Cropping photos

Some people like to crop the photos they take, some don’t. I used to be in the second camp for a very long time. I would just never crop my photos, never change the aspect ratio. Only very rarely, when I needed to clean up the edges. But I changed my mind in the end. And today, I will share with you some of my reasons and thoughts about that.

To crop or not to crop

The biggest reason I never cropped my images before was that I always felt like I was losing something. I always tried to get the composition I wanted right in the camera. But over time I just found out this is not always possible. Especially when you start using prime lenses or some ultra wider or fisheye lenses, you will inevitably capture more than you want or need. And that makes for a lot of empty space, like the extra ground, extra empty sky, extra walls and so on, that just doesn’t make the photo better.

This is an example of this. This photo was taken with the fisheye lens, and the extra ground just added nothing to it. Removing it made the composition tighter, more focused on the subject of the photo. And yes, I removed the camera shadow in post-processing.

To crop or not to crop
To crop or not to crop

The second reason to not crop was that I like consistency. I like it too much. It just feels nice when you look through your photos and they all fit into a nice grid, all with a nice 4:3 ratio, perfectly aligned. I very rarely even took portrait shots, as they would not fit nicely. I know, it’s a strange reason. But then, when I started to do many vertoramas and panorama, this was no longer achievable at all. Every photo was different, everyone had a different aspect ratio in the end. So instead of my photos being consistent in size, now every single one is different. And I think it looks even better than before.

Almost each of my photos is now of a different aspect ratio.

To crop or not to crop

My last reason was the loos of quality. When you are shooting with a 12Mpix camera or even 22Mpix camera, cropping of half of the photo will degrade the quality quite a lot. But that’s really not the case anymore. Most of my photos now are 30Mpix to 100Mpix in size. I can crop away really a lot, and the quality is there. Also with the progress of the cameras and good sharp lenses, the quality of the photos is better, even if you zoom in. And with tools like Topaz Gigapixel AI, you can upscale you photo 2, 4 or even to 6 times the size, while still being of great quality. Gigapixel AI is probably the most impressive photo editing application I seen in a while.

This was a huge panorama, where I cropped really a lot from it. It’s still a huge image anyway.

To crop or not to crop
To crop or not to crop

In the end, it’s everybody’s own decision if to crop or not to crop your photos. But it’s much easier decision now than it was only a few years before.

Raya Pro 4

I have been using the Raya Pro 4 toolbar to speed up my edits for a while now, so I thought I will create few guides for it. I shared one a few days ago on how to sharpen your photos with it for web and today I will show you how quickly blend two exposures. This is a quicker way of doing the same as I explain in my Luminosity masking tutorials, so if you don’t have Raya Pro 4, you can check out those here.

For more on Raya Pro 4, you can check out the official site here.

Simply blend two exposures with the help of Raya Pro 4

The whole process is very simple. First, you need two exposures you want to work with. To make the blend more realistic, they should be no more than 1-2 EV steps between them. If you have more, the transition after the blend won’t look natural (there are ways to fix that, but that’s for another guide).

These are the two exposures I will use here. One as a base and the second, darker one, from which I want to recover the bright areas.

Open both exposures in Photoshop as layers in the same file, – There are multiple ways you can do this, and you can find some of them here.
Put the darker exposure on top and hide it. – Since we need to create out a selection from the brighter exposure, we need to have only that one visible. So click on the eye icon next to the darker one and hide it.

Open the RP4 Instamask 3 panel (from the menu Window/Extensions/RP4 Instamask 3). – We will work with this panel, but only with few buttons of it.
Select the bright areas of the base photo. – Now we have to create our selection. Look at the 6 number next to B in the panel. Clicking on any of them will create a mask. 1 is the broadest selection of bright areas, 6 is the most restrictive. So just click on 1, see if it matches the areas you want to replace. If not, click on 2 and so on. In our example, the 2 matches the base photo the best.

Apply the mask. – You will see a new group with a layer in the layers window but ignore that. Instead, now just select the hidden darker layer and in the RP4 Instamask 3 panel just click on apply. This will add the mask to that layer and those extra ones will disappear.
Unhide the layer. – Now just unhide the darker layer and you are done.

What we actually did here, is to select all the brightest areas base on the bottom layer and then replaced them all from the top layer. One can go also the other way, have the darker image on the bottom, select the dark areas and then apply that selection to the bright ones.

One can use this also for more than 2 exposures, just hide all except the base one, follow this step to combine it with one. Once that is done, combine it again with another one. Since now already 2 layers are visible, your selection will be based on their combination.

If the blended areas look great, that means the difference between the photos was too big. You can try changing the opacity of the top layer, to make the transition softer. Editing the photos, so they are closer in appearance is another option. If you are working with RAW files, you can just jump in Camera RAW by double-clicking the layer and tweak them there.

