A Review of Gura Gear’s new Bataflae Camera Packs

Gura Gear’s Growing Reputation
Gura Gear has rapidly developed a name and a following amongst serious photographers. So when a new flagship Gura Gear camera pack design was released at PhotoPlus Expo I took this opportunity to test the new Bataflae pack against my own needs. I will be focusing on the smaller of the two models: the Bataflae 26L pack, for use with DSLR equipment, while my associate David Saffir will follow up with a look at the larger Bataflae 32L for use with medium format gear.

An Intimate Relationship
The relationship of a travel photographer and a camera case is serious, long-term, and quite intimate. No bag is for everyone, and it takes time to determine if a bag is right for you. Speed dating is not likely to produce a successful result. The goal of this article is to familiarize you with the features and functions of the Bataflae packs, in relation to a particular type of photo gear, as a first step in determining if this might be The One.

What Gura Gear Packs Are Not
Gura Gear cases are dedicated camera bags. They are not computer cases, briefcases, wheelie suitcases, fashion accessories, or multi-purpose bags. They offer flexible configuration, but with a laser-like focus on the storage and access needs of photographers on the move. Gura Gear bags do not use canvas, leather, rigid substrates, wheels, feet, or extendable handles. They do not come in designer colors; unless your designer works in a low-chro palette of black, gray, tan and color-coded zipper pulls. They are not collapsable to flat-pack into other luggage.

Material Assets
Durable, light, flexible, and strong appear to be the criteria Gura Gear uses when choosing their materials. Rip-stop Nylon, with extra heavy “rip” fibers, and PU backing. Clips and cords that are designed for lots of use, and a certain amount of abuse. Padding that won’t lose its loft after being compressed, and which won’t hold water like a sponge if it gets wet. Zippers; actually, the zippers tell such a great story about Gura Gear that I have to halt the pace of this paragraph to describe them. YKK’s most durable and water-resistant zippers, installed inside out, so that the waterproof layer is on the exterior, with color coded pulls to make opening the intended compartment as easy as possible. Zipper hoods for interior zippers. (See Zipper hood detail in photo above.) That’s the kind of detail to be found throughout Gura Gear products.

Color Coded Zipper Pulls and Patented Full-Open Clip; You Can Even Padlock the Main Compartment

Size, Shape, and Configuration
Both sizes of Bataflae are carry-on legal worldwide. They are flexible, soft and padded on all surfaces; easy to squeeze or cram into available spaces. The flip side of this is that the Bataflae is not a rigid case. Until you load your bag, it will seem a bit unstable in its end or side, as the padding will present a rounded surface. Once your gear is aboard, this situation will tend to resolve itself; but the main orientation of these bags is clearly flat of their back, for access to their contents. My 26L weighs in at about four pounds (less than two kilos) empty. Fully loaded with DSLR bodies, lenses, and other gear it comes closer to 40 pounds (18k). This is a serious load, which explains the serious straps described below.

Bataflae 26L Pack in Regional Jet Overhead Bin

Butterfly with a Twist
The top of the Bataflae packs use a butterfly access system. This can best be described as a center hinge, the length of the bag, for fast, secure access to either side of the main compartment though unzipping and hinging open one of the two halves of the cover. This is a tried-and-true solution for camera components, though very different than most multi-purpose bags. But there is a twist to the Bataflae cover (one that Gura Gear claims to have patented): it can be unclipped at the top end, and the length of the hinge is attached with velcro, so the entire cover can be flipped out of the way, offering full access to all contents of the main compartment. This is an interesting and effective way to address the “secure-access/full-access dilemma of dedicated camera bags.

Bataflae 26L Pack with One Half of Butterfly Top Open

Flat Storage on a Hinged Top
Exterior zippered, subdivided pockets on both halves of the butterfly top are big enough to hold key accessories. Two critical items that I need to find a home for in any bag are Datacolor’s SpyderLensCal for lens AF calibration, and their SpyderCheckr for camera color calibration. The exterior pockets on the front of the Bataflae bags seem designed specifically to carry these accessories.  Interior pockets on the case top offer secure storage but easy access to smaller items, such as cards and batteries. Due to the butterfly hinge design of the main face, and the dedication of the back face to backpack straps, there is no location in these bags designed for flat items wider than 7 inches (18 cm). If you have necessary flat items wider than this, that could may be a deal-breaker for adopting this style of pack. However, I find that most accessories larger than this (reflectors, etc) actually belong in an accessory case, not in the camera bag.

