Content Aware is Magic

By Mark (1 Sept 2015)

“Photoshop is magic” is how a lot of people feel about some of the features within this powerful application.  One of the reasons why PS remains a critical part of a workflow is the ability to add and delete things from images. Doing this realistically has long been one of the signs that someone “knew what they were doing”.  Back in the day, (which was a Wednesday), when you wanted to cut something out and replace it, you used a lot of clone stamps and layer masks or the patch tool.  Most of the time it created a muddy impression that something wasn’t quite right. 

A few versions ago, Adobe introduced the first of their “Content Aware” tools.  Basically the engineers at Adobe figured out how to smoothly sample the environment around where an object had been located and then match the image in content, texture and shading.  With each release they have improved the capabilities and we are going to discuss a few of them.

The first and most basic was content aware fill.  For those areas which were missing content, you could select the blank area and enough of the area you wanted it to sample and it would fill it in.  This was often handy in when you shot panoramas free hand. Sometimes you might miss a corner of sky or foreground like this.

Fixing each corner or just cropping the image were your recovery choices.  Now they have added an option in the merge to panorama menu itself.  This little checkbox will cause it to do the magic on its own. 

They have also added the ability to do “Content Aware Move” when you need to relocate an object from one area of our image to another.  It is now a two-step process instead of the multiple stages it took before.  Just select your object—like this cow.

elect the tool from the healing brush menu option and drag it to your new spot.

It allows you to scale the object as appropriate.  It then fills in the hole you left.  As you can tell, this cow really moooooved.

Finally, they have added the ability to scale images.  I’m going to show the basic capability here, but will use next week’s blog to show the more advanced features.  If you need to make your photo fit a larger or smaller format you can use the Free Transform tool and shrink or enlarge it.  That’s great if your size is proportional to your original image.  If not then your picture looks squished or stretched. 

In this picture, I wanted to make the photo 10% larger but only on one side.  Select the Content Aware Scale menu and just drag the image to where you want it.  PS actually samples the background and creates new content keeping the image looking natural.

Nifty stuff, but what happens when you have things which can’t stretch or shrink?  Stay tuned for next week.  Don’t forget to join us for the Worldwide Photowalk on Saturday October 3 in Culpeper, VA.  Sign up on

Process Your Photos

By Roger (30 August 2015)

I have always enjoyed the post-processing part of photography. When I began, I bought an enlarger and darkroom equipment, so that I could print my photos the way I wanted them printed. The move to digital made things much easier (and faster). Now, I can edit a photo to death, in the comfort of my office.

New photographers can be intimidated by post-processing because they've heard the software is complicated. They have a hard time figuring out where to begin. They open Lightroom and Photoshop, and the screen just stares back at them. It seems to be saying, “You have no business in here, rookie.”

So, how do you get started? Well, you don't have to. Mark and I blog about how to do this or that, but there is no rule that says you must do post-processing on your photo. Keep in mind that these tools are there for your use. Use them a much or little as you want.

For some photographers, this gets to be a religious argument; they proudly announce they never do anything to the image. I'm not sure why this is so important to them, since photographers have been tinkering with camera settings; using certain films or digital camera profiles; and choosing the framing of the subject since the dawn of photography. Not only do I enjoy post-processing, but we wouldn't have much to blog about, if we didn't go a little deeper. In any event, I believe you should begin your editing with the elements that are most important to you.

When Lightroom first appeared, I was not interested in its post-processing capabilities; I wanted the organizational aspects of the program. That was my primary concern, so that's where I began. Since 1980, I had been recording all my location, subject, and date information on 3x5 cards, for each slide or negative, Lightroom organization came to me easily, and all the additional post-processing capabilities were a bonus. If you only used Lightroom for organization, you'd already be ahead of most people who make photos and then leave them, sad and unattended, on a phone or hard drive. I think you should do more than that, but I'd understand.

Let's assume you want to know how to do more than just record the data about your photo, which is now, automatically, collected for you.

Sunrise in Newport, RI

I always recommend you begin with the easy stuff. If you've properly exposed the image in your camera, there won't be much to do but adjust the sharpness, and, maybe, make a color balance correction or adjustment to the vibrance. That's all that was done to the photo, above. I framed the photo before the paddle boarder walked into the beam of the rising sun. Later, I may want to take the sailboats out of the photo, to make it simpler, but I'm not sure. I think they add to the photo.

