Lynn and I wanted another print for our walls and we both liked a photo of the Bass Harbor Head Light Station that I made on a trip to Acadia National Park back in August of 2014. Looking at the file in Lightroom, I wasn’t happy with the colors, and the resolution wasn’t quite enough for the size print that we wanted. I dug out the original RAW image file and reprocessed it with my current software and techniques. Here’s a comparison slider showing the full image (before is on the left):
In Lightroom, I used their recently added “enhance” capability to improve RAW details and upsize. I also did basic adjustments including a slightly larger crop, white balance, and exposure. Then I opened it in Photoshop for final edits – which included texture / clarity tweaks and a pass through the Topaz Sharpen AI filter.
Here’s a small crop showing detail down by the water:
Software has improved a lot since 2014. I’m glad I saved the RAW file in my archives. We’ve already made the print and it looks good up on the wall.
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.
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.
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.
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!
You may have seen the tragic news last week about a US Navy F18 crash in Death Valley. The jet was flying through Rainbow Canyon next to Father Crawley Point when it hit, killing the pilot and injuring seven bystanders.
I feel a connection to this. One reason is because of my own Navy service. During NROTC training, I was assigned to an attack squadron aboard an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean. I saw firsthand how professional, dedicated and skilled Navy aircrews are. My heart goes out to the pilot’s family.
I also feel connected because I’ve visited that exact spot. Back in 2015, Tom M. and I drove up to Father Crowley Point during a trip to Death Valley and made a few photos. At the time, we weren’t aware of the background of this place and just planned to make landscape photos. But then we heard the jets overhead.
US Navy F-18 exiting “Star Wars Canyon” in Death Valley at Father Crowley Overlook, October 2015
Air Force and Navy pilots have trained there since the 1930s and it’s become a hotspot for military aircraft photographers and enthusiasts (see this article in the LA times). Rainbow Canyon has a couple of nicknames: “Star Wars Canyon” and the “Jedi Transition”. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can see and photograph military aircraft below you as they fly by (here’s another good article on Arstechnica).
Tom and I were getting ready to move on when we heard another jet approaching and getting much louder. I managed to switch to continuous mode and follow with my camera as it roared through the canyon right next to us. The photo above is a 9 frame sequence merged into a single image to show the progression as it leaves the canyon. I’d only ever processed a single frame of it before (here on Flickr). Although this set of frames is from a more recent (and capable) camera, I went through processing steps similar to those I described here: Reprocessing-a-mt-evans-elk-herd-panorama. I merged it manually this time to make sure all images of the aircraft were preserved in the final version.
I’m glad bystanders’ injuries weren’t too serious. I feel very sad for the young pilot and his family. And I’m grateful that we have people that volunteer to serve and protect us, even at such great risk to themselves.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go thank someone in the military for their service.
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 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!
This first photo is from 2014. I reprocessed it, mainly to correct some blown highlights in the water. First observation: Blown highlights bother me a lot more today than they did back then.
I made this from the foot bridge near the top of the falls. Second observation: It’s quite a hike, especially with a load of heavy camera gear. But it’s well worth it for the wonderful view! With a wide enough lens, you can try to show the grand scale and sweeping power of the falls.
Amicalola Falls – The grand view from the footbridge near the top. Nikon D800, ISO 50, 16mm, f/22 @ 1/3 sec.
I really like this photo, and I’m glad I made it. Third observation: Four years later, I think that it was a bit too easy. Probably everyone that visits these falls will try for an image that looks like this.
The next three images are from 2018. I must have been anxious to get the grand view photo in 2014 and hiked right by these locations – I don’t recall noticing them. On this recent visit, Mike Boening pointed out several spots along the trail and I stopped at a few and set up for more intimate photos.
Light in the creek. Olympus OM-D M II, Hi-res mode, ISO 200, 28mm eq., f/8 @ 1 sec.
On the way back down, the last spot I stopped at was only a few yards from the parking area!
Flow. Olympus OM-D M II, Hi-res mode, ISO 200, 40mm eq., f/8 @ 1.2 sec.
I like the grand view image I made in 2014, but I think I like these 2018 images even more. There are probably quite a few photos of Amicalola similar to my first one. I suspect that images like the second and third are much less common since the number of possible viewpoints and compositions is so much greater.
