Some of you may be familiar with split tone images but for those who are not, here is a little background information before we dive in today. Split toning has its roots in the days of film when photographers would tint the highlights and shadows of their black and white images using various chemical processes. Today these processes can be carried out digitally although some would argue that they cannot be completely replicated using Lightroom or Photoshop.
In this post I am going to share an image I made during my recent trip to the American Midwest, specifically Indiana, and to use it to demonstrate a few split tone techniques. We visited an old cemetery with markers going back to the early 1800’s. This is the colour version of the photograph.
It was a very hot day and the light was quite harsh. To me, this version did not give the feeling of deep history that surrounded us. The light lay everything bare and this was little sense of connection with the past which was of course, completely untrue.
At first, after processing the RAW file, I decided to work on the mood by converting it to black and white which seemed much more appropriate for an image highlighting something from the 1800’s. This is the black and white image.
In general I was much happier with it than the colour image because I was beginning to evoke a sense of a connection to a time gone by. Still I felt the image could be improved. So I decided to use the Split Tone panel in the Develop module of Lightroom to further enhance the image and this is the result.
In this image I have processed the highlights by accentuating the yellows and toning the blues in the shadows. Using opposite colours for highlights and shadows is generally the best approach because you add depth to the image that you don’t quite get by applying the same treatment to both. The differences are quite subtle between the black and white version and the split tone but I feel the image comes much closer to conveying the feeling of being there. Of course the best way to find out what works for you is to play around in the digital darkroom and it’s far easier than in the good old days of film.
While the split tone technique is most commonly applied to black and white images, you can also apply it to colour images as well. To find out more, check out Gavin Gough’s Photographer’s Post-Production videos available here.
Recently I decided to give the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan a try since I hadn’t upgraded to Lightroom 5 yet. The jury is still out on whether the monthly subscription plan is right for me but I am enjoying the latest version of Lightroom (LR). Since I had to reset my preferences with the new download, I had a chance to go back to Gavin Gough’s photographer’s workflow bible and revisit key workflow elements like camera calibration.
“Selecting a profile is an important first step when we begin to process images and…without it we are destined to be processing our precious photographs with little more than guesswork”. ~ Gavin Gough
When you photograph in RAW format, the image you see on the back of your camera is a JPG preview that has been processed by your camera based on the picture style you selected. The file you download to process is the original RAW file and it does not contain any information that was applied to the JPG preview. If you look at the Camera Calibration in the Develop Module, you will see the profile of this RAW file is the default Adobe Standard. Your image will look something like this, very flat.
To achieve “the look” of the JPG preview, LR has additional profiles you can apply that simulate the picture styles of your camera. It is pretty smart and will make specific profiles available depending on the camera you used. For example, if your images have a .NEF extension (even if the file has been converted to DNG format), LR knows that is a Nikon RAW file and it makes a set of profiles available that map to the Nikon picture styles. Not all camera brands are represented in LR but they are slowly adding profiles. I have been using my Olympus OM-D EM-5 almost exclusively for my farm project but the Olympus profiles have only recently been added to LR 5.3 Camera Calibration. Here is what the RAW file looks like when I apply the Camera Natural profile.
You can stop here with your processing if you are happy with what you see but I usually go further. Your first option is to make adjustments within Camera Calibration but most people will prefer to make adjustments within the Basic or Tone Curve or Color panels instead. In the final image below, I have made adjustments outside of Camera Calibration to achieve the feeling of freshly harvested tomatoes from the farm.
To learn more about processing your images including creating your own custom camera calibration profiles, pick up The Photographer’s Workflow today and just a reminder that Gavin Gough’s Photographer’s Post-Production is currently available for $39 using the discount code “ppp439“.
Anyone using Adobe Lightroom most likely knows about the spot removal tool, but there are a few features and some tricks for using this powerful tool that many photographers don’t know about. The spot removal tool can be found just above the Basic palette in the Develop module. You can also toggle the tool on and off by pressing Q.
