About Me

My photo
Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer has been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a weekly blog about photography in New England.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Using the Lightroom Reference Tool

Adobe regularly sends out updates to their Lightroom CC.  As the Creative Clouds “drift” by, these updates are often filled with new camera support and, hopefully, performance upgrades, but occasionally they slip in a new Tool to make things interesting.  These new gizmos are usually fun to play with, but it often takes a while to figure out what practical value they offer and how they might fit into my day-to-day workflow.  This was true for the new Reference Tool.

Enter the Reference Tool
Back a few months ago, the version 2015.8 (Catchy) included the addition of the Reference Tool in the Develop Module.  We are familiar with the Compare Tool in the Library Module, that allows a side-by-side comparison of two images. The Reference Tool appears in the same location in the Develop module as the Compare button, but exchanges the “X/Y” label for an “R/A” Label, standing for Reference and Active windows

The Reference tool allows you to compare two photos, with one a “Reference” image, which stays static, and the other a comparison image which can be edited (i.e. Active).  The usual goal is to match the Active image to the tone and color balance of the Reference.  

The Reference window can most quickly be opened by clicking on the R/A button or by using the short-cut “shift R”.  It is simple to set a reference image by dragging it onto the left window of the tool.  A single image or a series can then be moved to the right window and visually adjusted to the reference.

Easy, but when should you use the tool? 
Adobe suggests:

“This is helpful when making a group of images from a single event look similar or setting the white balance appropriately in mixed lighting conditions,”

Sunrise Challenge

Gradient Neutral Density and Flair

Nifty, but, until recently, I hadn’t found any situations in which this capability was helpful for my landscape photography.  Last week I was shooting a sunset from one of my favorite spots along Route 63 in Chesterfield New Hampshire.  The clouds were a bit too dense, and the sun peeking through them created excessively high contrast.  I tried using a graduated neutral density filter without much success and as usual adding an additional layer of glass just accentuate the flair coming from the brilliant solar disk..

  I tried a few shots, but then settled down to wait until after the sun dropped below the horizon.  In the meantime I studied the long shadow of my tripod and me, reaching back to the Chesterfield Firehouse.  Then the real show began.  As the sun set, the clouds lite up nicely.  Although the sky remained quit bright, the contrasts was easier to manage.  The problem then was to try to find a foreground with enough interest to balance the brilliant sunset glow.   From my location, the lovely pasture spread out toward the distant Vermont hills.  Classic, but rather bland, especially while mired in the shadows.  

Sunset Song

The sky was dramatic but I wanted to find something interesting to put in my foreground.  My first choice was a rather scraggly tree off to one side.  I was attracted by the flock of birds filing the branches, and ecstatically chirping at the fading gold.  It was a charming sunset sonata, but then I noticed cows grazing my way.   I had to scramble to get down to the herd’s level, but then I had my “foreground element”.   I was ready to go.   Again I tried to reduce the contrast with my Neutral density filter, but I got my best results by combining the graduated ND with a five exposure High Dynamic Range image.

Active Grazing

After processing, the sky came out beautifully and the foreground was reasonably exposed.  The problem was that the cows appeared blurred as they methodically grazed there way through the multiple exposures.

HDR Image

My Foreground Image, Exposed to the Right
Looking through the individual images, I found that all had some blurring, but some were less noticeable than in the HD image.  I decided to blend the foreground from one of the single images with the HDR sky.

To get better tonal quality and less noise, I selected my foreground picture from one of the brighter images.  Remember exposing to the right?  To make the blending easier, I wanted to darken the foreground image to closely approximate the tone and color balance of the HDR sky.  This is where the Reference Tool entered my workflow.

Reference Tool

Matched Images
I dragged my HDR image onto the reference window of the tool and then added the foreground to the comparison.  It was then a relatively easy matter to adjust the tone and color of my foreground image.  It wasn’t perfect, but after exporting it to Photoshop, the modified foreground image was close enough to easily to blend with HDR sky.  The final image showed the placid cows munching contentedly, totally oblivious to the spectacular fireworks hovering above their heads.  

