art, photography, technical

editing a raw file

Wow, what a long time! I started this post back in March 2015! 😳😲 Unbelievable!
Recently, I got again a question on my workflow, so I decided to finally finish this post. Hint: This post contains some links to software manufacturers. No one paid me anything for getting a link or had any influence on my opinion.

Besides creating jpg files directly in-camera many digital cameras are able to create raw files instead of the JPG or in addition. Raw file means saving the bare information captured by the sensor and not processing it in-camera. This has a couple of advantages. A few years ago, I already published a post on these advantages. Many years ago, I decided to capture only raw files and process them myself afterward to have more control over the process and the final look. No, don’t get me wrong, I don’t use any filters. In only do, what was necessary back in film days.

In the past, I already published some posts covering how I store my images and a bit about, why I’m doing the extra work for raw development. Some of the benefits of doing it this way are in this post. I really encourage you to click on the links and read a bit about the background. Although most recent digital cameras are really great in creating good-looking JPGs, you still have a lot more in raw.

I’m using dedicated raw-processing software and it’s not Lightroom, because this software needs so much unnecessary work which stands in the way where I’d have to work around. The workflow is complicated and not straightforward. And, you’re locked into the software when you want to keep access to your own work.

The DAM (Digital Asset Management) would be nice for the final images, but it’s absolutely the wrong way to import all undeveloped images only for deleting a huge portion right after the import. A database makes additional problems when being used that way and slows down the computer over time. You can google for these problems and find gazillions of people suffering from them. An often recommended solution of having a separate catalog for each job on the other hand leads the whole idea ad absurdum. (btw. the same is true for the recent versions of Luminar, and that’s the reason why I left their affiliate program). Not being able to save all your edits outside of a catalog also hinders you to get your image edited by someone else and get the edits back for learning from the outcome.

These are my steps after coming back from a job or a trip:

  1. copy all images in a dedicated folder on my internal disk named with the date and a tiny description of the contents (i.e. 20210507 – garden birds)
  2. create a first backup of the whole bunch of images, which will hopefully never be used
  3. import the GPS data into the image files (only for trips)
  4. normalize the file names when having used more than one camera body to get them in the right order again. My naming scheme is YYYYMMDD_hhmmss-XXX_xxx.NEF. I guess the first and second part of date and time is easily understandable. I take this information from the metadata of each file: the time of releasing the shutter. The XXX stands for a 3 digit code of the used camera body followed by 4 numbers. These third and fourth parts are given to the file by the camera at creation time. The metadata are pieces of information stored in the images by the camera at the time when the image is captured.
  5. create a second backup on a second external disk. This one is my backup in case of an emergency.
  6. open up a digital light table to check the images and select the ones to get processed.
  7. create a sub-folder called “edit” and copy all selected images in this folder, direct the raw processor to the edit folder and process the images
  8. the final steps are already in the post, I mentioned above.

In this post, I want to describe the actions I do in my raw processor. You know, I started photography more than 40 years ago and run my own lab in those days.  And the options I had in those days are still the steps I do in digital photography:

  1. remove some blemishes and dust-spots
  2. brighten the shadows and darken the lights to get a better balance in the image if necessary
  3. balance the horizon if necessary
  4. correct the with balance if necessary
  5. boost the vibrance or increase the saturation if necessary
  6. crop, if necessary
  7. post-sharpening
  8. export to jpg

You see, my workflow is quite easy and straightforward. It costs me a maximum of approximately 2 minutes per image. Some of the actions can be bundled and applied to a couple of images at the same time to speed up the work. But, in general, I’m not a big fan of such bundlings, besides the export to jpg.

You might ask, what kind of software you can use. There are a couple of commercial products around. All I know, offer trial versions for a couple of days/weeks: DxO Photolab, Capture One Pro (free versions for some Fuji and Sony cameras available), OnOne Photo Raw, NX Studio (free, Nikon only – afaik Canon has something similar), and some open-source products, which are also free of charge: Rawtherapee, Lightzone, ufraw, digikam, Darktable. Affinity Photo is more a replacement for Photoshop or Gimp, although it also has a good raw development module. Photoshop brings kind of a lite-version of Lightroom for raw development called Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and Gimp incorporates either ufraw or Rawtherapee, depending on the operating system you’re using. There might be some more products in the market, which I didn’t mention here because I don’t know them. So, this list isn’t complete. Sorry!

