Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Simple Lightroom image fixing workflow

Whether it’s a photograph of mom that you’re sending to her or an image that you’re preparing to print, most photos can use some fixing before they’re ready to be shared or used.

Here’s a quick and easy Lightroom workflow that I apply to most every day images before sending them to family and friends, posting them to Flickr or my blog or printing them for a paper based photography project.

If you’re new to photo editing or to Lightroom, this step by step process should get you on the way to fixing your images.


Step 1
The first step to fixing an image is typically to straighten and crop it so that you remove any areas that you don’t want to include in the final image.

To help you apply the rule of thirds to your crop, in Lightroom the crop grid, by default, shows a ‘rule of thirds’ grid over your photo.

Place an object of interest in the photograph over the intersection between the gridlines or place the horizon or another strong horizontal line along one of the horizontal lines to achieve a pleasing composition.

Here I’ve cropped and sized the image to place the waterline along the top line of the grid.


Step 2
Adjust the Exposure by dragging on the Exposure slider. This image is a little underexposed and the histogram falls well short of reaching the far right of the chart area. Increasing the Exposure fixes this.


Step 3
To test to see if you need to use the Recovery slider to recover blown highlights, hold the Alt key (Option on the Mac) as you click on the Recovery slider handle. If you see light areas on the image, drag to the right to recover them.

Here I artificially increased the Exposure before doing this to show you what the image will look like if you need to use the Recovery slider. If you see something like this on your image and if it is nicely exposed, drag the Recovery slider to the right to remove/reduce these areas.


Step 4
Hold the Alt key (Option on the Mac) and drag the Black slider to the right until you see the smallest hint of black appearing in the image. You use this slider to ensure that your image has some blacks in it.

By now the histogram should extend to the very left and right of the chart area ensuring that your image has a good tonal range.


Step 5
If you have some areas that are clipped you will see white arrows in the histogram area. You can hold your mouse over these to see the clipped areas on the image. If areas are clipped you will have blown out highlights or plugged shadows which are generally undesirable.

Here I have over adjusted the Black Clipping slider so there are some plugged shadows that you can see colored blue on the image.


Step 6
You can use the White Balance tools to adjust the white balance in the image. Drag the Temp slider to the right to add warmth to the image or to the left to make it colder. Dragging to the right warms the image by adding peach/orange tones to it and dragging to the left cools the image by adding blue tones.

If you’re shooting in RAW or DNG then there will be a range of options available from the White Balance dropdown list.

Here I’ve added a lot of warmth to the image to show what is possible.


Step 7
You can also adjust Brightness and Contrast although I prefer to skip these adjustments and add some Clarity to adjust and sharpen the midtones and some Vibrance to boost the color in the undersatuated areas in the image.

From here I would sharpen the image and it’s ready to go.

In a future post I’ll explain the basics of sharpening in Lightroom.

Helen Bradley

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Changing color in Photoshop

Sometimes in post production you will want to change the colors of an object in your photos. Photoshop has a number of tools that you can use to change the color in an image, and in this post I’ll show you some of these which you can use without having to make a selection on the image.

Before I begin, a word about the photographs I’m using. They were shot by Jacinta Oaten, a 15 year old Australian sports photographer with a promising career ahead of her as you can see. Jacinta kindly let me browse her photo collection to select some images to use for this post – thanks Jacinta!

Color Replacement Tool
On the Photoshop toolbar sharing a position with the Brush tool is the Color Replacement tool. For this tool you’ll need to select the color that you want to paint with and then click and paint over the image.

The tool reads the color immediately under the cursor as you start painting and looks for similar colors to paint over. This allows you to paint somewhat outside the lines and still replace only the color that you want to replace.

Using the Tool Options you can set the Tolerance to so, for example, if you are recoloring an area that is a fairly solid color, you can use a low tolerance to isolate the color. On the other hand if you’re recoloring an area where there is quite a bit of variety in the color because of shadows or texture, for example, you can increase the tolerance to recolor a wider range of colors similar to those under the cursor.

As you paint, you can let go the mouse button and click again somewhere else to change the sampled color so you can replace a different shade of that color, for example.

This tool is handy for detailed work as it allows you to resample and paint a number of times so that you can get in around certain areas avoiding other areas if you don’t want to paint over them.

The options with this tool include the Limits option which allows you to specify whether only areas of color contiguous to those under the sampling point of the brush are altered or if all matching areas under the brush are painted over. The Find Edges option attempts to preserve edge detail as you paint. Here I used Discontiguous to ensure the yellow inside the advertiser’s names on the bike was changed too.

The Color Replacement Tool must be used on a layer that has colored pixels in it so it’s best to duplicate the background layer and work on the duplicate layer. Then, if you make a mistake you can mask out the changes that you’ve made to the duplicate later to recover detail from the image layer underneath.

Selective Color
The Selective Color tool lets you adjust the colors in the image by selecting which colors to adjust and then adding more or less of another color to them. To use it, select Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Selective Color. Using it as an adjustment layer fix lets you later remove the recoloring from any part of the image by painting on the adjustment layer mask.

In the dialog you can select the color to alter from the Colors dropdown list. In this image I wanted to change the Reds so they are selected.