Before I get into some of the newer and possibly unknown features let me quickly go over the basics. To use the tool you simply turn it on by clicking on the icon below the histogram or by pressing Q, and then click on a dust spot in your image. Lightroom will automatically choose a target area that it will use to remove the dust spot. If you don’t like the target area that was chosen you can drag it around your image to a better position.
Within the tool there are two modes you can choose from, clone and heal. The clone mode will copy the target area pixel for pixel onto the dust spot. The heal mode will use the texture of the target area combined with the tone and color of the area around the dust spot to remove the spot. There are times when the clone mode is necessary, but I find that the heal mode typically works best for removing dust spots and so I will almost always work in this mode.
You can adjust the size, feather and opacity of the selection point using the sliders as seen above. There are also a few handy shortcuts:
- To change the size, use the left and right bracket keys, [ or ]. You can also scroll up and down using a trackpad or mouse wheel.
- To change the feather, or softness of the selection point, hold SHIFT while pressing the bracket keys or while scrolling up and down using the trackpad or mouse wheel.
- I don’t know of any shortcut for changing the opacity, but if anyone else out there knows a shortcut please mention it in the comments.
Deleting Spot Removal Points
If you want to delete any spot removal points you’ve added to your image you can simply hold ALT (Windows) or OPTION (Mac) so that the cursor will change to a scissors icon and then you simply delete any spot removal points by clicking on them. Alternatively you can hold ALT or OPTION and then click and drag over an area to delete all spot removal points in that area.
An Easier Way to Find Dust Spots
Sometimes dust spots are very easy to see, but in some images they may not be that easy to find. Lightroom 5 has added a very useful tool to help identify these hard to see spots. If you look at the image below there are some dust spots that can be seen in the clouds but not all of them are that easy to find at first glance. I’ve only circled a few of them.
The improved spot removal tool has a new feature called ‘visualize spots’. To find this you need to activate your toolbar by pressing T, then check the box next to ‘visualize spots’, as seen below. The image will then become inverted with all of the edges highlighted making it very easy to see your dust spots. Another way to toggle the visualize spots mode on and off is by pressing the A key while the spot removal tool is activated.
The visualize spots feature also has a slider which will lighten or darken the image. This is handy because sometimes the spots don’t always show up, as seen in the two screenshots below.
One Last Check
Once I’ve identified and corrected all of the dust spots in the image I still like to zoom in and inspect the image one last time to make sure I haven’t missed any spots. The best way to do this is systematically, and once again Lightroom has provided an easy way to do this. I usually zoom in to 200%, but 100% should also work fine. After zooming in I will move to the top left of my image, as seen below. From there you can press the PgDn key in Windows or hold FN and press the DOWN ARROW on a Mac. This will move your view area down the image one screen at a time. Once you get to the bottom of your image if you hit PgDn or FN + DOWN ARROW once more, the view area will move to the right and to the top of your image. You can continue moving through your image this way so that you see every part of your image from the top left corner to the bottom right corner.
The Good Kind of Camera Shake
I’ve got one more trick for finding all of those hard to see dust spots. Sometimes, depending on the tonality or texture of the image, dust spots can be very subtle and difficult to see. A trick I learned a while back is to hold the spacebar to activate the ‘hand’ tool while you’re zoomed in, and then click and quickly shake your mouse from side to side. This will effectively shake your image from side to side and any dust spots become very apparent.
Using the Spot Removal Tool to Remove Lines
Finally, there’s another great way to use the spot removal tool to clean up an image. Even if all the dust spots in an image have been cleaned up, there may be some objects in your image that you want to remove. In the image below, there are a few windows with some bright lights showing through that I find a bit distracting.
In order to remove these I zoomed in and activated the spot removal tool. To remove a straight line you first click on one end of the line with the spot removal tool, and then while holding SHIFT click on the other end of the line. As you can see this will create an elongated selection which will remove the object. When removing lines this way, it is important that the target area is positioned in just the right place.
As you can see below, the bright lights have been easily removed from the image using the spot removal tool. Removing the bright area in the windows in the lower left would be too difficult using the spot removal tool in Lightroom and will need some extra work in Photoshop.
Hopefully these tips help you clean up your images, and if there are any more tips or tricks out there for using the spot removal tool, please mention them in the comments.
