Photo Phun 2021

The last time I posted one of these “just for fun” set of photography samples was in 2015. So it’s high time for another one. Earlier this year I reviewed FiLMiC Pro’s iOS movie application and put together a small demo highlighting the capabilities. At the same time I installed Firstlight – FiLMiC’s iOS still photo/camera application.

Firstlight extends the power of the iPhone camera system with extra controls and features. It also adds film-style looks, including grain, vignettes, and film stock simulations. My past Photo Phun blog posts have showcased post processes that could be applied to existing images. The examples in this article used no image manipulation in post (outside of size and crop adjustments). The “look” of all samples was done in-camera, using Firstlight’s built-in features. This is using a stock iPhone SE 2020 – no lens attachments, filters, or tripod.

I occasionally throw shade on the true quality of the best iPhone images. If image quality is the critical factor, then give me a high-end DSLR any day. But, the iPhone is “the camera you have with you” and as such is the modern digital equivalent of the Kodak Instamatic camera, albeit with a lot better image quality. We can pixel-peep all day long, but the bottom line is that iPhones and top-of-the-line Android phones create some stunning imagery in the right hands.

I’ve shot a fair amount of 35mm slide and print film over the years as an amateur photographer. I’ve also manipulated images in post for my share of motion film. Any film stock emulation LUT is suspect in my eyes. You can get close, but ultimately the look designed by a company can only be an approximation. FiLMiC positions its looks as film simulations inspired by 19th and 20th century photography. I think that’s the right approach, without claiming that a given simulation is the exact same as a specific photochemical stock from a film manufacturer or a development process at a lab.

Firstlight includes a wide range of film simulations to choose from. Bear in mind that a look will change the saturation or hue of certain colors. This will only be readily obvious if those colors are in the images that you shoot. For example, C41 Plus shifts blues towards cyan. If you have blue skies in your shot, the resulting skies will appear cyan. However, if your scene is devoid of blues, then you might not see as much effect from that simulation. Think about matching the look to the content. Shoot the right subject in B&W Noir and any shot will look like it came from a gothic tale!

Remember that your iPhone has no true viewfinder – just the screen. If you are outside in bright sunlight, you can barely see what you are shooting, let alone the color differences between film simulations. If you intend to use a film simulation, then plan the shot out ahead of time. Become familiar with what each setting is intended to do, because that look will be baked in. If you get back to the computer and realize you made a mistake, then it’s too late. Personally, I’m keen on post rather than in-camera manipulations. However, if you feel confident in the results – go for it.

The gallery below features examples using Firstlight’s simulated film looks. Each choice has been noted on most of the screens, although some will be very obvious. Other than the changes in the film simulation, the rest of the Firstlight settings are identical for all images. The camera was set to 3:2 aspect ratio, AE mode enabled, and HDR active. Both a fine grain and a vignette at the lowest setting were also applied to each during Firstlight’s image capture.

Check out my Flickr page at this link to see some of these same images and more with added Photoshop and BorisFX Optics development and effects.

Click any gallery thumbnail below to view an enlarged slideshow of these photos.

©2021 Oliver Peters

Five Adobe Workflow Tips

Subscribers to Adobe Creative Cloud have a whole suite of creative tools at their fingertips. I believe most users often overlook some of the less promoted features. Here are five quick tips for your workflow. (Click on images to see an enlarged view.)

Camera Raw. Photographers know that the Adobe Camera Raw module is used to process camera raw images, such as .cr2 files. It’s a “develop” module that opens first when you import a camera raw file into Photoshop. It’s also used in Bridge and Lightroom. Many people use Photoshop for photo enhancement – working with the various filters and adjustment layer tools available. What may be overlooked is that you can use the Camera Raw Filter in Photoshop on any photo, even if the file is not raw, such as a JPEG or TIFF.

Select the layer containing the image and choose the Camera Raw Filter. This opens that image into this separate “develop” module. There you have all the photo and color enhancement tools in a single, comprehensive toolkit – the same as in Lightroom. Once you’re done and close the Camera Raw Filter, those adjustments are now “baked” into the image on that layer.

