Category Archives: Photo tips

In this category I share tips about photography such as lighting, composition, focus and use of lenses.

Can photo software stop the shakes?

Like every other photographer who has shaken his/her head after capturing an image that lacks tack sharpness, I was riveted by the news that Photoshop would offer a new filter in its next upgrade that would fix blurry photos using complicated algorithms. The examples out on various blogs made it seem a dream come true.

Then last week I learned about another photo software plugin from Intelligent Imaging Solutions called Piccure. It was offering a beta version of the same  feature correcting camera shake in images. Piccure is being offered as a free download right now. I decided to give it a shot.

Tonight I began experimenting with Piccure. After a few tests, I’m wondering if this new process, called deconvolution, is nothing more than a sharpening tool, much like Photoshop’s unsharp mask. I took a test image and created two samples: one using Piccure and one using Nik Software’s Sharpener Pro 3. Take a look and see what you think.

This is the original image sharpened in Photoshop.

Here is a close-up crop of the above image.

This next photo is edited using Nik Software’s Sharpener Pro 3.

Image sharpened using Nik’s Sharpener Pro

Here is a close-up crop of the above image.

This final photo is edited using Piccure, a Photoshop plugin that is available as a free download.

Image edited using Piccture

Here is a close-up crop of the above image.

As you can see from this last close-up, there is a ghosting effect taking place alongside the presider’s hands, which is not acceptable. I will continue to experiment with Piccure, but my initial tests are not very positive. But what the heck, it’s free — and you get what you pay for. If you have tried Piccure, did you have positive results? Do you think this camera shake technology will be a game-changer?

My fondness for Adobe Lightroom

The Miraculous Medal at The Basilica Of The National Shrine Of The Immaculate Conception in NE Washington D.C. (Sam Lucero photo)

I’ve been using Adobe Lightroom to edit my photos since the release of version 3. Previously I made adjustments to my photos in Photoshop. I moved to Lightroom after finally saving digital files as RAW images rather than simply as JPEG files. As primarily a newspaper photographer, I never saw the need to use RAW, since JPEG was fast and it fit in with my workflow. But after some experimentation and reading about the benefits of capturing RAW files, I was a convert.

Of course, Photoshop (I still use it and recently upgraded to CS6) also allows for RAW editing, but Lightroom is more than a photo editing application. Its main purpose is to manage a large number of photos and it helps keep them organized.

I recently upgraded to Lightroom 4 and I’m still learning many of the new features (as well as a lot of the Lightroom basics). When I shoot photos, I always save my images in RAW and JPEG (basic) files on my camera’s memory cards. I save a JPEG file just in case I need to send a quick image to someone or immediately post it online.

The RAW file format allows for much more creative control in areas such as exposure, white balance, contrast and sharpness; both in the overall image file or in random areas of the file.

As you can see by the above example, the unedited RAW file (the Miraculous Medal at The Basilica Of The National Shrine Of The Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C.), a strong spotlight on the image of Mary led to a dark background. It’s best to expose for the highlights (the medal) and allow Lightroom to pull out the darkened areas, which is what I did.

In Lightroom’s develop module, I adjusted some of the basic sliders to bring out the underexposed background and used the adjustment brush to lighten and darken (dodge and burn) specific areas in the photo. I’ve included a screen capture at right to see the basic adjustments made in this particular image.

Transforming the unedited image to the final image in the above example took just a few minutes. The more familiar one becomes with the editing tools in Lightroom, the shorter it takes to complete the editing process. Once the RAW file editing is complete, I save a JPEG copy for publication or web use. It’s like having the film negative filed away and sharing a scanned or printed copy.

Photographer Nasim Mansurov recommends Lightroom over Photoshop for 10 reasons:

  1. Lightroom is easier to learn than Photoshop.
  2. Lightroom already contains a big number of post-processing tools – good for 90%+ of editing tasks.
  3. Lightroom will help you in establishing a solid photography workflow process.
  4. Lightroom makes you more efficient, because you can go through and process many photos quickly, without having to deal with opening and closing files.
  5. Lightroom will keep you organized by cataloging all of your images in one place, making it easy to find and work with images.
  6. As a file and media management tool, Lightroom allows creating folders and sub-folders in your hard drive and can mass-rename files using templates.
  7. Editing images in Lightroom is non-destructive, which means that the original file never gets permanently changed, whereas Photoshop is a mix of destructive and non-destructive editing.
  8. Unless separate layers are kept for every change, Photoshop does not keep historical changes. With Lightroom, you can go back and restore earlier settings after making changes.
  9. Lightroom can display image metadata as an overlay as you edit photos. Photoshop cannot do that once an image is opened.
  10. Lightroom is more than twice cheaper than Photoshop.

See Mansurov’s entire post on Photoshop vs Lightroom.

I’m self-taught using Lightroom, but I rely on tutorials found both on YouTube and on photo-related websites, including this tutorial from Adobe on the Develop Module advancements in Lightroom 4. Here’s a brief YouTube video from Adobe’s Lightroom channel that gives a good introduction to the software’s features.

Want to be a photographer?

Ever thought about photography as a career? Sounds pretty easy. Buy a digital camera, a few lenses and accessories and start shooting weddings, senior portraits, first Communions and other important milestones. Maybe get a press pass and shoot concerts and other fun events.
Well as the full-time professionals can tell you, it’s a lot more than spending time on site shooting events. If it’s a real job there are the inglorious tasks that take away from the thrill of photography.
The good folks at Fotoseeds, a project that aims to have photographers help photographers grow, have created a cool illustration that describes the challenges of making photography a career. Enjoy.

Bugs up close

When I purchased my Nikon 60mm f2.8 AF macro focus lens last year, I did so for one reason: to take photos of miniature creatures that exist in my back yard. Since that time I’ve had a field day traipsing through the flower gardens and shrubs around my yard looking for assorted insects. It’s given me an appreciation for the world beyond my doorstep.

My Nikon 60mm f2.8 macro lens. Love it.

Most of the photos I’ve taken of insects were shot strictly with available lighting. On occasion I will grab one of my SB-800 Speedlights and use it to highlight the background or a spider’s web. The 60mm prime lens also serves as a decent portrait lens. What I love about this lens is its sharpness. When I’m on with the focus (not the easiest thing when focusing in about five inches from a subject), it’s incredible how the details of little bugs pop.

For anyone who has considered close-up photography — whether it be insects, objects such as coins, or flowers — I would highly recommend Nikon’s line of macro lenses. Some day I hope to purchase Nikon’s 105mm macro lens, but for now, the shorter 60mm is working just fine.

Recommendation: If you are serious about purchasing a macro lens but are worried about the cost, I would  suggest visiting Adorama’s refurbished lens selection. All lenses are refurbished by the manufacturer (unless specified otherwise) to the original company’s specifications.

According to Adorama, all refurbished cameras and lenses “are checked over by the manufacturer by hand, inspected very thoroughly, diagnosed, and calibrated by experienced technicians, and could therefore turn out to be more dependable than a new item.” In addition, all  refurbs sold by Adorama come with a 90-day return-to-manufacturer warranty. (Canon gear comes with a one-year return-to-Adorama warranty.)

However, refurbs are not always in stock due to availability, so patience is a key when purchasing a refurbished lens.

Below is a slide show of macro images taken in the last year. Enjoy.

iPhone in Italy

I recently spent 10 days on a pilgrimage in Italy. The trip included stops in Rome, Assisi, Florence and Venice. In addition to shooting lots of photos with my Nikon D700 camera, I used my iPhone 4 to take pictures and videos. This slide show includes photos shot with the iPhone camera as well as my ProCamera app. Some of the images are unedited. Others were tweeked using Hipstamatic, AutoStitch and PS Express.

I have found that taking photos and editing them with my iPhone is an exciting way to express my photography skills. Take a look at the photos posted below and let me know what you think.


iPhoneography in Italy – Images by Sam Lucero

Panorama pics on iPhone

I’ve been experimenting with iPhone apps that create panoramic photos. The two I like actually create different results. The traditional panorama app I’m using is called AutoStitch. You take two or more photos of the same scene (there should be an overlap within adjacent photos) with your iPhone camera then open up the AutoStitch app. Load the photos you want stitched and watch the app do its thing.

What I love about the AutoStitch app is that it creates large file sizes, large enough to make impressive prints. It takes some practice keeping your horizon consistent within each photo to avoid obvious distortions and stitched seams. You also want to avoid having people in the overlapping parts of the photos. Another neat benefit of AutoStitch is its Help mode, which includes a video tutorial. It’s the best $1.99 I’ve spent for photography software.

The other app I recently downloaded (this one’s free!) is a new release from Microsoft called Photosynth. This app creates more than the typical panorama. It allows you to take numerous photos of the same scene and automatically stitch them all together into a 3D viewing experience. This is the first app I’ve come across that can create 360-degree scenes. To experience this, however, you need to download Microsoft’s Photosynth viewer, which is free and works within your web browser.

According to the Photosynth website, the program uses techniques from the field of computer vision.

After creating your Photosynth image, the app gives you the choice of uploading it to Facebook or directly to your Photosynth account, where people can view them in their 360-degree glory. You can also grab an embed code and post it to your blog (see below). The Facebook panoramic view doesn’t do the images justice.

Here are a few of photos I created with AutoStitch. (Click on thumbnail to see larger image.)

I have also embedded two images using Photosynth. Hope you enjoy them.

Basilica of Sacred Heart of Jesus, Notre Dame University

Basilica of St. Josaphat, Milwaukee