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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.

Some thoughts on ON1 Photo RAW 2021

Some thoughts on ON1 Photo RAW 2021

Although I use On1 routinely for most of my editing, I so far haven’t really mentioned it to any great degreeon this blog, even though most of the images you see here will have been processed using On1. I’m therefore going to take this opportunity to put this right today.

This hugely competent editor from OnOne is a full featured editor available for both Windows and MAC. It combines comprehensive RAW editing with the ability to use a huge number of Presets and LUT’s with a fully integrated layer management system. It also includes a very usable Digital Asset Management system (DAM) for those that want to apply keywords and descriptions to their images and to manage image locations, albums and virtual copies etc. This now includes the ability to find and delete duplicates as well as group your images more efficiently. Albums are hugely useful in that they help you to group images across multiple directories. For example you could create an album called Reflections and include any image within that album that includes a reflection of some kind irrespective of in which directory that image is sitting. Albums can be any size so no limit to the number of images you can add. I use them extensively.

ON1 offers a single user interface and recent improvements include the ability to work on and improve your portraits without having to leave ON1 to go to something like PortraitPro. This now includes Frequency Seperation of a sort plus the ability to relight the face and improve the eyes, skin and mouth. These can be applied together or independently. For male portraits I tend to just work on the eyes bit for female portraits, it’s not unusual to use all three. This feature, although releatively new but has a lot of potential. At present it does exclude a lot of the functionaly you will find in products such as PortraitPro but nonetheless, it is very usable and the results can be great.It still falls way short of PortraitPro and Affinity in this respect but it’s a good step forward.

The On1 interface is relatively simple to get to grips with with various panels providing information to the left and right of the main editing panel. The left-hand panel can be minimised to provide additional real-estate to allow you to focus on your editing in the centre panel. The right-hand panel contains all the features you need to create amazing post-processed results, often in just a few minutes.

If you need to add layers, ON1 has all of the features you need access to plus as mentioned, you can create a virtual copy at any time to branch into a different editing approach if needed. The results from ON1 are exceptional thanks in part to the ability to use a vast number of presets and LUT’s which take out the heavy lifting and help you create a particual look, for example an analogue film look, black and white images etc etc.

What I like particularly about ON1 is the Effects Panel. This gives you instant access to a number of features including B&W converison, Vignette, Colour and Tone Controls, Contrast Controls and much more. Each these controls in turn have a number of presets you can choose from or, if you prefer, you can edit manually using the sliders. This makes editing RAW files effortless for the most part, especially if you are doing a straight edit.

Another good feature is the ability to create your own presets. For example, recently I wanted to convert some digitised images taken from film negatives so I fully edited one from the batch to exactly how I wanted it, then created a preset which I then applied to the other 35 images in the set. While there was still a need to do some very minor adjustments, for example to exposure because of the changing light conditions, this vastly reduced the amount of effort needed to convert and grade each negative.

The final option availble during editing is Local Adjustments which is basically where you do the your fine tuning of your image. This provides you with a huge range of possibilities including the creation of complex masks. When using local adjustments the tool set on the LHS of the screen has several additional tools that can be used to help in the creation and refining of masks. Depending on the complexity of the object being masked, this process can take anything from a few seconds to a few minutes. The quality of your mask ultimately controls the quality of the resulting images so time taken on mask creation is time well spent.

As mentioned earlier, ON1 allows you to work with images to create composites such a changing a sky on one image for another or adding a texture or background image. Each layer can have it’s own adjustments and effects so it’s possible to create quite complex composite images using this technique. Here, I’ve simply removed the backround of the main portrait and substituted this for a textured background to give more dynamic appeal.

The latest version of On1 Photo Raw 2021 now also works as a plugin to Affinity Photo. When installing On1, if Affinity Photo is loaded on your computer the necessary plugin files are automatically loaded. Plugin files also exist for Adobe Photoshop and again, if On1 locates Photoshop on your PC, it automatically loads the necessary files. Why is this so useful? Well, Affinity Photo is a comparible editor to Photoshop in that it can do pretty much anything that Photoshop can do. The main difference between the two is that Affinity Photo is sold on a perpetual licence, this is currently under £30 (as of 26/03/2021) whereas Adobe Photoshop is sold alongside Adobe Lightroom and Bridge for about £10 per month. That means combining On1 Photo Raw 2021, which I bought for under £50 and Affinity Photo at just £25 equates to an immediate saving of about £45 in the first year. Thereafter, even renewing On1 yearly means more and more savings year on year. Will you notice the difference other than in your pocket? If you are a proficient Photoshop user then probably, there are a lot of presets only available to Photoshop. If you have never used Lightroom or Photoshop, probably not, the functionality of On1 + Affinity Photo matches the Adobe products pretty much feature to feature. I personally have never felt I was losing out by not using Photoshop although there have been times when I have seen 3rd party add-ons that are only available to Photoshop users and I have felt a little disappointed. Then I think how much I have saved and the world’s OK again!

PROS

  • Comprehensive image editing
  • Now works as a plugin to Affinity Photo as well as Photoshop
  • Perpetual licence – buy once and only upgrade if you feel you need to
  • Reasonable cost – often much less than £90 normal price (currently it’s just £58 plus you can often apply vouchers)
  • Relatively quick learning curve
  • Create virtual copies to work on
  • Layer based editing system with the ability to add effects and do local adjustments
  • Portraiture Features
  • A huge number of LUTS and Presets are available to help you create stunning images
  • Comprehensive print and print layout options

CONS

  • Can be slow to load and export images
  • Some lag noticable when masking / adjusting images
  • Mask refinement while good is not perfect
  • Layers are limted to image layers (although you can duplicate layers)
  • UI is busy but well layed out and easy to navigate

ON1: This helpful and complete guide to using ON1 PhotoRaw 2020 is a great reference document for anyone using, or thinking about using ON1 as their primary editor. Find it here.