Category Archives: Photography & Software Lessons

By Starlight in ON1 Photo 10

By Star Light – Milky Way Astrophotography Composting in ON1 Photo 10  Final Composite Milky Way Image

Soooo, you know those amazing images you see of the Milky Way with that awesome foreground and the caption next to it says…Lit by Starlight. OK ehheemmm. OK sorry to break this to you but, well, They are 100% bull@#$%…Yep. Having spent many a night during a New Moon (No Moon) out in the middle of the desert. I can tell you, the stars don’t light up much. In fact you don’t really know how dark  dark is till you’ve done just that. Continue reading »

The Trouble With Trees

The Trouble with Trees  

Trees, those dastardly arch nemesis of HDR, especially in winter, devoid of leaves, waiting to strike havoc and fear amongst small children…and HDR artists.
What do I mean? Trees against a bright sky pose a big challenge to anyone doing HDR, and for a number of reason. The first and worst, is Haloing. A quite common occurrence in HDR when you have a dark edge next to a bright edge. The HDR program will try to lighten the dark object in tone mapping and when it does, it feathers or “Smoothes” the gradation to the adjacent area. If that happens to be a light area, it creates a halo.
 Now it’s bad enough when you have a dark building edge next to a bright sky, But now image 100’s  or 1000’s of branches or limbs against  dark sky. That spells  T-R-O-U-B-L-E
Next problem is alignment, Even with a good tripod a light wind can cause movement of the branches. Even without movement sometimes the HDR program itself just gets confused because it doesn’t know how to align the edges. sometime if you have no movement it may be better to turn off alignment.
So maybe the best thing is just to avoid trees in winter or power lines or any of the other lines of contrast that cause us headaches. Well of course we know that’s not a good reason. Some times those trees just look friggen cool. So let’s see what we can do to make them work in our image.
I set out yesterday morning to find our victim, which happened to be in my side yard ( Note, this is not a great photograph but merely contains the elements necessary for this exercise). I have, a tree, a dark foreboding sky and I added in another element that may be the worst enemy of HDR; a large area of white, the white fence
A note to HDR software makers. PLEASE work on making white be able to be white. This is probably the biggest downfall of every HDR program. Graying. I know we want to map things differently, make shadows midtones make Midtones midtones brings highlight down to midtones…SOMETIME. Bu we still need White to be white and black to be black…*steps down off soapbox*
OK sorry for that outburst, back to our image. To make things even more difficult, I hand held the three image exposure.
I had three images (ISO 200 f/11) 1/500, 1/125 & 1/30. Taking them into Photomatix Pro 4.1. They aligned perfectly because of the great alignment capabilities of Photomatix pro. In Tonemapping, I used a “Painterly” preset which is very popular amongst HDRers. This is my result
Strength 100
Color Saturation 50
Luminosity 6.0
Detail Contrast 6.0
Lighting adjustments Medium
White point .490%
Black Point .010%
Yikes, next bus leaving for Halo-Town
So of course the first move could be, well do what you always do, go for your “As the eye sees” look and more natural appearance.
OK, that helps. But I hear the screams ” Peter, that’s  fine for you but I WANT the painterly look!!” I agree, so what can we try to fix our problem
Well, we could try just changing our Light adjustment from Medium to Natural +, that should help
Mm…no not really, fixes some problems, causes others.
OK well why not just pull back the strength? To say 35?
No, Flatsville. Not the look we want at all
How about if we try Luminosity? Let’s pull it back to -4.0
Ugh no, that made it worse.
Micro-Smoothing? surely that will do it.
No, not even close
Well, we COULD use the best solution to haloing problems that Photomatix has to offer. Highlight Smoothing…yes yes, that will do it 
Yes! see that fixed most of it…”Peter…PETER!, you took away my Big foreboding skies. I WANT MY PAINTERLY LOOK!!!”
OK, I know you do. So maybe the true solution to our problem lies outside of our HDR program. As I discussed in this article. HDR programs do a great job with global adjustments but for Local adjustments we need to turn to Photoshop. ( One Note Nik HDR EFEX Pro does do some great things with control point local adjustments, I just don’t think it is the right tool for this although it could be with enough work) 
Opening our original Painterly image in Photoshop, after duplicating our layer, I immediately went for the burn tool. I set it for Highlights and a strength of 7-10% and with a large soft brush began painting over the halo’d branches and the trunk of tree. This will remove some of the highlights on the branches but really won’t affect their look because most of the branches are actually shadow or shadows brought up into the midrange, Our Burn tool will only affect the highlights around those branches.
Working around the tree within a few minutes I got this result. We still have all the look of our painterly effect just now void of the halos around the branches.
But of course this still wasn’t good enough for me because I want that fence white! I could have just moved to the Dodge tool and highlights again. But that would be a lot of work and can have some uneven effects. So instead I just added a curves adjustment layer and then easily , because we have some straight lines, masked to curves adjustment to only the fence.
So the final result, I was able to keep those dark foreboding skies of the painterly effect, got my fence white but eliminated a good portion of all the haloing in our image
See now trees aren’so bad are they? So go out today and hug a tree, Then fire off 3 exposures
(Geez, I have to clean my concrete…ahh just painterly effect grunge)
Hope that helps

HDR in Living…Black & White

 As we saw in some of the readers versions of the Automotive Image, Black & White was chosen as a very viable alternative in processing. Most of my images I do in both Color and Black & White versions. But many times people aren’t sure what the best methods or even how to convert your color image to black and white So today we will cover what I think are the best methods and then also a couple Programs that can do all the work for you.