The color sliders below this show Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. It helps to understand these colors and their opposites; Cyan is opposite Red, Magenta is opposite Green and Yellow is opposite Blue.

So, for example, if you drag the magenta slider to the right, you will add magenta to the image but if you drag it to the left, you will add green – its opposite. The other sliders work in the same way.

This tool works well when you have an image such as this one where most of the color that you want to change (the reds) only appear in the area that you want to change and not elsewhere in the image. To change the color, drag the sliders to add more of the colors you want to add and to remove the opposite color.

Sometimes multiple colors contribute the color to the image so here I’ve knocked out some of the pink tones in the bike windscreen by adjusting the Magenta color too.

Replace Color
Another tool that you can use to change color is the Replace Color tool. To see this tool at work, select Image > Adjustments > Replace Color. This tool must be applied as an adjustment and cannot be used as an adjustment layer so, again, apply it to a duplicate of the background layer.

With this tool you click on an area in the image that you want to change the color of. Click the Add to Sample eyedropper and then click to select more of the color to change.

You’ll need to click on all the colors in the image that represent the color that you need to alter. You can test the result by dragging on the Hue slider at the foot of the dialog to see if the selection is accurate and that the color change is affecting the area you want to affect.

The Fuzziness slider lets you add more or less adjacent pixels to the fix – use it to obtain a smoother change from one color to the next. When you’re done, click Ok. Use the Saturation and Lightness sliders to tweak the effect.

The Localized Color Clusters checkbox can help refine the color selection so it’s worth testing to see if it makes a difference. Here it isolated the selected colors and removed a problem that I had with the number and the silver metal of the bike being recolored where it shouldn’t have been.

When you apply this fix to a duplicate of the original image layer you can add a layer mask to the top layer and use it to mask out any areas that are affected by the recoloring which should not be affected.

Choosing the right tool for the job
There are just some of the tools you can use to recolor an image. You will find one may work better than another depending on the image you are working on so experiment to see what works best for you.

Helen Bradley

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Photomatix Pro: Create an HDR image


It seems like HDR or High Dynamic Range imagery is all the rage right now. There are lots of tools around for assembling an HDR image and, although Photoshop now has a tool to do this, PhotomatixPro is much more sophisticated and the results are much better, so I’ll show you how to use it.

Before we start, however, a bit of background as to what HDR is and why you might use it. One of the limitations of digital cameras is that they can only capture an image with a fairly narrow dynamic range – the range of lights and darks in the image. In fact, faced with a scene that has very bright areas and very dark areas, you and I can see much more detail in the scene than the camera can capture in one shot.

However, the camera can capture lots of images of the same subject each with a different exposure. So you can expose for the light areas and again for the dark areas and again for the midtones and capture 3 of more images of the same subject that together show all the rich detail in the shadows and in the highlights. What HDR software does is to help you assemble these images into one image with a wider range of lights and darks than you can get in a single image.

To capture for HDR, ideally you need a series of images shot using a tripod so you eliminate movement between the images. Your overall camera settings should not change from one image to the next – except that the exposure for each will be different. Typically you’ll use your camera’s Auto Bracketing feature to capture the series and it’s best to limit your shooting to a scene that won’t change while you’re capturing it so you don’t get movement between frames.

It is possible to render an HDR image from a single camera raw image and you would have to do this if you were shooting a moving crowd for example. However it’s best, where possible to capture multiple separate exposures. If you’re using an IS camera disable this feature when shooting on a tripod – leaving it on can actually cause camera movement.

A trial version of Photomatix Pro 3 is available from www.hdrsoft.com so download and install it. If you don’t have suitable images to work with, there are three sets of sample images on the site that you can use. Here’s how to assemble an HDR image from multiple exposures:


Step 1
Launch Photomatix Pro 3 and select Generate HDR image. Select your series of images and click ok. You can use three or more images and the program can read DNG files so you don’t have to convert these first.


Step 2
In the dialog you can select to Align the images if you think there may be some movement and you can change the White Balance setting. You can also select to reduce ghosting artifacts which may occur if there is movement between images such as people walking.

Click Ok and wait as the processing is performed.


Step 3
The resulting image won’t look good and that’s to be expected. You can save it at this point if desired by choosing File > Save As and save it as a .hdr image. You can later open this and work on it without having to generate the HDR version from the source images again.


Step 4
Choose Tone Mapping and you’ll begin to see the possibilities in the image. Click Show Original to compare the image with what you had previously. You should see enhanced detail in the shadows and in the highlights.


Step 5
To get a surreal effect, from the Smoothing options, select a low value – the lower the value the more surreal is the image and the higher the value the more realistic is the result. Adjusting the Strength downwards will also help you retain more realism if that’s what you want.


Step 6
Use the Color Saturation slider to adjust the saturation of the colors in the image and use Luminosity to adjust the overall lightness.


Step 7
There are also presets you can select from in the Presets dropdown list such as Painterly, Grunge, Natural and Smooth Skies.

Step 8
When you have an effect you like, click Process to process the image using the settings you chose.

When the finished image appears, choose File > Save As to save it and you can then open it in Photoshop or another editor to finish working on it.