If there is more you want to do, you can learn the part of the tool that will help you accomplish what you want. You don't have to learn everything at once. I've been working and teaching these programs for almost ten years, and I'm still learning.

One of the easiest tools to learn in PhotoShop is the clone tool. This is the best tool to remove some unwanted garbage that you couldn't avoid or that you missed. I recommend you put your cloning on a separate layer, so you can go back to the original if you make a mistake.

Unwanted trash can, at Virginia Beach

Trash can and pole removed

It helps to pick an easy example, like this one. You can sample the sand and blend it over the pole and the trash can. You will do a better job if you pay attention to areas that are close to your cloning subject. This keeps the depth of field and lighting consistent. Sample from several places to prevent repeating patterns. Once I had the distractions removed, I reduced the vibrance slightly to make the photo moodier.

As your editing skills improve, you can go to resources I cited in my last series of blogs. If you can identify the things that are bothering you in your photo, you can find the solution. One thing at a time. You'll learn the best order, or workflow, as you discover the solutions. Move at your own pace, and don't worry about mistakes – this is supposed to be fun, right?

The logic of layers, in Photoshop, will dawn on you as you progress. When the light bulb comes on, you can solve more complicated problems. The Irish pub we photographed, in Vegas, had a great display, but there was horrible lighting under the glass. I reduced its impact with a couple of layer adjustments and masking. The masks may look daunting to a beginner, but it is really just a logical progression of the tools.

Adjustment layers and masks are fundamental tools.

Adjustment layers and masks are fundamental tools.

The more you work with these tools, the easier they get. You need to play enough that you have some of the procedures in your head. If you only open your tools every other month, you'll have to relearn everything, again. Practice, practice, practice.

If I had my way, everything would be set up, just as I want it: perfect light; no distractions in the image or around me. When that happens, I'm thrilled.

But, when I want a photo of the re-enactor portraying Robert E. Lee, at the Appomattox surrender ceremony, with thousands of other people surrounding me and him, I have to take the shot. Even if I can't move because of the crowd, and I'm too close for the lens I have on the camera. That's when you get to put all kinds of post-processing tricks into play.

Pieces of the puzzle

You can see I couldn't even get the entire horse in one frame here, and lots of people were milling about. I needed to quickly (before the horse moved) make several shots of the pieces of the scene. I put them together in PhotoShop; cloned out the extraneous people; then cropped and toned it in Lightroom. (The first two photos are the composites.)

Lee at Appomattox, Va

You can do this. Just learn your tools.


And, speaking of fun, don't forget to sign up for the Kelby's 8th Annual Worldwide Photowalk, on Saturday, 3 Oct. Mark and I were in Culpeper, this weekend, figuring out a nice, comfortable walk. You can join us by signing up HERE. The walk is free, but you must register. Hope to see you there.

A Whirl of Lights

By Mark

I haven’t had much opportunity to work on the photos I shot last month at the Fauquier County Fair. 

Roger posted his rodeo shots, but I went there intending to shoot the lights of the rides on the Midway.

I experimented a bit with the settings but eventually got close to the effect I was shooting for.  I followed that up with two versions of Photoshop magic and really got what I was looking for. 

For shooting this type of photo, you really need to be on a tripod as you want to be shooting in Shutter priority mode at pretty slow speeds.  If you are trying to hand hold you really can’t go below 1/40 of a second without introducing a lot of vibration.  Since you are trying to reduce that vibration as much as possible there are two other steps you should take.  1. Disable the Vibration Reduction feature on your lens—if it can’t find one it will introduce some into your picture.  2. Use a remote shutter release—the simple act of your finger pressing the shutter will cause shake.

I wasn’t certain what shutter speed I wanted so I tried a few and looked at the results. 1/8 of a second was definitely not what I was hoping for.   

1/20 was a little better, but still did not create the light trails I wanted.  

I found that between 1.3 and 2.0 seconds gave me the results I wanted to catch.  I did try all the way up to 8.0 seconds and found it introduced some unwanted ghosts in my image.  

The longer we stayed out there the darker and better the background sky got as well. 

When I got home and started to work with the images I saw that no single image really gave me a full 360 of lights, so I started to play a little.  I took two images that looked like they would work and moved them to Photoshop.  Photo>Edit In>Open as Layers in Photoshop.  Since they were shot from the same tripod position, I knew they were pretty well aligned, but went ahead and did Edit>Auto Align Layers, just to be sure.

