Taking pictures on a bright sunny day presents all kinds of challenges for our photography. One of the biggest issues we find is with white areas because they tend to blowout and lose detail from the bright reflected sun. Shooting images in RAW format will allow you recover some of the lost highlights in software as long as you don’t over expose the scene too much.
I work with a lot of photographers who are afraid of shooting RAW because of the perceived extra workload required to process them in software. I understand this fear, especially for people who have never spent much time working with photographs on their computers. The prospect of learning a program like Lightroom CC from the ground up can be especially daunting.
If your photos are important to you, then I want to encourage you to spend time to learn a RAW processing program like Lightroom CC. This software package and others like it are very capable and aren’t too big to learn as long as you are willing to invest a few hours of your precious time.
One of the most useful tools in Lightroom is the highlight slider. You’ll find this slider in the Develop module and it is designed to help recover highlight detail from over-exposed areas in an image. Take a look at this example photograph of boats at a marina (below). I photographed this a couple weeks ago in my hometown of Gig Harbor Washington on a sunny morning.
The scene appealed to me because of the calm water that produced fascinating reflections of the boats. The second thing I noticed about this scene was a man eating breakfast on the back of his boat while enjoying the morning sun. Using my Nikon D800 and a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, I set the camera for matrix metering and took the shot.
When I returned to my computer and downloaded my images, I saw right away that the white areas of the boats appeared to be blown out. In other words, there was limited detail on the white paint because of the brightness of the direct sun. Since I always shoot my images in RAW format, I knew that I would be able to push back some detail into those bright white areas by moving Lightroom’s highlight slider downwards.
The highlight slider is a very advanced tool and does an excellent job with recovering delicate highlight detail. In general, you should feel comfortable moving the slider down to the minimum position (-100) without causing too much visual degradation of the picture. In previous versions of Lightroom, you had to be very careful with the highlights slider because you never knew what would happen to those highlight areas. In some cases, the areas we just turn muddy and you would lose texture in the image. With the new highlight slider in Lightroom 5, 6 and CC, you should feel comfortable moving the slider to just about any position from zero to -100 on the slider scale. There are some photos where adjusting the slider to -80 or -90 doesn’t look good, but you’ll be able quickly see where the photo starts to break down and then you can re-adjust the slider appropriately. My general approach is to move the slider to where it recovers all detail, then back it off just a tiny bit to retain the realism in the image.
For this picture of the boats, I did a few things in order to push detail back into the highlights. The first thing was to move the exposure slider down by -0.30. This reduced the overall brightness of the photograph, including highlights, midtones, and shadows. My next step was to adjust the highlight slider down to the point where I was able to push detail back into the white areas of the boats. In this case it was about -70 on the scale.
My next adjustment was to increase the shadow slider to bring back information in the dark areas of the scene that I lost when moving the exposure down. Finally, I increased clarity and vibrance to add a little bit of punch to the image.
When comparing the before and after of the image, the adjustments I made were subtle, yet significant. If I was going to make a print of this image, the unedited version would have been terrible because the bright areas of the scene would have no detail and the image would end up looking flat. By recovering the highlights, I was able to salvage the shot.
As many of you know, Nikon is eliminating their image editing program Nikon Capture NX2 and is replacing it with a new software package called Capture NX-D. They recently announced that they will cease supporting NX2 at some point during the summer of 2014.
If you are a NX2 user, then what how should you manage the photos you’ve created when support for the software ends? What software should you use moving forward?
Quoting from Jason’s website:
“In this episode of The Sensor Plane, I sat down with Mike Hagen, a professional photographer from Washington state, USA. Mike and I have both published books on Nikon’s Capture NX2, and were avid Capture NX2 users. We discussed the current state of Nikon NEF processing in light of the recent announcement that Nikon was dropping support for Capture NX2 and releasing a new product, Capture NX-D.
Mike and I discussed some options for current Capture NX2 users looking to move forward as Nikon transitions to the new Capture NX-D software.”
The March 2012 Out There Images newsletter is posted!
News this month:
– D800 or D4?
– Two openings for Galapagos
– Two New Books Shipping This Month
– Book Giveaway
– Stuff I Like This Month
– February GOAL Assignment: Purposeful Distortion
– March GOAL Assignment: Walking Zoom
– Digital Tidbits: What Camera Settings Affect RAW?
– Book Review: Ten Photo Assignments to develop your photographic skills
– Workshop and Business Updates
Yes, that’s right. Convert JPG to RAW.
In my workshops, I show how it is possible to do this using Nikon Capture NX2 as well other software packages such as Lightroom and Aperture. I want to state up front that what I describe here isn’t truly creating a RAW file from a JPG. Rather, it is converting the JPG into a file that allows you to make nondestructive changes to it. Fundamentally, what you are doing is taking a JPG, which is a lossy file format, and bringing it into a new architecture that makes it a lossless format.
After you convert the JPG into a RAW, it still remains at 8-bits per color channel, versus 12 bit, 14 bit or 16 bit per color channel for RAW files. Also, even though this conversion doesn’t allow all the flexibility of RAW files such as white balance, it is still a worthwhile process because you’ll be able to make all kinds of changes to the image without recompressing it each time you save your changes.
How it Works
I use Nikon Capture NX2 and Adobe Lightroom in my workflow, so I’ll talk about both of them here.
In the case of Nikon Capture NX2, open up a JPG photo that was taken by any camera. Make any changes you want to it such as New Steps, Color Control Points, Hue, Saturation, Nik Color Efex Pro filters or anything else. Then, save the file as a NEF/NRW. The acronym NEF stands for Nikon Electronic Format and NRW stands for Nikon Raw.
This action takes the JPG and then writes the settings into an instruction set that only Nikon Capture NX2 can read. If you open the image in Nikon Capture NX2 in the future, then you can change or modify all the adjustments previously make inside NX2. If you want to remove an adjustment or even perhaps convert the image to black and white, then you simply make those changes with no detrimental effects on the image. After you are finished working on the image, if you save it again as a NEF, then the save is nondestructive. You don’t degrade the original JPG image because you are actually just saving instructions for Capture NX2 to read.
Lightroom (and Aperture) work in a similar, but slightly different way. If you import a JPG image into Lightroom, then make a bunch of changes, it saves the instruction set with the original JPG as a sidecar file. This sidecar is called an XMP file and all the instructions are encoded here for future use in Lightroom.
What I described above does not apply to Photoshop. For example, let’s say you open a JPG in Photoshop and make changes to it. If you save that JPG over itself, then the changes are applied directly to the file AND you will recompress the data. Therefore, this action is a “lossy” save and will degrade your image (albeit slightly) over time. My recommendation for working in Photoshop is to use the Save As command so you keep your original JPG untouched.
One more point I want to make here regarding this idea of converting your JPG into a “RAW” file. This conversion is only visible inside the original host program. In other words, if you convert your JPG into a NEF inside Nikon Capture NX2, then try to open your new NEF inside Lightroom, you won’t see any of your NX2 changes. This is because Lightroom uses different instruction sets than NX2. In fact, neither program can use the other program’s instructions. Kind of a bummer, but that’s the current reality.
Over the last month, I’ve been having all kinds of problems with corrupted photographs. I first noticed it after I returned from a big workshop I ran in September, 2011 in the Olympic NP, WA. I found that a few NEF pictures had a vertical line through them and that half of the image had shifted “up” by a few pixels. At first, I assumed the problem was with the CF card I was using, so I took that card out of my photo bag just in case it was bad.
A few weeks later, I found the problem again. However, this time it was on a JPG. Then, the problem started to get much worse. I found that approximately 5% of my photos appeared corrupted no matter what camera body or memory card combination I used.
So, I started testing to see if I could figure out where the problem originated. First check was my cameras. I never saw any corrupted files on the LCD panel of my Nikon Cameras, so felt that these weren’t issue.
Next was to see if it was a specific CF card. I had corrupted files from all of my CF cards, so it wasn’t a single card problem.
Next was to determine if it was a software issue. My workflow is to ingest my files through Photo Mechanic where I then add copyright and keyword metadata. I ran a test where I brought the photos into my external disk drive through Photo Mechanic and then a separate test where I moved them manually through drag and drop. In both cases, I had corrupted files. Hmm.
Next was to determine if the problem was with my card reader. I use a Lexar Pro CF/SD UDMA card reader and I had heard that there are some incompatibilities between certain card readers and Mac computers. So, to eliminate this as a cause, I moved files to my external drive with the card reader and then again with a direct USB connection to my Nikon D700. In both cases, I had corrupted files.
Ok, at this point, it was clear that the problem wasn’t:
– Card reader
I began to suspect that the problem might be my external disk drive. I’m currently downloading images directly to an OWC 2TB Mercury Elite Pro Quad interface external disk drive. This drive allows me to connect it to the computer via one of four methods: USB, Firewire 400, Firewire 800 or eSATA. My standard protocol is to keep it connected to my MacBook Pro via eSATA. I use an eSATA Express 34mm adapter that plugs into my Mac.
The next series of tests was to download files to my computer’s desktop and then do another download to my external hard drive. The files downloaded to my computer desktop via USB card reader had zero corrupted files. The same files downloaded to the external drive via eSATA connection had two corrupted images. Aha! It was looking like it might be my external hard drive.
It took one more test to get to the bottom of the problem. I connected the same hard drive to my computer via USB (rather than eSATA) and did the download test one more time. This time, I had zero corrupted files.
I called OWC (Other World Computing http://www.macsales.com) and told them my predicament. They immediately said that there was a specific incompatibility with my Express 34mm eSATA adapter and the model of MacBook Pro that I use. For some reason, the chipset for MacBook Pro 5, 1 (five comma one) has problems with some models of Express 34 eSATA cards. OWC said that they would replace my eSATA card with a new one and I’d be up and running within a week.
What a relief. It is really hard to be a professional photographer when you can’t trust your tools. Knowing that I might or might not get corrupted files from any of my cameras at any time, really put the damper on my photography. The kind people at OWC were wonderful to work with. I also talked a bit with Photo Mechanic (http://www.camerabits.com) and they were extremely helpful in helping to troubleshoot the problem.
Now, I’m still using the external hard drive, but I have it connected via USB or Firewire. Once the new eSATA adapter arrives, I’ll go back to high-speed data transfer.