Tag Archives: education

The Magic of the Northern Lights

 

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Capturing the aurora… the illusive, search for lights in the night sky.

Most frequently seen above the magnetic poles of the Earth, these circles of high-density auroras lie between the latitudes of 60° and 70° north and south, more or less in line with the Arctic and Antarctic circles. The auroral activity increases when high solar activity, such as sunspots, disturbs Earth’s magnetosphere.

Solar activity is created by complex magnetic fields on the sun’s surface, which ejects billions of tons of plasma (coronal mass ejections (CME)) at extraordinarily high speeds, sending fast-flowing “gusts” of charged particles out from the sun.

4.2Mclass - NASA

NASA 4.2Mclass

The light of auroras is emitted when charged particles in the solar wind excite the electrons of atmospheric atoms through collisions. As the electrons return to their original energy levels, these atoms, primarily oxygen and nitrogen, emit photos of visible light of distinct wavelengths to create the colors of the auroral display. The wavelength of the light depends upon the electronic structure of the atoms or molecules themselves, and on the energy of the charged particle colliding with the atom or molecule.

Solar wind is a stream of plasma, charged particles created by collisions of atoms in the intense heat of the sun’s atmosphere, or corona. These charged particles, mostly protons and electrons, have their own magnetic field. They reach Earth at speeds of 350 to 400 km per second. The Earth’s magnetosphere forms an obstacle to the solar wind, which deflects them and ultimately channels them toward the North and South poles.

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NASA

The electrons of the atmospheric atoms collide with the particles of the solar wind to become excited. As the electrons return to their original energy levels, these atoms emit visible light of distinct wavelengths, to create the colors of the display that can be seen. The specific atmospheric gas and its electrical state, and the energy of the particle that hits the atmospheric gas determine the colors. The atmosphere consists mainly of nitrogen and oxygen, which emit the characteristic colors of their respective line spectra. Atomic oxygen is responsible for the two main colors of green and red. Nitrogen causes blue and deep red hues. Additionally, altitude can effect the color of the auroras. The strong green light originates at altitudes of 120-180 km. Red occurs at even higher altitudes, while blue and violate occur mostly below 120 km. When solar activity is extremely high, reds can be found at lower altitudes of 90-100 km. Although rare, entirely red auroras can sometimes be seen at low latitudes, often appearing to be fire on the horizon.

 

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Although solar winds occur regularly, the intensity of the activity is not constant, but follows an eleven-year cycle of activity.

The movement of the aurora is created when the magnetic field lines are broken and reformed, called magnetic reconnection. The Earth’s magnetic field lines capture and store energy, and magnetic reconnection occurs when these stressed lines suddenly snap back to new shapes, like stretched elastic bands. In doing so, they fling charged particles back towards the Earth’s atmosphere.

 

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Auroras, although present throughout the year depending on solar activity, can only be seen in the night sky near the North and South poles during the relative winter months. In the northern sky the lights are called the Aurora Borealis, where as in the southern sky, they are known as Aurora Australis.

133709main_FUV_STILL - A view of the aurora australis

NASA

Capturing auroral images is challenging, as travel to remote locations is generally required. Because the aurora is a winter phenomenon, being prepared for frigged conditions is necessary. This effects both you, the photographer, but also your gear. Camera gear is generally not happy in extreme cold conditions; batteries die faster and the mechanisms seize up. When you go into a warming shed or facility to warm up, the gear will steam, but because it is so cold, the steam will turn to frost instantly. It can take hours for the gear to reach the ambient temperature of the room and be usable again. This could be the difference between capturing the aurora and missing it entirely. For yourself, being prepared to stand in the extreme cold also poses some challenges because it requires multiple layers of heavy clothing, thick gloves, balaclavas, hats, and scarves. Simply moving can be difficult. Exposing your fingers to change camera settings or to manipulate your metal camera body or tripod can be painful, sending burning cold through your finger tips.

Even with these challenges, there is nothing like experiencing this wonder. Sometimes you just have to sit back and appreciate the moment… of course while your camera is working!

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New Book! Demystifying Photoshop

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 11.30.31 AMAdobe Photoshop is an extremely powerful post-production tool and was developed for graphic artists, designers, illustrators, and photographers alike. What does this mean? Well, it means that Photoshop has more features than any photographer is ever likely to use for processing photographs. But it also means that this is one of the best platforms to enhance your imagery.

