Category Archives: Post Processing

Night panoramas: Abandoned cement plant

Abandoned cement plant night panorama -- by Joe Reifer

Abandoned cement plant night panorama -- by Joe Reifer


This night panorama shows the back of the abandoned cement plant in a 300 degree view. I shot 14 images but only ended up using 12 for the pano because the brightness of the full moon was too distracting. The distortion produced by the cylindrical projection option in Photoshop CS5 Photomerge works well with the long cluster of buildings on the right leading up into the nearby hills. The cylindrical setting also bends the clouds into interesting arc shapes, providing a rhythmic connection between the different groups of structures. These were 2 minute exposures at f/8, ISO 400 with a vertically mounted Canon 5D Mark II and a 24-70/2.8L lens at the 24mm setting. The graffiti on the small stone in the left foreground says “Musk,” which cracked me me because I encountered a rather aggressive skunk while shooting this image. I must have set my tripod up close to the skunk’s den. No skunks were harmed in the making of this picture.

Abandoned cement plant night panorama -- by Joe Reifer

Abandoned cement plant night panorama -- by Joe Reifer


For this alternate view of the plant I chose to center the big tree and buildings, and have the dirt path enter the frame from both sides. The impact of the cylindrical projection is minimal on this image. The increased space between the camera and subject matter gives the image less impact at web size, but would help achieve a more documentary spirit of place in a large sized print. Exposure and camera setup details were the same as the previous image.

Abandoned cement plant night panorama -- by Joe Reifer

Abandoned cement plant night panorama -- by Joe Reifer

The view from the SE corner of the plant also shows an  irrigation channel on the left. The cylindrical projection creates a very natural looking flow on the left side of the image with the pond, telephone pole, and domed building. The right side of the image has more intense distortion than the other night panos, because I was closer to the stone walls. I am still experimenting with the post-processing on this image in Photoshop, and may also try some of the tools in Autopano Pro.

I hope you enjoyed this series of full moon night panoramas!

Night photography post-processing: Save your test shots

Through the lunch truck -- by Joe Reifer

Through the lunch truck — by Joe Reifer

I’ve been preparing for next week’s night photography workshop at Paul’s Junkyard, and found the image above while putting together my post-processing demo. In the past, I’ve covered how to develop night photos in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw. The all new post-processing demonstration for this workshop will primarily focus on making subtle adjustments to tone, color, and sharpness in Photoshop. These techniques will help workshop participants learn how to finish their images for web or print.

Notice anything different about the night photo above? This image is an ISO 6400 test shot from a Canon 5D Mark II. Noise reduction was applied in Lightroom 3. Is it a little bit noisy? Yes. But the file is fine for web use, and with a little bit of work it would make a nice print. Save those test shots! Who knows what you may be able to rescue from your archive as the post-processing software gets better and better.

Low light sensitivity and high ISO performance are improving with every new generation of digital SLRs. Will it be long before we’re doing night photography hand-held? Star trails may start to look pretty old school in the not too distant future!

Lightroom could not import this catalog because of an unknown error

When I travel for a shoot, or work on organizing a new project in Lightroom, I often create a new separate catalog just for a particular set of images. The smaller catalog runs faster and keeps things simple. When everything is processed, I’ll then import the smaller catalog into my master catalog by going to: File — Import from Catalog:

Lightroom -- Import from Catalog

Recently I encountered an issue with this workflow — when trying to import one of these small working catalogs into my main Lightroom 3 catalog I got an error message that said: Lightroom could not import this catalog because of an unknown error:

Lightroom could not import this catalog because of an unknown error
Not a very helpful error message, huh?

After some troubleshooting, I figured out the conditions that cause this error to occur, and how to fix it. The problem occurs if the catalog you’re trying to import was upgraded from Lightroom 2 to Lightroom 3, and there are photos in the catalog that are offline or missing, as indicated by the question-mark icon in Library Grid View:

Lightroom Library Grid View question mark

The question mark indicates that you’ve moved or deleted photos outside of Lightroom, and Lightroom no longer knows where to find the file. To remedy this situation, click the question mark and locate the file, or turn on the external hard drive where the images are stored. If the files have been deleted, you can click delete and remove the images from the Lightroom database.

When you have resolved all of the images that are offline or missing in your smaller catalog, you will be able to import the catalog into your master catalog. If you haven’t created extensive collections in this catalog, another solution would be to create a new catalog for these images in Lightroom 3. Catalogs that are native to Lightroom 3 don’t seem to have this problem (i.e., catalogs native to LR3 with offline or missing images will import into another LR3 catalog just fine). If you choose this fix, make sure to write your metadata changes to XMP so you don’t lose your work.

I hope this bug fix saves you time!

Note: I’m running Mac OS 10.58 10.64 with Lightroom 3.0.

Update: I ran this issue by Victoria Bampton, The Lightroom Queen, who let me know that duplicate files can also cause this error message (i.e., the same photo is in both catalogs). Hopefully this issue will be fixed in LR3.2.

Update: Tom Hogarty, the Product Manager for Lightroom at Adobe, let me know they’re working on a fix for this issue.

Update: According to a reader’s report, this issue looks to be fixed in Lightroom 3.2 (release candidate).

