Jun 022014

I recently upgraded my Mac OSX to the 10.9 Mavericks version. About time, I hear you say but my guiding principle tends to be: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

I still vividly remember an update to Mac OSX Panther that crashed my system and that of many other Mac users worldwide. My days of being an early adopter ceased from that time on. I now prefer to wait a few months to let the initial bugs get ironed out.

Keith Cooper, who runs the Northlight Images website — a valuable source of photography information and excellent reviews – happened to mention he had experienced a problem with the Google Nik Collection after he had upgraded to Mavericks. I checked out the Google Nik Collection website to see if Keith’s problem was widespread. I discovered it wasn’t and also became aware of the existence of Analog Efex Pro 2.

The original Analog Efex Pro had appeared as an icon in the folder when I downloaded the Google Nik Collection in March 2013 but the actual plug-in failed to materialize. Bearing in mind that Google at that time had offered me the entire collection as a free download, I wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth and let the absence of Analog Efex Pro ride.

Analog Efex Pro 2 was a different matter. I now felt like I was missing out on something and so duly downloaded the Nik Collection again and the plug-in arrived in full working order.

I watched the Analog Efex Pro 2 tutorials and put the software to work. The software offers an array of filters to recreate vintage cameras, classic cameras, black & white, toy lenses to name but a few. Within those filters it is possible to control parameters such as bokeh, vignetting, dirt and scratches, and light leaks. And, of course, Nik Software’s control points are available to fine tune the effects.

I find a certain irony in this age of digital photography that we now wish to recreate photographic technology from as far back as the late 19th century, with the Wet Plate option, but such is the human condition. In the age of digital sound — CDs and mp3s – some people still prefer the sound obtained from vinyl. It is not hard to see the origins of the English expression: There’s nowt so queer as folk!

Here is my first attempt using Analog Efex Pro 2 with a vintage camera filter on a color shot.

HSC Mananna heads for Liverpool past Crosby Beach, Merseyside.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L. ©Calvin Palmer 2014. All Rights Reserved.

The same shot with my usual color workflow of Viveza 2 and Color Efex Pro 4.

HSC Mananna heads for Liverpool past Crosby Beach, Merseyside, England.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L. ©Calvin Palmer 2014. All Rights Reserved.

I enjoyed playing about with Analog Efex Pro 2 and without a doubt it does tend to provide a dramatic impact to color photographs. I must confess to mixed feelings, as part of me cannot help preferring the greater integrity of my usual color workflow using Viveza 2 and Color Efex Pro 4. I use “integrity” in a loose sense since any image is manipulated if subjected to Viveza 2 and Color Efex Pro 4.

I found my “integrity” was not so compromised using the Wet Plate option to convert a color shot to B&W.

Couple on Crosby Beach, Merseyside, England.

My usual processing (left) using Viveza 2 and Silver Efex Pro 2, with the Analog Efex Pro 2 version (right). Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L. ©Calvin Palmer 2014. All Rights Reserved.

It may be that I overstepped the mark a little with my attempts on color images. Subtlety is often the key when it comes to applying effects to images. Sadly, I am not renowned for my subtlety.

I would be interested to hear which versions of these shots readers prefer.

Here is a final shot I processed straight from the RAW dng file in Analog Efex Pro 2, completely bypassing my normal workflow just to see how it fares as a standalone.

New Brighton Beach and Perch Rock Lighthouse, New Brighton, Merseyside, England.

Ricoh GR ©Calvin Palmer 2014. All Rights Reserved.

I am undecided whether Analog Efex Pro 2 will become a regular feature of my workflow. The jury is still out at the moment. I think it is more likely to be applied to certain shots when the mood takes me. Your feedback could well change my mind.

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Apr 012013

Unexpected surprises often help to kick-start one’s enthusiasm and motivation and such a surprise came to me last week when I received an e-mail announcing that I was eligible for the entire collection of Nik Software absolutely free. I qualified for this generous offer by virtue of being an existing customer.

My first Nik Software purchase was Silver Efex Pro and I quickly became a convert to the U Point® technology employed. It became a no-brainer to upgrade to Silver Efex Pro 2. Subsequently, I bought Viveza 2 to enhance my colour images.

Four or five months ago, I contemplated the purchase of Define 2, Nik Software’s noise reduction software, as well as Sharpener Pro 3 but was put off by the fact that they were no longer available as hard disks and the two plug-ins would have set me back $210.

The opportunity to obtain these two Nik plug-ins for free made the offer good; it became even better when I was also set to receive Color Efex Pro 4 and HDR Efex Pro 2.

