Archive for January, 2018

Red’s Hydrogen One holographic super-phone to ship this summer

24 Jan

Red, best known for its high-end video products, has dripped out some pre-order and release date information about its Hydrogen One super-smartphone, which was announced last July and first demoed IRL in August.

The most notable feature of this phone is its 5.7″ 1440p display, which can display 2D and “better than 3D” holographic images. It can also shoot 3D or 4V (holographic) content using its onboard cameras, and stereo sound is converted to spatial audio when played back. The One uses Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 835x processor, dual SIM card slots, a monster 4500 mAh battery and support for add-on modules like external batteries and a ‘cinema-grade’ camera.

The new info came via Red’s forums, where the company revealed that pre-orders for the Hydrogen One are expected to begin in April, with ship dates sometime this summer. The aluminum model will be priced at $ 1195, while the titanium version will set you back $ 1595.

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DJI unveils the Mavic Air: Mavic Pro specs in a Spark-sized body

24 Jan

DPReview was on hand in New York City as DJI unveiled its newest drone, the Mavic Air, which fuses enthusiast-oriented features and foldable design from the company’s Mavic Pro line of drones with the compact form factor if its Spark model. The Mavic Air also introduces some exciting new technologies that should make drone flying safer, easier, and more creative.

Key features include:

  • A 1/2.3″ CMOS sensor
  • 3-axis gimbal
  • 24mm (equiv.) F2.8 lens
  • 12MP still images w/ Raw support
  • 4K/30p video with 100 Mbps H.264 codec
  • Full HD video up to 120fps
  • 32-megapixel spherical panorama mode
  • HDR capture mode
  • 8GB internal storage in addition to MicroSD card
  • Foldable legs with integrated omnidirectional antenna
  • Updated flight autonomy system with 3D modeling
  • Improved ActiveTrack technology
  • New ‘Asteroid’ and ‘Boomerang’ intelligent flight modes
  • Obstacle-avoidance sensors in the front, back, and bottom
  • Advanced pilot awareness system (APAS)
  • Visual positioning system for better control, hovering and indoor flying
  • 2.5 mile range with controller
  • 42.5 Mph in Sport Mode
  • Flight ceiling of 16,404 ft.
  • 21-minute flight time
  • USB-C port
  • Compatible with DJI’s SDK for third party applications

DJI has clearly aimed the Mavic Air at travelers, outdoor photographers, and particularly adventurers who may go off the beaten track. It’s small size is impressive, as DJI’s Michael Perry demonstrated by pulling three of them out of his pockets on stage, and its rich feature set is sure to appeal to people like adventure filmmakers.

The Mavic Air is reminiscent of DJI’s tiny Spark drone, but packs in all the features found on the Mavic Pro.

With a weight of 430 grams, the Mavic Air is heavier than the diminutive Spark (300 grams), yet substantially lighter than the Mavic Pro (734 grams), demonstrating just how much technology DJI has been able to cram into a very small package.

It uses the same 12MP 1/2.3” CMOS sensor found in the Mavic Pro, so it’s fair to expect similar image quality. The camera is mounted on a compact 3-axis gimbal, a welcome improvement over the 2-axis gimbal found on the Spark.

Imaging features

Videographers will be happy to learn that the Mavic Air captures 4K/30p video at bit rates up to 100Mbps using the H.264 codec, though it doesn’t shoot 4K/60p as some rumors had suggested. Additionally, full HD capture is now supported at 120 fps.

In addition to 12MP Raw image capture, DJI has added new features for still photographers as well. In addition to vertical, horizontal, and 180º panoramas, the Mavic Air can create 32MP spherical panoramas by automatically shooting 25 still images and stitching them together in under 8 seconds. There’s also a built-in HDR function which should help to better capture scenes with high dynamic range.

Anyone who flies drones regularly has probably had at least one experience where they arrived on site only to realize that they left their memory card at home. In a nod to forgetful pilots everywhere, the Mavic Air includes 8GB of on-board storage – something that may be particularly helpful for adventurers far from the car.


Taking a popular gesture from the Spark, the Mavic Air includes gesture controls, allowing users to control the drone’s movements and certain functions (such as taking a photo) using their hands. This can be particularly useful to anyone trying to film themselves, such as a climber on a rock wall. Also, thanks to a rear obstacle avoidance system, the drone will sense if you’re trying to back it into an object.

In our review of the Spark we noted that its gesture controls were often far from reliable, however DJI tells us that the system on the Air has been ’significantly improved’ for more precision and reliability. Based on our hands-on experience with the Air at the launch event we’re inclined to believe this. The air seemed much more responsive to our gestures, and we didn’t notice any hesitation when directing it to move. Gestures will work up to a distance of 19 ft.

Also included is a compact controller that’s visually similar to that of the Mavic Pro, however it’s now possible to detach the sticks to make it as compact as possible for travel. Using the controller the Mavic Air can be controlled at a range of up to 2.5 miles, likely more than enough when operating with visual line of sight.

Obstacle avoidance and intelligent flight modes

A very useful feature on a drone is obstacle avoidance, and the Mavic Air is full of it. It includes seven onboard cameras for sensing and avoidance, including dual forward, downward, and backward cameras. Also included is a feature DJI is calling ‘Flight Autonomy 2.0’, which conducts real-time positioning by building a 3D map of the environment around the aircraft.

Thanks to this 3D mapping, the Mavic Air also includes an ‘advanced pilot awareness system’ (APAS) for advanced obstacle avoidance. Instead of simply stopping when an obstacle is detected, APAS will plan a path to bypass or go around obstacles, allowing the drone to continue on its course.

DJI has also added two new intelligent flight modes, ‘Asteroid Mode’ and ‘Boomerang Mode’. Asteroid mode creates a sort of hybrid clip in which a spherical panorama zooms into a short video clip. Boomerang does more or less what the name suggests, flying up and away from a subject before coming back to create an interesting cinematic effect. Additionally, DJI claims to have improved its ActiveTrack technology, giving it more precise tracking as well as the ability to detect multiple subjects simultaneously.

