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Monthly Archives: September 2012
I’ve said this before when we talk about measuring the dynamic range of our scene. ‘If you don’t need HDR don’t use it”
It can be simply just an waste of time and Hard Drive storage space or it may even be detrimental to your final image.
Sometimes we just need to be reminded of this
Last weekend down at the Harbor I was shooting some buildings, mid-day, bright sunny mostly cloudless day. Measuring the dynamic range it really wasn’t beyond -2, + 2 of the meter. But for a couple of the buildings I shot an HDR 3 exposure +2, 0, -2 series just to see if something interesting may come of it. Well it didn’t
Here is one building in particular. One image is the HDR, one is just the 0 exposure.
There really isn’t anything I like better about the HDR image. It’s flat, the highlights have become grayed because the tone-mapping compression tried to make everything a mid-tone. There is WAY more noise in the HDR, sensor spots are much more visible in the HDR. I don’t feel the image is as sharp as the single image either.
Now some may say, “Yes but look at the shade side of the building ,it has more detail”. Well, It has lighter detail, I wouldn’t say more detail. In fact that side of the building looks more realistic in the single shot in it’s tonal rendition than the HDR does.
Remember we use HDR to bring back detail lost in shadows or highlights, not necessarily just to brighten/darken an area of the image. We still want a full range of tones, just with detail in almost all tones (there really shouldn’t be any or much detail in zone 1 or 10)
Now if you wanted to use HDR just to bring out more detail with Micro Contrast. I still think you would be better off tone-mapping a single image using the Single Image Processing in Photomatix Pro or Nik HDR Efex Pro 2. Or software like Topaz Labs Adjust 5 than doing a multiple exposure HDR. I don’t see the benefit.
But of course that is your artistic decision
How many times have you finished tone mapping an image and made your final Tiff or Jpeg image only to think that you wish you would have done things differently in your HDR program when tone mapping or adding adjustments during the HDR process?
Do you wish that you could just go back to where you left off in that process and make any change you wanted?
Well of course you could just merge the images again and yeah you were smart enough to save the recipe you used as a preset. But what about the 20 control points you added to the image. Plus all that time spent remerging and aligning the initial images. There has to be a better way.
There is, using HDR Efex Pro 2 as a Smart Object/Smart Filter in Photoshop.
What is a Smart Object?
Smart Objects have been around in Photoshop since I think CS2; however they really came into their own in versions CS4 and later. I just upgraded to Adobe Photoshop CS6 so I’m loving all the new options I have (It is a great upgrade). In the later versions you have options to add layers as a Smart Object and use them with the filters in your filter menu.
A Smart Object allows for a couple things. The main thing that people like about a smart object is that it is pretty much infinitely resizable within your Image, retaining all the characteristics of the original layer even if you blow the object up to much larger proportions. This is much like using a Vector image in Illustrator except that it is still a Raster (Pixel) image. So you don’t see any of the pixelization or jagged edges you would have if doing that with a standard Raster (Pixel) layer.
That’s the main use of a Smart Object but for us there is another use that really fits our needs. It allows us to go back and edit any filter we use on that Smart Object layer. *If we drop down our filter list in Photoshop, virtually all of those filters can be applied to a smart object layer and later in our process we can go back and make changes to the filter and all the while doing so in a Non-Destructive manner.
That is a really cool thing. So we are going to show how to use Smart Objects but in a very specific way with Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro 2, which because it operates in the 32 bit domain (as opposed to 16 or 8 bit we are used to working in) It has a few things we need to be aware of.
Using Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 as a Smart Object/Filter
We will begin out journey here in Photoshop Bridge (sorry Lightroom users, although you can open an image as a smart object in Photoshop from LR, we can’t do the merge and enter HDR Efex Pro from there as a smart object)
In Bridge, we select the images we want to use for our HDR and then with them selected go up to Tools > Nik Software > Merge to HDR Efex Pro 2. (It’s also available on the right click/ctrl click flyout)
This will be begin the process. A screen in HEP2 will pop up with these options:
And there under the red arrow is the most important part of the merge process, the check box for “Create Smart object”.
From here, everything continues as it normally does, the alignment/ deghosting opens and from there right into our normal tone mapping. We do anything and everything we want to to the image, apply presets, make adjustments, add control points and when we have it as we think we want. We click OK
Now the image will open in Photoshop and we have our image as a Smart Object layer.
