Some time ago I did a post with few tips for Oloneo Photoengine, and today lets look at few features of Lightroom, that you may have missed. Lightroom is for me one a very important software, and I think there isn’t a single photo on this blog that wasn’t edited in it to a certain degree. There are of course many more things in Lightroom, but that’s for next-time. So let’s get started :)

Btw. I’m including a lot of screenshots, as I think that any article about photos should include many of them. And same when talking about a software, one should include screenshots of what I’m talking about. So I hope you don’t mind.

1. Personalize the header

Ok, this one wont help you to make better photos, but give a little sense of the Litroom being more personal. It’s also great if you plan to share screenshots from Lighroom (like I did in this post :)). To change the header, just go under Edit / Identity plate setup. Btw. you can also make the selection menu in the top right bigger, which I find to be very useful.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips

 

2. Stop scrolling

As all the adjustment panels, are placed in one long list to the side of the photos, it can lead to a lot of scrolling and searching. Luckily, the creator of Lightroom noticed this problem, and you can switch to a so called solo mode. What this does, is, that all the panels are collapsed, and only one can be opened at a certain time. So anytime you open one, all others close automatically. This makes it so much easier to find what you need, with minimum of scrolling. To switch to the Solo mode, just right click on any empty space under the panels, or on a name of a panel and choose Solo mode.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips

 

3. Change the crop grid

Since all cropping in Lightroom is not permanent (you can change it at any time later), its a great tool for that. To make it easier, you can choose different overlays to help you with it. Options like thirds, golden ratio, golden spiral and more are available. To change this, first open a photo and choose Crop (in the Develop mode). After that you can go under Tools / Crop guide overlay to choose what you prefer.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips

 

4. Sync, sync, sync

Sync is the best feature in Lightroom. If you are not using it, you are using it wrong :). What sync does is to copy all the settings from one photo over to another (or to how many one needs). One can copy all, or only some of the settings. This is so useful when one edits HDR brackets, or timelapse series, or any other series of photos where you need to do the same edits. You can sync from the Develop module, but also from the Library one. There you can also sync metadata if you need to. It’s also possible, to just right click any image and choose Settings / Copy settings, and then paste it onto another image.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips

 

5. Stack photos

If you have a huge library of photos, grouping some of them into a stack can really help to get a better overview. At the start I tried to stack HDR series, but that just take too much time, so I setled to stacking timelapse series and HDR panoramas. You know, the 10+ series :). To stack photos, just select the ones you want and press Ctrl + G (Ctrl + Shift + G to unstack) or right click and use the options under Stacking. You will also notice that the highlighted photo (the one with a little whiter background) will be used as cover for the stack.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips

 

6. Create virtual copies

Another great thing that you can do Lightroom is to create Virtual Copies of your photos. What this does, it creates a copy in Lightroom, but you still have only one file on the HDD. So you can create multiple edits of the single photo, without having to duplicate the file. Again, can be very useful in blending, where you want to create a version for the highlights and another one for the shadows.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips

 

7. Double click to reset

Moving around slides can be so time consuming. But to make this faster, there are two things you can do. First is, when you want to reset a setting to default, just Double-click the name and it resets. The second is, when you want to move a slider only a very little, move you cursor above the number value (it will light up) and use the Up / Down keys, to adjust the value.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips

 

8. Hold Alt to see the clipping

This one is similar to how it works in Photoshop. If you hold Alt while draging on sliders, the photo changes, to show you where you are clipping highlights and shadows (change pixels to complete black or white). This is extremely helpful, when you are trying to set the black and the white points for a photo, or are trying to adjust the exposure, without loosing any information.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips

 

9. Export with the watermark

Especially if you need to export many photos at once, it can be very time consuming to add watermarks to all of them. Here is where this option comes in. You just create one (or select a picture to be applied) and use it as many times you want. You can even create presets for you watermarks, to make it even simpler. To get to this, just choose File / Export and look for the Watermarking option. I don’t use this for my landscape photos, but if I’m exporting photos, for instance from a party, this is what I do.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips

 

10. Load into layers in Photoshop

Another one that is great if you want to blend exposures in Photoshop. Just select the ones you need, right click and choose Edit in / Open as layers in Photoshop. This will export and load all the files into a single Photoshop file as layer. You can also merge panoramas, or into Photoshop HDR from here. If you don’t plan to use a program in between Lightroom and Photoshop (like Oloneo) this makes the process more straightforward and you create no exports you don’t need.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips

 

11. Create smart collections

If you have a huge library (like I have) creating smart collection will enable you to select photos from all over the place and have them in one shop. For instance. I like to have a collection of all already edited photos, so I can find them easily for my process posts. For that, each time I finish a photo, a give a 4 star rating to all the brackets. This is then automatically selected for that collection. I also include the year in the selection, as I have a separate one for different years. Of course you can create many different ones, one for photos from a certain location, one for you favorite photos, and many more.

