Lightroom 6 /CC Photomerge Panorama Review

As stated in my earlier post, one of my main reasons for upgrading to LR6 was because of the built in Photomerge functions, particularly the panoramic feature, which I use a lot. Some people question why I create panoramas rather than just use a wide angle lens. The answer to that is simple: detail. Using a short to medium prime lens, say 50-80mm, hyperfocusing and taking multiple frames allows you to capture substantially more detail than taking a single frame using a wide angle lens of say 17-24mm. The camera is able to resolve far more fine detail, such as foliage, far better than it would using a wide lens.

The final image can be well in excess of 80MP. That doesn’t sound much does it? A Nikon D800 will capture the scene at 36MP with a wide angle lens you say, so what’s the advantage? Well, to get that letterbox effect you’ll need to crop away 30-50% of your image. Suddenly 36MP becomes 24MP or less. And I’ll guarantee that even the great D800 with a high quality 17mm lens will not resolve anywhere near as much detail or be as sharp as using a medium telephoto lens and creating a panorama.

When printing having a high MP count means better enlargements. There is simply more information in the image, more data, and hence allowing you to print at a very high DPI.

Also there is no perspective distortion: the image will appear as a human would see it.

Not convinced? Watch this video and you might be.

There are disadvantages to the method however: it won’t work for fast changing scenes where the light is constantly changing, or where clouds are moving rapidly, and maybe you do want that distortion effect simply because it fits the image well and adds an extra element of interest to the image. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not adverse to using a wide angle lens. I own one and love the interesting effects and perspective it can generate.

So, cut to the chase: is the Lightroom Panorama Photomerge any good?

Well it’s fairly simple to use. Simply select the images on the filmstrip and either press Ctrl+M or right click Photomerge>Panorama. In short it’s no different to using PS or any other application such as AutoPanoPro. There is one key advantage however: you don’t have to edit the image before you merge it, with the exception of removing vignetting etc or anything that might adversely affect the panorama. The reason is the photomerge creates a DNG file (essentially a RAW file) from the original images. What this means is that you have full control over the overall resulting image in the same way you had over the individual RAW files. If you wish to change something such as white balance, exposure, well, any setting really, you can apply it to the panorama as opposed to having to rework each file and then re-stitch the panorama into a new image. Pretty amazing stuff, and currently LR6/CC is the only program that can do this.

After you have initiated the Photomerge function, LR will go off and create a preview image of the completed panorama. And this is my biggest issue with the merge feature. Unlike any other software I have tried, you cannot zoom into the preview to check everything is OK. This is what I am met with on my 23″ screen when I try to merge 11 images.

Pano problem

Adobe please take note: This is ridiculous! I’d expect the preview to at least fill to the extents of the border. That wouldn’t be quite so bad. But not being able to zoom either? Who missed that one under test?

The only way you can zoom in to check everything is OK is to complete the panorama… at least you can carry on working on other images whilst this is taking place.

After the preview has been rendered, pick the projection mode, select if you want to crop the image (leave it unchecked if you want to use content aware fill in PS if you wish to retain parts of the image that would be otherwise cropped out) and click merge. Once complete the resulting DNG is added to the LR library adjacent to the photos used to create it. And then you can edit it to your heart’s content in the Develop module or PS as you wish.

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is SPEED! It is quick…. far quicker than any other program to create a panorama that I have come across so far.

LR took 22 seconds to render the image and 2minutes 10 seconds to complete the merge from selecting the images to adding it to the library. The resultant file was a 176MB DNG.

In comparison Autopano took 3 minutes 10 seconds from start to finish, but a large proportion of that was spent exporting the images to TIFF files. It also doesn’t add the image to the LR catalogue automatically. It created a 114MB TIFF file. I think the extra 60MB to give RAW editing capability is worth it.

PS on the other hand took a lengthy 4 minutes 30 seconds. It adds the resultant image to the catalogue, but it’s a whopping 1.26GB PSD file.

Overall I’d give it a thumbs up. It’s fast, it creates a very usable finished file…just fix the annoying preview where it doesn’t fill the screen or you can’t zoom please Adobe!

I really hope that’s the only niggle, but I doubt it somehow. This software has been over two years in the making, it’s been long awaited and I was hoping that was because it was being thoroughly tested and was bug free. Looking at the comments on Facebook on the Lightroom page, I don’t think it is.

