

Portrait Ai – UPDATED 12/10/2021

When I first created this post, it’s been through a few iterations now, selecting anything other than Default for a portrait style tended to crash On1 PhotoRAW 2022 when I completed the editing process ie press Done. I’ve spent some time looking into this and it seems that it relates to some photos rather than all photos. Many I have tried seem to work perfectly well with all of the styles whereas the ones I tried first, Nikon D600 RAW files of my wife, tended to crash the system. Now I have in the interim tried a suggestion by On1 Support which was to move the NDsettings file from Roaming to the desktop – this forces On1 to recreate the NDsettings folder. This didn’t solve the problem but it did have the unfortunate side-effect of deleting all of the custom presets I had created as well as remove all the default styles from the Styles folder in Portrait Ai. Clearly this is not what I had hoped for or expected. Fortunately I was able to copy back this folder from the desktop to Roaming which rectified that problem. Phew – that was a bullet dodged!! Next I reinstalled the NVIDIA drivers for my GPU – not using Windows 10 but using The Nvidia Experience application which keeps my system bang up to date. Finally I reinstalled On1 PhotoRAW 2022 in case some files had been corrupted during the initial setup. Having done this things have improved and the majority of my edits to various photos now work perfectly well. However some still don’t and todate, I haven’t solved the problem. Based on more recent usage, On1 2022 Portrait Ai has been good and it appears it appears to be a lot more stable. Of course it really should work for any photo, not just a select number so I can’t yet give it a resounding thumbs up. Besides, until it borrows a few more settings for PortraitPro Studio eg relighting for one, I guess I am lucky in that I do have access to Affinity Photo and PortraitPro Stuidio for my portrait work. That all being said, you can achieve some really good results, and by that I mean natural looks, by doing all of the work manually and not choosing a preset style. Here’s an example of a simple edit using On1 2020 Portrait Ai with manual edits and Style=Default.

Image copyright Dave Collerton. All rights reserved.

NoNoise Ai – Image Noise Reduction – UPDATED 12/10/2021

One of the key reasons why I upgraded to On1 PhotoRAW 2021 was the inclusion of NoNoise Ai. There were very little negative comments about NoNoise Ai even after On1 released a trial version and that has to be good news as we all like nothing more than to have a good moan when things don’t go well. Having now used NoNoise on many images I have to say that I am very impressed with the results I am getting. Now the first thing I have to say is that I actually don’t have a lot of high ISO images as I try to control ISO where possible but I was able to find a few taken at ISO1600. At first I was a little confused as to how to use it successfully but I soon figured out that you should use it at the very start of the editing process rather than later on. Once I had figured this out, the results were really good. On high ISO portraits, I like to take photos in subdued lighting so can get up to ISO800 on a shoot, I feel as if it’s borrowing some of the techniques / technology from Portrait Ai. This is because when applied, the skin in portraits is affected and you need to be very careful about overshapening or adding too much detail. If you push the sliders to far to the right any faces in your image start to look plasticy which is not a good look. Done carefully though, my portraits and images containing faces were partially improved by applying NoNoise Ai which was a bit of a bonus.

All this being said, noise reduction in general does tend to worry me though because of the effect it can have on image detail and quality. Here though NoNoise Ai creates excellent results on the default settings with enough flexibility to enable the user to fine tune what he or she sees in the final result. Given the price of noise reduction software, Topaz DeNoise for example is more than the On1 PhotoRAW 2022, integrating it into what is a £50 editor (with discounts when upgrading) is a no brainer. A big tick in the box then for On1 PhotoRAW 2022 here.

Conclusion – UPDATED 12/10/2021

As I mentioned, this post is simply an initial look at On1 2022 although as can be seen, I have been taking the opportunity to update this post as I become more familiar with the software. Even so it is not an in-depth review but it does go a lot deeper than many others I have seen. That being said, On1 PhotoRAW 2022 is somwhat of a mixed bag for me even though day by day I am getting to like it more and more. On the one hand there are some great new features, for example NoNoise Ai which I am using more and more. Personally though, I find gimmicks like Sky Replacement to be exactly that, gimmicks. Sure they are fun to try out and perfect e.g. getting shadows right is a joy and photos from it are nice to include in blogs like this but for me, that’s as far as they go. Besides, I am much more a reportage sort of guy so most of my images feature people and skys are few and far between. I do take the odd landscape though and if I take my experience with Luminar into account, I have only replaced around a dozen skys over the past few years, mostly as experiments. That being said, many people are going to love it and I suspect we’ll see more composites permeate into the club scene as photographers see the benefit. More worryingly for me though is that on my laptop, which is no slouch even if a little long in the tooth, brush lag in masking and local enhancements is simply not good enough. By benchmarking various components and putting the cache on the fastest drives I have improved things but when I compare On1 brush performance with Affinity Photo, which is running on the exact same PC, they are like chalk and cheese. In Affinity there is zero brush lag – performance is outstanding. On1 by comparison is sluggish and sub-standard as of this release. While I have found work-arounds, others who experience these same problems may not. I have flagged my concerns to On1 Support but they have a tendancy to blame everything else before their software so I am not hopeful of a resolution at this point in time.

All this being said, I am giving On1 PhotoRAW 2022 a positive 85% out of 100%, brought down only by the sluggish mouse and pen tablet during masking and local adjustments, difficulties with hard edges in sky replacement and not being able to perform Portrait Ai work on any photo I throw at it. More to come on On1 PhotoRAW 2022 soon so stay tuned to see if we are able to hit 100%

Cull or Keep your Images – now that’s the question!

