tiistai 23. tammikuuta 2018

Review of the Nikon D850 DSLR

The latest addition to the Nikon line up has been a highly anticipated full frame camera. While many other cameras were being updated rumors started circulating 12 months ago that the D810 would be updated. Finally, the news came that the Nikon D850 was being released. It seemed like everyone in the photography industry was looking forward to it. So much speculation – what will it have, and how will it perform?

Review of the Nikon D850 DSLR

The Nikon D850 with the 14-24mm lens.

The Hype

There was similar hype around 5 years ago when Nikon released the D800. It was almost 12 months before I was able to get one, and when the talk started on this one I knew that I would be getting one. The D800 has been an amazing camera and by far the best I’ve ever owned. But it is showing its age and doing long exposures with it was becoming harder. The logical update was always going to be the replacement for the D810.

What I needed was a camera capable of taking long exposures without the problem of dead or hot pixels. I wanted a touchscreen as others I’ve used have been fantastic. I had hoped that with Live View it would be possible to see through ND Filters without having to remove them all the time. While it wasn’t necessary, being able to transfer photos from the camera to the phone would be handy as well.

Once the camera was released and I finally got my hands on one, there was nothing to be disappointed about. It lived up to my expectations, perhaps even more. It is a complicated camera, and the phrase being used, “A game changer” is true. It does a lot and it is going to take some time to learn all that my new camera can do.

Nikon D850 cityscape

An early morning image of the city with reflections.

First impressions of the D850

For most people, it will seem like a gigantic camera. However, those that have been using the D800 or D810 will not be surprised. It is slightly bigger, but not a lot. The weight is around the same as well. Overall it looks almost the same. As you start to study the D850 you can see how some functions have changed positions. I keep pressing the mode button now to change the ISO.

Nikon D850 long exposure

Doing a long exposure on the top of a cliff with the Nikon D850.

45.7 MP Sensor

The big thing to test was going to be the massive 45.7-megapixel sensor. In most of the other Nikon cameras Sony sensors have been used, however, Nikon has developed their own for the D850. It is said to be sharp and create very crisp images. That would appear to be true so far. There is a warning about using low-quality lenses on it, which can create a lot of chromatic aberration. So far, I have noticed that.


Nikon has given the D850 a touch screen, and I am so happy. Touchscreens make navigating around the menu so much easier. You can flick through your photos very easily, or change a setting in the menu.

With the touchscreen activated, you can also focus the camera and take your photos, whether you are using a tripod or not. With the Bulb setting, you can now touch the screen to open the shutter, and then tap again to close it. This means that when you go out to take long exposures you don’t have to worry so much about a remote shutter release or intervalometer. It doesn’t have a timer or display how much time has elapsed, but there are always ways around that, like using your phone.

Nikon D850 night photography

Capturing a single light trail from a bicycle along Southbank at night.

The LCD Screen can be manipulated

Like other models, you can now manipulate the screen so you can move it to help you take photos in Live Mode, or when using the playback function. If you like taking photos close to the ground you can do that now without having to get on the ground yourself or having to guess at the composition. I’m getting too old to get down on the ground, getting back up isn’t so easy, so this function is one that I’ve been eagerly awaiting.

Nikon D850

The front of the D850, set up for a long exposure.

Using Live View for Long Exposures

One of the frustrating things about doing long exposures with the D800 was having to constantly remove the filters every time you wanted to recompose your image. They were too dark for the camera to see through. The Canon 5D Mark IV is capable of seeing through the filters in Live View, so I was really hoping the Nikon D850 would have that capability as well. I’m happy to report that it does.

It doesn’t quite work the same way, you do have to open the aperture up a bit, but you don’t have to remove the filters. If you can open it up to f/2.8 then it is like there are no filters there at all. It will also make it easier to use graduated filters and polarizers when doing long exposure photography.

Nikon D850 Seascape

The camera photographing the Dragon’s Head.

As someone who loves doing long exposures, this new feature is a very welcome addition to the camera. It is something that I will use a lot. My workflow when shooting has changed from never using Live View, to using it constantly.

One of the major advantages of shooting with Live View is that your mirror is up, so you don’t get those minute vibrations when you are taking an image.


