Learning to develop with Lightroom 3.4

Here is my first post from 2011. Things have come a long way since then. We are now in Lightroom Classic version 6 which is now packed with ever more features–only some of which I use. There is less trial and error on my part. Since I now do a lot of black and white, I make basic adjustments in Lightroom, then import the image into Silver Efex Pro 3 for conversion to black and white and final editing.

I don’t know about  those of you who are new to digital photography, but I find that just learning to use photo software isn’t enough to get the best possible images.  Although I know how to manipulate most of the software menus, I end up making a lot of adjustments through trial and error, which takes more time than I want to spend with less than ideal results.

So, last night I began a Lightroom class. As the late W. Edward Deming (a continuous quality expert) would put it, I’m addressing the weakest point in my image production process. For those who don’t know, Lightroom is an Adobe product that integrates with their Photoshop line.  However, Lightroom is designed more for organizing and developing photos according to a more intuitive workflow process, whereas Photoshop focuses more on special effects. Lightroom also has the advantage of not making any destructive changes to your raw or compressed files.

Here’s to better images!

Plum Panoramas

Braddock Bay Marina @ 18:35:28
Braddock Bay Marina @ 18:35:28

Although I have shot panoramas in the past I am now working to improve my technique. I used to photograph in landscape format but this did not work so well because I ended up with a long skinny panorama. Shooting in portrait format minimizes this problem (although I have to shoot more frames for a panorama of a given angular view). However, when I switched to portrait format I found it difficult to precisely aim my camera when I tilted it 90° on my ballhead. The solution was to get an L-bracket so I do not have to tilt the ballhead 90°. In addition to precise aiming, the L-bracket also has the advantage of keeping the same center point of my scene when I turn the camera to the opposite format.

The scene, above, consists of six frames that I merged in Lightroom 6 (resulting in a RAW or DNG file, depending on the format of your original frames, other programs typically create the panorama in a TIFF file). Thereafter, I used Lightroom to post-process the photo. By the way, Braddock Bay is on the south shore of Lake Ontario, located west of Rochester, NY.

Here is what I did to capture the image:

  1. I set the camera to manual mode and engaged live view to use the histogram to properly expose the brightest part of the scene (using f/8 to f/16, depending on the scene).
  2. The camera rig must be plum. I set the camera and tripod level/vertical (use camera level and tripod bubbles) to avoid distortion after the merge. Do not point the camera up or down or this will also create distortion.
  3. Avoid using a polarizing filter since the wide pan will produce an uneven sky.
  4. I used a remote shutter release to minimize camera vibration, and took photos with 30° pans (I used a 45mm lens on my APS-C camera). Longer or shorter focal lengths need smaller or greater degree pans, respectively). You want a 30% to 50% overlap of each image.

If you are using a wide-angle lens, or if you have foreground objects, some distortion might result as a result of parallax, unless you use a nodal slide. This is because most cameras are mounted to the tripod at the base of their body and so pivot around their base, rather than the lens. However, unless you are doing really critical work, I do not think the several hundred dollar nodal slide is worth it.

I decided to “go off the rails” and shoot a really wide panorama, below. I took this during the October 2016 super moon; it consists of 24 frames. The merged DNG file is 1.6GB; it will produce a sharp print up to about 11 feet! Realistically, only a commercial building or museum is likely to have space to hang a photo of this size. Of course, my other option would be to print a smaller size photo.

Overlooking Salmon Creek at Braddock Bay, Lake Ontario
Overlooking Salmon Creek at Braddock Bay, Lake Ontario



Any comments you might have about shooting panoramas would be welcome.

Photo quality

Just to mention, the photographs, beginning with the Maine mid-coast series, are JPEGS directly from my camera. This means they don’t have the quality of my prior images. I’ll enhance these upon my return when I have access to my Lightroom software, and the time to do it. Right now the name of the game is image capture.

-From the mid-coast

Creating panoramas

Seneca Lake Sunset

My last few outings have focused on improving my landscapes. I not only enjoy shooting these, I also plan to use landscapes to provide the context for many of my bird photographs. Just as the best bird photographs involve capturing the bird in an action situation, so with landscapes the trick is not only to pick the most aesthetic or dramatic scenes, you also need to take the shot when light and perhaps shadows really set the image off from the run of the mill scene.

Sunsets are always appealing, as they set off a burst of colors.  To take these one step further I thought it would be challenging to create a panorama.  The image above is a series of three photographs, each overlapping about 25%, taken with my Canon EOS 60D camera mounted on a tripod–level. I used the manual exposure setting ( f16 @ 1/15″ , ISO 100, EFS-15-85mm lens @ 15mm). This exposure is based on the center sunset photo.  To get this exposure, I increased exposure with shutter speed until the histogram’s right tail just touched the edge of the histogram’s window (i.e., exposed to the right, ETTR). By keeping the diaphram stopped down to f16 I was able to maximize the depth of field. I stitched the photos together using Photoshop Elements 8. I then brought the resulting .TIFF image back into Lightroom 4 for final image adjustments.  This process enabled me to capture a wide expanse of the largest of the Finger Lakes at Sunset. I included the barrier wall and people (my wife is sitting on the wall) to add depth and interest.