These animated GIFs illustrate the Mavic Air’s new ‘Asteroid’ (top) and ‘Boomerang’ (bottom) intelligent flight modes. (Courtesy of DJI)


There are some notable performance improvements as well. With a top speed of 42.5 Mph in Sport mode, the Air is the fastest Mavic to date, and it has an operational ceiling of 16,404 ft. Some drone users may be disappointed with the 21-minute flight time. We suspect it’s a necessary tradeoff in order to achieve the Mavic Air’s compact size, and it’s still 5 minutes more than you’ll get from the Spark.

DJI says the Mavic Air will also be compatible with a wide range of accessories including a car charger, ND filters, and DJI’s flight goggles for a first person view flying experience.

Price and availability

The Mavic Air will be available for $ 799. The standard package includes a protective case, propeller guards, and the newly designed remote control. A ‘Fly More’ combo that includes an additional set of propellers, 2 extra batteries, a folding charging hub that charges two batteries, and a shoulder bag will be available for $ 999. It’s available in three impressively descriptive colors: Arctic White, Onyx Black, and Flame Red.

Preorders begin today through and other retailers, with shipments and retail availability beginning on January 28.

Editor’s note: This story is developing, refresh for updates.

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How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar

23 Jan

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, it’s that time of year again. It’s cold, windy, snowy and very, very white. Winter wonderlands are the ideal things to shoot this time of year. When everything around you is frosted with snow and ice, even everyday things take on a magical feel.

When you step outdoors to shoot this winter, however, an icy fairytale landscape might not be exactly what you get. Here in Chicago if it’s not white, it’s pretty darn grey. That doesn’t make for very pretty pictures. Grey weather days look really blah in 2-D. Actually, even an amazing landscape filled with sparkling snow can make a surprisingly flat image. Let’s break down a few ways that you can process your winter images in Luminar to really make them pop.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - Running horses

My final version of wild horses running through a white-out snowstorm in northern Nevada. I adjusted the black point to -20 by dragging the slider until the histogram just touched the left side. I also made a few more adjustments in Luminar, including boosting the Shadows, reducing the Highlights and enhancing Vibrance. Canon 7DII with 100-400mm II plus 1.4x III extender @ 560mm, f/8, 1/1000th, ISO 400.

Adjust Your Whites and Blacks

In Luminar, you adjust the White and Black points in the RAW Develop Filter (if you’re adjusting a JPG it’s just called “Develop”), or in the dedicated Whites/Blacks Filter. These adjustments are an important first step for images with snow. By shifting the Blacks and Whites, you maximize the range of light and dark tones in your image. That helps give white snow texture and depth.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - running horses raw image

The unprocessed RAW file of the above image. Compare it to the lead image and look at the difference just a few adjustments made.

Adjust your Whites so that your snow isn’t “blown out” (which means it won’t show any detail). Usually, you’ll need to drag the Whites slider to the left. The histogram should just be touching the right side. Now grab your Blacks and drag it so that the histogram just touches the left side.

Fine-Tune Your White Balance

The White Balance setting is also in the Develop Filter. To help add pop to your winter images, adjust the Temperature of your image to be either warmer (more yellow) or cooler (more blue). You can also make a separate adjustment to the Tint, adjusting it to reflect more green or magenta. Be forewarned though, Temperature and Tint adjustments get tricky when dealing with white snow.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - Paint Pots

In this image of one of the paint pots at Yellowstone National Park, just after a light snow, I’ve adjusted the White Balance to a cooler/more blue Temperature of -5, and a more magenta Tint of +2. These very slight shifts, along with Contrast, Clarity and Vibrance adjustments make a big difference in this image’s feel. Canon 5DIV with 24-105mm II lens @ 24mm, f/10, 1/320th, ISO 1250.

Often, if you look at your favorite landscape and wildlife images, they have a warm, yellow glow to them. Warm colors tend to make us happy so we gravitate to them when we post-process. However, snow that is too yellow often looks wrong because we rarely have a full-on snowy landscape in bright, golden sun.

Be careful adjusting Tint too. Pink snow isn’t any more appealing or realistic than yellow snow. Ultimately though, these adjustments are up to you. Experiment to find a wintery look that’s right for your photography style.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar

Here’s the original RAW file of that same paint pot at Yellowstone National Park. You can see the original White Balance and the huge difference that simple change made to make the image above feel colder.

Boost Saturation for Eye-Catching Color

One exception to having vibrantly-colored snow is when an image has colored light reflecting from the sky. In the paint pots image above, you can see that the snow has a bit of a grey-blue cast. That looks natural to me because the snow would reflect the cast of the grey-blue sky.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - Old Faithful

Old Faithful steaming away at dawn one very cold morning. In this final image, I’ve boosted the colors quite a bit. Saturation +30, Vibrance +20 and Contrast +20. Canon 5DIV with 24-105mm II lens @ 56mm, f/13, 1/125th, ISO 800.

Sometimes, cold wintery images aren’t as much about the snow, either. In this Old Faithful landscape, the story is the drama of the winter sky. My instinct was to amp up the blues in this image, and also the golden grass, to create a striking, complementary color scheme.

When you try this, play around with the color sliders a bit (Vibrance and Saturation are great starting points) and see what works best. Strong color can be gorgeous but doesn’t work for every winter image.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - Old Faithful

Here’s the RAW, unprocessed file of Old Faithful. The original image is composed well and exposed properly, but very flat. Luminar does an excellent job bringing it to life.

Convert to Monochrome for Stark Drama

Sometimes winter scenes don’t lend themselves well to color images at all. This wild horse running on the snowy ridge in front of the mountain was spectacular in real life. The RAW file wasn’t much to look at though. See for yourself.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - Wild Stallion

Wild horse running along the snowy ridge in northern Nevada. Canon 5DIII with 100-400mm II lens @ 255mm, f/5.6, 1/1000th, ISO 1000.

