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Photo editing – how to reduce artifacts

Artifacting is a native issue of digital photography. It appears on nearly all digital photos – sometimes a little, sometimes strong. Microstock agencies don’t like artifacts, istockphoto is particularly known for that.

Artifacts is something quite easy to address if you apply a systematic approach. I am getting nearly 0 rejects for artifacts for the last +/- 12 months if not longer:

  • shoot exclusively in RAW , not too high ISO
  • good exposure, particularly no underexposure, and no pulling shadows up
  • very little or no sharpening when processing RAW
  • if converting RAW to separate file before opening in photoshop use TIF not jpeg

in result you should see very little artifacting (BTW check on the edge of shadows at 400%-500% zoom).

What I am doing next with 100% of my pictures is applying TopazLabs DeJPEG filter (photoshop plugin). There is an old free version and there is up to date commercial one (which isn’t expensive). The “official” purpose of the plugin is different, but it helps very nicely to remove that little artifacting. The key is to apply DeJPEG at very low settings, don’t overdo it. I made several presets for different degree of artifacting/noise; and I am thinking about making a tutorial about that when I have some time.

When applied at minimal settings, DeJPEG filter smooths areas without detail while keeping details sharp, and adds a very little noise. This is an example (crop enlarged to 300%):


the version “more DeJpeg” not only smoothened stronger, but also has more noise added.

Sunday shoot in Leuven

The better plan you make, the higher are chances it will fail. So was with my last shoot – the plan was to shoot Thomas in railway station but we were kicked out by police.

Indeed they were formally right – but we were not on people’s way and I wasn’t photographing the station itself; and I photographed in the same station several times in the past… (I think it’s clear by now that I didn’t bother with the official permission). So we had to switch to plan ‘B’ and photograph Thomas near the station but outside.

Although I know the place I still visited it in advance to check possible spots for taking pictures (both in station and around it), and that was helpful. The session lasted only 2 hours but we didn’t loose any time, so it was productive.

I was pleasantly surprised with Thomas. He is only doing modeling for 8 months but he is doing it very well. He understood pretty well what I wanted from him and he did it all nicely and quite naturally.

Just one picture so far as I didn’t have time for retouche/processing:
Thomas


Leuven from above

A few days ago I visited the bell tower of Leuven University Library (located on Ladeuze plein). The tower hosts one of the largest carillons in Europe (it even was the largest for some time). Normally the tower isn’t accessible to the public, but it’s possible to visit it once or twice a year, with the excursion to carillon followed by a nice concert of carillon music.

The excursion was lead by Luc Rombouts, carillionist and the official bell ringer of Leuven.

The picture above shows the University Library with the tower photographed in twilight (more than a year ago). We visited the tower under bright daylight, and almost whole Leuven can be observed from the tower.

The first picture is the view at Stella Artois and the channel to Mechelen:
Leuven from above
The second photo is the view at Leuven station (with construction works on the other side of the railway) and new city hall:
Leuven from above

And here is the rest of it.

Pictures of Leuven

I didn’t realize that I have too few pictures of my home town until I got a request from a customer a few weeks ago. Luckily the weather is nice lately so I went to the center of Leuven to take some pictures.
Leuven stadhuis
The City Hall of Leuven is nice, so I took some photos at the end of the day, when the lights started to turn on but the sky wasn’t completely dark yet.


A few more pictures of the City Hall
Leuven stadhuis

City Hall of Leuven
I went also to Oude Markt the same day. For those who doesn’t know Leuven Oude Markt is a nice old square surrounded by medieval buildings – it is full of bars and restaurants and some people call it the “largest bar in Europe”. It will be the subject of my next blog post.

Finding photo models

There are several ways to find models. Relatives and friends might be easy to access, but they are not necessarily good models. Another possibility is to use special web sites where models and photographers find each other. Make-up artists can be found the same way.

Quite often the same model can be found on different sites at the same time. Sites provide different options and different communication channels to the users.