Remix. Audition is a powerful digital audio workstation application that many use in conjunction with Premiere Pro or separately for audio productions. One feature it has over Premiere Pro is the ability to use AI to automatically edit the length of music tracks. Let’s say you have a music track that’s 2:47 in length, but you want a :60 version to underscore a TV commercial. Yes, you could manually edit it, but Audition Remix turns this into an “automagic” task. This is especially useful for projects where you don’t need to have certain parts of the song time to specific visuals.

Open Audition, create a multitrack session, and place the music selection on any track in the timeline. Right-click the selection and enable Remix. Within the Remix dialogue box, set the target duration and parameters – for example, short versus long edits. Audition will calculate the number and location of edit points to seamlessly shorten the track to the approximate desired length.

Audition attempts to create edits at points that are musically logical. You won’t necessarily get an exact duration, since the value you entered is only a target. This is even more true with tracks that have a long musical fade-out. A little experimentation may be needed. For example, a target value of :59 will often yield significantly different results than a target of 1:02, thanks to the recalculation. Audition’s remix isn’t perfect, but will get you close enough that only minimal additional work is required. Once you are happy, bounce out the edited track for the shortened version to bring into Premiere Pro.

Photoshop Batch Processing. If you want to add interesting stylistic looks to a clip, then effects filters in Premiere Pro and/or After Effects usually fit the bill. Or you can go with expensive third party options like Continuum Complete or Sapphire from Boris FX. However, don’t forget Photoshop, which includes many stylized looks not offered in either of Adobe’s video applications, such as specific paint and brush filters. But, how do you apply those to a video clip?

The first step is to turn your clip into an image sequence using Adobe Media Encoder. Then open a representative frame in Photoshop to define the look. Create a Photoshop action using the filters and settings you desire. Save the action, but not the image. Then create a batch function to apply that stored action to the clean frames within the image sequence folder. The batch operation will automatically open each image, apply the effects, and save the stylized results to a new destination folder.

Open that new image sequence using any app that supports image sequences (including QuickTime) and save it as a ProRes (or other) movie file. Stylized effects, like oil paint, are applied to individual frames and will vary with the texture and lighting of each frame; therefore, the stitched movie will display an animated appearance to that effect.

After Effects for broadcast deliverables. After Effects is the proverbial Swiss Army knife for editors and designers. It’s my preferred conversion tool when I have 24p masters that need to be delivered as 60i broadcast files.

Import a 23.98 master and place it into a new composition. Scale, if needed (UHD to HD, for instance). Send to the Render Queue. Set the frame rate to 29.97, field render to Upper (for HD), and enable pulldown (any whole/split frame cadence is usually OK). Turn off Motion Blur and Frame Blending. Render for a proper interlaced broadcast deliverable file.

Photoshop motion graphics. One oft-ignored (or forgotten) feature of Photoshop is that you can do layer-based video animation and editing within. Essentially there’s a very rudimentary version of After Effects inside Photoshop. While you probably wouldn’t want to use it for video instead of using After Effects or Premiere Pro, Photoshop does have a value in creating animated lower thirds and other titles.

Photoshop provides much better text and graphic style options than Premiere Pro. The files are more lightweight than an After Effects comp on your Premiere timeline – or rendering animated ProRes 4444 movies. Since it’s still a Photoshop file (albeit a special version), the “edit in original” command opens the file in Photoshop for easy revisions. Let’s say you are working on a show that has 100 lower thirds that slide in and fade out. These can easily be prepped for the editor by the graphics department in Photoshop – no After Effects skills required.

Create a new file in Photoshop, turn on the timeline window, and add a new blank video layer. Add a still onto a layer for positioning reference, delete the video layer, and extend the layers and timeline to the desired length. Now build your text and graphic layers. Keyframe changes to opacity, position, and other settings for animation. Delete the reference image and save the file. This is now a keyable Photoshop file with embedded animation properties.