Adobe really should have released this as a Beta, but then that doesn’t seem to mean much from past experience. I tested the Beta of LR5, found a load of bugs, reported them on the Facebook page as requested (and as did others) but it looks as though they never made it to the developers for the final version. The result was a highly buggy LR5 final release a few months later and disgruntled people. It appears that we should have posted them to the Adobe forum, but it seems  the Facebook and Developer people weren’t talking…..oh well….

Lightroom 6/CC Has Landed!

Well, it’s taken a while but Lightroom 6 / Lightroom CC (shudder) has finally landed! It’s nearly taken two years, and there have been rumours flying around since at least July 2014 as to when the latest and greatest version will come out. Here’s a download link to a trial if you are interested in trying it out.

There seems to be a lot of confusion about the matter of whether it is LR 6 or LR CC and whether or not they are the same product. You only have to look at the forums and LR Facebook page to see that it’s perplexed many people, myself included.

The simple answer is: it is both. They (currently) are the one and the same. They have the same functionality and features. I’ve been told that they will have the same updates applied to them. Whether this will remain true, or whether LR CC will go the same way as its Photoshop bigger brother is an entirely different matter.

When the CC model came out you could buy a perpetual licence version or CC version of PS. The CC version got updated with features, and the perpetual didn’t (bar bug fixes), even though at the time they were effectively the same version of software (keep reading if you want to find out why). If you really wanted these updates and features you had to pay for them via CC subscription. This is my biggest fear: LR will go the same way and you will be forced to pay through the nose for software you don’t need.

Now, don’t get me wrong, for some people the CC model is fantastic and it makes great software easily affordable. But for others, like myself, who use PS so little (in fact I’m still using an old version of PS Elements) it is simply a waste of money. In the UK the cost of CC is nearly £9 per month. If I was running with the CC subscription, that upgrade would have cost me nearly £200 as opposed to a one off cost of £59 to upgrade. It’s a bit of a no-brainer. Add on to that the very few changes that are made through the year to PS, and bug fixes that should come as standard with LR/ ACR you have to question is it worth it? For me, no.

Anyway, enough procrastination. LR6: what’s new? And is the upgrade worth it? Over the next few days I’ll be playing with it and posting comments on the new features, but for now here are some snippets of what you can expect.

Face Recognition

Personally this is not a selling point. At first I thought of it as a bit of a gimmick, but after some careful thought, it might be of some use to professionals, particularly wedding photographers.

How does it work? It searches your photos for things that look like faces, and displays these faces as a grid, ready for you to identify the people.

As stated, personally I don’t have any interest in it, but then I’ve thought that about a few software features in the past and come around to liking them. This might be one of them. Time will tell.

Built in Photo Merge: HDR & Panorama

This was a key selling point for me: it is now possible to merge photos into HDR images and panoramas without needing to use other software such as Photoshop.

A massive advantage is that the merged images is a DNG file that has the editing flexibility of the original files. In other words you don’t need to edit your images before you merge the image.

Personally I don’t do much HDR work but the feature is there, which is nicety. I purchased the Photomatix 32-bit merge to HDR plugin for LR a while ago and have been using it to create numerous semi-HDR images by merging the RAW files into a 32-bit TIFF and manually tone mapping them in LR rather than using the full blown Photomatix Pro software. This allows a more realistic look to be created: the key is subtlety.

The HDR photomerge feature in LR6 merges the RAW files into a single 16-bit floating point DNG file, so there are pros and cons to the method. Allegedly the 16-bit files should hold enough contrast data to do the job although it will be interesting to do a comparison against 32-bit files. Tone mapping is done manually in the Develop module in LR: there are no preset starting points like there is in software such as Photomatix.

Panoramas are where it’s at for me however. Since watching Serge Ramelli’s video on creating panoramas rather than shooting wide angle, I’ve used this method a lot. Of course there are times when this method just won’t work, but there are time when it does, and it allows you to create exceptionally detailed images, so I’m really looking forward to trying this out.

Filter brush

Another wish answered, although the appearance of this tool was known a long time ago….. Developed in a previous version of ACR it never made it across to LR because of legal reasons (in short Adobe can’t make major changes to dot releases of perpetually licenced products).

You can now use the brush to locally modify filter settings. This means if you want to apply a graduated filter on a sky in an image where the horizon is interrupted by other objects, you can now use the brush to prevent the filter from affecting these objects.

GPU Acceleration

Finally, another wish answered: using the GPU capability of your graphics card to speed up editing.  This provides real-time or near-time updates to the image while making adjustments in the Develop module using sliders.