Matching the Reference HDR Image, Step by Step

Final Composite Image
I could have roughly matched my two images without a dedicated side-by-side comparison, but the Reference Tool made this chore much easier and more precise.  I had to apply only a few minor adjustments to the masked foreground to reach a perfect the blend. The ability of the Reference Tool to match image layers for compositing is a great use for this new Lightroom feature, and allows me to comfortable position this new “gizmo” within my landscape workflow.

Check out more articles on Lightroom and Photoshop on my Blog at:
Photographic Editing (Photoshop & Lightroom) 

And watch here for information about my next Lightroom course, coming this winter. 
YES, winter is coming!

Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Lightroom Catalog (Basic Concepts)

My Lightroom Catalog
Actually, Melk Abbey Library, Austria

I’ve just finished my Introduction to Adobe Lightroom Class.    This was the fourth time I have offered the course and I have found two important themes that have been consistent throughout each of the sessions.  

First I am amazed how much I learn each time I prepare the material for the classes. My students always seem to come up with questions that challenge my own understanding of this remarkably capable program, and I am invariably stimulated to come up with refinements of my explanations. Perhaps, at some point, I will get it all right, but then it will be time to move on to something else.

The other persistant issue that seems to come out of every class is the confusion over the functions of the Lightroom Catalog.  This is so essential for the understanding of how Lightroom works that I spend much of my first two hour class discussing the topic, and yet the misunderstandings always seem to linger.  Mostly, it must be my fault, but I think sometimes the students are so excited to get to the “sexy” parts, especially the powerful editing functions, that they blow right past the boring nuts and bolts of how the program actually works.  At the end of this last class I asked everyone to suggest topics that could have benefited from greater emphasis and it all seemed to come down to the care and feeding of the Lightroom Catalog.  It was only after they had manipulated some images, tried to understand where those changes were to be found, and how to translate them to actual flesh and blood image files, that they appreciated the importance of that obscure catalog.

I’ll try to spend more time on the catalog in my next class, but here is another run at a few questions that might help to clarify what the Lightroom catalog is, and perhaps more importantly, what it is not.

Where do Image Files Go When they are Imported to Lightroom

The first problem is the word “Import”.  Import suggests that the image files are physically added to Lightroom and this is never true.  When images are imported, it is only information about the files that is stored in the Lightroom Catalog. Rather than “Import”, a better term might be “Referenced” since the original image file is not moved or altered.  Lightroom’s import process only involves “telling” the program essential pieces of information about the files, such as that the files exist, where they are located, and how they have been edited in the program.  This is easier to understand when Lightroom is importing information about images that are already on the computer, but confusion can occur when the files are being uploaded to the computer from memory cards.  Lightroom provides a convenient mechanism to import file information into the Lightroom Catalog, at the same time that image files are being uploaded to the computer, but it is important to understand the difference between uploading the physical image file and importing the file information to the Catalog.  Careful study of this overly busy flow diagram may be helpful in separating the two processes.

The Database Advantage

Unlike Adobe Bridge, Lightroom is not a file based management system.  Lightroom is a database, that keeps track of information about each image file.  For each image, the program registers only four pieces of information:

  1. A set of previews used to display and manipulate the image 
  2. A list of all the editing that's has been applied from within Lightroom
  3. The Metadata recorded within the file 
  4. The physical location of the file in the computer
Contents of Lightroom Catalog Directory

  • Catalog Data: [catalog name].lrcat
  • Image Previews: [catalog name] Previews.lrdata
  • Smart Previews (Lightroom 5 and later): [catalog name] Smart Previews.lrdata

Because Lightroom is a database, which manipulates relatively short text files, it can perform tasks, such as searching and sorting, much more quickly than file based programs, such as  Adobe Bridge.  This becomes more important when dealing with a large or scattered library.   When my own image library exceeded 400,000 pictures, Bridge became impractically cumbersome, and to take advantage of the efficiency of the database model, I finally made the jump to Lightroom. 

