Post-processing of digital images

To say that post-production or photo editing equipment and software are controversial is an understatement. In one of the very first postings on this blog I discussed the difference between JPEG and RAW photo image files and the need to always have RAW files available for post-capture digital editing. Now I would like to address the details of post-processing equipment and software. This is clearly controversial and rapidly changing but I will give you my opinions about the advantages and reasoning for what I use (today.)

The first impossible controversy regards the computer platforms available for digital imaging. I will say upfront that I use a PC and software designed for a PC.  My choice was made for three reasons.  First, I came from the world of academia and to a lesser degree, business. The PC is dominant in these areas so I knew the machines and software. Second, there is generally more software available for the PC. Third, the PC is less expensive than a Mac or Apple system. Now before the Mac users start screaming, I am the first to admit that the Mac is probably a better system for any graphics application. Good photo editing software is available for both systems and the software costs are similar. Generally, though, you need to make a choice early in your photo editing career, because the software is usually platform-specific and cannot be used on both systems.  I would lean towards the PC platform if you are in a large business or academic institution. I would lean toward a Mac if you do not need to share all of your non-photographic work with many colleagues and would definitely choose a Mac if you are going to edit video.  

That said, I use a high-end PC with a fast processor (3.6 Mbs), separate high-speed video card with 2 GB memory, 16GB of RAM, and a 2TB internal hard drive, multiple USB3 connections and 2-27" Viewsonic high-resolution monitors. I have multiple external 1, 2, and 4TB hard drives for back-up. You need a lot of RAM for photo editing and lots of hard drive space and a good back-up system to store your work.

There are multiple paths to appropriate post-production software. There is the camera software approach using what comes with your camera. These software packages are usually satisfactory for RAW file editing, conversion to JPEG, and printing. They are proprietary and, therefore, subject to change so if you have any aspirations to develop and expand your photographic work, I would avoid the proprietary camera company programs. A second approach is the low-end, freeware approach. Several programs are available to convert and edit photo files at little or no charge. Sometimes these programs link to on-line photo storage and sharing sites such as Flickr and Picasa. These work great for point-and-shoot and cell phone photographers but those shooting seriously with a dSLR usually want more than these programs can provide. Next are the rich, mid-range, purpose-specific photo editing tools such as Adobe (Photoshop) Elements (for either the PC or Mac) and Aperture for the Mac. These are full-featured programs that have far more capabilities than most photographers want or need and will do almost any editing job asked of them.  Finally, there are the top-end editing tools used by advanced and professional photographers - Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. These are two totally different packages that serve different but compatible roles in your photo editing work flow.

What is Adobe Lightroom (LR)? LR is a photographic database that was designed to store, catalog, and locate large numbers of digital images. LR also combines the photo editing power of Adobe Mini-bridge, Bridge, and CameRAW to view, convert, and edit images in a non-destructive manner and with a very easy to learn user interface. LR manipulates digital images at the image file-level rather than the pixel-level. Adobe Photoshop (PS), on the other hand, is part of a huge creative suite of programs used to manipulate digital images at the pixel-level in a destructive manner.  Wow - that is a lot of very specific terminology - what are these two programs used for and what do they do?

LR is the starting point in the digital imaging workflow of most serious photographers. LR allows the photographer to import RAW (or JPEG) image files from a camera or memory card into a computer. During the import, the files can be renamed, assigned to specific folders, converted to digital negatives (DNGs), have key words assigned, and undergo basic image processing available in Adobe CameRAW (ACR). Once the images are imported LR can be used to correct white balance and tint, adjust exposure, straighten and crop, create local color, contrast, and exposure adjustments, sharpen and reduce digital noise, and apply special effects to the images. LR also creates a viewable image and has multiple tools to compare, sort, locate, grade, tag, flag and copy images. It acts as a file manager for the RAW images allowing movement on hard drives and allows the creation of smart (automatically updated) or stable collections of photos.  LR can geo-tag photo locations.  The latest version of LR also creates various output formats for the web, slide shows, books, and prints.

