Monthly Archives: February 2008

The Place To Be

The Place To Be

Brian Auer | 02/09/2008 | La Jolla, CA | 19mm * f/4.5 * 1/400s * ISO100
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This shot was taken during the La Jolla photowalk in early February. At the time, I found the scene to be very interesting — the hut, the birds, the people, and the ocean in the background really seemed to work together in this candid shot. I kept things fairly well centered because of the strong symmetry already present in the hut. The Birds and the people served to break up that symmetry in isolated areas, so I didn’t feel I needed to break it up even more. Lucky for me, I also left some extra room at the top of the frame, which served as a nice backdrop for some heavy vignette.

The Place To Be Post-Processing

All of the following post-processing steps were done with Adobe Camera Raw — no Photoshop was used on this photo.

  1. Untouched RAW Image
    This is what the image looked like straight out of the camera. It could probably work as a color image too, but I wanted to go colorless.
  2. Black & White Conversion
    Before doing anything, I switched to grayscale. I pushed the red, orange, yellow, green, and aqua to negative compensation while the blues, purples and magentas were pushed in the positive direction.
  3. Basic Adjustments
    I left the white balance set at a temperature of 5800 and a tint of +3. I left the exposure, recovery, and clarity set to zero, while I boosted the fill light to 46, bumped the blacks up to 36, dropped the brightness to 16, and pushed up the contrast to 52.
  4. Tone Curve Adjustment
    Using the parametric tone curve, I set the highlights to +41, lights to +39, darks to -44, and shadows to -76. This gave me the strong contrast I was after, and I actually pushed a bunch of the highlights and shadows off the histogram.
  5. Vignette and Sharpen
    In the lens correction menu, I set the vignette to an amount of -76 with a midpoint of 19 — and this gave me the strong frame around the hut while filling in some of that sky. As a last step, I set the sharpening under the detail menu to an amount of 50 with a radius of 1.5 pixels.


Photoshop Technique: Digital Film Grain

Film has a distinct advantage over digital when it comes to grain: it’s the only natural way to achieve it. Digital cameras are great at producing noise, but it’s just not the same as grain. I’m in love with it — and I actually attempt to reproduce it in my digital photos when the occasion calls. If you need a refresher on when that might be, check out an article I wrote for Antoine called “Going With The Grain“.

Chit Chat

The technique outlined below is intended to be a starting point for applying additional grain to a photo. I’ll be using a section of the photo above to illustrate the method. It tends to work well with black & whites (especially those shot at a high ISO) and cross processed photos. You can follow along or download the Photoshop Action below. Either way, you’ll probably have to tweak the results to get it looking just right.


Note that this action set contains all the previous Photoshop techniques I’ve covered in addition to the film grain technique. For help with using these techniques, check my Photoshop Tips archive.


All of our noise will be non-destructive, so we need a new empty layer on top of the stack (Shift+Ctrl+Alt+N). Then we want to fill that layer with 50% gray (Shift+Backspace) — leave the blending mode set to Normal and the opacity at 100%. Now you should be looking at a gray screen. Wonderful.


I like to do these steps early in the game because it allows me to “see” how the grain is looking as I go through the rest of the steps, but you could just as easily do this at the very end. First, set the blending mode to “Overlay” — light tones get lighter, dark tones get darker — so 50% gray will cause nothing to happen (so you should see the original image again). When we add the grain, the dark spots will darken the shadows on image below while the light spots will lighten the highlights, while preserving the colors of the original image.

At this point, I also like to set my opacity to 65% and my fill to 70% — this will help soften up the effect once we apply the grain. If you use this at 100% opacities, you’ll end up with very harsh grain. If you go down below 70%, you’ll get a very light grain. These two settings are very important to achieving natural looking grain, and I’d suggest that you experiment with these values after the grain is applied.


Add Noise

Now it’s time to start making things look different on our photo. We’ll add some noise to the gray layer (Filter >> Noise >> Add Noise…), but don’t freak out when it looks really bad at first. I like to add Monochromatic Gaussian noise with a value of 50% — this gives pretty good hard edges between the whites and the blacks, but there’s still some transition between the two. What you should see in your preview is a really bad looking attempt at grain. It’s going to be very blocky and un-grainlike. You MUST use the monochromatic option if you want grain instead of digital noise (and all the colors that go with it. You could also try using the Uniform Distribution — I find that it tends to create smaller grains, while Gaussian creates larger grains.

