Category Archives: Software

Nikon D850 Focus Shift

I’ve been using the Nikon D850 since October and can say I’m very impressed with the camera, particularly for my landscape work.  Two features in particular stand out:

  1. The “silent shutter” mode in Live View.  I should mention that I use Live View a lot when I’m photographing static subjects, and it’s a given that I’m working from a sturdy tripod.  In “silent shutter” the shutter is fully electronic — hence no shutter curtain movement at all — and of course when in Live View the mirror is up.  Eliminating the mechanical shutter and eliminating any mirror movement means eliminating two sources of possible vibration.  Turn on “silent live view photography” in the Photo Shooting menu, and select Mode 1 which gives a full-resolution, non-cropped image.
  2. The “focus shift shooting” option, also found in the Photo Shooting menu.  Here the camera takes a series of shots, slightly changing the focus point for each frame.  The resulting images can be “stacked” as a composite, thus increasing the in-focus area of the final photo.  This “stacking” must be accomplished with software in post-production; it’s not done by the camera.  The individual photos can be taken at a lens’s sharpest aperture, around f/5.6 or f/8, eliminating diffraction problems while yielding greater depth of field.

Turning on “focus shift shooting” gives you a number of choices:

  • The number of shots (up to 300)
  • The focus step width (1 through 10, undefined what these actually mean)
  • The interval until the next shot (between 0 and 30 seconds)
  • Exposure smoothing
  • Silent photography
  • Starting storage folder

Here are my choices, for landscape work:

  • Number of shots:  Set this to around 50, as the number really doesn’t matter.  The camera will stop with the lens focusing ring hits the end of its travel.  I have my camera set at 50 and most of the time the actual number of usable frames is between 5 and 10.  FYI, you will often find some extra frames where the camera has gone before the far point in your composition, so nothing is in sharp focus.  No big deal, just delete these frames when you see them later on your computer.
  • Focus step width:  I have mine set at 2, as I want to work at those prime apertures on my lenses, so I want to make sure each frame’s depth of field overlaps with that of the preceding or following frame.
  • The interval until the next shot:  I have this at 0.  And VR is “off” on the lens in use.
  • Exposure smoothing:  Off, as I do all my focus stacks in manual exposure so that all the frames already match in total exposure.
  • Silent photography:  On.
  • Starting storage folder:  I don’t use this.

So here is the easiest way I know to work.  Leave “silent shutter in Live View” turned on.  Add “focus shift shooting” to My Menu, and position it as the top most listing.  In the Custom Settings menu, Custom Control Assignment (choice number F1 in Custom Settings), set the Fn2 button on the camera rear to “access the top item in My Menu.”

In the field, turn on Live View, compose your image, set the exposure, and focus on the nearest past of the frame.  Press Fn2, select Start, and the camera begins shooting in silent mode.  When you’ve done this once, if you don’t need to change any options, the next time you can just press Fn2 and then OK twice.

Just to cover yourself, shoot several stacks of any one composition.  How to tell where each stack beings?  Wave your fingers in front of the lens and shoot one frame in Live View before you push Fn2.  Important reminder (and I speak from experience here):  remember to refocus on the closest point for each stack.

OK, now to the actual stacking.   I’m assuming you’re shooting RAW files, and you are, right?  You could use Photoshop.  If so, you need to first process the individual images and then open them as layers in Photoshop.  Select all the layers and do Edit > Auto align followed by Edit > Auto blend.  This method works OK, but there are two problems:  the final file is no longer a RAW file, and with complex subjects you will probably discover a number of stacking artifacts (blurry areas, that is).

In my opinion, a better choice is to use a separate stacking program and I would recommend Helicon Focus.  Google for a discount code to knock the price down about 20%.  Helicon works directly from Lightroom, and if you install Adobe’s free DNG Converter, Helicon has a mode called Raw In – DNG Out.  You export the selected images from Lightroom to Helicon in their original RAW state.  I’ve found that almost all the time running Helicon at its default settings works fine.  Most of the time Helicon’s rendering intent mode B is my choice.  If it leaves artifacts I try mode C.  When Helicon finishes, the resulting file can be saved right back into Lightroom as a DNG, and processed to taste as you would any RAW file.


In case you missed this, it’s now official.  The Nik suite of plug-ins will not be developed in the future.  From the banner at the top of the Nik website:

“We have no plans to update the Collection of add new features over time.”

The collection is still free to download and use, but the real question is about compatibility in the future, with either Photoshop/Lightroom upgrades or changes in Windows and Mac core OS versions.


This post is going to be a bit techie.  OK, don’t say I didn’t warn you up front.

I was surfing the Web recently and ran across a blog post by a well know photographer who does not use Lightroom.  One major point made in the post was the question of why would anyone use Lightroom at all (aside from its cataloging feature) since Lightroom shows percentages for R, G, and B values,  Yes, mouse over an image in Lightroom’s Develop module and the readout is indeed in percentages.  Other RAW file converters show numerical values of 0 to 255 for each of the color channels.  Doesn’t this make using one of those converters better than working with Lightroom?

Most RAW conversion software makes you select a color space.  For example, let’s consider Adobe Camera Raw (ACR).  ACR is a separate program, accessible from Photoshop or from Bridge (which you now have to download from Adobe, rather than it being automatically included with Photoshop).  Bridge is a browser, the same as Window’s Explorer or Mac’s Finder, while Photoshop is a pixel editor.  ACR is a separate in-between software program.  When you open a RAW file in ACR, it needs a color space to use.   In simplistic terms, a color space is a group of colors out of all possible colors.  Remember when you were a kid and your parents bought you a box of crayons?  There were different boxes available, holding just 8 crayons up to 64 crayons.  Yep, more crayons, more possible colors.  No matter how you worked with the 8 crayons, you could never have the possible options and mixtures that the big 64 crayon box held.  It had a larger color space.  The basic digital color spaces are sRGB, Adobe RGB, and ProPhoto RGB.  Think of these as small, medium, and large.  Open an image in ACR, and immediately below the image window is a clickable link:

Note that the default is sRGB, the “small” color space.  Click on this link, and Workflow Options opens where you can select the color space and bit depth you want.

Whatever you select, make this your RGB working space over in Photoshop’s Color Settings (you might notice that the default in Photoshop is also sRGB).  Personally I use ProPhoto RGB in both ACR and Photoshop.

OK, so we finally get to where Lightroom differs from other converters.  You ever notice that Lightroom does not offer a choice of color spaces?  Internally it uses a variety of ProPhoto RGB.   But Lightroom differs from those other converters because it is a parametric editor.  OK, so what’s that?  In simple terms, it sums up processing instructions, which are not applied to an image until that image is either converted or exported through that instruction set into an actual editable file format.  Open an image from Lightroom into Photoshop, and it is no longer a RAW file.  A file in Photoshop can’t be saved out as a RAW file, but only in a standard graphics file format.

Well, at last we’re back to the question about those R,G, and B percentages.  Because Lightroom does not assign a color space, it cannot show numerical RGB values, since those numerical values depend on the color space in use.  Open a RAW image into some other converter besides Lightroom, mouse over the image, and read the RGB values for any one spot.  Now switch to a different color space.  The RGB readouts for that same spot will be different.  You have to specify a color space to talk about RGB numerical values.  Do I really care about this one way or the other?  No, not at all.  Photography is a visual art, not a bunch of numbers.  Use a quality calibrated monitor, look at the image, and adjust to taste.

In that same blog post I mentioned it was implied that not using Photoshop was a big mistake.  Well, I partially agree.  Photoshop does allow workflow options, such as layer masking and luminosity selections, that no RAW file converter currently allows.  But wait, this is not an either/or question.  It’s not a choice of Lightroom or Photoshop no more than it is of DPP or Photoshop, or of Nikon Capture or Photoshop.  Personally I find Lightroom’s user interface incredibly easy to use, plus I use the database feature to catalog all my image files.  But I also want Photoshop for fine-tuning images.  For me it’s a combination of Lightroom and Photoshop (and a calibrated monitor).


In my last post I should have mentioned one important fact about the new “merge to HDR” feature in Lightroom.  When working on the resulting DNG file in Lightroom, the exposure slider now offers plus/minus 10 stops of exposure, a 20-stop exposure range, double the standard amount.  This is reminiscent of working with HDR Pro in Photoshop; see my August 2014 post entitled “HDR (A DIFFERENT WAY).”


Lightroom CC was announced today.  If you’re like me and have subscribed to the photographer’s Lightroom and Photoshop package, a notice should appear in your desktop Creative Cloud app.  Adobe’s servers are swamped, so this might take a while.  The new Lightroom is also available as a standalone perpetual license program.

Downloading and installing the new version of Lightroom was easy for me.  No problem, until I tried to open the new program.  I clicked on the desktop icon, and nothing happened.  If this is your experience, there is an easy fix:  sign out of your Adobe account via the “preferences” in the desktop CC app (click on the gear icon or the drop down triangle in the upper right) and sign right back into your account.

Lightroom CC has two new features which are of interest to me.

1.  A brush tool option has been added within the graduated filter.  Add a grad just as you did in earlier versions of Lightroom, and then select the brush option within the grad filter, hold down the Alt/Option key, and brush over the image area where you do not want the grad filter applied.  Hey, it’s an editable filter!

2.  Merge to panorama can now be accomplished within Lightroom.  This can be done using RAW files, and the composite image is saved as a DNG file…which means that the resulting pan image is still a RAW file, and can be processed non-destructively in Lightroom.  Select the files you want to merge into a pan, and do Photo > Photo Merge > Panorama. Lightroom does the merging, and saves the merged panoramic in the same folder as are the component files.  It does add -Pano to the end of the combined image’s filename, a feature I’m not really keen about.  I’ve always worked by selecting the images in Lightroom, then opening them in Photoshop to merge images into panoramics, and finally doing a “save as” while added a P_ at the start of the pan’s filename.  I’ve got a smart collection in Lightroom which automatically sorts out all my panoramic images, all the files that have a filename starting with that P_.  OK, so now I’ll add another smart collection, this one to find all the images with filenames that contain Pano.

Lightroom CC also has a new merge to HDR feature, but that’s no big deal for me as I rarely no any sort of HDR.  However, I’m certainly open to playing around with this feature.  Face recognition is also now included, and I’m sure a lot of folks will be pleased with that.  There are also some nice additions to the slideshow module.  I’m sure I’ll discover more as I start using the program, but my initial experience is quite positive.

And one more good point:  all in all, the program runs faster than before.

I highly recommend you go to Adobe’s website and view the videos by Adobe Evangelist Julieanne Kost.  Go to and click on the See how it works buttons in the Lightroom CC section.

Be sure to watch her video on some of the other new features:

Lightroom — ACR difference

I’m a big fan of Lightroom, and use it as my RAW file converter.  Adobe Camera Raw is essentially the same, but there is one small difference which, for me, is a reason I prefer Lightroom over ACR.  That difference lies in how the two programs allow the user to adjust contrast.

Both Lightroom and ACR incorporate a contrast slider, and in both programs the slider does exactly the same thing.  Watch the image histogram as you drag the slider left or right, and you’ll see both ends of the histogram move simultaneously, expanding or contracting the histogram.  OK, no difference here between LR and ACR.

But go to the Tone Curve, which I prefer to use, and the two programs operate slightly differently.  Both Lightroom and ACR offer two views of the Tone Curve, a Point Curve (where you place points on the curve and move those points), and a Parametric Curve (where the tone curve is divided into sections and adjustments affect that region).  The Targeted Adjust Tool — which allows you to mouse over your image, click on a spot, and drag to adjust — is available in both Lightroom and ACR.  In the Parametric Curve, in both programs, one point can be set on the curve.  You cannot set two points close to each other (for example, two points in the highlights sections, or two points in the shadows).  But go to the Point Curve, and here lies the difference: you cannot use the Targeted Adjustment Tool in ACR when in the Point Curve.  Try to do so, and it affects the Parametric Curve.  In contrast, Lightroom allows using the tool in the Point Curve.  As you mouse over your image using the tool, a “ball” appears on the curve indicating where the point under the tool will fall on the curve, so you can set multiple points exactly.  ACR does allow placing multiple points on the curve, but it does not indicate where any one tonal value falls on the curve; you’re guessing at the precise position on the curve.

Two precisely set points on the Tone Curve, using the Targeted Adjustment Tool in Lightroom.

Nikon Scanner

Yesterday I had to scan a Velvia slide from my files.  Yes, for those of you don’t remember the “old” days, there was a thing called “film” which had to be digitalized before you could use Photoshop on the image.  A film scanner was the answer.  But, a dedicated 35mm film scanner (rather than a flatbed scanner with a film holder) is now quite a rare beast.  I’m not sure such a thing is even manufactured any more.  I have a long discontinued Nikon Coolscan 4000, which is certainly adequate for magazine-sized reproduction.  The problem, however, is getting the scanner to work with any current computer operating system.

