My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Around home, learning Lightroom and more

First of all, while my new iMac is capable of running Windows by using the Boot Camp utility that comes with an iMac, I have decided that I’m not going to “dirty” this new computer by installing Windows on it. The only software that I really needed Windows for was the software for my handheld DeLorme GPS unit, but I have decided that it wasn’t worth the time, effort, or disk space to install Windows just for that software. I seldom use that handheld unit any longer, since the battery life is atrocious, the thing eats batteries faster than I can purchase them. One of these days, I may get around to seeing if DeLorme has finally produced a Mac version of their software, but I’m in no big yank to do so.

For the spreadsheets that I used, I was able to import them into “Numbers”, the Mac equivalent of Microsoft Office with no problems at all. It was the same with my text documents as well, they all imported nicely into the Mac software that came installed on my computer. So, I’m able to do everything that I could on my old laptop, and so much more, like running and learning Lightroom.

To start with, I’ve learned how to get Lightroom to put the images I shoot into the folders in the way that I want them, I had written before that Lightroom created date based folders that I didn’t want. I still find that it works best if I create the basic folder structure outside of Lightroom first, and then let Lightroom create a new sub folder when I upload the images from my camera. Since every one organizes their images differently, my exact folder structure isn’t important, but I can offer this Lightroom tip. Turn off the organize by date check box and check the create a new sub folder check box instead. Then, type the name that you want the sub folder to have in the space provided in Lightroom, even if you include date information in the sub folder. For example, when I returned from my last trip to Muskegon, I put all the images in a sub folder with the name Muskegon_02_28_2015 rather than let Lightroom create dated sub folders. I’m not sure that I’m explaining this well, but the important things are to turn off the check box in Lightroom for organizing by date, and make your own sub folder names instead.

That sounds rather simple, but while Lightroom is relatively easy to use overall, it does so much that it can be a bit overwhelming at first. For example, as I am importing the images from my camera, Lightroom copies them from the camera and puts them into the folder(s) that I choose on the external drive that I store my photos on, it builds previews on the computer’s main hard drive, and it also makes a back-up copy of the images on the second external drive that I have set-up for backing up my computer, all at the same time.

Then, there are all the editing features within Lightroom, and I’m not going to attempt to list them all here. I will say this, even something as simple as adjusting the overall exposure can really make a difference, more than I thought. I had written before that I was to the point where I wished that my camera could adjust the exposure by less than the one-third stop that is the minimum amount of adjustment that the camera allows. In Lightroom, I can adjust by one-tenth of a stop, and I’m finding that such small adjustments can really make a difference in the overall appearance of my images.

I could go on and on about Lightroom, but there are plenty of other sources of information about it that are far more qualified than I am for any one interested in learning more about it. I can recommend two videos on YouTube from B&H photo with Tim Grey, one is…

The other is…

I watched both several times, or I’d be fumbling around trying to figure Lightroom out.

As it is, I’m having a ball learning new things all the time since I purchased this new computer and Lightroom, but one thing stands out, how little I knew in the first place. I’d often heard that if one shot in jpeg, the camera made many decisions on how the image should be recorded in jpeg versus RAW. I had no idea just how much editing of an image went on inside of a camera body when recording an image as a jpeg. But, as I read more about camera bodies and the images that they produced, when two bodies share the exact same sensor, yet one produces much better images than the other, then that has to be because of the “editing” done by the software programmed into the camera. So you can now count me in as a firm believer in shooting in RAW all the time from now on.

I have to include learning Photomatix to create HDR images in this mix as well. As it happens, I’m much happier with the images produced by Photomatix using it as a plug-in to Lightroom than I was using it as standalone software. The final images are now as sharp as what they should be. I believe that is because Lightroom converts the Canon proprietary RAW files to 16 bit TIFF files first, before exporting them directly into Photomatix.  As a standalone product, Photomatix handled the conversion of the proprietary RAW for its use. I think that Lightroom is much better at handling the RAW files as they come out of the camera. That’s my theory anyway, and I’ll stick to it until I learn differently. 😉 No matter why, the final images from Photomatix are much better now that what I used to get.