Sharpening photos

I got a question recently, how I sharpen my photos. And as this changed a lot over the years, today I will show you how I sharpen them right now. Maybe next week I will use something else. I always look for the best. But right now I use Raya Pro 4 panel for Photoshop, and I will show you how easy it is to sharpen using it.

Btw. for the next 24 hours, you can still get Raya Pro 4 panel with a huge 50% discount, that is only 22.50 USD for this great tool. Check it out on the official site here.

Sharpening with Raya Pro 4

Sharpening with Raya Pro 4 is very easy, and the whole procedure is only in few steps. Of course, you have to have Raya Pro 4 installed before you can do that. Please note, that this also resizes the image. The thing is, if you post images to the web, you should first resize it to the desired dimensions, and only then sharpen it. This will give you the best results.

  • Open the image you want to sharpen
  • Open the RP4 Actions And Filters panel. To do so go to Window/Extensions and select RP4 Actions And Filters
  • Now in this window, you have a section named Sharpen And Resize For The Web. Under this, there are two buttons, By Width and By Height. You can use any of these to do the sharpening
  • If you choose By Width, the number you put into the next window, will determine the width of the resized photo. If By Height, it will determine the height. I personally use height and the size I use is 1050px.
Sharpening photos for web with Raya Pro 4
  • A new file is created and you will be asked if you want to change the color space to sRGB. If the photo is for web, you should do that. On the web sRGB defaults to safe colors, and like that the photo will be properly shown in all web browsers.
  • In this new file, you will have 4 layers. The base is not sharpened, and the three on top are Sharpened, Sharpened More and Extra Sharp for Larger Images. By turning the visibility of these layers on/off and changing their opacity, you can change how much sharpening you applied to your image.
Sharpening photos for web with Raya Pro 4

I tent to leave the Sharpen layer and Sharpen more visible, then change the opacity of the Sharpen more to about 50-70%. In a few cases, I also used the mask to remove sharpness from a few areas, where it was just not needed.

And that’s it, your photo is ready to be saved and shared on the web.

Photo problems

There are a few basic problems that you see over and over in many photos. Fixing them is really easy, so it’s sometimes strange to see so many photographers not doing so. Today I will go through a few of them and show you how to fix them. I will be sticking mostly to Photoshop here, but few can be easily fixed also in Lightroom.

Chromatic aberrations

I’m always surprised when I see chromatic aberrations in edited photos. There are just so simple to get rid off. You can even set up Lightroom to do it for you when you import photos.

In Lightroom, you just have to go into the Develop module, scroll down in the right panel and under Lens Corrections check the box by Remove Chromatic Aberrations. This works in almost all cases.

In Photoshop, the simplest way is to use Camera RAW to do so. You should do it on the RAW file, as then it’s just one click. If it’s not a RAW file, it’s a bit more work. When you open a RAW file in Photoshop, the Camera RAW will open automatically. Just go to the Lens Correction tab and check to remove chromatic aberrations. All done. In the case you don’t have the RAW file, you open your file, and then go to Filter/Camera RAW filter. Again you go into the Lens Correction tab, but it will look a bit different. You will have only manual options to do so. Just move the Purple and Green sliders to get rid off the aberration.

5 problems you can quickly fix in you photos

Perspective distortion

Another problem that is very easy to fix is Perspective distortion. If you are not familiar with it, it happens when your camera is not perfectly leveled when you take your photos. As a result, the objects in your photo may look like they are falling inward or outward.

This can be fixed in Lightroom, but I do prefer to use Photoshop. In Lightroom, you first have to rotate the image, so the horizon is perfectly leveled. If you don’t do this, you can’t remove perspective distortion properly. Once this is done, in the right panel scroll down to Transform and move around the Vertical transformation until the edge of the image aligns with all the vertical lines in the photo.

In Photoshop my preferred way to do this is to go into Free transform (Edit/Free Transform or Ctl+T), then right click on the image and choose perspective. Now drag the bottom corners out or in, until you get the lines perfectly vertically. If the distortion is very strong, you will also have to scale the image up. Just right click again, choose scale, hold down Shift and drag the middle top point up or down. You may need to go back into perspective edit afterward, as scaling can change the distortion.

5 problems you can quickly fix in you photos

I prefer Photoshop to Lightroom, as Lightroom automatically crops the image down to the original size and you are losing big areas of the photo due to the correction. In Photoshop you can just easily expand the canvas of the photo, so have a bigger photo in the end.

You can find a more detailed description of this here.

Color Banding

Color banding is created when you lower the number of colors in a color transition. Mostly it’s created when you save a photo into lower quality. If you have a lot of skies in your photos, you definitively have seen it.

