Category: Photography (page 1 of 2)

Tips, advice and experiences of photography.

Review — VSCO 4.4.1 for iOS and Android

Around three years ago, a new photography app hit the App Store. Called VSCo Cam, the app came from Visual Supply Company, makers of film emulation presets for Lightroom, ACR, Aperture etc. It was never meant to compete against Instagram, but that is how a lot of people saw it. (Some probably still call it the anti–Instagram.)

Today, with the recently released 4.4.1 version and renamed simply VSCO, the app stands as arguably the best filter for iPhone, but is really a full–powered editing suite and manual camera. Most use it in conjunction with all their mobile photography needs, not merely as an Instagram competitor. And with nearly a hundred million uses, #vscocam is Instagram’s most popular hashtag today. Competitor Snapseed has four million,  Afterlight has three.

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Photographic sharpness: an obsession

I somehow came across an article by Connor McClure where he talked about how far too many people blindly use VSCO filters to process their photographs and call it a day. What he said about VSCO is true (and is something I strongly believe in myself) — they are a convenience, and not much more than trends; and trends pass on. McClure says it best: “They are trendsetters, and I don’t believe in latching too tightly on to trends.”

In addition to filters in general (not to target VSCO, whose filters I use rarely, but do use nonetheless) there is another misdirection I feel we ought to address in today’s photography scene: mindless obsession over sharpness.

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Mountain roads: photo book in print, available on Amazon

Earlier this month I wrote about my new photo book, a simple 7″x7″ paperback featuring a collection of 25 carefully handpicked black and white photographs, revolving around the theme of mountains.

I do not quite remember where I read this, but someone advocated printing out your photographs — at least select ones — even in the digital era, because printed photographs have their own charm and heightened value (even if the latter is only in our minds).

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The Mountain Roads project

Having travelled a bit earlier this month, I have been spending the past couple of weeks wading through a few hundred photographs, picking, flagging, editing and storing away safely. In the process, an interesting idea struck me.

When I first began photography I had a deep love for black and white pictures. (One of my first serious photographs was black and white.) I still do, but having understood the complexity and weight of colours, I make many more colour photographs nowadays.

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Should you square-crop Instagram photos?

I’ve always believed that all photographs are unique. (In fact, one of my short films addressed this ideology.) And that means you cannot draw a common boundary that applies to all photographs, which is why, for the last tens of photographs on my Instagram, I’ve been posting full dimensions instead of square cropping my pictures.

I have always been strict that photographs must be seen the way the photographer intended, and when was the last time you intended a hundred of your photographs straight to all be seen as squares?

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Recently I decided it was time (after three years) to backup my mobile phone photographs. I only started taking mobile photography seriously after getting my Note 3 and that enthusiasm swelled with my iPhone 6 Plus. In all I had about 1,300 photographs made since I got my iPhone — just the photographs I wanted to save, the total number of photographs is greater. And I looked around for an ideal backup and storage solution with which I could maintain my photographs.

The first option a lot of people suggested to me was Loom, but that is not available where I live. (Loom happens to be US-only.) And then there was Everpix — was — which was free and shut down as fast as it became popular. In all honesty, Everpix was an excellent solution, but faced the biggest problem with cloud storage solutions: they shut down, mostly because they run out of money trying to give storage free. Lesson: never opt for free cloud storage.

Then I tried Picturelife about three months ago and still love it for a lot of reasons. Some readers asked me to talk about my experience with the product and how I went about moving my photographs to the cloud, so this is it.

Update: After this article was published and discussed around the web, Picturelife got in touch with me and offered a generous 20GB of additional free storage for life. Thank you. And here’s to Picturelife for being one of the top cloud storage solutions for all of us.

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Removing haze with Lightroom

Haze is a common problem those of us who make landscape photographs often face: a blurry, foggy… hazy, blanket covering vast tracts of land, intensifying as you move towards the horizon. Photograph a mountain and you will almost always notice haze blocking it.

Bumping up the contrast alone almost certainly does little to better such a photograph, and as it happens — unfortunately — there is no straightforward manner of removing haze in a photograph. For this demonstration, I will be using Lightroom, my go-to digital darkroom software, but the process should be similar in any alternative with equal capabilities (Photoshop, Aperture, Elements etc.)

To make things interesting, let us work with an example photograph — one I made a long time back, with our ever-present enemy, haze.

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Photography manifesto

Around this time last year I had presented to you my 50-point blogging manifesto. It signaled a change in my approach to blogging and almost a year later now, I am convinced it helped me and I am happy I followed it.

However, I have increasingly come to feel that my photography needs such a set of beliefs in black-and-white — hence this piece. But this is nowhere near as long as my blogging manifesto, but whether you are a photographer yourself or not — so long as art appeals to you — you might find this an interesting read.

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Using ICC profiles on Windows and Mac

Colours are a wonderful thing of nature, but only so far as our own eyes are concerned. When it comes to electronic devices, colours are only a range of binary digits, so a scale of some sort is required for, say, a computer, to interpret these colours.

In effect, what an International Colour Consortium (ICC) profile does is help your computer understand what colour you mean when you pass a certain electronic pulse signal.

Incompatible ICC profiles this can have a terrible effect on the work of visual artists — photographers, videographers, designers and the like — to such an effect that they may start looking like different photos or videos altogether on different machines and media. Here is how you can correct that.

