Category Archives: Photo Processing

Processing Night

On a recent trip to New York, I did a lot of street photography, some done in the evening. As much of the subject matter was moving, the camera was handheld, so a very high ISO was used during the evening. I could have placed the camera on a tripod and approached the following example quite differently, but making images late at night handheld, I was not carrying a tripod. Also, setting up a tripod at night in the street is awkward and perhaps draws too much attention to one’s equipment. However, this led me to a very interesting way to process such images. (If you are interested in night photography techniques, both on and off the tripod, you could refer to my article titled Low Light Challenge.)

After spending some time in post-processing trying to decide how to work with the noise created by such high ISOs, I discovered a fairly straightforward way to create very painterly-looking images. Examples of these images are in the following gallery: Streets of New York. The first twenty or so images will give you a good idea of the end product of this process; the image below is included in this gallery. What follows is a step-by-step illustration of the process

I used the following eight images to create a panorama image. This was necessary as I was using a 35mm equivalent lens and did not have the ability to change to a wide-angle lens. I would also argue that often, in these situations, a panorama image is less distorted than having to use an ultrawide lens. If you are interested in the process of creating panoramic photographs, I cover this topic in another article: click here to go to that article.

RAW Images as they appear after downloading

The images were then all selected and run through Lightroom noise reduction AI software, which DNG files. In order to see the difference between the original RAW image and the AI noise reduction I have enlarged the centre of the image and increased the exposure by 3.5 stops. This shows a dramatic difference.

The image on the left is the DNG file produced by the AI noise reduction feature in Lightroom. The one on the right is the original RAW image.

I then selected the Lightroom tool Merge to Panorama, chose the Spherical option, and used the auto-toning button in Lightroom so I could see the building a bit better.

You can see that the Auto button made the following adjustments to the image. There is a significant, almost two-stop increase in exposure, a significant reduction to the highlights, a smaller adjustment to the shadows, and minor adjustments to the Whites and Blacks, but quite a bit of Clarity. The remaining adjustments were quite slight

I then decided to crop the image and make some further adjustments. Rather than try and increase the exposure I chose to use the Shadow and White tone sliders to increase the light on the building. At this point you can see the impact of the AI noise reduction by comparing the image below and the following one.

The following images are from panorama merge without using the AI noise reduction program. The second image has similar adjustments made to those used in the image above. Again you will want to click the images above and below to see the difference in the detail.

At this point, the blacks in the sky were problematic, so I used the masking feature to select the sky and made the adjustments illustrated below. These adjustments were only made to the area above the building, and there was a diffusion adjustment where the sky meets the building.

I then inverted the mask and made the following adjustments to the building while not altering the sky.

At this point, I used Lightroom to move the image into Photoshop, the Nik Collection plug is integrated into my Photoshop program. I then selected the Nik 7 Viveza program, a colour and toning tool. Using this program, I made some minor adjustments to the image.

Once the adjustments were made, I applied the changes, and the adjusted image came back to Photoshop as a new layer. I then selected the Nik 7 Colour Efex program to process the image further. In the tool I used the Detail Extractor, Tonal Contrast, and Midnight to modify the image. The intent is to move toward a more painterly look to the image and tone down the intensity of the colours and light.

At this point, the image is then saved in Photoshop, which automatically returns the new version of the image into Lightroom as a TIF; as I did not flatten this image, it retained the various layers that were created in Photoshop using the Nik programs. This means if I am not happy with some of the adjustments, I can use opacity settings or other adjustments to tweak the image.

Equipment Used

The following images were created on an X100 VI in April of 2024 at 10 pm. They are hand-held images at 1/125 and f4 at 12,800 ISO. For those unfamiliar with the camera it is a fixed lens camera with 23mm (APSC) lens, so in 35 mm terms this is a 35mm lens. The resolution of the camera is 40 megapixels. If you are interested in more information about this camera; click here to go to the article.

Masks in Lightroom and Capture One

For some time, Capture One has had very subtle and comprehensive masking and a style system that allows you to memorize various adjustments that can be compounded. To catch up, Adobe has rushed to update Lightroom with more masking options and the introduction of intersecting masks. Although accessing this feature is somewhat convoluted, the power of intersecting masks is a significant upgrade. The following collection of videos outlines how these work and why you might be using this feature on every photograph you process.

Nigel Danson illustrates how intersecting masks can solve processing issues that previously were very complex to achieve.

Primarily Using Masks to Process using Lightroom

The following image was adjusted using Lightroom masking tools to isolate various areas of the image separately and then make adjustments specific to those layers.


