Trying the New Lightroom Masking

As always, as I poured my morning coffee I glanced down the valley toward the Sangre de Cristo Range to see what kind of a day I would encounter. The range was cloud capped and amazing looking in the alpenglow as the sun rose in the east. The cold front is taking forever to arrive but I could see the clouds on the mountains might be of interest on this day, along with my two other goals which were a sensor cleaning and a bit of time in front of the desktop trying to figure out the new ACR and Lightroom masking tools.

Storms on the Sangre

After yesterday’s photo session over the Sangre it became apparent that my sensor was very dirty. Dozens of dust spots became painfully obvious as I dragged the dehaze slider to the right in my attempt to create some detail in the early morning layer of haze. The auto dust shaking feature of my 90D failed to dislodge the dust so I went for my cleaning kit. I have learned to start with the least invasive treatment first so I got out the jet blower and set the camera to manual clean which locks up the mirror to provide access to the sensor. I turned the camera upside down and squeezed the tool a few times hoping the puffs of air would be sufficient to unseat the offending dust particles. Fortunately this time the blower was enough, I would not need the cleaning solution and pads… something that always makes me nervous!

Storms on the Sangre

I was tired today so there would be no hiking on Hell Hill, but I did stop at the overlook to snap a few shots of the clouds building on the magnificent mountain range. As long as I was this close to Victor it also seemed like a fine day for a visit at the Gold Camp Bakery for some biscuits and gravy 🙂 By the time I was making my return trip clouds had completely enveloped the peaks so I just headed for home to get on the computer.

I have been struggling with the new masking tools for a while, even after watching several videos on their usage. I usually don’t make much mention in my blog posts of Photoshop techniques, there are plenty of people with far more expertise than I have in making detailed videos on how to use all the features of this astounding software package. However this is one of those times when a simple sentence can be more valuable than a hundred twenty minute videos.

The issue I was having was with making more than one mask on an image. No matter what I tried, including the new intersect feature, adding a second mask appeared to override the original mask. Finally yesterday the light bulb turned on and I understood what was going on, I was thinking in two dimensions instead of three. So here’s how it works… think of each new mask as a new layer. On the above images the sky and mountains were too light and the foreground was too dark. So step one, click the new masking icon in Camera Raw which shows up as a wheel just under the spot removal tool. This opens the new tool palette that includes all the old tools plus the amazing new sky and subject selection tools.

I wanted to use the linear gradient tool to gradually darken down the sky and mountains so I clicked the linear gradient button and pulled the tool down from the top until I was satisfied with the mask coverage. From there you can make any number of adjustments to the masked area and I decided upon a little highlight reduction, an increase in blacks and a slight increase in the color  temperature.

Then I wanted to work on the dark forest in the lower left of the image so I clicked “new mask” and then luminance range. I then just clicked on the dark area and luckily the forest was successfully masked. I was then able to adjust the exposure up a bit and increase that color temperature separately from the sky adjustment in the other mask. The adjustments I had made to the sky and mountains in the lower layer remained just as I had previously set them. If you need to make minor adjustments to the masks you can just click the mask and do an add or subtract at which time you can select brush or any number of other options to brush in more masking or brush out a spot that may have overshot your intentions in places.

Now all you have to do is hit the open button and the completely adjusted image becomes available in full Photoshop. I used the new masking tools in Camera Raw, but the interface in Lightroom is almost identical. Weeks of struggle are at an end with that simple understanding of multiple layers of masking. One of these days now I will dig into the intersect concept and report on that in another blog. Anyway, I hope you find this helpful and I’ll get back to you when this cold front finally arrives and the snow begins to fly!

 

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal! Also, if you would like to see a more complete record of today’s images please follow my Instagram account!

Many of my adventures have also been captured on beautiful HD video on my Youtube Channel! If you enjoy my content please subscribe to my channel, subscribers have a big impact on channel rankings!

This post is not sponsored and all equipment used in it’s creation was purchased by me on my own volition.

Trying Topaz DeNoise and Sharpen

I do a lot of low light wildlife photography and some images even though captured perfectly under the conditions suffer from noisy high ISO values. I have recently seen a lot of good reviews about the Topaz AI products so I thought I’d download the trial versions to see if they might be beneficial to my work. I must add, this blog post is not sponsored by Topaz or any other product.

