LR/Mogrify 2: Augmented Export for Lightroom

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Have you ever had the situation that you wanted to do something with Lightroom which is not within the standard scope of the application ? Think about including metadata in the image (e.g. ISO and shutter speed, aperture) or the date you took the photo. Or did you ever want to create a border around the images ? Well, these are very simple tasks but Lightroom (in its current version 5.6) does not offer them. But there is a plugin which can help !

LR/Mogrify 2 is a plugin which augments Lightroom’s native export functionality. It is donationware, meaning that you must donate an amount of your choice to the author in order to use the full functionality. Note that 20% sales tax are added to your donation. Here is a sample image to which I applied an outer border and a lot of text using LR/Mogrify 2:
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The current version is 4.48, installation is very simple. Just download the files from the website and follow these simple instructions (quote from author’s website):

  1. Move LR2Mogrify.lrplugin to a convenient location of your own choosing.
  2. Open Lightroom’s plugin manager from the File menu.
  3. Click the “Add” button.
  4. Browse to the plugin and click “OK” on a Mac or “Add plugin” on a PC.

End Quote. On a PC you will have to install another tool first, ImageMagick. Installation instructions can be found here. Don’t forget to donate to the author and unlock the plugin. Once installed you will have an additional set of options in the export menu, lower left corner. Since I am using the German version of Lightroom I can’t offer you English screenshots. Ich schäme mich so mein Kaiser :-(

The additional export functions are as follows:

  • Adding outer and inner borders,
  • adding a watermark (image watermark; not sure why this has been implemented since Lightroom offers image watermarks as well),
  • test annotation (metadata or free text)
  • image size (ditto),
  • canvas size (putting the image on a larger background or a smaller one, in which case the image is cropped),
  • compress to file size (wonderful, why is it not implented into Lightroom ?),
  • sharpness, color profile, color settings (=saturation and brightness, also not clear why the tool offers that).

To apply one of those settings to your export simply highlight the option and click “add” (“Einfügen” in my German version, jawohl). The chosen option is then added as a fold-out tab on the right side of the dialogue. The options are implemented in a very practical way. The border size for example can be given in pixels or as a percentage of the height, width, short or long image border. Same applies to the text annotations.

To create the text annotations (which were the reason for acquiring LR/Mogrify 2) you can choose from an abundance of metadata, here is an example. Everything you might want to include into an image can be chosen here.

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Bottom line: I found LR/Mogrify 2 to be a very versatile and practical tool. It adds some simple but sometimes necessary functions to Lightroom. Highly recommended for Lightroom users. Donate what you feel the tool is worth – it’s up to you.

Lumenatic.com turned four today

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Four years ago I started the lumenatic blog. It has been my personal project since then to write about my experiences from shoots, interesting gear and other photography-related topics. Thanks for being a reader of this blog ! I learned a lot about photography from other blogs, podcasts and websites and with my blog I want to give something back to the community.

Sometimes it is a struggle to deliver an article every week (remember, this is a one man show), but I have managed to establish Sunday 8am as a regular publishing time. I have nearly 200 followers and 50-100 daily views on the website. That is not much compared to the large players on the web, but for a hobby project I count it as a good success.

If you enjoy lumenatic.com please subscribe, share, tell your friends.

Best regards and keep being crazy about light,

Julian

Frog evolution

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Last week I showed some close-ups of frogs I photographed in a small aquarium. I mentioned that the aquarium glass added a milky haze to the images. In this evolution-post I will show how I edited two of those images. Note that I introduced a new category for such posts as this is the third post of this type. Formerly I did the dragonfly and the grasshopper.

Here is the original. Not bad but the the image doesn’t pop. A slight milky haze, what we are missing is contrast and clarity.

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Contrast +38, clarity +32, lights -68. Most of the work is done, some details still need attention.20140802-FrogEvolution2

Brush tool. Added some sharpeness and extra clarity to the frog`s eyes. Cloned away ensor dust in the upper right corner. Slight vignette applied to draw the viewer’s attention more to the center of the image. This is the final version.

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The above image did not need too much attention. I was lucky, because that was the only image in the series where the frog did not cling to the aquarium walls but rest on a branch more towards the middle.

The following image requires more attention as there were more distracting elements ins the image (particles floating in the water, aquarium wall etc.). Here is the original:

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Contrast+49, clarity +67. Looks much better, but the aquarium wall in the upper corner is not very nice to look at.

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So I employed the brush tool to darken the area of the glass.

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Now for some serious cloning and repair tool action. Distracting elements are removed. I intentionally left some spots in the upper area of the image to keep the image from being too sterile. Looks ok, but I did not make a good job in the are between the glass and the water.

