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Dave Collerton

A Personal View of Street Photography

A Personal View of Street Photography

It;s often difficult to know where to start an article so perhaps the best place to start is at the beginning.

Setting the Scene with some Background Information

When I first picked up a camera many years ago, to put this in perspective this was a 35mm Pentax KM film camera back in the 1980's (which I still own today), my main focus was very much on landscapes, places and people in the way where perhaps many people start. A photo of an interesting statue in the town square, that ruined castle on the hill, an exotic foreign holiday. Looking back on the images from that time that I still have, yes they do provide some great memories and indeed some interesting photos. In the years that followed my love of photography waned somewhat until such time as mobile phones started to emerge with in-built lenses and camera applications. Like many reading this, my re-introduction to photography really started with mobile phones such as the Samsung S4, then the S6 and laterly the Huawei P20 Pro. This prompted me to consider once again being a "serious photographer" so having decided in November 2016 to purchase something more akin to what "real photographers" use, I finally opted to buy a nifty little mirrorless camera called the Panasonic Lumix GX-80. My rational was simple, it had to have a huge range of reasonably priced interchangable lenses, it need to be small and lightweight and it had to do 4K video recording. It also helped that Panasonic were offering a very tempting £200 off the in-shop price making it an absolute steal at £350. The deal was finally done in December 2016 and armed with my new purchase I hit the streets and of course, immediately reverted to type photographing pretty much the same subjects I did back in the 1980's. However, having a lot more time on my hands nowadays I soon realised that working in a vacuum was unlikely to move my photography forward by any great degree and so I decided to join a local photography club, this being Paignton Photography Club (PPC), which I knew from scanning the internet incuded a rich vein of talent amongst it's many members. Indeed, this certainly turned out to be the case and I rapidly turned into a sponge absorbing the very best ideas from the very best photographers around me.

Why Street Photography?

I think that the primary reason for my interest in street photography is that I'm not really very good at landscape, sport or wildlife photography. It was this discovery that really heralded the beginning of a new journey for me, one that led ultimately to my interests in street photography and street portraiture. Besides,  Alex Tehrani hit the nail on the head when he said“Anyone can shoot chaos but the most perceptive photographers can make compelling pictures out of uninteresting moments.” For me this is so true, it is the normality of life that I find the most interesting. 

Another plus point for me as someone with dodgy knees, is that as a genre, street photography is simplicity itself because there is generally no hiking, climbing or indeed, heavy equipment to carry. There is also no real planning required as it really is basically just "point and click". Sure if you want to capture someone's head behind a smiley face balloon then there's likely to be some manipulation of the situation and a prop involved. However, for the most part it's just pure luck. As photographer Matt Stuart says, "buy a good pair of comfortable shoes, have a camera around your neck at all times, keep your elbows in, be patient, optimistic and don’t forget to smile".

And Matt's not the only one with some insight into this genre, others include:

Robert Doisneau - “The marvels of daily life are exciting; no movie director can arrange the unexpected that you find in the street.” 

Joel Meyerowitz - “You fill up the frame with feelings, energy, discovery, and risk, and leave room enough for someone else to get in there.”

Susan Meiselas - “The camera is an excuse to be someplace you otherwise don’t belong. It gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.”

William Klein - “Be yourself. I much prefer seeing something, even it is clumsy, that doesn’t look like somebody else’s work.”

Elliott Erwitt - “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

Chase Jarvis - "Allow yourself the freedom to step away from perfection because it is only then that you can find success."

Ernst Haas - "Best wide angle lens? Two steps backward. Look for the ‘ah ha’."

Jay Maisel - "If you are out there shooting, things will happen for you. If you’re not out there, you’ll only hear about it."

 

So, what can be considered as Street Photography?

Since this is an article primarily on Street Photography, let's take a look at the definition as summarised by one well known source.

The Wikipedia definition of Street Photography, also sometimes called candid photography, is photography conducted for art or enquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents within public places. Although there is a difference between street and candid photography, it is usually subtle with most street photography being candid in nature but not all candid photography being classifiable as street photography. Street photography does not necessitate the presence of a street or even the urban environment. Though people usually feature directly, street photography might be absent of people and can be of an object or environment where the image projects a decidedly human character in facsimile or aesthetic.

In truth, the response you get to this question depends on who you talk to. Some photographers see street photography in it's purest sense, raw, unedited, candid footage that captures something extraordinary in the ordinary. A perfect example of this would be the work of someone who I admire, Rod Fry ARPS who is a published contemporary photographer with interests in street and other social mediums. Rod's images, for me at least, encapsulate the very meaning of street photography in it's purest forms. This was highlighted when I was recently joined for coffee by Ryan Hardman, a young local street photographer here in Torbay. We spent a good hour or so talking about street photography and in particular his experiences and views on the genre. Ryan outlined his many influances, for example Bruce Gilden, Paul Russell and Nick Turpin and it was during this conversation that he mentioned about the current problems between Turpin, who is a well established street photographer, and the In-Public photography group he formed in 2000. This story perhaps best highlights how difficult it can be to label someone as a street photographer. The issue in question, In-Public's picture of the month which is highly stylised and distorted candid shot and which for Turpin at least, is a step outside of his vision for the genre. For Turpin and others, what you see is what you get and while clearly some of Turpin's commercial work is clearly contrived and indeed, post-processed, in his work as a street photographer any editing of the image is a step outside of his purist concept of street photography.