Photoshop is the top end of photo editing software. Most photographers who do not do graphic design probably only use a small fraction of what PS can do. PS has two import features called Bridge and Mini-bridge that bring photos into ACR for editing and conversion to output files for printing or sharing.  ACR works much like LR to make image-level edits and corrections before PS is used.  PS allows editing at the pixel level so the user has complete control over all elements of the photo.  The photo edits, for the most part, are destructive edits meaning that the image will be irreversibly altered if saved. PS does not have the sophisticated database functions of LR and does not do the cataloging and searching as well as LR.

Both LR and PS can use pre-sets and third-party plug-ins to automate much of the work of photo editing. The automation of PS is far more sophisticated using scripts and batch processing to speed your workflow.  Examples of these include high dynamic range (HDR) imaging, focus stacking, and panoramic stitching of multiple images. The two programs work together seamlessly to enhance your editing workflow and image storage and retrieval.  So, how are the two programs used by a nature photographer?

The more I talk with professional photographers, the more I realize that about 90% of post-production editing is done in LR and only about 5-10% in PS. LR is a powerful image editor that gives busy photographers a comprehensive database with which to catalog tens of thousands of images and find them again in seconds. As an editor, LR performs all of the functions of ACR in a very intuitive user interface.  Color balance, tint, leveling, cropping, exposure and contrast adjustment, noise reduction, and sharpening are handled effortlessly in LR.  Local adjustments of nearly all of these functions can be done with both brush and gradient tools.  I will review these editing functions in more detail at another time, but, for now, recognize that these tools are available.

PS adds three hugely important functions that are not in LR and a few hundred other functions used by graphics designers.  The three biggies in PS are layers, masks, and content-aware fill. These destructive, pixel-level tools add creative touches not possible in LR and give the nature photographer the ability to "fix" issues in a photo that could be distracting to the central theme of the photo.  There are literally hundreds of other manipulations that can be done in PS that are not available in LR. Most of these are interesting but not necessary for the average photographer.

That is the editing overview and I will have much more about editing in future posts. Next time we will explore high dynamic range (HDR) imaging and its role for the nature photographer. 

 

Post-processing of digital images

To say that post-production or photo editing equipment and software are controversial is an understatement. In one of the very first postings on this blog I discussed the difference between JPEG and RAW photo image files and the need to always have RAW files available for post-capture digital editing. Now I would like to address the details of post-processing equipment and software. This is clearly controversial and rapidly changing but I will give you my opinions about the advantages and reasoning for what I use (today.)

The first impossible controversy regards the computer platforms available for digital imaging. I will say upfront that I use a PC and software designed for a PC.  My choice was made for three reasons.  First, I came from the world of academia and to a lesser degree, business. The PC is dominant in these areas so I knew the machines and software. Second, there is generally more software available for the PC. Third, the PC is less expensive than a Mac or Apple system. Now before the Mac users start screaming, I am the first to admit that the Mac is probably a better system for any graphics application. Good photo editing software is available for both systems and the software costs are similar. Generally, though, you need to make a choice early in your photo editing career, because the software is usually platform-specific and cannot be used on both systems.  I would lean towards the PC platform if you are in a large business or academic institution. I would lean toward a Mac if you do not need to share all of your non-photographic work with many colleagues and would definitely choose a Mac if you are going to edit video.  

That said, I use a high-end PC with a fast processor (3.6 Mbs), separate high-speed video card with 2 GB memory, 16GB of RAM, and a 2TB internal hard drive, multiple USB3 connections and 2-27" Viewsonic high-resolution monitors. I have multiple external 1, 2, and 4TB hard drives for back-up. You need a lot of RAM for photo editing and lots of hard drive space and a good back-up system to store your work.