Update 8/29/2010: I found another variation of this bug. I was trying to import a working catalog that I recently created in LR 3.0 into my master catalog. The Library — Find Missing Photos command did not yield any images, but I kept getting the Lightroom could not import this catalog because of an unknown error message. Turns out there were 3 images that WERE missing, but Lightroom wasn’t finding them. Here’s how I figured it out:

  1. In the working catalog, go to Library — Show Photos in Subfolders, and make sure this feature is unchecked. This will give you an image count for each individual photo in your catalog.
  2. In the Grid View, make sure you have Index Numbers turned on to count the actual thumbnails. You can turn on Index Numbers by right clicking a thumbnail in Grid View, choosing View Options, and then checking Index Numbers.
  3. Now go through folder by folder and match the folder image count on the left, to the index number count in the Grid View. In my case there were 3 TIF files that Lightroom was not seeing.
  4. Next I saved the metadata to the files in the folder with the missing images by going to Metadata — Save Metadata to Files.
  5. Highlight the folder on the left, right click, and select Remove to temporarily remove the folder from your catalog.
  6. Now go back to the file menu and choose Import Photos to re-import the folder. In my case the image counts now matched up, and I was able to import the working catalog into my master catalog.

Night photography: Lightroom 3 process version 2010

Lightroom 3 was released yesterday and includes a completely retooled raw processing engine. I’ve been experimenting with the new raw processing for night photography, and the results are encouraging. The raw file processing engine from Lightroom 2 is now the 2003 process engine, and Lightroom 3 is the 2010 process engine (reflecting the year of their release). When you first open a Lightroom 2 catalog in Lightroom 3, your photos will maintain the look and feel of the 2003 process engine. To take advantage of the newer processing technology in Lightroom 3, you’ll need to update your files to the new 2010 process engine. Here are three different ways to handle the update:

  1. In the Develop module, click the exclamation mark that appears on the bottom right. This button will only appear if you adjusted sharpening or noise reduction in Lightroom 1 or 2.
  2. From the Settings menu at the top, choose Update to Current Process (2010)
  3. In the Camera Calibration panel, choose Process: 2010

After any of these 3 methods you’ll be presented with the Update Process Version Dialog Box:

update process version dialog box

Review Changes via Before/After gives you the 2003 and 2010 process engine versions side-by-side. I recommend looking at a few photos in the before/after view to get a feel for how the new processing engine effects the color and tone of your images. Once you’re comfortable with the 2010 engine, you can bulk convert larger numbers of images to the new engine using Update All Filmstrip Photos.

Great news for night photographers: The Fill Light processing appears to be a big improvement. Without changing anything other than the process version, I’m noticing a consistent improvement in the rendering of the Darks (i.e., 3/4 tones). Darks is the tonal area between the shadows and mid-tones where a lot of the tonal information in a night photograph resides. I feel like I’m seeing into the shadows just a bit more, without losing the feeling of night. The sharpening algorithm appears to be adding a bit more kick to the Darks as well.

I’m going to continue to refine my night photography post-processing settings with Lightroom 3 in anticipation of the Fall 2010 Pearsonville Workshops. In between 3 nights of shooting at an amazing desert junkyard, we’ll spend some classroom time going over how to make your night photographs really sing using the new features in Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS5.

The settings in the images below are exactly the same — the only difference is the process version. Click the image for a closer view of process 2003 vs. process 2010:

Lightroom 3 2010 Process Engine comparison -- by Joe Reifer

Lightroom 3 2010 Process Engine comparison — by Joe Reifer

Night photography: Burned orange 1966 Lincoln with flame job

Burned orange 1966 Lincoln with flame job -- by Joe Reifer

Burned orange 1966 Lincoln with flame job — by Joe Reifer

Technical details: Three exposures of 7 minutes were stacked for 21 minute long star trails (7 minutes at f/9.5, ISO 200). There is a 1 second interval between exposures — any longer would show gaps in the star trails. The Canon 5D Mark II is clean at 7 minutes without the need for noise reduction, as long as the ambient temperature is not too warm.

On the first image I did not light paint. The 2nd and 3rd exposures had different light painting. After the first three images were complete, I reviewed the light painting on the back of the camera. The interior and side of the car looked great in image #3, but there was a hot spot above the front grill. I did a fourth exposure of 3 minutes at f/8 to re-do the light painting on the front of the car. Below are all 4 images in Lightroom.

1966 Lincoln

Here are the steps involved in post-processing the final image:

  • The first 3 images for stacking star trails were processed in Lightroom with identical settings
  • The 4th image was processed in Lightroom just for the light painting
  • On the top menu in Lightroom, I opened all four images into one file using: Photo — Edit In — Open as Layers in Photoshop
  • The 2nd and 3rd image were set to Lighten blending mode to stack the star trails
  • I selected the sky and made a layer mask on the second and third image to hide the light painting but keep the star trails
  • I added a layer mask to the 4th image, and filled it with black
  • Using a soft brush at 20% opacity, the light painting from the 3rd and 4th image was added using layer masks
  • A Selective Color adjustment layer was used to make subtle changes to the color of the car and also the sky

I hope this behind the scenes look at creating a light painted image with long star trails is helpful.