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Phone and dSLR: multiple approaches for processing photographs

The debate between camera phones and dSLRs is as old as camera phones themselves, but I am not here to debate. Traveling briefly this past weekend, I decided to see how various approaches to editing a photograph made on a phone could best help it to compare with control photographs made on a dSLR.

These controls are not truly control samples in that they are photographs I made subject to my own vision. However, since I made the phone photographs subject to my vision too, any personal preference is assuredly nullified.

Read on to find out the test procedure, editing and other details followed by the results/my thoughts.

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Get started: the Quick Lightroom Guide

I know that everybody reading this article is either armed with a bunch of photos and a digital camera or is soon going to be. So I will get to the specifics really fast; but organisation dictates that we first clarify two things: the target of this article (i.e. what you will be able to do after reading this), and the scope of this article.

If you have the software already, fire it up and follow this Lightroom guide; if not, you could read it and return to it once you do have Lightroom. Lastly, some of the advanced stuff mentioned here may not be possible on older versions of Lightroom (before 5) but the basics definitely are. You can always skip the target/scope section if you wish.

Before we begin

1. After reading this Lightroom guide you will be able to…

Take a proper photograph you have shot in your camera and ornament it to better suit your vision.

More importantly, you will not be able to make bad photographs you shot magically look better. After all, photography is still inside your camera. But generally, you will be able to make your photos look more refined — like adding a second coat of paint.

My suggestion is that you always shoot RAW, not jpg, because — Lightroom or not — jpg limits what you can do while RAW gives you a lot more control and latitude over how your images turn out.

2. The scope of this article

Firstly, I will be talking about making a photograph in post (i.e. editing it). Secondly, I will talk about how Lightroom is laid out, generally how it works, and go over each and every module and adjustment and tell you how it helps your photograph. I will not use a photograph to demonstrate that because it will bias your judgement. That is why I suggest you turn on Lightroom, pick one of your own photographs and follow this Quick Lightroom Guide.

Lastly, I will talk about how I organise it with flags, colours, collections, smart collections etc. But remember, there is no single way to do this, and every photographer out there will tell you a million different methods. This is just what I have found works, and I share it with you hoping it works for you as well, or at least that it gives you a stepping stone to launch yourself with.

I will not go in-depth about printing, slideshows etc. because we will keep ourselves mainly to photo editing, not what you do after it. But we will still visit those capabilities briefly.

Part 1: The layout of Lightroom 5

Like all software, Lightroom has some terminology it likes to use. We will see most these as we go, but two of the most important ones you should be clear with are modules and panels.

Spot the file, edit, settings… menu at the top left of your Lightroom window? Remember that even those are contextual, meaning they will change depending on which module you are currently in.

For instance, in the Library module you may have the photo, metadata, view menus, which, in the Develop module change to photo, settings, tools, view menus.

1. Modules

When you open Lightroom 5, you find (top-right) that it is laid out in the form of seven modules: library, develop, map, book, slideshow, print and web.


Versions older than 5 may not have all of these, but library and develop are the backbone of Lightroom, and you will always find them in their places.

What I find interesting about this software is that at the very least, you can go through it in the order it has been laid out, if nothing else. You may want to move a few steps around, but if you are lost, a fallback is that you just do things in the order that they are.

2. Panels

All modules have four panels. They are at the top, bottom, left and right identifiable using their tiny arrows. You can open or collapse them using those arrows. When closed, simply hovering over the arrows will bring each panel back. Moving your cursor out will hide the panel once again.

For instance, in the library module, these are your four panels. (We will, of course, later go over them fully.)

Lightroom panels

The top and bottom panels (labelled 1 and 2 in the picture above) are common panels. They are present unchanged across all modules. The bottom panel simply lists your photos (filmstrip) with their star rating, tags, keywords, flags and colour rating (we will talk about all of those later). The top panel is your modules menu as we saw earlier.

The left and right panels change as required based on which module you re currently in.

Part 2: The modules

1. Library

Briefly: The left panel in the library module shows a small thumbnail of your current picture. Below it is your organisation structure. It shows your catalogue, folders, collections, and your import and export buttons common to all photos. We will come to these below when we discuss organisation.

On the right is information specific to the selected photo. It shows a histogram, keywords, meta data and comments option along with a quick develop menu.

In the centre, your photo may not show as a large single image but instead as a grid. Then the thumbnail is a helpful quick view. To view your photo large, click on it in the grid. It opens as shown in the picture above. To close it, simply click on it again.

2. Develop

On the left panel are preset, snapshot, history and collections sections, and on the right are those titled basic, tone curve etc.

This module is where you will shift your attention to a single photograph. The options on the left and right have been tailored to suit a single photograph, meaning whatever you modify will be applied to this photograph alone.

Since Lightroom is all about non-destructive editing (see box below) your edit history is stored in the history section, letting you jump back up to a previous edit point if you do not like how things turned out. You can also save milestones in your editing route, so to speak, as a snapshot, that will let you quickly switch between editing styles and strengths useful especially when you are lost as to exactly which of several looks to try.