When I first created this post I called it “Don’t be afraid to Cull Bad Images”. However, as the post evolved I felt that I needed to look at keeping versus culling in the round. This article therefore discusses my take on what stays and what goes in my photography.

Now, I’m pretty good at deleting images that say nothing of interest. To me they are obvious to spot, they either suffer from poor composition, a lack of meaningful content, duplicate others that are better or just fail for some technical reason, for example poor focus, blown out highlights or over or under exposed. However, I know that many of my photographer friends struggle with this important process with the result that they fill hard drives at a frightening rate with images that really should be binned. While you may have a dozen SSD disks to play with, I prefer to work light so I rely on just two drives for my archives. As such, drive real-estate is at a premium.

The key here then is to be able to make conscious decisions about what has any real value and what is simply clogging up my drives. This basically means is it good enough to share with others. That might be in the form of a photo book, a project, a competition or even as a give away under Creative Commons. This latter option is something I have recently started to do as I know that bloggers etc often need access to images. If the image fits none of these then the axe needs to fall and fall swiftly. Having said all of this, there is one last check that I do undertake and this to ask the question – does the image have any mitigating features? For example, is there a picture within the picture or does it have merit if converted to art. That has to be done on an image by image basis and for me at least, it’s the last throw of the dice!

Now, the first of these tests is obvious. I will know immediately if I like an image enough to consider it suitable for books, projects or competitions. If you are a club photographer then you will know that this doesn’t necessary mean that someone else will like it, just that I like it sufficiently to use it in one or more of the contexts mentioned.

Starting with The Good

So let’s start with something I do like. This example, from a fairground shoot at the weekend, combines a lot of elements that I like. For example, here we have the juxtaposition of static and dynamic items within the frame, the inclusion of people (one of my favourite subjects) and muted colours rather just B&W. That being said, I really don’t think that this image is going to win any competitions, judges with their strict guidlines just won’t get it, but I can see it in a photobook or perhaps as a future project. It’s also the type of image that could be post-processed in a mirriad of ways so again, it has merit.

Now the Bad

Now let’s take a look at an image, which apart from being shown here, has been discarded. Timing as they say is everything and this image demonstrates a complete lack of timing alongside really poor composition and, I hate to say it, poor technical skills. The content is OK, perhaps a little busy and if I had panned left to include the leading lines of the path along with the fairground items to the left of this ride, then perhaps things might have turned out better. However I didn’t and so alongside the blown out sky, which is unforgiveable, the overly busy composition and poor subject matter really didn’t help this one. RIP. By the way, on the issue of the blown out sky, you might like to take a look at my article on highlight roll-off as this is one way to combat digital burnout from bright lights, sun etc.

Of course, bad photos aren’t limited to tricky locations. You can take a bad photo anywhere – I often do! So let’s look at some more images where to be honest, nothing really works. In the first image below there’s plenty of potential and some technical skill in freezing the water. Sadly though, there’s nothing of interest beyond this but fortunately, I did shoot better on the day. The second image fares pretty much the same, nice but bland and unexceptional and again, I certainly have better in my archives. The seaweed image could perhaps be saved – I often photograph objects – but once again, on that particular day, and from other days I had much better beach dendritus shots. The last two images simply lack good composition even though the subject matter, especially of the first of this pair, has some merit. As they are they though, they are simply fails.

Let’s Finish on a High Note – Some Examples I Enjoy

In this next shot I think I have nailed what makes a good photo. Here, we have an almost perfectly symmetrical image, which the eye loves, great colours, an analogue feel plus movement in the chairs which creates an excitement and a contrast to the perfectly still framework. The other thing I like is that I can dive into this image and take out snippets, for example some the riders on their chairs. It just depends on the resolution of the camera being used and the IQ of the RAW file.

This next image is something that I really liked when I shot it, but was not so happy when I viewed it. The colours really detracted from the subject which is clearly the guy in the middle playing with his mobile phone. I couldn’t however bring myself to delete it, too good for that so I decided to try B&W as a way of removing some of the complexity created by the colours in the shot. My go-to favourite for this type of work is Nik Silver Efex and while I don’t think Nik saves it as a competition photo, it works really well for a photo book or for use on the web. Well, to my mind anyway.

In this next set of images the composition is good, the content is good but it’s not quite working for me. I feel, as I so often do, that the colour is making it difficult to see the story. I am so focused on the bright greens and yellows so as to forget that the piano player is the star of this shot. Again then, B&W, with a little brightening of the face, saves the day by forcing attention on the piano player and away from the bright background. An easy but effective fix.

Earlier I talked about how the seaweed image for me just didn’t work. Well, on the same day I captured that shot, I also captured a few others which I have kept and which form part of my archive. Here are those images for reference. Hopefully you’ll agree that these are somewhat better shots.

A Note On Post-Processing

All of the images shown above, except the B&W versions which were edited in Nik Silver Efex, were created using On1 film presets. I personally love analogue film and when shooting digital, I strive to achive this look both in the SOOC jpegs out of my trusty Fuji x-T1, or by converting the RAW images to something less digital as here. For those seeking to do the same or similar, these images were all post-processed using a Classic Chrome in-camera film simulation that I created for SOOC shots. IN some cases here however I chose to use RAW images passing these through a Classic Chrome preset.

That’s it for now, I hope that you found the meanderings of my mind of interest. Either way, drop me a comment below and let’s create a dialog on how you guys deal with the images you take.

