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REVIEW: MICHAEL FRYE’S “LANDSCAPES IN LIGHTROOM 5: A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE”

LR5-CoverSpread.jpgCalifornia landscape photographer Michael Frye recently published his latest ebook, “Landscapes in Lightroom 5: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide“, and it’s a good one. I mean, really good. I’ve been using Lightroom for seven years and I’ve read countless books and online tutorials, all of which have contributed significantly to my proficiency with the software. Michael’s ebook is as good as they come. In a nutshell, here’s why I think it’s well worth the $15 investment:

An ebook is no good if it isn’t easy to buy, download and use. ”Landscapes in Lightroom 5: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide” was easy to purchase on Michael’s website and is delivered as a PDF that downloaded to my iPad without any hiccups. Most importantly, it is laid out in a logical, easy to use and attractive format.

There’s a lot of content here, folks. Really, really good content. Some “how-to” books are too basic while others cater to those who are experienced users of the software. Michael strikes a good balance of both and as a result, you’ll find value in the ebook regardless of your proficiency with Lightroom.

To many, myself included, the tools in Lightroom’s “Develop” module are a bit of a mystery. Sure, we may have a pretty good idea of what they are and how to use them, but each new version of Lightroom brings new tools and updates to old ones, some of which are significant. Michael did his research and is able to explain each tool in depth, but in a way that the average person can easily understand. I learned things about several of the tools that I use daily, and I think having that knowledge will make me more adept at using each tool.

We’re all unique and we each learn best in different ways. For some of us, just reading about a new technique is sufficient while others may pick it up quicker by watching a video. Michael recognizes this and has included several video tutorials that cover some of the more complex topics. I found the video tutorials to be very helpful.

Yet another way people learn is by doing. Michael has included sample workflows wherein he walks you through step-by-step as he processes six unique images, each with different challenges. He even provides a link to the actual DNG files for each image so you can download the unprocessed RAW files and import them into Lightroom so you can edit them yourself. This is huge. It’s almost like getting a one-on-one Lightroom workshop with Michael. This alone would make the ebook worth $15 (or more, actually).

Landscapes in Lightroom 5: A Step-by-Step Guide” is an excellent ebook for all photographers. If you’ve never used Lightroom I recommend you start with another book, Nat Coalson’s excellent “Photoshop Lightroom 5: Streamlining Your Digital Photography Process“. Nat’s book begins at the ground level with importing and organizing your images in Lightroom and then delves into the editing and other features of the software. Once you’re comfortable with the basics, “Landscapes in Lightroom 5: A Step-by-Step Guide” will be a great supplement to your library that will help you fine tune your processing skills.

lens cap
bret-edgeBret Edge is a nature and adventure photographer in Moab, Utah. His interest in photography evolved as an extension of his life long passion for the outdoors. He is an avid hiker, backpacker, mountain biker and canyoneer. A visit in 1999 to an exhibit featuring photographs by Ansel Adams, Jack Dykinga and David Muench stoked Bret’s creative fire such that he immediately purchased his first SLR camera, a Canon Rebel. In the years since, he has traveled extensively throughout the American West creating a diverse portfolio of dynamic images.

Bret’s work has appeared in magazines, calendars, travel guides and advertising campaigns. His clients include Backpacker magazine, Popular Photography, the Utah Office of Tourism, Charles Schwab & Co. and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides.

While Bret enjoys seeing his work in print, he receives the most satisfaction by helping others realize their potential as photographers. He accomplishes this by leading several group workshops each year and guiding photographers on private photo excursions. For information about his workshops and guided excursions, visit www.moabphotoworkshops.com. To view a collection of Bret’s images, visit www.bretedge.com. Bret lives in Moab with his wife, Melissa, their son Jackson, and two All-Terrain Pugs named Bierstadt and Petunia.

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Photographer’s Guide To Bryce Canyon National Park

 

Earth shadow tints the sky over Thor's Hammer in pastel shades of blue and pink in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. (Bret Edge)

Earth shadow tints the sky over Thor’s Hammer in pastel shades of blue and pink in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. (Bret Edge)

I first visited Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park in 2005.  Melissa and I spent a half day touring the overlooks before unanimously deciding that we were unimpressed and should move on to a more interesting location.  In 2012 I was passing by Bryce Canyon on a motorcycle trip when something compelled me to give it another shot.  I rode through a summer monsoon storm along the scenic drive to the end at Rainbow Point, stopping at each overlook to enjoy the view.  I don’t know what inside of me changed but this time, I was awestruck.  I called Melissa and convinced her we needed to plan a trip to Bryce.  She reluctantly agreed.  We came back with our son later that summer and she too was surprised to find herself fascinated by this marvelous canyon.  We camped for two days and hiked among the fanciful hoodoos.  I’ve gone back a couple more times in the last year and am already eagerly planning another trip.

You would think it relatively easy to create beautiful photographs at a place this scenic.  You would be wrong.  Bryce Canyon is a complex place.  Finding a cohesive composition in the right light requires careful study.  Though I’ve visited a number of times I have exactly one photo from Bryce that I consider print-worthy and only half a dozen or so that are marketable (excluding outdoor adventure photographs).  With this post I hope to share a few lessons I’ve learned over several visits that may help to increase your chances of producing quality images.

General Strategies for Photography at Bryce Canyon National Park

The vast majority of overlooks at Bryce Canyon face more or less east so in the morning you’re essentially shooting into the sunrise.  Yes, there are exceptions at some of the side canyons but generally speaking you’ll greet the morning sun head on.  Use this to your advantage!  The light that Bryce Canyon is famous for is that soft, warm glow of reflected light and at Bryce it is strongest at sunrise.  The red hoodoos and badlands absorb sunrise light and bounce it onto the backsides of hoodoos, filling in shadows and giving the entire scene an amazing radiance.  Use a small aperture (i.e. f/16 or smaller) to create a sunburst just as the sun creeps above the horizon.  If you’re including sky in your composition be prepared to deal with the extreme dynamic range between bright sky and darker canyon.  In the past I used graduated neutral density filters.  Now I blend exposures by hand using luminosity masks and am far more pleased with the results.

