I few years ago I set up all my cameras for back button focus. It took a little getting used to, but soon after I loved it and will never go back to shutter button focus.
WHAT IS BACK BUTTON FOCUS?
- An option to change the way autofocus (AF) is activated.
- Instead of AF being activated by the shutter release button, AF is activated by a separate button on the back of the camera.
- Not to be confused with “Back Focus” (when the lens focuses behind the intended target).
WHY USE BACK BUTTON FOCUS?
- No more switching your lens to manual focus.
- Even with your lens set to AF, you can manually focus and not have the camera focus when pressing the shutter button.
- No more refocusing every time you press the shutter button.
- Can use AI-Servo (Canon) / AF-Continuous (Nikon) mode for all of your focusing needs.
WHERE IS THE BACK BUTTON FOCUS BUTTON?
It varies from camera to camera and from manufacturer to manufacturer. Not all models have the ability to back button focus.
- Canon: Look for the AF-ON button. Some models use the * button.
- Nikon: Look for the AE-L/AF-L button. Some have the AF-ON button.
- Sony: Not many models have this feature. The a77 and a99 have back button focus available when you customize the Joy stick (AF /AM,AEL buttons).
- Olympus: Look for the AEL/AFL button.
- Pentax: Look for the AF/AE-L button.
SETTING UP BACK BUTTON FOCUS
As stated above, not all cameras have back button focus. Setting up back button focus involves going in to your camera’s menu system. Internet searches provides the easiest way to find out how to set up your camera and many models have videos showing you how to set it up.
Night photography is challenging on many levels. It’s dark, so it’s hard to see your camera controls. It’s often cold. White balance is a problem (unless you shoot RAW). Exposure settings are a challenge (see my previous blogs on this subject). Focus is also challenging. But the rewards are well worth the effort. Plus it’s just plain fun.
This blog post will focus on post processing which offers its own set of challenges.
Here is a shot taken September 7, 2013 during my Wallowas Wanderlust workshop. This is a rare wigwam burner (I’ve heard that there are only five left in Oregon and none are being used). Below is a comparison of three states of the image…
On the left is the RAW image right out of the camera. As you can see, it’s under-exposed. The white balance was a big problem. The green tint on the burner is caused by some mercury-vapor lights from a nearby house. As with any RAW file, the image is flat. Some may ask “Why shoot RAW if the images are flat?” Sure, I could have shot JPEG but with the white balance challenges at night and compounded by the nearby light sourced, it would have been impossible to get the end results seen here. RAW images contain all the information recorded by the camera thus allowing great leeway in post processing.
The middle image was processed in Lightroom 5. Here a I started by adding contrast, saturation and depth in the Basic panel. I adjusted white balance the best I could but still wasn’t happy with the un-natural colors in the sky. The Milky Way didn’t stand out enough. Then there was the green tint on the burner and ground. I addressed this fairly well with the adjustment brush tool to isolate just that area and desaturate it. But the burner still didn’t stand out enough and it is the main subject in this image.
The image on the right is the Lightroom version sent to PhotoShop CS5. Here luminosity masks (LM) really strutted their stuff. As you’ve heard me talk about in previous blogs, LMs are target specific tones in an image. For the stars, I was able to set the white point just in the bright tones thus solving the problem encountered in Lightroom. Here are the rest of the steps I took in CS5 with this image:
- Even though the wigwam and ground were desaturated in Lightroom, I created a B&W adjustment layer and applied a mask to sky. This allowed me to add some contrast to the area with a Neutral Density preset.
- I created a selection out of the mask above and used it with a curves adjustment layer to further add contrast to the wigwam area.
- I again created a selection from the mask above and inverted it. This turned the selection into one isolating the sky only. I added a Color Balance adjustment layer and added some green to the mid tones and red and blue to the highlights (all with the ‘Preserve Luminosity’ box checked).
- I played a bit with levels on the sky mask. This and the step above created a more natural appearance in the sky.
- My last step (as I usually do) is to add a sharpening layer. Create a new layer on top of all others. Select ‘Layer > Merge visible’ while holding down the Alt key (this merges all layers below into one layer without destroying the layers below). Then add a High Pass filter to the layer with a radius of about 10 and select ‘Soft Light’ as the blending mode.
As always, thanks for looking.
Here is a link to our Wallowas Wanderlust workshop this year.
PhotoShop to the Rescue
When Lightroom just won’t quite get you there
During our last arctic blast (as the media loves calling it) I slogged my way up to my favorite place on earth – Silver Falls State Park. This place is magical any time of the year, but when Mother Nature graces it with the powdery white stuff, it is pure heaven on earth.
I could write a novel about the park but that’s not what this post is about. How about the image and how I achieved it? For starters, it was a very snowy day which was washing out the images somewhat. The heavy cloud cover wasn’t helping either.
My first attempt at making something useful out of this image of South Falls was with Lightroom. Lightroom offers quick and easy to use tools to process images, but sometimes I want more than Lightroom can offer.
Here’s what I did in Lightroom 5:
- I converted it to B&W since most color was absent anyway. I used a preset which decreases Highlights and Blacks, increases Shadows and Whites, increases Clarity, and sets all colors channels in the Saturation HSL panel to -100 (hence B&W).
- I played with Split Toning adding a blue tint to shadows and highlights to give it more of a clean wintery feel.
- Finally some sharpening was added.
Here’s the final result from Lightroom…
Not bad, but I wasn’t completely happy. The bright whites are too bright, the waterfall seemed a bit lost in the image, and the Basalt cliffs did not have much detail. I also wanted the foreground rocks to stand out a bit more. So PhotoShop to the rescue once again.
First the image from PS CS5…then what I did.
