My five favorite Lightroom sliders by Sean McCormack

August 11, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Lightroom is a mature, fully featured photo-processing app. It has tools bursting out at the seams, from lens corrections to color corrections and even camera styles and mode emulations. That doesn’t stop you from having some favorites though. These are the ones that I seem to use on every photo that I choose to edit.

My five favorite Lightroom sliders

So, here are my five favorite Lightroom sliders in no particular order. I’ll use two different photos to walk through but will give other examples as well. Here’s our two starting photos, both raw files that have been exported as JPEG with no settings applied.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

#1/2 – Shadows/Highlights

My first two favorite sliders are used as a pair. The Shadows slider changes luminosity of the darker areas in the photo. The sliders in the Basic panel are all interactive and affect each other, so pushing the Shadows sliders to the right will also affect the darkest part of the photo typically controlled by the Blacks. Because of this, you’ll often need to bring the Blacks slider down a bit to compensate.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

The first photo with Highlights at -100 and Shadows at +100. Notice how it resembles HDR tone mapping.

The Highlights slider affects the brighter parts of the image. I use this most often to bring back detail in these areas. A great trick for underexposed photos is to increase Exposure to brighten the photo, then bring down the Highlights slider to rescue lost highlight detail.

 
 

Together the Shadow/Highlights pair act as tone mapping controls in Lightroom. By bringing Shadows to +100 and Highlights to -100, you can get a natural look faux HDR photo from a single photo. In fact, the Auto control in Lightroom’s HDR tool sets Shadows to +70 and Highlights to -100 most of the time, which isn’t too far off this cool look.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

The second photo with our faux HDR settings applied.

I’ll generally apply this to any landscape or cityscape as a Lightroom Preset, and then refine it as needed.

#3 – Clarity

During the development of Lightroom, the Clarity slider was called Punch, which is a great way of describing what it does. Contrast work across the whole image. Clarity, on the other hand, tends to increase or decrease edge contrast on the tones that are neither the darkest nor lightest tones in the photo. 

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Clarity slider set +43.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Basic panel settings so far for photo number one.

Pushing it to the right intelligently creates more punch in the image, without increasing contrast in the blacks and whites.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Clarity +25

On portraits, Clarity is like a grit slider, bringing character to male portraits.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Before and after Clarity +52 has been added to this male portrait (right).

Moving Clarity to the left softens out those mid-tones. While I’ve seen other mention that it doesn’t affect the colors, I feel that it does add a small amount of saturation. This soft look is great for skin, especially female portraits. I don’t use it globally in those case though, I use it as a local adjustment with the Adjustment Brush tool, allowing me to apply it only to specific areas.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Here’s what negative Clarity looks like. While it’s softened the skin, it’s also softened all the mid-tones in the photo.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Here’s the same setting, but only applied to the skin. It makes a huge difference and provides an effective way to retouch skin in Lightroom.

 
 

#4 – Vibrance

Sticking to the Basic panel, Vibrance is located in the Presence section right below Clarity. Vibrance is a special form of Saturation. Saturation works by increasing the intensity of each color until they’re a pure tone. Too much can be garish, and this is where Vibrance steps in.

Vibrance works on a more relative scale. It affects colors that are already saturated less than muted ones. This means it takes a lot longer to look garish and balances out the saturation of all colors in the photo.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Our first photo with +31 Vibrance added to the previous settings.

Our second photo with Vibrance +23.

The Vibrance slider in Lightroom has one other trick up its sleeve though. It prevents skin tones from becoming saturated. This means you get to increase the saturation of your portrait location, without giving an Oompah Loompah tone to your subject. That’s a big win in my opinion.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Even with Vibrance of +50, the skin tone still looks reasonably natural, avoiding the orange look that Saturation would have at a similar setting.

For landscape photos this does mean Vibrance pushes greens and blues more than reds and oranges, so for sunsets and sunrises, I usually mix Vibrance and Saturation evenly.

#5 – Dehaze

Dehaze is a Lightroom CC only feature. You can use it in Lightroom 6 with presets though. It’s not as convenient, but access to the feature via presets is still useful even if you don’t have the Dehaze slider. 

The Dehaze slider is located in the Effects panel.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Dehaze of +60 on a foggy shot from Venice.

Dehaze is aptly named as it removes haze from an image. That sounds simple, but it’s really doing a lot of work to figure out what’s happening in the photo, so it knows which areas are affected by haze, and applying the correction based on the haze at that point in the photo.