Non-destructive editing refers to the practice of editing a file (a photograph in Lightroom, for instance) without touching the original. This lets you revert completely and start over should you need it, but, more importantly, your edits are stored as text files and rendered in Lightroom rather than saving edited originals or copies of originals, thereby saving you a lot of space.

Think about carrying around 1,000 20MB photographs, versus a single 20MB text file and no photograph at all. So long as your photographs remain in the same location, you can kick your Lightroom (.lrcat) file around like a football, and you will be doing just fine.

3. Other modules

As I already said earlier, I will keep this article strictly to photo editing and organisation and not what you do at the end of an edit. That means we will only be briefly touching up on the remaining modules. Map, print and slideshow modules let you geo-tag, print and create slideshows of you photos respectively.

These often use collections, so, if you would like to make a book out of certain photographs, put those in a collection and switch to the Book tab to have a pre-set basic book created on which to build further.

The Web module lets you upload to a site, export your photographs in a web-friendly manner in smal sizes with rich quality, email them, all with or without your watermark, identity plate and so on, including as much or as little of your information as you prefer.

An interesting feature of Lightroom I wish more people knew was the virtual copies feature. Instead of saving an edit as a snapshot and trying a new edit on top of that (we will talk about actual editing further ahead) you can create virtual copies of your photo itself. Being virtual, they take very little extra space if at all.

You can create a virtual copy by selecting a photo and going to the Photo menu (top left) and hitting Create virtual copies. (Or Ctrl + ` on Windows.) You can identify your virtual copy by spotting it right next to your original, styled with a small page-flap on the bottom left of the copied photo:

virtual copies

Part 3: Organisation in Lightroom

Step 1: Bring in your photos

Lightroom begins once you plug your camera or any other source in. This can be turned on if it gets annoying, of course. In any case, let us assume you have Lightroom running and your device/source plugged in.

In the library module, hit import and select your source folder and photographs. Often, the first time round, you are asked to set up import presets; anytime, however, you can use the options on your right under the Metadata setting to edit your presets or create new ones.

The import screen

The import screen

It is a good idea to set your copyright, name, and such details as those which are going to be constant across all your work. When importing photographs, on the right you have a batch setting keywording option where you can set keywords for all your photographs. For instance, if you shot in city X today and are moving to Y tomorrow, importing all your photographs from city X and adding, say, city X as a key word will save time on the long run.

Adding keywords and other details, apart from being useful while sharing, will help you search your Lightroom catalogue as well. Simply go to your Library, click on the text option at the top centre of the grid and then use the search box to look for photographs. This is, needless to say, very useful when you start accumulating a large number of photographs.

Step 2: The organisation structure

This is perhaps the most controversial section in this quick Lightroom guide. Every photographer does things a little differently, so I will try to map out a fairly generic route. Once you understand this, you will be able to follow the next steps better.

The broadest section of Lightroom is not a folder, really, but the catalogue itself. Think of a catalogue as your office. If you shoot fairly often, you can create a new catalog every year. That helps you start Lightroom anew every year with zero photographs and helps run things faster and makes searching easy.

If you shoot extremely frequently, especially in a professional capacity, making several photographs a day, you can even have separate catalogues for every month. You can have also have different catalogues for different cameras, or if you go on big projects, you can have a catalog per project.

Creating a new catalogue is as simple as going to File > New Catalog. You can also switch catalogs from the File menu (or Lightroom menu on a Mac) but switching catalogues forces Lightroom to restart.

Once your photographs are in Lightroom, its all about sieving out the good ones from the pile. You can use flags, rating, colours and even smart folders to easily pick the ones you will edit and get rid of the rest. We will talk about that in the next step, Rating and picking your photographs.

Finally there’s the editing, but we will skip that and go to filing your photographs by category, date, rating, keyword or all of these or a combination of any of these using smart folders in the fourth step. This is because I want to return to the actual editing process in full depth under part 4 of this guide.

Step 3: Rating and picking your photographs

Lightroom is famous for its ease of selecting your good photographs from your bad. We will go through almost all ways to do that. Often, photographers make several photographs of the same subject, with the same composition, or slightly different ones. Lightroom has some extremely interesting features to help you sort out: pick the ones you like and therefore want to edit; discard the ones you do not.

Start by firing up the loupe view. Do this by either selecting a photograph and clicking E or by simple double clicking a photograph. Make sure you are in the Library module grid view. The loupe view lets you see a single photograph on your screen. Get rid of the side panels to see a larger photograph.

The Loupe view

The Loupe view

At the bottom of this panel, you see five stars, i.e. Lightroom’s rating system. I usually let alone photographs to discard and give selects a one star rating. You can do something similar, but you can also leave stars alone and flag your selected photographs (or simply selects as many photographer call them). Do that by hitting on the flag next to the stars. Hitting on the flag with the cross will remove the flag.

You can also select two photographs in the grid (select one, then hold ctrl or cmd and select a second) and enter Lightroom’s compare view. Once you have selected two photographs, press C. This is very useful when, among other things, you have similar looking photographs than are best judged side-by-side. Here is an example, albeit between different-looking photographs:

The Compare view

The compare view of course gives you two sets of stars and flags for each of your photographs. Click on the candidate and use your arrow keys to move around and use different photographs for comparison. The same can be done with the select photograph on the left.

Once you have selected all your photographs, return to the grid view (click G) and you can now chose to discard photographs you do not want.