Import the Photoshop file into Premiere with Merged Layers. Add to your timeline. The style in Premiere should match the look created in Photoshop. It will animate based on the keyframe settings created in Photoshop.

©2021 Oliver Peters

Larry Jordan’s Techniques of Visual Persuasion

You may know him as a speaker, trainer, or web presenter. Or from the long-running Digital Production Buzz podcast series. Or his 2 Reel Guys series with the late Norman Hollyn. Regardless of how, Larry Jordan is well-known by most working and aspiring video professionals. But Jordan is also an accomplished author, with several books to his credit. The latest is Techniques of Visual Persuasion + Create powerful images that motivate.

Commercials, corporate videos, or entertainment – the art of persuasion is at the heart of what every editor does. Persuasion is about convincing someone to want to do whatever action you want to have happen or to share a feeling you are trying to convey. In addition to creating persuasive messages, we ourselves are also consumers and recipients of these same communications. Therefore, knowledge and understanding is key. It is Jordan’s premise that with modern life’s faster pace, proper communication today is more like haiku than a lengthy report. Every professional needs to know how to make their presentation – whether spoken, still, or motion – succinct and impactful. This book is perfectly laid out to get that point across.

Techniques of Visual Persuasion is arranged into three sections. The first covers the fundamentals of persuasion. The second is about developing persuasive still images and the last section is about persuasive motion images. This book is arranged like a text book, which is a good thing. It’s well-researched and detailed. Each chapter starts with the goals to be covered and ends with a recap. Each is also capped off with an anecdote (like Larry starting a fire in a TV studio) or a guest contributor’s point-of-view. The pages are illustrated nicely with sidebars, images, and charts that help make the point of how and why one example is more inviting or persuasive than another.

Jordan covers a wide range of theoretical and practice advice, such as the 180-degree rule, the rule of thirds, three-point lighting, sans serif vs. serif fonts, and much more. But it’s not all just concepts. Jordan has a lengthy background in software training, including several books around Final Cut Pro and Adobe products, as well as his PowerUp series of videos.

Section two includes two chapters on the basics of Photoshop with practical examples of how to use its tools to enhance and repair still images and create layered composites. Section three goes even deeper into real-world experience. Jordan covers topics, such as suggested camera and audio equipment, interviewing techniques, how to properly record audio, and how to properly plan and produce a video shoot. This section also goes deepest into software basics, including a detailed look at Adobe Audition, Apple Final Cut Pro X, and Apple Motion.

Techniques of Visual Persuasion is a like a college film program condensed into under 400 informative pages. All of it written in a very engaging manner. I found that it’s not only a good first read, but useful to have around for a quick reference, whether you are just entering the field or have been in the business for years. Larry Jordan is a gifted presenter who can express complex topics in an easy-to-digest manner and this latest book is no exception.

©2020 Oliver Peters

Boris FX Optics

Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are ubiquitous digital photography processing tools that hold a place in nearly every pro and semi-pro photographer’s toolkit. From straight-up image correction and enhancement to wildly creative looks, it’s hard to beat what these tools offer. However, when you get into the stylistic filter options, Photoshop looks a bit stale. You can certainly push the artwork to new levels, but it takes talent and often a lot of work. That’s not in step with today’s mindset, where powerful, yet simple-to-use effects tools are the norm. (Click any image in this post for an enlarged view.)

Enter Optics for Photoshop

Last September Boris FX acquired the award-winning effects developers Digital Film Tools and Silhouette. Optics is a new tool developed since this acquisition, specifically designed for the photography market. It features a plug-in for Photoshop and Lightroom (as well as Bridge), which is paired with its own standalone application. Optics shares design similarities with DFT, but also integrates other BorisFX products, such as 75 of the Sapphire filters – a first for Photoshop users. According to Marco Paolini, Optics product designer for Boris FX (and co-founder of DFT and Silhouette), “Optics is the only Photoshop plug-in that specifically simulates optical camera filters with presets based on real-world diffusion filters, as well as realistic simulations of film stocks and motion picture lab processes.”