 
 
My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Photo one with Dehaze +30

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Photo two with Dehaze applied.

It works as an effect on images without haze as well, where it increases contrast and saturation. It does tend to darken the photo, so you generally need to boost exposure as well when you’ve used it. Dehaze can also be used in reverse, to increase the haze in a photo, giving it more atmosphere.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Negative Dehaze can make a photo look foggy.

Haze in and of itself isn’t a bad thing and does add mood to a photo. It’s when areas of the photo are more substantially affected than others that it comes into its own. For these times, Dehaze is available as a local correction via the Adjustment Brush, Graduated Filter, and Radial Filter.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Develop settings for our second photo.


Review of Macphun’s Aurora HDR 2018 (Mac & Windows) by Simon Ringsmuth

July 11, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Review of Macphun’s Aurora HDR 2019

HDR, or High Dynamic Range, photography is a technique that has been around for decades but really started making waves in the modern digital imaging scene around 2005. It involves combining multiple exposures of a picture, usually taken with a technique known as bracketing, to create one final single image with bright parts that are not overexposed and dark parts that are not underexposed.

Review of Macphun's Aurora HDR 2018

In recent years the software required to do this has gotten more powerful, less expensive, and so much easier to use. With just a few clicks anyone can make beautiful HDR images. Aurora HDR 2018 is the latest arrival in this category, created by Macphun, a developer rooted in photography and digital image manipulation. It’s a program that caters to casual users who want a fun creative outlet while also meeting the demands of professionals who make their living from designing beautiful works of photographic art.

If you want a single program that can handle all your HDR needs no matter your skill level, Aurora HDR 2018 may be just the tool for you.

What is HDR photography?

HDR photography is all about getting the best of both worlds when taking photos, particularly of static subjects like landscapes or architecture. If you’re taking a picture with extraordinary bright spots like a sunrise or sunset, you can expose for the highlights (i.e. the bright spots) which mean the dark parts get really dark and underexposed.

Alternatively, you can expose for the shadows (i.e. the dark spots) which leave the bright parts extra bright and overexposed. HDR photos are created when a photographer takes multiple shots, usually three or more, of the same scene: one underexposed, one properly exposed, and one overexposed. Then software such as Lightroom, Photoshop, Photomatix, and others can be used to combine all the images into a single picture that has detail in both the highlights and the shadows.

Before and after image showing what is possible with HDR.

How Aurora HDR is different

Compared to other offerings on the market, Aurora HDR’s brilliance lies in its simplicity. It’s far easier to use and just as capable as other HDR applications, and also very competitive in terms of its pricing. (Unlike some other apps, it’s available as a one-time purchase instead of with a monthly subscription.) When you open the program you are greeted with one large button that lets you load a single image or multiple exposures of the same image, which is all you need to do to get started. If you dig just a bit deeper you will notice two additional options: Batch Processing and Load Sample Images.

The former is useful if you want to quickly apply specific HDR processes and presets to many images at one time. While this can be useful if you have several images to go through I don’t recommend it for beginning users.

Aurora HDR 2018’s bread and butter is the incredible degree of control it gives you over the entire process of creating a High Dynamic Range image. This is where most people will get the maximum value out of the software.

What’s New in Aurora HDR 2018

Whether you are new to the world of creating HDR images with Aurora or are a longtime user of this software, many of the changes in the 2018 version will bring significant improvements to your workflow. The program has been rewritten from the ground up to focus on things like speed improvements, better RAW image handling, and a more user-friendly interface.

There is now a History panel which lets you see all the edits you have made to an image, and functions very much like the same option in programs such as Lightroom, which many photographers already use. The 2018 version also adds a Lens Corrections Tool and a host of other minor but noticeable tweaks while keeping the bedrock foundation of powerful yet easy-to-use HDR tools for professionals and beginners alike.

 
 

The lens correction tool is a welcome addition to the 2018 version.

These types of improvements mean a lot to me as a longtime Aurora HDR user since it sends the message that Macphun is committed to developing its apps. I’ve been burned before by companies that stop iterating on software I have come to rely on, such as Apple’s Aperture editing program, but it’s clear that Macphun is not going to leave photographers high and dry.

They have been making software for over a decade and are now even releasing some of their more popular programs for Windows users as well, including Aurora HDR 2018. It’s nice to see this commitment to continual improvement from developers, and it’s one of the reasons I enjoy using Macphun software so much.

