Tag: Tips

Aperture 3: the game’s back on

There aren’t many applications of the sort that we would use for a fast and powerful photographic workflow. You could argue that, for the approach we advocate and support at Shoot Raw, there are only two real players: Apple’s Aperture and Adobe’s Lightroom (or Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, to give it its full name).

Alternative approaches

The approach we take isn’t the only one. There are raw converters like Raw Photo Processor that aim to provide the highest resolution or the best sharpness (in the case of RPP, it succeeds admirably in those aims and it offers some integration with Lightroom to registered users—its user interface, though, is, shall we say brutally minimal); there are photo browsers (like Photo Mechanic) that aim to provide the fastest way to categorise your pictures and deal with metadata. But only Aperture and Lightroom aim to combine both the raw conversion and the digital asset management functions in one package and employ quick, friendly user interfaces and useful post-processing functionality.

Lightroom_2_screen_shot_default
Above: Lightroom 2 screen shot, with develop controls exposed

History

When Apple released Aperture, Adobe had been working on Lightroom (Shadowland) for some time but didn’t have a product ready for release. Aperture’s initial success showed that a market did exist for this kind of application and Lightroom was released some time later, after a long public beta period. As of late 2009, photographers were overwhelmingly choosing Lightroom over Aperture on the Mac. (Aperture isn’t available on Windows but Lightroom, as you might expect, holds a commanding lead over other solutions that platform.) Figures from InfoTrends are fairly conclusive, as reported by John Nack here. (John Nack works for Adobe but the figures he’s reporting are independent.)

Image quality in previous versions of Lightroom and Aperture

Both products have offered decent image quality for some time but both have also had their weaknesses. Many users are adamant that one or the other application is streets ahead for their particular camera; our experience has been that the default output Aperture 2.0 has been less blotchy and more pleasing at low light, high-ISO extremes but that Lightroom offered more control over the image and Lightroom 3 beta offers a stronger rendition throughout the ISO range. (It’s slow but we expect that to be addressed in the final release.) We haven’t yet tested specific new profiles offered for cameras like the Nikon D3 in Aperture 3, following complaints from some users of these cameras in Aperture 2.

Aperture_3_screen_shot_enhanced
Above: Aperture 3 screen shot, with heads-up display (HUD) minimised.

Image development

One area where Lightroom has had a clear lead since version 2 is in its ability to allow non-destructive adjustments to parts of an image. Exposure compensation, brightness, contrast, saturation, clarity (“punch”) and sharpness can all be brushed in or out or applied using one or more gradients. Using the brushes and gradients is quick and easy, and they can be combined and applied one over another. These adjustments are referred to as local adjustments because they affect only parts of an image—you brush them over (or apply a gradient to) whichever areas need them. Best of all, they’re entirely non-destructive—you can revist them at any point and alter them or remove them without any need to convert your raw file to something like a TIFF (as was the case with Aperture 2).

Aperture 3 now includes similar brush functions to those used and loved by Lightroom users and closes what was probably the biggest gap between the two applications.

Print and web output

Lightroom 2 offers excellent sharpening for screen and print (using functionality from the highly regarded Photokit Sharpener plugin) for Photoshop. Aperture 3 offers soft proofing, using the ICC profile of your chosen printer/paper combination to give you a better idea of which areas of your image will cause a problem when you print, allowing you to deal with those problems, in advance, on screen. Both are useful functions and both applications will likely end up offering versions of them both. We don’t have any inside information but we expect Lightroom 3, due soon, to include soft proofing of some sort and retain its excellent print sharpening.

Asset management

Aperture 3 allows you to include video and audio inside your Aperture database. Lightroom users can add some of this functionality by installing Jeffrey Friedl’s Video-Asset Management plugin but it would be nice to have it built in. There are also differences in the two applications’ approaches to managing mobile libraries, with Aperture leading the way.

Camera raw file support

This is an area where many photographers feel Apple has been lagging, though users of Nikon and Canon DSLRs in general won’t have had much to complain about. Adobe’s support for smaller and cheaper digital cameras that shoot raw has certainly been faster and more far reaching—for example, Aperture has just gained support for the Panasonic LX3 (released seven months ago) and still doesn’t offer support for the Panasonic GF1 (released five months ago), both supported in Lightroom for many months—but for our market of mostly professional DSLR users, it’s probably not a major concern and there are signs that Apple’s approach is improving.

