Shooting in Low Light with the iPhone

October 30, 2012

Roger Waters - The Wall


This is a shot I took during The Wall concert up here in Seattle.  My girlfriend, a big Pink Floyd fan and I went to the concert and were lucky enough to get seated on the floor about 20 rows from the stage.  I took this with my iPhone 4S not expecting it to turn out, but with a steady hand and the HDR feature turned on, I think it came out fairly well.  Though I’m happy with the snap, it was very noisy as can be expected with such a small sensor and shooting in the dark.  I did run this through Topaz DeNoise in Photoshop before I posted it here to reduce some of the noise, nothing else was done to the photo.  Not bad for a photo to post to the web.

Remember, you don’t always need the top of the line photography equipment to get a great shot.

Great concert, by the way.

B&W Conversion of a Church in Budapest

October 28, 2012

St Stephens Budapest

In my last post I showed how to use the Adaptive Wide Angle filter in Photoshop CS6. For the example I used St. Stephen’s cathedral.  I decided to post the final image today which I converted to black and white.  I made that choice because I took this after the blue hour and the sky is completely black.  I used one of my favorite plug-ins, Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.0. I really like the ease of picking from one of the B&W presets in Silver Efex and then modifying the options and sliders to my liking.  For this image I chose the Fine Art Process preset and the only thing I modified was that I added a Film Type to accentuate the contrast; Kodak ISO 32 Panatomic X.  I like how this turned out in black and white.

Let me know your thoughts.

Adobe CS6 Sneak Peak #6 – Lens Blur

March 16, 2012

Here’s a peek from Photoshop Product Manager Stephen Nielsen of a tool that will add lens blur to any image without masks, layers or depth maps.



Photoshop CS6 – New Content Aware Features

February 16, 2012

Looks like there are going to be some amazing new features in the upcoming release of Photoshop CS6. The video shows a couple of really neat features around content-aware.


My Favorite New Photoshop Shortcut

February 8, 20111 Comment

I recently came across a Photoshop shortcut, I can’t remember where I learned of this little gem, but I’m grateful I found it.

Basically, if you make a selection and then click the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the layers panel everything will be masked except your selection.  If you hold the alt key on Windows or the option key on the Mac the opposite will be true, your selection will be masked and the rest of the image will not.


I get excited about the smallest things. Smile

Until next time!


Adding Dimension to Your Photos in Photoshop

February 1, 20100 Comments

You’ve just come back from a great trip and have a boatload of photos to process.   You’ve narrowed your cache down to a few really great shots for further processing and you want to make certain that the viewer’s eye focuses in on a particular part of the photo.   One way to do this is to shallow depth of field and direct the viewer’s eye in Photoshop.

The photo was recently taken in Cambodia by a friend of mine, Linda I’Anson.   You can see more of her great photography here:

Linda I ‘Anson Photography

I'Anson Photography

I really like the subject and the way Linda composed this photo, I just wish the depth of field was shallower.  My eye keeps wandering back and forth between the statue in the background and the darker statue in the foreground.  The statues seem to be competing to gain my attention.  I can tell by the focus in the photo that the statue on the left was the intended main subject and emphasis of the photo.

Photoshop to the rescue!

One way you can create the simulation of shallower depth of field is by using a blur filter in Photoshop.   Basically, I want to reduce the prominence of the statue in the background and make the focus the statue on the left, as initially intended.  Using a blur filter will also give the photo more dimension.

Original –

Cambodia - Before

Modified –

Cambodia - After

I probably could have added even more blur to the statue in the background, but as you can see it really gives the photo depth and causes the statue in the foreground to pop.  Since the statue in the rear is brighter, I also added a burn layer so it is not as prominent.

How did I do it you ask?  Well, it is really rather simple.  First I made a copy of the layer by clicking on Layer | Duplicate Layer…

Photoshop Layer menu

Then I added a Layer Mask.  You can add a layer mask by clicking on the icon that looks like a front loading washing machine in the layer palette, or from the Layer menu (Layer | Layer Mask | Reveal All).

Photoshop Layer Mask menu

Now add the blur.  In the layer palette, be sure the image in the layer  is selected.  It should be outlined with box as you see below.

Adding blur

On the Filter menu, click Blur | Gaussian Blur…

Gaussian blur selection

A window will appear similar to the screenshot below. Now adjust the radius for the amount of blur to obtain the effect you are looking to achieve.  At this point the entire photo will be blurry, but don’t worry, we’ll fix that in a moment.

Gaussian blur screenshot

Click OK.  Now we want to mask the statue in the foreground so the blur is hidden and the statue is sharp.  To do this we paint on the image with black with the layer mask selected.  Remember this, black conceals, white reveals.  Be sure the layer mask is selected or you will end up painting over your image!

Layer mask

Now select the brush tool, set the hardness to 50%, make sure black is selected and start painting over the section of the image where we want to conceal the blur we applied earlier.  If you make a mistake, you can switch to white and go over the area to reveal the blur again.

In Linda’s image you can see the mask that was applied revealing the foreground statue sharp and the statue in the background blurred.

Result of mask

If you want to apply some feathering and reduce the hard edge of the mask. you can blur the mask, but I’ll leave that to another lesson.