There are multiple paths to appropriate post-production software. There is the camera software approach using what comes with your camera. These software packages are usually satisfactory for RAW file editing, conversion to JPEG, and printing. They are proprietary and, therefore, subject to change so if you have any aspirations to develop and expand your photographic work, I would avoid the proprietary camera company programs. A second approach is the low-end, freeware approach. Several programs are available to convert and edit photo files at little or no charge. Sometimes these programs link to on-line photo storage and sharing sites such as Flickr and Picasa. These work great for point-and-shoot and cell phone photographers but those shooting seriously with a dSLR usually want more than these programs can provide. Next are the rich, mid-range, purpose-specific photo editing tools such as Adobe (Photoshop) Elements (for either the PC or Mac) and Aperture for the Mac. These are full-featured programs that have far more capabilities than most photographers want or need and will do almost any editing job asked of them.  Finally, there are the top-end editing tools used by advanced and professional photographers - Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. These are two totally different packages that serve different but compatible roles in your photo editing work flow.

What is Adobe Lightroom (LR)? LR is a photographic database that was designed to store, catalog, and locate large numbers of digital images. LR also combines the photo editing power of Adobe Mini-bridge, Bridge, and CameRAW to view, convert, and edit images in a non-destructive manner and with a very easy to learn user interface. LR manipulates digital images at the image file-level rather than the pixel-level. Adobe Photoshop (PS), on the other hand, is part of a huge creative suite of programs used to manipulate digital images at the pixel-level in a destructive manner.  Wow - that is a lot of very specific terminology - what are these two programs used for and what do they do?

LR is the starting point in the digital imaging workflow of most serious photographers. LR allows the photographer to import RAW (or JPEG) image files from a camera or memory card into a computer. During the import, the files can be renamed, assigned to specific folders, converted to digital negatives (DNGs), have key words assigned, and undergo basic image processing available in Adobe CameRAW (ACR). Once the images are imported LR can be used to correct white balance and tint, adjust exposure, straighten and crop, create local color, contrast, and exposure adjustments, sharpen and reduce digital noise, and apply special effects to the images. LR also creates a viewable image and has multiple tools to compare, sort, locate, grade, tag, flag and copy images. It acts as a file manager for the RAW images allowing movement on hard drives and allows the creation of smart (automatically updated) or stable collections of photos.  LR can geo-tag photo locations.  The latest version of LR also creates various output formats for the web, slide shows, books, and prints.

Photoshop is the top end of photo editing software. Most photographers who do not do graphic design probably only use a small fraction of what PS can do. PS has two import features called Bridge and Mini-bridge that bring photos into ACR for editing and conversion to output files for printing or sharing.  ACR works much like LR to make image-level edits and corrections before PS is used.  PS allows editing at the pixel level so the user has complete control over all elements of the photo.  The photo edits, for the most part, are destructive edits meaning that the image will be irreversibly altered if saved. PS does not have the sophisticated database functions of LR and does not do the cataloging and searching as well as LR.

Both LR and PS can use pre-sets and third-party plug-ins to automate much of the work of photo editing. The automation of PS is far more sophisticated using scripts and batch processing to speed your workflow.  Examples of these include high dynamic range (HDR) imaging, focus stacking, and panoramic stitching of multiple images. The two programs work together seamlessly to enhance your editing workflow and image storage and retrieval.  So, how are the two programs used by a nature photographer?

The more I talk with professional photographers, the more I realize that about 90% of post-production editing is done in LR and only about 5-10% in PS. LR is a powerful image editor that gives busy photographers a comprehensive database with which to catalog tens of thousands of images and find them again in seconds. As an editor, LR performs all of the functions of ACR in a very intuitive user interface.  Color balance, tint, leveling, cropping, exposure and contrast adjustment, noise reduction, and sharpening are handled effortlessly in LR.  Local adjustments of nearly all of these functions can be done with both brush and gradient tools.  I will review these editing functions in more detail at another time, but, for now, recognize that these tools are available.