Don’t stop photographing right after sunrise.  Mid to late-morning is also excellent as you’ll still find wonderful reflected light even hours after sunrise.  This is also a good time to utilize longer focal length lenses to isolate hoodoos or features inside the canyon for a more intimate view.

Afternoon and sunset is a more challenging time to photograph at Bryce Canyon.  The setting sun casts long shadows into the canyon at most overlooks and only the tops of the hoodoos are bathed in light.  Don’t give up though!  Ten to thirty minutes after sunset you may find a pastel pink and blue sky appear above the canyon – Earth Shadow – and a soft glow upon the landscape.  This light is exquisite and very easy to work with as it is low in dynamic range; you can usually record the entire scene in a single exposure.  Clouds may also offer an opportunity for sunset photography as they bounce light into the canyon, filling in some of the shadows just enough to prevent them from completely blocking up.

Choosing the right lens for photography at Bryce Canyon can be challenging.  You will be tempted to go wide by the seemingly endless views but beware of distortion that causes hoodoos on the edges of the frame to bend outward.  I’m not suggesting that you keep your wide angle lenses stashed away – just know that you will need to make some perspective corrections in post-processing.  There are a couple of ways to avoid this: use a tilt/shift lens or stitch two or more frames together to create a single image.  If I had one, a tilt/shift lens would be my first choice.  If you choose to stitch photos together I recommend that you use a moderate focal length of around 50mm and shoot in a vertical orientation.  This technique is often used to create panoramic photographs but if you only use two or three frames you can create an image with a normal aspect ratio.  Another benefit to this technique is that the final image will likely be of a higher resolution than a single-frame photograph.  Go ahead and make those large prints!  Jim Goldstein wrote an excellent tutorial titled “Mastering Digital Panoramic Photography” that I highly recommend for those of you who are new to this technique.

Every season has something to offer at Bryce Canyon.  Spring temperatures are very pleasant and wildflowers begin to bloom, adding dashes of color to the landscape.  In the summer, dramatic storm clouds build almost every afternoon.  Aspen leaves turn bright yellow in fall and contrast sharply against dark evergreens.  Winter snows create unique and peaceful scenes and also drive away most tourists but be prepared for brutally cold conditions.

Locations to Photograph at Bryce Canyon National Park

What Bryce Canyon National Park lacks in size it more than makes up for in opportunity, which is to say that you’ll find yourself in a target rich environment the moment you cross into the park.  Familiarize yourself with the park before you arrive by visiting the Bryce Canyon National Park website.  Here you can read the aptly named park newspaper, “The Hoodoo“, which also contains valuable information about hiking trails and a good map that provides a birds-eye view of the park.  For a map with more detail I highly recommend the National Geographic Trails Illustrated topo map, #219.

Locations that follow are listed in the order in which they appear as you drive through the park beginning at the park boundary just outside of Bryce City.

Fairyland Canyon

I only discovered Fairyland Canyon last year and have yet to make a dynamic image there.  That said, I believe this relatively small overlook has tremendous potential.  The hoodoos below are densely packed into the canyon with Boat Mesa rising to the south.  In August I found colorful rabbitbrush blooming alongside the trail and ominous monsoon storm clouds in the sky.

Sunrise Point

You don’t need solid detective skills to deduce that Sunrise Point is a great spot to photograph sunrise.  However, it is also one of the better spots for sunset photography.  Sunrise Point is on the northern side of Bryce Amphitheater, which is also overlooked at Sunset, Inspiration and Bryce Points.

Sunset Point

I find the views from Sunset Point a little more interesting than those from Sunrise Point.  I wouldn’t call them better – just different.  Sunset Point is a very popular overlook and is often crowed with tourists.  Despite the name, I don’t recommend it for sunset photography unless you’re lucky enough to have great clouds to bounce light into the canyon.  There are some good opportunities here for panoramic photography.

Thor’s Hammer

A short walk down the trail from Sunset Point delivers you to an exceptional view of Thor’s Hammer, perhaps the most famous hoodoo in Bryce Canyon.  I’ve photographed Thor’s Hammer at sunrise, mid-morning and after sunset and all are good for photography.  The image at the top of this post was made 10-15 minutes after sunset using a 24-105mm lens at 47mm.

Wall Street

While you’re at Sunset Point you might as well hike the Navajo Loop that descends into the canyon through Wall Street.  It’s a steep hike but passing below towering walls glowing with reflected light is not-to-be-missed if you’re in shape to safely do the hike.  Look for an impossibly tall pine tree framed on two sides by huge canyon walls – this is an iconic location for photography at Bryce Canyon.

Inspiration Point

This is my favorite viewpoint at Bryce Canyon.  It’s fantastic at sunrise and early to mid-morning but may also offer some great options for sunset photography.  I also find this to be the best location for panoramic photography.  Instead of walking up to the designated overlook veer left and walk along the Rim Trail until you find a perspective that grabs your attention.

Bryce Point

Bryce Point is my second favorite location in the park.  It is on the southern side of Bryce Amphitheater and provides views looking mostly north and east.  It’s great at sunrise and, depending on the conditions, you may find some good sunset opportunities.

Rim Trail

If you enjoy hiking, the Rim Trail runs between Fairyland Canyon and Bryce Point, passing each overlook along the way.  I can’t recommend this hike strongly enough.  Along the way you will pass endless views into the canyon, many of which are as good, if not better than, the designated viewpoints.

Natural Bridge

I like to photograph Natural Bridge (technically an arch, not a bridge) in mid-morning.  The sun is high enough in the sky that it nicely illuminates the features around the arch and bounces ample light onto the underside of the arch, giving it a nice, warm glow.  This is a difficult area to work as you must stay behind the railing and there are a few small trees that require you to be creative with your composition.  But, it is a fascinating location.