Aurora HDR 2018 is open for pre-ordering now and will be available for purchase September 28th. Get more info here.

Other new features in Aurora HDR 2018 include:

  • A Transform Tool
  • Dodge & Burn Filter
  • Image flip and rotate
  • HDR Details Boost Tool
  • Rewritten tone-map engine to deliver more natural initial results
  • HDR Enhancer
  • Improved HDR Structure
  • Additional Blend modes

Getting started with Aurora HDR

If you are new to HDR processing and don’t know where to begin, click on Load Sample Images and you’re off to the races. The program will show you thumbnail previews of three separate pictures: one underexposed by two stops, one properly exposed, and one overexposed by two stops. When the program combines all three it will essentially give you a stunning HDR photo that you can then tweak and edit to your liking using a myriad of controls, filters, and effects.

Using your own JPEGs instead of the sample images results in a similar process, with Aurora HDR 2018 loading thumbnails of your images before you confirm that you want to proceed with combining them.

While using a tripod is ideal for creating perfect bracketed photos, sometimes horizon lines and other elements within the picture may be slightly misaligned. Click the Alignment button to have the program automatically correct for that. Additional Settings gives you options such as removing chromatic aberration and moving objects that might have changed position between each shot.

Keen dPS readers might be wondering whether Aurora works with RAW files, and thankfully they are fully supported by the program as well. You can work with one properly-exposed RAW file or use multiple bracketed RAW files to get even more room to experiment when creating your HDR images. The 2018 version includes a complete retooling of the RAW handling engine which results in improved color rendition and accuracy, which is a welcome change from previous iterations of the software.

Tools and first impressions

Once you have your pictures loaded into the main interface, creating a stunning HDR image can be as simple or as complex as you’d like. This is another aspect of Aurora HDR that I really enjoy. I have used other programs and workflows to do the same basic task of combining multiple exposures into a single image, none are as simple and yet as powerful as this program.

The interface might seem overwhelming at first but after a few minutes, I felt right at home. The non-destructive nature of the editing meant that I soon felt free to experiment with all sorts of different presets, sliders, and options without ruining anything.

 

Workflow

From a workflow standpoint, Aurora HDR 2018 is designed to be quick, efficient, flexible, and familiar to those who have used other image editors.

When I edit photos in Lightroom I usually head straight for the sliders on the right-hand side to tweak parameters like white balance, exposure, clarity, and sharpness. Aurora HDR 2018 gives you many of those same options. However, I have found that it is more efficient to start with a preset and then edit from there, much in the same way that Lightroom allows you to click a preset such as Aged Photo, Bleach Bypass, or Antique Black and White.

Using these presets in Lightroom just applies pre-determined values to various sliders like saturation, grain, clarity, and color which you are then free to change as much as you want. Aurora HDR 2018 works in exactly the same way. Choosing a preset like Foggy Morning, Realistic Dreamy, or Sleepy Forest results in nothing more than changing the values of Tools sliders on the right-hand side of the screen which you are then free to alter as desired.

Review of Macphun's Aurora HDR 2017

Some of Aurora HDR presets previewed at the bottom of the screen inside the program.

Aurora plays nicely with most other image editors on the market including Lightroom and Photoshop. You can easily use it as a plug-in which means you can do all your normal work in Lightroom, then quickly send an image over to Aurora HDR for additional editing, and save it right back to Lightroom when you’re done.

 
 

Aurora HDR presets

If you have ever used Instagram’s photo filters you will feel right at home in Aurora HDR. In a way, you can think of the program like an extraordinarily powerful version of that rather basic social sharing app.

Once your photos are loaded you can click on a preset (each of which shows a small preview of how your final image will look) and then save your photo with no additional work or hassle required. The presets are even subdivided into categories like Basic, Dramatic, Landscape, and a few that were designed with input from professional photographers like Trey Ratcliff, Captain Kimo, and Serge Ramelli.

I must admit I don’t actually use Instagram filters because I find them to be distracting and unhelpful for my own style of photography, but I rather liked using Aurora HDR’s presets even though some were a bit too over-the-top for my taste.

You can take things one step further if you like, and create your own custom presets which can also be applied to any HDR image. This has come in handy for me on several occasions when I wanted to combine options from a few existing presets, tweak the values of a preset, or just create my own from scratch.

Simple interface

On the right side of the interface is a list of all the various tools used by Aurora HDR to control the parameters of your image. Some of them like Color, Tone Curve, and HSL will feel right at home if you have used Lightroom, Photoshop, or other image editors as these contain the same basic sliders you would expect.

