Flares are one of those things that can add to a photo, but usually you don’t want them. Especially if you are doing a nice landscape shot, flares can completely destroy your photo. There are multiple ways of avoiding them and removing them, so lets take a look at those.

Behind the camera Just a shot of my camera :)

Avoiding lens flares

The best approach is to avoid lens flares in the start. This is not always possible, but few simple steps will help you.

1. Use a lens hood – even if you think you don’t need it. Lens hoods are specially designed to block stray light getting into you lens. And that’s exactly the light you need to avoid. Also when you are doing night photography, a lens hood can help you avoid stray light from street lamps and similar sources.

2. Be aware of the suns position – when shooting landscapes, you should always take into account where the sun is. If its anywhere else than behind you, check for lens flares. You will not see them through the viewfinder, but they will be visible in live view. You can even take a test shot, to check for them.

3. Don’t use filters you don’t need – this is especially true for UV filter. These filters can create much more flares, than you would have without them

4. Get a better lens – I know this is not cheap, and should not be your first approach, but better lenses catch much fewer lens flares than the budget ones. They have special coatings that prevent this.

Removing them using Photoshop tools

flare-photoshop

If you didn’t managed to avoid them, and you don’t like to have them in your photo, you can remove them in Photoshop. Photoshop has many tools for photo retouching and some of them can also work on Lens flares. The most useful are Patch tool, Healing brush tool and Content aware fill. In a way, they all work the same, you just select the area you want to replaced and then either move it over a clean area (Patch tool), Fill it using content aware fill (Shift + Backspace and select content aware fill) or you paint over using the Healing brush. This works well only in some cases, having a flare over a very detailed part of the image can cause problems in retouching.

Here you see an example of this. I used the Patch tool to select the flare and drag it over the area to the right. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be absolutely accurate, because with the size of photos, any error you leave will be only visible at 100%, so not even if you print the photo.

Blocking the sun

An advanced approach to dealing with lens flares, is to prepare for their removal right during the photo shot. This works for photos taken from a tripod, not so well for handheld shots. What you need to do, is shade the sun with your hand (or something dark) if its to the side of you camera, while taking the shot. If the sun is in your shot, than take two shots, one normal and one with your hand in front of the sun. This two should have the same settings, as you will need to merge them later. This works best if you are in Manual mode. Here you see an example of two such shots:

flare-example-1
flare-example-2

These you can then load into separate layers into Photoshop and easily using layer mask (check my tutorial on those here) correct the problem. Be careful with the color cast, as the shaded photo can be a little colder than the one with the sun. This can happen even if both photos have the same white balance and it  has to be corrected.
flare-blend

If you are doing a HDR bracket series, you do the same, you just take one series normally and one series with your hand in front of the lens. You usually need only one photo with the shaded sun, It just hared to say which one, so its better to take the whole series. Here you can see a sample series of this:
flare-set

After that you continue as before, jut merge the normal exposures as you want (Oloneo, Photomatix, Manual blending) and then repair the lens flares from the shaded shot.
flare-blend-2

And here you can see the finished photo, nice and flare free :)
The setting sun in Bratislava

I prefer the third method, which gets all my photos flare free. I hope you find this guide useful, and if you have any questions, feel free to ask.

And here you have a video where I go through all of this together in one spot :)

On one of my recent posts, I got a question from Per Kaer why a lot of my photos use a big aperture (just to clarify, small number means big aperture, big number means small aperture), and since this is something I seen in many photography tutorials and books, I thought I clarify this in detail.

If you read any landscape photography tutorial, you will usually find that you should use an aperture of f11-f13 or even smaller, just to get everything sharp and in focus. But if you think about it, and learn how DOF (depth of field) works, you can get a good sharp photo even on a f2.8. And if you shoot a lot of evening and night shots, as I do, shooting at f11 just takes horrible amounts of time and the good light fades always really quickly.