Agua Canyon

Agua Canyon affords spectacular views looking east into the massive expanse of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  Directly in front of the overlook are a couple dramatic hoodoos, one of which, The Hunter, is quite similar to Thor’s Hammer.  I’ve not been at this location for sunrise but I suspect it could be good.  Late-morning light fills the canyon below, eliminating harsh shadows, and sheds light onto The Hunter.

Rainbow and Yovimpa Points

Admittedly, I’ve never photographed at either of the two viewpoints at the very end of the park road.  I find the views less impressive and more open overall.  That said, I do believe there is potential at both overlooks.  At Yovimpa Point you are looking roughly south, which may offer impressive sunset opportunities.  Rainbow Point faces north and east.  You may find good light in the morning or afternoon.  The Bristlecone Loop is a relatively easy 1 mile loop that passes some interesting bristlecone pine trees.  These trees often make interesting subjects for intimate and abstract photographs in soft light.

Inner Canyon

Pick a trail, any trail, that descends into the canyon and start hiking.  It won’t take long and you’ll be surrounded by huge canyon walls, funky hoodoos, arches and twisted old trees.  The entire character of the landscape changes dramatically when you immerse yourself in the canyon.  Some of my favorite inner canyon hikes are the out and back to Tower Bridge, Queen’s Garden Loop and Peek-A-Book Loop.  You will find interesting subjects to photograph in any season and at any time of day.  A word of caution: it’s always much easier going down than coming back up and the park may close trails throughout the year due to ice, snow and/or rockfall.

Wildlife

If you’re a long lens kind of person you’ll find an ample supply of wild creatures to photograph.  Deer, pronghorn, squirrels and a variety of birds are all commonly seen.  Meadows between Bryce Point and Swamp Canyon are often populated by grazing deer among the pines.  Less common but also native are black bears, bobcats and porcupines.

By no means is this a comprehensive guide of every location worth photographing in Bryce Canyon National Park.  Rather, it is a starting point. I wrote it with the hope that it might save you some time and effort as you plan a trip to this most amazing location.  Enjoy!

Looking for some visual inspiration? Here’s a gallery of my photographs of Bryce Canyon National Park.

COMING SOON: eFotoGuide – Essential Guides to Photographing the National Parks and Beyond

 

don zeck lens cap

 bret edgeBret Edge is a nature and adventure photographer in Moab, Utah. His interest in photography evolved as an extension of his life long passion for the outdoors. He is an avid hiker, backpacker, mountain biker and canyoneer. A visit in 1999 to an exhibit featuring photographs by Ansel Adams, Jack Dykinga and David Muench stoked Bret’s creative fire such that he immediately purchased his first SLR camera, a Canon Rebel. In the years since, he has traveled extensively throughout the American West creating a diverse portfolio of dynamic images.

Bret’s work has appeared in magazines, calendars, travel guides and advertising campaigns. His clients include Backpacker magazine, Popular Photography, the Utah Office of Tourism, Charles Schwab & Co. and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides.

While Bret enjoys seeing his work in print, he receives the most satisfaction by helping others realize their potential as photographers. He accomplishes this by leading several group workshops each year and guiding photographers on private photo excursions. For information about his workshops and guided excursions, visit www.moabphotoworkshops.com. To view a collection of Bret’s images, visit www.bretedge.com.  Bret lives in Moab with his wife, Melissa, their son Jackson, and two All-Terrain Pugs named Bierstadt and Petunia.

 

 

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AN ADVENTURE TYKE IN THE VALLEY OF FIRE

Not too long ago my friend and fellow photographer/dad/outdoor dude Greg Russell wrote a touching blog post titled “Little Mentors“.  I encourage you to read his post but if you don’t have time, the general idea is that we as adults stand to learn much from spending time in nature with children.  They needn’t be your own kids but I strongly encourage you not to randomly adopt one on the trail. Kinda creepy.  At any rate, Greg’s post inspired me to write one of my own about a recent family adventure.

We spent Thanksgiving week camping, hiking and exploring in Nevada’s gorgeous Valley of Fire State Park.  It had been a while since we’d gotten out as a family for more than a few hours.  Work and other obligations have a way of invading our lives, conspiring to prevent us from spending time with those we love.  The weather was perfect and we shared the park with only a handful of other visitors.  My son, Jackson, whom we have affectionately dubbed the Adventure Tyke, is now 2 1/2 years old.  He has boundless energy and I wish it was contagious.  From the moment he wakes to the moment his blue eyes close he’s on the go, charging ahead at 110 MPH.

On our first full day in the park we hiked the 1.5 mile loop at White Dome.  The trail passes an old movie set, climbs and descends sand dunes and passes through a short but scenic slot canyon – a highlight of the trip.  Hiking a mile and a half in as scenic a place as Valley of Fire shouldn’t take more than an hour, even with multiple stops to make photographs.  Being that Jackson is never short on energy we decided to let him start the hike under his own power.  Two and a half hours later, we were back at the trailhead with one exhausted little hiker.  He surprised us by hiking the entire loop on his own!

Of course, everything we passed was of great interest to him.  He would stop and play in the sand, pick up rocks and make me carry them, point out prickly cactus and, in the slot canyon, he announced that there was a tiger just around the corner.  Yes, a tiger. Must’ve been the rare Mojave tiger that lives only in colorful slot canyons and toddler’s imaginations.  We did see a bighorn sheep scampering over a giant mound of slickrock, which Jackson thoroughly enjoyed.

