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November 1, 2011 / arthill

Combining two images side by side.

I recently post a side by side picture of my grandkids in their Halloween costumes and someone asked to explain how to do it.

I opened up both pictures in Photoshop Elements.  I noted the height and width in pixels of the picture of the boys.  Going over to the picture of the girls,  I entered those dimensions in the appropriate spaces for the crop tool


Next I flipped over to the picture of the boys and chose Image, Resize, Canvas (not image). I entered a value of 2328 in Width, left relative unchecked and clicked on the left most arrow for Anchor. The picture of the boys was only 2323 wide but I used 2328 to leave a 5 pixel white space.)


Clicking OK gives me this


Now back to the picture of the girls, choose Select, All, then Edit, Copy.  Back to the picture of the boys, choose Edit, Paste. Use the arrow keys to move the picture of the girls all the way to the right, leaving a thin white line in the middle.

The layers pallette looks like this


and the merged image like this


August 25, 2011 / arthill

The color of light

Yesterday we went to a children’s museum with our grandsons.  One of the areas of the museum has a whole bunch of exhibits about light.  One of them featured colored blocks in a booth with a constantly changing light source. It was fascinating to see a yellow block change to orange and then to white.  I decided to try to capture the essence of this experiment with my camera.   When I took a look at the pictures on my computer I saw that the Auto White Balance was “fooled” much of the time.  I opened up the RAW file in each case and use the eyedropper tool to set the white balance by clicking on the desk surface.

Here’s what I would call a “normal” view of the blocks


In this shot the Auto White Balance was really off


By adjusting the white balance I got this – which is what my eye saw


Here’s another from the camera


And the WB adjusted version



So here are the same blocks in three different lights



Note the shift in red to dark red and then orange.  And the blue to turquoise and back to blue.

Here are three more unadjusted shots that have picked up a blue cast


Correcting the white balance though gives very different results



So here are all the variations that we saw (these have been adjusted to correct white balance)



Two points to take away from this:

  1. Keep in mind the color of your light source
  2. Shoot RAW and check the white balance to see if you can get a better result.
August 23, 2011 / arthill


I caught this sign yesterday and it got me to thinking about sign photos

Be on the look out for signs that are funny or just interesting.  I don’t always remember to look for signs but when I do they make interesting photos.



August 20, 2011 / arthill

Shoot something different II

In April I wrote to help you think over new things to shoot.  Recently a couple of people have discovered that post and feel that it helped.  So, I thought I’d update it with some shots I’ve done this year that aren’t my typical subjects.












So get out there and shoot something different.  And let me know how you do.

August 18, 2011 / arthill

Get high

Early this week I visited Navy Pier in Chicago with my wife, daughter and grandkids. There are lots of photo ops, especially of the Chicago skyline.  You sometimes get the best shots of cityscapes if you can find a place well above ground level.

Here’s a shot from the Ferris wheel (which is 150 feet high)

About halfway down the pier there is an outdoor stairway to the second floor of Festival Hall with a nice platform.  I didn’t get anything Monday but I usually shoot something from there like this

Continuing on down the pier I shot the towers and the roof of the Grand Ballroom


That got me to wondering if there was a way to get up there.  Sure enough there was an elevator to the flat roof so I went up there and shot these

So look up, find a place above ground to take your shots.  Sometimes the higher you get the better.  I shot this from the 41st floor of Lake Point Tower.

and this one from the same place

August 12, 2011 / arthill

Lighten your load

I forget when I switched from a digital “prosumer” or all-in-one camera to a DSLR but it’s been a few years.  So, as often as not I drag my whole camera bag with me and end up shooting all my shots with just the camera and my 17-85mm lens.  I did have an old leather holster style camera bag that I would use sometimes when I didn’t want to carry the whole bag of stuff.  But, it wasn’t ideal.  The fit was pretty snug.  The only way to close the holster was with a zipper so it was pretty slow to get the camera out for a shot.  The strap was pretty short so when I had the camera out the holster would always slip off of my shoulder.