For instance, if you have rated selects with one star and discards with zero stars (i.e. left them unrated) then you could click on the fliters off option on the top right of the grid view in the Library module and, in the drop down menu that becomes visible, click on unrated. That will give you all your discards.


To discard a photograph, hit del. This gives you an option to permanently remove this photograph from your disc or just from Lightroom. I like to keep originals, so I only remove from Lightroom. Note the two terms used by Adobe here: generally, remove removes your file from Lightroom, but does not touch it on your computer itself; delete removes the file from your computer and hence from Lightroom as well. Alternately, you can right click and select Remove photograph or select all (ctrl+A or cmd+A) and do the same.

If you want to skip actually discarding, from the filters menu, click on, for example, flagged. That way, if you have flagged your selects, only your selects will be displayed and since you will not even see your discards, they will not come in your way.

Step 4: Organisation after editing

As I said before, we will talk about the actual editing process in the next section of this Lightroom guide (below) and we will talk about organising and filing your completed, edited photographs now. You can read the editing section and return here if you wish, or keep reading. It does not hurt either way.

If you are a professional, say wedding, photographer, you could arrange your photographs based on clients. For this guide I will assume you are a regular photographer who arranges your photographs by genre, perhaps. Either way, the methods stay the same.

1. Setting up smart collections

Lightroom’s biggest productivity boosters, especially after processing, are smart collections. These are virtual folders (they are not created, and hence do not exist, outside Lightroom) that will automatically file your photographs based on certain conditions. If catalogues are your office, think of smart collections as your filing cabinets.

In the Library module, click on the mark next to the Collections menu and select create smart collection.

Screenshot (155)

From here on, it is simply a matter of making your conditions exactly as you want them to be. When a photograph fits the conditions as you have chosen, it can automatically be found in the respective smart collection. Here is an example from one of my catalogues:

Screenshot (156)

Remember, you cannot delete photographs from within a smart collection because its is virtual. To remove, you have to do so from the All photographs section in the Library module.

Apart from this, you can always create a collection the same way you created a smart collection and manually add photographs. Perhaps you handpicked best photographs can go in one collection so you can showcase it as a slideshow straight from there or via the slideshow module.

2. Exporting

Hitting ctrl+shift+E lets you export one or many selected photograph/s. Hitting ctrl+alt+shift+E lets you export them with the same properties (e.g. location, dimension, quality) as the previous photograph/s that you exported. You can also use the file menu for this.

The export dialogue looks something like this:

The Lightroom export menu

The Lightroom export menu

Once again, most options are self explanatory, but the one you probably need to take advantage of is the Rename option. Using the edit… menu on the drop down next to the Rename to: checkbox, you are given an exhaustive list of renaming capabilities. Make up your own combination.

For instance, using {Date (YYYY)»}-{City»}-{Title»} will export your photographs with the naming format of year-city-title. For instance, 2013-Bern-Patent Office. The title is extracted from the title field under the Metadata menu on the right hand panel of the Library module.

You can resize, limit file size, monitor quality, chose to open the photograph after exporting and so on right here in the export menu.

3. Other modules

Once you have completed editing, another alternative is to use Lightroom’s slideshow, print and web modules to share your photograph. They are just as their names suggest: slideshows can be created right in Lightroom. You can select all your photographs that need to go into the slideshow, put them in a collection and then open the Slideshow module with that collection selected and all photographs in that collection will automatically be brought into the Slideshow module.

The same goes for the print module. Most of these justify guides of their own, so I will not be talking about them here. I for one rarely use these. The web module, however, is pretty useful if you want to let Lightroom upload all your photographs to the cloud one after the other. Many plugins are available if you want to upload to a service not built into Lightroom. To export and upload may seem inconvenient and unnecessary to some, so the Web module allows you to skip a step and upload straight to the web.

Part 4: Editing your photographs

This is probably the part you have been waiting for. So welcome to the powerful Develop module of Lightroom:

Screenshot (160)

Firstly, although Lightroom is laid out so proceeding sequentially on your adjustments panel is a wise decision, this either is sometimes unnecessary or complicates things. For now, we will only concentrate on the development panel on your right; we will come to the left-hand side panel later.

Secondly, everybody approaches post processing differently. Some do it with a feather, others charge at it with a battering ram. I fall in the former category, but I have, on occasion, processed to extremities to achieve my desired look. But at the end, this makes little difference: the procedure is pretty much the same; the difference is in how much of a change you make.

Lastly, I will use different photographs to demonstrate different concepts so that using a single photograph will not bias your own judgement down the line. That said, let us continue onto the basic panel.

1. The Basic panel

To demonstrate the usage of this panel, I am going to use a photograph that I recently edited only with the basic panel. Here is (the low resolution) RAW version converted straight to JPG:


This is a very powerful section of Lightroom, but that is arguable. What is pretty clear, however, is that these set of sliders are often the best starting points. This is what the basic panel looks like:


Most sliders are pretty simple to understand. Exposure alters your photograph’s exposure, although, if you ask me, you should have got your exposure pretty spot on in camera, otherwise it is time to spend some time learning to use your camera before you think of Lightroom. In any case, the exposure slider is there for some of those tricky situations or times when everything looked so perfect on your camera LCD but reality on your computer was quite far off.