The ability to use Camera Raw with Layers and Masks will enable you to take your images to the next level, whether you just want to enhance a single image or composite multiple images and textures to create an entirely unique piece of art.

The goal of this book is to introduce Photoshop and its features to photographers and to demonstrate how these tools may be used from the photographer’s perspective. Throughout this book, I will use images, and screenshots to demonstrate various techniques commonly used by photographers in Photoshop.

If you download the iBooks version, you will also get enhanced functionality, such as built in videos and interactive galleries to help reinforce what you are learning.

If you would like to purchase the Kindle/Android/PDF version, click here and then click Buy, just below the cover image.

Epic Iceland! 2015

There is really no way to describe… with words… the majesty of Iceland. This country is like no other! With incredible light and impressive landscapes, Iceland is a photographer’s paradise. Join us as we explore all of its nature wonders! For more information on our 2015 Epic Iceland tour, click here. Only 1 Spot Left!

Processing Infrared Images

Today I want to share one of the methods to transform an infrared image from a RAW file to various stages of a final image. The actual final image chosen is about preference and totally up to the photographer.

That is the reason I will show each stage of the process, as each result could have been my final image. Enjoy!

RAW image

I converted my camera to infrared through Lifepixel. The provide many conversion options, so you are likely to find one that suits your preferences. I chose Super Color, which provides the most flexibility and can easily achieve a blue sky.

 

Some cameras allow you to set a custom white balance. That is the case with my camera, so this is the “out of camera” result. For cameras which do not allow custom white balance settings, the image will start as fuchsia; which can still be processed to the final image you will see at the end of the blog.

The next step is to swap the RED and BLUE channels. To do this, open the “channel mixer” in Photoshop. Choose the RED channel from the drop down menu. You will see that the RED channel is set to 100% for RED and zero for GREEN and BLUE. Put a zero for the RED channel and 100% for the BLUE channel. Next select the BLUE channel from the drop down menu. You will see that the BLUE channel is set to 100% for BLUE and zero for GREEN and RED. Put a zero for the BLUE channel and 100% for the RED channel. Hit enter and you should see the following:

 

Since I have the Super Color conversion, my sky will go from “orange” to blue and the colors that represent “green” foliage turn a varying degrees of yellow.  This is image can be considered final and is often referred to as “false color.”

If you are working your way to Black and White infrared, you can continue to process the image. For me, the next step is to remove the Yellow cast. To do this, first flatten your image and then select Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. Choose Yellow from the drop down menu. Then select the dropper+ icon and click on an area of the image that is yellow. I try to click on an area of deep yellow. Now, drag the saturation slide all the way to the left and you will see the yellow foliage turn grey/white. You may need to select additional areas depending on whether the white balance was accurate. If your white balance is off, you may find the “green” foliage is more of a rusty color, in which case you may need to desaturate red and yellow. Here was my resulting image:

 

Again, this image can be considered finished. You may get to this stage and want to add some contrast and “glow” to deepen the image. In this case, because I was moving towards black and white infrared, I did not process the image further at this point. I wanted to complete my transformation, then adjust contract and “glow.”

There are a number of ways to get to black and white infrared:

  1. Create a black and white adjustment layer in Photoshop.
  2. Create another Hue and Saturation layer and desaturate with RGB selected (a step that could have been done above).
  3. Use Macphun Tonality Pro (discount code: ROADRUNNER), TopazLabs B&W Effects (discount code: roadrunner), or OnOne Perfect B&W (contact us here for the discount code).
  4. Other software.

 

 

I also added a “glow” effect, typically associated with infrared images. I did this through an action I created. However, you could also achieve “glow” with various Photoshop plugins.

For those folks new to Infrared imagery, now is the time to convert that old camera body sitting on a shelf. If you wait until spring, any of the conversion companies will be busy and waits can be long, so act now! When spring returns and the leaves pop out all great and lush, you will be ready!

To see a demonstration of these techniques, click here for our video tutorial.

How Did I get Here?

I was asked to share the original images that make up this composite:

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So here are the 9 original files, untouched, raw files. You can see that the images were taken in different times of day and lighting situations, from different perspectives, with different tones. The challenge to composite images is making the final image seem like a single shot, as impossible as it might seem to create.

 

I have by no means perfected this art form, but am definitely working on it. It takes, like all things you want to do well, lots of practice and patience. For those interested in learning the techniques that can be used for compositing and other adjustments, I am leading two workshops: one is on  Layers and Masks in Photoshop and the other is on Textures and Blending techniques. Click the titles to learn more.

