Photo phun II

Time to come back with a look at photography – just for the fun of it. Earlier this year I talked about using Pixelmator as an alternative to Photoshop. When I work with photos, I prefer to use Lightroom, Aperture and/or Photoshop (in that order). For extra effects, a touch of Tiffen Dfx, DFT Film Stocks or Magic Bullet Looks also gives you more pizzazz. While Pixelmator is pretty “lite” compared with Photoshop, it still gives most casual photographers more than enough control to enhance their images. Since it is based on Apple’s Core Image technology, it can also serendipitously take advantage of some of the FxFactory effects plug-ins.

Below is a set of images processed strictly with Pxelmator. I did use some of the FxFactory filters just because they were there, but understand that most of these effects also have native equivalents within Pixelmator. So, FxFactory filters are not an essential part in using Pixelemator as your image processing application. Click on any image below for a slideshow.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! See you in the new year!

Red Giant Software Arsenal

Thanks to the growth of the internet, laptops and now tablets, the use of physical portfolios and demo reels to show your wares has been increasingly replaced by digital alternatives. The newest of these is Red Giant Software’s Arsenal application for the Apple iPad. This is a mobile presentation application designed to present your creative work to clients using an iPad.

Arsenal is easy to use and supports the presentation of both still images and video. You can import images by syncing folders with your iPad, via FTP and Dropbox. Multiple presentations can be organized in the Light Table display. Arsenal uses a series of Collections, each of which can hold several Strips. Once you pick the Collection to load, the available Strips are displayed. For a Strip of photographs, simply swipe the Strip with your finger in a standard iPad gesture and you can scroll through the images to see what is available in that Strip. Tap any image to display it full screen. From the full screen mode, you can swipe left or right to change images, set up a slideshow with automatic advance (three, five or eight seconds) or access any image from a small film strip at the bottom.

Arsenal offers a set of editing controls to add, move or delete images, name Collections and Strips (with choices of font style and size and theme colors), as well as add your logo at the top. Syncing is a big part of the application. You can e-mail a customer an Arsenal file that’s synced via Dropbox. The customer can run this file on their iPad using a free Arsenal Reader application and the images stay updated via Dropbox. In addition, you can also e-mail any image to another person from within Arsenal as a standard e-mail attachment.

Arsenal currently supports all three iPad models, JPEG and PNG images, plus MOV and MP-4 video files. There’s full support for the new iPad’s Retina display with images up to 5,000 pixels (3,000 for the original iPad model). I tested Arsenal on my first generation iPad, using still photos from my Olympus point-and-shoot camera as well as older 35mm slide scans. A few of these exceeded 3,000 pixels, but didn’t present any problems.

I prefer manual sync for my iPad and have an “iPad Transfer” folder on my desktop computer where I copy files headed for the iPad. Stills or movies that I’ve synced are accessible by Arsenal to be organized into Collections and Strips. 720p/23.98 H.264 MOV files at 5Mbps play nicely on the iPad and look great full screen on this first generation device. My only complaint is that videos don’t offer a thumbnail for quick visual recognition. Remember that productions use stills in lots of ways, including casting photos, location scouting stills and behind-the-scenes shots. All of these uses can find a home with Arsenal.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine (NewBay Media, LLC).

©2012 Oliver Peters

Magic Bullet PhotoLooks 2

Red Giant Software launched the preset-based “looks” market, when it originally released the browser version of Magic Bullet Looks. Visual effects director and software designer Stu Maschwitz overhauled the original product to create a self-contained color correction and “looks creation” interface, where tools were grouped according to how they fit into the flow from in-front of the camera to post. Magic Bullet Looks ships with tools and a number of presets, which can quickly be previewed on an image. The software is built as a separate application that is linked into most standard NLEs and compositors as a plug-in. This design spawned a still photography version, called PhotoLooks, which uses the same basic engine. For still photography, PhotoLooks installs as a plug-in to Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom and Apple Aperture.

Last year Red Giant Software brought out Magic Bullet Looks 2.0, which is also sold as part of the Magic Bullet Looks Suite 11. This featured a more streamlined Looks interface and additional tools, like Cosmo (a skin smoothing tool), but the PhotoLooks version was stuck with the old skin. Now the two have parity, with the recent update of the suite and PhotoLooks 2.0. Purchase PhotoLooks separately or get it included with the suite. Once again, both Magic Bullet Looks (for video) and PhotoLooks (for stills) feature a consistent appearance and a common set of tools and presets.