Probably the most popular in Belgium is http://modellennet.be. Currently it lists more than 2000 models (mostly from Belgium and some from the Netherlands). In Dutch.

Another popular site is http://www.eye-on.net (former photograaf.be). Current list is above 800 models. The site is in Dutch. It is supposed to grow beyond a basic meeting place for photographers and models, but these services are yet to be developed.

Less popular is http://models.handelsgids.be/?zoekenHome/

Speaking about Dutch model the most popular site is http://DutchHeaven.nl

Very popular international site: http://www.modelmayhem.com. It is not so popular in Belgium (only 300 models) as it is in some other countries, but is it a good resource for photographers. The site is in English.

Site popular in Germany: http://www.model-kartei.de. It lists more than 20,000 models, and on top many make-up artists, studios for hire, etc. Although the site is in German it is quite easy to search for models if you learn a few basic words.

Leuven station in twilight

One more photo of Leuven railway station that I made almost a year ago. This time you could see a large version if you click on picture (and then click “All sizes” above the picture).

Leuven station


Winter photos

Unusually for Belgium we’ve got real winter this year – lot’s of snow and freezing all week. It was a nice sunny day yesterday so I went out to make a few pictures. This one is made in Heverlee bos:
Heverlee bos

It was -10 centigrade and I didn’t have any issues with the camera at that temperature. However fully charged batteries died extremely quickly – it was showing “battery low” after about 15 minutes of use. Fortunately I have a good habit of always having several charged batteries with me. By the way Canon compatible battery behaved better than original Canon. It was showing “battery low” but kept working, while Canon battery quickly went down.

Photo exhibitions in Belgium

A few days ago I received an invitation to a photo exhibition in Leuven:

The club Foto Gamma Leuven will have an exhibition at Diestevest 39 te 3000 Leuven (close to the station) on 26-27 April and on 1-4th of May (open 10:00-18:00).

http://www.fotogamma.be/

International annual photo festival in Knokke-Heist is running from March and till the 1st of June. The main guest this year is Dutch photographer Frans Lanting (http://www.lanting.com, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frans_Lanting)

Details at http://www.fotofestival.be

Another event possibly interesting for photographers will be 2008 Steam Festival in Maldegem on the 3rd and 4th of May. Maldegem is not far from Gent and from Knokke, so it’s possible to combine a visit to steam festival with the visit to Knokke photo festival. There will be 2 guest steam engines in Maldegem and one local on the show. Besides that there is interesting program including steam train rides, model railways, etc.

More details and pictures at http://www.stoomcentrum.be/EN/indexEN.html

Alternative to Photoshop

I was wondering for a while whether there is a decent alternative to Adobe Photoshop. I mean a serious photographer shooting always in RAW, who doesn’t want to loose any of the data captured by the camera – i.e. processing the files in 16-bit until the last save.

Remark: To outline my photo editing needs:

  • minimum: Full 16-bit editing, including layers, noise removal plugin, curves/levels, blurring, cloning, color adjustment;
  • optional: Support of Canon EOS 40D RAW format;
  • important: easy to use interface suitable for intensive workflow

Recent version of Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 looked promising, so I decided to give it a try.

Unfortunately it isn’t suitable for people like me. I will list the limitations in the order I experienced them, not in the order of importance:

  • PSP X2 can’t open RAW files from my Canon EOS 40D – not critical;
  • PSP X2 can’t properly handle TIF files saved with ZIP compression – not critical;
  • PSP X2 can only save 8-bit and/or flattened files in common formats (TIF, PSD), and can only save multi-layer 16-bit picture in it’s own format – not critical;
  • Most filters/effects only work in 8-bit mode as it was with photoshop several years ago. – not critical, as long as layers, curves, levels and blur work in 16-bit mode;
  • Some tools only work in 8-bit mode, e.g. clone – this is critical for retouch;
  • Using on the same PC, PSP X2 works much slower than Photoshop CS2 or CS3 – may be critical, but probably can be addressed by a faster PC with more memory.

Overall functionality of PSP X2 is quite impressive; and many (most?) of Photoshop plugins work with PSP. The price of PSP X2 is much more attractive comparing with Photoshop. Also, some workarounds are possible to overcome the above listed issues.

However, considering limitations altogether, and considering intensive workflow my conclusion is that Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 is not a decent replacement of Adobe Photoshop CS+ for serious photographers. Perhaps one of the next versions will make it suitable…

Other alternatives?

  • GIMP isn’t – not only it is very uncomfortable to use but it still doesn’t support 16-bit editing.
  • Photoshop Elements 6 isn’t an alternative either because of very limited 16-bit support – only a few filters supported in 16-bit; and adjustment layers don’t work in 16-bit mode.
  • Googling for 16-bit programs I found Picture Window Pro 4.0. Tried that one – yes, it supports full 16-bit editing, but the interface isn’t convenient and no layers supported at all.

Conclusion: At the moment there seem to be no other software than Adobe Photoshop CS3 that can suite my needs. It is priced high, but not without a reason. And, despite it’s high price there are options available to obtain it cheaper than a standard price (I mean, legally). Checking on eBay I found quite a few offers in a range of 250-350 USD for a full-boxed-retail-version.

GIMP isn’t too bad, but lacks 16-bit support and has non-friendly interface
PSP X2 is actually quite good, the only serious missing point is lack 16-bit editing.

Remark: 16-bit editing is very important in case of intensive digital manipulation. Editing in 8-bit will result very quickly a non-continuous color representation. You can easily see that effect as a comb when executing Levels command. This might not be an issue for personal photographs or for minor editing, but this is not acceptable in most professional use.

Remark #2: I’ve got impression that PSP X2 beats Photoshop Elements 6 if you compare them. Actually PSP X2 is positioned in the same market area as PS Elements and isn’t competing with the “real” photoshop. However, adding 16-bit support and keeping it low-price would make it a serious alternative to Photoshop itself rather than just Elements.

Photos of Leuven

One of the ideas I have about this blog is to show Leuven and surroundings. Something like “a photo a day” – although I don’t think I will be able to post one photo from Leuven really each and every day. Anyway, I will show some, and the picture you see is the first one in this series.

This picture was taken in Grote Begijnhof (Beguinage) of Leuven – nicely preserved historical district.

If you are interested to know a little about Begijnhof, read further:

The Beguinage of Leuven lies on the banks of the River Dyle, in a quarter called “Ten Hove”, south of the city center.

During the 12th century, we see the origin of many new religious movements, most of them trying to return to the old ideals of “living like Christ in his time”. One of these were the “wandering preachers” in Germany. Unlike them, the Albigensians or cathars, in southern France, rejected all ecclesiastic authority and Christian dogmas. Also the Apostolici rejected all ecclesiastic discipline and most dogmas. They also postulated complete renunciation of earthly goods. It is in this context, we see the first appearance of the name “beghina”, mostly in a pejorative meaning, indicating a person who “begs” or stammers (derived from a French word)
After the crusades, under Greek-Byzantine influence, a mystical movement invade the western world. Especially women were attracted by this ideal. They didn’t want to withdraw into the wilderness but retired to hermitages near a cloister, a church or a chapel. These women wanted to devote their lifes to contemplation. This evolution caused the origin of so called “double cloisters”. Cloistered women lived in the immediate neighbourhood of regular monks.

In the beginning, most religious women lived apart. They were certainly stimulated to go and live in groups, convents, because in this way, it was easier to get overview and control over this religious movement. (about 1240) The oldest, still existing document mentions the Beguinage of Leuven in 1232. This beguine convent was founded outside the city walls of those days.

You can read the full article at the website of Leuven University: http://www.cs.kuleuven.be/~maarten/pics/begijnhofleuven/Begleuhis.html