Archive for the 'Tutorials and Tips' Category

Technical question for you Photoshop heads

So, here’s a question for you Photoshop gurus. How would you try to emulate this type of shading, where there’s this grainy texture? It’s often seen in vintage Art Deco illustrations.
My example is more modern, but it’s the same idea.

As you can see, it’s not a simple matter of the textured shading fading away, the grain gets more sparse.

Thoughts? By the way, I would very likely create my artwork in Illustrator, then bring it into Photoshop to try to fashion this type of shading.

For Ben and the rest of the desk-jockeys…

Movements to help the body hate you less.

Movements to help the body hate you less.

I wish I was more talented…

It is true. I have no talent. What I do have is a lot of practice. And I am not talking about occasionally dabbling in Ruby on the weekends. I am talking about the kind of practice where I beat code that isn’t working into submission (though often times the code wins).

I know we all have had moments (some longer than others-ahem–James) where we were/are saying this to ourselves. I hear it echoing in my head currently. But I found a pretty good article that I found–without trying to sound corny–inspirational. The topic is website code, but it can be applied to whatever we are doing even if it that is just transitory.

More here: I Have No Talent–John Nunemaker

Wanted your guys opinions
Wanted your guys opinions

I’ve recently started using Adobe Lightroom to process my RAW files. It’s quite a powerful program, and I’m starting to develop my photos differently, but I don’t know which is approach produces better results. I’ve laid out the differences of some photos I’ve just worked on. Looking at the vertical photos, the first column is the original untouched photo. The second column uses curves to adjust the value, which is how I’ve always been adjusting my photos in Photoshop. The third column uses a new technique I’m starting to employ in Lightroom that simulates the look of an HDR photo without the need for multiple exposures. The fourth column also uses Lightroom, but uses a preset I found online that produces a “vintage” look. I rarely use this, but it’s sometimes a life saver for a photo that wasn’t great to begin off with. As for the horizontal photos, the upper left is the original, the lower left has the vintage preset, the upper right uses PS curves, and the lower right uses Lightroom. Any comments are appreciated (and sorry for the photo being so damn huge).


My First HDR Image (Updated)

So, I got myself a copy of Photomatrix Pro (unofficially that is) and created my first HDR image with photos I took on my recent hot springs trip. Here is the result:


I played around with the two ways to process the HDR image-Detail Enhancer and Tone Compression-and found I liked the results of Tone Compression more. It’s less artificial looking than Detail Enhancer which produces very painterly images, but to my eye, looks a bit unnatural (unless that’s what I am going for). Anyway, I noticed a problem I can’t seem to fix:


Those dark spots in the water highlights. I tried adjusting the original +2 overexposed RAW file almost to the point where I was nearing only being +1 overexposed and looking too similar to the normal exposed shot and they’re still coming up. I made slight adjustments to the underexposed and the normal exposed shot as well and while the dark spots reduced in size and number, they’re still there. I was wondering, Steve, is there a way to get rid of these prior to creating the HDR image? Once all three shots go through that process, they’re there for good. Maybe it’s the way I am generating the HDR image? Any tips you can give would be greatly appreciated. It’s pretty fun playing around with this, but there’s a lot to pay attention to before and after the fact.

By the way, I was happy to find that Nikon has an imaging suite for working with RAW files that is pretty damn powerful. Downloaded that and it’s working out very well. I’ll probably stick to that rather than going into PS since it’s completely non-destructive.


So, here’s the image reworked as Steve suggested. I also tried out his sharpening technique. You weren’t kidding about the noise, Steve. That takes some serious managing. Anyway, the black spots are gone and everything is a little sharper for it to boot. This is definitely stuff that needs to be thought about at the time one takes the photo. I’m not doing too much landscapes these days, but it’s nice to know I have a method for capturing landscapes in traditionally difficult lighting situations. I have a bunch of photos to process and put up on Flickr so I’ll work on that in my spare time (works already starting to come in). Thanks again, Steve.


影像處理 photography process

I initially was going to write this post to specify how I sharpen my photos in response to Ben’s request. I’ve decided to bore you even further by documenting my entire photography process, from the physical action of taking the photo to the last post processing (sharpening).

Now, I like to take all kinds of photos, but it seems my landscapes gets the most attention, so I’ll go over that process. Maybe you can gleam some helpful info, or if you guys have any comments, I’m all ears.