Magic Bullet PhotoLooks 2.0 is available as a plug-in to Photoshop, Aperture or Lightroom, but may also be accessed by launching the PhotoLooks application. When you use it as a plug-in, you gain the benefits of round-tripping between the applications. In Aperture and Lightroom, both before and after version are saved, to guarantee that the process is non-destructive. If you open PhotoLooks separately, you can import JPEGs, PNGs and TIFFs, but the adjusted image can only be saved as a JPEG. Custom looks can also be exported for use elsewhere.

Along with the new interface and Cosmo, other new features include four new scopes, faster GPU-enabled processing and 3-way color correction tools based on Magic Bullet’s popular Colorista filter. Creating an original look is as simple as dragging a tool into one of the categories (subject, matte, lens, camera, post) and then tweaking the setting to your liking. A tool isn’t limited to a specific category, so “post” tools can be applied in the “subject” position, as well as the other way around. You are simply creating a chain of filter effects, much like audio engineers do with audio filters. Once you get the desired result either save that as a new preset or exit back to the host program, where the image will appear with that look applied to it.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine (NewBay Media, LLC).

©2012 Oliver Peters

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4

For the fourth iteration of Lightroom, Adobe has enhanced the processing capabilities and added features to aid photographers with handling modern photographic challenges, such as the integration of video. Although Lightroom is primarily a photographer’s tool, it is also indispensable for video producers and editors who have to deal with a large volume of photographs, such as when producing documentaries that are based on archival images. Lightroom is the ideal application to store, organize, adjust, crop and prepare stills for video editing. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom competes directly with Apple Aperture and each has its loyal proponents among photographers. Both are powerful tools and each new version tends to leapfrog that of the competitor. For now, Lightroom offers the more advanced video features and, of course, is a cross-platform application.

Photo features

Let’s first look at the improvements for photography. Image processing and color science have been changed in Lightroom 4. If you open existing photos that have been processed and catalogued in previous versions of Lightroom, you have the option of sticking with the old correction or update the file. Naturally, all changes are non-destructive, so your original photo is always unaltered. The biggest changes have been made in highlight/shadow recovery and noise reduction.

Highlight/shadow recovery is critical in digging out detail in bright skies and dark areas in an image. If you work with camera raw images, Lightroom uses the same raw processing engine as Photoshop. There’s also advanced black-and-white conversion. This lets you use eight color channels to control the tonal qualities of the black-and-white image. In other words, you have more control than merely desaturating the image. Finally, there are new selective brushes to control such options as white balance within areas of the picture.

With the increased use of smart phone cameras and online social media and photo services, like Flickr and Facebook, Lightroom 4 now lets you organize images based on location information embedded in the image metadata. This is aided by a new Map module accessible at the top of the interface. There is also enhanced sharing integration with some social media sites.

The big new selling point for photographers is photo book creation. This was a feature that previously had some Lightroom users jumping over to Aperture just to use, but no longer. Photo book creation lets photographers design coffee table book layouts, complete with proofing and ready to send to the printer. To enter the Book module, click the title button at the top (like Slideshow or Web) to access the book layout controls.

Plug-in integration

As a video editor, plug-ins are something I use a lot. A video plug-in is typically applied as a filter within the editing application, but photo plug-ins work differently. Lightroom sends your image to an external application launched from the Develop module’s Photo/Edit In pulldown menu command. This architecture has been available since version 1.0 and developers have steadily been creating photo-compatible versions of their tools. Adobe Photoshop, Magic Bullet Looks, Tiffen Dfx, DFT Film Stocks and DFT Photo Copy are all available as external “plug-ins”.

When you send a photo to an application like Magic Bullet Looks, Lightroom gives you the option to send a copy with or without the Lightroom correction “baked in” for further processing. When you are done, the external application returns you to Lightroom, where you then have two versions of the photo – the “before image” and the “after image” with the look added.

I like using Lightroom for processing photos, but I also find these plug-in options quite enticing. For example, adding selective focus filters, stylized effects, textures or painterly effects can be best achieved using an application like Photoshop or Tiffen Dfx. By starting and ending in Lightroom, you maintain the ability to organize these images in a central environment.

Video

Photographers have increasingly had to deal with video as part of their workflows, so photo organizing/processing applications have added video features. This includes Adobe Photoshop, Bridge and Lightroom. First, in version 3 and now more so in Lightroom 4. Videos are accessed in the Library module, but you only have limited processing control. You can’t open video files in the Develop module for full color correction. Individual videos can be opened in a viewer by double-clicking the file in the browser. You can trim the in and out points of the clip and set a reference frame for the browser thumbnail.