Until next time – Jim


July 21, 20090 Comments

Certain places just beg to be reproduced panoramically.    You just can’t do some scenes justice with a normal single frame photograph.  I’ve always been interested in panoramas, something about them mesmerizes me.  I guess it makes me feel like I’m experiencing the scene like I did when I was there.

There are a number of methods for taking the shots and probably just as many more methods of stitching the photos together.

You can take panoramas handheld, with a level tripod or with a special tripod head designed specifically for panorama photography.  Nodal Ninja and Really Right Stuff both make panorama heads and I’m sure there are numerous others.  These can be expensive, as with most camera equipment, but produce superb results.  The advantage is the camera can be set up perfectly level and the nodal point, optical center of the lens, can be set.  The Really Right Stuff site has a good explanation (  Currently, I take my panoramas with a tripod and a hot shoe bubble level, it seems to work fairly well, but I will eventually purchase one of the panorama heads.

I’ve used several panorama stitching software applications including PTGui and Photoshop.  My favorite is a free program developed by Microsoft Research named Microsoft ICE (Image Composite Editor).  You can download the program at he Microsoft Research site ( I recently used this program to stitch together a handheld panorama of Lake Powell down in Arizona.  The panorama was a total of 6 photos, 2 rows of 3.   I took the pictures fairly quickly as we were about to head back into town.  I didn’t really think it would turn out as well as it did.  As a test of ICE I renamed each photo and opened them out of order just to see if the program could figure out which photo went where.  A couple of minutes of processing later and out came a perfect panorama.

You can see a larger version here.


Until next time!


Removing Color Cast

June 7, 20090 Comments

I’m always looking for new ways to remove color cast from images. Sometimes the color cast can be very dramatic and sometimes very subtle, depending on light conditions, camera white balance, etc. Most of the time our eyes tend to compensate for the color cast, unless it is extreme. There are many ways to eliminate color cast at the time the photo is taken, you can use a gray card, set a custom white balance in the camera using something white or neutral, like an Expodisc, or even a sheet of white paper. Most of the time I use the white balance presets on the camera, for example, tungsten, flash or shady. The presets usually do a relatively good job removing the color cast, but not all.

Today I discovered a new way in Photoshop to remove the remaining color cast that the camera doesn’t when using the white balance setting on the camera. I can’t remember where I read about the method on the web, but it seems to work great.


Open the image you would like to modify and create a new layer.

You should now have the background layer and the empty new layer.

Photoshop layer1

Fill the new layer with 50% gray and set the blending mode to Difference. You photo will look something like a negative.

Photoshop layers

Now using the eyedropper tool, find the darkest black you can find. I find looking at the RGB values in the Info tab helps find the blackest black, or something close. A RGB value of 0,0,0 would be devoid of all color. Hold the shift key and click on this spot. You should see a target if you’ve done this correctly. I’ve drawn a red box around the target in my photo.

Photoshop difference layer

Now, discard the 50% gray layer.

Add a levels adjustment layer and select the gray eyedropper to set the gray point for the image. It may make it easier to set the “Caps Lock” to change the eyedropper tool to a target. You want to click on the exact pixel you chose above, then click OK.

Photoshop levels adjustment

Now the color-cast should be removed.

Here is a photo I took a while ago in Vienna, I removed a slight blue color cast.


Vienna bike rental image (before)


Vienna bike rental image (after)

Until next time – Jim

** Just wanted to let you know I found the person that originally created this process, Dave Cross. Dave has a great blog that I highly recommend.

Early Morning at the Tulip Fields

April 26, 20090 Comments
After much deliberation, I decided I would rise welllll before dawn to take my annual drive up to the tulip fields near Mt. Vernon, Washington to catch the early light. Of course, I never sleep well when I need to wake early for something special. My plan was to wake up at 4:00am and be out the door by 4:15, yes that’s AM! I had prepared and loaded all the photography equipment the night before so all I needed to do was to throw on some clothes and be on the road. The drive up was fairly uneventful, though dark the entire drive. I contemplated returning home several times to a warm cozy bed, but persevered. I noticed on the way up that the temperature was continuously dropping as I got closer to my destination, just above freezing. I’ve been on enough early morning shoots that I was prepared with a winter coat, gloves and hat. It can get pretty cold standing there waiting for that perfect light.I arrived around 5:30AM and found a few people already scouting out locations in the fields. I received a recommendation to visit this particular field because of the variety of tulips. I put on my boots, gathered my gear and headed out into the field where I set up my tripod and camera and composed a shot looking East. And waited. It can be like watching water boil waiting for the sun to rise, but when it did, it was glorious! That alone was worth the trip. I took a bunch of bracketed shots, thinking I would probably do something in HDR to compensate for the large difference in exposure. I didn’t last too long in the field, even with my gloves on, my fingers were hurting from the cold AND you can only do so much with a bunch of tulips.

I did find an interesting old school bus on the way out. I surmised I could do something a little extreme with some HDR processing and subsequent processing with Nik Color Efex, one of my favorite Photoshop add-ons. I usually try to keep my photos natural looking, but I thought this subject deserved something more to bring out the detail.

Private Bus

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