To make the most of this you will need a decent graphics card. I have a mediocre card, and whilst it shows, there is still a significant performance enhancement. I’m almost tempted to upgrade it…..

There are some cons to using GPU acceleration however:

– Slower loading times: it takes a little extra time to pass the data from the CPU to the GPU, so there’s a slight delay in initially the loading the photo.

– Slower detail adjustments: The preview for sharpening, noise reduction and grain is slightly slower to update.

– Second screen lag: If you work with the Lightroom’s secondary windows open, the lag in updating is more noticeable with the GPU enabled.

Slideshow makeover

By far the biggest  single change is to the Slideshow module. I have only ever created one slideshow in LR before and was generally unimpressed with its offerings. It had very limited features, probably far less than some freeware programs. It seems it has had quite a few new features added, so I’ll be interested in trying them out.

Well, it’s getting late, and as much as I’d like to stay up and play with my new toy I really need some sleep, so watch this space for more comments.

Solar Eclipse

It’s not very often you get to witness a solar eclipse: they are a pretty rare phenomenon. This is the second in my lifetime: the first being in 1999 when it was a total eclipse, this only being a partial eclipse. I seem to remember there being far more hype and excitement in ’99 but maybe that’s just me and my memory.

Unfortunately this time I was stuck at work when it happened. Oh for the want of an extra day when I could have been at home and had more time to get ready for it. As a result everything was rather hastily set up at work and I only managed to grab a few frames from the office window. Nonetheless, it was still quite an experience watching the sun’s light slowly fade out as it moved across the moon. It never went as dark as it did in ’99, but nonetheless it was still rather eery and atmospheric.

Had there been some cloud I’d liked to have done something a little more atmospheric and interesting, but all I got was the above. In ’99 I got nothing: I didn’t own a camera then so it’s an improvement at least.

I think I’ll add photographing a total eclipse to the bucket list now, and make sure I’m set up ready and waiting for it…. I just hope the weather plays ball.

Photography Judges…..they don’t know everything….

Well, most of them don’t and that’s pretty much all you need to know when it comes to entering your photos in competitions. Having sat through some pretty awful judging I’ve learnt that lesson many a time. Sometimes they can be pretty damn inconsistent too- there is nothing more frustrating than seeing your image shot down in flames for an alleged “flaw” and then see someone else win with the same type of “flaw”, but even worse that yours. I remember sitting in the audience once when a fellow competitor’s image of a plane was shot down (pardon the pun) because its propeller wasn’t quite blurred enough. Sure it was blurred, but to that judge, it wasn’t blurred enough. And that meant the plane would fall out the sky, as far as that judge was concerned anyway. He then went on to award first place to an image of a helicopter over the Alps. Were the rotors blurred? Not a sausage. In fact they were pretty damn sharp. Completely stationary it appeared. So going by that judges’ theory of flight, the helicopter shouldn’t have even been in the air in the first place. Oh, and the snow on the Alps was completely burnt out too. But if they aren’t paying attention to consistency, then they won’t be paying attention to something like that either.

But one of the biggest problems is that judges weren’t there when the photo was taken so they don’t know what was happening when the photo was taken. And that can lead them to making some pretty poor decisions particularly if they aren’t well versed in the type of photography that forms the basis of your subject. I’ve heard some pretty poor comments from judges who don’t have a clue about macro photography, portrait photography, studio photography, off camera flash photography (“…I think that person has been added into the photo….”)…. the list is endless. Basically it encompasses anything that can be classed as slightly specialist.

Now you can argue that your photograph should be able to tell the judge everything they need to know as to how the photo was taken. Wrong. In a lot of situations this is pretty damn difficult, and if it did include everything then you can guarantee that the image would contain too much information, or not cropped close enough or poorly exposed… or something else the judge wouldn’t like. Here’s an example.

Nick Ferris

Nick Ferris from ‘Whole Lotta Led’ playing the distinctive twin necked Gibson.

Now I love photography, and I love music, so when I’m listening to music and doing photography at the same time I’m a pretty happy chappy. Once a year around Christmas time, Whole Lotta Led come to the Gloucester Guildhall to rock our socks off and banish the cold winter blues and you can pretty much bet your bottom dollar that I’m going to be there.

Now having photographed a few gigs, I know a thing or two about gig photography. Such as when there will be some classic poses from the band members, where and when the lighting is going to be at its best, and perhaps more importantly when it’s going to be at it’s worst.