Camera profiles

One Lightroom strength (version 2.x onwards) is the existence of camera profiles that try to come close to the camera manufacturers’ profiles for popular cameras. That means that they attempt to give you the colour and the look of your manufacturer’s raw converters (e.g., Nikon’s Capture NX) or in-camera JPEGs. They’re pretty good— a clear improvement over Adobe’s standard profiles. In particular, many Nikon users will find the Camera Neutral profile within Lightroom 2 to their liking.

Interface

Mostly subjective—you need to download the trials and see how you get on with each application. I initially loved Aperture’s loupe effect but came to dislike it over time. (I no longer use it and just use a full-screen zoom.) Lightroom is what’s called a modal application, meaning that you switch between develop mode, view mode and so on using a keystroke. It becomes second nature when you’re used to it but it does irritate some new users. I loved Lightroom’s interface from the moment I used it—it seemed elegant, clean and simple and offered me the chance to customise its behaviour to my taste. Others have had exactly that reaction to Aperture.

Moving libraries between applications

[Update March 2010. We have an article with a little more detail about moving your library from one application to the other here.]

Both applications now support the import of XMP sidecar files (it’s new to Aperture). XMP sidecar files hold information about the file’s metadata so you’d expect that to mean that ratings and keywords would travel between Aperture and Lightroom if you decide to move your library permanently from one to another. As of February 2010, however, that only works when moving from Aperture to Lightroom. Aperture doesn’t read image ratings when importing, even though it clearly writes those same ratings to its own XMP sidecar files when told to. (See the Apple knowledge base article on this issue here.)

Your image edits do not survive the journey in either direction so your non-destructive post-processing work will be lost if you migrate from Lightroom to Aperture or vice versa unless you’re prepared to bake in your changes by exporting TIFFs or JPEGs. (That’s a significant step—make sure you hang on to your raw files and move those across as well, if you choose to migrate TIFFs or JPEGs.)

Is Aperture 3 good enough to warrant a switch from Lightroom 2?

It’s a very strong upgrade for existing users and also a strong offering for new users but most of the switchers are likely to be people who prefer Aperture’s interface. There are lots of aspects we haven’t discussed above, including great book-publishing options, for one, and publishing options with custom book publishers. All this should seem like good news for Lightroom users—a lacklustre or half-hearted Aperture release at this stage would have left Lightroom with little or no competition in this area and the product would have been more likely to stagnate. Now that Aperture 3 has non-destructive brush adjustments and some other improvements, the game is back on. Aperture 3 should prove to be a good enough product to stop the general move from Aperture to Lightroom and put some pressure back on Adobe to continue innovating.

Faces and places

In brief: Faces, in its current Aperture 3 and iPhoto incarnations, is unlikely to win over many pro photographers or serious amateurs. It’s a great idea that will one day be genuinely useful. Places is another thing altogether: if you have a GPS unit with your DSLR or use an independent unit like a Garmin, this is can be a real time saver.

What we’re expecting in Lightroom 3

We expect excellent noise reduction (both colour and luminance) and probably soft proofing, though this feature didn’t make an appearance in the beta version. We also expect the much improved, more detailed rendering in the Lightroom 3 beta to make it through to the final product in some form. It will retain its excellent output sharpening, gain much improved local sharpening controls (which are a little weak in Lightroom 2) and probably one or two surprises. (These are personal opinions—we have no link to Adobe or Apple—but we’re quite confident about them.)

Advice for existing users and new users

If you have a large library in either application, you’re probably best sticking with it for the moment. Both offer free trials so you can import all or part of your existing image library into the competing app and compare output quality, speed, interface and functionality. Run them in parallel for a month. With the release of version 3, Apple has shown clearly that the Aperture project is alive and kicking and perhaps the momentum that the Aperture team has gained recently will carry through to an early, class-leading version 4. If you’re starting out, you now have a genuine choice again between competitive applications—something that couldn’t have been said a week ago.

Will Shoot Raw be offering Aperture 3 training?

We’re certainly looking at the product with renewed interest—that wasn’t the case with Aperture 2, after a short testing period. We welcome your thoughts and we’ll keep you posted.

The iPad question

Will there be raw converters on the iPad device? I’d guess so, eventually. And which raw converter is most likely to make is likely to make it to the iPad first? Well, that’s easy…:-)

Where to get the trials.

The Aperture 3 trial (for UK users) is here. Apple will mail you a download link and a serial number that’s good for 30 days.