What is nice about the image is that the bay-colored horse makes an incredible silhouette against all that white snow. Monochrome tends to work well with silhouettes, especially when you boost the contrast.

With their cool grey and white tones, monochrome images can make bland winter images spectacular. Remember to give it a try if experimenting with the color options we discussed above doesn’t work for your image.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - Stallion Silhouette

Isn’t that an amazing change for the better? Look how that silhouette just pops out of the snowy mountain backdrop now.

Share your Winter Image Post-Processing Tips

These are my four favorite ways to make my winter images pop using Luminar. Bundle up, head on out to the great wintry outdoors, shoot a few frames and give them a try yourself.

And hey, share with the dPS community too. What are your favorite post-processing tips for editing gorgeous winter images?

Disclaimer: Macphun, soon to be Skylum, is a dPS advertising partner.

The post How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar by Lara Joy Brynildssen appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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DJI Mavic Air leaked ahead of announcement, looks like a Spark-Mavic hybrid

23 Jan
Close-up of a banner of the DJI Mavic Air, which DJI is supposedly planning to announce officially in less than 24 hours.

We’re less than 24 hours away from the drone announcement DJI started teasing last week, and it looks like our guesses based on the tagline “adventure unfolds” were spot on: it’s going to be a folding drone. More specifically, a followup to the folding DJI Mavic Pro… but not the followup most of us expected.

According to Drone DJ, who got ahold of a treasure trove of leaked specs and photographs of the upcoming drone, DJI is preparing to announce the DJI Mavic Air: a drone that looks like a hybrid between the DJI Spark and DJI Mavic Pro.

If these leaked photos and specifications are accurate, the Mavic Air will put Mavic-level hardware—a 3-axis gimbal, 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor, 4K 60p video capture, obstacle-avoidance sensors on the front, back, and bottom—into a body that looks very much like the diminutive DJI Spark. The upside is that 4K 60p video capture that the Mavic Pro and even Mavic Pro Platium has been missing; the downside is that the smaller body means even less flight time, which is rumored at just 21 minutes. The drone is also purported to have a 32MP panorama mode.

Here’s a look at the real thing:

And here are the full set of leaked specs, as reported by Drone DJ:

  • 1/2.3 CMOS sensor and new Image Processor
  • 32-megapixel panorama mode
  • 4K/60p video capture
  • 3-axis gimbal
  • Four Foldable Legs
  • Obstacle-avoidance sensors in the front, back, and bottom
  • Equipped with aVisual Positioning System for better control, hovering and indoor flying
  • Gesture control
  • 21-minute flight time (9 minutes less than the Mavic Pro Platium)
  • It will be available in at least three colors: white, black and red
  • Compatible with DJI Goggles

We won’t be able to confirm these specs until the official announcement tomorrow morning (DJI is streaming the event live at 10am Eastern), but leaks this major and this close to the official reveal are rarely faked. Which leaves us feeling a bit… “meh” about the whole thing.

With Autel Robotics releasing its Mavic Pro competitor Autel EVO at CES, and the original Mavic Pro now nearly a year and a half old, we were hoping for a true Mavic Pro replacement. The Mavic Air seems, instead, like a DJI Spark upgrade… or even what the DJI Spark should have been at launch.

That said, we agree with Drone DJ when they say that this is probably not the true successor to the DJI Mavic Pro, but a separate product line—sort of like Apple’s MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro. It just means we have a bit longer to wait before we see a true Mavic Pro replacement.

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Speed Test: iMac Pro vs Alienware PC, Mac Pro and MacBook Pro

23 Jan

Photographer and Photoshop expert Colin Smith of PhotoshopCAFE recently embarked on a test many photo and video editors have been asking for: comparing the new iMac Pro against some of its main competition. In Colin’s case, he pit a slightly upgraded version of the iMac Pro against an Alienware gaming PC, a MacBook Pro, and the current Mac Pro.

The iMac Pro Smith was testing is a slightly upgraded version of the base model. His unit sports: a 3.2GHz 8-core Xeon W processor, 64GB of 2666 MHz DDR4 ECC Memory, and an AMD Radeon Pro Vega 64 with 16GB of its own HBM2 RAM. If you configure it yourself on the Apple website, you’ll find this setup weighs in at $ 6,400.

Going up against the iMac Pro were three contenders at various price points:

  1. A ‘trashcan’ Mac Pro circa December 2014, with a 3.7GHz 4-core Xeon E5 processor, 64GB of 1866MHz DDR3 RAM, and dual AMD Profire D300 video cards with 2GB of RAM each. Cost (in 2014): $ 3,250
  2. The latest 15-inch MacBook Pro, with a 3.1GHz 4-core i7 processor, 16GB of 2133MHz DDR3 RAM, and a Radeon Pro 560 video card with 6Gb of RAM. Cost: $ 3,400
  3. An Alienware Aurora R6 PC, which is running a 4.2GHz 4-core i7 processor, 16GB of 2666MHz DDR4 RAM, and an Nvidia GTX 1070 video card with 8GB of its own DDR5 RAM. Cost: $ 1,600

As you can see, the Apple options are all much more expensive than the PC, but nothing comes close to touching the $ 6,400 iMac Pro. So you would hope, at least, that nothing would come close to touching its performance either. That’s what Colin was thinking too, and he tested each machine using Adobe Premiere Pro, After Effects, and Photoshop.

Each machine was put through its paces on some very CPU and RAM-intensive tasks in these (already RAM and CPU-intensive) video and photo editing programs, timing each system to see how they ranked. In some categories the iMac Pro really did destroy the competition. When it came to rendering 4K video, the results were eye-opening:

But in other situations, like Ram Preview in After Effects, it actually fell quite short given the sheer amount of power it has to draw from:

Of course, for our purposes, we’re much more interested in how the iMac Pro performed in Photoshop. And that’s where, in 3 out of the 4 tests Colin performed, the PC outperformed all of the Macs. Whether you were opening, upscaling, or saving a massive 815MB Photoshop file, the Alienware PC did best each time.