Fixing an Epsom SC-P600 with air in the print-head damper

I’ve decided to share this purely because it helped me resolve a tricky problem that took me some time to figure out. If you are in the same position, I hope that it helps you too.

THE PROBLEM
Printer (an Epson SC-P600) exhibits green hue when printing B&W prints using various software. In addition, the nozzle check exhibited degradation in various colours (seen as broken lines in the print) and indeed, in the case of Light Cyan and Yellow, no lines whatsoever.

THE PERCEIVED REASON
I assumed that since the printer had been printing perfectly previously that the problem was associated with blocked print head nozzles. This led to trying to clean the print head using the techniques discussed broadly on the internet and in videos on YouTube. This was to use one of several head cleaning products such as W5 (Lidl) through to Magic Bullet or variations thereof from other suppliers. The technique is to power-up the print head caddy so that it undocks and moves into the centre, then quickly pull out the power cable so that the caddy remains free to move by hand. Once you can do this, cut a thin strip of J-cloth about 40mm wide x 250mm long (three ply is about the right thickness), lay this in the track below the print head caddy and then soak in an appropriate solvent, for example Magic Bullet. Once soaked, position the caddy above this strip and allow the fumes to work on the hard ink overnight. This process, together with a number of head cleans and print nozzle tests does waste a lot of ink so be aware of this. Did this solve the problem? No, it didn’t and I’ll explain why next.

THE ACTUAL REASON
When I bought the printer it was second-hand, in great condition but nonetheless, second-hand. It came complete with both the original Epson OEM ink cartridges plus a full set of Permajet 9 x 125ml inks and associated cartridges and syringes. It did not however contain the all important instructions on how to use the cartridges or an associated DVD with additional instructions / software. I only found this out when I spoke with Permajet later about my problems. More on this later. Without instructions but with what looked very much like “like for like” cartridges (when comparing the original Epson cartridges to the new Permajet ones), I proceeded to fill and fit the cartridges as each original Epson cartridge became empty. This is error number 1.

The second and much more important error was that I had no idea that each of the replacement cartridges need to be primed before fitting. Priming is a simple but fiddly process that ensures that ink is pushed into a special chamber in the cartridge so that no air is sucked into the supply lines from the cartridge to the printhead dampers. By not priming the cartridges properly, effectively I was allowing the printer to suck air into the supply lines rather than ink, something I had no idea about. This was error number 2.

The effect of sucking air into the supply lines and printhead damper is basically to stop any ink reaching the printhead for that particular cartridge. This manifests itself worse case as loss of most of the lines if not the complete block of colour for a particular cartridge in the nozzle print test, or at best some lines but very patchy. If you don’t understand what’s happening, this will lead to repeating the head clean and nozzle checks many times without any improvement whatsoever.

CARTRIDGE PRIMING IS THEREFORE THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT TASK WHEN CHANGING FROM OEM INKS TO 3RD PARTY INKS.

RESOLVING THE ACTUAL PROBLEM
Not realising that this was the real problem I did the only thing possible at this stage and phoned Permajet as I was using their cartridges and inks. Now, when you have a new kit of inks and cartridges from a particular supplier there is an expectation that that supplier will help you resolve any problems. Not so Permajet. The moment that the customer support guy, I won’t name names, heard that the kit was purchased by someone else he really couldn’t have been less helpful. True he outlined the correct approach to using the replacement cartridges, i.e that the cartridge must first be filled and then primed prior to use, but he offered zero help or advice to help resolve my problems other than recommend that I call a specialist engineer (John at Repro Repairs on 01494 882363) who might be able to help. He actually made it sound like I had killed my mother and needed to be locked up. Even when I mentioned that two of the cartridges appeared to be leaking ink he only pointed me at the place on their website where I could buy new ones. No offer of we’ll ship out a couple to you FOC as a good will gesture from Permajet it seems. These BTW were £20+VAT per cartridge so with 2 cartridges needed, plus one I had accidently filled with the wrong colour ink (I know, what a dickhead), that was a potential outlay of £60+VAT for just 3. Ouch!!

Undeterred at this setback, and despite the piss poor support I’d received from Permajet, I decided to look for alternatives. I looked at Fotospeed, Specialised Inks and Marrutt and noticed that a full set of 9 cartridges from Specialised Inks (which are actually Marrutt cartridges), were only marginally more expensive than the 3 from Permajet. Having recently been in touch wth John Reed at Marrutt about paper I thought I’d ask John if he could help and he kindly agreed to sell me a complete set of cartridges for just £30+ VAT (down from £80) which was very generous. I have subsequently found out that you can buy similar if not identical cartridges on Ebay for even less BUT I value help and support and Marrutt have a good name in the printing industry. They also have some great educational videos and documentation relating to printing techniques and some fairly priced consumables such as paper and ink on their website so well worth a look.

Moving on, I now had a set of new cartridges from Marrutt plus some of the original inks from Parmajet so I started to explore how I could purge the air from the supply lines and get the printer working again. In amongst the research I did I found several software tools which provide firmware level operation on various printers, the Epson SC-P600 included. Two of these, WIC Reset, which means Waste Ink Counters Reset Utility.) and the Epson SureColor SC-P600 (EURO) Ver. 1.1.3 Service Adjustment Program are two very useful utilities to help solve a variety of problems with printers such as the Epson SC-P600.

