I took the six photographs below as an experiment after reading this article about photographing Christmas scenes, especially the sections on dealing with low light: How to Use Christmas Bokeh for Creative Holiday Photographs. I took more than six photographs, of course, and I’m looking through the others trying to learn what works well under holiday lighting conditions (!!) and what doesn’t. My camera has a “Night View” mode that I have used before but wanted to understand better, so some of the photos were taken with that setting — an automatic setting that increases ISO to enable a higher shutter speeds but also introduces noise and reduces my control over the results.
For some of the photos, I switched to using a tripod so I could try long-exposure shutter speeds and a lower ISO to eliminate much of the noise; for those taken with the “Night View” setting, I used Lightroom and the Nik Collection tools to reduce it and threw in some background softening to pretend the noise wasn’t there. I’m like a bull in a China shop with a tripod, mostly from lack of practice but also because my tripod isn’t quite right for the camera and isn’t strong enough to safely hold it with a lens attached (and it doesn’t work very well without the lens). I should invest in a new one — or maybe one of the Santas will stick one under the tree — but I’m not convinced I’d use it enough, though I’ll probably change my mind about that after a while.
Thanks for reading and taking a look; more lateron!
A few days ago, I deleted 1,200 old photos from Flickr – as the last step in the Flickr Reboot project that I started back in July. I had originally thought I would reprocess and recreate 800 to 1,000 images, but ended out at 2,000 — building new Flickr albums that included many of the originals plus about 1,000 photos from my archives, to which I added photos taken this year that fit well in the albums.
I had expected this project to continue through the middle of 2019, but a couple of discoveries moved it along at a faster pace than I anticipated, enabling me to pour on some speed:
First, I figured out that by sorting the photos by capture time in Lightroom, I could often copy adjustments from one photo to a group where the original exposure characteristics were similar, then tweak settings on individual photos in that group, rather than starting from scratch. There were even some settings – sharpness and noise reduction, for example – that I was able to apply across dozens of photos simultaneously and achieve the results I was looking for. With those basic settings applied and tweaked, I could then focus on changes that required more time – such as spot removal, healing, and color adjustments like those I described here: Before and After: Exposing Hidden Autumn.
Second, I got in the habit of creating recipes in Nik Collection Color Efex – the Nik Collection tool I spent the most time with – for photos of similar subject matter, so I could then work on as many as twenty photos as a batch. Like copying settings in Lightroom, these recipes enabled me to apply changes more quickly to a group of photos, then focus on image-specific changes like adjusting colors, lighting, contrast, and any additional sharpening or detail enhancements. While I didn’t keep track of the time I spent overall, there were days I was able to get through as many as 100 photos and make a serious dent in producing results. It’s been a whole lot of work, and a whole lot of learning, but it’s also been the most fun I’ve had at a computer in ages.
Fun Finding Photos
When taking on a project like this, I always try to find ways to streamline parts of it, to “automate” some tasks to help eliminate the cognitive overload associated with task-starting and task-switching. The question I try to answer is this: which steps can I reduce to checklist items and just repeat them every time, without having to think about much more than execution. Other than the two time-savers I described above – that were only partly repeatable – organizing the work with a series of identical steps helped push things along.
A big hurdle I faced was this: how do I find the images from Flickr in my Lightroom catalog of 15,000 photos? I needed the original image files for this project, since the Flickr versions were smaller in size and had been created with Lightroom adjustments no longer in my catalog.
At first, I was simply displaying the Flickr albums in a browser, then typing the file names in Lightroom to search for the photos … very time consuming and, honestly, so mind-numbing I felt like I might abandon the whole project. But I figured out how to do this instead: I displayed the album on Flickr, copied the entire web page, then pasted the whole page into Microsoft Excel as plain text. By manipulating the rows of data a bit, I could extract the file names and create a string of names that I could then paste into Lightroom’s search box. Once I found the photos using this trick, I created a collection in Lightroom containing the photos from each Flickr album. This worked for all but one album – where I had renamed the photos before posting them on Flickr – and worked well enough that I took a couple weeks to find all the photos and put them in corresponding collections in Lightroom before moving forward with the project. The collections looked like this:
With the collections created, I went through all my photos and added related images to each one, images that I had never done anything with but were taken more recently and were of the same subjects. That’s how I ended out with 1,000 newer photos to process and upload to Flickr. I hadn’t intended to do that when defining the project, but I kept remembering that I had more recent images of some of the subjects; and it proved its worth to me in terms of building albums with a mix of older and newer photos in each one.
Fun Fixing Photos
And then … I started working through the photos, one collection at a time, repeating the steps for 2,000 iterations. It went something like this:
I cropped each photo to a 16:9 ratio. I had decided early on that I would do this because I now tend to take photographs with the camera set to 16:9, wanted to create a consistent look that would blend well with future photos, and found that using that crop factor typically created an image with better focus on the subject without losing key detail.