PS adds three hugely important functions that are not in LR and a few hundred other functions used by graphics designers.  The three biggies in PS are layers, masks, and content-aware fill. These destructive, pixel-level tools add creative touches not possible in LR and give the nature photographer the ability to "fix" issues in a photo that could be distracting to the central theme of the photo.  There are literally hundreds of other manipulations that can be done in PS that are not available in LR. Most of these are interesting but not necessary for the average photographer.

That is the editing overview and I will have much more about editing in future posts. Next time we will explore high dynamic range (HDR) imaging and its role for the nature photographer. 

 

History of the Teton Photography Group

The Teton Photography Group was conceived in December 2012 after discussions with several local photographers.  The simple question was asked, “With all of the great professional and amateur photographers in the Jackson Hole region, why is there no photography group?”  The question was repeated frequently until someone suggested that the real question was, “Why don’t we start one?”

I am a newcomer to Jackson, moving here in September 2012 after two years of travel photographing national parks around the US and Canada.  I had retired from my 65 hour/week job and was in pursuit of my passion for nature and wildlife photography.  I was aware of many high quality photographic clubs and associations in most major cities and was surprised that there was none in Jackson. I spoke with photographers everywhere that I shot and began to sense there was interest in, if not enthusiasm for, some sort of networking and educational opportunity for local photographers. I met a number of locals in a series of great photography classes based in the Art Association of Jackson Hole. On the last night of the last class, a sign-up sheet was circulated for those interested in getting together to discuss and share photographic interests.

The sign-up sheet became an email list that quickly grew to about 40 names.  In January and February of 2013 I had the chance to speak directly or through others with professional photographers David Brookover, Tom Mangelsen, Henry Holdsworth, Jason Williams, Mike Cavaroc, and Thomas Macker.  All were encouraging and enthusiasm spread for getting an informal group together to discuss the issues that could insure the success or impede formation of a local or regional photo group.  The first “pre-organizational” meeting was held at the Art Association on March 11. Only 6 attended that first meeting but we were able to flesh-out a number of issues and attain a means of approaching the issues.  Homework was assigned and over the ensuing two weeks many answers were found and potential solutions to major impediments such as meeting venue and communications were investigated.

The second pre-organizational meeting was held on March 25.  This meeting was attended by eleven enthusiastic members and addressed the difficult issues of organizational structure and charter, vision and mission statements were drafted and circulated to the email list.  Thomas Macker proposed that the Art Association  would be a natural partner and could provide a venue for meetings, programs, and exhibitions.  Mike Cavaroc volunteered to head a Communications Committee and serve as Webmaster for the group. Mike established a social media presence on Facebook, Google Plus, and Twitter.  It was clear that an organization was forming and that the next steps would be to formalize a partnership with the AAJH, define the group’s leadership, and codify the activities and programs that the group will support.

On April 8 the third and final pre-organizational meeting was a discussion with Dave Muskat and Thomas Macker about the details of a partnership with the Art Association of Jackson hole.  A proposal was made to utilize the extensive resources of the AAJH for all organizational and logistical needs. The Group could define leaders to plan programs and presentations but would not be burdened by the need to develop an organizational infrastructure.  All members of the AAJH could become members of the Group with no additional dues or fees.  Members of the Photography Group would have full membership in the AAJH and all of the benefits.  This was proposed to the interested members via email and was overwhelmingly supported.

We have solicited volunteers to serve on a steering/program committee and are in the process of compiling and prioritizing a list of programs for 2013.  We hope to have a draft calendar of events for monthly programs throughout 2013 and a means of communicating with our growing membership.  

The work of organizing the group has been a real team effort that I believe will provide a strong and enduring foundation.  Time will tell if the initial enthusiasm will lead to a large membership base and high quality educational programs but seeing the superb images captured of this beautiful area by so many outstanding photographers, I cannot help but think the Teton Photography Group will have anything short of a long and stellar future. I hope you will be a part of it.

