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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.

Errors can be Fortuitous

Errors can be Fortuitous

Man with Bike on Beach. Taken with Toy Camera effect on the Lumix GX-80. As shot.

Like most of you reading this I own a number of cameras. Nothing really outstanding or even expensive but I like my tech. I don’t think I have GAS, but like most potential addicts, I’m only a step away. Amongst my ensemble of gear is the diminutive Panasonic Lumix GX-80, hereafter the GX-80 (also known as the GX-85 in the US) which before I purchased the Fuji x-T1 about 12 months ago, was my daily squeeze. I believe that elsewhere on this blog i have mused lovingly about this camera and for very good reason. It’s excellent!! Diminutive in size maybe, but trully the complete street camera when paired with a decent lens. That’s not to say the 12-35mm it came with isn’t a good lens, just that there are better on the market if candid photography is what get’s you out of bed. What I use, and it produces amazing images for not much money, is the Lumix 12-60mm f3.5-5.6. Now, you can splash out a lot more for the (slightly better) f2.8 version but I suspect you aren’t going to see a lot more bang for your buck in doing that.

The other day I decided to resurect the GX-80 and wander the dark and desperate streets of Torquay. OK, so it’s no Chicago but hey, it has a charm of it’s own. As given away in earlier paragraphs, I paired the GX-80 with the 12-60mm and searched out victims for my photo-blitz. I should say from the get go that I am not an “in your face” type of “street” photographer. While I value this genre, I’m simply not brave enough. Nor do I tend to sit on street corners where amazing triangles of light mingle with primary colours and the odd passer-by carrying an umbrella while staring intently at their smartphone. I have done this of course but I’m way to fidgity to sit in one place all day waiting for the right opportunity to pass by. I’m a wanderer. I’m lazy. I see a subject I like and I take the photo. That means that on any particular shoot I am going to have a whole range of images from beach scenes through to urban landscapes.

On this occasion I recalled the various scene modes the GX-80 offers and I decided to use the Bleach Bypass effect as this is something I think works really well for urban landscapes and candid photography. So far so good. However, at some point in the morning I had problems with post-focus turning itself on and in trying to rectify this while walking, I somehow switched from Bleach Bypass to Toy Camera. Now, and please don’t laugh, I was wearing prescription sunglasses and while I thought the viewfinder looked a little strange, I put it down to some sort of polarising effect from the lenses. To cut a long story short, I banged out a whole mornings images in Toy Camera mode, something I have never ever conpemplated doing. Of course I’ve used Toy Camera effects in software such as Nik Efex so I know what to expect for the most part but what I didn’t expect from the GX-80 was the enhancement of blues and oranges that this mode gives. The header image gives you some idea as to what this mode delivers and to be honest, it’s not displeasing. Now, not every image I took caught my eye. For various reasons the vignette was too strong, or the colours simply overwhelmed the image but a fair number were, at least in my opinion, they are worth showing here.

Seagull with sunburst. As shot.
Man on Bike with light behind. Processed in On1 as B&W simulation
Torquay Harbour. As shot. This reminded me of my film days e.g. classic negative (Superia 100)
Reflections in Blue. As shot

Personally, I think that choosing Toy Camera (totally in error) delivered some really interesting shots. You may or may not agree but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts either way in the comments below.

Please note that all images degraded to 1080 @ 72dpi for faster web delievery

On1 2021 Playing with Layered Images

On1 2021 Playing with Layered Images

I don’t much play with image layers because I find the process a little tedious and time consuming. However, when you’re bored and looking for something to do, why not have a go, it’s all a learning experience after all.

That being said, what this article does not attempt to do is to tell you how to do every fiddly editing task required. What is does do though is cover is the basic process in enough detail so that you have all the information you need to go do it yourself. With these points in mind, let’s get started.

The first thing you are going to need is a bunch of photos. The image above is made up of 4 images taken hand held using a Fuji x-T1 on burst mode. I actually managed to capture around 10 images but layering up all 10 would have made the final image look cluttered and overly busy. I therefore chose just 4 that would give me the feeling of movement that I wanted and that wouldn’t take the rest of my life to process.

Once you have your selected images, you need to create a layered image. To do this simply highlight all of the images you wish to include in your composite – you can do this in BROWSE by pressing Cntrl + Left Mouse Button while hovering over each image (they will then have boxes around them) and then clicking on the Layers icon on the RHS of the screen. This opens a dialog box asking if you want to continue to create a stacked layer image – select OK. On1 takes a little time to do this but of course, this is hardware dependent. Once On1 has done its thing you’ll see a new image with say 4 layers (or as many images as you selected), each layer holding one of the 4 images selected. The bottom layer in the stack is going to be the base layer that contains all of the information in the photo ie the people, wall, background, everything. You are not really going to do anything to this layer unless you want to develop it or change the style. If you need to change the order of the images you can simply drag and drop them into their new locations. Bear in mind though that the lowest layer in the list is your base layer, everything else is composited onto that layer.