So queue up “Stairway to Heaven” and you know that there is going to be a lead guitarist going solo who will be solely illuminated on stage by a spotlight and who will be doing some pretty cool poses and expressions.  Everything else on stage is pretty much going to be in the black. The other band members might as well be off stage at this point. Even if you could see them, no-one would be looking at them.

The spotlight is so bright that any background detail just doesn’t appear in the exposure.  The only way I could would be to overexpose and that would mean badly blowing the subject detail and ultimately including a lot of crap in the background which would detract from the main subject. Anyone who has seen a music stage would hardly call it “tidy”. It certainly wouldn’t add to the image. Besides the whole point of the image is to portray a band member enjoying “his moment”. There is no need for anything else.

I know that, heck even the rest of the concert goers who aren’t photographers know that.

But this is where the problem lies. A judge who just takes images of mid-day specials, dinky toys, and poorly lit studio flower shots isn’t going to know that because they’ve never had the experience of the difficulty of shooting gigs. In fact, they might even mistake this for a studio shot because of the angle and intensity of the lighting because they simply don’t know about concert lighting. And if they don’t like studio shots then you are stuffed. They don’t know that there is going to to be a single bright light, on a single subject, and they’ve probably never seen a guitarist who is passionate about their music enjoying themselves in front of a crowd of people. They aren’t going to know that light is constantly changing colour (red light on skin is awful and causes no end of problems) and causing you lots of grief in trying the get the shot.

And that is precisely what has happened to me.

So what can you take away from this?

Well, knowing your judge and their experience (or lack of) can help. Putting an image in that mimics their forte isn’t going to get you very far unless it is a truely good image, and probably putting an image in that they aren’t going to understand isn’t going to get very far either.

Not much help is it? It puts you in a difficult position.

The only advice I can offer really is enter images that you truely like, that you believe represent the best photography in your portfolio and hope for the best and don’t take too much to heart. One judge will love your image. Another will slate it. It’s a game of chance.

Just do what you enjoy doing and do it to your best ability. That’s something I have learned from personal experience and a world renowned photographer. If that’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.

Syd Matthews LRPS Judge

A Bit of French Inspiration: Part II, Interior Design Photography Course Review

If you’ve been following my blog, then you might have read this post regarding a French photographer by the name of Serge Ramelli. Serge produces numerous free tutorials on a vast array of subjects that act as mini-tasters for paid for tutorials that are for sale on his website for a very reasonable price. Now don’t get disillusioned: these free tutorials are quite extensive in themselves, often running for 15-20 minutes and they are very informative. I don’t know of many photographers who have given such a vast amount of knowledge away for free and I’ve learned a lot from them alone.

So why does he have paid for tutorials? Well, of course, he doesn’t give everything he knows away for free, that would just be silly. And that’s where the paid for tutorials come in. The courses are quite cheap already, considering what you get, but if you sign up to his email list from time to time you will get emailed special offers which entitle you to a 40% discount, and on special occasions even up to 50%, so it’s worth doing.

Wanting to try something a bit different I decided to purchase the Interior Design Photography course. For around $50 (using a discount) you get 19 videos and 10 RAW files that are featured in the videos. The videos last nearly 3 hours. Now that’s a lot of tuition for $50…you can’t really argue with that.

The first 5 videos are dedicated to shooting a particular hotel room which include the lounge and bedroom. Serge takes you through the whole process, from start to finish, detailing his thought process, techniques, hints, tips, what to look out for what to avoid, what to do, what not to do. In other words, pretty much everything you need to know. It’s quite extensive and he provides reasons for everything he does, which is what I like from tutorials. No stone is left unturned and you aren’t left with unanswered questions. My kind of teacher.

The sixth video explains shooting detail shots: the type of photos that are supplemental to hotel websites and just add to the “story” of the room in question and provide the finishing touch.

The last two shooting videos expand on the first five and explain how to shoot smaller rooms.

These first eight videos are something of an eye-opener in themselves and I’ve learned a lot from them alone. It’s quite surprising how much you don’t know or didn’t think of until someone points it out.

After being something of a spectator, the remaining videos are hands-on and you get to learn as you watch the video by editing the provided RAW files alongside with Serge. Having a moderate level of proficiency in LR here is rather useful but not necessary. Having a second monitor or having a means of displaying the video on another screen whilst you edit on your main monitor is highly beneficial.

Once again Serge leads you hand in hand with what he is doing and explains why he is doing it very thoroughly. He is a natural teacher and the way the videos are produced is almost like having him alongside you.