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Last corrections and again a slight vignette – violà, final image.

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Shooting a frog close-up

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We have awesome neighbors. They do lots of cool stuff with their kids like digging up fossils in a quarry, visiting historical and scientific museums and conducting science experiments at home like growing crystals. Their newest project are frogs. They caught some tadpoles from a pond and watched them hatch and transform into frogs in a small aquarium at home. When I learned about that project the 105mm macro lens magically flew onto my D800 and the aquarium traveled from their home to mine for an intense shoot-out.

I placed the aquarium on a table, surrounding it with black canvas from my studio. As a light source I used an SB-700 with a Lumiquest Softbox III attached to spread the light over a wider area. This one is my favorite shot from the session:

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Getting decent pictures was very difficult. First of all, the glass of the aquarium was very dirty due to water splashes the frogs created over time. Secondly, aquarium glass is not optical glass, so some quality loss due to an additional layer of glass was inevitable. Third: The frogs clanged to the glass, staring outside the aquarium as if they had the urge to flee. So the walls of the aquarium would always be in the picture like in this one:

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The best results were obtained when the light came from above as shown in the first two images (I hope the little fellas were not too scared by the photonic bombardment). But also light flashed in from the side could produce somewhat presentable results:

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In post the contrast and clarity sliders were my best friends. It is amazing how much detail and, er, clarity these parameters give to your image. The milky haze of the aquarium glass could be reduced (see also this post from a shooting in the zoo for a similar situation). Stains on the aquarium walls or stuff floating in the water could easily be cloned away.

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With more time and patience and better preparation (thoroughly cleaning the aquarium for example) even more impressive pictures could have been taken. If I had waited long enough the frogs would have climbed the wooden branches floating in the water at some point giving a beautiful subject. But I had only one evening and, being restless and impatient AND not wanting to toast the frogs with my flash, I did not go further.

Finally, for your information, there were two frogs in the aquarium. The one you see above was developed completely, the second one was at an intermediate stage between a tadpole and a frog. He seemed to make fun of my photographic attempts by clinging to a lower corner of the aquarium the-whole-damn-time throughout the shooting. This way I had no chance to shoot him against a nice background. Again, the image is for your information to see how a half-finished frog looks like :-)20140731-Tadpole-001

Recap: Cleaning your sensor

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Today I noticed that the sensor of my D610 has quite some dust on it. Usually you don’t see the specks but in darker areas the dust suddenly gets visible. A good method for checking the sensor’s cleanness is to shoot something with not too much texture and underexpose violently. In well-lit images the dust seems to be “overridden” by the brightness of the surrounding pixels, but once the image gets darker the dust becomes visible. I chose to shoot the sky and manually underexpose by five stops, the maximum my camera will allow. This is what I saw (click image for a larger version):

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Notice the accumulation of dust particles in the upper left corner of the frame. Now there are several methods to clean your sensor, I already wrote about that in the past, click here if you would like to read the post. Since I was lazy (and still a little anxious to use sensor swabs and cleaning agent) I decided to use just a rocket blower. I removed the lens and entered live view mode to expose the sensor. Yes, there is a dedicated function to expose the sensor for cleaning, but did I mention I am a lazy bum ? I pointed the camera downward in order to let heavier particles fall out after they have been blown off the sensor and started squeezing the rocket blower (short, strong bursts). After that I took another image and see what happened:

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Whopeeee, some spots vanished. But dust seems to be quite pesky as many particles were still on the sensor. So I used the rocket blower a second time and took an image:

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And a third time…

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And most of the spots are gone. There are still plenty of them, but, being lazy, lalala you know the rest, I left it like that.

It’s a very quick and easy method to remove dust from your sensor and comparatively safe (just try not to ram the rocket blower tip into the sensor). It is not a dust-free solution as the rocket blower might as well blow new dust onto the sensor, but it is a very good method for cleaning the sensor on the go.

Fireworks photography

Today’s post is about fireworks. As many readers come from the US I know you recently had huge fireworks on the 4th of July, but you still might get some inspiration on how to shoot fireworks for next year’s celebrations.

I went to a festival here in Hanover, the “Kleines Fest im großen Garten” which roughly translates to “Small festival in the big garden”. It is a wonderful event set in the Herrenhausen gardens, which used to be the royal gardens of the Hanover dynasty. About thirty small stages are erected throughout the park for comedians, magicians, performers, musicians and artists. Actors dressed as fantastic magical creatures roam the park and create a unique, dreamlike atmosphere.