One Top Pocket Open, with SpyderCheckr and LensCal Inside

The Mother Lode; or is that Load?
The main compartment of the Bataflae cases is accessed either by hinging the top open to access one or both halves, and then by unclipping the end if full access seems appropriate. Each half has a full series of velcro-connected dividers, offering flexible custom layouts for whatever gear you are using at the time. Each pigeonhole in this grid will be the depth of the main compartment. This means lenses longer than 7 inches (18cm) will need to be accommodated flat, rather then on end in the bag (true with any bag) and short lenses or other small components significantly less than this depth will float in their compartments unless additional padding or other items are added. Putting important items on top of less used items, with padding between is one common choice. Using small gear pouches is also a frequent solution. Gura Gear has added a line of such accessory containers to their line, so you might consider purchasing these along with your Bataflae pack.  In the image below two Canon DSLR bodies and seven assorted lenses up to 70 x 200mm have been packed; and one entire side is still empty for other gear.

Patented Full Access Opening

Is that a Cube in Your Pocket?
Yes, I am happy to see secure exterior access for the two items I may need at any time: the Datacolor SpyderCube, and the Hoodman DSLR Loupe. I use the SpyderCube on an XShot extensible handle, for capturing scene illuminant and exposure data. The Hoodman DSLR loupe is used for reviewing images on the camera LCD, even in bright sun, and without reading glasses. The side pockets of the Bataflae bags offer excellent access, without fear of loss, for both these items, and space for the random items any given day provides as well.

Side Pocket Securely Storing Hoodman Loupe and Mounted SpyderCube

Serious Attachments
The most important piece of gear strapped to the exterior of a camera bag is a tripod. Gura Gear has designed these bags to secure a tripod in any of three locations: at the center of the bag’s top face, or on either side of the pack, as preferred. Centering the tripod improves load balance, and avoiding snagging things when wearing the bag as a backpack. The butterfly access design allows access to the contents of the main compartment without removing a center-mounted tripod, making this location much more practical than with most other bag designs. The larger Bataflae bag offers a longer base for securing larger tripods. The smaller version is perfect for attaching more portable tripods. The attachments and cinches at both sides and ends of the pack are well thought out for secure tripod attachment. Main compartment access is still possible, even with a tripod in place. Tripod access is smooth and easy, even in the heat of the moment, as you scramble to catch a shot. I hesitate to mention this, but it is perfectly possible to carry three tripods on a Bataflae case, and still access the interior.

Small Tripod Securely Mounted on Side of Pack

The Flip Side
The back face of the Bataflae packs is dedicated to backpacking features. A vertical center zipper exposes a well designed set of padded shoulder straps and a removable waist strap, all carefully designed and well tested as one would expect from Gura Gear. The longer bag offers a better length for tall people, and a more stable pack on the back. But those of us seeking to minimize the size of our camera case should still be satisfied with the fit and feel of the straps on the smaller version. Generous padding at the back of the bags assures that items in the main compartment will not make themselves felt when the bag is on your back. Serious thought was put into the design of the straps, and the array of clips that secure the bag from all angles. How far you are willing to hike with a Bataflae pack on your back should be limited by your personal stamina, and the weight of the bag contents, not by the bag design.

It’s Difficult to Overemphasize the Quality and Design of the Pack Strap System

Rain Rain, Go Away
Of course a bag this well thought-out has a built-in rain fly. And of course it is located where you can reach it, and deploy it, while wearing the pack. It has sealed seams, like a good tent fly, and it can be deployed for carrying, or for storage. It is large enough to cover items mounted on the exterior of the pack. This reduces gear damage, and increases peace of mind. Don’t leave home without it. Since it has its own dedicated fly pocket, the odds are you won’t leave home without it.

Rain Fly, In Place Over Loaded Pack

Just One More Thing…
Here is a shot of the Bataflae Pack inside its included dust cover. If you don’t travel as often as you would like, this accessory will be the one that gets the most use.