I will talk about the contrast slider in a moment. Let us skip to the highlights, shadows, whites and blacks. Think of highlights as bringing over-exposed, blown areas into the safety zone (i.e. not cut-off by your histogram, unless that is an effect you are going for). The shadows slider does the same, but for the darker areas. The whites and blacks sliders, however, help you define the whitest white spot on your photograph and the blackest black spot so Lightroom can put all other shades of grey in-between those two boundaries.

Once again we will skip the clarity slider and discuss the saturation and vibrance sliders. The saturation slider is a master control for the HSL sliders we will see a couple of panels later, but what it does is make your photograph more colourful. Reds become redder, greens become greener and so on. The vibrance slider, on the other hand does the same thing but with some smartness. It only alters saturation for colours that are not already very saturated and it keeps well saturated colours as they are. Think of saturation and vibrance as coarse and fine tuning mechanisms.

Finally the contrast and clarity sliders: in actuality, these two do the same job, but with one major difference. Contrast varies the contrast on your photograph overall, while clarity varies contrast on a pixel-by-pixel basis, making neighbouring pixels contrasty and hence increasing “clarity”.

Working with the highlight and vibrance sliders, and making miniscule changes on the blacks and whites (no more than +/- 5) you can achieve this look:


As I said already, I like to make my photographs as close to my vision as possible in-camera, so my editing is pretty limited; but if it looks effective and gathers your curiosity — and if you like it — part of my job is done. The other part is satisfying myself, and that is the hardest bit.

2. Tone curve

While the contrast and clarity sliders do their magic on your photo (I personally stay away from the clarity slider because it often gives an unnatural look) but if you want even finer control on the bright and dark parts of your image and the greys in the middle too, the tone curve panel is your thing.


The tone curve has three parts, for practical purposes: the curve itself, the four sliders beneath it and the tiny white circle on the top left. All three are directly controllable. The sliders are the same as in the basic panel. The tiny circle is like a colour picker. Click on it and click and drag on any part of your photo: drag down to darken, up to lighten. But if you know what you are doing (and that comes easily with some practice) you can target the exact point on the curve and drag it around.

If you do not have any idea about the curve, however, use the others as the curve makes it easy to wreck your photograph. Generally, the lower part (the x-axis) is the lightness and goes left to right from darkest blacks to brightest whites (or shadows to highlights, if you will). The vertical pull (or y-axis) is how dark (pull down) or bright (pull up) all pixels with that degree of shadow or highlight will change by. Consider this photograph:


Using the tone curve alone, you can make it look a lot more effective, making the light on the trees a lot more obvious:


Just make sure when you use this panel that you do not overdo tonal curvature and lose all detail in your photograph and leave it looking like something a three-year-old clicked with its Fisher Price (which isn’t all that bad, really, but it isn’t a Nikon or a Canon or a Fuji or an Olympus or a…).

3. HSL and split toning

These two panels are pretty similarly aimed, so I decided to combine them into one.

HSL stands for Hue, Saturation and Luminescence. Alongside the HSL section, you notice a second option that says Colour and a third that says B&W for black and white. Colour is basically HSL, but, while HSL has colours under each section for H, S and L, the Colour section is divided by colours with H, S and L sliders for each colour. In essence, they are both the same thing.

Here are the two panels combined:


Do note that the adjustments I have shown above are mock. Often, you never have to make such extreme changes if you made your photograph well, but they are there just in case, for rare situations like I have described three paragraphs below.

The black and white slider automatically converts your photo into black and white and lets you make edits to that. There is very little to explore here that is not already clear: HSL, as I said under the Basic panel, is a finer control for saturation. With the saturation slider, you change all colours at once, but with the HSL, you target colours. Again, there is no mauve or lime, so you are limited to the basic colours like red, blue, green, yellow, orange, aqua, purple and magenta. You can, of course, make combinations.

The split toning basically lets you colour your highlights and shadows with a coat of semi-transparent colour. You can make you highlights all green-ish and shadows red-ish (I have no idea why you would want to do that, though) but the point is, for the right photograph, the right pair of colours can make a good impact.

But, more often, if you shot under tricky lighting and some awkward spill is colouring your beautiful white walls pink and you are unable to make it white without throwing off the white balance of the rest of the photograph, adding a green split tone highlight will, in effect, help you alter the white balance of only the wall and make it white again, while leaving the rest of the photograph untouched.

4. Details and lens correction

The next three panels have to do with the tinier but pretty important part of your workflow. We will start with lens corrections.


Every lens has curved glass; being part of a sphere, (recall your physics classes) the lens ends up distorting your image ever so slightly. Often, this is visible when you have curved lines in your image, but when you have no such guideline, it can be pretty hard to tell. Thankfully, Lightroom carries a bunch of camera corrections that come straight from the testing labs and are upgraded every time a new camera is out in the market. The lab-tested degrees and angles and types of distortion can be reversed with a single click. Usually, Lightroom identifies your lens for you; if not, you can do so manually and it will apply the adjustments. Here is an example with before+after animation of one of my older photographs, Red about everything red! Well, mostly the connections, but, yes, it is my favourite colour:


I know it can seem bulging when you look at it for the first time, but, trust me, observe carefully and you notice that the geometry in your photograph has actually been corrected.

