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Luminar Neo – A closer look at Relight Ai

PART 1 RELIGHT AI

My post yesterday focused mainly on providing my first thoughts about Luminar Neo with respect to the very much cut down beta software available to early adopters. In this version the two stand out features of Luminar Neo are Relight Ai and Sky Replacement although the latter has been a key feature of Luminar since version three.

In this 2-part review, Part 2 I will look at how PortraitPro Studio tackles the same job, I want to take a closer look at Relight Ai as this feature will be of significant interest to portrait photographers. Relight Ai is designed to allow the editor to effect changes to the background and forground lighting as well as how the light depth changes the image. Skylum suggest that using this technology you will be able to completely relight your image so as to affect stylistic as well as cosmetic changes to the image. This is no mean task and to pull this off in any meaningful way, Relight Ai woud need some significant understanding of the characteristics of light, it’s direction and intensity. Does it work? Read on!

In my normal work as a photographer I would tend towards tools such as PortraitPro Studio for portrait work. Laterly though, products like On1 PhotoRAW have included some useful if limited portraiture tools which reduce the need to take every image into PortraitPro Studio. This is made somewhat more difficult in the case of Luminar Neo though as the version I have does not include any useful portraiture tools so you are left only with the basic tools available in this particular release. If and when Skylum update the software to include these tools I will return to look at how these might help or hinder portrait development. Even so, this is an excellent opportunity to see if Skylum are heading in the right direction with Luminar Neo.

The image I have chosen to work with is one that I “snapped” a few weeks back of frind Chris Welford at an informal gathering that we attended. I have decided to process this in two ways. Firstly to use Luminar Neo, with what is currently available in the beta version and to compare this to an image modified using PortraitPro Studio. This is probably a little unfair but I think you might be suprised by the results.

The way Luminar Neo works with Relight Ai is a little unusual as the mask, as I found out, does not cover say just the face as in the case of other software applications, for example On1 PhotoRAW, but the whole of the image. I’m a little unsure then how Neo applies different effects to the image when the mask is uniform across the whole image but it does. This initially resulted in a little head scratching as my first attempts at creating a differential lighting scenario hardened the hairline making it look totally unrealistic. What I found out was that in order to “soften” the effect where needed it was necessary to erase the mask in these two problematic areas. You can see the affect of these changes to the mask in the before and after image below. This is not an easy task given the delicasy of the hair in this area but the results improve with patience.

Once I was reasonably happy with the edit to the hairline all that remained was to modify the image with regards it’s colour pallette which I did using the Mood tool. Mood is basically a LUT selector which gives you the opportunity to modify the colour and tonality in your image using either your own LUTs, LUTs purchased from Skylum or a 3rd party supplier. As it was I elected to use one of the provided LUTs. BEWARE though, for some reason this version of Luminar Neo doesn’t keep a record of the LUT applied so good luck trying to remember which one you used! Hopefully this will be sorted out in future releases. Finally, I took some of the vibrance out of the image to provide for more natural skin tones and added an Accent which helped balance the background and foreground. The results of this work can be see in the image below.

Final image after applying Relight, an included LUT and some basic colour and accent adjustments

CONCLUSIONS

Firstly, let me say that the software I am using is an beta release for early adopters and as such, the software may by now be more advanced and complete. Please bear this in mind when reading my conclusions.

Relight Ai is a tool promoted as allowing you complete control over how your image can look if you apply variable lighting to your scene after capture. In part, this is a pretty accurate statement – it can, especially for the sample images provided. However, it can’t do it in all and in cases as shown here, it did need some help with mask adjustments. Now as soon as you have to start working with masks, any software can achieve the same ends. I could do this job in Affinity Photo, Darktable, On1 PhotoRAW 2022 or even in my old copy of Luminar 4. Don’t get me wrong, in many situations and for many photographers I think Relight Ai is going to be a Godsend. However, if you seek perfection in your final images then good is often not good enough and you are going to have to do some work on the mask.