When you click on a preset at the bottom of the screen the name of the tools used by that preset are highlighted in orange, which I found to be highly useful during the editing process. Since I knew immediately which values were being changed I could then use that as a starting point for my own experimentation which often led me down a rabbit hole of creativity that I didn’t expect but always enjoyed.

The only issue I had when experimenting with presets and sliders is that the program does tend to slow down when processing your changes, though this is much less noticeable in the 2018 version. While you still get a preview of what your edits will look like I did encounter several times when the “Image Processing…” alert would show up in the lower-left corner a bit more often than I would have liked.

Before and after mode

As you make changes, whether through presets or changing the values in individual Tools sliders, you can easily see how your work is progressing by using the Before/After view which I found to be handy. Clicking on this option gives you a vertical bar that you can slide back and forth to reveal the original image on one side and your changes on the other. You can also hold the \ key to quickly see the complete original and then release it to return to the current version with your edits.

Before and After slider in action showing how your edits are affecting the image.

It’s this sort of editor-centric workflow design that I really appreciated about Aurora HDR 2018. It makes the whole process of creating and editing an HDR image as straightforward as possible and easy to understand. I have used some programs where I felt hopelessly lost as if I had to change my own mindset and wrap my head around how the program wanted me to function.

With Aurora HDR it feels like the program was designed to meet my needs and my style. I never had one of those all-too-common moments of panic when I couldn’t remember where a critical button or tool was located or figure out how to replicate something I did a week ago.

Professional features and masking

Once you dig deeper into Aurora HDR 2018 you will find tools that appeal to even highly demanding artists who want precision control over their creations. A collection of edits such as applying a preset and then tweaking additional Tools sliders can be saved as a Layer, and then additional Layers can be added on top of it similar to Photoshop.

Masks

Masks can also be used on layers. You can even apply them with a brush tool which I found extraordinarily useful if there was a preset or set of edits that I just wanted to apply to a single portion of an image. If you want to get really specific with your editing you can even apply masks based on ten discrete levels of luminosity (luminosity mask), which means your adjustments will be implemented only on the brightest or darkest portions of the image instead.

Layer masks can also be applied as radial or linear gradients which can be very useful depending on the type of HDR image you are creating. And just like Photoshop and other image editors, your changes are non-destructive so you can revert back to any editing state any time you choose. You can also return to your edits if you save your file in the native Aurora HDR format before exporting to JPG, TIFF, or another file type.

Review of Macphun's Aurora HDR 2017

Blend modes

New in Aurora HDR 2018 you can also change the layer blend mode. Here it is applied to a layer that is applying selective darkening and lightening to specific areas of the image using the new Dodging and Burning Tool.

 
 

The Dodge and Burn Tool has been used to lighten the little cottage and bridge and part of the hill, and to darken the sky and parts of the reflection in the water.

Use the little Eye Icon to turn the effect on and off to see a Before and After.

New in Aurora HDR 2018 – Blend Modes! The default is Normal. Notice with this image the colors have become more saturated after dodging and burning.

By switching to Luminosity Blend Mode the colors are preserved and appear more natural.

Batch processing (not available for windows - Nov/Dec update)

One final arrow in Aurora HDR’s rather considerable quiver, which I briefly mentioned earlier, is the ability to quickly apply presets and other defined values to a batch of images. This saves you an enormous amount of time if you have dozens or even hundreds of photos that you want to edit at the same time, using the program’s built-in presets or your own custom ones.

I do wish the Batch Processing option allowed users to specify parameters on a tool-by-tool basis to combine presets with other options like Structure and HDR Denoise, but the workaround is to create your own custom preset and just apply that in Batch mode. Of course, this method doesn’t give you the sort of fine-grain control you would get from editing each HDR image individually, but the trade-off can be worth it in terms of overall time saved if you have a large number of images.

Conclusion and rating

During my time using Aurora HDR I was impressed with the simplicity of its interface as well as the sheer depth of HDR tools at my disposal. Macphun has clearly invested a great deal of time creating and refining Aurora HDR to appeal to demanding professionals and curious hobbyists alike. Having used previous versions of this program I found this iteration to be a welcome refinement in many areas.

In terms of value, it’s a phenomenal piece of software that doesn’t require a subscription and will serve HDR photographers very well. The one quibble I still have with Aurora HDR 2018 is that it’s a bit on the slow side when implementing some presets and manipulating certain sliders. But that was a minor issue with an otherwise stellar program.

Aurora HDR 2018 isn’t for everyone, and unless you specifically work with HDR images you might be frustrated that it doesn’t have features like Dehaze and Red-Eye Removal that you may be accustomed to using in other image editors. But then, it doesn’t claim to be an all-in-one editing program and instead abides by the age-old mantra of, “Do one thing, and do it well.” If HDR photography is what you’re into, then Aurora HDR will serve you very well indeed.


Cleaning your DSLR

June 11, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

How to clean your DSLR sensor by Jason Fitzpatrick

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If you snap photos with your DSLR long enough, it’s bound to happen: dust will find its way onto your camera’s sensor and begin marring your beautiful photos. Read on as we walk you through a safe multi-step process to return your camera sensor to a factory floor shine.

 

Why Do I Want to Do This?

The inside of a digital camera is a veritable dust magnet. Every time you swap lenses you’re effectively inviting particles of dust to swirl right in and stick, courtesy of the electrostatic charge the interior of the camera carries, to the mirror, body chamber, and the camera’s sensor. While it’s less than ideal to have dust anywhere inside the body of the camera, the only time it becomes a real nuisance is when it clings to the sensor and appears in your photos.

Once the dust is on the sensor it rarely moves; the only way to banish the gray dots and black spots from your future pictures is to clean the sensor. Most people are completely freaked out by the idea of undertaking such a task, believing that the sensor is far too delicate for mere mortals to touch. We assure you that cleaning your camera’s sensor is not only easy and almost entirely risk free (when done patiently and with the proper tools, of course), but that it’s downright economical.

A typical professional in-factory or certified-shop cleaning usually runs around $75 (plus an additional $25 or so in shipping costs if you have to send it out). $75-100 will get you enough supplies that you can routinely clean your entire stable of digital cameras for years before restocking.

Over the lifetime of the camera you’ll save enough by performing your own cleanings that you’ll effectively have purchased the camera with the savings.

What Do I Need?

The following tutorial is divided into segments starting with the least aggressive/risky cleaning technique (no contact at all with the sensor) and moving towards the more aggressive techniques (dry and wet contact with the sensor). We recommend purchasing all the tools at once so you’re ready to follow along with the entire tutorial as needed (depending on how dirty your sensor is).

Before we continue, we need to highlight one very important detail. You need to adjust your purchases based on the type of camera you have. We’ll be cleaning a Nikon D80 which has a fairly standard APS-C sized sensor like many consumer DSLRs. If you’re cleaning a camera with a full-frame sensor (such as the Nikon D600 or the Canon EOS 6D) you’ll need to buy a larger electrostatic brush and swab kit suitable for a a full-frame sensor.

A very stern caution before we continue: Buy the right tools. The biggest risk you undertake in cleaning your camera is not that you’ll damage it with proper technique and tools (the filter glass they put over the sensor is quite durable), but that you’ll damage it by using improper tools.

You must not use canned air in place of a the Rocket Air Blaster we recommend. You’ll coat your sensor will all the nasty lubricants and propellants that are in the can of compressed air, and the resulting mess will be agony to clean up. The Rocket Air Blaster we recommend is specifically designed for cleaning electronics and has a filter on the air intake so that you’re blasting clean and contaminant free air out of the nozzle.

By the same token, you can’t just pick up any old art brush and start cleaning your sensor. The brush we recommend (and other brushes like it, designed for DSLR sensor cleaning) is specifically designed to be pure, uncoated, and intended to touch the surface of the sensor.

The same thing goes for the sensor swabs and cleaning fluid. You can’t just grab a box of Q-tips and a bottle of denatured alcohol from the hardware store and achieve the same effect. The swabs and the cleaning fluid are manufactured specifically to be as contaminant free as possible, again, to avoid putting additional contaminants and impurities on the sensor.

In other words, it’s fine to choose to buy the $30 sensor brush instead of the $100 sensor brush, but don’t even think about attempting this with the $2 art supply store brush that happens to look close-enough to the sensor brush we recommended.

Taking a Reference Photo

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The very first step in the cleaning process is to take a simple reference photo in order to see how the dust on the sensor is impacting your photos.

It’s difficult to pick out all the bits of dust when you’re taking a regular photograph, as the natural distribution of light and dark elements in a typical photo (shadows, clothing, texture of hair, etc.) will hide all but the most painfully obvious imperfections.