As one who came into photography in the late 90’s from a ten year “career” in endurance sports, where the entire point is to move from point A to point B as fast as possible, it goes without saying that in the last twelve years I’ve gotten slower.  Becoming a photographer caused me to slow down and look at the world differently.  I learned to appreciate the small things – a play of light, tangled branches among colorful leaves or subtle reflections in a gentle creek – all things I would have rushed past several years ago.  Becoming a Dad has slowed me down even more.  When you’re 2 1/2 and outdoors exploring nature, everything is new and interesting and deserving of a few moments of your time.  At times it can be agonizing, like when you’re running late for sunset and you’ve got to stop to thoroughly inspect the 1,000th lizard of the day.  More often than not, it’s a blast.  It brings me mountains of joy to see my son interacting with and enjoying nature.  He wears a perpetual smile when he’s outside.  As a result, I do too.

We’ve all heard the phrase “kids are sponges”.  They’re also mirrors.  Everything we do and say, they do and say.  Jackson loves nothing more than to peer through the viewfinder of my camera and to press the shutter button, usually in rapid fire succession so it sounds like a machine gun going off.  He loves it so much we bought him his own camera, which you can see in the photo above swinging from his backpack.  He points that camera at anything and everything, and I’ll be darned if some of his photos aren’t pretty freakin’ good.  I’ll never force him into anything but if his interest in photography (and motorcycling!) persevere I’ll be the proudest Dad on the planet.  In the meantime, I plan on enjoying every last second in the great outdoors with my little Adventure Tyke.

If you’re a new (or not so new) Mom or Dad who wants to adventure outdoors with your kids, but you’re not quite sure how to start, my wife runs an awesome site called Adventure Tykes filled with tips and ideas to help motivate, inspire and teach you how to get started. Check it out!

don zeck lens cap

 bret edgeBret Edge is a nature and adventure photographer in Moab, Utah. His interest in photography evolved as an extension of his life long passion for the outdoors. He is an avid hiker, backpacker, mountain biker and canyoneer. A visit in 1999 to an exhibit featuring photographs by Ansel Adams, Jack Dykinga and David Muench stoked Bret’s creative fire such that he immediately purchased his first SLR camera, a Canon Rebel. In the years since, he has traveled extensively throughout the American West creating a diverse portfolio of dynamic images.

Bret’s work has appeared in magazines, calendars, travel guides and advertising campaigns. His clients include Backpacker magazine, Popular Photography, the Utah Office of Tourism, Charles Schwab & Co. and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides.

While Bret enjoys seeing his work in print, he receives the most satisfaction by helping others realize their potential as photographers. He accomplishes this by leading several group workshops each year and guiding photographers on private photo excursions. For information about his workshops and guided excursions, visit www.moabphotoworkshops.com. To view a collection of Bret’s images, visit www.bretedge.com.  Bret lives in Moab with his wife, Melissa, their son Jackson, and two All-Terrain Pugs named Bierstadt and Petunia.

 

 

 

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Photographing a Waterfall in a Flash Flood: A Lesson in Visualization

Flash Flood in Entrajo Canyon, Utah

Several years ago, even before we moved to Moab, I discovered a little side canyon while exploring one of the many four-wheel drive roads in the area.  As I do with all locations I stumble across that have photographic potential I made a mental note and went on my way.  A few weeks ago I returned to the canyon to determine if it still held the potential I remembered from my first visit.  While there I couldn’t help but imagine a torrent of water pouring over the cliff and landing in the pool in a great swirl of mist.   I knew it would only take one good thunderstorm to produce the flash flood that would make it all happen.  This being monsoon season in the desert, I didn’t have to wait long for rain to fall.

On Friday my family and I decided to visit the canyon to see if the recent bout of precipitation was enough to kick start the waterfall.  We arrived in a light sprinkle and I was disappointed to find a dryfall where I’d expected to see the falls.  We stuck around for a while, I threw rocks in the pool with my son and we left to drive down the road to the creek.  Less than ten minutes later we returned to the little canyon.  As we approached I heard the distinctive roar of a powerful waterfall emanating from the canyon.  At the wash I caught my first glimpse of the red, muddy water quickly filling the pool and then rushing toward us – a formidable creek appearing where seconds earlier there had been a dry wash.  I whipped out my iPhone 4S and recorded about 30 seconds of video as the water approached and then passed directly under our vehicle.

Waterfall in Entrajo Canyon II, UtahI parked on the other side of the knee deep creek and started scouting for a way to get back to the waterfall that didn’t involve crossing the flooded wash.  There wasn’t one.  I decided that if I wanted an opportunity to make the photos I’d visualized I would have to cross the wash not once, but twice.  The water wasn’t deep and the wash was wide enough that the flow wasn’t dangerously swift.  I crossed with ease and walked up stream to the second crossing.  This one was narrower, which meant the water was deeper and with a stronger current.  I entered the stream and found myself knee deep at the mid-point.  At the other side I was excited to discover that I had a splendid view of the waterfall!  I set up my tripod and went to work making images for half an hour from beside and in the middle of the flooded wash.

Though I certainly don’t advocate standing in the middle of a flooded wash, the lesson here is simple:  Keep an open mind and think creatively when you’re out exploring.  You never know what photographic wonders you might discover!

If you’re interested in watching a 30 second clip of the waterfall and resultant floodwater here’s a link to it on YouTube.  It’s just a handheld video on my iPhone 4s with no editing but still it depicts some interesting weather phenomenon.

Equipment Used: Canon 5D MKII, Canon 24-105mm lens, Induro CT213 tripod, Acratech GP ballhead, Singh-Ray Ultrathin Circular Polarizer, Adobe Lightroom 4, Nik Software Viveza 2 and Color Efex Pro 4.

don zeck lens cap

 

bret edge

 Bret Edge is a nature and adventure photographer in Moab, Utah. His interest in photography evolved as an extension of his life long passion for the outdoors. He is an avid hiker, backpacker, mountain biker and canyoneer. A visit in 1999 to an exhibit featuring photographs by Ansel Adams, Jack Dykinga and David Muench stoked Bret’s creative fire such that he immediately purchased his first SLR camera, a Canon Rebel. In the years since, he has traveled extensively throughout the American West creating a diverse portfolio of dynamic images.

Bret’s work has appeared in magazines, calendars, travel guides and advertising campaigns. His clients include Backpacker magazine, Popular Photography, the Utah Office of Tourism, Charles Schwab & Co. and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides.

While Bret enjoys seeing his work in print, he receives the most satisfaction by helping others realize their potential as photographers. He accomplishes this by leading several group workshops each year and guiding photographers on private photo excursions. For information about his workshops and guided excursions, visit www.moabphotoworkshops.com. To view a collection of Bret’s images, visit www.bretedge.com.  Bret lives in Moab with his wife, Melissa, their son Jackson, and two All-Terrain Pugs named Bierstadt and Petunia.

 

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A Bird’s Eye View of My Workflow with Lightroom 4, Nik Software Plug-Ins & Photoshop CS5

Shafer CanyonA few weeks ago I was asked a question about my digital darkroom workflow by one of my private photography tour clients.  He enjoyed making digital images but admitted that he wasn’t sure what to do with them once they landed on his computer.  I asked if he was using Lightroom and learned that he wasn’t.  I explained a few of the major advantages in using Lightroom to process RAW images and he was instantly sold on it.  I also explained that I make extensive use of Nik Software plug-ins from within Lightroom.  My client went home and purchased Lightroom 4 as well as the Nik Complete Collection.   Soon thereafter I received an email from him asking me to describe how I use Lightroom, the Nik plug-ins and Photoshop within my workflow.  He didn’t need a tutorial on how to use each product.  Rather, he was curious what part each one played in the overall scope of my workflow.

I’ve been using Photoshop since 2002 and Lightroom since it launched in 2007.  I discovered the Nik plug-ins about two years ago.  Though I don’t consider myself an expert with any of them, I do admit that I take for granted my ability to use them to accomplish my artistic goals.  I hadn’t given much thought to how each piece of the image processing puzzle fits together until my client asked me to define how I use each one in my own workflow.  It occurred to me that I figured it all out on my own, through a process of trial and error.  Surely there is a more efficient way to learn how and when to use each tool.  With that in mind, I decided to share a macro look at my workflow with the hope that it will help other photographers who may be struggling to put the puzzle pieces together.

The first thing you should know is that the process I’ll describe is not the right way.  It’s not the wrong way, either.  It’s justmy way.   It’s what works for me and it’s taken a number of years to get here.  I’m offering this as a jumping off point.  It’ll give you the boost to get started and when you’re up and running, you’ll develop your own way of doing things.  If your way works for you, it’s the right way.  Find what works and run with it.  Now, let’s get on to the good stuff…

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4

Lightroom 4 is the workhorse of my workflow.  It does all the heavy lifting.  Lightroom 4 is the very first step in my workflow.  I import my RAW images from the CF card directly into Lightroom 4 using a folder hierarchy organized by state.  One of the biggest timesavers in Lightroom 4 is the ability to apply a keyword set to all imported images, which is a step I never, ever skip.  Once the RAW files are imported I embark upon the tedious and time consuming task of weeding through them to separate the keepers from the trash.

Once I’ve identified images that make the cut the next step is to add more specific keywords and titles.  I do this before I start processing the images simply to ensure that I don’t get so excited about the final image that I forget to update the metadata.  Hey, I’ve got a short attention span!  Now that the digital asset management crap is out of the way, the fun begins – processing those RAW files.

Lightroom was designed in such a way that, for the most part, you start at the top of the adjustment panel and work your way to the bottom.  This is not a “how to use Lightroom” tutorial and I’m not going to go into detail about each and every tool.  If that’s what you’re looking for I highly recommend Piet van Den Eynde’s excellent e-book, “Lightroom 4 Unmasked“.   Here’s a partial list of the adjustments available in Lightroom 4: dust spot removal, white balance, exposure, highlight and shadow recovery, white and black point, vibrance, saturation, contrast, curves adjustments, HSL (hue, saturation, luminance) color channel adjustments, sharpening, noise reduction and more.  Lots more.  After making these global adjustments I’ll move on to fine tuning the image with local adjustments using the adjustment brush and/or graduated filter.  Global adjustments are those that affect the entire image as a whole.  Local adjustments target specific areas of the image.  Dodging and burning (selective darkening and lightening) are classic examples of local adjustments.

When I’m done making local adjustments the image is getting very close to final form.  For those of you who like percentages, let’s call it 75% to 85% complete.  Next up: Nik Software plug-ins.  I use these plug-ins on every single imageI process.

Nik Software Complete Collection

I prefer to make most of my creative edits using Nik Software plug-ins, primarily Viveza 2 and Color Efex Pro 4.  Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 shoulders the load for all of my black and white conversions.  The best analogy I can relate is this: I use Lightroom 4 as a broad brush would be used to paint an entire wall while the Nik plug-ins are akin to using a detail brush for trim pieces.  Ever notice how much more impact a door has when the trim is painted a contrasting color?  I find that my images are much more impactful when I use the Nik Complete Collection to make small creative edits.

Every image pays a visit to Viveza 2, where I often use Nik Control Points to make precise selections that allow me to make highly targeted adjustments to brightness, saturation, contrast, structure (very fine detail enhancement) and more.  I commonly use Viveza 2 to easily resolve white balance conflicts.  I also use Viveza 2 for more precise dodging and burning than is possible with Lightroom 4.  One of the major advantages in using Viveza 2 for this lies in the power of Nik’s Control Points, which allow you to select a certain color or tone with ease and without having to create complicated masks.  I don’t know what kind of insane algorithms are at work behind the scenes but the whole process is simple, powerful and very clean.

After Viveza 2 I’ll often bring an image into Color Efex Pro 4 for final creative edits.  Color Efex Pro 4 is essentially a collection of digital photo filters, some of which mimic the effects of their analog brethren like circular polarizers or graduated neutral density filters, while others exist only in the digital darkroom.  Contained within this amazing plug-in are filters that give foliage extra zing, landscapes more warmth and clouds more definition.  Every once in a while I’ll find myself flummoxed by an image with an odd color cast.  Luckily, there’s a Color Efex Pro 4 filter that zaps color casts in about 4 seconds flat.

In most cases, this trip through Nik Software plug-ins is the end of the line for my processing workflow and always takes place inside Lightroom.  When working with the Nik plug-ins you have the option to use them as a Lightroom or Photoshop plug-in.  The major advantage to using them inside Photoshop is the ability to save a layered file that allows you to go back and re-edit the image at any time.  This is not something that interests me.  It’s a personal choice and if you’re new to using the Nik plug-ins I encourage you to try both ways to gain an appreciation for your own workflow preference.

Adobe Photoshop CS5

Why not CS6 or CC?  Because I’m cheap, that’s why.  I work so infrequently in Photoshop that I see no need to upgrade to the latest and greatest version when the one I have now does everything I need it to do.  So, what do I need Photoshop to do?  If I’m working with multiple images to increase dynamic range or depth of field (exposure blending or focus stacking), Photoshop is the only way to get it done.  Very rarely do I ever have a need to do any kind of complicated cloning but when I do, it’s in Photoshop.  As I write this, I just learned that Lightroom 5 was released tonight and it now offers a more advanced heal/clone brush than has been included in any prior version.  I haven’t used it but I suspect it is still rudimentary when compared to Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill capabilities.  Lastly, I still use Photoshop for printing.  Yes, you can print from within Lightroom 4 (and now, 5) and as I understand, it’s a pretty fluid process, but Photoshop still has its hooks in me when it comes to printing.

So, there it is.  A birds eye view of my digital darkroom workflow.  Remember: this is not the right workflow, nor is it the only workflow.  It’s a starting point for those of you who are just digging into Lightroom, Nik Software Complete Collection and/or Photoshop.  Try it out for a while and you’ll soon find yourself falling face first into your very own workflow.  It may be similar to mine or it could be completely different.  Either way, it’s not better or worse – just different. The most important thing is that you take that first step and allow yourself the freedom to experiment and create. Have fun!

 don zeck lens cap  

Bret Edge is a nature and adventure photographer in Moab, Utah. His interest in photography evolved as an extension of his life long passion for the outdoors. He is an avid hiker, backpacker, mountain biker and canyoneer. A visit in 1999 to an exhibit featuring photographs by Ansel Adams, Jack Dykinga and David Muench stoked Bret’s creative fire such that he immediately purchased his first SLR camera, a Canon Rebel. In the years since, he has traveled extensively throughout the American West creating a diverse portfolio of dynamic images.

Bret’s work has appeared in magazines, calendars, travel guides and advertising campaigns. His clients include Backpacker magazine, Popular Photography, the Utah Office of Tourism, Charles Schwab & Co. and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides.

While Bret enjoys seeing his work in print, he receives the most satisfaction by helping others realize their potential as photographers. He accomplishes this by leading several group workshops each year and guiding photographers on private photo excursions. For information about his workshops and guided excursions, visit www.moabphotoworkshops.com. To view a collection of Bret’s images, visit www.bretedge.com.

Bret lives in Moab with his wife, Melissa, their son Jackson, and two All-Terrain Pugs named Bierstadt and Petunia.

 

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Four Top Photographers Share Insight on Processing Images with Nik Software


You all know I’m a huge fan of Nik Software plug-ins for Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.  I’ve written often about my affection for Silver Efex Pro 2 and it’s powerful but intuitive controls for converting color images to black and white, and how Viveza 2 makes it effortless to to make local and global adjustments to light and color, and don’t get me started on all the amazing filters in Color Efex Pro 4 that allow me to make creative edits without logging endless hours at my desk.  Now throw in Dfine 2 for noise reduction that doesn’t sacrifice detail, Sharpener Pro 3 for painless sharpening of images for web and print and HDR Efex Pro 2 for creating stunning images with expanded dynamic range and you’ve got an unparalleled collection of imaging software.  But you expect to hear that from me.  So instead of writing another blog post about how I use the Nik Software Complete Collection, I thought I’d ask a few of the most talented photographers on the planet to share some insight on how they use these tools in their workflow.  Read on to learn how Laurie Rubin, Mike Moats, John Batdorff and Peter Tellone take control of their images with the Nik Software Complete Collection.

Nik Software Laurie Rubin – Laurie is a well-traveled nature and wildlife photographer with an impressive portfolio of stunning imagery.  I found her “Animals of East Africa” web gallery to be especially impressive.  Laurie’s been using Nik Software plug-ins for about 8 years.  I asked Laurie why she prefers to use Nik plug-ins instead of a more traditional approach like Photoshop.  Her response? “The Nik Software products make it so easy to make adjustments without having to make layers and masks. Using Dfine 2.0 to remove noise from images that are shot at high ISO is a simple click of a button and having the ability to use Control Points within any of the Nik products allows for quick and easy selective adjustments. Whether you are trying to bring up details in shadowed areas with Viveza 2 or creating global enhancements throughout your image by adding a soft, moody effect, with Color Efex Pro 4 and the Midnight filter for example, you have total control how you want your image to look.”  Laurie’s two favorite plug-ins are Color Efex Pro 4 and Sharpener Pro 3, which she uses on wildlife images to selectively sharpen the eyes because she believes “an animal’s eyes can speak volumes in an image.”  Some of Laurie’s favorite Color Efex Pro 4 filters include Tonal Contrast, Midnight, Vignette Lens, Darken/Lighten Center, Image Borders and Detail Extractor, which she enjoys because it makes it easy to bring out details in feathers on a bird or within a lion’s mane.  Laurie also likes the Glamour Glow filter – even for animals!  To see more of Laurie’s fantastic work, please visit her website at www.imagesbylaurie.com.

