Tag Archives: raw

I’ll be in my light room

I must admit I much prefer shooting the images to processing them. For one thing, when I shoot them I am out in nature and loving it. When I post process, as much creative fun as that is, I am still inside staring at a screen. I was able to process some of my images along the way on my 6 months on the road, but I am now digging into 3,500 raw images from the 2 months in USA. Can get a bit overwhelming. All images to be revealed in good time, but here’s a tiny glimpse (sticky beak for you Aussies) into what I am working on:

usa lightroom - blog

I process such a large number of images using a recursive approach. I close Firefox (too distracting), put on headphones and fire up some tunes and enjoy a brew (coffee). I run through all images in Adobe Lightroom picking my ‘picks’ and dividing picks into groups using stars, 5, 4 ,3 etc. I repeat, honing the selection. I do some quick processing along the way to try out things. This is where Lightroom shines, I quickly play with many creative variations of an image. I do 80% of my work in Lightroom as it is so intuitive and much more fun and geared towards photographers than Photoshop. Photoshop is for my pixel level editing, selective editing using masks and sharpening etc. When I have the ‘hero’ shots narrowed down I develop them using an iterative ‘juggling many things at a time’ process. Not necessarily the most efficient way but this being my brain works. I cannot work on just one image, for me it is more like sculpturing. I work on an image some, feel I get stuck, switch to another image, sculpt that for a while and then onto the third and then perhaps back again to the first as a new idea strikes me. This repeats itself until I feel the image is good enough, for some images 5 minutes, some 5 days. I then mark this image ‘done’ in Lightroom with colour label green to tell my brain ‘It is done…stop tinkering!". Panos are then stitched in PTgui, editing is finished in Photoshop.

A small look into my light room. Not terribly exciting. I will persevere to write something better next time, I promise. Follow me on Twitter for more image previews as I get them developed.

What is your preferred tools and work method?

Improved colours in Lightroom and Camera Raw

Colour profiles is one area where I always felt Adobe Lightroom and Camera Raw could be improved a lot. Rawshooter Premium had the brilliant ColorEngine plug-in with colour profiles from colour wizard Magne Nilsen. I was never able to quite repeat these colours in Lightroom or ACR.

Lightroom colour profile comparisonUntil now. Fortunately Adobe Labs have come to the rescue with their much improved color rendering package. Have a look at this comparison of my Hawk Dreaming landscape, the top photo is the new Adobe Standard beta profile, the bottom photo is the standard Lightroom ACR4.4 profile.

The rendering of red and orange hues is much improved in the new profiles so if you’re a Lightroom 2.0 or Camera Raw (you need to get at least version 4.5) user waste no time, download the profiles and follow the instructions from the Adobe Labs page and enjoy much improved colours! I recommend using the "’Adobe Standard beta’ profile in the package but try them all and see what you like best.

Updates, design tweaks and RAW housecleaning!

I’ve done a lot of “house cleaning and painting” lately on my blog:

  • I did a few design tweaks trying to match the blog design as much as possible to my gallery web design.
  • I updated the About, Photography, Buy Photos and Australia pages (see top menu).
  • I added a lot of photography links to photographers I admire and good photography websites – see links in the left bar, scroll down a bit.
  • I added a new page about Copenhagen, my home city where my My Copenhagen photo mission unfolds. See top menu.

I also added a new page with my Travelog to the top menu. This page is an easy way to access my travel stories in a chronological order. I tend to write a lot when I travel (lot’s of time to write when waiting for the light and lots of experiences to write about) but 23 posts written while travelling in Australia in 2007 surprised even me, I certainly was a prolific writer! I have a tonnes of older travel stories but don’t know if I’ll ever find the time to post them, I’m working on photography around the clock 🙂

I am also presently going through the more than three thousand RAW files from the 10 weeks in Australia 2007 one last time. It’s the last and final archive run-through making sure every keeper shot has been converted to tiff and all shots are catalogued etc. I’m far from done, but have found a few goodies that wasn’t online before, stuff like:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Pandanus Trees Panorama
Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Dunk Island Dusk Panorama
Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

It’s all part of “house cleaning” before the next photography trip! Getting itchy travel feet, I gotta go again soon and am presently planning. Need more photos, more desert, more outback landscape and some more helicopter flights!  😀

Btw – it’s obvious to me when going through the files that fatigue both mentally and physically does set in on a 10 week photo odyssey. At some point the extraordinary becomes ordinary and there are some of the locations that are exceptional on their own but my photos are not and I didn’t shoot enough compositions either. It’s hard to arrive with “fresh eyes” to a location and really work the landscape when you’ve been travelling a long time, something I have to remember the next time (gotta figure out a “refresh eyes” function!)

