July 2009   Newsletter Links
Upcoming Events  /  How to:  Exposure Compensation  /  Location:  Zion National Park
Photoshop Tricks:  Processing RAW Files in Photoshop
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     These past three months since the last newsletter have been some of the busiest that I've ever had.  With seminars around the state, from Santa Clarita to Pacifica to Merced and back - and many workshops and safaris, including Yellowstone twice, southern Utah, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Yosemite, and the coast - I have a backlog of several thousand images waiting to get edited and transferred into my image library.  It takes a great deal of time to edit, process, and enter images into my library for use in submissions, articles, or on my website.  I'm still going through images of Sidestep Canyon in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah that I took back in April during the 3 day photo safari there.  An image or two will be in the photo gallery ... amazing stuff.

     In early June in Yellowstone National Park I came upon a pair of grizzlies during their mating season that have become some of the best bear images I have ever taken.  I would never have thought grizzlies were as affectionate (except to their cubs) as I witnessed between these two bears.  The weather was great - sometimes snow and sometimes sun - and the bears weren't afraid of the road.  But the real success of the images came from positioning, anticipating the bears movements and staying ahead of them.  Many of you have heard me talk in seminars about positioning, not being satisfied to shoot the boring photo of the bear walking by, but staying ahead, looking for the shot before it comes.  I will put the image of the grizzly boar crossing the log in the photo gallery.  I had photographed this same boar three weeks previous on another photo safari, he was easy to identify with his bad left leg and obvious limp.  After spotting the pair of bears again later in the day I moved into position ahead of them where this log crossed nearly the entire little meadow.  There was only one opening in the branches of this log and I figured the bears would cross here.  I waited as they approached, but the sow crossed so quickly that my shots of her are just after the log - but the limping boar stopped at the log.  He rested his front paws with their ivory claws protruding right on top of the log - and just posed for me.  What a shot.

     I shot over a thousand grizzly images that day, many of them in RAW.  Now, I don't shoot a lot of wildlife in RAW and the reason is, primarily, that it slows down my camera to process those large files and in critical situations I'm unable to shoot at all as it processes files.  Also, since wildlife photography hinges on a quick moment - such as a look, snarl, jump, etc - I shoot a lot of sequences at a pretty high frames per second (fps) rate (my Nikon D2X will shoot up to 8 fps) to try and capture that brief second of perfect action.  Lots of images to edit out fill my CF cards, and again, slow my in-camera processing times way down as the files are saved.  Can the image quality be better by shooting RAW files - yes, a qualified yes.  But as mentioned, there can be a downside as well.

     In this newsletter I'm going to go over my processing of a RAW file through Camera Raw (in Photoshop CS 4) and through the normal processing steps I take after that.  When you open a RAW file in Photoshop the Camera Raw Converter pops up and allows you to apply processing adjustments to the image - then open it into Photoshop.  Lightroom is not much different.  Lightroom is a software program built to process RAW files.  When you make corrections to a RAW file in Lightroom - the changes are saved in a file attached to the RAW file - you have not yet saved it (unless you export it as a tiff or a jpg) as a file that can be used to print or e-mail.  Why take the post-converted RAW file into Photoshop?  I will show you why its important.

   In the next 4 months I have a number of big photo safaris planned to Yellowstone, Northern Utah, Bolsa Chica WMA in Los Angeles, Southern Utah, and in January to Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico.  No matter the location there are tremendous photo opportunities around us and I hope you will join me on one of them to not only learn those locations - but to see what I am blessed to see, and to capture what I am lucky enough to photograph.  BRP


Upcoming Workshops and Safaris Events

Scheduled Date Cost Details   Meet-At Location
Sat, Sept 19-22, 2009 $480 3 or 4 Day Yellowstone Fall Photo Safari Gardiner, Montana
Fri, Sept 25-26, 2009 $320 2 Day Northern Utah Autumn Colors Safari Logan, Utah
Sat, Oct 24th, 2009 $160 Bolsa Chica WMA Workshop Huntington Beach, Ca
Sat, Oct 31st, 2009 $160 Autumn in Yosemite Workshop Oakhurst, Ca
Sun, Nov 8-10, 2009 $480 3 Day Autumn in Southern Utah Safari Springdale, Utah
Mon, Jan 11-13, 2009 $480 3 Day Bosque del Apache NWR Safari Socorro, NM

How to:  Exposure Compensation

     Being able to correctly make Exposure Compensation (EC) changes during photography is one way you can improve your general subject exposure.  The EC controls on your camera allow you to either add light, or subtract light from the exposure in order to protect important elements in the image.  Its important to understand that the camera's meter creates an "average" or "middle-toned" exposure of your subject - 18% gray to be exact - half way between black and white.  However, what do you do if your subject - or an important part of your subject - is not middle-toned?

