Experiments in Black & White

I’ve always liked black and white photography. In my early days of using digital cameras I produced more black and white images than colour. Many of these were in the square format and I found this form of image very satisfying.

To a small extent I’ve neglected this format but I recently discovered the work of Ian Barber, a fine art photographer here in the UK. His work has inspired me to at least make more images in the black and white/square format. Ian has produced a comprehensive se to presets for Lightroom primarily for black and white but also useable in colour post-processing.

I’ve been experimenting with these presets and here are three images that I’m very pleased with.

Nature's Sculpture
Nature’s Sculpture
Still Life #1
Still Life #1
Sunburst

Lightroom Presets

If you use Lightroom then I hope you’ll be interested in this post. It’s a sort of review and a sort of promotional one.

A few days ago freelance photographer Samuel Zeller, a Fujifilm ambassador (X-Photographer) based in Switzerland, offered a set of presets to celebrate an event on Instagram. This was to be a free set of tools to assist in image editing. It’s a very useful package containing presets, curve settings and a set of eight of Samuel’s RAW images each to match a specific preset. Providing one’s own images to others is a very rare occurrence, indeed, I can’t remember any pro photographer doing so.

I’ve downloaded Samuel’s package and I have to say that I’m delighted with the results. I’m still playing with presets and curves on my own images and I really like the results. I’ll post an image later this week, all being well.

Even if you are not an Instagram member, you can still obtain this set of presets by registering your e-mail address at presets.samuelzeller.ch and Samuel will send you a link to the download. Full instructions for installation are contained in the package along with a licence agreement.

There is a likelihood that further presets will be made available and I’ll keep my eyes open for future packages and pass on the details to you here.

The presets are NOT specific to Fujifilm cameras and should work on RAW files from most camera platforms.

Processing

Sunday’s shoot in Snowdonia was very enjoyable even through it was more than a little rushed. As a result, some of the images were either over or under exposed. I have a rule that if I have to spend more than five to ten minutes on an image it gets bumped out of the archive. This meant that there would be the task of seeing what needed to be done so that I had some publishable images.

Of course, the real dilemma is: How much processing is too much? Well, that’s a very good point. I looked very carefully at the images I made during the shoot and from the 47 (94 including the JPEGs) I chose all 47 images for consideration for my blog, Flickr, Steller and/or Instagram (see earlier note!). I am very conscious of over-manpulating images; for example, I don’t like HDR images, focus stacking or any other time-consuming processes. Too much time spent processing images means less time in the field honing your camera skills.

I mentioned dodging and burning earlier. These are two processes of the most useful methods of improving shadows and highlights; dodge to darken highlights and burn brightens shadows. All of Adobe’s image processing software have these tools on hand and it takes a little while to master the them but it is very much worth the effort. Alien Skin’s Exposure X also has these tools but is a little more intricate and not quite as effective as Adobe’s.

I’m a very big fan of Ansel Adams and I’d like to think that when you finally see all the images, you’ll see a find a little of the master’s touch in my processing. If you don’t know Adams, I can tell you he was a very fine photographer but a better printer. He was a past master of knowing just how much to “dodge and burn” images to get the very best from the negatives, often glass ones, Just pick up one of his books – I would recommend “400 Photographs” and if you wanted to know  more about his printing techniques you can try “Examples – The Making of 40 Photographs”. Both are also excellent sources of inspiration for your own images.

Another photographer/printer worth exploring is Eddie Ephraums, who writes a regular column in Black+White Photography magazine. He is based in the UK where he teaches all the skills that the modern photographer needs either in the darkroom or using computers. If you can find a copy, have a look at his book “Creative Elements; Landscape Photography – Darkroom Techniques”, Whilst this book is centred on the analogue darkroom, many of the ideas and techniques he uses can be used in todays digital world. The book goes into great depth with lots of examples of how the techniques look and work, By examining the original image you can see how he selects the areas for treatment. It’s then easy for you to spot the areas in your images that need either a lift or toning down a little.

I’ve published below another of the dozen images I’ve already processed; this is a view of The Glyderau and Pen-yr-Ole-Wen, all mountains of above 3,000 feet, seen from the eastern edge of Llyn Ogwen.

Not all the 47 images I started with will be used but I’m quite pleased with the 25% that have “made the grade” thus far. And, yes, due to the quality of light and my haste to get a few images “in the bag”, each has taken a little longer to process than my five to ten minute “rule”. My excuse? It’s been a wet day and I needed some amusement!

Snowdonia 2016 #2

Image © Tony Harratt/The Fuji Freak – 2016

NOTES: For those interested, Ansel Adams’ “400 Photographs” can be found under ISBN-10: 0-316-11772-2 or ISBN-13: 978-0-316-11772-2; “Examples – The Making of 40 Photographs” can be found under ISBN 978-08212-1750-4. Both are published by Little, Brown.

The book by Eddie Ephraums, “Creative Elements; Landscape Photography – Darkroom Techniques” was published by 21st Century Publications in 1993 under ISBN 0-9510147-9-X and is probably out of print. You’ll be please to know that a hardback copy from Amazon UK can be had for anything from £3.95 to £984.37! A NEW copy – three in total, also from Amazon UK – can be had for £9.98, £95.51 and £98.53! A paperback copy will cost from £5.00 to £74.44. These prices don’t include   delivery charges. I recently picked up my copy for £3.49 via Oxfam Books here in the UK.