The LIghtroom 3 public beta (free, expires April 2010) is here.

The Lightroom 2 trial is here.

Where to buy

Here are our Amazon UK links—all Amazon prices include VAT.

Aperture 3 upgrade from Aperture 2 (requires an Intel Mac and Leopard or Snow Leopard):

Lightroom 2, full version for Mac OS X or Windows:

For Lightroom users upgrading from version 1 to version 2 (OS X or Windows):

Amazon isn’t allowing affiliates to link to the full version of Aperture 3 yet (not sure why) but you can find it here.

Aperture 3 is also available at the Apple UK retail store.

Questions?

If you have questions about Lightroom, Aperture or raw workflow in general, drop us a line and if we can, we’ll turn the answer into a new blog entry.

Edge Detail in Lightroom 3 beta: what does it do?

Adobe Lightroom 3 beta offers many refinements and some new features over Lightroom 2. One of the most intriguing is a control labelled Edge Detail. The slider is intended to deal with the smearing of colour that you sometimes see in very high-ISO shots, when noise reduction has reduced the sharpness of edges and the colour might leak from one part of the image into another.

The edge detail slider at work

Here’s a very mundane picture. It wasn’t taken at very high ISO (just 500) but was pushed to about ISO 2,000 equivalent during post-processing and was taken on an older camera that has a very noisy sensor by today’s standards. (As a point of reference, any of you shooting the new Nikon D3S would probably need to go to ISO 25,000 or 50,000 to get anything quite this noisy.)

Edge_Detail_Shoot_Raw_Full

Now take a look at a detail from the image, first with the new Edge Detail slider set to zero and then, in the second crop, with the slider set to 100. Look at the way the edges of the orange indicator lamp are defined against the car’s bodywork.

Edge_Detail_0_Shoot_Raw_Crop

Edge_Detail_100_Shoot_Raw_Crop

You can see the effect of Edge Detail quite clearly—it appears to be adding sharpness and clarity to the colour edges, emphasising colour boundaries in a way that regular sharpening doesn’t and getting rid of much of the orange mush that you can see in the top picture. (In Lightroom, regular sharpening acts only on the luminance data—i.e., the brightness—and not on the colour. That’s intended to prevent colour shifts.)

Digital photography allows us to work in very low light but the level of colour noise reduction going on often smudges the colour; Edge Detail has been designed to counter that where it matters and can be quite effective—it just needs a better name.

Indoor, ambient-light photographer?

Although this slider is a feature of the beta version of Lightroom and could change (or even disappear) before the final release, it might be worth an early look if you’re an event photographer shooting with only ambient light and sometimes end up working in some challenging, low-light conditions. If the Edge Detail feature makes it through to final release, you’ll also see it in the corresponding version of Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) for Photoshop, which is rumoured to be ACR 6.

Workflow and notes

  1. All the processing for the image above was carried out only in Lightroom 3 beta, and designed to show the effect of the Edge Detail slider as clearly as possible.
  2. The only difference between the two crops is that the Edge Detail slider was moved from zero to 100—no other control was touched.
  3. Lightroom 3 beta is a free download for Windows and the Mac, even for users who have no version of Lightroom currently installed. It’s beta software so it has bugs and some performance issues that will be ironed out before a final release. It will expire in April 2010.
  4. All the images used above show lots of noise because Lightroom 3’s luminance noise reduction is disabled in the current public beta.

Training

In case you were wondering, our training is not this geeky—it’s about workflow rather than esoteric details! We put this stuff in the blog so we don’t have to spend as much time covering it in regular courses. If you find this kind of thing useful or interesting and know others who might, we’d love it if you could pass on details of our site.

Tips for buying Lightroom online in the UK

[Last updated: October 2010. Links and information and now current again for Lightroom 3 instead of Lightroom 2.]

Here’s some more detail on how to get hold of a copy of Lightroom (official name: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3) in the UK. There are Amazon listings but also tips on buying, cross-platform compatibility, licensing and on the various versions. available.

1. The free, 30-day trial from Adobe

Anyone looking at Lightroom for the first time should turn first to the 30-day trial. It’s wise to try before you buy. Even if you’ve already run a previous version of Lightroom on a 30-day trial (i.e., a version older than 3.2, which is current at the time of writing), you’re still entitled to a 30-day trial of version 3.2 and you’ll find no issues downloading and running it. (Useful if your previous trial showed incomplete support for your new camera or lens.) The trial is the perfect start—test the software and see how you get on with it. During the trial, there are no restrictions whatsoever on functionality. After the trial, you won’t be able to use the application but when you later buy it and activate it, you’ll find you’ve lost none of your work—when the trial expires, the software doesn’t delete the images (obviously…) or the adjustments you’ve made to them.