Reality doesn’t exist – an example

As a follow up to my previous post – here is a practical example of what I mean when I say I use digital post production to make the image reflect the scene as I saw it.

Have a look at this panorama shot from Saturday, it’s Christianshavn Canal in Copenhagen and click the photo to see large size on my web:

Click to see large size on my gallery!

Shot around 2.30pm it’s about an hour before sunset. The sun in Winter is extremely low here in the North and the sunlight is quite weak but also lovely warm and orange on clear Winter days like this. Oh and yes, as you can tell from my position I can walk on water!

Now this is shot straight into the sun basically, the sun is just hiding behind the left building. It’s called “contre-jour” to make it sound arty, it’s just French for “against the light”. It’s a classic situation where any camera falls short. Your eyes can see details in the shadows even when looking against the light. The camera cannot (let’s save the topic of digital HDR for another post). I exposed for the midtones to get a workable compromise and the raw file of this shot has extremely dark shadows, the entire left side is very dark and the highlights are very bright and almost blown out.

But…remember I shoot raw and raw files actually has quite a bit of data that you can’t see but can be dug out! I carefully use the “fill light” and “shadow contrast” features in Rawshooter to lighten the shadows and the left side without overdoing it. I also tone down the highlight contrast a bit. What I’m really doing is trying to compress the too large dynamic range. Not too much I still want that looking-into-the-light feeling but I want details in the shadows too. It’s classic darkroom stuff and Ansel Adams did the same 70 years ago. It’s just a lot easier these days and I think Ansel would have loved working with raw digital files.

The result as seen above is a reflection of how I remember the scene looked and felt when I shot it. I didn’t add or remove content, I simply lightened the shadows a bit and  darkened the highlights. I am satisfied with the result – I got the look I wanted and remember from the scene so mission accomplished!

Reality in a photo? Doesn’t exist!

I recently updated some things on my web profile and blog photography page about my approach to photography and post processing and I thought I would further explain my take on this in this post since I do tend to get into this discussion about digital processing from time to time. Digital post processing has become a bit of a dirty word, it is sometimes considered ‘cheating’ as if post processing was something new. Where did this obscure idea that a photo has to be ‘real’ come from anyway? Why is Picasso not held to the same standard – those Picasso paintings look unreal to me! Reality doesn’t exist. One of the worlds most famous landscape photographers, Ansel Adams, processed his shots like no other and his shots are not ‘real’ – but they are absolute masterpieces!

My point is this:

A camera or photo that reflects reality as you see it does not exist.

Explaining this is not so simple though, I’ll give it a go and also explain why the RAW format is the only way to go.

My use of post processing

No camera can capture an image like your eyes see it, so I use digital post production to make my photos more accurately reflect the scene as I saw it. I am not a photojournalist and I am not particularly interested in reality. I am interested in recreating how I saw and felt the scene when I shot the photo. To accomplish this I use digital post production to do what the traditional darkroom has been used for in the past hundreds of years: adjusting exposure, saturation, white balance, correct any colour cast, do dodging and burning, remove purple fringing and chromatic aberation, add contrast. I do NOT modify the visible content of the scene and I feel this is an important difference between photography and digital art (digital art is not ‘cheating’ either it’s just another art form). I do not add or remove content like clouds, cars, people, animals or people etc. I simply modify the look to make it more accurately reflect the scene as I saw it!

Have a look at my photo from the park ‘Søndermarken’ in Copenhagen, shot in October 2005 (please click to see larger on my web to truly see the photo):

Click to see large size on my gallery!