In my case, the Epson SureColor SC-P600 (EURO) Ver. 1.1.3 Service Adjustment Program was what I needed as research had indicated that to clear the air from the supply lines I needed to do an INK CHARGE which is something the printer does when you turn it on for the 1st time after purchase. Effectively, the INK CHARGE draws ink from the cartridges dispelling any air in the supply lines as it goes and charging the dampers with ink ready for use. Once the process has run, any air in the supply lines has been purged and the dampers in the printhead are fully primed. The software is required because the printer only ink charges once, the day you turn it on from brand new so it needs to be forced to repeat this operation.

BARE IN MIND THAT AN INK CHARGE USES A LOT OF INK SO YOUR CARTRIDGES MUST BE AT LEAST 40% FULL BEFORE ATTEMPTING IT. IN FACT, YOUR PRINTER WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO DO AN INK CHARGE IF THE CARTRIDGES AREN’T AT LEAST 40% FULL.

With regards using the Epson SureColor SC-P600 (EURO) Ver. 1.1.3 Service Adjustment Program, be aware that this is not freeware. You will find it readily in searches with a cost of between $10 – $20. Being tight, I bought my copy on EBAY for just $10 from a company in Bangladesh. To stop the software being transferred to anyone who wants it, it is encoded to your PC although it only runs on Windows, not a MAC so please be aware of this. Thereafter you can use it as often as you need to BUT it will only run on the PC it was purchased for. Of course, at just $10 a go it’s not exactly expensive and bearing in mind it does so much more than ink charge, it’s worth every penny. One other thing I should point out, this software is considered as MALWARE by anti-virus software and your computers firewall so if you want or need to use it, you are going to have to get around that. While it does worry me that my anti-virus tools highlighted the problem and indeed put it in quarantine every time I ran it, I had zero choice but to use it to do the ink charge. This meant putting the executable on a white list!! It’s a huge worry but my printer is working 100% now so I guess the result was worth the risk. The good news is that for those that know about it, it has a good reputation but as always, do your own research as I make no claims whatsoever about these applications or about the suppliers that sell them so you use them at your own risk.

OTHER PROBLEMS
One of the big problems of using 3rd party cartridges is that they don’t necessarily show how much ink is in them. This is a problem because the cartridge may be full yet the printer shows them as only partially full or even empty. Because the INK CHARGE process won’t run if the cartridges aren’t at least 40% full, this is a BIG problem.

There are two ways around this

Firstly, if your P600 printer is running the very latest firmware then it checks to see if you are using OEM ink and secondly it uses a chip to tell the system how much ink is in the cartridge. It’s not actually measuring the amount of ink in a cartridge, it’s working off the fact that the cartridge was full and since then, the printer has used so much ink during printing. It’s a best guess rather than an accurate measurement.

To overcome this problem you can downgrade your firmware to an earlier version where cartridge chips are not validated and therefore your printer thinks that there is 100% ink in the cartridge at all times. To do this you need to use the WIC Reset Utility which means buying a key to enable this at $20. Once you have downgraded the firmware you have to rely on visual checking of ink levels. It does however mean that you can run the ink charge routine without any further concerns other than to ensure you have at least 40% ink in each cartridges.

The second approach, and this is the one I used, is to put empty OEM cartridges in the printer and start it up and when it complains, take out the empty cartridge and put in the full cartridge. The printer will again complain, this time that you appear to be using non OEM ink but providing your firmware allows 3rd party ink, it’s just a warning. Repeat for all cartridges and after some time you should eventually see all your cartridges as showing full. At this point you can run the ink charge. The ink charge takes about 10 minutes to complete. Once initiated it is a fully automatic process and all you will hear is the printer going about it’s business. Time to go grab a tea of coffee. Once complete you should see a message on the screen that it has completed successfully. Close the application and run a nozzle printer check. If the ink charge has been successful, as it was in my case, you should see a perfect set of patterns for every nozzle. If not, run a clean print head followed by another nozzle check and this should hopefully do the trick.

WHAT ELSE IS THIS SOFTWARE USEFUL FOR
The primary function of the WIC Reset Utility is to check and reset the waste counters as this stops a printer, even though still perfectly usable, to continue to be used. It’s a kind of end of life situation. I used it to check mine and I’ve got plenty of free capacity left before I have to start worrying. Having access to this little utility will help me overcome this issue when and if it arises. This particular service within WIC Reset is free so you don’t need to buy a key to enable this option.

THE FINAL COMMENTS
As you can imagine, I am hugely relieved that I was able to recover my printer and to return it to fully working condition. Since recharging the dampers in the print head I have been able to print perfect prints. If there is one lesson learned, other than to prime any new cartridges before fitting and use, it’s not to give up. The internet is an amazing resource and everything I needed to know and do was there. I just had to find it.

THANKS TO
A big thank you to Mike Bond for his help, support and advice. It’s people like Mike that make photography such a wonderful pastime. A big thanks also to John Reed at Marrutt for helping me out with replacement cartridges at such a reasonable cost. I also found the educational vidoes on the Marrutt and Specialised Inks websites invaluable when researching the correct process to follow when priming the cartridges for 1st time use.