The Library module does allow limited adjustments, as well as the application of custom and built-in presets. With video clips you can adjust white balance, exposure, contrast, black and white points and vibrance. A variety of video formats are supported, which on my Mac Pro included ProRes HQ and 4444 files from an ARRI ALEXA and RED files from both RED One M-X and EPIC cameras. Although the RED images are a raw format, Lightroom still only sees these as video, even when using an EPIC to shoot stills. If you do nothing to the RED files, then Lightroom applies the in-camera metadata settings created by the videographer. If you adjust the color metadata settings of the .R3D files using RED’s free REDCINE-X PRO application, then these updated settings will be recognized by Lightroom.

To test the custom presets, I exported a TIFF from an EPIC file out of REDCINE-X PRO using the flatter RedLogFilm gamma curve. This was imported into Lightroom as a photo, so I was able to bring it into the Develop module and make detailed image corrections. These parameters were then saved as a custom preset. Doing this enabled me to open my RED files in their native .R3D raw format (using the same RedLogFilm metadata setting) and apply the custom preset as a batch to all of the files. Although it’s possible to work with RED files inside Lightroom 4, frankly it’s a slow process. REDCINE-X PRO is the better tool if you are a RED photographer/videographer; however, there’s no reason you can’t use the two applications in conjunction with each other. This is especially true if you are using an EPIC camera for still photography, such as fashion shoots, since Lightroom 4 is far better as a tool for adjusting and organizing still images.

Another new video feature is the ability to export color corrected and trimmed video clips. Lightroom 4 offers three options: original, H.264 and DPX.  If you export as “original” then no color adjustments are applied and the existing clip is merely copied in its original size and length. DPX image sequences and H.264 files accept the color changes and are exported between the trimmed in and out point (if set). The maximum video output size is 1920×1080 for H.264 and DPX, but I was unsuccessful in exporting RED files as anything other than the original format. The ProRes files from the ALEXA, however, exported in all three variations and included the baked-in settings I’d used to offset the camera’s Log-C gamma profile.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 continues to improve as the best, cross-platform photography application. It sports a new, lower price ($149), plus will be available through the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription service. The new processing features bump its power up a notch, but if you need to create photo books, then this upgrade is essential. If you are a video professional, then it’s not the most ideal tool for dealing with video, but obviously that’s merely a secondary feature, rather than the primary intent of the software. Nevertheless, photographers who want a limited ability to make color adjustments and to organize their video clips in a familiar environment will welcome the new video features.

Originally written for DV magazine / Creative Planet / NewBay Media, LLC

© 2012 Oliver Peters

Photo phun

I’m strictly an amateur when it comes to photography, though I still like to take my share of snapshots. Sometimes I’m lucky. As a holiday break I decided to play around with a hodge-podge of images – some from holiday times or winter locations and others not.

These were processed through Lightroom and Photoshop as well as the photo plug-in versions of Tiffen Dfx and Magic Bullet Looks. On some of these I was going for rich images, some for effects and others a pseudo painterly look. Although these were all still photos, the same looks and processes are applicable to video color grading and stylizing effects.

Click on any image to see an enlarged view and to scroll through a filmstrip view of all. After the New Year I’ll be back with more standard film and video fare.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Tips for Small Camera and Hybrid DSLR Production

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It started in earnest last year and has no sign of abating.  Videographers are clearly in the midst of two revolutions: tapeless recording and the use of the hybrid still/video camera (HDSLR). The tapeless future started with P2 and XDCAM, but these storage devices have been joined by other options, including Compact Flash, SD and SDHC memory cards. The acceptance of small cameras in professional operations first took off with DV cameras from Sony and Panasonic, especially the AG-DVX100. These solutions have evolved into cameras like the Sony HVRZ7U and PMWEX3 and Panasonic’s AG-HPX170 and AVCCAM product line. Modern compressed codecs have made it possible to record high-quality 1080 and 720 HD footage using smaller form factors than ever before.

This evolution has sparked the revolution of the HDSLR cameras, like the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, the new Canon EOS 7D and 1D Mark IV and the Nikon D90, D300s and D3s, to name a few. Although veteran videographers might have initially scoffed at such cameras, it’s important to note that Canon developed the 5D at the urging of Reuters and the Associated Press, so its photographers could deliver both stills and motion video with the least hassle. Numerous small films, starting with photographer Vincent Laforet’s Reverie, have more than proven that HDSLRs are up to the task of challenging their video cousins. From the standpoint of a news or sports department, we have entered an era where every reporter can become a video journalist, simply by having a small camera at the ready. That’s not unlike the days when reporters carried a Canon Scoopic 16mm, in case something newsworthy happened.