One of the biggest problems with photography is low light. While in most situations you can use a tripod, there are some situations that mean it is just isn’t possible. With an ISO rating up to 25,600, you can take photos easily without a tripod.

Nikon D850 high ISO

Capturing Christmas windows using ISO 25600.

There will be noise in the images, that is one thing you can’t avoid. However, compared with what you got with the earlier models in the D800 series it’s a big improvement. You could comfortably go up to ISO 2000, perhaps even higher and get images that you would be happy with.

At the other end of the scale, you can go to ISO 64 when you want the best quality images in the right lighting conditions or when using your tripod. Most cameras only go to 100, so having that extra step means finer grain or almost no noise in your images.

Some of the controls are in different places

While the basic setup is very similar to all Nikon cameras, there are some things that have changed from previous models (for me, that is compared to the D800). The Mode button is on the left top buttons with the WB and QUAL. ISO is now over near the Shutter button. The Bracket feature is now set where the flash button used to be.

Overall, the camera is much the same. The menu system remains very similar to previous models and is easy to understand. It is one thing that has always been good with Nikon, you can go from one model to another and still be able to figure out how it works.

Late afternoon in the city of Melbourne.

No flash

One major change from the D800 and D810 is the removal of the built-in flash. For most users, it was not necessary and the flash popping up could create problems. You can still attach an external flash to it, so for most this isn’t going to be a problem as they would use that option anyway.

3 Different RAW sizes

One the main concerns with the camera was the 45.7-megapixel sensor. The more MPs it has the larger the images will be. Storage can become a problem, especially when shooting in RAW. The D850 now comes with three different sizes of RAW files. You can choose to shoot RAW images in Large, Medium or Small. The large will take images that are 8256 x 5504 pixels, while the small will take images that are 4128 x 2752 pixels, similar to a cropped sensor.

Having the choice of deciding how big your image will be is a good function to add. If you know you are going to take a photo for social media, with no intention of doing anything else, then using the small option makes sense. However, if you are going to be taking photos for a client or for printing on a big scale then the large size is the best choice.

Nikon D850 seascape

Doing a long exposure of the Dragon’s Head on the Rye back beach.

Fast frames per second burst mode

I went from a Nikon D300s, that could shoot 6-7 frames per second to the D800 which was capable of only four. It was a shock and possibly one of the biggest disappointments with that camera. It always seemed clunky when you were taking several images at once, especially for bracketing.

It’s good to see they have sped up the frame rate in the D850. It will take around 6 images a second, so it is reasonably fast. When you are bracketing there is less chance of a mistake when taking a series of images. It is great to hear how fast it shoots the frames.

Nikon D850 Bird photography.

Using the Nikon D850 at the zoo to capture birds.

The XQD card

With the release of the Nikon D850, we also see that it has two memory card slots; one for an SD card, and the other for an XQD card. As the file sizes are large, and you can take many images per second, you also need a card that can keep up. The XQD cards are good for writing your images quickly so you shouldn’t have moments where you can’t shoot because the camera is saving your images onto the card.

These cards are quite expensive. Not many manufacturers are making them, the one I got was made by Sony. You also need to get a memory card reader for these as well. I purchased mine from B&H, it was 128GB and cost almost $200.

Nikon D850 Waterfall

Capturing a waterfall with a long exposure.

Wifi and Snapbridge

Nikon cameras that have Snapbridge allow you to use your phone with the camera. You can download images to it, for easy loading to social media when you are out and about. There is also the option for your phone to capture GPS data for future reference.

When Snapbridge was first released there was a lot of negative publicity about it. People said it didn’t work properly, and if we are being honest, it wasn’t great. But it has improved a lot. It is now easier to connect your camera to your phone to look at photos. You can have it set up so it automatically transfers the images to your phone. They go into the cloud, so they don’t take up any room on your phone.

The only downside seems to be that to get your images to your phone you have to shoot in jpeg format. Considering the target market of who will be using the D850 (mostly pros), it is a bit disappointing. Most users will be taking their photos in RAW format and won’t be able to do that.

To overcome this, I decided to shoot in RAW and basic JPG. You don’t need high-quality JPGs to share, and basic is fine for social media. Once the files are all downloaded to my computer I select all the jpegs and delete them. It does mean that you will be using more memory on your cards, but I have 128GB cards, so it isn’t going to be an issue that often. I would also only use this selection if I knew that I wanted to capture an image to share, otherwise I would choose RAW only.