I often take my landscape photos during sunset or sunrise. Sunrises are harder for me because public transportation are usually not in service by then, so I sometimes have to stakeout the night before. I tend to carry a compass with me to indicate where east and west is to get any idea where the sun will be located. While I’m waiting for the right lighting condition, I scope out the location, seeing which areas have interest and where the sun will be in relation.

Now for the actual shot. I set my aperture low, usually F/11 to make sure both my foreground and background are sharp. I also use a tripod to lock down my shots. Now, this is a situation I’m sure most of you have experienced. When taking a photo with a bright background against a dark foreground, either the foreground will have the right exposure and the background will be blown out, or the background will have the right exposure and the foreground will be completely black (like taking a picture inside a room, with the window in the background being completely white). Traditionally, photographers taking landscape pictures will use a graduated filter to balance the bright sky against the darker landscape. I use a different approach called HDR (High Dynamic Range). To have the necessary material, I bracket my shots, which for me, means taking different exposure of the same shot. This insures that I have detail in the bright areas and detail in the dark areas.


I then use Photomatix to combine these bracketed shots into a single file. Photoshop also has this feature, but I like Photomatix results better. Some people may say that I’m cheating. I’d like to say that how the shot looked in real life is between the raw images and the final HDR image. Keep in mind that the human eye has a far greater range of levels than a camera. That’s why when we look at a scene in real life, we can see all those details, but the camera cannot capture that.


After creating the HDR image, I bring into Photoshop for any further editing. I usually leave sharpening as my last process.


Now, when you sharpen an image, the idea is to sharpen the areas that have sharp contrast, like edges, and not sharpen broad surfaces, like skies and skin, because this will sharpen any noise and make your images look grainy. To accomplish this, you will need to create a mask that will only sharpen the edges. Look at the RGB channels and see which channel has the best contrast. Copy that and paste it into a new layer.


Run a surface blur filter to remove any residual noise or subtle contrast.


Tweak the levels if necessary to produce a better contrast.


Next, run a find edge filter (I never thought this filter would be useful). I think you can now get the idea of the areas that will receive or not receive the sharpening treatment.


Clean up any areas that you don’t want to any sharpening effect. Once satisfied, run a very low Gaussian blur (this will make your sharpening effect not look so obvious) and again tweak the levels if necessary (I try to have large areas of pure white and pure black).


Inverse this image so that now, whatever is black will not be sharpened and whatever is white will be sharpened.


Going back to your actual image, create a duplicate layer and run a sharpening filter. I usually use the Unsharp mask filter. While playing with the settings, you’ll see how your image is being sharpened and any noise being exaggerated. Once satisfied, apply the mask you created to the layer that received the sharpening treatment.


I’m not sure if you can see the difference. The left has no sharpening, the middle has everything sharpened, and the right has the sharpening with the mask applied. Hopefully this quick rundown was of some interest.


“edit” In response to Kiko’s question, I’m elaborating a little further on HDR. For best results, you need at least three different exposures. Now, there are times when objects are moving in the scene, like people, cars, waters, etc. Sometimes the HDR product will look fine, but often, you’ll get a ghosting effect where you can see the object moving through time. Sometimes, you’ll get some weird artifacting. Take this HDR shot for example. The left side is the HDR treatment with 3 bracketed shots. At first glance, the water looks passable, but I wanted more definition in the water, like on the right side.


This is where the power of RAW images comes in handy. From my bracketed shots, I take the medium one, and through Photoshop, I “artificially” bracket my shots. RAW images still contain enough dynamic range to produce pseudo bracketed shots. Note, this step is also a way to produce HDR shots if you didn’t or couldn’t take bracketed shots at the time of your shoot. Because my actual bracketed shots are spaced by 2 stops, I’m reduplicating that exposure here (note the exposure slide bar).


Once I’ve created my pseudo bracketed shots, I save them out as TIFFs and apply my HDR process, using the same settings from my HDR process on the real bracketed shots. Once satisfied with the way the water turned out, I mask that and apply it over my original HDR shot.


I generally try to avoid this particular process of creating HDR shots from pseudo bracketed shots because whatever noise that’s in the original shot will be significantly more apparent. Look at the shot above, and you’ll see some pretty bad noise in the darker areas. Remember, you’re combining three exposures from the same shot, which means you’re amplifying the same noise by three times, whereas when you combine exposures from an actual bracketed shot, the noise you’re combining will be different from each shot, essentially smoothing out the noise.