So, since I’ve been getting more brave as far as editing some of my existing images, I went back to the trip that I took up north last fall, and did a new HDR version of one of my favorite photos from the trip using Photomatix to blend three images shot with different exposure settings into one image. Then, even though it looked a lot better than my best single image of the same scene, and better than my previous HDR image, I tweaked it a little more in Lightroom to get this.

The mouth of the Jordan River

The mouth of the Jordan River

Yes! That’s what I saw when I pressed the shutter release! So, seeing that, I went back and got my previous best version of that scene.

The Jordan River in East Jordan

The Jordan River in East Jordan

The differences may be subtle, but I think that my latest attempt at editing produced a much better image.

From the same trip, I had photos of a wood duck, one of which I have already posted after one of my first tests of Lightroom, here’s another.

Wood duck

Wood duck

That was shot at the same location as the landscape photo above, within minutes as well, so you can see the conditions that I was shooting under, not the best for wildlife photos. I’m not completely happy with that one, or the previous one, but I’m learning.

I took a different approach to editing that photo compared to the one in the previous post, overall, I like this one better. I could list the changes that I made to the photo of the duck, but I won’t, as there’s two things more important about that photo that I have to say. One is that as I improve my skill at editing photos taken on my Canon 60D camera, I am happier with it than ever. I’ve said that before, but with every Lightroom session that I do, it becomes more apparent to me just what a good camera the 60D is.

The second thing about these sessions with Lightroom that I’m learning is yes, Lightroom can improve images shot in poor conditions, or make up for having the camera set to less than ideal settings for a particular shot, but the better that the image is that I bring into Lightroom, the better the final output will be. Like this eagle from my last trip to Muskegon.

Bald eagle sans twig

Bald eagle sans twig

That probably sounds obvious, the better that the image is that you start with, the better the final image will be after using Lightroom to improve it. However, what’s important about that is learning how to set the camera to get the best images to load into Lightroom. In a way, learning Lightroom is also helping me learn photography even better, an unexpected bonus. In fact, I’m beginning to rethink all my basic camera settings from the ground up. I was afraid that I’d do what some photographers do, get lazy about changing the camera settings, thinking I can fix it Lightroom later. I’m finding the opposite to be true, I want the best possible photos to load into Lightroom, therefore, I’m paying closer attention to even the minor camera settings.

Something else is happening as well, I’m having the urge to shoot more varied subjects than just birds, or even nature. Nature photography has always been my first love, and remain so. However, I thoroughly enjoyed photographing the planes at the Airzoo, and would like to expand to other subjects as well. I’d love to work more landscapes into what I post, along with images of some of the historic buildings from the area. More than anything, I just want to get out and shoot some more photos!

So far, the brutal cold has continued around here, making getting out to shoot photos more of a challenge than I would prefer to face. Today is the 23rd day in a row with colder than average temperatures and during this stretch we’ve been nearly 17 degrees colder than average, setting the record for the coldest February on record. It’s now March 6th as I type this, but we were down to zero again last night.

One thing that I have noticed this winter, my lenses don’t like the extreme cold any better than I do. I’ve had trouble with the auto-focus of most of my lenses being sluggish and/or off slightly during this cold stretch, when I have tried to get out. All that maybe going to change soon, starting the weekend. The weather forecast for next week is calling for temperatures almost thirty degrees warmer than today! That will be so wonderful after this long cold winter, seeing the snow melt, hearing the birds singing, and watching the flowers begin to bloom! It won’t be long now!