Snapbridge will keep the firmware on your camera up to date which is great, otherwise, it only happens if you get it serviced. One thing that is a definitely a plus for someone like me is that the app will also make sure the time and date are correct on your camera by syncing it with your phone. You don’t have to worry about daylight savings and changing the camera settings for it anymore (or when you travel and change time zones).

Nikon D850 macro

The D850 with the Lensbaby Velvet 56 photographing macro flowers.

Battery life

The experience of other cameras has shown that using Live View can drain your battery. Earlier this year I had an opportunity to try out the Canon 5D Mark IV and when using Live View for long exposures the battery did drain very quickly. You would get maybe three hours with it when using that mode. With the Nikon D850, using Live View it doesn’t drain the battery as quickly.

A fully charged battery for normal use will last a few days, with heavy use a day or so. The Nikon batteries are very good, and if you want spares, it is advisable to go for regular Nikon ones over third-party options.

Nikon D850 City image

An image taken at sunrise with the Nikon D850.


Without a doubt, those who described the Nikon D850 as a game changer were not lying. It’s one of the most sophisticated cameras on the market. While hailed as a great camera for landscape photographers, it is also suitable for many other genres of photography as well. One has to wonder what they will do to the next generation of the D5 to make it better than the D850.

For more information on the specifications, click here to go to Nikon. The camera retails on Amazon for $3,295.

I would give the camera a rating of 9.9 out of 10, maybe even a 10. I love the Nikon D850, it is the best camera I’ve ever used

The post Review of the Nikon D850 DSLR by Leanne Cole appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, it’s that time of year again. It’s cold, windy, snowy and very, very white. Winter wonderlands are the ideal things to shoot this time of year. When everything around you is frosted with snow and ice, even everyday things take on a magical feel.

When you step outdoors to shoot this winter, however, an icy fairytale landscape might not be exactly what you get. Here in Chicago if it’s not white, it’s pretty darn grey. That doesn’t make for very pretty pictures. Grey weather days look really blah in 2-D. Actually, even an amazing landscape filled with sparkling snow can make a surprisingly flat image. Let’s break down a few ways that you can process your winter images in Luminar to really make them pop.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - Running horses

My final version of wild horses running through a white-out snowstorm in northern Nevada. I adjusted the black point to -20 by dragging the slider until the histogram just touched the left side. I also made a few more adjustments in Luminar, including boosting the Shadows, reducing the Highlights and enhancing Vibrance. Canon 7DII with 100-400mm II plus 1.4x III extender @ 560mm, f/8, 1/1000th, ISO 400.

Adjust Your Whites and Blacks

In Luminar, you adjust the White and Black points in the RAW Develop Filter (if you’re adjusting a JPG it’s just called “Develop”), or in the dedicated Whites/Blacks Filter. These adjustments are an important first step for images with snow. By shifting the Blacks and Whites, you maximize the range of light and dark tones in your image. That helps give white snow texture and depth.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - running horses raw image

The unprocessed RAW file of the above image. Compare it to the lead image and look at the difference just a few adjustments made.

Adjust your Whites so that your snow isn’t “blown out” (which means it won’t show any detail). Usually, you’ll need to drag the Whites slider to the left. The histogram should just be touching the right side. Now grab your Blacks and drag it so that the histogram just touches the left side.

Fine-Tune Your White Balance

The White Balance setting is also in the Develop Filter. To help add pop to your winter images, adjust the Temperature of your image to be either warmer (more yellow) or cooler (more blue). You can also make a separate adjustment to the Tint, adjusting it to reflect more green or magenta. Be forewarned though, Temperature and Tint adjustments get tricky when dealing with white snow.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - Paint Pots

In this image of one of the paint pots at Yellowstone National Park, just after a light snow, I’ve adjusted the White Balance to a cooler/more blue Temperature of -5, and a more magenta Tint of +2. These very slight shifts, along with Contrast, Clarity and Vibrance adjustments make a big difference in this image’s feel. Canon 5DIV with 24-105mm II lens @ 24mm, f/10, 1/320th, ISO 1250.

