Presets: Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

The photography world is awash with presets. Companies like Luminar and Nik offer great presets. I’m a big fan and use presets from both companies.

Yet, I think photographers need to learn how to use presets.

Just because you can use a preset, doesn’t mean you should use a preset. We used to say the same about the saturation slider, by the way. Just because the slider goes all the way to the right, doesn’t mean you should move it all the way to the right.

What’s a preset? Presets are “pre-made” formulas for processing an image. The various sliders in a software are “pre-set” to give a specific look. Presets are a bit like using the Auto mode on your camera. Auto mode is okay but it’s better when you really learn how to use the camera.

I’ve used presets for years to process HDR image. It was simple to scroll through the presets in Photomatix back in the old days to get the HDR look I wanted. Critics were screaming “HDR looks so fake!” because photographers were overdoing the presets in Photomatix.

HDR looked great, though, if the processing was in moderation. A photo editor once asked me to send “more of those dreamy-looking photos” for a project. Those “dreamy photos” were HDR images with moderate processing.

Today we have presets from big companies, small companies, and individuals. A photographer recently told me that he only uses Pentax presets because that’s how Pentax files are designed to be processed. Turns out someone has made presets and is marketing them to Pentax users.

I recently watched a photographer accept gushing praise for an image that I know was processed with a preset. The processing wasn’t that great. To the uneducated eye, though, the photographer appeared to be on location at the exact right magical moment when the light was perfect. Nope! The magic came from a preset.

Photos entered in a recent contest were passed over by the judges because the presets were so exaggerated. These were possible winning images but the processing was too much. The photographer needs to learn where, when, and how to use presets.

I’m not suggesting that presets go away. I’m suggesting photographers learn how to process. We should understand what’s going on with the software and use it when and where it’s needed. Exaggerate all you want but tone it down when it’s appropriate.

Below I’ll show you my photos that are reasonably processed and then exaggerated with presets.

Yes, I use presets to enhance my creativity. I use presets sometimes to show me the potential of an image. Presets can support our creative vision as well as ruin it.

Below are some images that I processed with presets — and was thankful for the power of presets.

Great companies like Luminar and Nik make presets. Photographers should learn where, when, and how to use use them.

Texture Slider in Adobe

In May of this year, Adobe gave us the Texture slider. You can find this in Adobe’s Lightroom Classic or Adobe Camera Raw.

The Texture slider enhances or reduces texture in a photo. Texture would be bird feathers, animal fur, tree bark, alligator skin, stucco, etc. The Texture slider does not enhance details in our nice blurry backgrounds. The Texture slider is a game changer on certain photos.

I’ve been a real champion of the Clarity slider since that tool was introduced by Adobe. Almost all my processing began with Clarity slider to 20, Vibrance to 20, and Saturation to 20. “Go to CVS first” was the line we used in class.

The Clarity slider, though, worked on details and textures throughout the image. Minor details in the blurry background were often enhanced.

Texture slider only works on textures. It’s a pretty smart tool that can really bring out key details in our photos.

The Texture slider is also available under the Adjustment Brush tool. This allows us to enhance or reduce the texture in one area of a photo.

Pretty neat tool. Give it a try. I’m sure you will like it and find many uses for the Texture slider.

Green violetear or Lesser violetear with the Texture slider blown up to 100%
Same photo as above with the Clarity slider blown up to 100%. Notice how the
background at top right has more detail. Not as soft as the image processed with
the Texture slider.
Same as above with no Clarify or Texture slider. Nice soft background thanks to
a shallow f/stop. We don’t want to mess with that background during processing.

Texture on the left image. Clarity on the right image.

HDR or Use the Shadow & Highlight Slider

I used to hear photographers say they didn’t like the look of HDR (high dynamic range) photos.  Software progressed and it got to where an HDR photo was perfectly natural.  We got a photo that looked like what we saw with our eyes versus a cartoonish image.

Things continue to progress in the photo processing world.  Today, the Shadow and Highlight sliders in Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom are doing what HDR used to do.

