Month: September 2021

The Creative Camera > 2021 > September

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%