The day was topped with fireworks and that is where today’s photography topic kicks in. I set up my tripod at a pool with a nice view on some festival tents. I went directly to the basin rim in order not to have another person getting in front of me. Since the place where I stood was not too crowded there was no danger of being pushed into the water. I used the Nikon D610 with the 24-70 mm f2.8. The 14-24 mm would have been better, but I already carried two heavy lenses that day and could not take another one, so I had to work with 24 mm.

The camera settings in short:

  • manual mode
  • 10 sec, f13, ISO 100 (I set 10 sec, ISO 100 and made some test shots before the fireworks started to find an aperture that worked in the fading daylight)
  • don’t forget to turn Auto-ISO off if you use it
  • focus set to infinity, autofocus off

This way I had absolute control over the camera  settings, fully manual. I did not use a remote control but pressed the shutter button gently each time to avoid camera shake. I tried to time my shots with the explosions, but that is more of a guessing game than a technique. If you look closely you can see a faint trail of the firework bombs which ascend and try to guess the moment they will explode. But honestly, most of the time I just pressed the shutter as soon as a 10 sec exposure was finished.

Keep an eye on the framing. Try to keep a part of the horizon in the frame to have a reference for the eye to see the size of the fireworks. I was lucky to have such a beautiful scenery with the reflecting pool and the tents. During the fireworks I changed the framing several times after checking the image on the display. Thanks to a ballhead on my tripod this could be done very quickly (note: the two portrait images in the gallery are crops of landscape shots).

And, last but not least, don’t forget to appreciate the fireworks ! Take your time during the exposure to look upwards and experience the light, the colors, the magic. You might also not die if you don’t take pictures for one or two minutes to allow the sensation of the fireworks to sink in ;-)

Avoiding closed eyes in flash photography

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There are people whose eyes are closed or half-closed on every single picture when they are photographed using a flash. Getting a decent portrait of such a person is difficult. Today I want to explain the background to that circumstance and show two ways of avoiding closed eyes.

Blinking is a natural reflex. The average human blinks every 4-6 seconds with a duration of around 300-400 ms per blink (source: wikipedia). You automatically do it so that your eyes won’t dry out. It is also a protection reflex against foreign object or intense light. It is that protection reflex, in combination with TTL mode, that ruins your photos.

What happens in TTL mode
In TTL mode the flash fires a short test burst (pre-flash). The reflected light enters the lens and is measured (thus the name TTL: “Through the lens”). Now the camera knows the flash power A of the pre-flash and the amount of reflected light B which is captured by the camera. By using that ratio the camera can determine how strong the main burst must be in order to get a decent exposure. Now the main burst fires and the image is taken. The whole process is so quick that you don’t see the two flashes, you perceive it as being one flash. But actually there is a short timespan between the test burst and the main burst.

Why the subject has its eyes closed
The pre-flash has been fired. The subject’s brain detects the flash and triggers the protection reflex. The subject blinks, but at the same time the camera has finished calculating the required flash power and takes the exposure. The shutter opens, the main flash fires while the subject has its eyes closed and the result is a dorky image.

Now you might say “But blinking is a very quick process, so why is it a problem ?”. Take a look at the numbers. Let’s say your exposure with flash is 1/250 s, which equals to 4 ms. Blinking takes roughly a hundred times longer, 300 or 400 ms.

How to avoid closed eyes
First of all, don’t tell such a person to “keep the eyes open”. They can’t control it, that is why it is called a reflex. The person will blink, no matter what you tell them.
What you have to do is to find a way to bypass the pre-flash. Here are two ways to do that:

20140712-M-MODE-0011.) Go manual. Set your flash to M mode and start shooting. This way the pre-flash is eliminated because you manually adjust the flash power. The person will still blink, but the blinking will occur after the image has been taken. It takes the human brain some time to detect the light and send the blink-command back to your eyes. In most cases the delay is long enough to take an image and not have the subject blink on it. But going to manual is more of a workaround than a real solution. Also manual might not be very convenient when you are in a situation which requires constant adjustments of the flash output levels. So here is another method.

2.) Separate pre-flash and main flash. To achieve this  you have to customize the function of the “AE-L AF-L” (Auto Exposure Lock, Auto Focus Lock) button to lock the flash value. The button is usually located at the back of your camera, next to the viewfinder. And usually it does exactly that – lock the autofocus, the exposure or both of them. But it can also be configured to lock the flash value. The setting (at Nikon cameras) is called “FV lock” (“flash value”). In the gallery below I illustrated how to configure the button (again, example Nikon).

Once the AE-L AF-L button is pressed the pre-flash is fired (subject will blink) and the camera measures and saves the values. Keep the button pressed until after you have hit the shutter button. When you press the shutter button the main flash fires and the image is taken. Your subject will blink again, but since there is no pre-flash this time the subject will not have enough time to blink during the exposure.

 

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