Against this background of turmoil, I looked back at the body of work I had created in the past 12 months or so and decided that I am a street portrait photograher for the most part. In writing this article I flicked through several hundred or so images and the vast majority of them fell into the definition of street portraiture. One of my favourites, and I'll explain why in a moment is the image I chose for the header of this article. Here it is again.

My guess is that many people will give this no more than a cursory glance but for me at least, it is a perfect representation of what street photography is, the capture of an ordinary moment in time that has a hidden depth of meaning. It's this ordinariness that I love and indeed, a quote that I found from Gilles Peress while researching this article yields one explanation as to why I love street photography so much. He says , "I don’t care so much anymore about ‘good photography’; I am gathering evidence for history."

Does street photgraphy imply that every photo you take has to be "street related"? Far from it, if you take this term literally you will be missing a huge opportunity to capture interesting moments in many other situations and locations. If you re-think the term as candid, documentary or even art based photography then additional doors start to open. Although not considered as street photograhy in it's purest form, the image shown below captured my attention. What I found amusing was the individual pose of each person, clearly deep in thought in very different ways. It's a seemingly mundane image with a hint of humour.

Another example is this image which was taken at a 93rd birthday celibration. This is a candid shot which strongly highlights the difference between age and youth.

In a similar photo, this time taken in Amsterdam, kids were clambering all over a huge sign on the bank of the river which spelled out Amsterdam. What captured my attention though was the old man, wheelchair bound, to the left of the sign. It's this contradiction which captures my attention in many instances.

This shot, of an exhibit in the ONIRIS Museum in Rennes, France, caught my eye purely because of the fact that people just stood and stared, sometimes for a few minutes or so. It's there reaction to a simple exhibit that I wanted to capture.

While for some, razor sharp images are everything in photography, for me I don't really care. It can be grainy, B&W, colour, sharp, out of focus, whatever. While I recognise that for most other forms of photography, landscape and portrait for example, image quality is highly prized. In street photography though it's the content itself which is the prize and the style and quality of the image can, in my opinion at least, be somewhat more relaxed. Most often this is when the situation is candid, comedic, out of the ordinary or just plain startling but to my point of view, even a seemingly mundane image can have huge depth if the viewer takes the time to absorb the messages within the image.

This is not to say that image quality is not desirable, it's just for me at least, it is less important than the content. Often candid images are "snatched at" images so what tends to suffer is exposure. Because I pretty much always shoot in manual mode snatched at images are often under or over exposed but where time permits, it's possible to get a bang on image where light, exposure and content are all aligned. 

My thoughts on the Gear required to do Street Photography

In order to practice any form of photography it is necessary to have the right gear. I'm a member of a great many groups and forums where all I hear all day long is about this lens or that lens, this or that camera. It's as if the photographer is paralysed if they don't have the very best wide angle lens available today. Personally, while I do agree that a top quality pro lens will undoubtable make your images better, I don't necessarily think it will make you a better photographer. Street photography relies quite often on capturing a fleeting moment in time, one that will never be repeated. For this reason the best camera you have access to is the one on you. If it's a smartphone, so be it. If it's a Sony A7 with a top notch f2.8 pro lens, so much the better. Which will take the better photo? Who knows. Nowadays, a mobile phone can create as compelling a street image as say a top quality Sony, Nikon or Canon. It's really not about the equipment, it's purely about the opportunity and the person holding the camera. For me, street photography is 80% luck, 20% skill as for the most part, you really don't have a lot of time to get ready for that perfect image. Photographer Harry Callahan sums up the expection of getting outstanding shots when he says, "I guess I’ve shot about 40,000 negatives and of these, I have about 800 pictures I like". Henri Cartier-Bresson nails the lid on the coffin with his remark "Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst." I've got a long way to go before I've taken 10,000 shots so pretty much all my stuff should be in the bin!! Nonetheless, the journey is enthralling.

With regards my own kit, my personal favourites for this genre are my pocket sized Canon G7X Mk ii, my Lumix GX-80 mirrorless and laterly, my Huawei P20 Pro smartphone. Compacts such as the excellent Lumix LX100 are really ideal for this genre of photography as they are small, lightweight and descrete yet offer much of the functionality of a full blown dslr. As to using a smartphone, newer phones such as the iPhone X, Samsung S9 and Huawei P20 Pro have exceptional lenses, sensors and firmware and as such are begining to blur the edges of what constitutes acceptable in photographic terms. While tradition dictates that you wouldn't use a smartphone on a commercial shoot, I really don't feel that I'm any less of of photographer because I've used the Huawei rather than say a compact or dslr camera. In general terms, it's often all I have on me so I'm not going to get precious over the fact that I took this or that shot with a smartphone.

This next couple of examples were again captured at the OSIRIS Exhibition in Rennes, this time using the Lumix GX-80. This first exhibit created quite a buzz amongst the audience I suspect mostly because of the subject matter. I was hoping that one of the young boys would get a little closer but eventually had to conceed that this wasn't going to happen, at least while I was standing there. I shot this in manual with a high dynamic contrast because I wanted some grain in the image. My only regret technically was that I never had time to adjust the white balance.

