Friday, 23 March 2012

Adobe announces Photoshop CS6 Beta!

Big news! Adobe finally launched the beta version of the brand new Photoshop CS6. It was expected to be released this year and it proves not be a disappointment! I guess there’s always going to be a lot of hype when Adobe launch a new product, but Photoshop seems to be the software people like to see new versions of the most- after all it’s  for designers as much as photographers. After CS5 was released I kinda’ wondered what more Adobe could do with the program, it appeared to have had a complete overhaul from CS4; new lens correction feature, superlative selection tools, crazy awesome Photomerge, brand new built-in HDR tool complete with one of my favourites, HDR toning etc., etc. Well I went ahead and downloaded the beta version of CS6 to see what it has on offer over its predecessor- and knowing Adobe, they’ll completely destroy my doubts about the limited scope for improvements! Let’s take a look…

Brand-new, totally awesome Camera Raw

Since I learned how to use it properly I’ve fallen in love with ACR! I never thought it possible, but with version 6 I could virtually edit from start to finish right inside that window without leaving and diving into ‘proper’ Photoshop. The range of sliders and adjustments was really very impressive and now in the new Camera Raw 7 things have gone even further. When you open up an un-edited RAW file (or one that has been edited in version 6 but run through Photoshop’s update algorithm) you’ll see a same-but-different window. Some sliders you’ll recognise, others are totally new. Basically what Adobe has done is take the new Develop module out of Lightroom 4 and placed it here; after all, the Develop window is Camera Raw in all but naming. What they’ve done is slightly rearrange the sliders into a more usable order and add new sliders such as Highlights, Shadows and Whites that control the shadows, highlights and mid-tones independently. Noticeably many of the sliders are now set to the middle by default, so you can dial in a negative number, which wasn’t possible in ACR6. The Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation sliders are all still in the same place but can I just say that the way Clarity now works is great. This is by far my favourite tool in ACR anyway, but the look it gives your photos here is far more natural and much less ‘processed.’ Having given shunting it all the way to 100 a try I’m happy to report that in many cases this will be a more-than- acceptable practise.

Another thing I’m loving (terrible grammar I know!)is the re-designed adjustment brush. Now you can easily make selective applications of Noise Reduction and even White Balance/Tint! This is gonna prove unbelievably useful for so many people is so many situations that I think it will become a favourite amongst photographers who, for example, are dealing with varying lighting conditions out on location. The NR option is huge for me as someone who has been shooting a lot of HDR images of interiors for commercial uses; HDR inevitably produces noise and the ability to apply selective NR to flat areas when editing the original tone-mapped TIFFs, without opening two documents in regular PS is a real time and effort saver. These sliders are also available through the Graduated filter, which means reducing noise in the flat tones of a sky whilst simultaneously darkening it, kills two birds with one stone. All good J

Content Aware Patch
It was only a matter of time before they grouped these two tools together. The patch tool works great a lot of the time, but by making it content-aware improves the overall integration of the patched area, making it far less noticeable. Again this will make it easier to patch in tricky areas with complex patterns etc. It works in exactly the same way as the regular patch tool of Photoshops past but is just that bit more reliable; a predictable but useful addition.

New 3D- less clunky and equally useless for most folk!
Ok that’s a bit unfair, but let’s face it- most photographers won’t be using the 3D features in any version of PS. For designers and the like though the new 3D functionality will make your lives less complicated; less complex panels, a new slick look and no more slightly suggestive French words that nobody understands! Corey Barker will know what I mean J There’s also a new dedicated ‘Type’ tab on the main menu that makes accessing the type tools and creating paragraphs etc. quicker. You can extrude a 3D mesh from this menu too.
'Edge Smoothing’ in HDR Pro
Nothing huge but something I’m quite keen on at first glance- this adds a smoothing effect whilst boosting the detail in the image. This gives a fancy ethereal look that I’m not sure is intentional but can be cool. I need to spend more time with this one…
Live brush size/hardness preview!
I punched the air when I came across this one… you can change the brush settings using Control>click (Command>click for Mac users) and a dialogue stays live for the duration telling you your current settings. It’s not a massive alteration but one that makes the whole shortcut more useful. I always like to know my current brush status, particularly the hardness, as a value and before I had to pop up to the brush panel at the top of the screen, which personally I found a bit maddening. No more!

Content Aware move tool
Probably won’t be using this in a hurry but someone will. It works using the regular Content Aware function to allow you to move elements of your image whilst filling in the space left behind. I plan to have a play around with it and see what it’s capable of…
Live crop tool dimensions
Handily it is now possible to alter the dimensions that you want to crop your photos to, whilst looking at the changes live; you can choose a set of dimensions from the drop-down as usual and select a new setting at any point, without having to commit to the current settings and undo if you’re unhappy. Also, as a great composition aid you can select an overly showing not just the Rule of Thirds but also the Golden Ratio/Golden Spiral illustration for accurate post-capture framing.

…To name but a few! These aren’t necessarily the biggest updates Adobe is touting, but they are the ones that mean the most to me. I’ll be interested to see if anything else is added before the final version of CS6 ships later this year J
Disclaimer: I am aware that this blog is named Young, Keen and Penniless and so many of you may be thinking “How can he afford such an expensive piece of software?” Well the truth is I can’t, but I am a student and so through Student Expressware, bought CS5 Extended for 80% off! I’m therefore able to upgrade to CS6 when it becomes fully available. Thought you ought to know!

Saturday, 17 March 2012

A chance encounter!

I spent the afternoon back up on Waldridge Fell today (for the record I do visit places other than the Fell!) and was presented with a fairly nice dusk- nothing dramatic but the light was soft. To be honest I just wanted to get out of the house. You see, we’re getting a new roof and so are boxed in by scaffolding, which I can cope with, but the continuous stream of choking dust and plaster floating into my room from the attic is a bit too much - the whole thing is like something out of a 'Carry On' film where I seem to be 'a little plastered..' No?...Oh well, the point is I wanted some fresh air, which I got because the wind was freezing! Naturally I had landscapes in mind because the other great thing about this location is  the heavy covering of heather, which provides an interesting foreground all year round, even if it’s bare twigs.

I decided on the 10-20mm lens to make the most of this element, whilst taking in the interesting and very threatening cloud formations in the sky. To avoid ‘losing’ some of the more distant elements in the scenes (which can so often happen when shooting out a wide focal length such as 10mm ) I set up my tripod without extending the legs too far, which gave me a low shooting angle. This allowed me to get up close to the heather and accentuate its size. For some reason I still haven’t found time to buy a 77mm adaptor ring so couldn’t easily use my ND grad - I would have had to hand-hold them in front of the lens which I hate doing, and so I bracketed my exposures for each image with 3 frames per photo at around 2 stops apart.

With some seemingly successful ‘scapes’ in the bag I moved on. During the return trip to the car I found something interesting on the path in front of me. At first I thought it might be something unspeakable that a random dog had left behind as a gift, but on closer inspection I could tell it was two toads1. I can’t recall seeing toads this close up in the wild before so quickly switched optics to the 70-200. I'm not entirely sure what the pair were doing but can only assume that they were mating - I’m no amphibian expert but that was the easy conclusion to draw! I didn’t know how timid they’d be and so kept my distance to start with, gradually moving closer firing bursts of images as I went. I suspect they must have been ‘playing dead’ or something similar because they allowed me I closer than I would have expected. Having managed to secure some ‘keepers’, I changed technique and re-fitted the wide-angle with the aim of capturing some environmental portraits. I didn’t want to push my luck by getting too close, as they could’ve easily leapt into the undergrowth by the side of the path and I’d have lost them. Nor did I want to stress them unnecessarily and therefore shot at the longest end of the lens, to fill the frame enough for a successful composition. Honestly, they seemed completely un-fazed by the experience of having a nosy photographer lie on the ground and stick an ultra-wide in their faces J  I spent about 20 minutes with the couple before leaving them to whatever it is they were doing. I was a bit disgruntled by the loud-mouthed guy and the dog with attention deficit syndrome that passed me a while later - since I’d been so careful not to disturb the animals, I had visions of the canine ‘making friends’ with them using his incisors.
I had to shoot all the way up at ISO2000 to keep these hand-held shots blur-free

Shooting down low with a wide-angle lens showed the toads in their environment

Anyway, it was an experience and I’m happy I stumbled across a fascinating event of nature. There’s nothing quite like your first amphibian porn shoot! Ehhemm…

Camera settings

My main priority was ensuring I got some sharp images, free of camera shake and so set my ISO to 800 as a starting point and an aperture of f/4. Once I was confident the toads weren’t going to flee, I began to play with settings as f/4 and at such a close focussing distance just wasn’t gonna cut it depth-of-field-wise. To keep both animals in focus I stopped down the lens in subtle increments all the way to f/11, bumping up the ISO accordingly; I needed an absolute minimum of 1/200sec shutter speed and that wasn’t taking the crop factor of my camera into account. In the end I used a max speed of ISO2000, which gave me a hand-hold-able speed of 1/400sec.

1 For those who care, the organisms here look to be Common Toads (species Bufo bufo) As I say, I’m no expert so if you think differently, please fill me in (with the info, not a blunt object…) J

Look out for some more shots from this trip coming soon on my flickr  x 

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Canon unveil the EOS 5D Mark 3 !!

So after much speculation and rumour Canon finally announced the 5D mark III which, I'm particularly enthusiastic to note, looks to be designed as pretty much a full frame 7D. Considering the release of the Nikon D800 and Canon's own 1DX, not to mention that the 5D mark II is nearly 4 years old, it is not surprising to see this newcomer.

Some key features include a 22mp full frame sensor, 1.04 million dot 3.2in LCD, improved AF, 100% viewfinder coverage, up to 6fps shooting, 61 point AF system, DIGIC 5+ processor, duel card slots (1x CF, 1x SD) built-in HDR mode, ISO 50-102,400 and of course full HD movies. Also borrowed from the EOS 1DX is a touch-sensitive rear control wheel.

It seems interesting that Canon has opted for 22MP rather than attempting to compete with the 36.3 MP of the Nikon D800, although when combined with the DIGIC 5+ processor this should make low-light photography one place where this camera will feel at home. Besides, for most people the 5760 x 3840 pixel files will suffice and the value still places the 5D III as Canon’s highest-res model to date. An added advantage is the significantly faster burst rate than the D800 possible making it attractive to a wider range of photographers (I can see it finding a place in the second-body slot of many wildlife/sports shooters- don’t forget the cropping possibilities.)

Whilst the spec may not be what some were expecting it will be interesting to see the reaction of the pro and semi-pro markets. It can probably be guaranteed that the new camera will be just as popular as its predecessor. Here’s an early Canon promo video:-