Texas Clouds

We’ve had a very strong high-pressure system floating serenely above much of Texas for the past three weeks, granting us cool and very dry weather with the relative humidity less than 50% most days. For folks living in southeast Texas the dry air is a welcome change from our normally hot and humid September and October.

As pleasant as it’s been, I do look forward to the clouds returning before I leave for the Texas panhandle this week. Our cobalt blue skies are wonderful to look upon but a wee bit boring for landscape photography. I much prefer the billowing clouds of a Texas summer to add drama to my landscapes such as found in this shot taken a few months back at Buescher State Park near Smithville, Texas.

Clouds Over Buescher State Park

Clouds Over Buescher State Park, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 36mm, f/16 for 1/40th of a second at ISO 100 with a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

View Location on Panoramio & Google Earth: Clouds Over Buescher State Park, Texas

New Lightroom 3 Raw Workflow

As most of you know, Adobe recently released Lightroom 3. There are tons of blog posts, training videos and forum discussions on the Internet about the new features of Lightroom 3 so I won’t belabor the points here. What you may not know is that this new version is a major upgrade from Lightroom 2 and because of that, your Raw workflow may need to change. Mine certainly did.

Take this image for example, shot last week from the rim of Palo Duro Canyon near Wayside, Texas. The exposure is fairly well balanced but like most Raw files, it lacks contrast. In Lightroom 2, I would have worked my way down the various settings in the Develop module in the order that they were presented but my Lightroom 3 workflow has changed considerably.

Lightroom 3 Raw Workflow - As Shot

I begin my Raw workflow by changing the Camera Calibration setting to one of the default values for a Canon 5D Mark II, usually Camera Standard. This tends to darken the image somewhat and adds some much needed contrast.

Lightroom 3 Raw Workflow - Camera Calibration

Next I use the new Lens Corrections settings and check the Enable Profile Corrections box which fixes any barrel or pincushion distortion, chromatic aberration and vignetting problems inherent in my Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens. This is similar to what the well respected PTLens plugin from Tom Niemann does in Photoshop, although the effect in LR3 is more subtle.

Lightroom 3 Raw Workflow - Lens Corrections

Next I generally adjust the Tone Curve by setting the Point Curve to Strong Contrast which also adds contrast to the entire image. This also helps to broaden the tonal gradations in the image making the highlights brighter and the shadows darker. Make sure you check the histogram when making this change to avoid clipping in the highlights or shadows.

Lightroom 3 Raw Workflow - Tone Curve

My next step is to adjust the Basic settings such as White Balance (usually set for Daylight depending upon the image), Clarity (which adds some wonderful mid-tone contrast) and Vibrance.

I find that the “Daylight” setting on my Canon 5D Mark II uses a white balance that is several hundred degrees too cool (4850K versus 5500K) by default for Texas. I generally adjust the white balance to somewhere between 5200K and 5500K in Lightroom to make the images match what I remember seeing. I’ve verified this in the field using a WhiBal gray card so I’m fairly confident that this is correct.

At this point in my Raw workflow, I’ll also adjust the Exposure, Recovery, Brightness and Contrast settings until I find the right exposure balance (lights and darks) and tone (color gradations) to fit the story I’m trying to tell with this image. I may spend as little as ten minutes on this or as much as several hours trying different settings until I achieve the look and feel I want.

Lightroom 3 Raw Workflow - Basic Settings

My final “tweaks” to the image are done by adjusting the Hue, Saturation & Luminance settings. This is where the fine tuning is done to create drama in my images. I’ll generally change the Luminance values for several colors as shown in the screenshot below.

Small, incremental changes go a long way here, so I’m careful not to push things too far and end up with an image that looks unrealistic. I have enough trouble with folks that don’t live in Texas believing that our skies are actually this blue and our clouds this white.

Lightroom 3 Raw Workflow - Luminance

The next step is purely optional but I will occasionally use the Graduated Filter or the Adjustment Brush to add drama to a shot. Like every other setting in the Develop module, small changes go along way here.

Lightroom 3 Raw Workflow - Local Adjustments

My final steps are done in the Detail pane where I’ll usually make some Sharpening and Noise Reduction changes before exporting the image for printing or the web.

These settings have changed considerably in Lightroom 3 so use caution when applying the same values you used in LR2. The Noise Reduction capabilities in Lightroom 3 have improved dramatically but by default no Luminance noise reduction is added to Raw images, so you’ll need to add at least a little for every landscape image. I generally add 10% – 15% to every landscape image that contains blue sky and white clouds. Even this small amount of noise reduction smooths out the pixelation found in the bright, high-contrast areas and makes the image look much more realistic.

Lightroom 3 Raw Workflow - Sharpening & Noise Reduction

Click on the image below for a larger version. The final results from Lightroom 3 are far superior to what I could achieve in LR2 and my round-trips to Photoshop are now a thing of the past for most landscape and nature images.

The features added to Lightroom 3 are substantial and I really feel sorry for those plug-in vendors like Nik Software, Noise Ninja and Alien Skin. The folks at Adobe have once again raised the usability bar in processing Raw images for photographers.

Palo Duro Canyon Evening

Palo Duro Canyon Evening – Wayside, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on Aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 28mm, f/16 for 1/8th of a second at ISO 100 with a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Something New in Lightroom 3

Wow. This caught me totally by surprise. After several months working with the Lightroom 3 betas I thought the changes were nice but hardly ground-breaking. I upgraded to the released version last evening and updated my catalogs with no trouble at all.

I began working on a image for today’s post using my normal workflow and thought to myself “LR3 is a nice, but unexciting upgrade”. Then I looked at the new develop presets and was blown away.

Step 1: The Original RAW Capture
Country Sunset Original

Step 2: Crop & Apply Creative Split Tone 3 Preset in Lightroom 3
Creative Split Tone 3 Preset

Step 3: Quick Trip to Photoshop CS5 for Content-Aware Healing Magic
Country Sunset

Country Sunset – Smithville, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 165mm, f/16 for 0.8 seconds at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming circular polarizer and 3-stop graduated neutral density filter. All post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS5. Click on the image above for a larger version.