The only test where the iMac Pro managed to flex its considerable muscle in Photoshop was running the Radial blur filter at Best quality and 100%—a crazy intensive task that the iMac Pro made mince meat of, as you can see from the chart:

You can see all of the test results in the video up top, but the conclusion, at least for us, seems to be clear:

For real-time intensive video editing tasks, the iMac pro can really fly, but for stills shooters it just doesn’t seem to make sense for the money. We spoke to Colin about his test this morning, and asked him if he had anything to add for our readers, and he seemed to agree with us. Here’s what he had to say:

When configuring the base $ 5,000, I wanted to get upgrades that gave me the most bang for my buck. I made the decision to spend $ 1400 (total) to upgrade the base RAM to 64Gb ($ 800) and also the video card from 8Gb to 16Gb ($ 600), as these are the 2 things that will make the biggest difference… especially the video card (PGU)

If you are editing video and have to be on Mac (and budget isn’t an issue) then this is clearly the fastest system around, as you can tell by the encoding and rendering times of the iMac Pro being much faster than the competition. The downside, of course, is getting this level of hardware and not being able to upgrade any of it. I feel that’s a bit disingenuous of Apple, and it will cost them a lot of sales. Having said that, this is one of the best displays I have seen to date.

On the other hand, if you are a photographer and your needs revolve around editing still imagery, I think you are better served to save your money for other things.

That’s some pretty pragmatic advice. To see the full test, check out the video up top. And if you want to see more from Colin, subscribe to PhotoshopCAFE on YouTube, check out his website, or give him a follow on Instagram and Facebook.

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How to Take Unique Crystal Ball Portraits

23 Jan

The search is always on to try something new in photography. That process is often about taking a technique and applying it in a new way. A crystal ball is a great addition to any landscape photographer’s camera bag. In this article, you’ll see why this is also true for portrait photographers.

You’ll learn to take the perfect crystal ball portrait. There are some special characteristics of refraction photography to consider. You will learn the technical side of refraction photography, and how to use this for your portraits.

How to Take Perfect Crystal Ball Portraits

In this photo, the model is seated, with her legs near her body. This made it easier to “eclipse” her behind the ball.

What is refraction photography?

Refractions is an effect that is produced when the light is bent upon passing through an object of denser mass. In the case of a crystal ball, this has the effect of inverting the background image inside the ball. This can be great to use for photography, as the ball becomes an external optic for your camera. You can read more about refraction photography in one of my previous articles.

This effect is mostly used for photographing landscapes, as it creates a super wide-angle scene within the glass ball. However, there are occasions you’d use a wide angle lens for portrait work, and the same is true with the crystal ball.

As with all crystal ball photos, try to ensure your subject is well lit, this will enhance the image coming through the ball. If you try to use strobes for this you need to position yourself carefully, the ball will pick up the light from the flash as a reflection very easily. The best advice I can offer is to position the strobes in a parallel line with the glass ball.

How to Take Perfect Crystal Ball Portraits

In this, photo the model is silhouetted against the dawn sky. The distance from the model to the crystal ball is quite far, so the person appears small in the ball.

How to create your crystal ball portrait

Now you know what refraction photography is and how to do it, the next step is to apply this to a portrait.

There are three main types of crystal ball portraits you can make, each uses the ball in a slightly different way. The three types of photo are shooting close to the ball, photographing the ball in the scene, and using the ball as a prop. Let’s take a look at each one.

1 – Fill the frame with the crystal ball

This composition type has the crystal ball fill the entire frame, or become the dominant part of the frame. In this photo, your model will be the main subject inside the glass ball, which means they’ll need to be quite close to the ball itself. To succeed with this type of photo look at the following points, and apply them to your portraits.

How to Take Perfect Crystal Ball Portraits

You can avoid distortion by placing the model in the center of the ball.

Center the model

  • The model needs to be in the center of the ball so that you avoid ugly distortion of the face on the edges of the ball. To do this consider the following steps.
  • Don’t have your model standing up strait, a sitting position where there body is more compressed will fit better inside the ball.
  • Take the portrait from the chest up, and center the composition on the eyes.

Compress your scene

Use a long focal length to hide the model behind the glass ball, essentially eclipsing the model. The larger the glass ball the easier this will be.

Position the ball

The ball should be level, or a little higher than the model. This will avoid distortions on the edge of the ball, and by having the ball higher than the model, it will focus the viewer’s eye more on the face.

Avoid bad bokeh

The background in a crystal ball photograph can make or break your image. With your model close to the ball, the background is likely to contain some bokeh. Use an appropriate aperture to blur them out, or consider using post-processing to remove them.

How to Take Perfect Crystal Ball Portraits

You can enhance your crystal ball portrait by using good light on the model.

A photo of this type is best achieved with a macro lens, or a long telephoto lens. Both these lenses will allow you to fill the frame with the crystal ball, and then it’s simply about avoiding a bad background.

2 – Use the crystal ball as part of the overall picture

The next option for incorporating the crystal ball into your portrait shoot is to include much more of the background, and make the ball a smaller part of the frame. In this type of photo the focus will be on the ball, but the background bokeh will be equally important in telling the story.

How to Take Perfect Crystal Ball Portraits

Use the bokeh in the image to create your crystal ball portrait.

  • The ball is smaller – The ball will be more of an accent within the overall frame. It’s likely the ball will be placed on the ground, or perhaps on a wall and will take up between 10-25% of the frame.
  • The background will be bolder – The shape of your model is important, so have them strike an interesting pose. As the focus is on the ball, the focus on the model will be soft.
  • Use the correct aperture – Adjust the aperture to a suitable level, so defined shapes can be seen in the background. The background should be neither to blurred nor too sharp. An aperture of around f/4 is a good place to start.
  • Wider focal length – Now that you are including a large amount of the background a wider lens will be needed to achieve this.