Sometimes, only one approach will work for a subject or your style of photography. On the drive up to the falls, we stopped at an overlook and I was fascinated by the fog / mist and low clouds moving through the valley. I was able to poke the small lens on my iPhone through the chain link fence to grab this frame. At the time, I didn’t think about an intimate detail type of composition there.
Foggy mountain view
But that’s just me. I saw a photo later that showed Mike making an image of some graffiti on the road. Last observation: Graffiti isn’t something I normally photograph and I didn’t even pay attention to it at the time. Our usual photo styles can limit the potential images we see.
So what’s the moral of this story? Should we make grand scenic view images or intimate, up-close photos of the details? You know what I’m going to say , don’t you? “It depends”.
Actually, I’m going to say: It depends, but try hard to get both. You’ll grow as a photographer if you can teach your brain to see both ends of this spectrum. Shoot whichever you prefer first, but force yourself to look for the other compositions before you leave a spot.
Do you have a favorite photo that you made a while ago? Perhaps with an older camera? If so, you may want to see what new versions of software and your revised tastes and improved skills can do differently.
I had a request for a print of this image. It’s from way back in 2007, made with my first DSLR – a Nikon D80:
Littleton, Colo. cabin
I like this photo. A lot, and not just because of the subject. It reminds me of driving along the road between where my Mom used to live and my Sister’s house, and visiting them both. It’s been on the blog before: here and here. If you’re interested, please take a look at these two posts to see earlier versions.
Fortunately, I was saving my digital files in RAW format even back then, so I can take full advantage of any improvements in photo software. I decided to run this through my current imaging workflow before printing. Using DxO Optics Pro, Photoshop, and Lightroom, I was able to reduce noise, improve shadow and highlight detail, and tweak color, contrast, and brightness. I feel the new version is better.
Using current software on an image made with 10-year-old technology can be amazing. I even see a spider web hanging from the near door that I never noticed before.
What do you think? Do you ever reprocess your older images?
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make and / or reprocess some photos!
Sometimes after a photo shoot, I’ll skip over images if I’m short on time or something looks too hard to deal with. Other times, I may play with a photo for a while and then set it aside when I just can’t seem to get it right. When I learn a new technique or get a new software package or upgrade I try to go through my image library and pick out existing photos that could benefit from the new capability. And yes, I also notice images that no longer look as good to me as they did at first. Something I did a few years ago may have seemed great then – but tastes change.
I use Lightroom to catalog my photos and I have a keyword called “Process” with three sub-keywords “Color”, “pano”, and “other”. Using these, I mark photos I want to revisit and I’ve built up a collection of them for future processing. I had a little time this week to go through and pick three to work on:
Kelly Park Reflections: Merritt Island, Florida, February 19, 2013. The water was amazingly calm that morning and I like the reflections as well as the detail / lights on the horizon. I bypassed this image at first because of trouble with the white balance. This time through the result is much closer to the look I wanted.
The Main Sanctuary of the Cathedral Basilica, Saint Augustine, Florida, February 28, 2013. Black and white infrared. I don’t remember why I didn’t finish this photo back in February. I like the light, detail, and tonality.
Three more cypress trees: Blue Cypress Lake, near Fellsmere, Florida, June 2, 2012. False color infrared. Since IR doesn’t capture color as your eye sees it, color conversions are very subjective. As I gain experience, my tastes are changing. This version is very different from how I processed other IR photos at the time.
So, some recommendations:
If you’re struggling with an image, don’t delete it. Mark it and move on. Come back and revisit it later.
Organize, document, and keyword your images so you can find hidden gems to re-process.
Review your photo library occasionally. Your photography skills and tools aren’t static. So your portfolio shouldn’t be static either. Revise older images and make them better. You might be surprised what comes out of your archives.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go revise some photos!
Post-processing skills as well as taste develop over time. New tools come out or get updated. Reviewing your image library for things you may want to change is a good idea. Just don’t spend too much time on post processing – leave enough to go out and make new images too!
