Digital Info

If you arrived at this page you have probably attended one of the workshops given by me, or you were sent this link by a friend. A special thanks to my friends and colleagues Rob Galbraith and Michael Schwarz who have been great pixel partners for more years than I have fingers to count on.

Now the standard disclaimer: This page is for attendees of workshops taught by me and are intended to be used as an additional resource for attendees. The information here does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the sponsors or any of my workshops. Please drop me an email and let me know what you thought of the seminar you attended.

Three steps for changing for your digital photo life!

1) Demystifying Histograms – The histogram tool is an often misunderstood tool. But I like to liken it to a modern day exposure meter (remember the old scales with a +/- indicator in the view finder) well think of the histogram display as your old exposure meter on digital steroids as it can do so much more for you. So how can you use this tool read on!

Histogram Basics

Fig. 1 A standard 8 bit histogram, higher bit depth photographs are still rendered as 8 bit in the cameras LCD

Fig. 1 shows a standard histogram in cameras and most software applications. What is important here to note is that all the information displayed within the histogram is captured by the camera, any data outside of the histogram (the inserted red triangles) is not seen or captured by the camera.

The Cameras Histogram

Fig. 2 - The Histogram display showing the image preview (upper left) and the resulting histogram (upper right)

In Fig. 2 we can see a displayed image of a X-Rite three step grey-scale target on the back of a digital camera set to display a Histogram. You can see (on the right side of Fig 2) a display of histogram information showing three distinct peaks these represent the image captured (White, Grey and Black) and their position on the histogram (don’t worry that it appears they jump off the display this means there is more information than the display can show you). Whats important is the area of Highlight with detail is as close to the right hand side of the histogram without going over. If it does go over it means that there is Highlights that have not been capture and the image is over exposed. The shadow detail is shown on the left side of the histogram and in this example it shows all shadows captured with detail. This is a good exposure of a three step grey-scale target.

How it looks in image editing.

Fig. 3 - The resulting histogram in an Image Editing application

The histogram in Fig. 3 show the same information in a image editing levels dialog box (Photoshop CS5) note how closely it resembles the histogram in Fig 1 above.

Reading the Histogram using a Live Subject

Fig. 4 - A real world example of a good histogram

On to reading a real world histogram in Fig. 4 in this histogram you can see that the highlight area is slammed against the right side of the histogram dialog box meaning that some bright areas of this image are not captured with any detail which is okay in this picture as these are areas of the specular highlight in Bill’s eye. You can see the Mid Tone area which is some of his flesh tone of mid values and his grey moustache area. But you can also see that the Shadow (Dark Tone) areas of the picture on the left side of the histogram showing there are lots of dark tone areas and some that have not been captured at all as the histogram is slammed to the left side of the histogram dialog box.

So in Fig. 4 I have not captured some Highlight detail which is okay because we can identify it as a highlight caused by our flash, but we have also not captured some Shadow detail but we like the deep shadows with no detail so this is also okay. But if we wanted to “open up” or show detail in these areas we would have to add light by using a third strobe or a reflector to fill in these shadow areas.

Final look at Histograms

Fig. 5 - The image and resulting histogram

If you took this picture in Fig.5 and saw the resulting histogram on the back of your camera do you know how to interpret it?

2) White Balance – When I switched from film photography to digital photography in 1994 it became rapidly evident to me that the White Balance setting of my camera was the single most important setting I could change (after exposure). I can record accurate color, or change the setting to capture a more emotional color especially when photographing people or sunsets. In (Fig. 6) below we can see the average White Balance Settings from most of Nikon’s cameras (left). And on the right side of the(Fig. 6) graphic we can see the difference in the color of light in light sources.

Fig. 6 - Nikon's White Balance Setting Menu (left) and a Kelvin Temperature Chart showing the color of the Light (right).

So the decision for us as a photographer when it comes to setting White Balance is to decide the following. Do I want an accurate White Balance? or do I want a more emotional (pleasing) White Balance? In the examples below (Fig. 7) we can see the accurate White Balance setting the camera rendered when set to “Auto” but I wanted a more warm pleasing (emotional color) so I changed the cameras White Balance to “Cloudy” to get a warmer over all White Balance. Which is right… they both are it depends on what your preference is!

Fig. 7 - Auto White Balance (left) vs Cloudy White Balance (right).

The bottom line is I use the following White Balance Settings on my cameras.

[stextbox id=”info”]1) Sunny (or Auto) White Balance – For almost all my photography as a default setting. Why Sunny? as at this setting I will pretty much see the color my eye sees from that early morning blueish color to the rich warm colors of the later afternoon.
2) Incandescent White Balance –  When working indoors for most situations as most indoor lighting is Incandescent or very close to it.
3) Custom White Balance Preset – In indoor or outdoor venues where artificial light dominates a scene. I will use a Custom White Balance Preset setting to get precisely accurate color renditions.[/stextbox]

But when you get a chance you should practice using all your cameras White Balance settings so you can make the right choice for the right scene.