Things I liked about Neo in terms of this task was the reletive ease of applying basic relighting to the scene. That worked really well. I liked the fact that you had control over the depth of light adjustment although this seems to basically mean right to left rather than front to back. I need to research this more. I also like the easy way you can adjust the mask, which you are very likely going to have to do. For the image above I really did need to zoom in to hair strand level in order to achieve my goal of making the transition look as realistic as possible. I also liked the basic tools provided in this release. The work above was done using just three tools, Relight Ai, Mood and Colour plus a slight adjustment to the Accents in the image. Another problem is that Neo, once I had started to look at other tools seemed to forget the edits I had made in Relight Ai. For example, when I went back in to change the colour of the sunglasses back towards the green hue in the original using a mask adjustement in Colour, Neo lost the editing around the hairline. I hope that these issues are associated with the beta software rather than a trait that will carry on through to the final release.

Am I happy with the final result? Yes, I am although I could have perhaps pushed the foreground lighting on the face a little more having looked at the end result. Even so, it’s changed a decent image into a better one from my perspective so I have to be happy with that.

A big thanks to Chris Welford for allowing me to use the image for this article.

Luminar Neo – Going stratospheric or just more Skylum hot-air?

When I first bought into the Skylum world with Luminar2018 I was impressed. At last a really simple, efficient and productive tool for minimal outlay. At that time, other than Photoscape X Pro, it was my main photo editor and I did some really good work with it. Then came along Luminar 3, another really good version of Luminar with some useful updates and additions. Again, I used it pretty much for all of my editing and I was always pleased with the results. Things changed for me with the release of Luminar 4 as I felt that the addition of the Digital Asset Management system (DAM) really pulled down performance and certainly in my case, never really worked. Luminar 4 was also beset by crashes and performance issues which again for me, spoiled the enjoyment of using the software. At this point in time I decided to look at alternative software tools such as Capture One, On1 PhotoRAW etc. Although I updated Luminar 4 through into what is now the last edition, Luminar 4.3, I have never felt the same way about it as I did with those earlier releases. For this reason, when Luminar Ai was released I decided against it choosing instead to go with On1 PhotoRAW alongside Affinity Photo. This combination, especially being able to access the presets in On1 from Affinity was and still is a great solution.

And so to Luminar Neo. Now, I thought about this for some time before committing £35 GBP as an early bird buyer. One thing Skylum are good at is marketing and on paper, Luminar Neo looks the business. On the other hand, Luminar 4, for me at least, was such a disaster that I had said that I would never again invest in Skylum products. Well, time changes things and The Creative Camera now gives me the ability to take apart the tools I use and to share my thoughts, hopefully in a balanced way, to a growing audience. Besides, I spend more on coffee in a month that the purchase price of Luminar Neo!

LUMINAR NEO LAYOUT AND UI

At this point in time I only have access to the pre-release beta version so that needs to be made clear. I cannot talk about the final product user interface (UI) or how it will work in the longer term. Currently, it looks a lot like screen shots I have seen of Luminar Ai rather than Luminar 4.3 which I am much more used to using. The front screen is pretty sparce, just a catalog section, the main image you have selected from a particular catalog, a couple of text links to catalog and edit at the top and some thumbnail images along the bottom. You can add your own folder to the catalog as well as create albums – useful for grouping like images eg street, landscape, candid etc. The current clean look is actually quite pleasing and I suspect new users to Luminar Neo will find its minimalistic structure helpful. Nothing at all on this page to daze and confuse. Clicking on the Edit link above the large image takes you into the editing panel where you can start to create your masterpiece. Once in the main editing panel you have a strip of tools to help you fine tune your image, these iare grouped under Essential, Creative, Portrait and Professional. These tools are very similar to those found in Luminar 4 and I suspect, although I have never used it, Luminar Ai so will be comfortable to existing Luminar users. New users will likely feel equally at home as all of the tools are easy to understand and if not, a quick play around with the sliders makes their usage fairly clear.

Now in Luminar 4 when you modified a tool it retained those new settings plus there was a history setting that allowed you to wind-back your edit if it all went horribly wrong. Here though there is no history tool and to edit your sliders you need to go to EDITS (next to the TOOLS icon). I realise that this is a beta UI but rather than just being able to go back into a module to modify your edits, you now have to go into a seperate Edit panel to make changes. I personally don’t like that or see the necessity to do this but perhaps others will like it. As a new user of course you won’t know any different so it won’t matter to you. There is also no way currently to add layers. I understand layers will be available in the full release and I think that this is a necessity for any advanced RAW editor.