 

Changing the Mood of an Image

Decided to play a bit with Photoshop this morning. I enjoy going back to old images, long forgotten, processed or not processed, and seeing how I would process them today, as my skills improve. As always, photography and image processing is highly subjective, so it is possible that others will not necessary think these images are “improved.” However, I am a strong believer in practice makes perfect, so here my take on an image from years.

As originally processed.

First step is to beef up the sky. There were great clouds but in the first processing attempt, I did not bring the detail out. So this time, I wanted to emphasize the incoming storm.

Second step… see how the image feels in black and white.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So now I had two versions, each with their own appeal, but I still had not achieve what I wanted. Since I liked the pier in the color image and the clouds in the black and white, I decided to see how these features worked together.

Final image


For me, it is not that any one of these images is “better” than the next, but rather, any one of these images is more or less pleasing depending on my mood and the message I wish to convey when sharing. There are times that I really like the use of selective color and for folks learning new image processing skills, testing out the techniques for blending color and black and white has its place in the process of growing as an artist.

As you develop your skills in image processing, try everything, practice everything, and then learn how and when to incorporate the techniques you like the most into your work. These images were enhanced using camera raw and blended using layers and masks. For some video tutorials on these techniques, click here for our YouTube channel.

Happy Shooting!

 

Using Masks in Photoshop

Masking in Photoshop

In the last blog I discussed blending images to get a better final result, specifically replacing a perfectly clear blue sky with one that had more character (clouds).

There are many ways to create selections in Photoshop, including the Color Selection tool, the Magic Wand tool, the Pen tool, the Lasso Tool, as well as the use of plugins, such as TopazLabs ReMask. Depending on the image you are working on, any one of these tools can be helpful. In this blog, I am going to layout the steps for masking using the Color Selection tool in Photoshop.

Step 1:

Select your base image. In this case, I selected an image from the Montgomery County Fair, of the swing. As you can see, there is NO sky here and I am getting aberration (vignetting) from my lens. To get this image ready, I processed the image using an HDR technique, to pop the beautiful undercarriage of the ride and the people in the seats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 2:

After collapsing my layers, I duplicated my background layer, then I created my mask selection by through Select, Color Range, and used the dropper to pick up the areas of the sky. In this case, I picked the sky near the top and the bottom of the image, so that I got both “blues”. use the dropper to choose the “colors” to pick up. Then hit OK. This will give you the marching ants.

You can see in the image below this “marching ants,” indicated my selection. It doesn’t matter in this case that the corners are not in my selection. I will be able to fix that later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then click the Mask tool button shown below. This will create a mask. You must remember to duplicate the background image before selecting your color range.

 

 

 

Result, you can see our duplicate layer with a mask next to it in the layer panel on the right hand side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 3:

Next select the appropriate sky image. Remember when making this decision, angle of the sky is important. For incorporation into this particular base, I would not select a sky taken on the horizon, it would simply be too far away. Also, consider the color (hue and saturation) of the sky you are going to use. Although this can be manipulated in processing, you can save yourself time by selection something similar. Lastly, you need to consider “light”… say from the time of day perspective. I could not use a night sky here, because there is too much light on the faces of the people on the ride and direction of light should be considered as well. I chose the sky image below.

 

I did do a bit of processing on this image. Deepened the blues in the sky and lightened the clouds, through Brightness and Contrast adjustment in Photoshop.

 

 

 

 

Step 4:

Duplicate the mask, so that it is also on the sky layer. To do this, hold down the option (or alt) click, click and hold the mask you want to duplicate and drag it up to the sky layer, and unclick. This will copy the mask you created and place it on to the sky image, allowing the background layer (base layer) to show through.   As you can see in the image below the vignetting in the corners is back and the masking is quite complete on the top left, but never fear… we will fix that next!

 

You can feather your mask at this point, but for this image, feathering would have created a small blue line around the ride, which would not have allowed the sky to look natural. Therefore, I left the feather control at zero.

 

 

 

 

Step 5:

To clean up the mask, you need to show the mask on the screen, instead of the image. To do this hold down the option (or alt) key and click the mask (on the sky layer). This will bring the mask on to your Photoshop workspace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Depending on how clean your Select, Color Range was, you will have more or less black or grey in the sky. In my case, I could have clicked the corners during the range selection and that would have made this cleaner. In either case, we can fix it, but selecting the Brush tool and making sure white is selected as our “color” to paint. Then start painting the unwanted blacks and grays white.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that we have cleaned up all the excess black (on the area that is supposed to be white) and cleaned up the excess white (on the area that is supposed to be black), we are ready to reveal our final image!