I processed each photo in Lightroom, straightening some images, adjusting exposure, enhancing colors, applying sharpening and a wee bit of noise reduction, and using spot removal or healing to eliminate distracting elements.
Once I was satisfied with the results in Lightroom, I moved on to the Nik Collection, where I first ran each photo through Dfine to remove any additional noise. The value of this step proved itself very quickly, especially with closeup and macro photos, where Dfine smoothed the appearance of soft backgrounds and improved the image for the next step.
I used Color Efex Pro to make substantial changes to each image, though generally those enhancements affected color saturation and intensity, contrast, and detail. For many images, I used one of the filters that lets you brighten the primary subject and darken the background to direct the viewers eye to the subject and also create a high-definition or 3D look for some of the photos.
The last step! Almost! I ran every photo through Nik’s Output Sharpener to put some subtle sharpening on each one or to enhance detail on parts of a subject. One of Nik’s powerful features – control points, available in all the tools – lets you choose a circular area of the image by color and apply effects very selectively – enabling, for example, increased sharpness on a portion of the main subject without adding sharpening throughout the entire image.
With Lightroom, of course, you export photos after developing them, so I created a folder structure on my computer that mirrored the collections I had built inside the application:
Because I was using some of the photos in my blog posts, and would ultimately upload them to Flickr, I exported the photos as 920 pixels on the short edge — one third of the maximum pixel dimensions for a full-sized image coming out of my camera — rather than full size. This resizing produced satisfactory detail for blog posts and Flickr without the additional storage space required for full size. I have an Office 365 subscription, and I exported the photos to OneDrive so I’d have an instant backup, and so that I could easily review the photos using a mobile device (an iPad), which in some cases helped me find flaws I just didn’t see on the computer monitor.
Fun Flinging Photos onto Flickr
I didn’t upload any of the photos to Flickr until I had completed them all. Before uploading, I changed the existing Flickr photos to private so they weren’t publicly visible and renamed all the old albums to keep them separate from the new ones. I hadn’t uploaded to Flickr in a long time and my ancient memories of the experience weren’t pleasant – but it worked better than I remembered, and over a couple of days loaded all the photos, put them in new albums (named to match my Lightroom collections and computer/OneDrive folders), and created three collections to group the albums.
So that, as they say, is that! With Flickr rebooted and the old photos deleted, I plan to continue using it and adding new photos – some featured here, some not – even if I build a portfolio site at some point. You will see more references and links to Flickr here also – there are still stories and histories to be told – and I like the slideshow/carousel function WordPress provides and will continue using that to display photos with my blog posts.
After spending so much time over the past six months experimenting with Lightroom and with the Nik Collection, here’s one thing I learned: what we call “post-processing” is both an extension of working with the camera and simultaneously a way of learning more about the camera and how to use it better – not just technically but also aesthetically. The continuum from taking a picture to working with the image is perhaps best understood from this starting point: There is no such thing as an unprocessed photo, and there never has been.
Even if you skip back over the most recent technological history of photography-as-digital to the film era – not so long ago! – it’s apparent that every photographer had plenty of choices at their disposal that would affect their photographic output, everything from choices of cameras and lenses to ISO ratings for films to variations in color and saturation produced by films from different manufacturers. Even the type of paper chosen when you developed film affected the final look of the images. In the digital era, it’s no coincidence that imaging software uses terms in their workflows that hark back to the previous eras’ choices, including the emulation of different types of film that used to be available, or terms like dodge and burn, or the imitation of techniques a photographer might use to introduce things like blur or motion into otherwise static images. The darkroom — along with many other technical and physical characteristics of photography — has been encapsulated in tools like Lightroom.
As important to me, though, has been the learning associated with developing workflows that blend technology with creativity, learning that I can expand on as I continue to use these tools. Back in July when I started this project, I was intimidated by all the choices available; I no longer feel intimidated and have a much better sense of which options to choose to obtain certain results. All of this also satisfies, for me, a restless learning and technological itch that I’ve always felt but can now use to produce images that let me play with cameras, lenses, composition, color, and light. And play, you know, is The Thing.
To wrap up….
Here’s a link to all my previous blog posts about the project:
December is here! To celebrate, I assembled two galleries of some of my favorite photographs of Christmas decorations.
The second gallery below contains photos of the decorations around my house.
The first gallery contains photos I took at the home of some friends, who have more Holiday Whatnots than most Christmas stores.
I’m working on some new photos that I’ll be posting throughout the month; these are photos from my archives — reimagined for my Flickr Reboot project. Like the decorations, the photos have held up well and benefitted greatly from a bit of time spent enhancing their content, lights, and colors.
Select any image to begin a slideshow; thanks for taking a look!
