My Christmas tree is decorated mainly with a couple hundred shatterproof silver and gold ornaments that I bought last year when my pup Lobo was just a few months old. While I have a collection of glass and ceramic ornaments, I decided not to use most of them since I didn’t really know how this energetic wolf-pup was going to react to a giant green and glittery thing suddenly (well, not that suddenly) appearing in front of the living room window with all sorts of shiny stuff hanging from it. The photo below is from last October, when he was about four months old, with a little piece of the back yard sticking out of his mouth. Highly motivated to carry things, it’s not unusual for him to bring in leaves, pebbles, and sticks — including sticks that are too wide to fit through the door without him taking a few seconds to figure out how to turn them and slip them through.
Toys and balls get taken outside, because, you know, carrying things works both ways. Dog biscuits aren’t eaten; they’re carried. Drop a pen: it’s carried. Socks on the floor, dishtowels, a fallen piece of paper: carried. You get the picture. So I was certain he’d snatch things off the tree and carry them around the house, and I got shatterproof ornaments just in case they were to be batted off the branches then carried away.
A year later — with the tree once again decorated with the new unbreakables — this is as close as he ever gets to it. That’s the tree skirt in the lower left corner; the tree itself gets barely a glance. He doesn’t lay under it because he doesn’t like being under things … a funny little personality quirk that I’ve notice since he was a pup: even if we’re tossing a ball around the house, he’ll wait for it to roll out from underneath a coffee table before he snaps it up. Should the ball roll under the dining room table and stop against the table legs, he’ll alarm-bark until the properly trained human retrieves it for him. So we can only get pictures of him near the tree, not under it. Dogs are such a hoot.
Here are a few shots of the silver and gold ornaments, installed on the tree for the sake of the dog. It was fun to see how the pictures came out, with the silver reflecting mostly blue luminance from the tree lights and the gold reflecting mostly red. The angels in the last four shots are on the tree also; apparently to the pup those do have carrying potential, and I catch him occasionally staring at those, most likely while working on a strategy to get them in his mouth.
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: