Lenscraft inFocus Newsletter June 2018

Introduction

Welcome to the Lenscraft inFocus Newsletter June 2018.

This month’s newsletter is a bit of bumper with two feature articles, which I will also make available on Lenscraft. There’s also the regular “From Around the Web” column as well as an update on my planned books and course, including a New Free Book.

I hope you enjoy this month’s newsletter.

Create Your Own LUTs

In some recent Youtube Videos and Lenscraft articles I have been talking a lot about the technique of Color Grading and how this can be used in Landscape Photography. In last month’s newsletter I published an article explaining how to apply Color Grading in Photoshop using Color Lookup Tables or LUT’s. In this article I want explain how you can create your own LUTs for use with any of the image editor that supports this technology.

Although, as I demonstrated in one of my Youtube videos, you can create your own LUT’s in Photoshop, the process is a little limiting. If you want complete freedom over the LUT creation process you need the right software package. In my research, I found the best combination of price, features and ease of use was “3D LUT Creator” and I’m going to explain the process here.

If you would like to follow along you can download a free version of 3D LUT Creator from https://3dlutcreator.com/. The only limitation of the free version is that you won’t be able to save the finished image or the LUT you create. It does though allow you to understand the power of the program and if it’s for you.

Start by launching the 3D LUT Creator software and open the image you want to work on.

Image open for editing in 3D LUT Creator

Here you can see the 3D LUT Creator interface with the starting image open. On the left side of the interface, surrounded by the red box are the editing tools. The editing tool shown in the illustration is the “A/B Grid” which is very intuitive but also very powerful. You can see the “A/B” title indicated by the small red arrow and there are other tools on this menu.

The grid itself looks like a spider’s web and provides control over the colours in the image. Below this you have the more traditional, slider-based tools that most photographers are familiar with. Separately, there is a small Analyser floating window that displays helpful information about the image being edited. You can see an example of this below.

Analyser window in 3D LUT Creator

Examining the image being edited, it would benefit from being a little warmer, more saturated and possibly a little brighter. I would also like the warm tones in the top right to appear more golden. These changes are applied with the following slider adjustments:

Temp = 10 – This slider increases the colour temperature of the overall image, moving it from blue towards orange.

Contrast = 20 – Initially, I was expecting an increase in the contrast slider would push the histogram out at either end, whilst reducing the contrast would contract the histogram into the centre. This doesn’t seem to happen and instead, reducing the slider moved the bulk of the histogram into the midtones from the highlights. Increasing the contrast moved the midtones and shadows towards the highlights. Based on the visual result I increased the contrast.

Pivot = 30 – This is a slider that I don’t currently understand (I need to read the manual). I can though see the default is 50 and reducing this appears to compress the histogram into the highlights area for this image without causing blown highlights. Nice.

Dynamic Range = 10 – This adjustment is being used to intentionally limited highlight clipping in the very brightest areas where the sun is breaking through the mist. If you move the slider in the opposite direction it limits how bright the white areas of the image appear. This would probably be a very useful slider if you are editing a snowy scene as it would allow you to show more detail in the brighter areas of the snow.

Saturation = 120 – The default value of the slider is 100 and increasing it adds further saturation to the image.

Using the “Compare” button in 3D LUT Creator we can examine the changes by comparing the current version of the image with the starting image. You can see a screenshot of this below. The before image is on the left and the after image is on the right.

Before and after comparison in 3D LUT Creator

Comparing the two versions of the image, there is a colour shift in the blues which is causing them to appear slightly purple. We can target a correction to this using the spiders web grid.

If you look at the A/B grid you can see that there is “colour wheel” behind it. The points on the grid represent the colours on the wheel. By clicking and dragging a point, you can remap a colour to a new colour. This is quite sensitive and can create some very interesting or bizarre effects as shown below.

Extreme example of color grading in 3D LUT Creator

The adjustment above targeted the blues in the image, moving them towards blue/green or teal. If you make a mistake and want to reset the grid, there is a reset icon just above the top left. Clicking this resets the grid to the original position. If you want to undo a single change to the grid, use the “Edit | Undo” feature in the menu to work back through the history of the changes.

There is though a much easier and more intuitive way to make your adjustments to the image that dragging points on the grid. By clicking a point in the image that you want to adjust, and then dragging this left, right, up and down, you change the hue of that colour. As you click and drag a point in the image, you will also see the corresponding colour points on the grid move.

Clicking the blue area in the centre of the frame and dragging slightly left and down the purple hue of the blue is corrected by shifting towards green. It was then possible to make the sky appear more golden by clicking and dragging left and up. To show you how small the adjustments to the grid were, here is a closeup of the grid.

A/B Grid in 3D LUT Creator

Having corrected the colours in the image it was possible to increase the Temp slider further, to a value of 15. Having applied the adjustments to the Grid, click the “Smooth” button. This makes small adjustments to the grid and appears to smooth out the image tones (I really should read the manual). Here is the finished side by side image.

Create your own LUTs in 3D LUT Creator for effects like this

The resulting image can now be saved in several formats including TIFF. When saving, it’s pleasing to see you have control over the quality of the saved image as well as the colour space. These can be set using the program preferences.

If you want to create a LUT file using the adjustments applied to the image you can select “File | Export” to export it ready for use in supporting software applications. Several LUT formats are supported including “cube”, so you should find a lot of compatibility. There is even an option to export and install the LUT directly to Photoshop.

What’s most surprising is that even a simple LUT such as this one, can have a dramatic effect when applied to other images.

If you’re interested in seeing the LUT creation process demonstrated, I created a short Youtube video you can watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lYgWaSun0U&t=8s

I would also recommend watching the tutorials on the 3D LUT Creator website.

 

The Best Landscape Photography Filter Kit

Recently, I’ve received a lot of emails all asking the same question - “What’s the best landscape photography filter kit to start with?” These emails aren’t the brand or make of filters, but which types of filters should people buy initially. In this article I want to set out my thoughts about what would make the best landscape photography filter kit. If after reading this you still have questions, please feel free to contact me.

Filter Holders

Before looking at the filters you can buy, we need to discuss the filter holder. At the most basic level, there are two types of filter, screw in and square/slot-in. Personally, I’m not a fan of screw-in filters for landscape photography. I feel that the square filter types are the most flexible and easiest to use. If you use screw in filters, if you try to use a graduated filter you will find yourself recomposing the scene (if that’s possible) to position the graduated area on the horizon. By contrast, square filters allow you to position the filter without needing to move the camera.

If you decide on using a square slot-in filter system, you’ll need a filter holder you can attach to the front of your lens, to slot the filters into. Filter holders are attached to the lens using filter/adapter rings. The filter ring needs to be sized to match the diameter of your lens, for example if your lens has a 58 mm diameter you need a 58 mm filter ring. If the filter ring is the wrong size for your lens you will need to buy a stepper ring. These can be purchased very cheaply from the likes of Amazon and eBay.

The Polarising Filter

The first filter you should consider as essential for landscape photography is a polarising filter. Most new landscape photographers think of the polariser being used to enhance blue skies. Whilst it can do this, it’s much more useful for reducing glare. Glare can be a problem in contrasty situations and when the landscape is wet. You can also have a problem with glare on the surface of water, even if it’s just a thin film of water. By using a polariser, you can rotate the filter to reduce this glare, creating a much more pleasing and saturated image as illustrated below.

One of the best landscape photography filters is the polarising filter

The Neutral Density Graduated Filter

The next essential filter is the Neutral Density Graduate or ND Grad. These are used to darken light areas in a scene, such as the sky. This helps to balance the exposure across the scene as the ground is usually darker by a few stops. When you use a ND Grad the sky will typically appear more colourful and saturated, whilst shadow areas in the ground become lighter and reveal more detail.

Soft Neutral Density Graduated Filter

The ND Grad filter can usually be purchased as either a soft or a hard graduate, depending which make of filter you are using. This describes the area of transition between the dark and clear area of the filter. I would recommend having both a hard and the soft graduate in your basic filter kit.

The soft graduate is best used where the horizon in the scene isn’t flat. For example, you may have a mountain rising above the horizon and into the sky. The soft graduate will help blend this much better than the hard graduate. This also makes them more forgiving than the hard graduate if you don’t align them properly. The hard graduate is best use where the horizon is flat, allowing the graduate and the horizon to be aligned precisely.

ND Grads come in different strengths depending on the level of light they restrict (measured in stops). A two-stop reduction is a 0.6 graduate, a three-stop reduction is a 0.9 graduate and a four-stop reduction is a 1.2 graduate. A good starting point for a basic kit is a three-stop soft graduate and a two-stop hard graduate. If you can only afford one of these filters the hard graduate is likely to be the most useful but recognising it will have limitations.

The Neutral Density Filter

The third filter to consider essential for a basic landscape photography filter kit is a neutral density filter, or ND filter. The ND filter is dark across its entire surface and is used to restrict the amount of light reaching the camera sensor.

Kase Wolverine Neutral Density Filter

These filters come in different strengths depending on how many stops of light they remove. Which strength is best for you will depend on the type of photography you want to do. If you are doing long exposure photography during the day, you will most likely need a ten-stop filter. If though you just want to produce a slightly longer shutter speed than may otherwise be possible, a three-stop filter may be better. Remember also that a polarising filter will remove around two to three stops of light. If you pair this with a three-stop neutral density filter you will be reducing the light reaching the sensor by around six stops. This can often be enough to show some movement in a landscape scene during the day.

To summarise, a good basic landscape filter kit should include a polarising filter, a soft and hard graduated filter, and a neutral density filter. This will provide significant flexibility and good results when used in the landscape.

Expanding Your Landscape Photography Filter Kit

Assuming you already have a basic filter kit in place, you may want to extend this to cover other situations you might encounter. Typically, this will involve adding filters of different strength to your kit rather than buying different type of filter.

For the ND Grad filters, I would personally rank the filter strengths in the following order, number 1 being the most frequently used/useful:

  1. 6 (two-stop) hard
  2. 9 (three-stop) soft
  3. 9 (three-stop) hard
  4. 2 (four-stop) hard
  5. 2 (four-stop) soft

For the ND filters, I would rank the filter strengths in the following order:

  1. Three-stop
  2. Six-stop
  3. Ten-stop

This is though much more dependent on the type of photography you want to shoot and the effects you want to introduce. It’s also important to recognise that you might not need one of each of these filters. You should only buy the filters you think you will need and it may be a better use of your money to buy more specialised filters which we discuss next.

The Kase Wolverine Filter Kits

As a side note, I wanted to highlight that the Kase Wolverine Entry Level Kit is quite similar the recommendations above. And because it’s a kit, it represents excellent value when compared to buying individual filters. By supplementing the Entry Level kit with a 0.6 hard ND Grad you would achieve a very flexible landscape photography filter kit for a wide variety of situations.

Alternatively, if you shoot a lot at sunset or sunrise, the Kase Wolverine High End Kit may work better. The kit includes the same components as the Entry Level kit but with the addition of a 0.9 Reverse ND Grad. And because the Wolverine filters are shatterproof/scratchproof glass, they produce excellent results, even shooting towards the sun.

You can find further details of the Wolverine Entry Level and High End kits on Lenscraft.

Supplementary Filters

In addition to the three broad types of filter discussed, you may benefit from supplementing your kit with more specialised filters. A good example of this is the Reverse Neutral Density Graduated filter or Reverse ND Grad. These filters are like ND Grads but the area of the filter just above the horizon is stronger than the area higher up the filter.

Kase Wolverine Reverse Neutral Density Graduated filter

These filters are typically used at sunrise and sunset where the sun is very near to the horizon. They can produce spectacular results but are limited to the times when you are shooting with the sun near to the horizon. At the same time a standard ND Grad would work fine.

Another example of a more specialist filter is the central graduate where the dark area appears as a central band across an otherwise clear filter. The times when you will need to use such filter are likely to be very limited in comparison to the filter mentioned previously.

Summary

If you are considering purchasing filters for landscape photography I would share the following advice:

  1. Buy quality filters. They may be much more expensive initially, but they will be easier to use and give better results. For a long time, I used Lee filters, but now use and sell Kase Wolverine glass filters because of their quality and design features.
  2. Use the slot in type filters rather than the screw in design. They are much more flexible for landscape photography work.
  3. Start with a limited number of filters. When you find your photography is being hampered because you are missing a filter, that’s when you should supplement your kit.
  4. If you’re unsure about any aspect of filter use, ask for advice from someone who uses the filters.

If you still have questions after reading this article, please feel free to contact me using the contact page on Lenscraft.

 

From Around the Web

Here are some of the interesting videos and content I’ve come across this month.

Coming Soon On1 Photo RAW 2018.5

I recently I received an email from On1 promoting the next release of their software, Photo RAW 2018.5. I understand this is a free upgrade for existing users of 2018.

Amongst the various new features, the one that caught my eye was support for LUT’s. It’s pleasing to see that more software companies are starting to include support for LUT’s in their products.

According to the On1 website, the new software will be available in late June 2018. If you would like to read more, the press release is on the On1 site at https://www.on1.com/press/on1-photo-raw-2018-5-coming-late-june/.

Photoshop Shortcut Keys

If you’ve read one of my books or taken once of my courses, you will know that I’m a big fan of using keyboard shortcuts in Photoshop. You can significantly increase your productivity with Photoshop by learning a few common commands.

When I came across this helpful article on the FStoppers website I though I would share it https://fstoppers.com/commercial/essential-keyboard-shortcuts-every-photoshop-user-should-know-178451

Useful Location Video

I realise that not many people reading this will be visiting Namibia this month, but I suspect at least one person is planning a visit in the future. If you are, here’s a useful video I came across on from James Brew, describing his experience of shooting at Deadvlei.

Information like this can be invaluable if you are visiting a location for the first time and possibly have one chance to get it right. I remember reading a similar article before visiting Antelope Canyon for the first (and only) time.

Full marks to James for taking the time to produce this.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFkWj7g5Jb0
.

Book & Course News

Let’s start with a reminder. Please check the Lenscraft Member Discounts page if you’re thinking of purchasing a book or course directly from one of my websites. Many of the products have discounts which are available to Lenscraft Members. Discounts can’t be issued retrospectively so please be sure to check before purchasing.

Free Landscape Photography Book

I’m currently working on a new Landscape Photography guide which I’m going to be providing free to all Lenscraft Members. The book will also be available to all new members when they join Lenscraft, so please spread the word.

The book centres around six “lessons” to improve your landscape photography. It’s a little different (at least I hope it is) to the usual advice and there should be something of value for all Lenscraft Members.

I expect the book to be available in the next couple of weeks and will send out a mailing to all Lenscraft Members when it’s launched.

Planned Books & Courses

Thank you to everyone who purchased my Photoshop Luminosity Masking course. It has been very well received with lots of good feedback as well as ideas for future courses.

Mastering Photoshop Luminosity Masking course Image

Once I have finished the free Landscape Photography book, I will be getting back to two books I have in progress. These are:

  • The Photographers Guide to Managing your Photos with Lightroom – This is something many of us don’t do well despite the excellent features in Lightroom. It’s also likely that I will develop this into a video course when time permits.
  • Essential Affinity Photo – Helping photographers use Affinity Photo to edit their images.

The July issue of Lenscraft in Focus will be distributed around the first Saturday in July.

All the best and happy photography.

Robin Whalley

Landscape Photographer

 

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