So the first image I was interested in is this shot of a Great Blue Heron. This fellow would fly past me once each morning, well before the sun had cleared the ridge on the east side of Eleven Mile Canyon. There was no way to wait for better light, the heron made his one flight at first light and that was it. On this particular image I was using a 400mm zoom with a 1.4x extension. Shutter speed was 1/1250th at F9 and ISO 16000. So on this image I ran both Sharpen and then DeNoise in that order. The image on the top is the unprocessed image while the one on the bottom has been processed using Topaz AI. I find that running the sharpen first, followed by the noise reduction seems to product the best results.

Great Blue Heron in Flight

Using only Photoshop v22

Great Blue Heron in Flight

Using Topaz AI DeNoise and sharpen plugins with Photoshop v22

Both images are in the acceptable range, I had originally submitted the Photoshop only image to my stock agencies and it was accepted by the reviewers. However I do find the Topaz AI processed image to be more appealing. The colors are much smoother and when viewed at 100% and details on the bird are more discernible and the eye is especially sharper and clearer, a very important detail in wildlife photography.

This red-tail hawk in flight capture I made was on the verge of being unusable in my stock image portfolio. Just a slight amount of motion blur when combined with digital noise from a low light situation put this capture slightly out of tolerance for viewing at 100%. I found that Topaz AI sharpening and noise reduction combined were able to put the image back into tolerance, thus rescuing a very valuable image. Again, the unprocessed version is on the top and the Topaz version is on the bottom:

Colorado Red-tailed Hawk

Photoshop V22 only

Colorado Red-tailed Hawk

Photoshop using Topaz AI Sharpen and DeNoise

This next image is a bald eagle also photographed in low light. I wanted to set the camera at a 1600th or 2000th of a second but the lighting conditions resulted in ISO values of 9000-16000, and I was hoping for a clearer image so I went with 1/1250th again. This time I was not using the 1.4x so I was able to use F5.6 and ISO 4000. Again, the Topaz processed image is on the bottom:

Bald Eagles in Eleven Mile Canyon

Photoshop only

Bald Eagles in Eleven Mile Canyon

Photoshop using Topaz AI Sharpen and DeNoise 

This was a near perfect image to start with so unless looking at it at 100% the differences are almost indiscernible. However even with these small web sized versions, when viewed at 100% the Topaz processed picture is obviously the cleaner image.

I also wanted to see what the software could do with a failed image. In this shot of the eagle I either didn’t achieve focus or there was too much motion blur. Not sure which it was but the image is unusable in my portfolio:

Bald Eagle in Eleven Mile Canyon

 Photoshop only

Bald Eagle in Eleven Mile Canyon

 Photoshop using Topaz AI Sharpen and DeNoise 

Now in this situation the original image is obviously blurry and unusable. In the sharpening window I used the “focus” tab and had to slide the sharpen slider all the way to the right. This image has made an amazing transformation. From blurry and unusable it has become sharp and focused, quite an impressive feat!

All in all I’d have to say I am very impressed with these products and I will be purchasing both Sharpen and DeNoise for sure. I haven’t tried GigaPixel yet, not sure I am going to need that. So far I have found with my 32mp camera my images are plenty large enough even after relatively severe cropping. Also the stock agencies don’t like uprezing and my print lab recommends against it as well. They probably have their own version of uprezing software and don’t want to mess with double enlarging of images.

I hope you found this review useful, and don’t forget to click the follow button if you want to be the first to see my next blog post!

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal!

Bald Eagles in Eleven Mile Canyon

Reprocessed with maximum sharpness

Alpenglow on the Sangre

Something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time… a panorama of the Sangre de Cristo at first light in the alpenglow. My original plan was a quick hike up Grouse Mountain to look for deer and elk, but as I drove past the overlook I noticed the amazing pink glow on the beautiful range named for the “Blood of Christ”.  I took several images in three sets to capture the entire range and I find myself happiest with the first set.

Alpenglow on the Sangre de Cristo

In blending the images to pano in Adobe Photoshop I noticed that the “auto” option doesn’t always work right. For this one the “perspective” option produced the best rendition.  I also noticed an odd effect prior to “flattening” the image, there was the appearance of the images looking like puzzle pieces.  At first I thought I had made a mistake in the shooting that might cause them not to stitch properly, but after a bit of research it appears that the effect was just an artifact of the many layers not displaying correctly. Once I flattened the image the stitching was perfect.

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal!

Waterton Collection and New Photoshop Techniques

Working on some new stuff these days… I finally have enough images of beautiful Waterton Canyon to make a separate collection on my website for them.  Included in this amazing category are tons of bighorn sheep, beaver, deer and the lovely pristine waters of the South Platte River as it streams out of the Rockies on it’s way through eastern Colorado and Nebraska, all the way to it’s destination as it joins the Mighty Missouri River near Omaha.