3 – Use it as a prop in your crystal ball portrait

You can also use the ball in the more traditional way, as a prop for your model. In this type of crystal ball portrait your model will be directly interacting with the ball. This will mean that the refraction effect inside the ball may or may not be seen, depending on the way you arrange your photo.

How to Take Perfect Crystal Ball Portraits

Have your model hold the ball, and interact with it.

  • Tell the story – As a prop, the ball will be a focal point for your photo. You can use the crystal ball to show tropes like fortunetelling and magic. Use these ideas when composing your photo.
  • Do you refract? –  When using the ball as a prop you don’t have to show it producing refraction; however, it will add more interest if you do so.
  • Using strobes – A glass ball is a very reflective surface. When using strobes you need to decide if you want your strobe light reflecting on the surface of the ball. Moving your strobe to a side light position will eliminate most of the reflection on the ball, so this is a solution.
How to Take Perfect Crystal Ball Portraits

Using more than one ball gives you more storytelling potential.

Go out and create your magical crystal ball portrait!

Have you ever tried using a crystal ball in portrait work? Let’s see your results if you have. What difficulties did you encounter when you tried this style?

If you bought the ball primarily for landscape photography, how about trying your hand at a portrait?  Give it a go and let us know how it turns out.

How to Take Perfect Crystal Ball Portraits

The ball can help you make some unusual portraits.

How to Take Perfect Crystal Ball Portraits

Experiment with your crystal ball portrait, how about using other techniques like light painting?

How to Take Perfect Crystal Ball Portraits

When your model looks into a crystal ball, there is a story to that photo.

The post How to Take Unique Crystal Ball Portraits by Simon Bond appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Five Essentials of Doing Dark Food Photography

23 Jan

Over the last several years, several identifiable trends have developed in the world of food photography, including one towards dark, moody images, often with a rustic feel. These photographs call to mind the interplay of light and shadow in the paintings of the Old Masters, such as those by Vermeer and Rembrandt.

The style is often referred to “chiaroscuro” photography, a painting term borrowed from the art world. It means “light-dark” and refers to the contrast between the shadows and light in an image. The technique guides the viewer’s eye to a specific area in the frame and creates a dramatic mood. Mystic Light is another phrase used to describe this dark and moody style.

However, a dark style won’t necessarily suit every image. Sometimes a dark, shadowy approach is not appropriate to your subject. Developing strong food photography requires thinking about the purpose of your image. Your lighting, props, styling, and camera settings all work together in service of the story you are trying to convey.

Chili - dark food photography

For example, in the image above, I imagined someone sitting down at a farmhouse to eat a bowl of chilli on a cold winter’s day. I envisioned that the light was spilling in from a window onto my scene. This food story is one that I often use in my work, in one form or another, and chiaroscuro is the perfect style to bring it to life, as it arouses the emotions of the viewer.

So let’s take a closer look at how you can apply the chiaroscuro style to your food photography.

Dark Props and Backgrounds

The idea in dark food photography is to keep the background in shadow and draw the viewer’s attention to the main subject—what in food photography we call the “hero”. Therefore, a selection of dark or muted props, surfaces, and backgrounds is vital. White or light dishes and props will draw the eye away from the food and create too much contrast, which is distracting and can also be difficult to expose correctly.

Utensils - Five Essentials of Doing Dark Food Photography

When sourcing props, look for vintage utensils with a patina, which will not reflect the light as much as new ones. Matte dishes will also be less reflective, and are best in darker, neutral tones. Reflections can be hard to manage and cause a lot of problems in food photography.

Some good places to look for these items are thrift shops and vintage or flea markets, where you can find them for a fraction of the price you would pay for them new. Many food photographers use old, mottled cookie sheets in their work, which create a stunning surface or background, which subtly reflects the light without being to bright.

Wood is also a great material to utilize, both in the background and as props. It is easy to work with and lends a rustic feel. You can use weathered items such as an old cabinet door or tabletop. Ensure that whichever wood you use isn’t too warm toned. It will look quite orange in the final images and therefore unflattering to the food. A deep espresso color always looks great.

Charcuterie - Five Essentials of Doing Dark Food Photography

Food Styling

You will most often find the dark food photography style in editorial as opposed to advertising work. Advertising photography is meant to look perfect, with highly stylized food. Anyone who has ever seen a fast food burger ad and compared it to a real burger knows what I’m talking about.

But editorial food photography, such as that found in cookbooks and foodie magazines, has a looser, more candid style. The food is often perfectly imperfect, with scattered crumbs or artfully placed smears and drips, as if it has been freshly prepared or someone has just begun to tuck in.

This is not to say there is no deliberate effort in the styling because there is. The line between rustic and real and downright sloppy is a fine one. It takes a practiced hand to make food styling look casual and random.

Carrot Ginger Soup - Five Essentials of Doing Dark Food Photography

In the image of carrot ginger soup above, I gently swirled cream on the surface and carefully placed the croutons off-center to create a focal point. I garnished it with pepper and thyme leaves, which I also scattered on my surface with a thought to the composition.

In reality, one’s dinner table would hardly look like this, but for the purposes of food photography, such extra touches give an honest, storytelling quality and enhance the main subject, which in this case is the soup.

When approaching styling, think about the ingredients used in the recipe you are shooting. Ask yourself how you can incorporate some of them into your image in a way that makes sense and complements your hero.

Lentil Soup

Carving the Light

When producing darker images, it is imperative to carve and shape the light to bring attention to your main subject. You will need to determine how you want to light your image and where you want the shadows to fall. For moody images, I often use side and backlighting. My light placement is at about 10:00 if I am imagining the face of an analog clock as my set.

It’s best to use indirect lighting so no lights pointing directly at the set or food. In the case of natural light, placing the surface at an angle to the window.