Helen Bradley

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

Lightroom: Print with colored backgrounds


One issue with Lightroom is that all the images that you print from the print module print with white backgrounds.

While Lightroom does not offer color backgrounds for images, there is a workaround that you can use to print with any color background you like.

Here’s how to do this:


Start in Photoshop or another bitmap editor that lets you create and save JPG images. Create a new image the size of the page that you want to print.

For convenience, I’d create images for all the paper sizes you plan to use all at once. This means you may want one for 5 x 7″ paper, one for 4 x 6″ and one for Letter paper for example. Whatever size you print at, create a new image that size and at around 96 pixels per inch if you’re using a solid color background.


Fill the document that you have created with the color background that you want to use. For example, if you want a black background, fill the documents with black and for another color background, fill the document with that color.


If you typically use an Identity Plate to print your name or other details on the image in Lightroom then you’ll need to know that what you’re doing right now is creating something that will replace the Identity Plate in Lightroom so you can’t use both a background and a text identity plate.

However, if you know this ahead of time you can add the same details you add to your identity plate to this image as text.

If you plan to do this, you’ll will need separate documents for each paper size in each of the two orientations: Landscape and Portrait. If you’re just using plain backgrounds you won’t need to create one in each orientation as you can rotate the images later on – you just won’t want to rotate something that has text in it. You will probably want the images to be a better size for printing so 1500 x 1000 pixels will print on 6 x 4 paper at 250 dpi so the text will look crisp and neat.

Once you’ve created all your documents, save each with a name that indicates its size and color and, if relevant, its orientation. I suggest you save it somewhere that will make it easy to find and so they are safe from being removed accidentally.


Return to Lightroom and switch to the Print module. Set up your image or images to print. You can use a Contact Sheet/Grid layout or a Picture Package.

To add your background locate the Overlays panel on the right and click the Identity Plate checkbox. Click on the Identity Plate to display the menu and select Edit. When the Identity Plate Editor dialog opens, click the Use a graphical identity plate option and click Locate File.

Select the image that you created for this paper size (and orientation, if applicable), and click Choose. Click Ok to add the image as the Identity Plate.


When the image appears in the document set the scale to 100 so it fills the page layout and drag it into position.

You might notice that you cannot make the image any bigger than the page itself and you can’t drag it out of its original aspect ratio – this is why you need to create multiple versions of the image one for each paper size as the ratios 8:10, 5:7 and 4:6 are all different.


Once you’ve dragged the background over the entire page, click the Render Behind Image option in the Overlays area.

This moves the solid color image behind the pictures on the page.

You can now change the stroke border if desired to, for example, add a white or gray stroke if you’re using a black or dark gray background.

Then go ahead and print your image.


You might realize by now that any image can be used as a print background.

So, for example, you can crop an image in Lightroom to the size that you need for the background, export it to disk as a JPG and then reimport it as an Identity Plate to use as a background for your printed images.

You could do this with a black and white version of an image or a color version. The Overlays > Identity Plate area also provides an Opacity slider allowing you to make the image partially opaque to lighten it so it doesn’t overwhelm the images you are printing.


When you are done, save your Identity Plate by clicking on the Identity Plate option, choose Edit and then from the custom dropdown list, choose Save As and save it so that it can be easily accessed next time.

Helen Bradley

Monday, October 19th, 2009

Photoshop: Enhancing midtones


If you’re a Photoshop and Lightroom user you may, like me, love the Clarity adjustment in Lightroom and wish it were available in Photoshop too. The Clarity slider lets you adjust the contrast in the midtones of an image which gives an over all sharpening and color boost to the image midtones.

As yet, there is no Clarity tool in Photoshop (although there is one in Camera RAW). There is, however, a technique which has been popularized by Mac Holbert which does a similar thing. While the Photoshop technique is more cumbersome than using the Clarity slider in Lightroom it does work very well and gives very similar results.

Once you’ve performed the fix a couple of times you may want to create this as an Action so that you can run it on your images at any time you need to do boost the midtones.


Step 1
For an already flattened image, duplicate the background layer by right clicking it and choose Duplicate Layer.

For an image that already has multiple layers, click the topmost layer and press Ctrl + Alt + Shift + E to create a merged layer to work on.


Step 2
In the layers palette set the Blend Mode of this new top layer to Overlay and set its Opacity to somewhere around 20 to 25 percent.


Step 3
Select the Add a Layer Style button at the foot of the Layers palette and choose Blending Options.

In the Blend If section of the dialog, locate the This Layer slider. Drag the indicators under the slider in to approximately one-third of the width of this slider so you’re dividing it into thirds.

Hold the Alt key (Option on the Mac) to divide each slider into two pieces and position the outside halves at approximately the 1/6th mark, use the image as a guide.

The positioning of the sliders does not have to be exact. All you’re doing here is removing the very lightest pixels and the very darkest pixels on this top layer from this fix, so it remains applied to the midtones only.

By splitting the sliders, you’re ensuring that there is a gradual change from where the effect is applied and not applied.


Step 4
If you’re using Photoshop CS3 or CS4, you can convert the topmost layer to a Smart Object before continuing. To do this, right click the top layer and choose Convert to Smart Object.