The details panel is what many call sharpening. If you have shot well, you rarely need to sharpen, but what you may need to do is clean up noise. If you do like an over-the-top sharpened look, go for it.


Notice you have three sections here again: the first is dedicated to sharpening and the next two to noise reduction. The 100% zoom window at the top can be used for both.

To reduce noise, one must first understand noise. It comes in two types: noise due to wrongly identified light (at the pixel level) and noise due to wrong colouration (still at the pixel level). To correct this, identify which of the two noises are predominant in your photograph. The first type, often called luminescence noise is identified by randomly spread bright pixels. If these are what you need to get rid of, slide the luminance slider. Beware, though, because the only way to get rid of this noise is to get ride of and merge pixels, which means the farther you pull the slider, the more you lose.

One comeback is to use the details slider to preserve details, but this is at best a shot in the dark. The contrast slider has pretty much the same story. If you find random red, green, blue pixels etc., i.e. coloured ones, then you have a case of colour noise and you will have to use the colour slider. The detail works the same here. You have no contrast slider, of course, because you are altering colour here and not light as you did with the luminance slider.

Yet another comeback is to sharpen your image post noise-reduction, but this may increase the chances of artifacts all over your photograph. In any case, if you want to sharpen, remember to use the sliders extremely sparingly or risk white outlines all over your image.

Understand these well: the amount slider lets you specify how sharp you want an image to be and is mostly photo-subjective; the radius slider lets you specify how small a radius must be affected. Think about it this way: if you have a date palm in your photograph with leaves with tiny gaps between them, setting a radius size bigger than those gaps will make it such that those gaps are not sharpened.

Then, right below it, the detail slider (which, unlike the one in noise reduction, actually shows some effect) can be used to regain any detail by sharpening things in your photo. Holding alt lets you see how much of the detail is being affected and is another item that depends on the photograph. Lastly, masking is used to mask sharpened areas, i.e. not sharpen them. Think of a landscape with clouds and the like. You may want to sharpen the trees but leave the sky alone with its soft clouds. You can pull the slider around to set how much of the image gets masked; this way you can make your trees nice and sharp and leave the sky soft. To see how much is being affected, use the same trick as the details slider we just spoke of.

5. Effects and camera calibration

If you want to add vignettes to your photograph, the effects panel is the place to be. It is a self-explanatory section which is most definitely optional. In fact, you never have to open it if you do not want to. Vignettes can only be centre-directed, with adjustable mid-points and feathering (the hard or softness of the vignette boundary) and shape (circle, oval or in-between). Vignettes can also be highlight- or colour-priority, depending on what you want to conserve in your vignetted areas.


The next panel, however, is more important although less used by most people. Lightroom lets you use sliders by their 2003, 2010 or 2012 definitions. This is available under the process drop down. Unless you have been using Lightroom for so many years, there is no reason not to use the latest (2012) definitions.

Below that are profiles like camera landscape, neutral, portrait, standard and so on. It is advisable that you get used to your processing with this in mind, because (although you need not meddle with this) the six sliders below the profile drop down will determine the base points for all your other alterations. For instance, if the red saturation starts at +5 in profile X and you have processed your photograph with that in mind, and if you change to profile Y later, with the red saturation at +20, then you red saturation in the photograph will also get bumped up by 20 points, leaving you with a dangerously red photograph!

So pick your profile at the start. Bette yet, forget about this panel altogether if it intimidates you. There is nothing you cannot do without this.

6. Tools

Below your histogram, right at the top of your adjustments panel are a set of six tools. From left to right, they are the crop tool, the spot removal tool, the red eye reduction tool, the gradient tool, the radial gradient tool and the adjustment brush.

The crop tool crops into various sizes. When you click it, a panel opens with special menu items such as crop ratio and such. You can also rotate your photograph right here and constrain crop so white areas are not left behind after image rotation. Click the lock icon on the top right to enter and exit free crop mode where your selected crop ratio does not apply. Click the crop button again to crop and close. Since this is non-destructive editing, never worry, because you can go back and crop again and rotate again without losing your photograph.

Most of these other tools need to be learnt by experience, but here is a brief review: the spot removal tool erases things from your photograph. From Lightroom 5 and above, the spot removal tool can be dragged, so it is really no longer a spot removel tool, but, like a brush, can be drawn with. Want to remove an awkward electric pole, pick your spot removal tool and draw over the pole. (NB — You may want to try spot removal over small areas and then cover larger ones, because drawing over large areas will confuse the algorithm easily.)

The red eye reduction tool removes red eye (the red flash effect in people’s eyes when you make a photograph with your flash pointing straight at your subject).

The gradient tool adds a gradient. Click and drag to make a margin and feather, then change any property in the gradient tool panel that pops up on the side. Remember that the change in in the direction of your drag. For instance, if you click and drag from top to bottom and change exposure by +1, then the top bets over-exposed by +1 and by the end of the gradient line at the bottom, the exposure gradually falls till it reaches the default value.

For all those other adjustments in places that are hard-to-reach or correct, use the adjustment brush to click and paint over and then make adjustments that will affect only the painted area. Cannot see the area you have painted over? With the adjustment brush selected, press the letter O and it is highlighted for you in red. Press O again to turn the highlighting off.