Use small black reflector cards, like black cardboard or poster board cut into squares, to kick in shadows where you want them, and place them around your set depending on where you want to cut down the light. Alternatively, you can roll up pieces of black poster board and staple the ends together; these rolls can stand on their own and do not need to be propped up against anything.

Mushroom Toast - Five Essentials of Doing Dark Food Photography

In the images above, I wanted the mushrooms to be bright and catch some of the light, especially as the look was monochromatic, yet I wanted shadows to fall on the plate. I used side backlighting and a black card from the front, angled into my scene to create shadows in the front and absorb some of the light that was coming directly into my scene.

You will have to play around with different sizes and placements of the reflector cards to get the shadows where they work with your story.


Typically, with chiaroscuro food photography, you want to slightly underexpose the image in the camera. Chiaroscuro can have very bright treatment of food with very deep shadows, or the image can be low key with not a lot of contrast. Whichever approach you choose, the main subjects should be placed in the brightest part of the frame, which attracts the eye first. Make sure the highlights are not blown out and the shadows are not too black with no detail.

Olive Oil -Five Essentials of Doing Dark Food Photography

It is best to work with a tripod, especially if you are shooting in natural light in less than ideal conditions. Instead of boosting the ISO and risking a high amount of noise, you can increase the exposure time when using a tripod. As long as you have some light, a long exposure allows you to take a properly exposed picture.

Using the timer or a remote shutter trigger will prevent camera shake and an image that is less than sharp. The focus should be on the main subject, however, the image needs to be exposed for the concept, mood, and story.


The right post-processing for dark food photography will really make your image pop.

Using the luminance sliders in Lightroom or Camera RAW to brighten colors individually. Use global and local adjustments to bring out the best in the food, instead of bumping up the exposure in the whole image, which can cause your shadows to fall flat.

Lentil Soup - Five Essentials of Doing Dark Food Photography

And remember, warm colors bring elements forward, whereas cool colors recede. The best food photography has a balance of both, as it gives a three-dimensional feel to your image. With chiaroscuro food photography, white balance and tint can be used creatively, since you are not using white dishes and backgrounds. Split-toning can also be used to great effect, as long as it is done with subtlety.

Finally, no matter how you carve the light, a bit of a vignette adds a bit more mystery. It also prevents the eye from wandering out of the frame by bringing you back to the brightest part of the image — the food.


So there you have it, my top tips for making dark and moody food photography images!

I’d love to hear if you’ve had a chance to experiment with this approach to food photography. What were your struggles? Please share your experience and images in the comments below.

The post Five Essentials of Doing Dark Food Photography by Darina Kopcok appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Samsung’s new smartphone sensors can shoot 480fps in Full HD

22 Jan

Samsung has just announced a new mobile image sensor that may just reveal what’s in store for the rumored Galaxy S9 smartphone—specifically in the slow-motion capture department.

Announced earlier today, Samsung’s new ISOCELL Fast imager chips feature a 3-stack Fast Readout design that Samsung claims will shoot Full HD 1080p video at a whopping 480fps. That’s not quite as fast as the eye-watering 960fps in Sony’s high-end Xperia models, but the Sony mode can only capture for a fracture of a second—Samsung’s super-slow-motion could potentially offer longer capture times.

According to Samsung’s product page, the ISOCELL fast sensors also come with advanced autofocus technologies—such as Dual-Pixel or Super-PD—built into the chip, allowing for very fast focusing in all light conditions. ISOCELL Fast sensors with the aforementioned technologies are currently available with 12 and 16MP resolutions and sizes ranging from 1/2.8″ to 1/2.56″.

As usual, there is no way of knowing for certain if either of these sensor variants will make it into the Galaxy S9, but it’s safe to assume we’ll see the new 480fps Full HD mode in a Samsung mobile device in the near future.

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How to do Black and White Conversion with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

22 Jan

Now that we’ve poked around ACD System’s most capable software – having worked out a decent Photo Studio Ultimate workflow, as well as ways to make migration as easy as it can be – I think it may be time to actually use it.

After all, photography is the whole point, right? And, as much as we may sometimes dislike this fact, post-processing is very much part of it. So, this time, no ratings, no color labels, keywords, or metadata. No presets, either. In fact, we’ll only be touching on a small part of the Photo Studio package. Mainly the Develop mode, or however much of it we might need for a black and white portrait of an immensely charming lady. This is refreshing.

An important disclaimer: As has been stated on numerous occasions (so many times, in fact, that you may have learned this paragraph by heart) the license for this copy of ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate has been provided by ACD Systems. Having said that, the article has not been dictated by the company in the slightest, not even the task itself. My words are always my own, so take that for what it’s worth.

About the Portrait

The curious and geeky among you may wonder about the context behind this unusually-composed photograph, and I will gladly satisfy said curiosity and geekiness. The lady’s name is Ona (or Anna, if you will). She is a 94-year-old ex-partisan and exile survivor from my hometown, known better here by her codename, Acacia. Along with that, she is an immensely lovely old woman with a brilliantly sharp mind and memory.

I find her beautiful, most of all because, after being betrayed by her loved one, stabbed, shot, imprisoned and tortured, there is little bitterness to be found in her words. This portrait was taken as we met for the second time when I took her on a promised trip to a nearby forest.

The best part of this process we call taking portraits is everything that happens before the click and after the camera is cozy in its bag again. This is the part to savor, not the visual proof, the byproduct of simple human interaction. Whether you like the given portrait or find it exceedingly average, the experience is beyond all that. It was a lovely evening, and lovely company to be in.

The data

Unlike a different portrait of Acacia keen-eyed readers may have noticed in one of my previous articles, this one’s not an already-perfectly-black-and-white Ilford HP5 Plus negative. Instead, it’s a Fujifilm X-Pro2 RAW file, taken with the XF 23mm f/1.4 R lens, then converted to DNG. And, upon close examination, this is a lovely, natural-looking image. ACDSee Photo Studio is handling it very well.