Bighorn Sheep Waterton

Fortunately I was able to add a few more to the new Waterton Collection today from our latest mountain bike adventure yesterday. The sheep weren’t too active on such a lazy beautiful early winter day but we were lucky to see Scruff all by himself making his way past the cliffs and up to higher ground where he would enjoy his day from the lofty heights of the canyon walls.

Bighorn sheep herd in Waterton Canyon Colorado

As we rode up the rugged road we did spot the entire herd  resting up on a grassy mountainside, not a very photogenic scene but a welcome sighting anyway. As we waited and hoped for them to come down for a drink in the river a rumor emerged that a beaver was busy building a new lodge near the diversion dam at the 2.5 mile marker near the picnic grounds.

Beaver in Waterton Canyon

We decided to take a quick ride up there to see if we could get a shot of the little guy hard at work. Indeed, we did catch a few glimpses of the hard working wilderness construction worker as he brought a few sticks from upstream to add to his new home which will hopefully house up to six of the photogenic aquatic rodents in the near future!

After a small lunch at the nearby picnic grounds we headed back down for another look at the sheep herd which had barely moved in the hour or so that we were upstream. We watched for about 45 minutes for any sign of action before giving up and heading back to the truck.

I’ve been messing around with a couple of features that I’ve never felt the need for in the past, the radial and graduated filters now available in Adobe Camera Raw. Others have been using these features to create much more dramatic images so I guess I’m going to have to keep up!

Bighorn Sheep Waterton

Anyway, I have been using the radial filter on certain wildlife images, mainly the portrait style captures of bighorn sheep. I just click on the animal’s head, adjust the ellipse to cover a pleasing area of the face and horns, select invert selection to adjust only the background and less important parts of the subject and make adjustments to darken or brighten the background as needed to make the face stand out more. You can also adjust the percent of feathering to make the transition in the mask less noticeable. In this particular image I left the face alone and darkened the back part of his body and the cliff walls to create a more dramatic effect.

South Platte River in Waterton Canyon

The use of the graduated filter is more obvious, darken or lighten certain parts of the image to correct uneven lighting. To use this I just select the filter and drag up or down to set the direction of the effect. You an also change the angle of the horizon to match the needs of the image as well.  In this image the contrast between the dark and light parts of the river was too great to create a useful image so I used a dark filter on the top half to calm down the intense brightness of the sunshine on the water.

Bald Eagle in Eleven Mile CanyonAs the action in the bighorn sheep rut season winds down I am looking forward to the next great mating season in Colorado. The time of the eagle migration and mating season is nearly upon us and rumor has it that a few of the  great raptors have already been gathering in Eleven Mile Canyon. I am also looking forward to up to 50 bald eagles making their winter visit to Barr Lake State Park next month to fish and look for a mate! Be sure to hit the follow button so you don’t miss any upcoming action in the Colorado wilderness!

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal!

Panorama of a Storm

The skies have cleared and the warm Colorado sun is shining on the freshly snow capped mountains once again. I decided to try and get out for pictures and a nice snow shoe trek… which turned out to be no easy task. I quickly discovered that my windshield scraper had met a cruel fate sometime in the last couple of days so I was reduced to trying to scrape with only a piece of the blade 😦 Eventually the defroster kicked in and I was able to get out of the driveway.

Fresh Snow on the Sangre

The roads in town weren’t too bad and I was quickly on my way to the trailhead. However the highway was extremely icy and even though I spotted an amazing looking herd of elk I dared not stop for fear of being unable to get going up the hill again 😦 As I passed by the overlook I noted that it had been plowed and was easily accessible if I were so inclined.

Unfortunately the parking lot at the trailhead was not plowed and as I pulled in I could feel my tires slipping and spinning on the icy snowy mess so I just kept going so I wouldn’t get stuck. I barely made it back out to the entrance so I ran the stop sign and continued back towards town.

The conditions weren’t that great for photography, lots of haze lingering in the air obscuring the complete bright white mantle of fresh snow on the Sangre de Cristo, but I decided to try my luck at the overlook anyway. I snapped a few of the magnificent range when it occurred to me that this might be a good day for a panorama 🙂 I set up the shots in manual mode, iso 100 with 160th of a second and f11 for good depth of field. The image combines 15 vertical exposures into a 120×20 inch full size image using thephotomerge feature in Adobe Photoshop. The sky wasn’t an even blue all the way across due to the bright sunlight on the middle of the scene, but I think it turned out halfway decent… What do you think?

Fresh Snow on the Sangre

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal!