The best way to see the sensor dust via photo reference is to take a photograph of a neutral background (such as a white or light gray wall or the blue sky on a perfectly clear day) with the aperture of the lens closed down as tightly as your lens will allow. This means you want to set your camera to aperture priority mode and adjust the aperture number as high as it will go (you’ll remember from our Depth of Field tutorial that the higher the f-number the smaller the physical opening of the aperture). If you can go to f/22 or higher, that would be ideal.

Even more ideal would be to use a pinhole lens, as pinhole lenses routinely have f-numbers that exceed f/100. The reason we want as small an aperture as possible is that the smaller the aperture of the lens the more directly the light hits the sensor (and thus causes each spec of dust to cast a harder shadow on the sensor’s surface). A spec of dust that’s barely noticeable at f/2 looks like a hole burned right into the photo at f/22+.

Don’t worry if you need to use a longer exposure time to get a nice bright image. We don’t care if the background is in focus (and would prefer that it isn’t perfectly sharp, actually). The specs of dust, by default of being physically attached to the sensor, will stay crisp and unblurred.

Once you’ve snapped the photo, feel free to adjust the brightness/contrast in your favorite photo editing application. The more the dark specs of dust stand out in your reference photo the better.

Be sure to zoom in and really look at the reference image. The photo we have at the beginning of this section is the entire frame reduced to a much smaller size (and even then you can see how absolutely filthy this hard working camera’s sensor is). Let’s zoom in on the upper-middle frame:

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You can see the really big and irregular pieces of dust (like the huge black one at the top). Those bits of dust are likely so large they’re visible to the naked eye looking into the camera. The little ones, however, that just leave little circular shadows that look vaguely like blood cells, are the tiny ones we’ll need to clean carefully to remove (and inspect a reference photo or two later to ensure we did in fact remove them).

Preparing for the Initial Cleaning

Before we get down to the business of actually opening up the camera, there are a few important preliminary steps we need to go through in order to make the cleaning process safe, effective, and frustration free.

Completely charge the camera battery. The majority of digital cameras will not allow you to perform the steps necessary for manual cleaning (such as locking the reflex mirror in the up position) unless the camera has well charged battery.

Clean off the exterior of your camera. If the body of your camera is dusty/linty/dirty then there’s a significant chance you’ll introduce that dust and dirt while you’re working on cleaning the camera. It might seem painfully elementary, but take a moment to dust off the body of the camera. We find that a Q-tip or two dampened with the tip of the tongue or a drop of rubbing alcohol is a perfect tool for removing dust and lint from all the little curves and crannies around the body of the camera.

Clean your work space. Now that you’ve cleaned off the body of the camera, clean off your work space. Again, it seems like elementary advice, but if you’re working at your desk with a dusty monitor riser and messy keyboard, you’re just begging for that crud to migrate into your camera, onto your cleaning brush, or to otherwise end up where it doesn’t belong.

No-Contact Sensor Cleaning

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There are two principle steps to the no-contact phase of the sensor cleaning process: engaging the dust reduction system and using the blower.

If your camera has a dust reduction system, engage it now. Not all cameras have a dust reduction system (the Nikon D80 we’re using for this tutorial, for example, does not), but if your camera does have one, it’s worth using. Look in the system menu for an entry like “Dust Reduction” or “Dust Removal”. Although each manufacturer uses a slightly different technique, the general idea is that the dust reduction system vibrates the protective glass filter over the camera’s sensor at a very high speed, which causes the particles of dust to shake off. It’s not a perfect system, but if your camera supports it, by all means use it.

Lock up the mirror. DSLR cameras, like the SLR cameras that proceeded them, use a mirror system to allow you to frame your photos through the actual lens. When the camera is not actively engaged in the process of taking the photo, you can look through the eyepiece and a system of mirrors shows you what the film/sensor will see through the lens. When you take the photo the mirror flips up and the light shines onto the film/sensor instead of onto the mirror and up to your eye.

In order to clean the sensor, we need to get the mirror out of the way. Go into your camera’s system menu and look for an entry like “Mirror Lockup” or “Sensor Cleaning”. Most cameras will give you additional instructions like to press the shutter button to lock the mirror up and to lower it down when you are done. We’re going to lock our mirror up now.

