Category Archives: Photography

A quote from Jeff Schewe

From his terrific book, The Digital Negative, which I’ve just started reading:

I’ll be the first to admit that some of the image adjustments might be viewed as, uh, aggressive, but I’m not known for subtlety. I’m not really interested in an accurate reproduction of a scene. I tend to go for an enhanced rendering. If I were a photojournalist or documentary photographer, I would need to tone down my approach, but I’m not, so I go for impact instead.

That’s exactly the way I think.

Parameterized Raw Photo Editing with Photoshop Elements 15

Whenever anyone asks me what they should use for raw editing, I always say Lightroom (LR), but the price is too high for many people. Then I don’t know what to say. I’ve tried a few free alternatives, but none that I can recommend. (I wrote about two I don’t recommend a while ago.)

I’ve known about Photoshop Elements (PSE), but had never tried it on raw files until now. (Rainy day in a vacation condo with terrific internet.) I planned to run a trial version, but, since I had a Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, Adobe went ahead an licensed me for PSE.

The only form of raw editing I’d recommend is what’s called parameterized editing, which means that your edits are recorded in a list that’s saved. They’re applied to the preview you’re viewing, but no pixel format is saved (e.g., PSD, TIFF, JPEG)–just the original raw and the parameters. You get a pixel format only if you want to export one, such as when you need a TIFF to send to a lab or a JPEG to upload to a web site.

For example, if you crop the image, what’s saved looks something like this:


Now, if you want to go back and change the crop, the editor shows you the crop outline and handles, and you make the change and resave. If the editor weren’t parametrized, you could still recrop the pixel format (e.g., the TIFF), but only to make it smaller. Anything cropped off before the TIFF was saved is gone.

LR’s Develop module is completely parameterized, with the parameters saved in the LR database. All of the same edits that LR has are available in Photoshop’s Adobe Camera Raw (PS-ACR). When you save your work, the edit parameters are saved in a DNG file or in an XMP sidecar file, to be available if you open the raw again. If you go into PS proper to do more editing, you’re now in the pixel-based world, and your work has to be saved in a pixel format, typically PSD.

LR has no pixel-based world, but you can transfer your work to an external editor such as Topaz Adjust or PS. Then those results are saved in a pixel format, and you see the resulting PSD or TIFF or whatever in LR.

To summarize: Editing of raws in LR and PS starts out parameterized and, if you continue into pixel-based editing, you get the unchanged original raw, the parameters (in a database or a file), and the pixel-based results from the pixel-based editing.

As far as this workflow is concerned, PSE is the same as PS: original raw, DNG or XMP sidecar to hold the parameters, and, if there was any pixel-based editing, a pixel-based file such as a PSD.

However, the version of Adobe Camera Raw that PSE runs (call it PSE-ACR) is a small subset of what PS has (PS-ACR) and LR has. All you get are the Basic, Detail, and limited Camera Calibration controls, cropping, and a few other things:

If that’s enough, and it will be for many purposes, you never have to do any pixel-based editing in PSE, and you can think of it as a parameterized editor, just as LR is.

I like to run Topaz Adjust from LR and save the result as a TIFF, and PSE can do exactly that same thing. In this case, the TIFF comes from Topaz Adjust, not from pixel-based editing in PSE.

I haven’t used it a lot, but PSE also as a catalog stored in a database (SQLite), just as LR does, although the catalog organizations are completely different and LR does much more with its catalog. (PS doesn’t have a database catalog; Bridge just works off of the file system.)

In conclusion: PSE-ACR is a reasonable raw editor for a beginner. It doesn’t do nearly as much as PS-ACR or LR, but it does have a good pixel-based editor (way short of PS, of course), which can probably do whatever you need to do that PSE-ACR can’t do by itself.

PSE is only about $73 from Amazon, so it’s a good first step until you know that you’re serious enough to move to LR. Then for $10 a month you get LR, full-blown PS, and all updates.

(Adobe products are available only for MacOS and Windows, not Linux. I’m pretty sure they will never be available for Linux.)

UPDATE: I just tried Affinity Photo, which is only $50, and looks really good. It can edit raws, but won’t save the parameters. Once you click the Develop button, the raw edits are baked into a pixel rendering, and you use a PS-like interface to go the rest of the way, if there’s more you want to do. If you re-open the raw, none of your raw edits are preserved–you start from scratch. Affinity Photo might still be a good choice for someone on a budget.

