Luminar Flex Lightroom Plugin

You’ll noticed I haven’t posted to the blog in quite some time. I’m not even sure blogs are relevant any longer with social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram having become so popular, but it does it give a place to post a few before/after images, so that’s what I’m using it for today.

Late last week I saw an announcement from Skylum, makers of the popular Luminar Software, announcing the release of their new Luminar Flex plugin for Lightroom and Photoshop. I purchased the Luminar software some time ago on some sale they were running, but never got around to installing it, mostly because it was another stand alone app that I didn’t want to fool with. When I saw they announced a new plugin for Lightroom I was ready to give it a try. Luckily, if you already own the Luminar software, the plugin was free to download. Otherwise, it is $70.

I got a chance to play with the plugin a bit over the weekend. I really fell in love with a filter in the plugin simply called “sun rays”. As you might guess, it will add sun rays to an existing image. It does a really good job, too. You have a lot of control over the rays, also. You can adjust the temperature, length, number of rays, opacity, etc. I applied this filter to a few images I made previously created. Take a look at the before and after images below.

I have no affiliation with Skylum at all.

Pilgrim Creek

I am putting together some final touches for our Grand Teton Photography Workshop and I am getting super excited about it!  I am getting the opportunity to visit a few cool locations several days prior to the start of this workshop. 

Here's a scene I hope we get fortunate enough to see again this year.  This is Pilgrim Creek.  The lupine in the foreground and reflections in the water made this scene incredible.

ISO 100, 61mm, F/16 @ 10 images stitched to create pano 

Hover over the image to view camera settings used.  Click the image to view it larger.

This is a panoramic shot I took before sunrise.  I took ten images and stitched them together in Photoshop.  This image was made with my Sony A7R and Tamron 24-70mm Lens.

To learn more about this workshop you can click here:

Nature In Focus Photography Workshops is an authorized permittee of The National Park Service.

Anna Ruby Falls Pano

A few weeks back I was in the North Georgia Mountains with my good friend, David Akoubian.  We had an extra day to get in some shooting so we went to a couple of waterfalls.  One of those waterfalls was Anna Ruby Falls near Helen, GA.

While we were there, we were photographing from a bridge that the creek flowed beneath.  Well, right at the edge of the bridge was a cascade that I really wanted to get into the foreground and still be able to include the big falls in the background, too.   I was limited to a 24mm lens as my widest and it wouldn't allow me the composition I wanted.  I decided to remedy that situation by shooting a vertical panoramic image.

Most people always think of panos being in a horizontal format, but you shouldn't rule them out all together for a vertical.  In this case, I zoomed into about 50mm and set my aperture to F/16 and ISO to 100.  My shutter speed varied from frame to frame, but it was roughly around 2-3 seconds for each frame.  Once I had my settings dialed in and my focal length set, I basically started in the upper left and took three frames across the top left to right making sure to overlap each frame by at least 25%.  Then I went down about 75% (in order to overlap again by about 25%) and started the process over from left to right.  I repeated this process until I had everything I wanted to include in my image.  It ended up being 27 images (9 rows of 3 images)  total.  I then brought those home, and using Photoshop, I merged them into a panoramic file.  The result is what you see below.

I used my Sony A7R, LA-EA3 Lens Adapter and Tamron 24-70mm Lens to capture this image.  It was mounted atop my Sirui R-5214X Tripod and K-40X Ballhead.

Long Lens & DOF

Today I wanted to share with you an image I created during our Gibbs Garden Workshops a few weeks ago.  

I had to take 2 images to create this image and then do a little Photoshop work, but it was so simple it's crazy.  The reason I had to do this is because I had an object in the foreground I wanted in focus and an object in the background I wanted in focus.  I was shooting with my Tamron 150-600mm Lens @ 600mm.  Shooting lenses that long, your Depth of Field decreases drastically.  I shot these images at an aperture of F/11, which you would normally think would be great enough to cover your entire scene.  It would, if I was using a wider lens, but like I mentioned the depth of field is so shallow with these longer lenses, even at F/11, I had more shallow a depth of field than I wanted.  Let me show you what I mean.

ISO 100, 600mm, F/11 @ 1/50th second

In the above image you can see I focused on the frog in the background and it is in sharp focus, but the foreground frog is pretty soft.  That's due to our limited DOF with the long lens.

ISO 100, 600mm, F/11 @ 1/50th second

Now in this image you can see the exact opposite.  I had focused on the foreground frog and it is in sharp focus, but we've lost the background frog.

How do I remedy this?  I take those two images you see above, I highlight them both in Lightroom, right click and choose "Edit In" and then choose "open as layers in Photoshop".  Then after they are loaded into Photoshop.  I highlight both layers, then go to the Edit menu and choose "Auto-Align Layers".  Once that is done, I choose one of the images, it really doesn't matter which one, then I create a "layer mask".  Then I can take my brush tool and using the opposite color of my layer mask (if my layer mask is white, I would use a black brush and vice versa) I can simply brush the out of focus frog into focus.  The resulting image is below.