Lightroom tips
Lightroom tips

And that’s all for this post, but don’t forget to check out all the other guides and tips posts. You can find a list in the sidebar. And if you have any question about this post, feel free to ask.

Maybe some of you have noticed the little disclaimer on the bottom of the pages sidebar, that mentions that (almost) all my photos are shared under the creative commons license. Those of you who work with photos, probably know what that means, but some of you probably don’t. So in this post, I’m going to go through the basic licenses, and what do they mean, and what they allow or prohibit.

Entering the Chain bridge

All rights reserved

The All right reserved is the default license for every photo. If you see a photo on a page, and it’s not specified differently, it’s being shared under this licence.

What in means, in simple terms, is, that you can’t do anything with the photo, without a permission from the author. You can’t post it on you blog, you can’t post it on your facebook, you can’t use it for personal or commercial use.

Of course in the world we live in, where social media are very dominant, photographers usually don’t mind, even if you share their photos with All right reserved on social media, but never presume it’s OK. It’s still infringing on the copyright (think of it in a terms as sharing a full movie, or a song on your FB page). If you really want to share a work like this, share a link to it, it’s always safer.

Public domain

This is the complete opposite of All right reserved. With photo in the public domain, you can do anything. They can be used for personal or commercial use, can be shared, published and more, without needing to give a credit to the author.

If you ever need a use a photo for a project, and cant take it yourself, and don’t want to buy one, try searching for public domain photos.
Big Ben

Creative Commons

And we get to the creative commons licence (CC). You can think of it as a set of licenses, that were created for people who just don’t want to specify everything every time. When you share a photo, and you want to allow some use, and forbid different use, it much easier to quote a specific Creative commons license, that to create your own.

The creative commons license consist from three main parts, and each one specifies different rights, but already specifying that a work is shared under CC, you allow people to share and download your work. So the main parts are:

Attribution

This is the most basic part. This means that everyone who share your work in any way, has to attribute it to you, in a way you specify. This is usually done via a name and link back to the source. If you ever share someones photos, even if you are not sure under what licence it is shared, always include this.

Derivatives

This part is about allowing or forbidding derivative work. For instance by photos, it is if you allow them to be used in other peoples photo manipulations. There is also a third option here, that is Share Alike, which means that people can use your photos, but have to share the final result under the same license.
Midnight Drivers

Commercial use

The last part is if you allow the free commercial use or not. If this is set to noncommercial, it means that the photos can be used for free only for any noncommercial purposes (your personal fb page, personal blog, tumblr blog…) and for everything else a license has to be purchase.

What is commercial use?

As many people don’t know (or sometimes play dumb) on what commercial use is, here a little explanation.

As commercial use, we view anything that creates direct profit, or help creating a profit in the future. Here are few examples:
– you use the photo on your product
– you use the photo on a free promo material (yes, the company makes no direct profit, but it promotes future profit, as every commercial)
– you use the photo on your company’s webpage, facebook page, or any other social media (again, this is a promotion for your company)

This all applies even for non-profit organisations, as they usually just create a profit for a different company or organisation. The simplest way one can think about is, if the person contacting the photographer gets paid for their work, so should the photographer :)

What I use?

So I use the most restrictive CC license, the Atributions, Non-commercial and No-derivs. It means, that I allow the sharing of my photos if one gives me proper credit, but I don’t allow modification of them, or any commercial usage.

I choosen this license, as I want to allow people to share my photos without being scared that they receive a copyright claim :)

There are very few photos on the blog, that are shared under All right reserved license. The reason for this is, that those photos were taken for a specific client, so I don’t own the rights for them.