Step 5
Choose Filter > Other > High Pass and set the Radius to approximately 50 pixels. Click Ok.

The High Pass filter sharpens the image and the Overlay fix applies a contrast and saturation boost. The Blend If sliders ensure that the fix is applied only to the image midtones.


Step 6
Any of these adjustments can be changed. You can adjust the Radius of the High Pass filter to a larger or smaller value and, if desired, increase or decrease the layer Opacity to apply more or less of a contrast boost.

You can also adjust the Blend If sliders to apply the fix to a larger or smaller range of the image tones.

Helen Bradley

Friday, October 16th, 2009

Lightroom – 10 objects you didn’t know could be dragged, clicked or opened

If you’re new to Lightroom, there are a lot of interface options that you may not realize hide must know and handy program features. In this post, I’ll show you some of the buttons, icons, samplers and switches that a knowledge of Photoshop (at least versions prior to CS4) won’t help you identify or locate.


1 Navigator
In the top left corner of the Library and Develop modules you’ll see the Navigator. Beside it are the Fit, Fill, 1:1 and 3:1 options. Click these to resize the image in the current window to various sizes including fitting in the space, filling it and 1:1 and 3:1 resizing options. Other sizing ratios are available from the dropdown list.

The 1:1 ratio is particularly useful when you’re sharpening an image. You may already know that, when you hold the Alt key as you drag on the sharpening sliders the small preview image turns to a grayscale mask showing you the impact of the slider on the image.

If you are in 1:1 preview, the entire image acts as the preview, allowing you to focus in on a much larger area of the image and see the sharpening effect. 3:1 and other larger sizes also work but 1:1 is the minimum size


2 Switches
Switches in Lightroom appear in areas such as the Develop module where they can be used to enable or disable a setting such as the Tone Curve. Switch the switch to the up position to turn it on and to the down position to turn it off.

When using the Adjustments Brush the switch works from left to right to select to work with one fix at a time (Effect Buttons) or to work with multiple adjustments at once (Effect Sliders).


3 Arrows
In the Library > Keyword list panel, you can click the arrow to the right of a keyword to view images that have that keyword associated with them.

These arrows only appear when you are hovering over a keyword in the list.


4 Expand/Collapse Triangles
Throughout the Develop panel, for example, are small triangles beside the various options that you can click on to display or hide that option. For example, when Detail is not visible click its triangle and the detail panel will display.

There is another triangle directly below the Detail triangle which appears only when it is expanded. Click this to display and hide the sharpening preview dialog.

Watch out for these triangles – sometimes they aren’t light gray and are, instead, almost black and difficult to see.


5 Area Picker
Also in the Detail area of the Develop module is a small square icon with lines radiating from it that you can click on and then click on an area of the image to determine what shows in the preview panel for the sharpening process. This icon has a visible tooltip which helps identify what it does – most do not.


6 Eyedropper
In the Develop panel’s Basic module is a white balance selector icon. Click it and click on an area of the image which should be white.

This adjusts the white balance of the image based on that selection. It also displays a small 25 x 25 pixel grid showing the pixels in the general area so that you can be more accurate in your selection.


7 Adjustment Markers
When you use the Adjustment Brush or the Graduated Filter, you will see a marker on the image which, when you click on it turns into a black circle surrounded by a lighter circle.

This marks the adjustment or the filter and you need to click this to select it before you can make alterations to the adjustment or to the filter.


8 Invisible clickable rotation options
In the Print module, watch out for items that don’t even look like they are selectable.

For example, in the Overlays > Identity Plate area when you have the identity plate enabled there is a small indicator to the right of it showing the current rotation in degrees.

If you click it you will see a popup menu offering other rotation options.


9 Way big buttons
Watch out for panels at the top of dialogs which can contain selectable options. For example, a dialog that has a large area like that shown in this image is often selectable offering different options but because it doesn’t look like a typical selectable option, it’s easy to overlook.


10 Direct Adjustment tool
In some areas such as the Tone Curve and Hue/Saturation Lightness in the Develop module you’ll see a small adjustment indicator in the top left of the panel area.

Click it and then drag on the image to change the image at that point.

While in Photoshop CS3 you would drag left to right to alter the sliders, in Lightroom you’ll typically drag up and down with this tool.

While these aren’t all the unusual buttons that you’ll find in Lightroom, it should help you understand that a lot of the features in Lightroom are hidden behind icons and buttons for which even a program like Photoshop is no adequate preparation for locating, understanding and using.

Helen Bradley

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Highlight Color effect in Lightroom


One effect many people like to use with their photos is to remove all the color from the image and leave it in only one place in the image. For example, in a wedding shot you might turn the entire image into black and white leaving just the bride’s bouquet in color.

Here’s how to achieve this effect in Lightroom using the Adjustment Brush.


Start with the image selected in Lightroom and switch to the Develop module.

Click on the Adjustment Brush and make sure you have it set to Show Effect Sliders so that you can adjust multiple sliders at once. Drag the Saturation to -100.


Click the letter O so that you can see as you paint and with a large size hard paintbrush click on the image in an area you want converted to black and white and then paint over the image in all places that it should be turned to black and white.