2. Buying from Amazon UK: Lightroom 3 full retail version

If you’re looking for an upgrade version or an academic version for students and teachers, scroll down. To view the Amazon UK listing for the full retail version of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3, click the icon immediately below.

We use and trust Amazon so we’re happy to use affiliate links to the UK store. They’re reliable, their refund policy is good and they no longer charge for super saver delivery, regardless of item cost.

That little picture of Lightroom 3 above this text should always display the current Amazon price for the full Lightroom 3 retail product so check back to see it change over the days ahead.

One thing to watch out for when you order from the Amazon site: make sure you know whether you’re ordering directly from them or from an Amazon reseller. If it’s an Amazon reseller, check the reseller’s reputation and delivery charges before ordering.

3. Buying from Amazon UK: Lightroom 3 Student and Teacher version

If you’re looking for the Student and Teacher edition of Lightroom 3 from Amazon UK, click the picture below to see the full listing.

Important note: you will need to prove your entitlement to run this academic-users version of Lightroom 3, and I believe you will need to supply photo ID as part of that process. If you’re looking for the full retail version, use the previous link.

4. Buying from Amazon UK: Lightroom 3 upgrade version

For this upgrade to work, you’ll need Lightroom 1 or Lightroom 2 legally installed (i.e., with a valid serial number) . To view the full listing, click the icon below.

5. Using the Google Product Search service

This is an interesting option that not very many people seem to use but which we’ve found very useuful. Previously branded Froogle, it’s not a retailer or reseller—it’s a product listing generated by Google from online retailers, with prices and online reputations visible to buyers. For each retailer, it also lets you know whether you can use Google Checkout (an alternative to PayPal) to pay. It’s good for all sorts of things that you can buy online, including cameras and lenses. At the very least, it gives you good overall guideline prices that you can use when you shop.

To get you started, here’s an initial search that attempts to exclude versions of Photoshop CS4 and CS5 that seem to appear on Froogle when you search for Lightroom, as well as attempting to exclude upgrade versions of Lightroom. (Inevitably, one or two of the items listed are still upgrades.) Before you click on the logo below, read through the search tips that follow. You’ll then feel more confident about modifying the search terms inside the Google search box and experimenting to widen or narrow your search.

Froogle Search for Lightroom full retail

Search tips for Google Product Search:

  1. Lightroom comes in academic and full retail versions. Unless you’re in educaton, you’ll need the retail version so make sure you’re not fooled if you see very cheap prices. If you order the academic version, you’ll likely be stuck with software that won’t work till you offer proof of education status, including Photo ID. What you buy needs to say retail version on it.
  2. Lightroom (both retail and academic) comes in upgrade versions and full versions. Unless you’re upgrading from Lightroom 1.x or 2,x, you’ll need the full version. The upgrade version is no good without v2 to upgrade.
  3. Check seller reputation, delivery time and delivery cost before buying. We won’t recommend individual sellers here but haven’t had a problem so far using highly rated sellers found on Froogle. (And again, we have used the service a lot.)
  4. Check whether the listed price includes VAT or not.

Tip: Mac version and Windows versions

An Adobe Lightroom box always includes both the Mac and Windows versions—not just one or the other—so you don’t need to worry about which platform to buy for. This is part of a new approach by Adobe and one that we hope will spread to its other product lines.

Tip: point releases of Lightroom 3

If you buy any full version of Lightroom 3 (for example v3.0 or v3.2), you can upgrade to the latest version of 3.x for free using the same product key. Just make sure you buy v3.0 or higher and you’re set.

Tip: desktop and laptop licences

Like most Adobe licences, the agreement for Lightroom permits you to install the product on one desktop machine and one portable but not to use them on both machines simultaneously.

A note about affiliations

We’re not affiliated or associated with Adobe, Google or any retailer, service or product listed here in any way except for Amazon UK. We only list products and services that we continue to find useful. If you buy a product from Amazon UK after clicking through one of our links, we get a small commission of up to £7.

Lightroom 3 Courses in London

We’re taking bookings for our one-on-one photographic workflow training, delivered at your studio, office or home, over one or two days. Bespoke Lightroom tuition in London (and the South East), delivered by a friendly, knowledgeable instructor, at your pace.

