Less than optimal exposure…what can you do?

How many times have you looked over your shots and found images where the exposure could have been better?  Happens to me more often than I would like to admit; especially when I am shooting my D60 on auto ISO.  It is early in the morning.  A fair amount of the time I am driving down the road or just hanging out the car window.  I usually do not use a tripod in these situations. Needless to say, I get some less than optimal images.  That is o.k.  Sometimes.

I am not debating that the goal should be to get “it all right” straight from the camera.  That would be prefered, but what about those times when that doesn’t happen for whatever reason?  For me, if it is a shot that I really like, I will lean on a bit of post-processing to revive the situation.

The image below was shot right out of my car window on the way to work one morning.  There was just something about the farm shed, the sunrise and the sunrays that worked for me.  There are several ways to approach this correctly, but I didn’t have time or tools in hand to do so (more time than anything).  From past experience, though, I know I could work with the exposure I captured.

Original – ISO 800 | f/7.1 | 1/125 @ 46mm

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In Lightroom there are a number of things you can do, most of which do not do much for me in regards to this image.  You can pull shadows, drop some highlight and pop a bit of clarity.  It really brings out the noise nicely.  Too much playing around and things look real bad real quick.  Like this…

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My very next instinct would be to go black & white.  It is easy enough to burn in those areas where the grain is pretty extreme and still preserve enough detail in the image to make it interesting.  With any black & white, I also try strive to portray a full tonal range.  That isn’t always possible; if I hit 8 or 9 out of the 10 zones I am happy with that.  Silver Efex Pro can work miracles at times.

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There are many other option besides black & white.  It just wasn’t working for me on this one.  Cyndie and I use Pretty Presets for portrait work; these presets also work great for landscape and other types of photography.  The application of the preset takes all of the low lights and creates a silhouette.

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I don’t mind this at all, however I would like to see some detail in the low light.  That is accomplished easy enough – pull some shadow out and there you have it.

Final Image.

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Photography Workflow – Part 2

A continuation from Photography Workflow – Part 1, My Workflow…the back story

Part 2 – The Revised Workflow

I think I have arrived at a good fit for our needs regarding our photography workflow.  We both publish our own blogs, share photos on facebook and we also do some for-hire work.  Right now all of Cyndie’s photos are backed up to a 1 TB external drive.  Mine are backed up to 3 TB External and in the cloud.  Part of our challenge is Cyndie works primarily on her MAC laptop and I on my desktop PC.  Getting files together and organized is a bit of a quandary as you can imaging.  The following revised workflow plays out swimmingly on a laptop or desktop alike.  I will describe for you what all those shapes and lines are all about below. PhotographyWorkFlow (A) CONNECT CAMERA – Self-explanatory.  I have a SD card reader in my laptop and a USB cable permanently affixed to my PC to transfer files from camera to computer.

(B) DOWNLOAD TO COMPUTER – Image files are copied to a project folder using the following naming convention:   yyyy-mm-dd event, subject, etc.  Windows PC’s have an import dialog box that will pop up when you plug a camera in; I am not sure about MACs.  During this process you can tag the images; I use this opportunity to inject my naming convention here.  RAW files are then copied to the local drive on either a desktop or laptop.

(C) PRE-FLIGHT/RATE – I typically do what I call a pre-flight of the shoot.  By pre-flight I mean I review all images and delete any blurry or out of focus shots.  I also ditch any with extreme exposure issues (blown highlight/lowlights, etc.)  I use Faststone Viewer for this step because it is very fast and the application is FREE.  This application has a pretty good feature set and does many things other more costly Adobe projects do.  Basic adjustment are a few clicks away and you can easily evaluate your photos.  Once I have culled out the obviously bad images I will create a Lightroom catalog in the folder that contains the RAW files.  Once the images are in the catalog, I will do another round of review and rate each shot on a scale of 0-4 stars.  The more stars assigned, the higher the priority.

With (D), I begin with the 4 stars first and work may way down until I have enough image for whatever I am working on; typically a blog post. (D) POST PROCESS – I have created a number of presets that address lens correction and basic image adjustments.  We have also purchased a number of presets that make achieving a certainly look/feel rather easy.  For the most part though, I stick to the basics unless the project otherwise calls for it .  I will, on occasion, play with HDR, Color Efex Pro and/or Silver Efex Pro depending on the look and feel I am looking for with a particular photo or group of photos.  I am very happy that Nik plug-in suite is available for $150 or less.  I think I paid over $300 just for Color Efex Pro at one point.  This is also the point I would assemble multiple files into a panoramic image. Adobe Lightroom is where I live 95% of the time  (It is worth $150; arguable more).  Even more now since version 5.  The clone and heal tools are much better now.  I still use full-blown Photoshop for more involved editing/fixes, for creating panoramic images and for creating images with multiple layers.  As previously mentioned – Nik plug-ins are our photo alchemy of choice.  I have used some Topaz tools, but prefer the interface of Nik better.  Even though Nik has a great HDR plug-in, we also use Photomatix.  I think that about covers the post processing toolbox.

(E) OUTPUT/SHARE/PRINT – Once post processing is complete, I output files for use – low resolution jpg’s for facebook and my blog an/or high-resolution for print.  We both use several output presets depending on the end use.

(F) CATALOG/KEYWORDS – I create an output folder that is named exactly what I named the project folder (RAW & catalog files) in (B).  I then copy the contents of the folder into the master jpg catalog on my desktop PC and assign keywords.  This master catalog and jpg images are incrementally backed up to the external drive and to the cloud on every other day.  This is a big deal; especially since I have begone to tackle not only the current, but also my photos since 2011.  This is going to be a bugger, of that I am sure, but if I can get a chunk done here and there – perhaps during a rainy day or this Winter (see how I have already procrastinated this out to Winter!).  I am excited to get all my shots together from over the years and examine the keywords.

(G) ARCHIVE – Both the project and output folders are copied from my PC (desktop or laptop) to an external hard drive.  This may not happen immediate and may take place more on a quarterly basis.  I have my backup software pointed at this data so I am covered even if I haven’t completely archived the files.

(H) BACKUP – The external hard drive is  incrementally backed up to the cloud every other day. I think that about covers it.  It has been a bit of a journey to get here, but i think I feel pretty good about where we are at.  The RAW file storage does not conform to the 3-2-1 method; I may have to rework/rethink that at some point.  Remember – you keep 3 copies of anything that is important to you (1 primary and two secondary), you keep the files on two different media types (Internal HD, external HD, Cloud, DVD’s, etc.) and you keep 1 copy offsite (Home/Business, or the cloud).  Having our RAW files in only two places (external & cloud) is better than only one.  The jpg and all Lightroom catalogs conform to the 3-2-1 rule though.  I think I would give myself a solid B+ on the situation.  Things could be better, but the situation isn’t so critical and we aren’t making our living on photography.

Keep your situation in focus and always in perspective.  Mind the big picture. Can you sink gobs and gobs of money in perfecting and streamlining your workflow?  Yes.  My advise is to start small, but think of the future.  Developing a solution that you can scale up (or even down if need be) would be a very smart thing to do.  Another good tip is to not over-complicate things.  KISS – keep it simple stupid is some very solid advise.  The last thing you want to do is create a monster to manage that takes away from your time shooting. It makes a big difference if this is just a hobby or a business or both.  The bottom line here is that requirements can inflate rapidly depending on what your needs are.  Figure out your needs first and develop processes that are as simple as possible and work for you.  As time and money allows – get fancy from there and not a minute sooner.