It will be quicker if you set the feather to a low value, the brush to a large size and disable the Auto Mask option for now.


To work close around the edges of the area that you want to leave in color, set the brush size smaller and work slowly around the edges.

If you go too far, press the Alt key (Option on the Mac) and paint out the overlay color. The Eraser uses a different brush so make sure it too is set to have Auto Mask disabled and a low Feather value.

To zoom in click Z and to move the image, press the Spacebar as you drag on it.


Once you have the area selected that you want to convert to black and white, disable the overlay color by pressing the O key.

This leaves the selected area in black and white and the unselected area in color.

You can now tidy up the edges if necessary by using the Adjustment Brush tool – just make sure that you click on the marker for the Adjustment before you start painting – it should show a black center – if not, you’re making a new adjustment and not editing the existing one.


You can adjust the other sliders, if desired, to improve the black and white portion of the image. For example you can boost the Contrast and Clarity if desired. When you’re done, click the Close option at the foot of the panel to finish.

In this example I added another adjustment using the Adjustment Brush over the top of this one to reduce the exposure and brightness in the sky to add back some of the cloud detail lost in the conversion of the image to black and white.

Helen Bradley

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

10 Photoshop interface features you didn’t know existed

Here it is, short and sweet. 10 techniques for working in Photoshop that you may not know existed:


1 Open a file without using the menus
Simple. Double click the grey background area of the Photoshop window and the File Open dialog appears – magic!


2 If grey is dull, black is wonderful and any color is better!
To change the grey inside an image window from grey to black (or a color of your choice), Control + Right Click (Command + Right Click on the Mac) on the area surrounding the image and select a color.


3 Sample foreground and background colors
Instead of clicking on the foreground or background swatch to change the color to one sampled from the image, click the Eyedropper tool and click to sample a foreground color – hold Alt (Option on the Mac) to sample a new background color.


4 Position a shape or selection
When you’re drawing a shape or selection and the shape is fine but the position is wrong, keep hold of the mouse button and hold the spacebar as you move the shape or selection into the desired position. Let go the spacebar and continue to make your shape.


5 Get a selection back
If you’ve lost your selection, press Ctrl + Shift + D (Command + Shift + D on the Mac) to get it back. Ctrl + D (Command + D on the Mac) deselects the selection.


6 Hide and keep
If the selection marquee is getting in your way, Ctrl + H (Command + H on the Mac) will hide the selection but still leave it in place. Don’t forget to turn it back on or you might wonder why things aren’t working the way you expect them to work.


7 See what you’re working on
This is my all time biggest time saver! When you drag a large layer from one document to another you can view the entire layer and its sizing handles by Ctrl + Click (Command + Click on the Mac) on the layer thumbnail to select it. Then press Ctrl + T (Command + T on the Mac) to view the transform handles and Ctrl + 0 (zero) (or Command + 0 on the Mac) to shrink the image so the sizing handles are all visible.

8 Stack or line up palettes
To stack palettes side by side in the same dialog, drag one palette over the others until a blue line appears around it and let go. To stack palettes one on top of the other down the screen, drag and drop one palette onto the bar just above another palette’s name.


9 No dialog Reset button? Yes there is!
You can reset most Photoshop dialogs to their original settings or at least some version of the original settings by holding the Alt key (Option on the Mac) when inside the dialog – when you do this, the Cancel button turns into a Reset button.


10 May all your ellipses turn into circles
To draw a circle using the Elliptical marquee or a circle shape, hold the Shift key once you’ve started drawing and the ellipse will become a circle. To draw from the center out, hold the Alt key (Option on the Mac) as you start drawing an ellipse, then add the Shift key to make it a circle – keep holding both keys until you let go the right mouse button.

Helen Bradley

Friday, October 9th, 2009

How to select and compose a Triptych in Lightroom


In a recent article, I explained how to create a triptych in Lightroom. The solution covered the mechanics of setting up a triptych template in Lightroom.

In this post, I’m going to address the issue of selecting images to use in the triptych. I’ll explain some rules of composition and show how I make a selection of suitable triptych photos.

There are some basic rules of design that will help you layout a triptych and I like best the four rules Robin Williams explained in her wonderful book: The Non-Designer’s Design Book. In it she describes the rules of Alignment, Proximity, Repetition and Contrast and these form the basics of any good design and can be applied to our triptych.

In our template design we already have alignment covered – the photos are positioned so the top and bottom of each image is on the same horizontal line and the spacing between all the images is equal.


We’ve also got proximity covered – the photos are positioned close together rather than scattered in different places on the printed page. The template itself is providing us with some strong design elements and that is, in part, why a triptych looks so good.

As a rule, our eyes like odd numbers of elements so a single image or a triptych often look better than a diptych – two simply is not so pleasing a number of elements to look at.

When selecting images for a triptych, you want three images that relate to each other in some way such as location, people, genre and so on.


I like to start by selecting a five or six images which I think will work well together and then try them out. I assemble a collection of these images (make a collection, not a smart collection) so that I can work with them in the print module and not have other images in my way.