- Usually I do some edits in Lightroom prior to sending to PS. This time I decided to do everything in PS from the RAW image.
- I started off in PS as I often do by creating luminosity masks (LM) which are basically masks based on tonal values. I use 9 masks ranging from the brightest lights to the darkest darks. I don’t always need all 9 masks but they are easy to create using Actions.
- I start with the Mids LM to add some mid-tone contrast.
- I then moved to the Lights LM to set my white point and made some minor curve adjustments.
- I then made curve adjustments in the Bright Lights LM.
- Finally to the Super Darks LM with more curve adjustments.
- All of the LM work helps with contrast in specific tonal values.
- I then created a Black & White adjustment layer and played with the color sliders to help bring out some details.
- From here I wanted to isolate certain areas of the photo and correct the issues I encountered in Lightroom. I use Curves adjustment layers for each isolated area. The process for each is as follows:
- Create the Curves adjustment layer.
- Make the curves adjustments for the target area (NOTE: at this point the adjustments will be applied to the entire layer since it is filled with white – remember, White reveals…Black conceals).
- Use the paint brush tool and paint black in the areas where I DON’T want the adjustment applied (I use a Wacom tablet with pressure sensitive pen because of the increased control but a mouse will work too).
- NOTE: I could have filled the layer with black using the paint bucket tool and painted with white in the areas I DO want the adjustment applied to achieve the same result. It usually depends on which method offers the least amount of painting.
- Review the image to see if the area affected (left white in the mask) is what I want and make further curve adjustments if necessary.
- Name the layer for future reference.
- I created Curves adjustment layers for the following areas:
- Plunge pool – to bring out details in the snow covered rocks and other details.
- Ice – to create more contrast and detail in the ice formations behind the waterfall below the trail.
- Waterfall – to help make the waterfall stand out from its surroundings.
- Rocks – to help bring out details in the Basalt rock face behind the waterfall.
- There were some distracting elements in the upper left of the frame so I cloned them out using a ‘retouching’ layer (I never do anything directly to the Background layer).
- Finally I wanted to add some sharpening to the entire image. To do this I used a trick I found some time ago:
- Create a blank layer on top of ALL other layers.
- While holding the ‘Alt’ key, select the ‘Layer > Merge Visible’ function. Holding the ‘Alt’ key creates a layer with everything below it into one layer while leaving all other layers intact. Otherwise you end up with one merged layer and no way to edit at a later date.
- Use the High Pass filter with a radius around 10px.
- Use either Soft Light or Hard Light blending mode and adjust opacity as needed.
Here are the PS layers I used:
As always, thanks for looking and happy shooting.
There are many ways to add contrast to an image in Lightroom.
- Contrast slider. A global adjustment and affects all tones without a lot of control. I rarely use this slider.
- Tone Curve. A global adjustment but this targets specific tones offering better control.
- Clarity slider. A global adjustment targeting mid-tone contrast. Very effective, but again affects the entire image.
- Tone sliders. A global adjustment. Increase Whites/decrease Highlights to add bright-tone contrast. Increase Shadows/decrease Blacks to add dark-tone contrast.
- Local adjustment tools (gradient filter, radial filter, and adjustment brush). Offers a way to target specific areas of an image but only with a Contrast and Clarity sliders (too bad Lightroom doesn’t offer tone curve adjustments with these tools…oh wait – that’s a Photoshop discussion).
What about luminosity of specific colors? Through my experience with Lightroom I have found that the HSL panel provides me with a lot of control and creativity with my images. I rarely use the Hue panel and often use the Saturation panel to target specific colors in an image. But the Luminance panel is by far the one I turn to the most. Remember – luminosity = brightness levels.
Many scenes that I shoot have a lot of yellow and orange in them. I have found that increasing the luminosity of one while decreasing the other provides some targeted contrast control and can add a lot of subtle textures and tones to an image.
Below is an example to illustrate this. As always, the RAW image is washed out and dull (left image). I start by applying a Develop preset to add overall contrast and pop to the image (middle image). Better, but I really wanted to add some pop to the wonderful masonry on the Victorious Faith Church in Oregon City. In the Luminance panel I decreased the Orange channel and increased the Yellow (right image).
Portland is one of the best bridge cities in the world. Portland realized a long time ago that bridges offer much more than functional value – they serve as powerful monuments giving the Rose City identity and character. Eleven such bridges span the lower Willamette along a 16 mile stretch of the river with another under construction. Join us on a guided photographic journey visiting several of these bridges from unique perspectives.
Join us on a guided photographic journey visiting several of these bridges from unique perspectives.
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Do your snow scenes have ugly grey snow in them?
This photo was taken without any exposure compensation causing the snow to appear grey. UGLY huh.
Why does this happen in the first place?
Grey snow happens because your camera’s meter sees a lot of bright white in the scene. Since your camera’s light meter is always trying to turn everything middle gray (18% grey), it reduces the amount of light entering the lens, turning white snow grey and thus under-exposed.
So how do you correct this?
It’s actually fairly simple – as long as your camera has exposure compensation (forcing the camera to over or under expose). In the case of snow scenes, the camera will under-expose. So simply force the camera to compensate by setting exposure compensation to a plus value (denoted in ‘EV’ – or Exposure Value units).
Most DSLRs have exposure compensation and it’s usually a matter of pressing a button and turning a dial to set the amount of compensation. Even some point & shoot cameras have this handy feature. Look at your camera’s manual to find out.
How much exposure compensation should you use?
As with anything, it depends. In general, start out at +1 EV and go from there. The more snow in the scene, the more exposure compensation you need (see the example below).
Here’s the same image shot at +2 EV exposure compensation. MUCH better!
As always…thanks for looking and happy shooting.