Epson SureColor SC-P600 (EURO) Ver. 1.1.3 Service Adjustment Program functionality is as follows:

  • Initial setting
  • Head ID input
  • Head angular adjustment
  • PW / First dot position adjustment
  • Bi-D adjustment
  • PF / EJ adjustment
  • CR motor heat protection control
  • PF motor heat protection control
  • CR Encoder check
  • PF Encoder check
  • APG Function Check
  • CR Belt Check
  • Ink Selector Check
  • Mist Recovery Check
  • Shipping Setting
    Maintenance
  • Head cleaning
  • Ink charge
  • Initialize PF deterioration offset
  • Disable PF deterioration offset
  • Initialize front tray ink counter
  • Disable front tray ink counter
  • Final check pattern print
  • EEPROM dump
  • Printer information check
  • Paper feed test
    If you wish to share this document please feel free to do so but you must include this notice. No advice is given or implied, it purely outlines the process I adopted to make my Epson SC-P600 printer work again after inadvertently allowing air into the printhead damper system. It may work for you, it may not.
  • Dave Collerton, 2019

Why White Balance, Colour & Highlight Roll-off matter in film simulations

Putting aside for a moment the really important requirements for a good photo, that is content and composition, without either of which your photos will immediately fail, if your photo is trying to mimic a particular film stock then to be truly believable it has to provide a believable colour pallet. While there are many photographers out there that think that because you label a photograph as Kodak 64 or Superia 100 or Portra 160 that this is what it is, in truth, this is purely what the author of the recipe thinks it is and that means for you that this is purely a leap of faith in many circumstances. Even if you have researched film, and you do understand about white balance it does’nt mean to say that your photo exhibits all of the correct characteristics of film. You have to work hard to make a good film simulation and for this reason, understanding how white balance and highlight roll-off affect your image is one of the keys to success, although not the only ones, when trying to emulate film.

Now, I’m a member of a good many Facebook groups which focus on Fujifilm jpeg simulation as a creative tool. While many posts get close to vintage colourisation and tones, far too many, in my opinion at least, fail to nail a film look because they simply don’t manage their colour profiles and tones properly. This can result in images which are unrealistic in terms of white balance, overall colour and sometimes even the tone of the image. Working with film is like alchemy, it’s a truly magic process which makes creating exact digital facsimilies practically impossible. You can get close, but it’s really rather difficult to be exact. So with this being said, let’s examine a fact of life. When you look at the world, white is white. Even if it’s a dull grey day, white still looks white. If it’s a sunny day and the sun is blazing, white still looks white. So if white things dont look white in your photos, then your white balance is off and you need to resolve that problem before shooting tons of images which all look off. Now, I’m not a master of colour science, indeed I have no specific skills in colour management or indeed film processing. What I do have though is a good pair of eyes, a good understanding of content, composition and colour and an enquiring mind. I know that if you don’t start with the right basics, nothing else is going to look right. Sure, a lot of facebook photographers will praise your work but these people are often equally colour challanged and who know surprising little about photography! The key is to stop relying on others to tell you that you’ve nailed it and start believing in yourself. Once you can create beautifully compositions with stimulating subjects and great colour and tone, who cares what anyone else thinks.

So, the first step in achieving this enlightenment, other than to study some of the work of inspiring photographers throughout history, is to start nailing your white balance? Nominally, your camera can already do this for you as every modern digital camera today has an Auto White Balance (AWB) setting and this should give good results as lighting conditions change. However, another favoured method, one borrowed from the studio and one which I tend to use, is to use a grey card to set your white balance before you shoot. This is my first tip. Although they come in a variety of forms, the ones I use are 18% grey coloured fabric, about 12 inches in diamer (30 cm) with a white reverse – see image below. These can be folded and stored in your camera bag ready for use. You can buy these from many outlets including Amazon. When you need to use it you simply select a custom white balance setting, for example C1, and then, under ambient lighting conditions, you take a photo of your grey card and store it to C1. Once the photo has been taken you will be offered the opportunity to set colour shifts for red and blue  eg +2B, +3R. Once done whenever you select that particular custom white balance setting will be hard baked into your jpeg. Now be careful, if the light changes dramatically, ie it becomes cloudy when previously there was bright sun, you will need to recalibrate your custom white balance for the new lighting conditions. Don’t worry though, since the whole process takes just a few seconds it’s really no problem to change your white balance when needed.

Typical Grey Card used for White Balance settings

The second of my tips is equally as important. In order to be able to mimic film, you really need to look at photos taken with a film camera. Now, if you are lucky enough to have a film camera, as I do, then this is relatively simple as the photos you take with your preferred film stock are perfect for comparing to your digital simlations. If you don’t have a film camera, or the film you aspire to emulate is no longer available then you you still have an opportunity to fine tune your digital simulations albeit at arms length. Because of the internet, sites such as Google Images, Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram allow you to research 1000’s of scanned and digitised film images. These can help you understand about the colour and tone associated with your preferred film stock as well as allow you to study focus issues, image sharpness and IQ and the way shadows, midtones and highlights are handled. Personally my favourite is Pinterest but I’m sure you’ll find a place you really love too. Now of course, in order to get film into the digital domain someone somewhere has had to digitise the image but hopefully if you look at enough examples you will be able to build up a firm understanding of how to achieve the best simulation for your camera and preferred film recipe as well as what additional post-processing support you may need. Although the aim of most photographers taking images with FujiFilm cameras is to achieve film-like results straight out of camera (SOOC) the truth is that not all Fuji cameras are created equal in this respect so some light post-processing is often required. For example, the Fuji x-T1 that I use doesn’t have a grain option and it also has much less control over sharpness, highlights and shadows. To balance this, a simple preset helps move the resulting jpeg’s a little closer to the desired look. It’s not ideal but it does help achieve the desired look you want.

So, let’s look at some examples of white balance and highlight roll-off in actual film. In the first of these next two images, these are digitised Superia 200 film emulsions, we can see how the emulsion and processing of the film has handled the bright areas in the image. Here we have a very good example of highlight roll-off that is associated with film emulsions, i.e. the transition from bright white to extreme white is generally well controlled. Typically in film, this is really well handled and it is normally quite difficult to completely blow out the emulsion i.e lose all the details in the highlights or create that hard edge we see so often in digital photos pasted to facebook etc. This is because this type of control simply doesn’t exist to the same degree in digital processing and as such we are very likely to see burnt out sections of our image, especially associated with the sun or very bright light sources.  In the film image here the emulsion has provided a much softer transition in the highlights, although I would agree that because this image is digitised at a low resolution, it does to a certain extent look like it’s heading towards being blown out.  In the actual high resolution Tiff file it doesn’t look quite as harsh as this but you’ll have to take me word for this. This look is much sought after by photographers, especially FujiFilm users who are chasing film looks from their digital sensors. Having taken a great many digitial photos of this beach I know that under similar lighting conditions, it is very likely that my digital cameras will have burnt out the right hand side of this image (ie creating a hard transition from whito to blown out) if no action was taken to expose for the highlights.

Superia 200 film
Superia 200 film image shot using a Nikon FE

In this second image, again where the digital camera would have had difficulty iin handling the very bright white of the surfboard, or perhaps even burned a hole in it, film has easily managed to control the highlights. This is the beauty and wonder of film.

Superia 200 film image shot using a Nikon FE

Finally, let’s have a look at a film example with respect to colour, tone and white balance. Again, this image is Superia 200 film stock and conditions on the day were pretty bright ie it was a partially sunny day but with some cloud cover. The rendition of the colours is good in the film version, pretty much as you would expect with a quality film such as Fujifilm Superia They are just as I see them every day so this image as a good guide image when fine tuning my digital recipes. With regards metering, although I have a Minolta light meter I suspect for this image I just relied on the metering in the Nikon FE which I know to be pretty accurate.

Superia 200 film image shot using a Nikon FE

So, let’s now take a look at some digital images where I have made some modifications to the tone curve in camera to help achieve a “similar look” for the jpeg’s to what I might see on film.

This next image, in this case a digital image taken with the Lumix GX-80, which proves the point that you don’t need to shoot Fuji to create filmic looks, is taken from pretty much from the same spot as the previous image. The lighting is slightly different, it’s a different day but so close as to enable us to look at the two images comparitively. Before we go further, the image below is not a jpeg SOOC. That would be impossible as Lumix hard-bake their jpegs using their own technology. Since I have zero control over how shadows, highlights, sharpness etc are handled, I had to create a RAW to Superia 200 preset that takes the RAW file and add’s a little grain, drops the stucture, rolls-off the highlights and very slightly warms up the image. I also tweaked the blues and browns to get them a little closer what I was seeing in film. Overall the effects applied were fairly minor but just enough to make the two images converge. What I will do is to revisit this scene on a day similar to the days here and retake with the Fuji x-T1 using a recipe for Superia 200. That will allow me to compare the jpeg SOOC from the x-T1 directly with the film version. I will share the recipe once done.

In looking at the two images side by side I think that the most notible difference between the two is in the softness of the film image as opposed to the slightly harder digital image although to be fair, it’s pretty close. This is probably because the Lumix GX-80 has a 16MP sensor rather than something bigger like 24MP as found routinely on many newer cameras now on the market. I think that this helps to create a softness which is approaching what we see in our film examples. There is a very slight shift in the colours, the film version is definately a tad warmer than the digital version but again, it’s pretty close. What this means is that the white balance on the Lumix is very slightly off when compared to the film version but in all honesty, small adjustments would help to reduce the differences still further. All in all I think that this is a good example of how digital can get very close to film!!

Lumix GX-80 digital image through a RAW preset I created in On1

This next image is a Superia 100 emulation using the Fuji x-T1. Here I have set the highlights to -2 on the simulation to attempt to achieve a filmic highlight roll-off i.e. a soft transition from bright white to extreme white without loosing any detail in the highlights. This image also has the shadows set to +2 ie hard which in hindsight, could / should have been relaxed to +1. Even so, I feel that the image works really well as a film image despite the fact that it was taken using a digital camera.

Classic Negative (Superia 100) Simulation on a Fujifilm x-T1

The next image is another example of a jpeg SOOC in order to try to deliver a film experience. Again, this image is loosely based on Classic Negative (Superia 100) as I really like the tones and colours in this film stock.

Fuji x-T1 image based on Superia 100 recipe

In summary, the really noticeable thing about digital images is that they can often be overly hard (contrasty) and I think that this has a detrimental effect on the results when trying to emulate film. When cameras were manual and or used vintage lenses, often the results obtained where a little softer because of the lens design, optics and often, coatings. For this reason vintage lenses are often sought out when trying to deliever a true film simulation. So when I see photographers talking about using pin sharp lenses on a film simulation site I tend to smile as this is perhaps the most detrimental thing that I can think of when it comes to taking vintage images. A little softness in your lens can add bags of character to an image. My advice, when you get the opportunity to buy an old vintage lens give it some serious thought because armed with a good vintage lens, plus real film examples to base your recipes on, and a really good understanding of white balance and highlight roll-off you are truly on the way to creating vintage film simulations using any digital camera.

Pixtures.co.uk – It’s really worth a longer look!

Pixtures.co.uk – It’s really worth a longer look!

I haven’t posted much recently mainly because I’ve been out of action for the past 8 weeks with a hip replacement. It’s amazing how not being able to walk easily impacts on your photography!! You might say of course that being “out of action” for 8 weeks gives you loads of opportunity to work on photo editing and adding content to this blog but you know what, it’s been kinda nice to just chill out and do other stuff. I have done some stuff of course, in particular I have been helping out getting the Pixtures Media platform looking shiny and interesting as well as creating an exhibition of some lush photos from my local photographer friends of the Torbay Airshow taken over the past few years. This is live now so if you like your airshows, the Red Arrows or just aircraft in general, whizz over to www.pixtures.co.uk and enjoy the feast that’s been created for you.