There are few more licences, but there is already outside of the scope of this article. As a photographer, these three are the most important when sharing a photo on the internet. For more information on Creative commons, please visit their page: http://creativecommons.org/

Few weeks ago I posted an article about how to use manual focusing, and today, let’s look at the second part of every photo, how to determine the base exposure. I will go over how I do it, so this may not be the best, or the exactly right way, but it always worked fine for me. Also, this is how I determine the exposure for HDR series, not for single exposures. For those I usually let the camera decide, with the default metering, and I just tweak the exposure up or down as needed.

Just the TopsI will show this on my Canon camera, so this may not work as exactly on different cameras. Also this is not so easy to explain, so feel free to ask if there are any questions.

Using the live view

Same as with manual focusing, I also determine the exposure in live view. Most cameras have only few modes how to determine the exposure, and these fall into two categories. Either there look at the whole image, or they look only at the center of the image and base the exposure on that. In neither of those you can specify a specific point for the camera to look at, without moving the camera. So neither of those works for my workflow.

What I do is to get the composition (usually through the viewfinder), go into live view, focus, set the exposure and take the shots. So how to get the exposure for a specific area? Simple. But first be sure to be in the Manual mode (M), so you can set it, not the camera.

Choosing the exposure area

So to get the exposure for a certain area, go into Live view, and you will see a square on your screen. This is the square you zoom into when you zoom in live view, but it also determines the area for the exposure. If you try to move it around, you will see that the image on the screen changes brightness based on where the square is. So it always adapts, to show the proper exposure for that area.

Live view
Dark area selected
Live view
Bright area selected

So using this, you can choose the area for the exposure. Now you just need to find the values for this. To do this, you have to half press the shutter button and let go. What this does is, that it meters the exposure (normally it also focuses, but usually this is not done in live view, and also if you use manual focusing, this is turned off). After this is done, the camera will start showing the exposure under the live view (the small scale from -2 to +2). You can now change the aperture and time, to move the exposure to the 0EV position on the scale.

Which area to choose?

So now you know how to get an exposure for a specific area of a photo. Now the next decision is to choose the area of the photo. I tend to select the darkest area of the scene. This is because I want to have a good starting point, that is easy to find. Trying to find the middle exposure is just much harder, than just going directly for the darkest one. In the photos in this post, I outlined the areas I chosen for the exposure. There are of course also scenes, with very even brightness, then the area does not madder.

So when I do that, I know, the 0EV will have nicely exposed shadow areas. From this point, I usually take the -2EV to +2EV, but usually just the  +1EV is enough. As the shadows are nicely exposed in the 0EV, the +1Ev give enough detail in them and the +2EV is just to be safe, as in some scenes, there are very dark shadows, that cant be selected in live view.

For the brightest areas, the -2EV is usually plenty enough, but when shooting into the sun, I tend to also include the -3EV (very rarely the -4EV)

One of course can go also the other way, trying to choose the brightest spot, but in my experience, it’s easier to find the darkest one. Also, by selecting the darkest spot, you get a brighter image on the screen, which makes for easier focusing.

What to choose when taking only three exposures?

When using Magic lantern, it’s very easy to just take the number of exposures one needs. But when only doing 3 with the AEB of a camera and using my approach to choosing the base exposure, I would suggest setting it a little lower than 0EV (so the line is a little to the left). This is because, as I mentioned, the +2EV is not really that important, as the photo is already exposed for the shadows. So pushing it a little lower, lets say -2.5EV, -0.5EV and 1.5EV series, will give you a better result.

So this is how I choose the exposure. Not the simplest way, but after years of doing it this way, it take me seconds to focus and select the exposure. The more one does it, the faster it goes :)

Feel free to ask if you have any questions, and to find out more how to create HDR photos, check out my HDR tutorial and my video tutorial series Master Exposure Blending.

Even after years of it’s being used, HDR is still not properly known and understood between photographers. So to make it at least easier for some of you, in this post I will be going exactly what it is and why it is used. I will also go through few additional questions, that are close to the subject.

I will avoid being too technical, and try to explain things as simple as possible.

What is HDR?

HDR stands for Hight Dynamic Range. It’s used to describe photos, where different techniques have been used, to expand the dynamic range ,to cover the whole available range of the scene.

For instance in photos like these two:

Foreground would be black without HDR
The sky would be white without HDR

What is Dynamic range?

In simplest terms, the dynamic range is the difference between the brightest and the darkest point. In a scene, it’s the difference between the brightest light and the darkest shadow. In a camera, it the difference it can capture in a single photo.

