How to develop an underexposed photo in Lightroom

I had fun rescuing this really underexposed landscape photo in Lightroom.

It’s a photo of Kilcrea Friary in Co Cork and I went out there one September evening in 2015 with a few others from Blarney Photography Club to shoot the sunset. I remember the day was somewhat cloudy so I hoped there would be a magnificent backdrop of yellows and oranges to shoot the friary against. It was not to be. It was a solid mass of grey and darker grey. We took a number of photos from this side of the building, but for this shot I was experimenting and completely messed up the settings. It was a 61 second exposure but should have been almost twice that. Luckily I shoot in RAW so there was plenty of data for Lightroom to work with. This short video shows how I developed and rescued the photo.

I posted the photo of Kilcrea Friary last December. Here’s what the finished photo looks like.

kilcrea-friary-at-sunset

This video was shot at the Automattic grand meetup of 2015. This is a gathering of everyone (or nearly everyone) who works at Automattic. All attendees have to give a short talk. Some people love public speaking, but most of us don’t, so this is the hardest part of the meetup for many. The talks are called “flash talks” because they have to be completed within a certain length of time. A few years ago it was five minutes and the limit wasn’t enforced, but because the company is so much bigger now the talk must be four minutes or less, with someone holding up a sign warning when you hit the three minute mark!

This one was filmed in Park City, Utah in the United States at an altitude of around 1,000m so the air is thinner and I hoped I wouldn’t run out of breath like I did the previous year. This time I had forgotten I was due to talk until about 5 minutes before and had to run halfway across the hotel to get my notes, running down stairs, up other stairs, sprinting along corridors and then back, doing the same. Finally seated in the conference room my bottle of water spilled it’s contents on to the carpet, my stress levels were rising and then it was my turn to give a flash talk. That was practically a relief after the hectic activity of the previous few minutes!

A few days later I gave an hour long workshop on Lightroom, sharing tips, tricks and techniques that improve the look and feel of photos. That was fun as I could go more slowly and into more detail explaining the various tools in the app.

Tip: How to stop Apple Photos from launching for all devices in OSX

This is a short but useful snippet of code if you use a Mac to edit your photos that I found on Reddit. This stops Apple Photos from launching when you insert an SD card or any external USB device.

To stop Apple Photos from ever launching again when you connect any device/memory card do the following:
Launch a ‘Terminal’ session
Enter the following line:
defaults -currentHost write com.apple.ImageCapture disableHotPlug -bool YES

There is an option in Photos to stop it loading “for this card” but that doesn’t work if you format the card which is very likely a part of your workflow if you use Lightroom (and it’s more sensible to copy rather than move in case your drive goes belly-up while transferring).

combined

More fun with long exposure stacking of photos

A few months ago I experimented with Imagemagick by using it to merge very similar photos of flowing water to give the impression of a longer exposure.

Here are a few more examples.

By merging a series of thirty photos taken two seconds apart I created a pleasing image that looks like a sixty second exposure. The day I took these photo was overcast and dull, but not dark enough to do an actual long exposure like that without the help of some fairly dark filters. I used the intervalometer in Magic Lantern to shoot this so I didn’t even need a remote release. My camera did all the work! This was created using the following Imagemagick command line:

convert *.jpg -average average.jpg

2015-11-27-2608-m

2015-11-27-2637-m

average

I combined 60 long exposure shots of the night sky in the mountains of Utah (during the Automattic Grand Meetup a few weeks ago) to create a single long exposure of the stars moving through the sky. Thanks mkaz for publishing this post on interval shooting where I got this command line:

convert *.jpg -evaluate-sequence max combined.jpg

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2015-10-15-9757-m

combined

Finally, another series of sixty shots taken in Utah. The same convert command line was used to process these.

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2015-10-15-9817-m

combined

In the image above I should have cloned out the wires in the bottom left of the image. Lightroom makes it easy to make the same modifications to every image. Work on one image, then select all the ones you need and click “Sync Settings”.

It can be frustrating taking these types of photos as your camera is shooting a long series of very ordinary shots, and the final result can’t be seen until the images are processed correctly but it’s certainly worth it.

Update on December 1st: here’s one that didn’t work out so well. It was so windy the camera shook the whole time.

combined photo

Aperture ƒ/8
Camera Canon EOS 6D
Focal length 24mm
ISO 100
Shutter speed 1/50s
Lightroom - dng

The Limits of Lightroom’s Smart Previews

I just stretched the limits of Lightroom’s Smart Previews this morning.

After editing the following image I decided to see what it looked like as a smart preview. I pushed the image quite a bit, exposing the colour in the sky as the sun set behind me in Lanzarote a few days ago.

Lightroom - original image

The original image is dull and lacks contrast but with a little work I was able to expose the lovely shades of magenta and orange present. Here’s what it looked like when Lightroom was editing a DNG file:

Lightroom - dng

But when I removed the file and Lightroom had to use the smart preview this is what that lovely colour gradient looked like:

Lightroom - smart preview

There’s visible compression artefacts visible that aren’t in the original and it looks more pronounced in Lightroom. I didn’t push the image too much, but these sort of artefacts can be seen in Jpeg images of smooth colour gradients like a blue sky has. They’re really visible if you push the contrast at all, or modify the colours in the gradient like I did with this image.