First we will look at some methods in programs you may already have

Here is the original image we will work with. I chose it because we have a lot of different colors from Blue to Yellow to Green to Brown and also White, Black and Gray itself. I believe the true test of a good black and white conversion is how well the brightness of a color transfers to the brightness of a tone. Sometimes we want to shift that for effect or pop but usually we want the tonal balance to remain from before to after the conversion. I’ll talk a little further about this later



In Photoshop there are three main methods I use to convert my images to Black and White. The Color Mixer (which sounds counter-intuitive), Gradient Maps and Convert to Grayscale. Some of you may mention what about just Desaturate? Actually that is the least desirable method which will leave you with a flat and lifeless image so I don’t even include that on my list.

The Color Mixer

This method can give you results similar to what we used to get when we used color filters on our cameras to shoot Black & White Film in the “Olden Days” We would add a Red Filter or Green or Blue (Most times it was red). To highlight certain color tones and make the more pronounced in our black & white image. So using this method is similar except that we have a lot more control over the final result. We can choose red, green or blue OR even mix those colors (Hence why it is called color mixer) in any combination we desire.

We enter this method by going to the menu in Photoshop Image> Adjustments> Color Mixer. This brings up this dialog box.


We can Select a channel and then click monotone and it will turn our image Black & White with that channel as 100%, we can then vary the amount of all the channels to get the look we want but it is best of the combinations of percents all add up to 100%.

If you want to preview what each channel will look like at 100% before you actually use the channel mixer, On your layer palette, switch to the Channels Tab and then click on each  channel ( Red, Green, Blue) and see how they each look. That may give you a better starting point.



For this method we have

Pro: very diverse amount of looks to an image that can be used to add a lot of drama

Con: May not remain true to tone transfer from color to black and white

 Here are some examples of our image using Channel Mixers and Each Channel’s look











































Now I didn’t mix any of the channels because I wanted you to see the effect that each color channel has on the outcome of the conversion.

In reality I would have mixed diifent amounts of each channel and got a result something like this















 Gradient Maps


The next method uses what are called Gradient Maps. Basically what that is is a Gradient from Black to White and it “Maps” certain tones to certain levels of brightness or luminosity of a color. A Color that has a Luminosity closer to 100% will be mapped as white, one with luminosity close to 50% will be mapped as Mid Gray and so on.

Notice how the tone of yellow and blue seem to be about the same, one isn’t a pale pastel and the other a deep dark color but look at how differently they actually relate in B & W























We get to the Gradient Map by clicking Image>Adjustments > Gradient Map. This is what the Gradient Map dialog box looks like. If the colors of the gradient are not Black and White, Click on the gradient and it will bring up a box where you can choose your gradient. Gradients themselves can be highly modified. But let’s keep it simple for now. This lesson may be getting out of hand already















Here is what our image looks like with a straight Black to White Gradient map applied


















I like this method, for the most part gets the tonal part right though not perfect and can add a little drama to the image.


Convert to Grayscale

Finally we get too my favorite conversion method: Convert to Grayscale. This also happens to be the favorite method of friend, fellow photographer and Black & White Guru; Cort Anderson.  Check out Cort’s latest piece on Black & White in the Nov/Dec issue of Photo Technique Magazine

It’s the only method that truly keeps the luminosity of any color the same when it is made a gray tone. And it’s the simplest process. You do it by going to Image>Mode> Grayscale. Now you could just leave it at that but I like to then make the conversion back to RGB because not all adjustments or filters are available to grayscale images so I go Image>Mode> RGB.

Here is the image with Grayscale conversion














 Finishing the Image

Just like Cort suggests, I like to finish off all my black and white conversions with a Curves Adjustment layer we just may differ on how we do it or the look we want. I want to establish a clear Black Point and a White Point so using the shadow and the highlight eyedropper in curves, I will click on an area that should be pure black and an area that should be pure white with the highlight dropper to establish those ends. Then I may make a midrange adjustment to change the contrast. Then I will finish off as I usually do with some Dodging and burning to get everything how I want it.

This is what I would probably get for a final image















Give me a Break!

Peter, you’re killing me here. It shouldn’t have to be this much work and I shouldn’t have to know this much just to get a decent Black & White image. Well everything good takes work and knowledge. But I and the software manufacturers will let you off the hook.

If you are looking for some simple and quick solutions, the software manufacturers have you in mind

Lightroom 3

If you are a Lightroom 3 user there are presets in the develop Module for many different styles of Black and White. The nice thing is, through the use of virtual copies, you can always go back and change what you did and try another effect and maintain a Color and Black & White virtual copy witho9ut actually using up more disc space

If that doesn’t suit your needs or you don’t have Lightroom, I have two other solutions

Nik Silver Efex Pro 2

From Nik Software comes the highly acclaimed Silver Efex Pro 2. Nik comes with 36 Factory presets for all types of Black & White conversions including Sepia and other color toning. If that’s not enough the adjustments are endless.

Here is Nik Silver Efex Pro 2’s “Neutral” preset














 Topaz Labs BW Effects 

Another possibility for you is Topaz Labs BW Effects. Again, couldn’t be easier, stroll through the presets till you find what works for you AND your image, no muss, no fuss 

This is their Classic Preset














 Okay, I know that was a lot. But Black & White can be a blast and add a ton of drama to your already dramatic HDR Image. Properly printed these can be some of the most outstanding images in your collection. So give it a try. It may seem long-winded but in the end is really not that difficult to do especially if you take advantage of some of the software tools out there.

Hope that helps,