Category Archives: Technique

Old Photos and New Software

Probably the best wildlife photo outing I ever had was a little over 11 years ago on a dark and dreary day in Juneau, Alaska.

I was using a Nikon D-90 camera and my telephoto lens at the time was the 70-300mm  f/4.0 – 5.6 lens.  To get the shutter speeds I needed, I had to set my ISO between 800 and 1000. The D-90 sensor was good for the time, but at those ISOs, overcast skies,  fast action and small apertures made for challenging exposures. While I like the photos I came back with, I’ve always wished the image quality was a bit better.

Fast forward to this week when DxO Photo Lab Version 4 was announced. It advertises a new RAW conversion approach that uses machine learning to combine demosaicing and denoising into one step. They say:

“The resulting photo quality is nothing short of spectacular, especially for photos taken in low light conditions that require brightening certain areas, photos with small pixels, and photos taken with early-generation cameras.”

That sounds like just what I needed for those old photos, so I decided to reprocess a couple of them. In addition to DxO Photo Lab, I also have new versions of Lightroom (with very nice texture, clarity, and dehaze controls) as well as Topaz Sharpen AI.

Would the new software improve these photos?  Let’s see. Here are the results in image compare frames so you can see the differences (newer versions on the right). You’ve seen the first one in the blog before.

Breaching Humpback 1

I think the reprocessed version has better detail / focus, less noise, and improved contrast / colors.

The next one hasn’t been in the blog before. I’ve always  liked the action / viewpoint / composition and “flight aspect” of the whale, but the noise, color and focus were disappointing.

Breaching Humpback 2

After reprocessing, I think the image quality is more than acceptable.

My workflow for these was:

  • Raw conversion using DxO Optics Pro 4 with “Deep Prime” noise reduction and export back to Lightroom in RAW / DNG format
  • Adjustments in Lightroom: exposure, highlights, shadows, texture, dehaze
  • Sharpening with Topaz Sharpen AI

If you’re interested in more detail about the steps I went through, just ask in a comment and I’ll be more than happy to answer your questions.

Here are some related links to explore:

I’m very glad that I’ve been shooting in and saving RAW format images.  It takes up more storage space and requires  more post processing work than using jpg files.  But having RAW files for my favorite photos lets me take advantage of new technology and algorithms as they become available.

Keeping up with all these new capabilities requires time, effort, and money.  But there’s no doubt in my mind that the software we have today is vastly superior to what was available 11 years ago. What do you think?

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Please stay safe out there and take care of each other. And if you can, make or reprocess some RAW photos!

©2020, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

A Difference in Scale

The master copy of the image below is made from multiple frames that I stitched together into a panorama. It ended up being ~196 megapixels.  I used a 70mm lens, so the equivalent focal length is about 35mm.  Looking at it another way, the tree line along the horizon is probably a couple of miles in length.

A calm, cloudy mornA calm, cloudy morn

Especially at this time of year, if you can zoom in to almost any image like this you’ll see dragonflies moving around or perched on leaves.  Look closely at this crop from near the center of the first image and you can just make out two of them resting on reeds.

The next photo is a single frame I made a few minutes earlier with another camera / lens at  ~1400mm eq. focal length.

Four-Spotted Pennant (?)Four-Spotted Pennant (?)

So in terms of lens magnification, it’s about a 40x zoom.  In terms of distance shown, it’s a few inches vs. a couple of miles or ~20,000 times smaller.  Either way, quite a change in scale and two unique ways to show the environment and inhabitants.

By the way, the header image at the top of the post is this same one rendered in B&W.  It’s a little more abstract, but I  like that version too.  If  you’d like to see the un-cropped frame, I posted it on flickr at this link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/50499722736/in/photostream/.

Exploring an environment at a variety of scales can reveal interesting scenes and details.  Especially if a dragonfly tilts its wings just right in the light.

Thank you for stopping by and reading my blog. Please stay safe and take care of each other. And if you can, make some photos – at different scales.

©2020, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Photography Surprises

sur·prise:
noun: an unexpected or astonishing event, fact, or thing
verb: cause (someone) to feel mild astonishment or shock
synonyms: astonishment, amazement, incredulity, wonder

One reason I like photography is because it often pleasantly surprises me. If you do a search on this blog (https://edrosack.com/?s=surprise). you’ll find I’ve used the word many times. Today I have a couple more examples, so lets discuss photo surprises again.