Call us on 0333 577 5703 or e-mail develop@shootraw.co.uk to arrange a time to talk (for free) about exactly which aspects of your digital photography workflow are holding you back. We build a course for you and make the difficult stuff seem easy! Start by visiting our contact form: click here. We look forward to hearing from you.

Stephen Shankland on shooting raw

In a recent article, Cnet’s Stephen Shankland makes some interesting points about raw files vs JPEGs in your photographic workflow. Here’s one that everyone should consider and which we continually emphasise to photographers:

If you’re converting a raw image with software, you not only get more computing horsepower than a camera offers, you get algorithms that are updated.

He’s absolutely right. Put differently: raw files from several years back can look incredibly good when processed using the best of today’s raw converters—much better than they ever did when they were first taken.

JPEGs produced by expensive professional cameras, even recent ones, shot in difficult conditions (low light, mixed lighting, high contrast) are completely outclassed by raw files from the same camera, taken at the same time, processed in today’s best raw converters. When you tell the camera that all you want is a JPEG  file, you have to make decisions that are often better left till later (things like sharpening, contrast, colour space, white balance, noise reduction—none of these settings affect the raw file in any way) or ask the camera to make them for you. In many cases, the decisions you make are difficult or time-consuming to reverse later and have a permanent effect on the quality of your photographs.

Today’s raw converters deal with colour fringing, overexposure, underexposure, sharpness, noise, detail and resolution much better than most cameras’ JPEG engines. Whether you shoot professionally or for pleasure, if you’re serious about image quality, choosing to shoot raw makes sense and costs just a tiny amount of disk space.

Yesterday’s gone but you’ll have gathered the point of this post: the raw images you shoot today are likely to look even better in tomorrow’s raw converters. To start with, all you need to do is tell your camera to shoot raw—and if you don’t know what to do with a raw file yet then set your camera to shoot raw plus JPEG and store the raw files safely away somewhere. They’re your digital equivalent of film negatives and there’ll come a time when you’ll be very pleased that you still have them.

A good Lightroom 2 video tutorial

When we deliver one-to-one Lightroom training, we leave photogrphers with one of several published Lightroom books to supplement their notes. (Watch for reviews of these books in future articles.) Some photographers understandably prefer to watch video tutorials, rather than plough through a book, in which case we recommend this video tutorial.

The instructors

When you learn using a one-way medium like video, you’re at the mercy of an instructor’s styles and priorities but the approach adopted by the two presenters of these videos should please most viewers.

Jeff Schewe works closely with Adobe on Lightroom and Camera Raw, testing the software and providing his input as a professional commercial photographer. He is also the current author of the best source of information on sharpening digital images for print and screen, the awkwardly named Real World Image Sharpening with Adobe Photoshop, Camera Raw, and Lightroom [Amazon UK link]. (That book is highly recommended as well—essential reading, in fact, particularly if you produce your own prints—but it’s not an introduction to Lightroom. It’s also worth a look even if you already have the late Bruce Fraser’s original edition.)

Michael Reichmann is an alpha tester for Adobe products, a long-established photographer himself and the man behind The Luminous Landscape.

Those of you familiar only with Jeff Schewe’s posts to various forums, for which he sometimes employs what you could call a very direct approach, might be surprised by the avuncular style on display here— there’s a twinkle in Jeff’s eye that came as a surprise to me when I first watched it. The conversational format of the video works well and the collection is easily worth the price of download, at $40 for more than seven hours of HD, split into many short, bite-size episodes.

Good for beginners and existing users

If you’re planning on booking one-to-one tuition with us, this tutorial is a good primer but it’s just as useful if you plan to work alone. You’re likely to learn quite a bit and even experienced Lightroom users will probably find new information and appreciate Jeff’s insight. The tutorial covers most aspects of Lightroom 2 and only minor details are outdated. (There were some changes introduced in the resizing methods used by Lightroom at version 2.3, for example.)

After watching the video a few times…

If you have specific questions after completing the videos, you could always buy some support time with us. More information coming soon.

We have no links whatsoever with Mssrs Schewe or Reichmann, nor with the Luminous Landscape, except as satisfied customers.

New readers always welcome

If you’re finding these snippets useful and you know others who’d benefit from reading them, please pass on the details of the site. You can sign up for free with Google to get new articles e-mailed to you every morning (UK time) so you don’t have to keep checking back. The link is on the front page but you can also click here. (We never pass on or sell your e-mail address.)