TOOLS AVAILABLE IN THE BETA

With regards to the TOOLS offered, these are pretty much standard and what you expect from any good photo editor. The ESSENTIAL tools allow you to develop your RAW or JPEG in any way you wish, add exposure, modify shadows and highlights, add contrast etc and much more. Below these are the CREATIVE tools which enable you to turn your image into something more moody, mysterious or dramatic. Below this we have some ultra simplistic Portrait tools which I hope will be enhanced in a future release plus a few PROFESSIONAL tools which enable more control of the image. Again these are few and far between at the moment but we’ll see where they take us. A SHARE TO icon exists at the top right of the screen to allow you to export your reworked image to a folder or to email although the latter doesn’t work on my version. The export to file works fine, although it is pretty slow, a persistent proble for Skylum it seems. Exporting the image above to a folder on my C drive (an SSD) took 9 seconds. Affinity Photo would do this in no more than a couple of seconds on the same PC. Nonetheless, it works perfectly well.

RELIGHT AI

One of the key tools offered by Skylum in Luminar Neo is RELIGHT Ai. This tool is designed to cleverly assess the current lighting and allow you to modify this to suit your subject or your needs. In the example below, I have taken a portrait provided as a sample within Luminar Neo and applied Relight Ai to it to change the background and foreground lighting. Does it work? Yes, it does. Can I do it in other ways on other software, yes I can but it is more fiddly than moving just a couple of sliders. The best exponent of relighting I have used in portraiture is PortraitPro Studio but this is an expensive option which for many will be overkill.

In the image below you can see the results of relighting on the sample portrait. Basically my aim was to drop the highlights in the background while applying some spot-lighting to the face to emphasise this in the final portrait. This can be done using just three sliders so is pretty easy to achieve. You do have to be careful when you have a soft outline such as hair as overdoing the adjustment can result in a hard line around the head. I backed off the brightness far slider to remove this artifact.

SKY REPLACEMENT AND SCENE RELIGHTING

With regards to the other big thing Luminar users want to do, changing the sky, Skylum remain the king of this technology for the moment. Nothing could be simpler with regards changing the sky, and indeed relighting the scene afterwards as can be seen here in the following example.

CONCLUSIONS

This was never meant to be an indepth overview of Lumina Neo. It is simply a quick look at what the state of play is today. Both the edits above are based on applying easy to use tools to the original images. I have to say that on these tools alone, the technology is very well done and I can see a lot of options for using Luminar in my workflow, if not as my main editor, certainly as a specialist tool for certain jobs.

As it stands, I am impressed with what I have seen today. The workflow I adopted is recognisable from Luminar 4. The software is stable with no gliches, no crashes and no stuttering with simple edits. Not once did it lockup during use. I feel that relighting is a powerful if limited tool and if Skylum can pull it off here, they will have a winner on their hands.

Sky replacement in Luminar is still one of the best on the market, way better than On1 PhotoRAW at this point in time. I know that products such as Adobe Lightroom have recently upped their game re sky replacement etc but for such a low cost, Luminar does a great job.

Of course I have to dive deeper into the various editing tools but since I have used these on Luminar 4 I feel comfortable with their usage and effects. I can’t yet see how to add an image layer, something Luminar Neo will need to be able to do, but it seems that currently at least, Edits is the layer equivelent in Luminar Neo.

IN SUMMARY

  • Very easy to use
  • Beta version offers a very simple but effective UI
  • Relight Ai works well albeit that you may need to make mask adjustement in some situations
  • Sky replacement is still one of the best around
  • If you add a second instance of a tool, for example, Colour, no masking is available in that isnatnce
  • Slow export functionality when compared with other applications
  • Great results for a very low cost

Take care

darktable – Advanced RAW Editing for FREE

Darktable is one of those pieces of software that you know nothing about until someone tells you about it. Like many open source applications it attracts wide support from a small and tightly knit community who, at least from my experience, are extremely passionate about it. But what is darktable? Well, the darktable website provides the most sustinct answer by saying “darktable is an open source photography workflow application and raw developer. A virtual lighttable and darkroom for photographers. It manages your digital negatives in a database, lets you view them through a zoomable lighttable and enables you to develop raw images and enhance them”. To put this in perspective think Lightroom on steroids. If you are a Lightroom user than much of what you find in darktable will be familiar. However, that’s where the comparison stops. Lightroom, part of the Adobe stable of tightly integrated photo and video editing applications, has been designed with the average user in mind. Someone who wants to quickly process their RAW files to a good standard with the minimum of fuss and effort. While darktable does exactly the same job, immediatly you open the application you realise that you are working with something very different albeit that the various panels and tools may seem familiar. If you don’t know Lightroom, or have never used any RAW editor then darktable, like so many photo modern editors, can look very confusing and even intimidating. That being said, there is a good sized community of users out there and lots of material to help you get to grips with darktable so if you like a challange, and prefer not to pay a subscription fee or indeed buy your software on a perpetual licence then darktable is going to be of interest to you. This is doubly true if you are an editor that likes to push the boundaries somewhat.