If you set your blend mode to Overlay already, you can see how the grain layer affects the image. You should be able to see blocks of lighter and darker spots throughout most of the image. The mid-tones and darker mid-tones tend to show the largest change, while extreme highlights will have almost no change in their appearance.


Blur Noise

Now that we’ve added that terrible noise to the image, we’ll back it off and try to get a natural look from it. The easiest way to do this with some amount of control is by using the Gaussian blur (Filter >> Blur >> Gaussian Blur…). I’ve found that a value of 1.3 pixels tends to work well with the Gaussian noise, but this is definitely another setting you can adjust to your own liking. As you adjust the value, you’ll see the main image in Photoshop changing it’s appearance — which is why I set the blending mode prior to this step.

Experiment with the blur value and different methods of applying blur. Photoshop offers several ways to add blur, and none of them are necessarily wrong. See what works best for your particular image and taste.


If you’re happy with the size and edge hardness of the grain, you can now go back to the layer opacity and fill values to find something that meshes well with your particular photo. You can also try a blending mode of “Soft Light” to give a softer… lighter… grain. You might also try some of the other blend modes, but you’ll probably have to reduce the opacity WAY down to avoid any kind of bad distortions. Here’s a before and after image for you (feed readers will have to visit the site to see the effect).

Grain (shown), No Grain (mouse-over)

Like I said, this is just ONE way of creating grain in your images. There are a handful of methods out there, and they all give slightly different results. I use this method most often because it gives me control over many of the layer settings, and it’s totally non-destructive so it can be turned off if I change my mind later.

Anybody else out there like to fake the grain? Leave me some links to photos of yours that have fake grain in them — I’d love to check them out!

Work With RAW, Forget the JPEG

Since Neil Creek started writing about Organization and Photo Management, I’ve been spending a lot of time evaluating my workflow practices. One of my major changes has been in my file format management. And Change is good.

Previously, I was shooting in RAW+JPEG. I’d use the JPEGs as a quick-view tool, and the RAW files were basically there in case I wanted to dig a little deeper and do some serious editing. This method sucks for several reasons: 1) it takes more space on your memory card, 2) it takes more space on your hard drive, and 3) the JPEGs that come out of the camera are absolutely terrible. I found out just how terrible they were by running a set of RAW files through Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and comparing the results to the JPEG files straight out of the camera. Hands down, no comparison — the JPEG files out of the camera stink.

Here’s what I’m doing now. I shoot RAW only — no JPEGs whatsoever. When you use a piece of software like Adobe Bridge, Lightroom, or Aperture, you can view the RAW files just as easily as the JPEGs. I process the RAW files with ACR with very basic adjustments (most of them are auto adjustments for exposure and color), and I’ll usually process 100-200 images at once over a very short period of time. Occasionally I’ll have to do some tweaking on the white balance, but usually just for indoor shooting. At first, I was then saving all the adjusted RAW files as full-res JPEGs… but after a few times of doing that I was questioning my own methods. Why was I saving extra files that I didn’t need? I don’t use those JPEGs for anything, and after I adjust the RAW files with ACR, the adjustment settings are saved and the image looks the way I intended.

So now, each photo has only the adjusted RAW file and an optional Photoshop file if I choose to dive a little deeper into the photo editing. If I need a JPEG, I open up the RAW or PSD and make the JPEG I need. Same thing with TIFF files — there’s no point in having those extra files ready and waiting on the hard drive. If I need to upload a photo to Flickr, I open up the original document, resize accordingly, save it to a temporary folder as a JPEG, upload to Flickr, and delete the derivative file when I’m done. No extra baggage.

If you shoot and manage your photos in RAW format, take a look at your current methods of file management. Are you creating extra files that you don’t NEED? How much time and hard disk space are you wasting if you create all those JPEG and TIFF files to keep on-hand? Is there any advantage to having those derivative files in your archive?

PhotoDump 02-24-2008

Another great week of photos from the Epic Edits Flickr Pool! The photophlow sessions didn’t work out this week, so here’s what I decided on for photos.

