Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Do Aliens like Olympus Raw? Another encounter with the little gray guys (or girls its hard to tell!)

Having more time to work with Alien Skin Exposure X2 and reviewing how my Olympus OMD EM1 Mark 1 files behave in this software. So far, I like what I see. Having deeply used both Lightroom and Capture One for years I can really see no drop off in quality in my RAW files. The one thing the other two applications have that X2 does not is camera RAW presets. These will alter the overall image upon importing to reflect a camera setting, ever so slightly changing the appearance of the image. Personally I rarely used them because I make so many global changes to my images that these presets just do not matter.
The last few months Exposure X2 has become my primary workflow application. When Alien Skin updates their RAW camera support to include my Panasonic Lumix LX10 I will do another review looking at those files. So for now lets talk about the Olympus EM1 files.

The first image below shows the metadata and overall exposure with clipping turned on in the histogram. Before moving on, I do want to mention how I like the metadata module. Alien Skin has four fields to add all the necessary contact info. By selecting all your images in a folder at once you can simply add to these data fields once and effect all the images. Clean, simple, and fast. The one field missing is keywords. I had brought that up with the technical staff at Alien Skin and was told that would be included in some future version. Just found it strange how that was not included up front. Now back to the image. With clipping on the red at the top of the image and blue around the front of cabin are the two most extremes.

Original file with clipping on.

Adjusting just for the highlights I was able to retrieve detail in most of the sky but more importantly the dogwood blossoming flowers. Adjustments are quick and linear.
Highlight recovery.

Moving highlights back to neutral, next was shadow recovery. Looking at the original image this area of the cabin is almost black in shadow. Olympus RAW file response to shadow recovery has been very good in Exposure X2. Detail was pulled out and was very workable.
Shadow recovery

Zooming in on the front of the cabin I have a very usable cabin with shadow recovery. Again RAW file support is on par with the other big names out there in how I use software in my workflow. I am not a pixel peeper. This image is zoomed in 100% to show the latitude of the adjustments.
100% zoom showing usable recovery of shadows.

When I select an image that will be made into my artwork I will push these sliders to their limits just to see how the image will behave. This gives me a baseline as to how I will go about brushing in my adjustment layers. Ultimately I end up with something like this coming from the RAW file. All from a very bright day with hard light and almost black shadows in my area of interest.
The Finished Product
So in summary the quality and latitude of Olympus RAW files and Alien Skin Exposure X2 has been a very good match in my creation of artwork. I have been able to push/pull burn/dodge to my hart's content. It has been equally as good as Capture One and better than Lightroom for my style creation. One other feature I like to mention is using the eye dropper to select the white balance. In Exposure X2 moving the eye dropper across the image the white balance will change in real time. You also get a magnification lupe that follows the eye dropper and allows you to easily see which pixel you have selected. Very nice touch.

Lastly, Alien Skin has posted on their blog some major updates coming soon. Very excited about what they are doing. Specifically the new layers module. This REALLY fits into my workflow. I would love to see them add artistic brush layer support from Snap Art into this module. Thereby brushing in various art styles into the image. Now that would be a cool feature.

Now for the shameless plug. Want to see where all this leads? Head over to Silver Streams Galleria to see how I put it all together.

Until next time. Be careful about those alien abductions. You may just start using their software. Now where is my ray gun....

Monday, January 23, 2017

A visit by Aliens

Yes it has been awhile since my last post, well actually about a year. One of the reasons has been my health which is back on track to wellness and the other has been a frustration with software. If you look at my Fine art web site you will see my style of landscape photography @ Silver Streams Galleria  My technique has evolved to a point of consistency in this style. Previous post have shown how I came about this look. No mysteries or secrets here. Never being a Photoshop user I have been on a trip through software to help me evolve this style. Well why not just use Photoshop? First, for me is its just too big and complex. Second, for whatever reason, my brain just can not figure out Adobe products. It just does not click for me. My son uses it for his graphic design but I just can't get it. Lightroom was fine but did not do what I needed to create this type of art.
So my artwork has been on a journey of discovery through every photo software application in the industry. Name it and I have probably tried the 30 day trial. I use a PC so there are a few that are only MAC specific. Sorry not going back to Apple products just to try software.

If you have read some of my older post I was using Capture One for a lot of my creations. It is still great software and I still have it for five more months. And herein lays the problem for me with some of these companies. I do not want to rent software. Paying a monthly fee rubs me wrong. Since I have signed up you can not just cancel without penalty. So 5 more months of paying for something not being used.

Another issue that I have been having problems with is database catalogs. I work off an external drive setup as a Raid 1 drive and a USB 3 connection. On this drive is over 95,000 images. Both Lightroom and Capture One were having problems with cataloging my drives. Maybe the size or number of images. Not sure. What I did discover is some software developers are developing their product that does not create a catalog in the traditional sense. This intrigued me as to how it would work for me. And that's when I was visited by Aliens.

It was late at night and drinking a good Bourbon when there was a bright flash and there before me appeared three little gray aliens. I was frozen in front of my 27" screen with glass of Bourbon in hand.  I asked are you from Mar? Who appears to be their leader spoke up and said..."No we are from Raleigh, North Carolina. "Is that close to Mars?", I ask. No was the reply.."Just South of Canada" he says. The leader goes on to say "We have been watching from afar and noticed you have been frustrated with software. Go to this site download the software and give it a try. We will be back in 30 days to see what you think. If you don't like it we will destroy all of planet earth with our ray gun." Cool!

So now being forced to try Alien Skin Exposure X2 OR face the destruction of the planet. I downloaded it and here are the results.

In my trips to the Smoky Mountains I had captured this image this past Fall and waited knowing what I wanted to create, but could not get software to work the way I wanted. I loved the way the roots of these trees grew on top of the rocks. There is no soil here for the roots to dig in. I could see the light and what I wanted to do with it. The lighting was perfect that afternoon. It was very soft and non-directional.

So what do I think? I like it! Alien Skin Exposure X2 is a very nice, streamlined and quick bit of software. I will not get into a few review of the software but I will talk about their adjustment layers and cataloging. First with the catalog. They do not do it like Lightroom. There is no catalog per say. It appears what they do is scan your folder structure and add a sidecar folder with all the information. My folder structure is straight up year/month/day with over 95,000 images and man did their software scan and catalog FAST. It was impressive. Now the adjustment layer is very powerful allowing all kinds of adjustments and film presets. I was told the amount of layers is not limited. Looking at the image screenshot below you can see the selected layers by the dots. Each dot is a layer selection individually brushed in, using my Wacum, to create the look.

What I like to do is take the image and reduce the overall exposure then paint the light back in with individual adjustments for each area of the image. Pretty simple stuff really. It gives me complete control to create the mood and light direction.

So what you see below is the final image with all layers complete. The light was created to highlight the trees and roots with some falloff into the back. As Bob Ross would say "You need darkness to show the light". This is what I had envisioned when first capturing the image.

Exposure X2 has been easy to learn and a pleasure to use. So far it seems to be bug free not having any crashes on my PC. Over this 30 day trial period I have been in contact with one of the Aliens named Nate (strange name for an alien I thought). This alien has been very responsive to my questions and future suggestions.

So the world owes me a big thank you. I have gone ahead and purchased the full suite thereby saving the planet from certain destruction by the ray gun. You are all welcome. So far the Aliens have not returned. Safe travels.