Photoshop Sky Replacement

Just downloaded Adobe Photoshop 2021 with the new sky replacement filter and it just so happens I recently captured the perfect picture to try it out! On last week’s journey to Tin Cup I captured this relatively boring image of the town with the San Juan’s in the background. Unfortunately with all the smoke and no clouds the mountains and sky were quite undramatic 😦

Ghost town of Tin Cup Colorado

The new feature comes with three types of clouds, blue sky, sunset and spectacular if you really want to go all out! For this one, anything but one of the blue sky selections failed to match the plain sunshiny foreground.  So… with this feature you can adjust the lightness, darkness and location of the edge, brightness and temperature, and even apply some adjustments to the adjacent foreground!

Ghost town of Tin Cup Colorado

So for this image I have chosen some wispy cirrus clouds which required no scaling at all to look realistic. The default color temperature worked well and only a little adjustment to the edge fading was needed to match it to the mountains.

I have to admit, I’m a bit torn about this feature… I am a bit of a purist in that I believe that a photographer should take whatever steps possible to capture the image in camera. However, at times replacing a sky can mean the difference between a salable image and a useless capture. Time will tell how my thinking evolves regarding this matter!

Frosty Fog

Frosty Fog

For the above picture I used a spectacular sky setting which required quite a bit of edge adjustment to overcome the software mistaking the fog bank for sky. I also faded the color of the new sky quite a bit to match the grey brooding mood of the day.

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal!

The Deep Freeze

Sub zero temperatures and about six inches of fresh snow greeted the sunrise this morning and I was just flat too tired to trudge out into the snow with my shovel at 7:00 a.m. to photograph the beautiful amazing sunrise. By the time I finally did dig the old Dodge out the sun was so bright I couldn’t even see, much less capture good pictures!

_MG_6898

So I spent the day cleaning the house and working on some things I’ve been thinking about lately. Saw my flashlight the other day when I was doing something else, thinking “hey, there it is”… Of course now I have forgotten where “there” is and spent part of my day looking for the flashlight. Didn’t find the flashlight, but at least I got some things done that I’ve been meaning to do.

One of the things I was wanting to do was research the new “Compressed Raw” feature that Canon has come out with, so after watching a couple of YouTube videos on the subject I went out and snapped a couple of shots of the hill out back to do some comparisons. The final verdict on that subject is that although Compressed Raw would probably work just as well while saving a lot of disk space, it turns out for those of us who use Adobe DNG there is no space savings at all. Raw and Compressed Raw result in a DNG file of equal size. I did turn off high ISO noise reduction as it has no effect on raw files at all. Long exposure noise reduction I decided to leave on, even though it results in doubling your exposure time length in the production of the black frame it uses to cancel

Elk Herd on a Beautiful Rocky Mountain Evening

out the hot spots with. Even though it renders your camera unusable for a few seconds it seems that the feature is the most efficient method of ridding your image of the annoying hot spots.

Also, while I had the computer turned on I decided to process one more image of the elk from my awesome adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park 🙂 Unfortunately the aches and pains of three days of shoveling snow are going to mean an evening of hot water bottles and ibuprofen. Hope you enjoy the pictures!

Focus on Infinity

“Infinity: unlimited extent of time, space, or quantity : boundlessness”, according to Merriam Webster. A difficult concept under any circumstances, infinity in photography can be an even more elusive state. In photography, the definition of infinity includes “A distance between a subject and the camera so great that rays of light reflected from the subject may be regarded as parallel.”, and “A distance setting of the camera lens beyond which everything is in focus.”.

Fresh Snow on the Sangre de Cristo

Recent travails in shooting distant landscapes has me studying the issue in more depth, and today was the day for some cursory field testing. The plan was to conduct a scientific experiment to determine if the auto focus mechanism on my Canon 70D with my 70-200 lens was handling infinity properly. Today was supposed to start with a beautiful clear morning, following days of snow and fog and I was glad to finally be able to get out and do some shooting with Big Dog.

As usual though, my experiment didn’t turn out to be all that scientific or even informative, but I had fun and got some good usable shots 🙂 What I did find out though was gratifying in that I believe that my lens is performing exactly as it should. My method was to take two shots of every scene, one with the auto focus and the second identical shot with the lens set to manual and the focus set to or near the “infinity” mark focused on the distant Sangre de Cristo mountain range as sharply as possible. Then, in front of Photoshop a 100% view of the two images side by side was going to tell me which method is better. I had recently watched another photographer on Youtube who claimed that manual mode focused on infinity was the way to go.