Below you see two images taken in the historic district of Sibiu, Romania.  One is HDR — a blend of seven images using Nik by DxO.  The other is straight out of the camera with the highlights properly exposed.  Can you see any difference?

Sibiu, Romania, historic center.
This is the HDR image.  Seven exposures blended together in Nik HDR Efex Pro by DxO.

Sibiu, Romania, historic center.
This image was captured in the camera.  The exposure was set for the bright area at the top or 2-stops under-exposed.  

Sibiu, Romania, historic center.
Here’s the above image before processing.  Two-stops under-exposed so the highlight were fine but the shadows appear to be worthless.

Sibiu blog postKAC
This is a screen grab of the image being processed.  Notice that the Highlight slider is moved to the left to tone down the tower and sky.  The Shadow slider is moved all the way to the right to bring out the details in the shadows.    I’m using HDR less and less thanks to these great tools in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom.

HDR made from seven images                      processing as above

 

HDR made from seven images                      processing as above

Give this concept a try next time you find yourself photographing a contrasty scene.  Get the highlights perfectly exposed.  Then bring out the shadows later with the Shadow slider in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom.

Have you tried this already?  Success?

 

Light Painting: Layers versus Long Exposure

I was in Ireland recently leading a photo tour.  A favorite location of mine for light painting at night is Burrishoole Abbey in County Mayo.

We set our cameras on tripods, composed the shot, focused, and then set our exposures for 30 seconds.  Then I “Painted” the outside of the building with an amber flashlight.  In one 30-second exposure I might cover half the building.  We reminded the group that they would use layers in Photoshop to get a photo of the entire building illuminated in amber light.

County Mayo; Burrishoole Abbey; Ireland; Ruins
A Photoshop blend of 21 photos of Burrishoole Abbey being painted with an amber flashlight.  Masking to have a uniform sky.  

Toward the end of our shoot at Burrishoole, I decided to make a change.  I told the group to leave their f/stops at 22, change the ISO to 800, and take a 4-minute exposure using Bulb.  We took one photo to check exposure.  Personally, I needed to change my f/stop to f/9.

Then we clicked the shutters and left them open for 4-minutes.  During that time, I painted the building one more time with the amber flashlight. Notice I had enough time to go inside and paint the window openings.

County Mayo; Burrishoole Abbey; Ireland; Ruins
Burrishoole Abbey painted with an amber flashlight during a 4-minute exposure.  Minor adjustments to the photo in Adobe Camera Raw.  No layers.

Each photo is a bit different but the last was much easier to make.  Many photographers don’t like Photoshop layers or don’t want to learn layers.  Personally, I think layers is a super powerful tool but do understand the learning curve can be steep.

Next time you do light painting, consider using a very long exposure as an alternative to layers.

I have another photo tour to western Ireland in June 2019.  Strabo Photo Tour Collection if you’re interested.

Infrared Filters From Singh-Ray Filters

I love infrared photos but somehow I never seemed to get around to having an old camera converted to infrared.  So earlier this year I got an email ad from Singh-Ray Filters advertising their infrared filter.  My hand grabbed my computer mouse without my will and order the filter.  Before I knew it, Singh-Ray’s IR 690 filter was heading to my doorstep.

Glenwood cemetery infrared KAC9586before_1
Photo out of the camera with IR 690 filter

The filter arrived, I read some articles online, and then went out to give it a try.  The photos came out RED.  Yep, they were red but they were supposed to be red.

The articles I read said that the photos out of the camera would be red.  I was then supposed to process with method #1, method #2, or method #3 to get an infrared image.

I tried all the methods and simply had a black-and-white image.  No snowy-white grass or grass that look so great in infrared photos.  I could never get anything that even remotely looked like infrared.

Glenwood cemetery infrared KAC9586after
The above photo processed is just a black-and-white photo.