Often, if you look at your favorite landscape and wildlife images, they have a warm, yellow glow to them. Warm colors tend to make us happy so we gravitate to them when we post-process. However, snow that is too yellow often looks wrong because we rarely have a full-on snowy landscape in bright, golden sun.

Be careful adjusting Tint too. Pink snow isn’t any more appealing or realistic than yellow snow. Ultimately though, these adjustments are up to you. Experiment to find a wintery look that’s right for your photography style.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar

Here’s the original RAW file of that same paint pot at Yellowstone National Park. You can see the original White Balance and the huge difference that simple change made to make the image above feel colder.

Boost Saturation for Eye-Catching Color

One exception to having vibrantly-colored snow is when an image has colored light reflecting from the sky. In the paint pots image above, you can see that the snow has a bit of a grey-blue cast. That looks natural to me because the snow would reflect the cast of the grey-blue sky.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - Old Faithful

Old Faithful steaming away at dawn one very cold morning. In this final image, I’ve boosted the colors quite a bit. Saturation +30, Vibrance +20 and Contrast +20. Canon 5DIV with 24-105mm II lens @ 56mm, f/13, 1/125th, ISO 800.

Sometimes, cold wintery images aren’t as much about the snow, either. In this Old Faithful landscape, the story is the drama of the winter sky. My instinct was to amp up the blues in this image, and also the golden grass, to create a striking, complementary color scheme.

When you try this, play around with the color sliders a bit (Vibrance and Saturation are great starting points) and see what works best. Strong color can be gorgeous but doesn’t work for every winter image.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - Old Faithful

Here’s the RAW, unprocessed file of Old Faithful. The original image is composed well and exposed properly, but very flat. Luminar does an excellent job bringing it to life.

Convert to Monochrome for Stark Drama

Sometimes winter scenes don’t lend themselves well to color images at all. This wild horse running on the snowy ridge in front of the mountain was spectacular in real life. The RAW file wasn’t much to look at though. See for yourself.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - Wild Stallion

Wild horse running along the snowy ridge in northern Nevada. Canon 5DIII with 100-400mm II lens @ 255mm, f/5.6, 1/1000th, ISO 1000.

What is nice about the image is that the bay-colored horse makes an incredible silhouette against all that white snow. Monochrome tends to work well with silhouettes, especially when you boost the contrast.

With their cool grey and white tones, monochrome images can make bland winter images spectacular. Remember to give it a try if experimenting with the color options we discussed above doesn’t work for your image.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - Stallion Silhouette

Isn’t that an amazing change for the better? Look how that silhouette just pops out of the snowy mountain backdrop now.

Share your Winter Image Post-Processing Tips

These are my four favorite ways to make my winter images pop using Luminar. Bundle up, head on out to the great wintry outdoors, shoot a few frames and give them a try yourself.

And hey, share with the dPS community too. What are your favorite post-processing tips for editing gorgeous winter images?

Disclaimer: Macphun, soon to be Skylum, is a dPS advertising partner.

The post How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar by Lara Joy Brynildssen appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Use Facebook Analytics for Your Website

Want to learn more about your website visitors? Have you heard of Facebook Analytics? In this article, you’ll discover how to install and use Facebook Analytics to reveal data about the Facebook users who visit your website. #1: Create a Facebook Pixel for Your Website If you haven’t already installed the Facebook pixel on your [...]

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maanantai 22. tammikuuta 2018

Five Essentials of Doing Dark Food Photography

Over the last several years, several identifiable trends have developed in the world of food photography, including one towards dark, moody images, often with a rustic feel. These photographs call to mind the interplay of light and shadow in the paintings of the Old Masters, such as those by Vermeer and Rembrandt.

The style is often referred to “chiaroscuro” photography, a painting term borrowed from the art world. It means “light-dark” and refers to the contrast between the shadows and light in an image. The technique guides the viewer’s eye to a specific area in the frame and creates a dramatic mood. Mystic Light is another phrase used to describe this dark and moody style.

However, a dark style won’t necessarily suit every image. Sometimes a dark, shadowy approach is not appropriate to your subject. Developing strong food photography requires thinking about the purpose of your image. Your lighting, props, styling, and camera settings all work together in service of the story you are trying to convey.