White balance in raw vs JPEG, part 1

A traditional reason given for shooting raw (if you can call any aspect of digital photography “traditional”) is to be able to set white balance in post-production rather than during the shoot.

Claim

The old argument goes like this: when you shoot (particularly events, concerts, weddings…), you have enough to worry about without having to add white balance concerns to the mix. Why rely on auto white balance or set custom white balance using large grey cards for each type of light? You’re better setting it after the fact, taking the occasional shot using a small grey card in it but not having to fiddle with the camera settings. This argument was often advanced by proponents of a raw workflow, who claimed that this approach only worked when you shot raw, not JPEG.

Counter-claim

Others now claim that you can shoot JPEG and take the same approach—set white balance when you’re back at your computer, in a single click, as if you’d shot raw. They say that it’s just as easy and you can even use the same white balance tool.

Facts

Here’s what you need to know.

  1. Just as easy but not as good. Yes, it’s just as easy to use the one-click white balance tool with a JPEG but compare the result with a raw file shot in the same conditions and you’ll see significant differences in colour: the JPEGs can look distinctly unconvincing by comparison.
  2. The more challenging the light, the bigger the differences. If you’re shooting in low light and particularly if that light is tungsten (regular indoor lightbulbs), your results can end up looking a little rough; if you’re shooting JPEG, they’re can get very rough. You’ll know this already if you shoot conferences and events in ambient light and deliver colour results. It’s just as easy to click and change white balance in post-production with a JPEG but it’s much harder to look at the results with anything but disappointment.
  3. Challenging light conditions are not uncommon. Current digital cameras struggle when there’s a strong imbalance between red, green and blue light in scene, particularly if there’s not much light around to start with, overall. For example, if you shoot events in ambient light and deliver colour work, your files have very little blue colour information in them because tungsten light provides mostly orange and yellow. (You won’t see things that way at the time—your own internal white balance routines are much more sophisticated than those of your camera.) When you get the images back to your computer and set white balance, that tiny amount of blue information needs to be amplified to make the images look colour balanced and that process can introduce noise and colour shifts that make the images look a little flat, even with a raw file. With a JPEG, things are worse because of the way the files are compressed. The same thing can apply at dawn or dusk (lots of blue light) or in the mixed light you find at concerts and nightclubs.

Coming soon in part 2, some examples of raw-vs-JPEG white balance corrections—some will be extreme, others less so. You’ll be able to see the differences between raw and JPEG quite clearly.

And a quick update on group training

We visited several potential venues in London last week and we’re working out figures and catering costs. Things are looking very good for January and February, with places (and gift certificates) available later this week. More news to follow shortly—please pass on details of our site to anyone you think might be interested. Meanwhile, we’re still taking bookings for one-on-one training sessions at your studio, office or home. Mail us and we’ll work out a course structure and schedule that suits you: develop@shootraw.co.uk.

Protect fine colour detail in Lightroom 2

The colour noise reduction slider in Lightroom is set to 25 by default. In Lightroom 1 and 2, that value is often too high.

Screen shot of Lightroom noise-reduction sliders

Colour noise reduction is subtle

There are some controls in Lightroom that have clear and immediately visible effects but colour noise reduction isn’t one of them. Slide the saturation control a little and you’ll get a pretty good idea of what it’s doing to your image but with colour noise reduction, any change can often be very slight or invisible, particularly at low ISO and certainly as you slide it between its default and zero. So it’s very tempting—particularly if you only shoot at low ISO—to quietly ignore it…

Resist temptation

Left to its own devices, colour noise reduction can remove significant colour detail from some of your images, even when there’s no little or no colour noise present—and you may never know what you’re missing. Take a look at the simple test shot below; it was taken with the camera set to base ISO and f/8, using a sturdy tripod and the fading light of a late November afternoon in London. (If you’re reading this in your e-mail client and see no images, click on the heading of the message to continue reading the piece in your browser.)

Origami_colour_noise_reduction
Above: the complete image, resized for the web

Below is a 100% crop from the photograph, presented in two versions—one with colour noise reduction left at default (25) and the other with it set to zero. The Lightroom settings are otherwise identical in every way. The difference is quite striking: with the colour noise reduction gone, the subtle colour pattern printed on the paper is suddenly clear and becomes an important part of the picture’s texture. Take a close look.