I then applied a black layer mask to the top image—Fauquier Fair-486 which hid that layer completely.  I then used a very soft brush and painted on the mask with white, which revealed the parts of that layer I wanted to show.  I adjusted the flow down to ~33% which allowed me to build up the mask slowly.   Here is the final mask.    

Here are the results for my final image.

I liked that but really wanted to make a more complex piece and didn’t want to try masking it all manually.  I took 5 pictures and loaded those to layers as before and also ran the auto align feature.  Next I used a variation of the focus stacking technique Roger talked about a few weeks ago with macros.  Under Edit>Auto Blend>Stack Images It picked out the sharpest pieces of all of the images and created this.  

Pretty slick and very quick, and much more like the surreal image I had in mind to begin with.     

Learning Photography: Free Stuff

By Roger (24 August 2015)

I'm back from Photoshop World, in Las Vegas, and a week, with the family, in Newport. Let's finish off this series of blogs.

The Jamestown Bridge, Newport, Rhode Island

In today's world, learning photography doesn't have to cost you lots of money. There are so many free, or almost free, resources available for your benefit. You can find them all, while you're vegging out on your computer or tablet.

Of course, you know I think blogs can be very useful or we wouldn't have been doing this for more than six years. We have answered every request for information that has come our way. Just leave a comment here or on our Facebook page.

I check my favorite blogs every day. It takes just a few minutes and keeps me up to date on things in the photography world. I go to Joe McNally's blog (link); he's funny and tells good stories about his photo adventures. Oh, and some of us think he's an amazing photographer. Zack Arias' blog (link) is full of honest, no-holds-barred advice. Julieanne Kost has non-stop information about Lightroom and Photoshop in her blog (link). She gets into small details that can make your post-processing much easier. And I have many more that are on my favorites' list. Your opinion on who to read may be quite different than mine, so, for a large and varied list of blogs, you can go to Alltop Photography (link). There are dozens of blogs listed there for you to peruse.

When I want to look for inspiration, I look at the work of other photographers, both present and past. You would never want to copy their work, but their approach to a subject may help you see something you are missing. For current photographers, one of my favorite places is 500PX (link). You will find some really good stuff there. For the photographers of the past, I'll look them up on Google. There is also a new site I've learned about, The Red List (link), that has examples of the work of many artists, including photographers. Again, there are many other sites you can find.

Another source for learning about the world of photography may seem counter-intuitive to some: podcasts. I have a daily commute and move between a couple of company offices, now and then. While I'm in the car, I'm listening to my long list of podcasts. There is something here for everyone. I follow about 40 podcasts, and more than half of them are about photography. Since the police frown on watching video while driving, I only listen to the audio podcasts. And though photography is a visual art, you can still learn from just an audio podcast. My favorites range from artsy-fartsy photo talk to just fun stuff. These podcasts keep me abreast of the latest technologies; photographers in the news; equipment due dates and rumors; and just keep me thinking about photography. You can get these podcasts downloaded to your phone, Ipod, tablet, or just navigate to them on your computer.

Suggestions? Sure, here are a few:

This Week in Photo (link) has nine podcasts. I listen to all of them, but I am partial to the parent podcast, TWIP, and The Candid Frame. For a decidedly opinionated take on photography subjects, I like On Taking Pictures (link). I'm a fan of The Digital Story (link) and its host Derrick Story. I got to spend about 30 minutes talking to him, at Photoshop World. Thanks for the time, Derrick. And, speaking of PSW, the folks behind the PhotoFocus podcast and website (link) invited many of us – including Mark and me – to breakfast to discuss their site and ask for suggestions. They even picked up the tab.

So, if you don't want to go to conferences and workshops or your library is overflowing, like mine, let the internet help you learn photography, at no cost. Then, go out and practice what you learned.

To help you practice while learning, let me suggest one final opportunity, also free: you can join Mark and I on this year's Kelby Worldwide Photowalk. We are leading a walk, at 9 a.m., Saturday, 3 October, in Culpeper, Va. The walk is free, but you must register here. This is our fifth year leading one of the walks. It is a nice, easy course, with a train station, farmer's market, and lots of history. It's been six years since we did our last Culpeper photowalk, so we thought it was time to return. We hope you'll join us.

Culpeper, Virginia