This second image is a nod to pure street photography in that it captures a snatched moment in time with no particular focus uther than the image itself. Here I have tried hard to meet the rock solid tenants of street photography in that what I saw when I took it is exactly what you are seeing now. Normally I would be chomping at the bit to edit out the feet bottom left but no, this one shot has to be true to the genre. In truth, I love it for what it is rather than for what it could have been.

With regards using flash, although this is popular with some photogrphers, for example Bruce Gilden and even closer to home, Ryan Hardman, my flash generally stays at home unless it's already a feature of the camera. While flash photography does create some startling images, this image provided by Ryan Hardman for example (https://www.ryanhardman.photography/), for me flash photography is perhaps a step too far at this moment in time. By definition, Street Photography is already invasive and so I don't want to shake the tree too much. People tend to react in different ways when you stick a lens in front of them let alone a flash. Bravo to Ryan for being gutsy enough to use flash.

Image courtesy of Ryan Hardman. Visit https://www.ryanhardman.photography/ for more information and additional photos. 

Here's a couple of my own photos based on a similar situation but without flash. Most people are used to having their photos taken nowadays, God knows how many images we all appear in on a daily basis, so they tend to be quite relaxed if you are not being agressive or pushy. 

In Conclusion

For me, Street Photography opens up a world of opportunity that doesn't require lots of expensive equipment, or indeed, vast amounts of planning. While I recognise the value of good hardware, and in particular good lenses, it's amazing what you can capture with a kit lens and a good bridge camera. Armed with even the most basic of equipment, everyday a myriad of opportunites exist to capture something interesting, funny, suprising or just plain different. Given that there are no barriers to entry into this arena, it's a golden opportunity for you to try something new and to explore the naive and the raw as opposed to the extraordinary and the sublime. 

And finally, this image is perhaps a fitting place to end my take on what has been a very personal voyage into street photography.

To conclude, here are some of my personal favourites from the last year.

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Dave Collerton

Camera Lens Adapters - Worth the money?

Camera Lens Adapters - Worth the money?

As we all know, camera lenses can be incredibly expensive so if you have more than one camera system, e.g. Sony, Nikon, Canon, Panasonic etc then you often forced to lay out a lot of money to have the latest and greatest. Of course there is always the option of buying second hand lenses, for example through Wex and other main dealers, as well as through Ebay and Amazon. There is however another option. A cheap and practical way of overcoming the issue of lens incompatability between systems is to consider using a lens adapter. For example, you could mount your expensive Nikon lenses to say Fuji, Olympus or Panasonic camera bodies simply by using a lens adapter. These adapters come in many forms, some providing full auto-focus and aperture control between the different camera / lens types, others only providing manual focus and aperture control. With this difference in function comes the obvious difference in price and unsurprisingly, fully automatic adapters are generally much more expensive than those that provide only manual functionality. C'est la vie!

Being a relative cheap-skate, and having some old legacy glass from my Pentax film days, buying and owning a Panasonic GX-80 and a Nikon D600 means that I have a multitude of lenses sitting around which fit only the systems they were designed for. Well, at least in theory because I also own a couple of inexpensive lens adapters which allow me to use my old legacy glass and my newer Nikkor / Tamron lenses, on my Lumix GX-80. Personally, I haven't gone overboard on these devices as I am more than happy to fly manual in my photography and to be honest, I'll flip to manual even when the lens is capable of fast auto-focus. 

Having had a Pentax KM to Micro Four Thirds (MFT / M43) adapter for some time, I was keen to see whether I could get the same brilliant performance from a Nikon FX to MFT adapter. This would then allow me to use every lens I own, on my lightweight walkabout Lumix GX-80. Here's an example of the performance of an old Vivitar 35 - 70mm (f2.8 - 3.8) with a Pentax KM fitting when attached via an inexpensive Beschoi PK-MFT adapter. Not a bad result for a lens costing under £30. One thing to remember though is that when using lenses designed for a particular sensor size, for example 35mm film cameras, is that when used on non 35mm camera bodies such as an Micro Four Thirds system, there is a crop factor to apply. Because the Lumix GX-80, has a micro four thirds sensor, any lens designed for use with 35mm sensors / cameras will give me a 2x crop factor, effectively a doubling of its focal length. So, for the old Vivitar above, the new focal length becomes 70 - 140mm. Also, because you are making it a little harder for the light to reach the sensor, the aperture of the lens won't be quite as efficient so you may have to increase exposure by a few EV to even things out. Overall though, a simple adapter should have no real effect on aperture value so using vintage pro glass now becomes of significant interest.

As an example of what a 200mm Pentax lens can achieve on the Lumix GX-80 with an adapter (this now becomes 400mm) take a look at this photo from the recent airshow at Paignton, Devon. Not perfect of course, but not bad for a hand held shot at max focal length and manually focused. Best of all, this lens cost just £5 on Ebay and while I am not saying don't spend big bucks on quality lenses, what I am saying is that your old legacy glass still has a role to play in your current photography.

As mentioned above, one of the Nikon lenses I own is a Tamron 28-300 AF Aspherical XR Di LR If lens which although not the best ever, is a great walkabout lens with a decent focal length. When coupled to the Lumix GX-80 via the KAF Concept Nikon G - MFT lens adapter, this focal length becomes 56 - 600mm in basically the same package size as the Nikon D600 when fitted with this lens. These next couple of images is this lens at maximum range (f=600mm) and f8 with an effective distance of around 300m from camera to subjects. Without doubt this is stretching the lens to its limits and this can be seen in the results.