I’m running Windows 7 64-bit on both desktop and laptop machines, but Nikon scanner software was written many years before this OS.  I guess I could have kept an old computer around, but no thanks, I don’t want to do that.  So how have I been able to use my scanner — infrequently though I do — along with Nikon Scan software on my current machines?  Ah, Google to the rescue.  Type in “how to use a Nikon scanner with Windows 7 64” and this link appears (there are other links but this is the one I used):

Follow the directions, and all is well.  Don’t have Nikon Scan software?  It’s still available for download directly from Nikon’s website.

New Camera…Cannot Open RAW Files

Almost every time a new Nikon camera is introduced, I receive the same email: “I just bought the newest Nikon, but I cannot open the RAW files in either Lightroom or Photoshop.  These programs worked perfectly with my old camera.  Is my new camera defective?”

This past week alone I got five such emails concerning the D750.

When you purchase any camera you should check with Adobe as to which camera bodies are currently supported, given the versions of the Adobe software you own.  Go to this web site:

The other email I constantly receive is: “I have Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS4, but cannot open the RAW files from the new Nikon I just purchased.”

Well, your new Nikon did not even exist when those old versions of software were created.  Your options are to either upgrade the software (in my opinion the better option as newer versions of software generally offer more), or see if you can use the free Adobe DNG converter with your new camera.  Find out here:

You might discover you need to upgrade your computer.  Another typical email I get: “I’m using Windows XP, but Lightroom 5 won’t work.”  Really?  Look at the operating system requirements for Lightroom 5:  Windows 7 with Service Pack 1 or newer.  XP is, in computer terms, ancient history.

So now I’m waiting for another email to arrive: “I use a typewriter, but I can’t seem to load Microsoft Word.”

I have no idea how to answer that.

HDR (a different way)

I’m not a fan of HDR images.  Well, let me clarify that statement.  I’m not a fan of the all-too-typical HDR images I see.  Over-saturated cartoonish colors, with halos around edges, and lots of noise.  No thanks.

But there is a quick and easy way to create naturalistic looking extended dynamic range images, by using Photoshop’s HDR Pro to first create a 32-bit file, and then using the adjustments in either Camera Raw or Lightroom’s Develop module to work on that file.  To be honest, I thought many photographers already knew this trick, but on a recent Van Os Photo Safari which I was leading I discovered that very few of the participants seemed aware of it.  So…OK, here goes, step-by-step.

  • Shoot a series of images varying the exposure by one or two stops between shots, just as you would for any HDR composite.
  • In either Lightroom or Camera Raw make whatever basic adjustments are necessary.
  • Select all the images, and open all in HDR Pro.  From Lightroom: Photo > Edit In > Merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop.  From Bridge: Tools > Photoshop > Merge to HDR Pro.
  • In HDR Pro, check Remove ghosts, and select 32 Bit as the Mode.

  • And now you have a choice to make.  If you normally work in Camera Raw, check the box to Complete Toning in Adobe Camera Raw.  If you normally work in Lightroom, just click OK at the bottom of HDR Pro, and then save the file as a TIFF.  Make sure you save it as a 32-bit file.

  • If you’re going the Lightroom route, import this new file into Lightroom, and then open it in the Develop module.
  •  With either method,  process the file in Camera Raw or Lightroom as you normally do… but check out the range of the Exposure slider.  It’s now plus or minus 10 stops either way, double what it was before.  Wow!  That’s a 20 stop exposure range, definitely an extended dynamic range.

Lightroom 5: Visualize Spots

Lightroom 5 introduced an extremely useful feature called Visualize Spots.  However, during my recent workshops I’ve discovered that quite a number of Lightroom users are not aware of it.  Visualize Spots does exactly as its name suggests; it shows you all the dust spots on your image, including many that you might otherwise miss.

In the Develop module, make sure the Toolbar is visible below the image (tap the T key to toggle the toolbar on or off), and set your image view at 100%, or 1:1.

Navigate to the upper left corner of the image (hold down the spacebar, and drag the image), then activate the Spot Tool.  The Visualize Spots checkbox now appears on the Toolbar, at the bottom left.

The image changes to black and while, and all those dust bunnies show up.  Move the Visualize Spots slider to increase or decrease the sensitivity, and start spotting.

Page Down (PC: PgDn; Mac: Function + down arrow) moves the image down by exactly one screen view.  When the bottom of the image is reached, do Page Down again, and the screen image moves over and up to the top.  Keep doing Page Down, until you’ve covered the entire image.  This Page Down trick means you’ll never miss any section of the image.