No Detail Forgotten: The Included Dust Cover in Use

Which Bataflae Pack is Right for You?
If you have any doubt which length of Bataflae pack might be right for you, please read the second article in this series: David Saffir‘s review of the Bataflae 32L. While his emphasis will be on fitting the necessary gear for medium format photography into, and on, a Bataflae pack, it should add perspective on the two lengths of the packs in general.

The Bottom Line and the Better Half
Street pricing at on-line resellers of Gura Gear products is running $400US for the Bataflae 26 L that I am testing, and $450US for the longer 32L model. Gura Gear bags are not cheap, nor are they inexpensive. But think of it this way: if you can skip just one step in your incremental growth towards your ultimate tripod or your ultimate gear bag, that savings alone will justify the cost of the top end model you are going to end up with eventually. Or from another angle: if it saves you from losing just one lens out of a less secure bag, or damaging just one piece of equipment during travel; or keeps you from missing one key shot, while digging through a bag for a hard to find item, then it will have paid for itself already. Finally: if the zippers and stress points on a Bataflae pack last twice as long as those on a standard-grade pack, then the cost per year for the Gura Gear will be no higher. Feel free to memorize these arguments for use with your spouse.

Service and Support
Gura Gear products are designed in the United States, and fabricated in Vietnam; where custom-sewn products are a longstanding tradition. Gura Gear products are distributed though a number of well-known resellers in the US and abroad; a quick search on-line should clarify the options in your area.  Gura Gear’s contact information (as well as product info and videos) is available on their website: www.guragear.com/

Is the Gura Gear Bataflae Pack Right for Me?
So far, so good. Check back next year, and see if we are still traveling together.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: CDTobie.com Return to Blog’s Main Page

The New Apple iMac May Be Your Next Imaging Workstation

The New iMac (Image Courtesy of Apple inc.)

The Allure of the iMac

As the Apple iMac has evolved into a more attractive device, photographers and designers have been tempted by the increasingly alluring form factor, more powerful processors, and the larger, higher resolution screens. They have asked with each generation of new iMac if it was finally fit-to-purpose for serious image editing and graphics work. Until recently the answer was a resounding “No”. The iMac lacked sufficient backlight dimming to be used in low light level imaging environments, and the screen technology did not offer consistent color and density as the viewer moved side to side or up and down. The glossy screen looked great, but reflected too much light, making it difficult to view subtle images on it unless in a perfectly dark room, and even then, the user’s own reflection on the screen caused problems. So I was obliged to tell users that the only practical way to use an iMac as a quality imaging station was with a second, higher quality display connected to it; which was not the configuration most people had in mind.

The previous generation of iMacs finally included backlight controls that allowed the built-in display to be dimmed sufficiently to be used in low light editing environments. But the screen type still did not offer accurate viewing off-axis, the reflection issue was still present, and uniformity across the screen could still be an issue.

Apple is forever striving to improve their products, and the upcoming generation of iMacs will solve many of the limitations that kept iMacs from being acceptable imaging stations in the past.

The Promise of the Next Generation

The key change to the next generation of iMacs is that they will now include IPS (in-plane switching) screens, to offer excellent color consistency over a very wide viewing angle. The screens should also offer improved uniformity. How much of an improvement will have to wait for testing, but it should be sufficient to allow for imaging uses. And the new iMacs will be individually factory calibrated for precise gamma and white point. Gamma is the tone response curve from black to white, and is responsible for assuring that the screen shows smooth gradients, and accurate brightness for all colors. White point is a global color correction that adjusts all colors to an accurate balance.

These items are two of the three key components in accurate screen calibration. Recent Apple displays, including the iPad3, iPhone5, and 15″ Retina display MacBook Pro all have been designed to produce a very close approximation of the sRGB color gamut. It is a reasonable assumption that the new iMacs will continue this trend.

What This Means to the Graphics User

Having precisely calibrated gamma and white point and a close-to-sRGB gamut in a display means that, even without custom calibration or color managed applications, images in sRGB (the standard for the web, and the color space most consumer digital cameras and smartphones attempt to match) and video using the common Rec 709 video standard will all be displayed correctly. The iPad 3, iPhone 5, and 15″ Retina display MacBook Pro offered this color gamut, but did not have the precise gamma and white point correction the new iMacs will offer, so were reasonably accurate in displaying sRGB and Rec 709 files, but still required calibration to correct the gamma and white point for  professional caliber color display. The new iMacs should be able to do this right out of the box.