So, a good quality lens adapter can handle long distance shots with relative ease. What about closer in, does an adapter create problems at lower focal lengths. The answer is no, not really. In this next couple of images, the subjects are no more than 30 - 50m from the camera and again, the results are pretty good for inexpensive glass.

With the relative cost of a manual lens adapter being around the £20 mark, these offer photographers the opportunity to use lenses from other brands on their newer cameras. The KAF I used with the Tamron was £18 from Amazon. It allows me to use any Nikon lens with an F fitting, even Gelded (G) lenses that don't have an aperture ring, on my Lumix GX-80. You can see the control for this in the photo below, the silver knurled ring provides aperture control for Nikon G type lenses. Since practically every lens ever made by Nikon has an F coupling there is a startling range of legacy glass available. For example, athough I have yet to try it, I have a 50mm f1.4 G Nikkor which would be great for portraiture when fitted to the Lumix GX-80. A similar lens for the MFT system would cost towards £300 with the only disadvantage being I have to work in manual mode. Since I spend most of my time in this mode, and with manual focusing I personally don't see this as a big issue.

As I was writing this, an old Vivitar (Kiron made) 75-205 f3.8 arrived so I shot a couple of quick photos with it fitted to the Lumix GX-80 using the Beschoi PK-MFT adapter mentioned earlier. Other than the fact it weighs a ton, the fact that it is wide open at all focal lengths bodes well for future shooting opportunities.

In general terms, camera lens adapters offer a low cost alternative to buying expensive new lenses when and if you change your camera system. Performance is excellent, with little degredation in image quality plus, if your camera has a smaller sensor than the one designed for the lens, you will see a benefit in terms of extra focal length. For the Micro Four Thirds camera systems, this is a 2x crop factor meaning that a lens with an original focal length of 200mm on a 35mm camera becomes 400mm on the MFT system. With this increase in effective focal length comes a reduction in light reaching the sensor but this can be easily adjusted for in normal usage by opening up the aperture or compensating using EV. Finally, with prices for manual lens adapters being around £20, the opportunity to purchase high quality legacy glass from a host of manufactures means that you can own the very best lenses, albeit in manual mode, for just a few pounds. Of course, should you prefer to retain automatic control of focus and aperture there are more expensive options available, for example Metabones systems, which will provide you with those functions.

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Dave Collerton

Photo Editing on a Budget - Luminar 2018 Windows

Photo Editing on a Budget - Luminar 2018 Windows

Luminar 2018 from Skylum is a new photo editor offering big promises. Although many will argue that at the moment at least. it doesn't really compete favourably with Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop, others, myself included, have been getting into the software and using it to good effect.

Now, before I go on let me get a couple of key pieces of information out of the way. Today, Luminar costs just £64 to buy outright and this does include a number of useful extras. Luminar 2018 is also available for Mac where it has a slightly longer presence in the market place. For this reason, some key features available on the Mac version are not currently available on the Windows version. Originally preferring to use Facebook as a support mechanism, Skylum have now moved support to their website with forums split into Mac and Windows usage. This is because some of the issues experienced by users don't necessarily overlap. After a fairly rocky start for the Windows version its capabilities have improved dramatically in recent months.

Given my introduction, is Luminar worth the cost? Personally yes, especially if you are looking for an intuitive photo editor that will grow as you do. Will it suit everyone? Not necessarily today. Undoubtadly some Adobe users will take some shifting although the recent move to a subscription model has resulted in a lot of dissatisfaction with the direction Adobe has chosen to take. Not everyone want to spend £10+ each  month on their editing software irrespective of how good it is. With Luminar, and other products of a similar type including ON1 Photo Raw and DxO PhotoLab, the "buy it now" approach means that it's simply a one off hit. Minor upgrades are provided free and you only really need to pay the upgrade cost as and when you feel you need it. At the moment, all Luminar 2018 Windows upgrades are maintenance upgrades so are free, primarily because of some glaring ommissions from the software on release. The next major maintenance upgrade is at the end of this month (April 2018) when some significant improvements are expected. In the meantime, Luminar is a very useable and capable editor in the right hands and I tend to hear less and less negative issues as users become more proficient. We'll cover more of the pros and cons as we move forward with this review.

Luminar 2018 Windows version

So, let's take a first look at the Luminar interface. As shown in the above image, this consists of 3 panels, the central panel housing the image you are working on, the lower panel contains a number of presets in one of the many catagories you can select from, and the final panel on the right contains some information on the image e.g. focal length, aperture and ISO plus a histogram. Also in the right hand panel are a list of filters that can be individually selected and grouped plus a workspace where you can stack and layer filters to create your final image. Above the central image are some additional controls such as zoom, image comparison preview, undo, history and some basic editing tools which currently include Crop, Clone & Stamp and Erase. The main menu top left provides the ability to open, save and export your image. Export allows you to choose variants such as TIFF, PNG or JPG. There is currently no ability to export to applications such as Facebook but this might come in future.