I can't resist pointing out that, although Melk Abbey's ancient library contains about 100,000 manuscripts, incunabula  (printed works before 1500), and books, my catalog has over 400k files, of course of slightly less antiquity.

Keep it in Lightroom : A Disadvantage

As an image management program, Lightroom is amazing, but it does have disadvantages.  Because Lightroom manipulates information about the images and not the image files themselves,  it requires more care with the movement of files.  It is important to establish the habit of only moving files from within Lightroom.  In one sense, Lightroom doesn’t “know” where an image file is, it only knows where we have  told it that it is located.  Files that are moved outside of Lightroom will be lost to the program, generating the dreaded "!" flag on the files, and "?" marking their directories. These orphans can be found and re-registered, but, a lot of pain can be avoided by following the “Keep it all in Lightroom” mantra.

Found It : Catabane Falls, Now gone

Where is the Lightroom Catalog?

The Lightroom Catalog is stored in a directory that can be located anywhere in the computer, but, by default, is found at:

Windows: \Users\[user name]\Pictures\Lightroom
Mac OS: /Users/[user name]/Pictures/Lightroom

If it is in a different location, it can be found in the Catalog Settings of the Lightroom Preferences.

    You can have as many catalogs as you wish.  Some photographers keep separate catalogs for work and personal images, but without a compelling reason to compartmentalize your work, a single catalog may be a simpler option.

    What Happens when I Edit Images in Lightroom

    Image Edited in Lightroom
    The essential thing to understand is that all editing in Lightroom is nondestructive.  Repeat after me, “Nondestructive”.   Changes that are made during editing are applied to the preview image in Lightroom, but not to the actual physical images.  

    Actual image is not altered on the drive while
    Lightroom Adjustments STAY in Lightroom
    These changes can be thought of a series of instructions that are saved with the image information in the Lightroom Catalog.  They affect the appearance of the preview image but are not applied to the pixels of an actual image until the
    file leaves Lightroom.  Stepping out of Lightroom occurs when editing switches to an external editor, such as Photoshop, or when the image is“Exported” to a physical file format, such as jpg, tif or psd.  This also occurs when images are shared such as in books, web pages or on social media.
    Export Dialog, Leaving Lightroom

    The key point is that all the editing changes you make are simply a set of instructions that don’t get applied until the image ventures from the warm safety of Lightroom into the dark, pixel based, world, and even then the original Raw file stays intact.  That is why there is no “Save” command in Lightroom.

    Wall's End, Guilford Vermont, 
    Final image with Lightroom Adjustments Exported the file

    The Nondestructive Life

    I hope this discussions has helped clarify some of the confusion about Lightroom Catalogs.  The more I try to simplify, the more complex it seems to get.  I have not covered many related topics such as how to move, combine, rename, back-up or delete catalogs.  This could be a topic for a future blog, but all of these details are clarified in numerous articles on the web.  

    Summing Up

    The essential thing to understand is that Lightroom is a database program used to keep track of images on your computer.  

    When you edit photos, rate them, add keywords to them, or make other changes, as long as you are in Lightroom, the  changes are stored in the catalog, but the photo files themselves are never touched. 

    Don’t you wish life was like this.  Try anything you want, take any risk, make disastrous mistakes, and it is ALL “nondestructive”.  When you finally like the results just press “Export”.

    Sunday, July 2, 2017

    How Do You Want to Be Seen?

    Part 2

    Last week I offered some thoughts about how the casual (read smartphone) photographer can take some simple steps to improve how their pictures are seen on social media.  Today’s smartphones have remarkably sophisticated cameras crammed into their tiny cases and, with just a little attention to their strengths and limitations, you can get surprisingly good results.  

    This week I move to the other end of the spectrum and discuss my overly compulsive work-flow, using every possible approach to get the most out of my images. 