Chili - dark food photography

For example, in the image above, I imagined someone sitting down at a farmhouse to eat a bowl of chilli on a cold winter’s day. I envisioned that the light was spilling in from a window onto my scene. This food story is one that I often use in my work, in one form or another, and chiaroscuro is the perfect style to bring it to life, as it arouses the emotions of the viewer.

So let’s take a closer look at how you can apply the chiaroscuro style to your food photography.

Dark Props and Backgrounds

The idea in dark food photography is to keep the background in shadow and draw the viewer’s attention to the main subject—what in food photography we call the “hero”. Therefore, a selection of dark or muted props, surfaces, and backgrounds is vital. White or light dishes and props will draw the eye away from the food and create too much contrast, which is distracting and can also be difficult to expose correctly.

Utensils - Five Essentials of Doing Dark Food Photography

When sourcing props, look for vintage utensils with a patina, which will not reflect the light as much as new ones. Matte dishes will also be less reflective, and are best in darker, neutral tones. Reflections can be hard to manage and cause a lot of problems in food photography.

Some good places to look for these items are thrift shops and vintage or flea markets, where you can find them for a fraction of the price you would pay for them new. Many food photographers use old, mottled cookie sheets in their work, which create a stunning surface or background, which subtly reflects the light without being to bright.

Wood is also a great material to utilize, both in the background and as props. It is easy to work with and lends a rustic feel. You can use weathered items such as an old cabinet door or tabletop. Ensure that whichever wood you use isn’t too warm toned. It will look quite orange in the final images and therefore unflattering to the food. A deep espresso color always looks great.

Charcuterie - Five Essentials of Doing Dark Food Photography

Food Styling

You will most often find the dark food photography style in editorial as opposed to advertising work. Advertising photography is meant to look perfect, with highly stylized food. Anyone who has ever seen a fast food burger ad and compared it to a real burger knows what I’m talking about.

But editorial food photography, such as that found in cookbooks and foodie magazines, has a looser, more candid style. The food is often perfectly imperfect, with scattered crumbs or artfully placed smears and drips, as if it has been freshly prepared or someone has just begun to tuck in.

This is not to say there is no deliberate effort in the styling because there is. The line between rustic and real and downright sloppy is a fine one. It takes a practiced hand to make food styling look casual and random.

Carrot Ginger Soup - Five Essentials of Doing Dark Food Photography

In the image of carrot ginger soup above, I gently swirled cream on the surface and carefully placed the croutons off-center to create a focal point. I garnished it with pepper and thyme leaves, which I also scattered on my surface with a thought to the composition.

In reality, one’s dinner table would hardly look like this, but for the purposes of food photography, such extra touches give an honest, storytelling quality and enhance the main subject, which in this case is the soup.

When approaching styling, think about the ingredients used in the recipe you are shooting. Ask yourself how you can incorporate some of them into your image in a way that makes sense and complements your hero.

Lentil Soup

Carving the Light

When producing darker images, it is imperative to carve and shape the light to bring attention to your main subject. You will need to determine how you want to light your image and where you want the shadows to fall. For moody images, I often use side and backlighting. My light placement is at about 10:00 if I am imagining the face of an analog clock as my set.

It’s best to use indirect lighting so no lights pointing directly at the set or food. In the case of natural light, placing the surface at an angle to the window.

Use small black reflector cards, like black cardboard or poster board cut into squares, to kick in shadows where you want them, and place them around your set depending on where you want to cut down the light. Alternatively, you can roll up pieces of black poster board and staple the ends together; these rolls can stand on their own and do not need to be propped up against anything.

Mushroom Toast - Five Essentials of Doing Dark Food Photography

In the images above, I wanted the mushrooms to be bright and catch some of the light, especially as the look was monochromatic, yet I wanted shadows to fall on the plate. I used side backlighting and a black card from the front, angled into my scene to create shadows in the front and absorb some of the light that was coming directly into my scene.

You will have to play around with different sizes and placements of the reflector cards to get the shadows where they work with your story.


Typically, with chiaroscuro food photography, you want to slightly underexpose the image in the camera. Chiaroscuro can have very bright treatment of food with very deep shadows, or the image can be low key with not a lot of contrast. Whichever approach you choose, the main subjects should be placed in the brightest part of the frame, which attracts the eye first. Make sure the highlights are not blown out and the shadows are not too black with no detail.