Now the really confusing part of the experiment is that many professional lenses have the capability to focus “beyond infinity”… where nothing is actually in focus. Apparently the equipment can compensate for micro expansion and contraction of the metal due to temperature changes and may require that space slightly beyond the infinity line for that purpose.

Fox with Prey

It was indeed a beautiful morning and we were awarded a couple of bonus shots for our effort 🙂 Along the way I spotted both a fox hunting and then later a coyote hunting in the beautiful fresh snow. The fox was already heading for home with a tasty morsel in his mouth and the coyote was still hunting but paused to cast a wary glance in our direction.

Coyote in Fresh Snow

Coyote in Fresh Snow

The mountains were magnificent as usual and the clear day was perfect for my little test. My scene is perfect with some nearby pine forest covered foothills backed up by the distant peaks of the Sangre. As I conducted my tests I noticed some curious behavior exhibited by the equipment. When focusing on the nearby mountains the camera on auto focus chose to focus exactly on the infinity mark, while the distant mountains resulted in a focus slightly beyond the infinity mark. I thought I was onto something there, a possible malfunction in the auto focus mechanism perhaps. But the follow up shots using manual focus proved the auto focus to be exactly correct based on what I was focusing on.

These findings were very good news for confidence my equipment, but also raised a new question that I have no definitive answer for. Why are the close mountains which are at infinity focused differently than the distant mountains which are also beyond infinity. I guess the simple answer to that is that the close mountains are at a sufficiently varied distance and angle to result in a slightly different infinity value from the vastly distant Sangre de Cristo range more than 60 miles away. In any case, the idea of just setting the camera to the infinity mark is out of the question, at least for a 200mm lens. This practice would probably work fine for a wide angle lens where the infinity point is only a few feet from the camera. Each scene is going to require evaluation to determine what exactly is the most important feature to render the most sharp in the image. If the entire image needs to be sharp, focus stacking in Photoshop might be required.

All in all, the day was a success, important knowledge acquired, some nice images to work with collected, and now in the last couple of hours some more great shots of the little fox family that I found the other day 🙂 Please be sure to visit my image website to see all the new pictures that have been made for sale as wall art, cool household items and royalty free stock!

After the Storm

The latest cold front has passed through along with the tremendous winds that accompanied it. The Sangre de Cristo Range was beautiful this morning and the bitter cold was not quite as biting as yesterday. Windchill of -7 instead of -13 for some reason felt much better! Big Dog was ready to go for a jaunt so I decided today would be a good day to try out the polarizer.

Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range

Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range

I haven’t really used it much for a long time since previous efforts have resulted in disappointment. Somewhere I read that professional travel photographers always use these things and that there is no Photoshop substitute for replicating it’s effect. Previous attempts have resulted in unacceptable and irreparable digital noise so I just quit using it, but advancements in newer sensors have done a lot to reduce the noise that plagued early digital imaging technology. So the hope is that with my much newer camera the polarizer is a piece of equipment I can now put to good use. My polarizer is a top of the line B&W brand circular polarizer so there should be no worry of glass quality adversely affecting the image.

Armed with the necessary equipment and enough winter gear to fend off the cold, off we went. A couple of miles into the woods we were confronted with an excellent view of the magnificent snow capped mountains so I stopped to get the shots. White balance on daylight instead of auto so as not to negate the effects of the dark blue polarizer and +1/3 exposure compensation to make up for the slight loss of light from the dark glass. While looking through the viewfinder I turned the glass until I could see the most effect and I have to say it looked amazing!

But now in front of the computer the results are once again disappointing. There is an unacceptable softness in the images due to what appears to be loss of contrast, perhaps from light dispersion. I should have paid more attention to the aperture when I was shooting, but I don’t think a wide lens opening can be blamed for this much softness. Hoping for a quick answer, I went outside to photograph the gas company sign across the street using f11 as an f stop. In looking at those images with and without the polarizer, it does appear that there is some softness that I find unacceptable for my main purpose, which is the marketing of images as stock.

I do appreciate the beautiful saturated effect of the filter so I don’t think I’ll give up on it just yet, but next time I’ll definitely have to conduct a much more controlled series of pictures. Tripod, f11 and side by side images of the same scene with and without the filter. Anyway, I hope you all enjoy the picture, the mountains are beautiful and the effect on a small version of the picture create a wonderful scene 🙂

Fly Like an EagleThis mystery raptor is as of yet unidentified. I have looked though every hawk, falcon, eagle and osprey picture on the internet that I can find and I can’t find a match. So, please, if anyone knows what this magnificent fellow is I’d be happy to hear from you!

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