I love this shot. So does a lot of my customers, I have sold this many times. Some people who know Søndermarken love it but say “did you do stuff to this photo?” because they know nothing like this has ever been produced by their  own consumer compact digital camera. I usually reply “YES! I made it reflect the scene as I saw it and felt it when I took the photo.” But I didn’t alter the visual content (even if I was very tempted to remove the lamp in the top left corner). This is a unique shot of Søndermarken. I have been back many times and it has never looked quite like this. The sun is very low and provides lovely warm light from the right side (look at the shadows) and this lights up the brown/yellow leaves on the trees. I shot only one shot this day not discovering how fantastic it was till I looked at it back home. I have revisited this exact spot many times but it has never come close to matching this one day in October 2005. This is what great photography is about for me. Capturing the very special light in that unique moment.

Capturing real light in a box

The hard part about capturing and presenting this special light is that the human eyes and brain are a million times better at seeing things than any camera. For one thing your eyes can see at least 20 stops of dynamic range – the difference between white and black – whereas even the best cameras can only capture somewhere between 7 to 8-9 stops of dynamic range. This is why when you look against the sun (a scene with huge dynamic range) your eyes can easily see the details in both the sky and the shadows – but take a photo and it’s either one big dark shadow with no details, or detailed shadows with a totally overexposed sky. Compressing at least 20 stops of visual dynamic range into about 7 means a lot of information has to go. You have to decide where you want the details – in the shadows or in the highlights! On top of this your brain is an amazing image processor. Your brain automatically and in real time does white balance correction, colour cast correction, tilt and perspective shifting and correction so all lines look straight etc. Your brains visual centre will filter out irrelevant things like power lines and garbage bins and interpret the scene and the colours differently from person to person.

So what I have in my camera is nothing like reality as I saw it, far from it. The scene needs to be re-created to represent what I saw and felt when I was there and shot the photo. I shoot RAW exclusively so I do all my own post processing (like having your own dark room). Is this processing ‘cheating’? No. Or well if it is then everyone cheats! It doesn’t matter if you’re using film, slides or digital (in-camera jpeg or raw file) – reality does not exist and post processing happens. Ansel Adams was a master of the darkroom, do you find his landscape shots to be a ‘cheat’ knowing that they are heavily processed?

Post processing happens everywhere

If you use film or slides: the post processing happens on the film, the film has a certain built in white balance, grain level, saturation and contrast level. Fujichrome Velvia iso50 for example is a fine grain super saturated contrasty film for landscape photography – comes with built in saturation and contrast at about 5400 degree Kelvin white balance.

If you shoot digital jpeg: You let the camera convert from RAW to jpeg and add lots of processing. You probably have the camera on auto white balance meaning it tries to measure the temperature of white by itself – of course this often ‘fails’ since this is tough to do and there is no right white-balance anyway, it is an artistic decision. You have set the contrast, saturation, sharpness, brightness etc. parameters in the camera. When you shoot a photo the camera then takes the raw data from the sensor, tries to guess the white balance and adds the contrast, sharpness, saturation etc. from the camera settings, add heaps of digital noise reduction and worst of all – compresses the colours and the dynamic range into 256 levels of tonal range per channel and turns this into a compressed 8 bit colour jpeg file. Mega loss of data! This is why the jpeg is certainly not straight out of the camera, it is very heavily processed! A jpeg file straight out of any digital camera is certainly not reality and is certainly not how the scene actually looked.

If you shoot in RAW format: You actually have the real “straight out of the camera” file! The raw file is just that – raw data straight from the sensor no processing. But a RAW file is certainly not reality either. If you have seen a RAW file unprocessed you will know that it is a very flat under-saturated dull and boring looking thing. This demonstrates how heavily processed jpegs from a camera are – ‘cos here you have the raw file next to it. You have to do all the work with raw files, you have to set the white balance, contrast, saturation, white and black level, sharpness etc. – and then convert it to a readable format like 16-bit tiff. But the work is worth it, with raw files you have at least two major advantages: you can change the white balance with no loss of quality and you have the full 12-bit colour range of data from your digital sensor. 12-bit vs. 8-bit is a mega difference! 12 bit has 4096 levels of colour per red, green and blue channel! 4096 levels per channel! 8-bit has a mere 256 levels. 256 vs 4096 levels – RAW files rule!