Returning to HDR Efex Pro 2 tone-mapping
From this point if we want to go back to Nik HDR Efex Pro 2, we simply click on the smart filter; HDR Efex Pro 2 and that brings us right back to where we left off.
All our adjustments just as we were and completely editable, all our control points exactly where they were and fully editable. The only thing missing is the history and we can’t enter the merge dialog again but that really OK since everything else is fully editable. Clicking OK once again brings us back to Photoshop.
So that’s cool enough and I usually will at this point save this image as a Layered Tiff or PSD file.
At this point we will of course want to carry on with our finish post processing of our image but this brings up one peculiarity to using a Smart Layer on HEP2 that I mentioned earlier. The image is a 32 bit Image so that means that not all adjustments or filters are available to work on 32 bit images. They’ve added more and more as Photoshop has progressed but still are quite limited…
Some Limitations and Workarounds
Adjustment Layers are limited to Levels, Exposure, Hue/Saturation and the Channel Mixer. Sometimes that’s all I might need.
Filters are limited to a few Blur and Sharpen effects.
But we can open up more adjustments and filters by changing the mode of our image ( I still would save a copy in 32 bit) to 16 bit or 8 bit mode.
We do this by highlighting the Layer (Layer 0) and then going up to Image > Mode > 16 Bit (or 8 bit) It will ask if we want to merge the layers, Say “Don’t Merge”
It will convert the mode of each exposure layer and then allow for more different Adjustment Layers and a full range of filters including other Nik Filters. In fact those Nik filters are so smart on their own that they will recognize that they are being applied to a smart layer and will themselves be editable as a smart object. How cool is that?
Now of course there is never a free lunch in life or editing. There still are some things we can not do with our image as a smart object. We can’t Paint on them, *Edit, Thanks to Steve’s suggestion, You can Paint if you add a Blank Layer above the Smart Layer” …..we can’t Dodge and Burn. We can’t clone or heal. Basically anything that operates on a pixel level we can’t do. So at this point if you wanted to edit and refine further we would have to merge down the image and rasterize it thus eliminating the smart layer and our ability to edit in HDR Efex Pro 2. (Photoshop will warn you this will happen). That’s’ why I say to save separate copies at maybe one or two points in the process so you can always return to a state you may need.
So you may flatten the image and finish your project.
One note though of something that May happen and how to handle it. Depending on when you flatten the image, if it is still a 32 bit image when you flatten the image, Photoshop assumes you are merging an HDR and will open up its own tone mapping. (This happens anytime you change from 32 bit to another bit depth, which is how you can tone-map a single image in Photoshop, convert to 32 bit and back) To work around this, simply drop down the Method list to Exposure and Gamma, make sure the controls are “Centered” (Exposure 0.0 – Gamma 1.0) and click OK.
At this point it is just like working on any merged image and you can do anything in Photoshop your heart desires, of course EXCEPT, go back and edit the Smart HDR Efex Pro 2 Filter. That’s’ why I say once again to save separate copies along the way. They may save you a ton of time. And remember you can use Smart Objects with all filters including other Nik Products like Color Efex Pro 4 And Silver Efex Pro 2
Hope that helps
Thanks to Janice Wendt at Nik Software for her enlightening me on Smart Objects and Nik Filters
To Try or Buy Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 Click Below. ( for 15% The Nik collection by Google click the link and use code THEHDRIMAGE at checkout
Oh if you want to see the final image, Here it is:
Maybe 40 years from now we will look back and be putting noise into our images remembering it with the rose color fondness that film grain has and debating whether Nikon noise or Canon noise looked better.
What is Noise?
Just what is “Noise”? Where does it come from, how can we prevent it and how do we get rid of it if we can’t?
Noise is present in all electrical devices because well, simply nothing is perfect and through all the circuitry in devices there is always some trade off and some nasty by-products to everything, Noise being one of them. In our Digital images it shows up as circular points with some hard contrasty edges that take away from the smoothness of our image and can mask some of the important detail in our images if it becomes excessive.
Noise is always present, it’s just a matter of whether it is visible in normal viewing, which could be on-screen or in print. The point at which it becomes distracting may be up to the individual or the particular image or even how it is viewed.
Here is a typical noisy image that was both shot at high ISO and underexposed by about a stop
What makes noise visible?
