White Balance in Architectural Photography

I just finished editing a set of architectural photographs for Steve Prescott of Fiddlehead Designs in Brunswick, Maine. This is a total kitchen redesign he recently finished for a client. Steve did all of the cherry cabinetry for this job, and he had custom glass created locally for the cabinet doors. It’s an impressive job, and anyone who has had any experience with woodworking will immediately notice the attention to detail from the matching of wood grain, to the extremely uniform reveals and excellent joinery.

Photographically, the job required an extremely stable tripod, as I wanted to show the kitchen in the lighting conditions actually present in the kitchen. I used the available light to photograph everything, and this meant at ISO 100, exposures of around 2 seconds at f/11.  The most challenging aspect (that threatened to take even more post processing time than I  wanted to spend) was the very blue (and very bright!) outdoor light streaming in through  the windows, while the indoor color temperature was due to the “warmer” tungsten lights (It drives the physicist part of my brain absolutely nuts to call blue light “cool” and red light “warm”—who came up with this?). The best way to have dealt with this would have been to have to drop the window shade, but that would have made my exposure times either very long or required me to go to higher ISOs than I like. So I used Photoshop CS5 to select the window area (and a few “cool” patches in the image) and applied a warming filter. Not perfect, but it made a marked improvement. Perhaps lowering the window shades would have been better? What would you do?

Lightroom 3, with its ability to correct for lens distortion and make manual adjustments made my 17-40 f4L lens into a pretty close approximation of a tilt-shift lens, and I could perform all these corrections on the raw images non-destructively. This is a completely fantastic feature, although it really seems to slow down processing of the images when this is enabled.

More images of this kitchen can be seen at this site.

Family Portrait

Even though the post date of this entry is September 23, 2010, I’m writing this in January 2011 (WordPress used the exif data to decide the post date) and now that my semester is over at the University of Southern Maine, I’m catching up on some billing of old jobs. This portrait was taken in September of this past year and the image was converted to greyscale from Lightroom 3.3 using Nik Software’s SilverEfex Pro plugin. The print was made by White House Custom Color (whcc.com).

I am consistently impressed by the print quality from WHCC— any faults in prints are invariably because I did not pay close enough attention to my submitted files. I would highly recommend this company for any photographer not able to afford their own large format printer.

Brooklin, Maine at 72 MP

My family has recently moved 3 hours north of Portland to a rental in Brooklin, Maine (hence the dearth of images this summer!). Here’s a beautiful point of land in Blue Hill Bay and mere 15 minute hike from our house.
Now, if the 72 megapixel header in the title of this post got your attention, you’re probably wondering what camera sensor I have gotten my hands on…the answer is that it’s not a new sensor, but a true resolution enhanced image created from 5 bracketed tripod-stabilized images fed into PhotoAcute, a great program for the Macintosh that can give (roughly) a doubled resolution image. That’s double in each dimension, or  not quite double, as my 21 MP image
only increased to 72 MP (a true doubling of resolution would create an 84 MP image). If I had the  time to post the 5 bracketed images here as well, you’d see that the program did a great job of exposure blending.
More frequently, if I find myself at a spot and I have some sense that I might have  a good image, I will take multiple exposures (PhotoAcute likes 5 or more) because in the back of my mind, I know that I can improve the image quality and size considerably using PhotoAcute. Also, it does a great job of increasing the dynamic range captured.
The downside is that processing five 21 MP images takes a LOT of time—about 8 minutes on my 3 year old 17″ Macbook Pro. It makes the cooling fans come on and it takes Lightroom3 a good few minutes to export a jpeg out of the 428 MB DNG file that PhotoAcute creates. Yes, it creates a DNG, which you can then touch up (if needed) in Lightroom 3.

Breaking the rule; sometimes the subject is in the center!

My family (last weekend) stayed for several nights at Maine Huts & Trails’ Flagstaff Lake Hut which is on the northeastern shores of Flagstaff Lake. To the south lie the Bigelow Mountains (whose peaks the Appalachian Trial passes over). It’s a beautiful location where the nightime sounds are consist of owls and plaintive loons, and some of the darkest night skies I’ve seen.