Select three of the images to use to start with. The order that the images appear in the photo strip is the order that they appear in the triptych. If the order isn’t right, drag the images into a different position in the photo strip and the images will be rearranged in the triptych too.

One way to create a safe design is to ensure that the horizons in the images (or each subject’s eyes) are roughly level across the triptych and, when combining different images, look for images all shot at about the same zoom. This doesn’t mean you can’t mix image sizes, it just means that its sometimes easier to get them to look good if they are the same size.


If you have elements that have a strong sense of direction such as the carousel animals in this triptych, place the animals so they face inwards rather than outwards from the design.

If they point outwards the viewer’s eye will follow them straight off the page. If you direct them into the triptych your viewer’s eye will stay there longer.


While this sequence of birds look alright the directions in which they are facing and the fact that the three images are so similar is actually a little distracting.


In this version, I moved the images around and replaced one with an image of two birds which adds some variety to the mix. The result looks better to my eye.


This triptych combining two streetscape images and a door, while all from a similar location, look unbalanced to me. The door doesn’t co-ordinate well with the street images and it is facing out of the image. In addition the door is a little too colorful for the other two images and it doesn’t enhance them. I like the arrangement better when a different image is used and one which is more in keeping with the others like this image:


Developing an eye for what looks balanced and what doesn’t will take time. I highly recommend Robyn Williams’ book as a starting point for understanding basic design and this video may help to understand some of the principles at play: http://www.microsoft.com/video/en/us/details/e1882b7a-5e66-45cd-b5b4-28301c0a747e

If you found this useful, here is the original post on how to create a triptych in Lightroom.

Helen Bradley

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Fixing Animal Eyes in Lightroom 2


Often when I look at the photographs that I’ve taken at the zoo, for example, the animals’ eyes are underexposed and lifeless.

To fix animals’ eyes in Lightroom so that they look compelling and still realistic, here is my fixing “animals eyes” workflow:


Step 1
Display the image in the develop module in Lightroom. Zoom in using the zoom tools so that you can see the area that you’re working in very clearly.

Click the Adjustment Brush in the top of the Develop module panel and size the brush so that it is the right size to work on the animal’s eye. Click once on the eye and then paint over the area that you want to affect. If you can’t see your paint and want to see it, press the O button to enabled and disable the ruby overlay.


Step 2
Once you’ve painted over the eye, adjust the Exposure and Brightness upwards until you have a highly unrealistic and over fixed solution.

Adjust the Contrast so that you build some contrast back into that area of the eye – this actually darkens some of the areas you have just lightened.

Adjust the Saturation and Sharpness if required.


Step 3
If the effect is too strong around the edges of the eye, click Erase, set the Feather to a high value and paint around the edges of the selection to erase the effect.


Step 4
In this image, I tacked both eyes separately and I did both in two steps. The first fix solved the overall eye problem including the surrounds and then I repeated the process this time focusing only on the pupils to ensure that there was good contrast where the pupil would be expected to have caught the light.


Here you can see the result when steps 1-3 were performed in Lightroom on the lion’s eyes.

Helen Bradley

Monday, October 5th, 2009

Photoshop – fix Chromatic Aberration


Chromatic Aberration is the bane of digital photographers. It can be seen as a halo or fringe around the edges of an object in a photograph when you photograph it in certain lights – you might see it for example, when you photograph a darker object in front of a bright sky. Some tools like Lightroom have settings that help remove chromatic aberration but sometimes it’s so obvious and so distracting that a bigger fix is required.

In this image, the statue has a very obvious blue edge to it and not even Lightroom could fix this. The solution is to open the image in Photoshop and to fix it there.


Step 1
Duplicate the background layer by choosing Layer > Duplicate Layer.


Step 2
For this image, because the problem area is so distinct and the edges are so crisp, the easiest solution is to make a selection of the portion of the image to fix and then apply a fix to it. Using the Quick Selection tool I made a selection of the sky. Save it as a selection using Select > Save Selection and give it a name.


Step 3
Now enlarge it so the selection covers the problem area. I used Select > Modify > Expand and added enough pixels to select over the problem area. How many pixels will be variable – on a high resolution image you’ll need a bigger value than on a low resolution image. I used 30 pixels on this large image.


Step 4
Now you need to subtract the first selection you made from this new selection so you end up with just the blue edges selected. To do this, choose Select > Load Selection and select the selection you just saved. Set the Subtract from Selection option and click Ok.


Step 5
You now have the blue area selected so click the Add layer mask icon at the foot of the layer palette to add a mask to this layer. This isolates the blue area in the image.

In this case the simplest way to the problem is to desaturate the top layer so the blue disappears. To do this select the top layer, choose Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation and adjust the Saturation down until the blue goes – you can do this on the Master channel or just the Blue and Magenta channels or wherever you find the color problem is residing.

You could also fix the problem using a Curves adjustment and select the Blue channel and adjust it. The exact fix is going to depend a lot on what image data that is affected by the color halo – you need to remove or desaturate some of the blue but keep as much of the remaining image data intact and correctly colored as you can.


Step 6
If the edge of the fix is too harsh, you can blur the mask layer by selecting the mask thumbnail and choose Filter > Blur > Gaussian blur.