These cameras come with challenges, so here is some advice that will make your experience more successful:

1. Ergonomics / stability – Both small video camcorders and HDSLRs are designed for handheld, not shoulder-mounted, operation. This isn’t a great design for stability while recording motion. In order to get the best image out of these cameras, invest in an appropriate tripod and fluid head. For more advanced operations, check out the various camera mounting accessories from companies like Zacuto and Red Rock Micro.

2. Rolling shutter – This phenomenon affects all CMOS cameras to varying degrees. It is caused by horizontal movement and results in an image that is skewed. This distortion is caused by the time differential between information at the top and the bottom of the sensor. The HDSLRs have been criticized for these defects, but others like the EX or the RED One have also displayed the same artifacts to a lesser degree. This defect can be minimized by using a tripod and slow (or no) camera movement.

3. Focus – One of the reasons that shooters like HDSLRs is the large image sensor (compared to video cameras) and film lenses, which provide a shallow depth-of-field. This is a mixed blessing when you are covering a one-time event. Still photo zoom lenses aren’t mechanically designed to be zoomed and focused during the shot like film or video zoom lenses. This makes it harder to nail the shot on-the-fly. Since the depth-of-field is shallow, the focus is also less forgiving. Lastly, the focus is often done using an LCD viewer instead of a high-quality viewfinder. Many shooters using both small video cameras and HDSLRs have added an externally-mounted LCD monitor, as a better device for judging shots.

4. Audio – The issue of audio depends on whether we are talking about a Canon 5D or a Panasonic 170. Professional and even prosumer camcorders have been designed to have mics connected. To date, HDSLRs have not. If you are shooting extensive sync-sound projects with a hybrid camera, then you will want to consider using double-system sound with a separate recorder and mixer (human). At the very least, you’ll want to add an XLR mic adapter/mixer, like the BeachTek DXA-5D.

5. Movie files – Each of these cameras records its own specific format, codec and file wrapper. Production and post personnel have become comfortable with P2 and XDCAM, but the NLE manufacturers are still catching up to the best way of integrating consumer AVCHD content or files from these HDSLRs. Regardless of the camera system you plan to use, make sure that the file format is compatible with (or easily transcoded to) your NLE of choice.

6. Capacity – Most of the cameras use a recording medium that is formatted as FAT32. This limits a single file to 4GB, which in the case of the Canon 5D means the longest recording cannot exceed 12 minutes of HD (1920x1080p at 30fps). Unlike P2, there is no spanning provision to extend the length of a single recording. Make sure to plan your shot list to stay within the file limit. Come with enough media. In the case of P2, many productions bring along a “data wrangler” and a laptop. This person will offload the P2 cards to drives and then reformat (erase) the cards so that the crew can continue recording throughout the day with a limited number of P2 cards.

7. Back-up – Always back-up your camera media onto at least two devices in the original file format. I’ve known producers who merely transferred the files to the edit system’s local array and then trashed the camera media, believing the files were safe. Unfortunately, I’ve seen Avids quarantine files, making them inaccessible. On rare occasion, I’ve also seen Final Cut Pro media files simply disappear. The moral of the story is to treat your original camera media like film negative. Make two, verified back-ups and store them in a safe place should you ever need them again.

The new generation of small video camcorders and Hybrid DSLRs offers the tantalizing combination of lower operating cost and stunning imagery. That’s only possible with some care and planning. These tools aren’t right for every application, but the choices will continue to grow in the coming years. Those who embrace the trend will find new and exciting production options.

© 2009 Oliver Peters

Written for NewBay Media and TV Technology magazine

Apple Aperture 2 for Video Pros

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Programs for two-dimensional graphics fall into three categories: design, paint and photography. Adobe Photoshop has been the “Swiss Army Knife” software that most video professionals rely on to do all of these functions, but its main strength is image layout and design. Realistic painting that mimics natural media like oils and chalks continues to be the hallmark of Corel Painter. Neither application is much help if you need to organize hundreds of images, so programs like Apple’s iPhoto, Corel’s Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 and Google’s Picasa have come to fill that void for legions of photographers worldwide. These serve the needs of most amateurs, but if you’re a pro who needs industrial strength photo organization and manipulation software, then Apple Aperture and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom lead the pack. Both applications offer similar features and Adobe and Apple have been responding to each other tit-for-tat with new features in every software update – all to the benefit of the user.

