How To

Fun with blur

There are all sorts of blurring effects you can create, either when you take photos (when they can be intentional or not — but hey, sometimes they’re happy accidents) or after the fact, in processing. When you press the shutter, you can create movement blur or zoom blur. Or you can take a perfectly normal photo and blur it in Photoshop, which can also make it look amazing. Here are a few examples.

This one’s rotational blur, done by slightly overexposing to get a longer shutter time and rotating the camera on the X axis (the line of the long corridor).

This one’s zoom blur, which is where you pull the zoom in or out really fast while pressing the shutter. Zoom blur is fun!

This one’s what I call directional blur (I don’t know the official name for it, if there is one). Move the camera forward while the shutter button is pressed.

And finally, this blur is done in Photoshop. It’s a movement blur to make it seem as if the wall shadows are growing.

Have fun!

How To

Get the tiltshift look right from Adobe Lightroom

If you use Adobe Lightroom and want to apply a tiltshift effect to your photos, you can spend hundreds of dollars on expensive Photoshop plugins, or you can do it for free, with an Adobe AIR app called TiltShift.

If you’ve used TiltShift before, you know you can open any photo in it and apply tiltshift effects to it, but did you know you can do this right from Lightroom? Here’s how.

In Lightroom, open up the Export window and add a new Export Preset. See the screenshot below. I called mine TiltShift, so I can easily remember it. Adjust any of the settings, like color space, sizing, sharpening, etc. They don’t really matter, although it’s better to keep the image smaller so TiltShift can work faster with it.

The really important option is in the post-processing section — the very last one in the Export window. There, you’ve got to make sure you tell Lightroom to “Open [your photo] in Other Application…”, then click on the Choose button and browse to find the TiltShift app. This is pretty much it.


Lightroom will automatically pass your image to TiltShift, which will open it and allow you add tiltshift effects to it, to your liking. For example, I initially processed this image of a medieval water pump found on the streets of Medias, Romania, in Lightroom.

The old water fountain

Then I exported it into TiltShift using the export preset set up as described above, and adjusted the settings there to get the effect I wanted. This is how the controls and the image looked inside TiltShift.


Once I did that, I saved the photo and uploaded it here. This is how the final image looks.


It couldn’t be easier, and again, let me remind you TiltShift is a free app.

[TiltShift home page] [Download TiltShift]


Videos about photography

I thought I’d share a few of my favorite videos about photography with you. The first video is called “Miniature Earth”, and the photos used in it are really powerful.

This next video took two years to make. It’s called “Koya Moments”, and chronicles the changing weather, light and seasons over Edinburgh, Scotland.

Dove put out a video showing the transition that takes place in makeup and Photoshop to make a model look good. It’s pretty sad really, to see that beauty is not only skin-deep but also quite elusive.

I believe this time lapse video was done by a French director, who drove across America with a friend of his in a convertible.

This is a beautiful time lapse video of the 2006 Reno Balloon Race:

Here’s how a typical fashion photo shoot takes place. The subject of this shoot is Martin Scorsese.

Holger Eilhard, a fellow photographer, put together this great time lapse video of one of the Berlin gates. It’s a whole day, from dawn to dusk.

These are a couple of the “take a photo every day” projects:

This is a humorous look at the rise of a photographer. He’s a Nikon guy and I shoot Canon, but I won’t hold that against him… 🙂

How To

My own sort of HDR

I’ve been intrigued by HDR (High Dynamic Range) post-processing for some time. At its best, it renders incredible images. At its worst, average, and even good, it renders completely unrealistic, overprocessed, unwatchable crud. Even some of the best images made with HDR methods seem weird. They’re not right — somehow too strange for my eyes. But, I did want to try some of it out myself and see what I’d get. The challenge for me was to keep the photo realistic and watchable. I wanted to enhance the dynamic range and color of my photos in an HDR sort of way. I also didn’t want to sit there with a tripod taking 3-5 exposures of the same scene. As much fun as that sounds, I don’t always carry a tripod with me.

By way of a disclaimer, I have not researched the production of HDR-processed images thoroughly. I have, however, seen a boatload of HDR images on both Flickr and Zooomr. I did read the tutorial that Trey Ratcliff posted on his Stuck in Customs blog. Of course, we all know Trey from Flickr, where he posts some fantastic HDR images on a daily basis. So, given my disclaimer, realize I don’t say I’m the first to have done this. I’m just saying this is how I worked things out for myself. If indeed I’m the first to do this, cool! If not, kudos to whoever did it before. I’d also like to encourage you to experiment on your own and see how things work out for you. Change my method, build on it, and make something even better. While I’m on the subject, I’m not even sure I should call this processing method HDR. It’s more like WCR (wide color range). What I’m really doing is enriching the color range already present in the photo while introducing new color tones.

When I started, I experimented with Photoshop’s built-in Merge to HDR feature. Using Photoshop, after a few non-starts that I deleted out of shame, I got something halfway usable. Have a look below.

Brook and rocks

Here’s how I processed the photo above. I shot three exposures of that scene in burst & bracket mode, handheld (no tripod), in RAW format. Then, I darkened the low exposure, lightened the light exposure, and exported all three to full-res JPGs. Used Merge to HDR in Photoshop, got a 32-bit image, adjusted the exposure and gamma, converted to 16-bit, adjusted exposure, gamma, colors, levels, highlights, then smart sharpened and saved as 8-bit JPG. It came out okay — not weird, at least not too much, anyway, but still not to my satisfaction. I should mention I also used a sub-feature of the Merge to HDR option that automatically aligned the images. As I mentioned, I shot handheld, and there were slight differences in position between the three exposures. Photoshop did a pretty good job with the alignment, as you can see above. It wasn’t perfect, but definitely acceptable.

I know there are people out there saying Photoshop doesn’t do as good a job with HDR as Photomatix. It’s possible, although I got decent results. Maybe at some point in the future I’ll give Photomatix a try, but for now, I’m pretty happy with my own method — see below for the details.

But first, what’s the point of HDR anyway? When I answered that question for myself, I started thinking about creating my own (WCR) method. The point as I see it is this: to enhance the dynamic range of my images. That means bringing out the colors, highlights and shadows, making all of the details stand out. Whereas a regular, unprocessed photo looks pretty ho-hum, an HDR-processed photo should look amazing. It should pop out, it should stand out in a row of regular images. It should not look like some teenager got his hands on a camera and Photoshop and came up with something worthy of the computer’s trash bin. As I’ve heard it from others, the standard way to postprocess a scene in HDR is to take 3-5 varying exposures, from low to high. Those exposures can then be combined to create a single image that more faithfully represents the atmosphere and look of that scene.

But, what if you don’t have a tripod with you? Can’t you use a single image? Yes, you can shoot in RAW, which is the equivalent of a digital negative, and good HDR software can use that single exposure to create multiple varying exposures, combine them and create an image that’s almost as good as the one made from multiple original exposures.

What if you want to make your own HDR/WCR images, in Photoshop, all by yourself? I wanted to do that, and I think I arrived at a result that works for me. Here’s what I did. I took a single exposure of a brook in the forest, which you can see below, unprocessed.

Brook, unprocessed

There’s nothing special about this photo. It’s as the camera gave it to me, in RAW format. The colors are dull and boring. There’s some dynamic range, and the color range is limited. It’s all pretty much made up of tones of brown. I took this single exposure, converted it to full-res JPG (but you don’t have to, you can use the RAW directly,) put it in Photoshop, created three copies of the original layer, called them Low, Medium and High, then adjusted the exposure for Low to low, left the exposure for Medium as it was, and adjusted the exposure for High to high. Then I set all of them to Overlay mode. (The original JPG, preserved in the Background layer, was left to Normal mode and was visible underneath all these layers.) The key word when talking about exposure here is subtle. Make subtle changes, or you’ll ruin the shot.

