7 Essential Lightroom Tricks I Use Daily

Everyone’s list of Lightroom tricks and shortcuts is a bit different and when I started to compile mine I wasn’t 100% sure what they were exactly. It’s funny how you don’t even realize you’re using these handy timesavers as they become second nature when you apply them within your editing workflow. 

In this 6-minute video, I review my list of 7 essential Lightroom tricks that I use on a daily basis. These are placed in order of importance simply based off of how often I use them. Some of these are widely known and others I don’t hear discussed very often - hopefully you aren’t familiar with all of them and you’re able to pick up a couple new ones that you can apply to your editing process moving forward. 

7.  Spot Removal Reselect 

How often does Lightroom auto select an inaccurate area of your image to use as the basis for the spot removal tool? Happens to me all the time and if it happens to you, just hit the forward slash key “/“. This will tell Lightroom to make another selection - you can keep doing this until you’re happy with the selection. 

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6. Increase Your Feather

Simply holding down the shift key while simultaneously hitting either of the bracket keys, this will increase or decrease the size of the feather of your local adjustments brush. A super simple trick, but insanely useful!

5. Survey Mode

This is a great for landscape photography where you have many images that look seemingly identical. While in the library module, if you highlight say 9 images and select the “N” key this will bring up the survey mode. This is a great way to figure out which one if the keeper! 

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4. Shift Double Click Slider 

Not sure what the name of this trick is so I just made one up. While in the develop module, if you hold down the shift key and double click the sliders within the basic panel, Lightroom will automatically set that particular slider to what the “auto” setting should be. This is a great way to get an idea on one certain slider as opposed to hitting the actual auto button which will set all sliders to the “auto” setting. 

3. Show Selected Mask Overlay

Not sure why Lightroom decided to make the “Show Selected Mask Overlay” checkbook so small, but if it drives you bananas trying to click this every time you want to see the mask you’ve applied, just hit the shortcut key “O”. 

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2. Instagram Crop Shortcut

If you have an image in a landscape orientation and you want to crop it to the 4x5 aspect ratio for Instagram you’ll notice that 4x5 for landscape orientation is different than 4x5 for portrait orientation which is what Instagram prefers. I quick way to make this adjustment is to use the shortcut key “X”. 

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1. Before & After Key

This is a fairly popular trick and it’s one that I use many times throughout my day. While in the develop module on a particular image you can select the backslash key “\” to show you what your image looked before any edits were applied. 

Like I said earlier, I hope you weren’t familiar with all of these tricks and shortcuts and you were able to walk away with at least a few new ones that you can apply to your post processing workflow moving forward.

3 Tips for Choosing Black & White or Color

Something I’ve always found difficult was knowing when an image should be converted to black & white and when it should be left in color.  It’s one of the more contested discussions in photography and there really isn’t a “black and white”:) or cut and dry answer to it. After much trial and error, I’ve come up with three questions that I consistently ask myself when trying to determine if a color image is a good candidate for black & white.

Does the image NEED color?

Some images need color in order to be effective and to accurately represent a moment in time. Color is fantastic at catching the viewers attention and depicting seasonality or setting from a time of day perspective. In the example below, if you remove the color from the scene, the entire story changes and you can no longer lean on the autumnal colors as the main subject of the photo. On the other hand, images that have a subdued color palette and don’t rely on color to portray the story could be good candidates for a black & white treatment.  

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Is there interesting light or shadows?

Black & White is great at showing off the tonal range in the light and shadow areas of your scene. Many times in situations similar to the image below, color can actually become a distracting element that takes the viewers attention away from the interesting light and/or shadows.  

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Are there any interesting textures?

Now this is my favorite question! If you have an image that has interesting texture then it could most definitely be a great candidate for B&W. Images that are captured when the sun is low on the horizon, providing side light that rakes across your subject creating incredible textures - well this is where B&W shines the most in my opinion. When people think of B&W they think of a raw and gritty image that has a certain level of toughness associated with it and this is emphasized even more when B&W is applied to an image with interesting textures.   

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Although this isn’t an exact science and these questions are by no means the end all be all solution to identifying good Black & White photos, they will certainly jump start the creative thinking to help you identify what works best for a particular image, Black & White or Color.  

4 Simple Tips for Better Landscape Photography Trips

Due to circumstances that are generally out of our control, not all landscape photography trips are a success, but with a bit of planning you can increase the likelihood of having a productive outdoor photography shoot. The soft morning or late afternoon light that all landscape photographers are after is generally a short lived event and being as prepared as possible will enable you to capture it when the moment is right. 