Again, holding the option (or alt) key, click on the layer mask (on the sky later). This will return to image to your workspace and presto chango … we have an image with some character in the background now!

 

 

 

Remember, this technique can be used for all sorts of images. Maybe head shots taken against a boring white background and you want to add color or textures.  Adding a moon to an otherwise featureless night sky. The possibilities are limitless.

 

 

 

To see a video tutorial on masking, click here for our videos on YouTube.

Post Processing Fall Images!

Fall is an amazing time of year, as the air cools and colors appear. However, it can also be a challenging time of year for photography, as often the cooler temperatures at night create fog in the earning morning hours. Although beautiful, fog can leave your images looking flat and lifeless. In our newest video tutorial, you learn how to add color and pop back into a foggy morning fall image. You will see this image:  _XT10831 become this image: _XT10831-Edit-2

in just a matter of minutes. You will also learn dodge and burn techniques that will easily become part of your image processing arsenal!

To watch this tutorial, please click here.  While on our YouTube Channel, please subscribe, as we are always adding new videos tutorials!

Camera Raw Processing

RRPT has just returned from a wonderful photo tour of the Great Smoky Mountains. We had a great group of folks who were game for early mornings, long days, and late evenings! This was my 3rd trip to this area and by far, it was the best. We were gifted with some of the best weather conditions I have ever seen in this area.

During our trip, we discussed a lot about image processing, from which software products we use to which techniques we use to create our final images. So I decided to create some tutorials to demonstrate my approach… starting with my thought process and approach to my images, through the use of Camera Raw to enhance images and Photoshop layers and masks to modify specific areas of the images, to final touches!

These tutorials are chock full of tips and tricks on how to navigate and use Camera Raw and Photoshop. I focused on these products because I wanted to demonstrate that you can achieve beautiful images through basic tools, as not everyone has Photoshop plugins (NIK, TopazLabs, onOne, etc). So for these tutorials, I used what I consider to be the basic software tools need. For full disclosure, I work in Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite (Photoshop CC) and use and describe Photoshop’s version of Camera Raw, but if you have older versions of Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, you should be able to use processes described in these tutorials to enhance your images!

These tutorials are somewhat sequential… starting with Columbine, then Rivers, then Foggy Tree. I mentioned this, because Columbine is the longest tutorial and includes a significant amount of Camera Raw explanation. The other two tutorials, although still descriptive, are not as in-depth on Camera Raw functionality, but get straight to the enhancements. Although the tutorials demonstrate the use of Camera Raw and Photoshop on specific subjects, all of the techniques demonstrated can be used to enhance any image, any subject.

My goal was to create instructional videos that help photographers learn how to use the image processing tools available to them. Hope you enjoy! If you find these tutorials helpful, please subscribe to RRPT’s YouTube Channel, as we add videos and tutorials regularly!

Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis):

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In this tutorial, I show you the various features of Camera Raw and describe how I use the Basic adjustments, as well as the Adjustment Brush, features. Then I demonstrate how to bring the image back into Photoshop to enhance the blur/soft background (2 techniques for this!) and how to sharpen our main subject. I describe how to use layers and masks to selectively apply our adjustments, including what white/black masks do, and some tips and tricks for manipulating masks. I also describe how to select the brush tool and how to change its characteristics, including size and opacity. Lastly, this tutorial also describes Free Transform and how to use the transform tools, along with layers and masks to clone parts of your image.

To view this tutorial, click here.

 

 

 

River:
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In this tutorial, I demonstrate how to enhance a forest river scene. We cover how to clone unnecessary features from your image, add dimension to long-exposure water, straighten the image through the crop tool, and how to enhance the mossy rocks to give the image that added pop! These tutorial focuses primarily on the Adjustment Brush tool in Camera Raw and shows that you can take an image to nearly its final stage with this one invaluable piece of software.

To view this tutorial, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foggy Tree:
_XT19932-EditIn the final tutorial in the set, I discuss how to enhance an image taken in deep fog. Most of us LOVE foggy days and foggy scenes, but can be stumped when we get home and see this flat monochromatic image. Where do we start? Well, this tutorial demonstrates that in a few easy steps, you can take a bright, flat, foggy scene and create a moody scene with dimension fit for a zombie movie!

To view this tutorial, click here.