Whether custom calibration will improve the iMac display’s initial state is yet to be seen. But the iMac displays will be factory calibrated with a spectro-radiometer, just as Datacolor Spyder display calibrators are, so recalibration over time using a hardware calibrator should be aligned nicely to bring the iMac color back to the same standard it was calibrated to at the factory.

New iMac with Editing Software (image courtesy of Apple inc.)

The Potential Deal-Breaker

There is one factor that may interfere with the use of the upcoming iMacs as imaging workstations. If Apple is so proud of the in-factory calibration of the displays that they write this data permanently to the video card, and do not allow the user to flash updated data from display calibration tools to the video card, then the improved accuracy of the new iMacs will be relatively short lived, and offer no way to keep the device in calibration over time. There is no indication that Apple will break with current open standards for display profiles and calibration data, but it is worth looking into before purchasing a new iMac specifically for serious imaging work.

The sRGB Taboo 

Marketing for wide gamut displays has convinced most serious image editors that sRGB is not a sufficiently large color space for their imaging work. The reality of the matter is that AdobeRGB shares the same Red and Blue primaries as sRGB. The only area where it displays increased color saturation is in saturated Greens. These fluorescent greens won’t be clipped from your files by using an sRGB display, they will simply not show their increased saturation on screen. It is not difficult to live with this display limitation in most types of image editing. Professional image editing is very effective on the Retina display MacBook Pro, with its IPS screen and sRGB gamut. Using the new iMac would offer a larger screen (though not as many pixels) at the same color gamut, and would offer consistency between desktop and laptop for Retina MBP owners.

Other Features Valuable for Imaging

Current imaging processes involve large, high bit files, and demand lots of disc space, lots of memory, fast data access, fast data transfer, powerful graphics processors, and powerful main processors. The new iMacs offer excellent specs in all these areas. Of particular interest is the option to use hybrid drives, where a spinning hard drive and a smaller amount of solid state memory are combined in one virtual disk. More frequently used apps and files will automatically be moved to the much faster solid state  memory, speeding commonly used processes.

Video Editing Looks Promising Too

The features above are all valuable for video editing as well as still imaging. Thunderbolt file transfer speeds, SSD drive options, Core i7 processors, Turbo Boost processor speed tuning, and the advanced NVIDIA graphics cards are of particular value for video editing.

New iMac with Black Magic camera, and RAID drive stack (image courtesy of Apple inc.)

Other Possible Alternatives

The MacPro tower has not had a major overhaul in years. If an update is released, then the advantages of more drive space, flexibility in adding special cards and more memory, and other advantages will make this an excellent machine for demanding processes such as advanced video editing. But these special features will be far less necessary for still imaging.

In the other direction, the 15″ Retina display MacBook Pro is the first Apple laptop capable for serious image editing. It’s resolution of 2880 by 1800 actually exceed the resolution of the new iMacs; but on a much smaller screen. The MacBook offers even less flexibility for user-customization than an iMac, but it offers the advantage of portability. Even more portability is available with the 13″ Retina display MacBook Pro, further compromising screen real estate for device portability, but the 13″ model now being released should have all the accuracy and resolution advantages of the previously released 15″ Retina MBP, just with a smaller screen.

For those who prefer a standalone desktop monitor, for various reasons, including wider gamut, the Mac Mini offers a cost effective single-display solution, though external monitors can be used with the iMac and MacBook Pro models as well. Apple has made it progressively more difficult to calibrate an external wide gamut monitor with recent OS versions, but they have been made aware of this issue, and we expect that they will correct the situation in future OS updates.

Not Just a Prettier Face

No doubt the new iMacs will be the most attractive iMacs ever. And many serious imagers will be tempted to buy one as an imaging machine. Until it is possible to test the new iMacs it is impossible to be sure just how well they will function for such uses. But on first inspection, it appears that they may make a very good image editing system, at accessible price points. Once it is possible to test the new iMacs, a follow-up article will provide further information.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: CDTobie.com Return to Blog’s Main Page

PhotoPlus Expo, Coming Right Up…

Later this week, the largest photo convention in the US will be happening at the Javits Convention Center in New York. But in even-numbered years, PDN’s PhotoPlus Expo is somewhat overshadowed by following on the heels of the world’s largest photo convention; Photokina, which takes place in Cologne, Germany in September of every second year. So the real question is: what is left for PhotoPlus, now that a long line of important new product announcements have just occurred at Photokina?