7. The left-hand side panel

On the Develop module is a second panel we never touched, the Navigator/Presets/Snapshot/History/Collections panel:


The navigator lets you get a preview of an adjustment on a small screen like the one you see above, before you actually click the mouse and adjust the photograph itself. The history is a list of every click you ever made with regard to the current photograph. This means you can jump back to any point in the history of this photograph’s editing.

If you are fighting between two looks, unable to decide one, you can use the snapshot feature. Once you have completed one look, click the + mark next to the snapshot panel and add a snapshot with any name you like. Make a second alternative look and add a snapshot again. You can do this as many times as you want. With snapshots, you do not have to jump to specific points in the history section, but simply click a snapshot to view a snapshot of a saved point or look of your photograph.

Once you have made an edit, if you really like that edit and feel you will apply it to more photographs in the future, you can simply save it as a preset and apply all those changes with one click next time. Hit the + mark next to the presets section and name your preset, tick which properties you want copied to apply to future photographs and save it. Next time, just open your preset menu and click your preset to apply. By default, Lightroom has bundled several basic presets.

If you want to copy settings from just one photograph to another, you do not have to go through this process and save presets. Instead, click ctrl+shift+C to copy and navigate to the second photograph and paste the settings using ctrl+shift+V.

Concluding remarks

Lightroom, like photography itself, is very diverse. There are many ways to approach and use it and no one way is correct. I did not mention too many shortcuts here so as not to overwhelm you. (Besides, at close to 6,500 words, this quick Lightroom guide is pretty long!) But as you go, as you get a better hold on Lightroom, you will find that using shortcuts is more intuitive than you thought and makes your whole work faster. So keep this in mind: simply hit ctrl+/ (or cmd+/ on a Mac) to bring up this nifty list of all shortcuts in Lightroom, in the module you are currently in.

Screenshot (182)

Also remember that next to each panel, there is a switch in the Develop module. Look for white toggle button on the left of the panel title. Clicking that can turn on and off the effects of that panel; this way, you do not have to reset the settings and re-edit your photograph. You can simply toggle the edits of that panel on and off.

So long as you are in the Develop module, another interesting time-saver is the solo mode. I always use this. As you open one panel, if you do not close a previously opened one, you end up with several open panels and therefore lots of scrolling to do, which can get pretty irritating on the long run. Simply right-click (Macs ctrl-click) on any panel (e.g. Basic, Tone Curve…) and tick to activate the Solo mode. Now, whenever you open a section, Lightroom automatically collapses all others.

I suppose that covers it! This was means to be a quick guide, and it aimed at getting you started. Now that you have a firm footing, you can learn Lightroom through exploration. Visit the preferences menu (hit ctrl+, — that is, control and comma, or go to Edit > preferences) and there, customise Lightroom to your heart’s content.

Fundamentally, only experimenting will teach you about a software like Lightroom, so do not be afraid to experiment. After all, this is non-destructive editing, so whatever you do, you can undo it and try again. But, of course, if you need any help, drop me a word or if you found some way I could improve this Quick Lightroom Guide, do let me know.

I hope you enjoyed this short journey as much as I enjoyed writing it. I will try to keep this updated, but I cannot promise anything. In any case, have fun with Lightroom, but remember, software or not, everything still begins with the photographs you make.

 Cover image: Flickr/See-ming Lee 


Mobile photography, part 3: my return to mobile photography

My joy knows no bounds today because my camera phone (whose wrecked lens glass I wrote about a week or so ago) was finally repaired. Samsung’s customer service was a tad slow in mailing the part (“We don’t get many with that phone here” the man at the service desk told me) but once it arrived, fixing it was easy and lasted as long as a stroll around the nearby bookstore.

The daredevil that I am, I made my first (somewhat) proper photograph as I waited at a traffic signal on the way back:

The weather was gloomy so I cautiously decided to stay at home, but a little later into the evening, as the weather got brighter (or at least as bright as it could just before the sun set), I went for a pretty long walk and made several more photographs.

First of all, I was just glad to have a working camera. But just as important was making sure it worked perfectly, just as well as — if not better than — before it cracked. The exposure, focus and the whole shebang was spot on, and I was in a race against time to make photographs before darkness set in and noise conquered my screen.

In pitch darkness: this is no dSLR, but you cannot deny it is very impressive

In case you are looking for part one and two of this collection of short reports on mobile photography (and if you want to see more photographs), you will not find them labelled as parts but as Mobile photography and dedicated cameras: where do they lie? and More indulgence in mobile photography.


When necessity breeds good photographs

Voltaire said, “nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity”; but let me spare you a Voltaire lesson. I have not blogged for a short while now, but I am content because I am keeping in tune with my promise of slow blogging.

Having made very few photographs this past month, thanks to tight schedules, I had been (rather fortunately) forced to invest time mostly in making photographs with my phone until this happened:


I have no idea exactly how it happened, but I am waiting, right now, for Samsung to ship in a replacement glass (and — although unlikely — a lens, if it turns out that is damaged too). For the curious, this has thrown off exposure, focus and white balance, and it costs a fortune, so try not to wreck your camera.

Back to Voltaire now: I was reminded of this quote on the very last day of a short travel around my hometown. I never intended to go, but I did, solely because I wanted to (a) get out of the stuffy city air to clear my mind, and (b) make photographs. Mostly the second part.