Noise may become visible and an annoyance from a few different sources.
- ISO noise, the higher the ISO we use in our cameras, the more noise they generate. Cameras have gotten a lot better operating at higher ISOs without excessive noise but every camera has a threshold.
- Long Exposure Noise. When we do very long exposures, such as shooting Star Trails at night or long multiple minute exposes to fog water for that cotton candy effect or simply shoot in very low light. During those long exposures, the Digital Sensor produces heat which can also produce unpleasant noise.
- Under-exposing our images. When we underexpose our shots, it makes the noise in the shadow and midtone areas much more visible. Good exposures and quality light is essential to keep noise down. Some even “Expose to the right” or slightly overexpose images (without clipping) in order to later in processing bring back down the exposure and with it the noise level
- Excessive or aggressive Editing. Anytime we work on a pixel image and increase the luminance (lightness) or chrominance (Color) values in any way, we increase the visibility of noise. The more we do, the worse it usually gets, Even popular techniques like HDR can increase noise because in the tone mapping of those images, pixel values are raised in order to bring our shadow areas for more detail that may have been invisible in a non-HDR image. Even the popular Single Image HDR type processes which I love can introduce noise because it essentially is doing tone mapping and raising pixel values.
- JPEG Compression Noise. This is different than sensor noise and has a different look to it, more of a smearing and pixelization. This noise is harder to get rid or but actually may be easier to prevent with proper workflow.
What are some things we can do to prevent noise?
Low ISO First and foremost; we should try to shoot at the lowest ISO possible for our situation. If you can open up your aperture without affecting the DOF you are trying to achieve rather than increase ISO, do that. Slower shutter speeds that still stop the motion we may have or are within the speed that we can hand-hold without showing camera shake then do that. If you can’t handhold and are not shooting a moving object then consider using a tripod instead of raising the ISO.
Expose Correctly Secondly: Expose your scene correctly and as best you can. Underexposing will increase noise, so getting a correct or slightly over exposed image will make all the difference in the world. The best way to know is to check your histogram. If you see most of your histogram bunched up to the left and very few pixels or a big gap on the right, you probably are underexposed.
As I talked about earlier, some photographers like to “shoot to the right” which involves slightly over exposing their images and pushing the curve in the histogram more towards the right hand side. Just don’t go too far and clip your highlight because you may loose detail which can be worse then the noise you are trying to prevent. After someone has shot to the right, usually in post they will bring that luminance range down and take with it noise.
Edit with a light touch Watch your editing. If you have an image that is slightly noisy to begin with or even if you don’t, you can increase and exaggerate that noise by excessive editing and manipulating the lightness values and color values of your image. So try not to push Levels or Curves too far or even the saturation beyond what the image needs.
If you are taking some big swings to give an image Pop or Punch, then consider where in the process you are making those adjustments. If you shoot RAW rather than JPEGs you are at an advantage because in most case in a RAW editor that is not pixel editing you can push things further without some of the side effects you will get if you try to make those adjustments in a Pixel editing program.
Crop reasonably: Also watch how much you crop an image, if you crop too many pixels out of an image we essentially magnify the image and it may make the noise more visible in the image.
For JPEG compression noise, Always save files with the least amount of compression, (Photoshop 10+) or consider using a file format like Tiff or PSDs that are not subject to lossy compression noise.
For long exposure noise, consider turning on the long Exposure Noise Reduction available in the custom menu of better DSLRs.
Getting rid of noise that is there
Despite our best efforts and intentions, you WILL get noise at some point and enough of it that it needs our attention. The best way to deal with it is by a dedicated noise reduction program such as Topaz DeNoise 5
In getting rid of noise in our images we have to make some decisions and observations so that we don’t introduce any counter artifacts in the process such as softness in the image. My usual workflow would be to check for noise in the beginning of my editing process and take care of it in the beginning.
View at the size it will be seen
The most important thing we have to do though is consider how this image will be viewed to determine how much noise reduction we need to use. There are two areas of Post Processing that are totally dependant on this consideration. They are Noise Reduction and Sharpening.