In a nutshell, PhotoPlus dines on the crumbs from Photokina. The same products that were announced at Photokina can now be seen and tested on US soil at PhotoPlus; and may well be easier to access now than at their initial announcement. Also, a few products that were not quite ready for announcement a month ago, or which are sufficiently US-centric that they were not announced in Germany, will be brand new here in NYC this week.

So don’t expect earthshaking news from PhotoPlus, but expect more in-depth commentary than was possible a month ago on some of the new products, and a more mature view of them. And keep in mind that a wealth of consumer electronics announcements and releases will be happening this week, outside of the photo industry. The Apple iPad Mini announcement for one, along with a possible 13″ Retina Display MacBook Pro. And the release of the Microsoft Surface RT tablet, as well as a Google-Samsung tablet event. A news-worthy week, all-round.

Those who choose to attend PhotoPlus in person should get a chance to see samples, demos, and in some cases hands-on opportunities, with a wide range of new (not to mention existing) photography products. They will also have the opportunity to attend numerous speaking sessions; both the fee-based sessions in the separate session rooms, and a range of free lectures and events on the show floor itself.

Included in those free sessions will be a series of lectures by David Saffir and myself at the Midwest Photo Exchange Stage at #1027 on the show floor, all three days of the event. David Cardinal will also have a speaking event on Oct 26, at 12:30, at the Event Space at B&H Photo, walking distance from the Javitts Convention Center. Datacolor’s David Miller will also make a rare appearance at the show. All four Davids (Cardinal, Saffir, Miller, and Tobie) will be at the Datacolor booth, #1239, at some points during the show; in fact, you are likely to find at least one of them in the booth at any given time, so just stop by… and ask for Dave.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: CDTobie.com Return to Blog’s Main Page

Datacolor Experts to Speak at PhotoPlus Expo-NYC

Come to PhotoPlus Expo in New York City, October 25-27 (complementary show passes from Datacolor are available here)  and see presentations by David Saffir and myself. We will be speaking at the Midwest Photo Exchange Stage. Here is the preliminary schedule for the speaking events:

Thursday 10/25
11:30:  David Saffir- Screen to Print Match for Photographers
1:30:  David Tobie- Moving into Motion: Video and Video Color for Photographers

Friday 10/26:
11:30:  David Tobie- Moving into Motion: Video and Video Color for Photographers
1:30:  David Saffir- Screen to Print Match for Photographers

Saturday 10/27:
11:30:  David Saffir- Screen to Print Match for Photographers
1:30:  David Tobie- Moving into Motion: Video and Video Color for Photographers

All events above will be taking place on the Midwest Photo Exchange Stage at #1027 on the show floor.

Be sure to visit Datacolor, nearby at booth #1239, while you are there.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: CDTobie.com Return to Blog’s Main Page

The Changing Role of Adobe Photoshop

Photoshop: once the be-all and end-all of digital imaging; but no longer. There have always been Photoshop competitors, but none ever had the feature set, or the market reach, to seriously compete with Adobe’s flagship image editing application. But what competition alone could not alter, is changing over time, with other shifts in the industry.

RAW Formats Produced the First Cracks

When RAW file formats become common, and RAW converters from each camera company came on the market, Adobe responded with a RAW utility for Photoshop. Adobe Camera Raw became one of the most common ways to convert RAW files to “real” image files, meaning the types of universal file formats (Tiff, Jpeg etc) that we all considered to be the bedrock of imaging.

The changes did not stop there. Applications which performed RAW conversion, plus image storage and other functions, began to appear. Adobe’s entrance into that market came with the release of the first version of Adobe Lightroom. Before long, it became apparent that the types of adjustment tools in these RAW apps were actually more photo-centric than those in Photoshop. Adobe appeared to see the writing on the wall, and changed Lightroom’s name to Photoshop Lightroom. A technicality, but one that keeps the name Photoshop at the top of the image editing heap, one way or another.

Apple’s entrance into the RAW converter/Image Manager field with Aperture created stiff price competition for Lightroom, forcing the intial price of Lightroom to be much lower than Photoshop, and recent version prices to be lower still. This price differential has been an added factor in the move to RAW format apps for the majority of image editing work.