Original RAW File


Isolating the sky using sky masking and then adjusting


Separating the sea and mountains by creating a mask using a colour selection, then Tone and Colour adjustments.


The previous mask is duplicated, then inverted and the sky is removed from the mask. Adjustments to Tone, Colour, Detail and Effects


Isolation of the rocks and bare trees using a colour mask selection. Adjustments were made to Tone, Colour, Effects and Detail.


A brushed layer was added to the show-capped volcano, and the Detail was adjusted. Then, two Liner lays were added diagonally to the upper portion of the sky. Adjustments were made to Tone.

Photographic Print Making

Bob Carnie

Bob Carnie, whose brick-and-mortar studio and gallery are located at the centre of the art district of Toronto, also mentors those interested produce prints. He provides expertise which includes photo printing, framing, and archiving negatives.

The attached gallery is a non-representational gallery that displays the work of artists he has enjoyed and supported. His particular interest is gum over palladium prints. These prints are hand coated onto artist-quality rag paper, and the image sits within the fibre of the paper, giving them an inner glow that is not obvious in other printing methods. Then a gum layer is added to the print, increasing contrast, depth and colour. He suggests it is a similar process to what Edward Steichen used when printing his photograph The Pond – Moonlight (1904).

As you can see on his website, he uses several other printing methods, including jet ink pigment prints and silver gelatin.

https://youtu.be/7dpqR2fz984

Bill Schwab, North Light Photographic Workshops

Bill Schwab, runs North Light Photographic Workshops in northern Michigan. He has posted many YouTube instructional videos on creating digital negatives, palladium prints, and wet plate collodion. He also runs on-site workshops and conducts photo tours.

Ken G. Miner

Ken Miner, whose studio is located in Victoria, BC, works with handmade wet collodion photographs and Tintypes & Ambrotypes. He does conduct individual workshops in the wet plate process, and film developing & printing on request and frequently does group wet plate workshops.

Christina Z. Anderson

Christina Z Anderson is another experimental photographer who has produced gum, salt, cyanotype, and other alternative photographic processes. She is a professor at Montana State University and does workshops all over the United States and Europe.

Photopolymer Photogravure – Silvi Glattauer

Silvi uses a photopolymer to create a photographic print from a plate or a photo intaglio print. The photopolymer plate is created using an Epson jet ink printer, bypassing the need for etching acids and complex resists on a metal plate. It goes directly from the printer to a UV lamp, and it is then developed in water before being inked and run through a press.

Kris Bochenek on Salt Prints

Ian Worth Platinum Palladium Prints

References

Experimental Photography

I have been working on ideas for merging experimental digital images into more experimental photographic processes. To that end, I have looked at Chemigrams, image transfers, and cyanotypes. What follows is the experimental exploration process. All images were exposed outside on the grass or on a table.

Cyanotype, Hanemüble Platinum Rag Paper

In this process, I used dried cyanotype on Hahnemüle Platinum, where I placed botanicals, spices, and other items and then placed the paper on wet grass. Additional moisture was introduced into the composition by running water from a hose under the paper and into the grass. The paper was left out on a bright sunny day for six hours before being taken in a processed

Due to the amount of water introduced in the image, an unexpected print occurred on the opposite side of the paper.

Wet Cyanotype on Rag Paper

The following experiment was to understand what might occur with similar materials on rag paper using a cyanotype medium painted on just before a composition was placed on it. Then this is placed onto wet grass as well. However, in this process, no water, other than the moisture present in the grass, was introduced into the paper.

Once the image was dried and pressed, flat watercolours were introduced into the paper.

Chemigram on RC Photo Paper

I started with RC paper and worked between fix, developer and water to create a chemigram. Then I put some of these images through a wet cyanotype process. The resulting image was then toned with washing soda.

Chemigram, Photopaper, Wet Cyanotype, and Double Exposure

The following is the experimentation with Chemigrams on warm-tone fibre photography paper, using an internegative to create an image. Then the same paper is processed using a wet cyanotype process. The wet cyanotype on the glossy surface of the photo paper had difficulty spreading on the paper and created an exciting result. I found this spreading issue could be partially controlled but tended to obscure the underlying image. I then digitized the image and used another image to create a double expose.

In addition, I tried some more chemigrams on the fibre paper to experiment with controlling the process on this surface. I then placed it through a dry cyanotype process with an internegative. Then toned and washed the paper after it had been dried.