So here are few points about sharpness and DOF, you have to think about when shooting:

1. Try out manual focusing. You can have the best camera out there, but it will never be able to focus in all situations. For instance in total dark, if there is at least a single light source in the scene, you still will be able to focus manually, by using a live view and zooming in onto the light. Also you know what you are taking photo of, not your camera

Rainy evening in Ljubljana

2. Focus 1/3 into the scene. That means that everything in focus, will be split into 1/3 in front of what you focused on and 2/3 behind. This gets some time to use to, but after some practice it will be natural for you.

3. The further something is from you, the bigger DOF you will have. So if you shoot a landscape that is far away, you can use f2.8 and it still will be in focus. For instance in the photo on the left, the city is quite far away from me, so apperture f4 was still enough to get everything in focus.

Franciscan Church in Maribor4. The wider the lens you use, the bigger the DOF will be. So if you use anything under 24mm (this is on a full frame camera, if your has a cropped sensor, please multiply yours by the cameras crop factor), you will get a reasonable DOF on f5.6 or bigger. For instance most of my indoor shots (like the one yesterday) are at f5.6 or f6.3 and I still have the whole room in focus. For instance in the photo on the right, apperture f6.3, but a wide angle used, so the whole church is in focus.

5. Most lenses are sharpest around 2-3 stops bellow there maximal aperture. That means a lens that is f2.8 at the maximum, will be sharpest between f5.6 – f8. For instance I know with my Canon 16-35 F2.8 that if I use f5.6, the photo is much sharper, than if I use f11.

6. Go for a small aperture only if you really need it. I can think of two situations here. One is you want to create stars from all the lights in your shots. So the smaller the aperture, the more distinct they will be. The second situation is when you have something close to you and you want it to be as sharp as objects far from you (I personally go with focus blending here, but just using small aperture is easier). But still think about it first, as small apertures introduce defractions and you gain a bigger DOF, but overall you will loose sharpness.

7. Smaller aperture means longer exposure time. And if you don’t use a custom firmware, it can also mean higher iso, as you have to compensate for the very long times. I almost never go higher than ISO 200 and rather go for a bigger aperture. Also I hate waiting for minutes for a single series to finish and if you use 5 or 7 brackets it can get into minutes very quickly.

There is one time when you have no choice but to use a smaller aperture, and that is when there is a lot of light available. In that case, you have no other choice, as the minimum time for a shot is limited by the camera hardware (usually something around 1/4000s).

Feel free to ask if you have any questions to this :)

You can’t start doing anything with Luminance masks without first understanding masks in general. The concept of masks is very simple, but can give you problems, when you are only starting with them. So lets take a look at them.

Photoshop layers

Lets go from the start. Everything you do in Photoshop, you should do in layers. This means that all you modifications are stacked up onto each other and you are looking on them from top, seeing just whats on the top.

In Photoshop you can see your layers on the right side (by default), and there you can also find the new layer button in the bottom right.
photoshop-masks-01
Let’t see how they work. If we create two layers, one filled with green and one with red, we will see that the image wee see is just the top layer, with the bottom one being completely hidden.
photoshop-masks-02
You can also move the layers around, and you will see that you always just see the top one (you can’t move the background layer, but if you double click on it, and confirm the dialog that opens, it will be changed into a normal layer).
photoshop-masks-03

Layer masks

Sometimes you need to see more than just the top layer. And this is where the mask comes in. You can imagine them as templates, showing where the layers should be cut out. Lets add a mask to the top layer using the add mask button in the bottom right.
photoshop-masks-04
And as you can see, nothing changed. This is because the the mask is white. White means that it’s empty. If we stick to the cutting template, white means – nothing cut, black means – hole. If we make the mask completely black, we wont see the layer at all, as we cut out everything. To make your workflow quicker in the future, you can remember that if you hold Alt while clicking the add mask button, the new mask will be filled with black.
photoshop-masks-05

You can work on the masks the same way as on a normal layers. All the tools work there. When we take a brush and just make a big black dot in the middle, we will just see through the area that is black, and for everything else there is just the top layer. So it looks like we cut out a big hole in the top layer.
photoshop-masks-06

A little side tip. If you just want to see the mask, hold the Alt key and click on it. If you want to disable the mask, hold the Shift key and click on it. If you just want to select it, just click on it. A selection rectangle will be shown around it.