You can see that both frogs are in sharp focus here in the final image.

You might ask why I wouldn't just crank up my aperture and take one shot.  Well, in this case, I was shooting at F/11 and had a shutter speed of 1/50th second.  I didn't want to slow my shutter speed any more.  If I had and one of the frogs moved, I would have had a blurry photo of a frog, with nothing I could do about it.  

Another thing to mention is that you need to shoot both images on a sturdy tripod so your camera doesn't move.   I would also advise you use a tripod @ 600mm and 1/50th second ;) I've started using Sirui Tripods and camera support equipment.  I couldn't be more happy with these tripods. 

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OnOne Announces Perfect Photo Suite 9

Suite 9

OnOne Software has announced Perfect Photo Suite 9, an updated version of its photo editing and effects app for Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows. Included in the new release are many significant performance and feature improvements, all designed to help you streamline your photo-editing tasks, so you can spend more time shooting and less time processing your photos. 

For more info, click the image above to go over to their site and check it out.

Perfect Photo Suite 8.5 Now Available!

I received an email earlier today that OnOne had released the updated version 8.5 of their Perfect Photo Suite.  I came home right away and updated mine.

Here's a few of the things that have improved in the latest version:

"The update to 8.5 will provide a faster browser, way faster actually! It will also have substantial improvements to the Perfect Eraser and make results that much better. Overall stability and performance has been improved in the Suite to make it that more powerful of a photo editor."

Here is a video from OnOne of the new perfect eraser in action:


Existing owners of Perfect Photo Suite 8 are eligible for a free update. New users may purchase the Premium Edition for $179.95 or the Lightroom & Aperture Edition for only $99.95. The Standard Edition, a standalone application, is available for $79.95. Owners of earlier versions of the Perfect Photo Suite can upgrade to the Premium Edition for $99.95 or the Lightroom & Aperture Edition for $79.95. 

Click this link to download.  This one!

A few from the Smokies

This past weekend I got a chance to run up to the Smoky Mountains for a short time.  The time spent there is always too short, but I'm always happy to take what I can get. 

I started the day with sunrise at Clingman's Dome.  I love shooting sunrise here probably more so than anywhere else in the park.  The panoramic views, especially at sunrise, with the clouds in the valleys is always something to behold. 

The shot below was taken with my Canon 5D Mk II and Tamron SP 24-70mm F/2.8Di VC USM Lens.  Both of those sitting atop my Vanguard Alta Pro 283 CT Tripod.  I got there later than expected and almost missed the sunrise all together.  I do a lot of previsualization, if that's a word.  I have in my mind exactly what I want to do before I ever arrive at a location.  Of course, a lot of times, dealing with nature, those ideas have to be altered upon arriving at a location and seeing the conditions.  With that said, I knew I would want to get a sun star, so I knew I would be shooting with a narrow aperture.  I decided to go with F/16.  I almost always shoot landscapes at my lowest native ISO, and for the Canon, it's ISO 100.  Since I was shooting in aperture priority mode, like I do 99% of the time, the camera selected the shutter speed of 1/10th sec.  I then processed the image in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.

After sunrise I spent the next few hours riding around trying to capture images along the Roaring Fork Motor Trail before the light got too harsh to photograph the water and get that smooth, silky look that everyone loves.  

The image below was made with the same camera/lens/tripod combo.  This time I did attach my circular polarizing filter.  I never leave home without it and it is a must have for water!  I used the same ISO, but it was still fairly dark in the shadows of the mountains and trees, so I went with an aperture of F/11.  This still gave me plenty of depth of field using my wide angle lens and allowed me to go with a bit of a "quicker" shutter speed of 13 seconds.  I normally shoot these water scenes at around F/16, but doing that here would've given me a shutter speed that would've smoothed the water too much for my liking. 

After capturing a few images at this location, I moved on down the motor trail until I got to the infamous water mill that has probably been photographed a zillion and a half times.  When I come up on scenes like that, I try to find an interesting take on them.  Something you wouldn't normally see everyday.  Sometimes that is very hard to do, other times I don't have a problem with it.  On this morning, I tried a composition I haven't tried before and the sun just happened to play along.

This image was made with my Fuji X-E1 and XF 14mm F/2.8 lens.  I'm still using the same tripod, the Vanguard Alta Pro 283CT.  Knowing I wanted to get a nice sun star again, I went with an aperture of F/22.  The lowest native ISO for the Fuji is ISO 200, so that's what I choose here.  That yielded a shutter speed of 13 seconds.  I had my circular polarizer attached, but I was very careful when dialing in the amount of polarization.  You see, the water that is moving through the "trough" (man, I'll never get the English language) would look as if it weren't moving at all if I had dialed my polarizing filter down to where it had the strongest effect.  And I want you to know it's moving, so I dialed back the polarizer so you can still see a little of the sheen, which helps to show movement.  Then it was off to Lightroom and Photoshop to convert this to black & white.  