CRW_1345 by Tarantin0Tree LoversPieces of me (3 of 365) by vandyll.netDon't tease my heart by bryanvillaringrün, grüner by mathias.pastwaman by ilva-sableyei am trying (2 of 365) by vandyll.netLast Fast Action @ The Beat Kitchen by As The Picture Fades Photographysave the world by mathias.pastwaJust Me by ndbutterSeagull audience by lilahpopsI'm Not So Sure About This... by AlaskaTeacherhere's to you, bonnie tyler by ryan loucks photographyOut Of the Ordinary by sneuwegerSnowsera Promos by As The Picture Fades Photography© lisman_-9039_4 by Rex Lisman PhotographyAway from it all by rh89Casting an Eye by Chris NixonHostile TakeoverDon't leave me by bryanvillarinKevin Freitas by gavinjensenFlame On by hitkaiserPlaza by ergatesBBLLUUEE by Phill Price02/19 by arlo_batesPygmalion (low-key) by LightChaser: Luis Cruzopen door by pragnyankareto by javiySunset on False Bay by Steve CraneAmerican Taxi @ The Beat Kitchen by As The Picture Fades Photography by mathias.pastwaerin's journal by ryan loucks photographyGrain is good. by the_wolf_brigadeA lane, a line, a lone cone by Guajava20080210_122838_D3_Pappa70GebFeier_DSC6348-1 by geopiratCuerpo (II) by little_fosforo

Link Roundup 02-23-2008

While I’ve been slacking over the last week, it seems like everybody else has been producing some amazing articles. Here are a few of the really good ones I found.

  • An Interview with Blogger and Photographer Brian Auer
    Beautiful Argentina
    One of my photoblogging buddies did an interview with me — check out what I had to say! I also gave some insight to the origin of the name “Epic Edits”, in case you were curious.
  • Homemade Bellows Lens for Nikon
    Neat little DIY project for a bellows lens. The title says it’s for Nikon, but you could do it with any SLR.
  • Build A Tilt-Shift Lens for Your SLR for Cheap
    found photography
    Neat DIY project for building a cheap Tilt-Shift lens. Of course the quality won’t be as good as a purchased lens, but it’ll still be fun to shoot with!
  • 16 Lies and half-truths in the Camera business
    Wirehead Arts
    An outline of sixteen lies that your camera gear salesperson or camera manufacturer will say to separate you from your money.
  • (Photo)Blogging Tips
    Some thoughts and tips on photoblogging from a photoblogging newbie — but a great discussion about the many aspects of photography blogging.
  • 6 Tips to Building your Photography Network
    digital Photography School
    Networking is key for many things in life. Here are some great tips and observations about networking as a photographer.
  • Advanced High pass sharpening
    daff’s blog
    Yet another way to sharpen photos. I like this approach because it’s slightly different from the other high-pass techniques I’ve seen. Check it out!
  • Trendy Neutral Photo Effect
    Photoshop Tutorials
    Good simple Photoshop tutorial for producing an interesting look to your photos. Vignette is optional.
  • Lenses for Photojournalism
    Beyond Phototips
    Everyone’s wanted to be a photojournalist at one time or the other… Now, take a peek into their mouth watering gear…
  • Guide to Neutral Density Filters
    Single-Serving Photo
    Your guide to Neutral Density filters: what they are, how they work, and how to use them.
  • 12 Things to Photograph Before You Die
    The perfect list of things that every photographer should strive to photograph in their lifetime!


Social Photography Project Update

Just a quick update on the writing project going on right now. The master of ceremonies (Vivien from InspirationBit) has consulted all those hosting the mini-projects and we’ve decided that a deadline extension is in order.


I’ve had 7 entries for this project on social photography, so there’s plenty of room left to participate! Also remember that there are 10 other hosts putting on similar writing projects for 18 other social networks. If you have ANY experience with those on the list presented at the main project page, don’t hesitate to participate in their projects too!

The Lowdown on Getting Down and Low

Hostile Takeover

I felt really bad for not participating in Neil Creek’s last photography project, so I was determined to make it up to him and participate in his current project titled “The View From Below“. I would have liked to participated a lot sooner than right before the deadline, but something is better than nothing I suppose.

The goal for this project is to take a photo from a low perspective (with the camera under 12 inches from the ground). It’s a great exercise because we typically don’t lower our cameras that far. It’s unfortunate because there are a ton of missed opportunities from down there. I took many shots for this project while laying on the ground, but the mushroom shot above came out best.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have taken a photo of some common mushrooms in the grass — but getting down to their level changed the perspective so drastically. The ONLY reason I took this shot was because I was thinking of the project. I wish it didn’t take a project to remind me to get down on the ground every once in a while, but it was a great reminder and lesson in composition and perspective.