The first question you’ll probably want to ask is what software does darktable compete with? Well, there are many RAW editors on the market and in truth, darktable competes with them all. These include Capture One, Luminar, On1 PhotoRAW, Lightroom, Photoscape X Pro and many more. What it doesn’t compete with are tools such as Affinity Photo, Photoshop, GIMP or any editors that focus on photo manipulation rather than basic RAW editing. There will be some overlap of course but in general, tools like darktable develop the RAW files for software such as Affinity Photo and Photoshop to fine tune the image as a final product. Of course, nine times out of ten most photographers will stop at the developed RAW and don’t really need to process their images further but for those photographers that do need a little more, something like Affinity Photo will enable you to apply the finishing touches.

So, without further ado, let’s get into how darktable does it’s stuff.

Lighttable

On startup, darktable goes initially into lighttable mode. You can also go back into lighttable at any point simply by clicking on the menu item top right. Lighttable is where you can import your images and folders, apply tags such as stars, colours and meta-tags etc to your images. It’s also where you make decisions as to what stays and what goes. You can apply all these decisions both individually or in batch mode. You can also search and filter based on various criteria so as to be able to work on a smaller subset of selected images. You can also control the layout of lightable using the various controls at the bottom of the screen.

This is what you’ll see when you access lighttable mode

As this is really just an introduction to my early thoughts on darktable I don’t intend to spend much time on any particular feature of the software, I just want to provide a quick overview and tell you my thoughts. While lighttable may not be the best DAM available today, it is certainly very useable and competent and will provide most of the functionality that you are likely to need. As a new user myself I have yet to work out how to automatically update a folder of images so that they are always current but I assume that I will be able to find this. I’ll list the pros and cons with regards to working with darktable later so for now, let’s just say that lighttable is a competent and efficient DAM without the bells and whistles found in other systems.

Darkroom

Now, as I have mentioned this is simply an opportunity to tell you how I feel as a new user to darktable. My total experience of using the software consists of about 4 days of intensive use. My normal editors are On1 PhotoRAW 2022 and Affinity Photo but for the purpose of learning how to use darktable I have pushed these to one side and I’m using just darktable at the moment. My frustrations will therefore be your frustrations!

Basic darkroom editing panels

When you open an image to edit for the first time you will be totally confused by the miriad of panels and functions you can use. It’s intimidating. However, as you get more and more into the software, and you watch more and more helpfull tutorials you begin to get a sense of the product and a feel for how to employ your own workflow. As with pretty much any photo editing software today, there are multiple panels to contend with. On the LHS you have information panels, your editing history panel plus export, tagging etc. In the centre you have the image you are working with and underneath this pane, although I forgot to turn it on, you have some tools for helping you with clipping and if you want it, a camera roll of images in the folder you are working on. I tend to close these although to be fair, I do normally retain the image clipping tools as these are useful. On the RHS you have all of the modules (tools) available to you to convert your RAW into a jpeg, tiff or whatever you want. These tools are grouped together – see just under the histogram – as favourites, basic, colour etc. You can re-group these if you wish or just leave darktable to do its stuff.

If you are conversent with editors such as On1 PhotoRAW then you’ll probably already have a workflow which you like to use and which works for you. For example, I like to employ tools such as exposure, dynamic contrast, tone, shadows and highlights, curves etc and darktable allows you to do all of this. The ways these tools work is no different really to other editors but the effects of the sliders is different and the way each tool is laid out may confuse. My personal tactic has been to apply the module and then push things to extremes to see how they apply to the image. Once I undestand this I can fine tune the sliders to give me exactly what I want. It’s clumsy but it works!