Jumping fish sunriseJumping fish sunrise

The title of this one gives away the surprise. Of course, it’s not unusual for fish to jump out of the water. I was set up for landscape photography, not wildlife or action and I didn’t notice the fish that morning so I hadn’t tried to time my shutter to include it. When I started processing the photo on my computer I was amazed that my camera recorded the fish (a mullet?) mid jump. I think it adds interest to the photo. A small wonder, but a good one. Here’s a closer look.

Mid-jump Mullet

This second image is a different kind of surprise.

First Light on Wetland WildflowersFirst Light on Wetland Wildflowers

I was on Black Point Wildlife Drive and saw that beautiful light on the clouds. When I got out of the car to make a photo, I noticed those nearby wildflowers and wanted to include them – it was a difficult task. The exposure for the flowers would be very different from the sky. And getting everything in focus in one frame would also be hard. I decided to make three vertical frames (adjusting focus and exposure in each one) and then try blending them together into a single panorama image when I got home.

I wasn’t hopeful.  On top of capture issues, I knew the blending would be hard too. The flowers were very close and would change perspective against the open marsh when the camera moved. And any motion from wind would cause ghosting or other issues. I made the frames anyway – it was worth a try. I didn’t think it would turn out this well – an unexpected success!

You can click on the first and last photos to view larger versions on Flickr.

Changing the subject, Tropical Storm Isaias is heading toward Central Florida. Our skies are blue and cloud free right now. Later today it’s expected to be a lot closer and we might get some strong weather beginning this afternoon. Lynn and I have done our hurricane prep and are hoping it stays out to sea and doesn’t get too bad.  We also hope all of you anywhere near the projected path are prepared too.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Hang in there and take care of each other. And if you can – make some surprising photos!

©2020, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Comet Stacking

I’ve seen some awesome images of Comet Neowise C/2020 F3. I’m sure you have too. Did you make any photos of it? Then you might have a better image than you think, just waiting to be processed. Let me explain.

Neowise.Central Winds Park. 7/16/20. Single exposure at 85mm, f/2.8, 8s, ISO 400

Lynn and I went up to Central Winds Park in Winter Springs to see if we could spot Neowise. This park is on the south shore of Lake Jesup and has less light pollution to the north than we do in our neighborhood. Once it was dark enough, we could easily find it in binoculars, but it was very hard to pick up with just our eyes.

I went back a few days later with my long lens to try for a close up.

Comet Neowise C/2020 F3

Neowise. Central Winds Park. 7/19/20. 3 exposure stack, 600mm, f/6.3, 2s, ISO 3200 – 6400

I made a lot of frames of the comet on that trip, trying to find optimal settings for a single exposure. Almost all of the really spectacular images that you’ve seen are probably from a tracking mount, with multiple frames that are aligned, stacked, and processed together to reduce noise and bring out faint detail. I wasn’t trying to do any of that.

But after several attempts to get the best image I could out of what I’d captured, I realized I might have multiple frames I could stack too. So going back through my RAW captures I found three photos to try. They weren’t ideal since they were at different ISOs but I thought it was worth a shot. Here’s a before / after of a single RAW image compared to a stacked composite from three frames.

Comparison of a single RAW frame to the stacked, 3 frame final image

If you’re an astrophotographer, you already know all this. And you probably have some task specific software to align / stack / process images. If you’re not an astronomy buff, then do a web search for “photoshop manual align astro layers” and you’ll find a lot of info on how to do this without any extra programs – which is how I processed mine.

This is only the 3rd or 4th comet I’ve seen and the very first that I’ve tried to photograph. The first one I saw was Halley’s Comet back in 1986. I remember how exciting it was to show it to Lynn and Mike. I had a camera (and a telescope) then, but photos like these with that equipment would have been next to impossible. Photography has come such a long way!

So, if you made any Neowise photos, sort through them for frames you can try to stack. You may be surprised at the improvement you can get.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Hang in there and take care of each other. And if you can – stack some photos!

©2020, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Black and White

Ages ago when I was young and starting out with photography, I used black and white almost exclusively. It was an economic choice, not esthetic. I could buy black and white film cheaply in bulk and do my own processing, which reduced cost substantially.

In today’s digital world I still photograph in black and white, but not exclusively and it’s not an economic choice anymore. Almost every modern digital camera has a black and white mode. And since I shoot in RAW format, I can experiment and choose what my final output will look like long after I press the shutter. There are many reasons to shoot black and white, but here are a couple you may want to think about:

1. Emphasize / reveal different things about a subject
Black (and white) Bird
Black (and white) Bird

The Lightroom B&W panel has sliders for 8 different colors. Converting from RAW can provide a lot more control than choosing the default B&W mode in your camera. When processing this photo, I used this to bring out detail and texture in the Osprey’s feathers, brighten its eye, and darken the sky background.