But none of it matters. Not the camera, or the lens, or the aperture (f/2) and ISO (that’s at base 200). Not the image sensor, the size of it, or the resolution. Before we even start talking about tones and their curves, here’s a secret about portraits, whether black and white or of gentle color – it’s about the light. Really, if there was one thing for you to take from this article, repeat after me— it is all about the light.

Even when it’s as unassuming, as undramatic and soft as it was on that warm May evening, this is where you start your post-processing. Beforehand. It’s the crucial first step.

Get the light right, and you’ll have the most fun, and the simplest time at the computer bringing about the final touches. Photo Studio will help you here and make the task easy. Get the light wrong, and no effects, no HDRs, clarity sliders, and dynamic ranges will save the image.

With the romantic bit out of the way, let’s get to it.

Black and White Conversion with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

Bump the Contrast to high. Using the Tone Curves, deepen the shadows further, and bring out the highlights until they are almost white. Use the Sharpness slider liberally to emphasize the wrinkles. Something missing? Finish up with a dash of vignetting. Skin as bright as the sky, shadows as deep as … something else vaguely poetic. All the experience reflecting in the now-shocking creases on her face.

This is everything we are not going to do.

Not to say that there is something wrong with high-contrast black and white photography, but thinking every portrait of an older person needs to be accompanied by a healthy (read – senseless) dose of clarity/contrast is a cliché I will gladly call out. Acacia is soft in her expression. The light is soft. Her feather-light hair is soft. Let’s keep it that way. Let’s not bring drama where there is only calm. Let’s not try to change what seems to come naturally from all this softness. Let’s, instead, start with color.

Strange as it may sound, converting a digital image file to black and white means working with color. In fact, from a certain point, it’s almost no different than working with a color image. Especially when post-processing with portraits, understanding skin tones and what colors lie there is extremely important (a lot of red), because that, along with the light, will dictate a large part of the adjustments to be made. And, as ever is the case when working with color…

1. White Balance

Setting the White Balance (to taste) is mandatory, and is the natural first step. Now, Fujifilm is usually so very, very accurate when it comes to color temperature. It doesn’t really do the “warm glow” thing and sticks to a more neutral tone overall. Some might even call it cool (in both a color temperature and the “it rocks” sense of the word)

How to do Black and White Conversion with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

My White Balance adjustment is subtle and verging on unnecessary. A bump of just around 500 degrees towards the warm side (from 5000K to 5500K). I may come back to this setting at some point, but before diving into gray tones, I tend to give myself a technically good starting point, a decently-exposed, decently-toned image. This small adjustment seems to have done the trick for now.

Speaking of technical things, I also tend to fix any visibly-irritating distortion, vignetting, and image straightness at the very start, when necessary.

Black and White Portraits with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate
Black and White Portraits with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

NOTE: Jumping ahead a bit, I will show you what I mean about white balance and black and white photography. Notice how adjusting this one setting that is seemingly unrelated to black and white conversion (from around 2450K degrees to our chosen 5500K) changes the overall look of the image.

The impact of warmer or cooler color introduced with WB adjustment depends on how dark/light and prevalent certain color ranges are. As you tweak Tone Curves and lightness/darkness of individual color ranges using Color EQ/Advanced Black & White tools, the effect of the WB adjustment will become more noticeable. But it’s a complex process and quite difficult to accurately predict.

2. Convert to Black and White

There are three ways to do black and white conversions with ACDSee Photo Studio Develop mode.

The first one involves adjusting the Saturation slider (General tab) to -100. The second involves desaturating each individual color range using the Color EQ tool. Obviously, neither way is particularly practical. Unsurprisingly, the third option proves to make the most sense – simply change the Treatment setting from Color to Black & White at the very top of the General tab, above the Exposure slider.

All three options render the exact same initial conversion, so using the most convenient (and most easily reversed) method is, well – you get the idea. Using the Treatment method will disable the Saturation adjustment slider and replace the Color EQ tool with the Advanced Black & White tool.

How to do Black and White Conversion with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

Change the Treatment setting from Color to Black & White on the General tab.

3. Overall Contrast

I have likely noticed that the initial conversion is fairly low-contrast. For me, that’s good. I like to start off with a flat look and work from there (and I already love how soft and beautifully toned the hair is). For the general contrast of the image, I tend to use the Tone Curves. The contrast slider is fine for adjusting general contrast by just a smidge but is too imprecise when a more pronounced or more controlled adjustment is needed.

Tone Curves is an exceedingly powerful tool, of course, and I keep coming back to it again and again during post-processing, just to make tiny adjustments. When using the Tone Curve, I don’t pay too much attention to areas that I know are of mostly one specific color, like trees and grass. Even if these areas are a little off, I’ll be adjusting them later on using the color tools.

What matters to me is the general look, the shadows, and the highlights. Here, a mild adjustment of the shadows is enough.

Black and White Portraits with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

Before Tone Curves

Black and White Portraits with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

After Tone Curves has been tweaked.

To keep the image subtle and calm, I’ve left the highlights as they were and only really pulled the shadows down a touch. Nothing too drastic, just enough to emphasize that soft light. Note how the bright tones of Acacia’s face and hair remain almost identical, but the deeper shadows have corrected the sense of flatness to a degree.

We are not quite done yet, but this is now closer to what I envisioned.

4. Back to Color

I think it’s possible to do a decent black and white conversion using just the Tone Curves, or alternatively just the color adjustments. At least if the first step is done well – remember my point about the light? But, when used together, these tools work at their best.

Switching to the Luminance tab of the Color EQ tool allows us to adjust the brightness of each individual color channel. In other words, I can adjust how dark or bright my reds, blues, greens, and other colors, each separately. This means two things; you have a very high degree of control, and also unlimited ways to mess something up. I’d say we should avoid the latter.