Sunset, Hoylake, Wirral

A very windy, stormy sunset this evening at Hoylake, Wirral. A quite spectacular display through storm clouds driven by a Force 6 gale.

This is a panoramic shot, stitched in Lightroom, process in Alien Skin’s Exposure X. I hope that it meets with your approval, dear readers – best. viewed in full-screen mode.

Landscape #4

Image © Tony Harratt/The Fuji Freak – 2016

Lost and Found

As photographers, we tend to hoard our images. I know that I do and it takes up lots of room on my disk drives! Of course, we all know just exactly what we’ve got saved for a rainy day. Or do we…

I’ve been spending a little time on my X-System files moving them around so I can present some of my previous jaunts overseas, mainly to France, where my lovely lady and I have had some wonderful times – and will again, I’m sure. Having moved two French trips from 2012, one from 2013 and a visit to Krakow also in 2013, I set about refreshing my memory of what I have.

I was astonished when I opened up the first French trip finding some wonderful sunset images that I had completely forgotten about, as were a few street images, some church architecture, landscapes and so much more! There are weeks of fun just waiting to be had! Not only that, but there is an important lesson to be learned: know what you’ve got and where it is. Not only that, I need to make sure that the images are keyworded for easy access.

As a result of filling an evening shuffling a large group of files I’ve “found” lying around on hard drives from one place to another, I’ve created a small monster. But that’s fine because in the two or three years that the files have been sitting around, I’ve learned far more about image editing. I’ve spent hours reading, experimenting, listening to podcasts, watching YouTube tutorials and anything else that helped me to quickly get images processed, filed and ready for whatever might come my way – blog posts for you lovely people who pop up on my blog most days; for competitions; to sell, to give away to charities, to give to friends and family as gifts and so much more. There will be no more dumping images in my archive and forgetting about them after a few days.

And it’s time to share a few with you all out there in the WordPress blogosphere, a few “new” images… Thanks to those of you who follow my work, whether you read the stuff I write, look at the images I publish or the tutorials I either borrow from the lovely folk at Fujifilm or write myself. Here goes…

All images © Tony Harratt/The Fuji Freak – 2012-2016

Notes: All three black & white images were processed in Alien Skin’s Exposure X (EX) image editing software using their Fujifilm ACROS 100, which gives you some idea of what the ACROS simulation in the new X-Pro2 might look like. The EX version has the added luxury of being able to add a +20% yellow filter, a low radius (25) sharpening option and a grain simulating Rodinal developer set to 12.5%. I am using EX as a Lightroom 6.3 plug-in as I find some of its editing tweaks much better than Lightroom’s.

Also, in no way am I denigrating Fujifilm’s ACROS simulation in the X-Pro2; I don’t have the luxury of owning one – yet! – so I’m using the EX version, which also gives me the opportunity to save settings as presets for future use (see the above note for just what you can do with EX!).

Fuji X-Trans Files

I’ve been reading quite a bit about processing Fujifilm’s X-Trans files, both RAW and JPEG, this past couple of days. Fuji files are slightly different than most other camera makers in that they do not use a Bayer array on their sensors. For those editing files in Lightroom and other image editing tools, there’s a slight drop in quality. The latest Lightroom build, v.6.3, has addressed some of the issues but the images continue to be a little soft.

If you’re interested in getting a little more out of your Fuji files, take a look at two blogs UK landscape photographer Pete Bridgwood has produced. Here’s the links:

The first looks at post-edit sharpening -> http://petebridgwood.com/wp/2014/10/x-trans-sharpening/#more-1432

The second is a video looking at new Lightroom 6.1 and Fuji X-Trans files -> http://petebridgwood.com/wp/2015/06/lightroom-6-1-and-fuji-x-trans/

One of the things Fuji’s sensor array does improve is the quality of JPEG’s. The Fuji JPEG’s are highly regarded by photographers – see Pete Bridgwood’s comments in his video tutorial. To prove the point, here’s a JPEG image that I spent all of five minutes with. I could have posted it without any software tweaks but I wanted to boost the colour saturation, sharpen a tad and to crop. I think you’ll agree that it’s very difficult to tell the difference between a RAW file and JPEG! Indeed, it’s also my Something for the Weekend post.

Winter 2015-2016 #11

Image © Tony Harratt/The Fuji Freak 2016

Changes

Some of you may have noticed that my mono processing has changed. I’ve gone from using either Silver Efex Pro-2 or Alien Skin’s excellent Exposure 7 to make my mono conversions to something very different.

Here’s an image processed using Exposure 7 using a custom preset:

Escalator 1

And here’s the same image produced by a single preset in Lightroom 6.1.1:

Escalator 2

The lower image uses a preset designed by Matt Kosklowski for Lightroom 5, emulating Tonal Contrast . Matt previously worked with Scott Kelby but has now moved on to On1 software.

There are three presets in the series – light, medium and strong. I’ve been using the strong version because I think it picks out much more detail than either of the other two, and I adjust the settings as necessary. Usually I up the contrast by between 10 & 20 percent, lower the exposure about 0.25-0.33 stop and increase the amount of vignetting by up to five or six notches. I’ve rarely had to make other adjustments to images using this preset.

There some who think that tonal contrast is actually HDR. It’s not…

I’m not sure if the presets are still available out in the wide world of the wobbly wobbly web. If you can’t find them let me know and I’ll send copies to you. They do work with Lightroom 6.1.1.