Smart previews create images that are 2500px wide or tall which is a good compromise between full size RAW and not being able to edit the image at all, but on a high resolution screen like a Macbook Retina screen you won’t be able to zoom much.

I will continue to use smart previews. My 1TB+ photo archive can be crunched down to less than 200GB which is within the reach of a laptop, and still leave free space. Once I plug my external drive back in and fire up Lightroom I can then export the images and be sure that the final image is what I want.

The Hills

Lightroom Tips and Videos

At the recent Automattic Grand Meetup in Utah I presented a Lightroom tutorial. During the course of the tutorial I went through the various Develop panels explaining what (most of) the sliders did, offering some advice sometimes on how to use them.

Here’s a few tips from the night and links you’ll find useful:

  • Use ALT/OPTION to tune the white and black sliders to see how much the highlights are blown or shadows totally black.
  • Hold down SHIFT and double click the white and black slider titles to auto set them. Be warned that Lightroom will stretch the histogram to do this and avoid losing data but that might not be what you want to do.
  • Use the Upright tool (lens correction) to correct distortions and horizons.
  • Don’t overdo “clarity”. It’ll introduce halos.

When editing a photo it’s useful to begin by setting highlights to -100, shadows to +100, and adjust the whites/blacks using one of the techniques above. Pull back the highlights and shadows to suit your taste, and increase the contrast.

Lightroom Basic Panel

Serge Ramelli has a great Youtube channel. He has an over abundance of “subscribe to my newsletter” and “buy my course” notifications but his videos are still worth watching. If you want to download the RAW files he uses you’ll find them here. I enjoy his sunset tutorials and videos:

And I love what he did with this:

I think I discovered his channel first by searching for black and white tutorial videos. This one got me hooked:

Also check out Anthony Morganti’s channel. His video on sharpening and noise reduction is excellent.

Light Trails

Use Back Button Focus to Pre Focus

Sometimes it’s useful if the shutter button doesn’t focus. Instead you press another button to focus. I’ve used it in the past when shooting street photography (focus on the ground and I know anything a metre away will be in focus), and at night on a tripod when taking long exposure shots of moving lights.

Back button focus is when you don’t use your shutter button to focus the camera. Instead you’ll use a button on the back of your camera. Not every camera can do it but check your manual or use Google to search for your camera name and “back button focus”. Here are two good videos describing why it’s good for sports photography:

Here’s a video I found to get it working on the Canon 6D using the AF-On button. I usually use the Q menu now to disable focusing on the shutter button.

The beauty of back button focusing is that you can focus your camera before the proper shoot and then take as many photographs as you want of the scene, often when the lighting has changed and focusing is impossible. This is especially important at night, but it also lets you shoot faster as the lens is already focused. This may just mean the difference between a great street photo and a missed opportunity.

Finally, here’s a photo I shot last night using back button focus to set up the shot. I could as easily have manually focused the lens but this worked just as well.

Light Trails

Aperture ƒ/4.5
Camera Canon EOS 6D
Focal length 17mm
ISO 100
Shutter speed 10s
Sensor dust

How to clean your camera sensor

One of the horrors of owning a DSLR and using multiple lenses is the dread of getting dust on the camera sensor. In small amounts it’s visible whenever you shoot using a small aperture like f/22 but if you leave it go too long you’ll see round smudges show up on your every day snaps at f/8 or f/4 too.

This video describes part of the process I go through when I clean my camera lens. A Nikon body is used in the video but the method is similar for Canon and other manufacturers. I only have a blower and soft brush but they have served me well over the course of the last decade.

Cleaning the sensor is risky. It’s a sensitive piece of electronics but there’s an infrared filter in front of it and that’s what you’re really cleaning. It’s sturdy and tough but if you pushed too hard on it you will scratch it. I’ve never scratched the sensors of any of my cameras though so I don’t worry too much about it as long as I’m careful.

After blowing and wiping the dust away you should do the same with the inside glass of your lens. It’s likely that’s where the dust came from in the first place.

Once I’ve rebooted my camera I’ll test the sensor by doing the following:

  • Grab a sheet of clean white paper.
  • Set the lens to manual focus, the camera to shoot RAW, and change it to aV (or A) mode to change the aperture to f/22. If you use any exotic shooting styles reset them to standard.
  • Prop the paper on a shelf in clear light.
  • Shoot the paper. You don’t have to worry about it being a long exposure and camera shake. The dust on the camera sensor won’t move!
  • Examine the picture on the camera LCD, zoom in and you’ll see any remaining dust particles as black dots. They’ll look like the images below.
  • Repeat the “mirror lockup, clean, check” cycle until you’re happy with how much dust is left.

dust on the sensor

dust on the sensor

Aperture ƒ/22
Camera Canon EOS 6D
Focal length 24mm
ISO 100
Shutter speed 1.3s