Showing my photography at art festivals

I’m going to be showing my photographs at art festivals starting this Spring. You know, the ones with those 10×10 white tents? Here’s a photo of my booth (set up in my garage–no shows yet):

My show booth

You can see the 24 photographs I’ll be showing at

All of my 2017 shows will be in Colorado, in Boulder, Loveland, Erie, Denver, and maybe a few other places. If you’d like to be on my show mailing list to hear about upcoming shows, you can subscribe by clicking here. (Subscribers to my existing mailing lists won’t automatically be added to my show list.)

You can now buy prints

You can now buy prints from my SmugMug gallery, at a very reasonable cost. For example, the regular price for an 8×10 is only $12.99.

And, until Oct. 10, 2016, you can use the coupon code Basepath50 for a 50% discount of the pre-shipping cost on any order.

What the heck do you do with a photo of Half Dome?

Taking a pretty picture of Half Dome from Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park is incredibly easy. You put on a telephoto lens (90 mm equivalent, say), aim the camera, and shoot. I goosed it up a bit in Lightroom and used the new de-haze control:


Not a thousand words here, but just one: Boooooooooring.

But, if you take it into Topaz Adjust and choose Spicify, you get this:


I was in California for a week, and got seven photos worth showing you, all processed by Lightroom and Topaz Detail or Adjust. To see them, click here.

Two Lightroom non-alternatives

From time-to-time I take a look at Lightroom alternatives. Not because I’m thinking of switching, but just to stay informed. ($10/month for Lightroom + Photoshop is an incredible bargain.)

First, I tried Lightzone. Didn’t get far, because the screen font was too small to read on my monitor, with no way to make it any bigger other than to change the resolution of the monitor, which is out of the question. So, can’t say too much about Lightzone. Maybe whoever works on the Windows port can get a better monitor for Christmas.

Next up, DigiKam. Lots of features, but it won’t work for me because (1) the raw editing is incredibly clunky, and isn’t parameterized like Lightroom (no going back to tweak an adjustment), and (2) no way to export JPEGs to a folder, something I do all the time when I create magazines and books, prepare a slideshow, upload to, and lots of other things. I couldn’t believe the app couldn’t do this, so I spent a couple of hours working on it, but I’m convinced. Maybe they think that since they’re changing actual image files, they can stand for themselves when you need a JPEG externally. That’s hopelessly wrong.

In the course of investigating digiKam, I came upon several very positive online reviews and user comments, and found most of them pretty sad. A combination of group-think, denial, ignorance, and boosterism. They don’t know what they don’t know. One guy made a comment that he didn’t use Lightroom, but his brother did, and, from what he could tell, the two apps were pretty much the same. Another reviewer was bothered by digiKam’s white screen, figured out how to make it gray, and then showed screen shots of digiKam and Lightroom side-by-side and figuratively patted himself on the back.

digiKam comes from the Linux world, although there are ports to Mac OS X and Windows, and the Linux people usually grade on the curve. If the Linux, MySQL, and Apache developers had that attitude, they would have gotten nowhere.

If a Lightroom competitor comes forth, it will most likely come from Affinity, whose Photo and Designer apps probably are giving Adobe sleepless nights. But, like Adobe, their apps don’t run on Linux.

Why I post-process my photos

I see so many photos on Facebook and even printed and framed that are JPEGs straight from the camera (or phone). Snapshots of people are usually OK, because cameras and phones are optimized for that, but anything else–travel shots, for example–are usually flat and boring.

Here’s an example from a recent trip to Denmark. First, the out-of-the-camera JPEG:

Out-of-the-camera JPEG

And here’s the identical shot after I processed the raw image with Lightroom and Topaz Detail:

Raw after post-processing

(Click on either photo to get to the SmugMug gallery, where you can see the images much larger.)

That detail in the sky was really there all along. You just couldn’t see it in the JPEG.

To see what you can do without investing in Lightroom and Topaz Detail, I took the original JPEG and played with it for about 10 min. in Windows Photo Gallery, distributed by Microsoft for free:

Processed JPEG

It doesn’t have the impact of the Lightroom/Topaz Detail version, but it’s way better than the original. So, even a little post-processing in the simplest photo app is worth the time. But to get rocks that aren’t a muddle and a dramatic sky, you do have to use professional tools.