I would be more than happy to answer any questions you might have about this process.

Lightroom 4–yikes!

After being back-ordered for several weeks through my university, I was one of the first to install, or attempt to install, Lightroom 4 in May. Before ordering I naturally checked to see that my computer met all the usual requirements of memory and so forth, or so I thought.  When I got the disk home and started the install I was shocked to read the message, “Not compatible with this operating system.” What? I thought. I grabbed the box, “Requires Windows 7.” Up until then, everything I bought was compatible with XP, service pack 2. Since I had opened the package I was stuck. Besides, the reason I bought this was not because it could do more with video, but because it automates the insertion of latitude and longitude coordinates from Google Earth into my photos’ metadata. This is of real interest in bird photography, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology encourages the inclusion of these data for photos sent to its site http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=all+about+birds&f=hp –part of its Citizen Science Project. Oh, more thing. Lightroom 4 can produce personally designed photo-books in .PDF format, or printed copies through one of several print services.  Pretty nice features over earlier versions of Lightroom.

So, after running diagnostics on my machine to confirm that Windows 7 would run, I bought a copy, followed Microsoft’s on-line instructions, but could not get the computer to work properly.  I took the machine in to my local provider who reinstalled the system, but I still had problems at home.  They eventually sent a tech to my home, only to find that I had a second computer monitor cable attached, which upset the system.  I have no idea when or why I did this. Thus, the entire reinstall, not to mention loading all my other software, took about two weeks.

However, when all was said and done, and installed, I must say the computer runs better on 7, and Lightroom 4 has worked fine, though I’m just now preparing to use some of the new features.

If you have any comments about using Lightroom 4, I would love to hear them.

On which paper to print

Until now, I’ve been using Epson papers. These include their Ultra Premium Matte, Premium Semi-Gloss, and Ultra Premium Luster. The Matte finish seems to be good for high quality black and whites, while the Luster provides good detail and color rendition for bird photographs. The slightly rough surface does not show fingerprints. The Semi-Gloss is a mid-range paper at somewhat lower cost. Overall, I can say that I’m generally satisfied with all.

Still, there are so many other papers and surfaces out there worth trying. I went to one of our few remaining local photo stores and asked them about different papers and their quality.  He said that once you focus on the quality papers, the best one to use is based on how it will be presented (e.g., framed under glass or exposed and more prone to handling, etc.) and what kind of aesthetic look you want.

Okay, so this information was good to know, but I still could not decide with which paper to experiment. Well what do you know?  Several vendors have variety packs; the salesman suggested I try MOAB, by Legion Paper. It contains 13 pairs of stock including rags, fiber, velvet, canvass, and metallic — all for $16 in 8.5 X 11. I’ll let you know what I think as I print with this stock

It’s taken some time

I haven’t quite understood why Lightroom will let you use FTP to send images directly to other sites, but not their own Photoshop on-line gallery. At long last, Photoshop.com recently announced that it has a plug-in available that will do just that–all in one step. Now, instead of having to export from Lightroom, then go Photoshop.com to perform the upload, then relabel the photos as I did in Lightroom, these can all be done automatically with the Lightroom Publish Plug-in.

I had the same problem getting my images from Lightroom to this blog at WordPress.com. Voila! Now there’s LR/Blog (http://www.photographers-toolbox.com/products/lrblog.php). Now I can just export from my images from the Lightroom Library to WordPress.com. In fact, I have the option to include a post at the same time. These two Plug-ins increase my production workflow significantly.

At this point I’ve established my two photography web sites–at WordPress and Photoshop (and more or less understand them)–and I now have the basic equipment I need for my photography.

I’ll begin posting to my blog on a weekly basis on Fridays by 5PM. Most of the topics from this point forward will focus on my field trips, and background about my subjects.

Wrapping up my Lightroom 3 class

I now have just one more class to complete in terms of learning everything there is to know about using Lightroom (well, at least enough to establish a consistent workflow). Much of what I’ve learned is based on Nat Coalson’s, “Streaming your digital photography process.”  This process starts by switching your raw or dng files to black & white to make your histogram and tonal adjustments before returning to color.  Thereafter, you make color adjustments before proceeding to any touch-ups.  These completed, final adjustments to sharpening and preparation for printing conclude the development process. Obviously, I’ve compressed a lot into a couple of sentences.

Before I started this course I felt as though I was awash in a sea of software alternatives.  Now I have a workflow (which I can adjust, as necessary) and I have a technical understanding of all the Lightroom tools at my disposal.  I heartily recommend anyone venturing into digital photo software to take a class, or at least get a text-book that provides clear explanations for novices. Do avoid overly technical texts–there’s not much value added, in my opinion.

Next up, I ordered the Canon f4.5-5.5 100-400mm L USM IS super telephoto lens.  I’ll let you know how this learning process goes in upcoming posts.