Sunday, April 19, 2015

Springtime IR Opportunities - Capturing Immature Leaves

The weather has finally warmed up in Southeast Michigan and the leaves are just budding out. Many landscape IR photographers will tell you that there aren't enough leaves to make a good photo at this time of year. In my experience, the Spring is an excellent time to capture silhouettes (see my previous post) and small leaves against a darker branch. Some of these images can be quite dramatic. In this post I will share three images that I took yesterday. The shirtsleeve weather was a welcome respite from the bitter Michigan winter.

Infrared photo  Ornamental Crab Apple leaf buds.
The first image is a high-contrast black and white photo of leaf buds from a flowering ornamental crab apple tree. The branch was shot against a clear blue sky using matrix metering. This made the sky very dark. I noticed the light was making high contrast shadows on the leaves and the branches. The brown thing is a dried up crab apple.  Post-processing was rather simple. I set a WB in Capture NX2 and converted the image to a TIFF and worked on it using Photoshop CS5. The original image was so contrasty that I did not have to convert it to black and white. I set a black point on the background, added some contrast, toning, and sharpening to produce the image you see here.

Spring buds in IR. Domino's Farms in Ann Arbor Michigan.
The second photo is from an unknown tree I found at Domino's Farms here in Ann Arbor. I set the WB in Capture NX2 and did the rest of the processing in Photoshop. Once again, I was able to capture a high contrast image that did not need to be converted to black and white. I used the NIK Detail Extractor filter (large details) to provide more separation for the leaves. I also used a Dark Contrasts filter to increase the contrast. I did not remove the cyan coloration in the leaves appeared because it provided some visual interest. In this photo, the branches are as interesting as the buds and stamens.  

Ornamental Crab Apple leaves, Springtime. Infrared photo.
This image is also from an Ornamental Crab Apple tree taken against the blue sky. The original OOC image had a natural gradient in the background that went from black at the top to dark maroon at the bottom. the leaves were also maroon in color. The maroon coloration on the leaves resembled a duotone process so I decided to follow that path. The image was converted to Greyscale and then to Duotone using Photoshop CS5. I used Pantone 8040 C for the second duotone color. While this image isn't as dramatic as the first two images, the duotone toning brings out the light and shadow gradients.  

All of these photos were taken with a Nikon D90 (standard 720nm conversion), Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 VR lens, and ISO 200.  I used matrix metering and spot auofocus.

Hope you had a great Spring!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Nikon Capture NX-D: White Balance and Channel Swap

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Nikon Capture NX-D is Nikon’s new freeware replacement for the venerable Nikon Capture NX2 program.  Capture NX2 was a full-featured photo editing program created by NIK software in collaboration with Nikon.  When Google purchased NIK, the collaboration stopped and Nikon had to scramble to produce a replacement product.  The result was NX-D.  Capture NX2 is no longer supported by Nikon.

CNX2 was the workhorse program for many Nikon IR photographers because the most Nikon cameras cannot set a custom white balance for infrared light.  They just don’t have enough adjustment to white-balance these images. You can check out my white balance post for more information.

Now, let’s get to the real purpose of this post -- describing how to set a white balance and perform a channel swap using the new NX-D program. 

Step 1.  Open your RAW image in NX-D.  As you examine the user interface, you will notice that most of the editing functions are arranged on the right side of the screen.

Step 1. Open the image in NX-D.

Step 2.  Click on the WB icon on the right panel.  The WB editing panel will appear.  Click on the down arrow next to “Recorded Value” to open the white balance menu.

Step 2. White Balance.

Step 3.  Click  “Use Gray Point” located at the top of the menu then click on the Gray Point Selection Tool

Step 3 White Balance
Step 4.  The cursor will become an eyedropper and you can click on a point that should be gray in the image.  If you have included a gray card in the image, click on that.  To sample a larger area, click and drag to choose a larger area to sample.  Compared with CNX2 which could sample the entire image, the NX-D marquee is quite small.  You can use the Fine Adjustment and Tint sliders to dial in the appropriate amount of white balancing.

