Tag Archives: how green is your garden

The sunset that never was

Color correction and grading are often used to promote a style, ambiance or ‘look’ rather than reflect reality. You want to meet the viewer’s ideal expectations, not boring reality.

After writing my last blog post, I realised there was no video that showing my tips on AVCHD editing being used in anger. This quick post puts that right. You can see the associated video here or by viewing the video below (I recommend you watch it full screen at 1920×1080).

Note that the youtube version is compressed from the original 28Mbit/s to 8Mbit/s, as are most web videos).

Note also that I don’t use a Sony Alpha A77 for the footage in this post: I use a Panasonic Lumix LX7  because I was traveling light, and the LX7 is my ‘DSLR replacement’ camera of choice. Both cameras use the same video codec and bitrates, so there is not much difference when we come to post production, except that the Sony Alphas have better depth of field and are therefore more ‘film like’, whereas the LX7 will produce sharper video that is less ‘filmic’.

Changing the time of day with post production

Myself and my partner were recently walking on Bingley moor (which is in Yorkshire, England, close to Howarth and Halifax, places associated with Emily Bronte and Wuthering Heights).

The final footage. Color grading and correction via Tiffen Dfx running within Adobe Premiere.
The final footage. Color grading and correction via Tiffen Dfx running within Adobe Premiere. Click on the image to open the original frame (1920×1080).

It was about an hour before sunset, and I thought it would be nice to capture the setting sun in video.

The original raw footage. Captured with a Panasonic Lumix LX7 with attached Polaroid variable ND filter.
The original raw footage. Captured with a Panasonic Lumix LX7 with attached Polaroid variable ND filter.

Alas, we were too early, and the recordings looked nothing like what I wanted.

A couple of weeks later we were walking in the same place in the early morning. I took some footage of the nearby glen (glen – UK English: a deep narrow valley). So now I had some footage of the moor and glen in evening and morning sun, but no sunset footage. Not to worry: I could just add the sunset via post production.

If nothing else, it would make a good example of how AVCHD footage can be edited whilst making large tone/color corrections without coming up against issues once you follow the handy tips from the last post!

The original footage

As per the tips in the previous post, I did the following whilst shooting the original footage

  • Shot the footage using a fixed shutter and aperture, and varied exposure using a variable Neutral Density Filter. Reason: as a general rule, shoot all footage at a fixed aperture  (typically around f3.5, going wider if you want low depth of field, or narrower if your subject is in the distance), and fixed shutter (typically twice the frame rate of your footage). Control your exposure via a variable ND filter.
  • Set the camera to record desaturated, low contrast and un-sharpened footage. Reason: this gives your footage more latitude for change in post-production.
  • Exposed the footage slightly brighter than I needed, being mindful of burning highlights. Reason: AVCHD tends to break up or produce artifacts if you increase exposure, but never if you decrease exposure.

Workflow

Color post production has two workflow areas

  • Color correction or correction of faults in the footage. A bucket could be too red, or a sky needs to be be more blue. Correction is done on a per clip basis, correcting color/tone issues or adding emphasis/de-emphasis to areas within the scene. Framing and stabilization is also performed on a per clip basis. As an aside, this is the reason why the left side of the footage seems to wobble more in the video: the right side has been stabilized with the inbuilt Adobe Premiere stabilization plugin.
  • Grading or setting the look of the final film. Grading is done equally too all clips and sets the final style.

Color correction

Here’s a quick run through of the corrections:

Color correction
Color correction
  • Top image. As-shot.
  • Second Image. Added an emulated Tiffen Glimmerglass filter. This diffuses the sharp water highlights and softens the video a little (I would not have had to do this if I was shooting with my Sony Alpha A77, and you would not have to soften the video if you were using any other traditional Canon/Nikon DSLR as all of them produce soft video). I also added a Fast Color Corrector to fix a few color issues specific to the clip (white and black point,  cast removal).
  • Third image. Added a warm red gradient to the foliage top left to bottom right. The shape and coverage of the gradient is shown in the inset (white is gradient, black is transparent).
  • Fourth image. Added a second gradient, this time a yellow one going from bottom to top. Again, the shape and coverage of the gradient is shown in the inset.

Color Grading

For this footage, I used an emulated film stock via Tiffen Dfx. The stock is Agfa Optima. I also added back a little bit of global saturation and sharpness using the default Adobe Premiere tools (Fast color corrector and unsharp mask).

The top image is the original footage. The middle image is the same frame after grading and global tweaks have been applied. For reference,  the bottom shows the frame after all color correction
Color Grading
  •  Top Image. Corrected footage so far minus the two gradients
  • Middle image. Grading and global tweaks (Agfa Optima stock emulation plus global color tweaks and sharpness).
  • Bottom Image. Adding the two gradients back for the final output.

Merging color correction and grading

Combining the two color change tasks (grading and color correction) is a bit of a black art, and I do both together. Generally, I start by picking an existing film stock from Tiffen Dfx or Magic Bullets Looks as an Adjustment layer. Then, I start adding the clips, color correcting each in turn, and switching in/out the grading adjustment layer as I go. Finally, I add a new adjustment layer for sharpness and final global tweaks. I avoid adding noise reduction as it massively increases render time. Instead, I add a grain that hides noise as part of the grading.

Reality vs. Message

Color correction and grading are often used to promote a style, ambiance or ‘look’ rather than reflect reality. You want to meet the viewer’s ideal expectations, not boring reality.

Color corrected/graded scene
Color corrected/graded scene

The video includes this frame. The leaves in the water are red to signify the time of year (autumn/fall).

Original scene (note also that the original scene is lighter than the final scene, as per my AVCHD shooting tips)
Original scene (note also that the original scene is lighter than the final scene, as per my AVCHD shooting tips)

Real leaves in water lose their color quickly, becoming much more muddy in appearance. I enhanced the muddy leaves towards earth-reds because ‘muddy’ did not fit with my message, even though rotting grey leaves are closer to reality.

Timeline

Here’s the timeline for the project.

Project timeline
Project timeline (click on image to view full size version)

I have my color adjustment and grading in as separate adjustment layers. (V2/V3)  The first half of the timeline is more or less identical to the second half except that the second half has the unedited versions of the clips on layer v4. These clips have a Crop effect (Video Effects > Tranform > Crop) on them with the Right value set to 50%. This is how I get the edited/unedited footage split-screens at the end of the video.

When adding backing sound, the music file is never as long as the video clip, so to make the two the same length, I often do this simple trick to edit the music so it is shorter:

  • Put the music clip on the timeline so that the start of the music lines up with the start of the footage, and
  • On a different sound layer, put another version of the same music on a the layer below such that this time the end of the music lines up with the end of the video.
  • Make the two soudclips overlap in the middle, and where they overlap, zoom into the waveforms and find and match the percussive sounds (generally the drums).
  • Fade between the two sounds on the overlap.
Matching sound sections
Matching the sound sections

In the timeline section above, I have matched (lined-up) the drum sounds on the layer a1 and a2 music clips (both of which are different sections of the same music file), then faded from layerA1 to A2 by tweening volume level. This will produce a smooth splice between the two music sections. If space allows, you should also of course match on the end of the bar (or ‘on the beat repeat’).  For my timeline, you can see (via the previous ‘Project timeline’ screenshot) that I have spliced between four sections of the same file.

Tools

During color correction I kept an eye on the YC waveform scope, which is available in Premiere and most video editing applications.

Footage vs YC waveform
Footage vs YC waveform

The YC wafeform shows both Luma (Y or brightness) and Chroma (C or color). Luma is Cyan, and Chroma is dark blue on the scope.

The x axis of the scope is the x-axis of the footage, so points on the y-axis are the YC values along the width of the footage itself. Sounds a bit complicated, but if you use the waveform on your own footage it becomes immediately obvious what the waveform represents.

For the broadcast standard I am using (European, PAL), true black is 0.3V on the scale, and true white is 1.0V (NTSC is very similar). The original footage is shown on the left side of the image, and the corresponding YC wafeform is shown below it. The waveform shows highlights in the sky area are clipping (we see pixels above 1.0V),  and the darkest areas are not true black (the wafeform doesn’t get down to 0.3V). The right side of the image shows the final footage and we can see that we now have no clipping (in either brightness or color saturation), and our blacks are closer to true black.

Keeping an eye on the YC waveform is always something I do when editing color. You may think your eye is good enough, but your vision gets tired or so used to color that it no longer recognizes casts, but the scope never tires and lies! Another useful scope to use for skintones is the Vectorscope. Something for another post…

Conclusion

This post shows the workflow I used to correct a small number of clips such that they could be added together into a single scene. The final movie shows a typical English autumn sunset (or at least, one where you can see the sun!) yet none of the clips were actually taken at this time of day nor under the lighting conditions of the final scene.

By manipulating the color of our footage via color correction and grading, we achieved our desired output despite the constraints of reality on the day!

Finally, by following additional steps and rules of thumb whilst shooting and editing the AVCHD footage, we have prevented coming up against its limitations. In fact, the only time in the video where you may see any artifacts is  the only place where I did not follow my own advice: at about 0.30″ I the footage has exposure increased slightly, and shows small artifacts in the shadows.

You can see all previous video related posts from this blog here.

Notes

  1. The music in the video is Spc-Eco, Telling You. Spotify Link.
  2. The YC graph is so much more useful than the histogram seen on most stills cameras that I often wonder why digital cameras don’t have the YC waveform instead! For example, the YC waveform not only tells you whether your image has clipped pixels, but unlike the Histogram, the YC tells you where along the width of the image those pixels are! You can still ‘shoot to the right’ using the YC (and it actually makes more sense) since brightness is Luma height. The YC also separates out brightness and color information, so you can see at a glance the tonality and color information within your photograph in a single visual. How’s that for useful!
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Creating Classical Landscapes via digital techniques

The Japanese Garden, Tatton Park, England
The Japanese Garden, Tatton Park, England

Here in the UK, we had an Indian Summer over the last week or so. A bright, low September sun combined with the beginning of autumn foliage was something I have wanted to photograph for some time. The combination would give me the same colour palette as some of the great British landscape painters (e.g Constable’s The Hay Wain).

The photo above is the result. Click on the photo to see a larger version (1200×800).

This treatment took almost no time to create. Almost no post processing was performed other than a simple HDR pass. Here’s what I did…

Step 1: Three Photo bracket

3 Image Bracket, 0.7EV apart, shot with Sony Alpha A500
3 Image Bracket, 0.7EV apart, shot with Sony Alpha A500

The 3 photo bracket was taken using -07EV, 0EV and +0.7EV. The shot was timed close to sunset after a particulalry hot day (in fact, the hottest on record for an English September day!).  As there was so much available light, I shot hand held.

Step 2: Process the 3 photos via HDR

The key to getting the painterly texture  effect is structure (if you use HDR EFEX Pro), also known as micro contrast (if you use Photomatix).

Actual size view, showing the effect of structure
Actual size view, showing the effect of structure

I set structure to maximum to bring out the leaf textures and start making them resemble small paint daubs. To work well, the effect requires strong directional light in the original shots.

Step 3: Edit for composition in Lightroom

The 3 shotscombined into a single HDR image
The 3 shotscombined into a single HDR image

Here’s the photo after HDR. I particularly like the way that the long grass in the foreground looks realistic, but the farther away we get, the more painterly the photo becomes.  Unfortunately, There is no balance to the photo: we need to do something to add a feeling of composition.

To add balance and composition, I cropped such that the foreground grass, the lily pond, and far shore conform loosely to a horizontal rule of thirds.

Defining composition
Defining composition

That on its own was not enough though. The foreground grass was too overpowering n colour and brightness. To fix this, I darkened and slightly desaturated the lowest third of the photo via a graduated filter (graduated filters are not just for skies!).

Finally, I increased the effects of HDR structure further by sharpened the photo, removed some of the more obvious HDR Halos around the far treeline, and reduced the purple channet to zero (to get rid of any chromatic abberation around the tree line: increasing structure also increases the visibility of chromatic abberation).

Finished!

Conclusion

What I really like about this photo is that it was so quick and easy. No Photoshop, and almost no Lightroom. The whole effect was created in HDR EFEX Pro, and the entire post processing was done in about the same time it took for you to read this article. Cool!

Capturing a Ghost Tree

Whilst walking through a forest, myself and my partner game across a clearing containing a fallen dead tree.

It’s sad to see something so tall laid still on its side, but this is an important part of the forest’s life cycle. Without the felling of dead and dying trees (and the associated yearly thinning of the forest), the forest itself would weaken and fall down.

I took some pictures.

If we assume the forest itself as a living organism then the dead tree is still alive because it remains part of the forest’s ongoing lifecycle. I wanted to illustrate this in my photos. In short, I wanted to photograph a ghost tree.

The dead tree looked very striking in real life but not as striking as the ghost tree in my mind’s eye: a multi limbed leviathan. An organic whipping writhing thing slowly breaking itself apart to give itself up to the living.

Dead tree, as shot
Dead tree, as shot

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the results of my initial photography were less striking than my imaginations. My camera recorded a static green moss covered tree lost against an equally green forest.

High Dynamic Range sequence; -2EV, 0EV, +2EV
High Dynamic Range sequence; -2EV, 0EV, +2EV

Luckily, I figured I would need a lot of post-processing, so I took a series of shots 2EV apart (-2, 0, +2) to process for High Dynamic Range and/or composite for colour. As HDR images by definition contain a lot more range (both colour and tonal), they are very useful for post processing (they are much less likely to create clipping or banding, as well as maintaining textures better). Even if I didn’t end up using HDR, the use of bracketting would later allow me to pick the best exposure as a starting point for my post processing (nothing brings out exposure deficiencies in a shot faster than post processing!).

HDR output; Colour (left) and tonal (right)
HDR output; Colour (left) and tonal (right)

Back home at the computer, I created 2 HDR images; a ‘realistic’ HDR image, and a high contrast tonal HDR image (the latter being for the reasons discussed in this post).

Although neither image met the specifications of the thought in my mind, a little more thinking got me to the living moving tendrils of the ghost tree. I used the tonal (B&W) image as the final image, and colourised the tree using saturation values from the colour HDR image;

The Ghost Tree
The Ghost Tree

The organic movement and the sense of otherworldliness comes from my choice of ultra wide angle (11mm). The dead tree is separated from the rest of the forest by colour. Further, by colouring only the dead tree, my hope is that it ends up looking like the only living thing in the scene.

Click here to see a larger image of the final piece (1200×800, 1.1Mb, opens in a new browser/tab).

Conclusion

Most times, the creativity in photography is stepping over optical and digital inaccuracy to get the camera to reproduce a realistic shot. Sometimes though, you need force the camera (and yourself) to stop reproducing the scene and instead make it run with your imagination: you need to make the camera see what you see.

Notes

Tools used

  • High Dynamic range images created with HDR EFEX Pro (as a Plugin for Lightroom 3).
  • Composite created  in Photoshop CS5.
  • Camera/Lens: Sony A500, Tokina 11-16mm lens.

Fuchsia

Fuchsia
Fuchsia

Fuchsia, growing in one of the hanging baskets at the front of our house. Taken with my Tamron AF90/f2.8 Di macro, along with the DAF-14 ringflash.

I’m very pleased with how the combination of a true macro lens along with a ringflash is working out with respect to image sharpness; especially when this shot was taken hand held, yet you can count the hairs on the stigma;

Fuchsia (actual pixel size crop)
Fuchsia (actual pixel size crop)

The combination of a true macro (i.e. lens gives max sharpness at macro distances), a ringflash (additional light increases shutter speed without adding tell-tale flash shadows), and a Sony Alpha (in camera vibration reduction reduces camera movement) means that the relative movement between the camera and subject was far less than a hairs width. This is despite the fact that the shot was taken hand held, outside and in a slight breeze!

Sunshine

Taking shots of your garden is a good way of practicing photography. Today has been the hottest and sunniest day in the year so far, and I thought I’d practice the art of getting completely different perspectives of the same scene by using wildy different lenses.     

Firstly, I used my close-up lens; an f1.8 50mm prime fitted with an Opteka x10 macro attachment…      

Brachyglottis Sunshine (Syn. Senecio Sunshine)
Brachyglottis Sunshine (Syn. Senecio Sunshine)

The cool thing about using a fast lens is that you can get a large amount of sharp detail in your shots, and can crop right down to pixel level whilst retaining detail.      

Senecio Sunshine
Senecio Sunshine
Senecio Sunshine (close crop)
Senecio Sunshine (close crop)

As an aside, I’m not getting the super saturated yellows through Photoshop/Lightroom post processing, but am instead doing it through altering camera settings prior to the shot. I’m using ISO400 on a very sunny day, with a full stop of overexposure on top. A Senecio has bluish leaves and stalks thus also giving a good contrast to the yellow flower heads.   

 Secondly, I used my 18-250mm zoom  lens set to the max zoom.  This is still a close-up, but not macro.     

Senecio Sunshine
Senecio Sunshine

Finally, I used wide angle to get more of the plant in the shot.     

Senecio Sunshine (wide, cropped)
Senecio Sunshine (wide, cropped)

I’m using a particular type of composition beloved to stock photography here.  It is a view from directly below the plant pointing directly up towards the sky (I’m also using a circular polariser here to stop the sky whiting out).  

Like many people, I always assumed this type of  composition was taken from the side. You do not get the same effect from the side because the flower heads will now be side on (so you hardly see them) and you will not get the same ‘full sky’ effect. 

Note to Self – try the last shot again when more of the buds have flowered!

Update July 2010: here’s that last shot tried again…

Senecio Sunshine
Senecio Sunshine