Olive Oil -Five Essentials of Doing Dark Food Photography

It is best to work with a tripod, especially if you are shooting in natural light in less than ideal conditions. Instead of boosting the ISO and risking a high amount of noise, you can increase the exposure time when using a tripod. As long as you have some light, a long exposure allows you to take a properly exposed picture.

Using the timer or a remote shutter trigger will prevent camera shake and an image that is less than sharp. The focus should be on the main subject, however, the image needs to be exposed for the concept, mood, and story.


The right post-processing for dark food photography will really make your image pop.

Using the luminance sliders in Lightroom or Camera RAW to brighten colors individually. Use global and local adjustments to bring out the best in the food, instead of bumping up the exposure in the whole image, which can cause your shadows to fall flat.

Lentil Soup - Five Essentials of Doing Dark Food Photography

And remember, warm colors bring elements forward, whereas cool colors recede. The best food photography has a balance of both, as it gives a three-dimensional feel to your image. With chiaroscuro food photography, white balance and tint can be used creatively, since you are not using white dishes and backgrounds. Split-toning can also be used to great effect, as long as it is done with subtlety.

Finally, no matter how you carve the light, a bit of a vignette adds a bit more mystery. It also prevents the eye from wandering out of the frame by bringing you back to the brightest part of the image — the food.


So there you have it, my top tips for making dark and moody food photography images!

I’d love to hear if you’ve had a chance to experiment with this approach to food photography. What were your struggles? Please share your experience and images in the comments below.

The post Five Essentials of Doing Dark Food Photography by Darina Kopcok appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Peg Fitzpatrick: How to Create 10 Unique Social Shares for One Blog Post

Are you creating one graphic for your blog post and calling it a day? Guess what, that’s why you’re not getting any blog traffic or social shares. This post will help generate ideas for unique social shares for your blog posts and bring more website traffic. It takes time and effort to research and write…

The post How to Create 10 Unique Social Shares for One Blog Post appeared first on Peg Fitzpatrick - social media educator and influencer.

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How to do Black and White Conversion with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

Now that we’ve poked around ACD System’s most capable software – having worked out a decent Photo Studio Ultimate workflow, as well as ways to make migration as easy as it can be – I think it may be time to actually use it.

After all, photography is the whole point, right? And, as much as we may sometimes dislike this fact, post-processing is very much part of it. So, this time, no ratings, no color labels, keywords, or metadata. No presets, either. In fact, we’ll only be touching on a small part of the Photo Studio package. Mainly the Develop mode, or however much of it we might need for a black and white portrait of an immensely charming lady. This is refreshing.

An important disclaimer: As has been stated on numerous occasions (so many times, in fact, that you may have learned this paragraph by heart) the license for this copy of ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate has been provided by ACD Systems. Having said that, the article has not been dictated by the company in the slightest, not even the task itself. My words are always my own, so take that for what it’s worth.

About the Portrait

The curious and geeky among you may wonder about the context behind this unusually-composed photograph, and I will gladly satisfy said curiosity and geekiness. The lady’s name is Ona (or Anna, if you will). She is a 94-year-old ex-partisan and exile survivor from my hometown, known better here by her codename, Acacia. Along with that, she is an immensely lovely old woman with a brilliantly sharp mind and memory.

I find her beautiful, most of all because, after being betrayed by her loved one, stabbed, shot, imprisoned and tortured, there is little bitterness to be found in her words. This portrait was taken as we met for the second time when I took her on a promised trip to a nearby forest.

The best part of this process we call taking portraits is everything that happens before the click and after the camera is cozy in its bag again. This is the part to savor, not the visual proof, the byproduct of simple human interaction. Whether you like the given portrait or find it exceedingly average, the experience is beyond all that. It was a lovely evening, and lovely company to be in.

The data

Unlike a different portrait of Acacia keen-eyed readers may have noticed in one of my previous articles, this one’s not an already-perfectly-black-and-white Ilford HP5 Plus negative. Instead, it’s a Fujifilm X-Pro2 RAW file, taken with the XF 23mm f/1.4 R lens, then converted to DNG. And, upon close examination, this is a lovely, natural-looking image. ACDSee Photo Studio is handling it very well.