Glad you’ve found this to be of some interest. If you have any further questions, I’ll keep updating this post.

Photography Advise

For the Cadre members with DSLRs, have a question.

What is your preferred metering mode?
I am getting used to my D90 and I love the results, but I find that I am having some so-so results with the Matrix Metering mode. This is probably mostly my fault as my old film camera and even the Cybershot I got from Kiko were center-weighted or spot metering cameras; now that I have Matrix Metering, I sometimes get shots that look great, especially outdoor shots, but in some cases where I want dramatic mood or something, I usually get a lot of underexposure and have to futz around locking off focus & exposure and reframing. Unfortunately, this means losing a moment sometimes… Anyway, let me know about your experience with Matrix Metering and when exactly you dial that in (if ever). Thanks!

Procrastination Flowchart

Ah, it is finally good to have a scientifically and logically sound set of reasonings to absolutely not get anything done. This, my friends, is a guide to life for sure. Click on the pic for a larger version:

Rough drafts of covers

All right, you designery types. I need your eyeballs, advice, suggestions. I’m working up some roughs of cover ideas for my four-part series called “Telling Stories with Color.” I’m starting with Book 1, but it’s safe to assume that whatever design is chosen, the main elements of that design will remain for all four issues; just the colors will change. These will initially be released as four 22-page floppy comic books and then collected into a deluxe edition with a DVD or somesuch. I want something that does not immediately scream “COMIC BOOK!!”, but imparts some of the clean classiness of Chip Kidd covers. Please let me know what you think of these, whether any of them have any hope whatsoever. If you’ve got ideas of your own, please feel free to share!

Sample 1: Crap on a Crap Cracker

Sample 2: Slightly Less Crap

Sample 3: Now I’m Getting Silly

Sample 4: Probably Too Gimmicky

Occupational Hazard

Victor Navone, animator extraordinaire over at Pixar, and overall genius, posted a short article on work ergonomics on his blog. All of us here spend 75-80% of our day in front of the computer, so we all face similar hazards. And as we’re no longer spring chickens (me being one of the oldest “cocks” in The Cadre), maintaining good ergonomics is no longer optional. Anyway, head on over to his blog where he links to some good articles about it:

Coloring workshop come and gone

Well, that went…well?

When they told me my workshop was going to be recorded, I expected a guy with a handheld. Then when they told me they weren’t sure it would be recorded, I relaxed. Then I walked into the office — and there was a frickin’ FILM CREW there. Fuuuuuuuuck. Cue instant (but quiet) panic and an almost overwhelming flight response.

But I kept it together, despite a crucial missing file, despite my completely disorganized reference DVD, despite having to work on someone else’s machine (with a GIANT 30-inch Apple flatscreen — good god, that was a thing of beauty) — and I think I did all right. Well, no. I didn’t. I was all over the place, despite a well-organized if incomplete workbook. I skipped over crucial information, had to go back, forgot to use key phrases that really drove the points home. I’d say that I was off-kilter about half the time. Cue cards? Forgot they were there.

After about five minutes, though, I started to forget the camera was there. People started to ask questions. Good questions.

Let me stop here and say this: Suresh Seetharaman, the head of the art department in India, is a brilliant artist and a pleasant, articulate, intelligent man. I really like the cut o’ his jib. He really helped keep the theoretical discussion alive. Not that I felt like I was floundering; he basically reiterated the point I’d just made in a different way, and we found ourselves on the same side of the conversation, his position from an academic standpoint and mine from the practical world. I would liken him to a favorite professor.

Of course, I have no recollection of what I actually said. Like, AT ALL. I’m sure I’ll look over the video of the thing and think, “My god, did I say that? Ugh! Scrap it all! I sound like an idiot!”

Everyone seemed very happy with the results. I think they’re all being too nice. Seriously. If I watched me give that seminar, I would be like, “uh, hey, prepare much?”

But. Whatever. The worst of it is over. There’s still a ton to do, like finish the workbooks and the voiceovers for the DVDs, but by and large, the worst part is done.

I haven’t slept in days, and I just got a reprieve on a deadline. I think I’ll go take a nice hot bath and  a nap.

Thanks for all the kind words, y’all. When I get the second draft under way, I’ll post excerpts.

– Laura