One nod to FujiFilm users, and depending on your camera model, darktable does include some film emulations for you to apply directly to your RAW files. These include Classic Chrome, Astia, Provia, Velvia and a Monochrome simulation. RAW files from later cameras, mine is an older FujiFilm x-T1, may however have an expanded list to choose from.

A before and after example of basic RAW editing. To view, simply move the white line to either side

Darkroom is, as is so much of darktable, fully customisable. As a new user I eventually found Workflow Beginner in the dropdown at the end of the editing groups area (under the histogram) and that helped a lot. However, you can re-group, remove and add modules with relative ease so in theory you could easily set up the RHS panels to work as you do.

One of the things I was most keen to try was masking, cloning and healing and while I am not going to labour on these in this short article I just want to say that they all perform really well. While not as intuitive as some other software I have used, On1 for example, after some playing around how they work and what they can achieve becomes very clear. In fact the image of the two ladies having coffee does benefit from having my knee and a dogs rear end removed. Masking is equally good, once you realise that every module allows for masking rather than say, as in On1, needing to go into a local adjustments panel. Here’s another example of removing an object using the retouch tool plus some final adjustments to the image.

Before and after image showing object removal. To view, simply move the white line to either side.

With regards to other useful feature, I also like the history panel on the LHS. While confusing at first, I soon realised that this allows you to quickly remove modules and edits as well as enable you to take a snapshot of where you started from and to compare this to where your edit it at any moment in time. Very useful to see how things are going.

Conclusion

This was never going to be a long article as I really wanted to just give you a flavour of what I have managed to learn about darktable over just a few days. Now, I am quite an experienced editor so while darktable was somewhat of a shock to my system, it wasn’t catastrophic. I recognised much of what i was seeing and I was able to apply the various techniques I had learned elsewhere to darktable. I also made good use of the various online tutorials that I found, these being mostly on Youtube, and I spent a lot of time experimenting. Now I haven’t spoken much about tools such as masking, cloning, healing etc but I have tried them and they are pretty damn good. Once I learned not to transfixed on the history panel I found making adjustments really easy and if I didn’t know what something did, a quick look at that particular module answered any questions that I had.

In summary, play with this software for more than a couple of days and if you are anything like me you’ll love it more and more. It’s a super-lightweight, fast and effective RAW processor that just seems to get the job done. I honestly can’t believe that this is FREE software, it’s so good at what it needs to do. Sure the interface could be better streamlined but the results it produces are exceptional. If you give it a week you’ll love it and you’ll wonder why you are bothering to pay a small fortune on products such as Adobe Lightroom, Capture One etc.

Pros

  • Hugely powerful RAW editor with lots of features
  • Ultra-lightweight, no bloatware
  • Adobe Lightroom users will be somewhat familiar with the interface
  • Comprises of a comprehensive DAM plus RAW editing platform in a single application
  • Fast to edit once you understand the software and workflow
  • Tooltips help you understand the various functions and modules
  • Comprehensive tools (modules) for practically everything you can imagine
  • Some support for FujiFilm Film Simulations (under Colour Lookup Table)
  • Fully customisable
  • Open Source
  • Updated regulalry
  • Helpful community and lots of online resources to help you get started / become expert
  • FREE

Cons

  • Overwhelming at first, there’s a lot to take in
  • Overly complex layouts daze and confuse
  • It looks like what it is, a product developed by a community rather than a single development team
  • Not particularly intuitive on first look
  • You’ll need help from tutorials etc to get the best from it
  • If you are a user other editing software, eg On1 PhotoRAW, much of what you see will be familiar but in an unfamiliar way. You’ll need to poke around to find the tools you want to use and to learn what they do
  • There’s stuff in here I didn’t know I needed or missed from other editors

Here are some useful links to darktable

Learn more about darktable here https://www.darktable.org/

Access the darktable manual here https://darktable.gitlab.io/doc/en/index.html

Noise Reduction Software – Is it worth the money?

Noise Reduction Software – Is it worth the money?

Before & After Noise Reduction

A friend recently sent me a RAW image taken on a very old Lumix digital camera with a 1/1.7″ sensor. The image was a really tricky one, very under exposed and while it was only shot at ISO 400, combined with the small sensor this created quite a messy, noisy image. What this did though was to formulate the idea in my head of writing a short article on how to improve a difficult, noisy image using some of the noise reduction tools I had available to me to clean up this image. These are basically On1 2022 NoNoise, Nik Dfine (the old stand alone verion not the newer DxO version) and Affinity Denoise. However I eventually decided just to keep this article short and sweet by focusing on one of my images and just looking at the new kid on the block which is On1 2022 NoNoise Ai.