Helen Bradley

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

Clean up a scene in Photoshop Elements


When you’re photographing popular places this summer, one issue you’ll face is getting a clean shot of what you’re photographing. Too often popular places are filled with tourists so it’s difficult to capture a scene without getting lots of people in it too.

The solution is to recognize the problem when you’re shooting and capture a series of images and use the Photoshop Elements 7 Scene Cleaner tool to assemble an uncluttered scene later on.

When you are shooting take care to take two or more images each showing various elements of the scene uncluttered by people. It is best if these photographs are captured using a tripod but it’s not necessary to do so. What is most important is that you stand still as you capture all the shots – don’t move yourself or the camera as you take them and don’t change your camera settings as you photograph either – if you’re using a manual mode, use Aperture priority not Shutter Priority. Make sure to get every part of the scene without people in it.


Step 1
When you return home, download your images and open them in Photoshop Elements 7 so that they appear in the Project Bin.


Step 2
Click on the first image in the Project Bin and Ctrl + Click on each subsequent image in your series.

Choose File > New > Photomerge Scene Cleaner. When you do this, one image will be loaded in the Source area on the left and nothing will be in the right hand panel.


Step 3
The source image has a colored surround which matches the color surrounding the photo in the Project Bin so you know which image is which.

Drag and drop an image from the Project Bin into the Final box on the right – this will be the image you will work on to clean up – choose the best image to work with.

Zoom in to see the problem area clearly. Note that Photoshop Elements has aligned the images relative to each other.


Step 4
Now locate areas of the final image that need to be replaced using areas of the source image. What you’re looking for here are people in the final image you want to remove for which the source image can provide a clean ‘people free’ area.

Click the Pencil tool in the right hand panel and draw over the area of the source image to use. As you do this you see a colored overlay on the source image and the area you’ve selected will appear on the final image.

Adjust the pencil size using the [ and ] keys if necessary. Use the Eraser to remove the highlight if you select too much of the source image.


Step 5
When you have used all the image data you can from the first source image, click on another source image in the project bin and it will move automatically to the Source area replacing the current image.

Continue and select areas of the source image to use to remove problems you see in the final image.


Step 6
When you have the final image looking as you want it to look check to see if the pieces in the final image need blending or not. If they do, click the Pixel Blending check box in the right hand panel and the copied portions of the source images will be blended into the final image.

Click Done and you can then save the final version as a new file.

This tool is useful for removing tourists from around monuments, cars from roadways and other distractive elements in images where all you want is the scene unencumbered by people. The key is to recognize you have a problem when you’re shooting and capture multipe images to use.

Helen Bradley

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

Resizing images in Lightroom 2


One of the hardest things for a new Lightroom user to work out how to perform is a simple image resizing. Look as hard as you like and there simply isn’t a resize menu command. There is, of course, a way to resize images and it is done as you Export them from Lightroom which makes sense when you know how Lightroom works but if you’re a new user it’s just plain confusing.

So, here’s how to batch resize in Lightroom:


Step 1
Select the Library module and select the images to export. Choose File > Export.


Step 2
The Export dialog gives you a series of choices for the exported images. Start by selecting where the exported images should be stored. Choose either a specific folder or the same folder that the originals are stored in.

To place the images in a subfolder of your chosen folder, select Put in Subfolder and type the name of a new subfolder to create. If you want the exported images to be available in Lightroom, select the Add to This Catalog checkbox. From the Existing Files dropdown list, choose what to do if files of the same name appear already in the selected folder.


Step 3
From the File Naming options select what you want your files to be named.

For example, selecting Filename will give the files the same name as the original images. Custom name – Sequence lets you give the files a custom name and Lightroom will add a sequential number to each file. Type the Custom Name in the Custom Text box.

You can also select Edit from the dropdown list and create your own file naming template.


Step 4
In the File Settings area, select the export format such as JPEG for the web and the Quality – the higher the quality, the larger the file size.

In the Color Space area choose sRGB for the web.


Step 5
In the Image Sizing area set the file size and resolution. So you can, for example set the Resolution to 72 pixels per inch for the Web or 300 ppi for printing.

To size the images, enable the Resize to Fit checkbox. By selecting Dimensions you can set the final dimensions for each image such as 800 x 1200 and the images will be sized as close to this as they can be given their current aspect ratio. They won’t be larger than this and one measurement at least will be 800 or 1200. Lightroom does this regardless of whether the images are in Portrait or Landscape orientation so portrait and landscape images will end up the same sizes.

If you select Width & Height you can set the longest dimensions of each image in each direction. All images will be sized so their Width is no larger than the value you set and their Height is no larger than the value you set – the same width and height values are applied to portrait and landscape images so a Width of 400 and Height of 600 will give a larger portrait image than it will a landscape one because the landscape image can’t be wider than 400, forcing its height to much less than this.

The Long Edge and Short Edge options let you set the maximum length of the long or short edge of a photo – so Portrait and Landscape images are treated alike here.

If you enable the Don’t Enlarge checkbox you could have images much smaller than your selected dimensions if the originals are already under the selected size.


Step 6
You can apply sharpening by selecting the Sharpen For checkbox from the Output Sharpening options and select to sharpen for Screen, for example, and set a Low, Standard or High Value of sharpening.