As soon as I adjusted the layers and changed them to Overlay, things looked a lot better. The dynamic range was there, it just needed to be tweaked. So I went in and adjusted the individual exposures for each layer some more to make sure parts of the photo weren’t getting washed out or ended up too dark. Then I threw a couple of adjustment layers on top for levels and colors. Finally, I duplicated the three layers and merged the duplicates, then used the smart sharpen tool. The adjustment layers were now on top of it all, followed by the merged and sharpened layer, and the three exposure-adjusted layers, which were no longer needed, but I kept them in there because I like to do non-destructive editing. Here’s the end result, exported to a JPG.

Brook, processed

This is the sort of post-processing that pleases my eye. The details were preserved, the colors came out looking natural yet rich, and things look good overall. Even though some spots are a little overexposed, I like it and I’m happy with it. Let’s do a quick review. Using my own WCR/HDR-like method, I accomplished the following:

  • Used a single RAW/JPG exposure
  • Didn’t need to use a tripod, could shoot handheld
  • Didn’t need special software, other than Photoshop
  • Achieved the dynamic range I wanted
  • The photo looks natural, at least to my eyes
  • The post-processing was fairly simple and took about 30 minutes

There is one big difference between my WCR method and the usual HDR post-processing. Done right, the latter will help bring detail out of the shadows. Because of that single or multiple exposure done at +2 EV or more, spots that would normally be in the dark in a regular photo can be seen in HDR. Not so with my method. Here the darks become darker. The atmosphere thickens. The highlights become darker as well. The whole shot gains character, as I like to call it. So this is something to keep in mind.

Just to clarify things, the image above was the first result I obtained using my method. There was no redo. I then processed some more images, and got a little better at it. It’s worth experimenting with the Shadow/Highlight options for each individual layer. It helps minimize blown-out spots. It’s also very worthwhile to play with the Filter tool for each layer. This really helps bring out some nice colors. It’s sort of like taking three exposures of the same scene with different color filters. The results can be stunning if done well. You also don’t need to use three overlays. It all depends on the photo. Some photos only need one overlay, while others need four or five. Subtle changes in exposure can help bring out areas that are too dark. You can see some photos below where I used my own advice.

Brook, take two, processed

Meeting of the minds

Parallel lines

There you are

I hope this proves useful to those of you out there interested in this sort of post-processing. It’s my dream to see more natural and colorful photos, regardless of whatever post-processing method is used.


The Photoshop Anthology, by Corrie Haffly

I find Corrie Haffly’s book, “The Photoshop Anthology”, to be very useful to me. Being a web developer, involved in all aspects of site design and coding, her book is a great resource as I work on a design. In it, she teaches the readers how to use Photoshop to their advantage, for the specific needs of websites.

She’s wisely chosen not to advise people to use Photoshop to generate the site HTML. Instead, she chose to emphasize Photoshop’s proper role in the web design process, which is to create great graphics, work on site layouts and process/optimize photos for the web.

This book’s not meant to be studied in linear fashion, although one could choose to do so. Instead, it’s indexed and organized in such a way that jumping between subjects is made easy. As you work on a particular project and need to know how to do something, you can look up that task in the table of contents and get right to it. I can see that great thought went into organizing the book properly, and I appreciate that. The author took the time to think about the many tasks a web designer needs to do as he or she builds a site, then laid them out and addressed each of them in this book.

She starts out with the basics, such as using graphics, resizing documents, using masks and layers, and transparent backgrounds, then progresses to buttons and backgrounds (staples on websites), text (for logos or special uses) and using/manipulating images. Finally, she addresses the very real need of working on a site layout in Photoshop, and also talks about some nice advanced techniques such as batch commands, watermarking, web photo galleries and animated GIFs.

If you want to learn how to use Photoshop to design a website, then this book’s for you. If you’re just interested in learning Photoshop, this book’s not for you. Remember, it’s geared for web designers and the specific tasks we perform in Photoshop as we do our jobs. Given its focus, it’s a fantastic resource, and it has found a permanent place in my reference library.