Stephen Burch's Birding & Dragonfly Website
This page gives information about how I process my digital camera pictures, with the emphasis now on those from the five different Canon EOS DSLRs I have owned since 2006! For further info about my photographic equipment, click here.
DLSR: Raw format
Until March 2007, I just used jpeg format for all my pics, including those from the DSLR. However, I then took some comparison shots using the jpeg + raw mode, and a careful inspection showed that the raw pics were slightly better both in terms of sharpness (on very fine detail at high magnification) and also colour. These differences are relatively minor, and difficult to see unless you look hard!
Nevertheless, since then I have become a convert to raw, despite the extra stages of processing needed. With raw, you can also vary the white balance after taking the shot, which can be useful in some cases. Also slightly saturated images (spike in histogram, on right-hand side) can be corrected - at important benefit if attempting to "exposure to the right".
The main down-side of raw format is the extra space the files need - about 3x that for a fine jpeg. For the Canon EOS 7D Mk II, each file approaches 25Mb in size! Fortunately larger capacity memory cards are now cheaper than they were. A 32Gb one is usually sufficient for my usual half day local trips, but for anything longer (like a holiday), some other backup storage is needed.
Overall 'work flow' for EOS 7D & 7D Mk II DSLR raw images
For the EOS 7D and EOS 7D Mk II, I convert the raw files using Canon's free Digital Photo Professional (DPP) version 3 rather than opening them with Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) in Photoshop Elements. This is mainly because, based on previous experience with the EOS 50D, DPP gives better control of noise levels than ACR (see this page for my measurements that demonstrate this). I have also tried DPP v 4, which I can download now that I have a 7D Mk II, but find it less easy to use than the original DPP V3.
My 'workflow' for handling raw files using DPP is as follows:
Overall 'work flow' for EOS 350D and 40D images
For the EOS 350D and 40D cameras, my 'workflow' for handling raw files and opening them with Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) in Photoshop Elements is as follows:
Importing raw images into Photoshop Elements
To read raw
format images, Photoshop Elements needs the Camera Raw
plug-in, which can be downloaded from the Adobe website.
However, invariably the latest version of Camera Raw is
no longer compatible with the older versions of PhotoShop
Elements. This is clearly typical Adobe tactics to make
people pay up for expensive upgrades! I believe the
following versions of PSE are needed for the following
But note as stated above, I do not recommend PSE for the EOS 50D - DPP gives better control of the relatively high noise levels found with this camera, in my experience.
Converting a raw file is by no means straightfoward, and there are several options/parameters available - the meanings of some of them I do not fully understand yet! The values I normally use are shown below:
comments on the above:
NEAT IMAGE for noise suppression
I first came across mention of the NEAT IMAGE software for noise suppression on Richard Bedford's amazing website, but I now find it is fairly widely known amongst keen bird photographers. Having used this software for some time now, I find it an essential part of my processing sequence (see above). This software uses very advanced image processing routines to suppress noise, crucially with little effect on the actual wanted image detail. This can allow use of higher ISO settings to get increased shutter speed, if needed.
There is a free download version which is pretty useful, but is restricted in the options available for saving files. There are various other options which require payment, with better facilities in terms of input/output file formats, but the 'Home edition", which I've purchased isn't very expensive and allows saving the output in the loss-less tiff format - worthwhile if the initial images are in RAW format (see above).
My approach is to apply the noise reduction first, then move on to the 'normal' PhotoShop operations, as described below. I have been through the process of generating my own noise profiles for all my cameras, which was a somewhat involved process. For the EOS350D it was probably not significantly better than using the ones downloadable from the NeatImage website, but for the EOS40D & 50D only a very limited selection is currently available. I now have a noise profile for every shutter speed, not just a selection.
For ISO 800, it is still effective, and I have recently found it worth applying it at about the 70% level. However, it doesn't have much effect on the "chroma noise" (small coloured spots), which appear at ISO800 and above, most apparent in darker image areas. These spots can of course be removed manually using the PhotoShop clone stamp tool (see below), but this can be somewhat labourious!
Hence, keeping to ISO400 and below seems the best policy, but if light levels aren't great, then ISO800 will still produce pretty good results. Best to avoid ISO1600, though, unless absolutely essential.
Incidently, NeatImage is also highly effective on digiscope jpeg pics as well.
PhotoShop Elements versions
I now have
versions 3, 5, 6 and most recently 9 of PhotoShop
Elements. Until I obtained version 9, I still generally
preferred my original version 3! However, version 9 now
has enough small advantages over version 3 to make the
switch. These include:
As for the intermediate versions between 3 and 9, there is not much point to most of them. For example, apart from its ability to import raw files from the EOS 40D, I was not impressed by PSE 5.0 at all. My main dislike of PSE 5.0 was the absence of all short-cut buttons along the top of the user interface. In particular, the undo/redo button was missing, and having to go into Edit for this was just plain ridiculous. PSE 5.0 had a few interesting new features lacking in PSE 3.0, such as a nice tool for removal of camera distortion including vignetting - but this is very rarely needed for the images from my Canon cameras & lens. All the usual tools I need for picture editing are just the same in PSE 5.0 and 3.0, although Unsharp masking is slightly easier to get to in PSE 5.0 than 3.0. See below for further details on the normal processing options in PSE 3.0 (& even the pre-historic 2.0 - still used by some to good effect!).