Osprey B&W mix

Here’s a before and after that compares the color and black and white versions. Which do you like?

Osprey before and after
2. Control harsh light and colors

I like both wildlife and landscape photography. Light is best for landscapes during the golden hours around sunrise and sunset and can be very harsh in the middle of the day. Black and white can help you control this and make a good photo even when the light is harsh. I mostly use my infrared converted camera in black and white mode for this, but a regular camera can also work. Here’s an example of some harsh mid-morning light that I think works well in IR/B&W:

A lonely place
A lonely place

You can see more of my B&W photos in this album on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/albums/72157625316775091

If you’re looking for an interesting pandemic project, take a look at your image catalog and try converting some to B&W. You might discover many reasons for black and white photography!

Thank you for stopping by and reading my blog. Hang in there and take care of each other. And if you can – make some (B&W) photos!

©2020, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Incredible skies?

in·cred·i·ble, adjective: Very difficult or impossible to believe; extraordinary

There’s been a lot of buzz on the web recently about sky replacement – a genre of compositing. You take the sky from one photo and substitute it into a second photo.  I first tried this way back in April of 2007.  I wanted to make the Great Egret family in this nest at the St. Augustine Alligator farm stand out against the sky. You can compare the before and after in this slider:

Before on the left, after on the right – Use the slider to compare

You can view a higher res version on Flickr here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/4101177267/in/album-72157622798164562/. It turned out pretty well, but it was a lot of work (at the time) and I haven’t tried it again – until recently.

The latest version of Skylum’s Luminar photo editor comes with a capability called “AI Sky Replacement. This “automagically” replaces the sky in your photos with a single click and will even adjust the rest of the lighting in the scene to better match the new sky. You can read more about it on their site: https://skylum.com/luminar.

Here’s another before / after slider showing my recent effort with their software. The original photo was made on Black Point Wildlife Drive in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. It was a very pretty morning, but the sky was a bit plain.

Before on the left, after on the right – Use the slider to compare

Here’s the whole completed image (click to see it in much higher resolution on Flickr).

Good Morning
Good Morning

I like how this one turned out too – the sun in the new sky is in the right place and the light direction, intensity, and color match the foreground nicely. It adds interest to the image. And it was easy – Luminar worked well in this case.

But it makes me a little uncomfortable. I guess because in this blog I want to tell you about what, where, and how to photograph. So I think you should expect to see things here that you can also see when you go to these places. This image is a composite, not a photo – you wouldn’t have seen this on that morning. I won’t say that I’ll never do compositing, but I do promise that I’ll disclose it if I do.

Now, am I going to criticize you if you replace skies in your photos? No, you can do whatever you want with your images. They’re your art. But in general, I do see folks on Flickr doing this a little too much. And if you do it you should disclose or tag it. And you should do it right – the results should look natural, not artificial. The light direction and color should match. The lens used in both photos should also match so scene elements are at the proper relative distance from each other. Go for the second definition of incredible (extraordinary), not the first (Very difficult or impossible to believe).

Thank you for stopping by and reading my blog.  And if you can – make some photos!

As for everything that’s going on in the USA and the world right now … I’ll try to keep politics and non-photo opinions out of this blog. But if you’re interested in what I think about things, feel free to take a look at my Twitter feed (link on the right). Peace out.

©2020, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Isolation

Anyone can snap a photo.  As photographers, we choose subjects and then compose frames around them so a viewer’s eyes are drawn to what we want them to see.  One thing to think about when we’re out with our cameras is how to isolate the subjects in our images.

Scan the scene when shooting – look for distracting elements and get rid of them.  How?  Sometimes you can’t, but here are some suggestions.

Viewpoint:  Shift a few feet one way or another to hide things.  There’s a much less attractive mailbox just out of the frame below on the left.

A Mailbox on Joe Overstreet RoadA Mailbox on Joe Overstreet Road

Magnification:  We never have enough zoom, do we?  Use what you do have to get close and separate subjects from clutter.  You can also crop later on the computer, but you’ll risk losing some image quality / resolution.

A good morning for a songA good morning for a song – singing Eastern Meadowlark. Joe Overstreet Road

Light:  Sometimes the light is just right to make your subject stand out from the background – take advantage of it!  This can be modified a bit in post processing too.