Gradual masks

Until now we only used a white and black masks. But what happens if we used a shade of grey? The top layer will be added to the bottom one, based on the brightness of the grey we used. The darker the grey, the less will be added, the brighter the more. You can also think of it like this. The closer the grey is to white, the less its see through, the more it is to black, the more it’s see through.

Here you can see the effect of white, different shades of grey and black. The darker the color, the more of the bottom layer you see.
photoshop-masks-07

This graduation is great, when you need a soft transition between two layers. Using a gradient, or a soft brush here, will make the transition soft, more natural looking.
photoshop-masks-08

Image blending

Even with these basic masks, you still can blend you images. It works great for photos where you only need to replace a specific part, like the sky and don’t have any complicated structures.

So let’t take these two photos as an example. Let’s say I like the sky from the darker shot and the buildings in the lighter shot.

photoshop-masks-09 photoshop-masks-10

What I can do, is to load these two images into Photoshop, and move one into other, so I have them both in two separate layers.
photoshop-masks-11

Now if I add a layer mask to the top one, and start painting in it, revealing the bottom one. And since the horizon is quite straight, I can get a quite even blend here. If I go to much, I just switch the brush to white and remove parts of what I painted. Or I can change the transparency of the brush, to make it softer.
photoshop-masks-12

And here you can see the mask I used
photoshop-masks-13

You can also create a selection using any of the selection tools (lasso, magic want …) to limit where you paint. For instance here I could have selected the sky with the magnetic lasso tool, and paint after that, so I know I won’t paint over the buildings. Lumiance masks are an advanced way of getting these selections, and in the next part I will show you how to create them.
photoshop-masks-14

And that’s all about masks. I hope this made sense and if you have any questions, feel free to ask.

One of the steps I do almost in each photo post-processing is adding a little bit of glow to the photo. Glow softens the photo, adds contrast and saturation and overall makes the photo more pleasant to the eye.

There are multiple ways you can add glow to your photos (for instance Glamour glow preset in the Color effex pro plugin), but I personally prefer to do it just using Photoshop. It’s very simple and requires only two layers to apply. I went step by step in my description, but for those who are lazy to go through it, I also created a Photoshop action for you, which does all of this for you. You can download the action from here:

HDRshooter glow Photoshop Action

So lets take a look at this photo (I suggest clicking on the photos to see them bigger, to see the difference better):

glow-0 glow-25 glow-50

The first one has no glow added, the second one has the glow on 25% and the third one on 50%. You can see the difference in contrast, softness and color here. You can also see that glow will darken the very dark areas and brighten the very bright areas, so this is something one has to take into account here.

How to add glow?

So how do you add this glow. Lets start with a photo in Photoshop:
glow-01

Our fist step is to duplicate this photo (if you have a file with multiple layers, just merge them into one new layer). To duplicate, right click on the layer and select duplicate layer
glow-02
glow-03

Next select the new layer and blur it. Gaussian blur works very well here. I usually go for a 30px blur, but it greatly depends on the size of your image. For my 20Mpix images, 30px works well. If your images are smaller, you should use less blur, for bigger images you can use more.
glow-04
glow-05

Now we have to change the blending mode of this layer. While the layer is still selected change it to soft light
glow-06

You can see the photo now completely changed, but it a little bit to dark, so we need to brighten the effect. I use for that a new adjustment layer. You can use anyone, but I prefer Curves, as I can add more contrast if needed. So choose new adjustment layer and curves
glow-08

And then change the blending mode of this new layer to screen. This will brighten everything under it by one stop.
glow-09
glow-10

The result is now better, but the curves layer effects everything under it, and we need it to just effect the glow layer. To do this, right click onto it and choose Create clipping mask.
glow-11
glow-12

As a last step we need to change the opacity of the glow layer. The higher, the stronger the effect is
glow-13

You can also add a layer mask to the glow layer, and only paint it onto the areas where you want it (or remove it from the areas where you don’t need it).

And that’s all. The photo now has a nicer contrast, nice glow and much richer colors. It can happen that the photo will be a little to dark after this, but that’s can be easily corrected.

Feel free to ask any questions and don’t forget to download the provided action :)

HDR panoramas

As I started shooting panoramas and HDR panoramas, I was trying to find the best workflow how to combine the photos into a panorama. I seen two main approaches to do this. First one is to first merge/blend the HDR image for each part of the panorama, the second is to first combine the panorama and do the HDR processing later. After a lot of experiments, this workflow worked the best for me.

I will be using Lightroom and PTgui in this guide. If you want to know how to do the same thing using Autopano, please view this HDR panoramas with Autopano guide.

Select the photos you need

First find all the photos from the panorama, you want to use. Select them all in Lightroom and choose develop.
pano01

Enable profile correction

In the develop module modify any settings you need (noise reduction, white balance and similar) and then under Lens correction/Profile select Enable profile correction. This will remove lens distortion and lend vignetting, which will make the the blending of the panorama shots together easier and you will avoid having shadows where the blends are.
pano02

Remove chromatic abberations

Under Lens correction/Color select Remove chromatic abberations. This is not required, but it’s much easier to remove them now, than to try to do it later. After that, choose the Sync button and sync all the settings to every selected photo.
pano03

Export the images

Now you can export the images. Choose File/Export. I suggest choosing a new folder, where all your images will be stored. Then so you have the best quality export, choose Image format as TIFF, ProPhoto RGB and 16bit colors. Hit export.
pano04

you will end up with all your images exported as 16bit TIFF files in the folder you selected
pano05

Load the files into PTgui

Now open PTgui and load all the exported images into it
pano06

Choose Align images

You don’t have to wait until all the image previews are loaded, just hit Align images
pano07
Now you will be given an option if these are HDR brackets or not. If you don’t get this options, there could be multiple reasons for it. Either you don’t have all your brackets loaded (e.g. you have one 5 bracket series and one 4 bracket series loaded) or the exif data does not match (e.g. one series +2ev is 20s, the second is 25s). In this case PTgui will not be able to combine them. Just try to add the missing brackets, or remove the ones where the exif does not match and you are good to go.

If you shoot your brackets from a tripod, choose the first option, if handheld, choose the second. You can have any HDR method selected, as we will not use PTgui to merge the HDR.
pano08

Correct your panorama if needed

Once the alignment is complete, you will see a preview of the panorama. Here you can correct the alignment of it. I suggest looking through the PTgui tutorials on their page to learn more about it. But usually you don’t need to do anything. Once you done here, close this preview window and choose Create panorama.

Btw. don’t worry if the photo here looks strange. PTgui can’t display 16bit files, so the colors and contrast will be quite bad. But our goal here is just to get good panorama alignment, nothing else.
pano09

Save blended planes

Once you hit Create panorama, you will be presented with this dialog. Here you have to choose how you want to save your panorama. You should select:

  • click Set optimum size and choose Maximum size
  • select TIFF as file format
  • click the format settings and choose 16bit, Packbits compression and no alpha channel
  • choose blend planes
  • click on Create Panorama

pano10
Now PTgui will save your panorama. We have chosen blend planes, so each brightness level is saved into separate file. This takes usually a lot of time, but after it’s done, you will end up with the same number of panoramas as you had the number of brackets for your HDR.
pano11

Continue with your HDR

Now you can continue as if you combined a normal photo. You can use any technique to combine this shots. Tonemapping in Photomatix, manual blending in Photoshop or any other. Just be prepared that if you have a slower PC, this will take a long time, as these panorama photos are very big.

I personally finished this photo with manual blending in Photoshop
pano12
and got this final image
After the rain in Prague

Hope you find this guide helpful and feel free to ask any questions

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