Now, Pixtures.co.uk is an interesting website for many reasons, not least in that it caters for photographers tired of just seeing their work compete on Facebook, Instagram and others for a fleeting second only to be replaced by newer and shiner photos minutes later. There’s got to be something better eh? Well, we think that Pixtures.co.uk could be that something. Why? Well firstly, your photos are permanent. You have your own galleries and your own profile / portfolio page. You can even promote your services or busines if you have one, Pixtures is more than happy to oblige. That alone is worth the FREE subscription!! Yes, really – it’s 100% free to display your work on Pixtures. Of course, if you want a little more and can afford the £25 / year subscription price (as of June 2021) you can elevate your free profile to a featured profile with some lush extras included such increased exposure and unlimited albums. For those with a commercial bent, you can also opt to feature your photos in the pixtures online media shop although you do have to pay a little more for this, a £95 set up fee but only £25 / year to maintain it. It really is cheap when you compare it to Smugmug and to be honest, I think it looks a lot better.

One of the cool things I really like about Pixtures.co.uk is that it’s collaborative. Mark Adams or One Camera One Lens is working with the Pixtures team to create an exhibition of images of South Wales. That should be really interesting as I know for a fact that the photographers here in Torbay and the Southwest covet trips to South Wales and further afield when they can get them. Also, the opportunity to have a free, professional portfolio on a growing media orientated photography related website should also be of interest to 1000’s of photographers looking to develop their art and show and share their work. And of course for the professional photographer, the ability to sell their work has to be a huge bonus. Of course none of this detracts from having your own photography website, you can choose not to display any photos on Pixtures simply using it as a means to promote your website. Of course, profiles always look better with images and albums but hey, that’s your choice. I believe that Pixtures is also looking at including a directory of photographers and, for fun, allowing visitors to vote on the best images in various categories. Nothing set in stone on that but it does make Pixtures look even more interesting.

To conclude then, if you want to share your images and build a permanent home for your work, or simply need some help in promoting your own website and professional services, I recon that Pixtures is one website you simply can’t overlook. To learn more, visit www.pixtures.co.uk today and get involved.

Looking for a FREE place to showcase your images?

Looking for a FREE place to showcase your images?

Taking photos is one thing but showing them off to the world, that’s another story. Everyone wants you to pay heavily for the priviledge, especially if you are looking to sell. Well, let me tell you about www.pixtures.co.uk. Pixtures is designed as a venue to help photographers display their images as a professional showcase without the need to create and manage your own workspace. No setting up complex websites or having to maintain your own webspace and content. Pixtures takes a completely different and refreshing approach.

Pixtures is totally free if you simply want to display your images. Best of all, because it interacts with your Flickr account (Free or Pro), you can create as many albums as you like. Let’s say for example that you are a landscape photographer and you have a number of images of Dartmoor. If these are already sitting on Flickr, whether you have a free or a pro licence, you can display them in Pixtures simply by signing up for a free Pixtures account and then providing the team at Pixtures with the Flickr album ID (or ID’s). Honestly, it’s as simple as that. Within 24 hours of the Pixtures team receiving this information your account is created and your first albums go live. Even if you only have a free Pixtures account you can still host as many Flickr albums on the Pixtures platform as you want. It’s a win-win in every sense of the word. Interested in what an album looks like on Pixtures – here’s an example…

With regards to flexibility, Pixtures can support unlimited profiles and, since they link to your Flickr account, unlimited albums and images. No sensitive data is held on the pixtures website relating to your Flickr account, other than the Flickr album ID’s containing the images you want to display. Want to update your album? No problem, just add or remove images and the Pixtures website updates your gallery and displays the latest content. It couldn’t be easier really.

A bonus for those looking to sell their images is that Pixtures can also make your images available for sale as digital downloads. For this you need a pro-account which costs just £95 / year and you will need to supply Pixtures with a Hi-Res version of the image which will be safely archived off-line. Pixtures create a Lo-Res version for display on Pixtures so that illegal downloading produces nothing more than a semi-usable low res image. When a customer buys, they receive a Hi-Res version to their mailbox. Payment is collected via PayPal and or STRIPE. The Pixtures e-commerce system handles all aspects of the sale for you including collection and disbursement of the income received to your paypal account.

Pixtures is a new venue for digital art and as such it is developing and improving month on month. If you are interested in being a part of this journey and learning more, why not visit their website at www.pixtures.co.uk

Adding a Sky with On1 PhotoRAW 2021

Adding a Sky with On1 PhotoRAW 2021

Living here in the UK means that often that the lovely landscape you saw through the viewfinder when you hit the shutter button isn’t quite what your camera captured. All too often our UK sky’s come out grey and bland unless you purposely expose for the sky. Fear not as nearly every mainstream photo editor available today can compensate for this problem meaning that you can still create that enigmatic look you saw in your mind when you took your photo. One such editor I tend to lean a lot towards is On1 PhotoRAW 2021. This comprehensive editing tool has pretty much everythig that you might need to fine tune your image through to completely changing how it looks.