If you have an image that will be seen at 600 x 400 pixels on a web page, that image will need much less noise reduction than an image that is being printed at 20’ x 30” or say 2650 x 1440 Screen wallpaper. Too often we find ourselves pixel peeping at 100, 200 or 300% and we will ALWAYS see noise at those magnifications and many times when we remove noise at those zooms, we actually will remove too much and loose a lot of detail in our images
So when making Noise reduction adjustments and judgments do so at 100% max or even better at the actual print size of screen resolution the image will be used. (For how to calibrate your monitor to show the actual size of a print see this article on Sharpening).
The final thing to think about is that noise is more visible in areas of little detail for the most part. Such as skies or large areas of a single color. Those areas are most often the areas that will also show banding from Aliasing/moiré in our images. In my sample image the noise was most visible in the sky areas
Using Topaz DeNoise 5
So knowing what we know above, using Topaz DeNoise 5 to remove noise really could not be any easier.
First before opening the Topaz DeNoise filter, I always make a duplicate layer or better yet, make the layer I want to work on, a Smart Object layer in Photoshop (ver.CS4, 5 & 6). The advantage of using a separate layer is that we haven’t destroyed any pixels, if we don’t like the results we can delete that layer and start over or even vary the opacity.
By using Topaz DeNoise – or any filter – as a smart object we have the option of returning to the filter screen and making changes if what we did the first time was not to our liking.
One we get into the DeNoise 5 screen we see it is set-up in what has become the de-regular panel screen. Presets left, preview image center, adjustments right. The image will open and then zoom to 100% you can zoom in further if you like but as I said earlier try not to and make sure after your adjustments you go back into Photoshop to make sure you have eliminate enough noise and not lost too much detail at your final image size.
To start off with the one single great thing about ALL topaz software is their presets. They are about the only company that gets them right. Real and usable presets that many times may not need any further adjustments.
For this image set to the 100% I chose the RAW Moderate Preset. You’ll notice that there are Jpeg Presets and RAW presets. The Jpeg presets are designed for Point and Shoot cameras and smaller image sizes. The RAW presets are for DSLRs and larger image sizes. You can use either on any file type (RAW, Tiff, PSD, Jpeg) it is more about the size of the sensor, image and the camera type.
Choosing RAW moderate got me most of the way to my goal but at this point I can tweak the settings a little further. The nice thing about the controls in DeNoise 5 is that we can work on color channels separately and also Highlights and Shadows separately. So knowing I wanted to eliminate the noise in the sky area ( Because it is most visible there) I upped the blue channel and the highlights channel and it effectively eliminated all the noise in those areas.
(Note for those CA Peeps, the small amount of CA visible was later removed in Lightroom)
I brought back in a little bit of detail by turning down the Blur control and adding just a bit of Grain.
Pressing OK brings me back into Photoshop and there I checked the image at the size I was going to print, 12” x 18” and it looked just fine, plenty of detail, no visible noise.
Here is that final image. For an image I wasn’t sure would work. It was shot late in the day under stormy skies so I needed ISO 1000 to get enough shutter speed to stop the moving locomotive. It made for a beautiful print with just a little touch of Topaz DeNoise 5
My closing thought is, I can’t stress enough viewing the image correctly at the size it will be seen. So many people pixel peep deep into the image and remove detail they don’t need to. Evey image has noise…every
Whether it is visable is the question
So there you have it, just about all I can scream over the noise
Hope that helps,
onOne Software Announces Perfect Photo Suite 7
New version of all-in-one software suite offers photographers the easiest way to develop stunning black and white photography, more ways to create images with impact, improvedportrait retouching, layered file workflow, image resizing tools and more
Portland, OR – September 5, 2012
– onOne Software, Inc., a leading developer of innovative, time-saving solutions for professional, advanced amateur and hobbyist photographers, today announced Perfect Photo Suite 7 for Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, Apple Aperture and as a standalone application. Improved to give photographers even more ways to maximize their creativity and solve common problems in digital photography, Perfect Photo Suite 7 now offersnew easy-to-use, yet powerful tools to develop stunning black and white images, enhance, stylize and correct images, retouch portraits and prepare all images, including mobile snapshots, for enlargement and print. Perfect Photo Suite 7 includes the brand new module Perfect B&W, Perfect Effects 4, Perfect Portrait 2, Perfect Layers 3 and Perfect Resize 7.5 Pro–powered by Genuine Fractals technology, Perfect Mask 5.2 and FocalPoint 2.