An amazing place (Volume 236)

OK, I'll admit that I have been remiss in updating the blog recently but I have had a truly amazing two weeks. It started last week in Yellowstone National Park as a simple visit to the Lamar Valley.  Sounds easy from Jackson, well, it is in the summer season but when the south entrance is closed, it means a drive south and west into Idaho, then a long but beautiful drive north through West Yellowstone, Montana then along the Gallatin River up to Bozeman.  From Bozeman it is back east to Livingston and then south to Gardiner and the north entrance to the park. It was a nice, warm spring day and there were lots of animals - elk, mule deer, big horn sheep, and even some pronghorn antelope.

We drove a couple of hours through the park from Mammoth Hot Springs to the Lamar Valley and on to the northeast entrance and Cooke City for the night. The next morning we found the carcass.  A young bison had fallen through the ice in December in the Blacktail Ponds area. It died, froze, and was covered with snow. The day before we arrived a large boar grizzly bear had come out of hibernation a bit hungry and 4-month old submerged bison sound like just the thing. He pulled the carcass partially out of the water and he and dozens of other birds and animals made a very interesting 4 days of photography.

During daylight hours the carcass was visited by bald and golden eagles, dozens of ravens, and several coyote. At dusk and into the night, the grizzly returned with as many as two others. When the grizzlies left, the wolves arrived. It was well after dark so photography was out but the viewing was very good. Coyotes crying in the night added to the drama and the same scenario played in reverse order each morning. The close proximity of the carcass to the road resulted in dozens of posts to The Spotting Scope and other web sites.

The drive back home around the west side of the park was another adventure with a full spring blizzard and white-out conditions. A double tanker truck jack-knifed and rolled over and driving conditions near West Yellowstone were miserable. Teton Pass back to Jackson was clear and the remainder of the drive was uneventful.

How could you possible top that adventure? Well, beloved grizzly sow 610 and her three two-year old cubs came out of hibernation in Grand Teton National Park. She was spotted on Monday and a storm of photographers and observers arrived for the rest of the week. The clan put on a great show every day with a backdrop of Trumpeter Swans, white pelicans, Canada geese, beaver, river otter, muskrat, coyote, bald eagles, and other waterfowl.  We visited on Wednesday to watch their migration from Pacific Creek up to Ox Bow Bend on the Snake River. It was a comedy of foraging for frozen fish in the river to random cub wrestling matches as they dug in the snow and ice along two miles of river. They were clearly un-bothered by the 10-20 photographers and visitors as they made their way along the large island at Ox Bow.

On Friday we returned to Ox Bow Bend about 35 minutes from our Jackson home to watch the family again. On the day we missed, 610 had helped the cubs retrieve a frozen beaver carcass from the ice and on this day the family was content to spend the morning in the woods on the island. We photographed beaver and waterfowl and were about ready to pack up the gear when a large boar grizzly appeared on the ice at the south end of the island. He was being harassed by a very brazen coyote but finally sent the coyote packing and took off at a full run through deep snow and dense willows toward 610 and her cubs. 610 continued to prove what a great mother she was, leading the cubs into the woods and across the wind as the boar charged on only about 50-100 yards from them. The boar was distracted by the scent where the cubs had been wrestling in the woods and perhaps by the consumed beaver carcass while the family ran through the woods and emerged again at the south end of the island. 610 sent her cubs across the frozen river to the mainland while she stood ready to defend them from the aggressive boar.  Once the cubs were safely on the mainland and downwind from the boar, she crossed the ice and led them back toward Pacific Creek. It was an amazing display of predator behavior and a mother's protective instincts. Some of the photos are posted on my Facebook page:  

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.560940470593138.1073741825.522413177779201&type=3

The national parks are coming alive! Thanks for visiting.