So whether you participate in Neil’s project or not, try to remind yourself that standing up or kneeling down aren’t the only ways to take a photo. Glance down at your feet every once in a while and see what’s down there. If you see an interesting scene in front of you, see what it looks like from ground level. And remember that the things you normally look down onto will appear completely different and new when you look up at them.

smirk-240.jpg carving-from-below-240.jpg the-old-man-240.jpg

What’s Your Experience With Film?

Digital is the norm nowadays. Most of us shoot with digital cameras, even those who have traditionally shot film. Both mediums have their perks and limitations, so one is not necessarily better than the other. I’ve only recently been introduced to film photography, but it may be something that I dabble with from time to time (I’m even trying to get my Dad to send me his old manual SLR equipment from the 70′s & 80′s). So this got me thinking, how many of us have already experienced film and at what level?

What is Your Experience With Film?

Also check out the poll results from last time “What Percentage of Your Shots Are Worth Hanging?” A majority of us fall into the “less than 1%” or “1-5%” categories, but we actually had quite a few claiming to achieve up to 25% or 50%.

Shoot Like You’re Using Film

Digital cameras are great: you can take a bunch of shots, view them as you go, and even delete the bad ones (though it’s not advised). But does this make us less attentive to what we’re really doing? With film, you have a set number of exposures you can take — no previews, no do-overs. Obviously, you can carry more than one roll of film, but then it becomes a matter of expense and your ability to carry the film with you.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to shoot film for my first time. We had a little family get-together and my cousin brought her film camera so I could try it out. The camera itself wasn’t much different from a typical dSLR, it’s just missing the big LCD on the back. It was actually a Minolta Maxxum SLR, so the camera was very comfortable to me. I had a good time shooting with it, but I have no idea how I did until we get the film processed.

From the moment I had the camera in my hand, my mindset was completely different than usual. All of the sudden I was limited on my shots and I really began to evaluate what I was doing with the camera. I took extra time to find the right composition, and from the right angle. I gave special attention to making sure the camera settings were just right to give the correct exposure and DOF. I also wasn’t taking multiple shots of the same thing with slightly different settings — no room on the film to do that.

So here’s my suggestion: whether you’ve shot film before or not, set some time aside to “pretend” you’re shooting with film (not all the time, just as an exercise). Limit your number of shots to 36, no previews, no erasing images. Go out somewhere with your digital camera and take your 36 shots before heading back to see what you get. You might just be amazed at what you can teach yourself while you’re out shooting — plus you’ll probably be very pleased with how many good shots you can get when you force that limitation.

PhotoDump 02-17-2008

Another great week of photos from the Epic Edits Flickr Pool! We had a couple of photophlow sessions and here’s what we decided on.

 by p3nCOLEGIO3 by javiyDrowning By Numbers by Colour VoidIt's all about balance really. by the_wolf_brigadespeedster by IlletirresWhite Air by Aperture Image.comTom's Diner by Anthony MusmannoKlaus by visuellegedankenkodak-moments--tram107 by mathias.pastwaBWNeg014 by Rex Lisman PhotographyNew picks (38/366) by bryanvillarinDecorative Framing by auer1816Chibi Close Up by neilcreeksymmetrical candles by wasabifishBoldt Castle at Sunset by LightBinkodak-moments--high-voltage by mathias.pastwa02/14 by arlo_batesMate by neilcreekgot love? by A Cognitive State of Minddim by dawn m. armfieldRockefeller Center by hitkaiseruse me by mathias.pastwalong way by javiyI'm watching.... by funkyforkSimply Religious by auer1816eternity by dawn m. armfieldBlue Light Special #04 by Grom Airiss© lisman_-9300 by Rex Lisman Photographytierra  by javiyTunnel Vision by Chris NixonDisney's California Adventure by peasapcommunication by wasabifishDeath in a parking lot by MerkinzHimself by patotenerePedestrian Crossing by auer1816 by mathias.pastwa20080111_001 by davewjrblue addiction by A Cognitive State of Mind02/10 by arlo_batesColor Theory - Yellow #2 by laanba