Now, I have written about On1 PhotoRAW 2021 in this blog several times. It’s my go-to editor of the moment and I pretty much use it for 90% of all my editing. If things get tough then I’ll turn to Affinity Photo but for the most part, I try to do everything using On1. In this post I am going to be talking about and showing you how I create a vintage B&W image with a replaced sky using primarily On1 PhotoRAW 2021 plus some final styling using Nik Efex 2012 (FREE edition). Finally, I’ll show you how I use Nik Dfine2 (which is part of the Nik Efex tookbox) to remove some of the noise in the image to make the final result a little more pleasing to the eye.

Firstly let me just say that in this type of editing process I tend towards using RAW images rather than jpegs. This is because I want to tease out every bit of dynamic range from the image and RAW lets me do this much better that starting with a jpeg. The other thing I quite often do is to photograph sky’s – sad I know but useful – primarily because I prefer to use my own sky’s rather than somebody elses. Now that doesn’t mean I won’t use a sky from another source, just that it is so easy to build up a library of sky’s when you are out and about. So, lets take a look at the two images I am starting with. The first is the building itself, this is from a visit to South Wales in 2019, and the second is a sky I took in early 2020. Normally, I would be keen to try to ensure that the colour profile, light and sun position in the two images were similar but here, as I know I was going to create a B&W composition, I decided that this wasn’t as important to me because the final image would be B&W. I also felt that I could sort out some of the descrepencies during processing if I needed to. If I was working with colour then believe me, I would take a whole lot more care of selecting two images that play well together.

Having decided on my plan of action, and with a vision as to what the end result was going to look like, the first job was to isolate (mask out) the sky in the image of the building (first image above) so that the sky will flow into that space when added as a 2nd layer. To do this I created a luminosity mask simply by clicking on the masking icon on the layer. This open up a dialog box with various options including Lumen. If you click on this it will seperate dark areas from light areas (you can modify this using the various sliders) which given the the sky is basically grey works well. To view the resuting mask simply click View. In my case there were a lot of pinpricks of light (for some unknown reason) that I wanted to remove so using a textured brush (kindly provided in On1) I simply ran all over the black parts of the image taking out anything that I felt shouldn’t be there. This sounds like it takes a lof of time but in truth, it took about 5 or 6 minutes to clean up the image which is nothing in the grand scheme of things. Here’s what the Luminosity mask I initially created looks like so you can see what I am talking about. After refinement it was basically a high constrast black and white mask. Because the sky is applied to the dark parts of this image remember that we do need to invert this mask before we can use it. Again, this is very simply done by hitting INVERT in the mask panel of the layer. You can see this panel in the image below.

The next step is to add the sky as a 2nd layer and for this to work, this layer must be below the base layer (the masked building). When you do this you will see something like the image below. Here, the clouds are now showing through the masked out area creating the basis for our final image. Of course at this point you can simple work on either layer refining the look you want for your image. For example, with the sky layer highlighted you can add some warmth, emphasise the highlights in the clouds, or darken the shadows. With the base image (building) highlighted you can add any manner of effects or change the base characteristics of the image e.g. exposure, contrast, structure etc. Since I wanted to create a B&W image using Nik Silver Efex in the style of a vintage camera I only did some basic modifications to the sky and base layers here. Nik Silver Efex has some excellent tools for image composition so I thought I’d use these in preference. One thing I did do was to highlight the base layer (building) and to run the refine brush (chisel tool) around the edge of the building to try to better blend in the mask along the building profile. This can take some time to perfect but again, for the sake of this tutorial, I didn’t spend as much time as I normally would.

Once all of the refinements you want to do are to your satisfaction you need to merge the layers and export the composite image to your file space. You do this by simply right mouse clicking on the base layer and choosing MERGE. Once you have this composite exported image at your disposal you can use any other editors you may have to complete your desired look. I simply loaded the image above into Nik Silver Efex and using the various “looks on the left of the page” I selected the one I most liked for this particular image. This was Push Process (N+3.0). Before exporting this styled look I wanted to make some local refinements to the image, in particular to the low brick wall and grassy area in the foreground. To do this I simply used control points which can be dragged and dropped on to the image where you want / need to make local adjustments. You can just make out the control point on the grassy area in the image below. There are another three control points, one on the foreground wall, and one each on the two bright window areas. Once happy with the look and styling I was aiming for, I exported the image to my file space. However, it’s not quite all over as this type of editing process can inject a huge amount of noise into spaces such as the sky so my final action was to use Nik Dfine2 to take out some of this noise without unduly compromsing the overall look and feel I wanted to achieve for my image.

Now, there are lots of de-noise applications around, some with very high price tags but one of the benifits of Nik Efex 2012 (FREE edition) is that it it includes Dfine2 which is a natty noise refinement application. Dfine2 is very simple to use, and quite often you don’t need to change any settings. Here’s what the interface looks like.

To use Nik Dfine2 you simply drag and drop your jpeg image, in this case from the output of Nik Silver Efex, and this opens up the very simple panel you see above. Here you can see that I have zoomed in on the sky (red box) and the program has automatically applied contrast and colour noise reduction to the image. If I was working on a colour image I would typically choose to use control points, dropping these on various parts of the image to better control colour noise across the image. In this case though I think you’ll agree that Dfine2 has done a pretty good job of reducing the noise in the clouds, and in fact, across the whole of the image, without any involvement from me. Whatever you choose to do in Dfine2, once you are happy simply hit SAVE to overwrite the image you loaded.

So, here’s the final image from the above process. You might love or hate it, opinions often vary with regards to photography but I hope at least that you found the process and journey helpful and of interest. If you have a comment or suggestions, why not leave it in the comments area below. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Take care.