“Photographs led me to cameras, and over the years the camera became an object I could think with. I could think about light and shadow, about composing the frame, and about what it meant to live in a certain way, to make decisions at many levels, and to document the world.” — from the essay “Salvaged Photographs” by Glorianna Davenport in Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, edited by Sherry Turkle
One of the reasons I’ve always liked photography – and why I’m often drawn to closeup or macro photography – is that viewing the world through a camera creates an opportunity to focus on sights that might otherwise remain unseen. Looking through the camera restricts my view to what fits within the frame, letting distractions fall away, and that remains true if I zoom in or out, or pan horizontally or vertically: what I see through the lens becomes what I choose to see at that moment, and most of what’s outside the frame slides from awareness as I make those choices. I might add to or subtract from that view by manipulating the camera or the lens; but when I take the photo, I’ve selected something that’s captured my interest, or struck me as aesthetically pleasing, or has frozen an instant of time that seems to matter subjectively.
After taking the shots, what I do with them now includes a set of additional (and for me, recently learned) choices that give me the chance to further refine the images toward this deceptively simple idea: this is what I saw and this is what I want to show you.
I assembled the gallery of images below from those I’ve been working on for my Flickr Reboot project; they were all taken at Point Au Roche Interpretive Center or near the city of Plattsburgh in northern New York. While I’ve been posting quite a few similar images (see Autumn Close Up: A Photo Gallery), I set these aside for a couple of reasons. First, as I was reviewing my archived photos, I had flagged every one of these (and quite a few others) to be deleted. Second, I didn’t actually delete any of them and decided to take another look once I got more experience with the tools I was learning, to see what I might do with them even though I originally thought they should be deleted. Other than being on the chopping block for a while, these images had something else in common: they were all hidden bits of autumn, subjects tucked away behind tree trunks, barely visible among shrubs, or nearly buried under fallen logs. Because they were all so hidden – and it was an overcast day as well – the exposures were pretty poor and most of the original images were very dark. I remember crawling on the ground at times to get some of these shots and was disappointed that they ended out being so badly exposed, but I kept them anyway from some vague notion that one day I would figure out what, if anything, to do with them.
With the help of new skills, I wanted to find out if I could recover each of these well enough to create an acceptable image, and simultaneously learn more about how to think about image post-processing. It can be quite a challenge to convey the thought process involved in work like this – words fail and the images help resolve the ambiguity – yet here are a few things, technically and otherwise, that I think I’ve learned:
There are limitations to what you can do with an image that is out of focus and most of the tools emphasize rather than reduce the out-of-focus condition. Yet still, if the composition and content of the image seem to matter, those tools that intentionally render the image with special effects (blur, softening, and grain, for example) may help you produce something that is creatively satisfying.
Digital cameras capture so much detail that even an under-exposed image may have embedded surprises hidden in the dark. One technique I use often is to over-adjust the image in Lightroom (setting exposure, contrast, highlights, and shadows to an upper or lower extreme) to get a look at what I might easily miss, then dial back the settings to something more subtle.
Composition and content rule. Spot removal helps eliminate distractions and shift a viewer’s focus to key elements of the image. And I’ve also seen how replacement of foreground elements (for example, removing a stray branch or stem of grass that seems to intrude on the frame) or blending colors in background elements to improve their consistency, both change the image to help direct the eye toward the intended subject. Changes like this also reduce the amount of information a viewer’s mind has to comprehend when looking at the image, something I think is especially appropriate for closeup or macro shots.
Knowing what options you will have in post-processing changes how you compose on a photo shoot. But that can be a double-edged sword and it’s a good idea to take the best image you can, regardless of what you might do with it later. It’s better, for me anyway, to think of post-processing as a way to enhance a vision or point-of-view on what I’m trying to convey, rather than assume I’ll be fixing things I did poorly while toting around the camera. This isn’t an argument against post-processing; it’s recognition that learning those techniques is as important as understanding the camera’s settings and buttons, and that the creative arc of photography extends through all the technology and tools you might use to produce your images.
The first gallery below includes my final versions of these seventeen images. The second gallery shows the before and after versions of each one, where hopefully you can see by comparison how I’ve used some of the ideas described above.
The gallery below contains the last of four sets of photos I took at Grant Park in Atlanta, on Sunday, November 11. Among these photos you will also find the rare Yellow Ribbon leaf, which I was surprised to find hidden within the foliage in the park.
What’s next? Well, it’s that time of year when I brave the sixty degree temperatures, head into the woods with an axe and my trusty hound, and chop us down a Christmas tree (read: pull the tree out of the closet and reshape all the branches (not as easy as it sounds (takes half a damn day!))) to begin the holiday decorating frenzy. So you can soon expect a virtually endless (!!) number of photos of decorating in progress, including dust clouds of glitter, piles of flashy self-tangling Christmas lights, and closeups and macros and more closeups and macros of ornaments. Stay tuned!
Select the first image to begin a slideshow; enjoy the photos, thanks for visiting, and have a great Thanksgiving!
The gallery below contains the second of four sets of photos I took at Grant Park in Atlanta, on Sunday, November 11. You may notice similarities among some of the photos in this series, but they’re variations, not duplicates; and I’ve tried to mix them up so that they hold together as a decent slideshow. The colors were so captivating that sometimes I zoomed in and out repeatedly to get slightly different views of the same scenes.