That’s really a good thing, as I have few recent photos to use for this post. As spring finally gets here, I’ll be swamped with images to play with. But until then, I went back in time to some of my older photos to play with in Lightroom, just to learn how to use it. I still need to develop a step by step approach to editing my images, learning the best order to make adjustments in. That will come in time as I learn the way that Lightroom works on photos taken with my camera. Most of the wildlife photos need some noise reduction, since they are typically shot at higher ISO settings. I should start there, as otherwise the other adjustments work on the noise as well as the parts of the image that I want to keep. I’ll learn, as you can see.

Trumpeter swan and mallard

Trumpeter swan and mallard

Eastern swallowtail butterfly?

Eastern swallowtail butterfly?

Eastern kingbird chasing a red-tailed hawk

Eastern kingbird chasing a red-tailed hawk

Okay, I’m officially amazed by what Lightroom can do, especially in that last photo. Just a couple of clicks, and it went from so-so, to not bad, not bad at all. By brightening the shadows a little, it brought out the details of both the hawk and the kingbird. That works really well in landscapes as well.

Un-name pond, Pickerel Lake Nature Preserve

Un-named pond, Pickerel Lake Nature Preserve

While that last one may have been better if I had done a HDR image, the Lightroom alone version is a huge improvement over what came out of the camera. The leaves are green, not black from being in the shadows, the sky is the same deep blue that I saw when I shot that photo, and the white clouds aren’t blown out. By the way, do you notice that I’m using photos that are a preview of things to come? 😉

Butterfly

Butterfly

A mostly black butterfly on a white/light green flower, and Lightroom made all the difference in the world to that image. I was able to bring out the details in the butterfly’s wing without blowing out the flower too badly to use that photo.

Even my best images look better after a tweak or two.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Michigan lily

Michigan lily

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

If only I had been shooting in RAW when I took those. Oh well, now that I can see the advantage of doing so, and have the storage capacity to handle the larger files, from now on, I’ll always be shooting in RAW.

Well, I went for a short walk today, despite the cold, made even worse by a stiff wind out of the south. I think that it was because of the cold and wind that I didn’t see many birds at all, and only this poor squirrel trying to stay warm.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

It was also trying to stay out of sight of a Cooper’s hawk that was roaming the area, but I never got a shot of the hawk. That’s common enough, but something unusual did happen, in a way. I shot a few series of photos with the intention of playing with in Photomatix and Lightroom. I doubted if I would use any of them, but I’ve changed my mind on that.

I’ve told you what a difference that post-processing can make, and I’ve shown a few before and after photos in the past. Proving that the learning never stops, here’s a series of before and after processing images that I shot today.

Creek scene before

Creek scene before

Creek scene after

Creek scene after

Fence scene before

Fence scene before

Fence scene after

Fence scene after

Okay, I know that I have a tendency to under expose my photos both to protect the highlights, get better color saturation, and to add a little more contrast to my images. It’s rather obvious that the after images are brighter, but there’s a lot more than that going on in these photos, there’s more vibrancy, for the lack of a better term, in the after photos. You can see the sunlight playing on the various parts of these after images that you can’t see in the before versions. In both, the after is much closer to what my eyes saw, I suppose that’s a given, or should be by now. In both of the after photos, there’s more color, and the colors seem livelier as well. That’s especially apparent the background of the Fence scene, you can see the colors of the trees and bushes in the background of the after image, whereas they are a dark mess in the before version.

One thing that I have to keep in mind concerning HDR images is that doing one does not expand the dynamic range so much as it pulls colors and tones from the middle of the spectrum. In photography, you have white on one end of the scale, and black on the other, that doesn’t change, it can’t change, black and white are absolutes in photography. The reason for making a HDR image is to bring out the colors, tones, and details lost by the camera’s sensor inability to accurately record them.

It may be difficult for you to see exactly what I’m talking about in these smaller versions of the photos, and of course, you haven’t seen the other subtle changes in my photos as I’ve played in Lightroom, but I think that it is time to rethink all of my basic camera settings. I won’t bore you any longer with those thoughts, but I do have one more thing to say.