With regards pre-editing each image, personally I tend to leave any post-processing until the end of the process. I also tend to work on RAW so as to include as much information in the final image as possible.

When starting to work on a particular layer you need to isolate this. You do this by clicking on the small orange dot to the LHS of the small image in the layers panel that you want to turn off. When the layer is active, the dot is orange. When off, it’s grey. Once these are off, you are left with just the layer you want to work on.

The key tool to use now, and this is repeated for the other 2 layers, is the MASK tool on the LHS of the screen. Click on this and choose AI from the list of 3 icons top left of the editing screen. Make sure that MODE: KEEP is on and you are ready to start painting. With MODE: KEEP on, everything you paint over is in green. Now, you really don’t need to be ultra precise at this point so just run the brush (which you can change in size) top to bottom and left to right of the guy in the air. Then, with MODE:DROP enabled, run your pointer (it’s now turned to red) around the image pretty much as shown here to mark all of the parts you don’t want to keep. Now, I tend to use a drawing pad for this but you can just use your mouse if you don’t have one. Either way, here’s what it’s going to look like before you hit APPLY.

Once you hit apply, this is what you are going to see (hopefully). Basically the red areas are transparent which of course is exactly what you want for layering up a complex image.

The next step is to refine the edges of your green selection so that any parts you don’t want to include are dropped. For this operation you simple use the REFINE tool on the LHS making sure that you set MODE: DROP. There are several tool options but I use mostly the REFINE and CHISEL brushes as these clean up the image pretty well. You need to take your time but you can do a great job with care and patience. Here, I spent just a few minutes on the cleanup process but you can see that the end result looks pretty good.

That’s it for this image, you simply repeat this process for the other 2 layers and you’re ready to compile them into the final composite. You do this by turning all the layers ON (orange dot is showing) and then setting the OPACITY for each layer so that the layer below bleeds through. Because I wanted the effect of motion, I set the very top layer to about 20%, the next to 35% and the 3rd to 50% initially and then modified them slightly to get the effect I wanted. You can play with these faders as it’s all a matter of taste. Once you are happy with your composite, highlight the very top image and go to export. This will ensure that all 4 layers are exported to the final composite image. Here’s the resulting 4 image composite I ended up with.

You can of course stop here but I tend to like to stylise my images using Nik Efex so the very first image (header image) used Nik Silver Efex while the one shown below used Nik Alanog Efex. I hope that this has given you a few ideas for playing around with layers.

Nik Analog Efex

Nik Analog Efex

Every so often I get the urge to play with Nik Efex. I can’t help myself, it’s such a fantastic artistic resource for photographers. The above image, not to everyone’s liking I’ll agree, is a simply me throwing a straight image from a photoshoot back in 2019 (which seems an age ago now) and playing with options in Nik Efex. The app I used for this was Nik Analog Efex, a smorgasbord of effects such as film type, lightleaks, motion blur, frames, camera types e.g. toy, classic, vintage etc and a whole lot more. You can simply choose a set of presets e.g. Classic Camera or you can make your own camera kit. If you love to experiment with your images, you’ll get where I am coming from.

The image above uses just a couple of effects built using the Build Your Own Camera option, these being a classic camera, film type and light leaks. No need to over-egg the pudding, I liked the base image and just wanted to add a little interest. Besides, it’s good to keep your hand in with apps like Nik Efex or you forget you have them and more importantly, how to use them.

As I mentioned, this type of experimentation is like marmite, some will love it, some will hate it. It doesn’t much matter which camp you fall into as you’ve read this far so you must be interested! So, if you want to download and play with Nik Efex, you can. It can be had free from the DxO website by visiting https://nikcollection.dxo.com/nik-collection-2012/. Go get it!

Nik Efex | A goldmine of gorgeousness

Nik Efex | A goldmine of gorgeousness

Every so often a piece of software is born that truly excels at what it does. One such gem is Nik Efex. Originally developed by Google as a range of free software applications for various tasks, Nik Efex has now been taken on by camera / lens guru’s DxO. The big change though is that while the Google version was free, the DxO version is part of their DxO stable of advanced editing tools, as well as being available as a paid plugin to Photoshop. However, all is not lost, Google in it’s infinite wisdom made sure that the original version of Nik Efex remains available to those, like me, who are quite happy to use an older stand alone version.

So, how do you get your hands on the free 2012 stand-alone version of Nik Efex. Well, if you search the DxO website you’ll have some trouble finding the link because DxO want you to spend money on all their new goodies. However, to make your life easy, you simply need to visit https://nikcollection.dxo.com/nik-collection-2012/ in order to grab your free for ever copy.

The tasty image above is a Nik Efex worked jpeg from my Nikon D600. In this case I used the gorgeous Nik Analog Efex to create a soft, dreamy look for this mustang with eye popping vintage colours in the background. Taken during a recent photo shoot, Nik Analog Efex makes short work of choosing a particular look for your images that really help make your product stand out from the crowd. Give it a go today, it’s 100% free after all.