Although the open-source products usually have a background in the Linux community, they are also available for Windows and macOS. I worked with all of them a bit and would recommend either Lightzone or Rawtherapee. ufraw is a bit like Adobe Camera Raw for Photoshop. Darktable has the same mechanisms as Lightroom. So, it’s unusable for me. I don’t want to import the raw files into a database and stick with this single database because all of my edits are in that database. A corrupt database could make me lose all ever-done edits. DigiKam is an all-in-one solution: fat but mighty. I like the organizing module very much: DAM = Digital Assets Management. For some time, I’m using Excire Foto for DAM. You see, the linked post is quite old. I have to write a new one. This product is amazing.

For modern lenses, it is extremely important to have software being able to adjust and correct lens failures: barrel or cushion distortion and achromatic abbreviations. Back in the film days, the good lenses were designed for not having them. Nowadays it’s easier (and cheaper for the manufacturer) to create a piece of software to correct the failures. All the software I mentioned above is IMHO able to work that way. On the other hand, I have a lot of old lenses, which don’t need such corrections.

In case, you want to start developing your photos, I’d recommend either DigiKam, because it is an all-in-one solution, or Lightzone / Rawthereapee. In case, you need some image manipulation tools, try gimp. You can find tutorials on the relevant homepage I mentioned above or on YouTube. Although there are rumors of Gimp would be complicated, that’s not completely true. Also, Photoshop is very complicated, but there are more talkative called-by-themselves experts telling it otherwise because they are kind of experienced because of extensive usage. Each software is complicated on the first try. But, open-source software usually has a very active community willing to help when you’re investing at least a bit of time reading or watching (YouTube) tutorials. The other option is, to give one of the commercial software a try and download the trial version. Also, commercial software needs you to learn how to handle them. So, giving open-source a try first, won’t cost you any money. When talking about commercial software, I like DxO Photolab the most followed by Capture One Pro. When it comes to image manipulation software, I’m using Gimp and Affinity Photo. In the past, I used Photoshop CS6, but it’s not necessary anymore. First, I need such software only for approximately 10-20 images a year, on the other hand, Gimp has everything, I need. A few weeks ago, I published an article on one of my use cases for image manipulation software on NikonRumors and here in my blog.

I tried all the products I mentioned above last year when I had to investigate a replacement for my raw development software. Although the last update was in 2012 it run well and gave me the flexibility, quality, and tools I needed. Unfortunately, the developer decided to retire the software. For some years I was unable to re-install it if there were a reason to do so, but the recent updates of the operating software of my computer made the tool even completely unusable. So, I needed to find a replacement and I did. Recommending software to someone else is not easy because everyone has her own workflow, her own requirements, and her own wishes. So, you have to try on your own and find the software fulfilling all of your requirements to the best.

Below, you can see two screenshots from while developing a raw image in LightZone. The final image is on the top of this post.

browsing a folder with raw files with the folder structure on the left and the metadata of the selected image to the right

 

a couple of presets on the left, first developing step on the right and seeing the distribution of light in the image (Zone Model of Anselm Adams) in the upper right corner

 

Read the steps on the right from bottom to top. The last step is missing: sharpening

In this image, it was necessary to darken the highlights to recover the fine structures in the petals. In-camera development would have left only completely white spaces. From the raw file, I was able to recover the fine lines in the petals as well as the stamens. The erected twig was removed afterward with image manipulation software (Gimp) as well as the cropping.

Take care and happy snapping 😊

landscape, nature, photography, postprocessing, software, technic, travel, world

adding details from your own memory card to your landscape photos

In July, I was accepted as a guest blogger at nikonrumors.com. Here’s the full post for you, too.