That meant my time would be futile should I return without making photographs at all. Very surprisingly, I never made photographs until the last day and then I realised what I was facing was not a choice but a necessity. I had to make photographs to justify traveling for so long, and, like food and water, I realised photography is a necessity but also a pleasure.

We all make photographs one way or another, and it is wrong to assume that compulsion brings out the best in us. In fact, look closely and you realise compulsion only makes one believe whatever they have done is good enough because that is really their inner voice saying, “compulsion met, move on”. Don’t encourage that.

I sat down with my camera and opened up my photographs less than fifteen minutes ago (ten of which I spent writing this article, to be honest) and I was happy with what I saw. Because suddenly, my belief was crystal clear to none other than me (ironically): I may be pressed to make photographs to justify a trip, but really all I look for is one.

I have no idea how others look at it, but this is my approach, should you be interested in it: whether I go on a photographic rampage or several small walks, all-in-all, I only hope to have at least (and sometimes end up with only) one good photograph. Anything more is welcome, but there is usually that one which I suspect will stand tall for quite some time. Mostly till I return there a week, a month or years later.

I may be jumping the gun here, but this is the first one I made on my said travel, and so far (I am yet to see the rest, but so far) this is looking like it is going to be the one:

Photographic grittiness: justifying what we leave out of the frame

This is one of those Ah, I’ve figured it out! moments you get when you think you stumbled upon the key to a secret treasure. Only, there are so many of them that this becomes just another I think this is how it’s done… maybe? moments.

It is alright if you followed none of that, because that flowed unchecked from the back of my mind. But I think what I have come to realise in framing a photograph today will cause me to make a pretty huge turn in my photographic endeavours.

Oftentimes I am guilty (as I am sure you are too) of leaving out certain things from my frame for whatever reason. But I think only about 60% of the time or thereabouts we do this for a real cause: composition, light, the whole assortment of technical reasons.

And then, the rest of the time, we leave it out because we just do not like it. A hanging wire, a cracked wall, a broken pane, a stray leaf, and the list can go on. These have come to be subconscious decisions of cleanliness rather than aesthetic. A cracked wall, many of us believe, will somehow wreck out photograph; that it will somehow make our photograph look like it stemmed from a poorer locale. The same with a broken window pane, for instance.

What I notice about many people shooting a country like India, is that they attempt to make it look better than it is. Indeed there are parts of the country’s urban belts that are no less modern, high in tech or global than a so-called first-world metropolis. But the other side of India — the one National Geographic is so fond of showcasing — is something many photographers shy away from.

The best illustration I can think of is when I made the photograph below. I decided to make the place look alive more than photogenic. But then I went ahead and made this photograph of the same place anyway, as a more artistic twist. (You can always see more on my portfolio. Also, the large building here is an oriental carpets store — wow!)

To make it look good or to make it look alive

To make it look good, or to make it look alive

I am just as guilty of this as the next fellow. In fact, I have seen far too many people who decided not to shoot a doorway because it was so common, so mundane. Or a wrecked old tonga because — what’s interesting about a wrecked old tonga? I think this is answered in much the same way as why Mr N!xau’s character from The Gods must be crazy was so taken aback by a Coke bottle and why you and I are not.

However, what interests a global audience (such as the one your photographs are subject to when uploaded to the internet) is precisely that which we think is commonplace. A metropolitan skyscraper, except for its geometric identity, is far less awe-inspiring to a global audience (who have probably seen a skyscraper in their own city, to say the least) than a stray buffalo.

But nobody really up and shoots a stray buffalo on camera, because… buffalo?

Perhaps that was all extreme, but one thing I have learnt from looking at so many legendary photographers make photographs of India is that they showed the country as it was, not as they thought it would be. But, more importantly, India here is only a namesake. In general, in all of photography, I think if we paid a little more attention to what we photograph than what we think we are photographing, the results would surprise us.

Art photography is highly subjective, so I do not expect somebody trying to weave, say, minimalism (myself included) to adapt this approach 24×7. But when we are trying to depict a place (as we do every once in a while) we ought to try to show it as it is, albeit through the magic of our lens and our eyes, being careful not to repaint it altogether. This may seem similar to abusing Photoshop but, trust me, this is far worse.

So I for one will make sure I include that little element I was too quick to judge as a defect because maybe it will enrich my photographs like I never thought before. How ever your edits end up, it’s time your compositions are bold and gritty.


More indulgence in mobile photography

It seems that mobile photography has me awed. Not a long time back I wrote a couple of articles on the topic.

My points, then and now, were that making photographs with one’s phone has often been underrated, and we (especially we photographers) need to re-visit it. Perhaps we can even think of making our phones our secondary — or tertiary — cameras. As people have said far too often, the best camera is the one you have with you.

I indulged in some more photography these past days with my phone and thought of sharing the results here. You can see the first round on my Tumblr.

Processed with VSCOcam with se3 preset

2014-01-29 18.35.36

Processed with VSCOcam with a2 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with s1 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with se3 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with se3 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with p5 preset

I like mobile photography for precisely the reason many hate it: because it gives me very limited control, forcing me to focus not on my device mechanics, but instead on the substance in my photograph.

Keep photographing au portable.



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