Mobile Imaging Provided the Second Front

The next sea-change was the move to mobile. While Adobe released a minor app for imaging on the iPhone early-on, other companies launched an all-out assault on the mobile image editing market, resulting in the odd situation of smaller companies like NIK providing superior image editing capabilities in third party image editors, and leaving the lesser features of Adobe’s PS Express in the dust. As the mobile imaging field matured further, both Adobe and Apple responded by releasing major image editing products for iOS.

The future of NIK’s award-winning SnapSeed for the iPhone and iPad, as well as their desktop applications, are in question, following the recent acquisition of NIK by Google. But we can rest assured that the surge in mobile imaging apps will continue unabated, from companies large and small, augmented by web apps of the Instagram-type; which seems the most likely field for Google’s NIK acquisition.

Photoshop CS6 Changes the Rules

The release of Photoshop CS6 heralded the next change in Photoshop’s role in our daily lives. The CS6 version defaults to an interface more like that of Lightroom, and a backdrop that covers the main monitor’s screen behind Photoshop’s pallets and image windows, also somewhat similar to Lightroom’s full-screen interface, but without the total-control attitude of Lightroom.

This is a relatively new feature, and not without difficulties. It is most effective when images are “tabbed”, a function that locks them to the top of the screen, and allows them to be viewed by toggling between the tabs for each image. When using free-floating image windows, the new interface has more noticeable weaknesses, including the disturbing habit of “losing” image windows behind the background (which, by definition, should always be at the back), and difficulty accessing other applications while Photoshop is on-screen.

Photoshop CS6 Application Frame Interface

This rather minor change has wider reaching ramifications for casual Photoshop use. Historically, most users linked all common imaging formats to Photoshop, so that double clicking on most any image file would trigger it to open in Photoshop. However the new “black-out” effect of Application Frame mode makes it less practical for use in conjunction with other applications. Perhaps you need to have an image on screen while writing a critique of it, or need to read text from a screenshot while performing the steps it represents, or a hundred other such multi-app situations.

For such uses, Photoshop’s default state is no longer practical, and must be reset to it’s previous interface by choosing Window >Application Frame to uncheck the new Application Frame feature. However, there are some real advantages to having the Application Frame in place while working with Photoshop for serious image editing work. So an alternate solution is to use Photoshop as a dedicated advanced image editor, not a general image viewer. This means finding another application which can be conveniently used for the types of casual image display that Photoshop does not specialize in.

Accessing the Application Frame Interface Control

Image Viewer Utilities Come to the Rescue

For Mac and Windows users, Graphic Converter is one reasonable low cost choice, which allows navigation amongst a group of images. But there is an even less expensive alternative on the Mac, with some clear advantages. That is Apple’s own Preview app, which is installed free with Mac OS X.

Graphic Converter Interface

Preview is ideal for opening a range of file types, including common image formats. And it offers an excellent way to view a group of images. Command click on the various images you would like to view. Now Control-Click on one of them, and from the contextual menu that appears, choose Open With > Preview.

Apple’s Preview Interface

This will result in an image viewing window with a vertical set of thumbnails of your selected images on the left, and the first image in the group at a larger size on the right. The size of the previews can be adjusted by moving the border between the preview and main view sections to the left or right. The size of the larger image can be adjusted by dragging the lower right corner of the window. The Arrow Down and Arrow Up keys can be used to navigate the series of images. Preview is a color managed utility, so your images will display correct color on screen.

This method of displaying one or more images, and an array of other file types, while not losing the convenient ability to work in other applications at the same time, makes Preview a useful tool for everyday imaging tasks. Give it a try, or start your own search for a favorite image viewer for daily use.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: CDTobie.com Return to Blog’s Main Page

Tutorial: Editing Fall Foliage Photos

At the peak of fall foliage season the colors can reach fluorescent levels, by borrowing light from outside the visible spectrum and reemitting it in the red through yellow zones. Because of this, foliage photography requires careful editing to produce the type of image our eye recalls seeing. All too often people make the wrong adjustments, resulting in images that look false and unsatisfying. Lets look at a set of foliage photo adjustments, first by the numbers, and then tweaked to emulate the eye’s response, to see where photographers usually go wrong.

The Starting Point

Typically the camera is left to determine the best whitepoint, and to adjust at least one of the exposure parameters. The success of this varies with the subject matter, but often the result is not accurate, and the look is not ideal. In the image below, the default settings, when opened in Adobe Lightroom 4, produce a flat image, with insufficient color. Keep in mind that no color adjustment should be done to images without first calibrating your display.

Image at Defaults in Lightroom 4

Other elements in a fall foliage image still need to be correctly exposed and white balanced, for instance the twigs in this macro can’t be too red or too saturated, or the overall believability of the image will be lost. The best starting point for correcting camera settings for any image is with the SpyderCube. For this image the adjustments from shooting the SpyderCube in another frame earlier in the series are applied to the image. The camera default settings in Lightroom are shown next to the Cube-adjusted settings in the image below.

Default Settings, on left, and SpyderCube Adjustments, right

These settings increase the dynamic range of the image, making the midtones more dense, the shadows and blacks darker, adding punch to the image. Too often the assumption is that lightening fall foliage will make it “brighter” when the actual result is to make the colors weaker as they get lighter. Often, careful deepening of the midtones actually intensifies the foliage colors, as well as increasing the punch of the image as a whole. Note that the whitepoint of this image was fairly well estimated by the camera, so the color change caused by whitepoint correction, which can sometimes be quite significant, is minor in this case. The image below shows the result of applying these adjustments to the same photo.

Image with SpyderCube Adjustments applied

Camera Color Correction

Before making any visual adjustments to the image color, it is best to make global color corrections for the camera used. In this case I now applied a SpyderCheckr color calibration for this camera. The change to the image is subtle, and actually reduces the color saturation of the red channel, which is technically correct; but not necessarily in line with the artistic intent we have in mind for this image. Here is the SpyderCheckr adjusted version of the image below.

Image with SpyderCheckr Adjustments applied

Artistic Intent

Now that the dynamic range, white balance, and camera color have been corrected, I can make further adjustments to bring out the fluorescent nature of fall foliage in the image, while feeling comfortable that the overall corrections of the image will be in-line with the other images from the shoot that will be used in the same series. The lazy solution for fall foliage correction is to simply increase the global image saturation with the Saturation slider. However, many fall foliage images include greens and other colors, which will have their saturation increased along with the foliage colors, resulting in an image that the eye immediately sees as false.

The preferred solution is to adjust the saturation of the foliage color channels, while keeping an eye on the realism of the resulting image, and watching out for possible posterization in color transition zones. The image below shows a closeup of what happens to out of focus areas with color transitions when the changes between adjacent channels are excessive, and gradients posterize. The version at the bottom shows the final choices, which minimize this posterization. Note the reduction in banding around the green area.

Image with excessive adjustments between adjacent channels, top, and reductions to improve gradients, below

The next consideration is out-of-gamut colors. Its easy, when attempting to create the type of fluorescent results fall foliage can produce, to exceed the gamut of both your display and your printer. Gamut warning tools can be helpful in avoiding this situation, but the eye is the final arbiter. If further increase in the saturation of a color does not actually increase its saturation, and perhaps causes other side effects instead, then you are working outside the gamut of your display. Reduce the saturation increase you are producing until you can distinguish saturation changes with each slider adjustment.

Below are the SpyderCheckr HSL adjustments on the left, with the tweaked saturation settings on the right. These tweaked adjustments are only to the saturation sliders, and only for the red, orange, and yellow channels, where fall foliage colors occur, plus adjustment to the green channel to smooth color transitions. Avoid excessive green increases to keep the image believable. If your foliage was shot at a long distance, especially through humid air, then global increases to saturation, contrast, and sharpness may be needed to compensate for atmospheric perspective effects.

SpyderCheckr Adjustments, on left, added Visual Adjustments, right


Below is the resulting image. It has been converted to sRGB for the web, so not all colors desired for inkjet output can be included in the images shown here. But the general result of correcting dynamic range, whitepoint, camera color, and foliage fluorescence, instead of simply increasing the saturation slider show even in the sRGB version of the image. In order to print this image, I would now move on to using Lightroom 4’s softproof function, to work with the capabilities of my printer, ink, and media combination as described by my SpyderPrint output profile for the combination.

Image with Visual Tweaks to R,O,Y, G Saturation Sliders

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: CDTobie.com Return to Blog’s Main Page