I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve had Lightroom for about a month, and I haven’t gone crazy with the adjustments for color saturation or contrast yet, and doubt if I will. My reason for using Lightroom is to make the most accurate reproductions of what nature reveals to me, not surreal “art” that is barely recognizable as something from nature by the time the “artist” is finished.

Well, one more thing about Lightroom, and that is how easy it is to find images that you are looking for, and I’m just getting started there. Today I was looking at the metadata for an image and noticed arrows next to some of the metadata, including date, cropped size, lens, among others. Not knowing what the arrows did, I clicked on the one near the lens info, and Lightroom brought up every image shot with that lens, way cool!

Sorry, it’s a few days later and I have even more to prattle on about. Yes, I’ve changed many of my basic camera settings because I’m now shooting in RAW and using Lightroom to tweak the images I get. However, between going back through my old photos looking for candidates to use to learn Lightroom, and trying to improve both the older images and the new ones I’m shooting, I see that I have to rethink my entire approach to photography if I’m going to improve my photos. Lightroom is great, but it can’t fix stupid, and I make a lot of stupid mistakes while I’m shooting photos.

To fix that, one thing that I’m doing is using my monopod more often when shooting macro photos. Using my tripod would be better, but the monopod helps.

Ice crystal

Ice crystal

Lichen or fungi?

Lichen or fungi?

Lichens

Lichens

Lichens

Lichens

Seeing these, I wonder what those white “fibers” are?

Anyway, another thing that I’m doing is paying more attention to the background in my photos.

Frosty goldenrod

Frosty goldenrod

Frosty leaves

Frosty leaves

Frosty oak leaves with water drop

Frosty oak leaves with water drop

Frosty pine needles

Frosty pine needles

I do wish that I lived in a more photogenic area, when I went for my walk yesterday, the light was magical for about half an hour, but these are the best photos that I could get around here.

Misty, frosty morning

Misty, frosty morning

I wonder if I could edit out the snowmobile tracks?

Misty, frosty morning

Misty, frosty morning

On Sunday, I went to Muskegon again, and I also paid more attention to the lighting, background and other details much more than I usually do. I’ll do a post on that trip, more photos, fewer words, but I want to show you what I can do when I pay attention to details.

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

Of course, better light, lower ISO settings, and getting closer to the subject go a long way towards making a better photo. 🙂 But, I am learning, more every day. More about using Lightroom, but even more about getting better images to load into Lightroom before I begin the editing process.

Male greater scaup

Male greater scaup

So, since this is already longer than it should be, I’ll end it here. Be forewarned, I’ll probably be prattling on again soon as I continue to learn this stuff.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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32 responses

  1. No snow here all winter. It was 74 yesterday.

    I am a fan of fungi and love those lichen photos.

    March 10, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    • Thanks Lavinia! It’s warming up around here, not as warm as you’re seeing, but it’s been above freezing, so it’s a start. I hope to have more photos of fungi and lichens when the snow finally melts and I can see them again.

      March 11, 2015 at 7:40 am

  2. Love the Wood Duck. Your shot of the Red Tail and the Kingbird reminded me of the time I saw a Kingbird and land on the back of Red Tail in mid air. Don’t think the hawk was too happy about it. I’ve been using Lightroom for a while and event with JPEG’s find it quite useful. While most of my cameras will shoot RAW I haven’t graduated to that yet as I still compare what I could do with an image in my old film days with what I can do now with just a JPEG and find it all pretty amazing.

    March 10, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    • Thanks Bob! I’ve seen kingbirds and red-winged blackbirds “hawk surfing” as my brother calls it, the hawks don’t enjoy it, but it’s the risk they take. 😉

      If you have the storage room to shoot RAW, you should give it a try. Lightroom does edit jpegs well, but it does even better with RAW, and it is amazing either way.