My issue with this image lies mostly in the grassy area. You see, there are at least two things that I can do to emphasize Acacia’s face. I can go down the “clarity and contrast everything” route and just keep working those Tone Curves further. Alternatively, (this is clearly my preferred choice) I can de-emphasize the area that surrounds the main visual element, to make her stand out a bit more.

In other words, I’ll just pull down the grass tones to make them slightly darker using the Advanced Black & White adjustments. As I’ve mentioned before, this tool allows control over the luminance of individual color ranges. The Advanced Black & White tab allows grab-and-pull action on the image itself if you’re ever unsure what colors are in that area. In this particular case, I know it’s mostly green and yellow.

Black and White Portraits with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

Again, this is a subtle adjustment, but it has helped make Acacia’s face stand out more. As ever, there’s plenty of room to push further. But, knowing I’d be making some more adjustments afterward, I didn’t. Keep in mind I’m doing this all to personal taste.

One might proceed to adjust the tonality of skin, for example. But I’ve found it to be to my liking already, so why tweak something just for the sake of it? And if you’re curious about the Purple and Magenta colors, that’s for the hair and sweater. We are now nearly done!

5. Final Critical Touches

The last adjustments (not counting any going back and forth with the tools that have already been used) are made using the Light EQ tool. What this tool does is give you precise control over shadows and highlights, the same way Color EQ/Advanced Black & White allows precise control over colors.

Light EQ is actually not that different from Tone Curves but can be a little easier to use and it doesn’t seem like such a global adjustment. I use it when I only need to make small changes like save a highlight here and there, or bring out a shadow or two. A subtler operation is easier with Light EQ than with Tone Curves.

My goal here was to make sure all the shadows and highlights of Acacia’s face were in order and not too harsh. But because I knew I’d be printing this on a fairly textured paper (PermaJet Portfolio Rag), I also knew I had to bring it all up a notch.

Black and White Portraits with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

Black and White Portraits with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

Notice how the last step, the Light EQ tool, is also perhaps the most prominent. I could have done pretty much the same with the Tone Curves, but Light EQ has made it easier. I also find the Standard mode the most user-friendly, while still offering plenty of control.

After setting the Tone Bands to 9 from the default 5, I could make the adjustments with enough precision. The image is nowhere near as flat as it was when we started off, but the fundamentals are very much the same.

6. Final Less Critical Touches

Once the overall look of the portraits is as I envisioned, it’s time to take care of the little things, like sharpness, noise reduction, and such.

That’s It!

Over the years, I’ve found that when it comes to photography the less you tweak the better. The simpler tools you use, the more you learn to focus on the image itself rather than effects and wow-factors. I believe this article is a supporting example of such a point of view and I hope you’ve picked up some tips for black and white conversion using ACDSee’s Photo Studio Ultimate.

Disclaimer: ACD Systems is a paid partner of dPS

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Portrait mode perspective: the iPhone X versus the Canon M100

22 Jan
With all the latest photo-centric smartphones including a form of Portrait mode, are interchangeable lens cameras still coming out on top?

It’s safe to say that Portrait mode, the artificial blurry-background generator on modern smartphones, isn’t going anywhere. And now that it’s here, it’s only going to get better. It’s an incredibly handy feature to have, and for the vast majority of users, is easily good enough that they may rethink the need to purchase a so-called ‘real’ camera in the future.

But ‘good enough’ is a subjective assessment. So, we set up a tripod and grabbed an accessible entry-level camera that’s specifically aimed at smartphone users, and did our own informal comparison. It turns out, though, that things aren’t all that simple.

The first comparison

We found through our informal exercise that the iPhone X’s built-in Portrait mode on its default camera app appears to roughly approximate the blur from shooting a 35mm F2.8 lens on an APS-C camera. In this case, we used the Canon EOS M100.

iPhone X in Portrait mode Canon EOS M100 w/ EF-S 35mm F2.8 @ F2.8

Unfortunately, the tripod needed adjustment of an inch or two to make sure the iPhone image and the Canon image ended up a broadly similar positioning of the subject in the frame (there may be some distortion or other corrective effects at work that we don’t have full insight into).

For this comparison, the iPhone X had HDR enabled in Portrait mode, and the M100 image was processed through Adobe Camera Raw using an adapted EF-S Macro 35mm F2.8 lens.

Apple also includes ‘lighting modes,’ so let’s see if that makes a difference in your preference.

The second comparison

iPhone X in Portrait mode with Contour Light Canon EOS M100 w/ EF-S 35mm F2.8 @ F2.8

Here, we re-processed the iPhone’s image to use the ‘Contour Light’ option. It gives the iPhone’s image a much more ‘purposed’ look to the light, almost as if there is an umbrella off-camera left, instead of just a window, while the Canon image looks the same, because, well, it doesn’t have ‘portrait lighting’ modes.

The third comparison

iPhone X in Portrait mode, Focos app set to F1.4 iPhone X in Portrait mode, Focos app set to F20 Canon EOS M100 w/ EF-S 35mm F2.8 @ F2.8

Lastly, there’s a free app called ‘Focos’ that allows you further tweaks on images taken in Portrait mode. You can even specify the level of blur you want, measured in approximate f-number. Here, we see the two ends of the spectrum currently included in the app, from ‘F1.4’ to ‘F20.’

What’s the big deal?

We’re approaching a time of reckoning for traditional camera manufacturers. Not only are computational cameras getting better, but they’re increasingly in people’s pockets, at the ready whenever they’re needed.

There are, of course, aspects of traditional cameras that phones can’t replace; the form factor, the controls, the feel of the thing. But those are increasingly diminishing requirements for a broad range of photographers (especially since, as you well know, everyone these days is a photographer).

But to remain relevant, these sort of software ‘tricks’ are something that camera manufacturers are going to need to think more and more about. There may yet come a time when, finally, you don’t absolutely need a bigger sensor for better results. And it’s not necessarily a matter of ‘if,’ but a matter of ‘when.’

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