But none of it matters. Not the camera, or the lens, or the aperture (f/2) and ISO (that’s at base 200). Not the image sensor, the size of it, or the resolution. Before we even start talking about tones and their curves, here’s a secret about portraits, whether black and white or of gentle color – it’s about the light. Really, if there was one thing for you to take from this article, repeat after me— it is all about the light.

Even when it’s as unassuming, as undramatic and soft as it was on that warm May evening, this is where you start your post-processing. Beforehand. It’s the crucial first step.

Get the light right, and you’ll have the most fun, and the simplest time at the computer bringing about the final touches. Photo Studio will help you here and make the task easy. Get the light wrong, and no effects, no HDRs, clarity sliders, and dynamic ranges will save the image.

With the romantic bit out of the way, let’s get to it.

Black and White Conversion with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

Bump the Contrast to high. Using the Tone Curves, deepen the shadows further, and bring out the highlights until they are almost white. Use the Sharpness slider liberally to emphasize the wrinkles. Something missing? Finish up with a dash of vignetting. Skin as bright as the sky, shadows as deep as … something else vaguely poetic. All the experience reflecting in the now-shocking creases on her face.

This is everything we are not going to do.

Not to say that there is something wrong with high-contrast black and white photography, but thinking every portrait of an older person needs to be accompanied by a healthy (read – senseless) dose of clarity/contrast is a cliché I will gladly call out. Acacia is soft in her expression. The light is soft. Her feather-light hair is soft. Let’s keep it that way. Let’s not bring drama where there is only calm. Let’s not try to change what seems to come naturally from all this softness. Let’s, instead, start with color.

Strange as it may sound, converting a digital image file to black and white means working with color. In fact, from a certain point, it’s almost no different than working with a color image. Especially when post-processing with portraits, understanding skin tones and what colors lie there is extremely important (a lot of red), because that, along with the light, will dictate a large part of the adjustments to be made. And, as ever is the case when working with color…

1. White Balance

Setting the White Balance (to taste) is mandatory, and is the natural first step. Now, Fujifilm is usually so very, very accurate when it comes to color temperature. It doesn’t really do the “warm glow” thing and sticks to a more neutral tone overall. Some might even call it cool (in both a color temperature and the “it rocks” sense of the word)

How to do Black and White Conversion with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

My White Balance adjustment is subtle and verging on unnecessary. A bump of just around 500 degrees towards the warm side (from 5000K to 5500K). I may come back to this setting at some point, but before diving into gray tones, I tend to give myself a technically good starting point, a decently-exposed, decently-toned image. This small adjustment seems to have done the trick for now.

Speaking of technical things, I also tend to fix any visibly-irritating distortion, vignetting, and image straightness at the very start, when necessary.

Black and White Portraits with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate Black and White Portraits with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

NOTE: Jumping ahead a bit, I will show you what I mean about white balance and black and white photography. Notice how adjusting this one setting that is seemingly unrelated to black and white conversion (from around 2450K degrees to our chosen 5500K) changes the overall look of the image.

The impact of warmer or cooler color introduced with WB adjustment depends on how dark/light and prevalent certain color ranges are. As you tweak Tone Curves and lightness/darkness of individual color ranges using Color EQ/Advanced Black & White tools, the effect of the WB adjustment will become more noticeable. But it’s a complex process and quite difficult to accurately predict.

2. Convert to Black and White

There are three ways to do black and white conversions with ACDSee Photo Studio Develop mode.

The first one involves adjusting the Saturation slider (General tab) to -100. The second involves desaturating each individual color range using the Color EQ tool. Obviously, neither way is particularly practical. Unsurprisingly, the third option proves to make the most sense – simply change the Treatment setting from Color to Black & White at the very top of the General tab, above the Exposure slider.

All three options render the exact same initial conversion, so using the most convenient (and most easily reversed) method is, well – you get the idea. Using the Treatment method will disable the Saturation adjustment slider and replace the Color EQ tool with the Advanced Black & White tool.

How to do Black and White Conversion with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

Change the Treatment setting from Color to Black & White on the General tab.

3. Overall Contrast

I have likely noticed that the initial conversion is fairly low-contrast. For me, that’s good. I like to start off with a flat look and work from there (and I already love how soft and beautifully toned the hair is). For the general contrast of the image, I tend to use the Tone Curves. The contrast slider is fine for adjusting general contrast by just a smidge but is too imprecise when a more pronounced or more controlled adjustment is needed.