Given my usual skepticism, my first thought was, what is the catch? Why would Nik Software by Google want to give away $499 of plug-ins?  But it doesn’t always do to look a gift horse in the mouth and I have since accepted my good fortune along with this excellent collection of software.

The only downside is learning how to use the new plug-ins. To this end I have been helped by the free video tutorials on the Nik Software site and also found Keith Cooper’s reviews on his Northlight Images web site a good starting point.

I am still in the process of ascending the steep learning curve but have made my first tentative steps in applying Define 2 and Color Efex Pro 4 to my workflow. Below is one of my first attempts employing these two plug-ins.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

I have also experimented using Color Efex Pro 4 on images that I ultimately wanted to present as black & white photographs. In the photograph below, I used the Brilliance/ Warm, Detail Extractor, Graduated Neutral Density and Pro Contrast filters before converting to black & white with Silver Efex Pro 2.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

The acquisition of new software always raises a conundrum. Do I go back and apply the new software/plug-ins to images processed previously or do I let them stand as a testament to the level of processing available to me at that time?  I guess selectivity is the key here, unless I wish to remain stuck in front of my computer screen for the next four months.

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May 042011

Grocery shopping is a joint venture with my wife until we reach the frozen food display cabinets. At this point, I relinquish command of the shopping cart and head over to the magazine stand and browse the photography magazines.

Leafing through Popular Photography, I came across an article on how to create a fake reflection. The original photograph showed a lake whose waters were brown and choppy, as a result the clouds overhead were not reflected. Photoshop came to the rescue, although I don’t know if rescue is the right word because the final image was, in my opinion, a gross distortion of the original. In other words, a lie, a complete fabrication.

I am old-fashioned enough to believe that a photograph should present the truth. In these days of Photoshop, the absolute truth is often a rarity. I am guilty as the next photographer in that I sometimes clean an image up — take out a branch of a tree at the edge of the frame or make a cigarette butt in the foreground disappear.

My particular ethos is that it is all right to extract items from an image in the interest of producing a better photograph but to add something to a photograph that was not present when the shot was captured is beyond the pale.

It could be argued that I forfeit any claims to be an artist with that statement. But remember my background is journalism, where accuracy and the truth are supposed to count for something. And my style of photography owes much to the genre of reportage. I photograph what I see and how I find it.

In the case of the example shot in Popular Photography, I would have returned another day when the conditions would produce a reflection of the clouds in the lake. I would never dream of thinking to myself, “Oh I can add a reflection in Photoshop.” That is taking image manipulation too far for my taste.

The most extreme image manipulation I undertake is to convert the RAW colour image to B&W in Silver Efex Pro. It was a review of Silver Efex Pro 2 that made me pick up Popular Photography in the first place. The upgrade is now on my wish list but Nik Software recommends 4 GB of RAM for version 2, although it will work with the 2 GB of RAM I have on my Mac Pro. A few weeks back I checked the RAM usage and it gets perilously close to the limit. More RAM may not be such a bad idea but it will be an additional expense.

Photoshop can also rescue images where the exposure is somewhat awry — blown highlights or an area underexposed. I know we all try to get it right in the camera but none of us is perfect.

Last week, I took a shot of a derelict school building with Spanish moss in the foreground. The combination of the two made for an eerie atmosphere. However there was a small area of sky that was way overexposed. Small sensor cameras such as the Ricoh GRD III struggle to cope with a large dynamic range. Working on the principle of waste not want not, I set about seeing if I could rescue the image.

My normal processing — saturation, shadows & highlights, levels and sharpening — produced an unsatisfactory outcome.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

In my salvage attemtpt, the first port of call in Photoshop was Curves. I selected the Cross Process option and it worked a treat turning that area of sky into a surreal shade of magenta.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Me being me I did a B&W conversion using Silver Efex Pro.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

I then hit on the idea of using the crossed processed image as my starting point for a B&W conversion in Silver Efex Pro. I wasn’t quite sure what I would end up with but much to my surprise it was something that held a certain amount of appeal. In fact, I like it better than the cross processed version.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Now whether I would use this kind of post-processing on a correctly exposed image is another question. I very much doubt it given my ethos on photography. But it was a fun thing to do with this particular shot and gave me something that passes muster.

I would welcome comments not only on the treatment of this shot — does it work and have merit or is it just an over indulgence — but also on the whole business of manipulating images with Photoshop and if people have links to their examples all the better.