art, photography, technical

editing a raw file

Wow, what a long time! I started this post back in March 2015! ūüė≥ūüė≤ 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 ūüėä

art, culture, photo-of-the-day, photography

Lens-Artists Photo Challange 134: ” From Forgettable to Favorite”

…. or the benefits of raw!

Fortunately, the subject for this week’s Lens-Artists Photo Challenge was published ahead. So, I had enough time to prepare this post. Each photographer struggles sometimes over the limitations of the photographic gear and gets images (far) away from the expected result. Fortunately, nowadays in digital photography, you have the option to increase the image in the digital darkroom. As our host this week, Tina asks to show such images as examples.

developed from RAW

You know, I’m taking my photographs in raw format instead of getting the JPGs processed automatically straight from the camera. Although this takes additional time and work, I’m usually getting better images. The link above directs you to a post I wrote a couple of years ago. Despite the abilities of the sensors increased over time, I still don’t want to throw away quality.

Usually, I don’t do much post-processing. I only sharpen my images and balance the exposure by subtly brightening the darks and shading the lights a bit, if necessary. So, the additional effort is very small and I can use batch-processing quite often.

But, every now and then I have images demanding a bit more work, just like the image I’m showing you today.

This image is taken on Helgoland in January 2016. My idea was to capture the light beam of the lighthouse. So I went out during the blue hour because I wanted to have a slight dark-blue sky instead of a black sky. The slight snow and rain that night didn’t disturb much. When I arrived at the planned location, I noticed a family walking towards the lighthouse. So, a quite short exposure was necessary to get a sharp family and get nice light beams. The exposure was set to fit the lights of the window: full-frame, ISO 2000, f4, 1/25, handheld (no time for setting up the tripod because of the family).

out-of-camera JPG

As expected from that scene, the captured image was very dark. Thanks to the raw format, this wasn’t a loss! These steps were taken to get the final image:

  1. increased exposure compensation in my raw developing software by +2
  2. decreased the lights a little bit
  3. increased the darks a little bit further
  4. un-sharp mask
  5. export to JPG

In the other image, I integrated the OoC for comparison. Click on the image to enlarge it. It’s also taken on Helgoland in January 2016. It shows the remains of an old pier.

This long exposure is also taken in raw and the exposure is aligned to the bright areas to avoid burnt-out areas. Besides a tripod, I used a gray-filter and a graduated gray filter.

full-frame, 24mm, ISO 50, f16, 10 seconds

Developing steps:

  1. remove dust spots in the sky
  2. balancing the horizon
  3. lighten the darks
  4. increased the warm tones in the clouds from the setting sun
  5. slightly cropped
  6. un-sharp mask
  7. export to JPG

These dust spots are almost always in your images when using a camera with interchangeable lenses because they are in the air and when changing the lens they can come into your camera. The same is true when you using nun-sealed lenses. When dust is inside your camera, it’s easy for the particles to settle on the sensor. You can recognize them as dark mostly round spots in the image. Most easily you can see them in a bright sky or on homogeneous areas in your image. The other possible source for the spots the lens itself. Either you might have spots on the back lens of your interchangeable lens or on your front lens. And, although the front lens is quite easy to keep clean, spots will appear. When now taking your final image in JPG format to do the corrections, you’re losing quality because the image will always be compressed with a lossy algorithm when storing it. So, it’s much better to do all the necessary work on top of a raw file and export the finished image. I’m recommending reading the post, I linked further up in this article.

For the next 2 images, I also embedded the original image into the final one.

  1. lighten the darks in the face to reveal the eyes a bit
  2. slightly cropped
  3. un-sharp mask
  4. coverted to monochrome by using software that emulates monochrome film instead of desaturating the colors
  5. adding a subtle dark vignette
  6. export to JPG

This is a wildlife image. Despite using a 400mm lens, I was too far away from the seals for my planned composition. You know, gray seals are raptors and you have to stay at least 30 meters away from them. They are much faster as you might think. So, you better respect the recommended distance.

  1. lighten the darks
  2. increased the warm tones a little bit
  3. slightly cropped
  4. un-sharp mask
  5. export to JPG

Take care!

art, landscape, photography, technical

EOS

Eos is the name of the ancient greek goddess of the dawn. She was assumed to be the¬†summoner of helios, the god representing or represented by the sun. I don’t want to bore you with these old stuff, but I love watching her rise at the early mornings horizon.

During the last week I enjoyed her rise each morning while commuting to work. You know, starting from December 22nd the sun rises 4 minutes earlier each morning until June 21st and from June 22nd until December 21st the sun rises 4 minutes later each day. Midsummer and midwinter or summer solstice and winter solstice. So, I have had to wait for that single day, when being at the right time at this certain place.

610_4087-e_w

I took this photo on Monday morning at 5:45.

ISO 800, f5, 75mm, 1/5s, hand-held, post-processing in Capture NX2.

I also tried a second software for post-processing: MacPhun Intensify Pro. Although, I’m very satisfied with the above results, I tried Intensify and was wowed by the results. I already knew, my camera has a very good sensor with a very good handling of the dynamic range in a photo.

 

610_4087-i_wIn my opinion the results by Intensify Pro are a bit more neutral and the darkness brightening is really remarkable. But, the gradience in the sky is, in my opinion, not so good. And, while bringing back the structures in the dark areas I also got lots of noise. Thus, I have had to give it to Noiseless Pro for eliminating the noise.

When looking on both results, I like the first one most, because it hat a way softer¬†mood. The morning fog in the dales and behind the trees at the of the field ‘feels’¬†more real in my opinion. What do you think?

Anyway. Not everyone can use Capture NX2 and it’s discontinued, unfortunately. So, if you don’t have it already, Intensify Pro is a very good option. It really does a great job!

Take care!