Why bother about noise? Well, the vast majority of photographers will tell you that noise is ugly and that therefore you should do everything possible to remove it. For this reason trying to control noise in-camera, and if this fails, later in post, becomes hugely important. This is in sharp contrast (excuse the pun) to grain which can add enormous character to photos giving them an ageless filmic look which can be very attractive, even in a digital image. The two are therefore very different but beware, overdone digital grain can be equally distracting so it needs to be used with care.

Getting back to the main theme of this article, as a start point I needed a suitable image to work with. Racking my brain I recalled an image from a night shoot a couple of years back which was taken on a Lumix GX-80 and exposed at ISO 25,600. It was of revellers coming out of the theatre here in Torquay after The Rocky Horror Show. Regrettably, the RAW in question was inadvertantly deleted a year or so ago but I was able to locate a jpeg, which at just 2400px wide offered even more of a challange than the RAW would have done as NoNoise is really designed to process large RAW files not small jpegs. Anyway, as you can image the jpeg was full of really horrible noise so presented a stiff test to On1 NoNoise Ai.

Now for those that don’t know On1 NoNoise, this application is a core feature found in the latest release of On1 PhotoRAW 2022. It’s embedded in the development functionality although since it is usually the first process to be applied, it’s somewhat strange that On1 have chosen to embed it towards the end of the development tools. That being said, it’s perhaps also worth noting that there is now a stand-alone / plug-in version available which works with Photoshop, Capture One, Affinity Photo and others although unlike previous On1 releases, you now have to buy the plug-ins seperately, either individually or as a plug-in bundle. That’s good news for say Lightroom / Photoshop users who only want the plug-ins but not so good if you are an exisitng On1 customer or looking to buy On1 PhotoRAW 2022 as a new customer. Personally I have some strong thoughts on the way On1 have treated their existing client base but rather than bloat this article, feel free to visit http://thecreativecamera.co.uk/groups/bonjour/ to learn what they are!

Now, with regards to the results I obtained, in all fairness to On1 2022 NoNoise Ai did a pretty good job – see the split image above which is a before and after of the image I was working on. Here the noise in the original was completely removed using just the base (default) settings in the NoNoise panel. As I didn’t want to phaff around with this image, I just wanted to get a good comparison, I only really adjusted the white balance after the application of NoNoise simply to make the image look a little more realistic. I did this simply by picking on something white in the image, in this case the mans shirt,and applying a colour shift to it. You could also use Curves if you prefer or the colour settings available in the Effects section. This adjustment reduced the greenish tinge between the original and the processed image. Whether it’s worth working on the image any more than this is debatable as it’s such a low resolution but it does make a great image for comparison purposes.

In Summary

So, what are my thoughts on the results? Well, this is an image that isn’t going to stand a lot of close inspection. Had I started with the RAW, I think the results would have been much much better. If you do a deep dive into the image you’ll see that yes, the noise is really well controlled but at the expense of any real details in the faces. They look very plastic close up although that is as much a result of what I started with as what NoNoise was able to achieve so please don’t go away thinking that this is not a good result. As I mentioned, I made no effort to fine tune the image using either the sharpening or details sliders that are available. Stand back and look at the image from a distance though and it looks pretty good, especially given its history.

UPDATE

Although I initially decided not to do comparisons with other software I did throw the original jpeg into my FREE version of Nik Dfine2 to see what it could achieve. Now bear in mind that this version of Nik has received no updates since it was acquired by DxO in late 2017 so you are looking at the results here from what is now classed as old, defunct technology. Make you’re own mind up as to how far digital noise reduction has come in the past few years or so.

Processed using the unsupported, non DxO version of NIK Dfine2

Something else I noticed about On1 NoNoise, this was on a completely different photo, was that where the software was confused by shadows, in this case rain on the window, it caused some difficulty with the colours and tones behind it. This is best explained by showing you a before and after – see below. I’m not sure if this is a one off or it can be modified in some way but it does show some limitations with the technology.

Original on the left / with NoNoise applied on the right. Notice the degradation in skin tones in the NoNoise image.

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.

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.

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.

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.