Virtual Scouting

A great way to determine if a location is photogenic is to hop over to 500px and run a search for your location. This will also show you how others are capturing your planned location and will provide compositional ideas that you might want to apply or avoid when you’re on-location.  

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Pre-Visualization

It’s good to not only become familiar with your specific subject you’ll be photographing, but also the surrounding area. For this, Google Earth is your best friend - this is one of the coolest applications Google has ever created in my opinion. 

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Light

This is what we’re all after! Good light can make or break a photo and understanding where and when you can expect the light to arrive is super powerful information to understand. There’s many apps you can use to determine this, but the app I like to use is LightTrac. It’s very straightforward and has a user friendly interface that will show you everything you need to know in order to be in the right place at the right time. 

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Clouds

This works in conjunction with the light, if the clouds are thick any available light will be snuffed out. The clouds that produce those burning sunrises or sunsets we all love are high clouds. I use an app called Clear Outside to determine the predicted cloud cover for a specific location on a certain day and time.  

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There’s nothing worse than running around on location like a lunatic trying to find a good composition when the sky is exploding with color, but with a bit of advanced planning you can reduce the chances that this will happen to you on your next photography adventure.

How to FIX WIDE ANGLE SHRINKAGE Fast in Photoshop!

How many of you can relate to this scenario? You encounter a scene that really grabs your attention, it has all the elements you look for in a great composition - spectacular foreground that works the eye towards the mid-ground which in turn leads the viewer towards a majestic mountain range in the background. You grab your wide angle lens to capture the entire scene, click the shutter, review the image - you couldn’t be happier with the results. You arrive back home, load the image on your computer, but somethings off, the image lacks the grandiose quality that first caught your attention. The foreground and mid-ground look solid, but the the mountain range in the background no longer reflects what you saw with your naked eye - it shrunk! This shrinking effect is a common issue with wide angle photography where your background elements take on a miniaturized look - especially mountains. In this video, I’ll show you a cool trick to quickly stretch those shrunken mountains to more closely resemble what they appeared like when you first captured the image. The process is very straightforward and only consists of three simple steps. 

Step 1:

Load your image in Photoshop and grab your crop tool, you’re going to perform a “reverse crop” - instead of cropping in, you’re going to crop out, in order to create additional room to stretch your photo. 

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Step 2: 

Now, select your rectangular marquee tool and make a selection along your horizon line across your image and to the top of the photo. Next, you’ll want to right click your selection and click free transform.

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Step 3:

For the final step, you simply grab one of the anchor points at the top of your selection and drag your image to where your crop ends and select the check mark to confirm the transformation.  

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And that’s it, you’ve successfully recreated the scene as you saw it in the moment. Wide angle lenses are a necessity in landscape photography, but they don’t come without their distortion issues, however with a bit of finesse and Photoshop wizardry these issues can easily be resolved. 

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3 QUESTIONS To Ask Before SWITCHING CAMERA BRANDS!

It’s been an active few weeks in the world of new camera announcements. Between Nikon, Canon and Fuji, there’s a slew of state-of-the-art camera choices available to entice photographers to switch brands. As I dug into the details associated with such an important decision, I set out to determine the most responsible way of identifying if making a brand change made sense for me. 

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1) What’s The Out of Pocket Expense?

Sounds like common sense, but going through the process of identifying how much I could sell my current camera and lenses helped me to quantify a financial starting point. In order to do this, I went to B&H’s website and entered my equipment to determine how much I could expect to receive if I decided to sell my kit to them. This enabled me to figure out what additional out of pocket expense would be required in order to make a switch to one of the three recent camera announcements. 

2) What’s The Increase in Quality Worth?

The main reason to switch camera brands is usually to increase photo and video quality, but does the perceived increase in quality justify the additional expense? Regardless if your out of pocket costs are $1,500, $2,500 or $3,500, does this additional cost substantiate your expected increase in quality? In the above video, I decided to test myself - I downloaded an image from each of the three recently released cameras to determine which image I liked best and to see if I could tell which brand produced which photo - I was rather surprised by the results!  

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3) What’s Your Problem?

Ask yourself this, “What problem am I having with my current camera that the new one will solve?”. This is a powerful question and will help you determine if you’re wanting to switch brands just for the sake of switching or if there’s a real case for change. It’s common to want to shift over to a new brand just because you’re bored with your current setup, but this can be an expensive transition if you’re not solving a current problem, outside of just wanting to change things up a bit. 