      March 11, 2015 at 7:42 am

  3. Nice post and beautiful pictures. Do not worry about your GPS software, you might find a perfect replacement in GPSbabel, a library for translating GPS formats, and for downloading and uploading data.

    March 10, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    • Thank you for taking the time to read my post and comment on it. I’m not too worried about the GPS software, with the advent of better smartphones, they have almost replaced the DeLorme GPS unit I have.

      March 11, 2015 at 7:45 am

  4. Great shots! You’ve come a long way, Jerry. 🙂

    March 10, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    • Thanks Bob, I still have a long way to go to match your photos though!

      March 11, 2015 at 7:46 am

  5. Garbage in, garbage out as the old saying goes but with Lightroom it has to be REALLY bad to be a complete reject. I’m glad you’re having so much fun with it-I thought you would. I enjoy playing around with it almost as much as I do taking the photos. I’m going to have to look into the folder business that you spoke of.

    I wish I knew what that yellow shield lichen was. I don’t think we have anything like it here. The one after it might be a black eyed rosette lichen (Physcia phaea). I’ve been trying to identify those for a while now and I think I’ve got it.

    We’re finally getting some real spring air here. I hope you’ll see some soon too.

    Nice bunch of photos!

    March 10, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    • Thanks Allen! Like I said, not only am I learning to fix my less than stellar photos, I’m learning to improve the images that I load into Lightroom. Now I understand why nearly every one uses it, I love it!

      Once the snowbanks melt, I’ll try to get better photos of the lichens by using my tripod to hold the camera steadier. The monopod helps, but it’s still not as steady as the tripod.

      About the white fibers, they’re too coarse to be web material of any kind, they are more like hairs, and I see them in most of my photos of lichens. Maybe it’s a Michigan thing. 😉

      March 11, 2015 at 8:00 am

      • I zoomed in real close on your lichen photos and looked at those fibers. They’re nothing to do with the lichen itself as far as I know. It’s as if an animal crawled over the lichens and shed hairs as it went, but I can’t even guess what the animal would be. A balding squirrel?

        Lichens do have hair like, root like structures called rhizines but they grow on the undersides and are very short. The lichen uses them to anchor itself to whatever it’s growing on, so for the rhizines to be in the position that your photos show would be pointless.

        March 11, 2015 at 8:55 am

      • Thanks for taking another look. The fibers, whatever they are, seem to be in most of the lichens around here. One of these days, I’ll throw the camera, macro lens, and the extender on the tripod to get really close to them, maybe then one of us will see what they are.

        March 12, 2015 at 1:50 am

  6. You are so clever with all your editing skills that I am unable to choose a favourite photograph, they are all so good.

    March 10, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    • Thank you Susan! hopefully, my photos and editing skills will continue to improve.

      March 11, 2015 at 7:47 am

  7. What a hard worker you are Jerry. I think one of the big things that you mentioned is paying attention to the background of your pictures when you shoot them. It is not always possible when shooting wildlife but it makes a huge difference to the end product.

    I look forward to your developing skills.

    March 10, 2015 at 8:51 pm

    • Thanks Tom! Backgrounds are very tricky when photographing birds, I have many photos of songbirds from my last trip that I thought were good, but there are still branches growing out of birds’ heads in most of them. Funny how birds always perch in places where one can’t get a clear shot of them. 😉

      March 11, 2015 at 7:50 am

      • They do it on purpose. And they get between you and the sun (if it ever comes out).

        March 11, 2015 at 6:57 pm

      • Yes they do!

        March 12, 2015 at 9:44 am

  8. “I had no idea just how much editing of an image went on inside of a camera body when recording an image as a jpeg. But, as I read more about camera bodies and the images that they produced, when two bodies share the exact same sensor, yet one produces much better images than the other, then that has to be because of the “editing” done by the software programmed into the camera. So you can now count me in as a firm believer in shooting in RAW all the time from now on.” Ahhh….thanks for the great summary of the differences. I am learning more and more along the way. How nice that I can learn from your own learning! You are my technical translator! Thanks also for the vids. I think my favourite photos are actually the leaves and the stalks with the lovely light on and through them, and the frost ones. The insects and squirrel and all the other landscape are lovely too. I’m very happy that you are enjoying this so much. It makes me smile to read of your enthusiasm.