Tone Curves is an exceedingly powerful tool, of course, and I keep coming back to it again and again during post-processing, just to make tiny adjustments. When using the Tone Curve, I don’t pay too much attention to areas that I know are of mostly one specific color, like trees and grass. Even if these areas are a little off, I’ll be adjusting them later on using the color tools.

What matters to me is the general look, the shadows, and the highlights. Here, a mild adjustment of the shadows is enough.

Black and White Portraits with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

Before Tone Curves

Black and White Portraits with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

After Tone Curves has been tweaked.

To keep the image subtle and calm, I’ve left the highlights as they were and only really pulled the shadows down a touch. Nothing too drastic, just enough to emphasize that soft light. Note how the bright tones of Acacia’s face and hair remain almost identical, but the deeper shadows have corrected the sense of flatness to a degree.

We are not quite done yet, but this is now closer to what I envisioned.

4. Back to Color

I think it’s possible to do a decent black and white conversion using just the Tone Curves, or alternatively just the color adjustments. At least if the first step is done well – remember my point about the light? But, when used together, these tools work at their best.

Switching to the Luminance tab of the Color EQ tool allows us to adjust the brightness of each individual color channel. In other words, I can adjust how dark or bright my reds, blues, greens, and other colors, each separately. This means two things; you have a very high degree of control, and also unlimited ways to mess something up. I’d say we should avoid the latter.

My issue with this image lies mostly in the grassy area. You see, there are at least two things that I can do to emphasize Acacia’s face. I can go down the “clarity and contrast everything” route and just keep working those Tone Curves further. Alternatively, (this is clearly my preferred choice) I can de-emphasize the area that surrounds the main visual element, to make her stand out a bit more.

In other words, I’ll just pull down the grass tones to make them slightly darker using the Advanced Black & White adjustments. As I’ve mentioned before, this tool allows control over the luminance of individual color ranges. The Advanced Black & White tab allows grab-and-pull action on the image itself if you’re ever unsure what colors are in that area. In this particular case, I know it’s mostly green and yellow.

Black and White Portraits with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

Again, this is a subtle adjustment, but it has helped make Acacia’s face stand out more. As ever, there’s plenty of room to push further. But, knowing I’d be making some more adjustments afterward, I didn’t. Keep in mind I’m doing this all to personal taste.

One might proceed to adjust the tonality of skin, for example. But I’ve found it to be to my liking already, so why tweak something just for the sake of it? And if you’re curious about the Purple and Magenta colors, that’s for the hair and sweater. We are now nearly done!

5. Final Critical Touches

The last adjustments (not counting any going back and forth with the tools that have already been used) are made using the Light EQ tool. What this tool does is give you precise control over shadows and highlights, the same way Color EQ/Advanced Black & White allows precise control over colors.

Light EQ is actually not that different from Tone Curves but can be a little easier to use and it doesn’t seem like such a global adjustment. I use it when I only need to make small changes like save a highlight here and there, or bring out a shadow or two. A subtler operation is easier with Light EQ than with Tone Curves.

My goal here was to make sure all the shadows and highlights of Acacia’s face were in order and not too harsh. But because I knew I’d be printing this on a fairly textured paper (PermaJet Portfolio Rag), I also knew I had to bring it all up a notch.

Black and White Portraits with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

Black and White Portraits with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

Notice how the last step, the Light EQ tool, is also perhaps the most prominent. I could have done pretty much the same with the Tone Curves, but Light EQ has made it easier. I also find the Standard mode the most user-friendly, while still offering plenty of control.

After setting the Tone Bands to 9 from the default 5, I could make the adjustments with enough precision. The image is nowhere near as flat as it was when we started off, but the fundamentals are very much the same.

6. Final Less Critical Touches

Once the overall look of the portraits is as I envisioned, it’s time to take care of the little things, like sharpness, noise reduction, and such.

That’s It!

Over the years, I’ve found that when it comes to photography the less you tweak the better. The simpler tools you use, the more you learn to focus on the image itself rather than effects and wow-factors. I believe this article is a supporting example of such a point of view and I hope you’ve picked up some tips for black and white conversion using ACDSee’s Photo Studio Ultimate.

Disclaimer: ACD Systems is a paid partner of dPS

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