The solution here is very simple, just add noise. Noise will add variation to the affected area, so the transitions will become more natural. You can even first remove noise, to get rid of strong noise and color noise, and then add back some softer noise, to prevent color banding.

To do so, just choose in Photoshop, Filter/Noise/Add Noise with the amount of 1%, Gaussian, and Monochromatic. Once done, check the image, if the color banding is still visible add it again with the same settings. You can repeat this until the problem is gone.

5 problems you can quickly fix in you photos

Don’t forget that you don’t have to use it on the whole image, only where it’s needed. Also if you are using layers in Photoshop, merge them into a new one to see how your photo really looks. The previews are not always accurate.

You can find a more detailed article on this topic here.

Lens Flares

I hate lens flares. I even hate them more in computer games. Who thinks that human eyes and brains make lens flares? Such a stupid idea. But you can quickly get rid of them in photos. The best way to get rid of them to not get them at all, but that’s not always possible.

There are two ways, the good way, and the other way. The good way is to take multiple photos where you shade the light source with your hand and then put them together. You can see a detailed description of that here.

The other way is to use Photoshop tools to do so. The results will be not perfect but with a bit of practice, you can do it. There are many things you can do. You can use content aware to fix smaller spots. Use the clone stamp tool for things that repeat or are random in structure. Copy over other parts forms the same image if things repeat.

5 problems you can quickly fix in you photos

I find the best thing to do, is to do all the fixes on a new layer in Photoshop, and once done, hide it, and using a layer mask just paint in the areas you really need. Like this, the fixes will look the most natural.

Dust Spots

Clean your lens often, really often. But if you don’t and shoot at smaller apertures often, clean your photos. A big ugly dust spot will make your photo looks so much worse. Just a short time ago, I saw a photo used as a background in Google Hangouts. It was a nice photo, but there was a huge dust spot right in the middle. It was so ugly.

You can either remove them in Photoshop or also in Lightroom. Both offer tools to identify where they are. In Lightroom, if you select Spot Removal, you will find a Visualize Spots checkbox under the image. Check it and move the slider next to it, until you see the spots in your photo. You can find the same setting in Camera RAW that you can open from filters in Photoshop.

While this works, this is not my favorite way to identify dust spots. I prefer to do create a new layer in Photoshop with an extreme curve. This will create a big contrast between the dust spots and the surrounding area, so showing you exactly where they are. Then I can just use content aware or the clone stamp tool on the layer under it to fix them.

5 problems you can quickly fix in you photos

Here is a more detailed article on how to remove dust spots, and here is one how to identify photo problems using the curve technique.

Sharing photos

I, as many of you, share photos online. But can you protect your photo from being downloaded once it has been shared online? The short answer is no. The long answer needs a bit more explaining, so today I will look at how photos are protected online, and why it’s pointless.

Can you protect your photos online?

  • Block right click – Most portfolio websites offer this option. You can disable the right-click option in the browser while viewing the page. Does this work? No. Is it annoying? Yes. A moderately advanced user can open up the page source and get the file anyway. The only thing one accomplishes by using this is annoying the visitors, as a right click is used for many other things than just saving an image.
  • Watermarks – Small watermarks can be removed easily, big ones with a bit of work. Again, a bit of knowledge of Photoshop and you can get rid of watermarks very quickly. One would have to use a very intrusive watermark to be able to completely prevent this. You can see those when browsing stock photography sites, but if someone really wanted to get rid of it, one could.
  • Embed into Flash – No longer so popular, but some sites used to show images embedded in flash animations. Like that, you prevent being able to save the image and there is no access to the source. But this does not help against taking a simple screenshot. And all your work was for nothing.
Can you protect your photos online?
  • Share only in apps – On mobiles, some apps can prevent you from taking a screenshot, and they don’t offer any way of saving an image. So you would think, share there, and nobody can save it. But that’s not true. There are programs where you can run apps on a PC and once it’s there, screenshot works without issues.
  • Share small resolution – Another popular method is just sharing a small resolution image. While this can be saved, it can’t be used for much. This used to work fairly well, but not anymore. With the rise of AI resizers, you can resize a photo 4x, 6x and even more times, while still having a reasonable quality result.
  • Share a small, very low-quality photo – Ok, this one still works. If you share a small photo, saved at a very low quality, I don’t think anyone will want to download it. But it also defeats the reason of sharing photos in the first place. It will not represent your work at all.
Can you protect your photos online?

The point I want to tell here is that if somebody wants to download your photo, once you share it, there is nothing you can do. Even if you created the perfect protection, they still can just take a photo of your photo on the screen, and your effort is gone.

I stopped worrying about it a while ago. Now I share bigger photos (some even in 4K) and the watermark in the corner is there as branding not as protection. I think most of you could remove it in seconds. It’s the same as with any other content protection out there. If somebody really wants to remove it, they will.

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