To use Optics from within Photoshop, simply apply the Optics filter effect to a layer, which opens the Optics Photoshop plug-in. If you first converted that layer into a Smart Object in Photoshop, then the final Optics result will be applied as a Smart Filter and can be toggled on and off in Photoshop. Otherwise, that layer will appear with the “baked in” result once you exit Optics. From Lightroom or Bridge, use the “edit with” command to route the image to the Optics application. Lightroom will send either the original version of the image or with any Lightroom effects applied. When done, a processed copy of the “sent” image appears in Lightroom. The Optics Standalone application supports an extensive set of camera raw file formats in addition to JPEG, TIFF, DPX and Kodak CIN files.

Filters and looks galore

Optics offers 160 filters with thousands of customizable presets. The filters are grouped into nine categories, including color, diffusion, stylize, and more. The user interface is designed with tools and controls bordering around the image. Top – tool bar for masking and view control. Left side – the layers stack. Bottom – filter groups and selection. Right side – two tabs for presets and parameter adjustments. You can show or hide these panels as you like, depending on what you need to see at the time. Resolution choices for the image viewer include 1K, 2K, 4K, 5K, 6K, 8K, and Full resolution. The available choices in the resolution menu are dynamic depending on the size of your image. A lower resolution helps to speed up processing results on lower-powered machines, but you’ll want Full to correctly judge some effects, like sharpening.

If you are comfortable in Photoshop, then you already know how to use Optics. You can build up complex effects using a combination of different filters by using layers. Each layer can be masked and includes all of the usual composite modes. Optics uses floating point processing. This means you can blow out highlights or exposure in one layer, but then bring it down again without information loss in a higher layer. Test out different looks simply by building them onto different layers. Then toggle a layer on or off to see one look versus another. For instance, maybe you’re not sure if you want a sepia look. Just make one layer sepia, disable it, and add a new layer for a different style. Then enable or disable layers to compare.

The EZ Mask is a super-cool function. Let’s say you want to separate a fashion model from the background. First draw rough mask lines for the interior (the model), then rough lines for the exterior or background. Optics will then calculate a very accurate mask. Trim/adjust the mask and re-calculate as needed to better refine the edge. Masks may be inverted as well as copied between layers, which enables you to apply separate effects inside and outside of the mask area. In the example of the model, this means you can create one look or set of effects for the background and a completely different style for the model.

Optics includes a number of stylized render elements that can be added to images, like the moon or lightning zaps. This also includes a ton of lens flare effects, thanks to the included Sapphire filters. In addition to the variety of presets, you can further customize the flares by launching the separate Lens Flare Designer, which is integrated into Optics.

Working with Optics

Optics runs on Macs (macOS 10.13 or higher) and PCs (Windows 10 or higher) with fairly basic hardware requirements. I was able to test Optics on both an iMac Pro and my mid-2014 MacBook Pro. There was a minor license activation issue with the laptop, which was quickly sorted out by Boris FX’s customer service technician. Otherwise, the installations were very smooth. No hiccups with the iMac Pro. Optics responds well on less powerful computers; however, processing-intense effects as well as workflows with a stack of complex layers will perform better on a faster machine. For example, effects that were instantly responsive on the iMac Pro took a bit more time on the older MacBook Pro. If you are only photo developing/color correcting, then you probably won’t notice much difference.

The Optics Standalone application may also be used to process single stills without coming in through Photoshop. The new files can be left in their original size or optionally resized. You can save custom presets, which may be used for single images or to batch process a folder of stills. For example, if I wanted all my vacation stills to be processed with a certain Kodak film stock preset.

Batch processing offers another interesting possibility. Optics will batch process any image sequence, whether from a camera (such as drones) or from a video file exported/rendered out of After Effects. As long as they are JPEG, TIFF, DPX, CIN, or camera raw files, you are good to go. This is a cool way to apply a custom look that you may not have access to as a video filter or plug-in effect, even though Optics is a still photography application.

Select “batch process” and load the image sequence. Then load a saved Optics setup that you have created. Batch processing will save these files as a new image sequence complete with the custom look applied. Finally, reconstruct the processed image sequence back into a video file using After Effects, Resolve, or any other application that supports image sequences.