Step 4. White Balance
Step 5 – Channel Swap.  Click on the LCH icon on the right editing panel.  Click on the down arrow next to “Master Lightness” to pull down that menu.  Click on “Hue.”
Step 5 Channel Swap
Step 6.  Click on the down arrow next to “60 degrees” and choose “180 degrees.”  Click on the white arrow on the right side of the display and slide it upward until the sky is the color you want.

Step 6. Channel Swap
Step 7.  This is what the sky looks like when the arrow is moved upward.

Step 7. Channel Swap Complete
I usually export the image as a 16-bit TIFF file at step 5 and do the rest of my post-processing in Photoshop.  On rare occasions, I will perform a channel swap in NX-D and then export to a TIFF.  I really don’t do any photo editing in NX-D.

I hope you find this explanation helpful.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Can NX-D replace Capture NX2 for IR Photography?

Nikon NX-D
Capture NX-D is Nikon’s new (and free) non-destructive RAW processing application for editing .NEF and .NRW files. Its predecessor, Nikon Capture NX2, has been indispensable for many Nikon IR and UV photographers because most Nikon cameras cannot establish an in-camera white balance when shooting UV and infrared images. (For more information, you can read my post describing why we need to set a white balance.) 

CNX2 was also important because it honored the in-camera Picture Controls.  Photoshop and other RAW processors cannot utilize Picture Control information and the out-of-camera images you see in Adobe Camera Raw can be quite different from what you saw on the back of the camera.

So the burning question is, “Can NX-D replace CNX2?” As a RAW processor, the answer is a qualified yes.  Yes, it honors Nikon Picture Controls. Yes, it can be used to create a channel swap and the blue-sky effect in color infrared photos. The qualification comes when we talk about setting white balances.

In CNX2, the White Balance software had a marquee function that allowed photographers to draw marquee lines around the entire image thereby creating a white balance in much the same way a camera does for visible light. NX-D also has a white balance marquee function, but the selected area (using left-click and drag) is quite small. This works well if you have something gray in the image or have a photo of gray card under the same lighting conditions. If you don’t have these things, setting the white balance can be hit or miss. Yes, you can use the levels and curves function to establish black, neutral, and white points, but I would rather use these function to fine-tune the White Balance established by the software (e.g., removing blue or cyan from clouds). 

As an image-editing program, NX-D is a pale specter of CNX2. The basic editing functions are there, but the overall utility of NX-D reflects its freeware status. I would hate to use NX-D as my primary photo editing program. The real value of NX-D is its ability to process RAW images. I plan to use CNX2 as long as possible because of the white balance limitations. However, the clock is ticking. Without support, CNX2 will become useless when I upgrade my computer operating system or decide to convert a newer camera.  

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Springtime IR Silhouettes

Springtime Silhouette - click for larger image
The calendar says it is springtime, but the Southeast Michigan landscape is still pretty bleak. For me, this is the optimum time to practice taking IR silhouettes. The skies are kicking out a lot of IR light and with a light cloud cover, the sky serves as natural softbox.

This photo shows a tree that I found alongside the road. This tree managed to hang onto some of it's leaves despite the wind, snow, and sleet that battered the landscape all winter. The photo was taken on March 23, 2015 in Pittsfield Township Michigan using a Nikon D90 (standard 720nm conversion) camera, Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 VR lens, at f/6.3, 1/160 sec, +2EV, and ISO 200. I used spot metering and metered on the tree. (I wanted the sky to blow out.)

Post-processing was done in Photoshop CS5 and Adobe Camera Raw.  The photo was converted to BW using CS5. With this approach, you don't have to worry about a channel swap.

I find lots of interesting shapes at this time of the year that I really can't photograph when the leaves are out.