When traveling, I love to be at the sea. I love the uneven coasts more than sandy beaches. I can spend hours photographing waves rolling in and the water sputtering between the rocks. These sprays, unfortunately, appear in different places but never together at the same time. So, I end up with many, many images of the same scene, but with differences in the details. Wouldn’t it be nice, combining these images?

When having taken the single images by using a tripod all of the frames are identical and could be merged by using an HDR- or DRI-software like i.e. Photomatix or AuroraHDR. But, these programs automatically remove those parts changing from frame to frame. So, what else can be done now?

In the early years of digital photography, the dynamic range of the sensors wasn’t as good as it is nowadays. To increase the dynamic range one took a series of identical frames by using a tripod with different shutter speeds to get images where certain parts were exposed correctly and accepting other parts either underexposed or overexposed. After a mild development in the digital darkroom and exporting the images in TIFF format to preserve the most possible information, the frames were imported into a group of layers in i.e. GIMP, Photoshop, or similar software able to work with layers and layer masks to create the final image. You usually don’t need to create your images with a higher dynamic range this way anymore, because of improved sensors and special software taking over the hard work for you. But this workflow is still useful.

In case, your kind of discouraged now, because I’m talking about layers and masks, don’t stop reading. It’s easier than it seems to be 🙂

I’m describing the necessary steps by using The GIMP because everyone can download the software for free from here (http://gimp.org/downloads). It’s available for macOS, Windows, Linux. For Photoshop the steps are nearly identically.

First, create a folder on your disk and put the original images in this folder. This step isn’t necessary but eases the process and makes it more clear. I took three images for creating my final image, but you can include as many as you want to merge, at least two. Keep in mind, the details you want to reveal shouldn’t overlap.

Now, you can start GIMP and click on “File” and choose “Open as Layers”. In the next dialog, navigate to the folder, you created in the first step and select all images in this folder, you want to merge. Now, you have a pile of images, but you only see the one on top of the pile. When clicking on the eye icon left to each image you can make a single (or more than one) image visible or invisible. You can always see only the uppermost one of the pile with the eye icon switched on. I recommend to re-sort the images now, so that the image with the most details you want to

preserve is the bottom image. For all of the other images, you have to add a mask: the layer mask

 

There are two kinds of these masks: white (= full opacity) and black (= full transparency). What does this mean? Think of a sheet of paper you would lay on your photo. What do you see? Right, you only see the sheet of paper, but not the photo. Now, imagine taking scissors and cut a hole in the paper and lay it back on your photo. You can still see the while paper but through the hole, you can see a part of the image underneath the paper. That’s the principle of the layer masks. White means cover-up while black means the holes in the cover.

When adding a black layer mask to all image layers expect the background, you can only see the background. Make sure, all images are taken from a tripod and are neither cropped nor re-balanced along the horizon in post-processing. Otherwise, you must rearrange them now to make sure, they are laying exactly one over another. There are tools available to do so. Adjust the opacity of the upper (= moving) image and switch to the 100% view to do so. There are tutorials available online explaining these steps in detail, so check them out if necessary. I recommend leaving these steps to the final image and do as little as possible to the source images.

the toolbox

Pick the brush tool from the toolbox and select a white color. Click in the black layer mask and paint the white color, where you want to make an additional detail visible. Do this for all details and on all layers masks. Simply paint the white color where a certain detail is located you want to discover and be included in the final image. You only need to paint upon the detail included in the image where you’re working on the layer mask. In case, you painted too much and want to revert it, change the color to black and paint over the white, or use the eraser tool. Imagine of doing a collage where you cut out different parts of other media and stick them on a background image.

before and after

After discovering all the details you want to include in your final image, save your work file as XCF (the native file format of GIMP) or PSD and then export it to TIFF. Despite you could also merge all layers to one and work further with this file, I recommend exporting and do the final work on this resulting TIFF file like removing dust spots with the stamp tool, balancing the horizon, and cropping the image. So, you could come back and adjust your work without the need of starting from the beginning.

When everything is fine, export it to JPG and you’re done!

the final image

 

Take care!