Well, I’ve found a great solution and thought I would share it with you.  It’s a Tamrac Digital Zoom Pack.

It’s just right for me when I only want to take my camera with the one lens.  It has a zipper but also has a clasp for the cover.  So, when I’m walking around I leave it unzipped with the cover held down by a clasp.  It’s easy to get the camera out.  It has nice long strap so I put it over my right shoulder and let the case hang down on my left hip.  They have other models in case you have a longer lens.


August 8, 2011 / arthill

Color vs. black and white

I mostly shoot in color but every once in a while I do some black and white.  It is surprising to me how many people do shoot in black and white or at least convert to black and white.

I’ve seen some very compelling black and white photography but for lots of subjects I think color is just so much better.

Check out this little piece on color vs. black and white.

If you’ve read my blog before you noticed that I dropped out for a while.  I guess I was out of “big” articles.  So I’m going to try to post more frequently but do shorter stuff.  We’ll see.

May 18, 2011 / arthill

Canon Picture Styles

Canon DSLR’s have a feature called Picture Styles.  The ones built into the camera are:

  • Standard
  • Portrait
  • Landscape
  • Neutral
  • Faithful
  • Monochrome

You can download more at

  • Studio Portrait
  • Snapshot Portrait
  • Nostalgia
  • Clear
  • Twilight
  • Emerald
  • Autumn Hues

What do these do?  Well, Canon makes the analogy that it’s just like choosing a film type in the old days.  Let’s take the built-in ones first.  I generally shoot Standard but sometimes switch to Portrait.  Canon describes the Portrait effects as:

People are one of the most difficult subject to reproduce photographically because skin color can vary significantly depending on lighting conditions and exposure balance. The “Portrait” Picture Style adjusts the color tone magenta-to-yellow close to red range and adds brightness. Skin color is reproduced light pink with still the correct exposure. It is particularly well-suited for shooting women and children. To keep the soft and natural feeling of skin, sharpness is set modestly.

I’m of a mixed mind on this one.  Sometimes I like people pictures better with Standard and sometimes with Portrait.  You’ll have to experiment and see what you like.

Before we go further I should explain that if you’re shooting JPEG then you select one of these on the camera menu and that’s what you get.  If you’re shooting RAW then you can open the RAW file in Canon’s Digital Photo Professional and choose any Picture Style.  For me, this is one of the most compelling reasons to shoot RAW (or as I do, RAW + JPEG). Another important point – you can actually download some of the new styles into your camera and use them from the menu.  But, at least on my camera I can only add 3 of the new ones. So you’ll need to shoot RAW and apply them later if you want to use ones that you haven’t installed into your camera.

Now I’m not going to cut and paste the Canon explanations of all these styles since you can read them on the Canon site.  I do try to use Landscape for, well landscapes, and I use Monochrome from time to time.  I think the names of the others are pretty self explanatory so let’s get to some examples.

Here’s a Grand Canyon shot with Standard Picture Style

Let’s see what it looks like with other Picture Styles applied


Emerald                                                                                                                                     Faithful


Clear                                                                                                                                     Nostalgia


None of these pictures have any other adjustments made to them – just the Picture Style has been changed.

I want to say a few more things about Clear and Nostalgia.  For me, neither or them works very well with this particular picture.  But Clear can have dramatic effects in cutting through reflections and haze.  Look at this picture I shot from an airplane in Standard and Clear style


Or these two in Standard and Clear

And check out these two shots I took on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills



The last one I’m going to talk about is Nostalgia.  I don’t use it much but you might like it if you are trying to achieve that old photo look.  Consider these two shots of Crystal Cove State Park near Laguna Beach.

Apologies to my readers that don’t have Canon cameras or have ones that don’t support this feature.  I would be interested to hear from you Nikon owners what the corresponding feature is for Nikon.

May 12, 2011 / arthill

SOOC or not?

SOOC, short for straight out of the camera.  Every day people post photos online at smugmug, Facebook, Flickr, etc. and, in the caption or the description, tell us that the image is SOOC.  Some people who usually manipulate or at least crop their photos seem to give us this information just to say “Hey I know I usually fix up my posts but I got lucky this time and I was so happy with this picture I didn’t need to do anything to it”.   For these people I think it is a way of heading off questions about post processing. 