When you look at something, your eye moves rapidly, and adopts to all light sources very quickly. Like that you can see a very high dynamic range, as you don’t see it all at once. In comparison, a camera has to get the whole range in one shot.

What is DRI and EDR?

DRI stands for Dynamic Range Increase and EDR stands for Extended Dynamic Range. Both have the same goal than HDR to increase the dynamic range of a photo, but the names are commonly used when using different techniques than tone-mapping software. Mostly when using luminance masks, one talks about DRI or EDR.

Why is HDR used?

Again, in simplest terms, it’s because a camera cannot capture the whole dynamic range of a scene in one photo. But to get a better understanding, let’s look at an example.

Here are two photos from scenes with different dynamic ranges. The first one has a very small dynamic range (the difference between the dark and bright spot is very small), the second one has a big dynamic range (the difference is huge).

Scene with a small dynamic range
Scene with a big dynamic range

 
To visualize this, lets look at the dynamic ranges as bars, going from the darkest to brightest point. The sizes are just as illustration, so the proportions are not exact.

Like this you can visualize, what everything one needs to capture in a photo. As the one with the small difference is easy to capture in one photo, lets continue only with the second one.

Now let’s compares what we get when capturing the scene with a dynamic range of a 8-bit jpeg and with a RAW file, which is usually 14-bit. You can see, that the dynamic range of the scene can be much bigger. Even with the bigger range of the RAW, you loose a lot of information. Everything that is cut off, on the sides, turns to complete black or white.

If we looked at a JPEG photo and a RAW photo in comparison, it looks like this (the dark parts in the RAW photo have been brightened, the bright parts darkened, so it can be shown on an 8-bit screen)

JPEG photo
RAW photo

 
So how to capture the whole dynamic range of a scene? This is where bracketing comes in. One takes multiple exposures, each one capturing a part of the full scene. It can be visualized like this:

 
The brackets are overlapping, and each one covers a different part of the dynamic range of the scene. It can even extend more, but that parts will contain no information.

These photos can then be put together into a 32-bit HDR file, that can contain this whole range at once. This file is used only as a step in photo editing, as it can’t be correctly displayed on a screen. It’s mostly used only in 3D modeling.

What can be normally shown on a screen is a 8-bit file (there are 16-bit screens, but there are not commonly used). Most JPG files are 8-bit. So what is needed, is to use a any of the available techniques, to compress the dynamic range in the 32-bit file, until it fits into a 8-bit one (or a 16-bit one as a middle step). This can be visualized as this:

So what is used to do this? Any number of techniques. Manual blending, HDR tonemapping, just brightening the dark parts and darkening the bright parts and many more. Once this is finished, the dynamic range in the photo is the same of the one that can be shown on a screen.

The goal of all this is to get from a scene with a very high dynamic range, to a photo that can be shown on a normal screen.

Scene with a big dynamic range
Final HDR with few additional edits

Is this the same HDR as available in most phones and modern cameras?

Well, yes it is. All the cameras take multiple exposures, to get the whole dynamic range, and combine them into one shot. Especially mobile phone cameras have a horrible dynamic range, and this can help a lot. Of course the biggest difference between this and doing this on your own, is that this process is fully automated and you have very little or no control of it.

What is HDR look/style?

HDR look, or we can also call it HDR style, is a certain look of a photo, that is quite often mistaken for HDR. It’s usually characterized by very saturated color and very strongly defined details, so called grunge look. But don’t be mistaken. This looks has nothing to do with the photo being a High dynamic range image. It can be done with any image, and is often just created using post-processing filters like Color Efex or Topaz Adjust.

 
It depends all on the photographer, if he wants to go with his editing style into this area or wants to go more towards realistic results.

Here are two of my photos, one with a more stylized HDR style, one with a more natural style. Both are HDRs, and as you can see, the final look has almost nothing to do with it. It’s all depended on the style one wants to create.

More stylized HDR style
More natural HDR style

 
And that’s all for this post. Feel free to ask if you have any questions, and to find out more how to create HDR photos, check out my HDR tutorial and my video tutorial series Master Exposure Blending.

As it quite often happens, that one wants to take photos where tripods are not allowed (usually for some very stupid reason that just does not make sense :)), one always has to be prepared with some alternative to a tripod. And in this post, I’m will go through some of the available alternatives, and what to do when nothing is available.

1. Ask for a permission

You would not believe how often just asking is all you need to do. If you are in a place, where you can find a person responsible for the area, just try to ask. It never hurts. Also, if you know that you will be there in a certain time, try writing them before and asking for a permission. Not always, but really often they will reply and give you access. And don’t forget. Be nice and polite. Never get offensive. If you are nice to the people, they will usually try to be nice to you, and grant you your request.

It’s actually funny, that sometime they don’t see a reason why you are asking, as they think that using a tripod should be a normal thing. For instance it happened to me in the Westminster Cathedral in London, where the answer to my question on using a tripod was of course, why should it not be allowed. It was doubly interesting, as in the Westminster abbey not only the tripods, but not even photography was allowed :)

2. Use a clamp/gorrilapod

A great alternative to a tripod is a clap. If you get a good one (like the Manfrotto clamp), it’s even sturdier than a tripod, when attached to a good place. It you are at a place with thin railings, glass walls and similar, this is the way to go. Of course don’t attach it to everything, especially things that can be broke or damaged easily. Also in some places clamps are not allowed, mostly due to the possibility to damage something. Usually, if something does not look cheap, don’t attach the clamp :)

An alternative to a clamp is a gorrilapod. It gives a bigger versatility in what can it be attached to, It’s just not as stable as a properly attached clamp.
gear-table

3. Use a mini-tripod

Mini or talbetop tripods are made mostly for compact and small cameras, but there are few out there, that can hold a full DSLR without problems. You can’t really use a huge lens, and the vertical shooting, without a L-bracket on the camera is not really that possible, but still, it’s much better that shooting from hand. Especially if you have those huge cement railings, where you have no problem placing one on top, or are by a small wall, which is just so high, that you cant use a tripod, this is your best choice.
The pod

4. Use a bean bag

Another alternative to a tripod, is the bean bag. This are usually very cheap, light bags, that you can even have permanently attached to your camera. I don’t think anyone will ever stop you for using one of those, and compared to a mini tripod or the clamp, there is almost no chance that you will be able to damage something with one. They are not as stable, but for shorter exposures (1-2 seconds) they are enough. Just don’t point the camera up, as the bag will sag, and don’t forget to use a timer, so you don’t touch the camera.

5. Do the shots handheld

When everything else fails, go for handheld shots. And to have a better chance to get a nice shot while doing that, here are few tips.

Hold you camera close

Hold you camera as close as you can. Brace your arms to your body. Like this, you get much less shaking in them and so you will be able to hold longer exposures. Never take the photos with your arms stretched in front of you.

Use Auto-ISO

If you use Auto-Bracketing to get brackets for HDR, turn on Auto-ISO. What it does, it, that with the brighter exposures, instead of using longer time, the camera with use a higher ISO. Like this you can avoid a lot of the movement in the final shot.

Use fewer brackets (or only one)

Take fewer brackets, by using higher differences between shots. If you can take 5 shots with 1EV difference or 3 shots with 2EV difference, go for the second option. Less brackets are much easier to align. If the dynamic range is not that big, think about just using a single shot and just getting the information you need from the single RAW.

Go wide

You maybe heard of a rule, that when taking photos handheld, the exposure time should be at lease 1/focal length of a second. So for instance on a 35mm focal length, you should have an exposure time faster than 1/35 of a second. This is not completely exact, as everyone is different and can hold the camera better or worse, but it’s a good starting point. So when taking handheld, if you use wide angle lenses, or just zoom out as much as you can, you have a much better chance to get a good result.

Use higher ISO/bigger aperture

By using a higher ISO, you will get more noise, but that’s something you can correct. A bury photo can never be corrected. Same with bigger aperture, you will get a smaller DOF, but if you understand how DOF works, and especially if you go with a wide angle lens, it still should be enough for most situations.

Take the shot more than once

When shooting handheld, always take every photo more than once (if possible). Even with the best light, you will have some of the shots blurry. Just having multiple shot, gives you much better odds, that one of them will be usable.

And if nothing works, be ready to take the shots very quickly, and than be thrown out. But I don’t really suggest that :).

To end this post, here you have two photos, both from the Frauenkirche in Dresden, one taken from the top while using the bean bag, the second one inside, taken handheld.

Dresden
Frauenkirche
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