Photojournalism – and digital art

Digital art is when it stops being photography and you actually alter the visible content. You remove or add people, you change the sky and bring in clouds from another shot, you add some sunshine etc. It’s not ‘cheating’ it’s just another art form, but I do feel that you should make your viewers aware that it is digital art you’re presenting so they’re not mislead.

Photojournalism is something else entirely of course and here the authenticity of the visible content is the most important factor. You cannot alter the content at all and if you do then that is definitely ‘cheating’ and faking it. You’re showing a photo on the cover of a newspaper for example and people take this as fact and it should be – with regards to visual content anyway. Lot’s of famous fakes have been discovered and reporters fired because of it, here’s a great post from Photopreneur about the world’s most famous photo fakes.

conclusion

Reality doesn’t exist! At least not in a photo.

I am not interested in reality necessarily anyway. I am an artist, a landscape photographer and I will process the image to make it reflect how I saw it. I do not alter the visible content, but I alter the look. If you feel this is cheating so be it, you’re very welcome to your own opinion. I just wanted you to understand that the heavily processed 8-bit jpeg out of a digital camera is certainly not reality either and is just as much ‘cheating’!

I’m off to capture some more light – not reality!

Hold on! Photographing from aircrafts!

First tip – don’t fall out! I love photographing landscapes and cities from above in helicopters, planes etc. and if I could have my own helicopter and pilot for a whole trip I would. I’ve done enough flights now that I want to share a few tips with you. Some of the advice are for photographers like me who have to go on scenic flights and can’t afford to just rent my own aircraft to fly me and just me around a whole day – but most of the advice will work for everyone. Scenic flights can be expensive so I’ll try to help you get the most out of them.

I’ll start off with a shot that I really like and that I’ve just processed. It’s the gorgeous and magnificent domes of Kata Tjuta in Australia shot from a helicopter at sunset with my Canon 5D and 24-105mm L f/4.0 lens. Click to see larger size on my gallery.

Click to see large size on my gallery!