Out of frustration, I sent an email to the folks at Singh-Ray Filters.  I got an immediate response and they put me in touch with one of their experts.  That man and I exchanged photos and emails for the next two weeks.  I shot photos with the filter, processed them per his instructions, but nothing worked.  He paid for me to ship my filter to him so he could use it on his camera.

In the end, we found that my Canon 5D Mark IV and my Canon Rebel need a Singh-Ray 830 Infrared filter.  The IR 690 filter only yields a black-and-white image after processing.

Mystery solved.  Singh-Ray Filters immediately shipped me an 830 Infrared Filter and issued a credit for my 690 IR filter once they received it.

Glenwood Cemetery KAC5888_1
Processed images using the 830 Infrared Filter from Singh-Ray Filters.  Notice the white tree leaves.

Glenwood Cemetery KAC5886_1
Processed images using the 830 Infrared Filter from Singh-Ray Filters.  Notice the white tree leaves in the center and white grass on the ground.

Thanks to the great customer service at Singh-Ray Filters I’m now shooting infrared photos and loving my 830 Infrared filter.

By the way, the IR 690 filter works fine on Nikon camera.  We found this situation only applies to Canon cameras.

Here’s how to take a photo with the 830 Infrared Filter:

  1. Set the camera to the Bulb exposure mode and decide which f/stop you’ll use.
  2. Frame the shot and focus the lens.
  3. Turn off auto-focus on the lens.
  4. Screw the filter on the lens without moving the focus ring.
    1. You can’t see through the IR filters.
  5. With the camera in Bulb
    1. Take the photo with the shutter open for about 4-minute.
    2. Adjust based on the histogram.  A bit less time if the photo is too bright or a bit more time if the photo is too dark.

Here’s my method for processing photos taken with the 830 Infrared Filter:

  1. Open in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom
  2. Open Hue Saturation Luminance
    1. Move the red Luminance slider all the way to the right
    2. Move the red Saturation slider all the way to the left
    3. This gets rid of the red cast to the photo
  3. Go back to the Basic Tab
    1. Move the Exposure slider so the histogram hits the right corner
    2. Move the Black slider so the histogram hits the left corner
    3. Add some Contrast
  4. Continue processing to taste

I’ve just begun shooting in infrared and processing those photos.  Stay tuned.  More discoveries in store.

 

Transform Tool on Travel Photos

I’m working through the thousands of photos I took in Spain during my recent photo tour to Andalusia and Barcelona.

Buildings were our most common subject.  Often it was hard to get right in front of the building.  Many times we were shooting straight up when we really needed to be higher  like on the second floor of the building across the street.

The Transform tool in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom is really coming in handy.

Take a look at this before and after:

Screen Shot 2017-10-24 at 12.05.25 PM
Here’s the original photo Iglesia del Salvador.  It’s a lovely church in the Seville’s Santa Cruz neighborhood near the hotel where we stayed.  I included a lot of sky and a lot the building because I knew I’d use the Transform tool in processing.  

The Transform tool is activated in the photo above and ready to go.

Screen Shot 2017-10-24 at 12.04.51 PM
Here’s the finished photo.  I put a vertical Transform guide on the left and right white column.  Then I put a horizontal Transform guide on the two main horizontal lines.  I finished with a bit of vertical tweaking with the slider to bring the building a bit more upright.

Transform tool to the rescue.

Have you used the Transform tool?  Does it work well for you?

Use The Shadow Slider

When traveling, we don’t always get to choose when we can be at a location.  Harsh light can get in the way of a good photo.  That’s why I suggest you make friends with the Shadow slider in Adobe Camera Raw, Lightroom, or Elements.

Spain; Seville; Plaza de Espana
Well exposed image with no highlights blown out.  The area on the right is in deep shadows, though.

Spain; Seville; Plaza de Espana
Same image with basic processing in Adobe Camera Raw. The shadows on the right have been opened thanks to the Shadow slider in Adobe Camera Raw.  Same slider is in Lightroom and Elements.

Have you used the Shadow slider?  Does it work?