This is one of my favorite photographs and one that I’ve even sold, but re-looking at it I saw several things I thought I could make a little better. Here’s the updated version after all my re-edits (which are described below):
After: Ponce Inlet lighthouse, sunset, bird, Final Edit
I started over from the RAW file (you do save your RAW files, don’t you?) and re-did the basic adjustments in Lightroom (color balance, initial exposure adjustments). Then I moved into Photoshop and cleaned up distracting elements (tire tracks, poles, the tip of the cloud just right of the lighthouse, …). I then added a duplicate layer and ran that through Topaz Adjust using the “Spicify” preset to bring up structure, detail, and color saturation. I don’t usually like applying this filter all over an image at 100%, so once back in Photoshop I added a hide all layer mask and partially painted in the effect, using a higher opacity brush for the sky to let more of the filter show and a lower one for the rocks and ocean to mute the filter effect. I then took the result back to Lightroom for final tweaks to color balance, sharpening and a crop to remove part of the sky. I thought that the colors of the sky and rocks were still a little off, so as one last tweak I added graduated filters to help adjust their tints.
For reference purposes, here’s the old edit of this photo:
Note: you can click the two versions above to go to my Flickr account, where you can view larger versions.
And also for reference, I uploaded the original RAW file (with default development settings in Lightroom) below.
Ponce Inlet lighthouse, sunset, bird, RAW Capture
Would I go to this much effort for every image? No. But sometimes a photo really appeals to me and I want to get the absolute best I can from it. It helps that I enjoy working in Photoshop and learning about new techniques.
So what do you think? Quite a few changes, some more subtle than others – but overall I like the new version better.
Ansel Adams said that the “negative is the score, and the print is the performance”. In modern terms, the RAW file is the negative and the processed jpg / print is the performance. Ansel was famous for re-printing his photos to try to get the best possible image from his negatives. Some of his later prints are thought to be better than earlier ones as he experimented and gained knowledge about how to “perform” the print.
All photographers should take this to heart and not be satisfied with previous processed versions of their photos. I like to look through my Lightroom catalog sometimes for images that may merit some re-work.
This morning I reprocessed a photo that I made last October at Viera Wetlands. Below is a series of images that show you a progression from the original images to the final result. Look in the captions for details on what I did, and scroll to the bottom of the post to see the most recent version. You can also click on these to see larger versions.
This is the first image I made (RAW, unprocessed). It’s focused on the tree and the two birds are also in sharp focus. Because of depth of field, the moon is out of focus. The color balance could be better.
This is the second image I made to solve the problem with the moon focus.
Step 3: And this was the processed version I posted to Flickr last October. I masked in the in-focus moon, did some sharpening and noise reduction, but didn’t spend too much time on it. It’s since gotten a lot of views, but re-looking at it now, I’m not happy with several things in the photo (e.g. color balance, noise reduction, masking) and this morning I decided to go back and reprocess it from the original RAW files.
And this is the new version that I posted to Flickr this morning. In Photoshop, I was much more careful masking in the in-focus moon. I then created a meticulous selection of the blue sky so I could use it in the follow on steps. Then I applied noise reduction just to the blue sky and sharpening just to the birds, moon, and tree. I also used the Topaz Adjust filter just on the birds, moon and tree. Finally, back in Lightroom I adjusted the white balance off of a sample on the Ibis. I like the vertical crop better as well as the color balance, sharpness, etc.
I mentioned at the bottom of this post that I was having trouble with my Sigma 150 – 500mm OS lens and that I’d let you know how it turned out. I said that I’ve been very happy with it and one of my few complaints was that the Optical Stabilization was a bit noisy. Lately, it’s developed a “chatter” where it sounds like the OS motor is vibrating back and forth. While it does this, you can see the image vibrating through the viewfinder. I sent it back to Sigma to have them check it out.
Sigma called after about a week and said that it tested OK for them. I described what I’d seen happening in detail and they agreed to look at it one more time. They called again and said that it still checks out OK and that they were sending it back. They did mention that cold weather (which can lower the power available from the camera’s battery) might make this happen. But I shoot in Florida, so I doubt that’s it. They also said that hitting / knocking the lens can make the OS oscillate. I’m very careful with my gear and don’t remember hitting it at all, much less the several times when it’s done this, so I don’t think that’s it either. It arrived late on Friday (after work, so I actually was here for the UPS guy!). I’m under the weather with another bad cold, so I haven’t had a chance to try it out. But I will. I do have two more years of the extended warranty remaining, so I’m not too worried. If I learn anything more, I’ll update you.
And just so this poor blog doesn’t go too long without an image, here’s one that I reprocessed this morning.
Composite Black and White Image
The original photo was made in October of 2004 with a Minolta Dimage 7Hi.
Flowers in glass water bowl
This morning, I ran it back through Nik Silver Effects Pro with four different settings and re-arranged the results into the single B&W image that leads this post.