I finished the trip around Roaring Fork with a stop off at The Log Cabin Pancake House for some Peach Crepes.  You would've needed a pretty fast shutter speed to capture a photo of those as I quickly scarfed them down as soon as they hit the table. ;)

Later that day I ran across an antique tractor show.  First time I've ever been to one.  MI'll save those photos for another day. 

Houston Skyline

Last evening I shared an image i had made of the Houston Skyline on my Facebook page.  Many people had nice comments and I appreciate that very much.   Tonight I thought I'd take a few minutes to tell you what it was like making that image.  

First off, the image was made from a pedestrian bridge.  The bridge was maybe 2.5' wide, but at least it were only for pedestrians and you didn't have to worry about vibration from vehicles.   The bridge was covered in chain link fencing on both sides.  You can see this in my first attempt below.

Oh yeah, I've got to figure out how to get the lens through that stuff!  Luckily I was shooting with my new travel setup, the Fuji X-E1 and the XF 18-55mm lens.  It is a small rig and allowed me to get mostly through the fence.  I was using a tripod, as most always, but I still had to get creative with how the lens was wedged through the fence and put pressure on the back side of the camera/tripod to keep it from moving.  My first attempt at that with a 18 second shutter speed was not a very good one...

Yeah, someone (me) must have moved my tripod while trying to hold it against the fencing.  OK, time to make some adjustments to that whole tripod holding, lens through the fencing gig.  This time I tried a shorter shutter speed...10 seconds. 

Hey, now we're starting to cook with gas...If you look at this image above, you can see I got some of the fencing in the upper right and lower left corners of the image.  I was shooting at 18mm, so I kinda expected something like that.  I think I can work with this, though.  A little tweaking in Adobe Lightroom 5, some help from content aware and the cloning brush in Adobe Photoshop CC and Topaz Labs Clarity Plugin, I was able to get the final image below. 

Now, this one I can deal with!  I wanted to kinda show you the progression of how this shot came about.  It's not always a "one and done" scenario.  In fact, it seldom is.  It is about trying different compositions, sometimes experimenting with a tripod pressing, lens through the chain link method until you can get something to work with.  I try not to rely too much on Photoshop to fix things like this normally, however this time I accepted a momentary defeat to the chain link...until I pulled out the ole content aware brush. ;)

Topaz Clarity is Awesome!

So, I'm a little late to this party because I've been so busy lately, but I finally got around to checking out Topaz's latest offering in Photoshop filters - Topaz Clarity.

Being a huge fan of Topaz, and having several of their other filters, I knew this would be a must have for me.  And I was right.  This is probably my new favorite Topaz filter, although it may be a photo finish between it and Adjust ;)

I wanted to give you a few examples of before and afters I did quickly this afternoon.  Most of the afters are just one click solutions using the Topaz presets, which are also labeled in a way that make picking one for your particular photo easy and straight forward.

Let's start with a macro example.  Here's a pretty neat shot.

Macro shot before using Topaz Clarity Filter.

And here's the pretty neat shot after Topaz Clarity.  Holy Wowzers!  For this I used a preset.  It was in the Macro preset category (fitting, huh?) and the preset was called Flower III.  I tell ya, these Topaz folks must be simple minded, like myself.  Although, I could never create such awesome filters.

Macro Photo with Topaz Clarity Filter applied

Next up a shot of some koi in a pond I took with my new, fancy pants Fuji X-E1.

Koi before applying Topaz Clarity Filter

And the after....

Koi after Topaz Clarity Filter has been applied.

I hate to keep on with the wowzers, but c'mon.  This is impressive stuff.  I used another preset for this, but they didn't have a "koi in a pond" preset so I went with one called Low Contrast Color Pop II.

Last up is a shot from inside the old TN State Prison.  This is one area I'm going to absolutely eat this Clarity filter up...HDR.  HDR photos and clarity have always gone great together, and being an advocate of HDR, I was certainly excited to see this filter come to life.  So I jumped right in with this shot.  Here is it before.

Prison before Topaz Clarity

And now for the after...

Prison after Topaz Clarity Filter is applied

Ok, so I know your thinking they can't have a "old abandoned prison" preset.  Well, not exactly, but close.  The preset I used is found under the Architecture category (again, fitting) and was labeled Interior Strong.  Since I was inside and all...I went with Interior and it worked well.

Another thing I wanted to point out was I commonly get questions about using multiple Topaz products and which one to use first, second, yada, yada.  Topaz says on their webpage that their is no right or wrong order the filters, or plugins, can be used in.  That's a good thing for me, because if there was a wrong way, I'd find it first.  However, here is a template for Topaz's suggested workflow when using more than one Topaz product that I got from their official blog page.  Hopefully this will clear up any questions you may have had.

Topaz suggested workflow

If your on the fence about getting Topaz Clarity I hope I helped push you on over, because for a limited time price of $30, it really is a no-brainer.