In the Metadata area, select to add metadata if desired and from the Post-Processing options select what to do with the images afterwards, for example you could open the images direct in Photoshop or in an alternate editor or another application or show them in Windows Explorer.

When you’re done with the selections, click Export and the selected images will be exported.


Step 7
If you’ll use these settings again, save them to use next time by clicking the Add button at the foot of the Preset list, type a name for the preset, select the folder to add the preset to or just leave it set to User Presets and click Create.

In future, you can return to the Export dialog and select these options by clicking the Preset name. You can still make changes to the settings, if desired, and export a new set of images.

Helen Bradley

Friday, September 18th, 2009

Understanding filters in Photoshop and PS Elements


When I was young, my dad told me that if at first you don’t succeed you should try and try again until you do. In today’s post, I am going to tell you why this adage relates to editing photos by working with filters in Photoshop Elements and in Photoshop.


Not good! start with the wrong colours and filters suck, big time!

Step 1
Start by opening an image that you like, set the foreground color to white and the background color to black and choose Filter > Distort > Diffuse Glow. When you do this, the image will take on a rather nasty dark glow. There is pretty much nothing that you can do to this image that is going to make it look good. You can try to remove the graininess and glow and increase the clear amount to 20 but if you do that, you’ve effectively removed the filter effect. The short answer is it looks ghastly and you might be wondering just what you did wrong?


Same image, better result, it’s the colors that are the difference

Step 2
Exit the Filter Gallery, switch the foreground and background colors so that black is now the foreground color and white is the background color. Reapply the filter using Filter > Distort > Diffuse Glow. This time the filter looks very different.

The explanation is that Photoshop Elements (and Photoshop) use the foreground and background colors when applying the filter. This time go ahead and crank up the Graininess and adjust the Glow Amount until you get a nice glow on your image. Adjust the Clear value to suit and click Ok. Now you have a very different looking result.


Understanding colors and filters
There are many of Photoshop Elements Filters that work differently depending on the current foreground and background colors settings. The Halftone Filter is one of these so, for example, if you have red and green selected the halftone pattern will appear in red and green – not always the desired look.


Instead, set the foreground to black and the background to white and apply the Halftone Filter using Filter > Sketch > Halftone Pattern. This time you’ll get something more like the result that you are looking for.


Switch black and white in the color swatch and try again – and the result is different and not so appealing.

What you need to know
The short lesson to take away from this post is that when you are applying filters in Photoshop Elements or in Photoshop the foreground and background colors that you have selected will have a big impact on how some of the filters work. In most cases the filters affected are the Sketch filters but others use the colors too.

Select the right color mix and the result is pleasing to the eye. Select the wrong color mix and you could be excused for thinking filters just aren’t for you.

Helen Bradley

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Fixing keystone issues in Photoshop Elements


One issue you’ll often encounter when you photograph tall buildings is a keystone effect caused by the angle at which you are forced to photograph from. The bottom of the building often looks wider than the top making it look out of proportion.

Most photo editing programs have tools for fixing keystone problems and, in this post, I’ll show you two methods you can use in Photoshop Elements both of which work the same way in Photoshop.

Method 1: The Move tool

Step 1
The first method involves using the Move too. Start by converting the image Background layer to a regular layer by double-clicking it and click Ok.

Step 2
Enlarge the image canvas by selecting over it with the Crop tool and let go the mouse button. Then drag the crop handles outwards to select a larger area around the image and press Enter to fix the selection. You need to enlarge the canvas or the process will end up cutting off some of the image.

Step 3
Ctrl + Click on the layer thumbnail for the image to select the image but not the extra background.

Click the Move tool to select it and hold the Ctrl key as you drag on one of the corner handles. When you do this you’ll notice that you distort the image – you’ll use this feature to straighten it.

If you choose View > Grid you can display a grid over the image to make it easier to see line everything up. Choose Edit > Preferences > Grid to change the grid dimensions if necessary.

Drag each corner of the image in turn and, if desired, rotate the image until it looks correct to you. When you are done, turn off the visibility of the grid (View > Grid) and Crop the image to remove any excess.

Method 2: The Correct Camera Distortion filter

Step 4
The second method uses the Lens Correction Filter. Select Filter > Correct Camera Distortion and the image will open in the filter dialog. From the Size dropdown list select Fit in View so that you can see the entire image.

Enabling the grid helps you ensure the image is squared off nicely. If necessary, drag on the Angle to rotate the image – in this dialog, the scrubby slider method works best so drag on the word Angle to adjust the angle (not the dial which tends to jump around a lot).

Select the Vertical Perspective slider and drag it to adjust the vertical perspective of the building. Choose Horizontal Perspective to fix horizontal perspective issues.

Step 5
The Correct Camera Distortion filter also includes a Remove Distortion slider which helps fix the sucked in or blown out effect you often see around the edges of an image caused by the curvature of the lens.

You can extend the canvas around the image by dragging the Scale slider to the left or drag to the right to crop the image.

When you’re done click Ok.

These tools also work well to fix an image of any rectangular object which is out of proportion – big or small.

Helen Bradley