Examine the sensor with the loupe. Once the mirror is locked up, remove the lens. With the mirror out of the way, you’ll be able to see the sensor. Now is a perfect time to examine it with your sensor loupe:

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Keeping in mind that the lens produces an inverted image which the camera then flips for us, look at the bottom of the sensor in the photo above. That very visible white chunk of dust is the huge black spot that appeared in the upper-middle portion of our first reference photo.

Blow the dust off with the air blaster. After examining the sensor, carefully pick the camera up and invert it. Hold the camera firmly in one hand so that the opening of the camera body is pointed towards the floor. Pick up the air blaster in your other hand and vigorously blast air around the chamber of the camera and at the sensor. Really the only way to go wrong in this portion of the tutorial is to either drop your camera or slam the nozzle of the air blaster into the camera sensor. As long as you take care to hold the camera firmly and not smack the nozzle into the sensor you’ll be fine. Blast away and let the dust drift down and out of the camera body.

Let’s examine the sensor with the loupe again:

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Even though the 10x loupe can’t show us every mote of dust on the sensor, it’s pretty obvious that the largest bits of dust have been completely removed. That hulking monster of a dust bunny that was hanging out on the edge of the frame, for example, is long gone.

We’re going to pop our lens back on and take another reference photo. You don’t have to take reference photos between every step (you can clean from the first to last technique straight through), but we’re documenting every step to show you the major and minor changes on the sensor between techniques.

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Compared to our first shot, that’s a remarkable difference. Yes there are still some fuzzy spots and a few legitimately dark spots, but just blasting the sensor with air took care of the really big junk. Let’s look at a close up of the upper frame in the same spot we did last time:

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That’s pretty fantastic. It’s nice to zoom in on the photo and not have it look like moths had eaten holes in it.

Now that we’ve done the no contact cleaning, let’s move on to dry cleaning the surface with the electrostatic brush.

Dry Cleaning Your DSLR Sensor

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In the last section of the tutorial, we used filtered air to blast the loose bits of dust off the sensor glass. Now we’re going to use an electrostatic brush to pick up even more off the glass.

Before we proceed, there is really only one big caution for this portion of the tutorial. When using the sensor brush, your goal is to stay completely on the sensor and to not touching the surrounding area in the camera. Some of the parts within the chamber have lubricating oil/grease on them (a very tiny amount, but still present) and it’s easy to smear it onto the glass of the sensor. It’s not the end of the world (and it won’t ruin your camera by any means), but it is a huge pain to clean off using the swabs later on. Work with a patient and steady hand to avoid making a mess. As long as you take care to aim the brush towards the sensor and avoid touching the walls of the chamber, you should have no problems at all.

Just like in the previous section, we need to lock up the mirror and remove the lens to access the sensor.

Preparing the brush. The brush is self-charging; when the bristles rub together they generate the static charge necessary to lift the particles of dust off the sensor. In order to charge it, use the air blaster to vigorously ruffle the bristles. Do not blow on it or touch the bristles! If you blow on it, touch it, or otherwise mess with the bristles you’ll transfer oil and contaminants. The brush, once removed from it’s storage tube, should touch nothing but the camera sensor.

Cleaning the sensor with the brush. Charge the brush with the blaster and carefully lower it down onto the sensor moving from one side of the sensor to the other in a single motion. Remove the brush from the chamber. It’s important to not dab the brush around like you’re stippling paint or to drag it around; each time you use the brush the charge dissipates after the first contact to be sure to make one clean motion and then remove the brush from the chamber.

Blast the bristles again to blow away the debris it picked up and to recharge it. Repeat the process, examining the sensor with the sensor loupe to detect any changes in the visible dust particles.

Feel free to mix in a little air blast to the chamber along with using the air blaster to recharge the brush. Most times, the sensor brush will loosen dust particles that it may not catch with that pass (or the subsequent one).

After you’ve performed several passes on the sensor and you can’t see any visible dust with the sensor loupe (or that visible dust refuses to budge despite multiple attempts with the brush and air blaster), it’s time to take another reference photo. We saw two very small specs with our sensor loupe, but there’s no way to tell if they’ll appear in photos without actually taking a reference photo.

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Obviously, this is the full camera frame shrunk down to a small image, but it’s clear the sensor’s condition is radically cleaner than when we started. Let’s zoom in on that same section we’ve been looking at all along and see what we find:

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Unlike in in the previous two close-ups where the dust was painfully obvious, now we feel obliged to provide reference arrows. Those two tiny specs, the only visible dust we could find via the sensor loupe after using the electrostatic brush, are all that remains of the enormous pile of crud that was on our D80’s sensor.