PSE 6.0 does at least have the undo/redo button back, but it is annoyingly placed on the top right hand side, whereas all the other options are on the left hand side. Also, the raw converter seems unable to convert more than one image at a time. If you open multiple files, it just opens the first. This is just plain useless, and anyway I now use DPP for converting the EOS 50D/7D files, for reasons given above, and hence have no need to use PSE 6.0.
PhotoShop Elements (2.0 & 3.0) : Tips for digiscopers & DLSR
This section contains some tips for Photoshop Elements Versions 2.0 & 3.0, initially written based on my experiences with digiscope pics, but I now find much of this is still relevant for DSLR pics, and I have added a few notes about any notable differences. I've now upgraded to version 3.0, as it can cope with raw format DSLR images (see above), but I find most of the other options below are the same as in version 2.0.
PhotoShop Elements (PSE) can be a tremendously powerful tool for improving digiscope & DSLR pictures. Here is a list of the features and functions I find useful. Generally, having opened the original image, I go through the following sequence:
Crop to size
This results in a rectangular box which can be dragged out to the right size, and centred over the subject. If the picture is tilted, then the box can be rotated as well to line things up.
Just double click inside the box to crop, when you've got the right area of the picture.
Example of Shadows/Highlights
Filtering - Unsharp Masking
To find the unsharp mask, goto Filter | Sharpen | Unsharp Mask. Prior to entering this option, it can be useful to zoom in on a key area of the picture, such as the bird's face/eye. Then the unsharp masking dialog box shows a little box containing the key area.
Note that the settings needed for DSLR pics are generally different from the lower quality digiscope shots, as indicated below.
It also shows the values last used for the three parameters Amount, Radius and Threshold.
The Amount is essentially a measure of how much filtering is being applied. For digiscope pics, values in the range 200 - 400 are worth trying - the higher values for the fuzzier pictures. For any half reasonable DLSR pics, these values are way too high, and instead something in the range 120-150 seems better.
The Radius is the distance over which the filter acts. For digiscope pics, I find values between about 1.5 and 2.5 best. For pictures that are already quite sharp, use values at the lower end of this range. For the more blurred shots, use the higher values. For DSLR pics, which are generally sharper, values in the range 1.2-1.4 are more typical.
The Threshold specifies, for each pixel, the minimum contrast difference for applying the filter. If the pixel's brightness is less than the threshold different from its neighbours, the filtering is not applied. This can be used to prevent the filter being applied to largely uniform areas of the picture (e.g. sky etc). I generally use a value of about 5-10, which seems to work well and prevents uniform areas being filled with "noise" after filtering. Strangely, this value differs a lot from that given on Andy Bright's website, where he recommends 0.1-0.3! It is possible that these are for the full Photoshop not Elements, or that I am missing something!
Often I use the "undo" button and "redo" buttons to check the effect obtained, and adjust the parameters accordingly. With a bit of experience, its quite quick to get reasonable results. But note that for some shots it seems to work better on than others.
As stated above, often DSLR pics can also benefit from unsharp masking, but generally the Amount needed is somewhat less (typically in the range 120-150) and the Radius should be less (say 1.2 - 1.4).
Unsharp masking should always be done last, before saving the image to file.
For website pics, I also use Image | Resize to reduce the size to a constant value (e.g. width of 500 or 700) and a lower quality of 7-8.
More advanced options
Having selected the clone stamp tool, the basic technique is to first select the area you wish to copy by holding down the Alt key and simultaneously clicking the left mouse over the required spot. This area should be close to the feature you want to remove.
Then release the Alt key and go to the feature you want to remove, and hold down the left mouse button while moving the cursor across the feature. It will disappear in front of your eyes!
You will need to experiment with the size of the brush - to match it roughly to the size of the feature to be removed. Hardness seems best left on default.
It is relatively easy to remove isolated bits of branches, twigs etc from the background using this technique. A more challenging example is shown below!
Removing colour fringing
1. First use the lasso tool to select just the region of the picture affected by the fringing. This is important because it prevents the colour being removed from the whole picture - which may well correctly contain areas of this colour elsewhere. (I have not seen this step mentioned in other accounts of this process).
2. Then goto Enhance | Adjust Colour | Adjust Hue/Saturation. This brings up the Hue/Saturation dialog box illiustrated opposite.
3. Decide which colour you wish to suppress. I usually find it is blue, but I have seen others mention magenta. Either way, just select this colour from the drop-down list called Edit.
4. A useful even cleverer trick is to first select a colour from the Edit list. Then click, using the dropper, on the actual colour in the image you want to remove. The colour automatically adjusts to the one you have selected! (Thanks to Mike Flemming for pointing this out to me).
5. To remove the offending colour, move the Saturation slider bar all the way to the left, and check how it looks.
6. Try selecting and removing a different colour, if this hasn't had the desired effect.
Have you found this new page useful? Got any comments/further tips?
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