The 500 meters tall domes of Kata Tjuta at sunset

PRE-FLIGHT and IN-FLIGHT

  • Reflections. Especially bad in old fixed wing planes with old scratched windows. The curse of the plexiglass can ruin any good photo! A lot of the following tips deal with how to avoid them!
  • If you can get a flight with the doors off then do it – and strap yourself in with a harness or something, it’s very possible to unbuckle your seatbelt with your camera strap! I’m sure you will get some great shots if you fall out but they will be your last!
    If you can’t fly with the doors off then some of the modern helicopters used for scenic flights actually have windows.
  • Talk to and befriend the pilot, tell him you’re a photographer etc. Most of them are happy to help you get shots.
  • If you’re sharing the flight with other passengers try everything you can (beg, bribe etc!) to get the front seat next to the pilot – it’s by far the best. Watch your feet and hands though as you sit in the front, the pilots usually don’t like it when you help fly the plane!
  • Consider when you want to go. Sunrise and sunset has the gorgeous light of course but do pose big problems with reflections since the sun is shining directly into the helicopter or plane meaning everything reflects into the windows. I always go for sunrise and sunset light, but it does mean that half the time you can’t shoot much because you’re pointed straight into the sun.
  • Wear dark clothes with long sleeves, take off your watch etc. This does help A LOT actually. A light coloured T-shirt and your watch etc. will create big intrusive reflections, dark clothes do not reflect as much light.
  • If you can’t get the seat next to the pilot then make sure you sit on the opposite side of the pilot. The pilots always have a tendency to turn the aircraft away from themselves allowing the max number of passengers to see on the other side. Not great though if you’re stuck in the same side as the pilot!
  • Test your headset, make sure it works so you can talk to the pilot during the flight.
  • Have all your gear prepped and ready! You don’t want to change memory cards and lenses etc when flying if you can avoid it. Measure the light just after take-off, select appropriate iso setting etc.
  • Shutter speed. Helicopters are actually very steady and you can get good sharp shots at low shutter speeds like 1/100 or even lower. Planes are much more unsteady and you need at least 1/250 and preferably higher.
  • Aperture. If your lens is sharp wide open then shoot at a wide aperture like f/4.0 or f/2.8. You need it to get a fast shutter speed and this also greatly minimizes the chance of getting sharp well defined reflections in your shot (since everything close to you will be very out of focus).
  • Lens. This is a tough one. You need a good all-round lens for this. I usually shoot with my 24-105mm L f/4.0 lens, it’s a great lens, gives me wide angle and some zoom. I have also used my 17-40mm L f/4.0 lens at times, it depends on what I’m shooting. Don’t fit a mega zoom, you really need a compact lens since there is usually no space in an aircraft to use a big camera with a big zoom.
  • Lens hood. A no brainer but use this! Very handy also for protecting the aircraft. If you scratch the window of a helicopter with your lens then the pilot will likely chuck you out the door. Those things are expensive!
  • Polarizer filter. I’ve only used it for shooting the Great Barrier Reef from above otherwise I won’t bother. You have enough to concentrate and worry about while trying to photograph from the air without fiddling with a polarizer. Can also sometimes enhance window reflections, not really what you want!
  • If you feel comfortable doing it, use manual focus and manual settings of aperture and perhaps shutter speed. Your camera’s light meter and autofocus can get really confused by the changing light conditions and reflections so manual control is better. You do have to be fast on the dials though. I normally go with manual aperture, manual focus and auto shutter speed which I measure manually using exposure lock button on the camera.
  • Motion sickness. Helicopters are very steady, planes much more jumpy and unsteady and some places (see my previous post on Kakadu National Park) provide mega turbulence. It’s easy to feel a bit motion sick staring through a viewfinder even in a steady helicopter, so learn to shoot with both eyes open!
  • Composition. Remember you can always crop later and remember to shoot heaps so you have lots of material to work with. Remember also  that the rotor is hardly visible to the human eye as you sit in the aircraft – however on your photo at 1/500 of a second it’s very visible! So zoom in a bit and try to avoid getting the rotor in the top of your frame.
  • Finally – Shoot!! Shoot away, machine gun your camera! You want to come home with lots of shots that you can edit and crop and work on later. Get heaps of shots, shoot shoot shoot!

AFTER THE FLIGHT

  • Do make a note of what worked and what didn’t so you don’t repeat your mistakes next time.
  • Remember to thank the pilot and get his card and give him yours, you might be back someday and maybe they’ll visit your site and remember you.
  • Sometimes I get back from flights with shots that obviously are hero shots right away. Most of the time however photos shot from high altitudes need  work before the hero shots emerges from the RAW files (you shoot RAW of course!). From high altitudes things get a bit hazy as well. Usually the white balance is off, the exposure is maybe a bit off, the contrast is lacking, the photos are a bit flat and lifeless – and quite often they need some cropping and straightening. So don’t feel disappointed, just get to work, your hero shots are in there in the RAW data but you have to dig it out (like any RAW shot really).

Example

After having read the above, look at my shot from Kata Tjuta again:

Click to see large size on my gallery!

This is during sunset, with little but very gorgeous light so I am using iso 500 (which on the 5D is still very clean). I am sitting next to the pilot in a helicopter with no windows and with doors – I am shooting at f/4.0 with my 24-105mm lens through the glass and fighting reflections. I am using manual focus, manual aperture and auto shutter speed which I have measured off the rock using exposure lock. I am also shooting while our pilot decided to do a sharp turn to the left, throwing off the composition completely and tilting my shot 11 degrees! Even though the exposure and focus is spot on it’s almost a total failure, and I only managed this one shot from this angle because of the steep left turn of the helicopter. This is very much a shot I had to rescue from the RAW file.

To show you the difference , here’s a screenshot from RAWshooter allowing you to see how I rotated this 11 degrees ( a lot!) and cropped to rescue the shot. I then cloned away the bit from the helicopter dash board in the lower right corner and I ended up with my hero shot!

rawshooter-katatjuta

I hope some of this is useful for you the next you’re photographing from an aircraft. Feel free to comment or email me if you have any questions, or want to share some great stories of shooting from above!

If you go to my website and view my Australia gallery I have many more shots of landscapes and cities from planes and helicopters.