Whatever the case may be, if you can identify problems that can be solved by switching camera brands and the additional out of pocket expense doesn’t outweigh the expected increase in quality, then it might be time to think about switching brands. Photographers spend a small fortune on camera equipment and making the choice to switch to an entirely new brand might be the single most impactful gear related decision we will ever make. 

3 Reasons You Don’t Need To Be A Pro To Make Great Photos

The label of being a “professional” at something whether you’re a professional football player or a professional figure skater typically means you’re the best of the best in your respective field, but when it comes to a professional photographer the same assumption can’t be made. I hear from people on a regular basis that discount their personal photographic abilities because they say they aren’t a “pro”, rather just an amateur or a hobbyist. This thought track is what initially got me thinking about what really constitutes a professional photographer. 

What does “Pro” really mean?

Depending on who you ask, a photographer becomes eligible for the “pro” stamp of approval  if 100% of their income is generated from some sort of photographic activity, but all this means is that they’ve wrapped a business around their love of photography. It has absolutely no merit  on their particular skill set, portfolio, or quality of work - it has more to do with their business

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acumen and their ability to market themselves. I’ve seen plenty of amateur photographers that are more skilled than some of the “pro” photographers out there, but they have a 9-5 job outside of photography, therefore cannot receive the professional label under today’s requirements. 

Gear Doesn’t Matter

We’re all conditioned to believe that gear matters, but it’s simply not quite as important as we’re influenced to think. Professionals will typically have better gear than most amateurs, mainly because they can easily justify upgrading on a consistent basis as they generate income from their equipment.

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An important factor to consider here is  the law of diminishing return, the difference between a $100 camera and a $1,000 camera is HUGE! The difference between a $1,000 and a $2,000 camera is significant - not as significant though as the variance between the $100 versus $1,000 camera and the same goes for a $2,000 camera in comparison to a $4,000 camera. There is a difference, but the perceived increase in quality begins to become difficult to easily identify. 

Passion Driven Shooting

This is where amateurs and hobbyist have a distinct advantage over the pros. If you’re an amateur photographer you typically only photograph things you’re passionate about, things that inspire you and put a smile on your face. Professional photographers do the same, but also end up photographing things they aren’t necessarily passionate about as they must also focus on generating income to pay their mortgage or send their kids to college. This is one of the things I initially noticed when I made the leap from an amateur to a “professional” photographer - shooting what you love is much more rewarding than shooting for a paycheck. 

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At the end of the day, if you like taking photographs and you enjoy photography, then you’re a photographer. Don’t get hung up on the labels amateur, hobbyist, or professional as these labels really  don’t mean a thing other than where you generate your income and definitely don’t let it stand between you and putting yourself out there because you don’t think you have the capacity to be a “pro”.

Histogram or Artistic Expression - What Matters Most?

How literal should you interpret a histogram? Where do the lines intersect between artistic expression and photographic technicalities? It’s important to first recognize that a histogram is nothing more than a mathematical algorithm. It doesn’t grasp the concept of what looks good versus what looks bad and it certainly doesn’t equate your artistic vision into its calculations either. It wasn’t until I became fully aware of how a histogram operates that I was able to determine where my own artistic expression overcomes the technical side of photography. If you look up the definition of histogram you’ll discover this, “A graphical representation of the tonal values of an image.” With that said, I see two use cases for the histogram, as an in camera exposure guide and a reference tool used during post processing. In camera, I use this as a means to quickly determine “acceptable” exposure and to ensure that I’m not losing any detail in the highlights or shadows of my image.

When it comes to post processing images in Lightroom, you’ll notice a combination of the luminance (grey) and RGB histogram. This might look intimidating at first, but once you spend some time with it, you’ll quickly become comfortable with the information it provides. Along the X axis, moving from left to right, you have black tones, shadows, mid-tones, highlights and whites..simple as that!  

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I find the most useful histogram feature in Lightroom to be the clipping indicators that allow you to easily identify areas of your image that have clipped or “blown out” highlights or shadows. In order to see this use the shortcut key (J) to toggle the indicators on and off. Clipped highlights are displayed in red and clipped shadows are visible in blue.  

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Below is the final image after some additional edits and resolving the clipped areas, notice the difference in the before and after histogram.  

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So where does this leave us? Once you’re comfortable with how to translate a histogram and understand how to use the resulting information during post processing, it becomes easier to discern between your artistic vision and the exposure technicalities. The below example illustrates this point well. This is a RAW file from a recent backpacking trip where I envisioned a dark, subdued image with a moody edge to it, as you can see it’s quite underexposed with a large amount of shadow clipping which I was able to correct. 

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If I hold down ‘Shift’ and double click ‘Exposure’, Lightroom indicates that according to the histogram this image requires over 3.5 additional stops of exposure in order to “properly” expose the photo - below is the result. 

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This is obviously not what I envisioned the end result to appear like. Below is the final edit I landed on that closely aligns with my original artistic vision for the scene. If you were to look only at the histogram, you could easily draw the conclusion that this photo was underexposed, but in reality it’s exactly how I envisioned the end result  - I love it! 

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I believe we all have similar images and situations as this in our portfolios where the photo may not be “technically” sound, but it matches the output in our minds and at the end of the day - that’s really all that truly matters.

Focus Stacking Made Simple!

The popularity and widespread use of focus staking in landscape photography has dramatically increased over the last few years. The concept typically reserved for macro photography has quickly won over countless outdoor photographers worldwide. With more and more landscape enthusiasts using wide angle lenses to capture images with dramatic foreground elements, it’s become nearly impossible to create front to back pin sharp photos. If you’re not familiar with what focus stacking is, fret not - the concept is very straightforward. It’s simply the act of taking a series of images with each photo focused at a slightly different distance from your camera and combining only the sharp portions of each, thus creating one final image that’s perfectly sharp throughout. I recommend shooting at least a total of three images, one for the immediate foreground, one for the mid-ground and one focused on the background. Now once you have your series of images captured, it’s time for the real magic. I’ve come across numerous different approaches to create focus stacked images, but none that are as quick and simple to produce as the process I’m going to outline here.

Once you have your series of images captured, load them into Lightroom - I usually apply a quick edit to one of the images and sync the edit across the entire series.  

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Next, open all the images as layers in Photoshop. Make sure all three layers are highlighted then go to Edit> Auto Align Layers and select Auto. 

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For the final step select Edit> Auto Blend Layers and choose Stack Images.  

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I’m not sure what Adobe wizardry goes into this, but somehow Photoshop knows to allow only the portions of each image that are in perfect focus to show through while simultaneously creating a mask to block out the areas not in focus. 

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The end result is a photo that’s in complete focus from front to back - easy as that. Once you have your series of images loaded into Photoshop the entire process takes less than 90 seconds - well worth the extra effort if you ask me! 

If you have any questions, let me know!

-Mark

How to Find the ‘Sweet Spot’ of Your Lens for Sharper Photos

When it comes to purchasing a new lens there are two questions that immediately come to mind for me, how much is it and how sharp is it? Now I know there’s more to the lens buying process than overall sharpness, but as a landscape photographer - sharpness is king! As I was recently conducting my research process into yet another lens purchase, I began to reflect on the overall lack of knowledge I possessed when it comes to anything outside of the standard specs of my lenses (aperture & focal range). This revelation was brought on by the multitude of lens reviews I read along with the common phrase of “lens performance” aka the “sweet spot”. I’ve always heard of the proverbial “sweet spot” and understand this to be the aperture range where a particular lens performs the best, but never took the time to conduct this test on any of my own lenses. The most interesting part of this is that quality lenses make up the majority of my investment in photography and yet they’re the one piece of gear I honestly know the least about. 

So, before I rushed out and purchased yet another lens, I decided that I must spend the 20 or so minutes to determine exactly what the sweet spot is for each of my lenses, I mean after all, I could have been missing optimal performance on my lenses all this time and would have had no idea. Plus, this is one of those things where once you do it, you never have to do it again, assuming you don’t forget what the sweet spot is. So, I grabbed a vintage camera off

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my shelf to use as my test subject, one because it looks cool and two because there’s small writing around the lens. I find it much easier to distinguish overall sharpness when looking at letters and numbers as opposed to anything else. I placed my subject on a fence post in my backyard and grabbed my camera, tripod, and 70-200m lens.  

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Once setup, I began snapping images at each f stop value starting at f/22 and working my way all the way down to f/4. My first series of images was captured at a focal length of 135mm and the second set would be zoomed all the way in at 200mm.  If you decide to perform this test on your own lenses the focal distance is purely up to you, this can be any distance that you choose. I would however recommend that you refocus your camera each time you change the f stop value. I used auto focus for this and placed my focus point dead center of my subject and never moved it, just auto refocused each time and fired away. Once I completed both series of images (135mm and 200mm), I loaded all the photos into Lightroom and began to review the results. 