As with the shooting videos you start off with the basics and learn more and more techniques as you go along. The first eight videos detail the editing of the photos taken in the shooting videos, and the remaining are other rooms within hotels he has worked  finishing with an external shot of the hotel.

Serge’s editing technique is rather unique, as he explains in his videos. I won’t spoil it by revealing it: you’ll have to buy the tutorial to find out how it’s done, but it’s netted him a lot of money from a lot of hotels. His style of interior photography and editing makes his work different from all the rest. It’s subtle, but very effective. Applied correctly it’ll make the image stand out from anything else. It doesn’t have to be applied to interior photography either: the techniques can be applied to any type of photograph to create a unique “look”.

All in all the tutorial and quality of education is excellent and I highly recommend it.

Here’s a photo of a before and after. Both images photo credit/ copyright to Serge Ramelli. Editing of second image by me under Serge’s video guidance.

BeforenextAfter

A Bit of French Inspiration

A year or so ago I stumbled upon Serge Ramelli’s website, http://photoserge.com. I can’t quite remember how I found it. It might have been, for once, a useful advert on Facebook (it’s rare, but they do appear from time to time).

Serge, to quote him, is “a French photographer, living in the beautiful city of Paris”. You only have to browse through a few photos on his website to realise how lucky he is. It’s something of a photographer’s dream: a beautiful, romantic city with amazing architecture and features just waiting to be photographed in the right light. Essentially endless material.

On his website are a number (we’re talking dozens that extend to the hundreds) of free, yes free, tutorials that cover a vast array of subjects on photo editing. If you haven’t come across them already, check out http://photoserge.com/tutorials/podcasts/. I’ve literally spent hours watching them, for several reasons. Not least because they are free, that’s always a good thing, but because they are exceptionally good. Serge’s style of teaching is somewhat unique, just as much as his photo editing technique. It is very rare to find a good teacher: I know, I’ve been to school. There are teachers that inspire. And then there are teachers that, well, do quite the opposite. Serge is certainly the former. He is charismatic, he  has energy, he’s humorous, he knows what he is doing, he loves what he is doing and it comes across in his tutorials. He breaks everything down into easy to learn, bite-size chunks, explaining everything as he goes along in detail as to why he’s doing it and what happens when he does it. It makes learning photography and editing photographs a pleasure. He’s also a fine photographer.

He’s also something of an inspiration, certainly to me and no doubt to many others. He’s taught me to do what I like and don’t worry too much about criticism. From his comments in the videos it appears that many people have critiqued his photos, perhaps not appreciating his editing style, but it doesn’t stop him. He’s done what makes him happy and continues to do what he likes to do and I think that serves as an inspiration to all of us. Too many people have had their images beaten down by judges in club competitions, some of which produce work no better, and in fact in some cases far worse, than ours. I’ve seen judges turn down fantastic panels of work, put forward for accreditation, for no real reason, and yet then they applaud at utter drivel. But enough about that. In short do what pleases you because you can guarantee whilst there are people who don’t like what you do there will be at least as many, if not  more, that like it.

Anyway, back to the tutorials. So why are they free? Well at the end of the day you have to speculate to accumulate and that is exactly what Serge is doing here. They are little nuggets of information: just part of the bigger picture, making you eager to learn more. And he has a LOT more knowledge to share. If you browse his website you will come across many, many more in depth tutorials with videos and also RAW files to accommodate them. Not many people give those away. The downside? You have to pay, but it has to be said they are exceptional value for money. For $340 (maybe even less sometimes: subscribe and offers will come through from time to time, enabling you to get more off) you can get the complete works which comprises of 21 separate packages, which then have their own individual sub-packages. In short hours upon hours of videos and RAW files to work along with. If you don’t want to buy the complete works the sub-packages are available on their own-it just makes it a bit more expensive should you want to to buy lots!

Having run out of free videos and having thirst for more knowledge and needing to come up to scratch on some aspects of Lightroom I’ve checked a few on the list that interest me, the first being interior design photography. Having bought it, watch this space for a review. All I’m saying at the moment is that it’s better than his free tutorials, and that’s saying a lot 🙂

In the media: Sunrise Over the Valley

A month ago I was contacted by Waitrose Kitchen Magazine asking me if they could use the above photo in the October edition of their magazine.

Naturally I was honoured they asked and happy to oblige. So there you are, I am now a published photographer 🙂