Exactly how many photographs are made each day is unknown but in 2013 PopPhoto.com shared the following statistics:
- According to Yahoo! 880 billion photos will be made in 2014.
- Buzzfeed reports more than 27,00 images are uploaded to Instagram every minute.
- Facebook has said 6 billion photos are uploaded to their site each month.
This constant stream of images shared through the Internet, can create pressure to draw comparisons to our own work and when compared to the really great photographers, can send you into a downward spiral wondering if you can ever create anything half as good. While it is natural to compare ourselves to others, that is probably one of the biggest stumbling blocks to our own growth. In fact, as someone once said: “the only photographer you should compare yourself to is the one you used to be”.
Sounds like great advice but what does that look like? Here are three simple suggestions for you.
Review Your Own Photographs
Whether you have been photographing for two or five or ten years, go back and look at your previous work. Do it with a critical eye as if you were not the photographer. What do you see? Has the work gotten better? What differences do you notice? If there have been changes or improvements in your photographs, can you determine why? Maybe you have a blog where you post your best work. Look at the images you shared and what you wrote about at that time. What lessons can you glean from them? If you have a Flickr or other image sharing account, you can do the same review. I have had a blog since 2009 and while I don’t post as often as I used to, I do share most of work there through blog posts and image galleries. When I look at my early work, I see someone who was working on exploring the craft of photography. I tried all sorts of things some of which I don’t do today like HDR. One thing I’ve noticed is how much my images have changed both in technique and in feeling and emotion. And when I read my blog posts, I can see how my approach to making photographs has become clearer to me. There is a greater sense of purpose and focus and that I feel is a sign of a maturing photographer. What reviewing your own photographs does is provide the proper context for comparison. Taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture will give you a sense of how far you have come in your own photographic journey and I am sure you will have a feeling of accomplishment you can never get from comparing yourself with others.
Look for Similarities
When you are doing the review of your work, take a look at the photographs you have been making and see if there are any similarities. Are you making the same photograph over and over again? I’m not talking about sunrises and sunsets (especially in Cortona) but photographs that you thought were particularly good. Be tough on yourself. Maybe the location is different but essentially the photograph is the same. If you look at when you made these photographs is there a pattern and are you still making the same photographs today? Sometimes this can indicate you have an interest in a particular subject but maybe you aren’t being honest with yourself and all you are doing is imitating yourself. If I’m not mistaken this is what Andy Warhol called “pot boiling”, when you make a successful image that people like and you keep making that same image. Imitating yourself can be a sign that you are not progressing in your photography and maybe you can do with a shake up. If you feel the similarities are more of a sign post to explore something in a more meaningful and deeper way, you won’t care about anyone’s work but your own as you will now have a renewed focus to making pictures.
Study Your Technical Data
I use Lightroom to process my images and from time to time I will go in and take a look at the EXIF data to see what I can learn about the way I am making photographs. The EXIF data will contain information about an image that when studied in relation to other images made, may indicate a pattern or a preference for making photographs or in my case, making mistakes. This includes information such as aperture, ISO, shutter speed, and focal length but also metering and exposure modes. Using EXIF data as a framework to compare your images will reveal areas you may need to work on to improve your photographs. For example, I looked at my images and realized while I was using the proper exposure (aperture, shutter speed and ISO), some of my pictures could really benefit from a change in metering mode to spot metering. Once I realized how much better some of my images could be, I programmed one of my camera function buttons for spot metering so that I could quickly make that change while out photographing. Another example is looking at images that missed the mark in terms of focus. They revealed to me that I really needed to nail down the area of focus for several apertures I prefer to use with certain lenses. That’s where the depth of field calculator came in handy. I now know what areas will be in focus in my photograph when using specific apertures and my rate of missed photographs has certainly improved.
You may feel inspired when looking at the work of other photographers but in my opinion, real improvements in your own photography always come from within. I hope these suggestions are useful to you and if you are looking for some help with technical improvements using Lightroom, rumour has it we might have a class soon. Make sure you sign up for our newsletter for any announcements regarding classes.