While it is possible to load images in JPEG format in Luminar you are most likely to load RAW files such as CR2, RW2 or NEF depending on the cameras you own. I have cameras from Canon, Panasonic and Nikon so all three RAW formats are handy for me. Working with RAW format means that you have access to a lot more information to work with than JPEG so is a better place to start working with your images. This is demonstrated by the fact that if you open a JPEG one of the key development tools, RAW Develop, is not available to you. At the moment this is perhaps not hugely detrimental but as time goes on we do expect this filter to be greatly improved with the inclusion of automatic lens / camera corrections and some intelligent manipulation of parameters such as exposure, contrast, highlights, midtones and shadows. There is also a transform feature which is designed to improve horizontals and verticles. At the moment it is necessary to manually adjust these parameters but we all hope to see big improvement to RAW Develop in the late April release due soon.

With regards a start point for your edits, many people will jump straight in and begin to apply filters manually that they have good experience with. While this is for some as quick as any other approach, new users often prefer to choose from the many presets available to them. Presets, for those not familiar with the term, are basically a group of filters which work together to produce a particular look. For example, some presets convert colour to B&W, some soften the image, some harden the image, some enhance colours and some desaturate. There are already some 100 different presets to choose from and more become available almost weekly thanks to the development team at Skylum, and to a highly competent team of 3rd party developers and Skylum Ambassaders.

Presets from the Travel Catagory with Dull No More selected

In the image above I have applied the preset Dull No More from the Travel Category. This automatically lifts various parameters such as clarity, structure and tone whilst removing any colour cast on the image due to the lighting and conditions on the day. In addition, I rotated the image so that the horizon, in this case seashore, was horizontal and I also applied some highlights to her hair using Dodge & Burn, one of my favourite editing tools. Finally, I applied the Accent Ai-Filter to lift brightness and slightly enhance the colour. For an image such as this one, over saturation would be disasterous so I have taken great care to try to maintain hue, saturation and luminosity and I think that the final result is a simple yet effective representation of what I saw and recorded on that day.

Another nice although not unique feature of Luminar are LUTs. LUTs or Look Up Tables as they are more correctly known, allow you to apply a new look to your photo in seconds. A LUT is essentially a digital file that transforms and exports the color and tone of your image in your source file to a new destination state.  For example, you can use a LUT to convert a modern digital photo to the color and tone of an older film stock.  Or perhaps to convert between a color image to an aged black and white treatment. So, a LUT essentially transforms tone and color based upon settings chosen by the creator of the LUT. Using a LUT is essentially the same as using a preset, you simply load your photo, ideally in a flat RAW format, and apply your desired LUT. This results in an immediate change to your photo. As an example, in the image below I have applied a LUT to the image of the guy playing with the click balls in the top image.

RAW image from Panasonic GX-80 converted using LUT Candelight from Skylum. No other processing applied

If you compare this image to the one at the top of this article you can see that there have been some significant changes in colour and tone. This is a one-click modification. I haven't applied any additional filters to the image. The use of LUTs and Presets allows practically anyone to create stunning, creative images in minutes rather than hours. And by applying additional filters, you can take your image anywhere you want.

With all of this creative capability, is Luminar 2018 the perfect low cost alternative to Photoshop? Well, there are some issues at present with the basic functionalty which will have you pulling your hair out. For example, basic functions such as Clone & Stamp and Erase don't yet function perfectly. There are issues with both. That's not to say that they don't work, just that they don't work 100% of the time.For the most part, yes, if the edit is relatively simple such as removing blemishes from a photo, for example a tiny bird in the background, or even blemishes on the camers sensor that have made it on to the photo, yes, it works really well. However, try to remove something more sizeable and it is likely that you will hit a problem. In an earlier article I showed how to remove a power line from a photo and I did this using Luminar so perhaps take a look there for more information. Clone & Stamp is equally hit and miss. What does work well are the cropping and rotate functions. These work as expected. Another area for compromise is the aplication of backgrounds. If you have green screened your subject in a studio then fine, using a luminosity mask will produce pretty much flawless results but for anything else, let's say a complex landscape with trees or non solid edges where you'd like to replace the sky, you are going to need your wits about you. It is possible to achieve a good result with patience but products such as Photoshop and ON1 Photo Raw are more advanced in this area. While Luminar 2018 does struggle in some basic areas, I haven't found this to be insurmountable. 

With regards general usage, Luminar 2018 is very easy to get to grips with. Since the last maintenance release the developers have added Layers which are extremely useful for grouping filters, especially where the global strength of the filters applied are the same or very similar. I tend to seperate groups of filters just to make it easy to go back and edit something. You can turn off the effects of each layer to help you understand whether what you done is an improvement or detrimental to your image. Another useful feature is the ability to add a second image layer and the ability to add textures. When combined with a luminosity mask, this makes it reasonably easy to change the background, albeit with the concerns outlined in previous paragraphs. Nonetheless, it does allow you to create some stunning images such as the one shown below. This image, taken during a recent photo shoot at Paignton Photography Club, was first processed using PortraitPro 17 Studio, which is an excellent application when working on faces, and then taken into Luminar for final processing where the background image and various other filters were applied. 

Model Lianne taken during a recent night at PPC.

I hope that the information provided above interests you enough to give Luminar 2018 a try. For those that wish to do so, there is a free to try version of Luminar 2018 at https://skylum.com/blog/preorder-luminar-2018-today - just choose the TRY option. If you have any questions about Luminar 2018, bearing on mind I am only using the Windows version, don't hesitate to get in contact.