     You always expose for the highlights of your subject.  The reason you do this is that if you over-expose the highlights - the lighter areas of your subject - there is nothing there in the digital file, nothing to darken and get back - no detail at all.    Most D-SLR cameras will have "blinkies" or "marching ants" circling this area of the image on the rear screen after taking the image.  If this happens, start to reduce light in the exposure by using the EC controls on top of the camera.  Continue to reduce the light until the "blinkies" stop appearing.  It is easier to lighten a dark image, than darken an overexposed area in the image.

     Find the EC controls on the top of your D-SLR body.  It is usually a button that has the following icon imprinted on it:  +/-    By pushing this down, and turning the control wheel or dial, you can alter the exposure.  In most digital photography applications this will almost always be to the negative (-) side because you are protecting the highlights (bright areas) of the image from overexposing.  Depending on your camera maker, the compensation control effects the exposure in either half-stop or third-stop increments.  I have my camera set for half-stop increments because third-stop increments is not enough to alter the exposure by much.

     Here are some examples of EC changes:

     The white feathers on the bald eagle's heads was an important part of the image - overexpose them and the images are worthless.  In this image I dialed in a -1 EC, taking out one full stop of light in order to protect those feathers.
     I commonly shoot nature images with the compensation set to -.5 EC all the time.  It seems that shooting the images at 0 EC always leads to slightly light images - test your own camera and see what you like best.  Just remember to reset the EC to 0 when you start doing other types of photography, like people.
     Another shot of bald eagles, this time the backlit "silhouette" effect at sunset was the most important part of the image for me.   I also didn't want to have the sun "white-out" in the image.  Again, I'm subtracting light to make the exposure of the image is as I see it.  The EC for this image was also -1.
     Now I shot this image both ways and without the EC of -1 detail began to show up in the distant mountains, the sun was more washed out, and I lost a lot of the color of the sunset.
     Like the previous eagles image, the important part of this image to me was the shadows traveling down the folds of sand.  Had I shot this without any EC the sand would have been brighter and the shadows only faint.  With the sun near the horizon already I shot this image at -.5 EC.
     Bracketing means to take a series of images at different exposures in order to ensure one is very close to perfect.  Since you generally never overexpose digital images - the bracketing order for this image would have been to shoot 3 images at 0 EC, -.5 EC, and -1 EC, and that is exactly what I did here.
Location:  Zion National Park
     Zion National Park is a jewel along the edge of the desert.   Located along the northern edge of the Mojave Desert, this park of towering red rock monoliths, deep shadowed canyons, and amazing eroded sandstone is a testament to the power of water.  While mainly thought of as a desert park, it is the water that flows through it that has created this beauty.   The Virgin River and its many tributaries have carved slot canyons out of the Navajo sandstone and created breathtaking panoramas of twisted towering temples.  I lived in St. George for 5 years and traveled to the park hundreds of times to enjoy its landscapes and wildlife.  Yes, wildlife - and lots of it. 

     I'm not a big hiker.  When I pack up my photo backpack and add a tripod, water, food, etc I'm usually not going too far.  But Zion has one of the truly remarkable slot canyons in the world which requires a 4 mile hike in - and a 4 mile hike out.  About every other year I suck it up, pack it up, and (after getting my permit) hike into the Subway - located off the North Creek trailhead.  While just one amazing feature of Zion, the blending of water and rock is never more evident than in the Subway Chamber - a horseshoe shaped slot canyon that has a step-down series of pools and waterfalls flowing through it.  The hike is not easy and on one occasion I had trouble on the return leg due to not eating and drinking enough. 
     Located in the southwest corner of Utah, Zion National Park is a 45 minute drive from St. George.  Follow I-15 north past St. George until you reach the Highway 9 turn-off towards Hurricane and Zion NP.  Highway 9 turns north in Hurricane - go a couple of miles to La Verkin and look for the highway to turn right at a light towards Virgin and Rockville.   As your driving through the small community of Virgin look for a left turn adjacent to a sign for Kolob Reservoir.  That road leads to the Subway hike and the North Creek trailhead.  Continue on through Virgin, past Rockville, and into Springdale at the mouth of Zion National Park.  Just the drive to the park is inspiring.

     From May 1st through November 1st the Zion Canyon spur road is closed to vehicular traffic and you have to park your car and take a shuttle bus.  While this is the peak of tourist season, it is also the least photogenic time of the year so I have never had to deal with the buses - a major inconvenience to photographers.  A couple of miles into Zion the road splits off and the Zion Canyon spur road begins.  It travels north about ten miles passing through Zion Canyon and many of the famous overlooks in the park - such as the Great White Throne and Angel's Landing.

     If you continue past the spur road the highway climbs in a series of switchbacks to the first tunnel, which is about 1.2 miles long.  Coming out of the tunnel you enter an area that is literally packed with spots to photograph.  Layered sandstone, hoodoos, and mesas cover this rock landscape.  A couple of miles past the long tunnel is the short tunnel, just a a hundred yards long.  Past that tunnel the road heads towards the east gate of the park, past Checkerboard Mesa.  While I've seen sheep in other areas - going east past the small tunnel has been the area I've photographed them the most in.   They blend into the lighter rock here and its best to pull over and glass the surrounding mountainsides for them.  In November the rut begins and the desert bighorn are more active and easily seen.

     Side canyons split off every couple of hundred yards and are enticing to hike.  Rock pools, shady glens, and occasional Indian petroglyphs make these short hikes worth the effort.  Bird life abounds in these side canyons, as do lizards and frogs (around the pools).  Mule deer are common throughout Zion but the peak for them is definitely in November when the rut has begun and many deer have entered the park for that.  Zion Canyon from the Lodge to the end of the road at the parking lot for the Narrows hike is best for mule deer.  During the rut muley bucks are very active and there have been times I've seen upwards of a dozen on this single stretch of road.

Photoshop Tricks:  Processing RAW Files in Photoshop


     Detailing the step-by-step of processing a RAW file to a JPG is no short, easy explanation.  So you will have to bear with me a bit.  I'm going to screen capture the main controls, name them, then just refer to them in the article.  I've chosen just a simple shot I took the other day at a vineyard.  It is of the row number attached to a row post with a nearly ripe bunch of grapes next to it.  The basics for the RAW exposure were:  Nikon D2x Body, Nikon 24-120 VR lens, Bogen tripod, ISO 200, 1/45 sec at F16, EC of -.5     Remember that a RAW file (or Nikon Electric Format = NEF) is an uncompressed, unprocessed black-and-white image.  Viewing programs like my ACDSee program apply the basic camera settings to the image to provide a "view" of the image for me to look at.
     Here is the original RAW file as seen through my regular image editor - ACDSee Pro 2.5.

     My first step is just to open it, or in my case, drag and drop this file into Photoshop (CS 4).  The Camera Raw 5.3 - Nikon D2X dialog box immediately opens showing the image and the control panel for processing the RAW file.  One of the updates to photoshop allowed me to add the Nikon D2X camera information so that when files open, they open with the specifics for this camera.  Now, with the Camera Raw 5.3 dialog box open, lets examine the controls that are available.


This shows the image open in Camera Raw 5.3.

     These tools in the top left of the dialog box are the zoom tool, hand tool, white balance eye dropper, crop, straighten, spot removal, red eye removal tool, etc.  They allow you to make some improvements to your image as you process it.  Resetting the white balance, (dust) spot removal, and cropping the image are important tools that can be applied if needed.

     Below the photo in the dialog box you can click on this link that opens a set of controls where you can choose Color Space, Bit depth, size, and resolution of the image.  This image was originally taken in the Adobe RGB 1998 color space, but since it is meant for the web, I clicked on this link and changed the color space to sRGB - which is the color space of the web.  After the RAW image is processed this color space will be applied when the image is opened in Photoshop.
     At the top right right of the Camera Raw 5.3 dialog box is the image histogram, showing exposure information, and a set of buttons that control the different processing palettes.   The first button, which is inset slightly because it is selected, is the "Basic" processing controls.  Thus the word "Basic" appears in the selection title beneath the buttons.  The second control is Tone Curves, then Detail, etc.  Notice the small down/right arrow on the same line as the "Basic" button - remember that.

     These are the "Basic" RAW processing tools.  At the top, the White Balance is shown "As Shot", which for this photo was 4600 degrees Kelvin, with a Tint of -2.  Below those sliders are the sliders that allow you to process your image in great detail.  The Exposure, Recovery, Fill Light, Blacks, Brightness, and Contrast all effect the overall processing of "light" on the image. 

     The controls below those - Clarity, Vibrance, and Saturation effect the "color" of the image and how that color is applied.

     When you have a group of images that are similar (thus, the processing will be similar) you can click on that small down/right arrow next to "Basic" and select "Previous Conversion" choice.  You can also select "Camera Raw Defaults".  I usually open my images with the image settings supplied by the camera.

     The second tab of controls opens the "Tone Curve" palette.  These controls effect different regions of the image based on brightness.

     Experiment with them some, watch what parts of the image they change and how they change.  I don't use these settings a great deal but they have valuable benefits.  While the previous "Basic" controls effect the whole image - these controls only effect parts of the image as determined by their brightness.

     The third tab of controls opens the "Detail" palette.  It is within this palette that you decide how much sharpening to do to the image.

     The easiest way to check your results is to zoom in on a section of the image to at least 100% - then apply a level or sharpening or noise reduction - and see how it effects the image.

    The slider controls for these tools make small adjustments to the image easy.  These are global adjustments that effect the entire image.

     Every possible adjustment doesn't need to be made by these tool palettes - once the image is open in Photoshop further processing can be done easily and with just as much control, and at times more control.


     The other tabs open more specialized sets of processing controls and I generally don't use a great deal.  So considering the three sets of controls I've detailed here - these are the settings for this particular image that I choose.  Remember that the processing of an image is unique to you and your eye - and there is no good or bad - just your preferences and tastes in how you want the image to look.  For me, I usually try and make it exactly as I remember it being.

Basic Tone Curve Detail
Exposure  +.35
Recover  0
Fill Light  18
Blacks  19
Brightness  +35
Contrast  +30
Clarity  +30
Vibrance  +30
Saturation  +18

Highlights  -26
Lights  +4
Darks  -4
Shadows  -5

Amount  109
Radius  1.3
Detail  10
Masking  0

Noise Reduction

Luminance  15
Color  15


     Now, with those processing changes made, I open the image in Photoshop by clicking on the "Open Image" button below the tool palettes.  When the images open you will see that the RAW file format is still showing with the image file name - for this image it says _1SC6451.NEF.  However, when I try to "save" the image - the Save As dialog box appears and the file format is Photoshop's PSD format.  Other common choices are GIF, JPG, and TIF.  You can NOT resave the NEF file.  What this means is you can go back and reprocess the RAW file at different times in different ways.

     Now, if the JPG format doesn't show in the "Save As" dialog box it means that the NEF format is still in 16 bit mode - so you need to change it to 8 bit mode by selecting  IMAGE>MODE>8 Bits/channel.   A 16 bit RAW file has 65,536 levels of brightness while a JPG file has 256 levels of brightness. 


     Now, with the image open create a second layer (CTRL-J), then a third layer (CTRL-J).  After making selective changes to the third layer that I like I will collapse it to the second layer (CTRL-E), create another third layer (CTRL-J) and make more changes.  If I like them I collapse it down to the second layer (CTRL-E) and continue until the image is processed as correctly as I can make it.

     Remember that I don't make global changes at this time, I'm making changes to only certain parts of the image - then using masks to paint in those changes only in the selected areas.

     For example, in this image I want to saturate the grape leaves more.  Working on the third layer I pulled up the Hue/Saturation dialog box (CTRL-U) and applied about 16% more saturation.  Holding the ALT key down, I clicked the Layer Mask icon in the Layers Palette and a black mask appears next to the image on the third layer - hiding the layer.  I selected a white paintbrush, big brush and at about 30% opacity on the brush I painted in the higher saturation on the leaves only.  While invisible - the white paint "reveals" that area of the "concealed" layer - hidden by the black mask.   When I finished and reviewed it - and liked it - I collapsed the third layer to the second layer (CTRL-E) then created a new third layer (CTRL-J) - and worked on a different area.

     In this image I tweaked the following areas of the image:  Grape Leaves (color), wood post (brightness/contrast/sharpness), numbers on the post (light levels/contrast), and the grapes (color/sharpness/noise reduction/contrast).  What I finished with is my representation of what I say the other day in the vineyard.  Its an 11mb jpg file.



Image Gallery

Grand Canyon Rattlesnake - April 2009 Southern Utah Photo Safari

Sidestep Canyon - Grand Staircase-Escalante NM - April 2009 Southern Utah Photo Safari

Bobcat - May 2009 Photo shoot to Sequoia National Park

Grizzly Falls - Kings Canyon National Park May 2009 Workshop

Fern Gully - Sequoia NP May 2009 Workshop

Waterfall - Sequoia NP April 2009 Workshop

Boar Grizzly - Yellowstone June 2009 Safari

Sow Grizzly - Yellowstone June 2009 Safari

Boar and Sow Grizzly together in Yellowstone National Park - June 2009 Safari

Foresta Barn - Yosemite NP June 2009 Workshop

Grizzly - Yellowstone June 2009 Safari

Contact Information

Brent Russell Paull
American West Photography
460 E. Estate Drive
Tulare, California  93274

2009 Brent Russell Paull  All Rights Reserved