The actual story behing the creation of Flagstaff Lake still leaves a bad taste in many people’s minds—read more at this link.
Despite the history, the hut is situated in a beautiful spot and landscape photography opportunities abound. Our first night there, a short walk down a peninusla, and we were treated to a peaceful sunet with some dramatic light.

I could see, as the sun lowered in the sky, that it was soon going to be behind the clouds and anticipated the rays of light, and deliberately underexposed this image slightly to help preserve highlight detail.

But how should I frame the scene? Conventional wisdom is to not center your subject in the frame (and for some people not to take a photograph of a sunset!); so if you say that the sun & the dark central clouds are the subject, I’ve clearly violated this rule. In many cases, this rule is a good one to follow, since a central subject placement can me very static (i.e. boring). So, is there another framing of this scene that would be better?

Perhaps, but my eye sees this image as well balanced with the heavy blacks at the bottom third of the image and the sky occupying the rest. Furthermore, the dark edges of the clouds form a “v” shaped (or a nearly oblique line rising from left to right). I find the shapes of the mountains make my eye wander naturally from bottom right to bottom left and then up toward the sun and clouds. The sharp contrasts lead my eye around the image naturally, and in a way that seems pleasing to me.

I like this image, and I think the framing works well. I think this image is a good example of when it’s a good idea to ignore the “rule” of avoiding central subject placement.

Technical details:  this image was 1/640 sec at f/8.0 70-200mm f/2.8L at 70 mm, ISO 100 -1/3 EV, processed in Adobe Lightroom 3  and converted to B&W using SilverEfex Pro.

Upper Falls, Cathance River, ME

I’m busy delving into the newly released Lightroom 3, organizing my library and doing some much needed keywording. In the course of doing so, I came across this photograph taken last fall at the Upper Falls, Cathance River, ME Thought it would make a nice blog post.

I must say that I am completely delighted at the image quality improvements in Lightroom 3. The new Lens Corrections are fantastic and I now have no reason to maintain my license for DxO Optics Pro, which is a time and money savings.

Only 1800 images left to sort through! My mid year resolution is to finish this task and never to fall behind on keywording and organizing again.

Free Lighroom Greeting Card Templates


For those of you that use White House Custom Color for making greeting cards, I’ve made two (5″x7″) Lightroom 2.6 RC templates (one for a Landscape format, and the other for a Portrait format). These presets make a uniform 0.25″ white border around your photos. I made these on a Mac, and don’t know if they’ll work on a PC, though I’d love to know if they do.

To install the templates, first download the zipped Presets File and unzip it. Then you have two options:

1)  With Lightroom no running, drag the two template files to the appropriate location for Mac users: ~/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Lightroom/Print Templates/ then you should be done.

2) Or, you may, while in the Print Module, right click on the “User Presets” folder (in the Templates Panel) and choose “import”. Find the files you’ve unzipped (NOT the .zip file!) and install them. You should be ready to go.

To use the templates, here’s my workflow: take an image that I want to turn into a greeting card, make a virtual copy, and crop it to a custom aspect ratio of 6.5 x 4.5. This will fit exactly in the either template without having to use the “zoom to fill” feature which will effectively crop your image in a manner you cannot control. Then choose the format that fits your image, and click “Print to file”. The preset makes a jpeg file with an embedded Adobe RGB profile which you can save to a folder of your choosing. Now you have the front of your greeting card. I then use Apple’s Pages application to make a back to the card which has relevant information about the image. I export (File>Export) that image as a pdf and then open it in Preview and save a 300 dpi jpeg to the same folder as the front image.  I then synchronize the folder and in Lightroom, and stack the front and back images, do appropriate keywording and I then have a print ready greeting card that I can submit using ROES to WHCC. Here’s what the back of my greeting cards look like:

The back image for the above greeting card.

The back image for the above greeting card.

By the way, don’t adjust the margins in the preset, even though it looks like I’ve messed up and made them non-uniform; the reason is that the WHCC cards are submitted in the dimensions 5.125″ x 7.25″ and are trimmed down (very accurately) to 5″x7″. As far as my experience goes, this trimming is performed symmetrically, and this allows me to make my templates so that the final trimmed card has a uniform border.