If you work with a lot of stills and hate going through the gymnastics that Photoshop requires in order to create truly unique looks, then Boris FX Optics will be a game changer. It’s very addictive, but more importantly, Optics offers a huge improvement in efficiency. Plus you’ll have filter options at your fingertips not normally available in Photoshop alone. You might quickly find yourself doing all of your image processing strictly in Optics.

As with other Boris FX products, Optics is available as a perpetual license or subscription. Click this link for Optics video tutorials.

Click through the gallery images below to see further examples of looks and styles created with Boris FX Optics.

©2020 Oliver Peters

Pixelmator Pro Revisited

Many Final Cut Pro X users prefer the software precisely because it does not require an ongoing subscription. If you bought all of Apple’s ProApps products, then you have largely replaced the need for an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. The exception to that is graphics and photography design and manipulation. Even the most diehard FCPX users often maintain the basic Adobe photography bundle just to have Photoshop in their toolset, since Apple doesn’t make such as application.

There are alternatives, which I have reviewed in the past. Principal replacements come from either Pixelmator or Serif. If you want the most direct alternative to the Photoshop/Illustrator/InDesign trifecta then your best bet would be to buy Affinity Photo, Designer, and Publisher. On the other hand, if you only want an alternative to Photoshop, then Affinity Photo or Pixelmator Pro might be your best option. While I like them both, Pixelmator Pro seems the closest to the FCPX design ethos.

I reviewed Pixelmator Pro after its initial release a bit over two years ago and have recently started to use it on a more full-time basis. Like others who have the Creative Cloud apps installed alongside FCPX, I tend to go where muscle memory takes me. So if you have Photoshop installed, then you’ll probably just continue to use Photoshop as the line of least resistance. However, if you want to stay strictly within the macOS, FCPX-centric ecosystem, then you owe it to yourself to move over to something new.

Pixelmator Pro is a clean app written with newer code, designed to take advantage of Metal. Its interface design is a perfect complement to Final Cut – using a similar approach to tool/layer/inspector panels. These panels can be revealed or hidden, which means that you can have a very minimalist interface that focuses only on the image, if that’s how you like to work.

Another new technology integrated into Pixelmator Pro is machine learning. It’s important to remember that there isn’t really any “learning” involved with machine learning. Instead, calculations are made against a defined set of parameters. For instance, the application uses machine learning to automatically name layers when you import a photo and place it on a layer. It makes a generic guess at the name, like “building” for an image of a building, tower, or other similar image, which is based on shape recognition. In addition, alternative suggested names are also available. If you change it to a custom name, Pixelmator Pro does not “learn” that new name for future use. The available library of possible names is not increased or improved.

Machine learning can also be used for an image’s color/level adjustments. This is more sophisticated than a simple automatic white balance. I find the results more pleasing and successful than similar automatic adjustments in other applications. At the end of 2019, an update added machine learning to image scaling. If you want to blow up a lower resolution image for a higher resolution result, you can employ Pixelmator Pro’s Super Resolution function. This will give you the cleanest edges around complex images and textures as opposed to the other available algorithms. Unfortunately, it is a very slow process on my older MacBook Pro; however, its use it entirely optional. Expect faster results on the newer Macs.

As I’ve been using Pixelmator Pro more these days – instead of the knee-jerk reaction to head to Photoshop first – I’m rediscovering things that I like and that I find to be more fluid and intuitive than in Photoshop. While you can’t do some of Photoshop’s more exotic functions, like video animations, Pixelmator Pro covers the bulk of what an editor needs to do with a graphics tool. Furthermore, if you use Apple Photos, Pixelmator Pro is also supported as an extension and through Photos’ “edit with” functions. In short, Pixelmator Pro is a perfect match for Final Cut Pro X. If Apple were to design a graphics app, it would undoubtedly look and feel a lot like Pixelmator Pro.

Check out an enhanced version of the article at FCPco.

©2020 Oliver Peters