Shy birdShy bird – A Roseate Spoonbill in the light. Black Point Wildlife Drive

Depth of Field (DOF):  In addition to getting as close as you can and using a long focal length, shooting with a wide open aperture creates a shallower DOF and blurs the background behind your subject.  You may need to shift your position a bit to insure that the entire subject (e.g. both the insect and the bird) are in the plane of focus.

Butcher BirdButcher Bird – Loggerhead Shrikes often kill prey by impaling them on a thorn or barbed wire.  Joe Overstreet Road

Color:  Catching your subject against a contrasting color can help it stand out.  These American White Pelicans with their yellow beaks were very nice to pose for me in the blue water.

American White PelicansAmerican White Pelicans. Black Point Wildlife Drive

So that’s a few ideas. If you think about this when you’re out, your photos will improve. Do you have any other suggestions?  Feel free to add them in the comments.

And speaking of isolation, Lynn and I are both generally in good health (thankfully!).  But the CDC says we’re at higher risk from the COVID-19 virus due to our ages.  We’re going to follow their recommendations and stay up to date on developments.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go out, stay safe – and make some photos!

©2020, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Bracketing vs. Graduated ND Filters

I’d long ago answered this question, but a comment from Frank B. about this image caused me to reconsider some things.

Cocoa Beach Pier before dawnCocoa Beach Pier before dawn

Fair warning:  This post is a little deep into the weeds.  Feel free to look at the photo and move on if it isn’t your thing.  But I think it’s an appropriate subject, since part of the blog’s purpose is “… and how to photograph them.”

What are we talking about?

Bracketing means taking multiple photos of a scene, each with different camera settings (see this Wikipedia entry).  In this case, I made three photos at different exposures so I could capture the entire dynamic range from super dark under the pier to super bright above the clouds.  Making just a single exposure would’ve risked losing detail in the shadows or highlights (or both).

You can also use a Graduated Neutral Density Filter (GND) – an optical filter you add in front of your lens to reduce light in the bright part of the frame (see this Wikipedia entry).  Typically they have a 2 or 3 stop reduction that transitions into clear.

I’d long ago experimented with GNDs and decided not to use them.  I can  mostly reproduce their effect in static scenes by bracketing and then blending the resulting frames in post-processing.  For landscape images bracketing is an easier solution in the field and gives me more control and a better final result.  You can read about one example of my technique in this post (from back in 2011).

But then … Frank left a comment:

… amazing how the clouds remain sharp compared to the water given the time of exposure

And my reply:

Frank, this is a 3 frame, hi-res exposure bracket hand blended in Photoshop. The bottom portion was at f/5 for 25 seconds. The top was at f/5 for 3.2 seconds. So that and distance is why the clouds are sharp compared to the water.

The way I made this image resulted in a huge difference in shutter speed between the water at the bottom and the clouds at the top.  And using the Olympus Hi-Res mode exaggerated the shutter speed differences since it combines 8 separate captures to create each hi-res output file.

If I’d used a GND the shutter speed would be constant throughout the frame and the blur in the clouds would’ve matched the blur in the water.  In this particular case,  bracketing exposure by varying aperture instead of shutter speed would also make the motion blur consistent.  I’ve never done that since it seemed like it would lead to other issues (inconsistent focus / depth of field).  It’s something to think about and maybe try in the future for a setting where consistent motion blur is important.

Thanks for the question Frank!  Photography is fascinating.  There is so much to think about and still left to learn.

And thanks to everyone else for stopping by and reading my blog (especially if you read all the way through!). Now – go make some photos!

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Take the shot? Or not?

Editor’s note:  For everyone in The Bahamas, here in Florida, and up and down the east coast of the US – please keep an eye on hurricane Dorian, get prepared, and stay safe!


I’ve driven by this tree many times – every time I go around Black Point Wildlife Drive in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.  I like its isolation and the reflection it makes in the usually very still water.

Lone pine between the canal and roadLone pine between the canal and road

I saw and admired it again on my visit a few weeks ago, but I almost didn’t make this image.  Why not?  Because I thought I’d already made that very one before and didn’t need another.  Fortunately, I wasn’t in a hurry, so I stopped and made a two frame vertical panorama with my IR camera.

