Friday, February 28, 2014

Interview With Photographer Kathy Cavallaro

My featured guest today is Midwest photographer Kathy Cavallaro. As you can see from the photos on this page, Kathy’s color IR landscapes are gorgeous. I first saw Kathy’s IR work in the Infrared and Ultraviolet forum of the Nikonians website.

DW: Kathy, welcome to the photoblog! How long have you been taking infrared photos?

KC: Thank you Dan for the opportunity to talk about my IR photography. I first became interested in infrared photography in early 2010 after finding a few images online that peaked my interest.  I started with an IR720 filter, not wanting to make the investment in a converted camera if I didn't enjoy the results.  The results were intriguing but it was difficult to get the results I wanted having to focus first, then apply the filter.  Also, the long shutter speeds with the filter made it difficult to obtain sharp photos.  I found I enjoyed IR photography enough to make the investment in having a camera converted.  Shortly after having my camera converted, I enrolled in Deb Sandidge's course on IR photography.  This was so helpful in every way from composition, to final processing techniques. 

DW: Which camera and lens combination do you use most often? 

KC:  I only have one IR body at the moment. It's a Nikon D200 converted with the super color filter (590nm). I chose the super color after many discussions with LifePixel. I didn't think I'd shoot many standard IR, and if I found the need, I could convert the Super Color easily to a more traditional Black and White with software. The camera was calibrated for a 18-55 lens, but have found the best results with the 18-200 VR lens. 

Marco Island, FL - (c) Kathy Cavallaro
DW:   Let’s take a look at the Marco Island photograph. I love this photo! What was your goal when you took it? 

KC:  With the Marco Island image my main goal was to frame the pool with the palm trees. I was lucky with the clouds. The wonderful thing with IR photography is that you can capture an interesting image at midday, when the light would not be very conducive to taking a regular image.

DW: Your Nikon D200 does not have LiveView but your photos are very sharp, even at longer focal lengths. Do you use any special focusing technique to make everything sharp?

KC: I use the hyperfocal technique, and focus about 1/3 of the way into the frame. This works well for me with all my cameras.

Buckingham Fountain, Chicago - (c) Kathy Cavallaro
DW: The next featured photo shows the Buckingham Fountain in Chicago. Can you tell us anything about this image?

KC:  I was so excited to take my IR camera to Chicago. It's an infrared paradise! I shot the fountain from every angle, it's a wonderful subject.

DW: You always seem to get the sky blue and the clouds white and/or natural-looking in your IR photographs. This really makes the IR coloration stand out. The clouds in my photos often have a blue cast after the channel swap. Can you tell us how you create this type of sky? 

KC:  After I put the image through the channel swap, if the image has a color cast, I'll run it through camera raw and play with the white balance. Sometimes I'll need to use a mask to work on the clouds with Hue/Saturation in Photoshop.

Charleston SC Pier - (c) Kathy Cavallaro
DW: The sky in your "Under the Pier" photo has is totally unexpected and the image does not scream INFRARED! Can you tell us something about this photo?

KC:  I was surprised by the results of that image as well. It was taken in early morning with the sun low in the sky, and slightly underexposed. I was inspired by framing the scene with the different angles of the pier. I was lucky to have a few wispy clouds and the two joggers entering the frame worked perfectly. I had hoped to capture more detail on the wood, but decided it may have distracted from the soft feel of the scene. This was processed in the same manner as my other images. This was taken in Charleston, SC.

Charleston SC Beach - (c) Kathy Cavallaro
DW:   With our especially harsh winter weather this year, this final beach scene is especially appealing. What made you use your IR camera rather than a standard camera?

KC: This image was taken in Charleston as well. This highlights the reason I chose the super color filter. I just love how it renders the foliage, helps to make something interesting out of the scrub in the foreground. The single beach chair, the fishermen, and the architecture of the building in the distance were the inspiration for this image. 

DW: Kathy, this has been great. Do you have any closing thoughts you would like to share?

KC: Thank you Dan for giving me the opportunity to share some of my photographs. For me Infrared photography always has an element of surprise. I'm never quite sure how the final image will look before running it through the channel swap. I find that aspect very enjoyable and exciting.

DW: Kathy, thank you for taking the time to share your infrared photo experiences. Your photos are inspirational.

You can find more of Kathy Cavallaro’s photographs at  

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Digital Workflow 3 - Black and White Conversion

This is a continuation of my Digital Workflow series. In my previous posts, I talked about camera settings and the importance of white balances. In this article, I will discuss one of the optional approaches to IR post-processing – black and white (BW) conversions. 

Initial Photograph without (left) and with (right) the LifePixel
White Balance.  Nikon D90 830 nm converstion
My initial motivation for shooting IR photographs was to use them as an entrĂ©e into black and white (BW) photography. I was enamored with the sharp contrasty photos and the ability to create surreal images.  These effects can be obtained with any IR conversion but if you are a dedicated BW photographer, the 830nm Deep Infrared conversion seems to be the ideal solution.  With this conversion, you will get BW images right out of the camera if you use the LifePixel white balance preset.  However, this filter will produce extremely red images if you do not use the preset WB.  