    March 10, 2015 at 11:01 pm

    • Thank you Jane! I’m glad that you’re able to get the drift of what I’ve been trying to say, as I’m putting pieces of what are common knowledge together in ways that I’ve seen nowhere else. Learning is fun to me, so I’ll be having fun for a while with Lightroom!

      March 11, 2015 at 7:55 am

  9. Love the wood duck photo. He looks like he’s got a big fact secret that he’s not going to share with anyone, muchless the likes of you!

    I’m amazed at how you have immersed yourself in learning Lightroom and your new Mac. You’ve got a level of patience that serves you very well.

    Can’t wait for you to get out and about more, shooting some of the architectural features of the area. It will be like moving to a whole new town for me!

    March 11, 2015 at 9:21 am

    • Thanks Judy! The way the weather has been around here, I needed something to keep me busy this winter. Besides, I love to learn new things, so learning Lightroom has been fun for me.It may be a while before I get around to photographing downtown GR, the snow is melting faster than I expected, we may see flowers here soon!

      March 12, 2015 at 1:54 am

  10. I like very much your photos of wood ducks and sandhill cranes. Do you see often these two species?

    March 11, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    • Thank you Cornel! I see both the wood ducks and cranes often in the summer, they migrate south during the winter. I get good photos of the cranes a few times each year, but the wood ducks usually fly away before I get a clear view of them.

      March 12, 2015 at 1:55 am

  11. I’m so glad to see you having fun with Lightroom. It’s sure an amazing product. I generally try to refrain from going overboard, but every once in awhile it’s just a kick to push the limits. Case in point: https://gusgus64.wordpress.com/2015/03/05/hiking-mojave/ I just love the waves of hills receding in the distance, so went just a wee bit crazy with the post-processing. Bottom line is, it’s your box of crayons and you can do what you will with it! 😀

    March 11, 2015 at 5:17 pm

    • Thank you Gunta! Yes, I’m loving Lightroom, almost as much as I love the new iMac! I’ve pushed a few images too far just to see what’s possible, but I think that nature still provides us with all the beauty that we need, it’s just a matter of finding it.

      March 12, 2015 at 9:42 am

  12. I am pleased you are enjoying using Lightroom – I like reading about your experiences and seeing what improvements you have made. Those shots of the frosted leaves and goldenrod are so beautiful!

    March 11, 2015 at 6:24 pm

    • Thanks Clare! This has been an eye opening experience for me, to go from some one against post-processing images to some one who embraces it fully. However, the best images still require little to no editing, like the ones that you mentioned.

      March 12, 2015 at 9:44 am

      • In the old days of film there was nothing that could be done with an over-exposed shot but throw it out. There is nothing to lose but all to gain by using post-processing tools.

        March 12, 2015 at 2:22 pm

      • Thanks Clare! You’re right, back in the days of film you either got it right or tossed it.

        March 12, 2015 at 2:39 pm

  13. OMG, that swan and duck duo are just adorbs!!! The bird portraits today are spectacular! I hesitate to attribute this to the equipment because I feel that it’s the photographer that matters most but perhaps it’s just that now you have equipment that better supports your ability? Regardless, I think your work has really gone to the next level–congrats!

    March 12, 2015 at 10:34 am

    • Thank you very much Lori! The improvements that you see in the photos is not because of any new photo gear, it’s that I’ve been learning how to maximize the image quality that I get from my camera and lenses. But, I’m sure that I’ll prattle on at length about that in my next post. 😉

      March 12, 2015 at 2:03 pm