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When analyzing the results, I found it beneficial to utilize the split screen feature within Lightroom while looking at two images simultaneously where I could zoom in 4:1 on my subject.  I started with the 135mm series at f/22 and worked my way down. Right out of the gate I discovered how much diffraction impacted this particular lens when stopped down to f/22, it wasn’t only f/22 that was impacted either, but also f/20, f/18 and even f/16. Albeit, f/16 looked noticeably better than f/22, but nevertheless it still wasn’t as crisp as it could be.  

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So, identifying the overall diffraction tolerance was an unintended, but wildly beneficial piece of information that I wasn’t anticipating to uncover from this exercise. If you’re not familiar with what diffraction is, it’s when light “diffracts” or begins to break up when passing through a small opening, which ultimately limits the overall resolution of your camera. As I progressed throughout the series of images, it was becoming increasingly obvious that I was nearing the range of optimal performance. Now I’ve always heard that generally speaking a lens performs the best 2-3 stops above wide open, so I was interested to see if that holds true here. After about 5 minutes of analyzing the images I was able to determine that my 70-200 lens had a sweet spot in the range of f/6.3, f/7.1, f/8 and maybe f/9, which interesting enough wasn’t inline with the generalized assumption of 2-3 stops above wide open. The results also differed from my personal assumption that this lens performed the best at f/11. Something that blew me away was when I decided to compare the sweet spot of f/6.3, with f/22 which suffered from the largest amount of diffraction, f/22 appeared to be completely out of focus and not even a usable image.  

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When I reviewed the images that were zoomed into 200mm, I was also surprised to uncover that the sweet spot actually shifted a bit, the zone of optimal performance now also included f/10 as well. 

So at the end of the day, is this the most exciting photography exercise, no, but is this extremely beneficial information to understand, absolutely! If you decide to test your lenses at home, I would suggest jotting down the findings of each lens in order to alleviate the need to reexamine them in the possible event that you might forget, but after a relatively short amount of time this information will become second nature and you’ll be confident knowing that you’re getting the most out of your largest photography investment, your lenses. 

-Mark

5 Signs You're Progressing in Photography

Recognizing personal progression and improvement is a wildly beneficial yet often overlooked exercise for our confidence. It’s human nature to want to be “better” at things, we don’t have to be the best right now, but we all want the affirmation that were improving and moving in the right direction. Photography is no different and in the digital age can feel rather short-lived as the majority of images created are shared on social media and eventually with time, slide off into the digital archives rarely to be seen again. We tend to only view what we've created in recent months and when doing this we lose the ability to appreciate and recognize how we're progressing over the long term. What I’m proposing is this, take the time to rewind the clock and compare your earlier work against what you’re creating now in order to identify your self progression. I've come up with five questions to ask yourself to help you determine the areas that you're progressing in photography - if you can answer ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, then congratulations you're moving in the right direction! 

First, are you a better composer? Can you say that you’re creating consistently better composed images now than you were a year or two years ago? It doesn’t matter if you’re using the rule of thirds, repeating patterns, or foreground, mid-ground and background elements to create depth. As long as you’re paying extra attention to where you place elements within your scene, thats a great sign of compositional progression. 

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Secondly, are you using your histogram on a regular basis? Is your histogram no longer an obscure color chart dancing without rhyme or reason on the back of your LCD? Is it a tool you reference with each image you capture? The more photos you create that have a histogram output that looks similar to this, the less you’ll have to manipulate your exposure during post processing resulting in cleaner, crisper images.  

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The third question is this, are you shooting with multiple lenses? The quality of lenses you’re using is irrelevant, what matters is that you have a choice to make when approaching a scene. Do you want to go wide and capture everything or do you want to compress the scene with a 

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70m-200m or perhaps isolate details in the distance? Just having to make a choice as to the lens to use to create the vision you have in your head will make you a better photographer. 

Fourth, are you shooting in better lighting conditions and understanding why you’re doing so? Soft ambient side light created from the sun sitting low on the horizon during the “golden hours” creates incredible opportunities to show texture and add dimension to your images.

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Photography in harsh lighting conditions can turn the most picturesque scene into a mess of hideous shadows, but shooting in ideal lighting conditions can easily transform any image into a masterpiece.  

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And for the fifth and final question to ask yourself, are you a better post-processor now than you were then? Post processing is one of those skills that is refined over time and requires a great deal of practice and trial by error. Once you’ve edited thousands of images you’ll begin to create your own style and figure out what works and what doesn’t from a visual perspective, but this process takes time, practice practice practice, and a bit of patience. 

I’m a big believer in goal setting and this exercise has become part of my end of year ritual in order to celebrate my progression year over year and to identify the areas that I need to develop further in the future.

-Mark