DPS 6-10: Making the Ordinary Extraordinary, plus David's Favorite new Photo Products & DigitalPro 5 Announcement

With the ongoing financial crisis our feature article is more timely than ever. Photographers, like everyone, are cutting back on their trips to exotic locations and finding themselves needing to do more with less--and make the subjects they can find in their everyday lives or close to home a major part of their hobby. So we're delighted to present some tips on making the ordinary into the extraordinary.

We'll also give you some mini-reviews of the Nikon SB-900 Flash, Canon Powershot 770IS Point & Shoot, and nik SilverEfx from our new Mini-Reviews forum where you can read, comment on and post mini-reviews of products and services.

Feature Photo Article:
Making the Ordinary Extraordinary

Like most photographers and authors I tend to focus on those "images of a lifetime" taken of rare subjects or in exotic locales. Those are the ones which win most of the awards and which grace the pages of photography and nature magazines.

But unless you've given up on your family and social life to travel the world you'll spend most of your time making images of "ordinary" subjects and scenes. Of course they're special to you and probably to your family and friends, but making those images really shine takes at least as much work as polishing those vacation images of a roaring lion or thundering waterfall.

In this issue of DigitalPro Shooter we'll take you through some sample images and show you how to take an everyday snapshot opportunity and make it into a head turner. We'll start with a quick shot I took of one of our pet cats.


Original Raw file as opened in Camera Raw


Finished Image after Enhancement

The first thing to remember about photographing common subjects is that you need to take extra care to get the best starting image you can. You'll be forgiven if your Leopard shot is framed slightly wrong when you get back from Africa, but everyone assumes you'll have plenty of chances to photograph your family, friends, pets and local sites so you'll want to pay plenty of attention to the lighting, background, subject and composition. Of course cats don't always cooperate. In this case I was able to move around to get a solid background while looking at the cat. Her curiosity was piqued by the shutter so by the second or third frame I had her attention and she was looking at me in the image.

As I normally do with furry animals I rejected the idea of flash and instead made sure the ISO on my D300 was high enough to get a sharp image--1100 in this case. One of the great things about the newest D-SLRs is that you can use some fairly high ISOs and still have an image that is easy to clean up later with Noise Ninja or Dfine. I also checked my exposure to make sure I didn't burn out the highlights in the white fur as I knew I'd want to emphasize the fur's texture in the final image. In this case the D300 on Matrix had the exposure spot on--lots of good detail all the way to the right side of the histogram but nothing burnt out. As I usually do, I shot the image in Raw so I could tweak the white balance as I brought the image into to Photoshop.

Once I open the Raw file with a white balance that makes the image look good (in this case the white point dropper on the cat's white fur was perfect) then I immediately apply noise reduction, with either Noise Ninja or Dfine. In this case I used Noise Ninja in it's automatic mode to make the process quick. Once the noise is dealt with my next step is to work on the tonal range and image contrast.

In this case, to add interest to the cat I decided to bump up the overall contrast and texture by making the image "darker" in a specific way. To do that I typically either copy my image layer and set the copy to use the Multiply method of application. Or in this case I took the even simpler way out and used the Low Key filter in nik ColorEfx on the image. I didn't want to darken the face so I painted that out of the effect layer with a few brush strokes in a layer mask.


Image after noise reduction & nik low-key filter are applied

Humans are always attracted to eyes, and we read a great deal into them and often notice them more than a camera does. So to help restore the natural interest in the eyes of the cat I added a Curves adjustment layer with a slight brightening and a Hue/Saturation layer where I  bumped up the Saturation of the Master channel. The result is a very subtle change that adds interest to the cat's gaze.

To make the image look more like a classic studio portrait I then darkened the corners of the image. In this case I used the Darken/Lighten filter in ColorEfx but you can do it on your own with a curves adjustment layer and a mask that applies it to the corners with a gradual fade to the cat's face.


Image after applying the Low Key filter

The image was getting quite close to what I wanted, but I wasn't seeing the detail in the white and tan fur that I knew was hidden away in the image. So I created a new layer with all my data (using the sort of scary Shortcut key Control-Alt-Shift-N-E) and set it to use Multiply. That bumped up the contrast all over the image so I limited the effect to the fact of the cat by using a layer mask.

All that was left was a quick sharpen. You can use your favorite sharpening tool, Unsharp Mask or Smart Sharpen in Photoshop or an add-in like Sharpener Pro from nik or Sharpener from Pixel Genius. The key for me is to only sharpen the portions of the image I want to draw attention to--the fur and face. So I add a Layer mask to the sharpening layer to mask off its effects on the rest of the image.

Then my image was finished (make sure and do a noise reduction on the image along the way) and we had a studio quality portrait of our pet cat. If I wanted to do even more work I could have retouched the reflections and glare in her eyes to make them more attractive with a single reflection in the classic "11 O'clock" position.


Final enhanced image

We've provided a so you can follow along and see how each of the steps work in Photoshop. It's scaled down to 1000 pixels to make it reasonable to download, but other than that is a fully usable image. It is in the Adobe RGB colorspace, so make sure you've got a color managed system to see the best effect of the image enhancements.


Original image as opened in Camera Raw


Final image after Enhancement

Our second everyday image is one from a local cross country meet.

Like most sport organizers the designers of cross country courses don't optimize them for perfect front lit shots. Nor do they schedule them during the golden light hours of sunrise or sunset for our convenience. So it is not uncommon to start with an image capture like this one--with the contrast nearly ruined because of the back light and the flare reducing the contrast to make the image somewhat muddy.

Fortunately we have a powerful set of tools at our disposal using Photoshop with the ColorEfx filters. After opening the raw file with a white balance that makes the uniform look the right color I did a quick noise reduction. I then started to enhance the image by using one of my favorite "people" filters--Glamor Glow from ColorEfx. It's a little hard to explain exactly what it does, but it not only softens the look of an image but it does a sort of shadow / highlight type effect that adds a bit of a dreamy, vivid quality to an image.

You've probably noticed I've become a big fan of the new nik Color Efex 3.0 filters. Many of them provide the same functionality I did with laborious use of Actions and hand-tweaked filters before but they do it quickly and simply. And some of the filters like the Glamour Glow are novel treatments that are new tools I've been able to add to my arsenal. .

Cardinal Photo Safari Update

The best news  for the many of you who have been asking is that we'll be returning to Africa in November, 2009 for another . As those of you who have been with us before know, there is nowhere else in the world that compares to a small group specialized photo safari to the private concessions in Botswana. Not only is the wildlife abundant, but the camps are gorgeous. Most importantly there are strict limits on the number of people and vehicles in each concession--and for our photo safaris, a strict limit on the number of people per vehicle. Many days we may not see anyone except the handful of people from our group.The year 2009 will mark my 7th photo safari to the concessions in Botswana. Every trip we've seen not just plenty of lions, hippos, giraffes and antelopes but also cheetahs, leopards and wild dogs. Truly a special trip. Note: The camps in Botswana are very popular so we need to confirm our book space very far in advance so if you're interested please act soon by or emailing us at safaris [at[ cardinalphoto.com. Thanks!--David 

David's Favorite New Products

Nikon SB-900 Flash

I got my SB-900 today and although it is too early to pass any sort of "final judgement" it is pretty cool. The obvious changes are that it is brighter (higher GN with better support for FX images) and has a completely redesigned interface that is easier to navigate. It is also physically larger (too bad, but I suppose the price we pay, speaking of which it is also +$100 vs. the SB-800) It has an included filter holder & some color gels (more can be ordered) which while flimsy compared to using the colored caps from a third party, it is convenient to carry the set if you have time to fiddle with switching between colors as needed.

If you have a D3 or D700 the color of the filter is reported to the camera which adjusts its WB automatically. Nifty. It also has a nifty "GN" mode which is like a typical Auto mode except that it adjusts for both distance and aperture as reported by the camera. Master & Remote are now separate clicks on the main power switch, which is a nice UI improvement. And the feature buttons use a "soft switch" like on most cellphones, with an icon indicating what feature the button is currently controlling. The unit will work with existing SD-8A packs, although there is an SD-9 announced (although I haven't found one on sale yet) which is larger and provides more power.

There are lots of other tweaks and changes but the above are the ones I noticed right off that apply to the way I use flash. So far so good. Now off to play and get some photos with it! If you have an SB-900 or are thinking about getting one let us know your thoughts & any tips you've found for making best use of it. One of our forum readers pointed out the AF Illuminator now follows focus when you change AF points. Very spiffy indeed.

Canon Powershot SD770IS Point & Shoot

My Canon SD1000 has been a steady "friend" residing in my pocket for well over a year and helping me not just with fun snapshots but with product shots, EDLs and even landscapes for various projects. I'm still in awe that such a small camera could both take great still images and surprisingly good video with reasonable audio. But now that it's time for it to be handed down within the family I upgraded to the new 770IS. I was actually somewhat nervous because of the 10MP resolution. I was worried that the high resolution would create too much noise. But I really wanted the tiny size, the addition of Image Stabilization, and the zooming viewfinder so I went for it.

Once again, I was pleasantly surprised by a Canon point and shoot. The 770IS isn't any smaller than the SD1000, but at the same small size it fits easily into a shirt or trouser pocket. That means I can carry it for grab shots when I have a long lens on my D-SLR or of course for those times where I just don't have a large camera with me. It's good enough I can even use it to take images of my other camera when I need to document the photography I'm doing.

B&H has the Canon Powershot SD770IS on sale for $175.

The new face detection still seems like a gimick to me, but the basic "AI" Auto-Focus is quite good. The controls are familiar and in manual mode provide some reasonable control over exposure. Macro mode and Flash mode are very quick to use--a key feature for me. The camera is pretty quick for a pocket cam, although neither its speed or features will impress anyone used to the much higher standard set by larger more expensive models like the G10. .

nik Silver Efex Pro

Like me, most of you probably don't shoot black and white for a living--at least not any more. Particularly with digital the groundswell as been to full color images. But with the latest inks and printers "pro" quality black and white digital prints are a reality. So what is the best way to produce them? Photoshop has added a very slick Black and White conversion tool which until recently replaced the complex system of custom filters I'd improvised.

B&H has nik Silver Efex Pro on sale for $169.

But then I got a copy of nik SilverEfx. It really makes Black and White fun. It's grouped a powerful system for doing the conversion together with a gorgeous user interface for previewing the conversion and a flexible set of pre-defined image conversion effects you can use as is or build on to make your own. We'll be writing in more detail about it in a future issue but I wanted to pass along that I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun and how quickly I could generate stunning black and white images with it. .

DigitalPro 5 for Windows

DigitalPro for Windows ppgrade to 5 includes full Photoshop Workflow support, Open Catalog Database, Infinite Scalability--Makes Image Cataloging as Quick and Simple as Browsing.

Pro Shooters LLC, released DigitalPro™ 5 for Windows, a substantial upgrade to their award winning integrated image browser and image cataloging software. DigitalPro handles the entire image review and cataloging process, including loading, reviewing, renaming, captioning and filing images. With DigitalPro’s image catalog users can quickly retrieve images based on categories, keywords, captions or shooting data. For editing DigitalPro integrates seamlessly with Adobe Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Nikon Capture and Capture NX, Bibble, or the user’s choice of photo editors. .

Recent Photography News from

November 11: PC Magazine gives Adobe Photoshop CS4 a rare perfect rating. . Then .

November 3: . Version 3.1.7 adds support for new Raw file formats and reduces the memory needs when recovering data from large cards. Still a bargain at only $29!

November 1: Look for RED, makers of some blow-away video cameras to announce a convergence D-SLR + Video camera on November 13. After the enthusiasm for the Nikon D90 and Canon 5D Mark II which both add video to D-SLRs this segment of the market seems to be heating up quickly!

October 31: Hard on the heels of Digital Railroad shutting its doors and leaving photographers who had pre-paid up to a year in advance in the lurch, . It doesn't remove the financial risk, but certainly lessens it.

October 29: URGENT: is shutting down and photographers with images only have 24-hours to get their images off before they are lost. This is a shame for the industry as DRR was hoping to re-invent stock photography in a photographer-centric way--but like previous efforts they had an unrealistic notion of what was possible and of course the economic downturn didn't help their chances. But in any case, if you have images there, please get them copied to somewhere else! .

October 28: Nikon releases major firmware update for the Nikon D300. Version 1.1 includes more control over Auto ISO, adding Copyright info to images, faster AF, improved Auto White Balance, and a host of minor bug fixes. You can or (serial number needed).

October 28: Penn State profession is able to photgraph coughs, gunshots and other invisible effects. This very cool technique & amazing images are .

October 27: Genuine Fractals tries for a comeback. The grand-daddy of professional upscalers, GF has languished for many years as inexpensive Photoshop actions and even Photoshop itself have caught up. Today OnOne, who bought LizardTech & its GF product line have introduced promising that with new texture mapping and other features it'll once again be worth the hefty price tag of $299 for the Pro version. It also includes capabilities for splitting images and making them work well with Gallery Wraps.

October 24: Don't know what to do with your old digital camera? Check out David's new article in PC Magazine for some fun .

October 20: , with support for the Nikon D90, Nikon D700, Coolpix P6000, Canon 50D and Canon 1000D. Download for or for . This is the last update for Photoshop CS3, so all new cameras from here on are likely to require CS4 to get Raw image support. Camera Raw 5.1 (for Photoshop CS4) is expected later this week and will add all the new cameras to CS4. You should be able to snag that simply by using the Update feature in CS4.

If you have a hot tip or news item for DigitalPro Shooter, write us at . If your tip or news item is picked as the Shooters' Tip of the Week, we'll send you a really cool DigitalPro hat! Or just write us to let us know what you think of the newsletter.

To keep up with the latest articles and reviews, join me at . For the latest versions of DigitalPro, visit .

Good shooting!

--David Cardinal, editor DigitalPro Shooter