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Dave Collerton

Photo Editing - Lightroom Alternatives

Photo Editing - Lightroom Alternatives

Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop are two of the stand-out photo editing software products of our generation. But what if you don't want to pay monthly for the privilidge of using Lightroom, what's available today that provide worthy competition?

Recently I have looked at a number of usable and reasonably priced photo editing products, all hoping to take on Lightroom and Photoshop and indeed, beat them at their own game. These include Photoscape X Pro from Microsoft, ON1 Photo Raw from ON1, DxO PhotoLab (and DxO Film Pack 5) from DxO, PhotoDirector from Cyberlink and Luminar 2018 Win from Skylum. While not an exhaustive list, these all represent affordable alternatives to Adobe and are all in themselves, quite capable photo editors. In looking at the various editors available I have also come into contact with and used Silkypix, which is mostly associated with the Panasonic RAW format (although strangly it also works on Canon CR2 RAW format) and PortraitPro 17, which is best suited to portraiture.

Where most of these editors break down, and I'll tackle this issue first, is that none really include any useable form of digital asset management or DAM as it is more usefully referred to. A DAM catalogues your photos and enables you to fully track every change to a photograph making it possible to go back to any point and branch off from there with a different perspective or variant. For professional photographers a DAM is often considered a "must have" when considering the purchase and use of a photo editor. Adobe include a DAM in it's most popular editor, Lightroom and there is also a stand alone DAM in Adobe Bridge, which can be also used with other 3rd party products.

If a DAM is vitally important to you, and you need it today, then Adobe Lightroom is for you at this point in time unless you are happy to compromise and use a 3rd party product such as Adobe Bridge or XNviewMP, both of which offer good functionality and the ability to work reasonably seamlessly with other products. I have used XNviewMP with Luminar 2018 Windows and Photoscape X Pro and it handles RAW files from all the cameras I own without issue. This includes RW2, CR2 and NEF RAW files.

Another negative for many is lack of colour management. This can be a major problem if your primary output is in print rather than say for digital consumption. Again if this is a key factor in your selection process then Lightroom and Photoshop are going to be your best options today. Few other products, and certinly those I've mentioned above, don't really have the same level of functionality in this area as do Adobe products. This means it can be a bit of a lottery when printing your photos as it is almost impossible to match what you see on the screen with what you see when printed. 

Moving on, with these key factors out of the way, how do these other products stack up to the functionality of Lightroom and Photoshop? The truth is really well. None of the products I have mentioned require significant learning curves, in fact, they all work in a similar way and apart from having to learn the layouts of each editor, most use a similar subset of tools to help you create the look you desire for any photograph. Of these tools, perhaps the most important of these are presets which we will talk about next.

A preset is basically a combination of individual filters and effects designed to creat a specific look. For example, you can use a preset to turn a colour image into a B&W image, to add highlights or lowlights, to make an image softer or sharper, or perhaps more dramatic. These, together with Look Up Tables (LUT's) provide you with many fully customisable combinations to play around with. You can either just choose a preset and have done, or change the parameters of any of the filters to fine tune the look you are aiming for. You can also add additional filters of course. Presets are without doubt a fantastic start point for many projects. And since presets are common to almost every photo editor on the market today, you can pretty much use any editor that you feel comfortable with.

For those that prefer manual editing, all of the software products mentioned allow complete manual control over your image. Luminar for example provides two useful tools, a RAW developer and what's called Accent Ai-Filter, which basically is like a magic wand that enhances many aspects of a photo prior to further editing. RAW development is also a key feature of DxO PhotoLab but here it's taken to a completely new level in that DxO, best known perhaps for it's optics database, is able to provide fully autmatic corrections for many camera and lens combinations. This removes lens distortions and chromatic abberations without any human intervention and means that you are starting with the best possible image for final editing. Like Luminar, ON1, Photo Director and DxO include a number of useful presets as starting points for development of your image. Although not alone in this feature, Luminar in particular appears to have access to a vast range of presets due to many 3rd party developers working on the product. If you are into LUT's, again Luminar is up to the mark here as any .cube LUT can be added quickly and easily to the core product. I have added many free preset packs and LUT's to Luminar to increase it's functionality. Be aware though, like on Sky TV, you can spend an inordinate amount of time searching for the right look rather than just getting on with the job. Sometimes it is simply better to work manually.

Of all of the above, I found Photoscape X Pro perhaps the easiest product to use and get around. It's a really good photo editor with a lot of useful and intuitive tools. With a free to use version, and a pro version at under £30 to buy outright, it's without doubt the cheapest of all of the products i have tried out. To be fair, the free version is really good but it was so cheap and usable that I did buy the Pro version. It's a quick and easy "go to editor" for getting stuff done and there are a lot of features I really like. Included with Photoscape X Pro are a number of film emulations (presets by any other name) and some interesting backgrounds and overlays. Many more are available when you buy the Pro version.

PhotoScape X Pro - An excellent sub £30 photo editor. Here i've applied an overlay to create an abstract image
Fully edited with PhotoScape X Pro with background removed and cross processing applied

I'll review Luminar 2018 Windows soon as I have a lot of experience with this product and with the new version due at the end of this month, it's hoped that some of the areas it struggles with will have been rectified. As it is, it's a really good editor that's improving with each minor release. Again, at under £70 to purchase, it's a very cost effective alternative to Adobe Photoshop (it also works as a plugin to Photoshop) and once the DAM is released at the end of this year, it could be a lightroom killer.