When I got home, I tried to find the photo I thought I remembered.  Here are two of that same tree that I found in my archives.  This first one is from nearly the same spot:

Clear day, calm water 1Clear day, calm water, January 2011

And this one is from the other side:

Left at the lone pine treeLeft at the lone pine tree, August 2018

I like the newest photo the best.  I’m glad I went ahead and made it!

On the other hand: When Kevin M. and I were down in Osceola county, we saw two or three Bald Eagles.  When I was young, Bald Eagles were rare and I never saw one in the wild until I moved to Florida and started paying more attention to wildlife.  Now they’re getting much more common but I still get a thrill whenever I see one.  One of the eagles was sitting on a pile of dirt a little off the road.  Kevin asked if I wanted him to stop for a photo and I said no.  I have quite a few Bald Eagle photos that I like (e.g. this one), and the setting that day just didn’t look like it would make a good photo.  It would probably have sat on my hard drive or been deleted when I went through the photos.  Why make it?

Take the shot or not? Like many things, it depends.  I suppose the moral of this story is: “When in doubt, make the photo.  But don’t make every photo.”

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos, or not!

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Reprocessing a Mt. Evans Elk Herd panorama

Back in July of 2007, I wrote a post about Mt. Evans, Colorado and included this image of an Elk herd we saw there:

Elk herd near mile marker 8 on Mount Evans  (2007 version)

At that time, I was using a Nikon D80 camera and made this photo with an entry level 70-300 telephoto lens.  I remember wanting to capture as much detail as possible, so instead of making one exposure of the whole herd, I zoomed in as far as I could and made four different frames at 300mm (450mm eq.), f/5.6, 1/100 sec, and iso 100. I ran across these images in my photo archive recently and wanted to see if I could reprocess the RAW files for a better result.  I thought you might be interested in my work flow – not so you can reproduce my results, but to give you some ideas on how to process your own images.

Here is one of the original RAW files SOOC (straight out of camera).  The white balance and exposure aren’t optimum and sharpness isn’t very good either – maybe due to poor lens stabilization and optical performance (and maybe due to my poor technique).

Here are the steps I went through to reprocess this:

  • Used DxO Photo Lab software to convert from RAW to .tiff and take advantage of the built in Prime Noise reduction algorithm.  I like that this software applies camera and lens specific corrections to all images.  It also returns the results to Lightroom still in RAW / DNG format.
  • Made basic adjustments (exposure, white balance) in Lightroom, and copied to all four frames.
  • Opened as layers in PhotoShop.
  • Stitched the frames into a panorama: Edit -> Auto-align Layers; Edit -> Auto-blend Layers.  At this point, it looked like this:

When I made the original frames, I didn’t cover enough ground for a rectangular composition.  To fix this, I used PhotoShop’s excellent Content Aware Fill on the missing corners.

  • Select the blank areas with the Magic Wand tool.  Expand the selection (~3 pixels).  Edit -> Content Aware Fill
  • use the clone tool to eliminate any obvious fill anomalies.

And then I worked on sharpness.  Here is a 300% look at the area near the Bull Elk:

Not very sharp.  So I:

  • Duplicated the layer and applied the Topaz Sharpen AI filter.  I used the Stabilize method with a Remove Blur value of 0.70.  Here’s the much improved result:

Topaz Sharpen AI can work wonders on this kind of problem, but it does take a lot of CPU power.  Depending on your hardware, you might have to be (very) patient.

  • The final step in Photoshop was to use Topaz Clarity for some added midrange contrast.  I applied the Nature -> Fur and Feathers II preset.
  • Back in LightRoom: I cropped to a 2:3 format; tweaked White Balance and exposure again; boosted texture and shadows on the Elk with a circular adjustment and range mask; Reduced green and yellow saturation; Used a -12 highlight priority vignette and added grain at 15.

And this is the new version I just posted to Flickr.

Mt. Evans Elk herdMt. Evans Elk herd (2019 version) – Near mile marker 8. Quite a harem! There are about 60 elk in this image: A single bull, ~10 young ones, and the rest female.

It took me about 30 minutes to do this.  Was it worth the effort? I can’t answer for you.  I think it looks much better and I’m glad I saved those RAW files! As long as i can re-start from the original sensor data, I can leverage newer software and get better results.  I know a lot of folks don’t enjoy computer work, but I do – so to me it’s worth it.

Click on any of these to see larger versions.  I have other Mt. Evans (and Colorado) photos in this album on Flickr.  And if you have any questions on this, I’ll be happy to try and answer them.  Just ask in a comment below.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make (or reprocess) some photos!

©2007 and 2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved