Regular LR 1.3
LR 2.0 with selective area editing to make the sky darker and more saturated.
Very cool. Lightroom 2.0 is out in Beta. Download it!
Regular LR 1.3
LR 2.0 with selective area editing to make the sky darker and more saturated.
Very cool. Lightroom 2.0 is out in Beta. Download it!
Laurence Kim is a spectacular wedding photographer in Seattle. His images almost always feature perfect sharpness and it is a bit of a trademark of his. When I saw on his blog that he was giving away his secrets, I asked him if I could share them as well! You can see more of his images on his website and blog.
I get asked all the time - by professionals as well as amateurs - how I get my images to look so sharp - so clean and crispy. Well, there really is no secret (well, there’s one secret you’ll see in a minute). Getting that crisp look is a combination of several factors. I hope this brief explanation helps, let me know if it does!
(1) Make sure your image is properly exposed. In my opinion, this is probably the most important factor in getting a crisp image. Get in the habit of taking a quick test shot and look at your histogram. While the shape of the histogram will vary according to the lighting conditions, the one thing you want is for the shape go all the way to the right side of the chart, like this:
Now take a look at this histogram. You’ll clearly see the data does not go all the way to the edge of the histogram, it’s about one stop underexposed.
Yes, you can adjust the exposure slider in your image editing software of choice to stretch the chart to the right. You’ll need to do this to produce an acceptable image, but the drawback is that when you stretch the data to fix an underexposed image, it gets muddy. I’m not a techie so I can’t explain exactly why, but just do your best to get the exposure correct in the camera.
Since I usually shoot in aperture-priority mode, the way I do this is take a quick test shot, then look at the histogram. 90% of the time, if shooting indoors I’ll need to add some positive exposure compensation, often a full stop or more. If I’m shooting a bride in a white dress in a room with white walls I know for sure my default camera setting will be +1 exposure compensation. Don’t trust the image in your camera’s LCD! It will often look okay even if severely underexposed. Just trust the histogram. Lastly, don’t worry about blown-out highlights if they occur on non-critical areas of the frame (windows, light fixtures, etc.). It’s more important that your subject be properly exposed.
(2) Hold that camera steady! Camera shake is another enemy of sharp images. Find a technique that works for you. I form a little tripod with the camera pressed against my forehead and my two elbows anchored against my torso. Then I shift my feet so they are spread apart, with one foot in front of the other. Finally, I exhale then press the shutter. Try practicing by setting your shutter speed to a slow setting, like 1/15th, and see how many sharp images you can get.
It also helps a LOT if you have gear with image stabilization, either in the lens or in the camera body. Most professionals use either Canon or Nikon, which have lens-based IS, while Olympus, Sony and Pentax use in-body stabilization. In theory, lens-based IS is slightly superior. However, in reality many lenses - particularly prime lenses - don’t come with IS, making in-body IS superior in my opinion. Come on Canon, get with it!
(3) Speaking of lenses, get yourself some sharp ones! Lenses are more important to image sharpness than the camera body. What’s a sharp lens? While there are always exceptions, as a general rule primes are sharper than zooms, and zooms with large apertures (f2.8) are usually sharper than consumer-level zooms that start at f3.5 or smaller (the exception being the Canon L series f4 zooms, which are known to be pretty sharp).
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get some really sharp lenses. Both Canon and Nikon have sharp prime lenses under $400. Sigma makes a great little 30mm f1.4 prime that’s super sharp for $389. Tamron makes a super sharp 28-75mm f2.8 zoom for $359 that some say is sharper than the Canon L-series equivalent that costs over $1,000. This little Canon 50mm f1.4 lens is the sharpest lens in my bag and it costs $289:
(4) Lightroom and Photoshop CS3 have a new slider called “clarity”. It adds some local contrast adjustments that make the image appear sharper. It’s right below the contrast slider. I move the clarity slider from 20-40 on every single image:
(5) Pre-sharpening. I go through 2 levels of sharpening on every image, one in Lightroom and then another in Photoshop. For my pre-sharpening, I use the lightroom defaults that you see here:
(6) Use large apertures to isolate your subject. This seems counter-intuitive, given that lenses are generally at their sharpest at f5.6 - f8. However, for most general shooting in a non-studio environment, shooting at a wide open aperture (say, f2.8 or wider) will blur the background so that the eyes will register the subject even sharper than it really is. In other words, the contrast between the subject and background is enhanced, making the subject pop out of the screen. In this example, I’m focusing on the leaf at f2.5 with a Canon 85mm f1.8 lens. The leaf isn’t really that sharp when viewed at 100% - it is slightly out of focus. However, since the rest of the image is blurred from the wide aperture, it appears really crisp:
(7) Of course, there’s the importance of proper sharpening in Photoshop. Don’t be afraid to sharpen! DSLRs come with an anti-aliasing filter that’s used to smooth out jagged edges that might otherwise make your image look pixilated. The AA filter blurs the image, so some degree of sharpening is needed to bring it back to normal. I’m not bashful when it comes to sharpening. Even if it looks slightly over-sharpened on a computer screen, I know it will print beautifully. Okay, here’s the secret I told you was coming: I use Kevin Kubota’s “Magic Sharp” sharpening action on every single image. I’ve tried virtually every method there is to sharpen over the years and in my opinion this is THE best method. I can’t tell you what the formula is because that would be unfair to Kevin. Just go to his website and buy it! It is in his Production Tools Volume 1 and costs only $69. I would have paid 100x that amount just to get this sharpening action since it makes such a huge difference in my images.
I hope this post was helpful. Follow the 7 steps and I’m sure you’ll achieve your quest to find the elusive extra crispy look:
One last thing to think about here. Please don’t get hung-up on image sharpness. I think it was Henri Cartier-Bresson who said that image sharpness was highly overrated. This image - taken by my second shooter Kip Beelman - was used as a full-page spread in one of my albums. It was taken in a dark room at a slow shutter speed and definitely has motion blur. It also has a lot of high ISO noise so it’s anything but crisp. However, I still think it’s a great image. I’ll take a shot that conveys a touching moment over a boring crispy shot any day!
My first image (AP-1.jpg) is a bridal portrait taken on the Blue Ridge Parkway right outside of Asheville, NC on November 3, 2007. The bride stood on a railing at a scenic overlook, and I shot from across the road where I’d climbed a large rock to be on the same plane as her, able to get a good deal of mountain scape and blue sky in the background. To make the finished image a panoramic, I duplicated and flipped the image in photoshop, and then merged the two images on a panoramic canvas, cloning out the bride in the second half and rearranging the mountain scape slightly to give the image a realistic panoramic appeal.
This image comes from Aleks at Polka Photos in Los Angeles.
I didn’t have a lot of time to capture this image. I saw the bride coming into the limo and started shooting. The ISO was set to 160 since I had been shooting outdoors and my settings were 1/100 at 5.0. Processing was relatively simple. When I process black & whites I often think in terms of what I would have done in a darkroom. In Photoshop, however, I always start processing in color and save a color version first. In Levels RGB channel I pulled in the blacks to give the photo lots of contrast. I did a little bit of burning of midtones on the left hand side where there was a window and someone’s arm was visible. I then converted to black & white. Burned the window down a bit more as well as the glasses in the foreground. Using Curves added a bit more contrast. Then finally used the Unsharp Mask tool at radius 1.0 pixels until I like the sharpening (don’t remember the percent but I would guess around 130). And voila!
This image comes from Eric Laurits.
the ceremony had just finished and we were in a trolley [it's Maine,
what can i say!] heading to the reception site. As we were putting
along the trolley began to sputter and slowly came to a rest, smoke
pouring out of the engine. The wedding party hopped out and since we
just happened to be right across the street from a beautiful old
covered bridge, headed over there with a bottle of champagne. They
were toasting and laughing about the whole thing and just hanging out
until the “replacement trolley” showed up. The light was flooding in
through the sides of the bridge as it does only in New England
summers. One of the bridesmaids was asking the bride about her dress
[which her grandmother made for her - completely from scratch!] and
the maid of honor, not quite used to the trimmings and trappings of
wedding celebrations, shot me a look that is wise beyond her years.
To process this photo i basically just ran an action that i created a
few years back called “yells, y’all.” I’d have to really dive back
through the steps to give you specific details, but basically what it
does is this : creates a duplicate layer and desaturates to about 40%
[blending mode to soft light i think]. Then it creates a layer with
just the shadow detail and softens it a bit. Then we select
highlights and create curves layer set to hue to give it the
beginnings of the color overlay. The whole thing is then duplicated
and set to overlay where i run a high pass filter and some gaussian
blur and fade to taste. Then I throw a curves layer on top that really
tones the yellow/gold to taste. I sharpened the shadows with unsharp
mask ad the midtones and highlights with smart sharpen.
These images come from Ellen McRayney from Atlanta.
This image was taken at the end of a reception, right before the bride and
groom made their exit. It was an afternoon wedding/reception, so there was
plenty of light coming in through the windows. I asked the bride to stand
facing the windows, which were covered by white sheerish fabric, and hold her
bouquet behind her back. In photoshop, I cropped the image to be square then
duplicated the background layer. The bride had warned me before the wedding
that she had sports bra tan lines that she would prefer not to see if possible
in her pictures. They were very evident in this image across her back and
shoulder, so I used the healing brush and patch tool to remove tan lines on the
separate layer. I put a 10 point black stroke around the square image because
I wanted there to be a definitive line where the image ended. With the white
curtains and the white dress, I felt like the items in the image needed an
ending point. Then I added a gaussian blur (again on a separate layer). This
gave a nice glow to the image, softened skin, dress, veil, including softening
the black stroke at the edge of the image. I added a black mask to the
gaussian blur layer (alt-mask icon at the bottom of layers palette for PC) and
painted detail back into the critical areas with the brush tool (flowers,
jewelry) and with a decreased opacity brush tool brought back in a little more
detail to the areas of contrast and to the bride herself.
This image was taken just after the ceremony as the bride and groom walked out of the church and it is actually my sister. I knew that Craig and Rebecca were excited about having the Rolls to drive them from the church to the reception, so I knew I wanted to incorporate the car into the shots. The processing was minimal. I shoot everything RAW, so I opened the image in Bridge, bumped up the exposure just slightly and gave it a low dark vignette (-36). Saved it and it was done.
This entry comes from Maurice Photo in Seattle.
The bride was standing on a concrete platform that raised her up a little
bit. I crouched down to get the low perspective. The hardest part was
bouncing light back on her face. As you can see the sun is very harsh
across the right side of her face, so we bounced some light back in using
a white reflector. This helped brighten up the shadow side. It was also
shot RAW, and developed in CS3. The new fill light adjustment in CS3 was
helpful in bringing up the brightness in the shadows as well.
The movement of the veil is completely from the wind that was blowing. I
like this shot because of that. I sometimes cheat a little and have an
assistant lift the veil and run out of the frame, but the result never
looks as good as when you have wind blowing it naturally like in this
This cold image comes from Petra Hall in Sweden!
My couple Maria and David decided to get married in the coldest month of the year here in northern Sweden, i.e. in February. Not only is it cold in February, but we also don’t have many hours of daylight. It was a bit of a struggle to separate the bride’s white clothes from the snow, so I used a fill flash. The light was very nice and soft that day mostly due to snow clouds, and the fill flash helped to enhance the dress by making it warmer in comparison to the surrounding snow and ice. In this particular image we were lucky to have the clouds scatter for a few minutes and gave us a bit of blue sky. The sky reflects on the snow and makes it blue normally, but I did make the snow even bluer in post processing, to add to the cold feeling of the image you see here.
These entries come from Sara at Whitebox Weddings!
The bride, Kristen, is an actress and a make-up junkie. This ring shot was taken on the cover of one of her favorite books, Making Faces, by makeup artist Kevin Naucoin.
We were waiting for Kristen to get the finishing touches on her makeup so we played around with a few different ring set ups, but this was our favorite. Melanie is the detail specialist of our dynamic duo, so she used the Canon 5D with the 100 macro to get this fun and quirky shot. Window light created the soft light. There was not much to do in photoshop other than slightly adjust the levels and do a little bit of dodging and burning on the details.
This is a filmstrip that we created using a series of 3 photos that were taken just after Carrie and Eric’s ceremony. They had such a cool wedding. The weekend long event took place at a camp in the mountains of NC. We shoot as a team. Usually we are both shooting with different focal length lenses or from different angels, but during this moment Melanie was using the 5D with the 50mm 1.4 and I was talking to the couple…..you will never know what we were talking about, but don’t you wish you were there! In photoshop we used some of the amazing Boutwell totally rad actions. We like to use the boring black and white action and warm it up a bit. We also added some grain to these images. The filmstrip border is one of David Jay’s showit borders.
This image comes from Jeff Schmitt in Seattle.
I photographed this image using the Canon 5D with a 24mm-70mm lens at 44mm,
ISO 320, shutter 200, and F/3.2. I used a 580 flash to help fill in the
natural light. Their wedding was on June 23rd, 2007 at the Bellingham Ferry
Terminal, very cool location with great light. After converting this image
from RAW I added a duplicate layer and used a gaussian blur filter to get
that light defused glowing effect. Simple and easy.
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