Mike Moats – Simply stated, Mike Moats has mastered macro photography.  His website, Tiny Landscapes, showcases what I consider to be the most inspired collection of macro images you’ll ever see.  Mike learned of Nik Software’s Complete Collection nearly two years ago from a student at one of his wildly popular (and usually sold out) “Macro Photography Boot Camps”.  Mike watched as the student used a Control Point in Viveza to selectively adjust exposure and color without having to resort to complicated layers and masks.  He was intrigued and downloaded the software as soon as he got home.  Mike’s workflow usually begins with Color Efex Pro 4 to achieve “the look he wants using one or more of the filters”.  Then he fine tunes the image using Control Points in Viveza 2.  I asked Mike to name a few of his favorite Color Efex Pro 4 filters and he rattled off several that he uses on a regular basis, often with four or more used on one image.  His favorite filters include Detail Extractor, which he likes because it “pulls out the details in the textures, and also enhances the colors” and the Midnight filter, which he finds “slightly softens the details and adds a nice dark moody look to an image”. He also uses the Dark Contrast or Low Key filter on images that are a bit too bright, the High Key or Skylight filter on photos that are a bit dark and the Brilliance/Warmth filter to enhance colors (I also use this one often).  Other favorite Color Efex Pro 4 filters include Solarization, Polaroid Transfer and Glamour Glow.  Be sure to check out Mike’s blog at www.mikemoatsblog.com for inspiration in the form of beautiful macro images and frequent tips on how he makes these stunning images.

John Batdorff – John is a talented landscape and travel photographer, author of several books including the fantastic “Plug In with Nik“, an in-demand workshop leader and all-around great guy.  John has been using Nik Software for six years and though he still uses Lightroom and Photoshop to some degree, he finds that Nik’s plug-ins are “very intuitive and the tools are so powerful that it allows me to focus on my creative vision without the technical “how to” distractions”.  As a nationally recognized authority on black and white photography, it should come as no surprise that one of John’s favorite Nik tools is Silver Efex Pro 2.  He says, “Nothing gives you as much control over your black and white images”.  He’s also a “big fan” of HDR Efex Pro 2 because of the ease with which it allows you to create natural looking high dynamic range landscapes and Color Efex Pro 4, which he describes as the “Swiss Army Knife of plugins that can be used to deal with a flat sky or add a cool border around an image and many other important edits”.  I’ve never heard it put that way but I wholeheartedly agree!  Stay in touch with John on Facebooktwitter and Google Plus.

Peter Tellone – There aren’t a whole lot of photographers who produce truly spectacular HDR landscapes but Peter Tellone is one of them.  Peter’s images are masterfully composed and expertly processed, resulting in stunning HDR photographs based in realism.  He’s been using Nik Software’s plug-ins for about two years.  I asked Peter if he had any tips to share with photographers about using HDR Efex Pro 2 that would help them avoid “overcooking” their HDR images.  He said that the most common problem he sees is that “with all of HDR Efex Pro 2’s controls in front of them they think they have to use them all” when in fact, doing less often results in a much more natural image.  Peter typically adjusts only the overall exposure, saturation, compression and structure.  The HDR process can often add noise to an image, which Peter deals with by using Nik’s Dfine plug-in.  He likes using Dfine because it allows him to easily eliminate noise while maintaining important detail.  He also uses Nik Sharpener Pro 3 to sharpen his images for web and print.  I asked Peter why he prefers to use Nik Software’s plug-ins instead of Photoshop.  He said that he’s been using Photoshop for a very long time and “knows his way around it very well, so when he reaches for other software he needs to do it better and faster than Photoshop can.”  That’s a sentiment I echo.  Be sure to check out Peter’s excellent blog, “The HDR Image“, for great tutorials, tips and more.

There you have it, folks.  Insight from four top photographers about how they use Nik Software’s Complete Collection of Lightroom and Photoshop plug-ins to take control of and streamline their digital darkroom workflow.  For even more in-depth training and tutorials, I can’t recommend enough the great videos and webinars on the Nik website.  I owe a huge thanks to Laurie, Mike, John and Peter for taking time out of their busy schedules to share their thoughts and advice with me.  Please take a moment to check out their websites and get inspired by their photography!

Don Zeck Lens Cap

bret edge

 Bret Edge is a nature and adventure photographer in Moab, Utah. His interest in photography evolved as an extension of his life long passion for the outdoors. He is an avid hiker, backpacker, mountain biker and canyoneer. A visit in 1999 to an exhibit featuring photographs by Ansel Adams, Jack Dykinga and David Muench stoked Bret’s creative fire such that he immediately purchased his first SLR camera, a Canon Rebel. In the years since, he has traveled extensively throughout the American West creating a diverse portfolio of dynamic images.

Bret’s work has appeared in magazines, calendars, travel guides and advertising campaigns. His clients include Backpacker magazine, Popular Photography, the Utah Office of Tourism, Charles Schwab & Co. and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides.

While Bret enjoys seeing his work in print, he receives the most satisfaction by helping others realize their potential as photographers. He accomplishes this by leading several group workshops each year and guiding photographers on private photo excursions. For information about his workshops and guided excursions, visit www.moabphotoworkshops.com. To view a collection of Bret’s images, visit www.bretedge.com.  Bret lives in Moab with his wife, Melissa, their son Jackson, and two All-Terrain Pugs named Bierstadt and Petunia.

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An Image is Born: A Digital Darkroom Tour

I’m not much of a computer geek.  I don’t enjoy spending hours in front of a monitor manipulating my images.  I’d rather be outside hiking, mountain biking or making more photographs.  Sure, I enjoy the creative endeavor of post-processing my images but when that involves more than about five minutes of work I quickly start to lose interest.  But, every once in a while an image comes along that leaves me no choice but to get down and dirty in the digital darkroom.  The image you see above, of the Fisher Towers and La Sal Mountains reflecting in the Colorado River, is one such image.