Cropped image without any post-processing.
Here is the initial cropped image. Right out of the camera, these images usually lack contrast and appear to be visually flat. As I mentioned in my Camera Settings post, I set my Picture Controls to +1 contrast, Vivid, and Sharpening at 6. This image was brought into Nikon Capture NX2 (CNX2), cropped, and saved as a TIFF file.  The camera settings are applied during this process.  

Autotone in Photoshop
The first step in post-processing is to use the Autotone function in Photoshop or the Auto Levels function in CNX2  

Image > Autotone (Photoshop)
Adjust > Light > Auto Levels (CNX2)

This step makes a big difference but the clouds and some of the grasses still don't have much detail.

One process I find extremely useful when processing Deep Infrared photos in Photoshop is to increase the microcontrast using the unsharp mask functions.  The Detail Extractor filter in NIK Color Efex Pro 4 the Clarity brush in Lightroom will produce similar results with various levels of post-processing control. I happen to like this approach because it works with my workflow.

For increasing microcontrast:
   PhotoShop Unsharp Mask:
      Amount — 5-20%
      Radius — 30-100 pixels (smaller radius enhances smaller scale detail)
     Threshold — 0

Unsharp Mask 20% and radius 30
My normal workflow is to duplicate the background layer and apply an unsharp mask at 20% Sharpening and a Radius of 50 pixels. If the scene starts to look too contrasty, I adjust the opacity of the layer to make the image look right. If I want to increase the local contrast in certain areas and not others, I change the duplicate layer to a layer mask and paint in the local contrast with a black brush. When processing a color IR photo, I set the blending mode to “Luminosity” to prevent local color saturation changes.

Choosing the proper radius is the key to this approach. High resolution images or those where light-dark transitions are large, require a larger radius value.  Very low resolution images may require a radius less than 30 pixels to achieve the effect. 

This process can produce noise in some images so this is a good time to do a noise reduction treatment.

Adjust Levels, noise reduction, and sharpening.
This final image is after adjusting the midtone levels to 0.81 to darken the sky and adding 10% Smart Sharpening.  

Processing of color IR photos is very straightforward because you have more color information in the image.  The Photoshop, CNX2, and NIK SilverEfex Pro 2 software will do a nice job with the conversion. Many people increase the saturation of the images before BW conversion but I have not found that necessary with a properly white-balanced image.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Making a Copyright Brush in Photoshop

It’s the beginning of the year and I am updating my camera settings so that the camera puts the proper copyright year into EXIF data. I am also making a new copyright brush in PhotoShop. 

Adding Copyright information
Copyright brush?  A copyright brush is a tool I use to insert the copyright information (©2014 Dan Wiedbrauk) on my photos with a single click. I usually do this when I post images on the internet. With the copyright brush, I can put the information anywhere on the photo and I can easily modify the color, opacity, blending, and size of the phrase using the PhotoShop brush tools.  Pretty nifty.

Yes, I know other photo editors can insert copyright phrases automatically, but they don't give me this level of flexibility and control. I like this method because it allows me to insert the information in a less distracting manner.

I only make a copyright brush once a year so I always have to look up how to do it.  I also forget which font I normally use for the copyright statement so that too becomes an annual rediscovery process. The purpose of this post is to share how (and why) I do these things and to generate a ‘how to’ guide for next January. 

Step 1. Create a new image
So here goes…  
Make a new image.  You want the signature to be large because it will be sharp when you make it smaller. When you make a small brush, the text gets blocky when you make it really big. Make sure you use a transparent background!

File >  New
                500 pixels wide
                300 pixels high
                72 pixels/inch 

Step 2 - Enter the text
Use the text tool to create your copyright text. I like to use the Pristina font for this. Make the copyright symbol 36 points and the text 48 points

The code for the copyright symbol is generated by holding down the ALT key and typing 0169. The numerals must be entered using the keypad, not the upper row of the standard keyboard. To make this work on my laptop, I have to activate the keypad built into the keyboard. The blue numbers on the 7-8-9, U-I-O, J-K-L, and M keys act as a keypad when the blue Fn key is held down. This means that I must hold down the Fn + ALT keys while using the blue keypad numbers on the keyboard.

Step 3 - Create the brush
The next step is to crop around the text and create the brush. To create the brush: 

     Edit > Define Brush Preset…  

Give the new brush a name (Copyright 2014 works for me.)

The brush will appear at the bottom of your brush table.  

Selecting the brush
To use the brush, select the copyright brush from the pallet, adjust the color and size and click once. Clicking more times will make the text darker. I generally set the opacity for 30-50% and use the click functions to vary the color intensity for the text.

As you can see from the first image in this post, I can insert the copyright information anywhere on the image and in any orientation.    
You can use this procedure to place your logo on your photo. The logo must be on a transparent background to work well.