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Dave Collerton

Removing Unwanted Artifacts and Objects in your Photos

Removing Unwanted Artifacts and Objects in your Photos

You know the feeling. You've taken what looks to be the perfect photo but when you get home and load it onto your PC / Mac you notice the power or telephone line cutting it in half as plain as day. How did you miss it? Who knows. The fact is that you did and now you either have to live with it or do something clever.

Well, assuming that doing nothing isn't a real option, let's have a look at removing the object or objects and making your photo the masterpiece you wanted.

If you are new to photography and need a good photo editor, you might want to take a look at Photoscape X Pro, a free professional editor for Windows and Mac platforms from the Microsoft Store. Although advertised at about £29 or so to buy, you can download and use completely free, a full version of the software with only a few exceptions. I've been using it as my "go to" editor now for about a month and it is pretty complete in every way. I may yet decide to pay the £29 as there are some features I could certainly use but so far, that hasn't been necessary.

Moving on, let's take a look at the photo in question. Before looking at this issue I have already lightened the image so we can see what we are dealing with. I actually love the dark and moody example BUT I want to demostrate the approach and that's best done on something we can all see.

Having carefully compossed this photo I was horrified to see the power / telephone cable in the background when I loaded the full size image onto my PC. Given the whispy clouds surely this was a throw away image, unusable? Perhaps not, after all, magazine and photo editors have been tackling these type of issues for years surely. So, despite the difficult background I'm pretty sure that the healing function provided in practically all of the major editors will do this job well so I was keen to give it a go. Fortunately, Photoscape X Pro has this feature, it's called Healing, so was an obvious opportunity to give this feature a go. The really nice thing about Photoscape X Pro is that it is so easy to use. Every feature also has a Compare feature so you can quickly access if your modifications are having a positive or negative effect. 

So, let's take a quick look at the Photoscape X Pro healing function. The screen shot here show the basic layout of the Photoscape X Pro editing screen with the Healing function highlighted. 

Selecting this feature takes you to a simple editing screen which allows you to set the brush size to something appropriate for your image. Here I have chosen to keep the brush pretty small to reduce the impact on the background clouds. Having decided on and created a suitable sized brush, the next job, which can be a little tricky, is to carefully drag it across the power line as shown below. Photoscape X Pro does all of the necessary modifications in background so depending on the speed of  your PC, this can take a few seconds.

Once completed, you can make a decision as to whether the modification has done what you wanted or not. If yes, you can save your image and get on with your life, if not, you can undo this action and have another go. In my case, keeping the brush small meant that the affect on the clouds was minimal and in truth, very difficult to notice especially if you didn't know what the original photo was like. Anyway, the proof of the pudding is in the eating so here is the final image with the power line removed.

If you want to check out Photoscape X Pro, visit http://x.photoscape.org/. There is also a version for Mac.

David

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Dave Collerton

Making a good photo great

One of the things I find most satifying is to take a good photo and make it better by some deft editing. Almost any picture can be enhanced so before you discard your images, take a deeper look at what you've got. Here's an example of a photo that normally I would discard for any number of reasons.

Although I quite like it as it has captured my subject really well, and I think the use of B&W is right for this image, I have so many fantastic images of Kate that I've become conditioned to expect every photo to be perfect. It's not that this is a bad photo by any means, it's not. However, there are problems as it was taken very close up, and because I used a good quality manual macro / portrait lens in really tight, Kate quite rightly says it shows every blemish. Normally, I'd probably delete in favour of more flattering shots but here I thought I'd see what some editing of the image brings.

Now, the wonderful thing about photo editors is there's practically nothing that can't be done. The other wonderful thing is that they make great editors for every platform including smartphones. For example, here I thought I'd use an application called TooWiz Photos which I downloaded free to my Samsung S6 smartphone. I also use Snapseed, Google Photos and one or two others and all will keep you amused for hours. ToolWiz has four pages of editing features and yes, you've guessed it, each of those features has lot's of editing options. In practice it's all a little daunting but it's unlikely that you are going to use every feature so eventually you settle on the editing features you really like. The feature I prefer to use the Pro Editing feature as this provides lots of opportunity to modify any photo exactly how you want it.

Before I start discussing the editing of photos let me explain about my workflow. To store and access my photos I use Google Photos as this makes it possible for me to access any photo from any application, whether that's an application on my smartphone, e.g. ToolWiz, or on my desktop PC. It also allows me to showcase any photo on this website in any location I choose. For example, all of the images here are in a directory on Google Photo's called Content and the images stored in that album on Google Photos can be added to any article or any gallery instantly. Nothing is stored on my web-server, it's all hosted by Google. If you'd like more information about using this type of workflow then please let me know.

Often, when you start out editing you may have an idea of what you are trying to achieve. Other times, the editing process can open up some new ideas. One of the first things to look at is softening of the image. InToolWiz there's a section of portrait tools ideal for manipulating images such as the one shown above. For most pictures, colour, brightness, exposure and contrast will for the most part resolve any issues that you may want to improve. The other key tool you might employ is cropping. Sometimes there's an image within an image that just cries out to be isolated - more on this in a later blog. 