Last night I saw clouds developing over the mountains with a reasonably clear western horizon.  Hoping for an epic sunset I threw all my camera gear into the FJ and headed east on the River Road after excusing myself early from a parent/teacher meeting at my son’s school.  Priorities, right?  I arrived on location thirty minutes before sunset and scrambled down the steep embankment still wearing chinos and a pair of casual boots whose soles offered little to no grip in the loose dirt.  I was pleasantly surprised to only land on my butt one time before arriving at the edge of the mighty Colorado River.  Naturally, just as I got my tripod and camera in position the sun moved behind a cloud that killed the warm, late afternoon light.  So, I did what nature photographers do – I waited.  Luck was with me as an unseen, narrow gap on the horizon allowed sunset light to squeak through at just the last moment.  The snowcapped La Sals lit up with alpenglow and clouds streaking overhead turned a rich reddish-pink.  The dynamic range was a bit too much for my Canon 5D Mark II to handle but was easily controlled with a Singh-Ray 3 stop soft-step graduated neutral density filter.  I also used a Singh-Ray Vari ND filter at about 1/2 power to extend the shutter speed to 8 seconds, thus smoothing out some small, wind driven ripples in the water.  An interesting side effect of the long exposure was more color in the clouds than could be seen with the naked eye and a bit of movement that is difficult to discern at this small size.

Back home, I eagerly imported the photos into Lightroom 3.  Of the series I found only one that was razor sharp.  The others were a bit soft, most likely due to movement introduced during the long exposures while handholding the GND filter in front of the lens.  I made my initial edits in Lightroom, very slightly decreasing the exposure and brightness, increasing clarity by 20 points and vibrance by 10, a slight curves adjustment and a few tweaks to the HSL (hue/saturation/luminance) panel.  Better, but not quite there.  The sky and foreground were both too bright but I couldn’t make a global adjustment as each required its own independent adjustment to maintain exposure consistency.  Enter Lightroom’s mega-awesome digital grad filter!  I used one on the sky and another on the foreground.  Much better!  With the base image looking pretty good it was time to do some more work using Nik Software Viveza 2 and Color Efex Pro 4.

First up, Viveza 2.  I made a few minor global adjustments by increasing the contrast and saturation by 4 points, and structure by 20 points.  I decreased the shadows slider by 6 points, which resulted in deeper, richer shadows.  One of the first issues that needed to be resolved was the color temperature of the sky.  The clouds were nice and red, just as I’d remembered from a couple hours earlier.  The area of open sky, however, was a dingy gray – not the soft blue it should have been.  In Lightroom, using a white balance of 3,600 produced the correct color in open sky but the rest of the landscape and sky was far too cool.  With a white balance of 5,500, everything else looked good except the open sky.  I’d opted for a white balance of 5,500 since the majority of the scene looked good at this temperature.  In Viveza 2 I dropped a couple control points on the open sky, linked the points, and then made a few adjustments to bring back the soft blue sky.  Notably, I reduced the brightness, added saturation and, this is the main adjustment, decreased the warmth by about 20 points.  Voila – the blue sky triumphantly returns!  Since the blue sky was also reflecting in the water at the bottom of the image I copied a control point from the sky and dropped it on the area of water that reflected the sky.

At this point the image was coming along quite nicely but it still needed a little “ooomph”, which is a technical term I learned years ago.  I opened the photo in Nik Software Color Efex Pro 4 and used one of my favorite filters, Tonal Contrast, to independently increase contrast in the highlights, mid-tones and shadows.  The highlights already looked pretty good so I only gave them a boost of about 10.  Mid-tones and shadows were a little flat, though.  I increased each about 15 points, which gave them the “zing” (another very tehcnical term) I wanted.  The shadows, especially, came alive.  Muddy shadows are those that have detail but lack contrast.  The Tonal Contrast filter makes it super easy to clean them up.  I also used the Brilliance/Warmth filter in Color Efex Pro 4 to give the colors a little bit more “pop” (yep, you guessed it – yet another techno term).  I increased global saturation and perceptual saturation by 5 points each.

Back in Lightroom 3 I again applied two digital GND filters to reduce the exposure of the sky by about 1/2 stop and the foreground reflection by about 1/3 stop as I still thought they were each a bit brighter than I liked.  I guess I was going for a “dark and moody” look.  With those final touches in place I sat back, blinked for the first time in fifteen minutes, and took a big swig of iced tea.  There on the monitor before me was an image I was satisfied to have created in the field and perfected at my desk.

It took about fifteen minutes to completely process the image from start to finish, which is about three times as long as I typically spend post-processing a photo.  But, when an image has potential I just don’t have the heart to give up on it.  I can’t really call this a tutorial but I do hope you found the breakdown of my workflow somewhat beneficial.  I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.  Just leave a comment and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.

Also, if you’re convinced that you need Nik Software’s Viveza 2 or Color Efex Pro 4, I encourage you to visit their website and download a trial of the software.  If you like it and want to invest in it, use coupon code “BEDGE” at checkout for a 15% discount.

Bret Edge is a nature and adventure photographer in Moab, Utah. His interest in photography evolved as an extension of his life long passion for the outdoors. He is an avid hiker, backpacker, mountain biker and canyoneer. A visit in 1999 to an exhibit featuring photographs by Ansel Adams, Jack Dykinga and David Muench stoked Bret’s creative fire such that he immediately purchased his first SLR camera, a Canon Rebel. In the years since, he has traveled extensively throughout the American West creating a diverse portfolio of dynamic images.

Bret’s work has appeared in magazines, calendars, travel guides and advertising campaigns. His clients include Backpacker magazine, Popular Photography, the Utah Office of Tourism, Charles Schwab & Co. and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides.

While Bret enjoys seeing his work in print, he receives the most satisfaction by helping others realize their potential as photographers. He accomplishes this by leading several group workshops each year and guiding photographers on private photo excursions. For information about his workshops and guided excursions, visit www.moabphotoworkshops.com. To view a collection of Bret’s images, visit www.bretedge.com.

Bret lives in Moab with his wife, Melissa, their son Jackson, and two All-Terrain Pugs named Bierstadt and Petunia.

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