Origami_crop_noise_reduction_25
Origami_crop_noise_reduction_00
Top photo: colour noise reduction slider set to 25.
Lower photo: slider set to zero. No other changes.

The only thing it took to reveal that subtle printed detail was to move the colour noise reduction slider away from its default. It’s the same raw file, same sharpening, same JEPG compression on output—same everything. That should give you an idea of how colour NR might affect the fine detail in your work, whether you shoot landscape (subtle tonal variations and detail in in grass and foliage), portraits, product shots or fashion (think of fabric detail). If you offer large, fine-art prints in colour or display large images online, it may pay dividends to pay attention to that harmless-looking slider.

How about Lightroom 3?

As of November 2009, the current beta version of Lightroom 3 has a completely reworked noise-reduction algorithm; like its predecessor, it comes set to 25 by default but that and the name of the slider seem to be about the only things carried over. The new version in Lightroom 3 removes far less valid colour detail from the photograph. Here’s a crop from the same raw file, this time processed in Lightroom 3, with all settings unchanged.

Colour noise reduction at 25 (default) in Lightroom 3
Above: in Lightroom 3 with colour NR set to 25

This time, with the slider left at its default, you can see the printed pattern very clearly. There’s more good news, too: as well as being far less intrusive, the new noise reduction routines in the beta version of Lightroom 3 are also more effective. (We’ll have detailed examples coming up in articles on noise reduction, in which we’ll also look at the surprising differences between a few of the dedicated noise-reduction packages available.)

Our recommendation for Lightroom 2

When you begin to work in Lightroom 2.0, (Amazon UK link), start by leaving the colour NR slider set to zero, increasing it only when you see colour noise. You can best identify colour noise when viewing your work at around 100% to 200% magnification. (That sounds excessive but try it—it makes life easier, particularly when you’re getting started.) In a short time, you’ll be able to choose values for noise reduction that depend on the camera’s ISO setting for the shot, your approach to setting your camera’s exposure and the importance of fine colour detail in your work. Remember to take the images all the way to final output (meaning print, if that’s how the images will end up) before you settle on your starting values.

Presets

When you’ve found your way around these settings, build one-click presets for your commonly used noise-reduction settings and your workflow will speed up considerably. Good use of presets is a big help in achieving a fast, easy raw workflow while maintaining image quality.

Noise reduction, edge masking and sharpening

Even if the odd default value might be a little off, the noise reduction functions in Lightroom (including version 2) are already a lot better than most Lightroom users realise when should be used in conjunction with Lightroom’s edge masking and sharpening controls. When you make the most of these controls, they can produce excellent results. More on that coming up in future articles.

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A reminder that you can get all our future articles, for free, by e-mail or RSS. Click here for e-mail subscriptions and here for RSS. The e-mail messages are generated and sent automatically to subscribers each morning (UK time) but only on days when there’s new content on the site—no new content means no e-mail. Please pass on our site details to any photographers—professional or amateur—whom you think might find this information useful.

One-on-one training

And another reminder. As always, we’re available for one-on-one training at your studio, home or office and we still have free slots in December 2009 and January 2010. In a day, you can easily get enough information to get you up and running confidently using a raw workflow; alternatively, you can choose to concentrate on particular aspects that are proving a little tricky. Our minimum booking is a half-day in the London area and a full day elsewhere. We’re also putting together phone support packages. Call 0333 577 5703 (regular London landline number) or drop us a line for details.

ASMP creates dpBestflow.org

The American Society of Media Photographers has just launched its new digital photography site, dpBestflow.org, covering a lot of what you need to know about digital photography workflow. We haven’t had time to explore every section yet but so far, it’s looking very thorough and easy to follow. It was funded by the US Library of Congress and is entirely free; its content is also free to share, as long as attribution is provided. It looks very promising, covering workflow, colour management, printing, and best practice in many areas of digital photography.

http://dpbestflow.org

To begin with, watch the five-minute video overview here.

One tip for UK readers: if you search for topics related to colour management, you’ll want to make sure you’re using American English spelling. There’s plenty of information there on colour management but understandably, a search on “colour” returns no hits right now, while “color” returns five pages of links . 🙂

Tucked away at the bottom of the Project Team section is a list of names, under the heading Friends of Bestflow. They include Tom Hogerty, John Nack and the excellent Eric Chan (aka MadManChan), all Adobe employees heavily involved with Adobe Lightroom.

(Via John Harrington.)