Here, the problem really is the closeness of the lens to the subject and the harshness of the lighting on the face. Changing exposure or contrast won't have any real effect here as the subject is well exposed and the contrast is good. There are two processes which will however help and these are smooting of the facial contours and brightness. Both for example will help to smooth the natural lines on the face while retaining the integrity of the image. As an example of this process, this next image is the effect of using the blemish removal tool to help remove some of the facial lines disliked so much by Kate. 

The other technique I mentioned was to increase brightness and this is easily achieved inToolWiz, and for that matter, any other photo editing program. The goal here is to retain as much as possible the integrity of the original photo whilst trying to smooth out any remaining features which detract from the beauty of the subject. Here's an example of increasing brightless by around 20%.

  

As I mentioned at the top of this article, where you eventually end up is down to you as the artist. You can wash out as much definition as you like or, in situations where definition is what you are trying to achieve, add in contrast to make your features pop. Here, for my last photo I wanted to go for a really high key image so far from the original that it unless you see the journey, as outlined above, the start and end points wouldn't necessarily be that obvious.

A big thanks to Kate for being my beautiful subject for this article.

 

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Dave Collerton

Photo Re-touching | Lifting Detail

Light can be tricky to deal with. Too dark and everything looks flat and detail is hard to make out, too light and everything looks washed out and colourless. Even in perfect light conditions, photographing into a strong light source such as the sun can often result in a less than pleasing image. The problem is that the camera's sensor is fooled into thinking that that the whole image is very bright so it reduces the overall exposure to compensate. This means that any parts of the scene that are in shadow or close to you will appear much darker than they were in reality. Overcoming this is tricky but with a good quality light meter you can often compensate sufficiently to achieve a good photo without any need for post-processing. Without one, and if you have a good quality DSLR, you can often use the camera's histogram feature to help compensate as this gives you an indication of what effect changing aperture and speed will have on the image. Failing this, you'll probably have to deal with the effects of light in post-processing.

The photo below is an example of how a strong light in front of the lens, in this case the sun, has darkened the whole scene by reducing the exposure sufficiently to make sure that the very bright parts are not overly dominant.  

To overcome this problem, we need to establish what we would like the photograph to deliver in terms of colour, light and dark, content etc. Because this photograph was taken with a full-frame camera, the Nikon D600, we have a lot of information to work with and despite the problems of under exposure of the foreground, we can be pretty sure that a lot of detail has been captured and just needs to be teased out.

The first job then is to try some global enhancements e.g. to play with exposure, contrast and light. Because the sun and clouds are dominating the overall scene it's difficult to push any of these too far without starting to lose the definition in the clouds which in this scene, are a nice aspect of the photograph. This forces us to look at using a mask on the under-exposed areas of the photograph which here is about the lower 1/3rd of the image. By applying a mask to this area we now have the opportunity to modify the light, exposure and contrast, as well as the colours of the areas that currently look dark in the top image, ie the bottom 1/3rd. Again I used Cyberlink PhotoDirector 8 for this job although any good photo editor will have the exact same tools.

How much detail, light and colour you wish to add is a personal thing. Personally, I like the concept of a moody, brooding sky with subdued colours throughout but by using a mask, you can really achieve almost anything as you can control exposure, contrast, saturation, light, hue, clarity, enhance shadows, blacks, whites and even pull up or subdue the midtones in the image. 

Once the mask has been used to attack the areas most needing work, you can then look at some final global corrections to further enhance the image. For example, you might want to increase the aqua saturation or lightness of the pool water or the make the blue parts of the sky a little darker or lighter. This is also a good time to look at cropping the image to just include those parts of the scene you want included. There's no right or wrong with regards editing , it's all about what you as the photographer want to achieve. Here's my take on the same image with a little post-processing.

David

 

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Dave Collerton

Photo Re-Touching | Image Enhancement

I wrote a short blog yesterday which discussed my take on photo editing and in particular "the less is more" approach to editing. Here I thought I would take a particular photo and look at how this could be enhanced / improved without losing the integrity of the photo I took while improving it enough to make a difference to the viewer.

Here's the photo I have in mind.

The most notible thing about this image is that it's dark. There are several reasons for this but I suspect that on the day, I shot it using a manual mode rather than automatic or better still, P mode, and this resulted in the flat, under exposed image I created. The first job then is to lift the exposure, light, shadows etc to deliver a more pleasing image while retaining as much as possible the colours embedded in the image. Using Cyberlink PhotoDirector 8, for no other reason than I know how to use this software reasonably well, I set about doing just this and here's the resulting image after some basic lighting, exposure and contrast modification.

Other than the fact that Kevin has managed to look remarkably like "Man at C&A", the other interesting thing about this photo is that by modifying light, exposure etc, we imediately become aware of imperfections in the photo such the blooms and dark spots floating in the water. While these did of course exist, they tend to drag the eye to them rather than let it settle on the person as was the primary aim / focus of the photo. Stage two then was to look through the photo and to remove any "imperfections" that would detract from the image.

This last photo is the final edited photo, cropped a little to remove unwanted peripheral space on the top and side and with the floating debris removed.

Overall, a far better image than what I started with but not overly edited as to reduce it's truthfulness as the photo I originally took. 

David

Footnote: Kevin is the CEO of The Academy of Music & Sound, Exeter, one of the UK's leading music tuition colleges and an amazing local musician in his own right. You can learn more about Kevin's music by visiting his website at http://www.cellotones.com/

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