Fig. 8 The +/- symbol is the Exposure Compensation button

3) Exposure Compensation (+/- EV) – Almost all digital cameras from Compact to DSLR will let you override the metered or chosen exposure to allow you to make a more “creative” exposure. While today’s modern metering systems in camera do a great job of getting a “technical” exposure we will sometimes want to override this which is where the Exposure Compensation button or +/- EV button comes in (see Fig.8) . It’s important to remember that the camera looks at the entire scene and tries to make an exposure decision based on several factors and metering mode selected.

But it will not take into account your creative thinking. If there’s one part of the scene that’s lighter or darker than the rest, and it’s really what you are trying to capture you can use the +/- EV button to change that technically correct exposure to a more creative or pleasing exposure.

To darken the scene, you want to darken or underexpose, which is a minus adjustment. To lighten the scene, you’ll need to lighten or overexpose, which is a plus adjustment.

How do you use Exposure Compensation? It’s quite simple really just shoot a picture and look at the result on the back of your camera. Most of the times you will want a darker image to capture Highlight details that would be a – EV compensation.

Fig. 9 The Technical Exposure the Camera made vs the Creative Exposure the Photographer made with a -1.3 EV compensation

When shooting in places with lots of bright areas like on snow a sandy beach, or people holding candles for instance you will want a + EV compensation to brighten up the overall image.

Workflow: The basic steps remain the same for both Professionals and Photo Hobbyists it’s that tools that change. Below are the basic steps in a digital workflow and the order can be shifted around a bit depending on what software pages you choose.

Action Basic Workflow (JPEG) Advanced Workflow (RAW+JPEG)
Prepare to Shoot 1) Set-Up your camera2) Make sure you have the accessories you will be using charged and ready. 1) Set-Up your cameras picture controls and color management.2) Make sure you have the accessories you will be using charged and ready.
Shoot 1) Take your time here and get the best exposure, and white balance popssible as this will save you time later in the the process.2) Shoot the lowest ISO practical and the best size and compression to suit your output. 1) Take your time here and get the best exposure, and white balance possible.2) Shoot the lowest ISO practical and the best size and compression to suit your output. Shoot NEF (RAW) if appropriate.3) When shooting RAW for sports you may want to switch to 12bit RAW files and and check if you are shooting in 14bit or 12bit
Download Nikon Picture Project, Nikon View or your computers built in system photo application.Download into a named folder YYYYMMDD-Project Photo MechanicDownload into a named folder YYYYMMDD-Project, Add IPTC/XMP information to all your pictures
Back-Up Back-up to CD, DVD or external hard drive Back-up to external hard drive or better yet to a Network Attached Storage device (NAS) running a RAID
Sort Make a selection of pictures by giving them Star Ratings for Good, Better and Best Make a Selection of pictures using Tags, Color Class and Stars.
Edit Adobe Photoshop Elements 9, Nikon Capture you should be thinking of calibrating your monitor with a Huey Pro or Gretag iOne Display 2 Color Management Software X-rite (calibrate and profile your monitor and set-up all your softwares colour management preferences. Software, Nikon Capture (RAW file processing), Adobe Photoshop CS5, DXO Optics, Lightroom, Capture One.
Share/Output Print and share (web and email) out of Nikon View, Photoshop Elements 9. Make the right choice of printer and match the printer to it’s ink and paper. Print out of your editing software and turn off “printer handles or manages color”. Create slide shows with ProShow Gold or Pro Show Producer (Windows) or Fotomagico, iPhoto/iMovie/iDVD (MAC).Create a web gallery with Lightroom or Expression Media 2.
Print using your favourite printer, if you don’t have a photo printer look at Epson’s photo printers.
Catalogue/Archive No need for this you have a folder/file based system. Build a catalog using Expression Media 2

Photo Editing Workflow: “A Workflow within a workflow” During the classes I have given I outline a basic image editing workflow. These are the base steps I will use when working in Editing Software.

Editing Workflow My Basic Workflow inNikon Capture NX2 My Basic Workflow inAdobe Photoshop CS5
1 ) Set-up Capture NX preferences. Set-up Photoshop Color Management.
2 ) Open Rotate and assess image. Make a plan for your editing steps. Set-Up Info Palette and working space
3 ) Convert Colors to your working color space if needed. Open Rotate and assess image. Make a plan for your editing steps.
4 ) Base Adjustments – Camera, RAW, Light and Color. Convert Colors to your working color space.
5 ) Detail and Lens Adjustments. Crop.
6 ) Step Adjustments, Local Tone and then color Adjustments. Levels Adjustment.
7 ) Color Control Point Adjustments Curves Adjustment.
8 ) Apply creative filters Color Correction Adjustments.
9 ) Localized Sharpen/Blur effects. Repair Image Defects.
10 ) Save as NEF Apply Filter
11 ) Localized Blur and Sharpening.
12 ) Save as a 16bit Tiff (preserving all your layers).
Output Workflow Nikon Capture Output Workflow Adobe Photoshop CS5 Output Workflow
13 ) Crop and Straighten (if moving to Photoshop save as a 16bit TIFF). Flatten Image.
14 ) Size and Sharpen. Size and Sharpen.
15 ) Soft Proofing and soft proof corrections for printing. Soft Proofing and soft proof corrections for printing.
16 ) Remember to convert photos to sRGB when sending to the web or other no color managed output devices. Remember to convert photos to sRGB when sending to the web or other no color managed output devices.

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