For others though, it seems that SOOC is some sort of accolade.  That it’s a good thing.  For some it seems they always say SOOC and even go on to say uncropped or no post processing.  Some even emphasize the point in their “about me” or bio section.  “All my photos are SOOC” or something like that.

In today’s post I am going to try to discourage this whole SOOC thing.  I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings but sticking with SOOC and trumpeting the fact just doesn’t make sense.  Ed Spadoni  over at 2guysphoto and I have had some conversations about this.  We see a lot of photos that could be significantly improved by cropping.  His post today ask-2-guys-photo-im-ready-for-my-close-up has a good example of how cropping can make a huge difference.  My post Crop it makes the same point.  Why would I be happy with this

when I can crop to this?

Here’s the way I ended that post

“Too many people take it as a badge of honor to post everything on-line just as it came out of the camera (SOOC). Don’t be one of those. I’d much rather look at an image that displays your cropping skill and judgment than occasionally be impressed that your in viewfinder composition was spot on. Sure, theoretically in viewfinder composition should be as good as you can make it. Practically it often isn’t. So crop already.”

But I’m not just talking about cropping.  Most pictures can be improved with other post processing techniques.  It can be something quite complicated or something very simple e.g. adjusting the exposure or contrast.  If you don’t want to make any adjustments you’re saying that you’re willing to accept all mistakes that your camera’s metering system makes. Why?

Let’s say you shoot a picture and see right away on your camera screen that it is too bright.  So you make some camera adjustments and take another picture.  Why is that any better than noticing that a picture is too bright and adjusting it on your computer before you post it somewhere.

I think some people have the idea that the great photographers from the past were great because they got the exposure and composition right SOOC.  That’s baloney.  They manipulated things a lot in the darkroom – burning, dodging, cropping, doing prints with various exposure times and then picking the best. And the pros, now?  They go nuts with Photoshop.  Lots of them only shoot RAW so that they can do all of their tweaking on the computer.  In other words, they never produce an SOOC image. 

I’m not suggesting that – it’s just as silly to never do SOOC as it is to always do SOOC.

I’ll get off the soapbox now and close with a few examples of pictures I shot that were okay SOOC or needed a little help.


SOOC                                                                         Adjusted exposure                                        Gave it black background            Put a red border around it

SOOC although I could darken the background and even crop some off the top.



la jolla cove IMG_7238 2-13-2011

Straightened it and adjusted the exposure.

May 9, 2011 / arthill

Put the best face on it

It happens to all of us.  You take those group shots and as you go through them there is always somebody with eyes closed or looking away or frowning.  Well there are some pretty easy to use software tricks that let you combine several photos to get the best picture of each person.

To illustrate I’ll take these two pictures that I took on Mother’s Day.



Scarlett’s eyes are partly closed in the first one and Lindsey is making a funny face in the second one.

I open up both photos in Photoshop Elements and Choose Group Merge from Guided Activities.

  I chose the image with Lindsey making a funny face as my base because I like all of the faces in that one except Lindsey’s.  Next I draw a circle around Lindsey’s face from the other picture


As soon as I do this the software transfers her smiling face to the other picture and I end up with this.

wilsons pse group merge Untitled-2

Windows Live Photo Gallery calls this feature Photo Fuse.  I highlight two or more pictures and then click the Photo Fuse button


I don’t even have to draw a line around Lindsey’s face, the program automatically pops up a comparison box and asks me which I like best


I could do this for each face in the picture but I’m okay with the other three so this is what I get.

wilsons IMG_1160 Fuse

There are two other things that bother me a little shown in the red circles below


but a quick application of the Stamp tool –aka cloning brush fixes those right up

wilsons pse group merge with cloning

This works best if you concentrate on keeping the camera in exactly the same spot.  If your camera will shoot several shots in rapid succession, do that.  I kind of forgot that yesterday and was moving the camera around too much on most of my shots.