 

In early 2008, Apple released Aperture 2, which was quickly followed by the 2.1 update. Aperture 2 added 100 new features, but the biggest improvement was faster performance, enabling quicker previews and image browsing. Aperture 2.1 introduced a plug-in architecture that has opened Aperture to a large field of third party developers. To date about 70 plug-ins have been developed for functions that include image manipulation, export, file transfer and Apple Automator workflow scripts. Apple has targeted professional photographers as the main customers for Aperture 2 and offers extensive support, such as video tutorials, on their website. There’s also a growing community of users and developers focused on Aperture and its plug-ins.

 

Organization

 

Documentary films and corporate image videos make extensive use of photographs to tell the story. Aperture 2’s file management is the biggest selling point for video producers and editors. Images in your library are organized by projects, albums, books and light tables. You can store master images in the Aperture library or link to other folders. There’s a new Quick Preview mode to that rapidly updates images during browsing. When not in the Quick Preview mode, Aperture 2 loads the full resolution images into the viewer (if they are available on the mounted drives) from the master files. You may use the Loupe (photographer’s magnifying glass) to isolate and analyze a portion of the photo at a 1:1 pixel size, which is accessed from the master image. Or just zoom the image to its actual size if your prefer. If the drive with the master images is not mounted, then Aperture displays a hi-resolution proxy image. Standard image corrections can be made when master files are available and these are applied as non-destructive filters, like adjustment layers in Photoshop, so your master image is never altered. Corrections are applied only to an exported image, therefore “baking in” these changes to a new version of the photo.

 

You can add custom metadata to each photo, which can be used to automatically populate smart albums. For example, as you browse and evaluate images, a rating system or keyword can be applied to each selected still. Smart albums can be tied to certain metadata information, so as you apply the right criteria, these images instantly show up in the appropriate smart album. Photos in an album, smart album, book or light table are linked back to the original image files in the project. As you adjust the non-destructive color settings, these changes ripples through to all the instances of that image in an album or light table. There are numerous templates and now export plug-ins to send images to locations outside of the Aperture 2 environment. The application is tightly integrated with Apple’s MobileMe web service, but other options via third party exporters include Facebook, Flickr, Gmail and Picassa to name a few. This makes Aperture 2 the ideal tool for location managers, casting directors, producers and directors who like to post photos to a web location for quick and easy client review. If you are a Final Cut Pro editor, there’s even a plug-in to send selected images out as a Final Cut Pro sequence, complete with a choice of transition effects.

 

Image tools

 

Imposing structure on a ton of photos is very important, but in the end, it’s all about image quality. In the documentary scenario, many stills given to the editor require a lot of clean-up, like dust-busting and cropping. Newer snapshots may require red-eye correction. These tasks have been traditional Photoshop strengths, but are actually better handled in a photo-centric application like Aperture 2. The tools include straightening and cropping, as well as a variety of color balance and enhancement filters. The image adjustment toolset is rounded out by non-destructive retouching brushes (repair, clone, healing) and vignettes. If you shoot camera RAW photography, Aperture 2 supports a wide variety of camera models plus the Adobe DNG format, and gained new RAW fine-tuning tools.

 

Photographers can now tether certain Nikon and Canon digital SLR cameras to the computer and capture their images directly into Aperture 2. You might not think this applies to video editors, but I’ve done a lot of projects where old photographic prints had to be scanned or shot with a video camera. Tethered operation for copy stand work seems like a much better and faster way to accomplish this task!

 

While we’re talking about camera RAW images, I have to quickly point out that the .R3D format of RED Digital Cinema’s RED One camera is not supported in Aperture 2. One of the beauties of shooting with RED is that the high resolution progressive frames also make great stills for print campaigns derived from the same shoot. Much like pulling a frame out of the 35mm negative after a film shoot. The RedAlert application can export 2K and 4K stills in the TIFF format, so it’s a simple task to import these into Aperture 2 for further manipulation. Aperture 2 isn’t as complex as Photoshop and its photographic tools are more comfortable for most directors of photography. So, it’s the ideal place for a DP to import sample stills from RED and do a quick grade for the director, client or colorist as a reference for his intended look.

 

Plug-ins

 

Aperture has offered an “edit with” feature since the beginning, which lets you designate an application like Photoshop as an external image editor. The new, third party image filters are accessed through the same “edit with” menu selection. Unlike other plug-in formats, these filters open as separate applications with their own interface. Apple got the ball rolling by integrating a full-featured Dodge and Burn filter. Tiffen and DFT joined the party, as did traditional photography software and Photoshop filter vendors, like Nik Software (Color Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro) and Picture Code (Noise Ninja). Unlike Aperture’s own internal tools, these filter changes are destructive, so when you use one, a copy of the image is created with the applied effect, so you aren’t locked into that result.

 

Written by Oliver Peters for Videography magazine and NewBay Media, L.L.C.