Improved workflow integration and a significantly redesigned user interface allow photographers to focus on their image editing while working seamlessly within their preferred workflow. Users can select their image from Lightroom, Photoshop, Photoshop Elements or Aperture, send it directly to the Perfect Photo Suite 7 module of their choice, make adjustments, then immediately return it to their original photo editing or organization application.
The new modules in Perfect Photo Suite 7 also include the new Perfect Brush giving users the ability achieve precise edge-detected masking quickly. It smoothly applies or removes adjustments to the specific areas being worked on without crossing over the edges around it. A redesigned browser with Search functionality and a Favorites panel allow users easy access to the specific effects and presets they’re looking for. Photographic effects, designed by industry onOne Software Announces Perfect Photo Suite 7 experts specifically for onOne Software, are also easily accessible alongside manual controls to give photographers the option to create professional looking images with one click or fine-tune adjustments to create the specific look they desire.
“We are very excited about Perfect Photo Suite 7,” said Craig Keudell, president of onOne Software. “It is the result of what our customers were asking for so they could work more quickly and easily, yet still create high quality images. The addition of Perfect B&W and the improvements to Perfect Effects, Perfect Portrait, Perfect Layers and Perfect Resize that give photographers even more creative options and trusted results.”
Perfect Photo Suite 7 includes full versions of the following onOne Software products:
Perfect B&W (New!):
Perfect B&W is the completely brand new module that helps photographers develop stunning black and white images quickly and easily. It includes powerful and intuitive tools that add dramatic, elegant, and classic black and white looks to images instantly and offer users complete creative control to reproduce time-honored black and white processing techniques.
Perfect Effects 4 (New!):
Perfect Effects 4 extends the creative power offered by the popular PhotoTools and provides even more ways to create images with impact. Perfect Effects 4 delivers an extended library of photographic effects, frames and edges, and presets designed by industry experts, via a flexible new browser with keyword search functionality and Favorites selection. New blending modes and paint-in brush effects offer even more creative options over how effects are combined and applied.
Perfect Portrait 2 (New!):
Perfect Portrait 2 offers simply power portrait retouching, now improved with more accurate automated feature detection and enhancement tools to smooth skin, remove blemishes, brighten eyes and teeth, and correct skin color. Faster processing speeds also allow photographers to retouch images more quickly for simply stunning portraits.
Perfect Layers 3 (New!):
Perfect Layers 3 gives photographers the ability to combine images and extend their image editing options in a layered file workflow without Photoshop. Create and edit multi-layered files with Perfect Layers directly from Lightroom, Aperture or as a standalone application. Included are new blending modes, textures, borders, PNG file support, and the powerful new edge-detecting Perfect Brush.
Perfect Resize 7.5 Pro (New!):
Perfect Resize is that industry standard for image enlargement. It is renowned across the photographic and printing industries for its ability to increase image size well over 1000% without the loss of sharpness or detail that is normally expected. Now, proven Genuine Fractals technology has been applied to new algorithms that optimize the clarity and detail of different image types, including mobile snapshots.
Perfect Mask 5.2 (Improved!):
Create high quality masks quickly and easily with automated functionality and powerful tools that make selecting subjects and isolating backgrounds for removal extraordinarily accurate. Redesigned user interface allows you to focus on your image editing while keeping your most used tools readily accessible.
FocalPoint 2 allows photographers to put the focus where they want after the shot. It’s the best way to add the most realistic depth of field and selective focus control to any image after it is photographed. Choose from a selection of lens presets to produce specific bokeh or adjust the amount and kind of blur you want.
Availability and Pricing
The new Perfect Photo Suite 7 will ship in late October 2012. Pre-orders are available immediately and will include a complimentary Perfect Photo Suite 7 Creative Companion DVD with purchase through September 20, 2012. The Creative Companion DVD includes training videos and presets for Perfect Photo Suite 7 and templates from Graphic Authority ($140 value). Owners of Perfect Photo Suite 6, Perfect Photo Suite 5, and Plug-In Suite 5 or earlier can upgrade to Perfect Photo Suite 7 for $149.95. Perfect Photo Suite 7 is available to new users for$299.95. Pre-orders may be made at:
For those who have purchased Perfect Photo Suite 6 on or after August 1, 2012, onOne Software will issue a complimentary upgrade to Perfect Photo Suite 7 via download when it is available inlate October 2012.