    Caring about your Image

    Social Media has increasingly become an important venue for professional photographers to show their work .  Many more people see my images online than in all my exhibitions, or in print.  Given the dizzying number of online venues, I could easily spend all my time just trying to keep up with posting images and responding to comments, but I try to reserve a little time to actually get out to take pictures.

    My approach to social media follows two simple rules.

    1) Limit the Number of Venues
    I know that there are many choices out there, but I limit my postings primarily to Facebook and Twitter.  I publish images on several  Facebook accounts, most notably my own, and the New England Photographer’s Guild pages. I limit postings to a few of my recent images and some to promote the topic of my latest weekly blog.  I have accounts on 500px, Google + and Instagram, but I rarely visit. I know that Instagram is popular but I have never found that its format works to show my work at its best. 

    2) Only Show the Best Work

    I try to post pictures to social media on a regular basis, usually daily, but I only publish images that I have edited to my satisfaction.  This doesn’t mean that I only show my occasional “Hero” shots, but frequently pick images that illustrate a point from a blog or that tell the story of a recent shoot.  Most images may not “fine art”, but I try to select and edit them to communicate to their best potential. Even when the picture comes from my iPhone, I don’t merely snap and dump.  Whether they are edited in one of the excellent photo apps, or in Lightroom and Photoshop, the goal is always to show that I take my photography seriously and devote the time and care that each image deserves.


    Lightroom Editing
    In my typical workflow, I upload the RAW images into Lightroom, converting them to DNG, and backing them up to a separate drive.  After selecting and flagging my favorites, I run the best through the Lightroom development workflow.  When finished, I almost always move the images to Photoshop for final tweaking.  Check my recent article about when I Jump from Lightroom to Photoshop. 

    Photoshop Tweeks
    After my Photoshop adjustments are complete, I then save a “Reference” image.  This is an un-cropped, full size and resolution image with all the adjustment layers preserved, and saved as a PSD or Tiff file.  I typically don’t add any sharpening beyond my preliminary tuning in Lightroom.  This is the base image that I can use as the starting point for final adjustments to meet specific output requirements of color balance, crop, size and resolution, but the reference image always stays untouched.  After I have saved my reference image I then crop and sharpen it to create a picture that I can use in my website as a final
    "Cloud" Upload to Zenfolio
    full-size selection.  When done I save the image as a full size and full resolution JPG.  I find that the highest resolution JPGs work well for standard printing and it is the format requested by most professional labs.  I also use these large JPGs as my “cloud” images.  I can upload an unlimited number of JPG to a directory on my Zenfolio web site.  I use this cloud storage only for my finished images.  I am a firm believer in the value of RAW images, but once I have finished all my editing a JPG version works well for archiving. 

    Web Image

    Finally I resize the large JPGs to a web friendly size, with a long
    Private Image Gallery
    dimension of 950pixels.  I reduce the quality to yield an image that is about 400pixels.  I create this “web version” of all my finished picture, but only post a few.  I keep the rest in my own private web gallery, that allows me to quickly scan for needed images. These pictures still look good on the web and, as long as they include my watermark, I don’t mind people copying them to show on their sites. Obviously, I don’t expect them to be sold or used commercially.  People still steal my work. but the quality deteriorates quickly, if pirates try to blow up these images.  I’ve seen some terribly meat-handed attempts to obscure my watermark, but I don’t spend too much time chasing these creeps.  I mostly try to accept the compliment and reassure myself that these thieves would have never actually payed me for my work.

    So now I have two backed-up raw copies, a layered reference copy, a full size JPG on my computer and in the cloud, and a web-sized image saved to my private web gallery.  Oh and I release a few of my favorites to the world, on my web site and social media.  

    The whole process can take anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours depending on how much detailed masking and cloning is required.  You must develop your own workflow, but it all comes back to getting the best from every image.  These little piles of pixels deserve nothing less and, in the end, they are how the world will judge your work.

    Time to move on to the next picture. 

    Jeffrey Newcomer