Image Transfer

Thinking I might want to consider placing an image transfer on either of these experiments, I began experimenting with image transfers. Initially, I started with a high-quality pigment ink print on rag paper, but this process proved difficult, and the transfer did not occur. I then ran several experiments on different paper types, from a high-quality and cheap pigment ink print for a household multi printer. In the end, very cheap paper and the household printer did allow for an exciting image transfer. The image transfer was done by loading the paper with water and then using a rubber brayer to press the image onto the new surface.

Zen Exercise

“The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

The Flash of Perception, then the Framing Dance

Photography is a performance art. You are dancing with your viewfinder within a scene to find a composition.  Unlike painters, writers and poets, a photographer seeks to find the compositional elements within the viewfinder,  you are an editor of the world that surrounds you. As you practice your walking practice you will find Zen-like and abstract images presenting themselves in your camera’s frame. This exercise is about focusing on those images.

Abstraction is about focusing on ideas rather than events, and in the world of art, it is about being free from the representational qualities of art. There is a subtle difference between representational images and things that are purely abstract. I would suggest that these sorts of images could be considered abstractions but I am inclined to call them zen-like images. The Sanskrit root meaning of zen is “thought,” “absorption,” or “meditation” images verging on being abstract have a Zen-like quality. These sorts of images, which have a minimal or simple representational quality, increase the intensity of the form they capture and have a meditative quality. So this exercise is about focusing on Zen-like images or abstract images, or both.

So it is about the relationship between form and space using space to increase the intensity of the form. Do not use the sky as the space by isolating telephone poles, planes or chimneys against the sky; instead, use things like walls or other colour fields to increase the intensity of the form. Think of how a Japanese garden often places objects against simple backgrounds. Use the techniques from the colour and pattern exercise and walking practice to get in touch with your intuition and flashes of perception.

Examples of Zen-like Images

Floor Lights
Just a Minute I have to Throw the Stick
Input
Sheltered Pause
Triad

Examples of More Abstract Images

Historically Aaron-Siskind images might be of use to use as examples. https://www.wikiart.org/en/aaron-siskind Also the invaluable.com site provides some more modern examples. https://www.invaluable.com/blog/abstract-photography/#tab-170986.

Aerial Cities
In Deep Thought
Portal
Deep Confusion II
Looking Ashore

References

Is Digital-Based Image making Photography?

In print a digital image there are a lot of processes that can be used and unlike the wet darkroom days. In my practice, I am using a number of printing methods, however, I would to focus on is pigment ink printers for the purposes of this discussion. When printing 17 by 22 I use an Epson 3880 printer, and print on hot press bright cotton paper (fine art paper). What I find interesting about pigment ink printers is the similarity it has to other forms of planographic and intaglio printmaking process where pigment inks and cotton papers are used. Unlike chromogenic prints or C-prints processes, the materiality of a pigment in print is quite different. There are two advantages to pigment ink printers, first, the surface is whiter than C-prints which tend to have a dull less sharp look, and second, the gamut or range of colours is greater.

The Painters World

The traditional triad-based colour wheel painters for mixing pigments is quite different from the pigment used in digital printing. Painters have a wide variety of paints to choose from which are created using a large variety of pigments. Orginally most pigments were ground-up organic materials, but over time synthetic pigment colours have been introduced. Two of these, cyan and magenta now form the fundamental basis of the digital printing process. The problem from a painter’s perspective is magenta is not technically red and when mixed according to the wheel with yellow it tends to acquire a brown hue, and of course, cyan is not blue and has similar issues.

From UX Planet

Chromogenic Print Making

In the colour dark rooms of the 70s colour was done with up to three filters, as the light passed through the enlarger head your prints tended towards blue if it was a Fuji film or red if it was a Kodak. So your choice of paper had to be calibrated toward the filter colouring choices. This meant the gamut one could achieve in the darkroom was more limited than what digitally we can achieve today and much further away from what a painter could achieve.

From Reframing Photography
Once you have printed a full-size trial photograph at the correct density, evaluate the print’s colour. Assess the print under the same type of light source in which you will ultimately present it. If the presentation venue is not known, use daylight. Look for colour casts that you can identify as red, green, blue, cyan, magenta and/or yellow. For example, the cast may be greenish, which indicates the presence of too much green. Or the cast may be purplish, which would indicate the presence of excess magenta and blue. Usually, areas of the print that should be neutral gray are easiest to evaluate.
Instead of trying to identify a cast from six possible colours, you can halve the possibilities by determining whether the cast is warm or cool. On our colour wheel, the warm colours are at the right of the vertical axis (magenta, red and yellow) and the cool colours are at the left of the axis (green, cyan and blue).