This is the point in the cleaning process where you may decide, based on the results of the reference photo, to consider the job done if there is no or next to no visible dust in your photo.

Since we’re perfectionists (and we’d be awful tutorial writers if we just threw our hands up and went “Ehh, good enough!”), we’re going to forge ahead and finish the process with a wet cleaning to smite the last of the dust mites.

Wet Cleaning Your DSLR Sensor

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Wet cleaning is exactly what it sounds like: using fluid to clean the surface of your camera’s sensor. There are a few rules to work by here (and they’ll sound a lot like our warning at the beginning of the tutorial): only use swabs and cleaning fluid designed for camera sensors, and less is more. We don’t want to give the camera a bath, we want to give it an effective but barely damp wipe.

Prepare your materials. If you bought a kit with both lens cleaning pads and sensor swabs, make sure you’re using the sensor swabs for this portion of the tutorial. Sensor swabs, as seen in the photo above, are like little tiny plastic spatulas wrapped in a special cleaning cloth.

Moisten the swab. Remove a single sensor swab from its protective bag. Drip a drop or two of cleaning fluid into the swab. You want just enough fluid to dampen the cloth, but not enough for it to drip into the camera. If you applied too much, just wait about twenty seconds–the cleaning fluid is a very pure and highly concentrated alcohol, so it will evaporate quickly.

Swab the sensor.  Using the same kind of patience and steady movement you used with the electrostatic brush, swab from one side of the sensor to the other with firm pressure. You don’t need to wiggle the swab about; the sensor swab is the exact width of the sensor.

Lift the swab out of the chamber, rotate it to the clean side, and repeat the motion in the opposite direction. In other words, if you went left to right with side A, go right to left with side B.

Do not reuse the swab once you have used each side of it once. Dispose of the swab and repeat the process as necessary with additional swabs. (If you’re trying to be economical with your supplies but not necessarily your time, you can take reference photos between swabbing sessions.)

Let’s take a look at the reference photo we snapped after the first swabbing:

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We’re not even going to show you the full frame one, but instead we’re going to jump right into the zoomed in one. Why? Because there’s nothing to see! After blowing, brushing, and finally swabbing the sensor, there isn’t a visible point of dust on the entire sensor.

Not only did the sensor look absolutely sparkling through the sensor loupe, but the reference photo proves that it’s as clean as it was the day it was made (if not cleaner).



Manfrotto 5001B Nano Black Compact Light Stand

May 11, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

I was recently on the market for a new light stand for my flash photography, so after searching vigorously for a few hours on the web, I think I finally found the perfect stand that fits my budget and needs? Upon arrival, I was pleased with the compact size and weight of my new Manfrotto light stand (Nano). The minimum height is just over 19 inches (closed) with a max height of just over 6 feet. Manfrotto did a nice job designing this compact aluminum black anodized stand with travel in mind.  Opening and storing this 5 section and 4 risers is a cinch. It weighs in at 2.2 lbs. with a max payload of 3.3 lbs., perfect for my off camera flash projects. The top attachment is basic: 16 mm (5/8”) male top stud with 3/8” or 1/4” thread.

After testing my Manfrotto light stand, I came to the conclusion that I was spot on with my purchase and would certainly recommend this light stand to my fellow photographers. If your serious about off camera flash and don't want to carry the extra weight the 5001B is your choice. By the way, the cost for the 5001B Nano Light stand is approximately $60.00, which is another reason to be happy.

 

 


Learning off camera flash - Strobist 101

April 14, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

In the continuous journey of learning, every now and then we find something that peaks our interest. In the vast arena of photography, one of those topics would be off camera flash. To a hobbyist or even a novice photographer off camera flash can be very intimidating. Although there is plenty of information to be found on this topic in publications, videos and of course the internet. My preference at the time is a site called strobist - learn to light 101 (http://strobist.blogspot.com/).

It starts you at the very basics of lighting (Flash) and guides you through some basic lighting setups. The author (David Hobby) explains concepts and methods that are easy to relate to without getting overly complicated. Images are provided with explanations on how the image was captured by using off camera flash, which give you great insight and builds your confidence. I highly recommend this site if your ready to take the next step towards conquering off camera flash. To make it a little easier I have attached a link to strobist lighting 101 to go, which can be downloaded to your computer in PDF format. http://strobist.blogspot.com/2014/01/lighting-101-to-go.html Learn and Enjoy!

 

 

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