July 2009 Newsletter
Upcoming Events /
Exposure Compensation /
Zion National Park
Processing RAW Files in Photoshop
Image Gallery / Contact Information
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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
Sat, Sept 19-22, 2009
3 or 4 Day Yellowstone Fall Photo Safari
Fri, Sept 25-26, 2009
2 Day Northern Utah Autumn Colors Safari
Sat, Oct 24th, 2009
Bolsa Chica WMA Workshop
Huntington Beach, Ca
Sat, Oct 31st, 2009
Autumn in Yosemite Workshop
Sun, Nov 8-10, 2009
3 Day Autumn in Southern Utah Safari
Mon, Jan 11-13, 2009
3 Day Bosque del Apache NWR Safari
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?
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.
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.
are some examples of EC changes:
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
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
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.
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.
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.
CAMERA RAW DIALOG BOX
This shows the image open in Camera Raw 5.3.
CAMERA RAW CONTROLS
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
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.
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.
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.
IMAGE IN CAMERA RAW
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.
Fill Light 18
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.
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
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.
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.
FINAL SAVED IMAGE
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
Grizzly Falls - Kings Canyon National Park May
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
Brent Russell Paull
American West Photography
460 E. Estate Drive
Tulare, California 93274
© 2009 Brent Russell Paull All Rights