You can see by comparing the two colour wheels that there is a difference in the colour one is working with. In the colour, darkroom blue is closer to purple and the red has an orange hue. So the colours that can be created this way are different and one has to be careful during the mixing process not to acquire too green a hue or too purple a hue. You are also working with cyan and Magenta.

The Digital Pigment Ink Prints

Digital printmaking now has a wider range of colours than traditional darkroom colour prints but this varies depending on your printer. In the common home printers, four pigments are used black, cyan, magenta and yellow.

In the Epson 3880 pigment printer, the palette is much broader, however magentas and cyans still dominate. As you look at larger Epson printed more pigments are available such as orange, greens and violets.

Keep in mind the whites of the image come from the paper and papers can vary widely in terms of how they produce a white, the white substrate does have an impact on the luminosity of the print and presentation of the pigments. I use the whitest hot press bright fine art paper which is cotton paper because of its bright white surface.

Print Pigments Painterly Quality

Digital printmaking has advanced technology by using more traditional fine art materials, such as pigments and fine art paper. This means more colour range and better blacks and whites opening up more creative choices. In so doing colour accuracy, which is critically important in most professions, for the artist moves them closer to the world of the painter in which colour accuracy is less important. It is now possible to use digital technology to print images, that look more like paintings than traditional photographs.

When you tell someone the image is a photograph people’s expectations of this media can cloud their perceptions idea of photography. These expectations can vary depending on their experience. Individuals who have been exposed extensively to chromogenic images may see the richer colours, deep blacks and bright whites as some sort of enhancement; leading them to think or ask if the image has been photoshopped, even if technically the print is accurate. Those who have been exposed to a lot of digital media where extensive colour grading as they do in TV shows like CSI: Miami may have a very different reaction.

Documentary versus Fine Art Printing

I am wondering if we need to consider a new way of referring to this form of printmaking, after all, it is a two-dimensional illusion a facsimile, like other forms of two-dimensional art. The difficulty with the word photograph is photography has been used extensively to document or accurately record events, represent evidence in courts, and record historical events in the press. Photography has as result been an instrument of reform as it shines a light on the darkest corners of our society. Accuracy is paramount when using photography for this purpose and photojournalists are not allowed to manipulate or enhance an image (although the act of framing can change the meaning of a photograph dramatically). This aversion to manipulation often influences how people look at photographs. The sciences when recording and analyzing microscopic worlds and galaxies also have a rigorous need for accuracy.

It is a complex process and the following flow charts give you some idea of the detail involved in getting an image to reflect the colour that was present when the image was taken.

How to Describe the Difference

If the word photography has this kind of influence on how people look at things called photographs even if they are present in a fine art venue, perhaps we need to find a new way of delineating the difference between fine art and documentary photography. In the fine arts world, accuracy is less important, it’s more about expression and the ability to evoke an emotional or conceptual reaction. Like a painter the making of a digital fine art print may need to have different tones harmonized, the intensity of certain colours adjusted, and the hues may need to be tweaked. All these decisions are decisions more akin to what a painter might consider than a documentary photographer.

It has been suggested to me that “digital-based image making” or “photo-based image making” might be a more accurate way to refer to this sort of photographic process. I tend to think the first term is more inclusive and less problematic. It seems a more accurate way of describing fine art image-making while distancing it from the documentary form of photography, at least until a better term evolves.

Fourteen Takes to One

When you get the sense that there is an image you want to make take your time, do a 360 of your chosen subject, take photographs like an artist who might make multiple sketches of a scene. This is in the tradition of Andre Cartier Bresson, who would return to a place where he knew there was an image taking roll after roll of film. Then looking at the contract prints once the film was developed, he would finally circle the one, the image that captured what attracted his attention in the first place. The one that captured the emotional experience of the scene.

A few days ago in the forest, I saw something out of the corner of my eyes between the trees. I turned and headed for the spot and began taking images, you can see from the images on my contact sheet below that it took some time to work out how to create an image that capture what I had seen. I began with the roots which seemed so unusual but that did not work either compositionally or as an expression of what I had seen. Somewhere past the middle of making images I finally felt confident I got the image I wanted but I still kept moving around and composing new images. I kept going because I knew given the light and the setting if I returned it might not be the same, and I would not be sure about the image I had felt would work until I saw it full screen in Lightroom.