Creating crop marks for a photo

If you have a photograph that you would like to print and cut out to a specific size using proper crop marks, you will quickly find out that Photoshop is not much help. This is because it cannot export PDFs with crop marks and drawing them in is a pain in the ass.

Photo with proper crop marks

These crop marks extend 3mm into each side of the photo.

What to do? A little pre-work in Photoshop and the rest is InDesign magic. Here are the steps I use:

  • Resize the image to 6mm more than the final desired dimension on the side that matters. Link the other side’s dimension so the image retains its aspect ratio (don’t worry if this side doesn’t increase exactly 6mm).For example, if your image is originally 409,79×274,32mm and you want the final result to be 200mm in width, just resize the image so the width is 206mm and the height is whatever Photoshop decides it should be to retain the image’s aspect ratio (137,9 in this case).
  • Create an InDesign document where both the width AND the height are 6mm less than the image’s new dimensions. Add a 3mm bleed to each side of the document.Following the example above, your InDesign document should be 200×131,9mm and a 3mm bleed.
  • Place your image in the document and center it. It should fit like a glove.
  • Export the document as a PDF (File -> Adobe PDF Presets -> [PDF/X-1a:2011]. In the dialogue box under “Marks and Bleeds” check off “Crop Marks” and “Use Document Bleed Settings”.
  • Click “Export” and you’re done!

Manual Mode + Auto-ISO

In Apperture Priority Mode, I can control the Aperture and ISO. The camera sets the shutter speed automatically.

In Shutter Priority Mode, I can control the Shutter and ISO. The camera sets the apperture automatically.

In P Mode, I can control the ISO. The camera sets the shutter speed and aperture automatically.

Seems like there are a few possibilities missing. Actually half of them are missing, but we can access them by turning on Auto-ISO. Take a look at the following chart to see the extra possibilities this provides us with:

Exposure modes with Auto-ISO

Of special importance is the way turning on Auto-ISO affects the Manual Mode, which actually ceases to be fully manual. In fact, according to Ken Rockwell this is a firmware defect and it seems the trick works only on Nikon cameras. What Ken fails to realize is that there are certain benefits of having manual control of the shutter speed and aperture, while leaving the camera to set the ISO. I suspect that Nikon has done this on purpose.

SLR Lounge has a very nice article about this. Make sure to watch the video too!

* For Nikon D80 I had to go into the Custom Settings Menu (the pencil icon) to turn on Auto-ISO. More detailed instructions for Auto-ISO on the D80 can be found here.

Locking the ISO in Manual mode (i.e. “disabling” Auto-ISO)

Here is a nice “add-on” to Auto-ISO + Manual Mode: I normally have my AE-L/AF-L button set to AE lock hold (this can be set under the Custom Settings Menu)  which means that pressing the button will lock:

  1. the aperture when in Shutter Priority mode
  2. the shutter when in Aperture Priority mode
  3. the ISO when in Manual mode (they should have called the button AD-L/AF-L/AI-L)

The third point is the one that concerns us right now. Let’s explore this further.

If I had Auto-ISO + Manual mode enabled and I pointed my camera at a very dark subject my ISO would automatically adjust to 1600 (the highest in this camera, though a limit can also be set under the ISO Auto setting). Now if I pressed my AE-L/AF-L button the ISO would remain locked at 1600 even if I pointed at a very bright subject, like the sun.

I’ll probably never use the function in exactly that way, but let’s look at a second/inverse example, which could be very useful:

If I had Auto-ISO + Manual mode enabled and I pointed my camera at a very bright subject my ISO would automatically adjust to 100 (the lowest in this camera). Now if I pressed my AE-L/AF-L button the ISO would remain locked at 100 even if I pointed at a very dark subject.

This would be useful when working with a tripod. Since camera shake wouldn’t be an issue I would like my ISO to be as low as possible. Instead of having to go into the camera’s Menu and turning off Auto-ISO I could instead point my camera at a very bright subject and lock the ISO there before I start the session. If the camera is already perfectly in place on the tripod I could shine my phone’s light (maybe even use a flashlight app) towards the camera to get the ISO I want to lock.

The only problem with this is that it would be virtually impossible to set the ISO to something specific between the 100 and 1600 points. If the camera could show its auto-updating ISO number it would make this a lot easier. It would actually be a useful feature to have in general. By the way I’ve tried manually setting the ISO while I have Auto-ISO turned on and it did nothing. I even tried locking the selected ISO in different ways but it seems that selecting Auto-ISO makes the dedicated ISO button completely obsolete.

Photoshop and Adobe Camera Raw

Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) is an image editing application. It exists both as a plugin in Photoshop and as a crucial part of Lightroom. It was originally built to work exclusively on raw image files — that is, raw image data captured by your camera’s sensor, with no processing of any kind — but is now capable of working with other image types as well.

There are three versions of ACR:

  • Lightroom ACR
  • External ACR (pre-processor)
  • Internal ACR (filter)

Lightroom uses — you guessed it — Lightroom ACR. Photoshop is more complicated and this is what I want to explore in this article. It’s important to note that for the most part making adjustments in one type of ACR doesn’t have any effect on the others.1 In fact Lightroom ACR and External ACR seem to be exactly the same; I’ve only differentiated them because of the aforementioned discrepancy. Internal ACR is the odd version.

Adobe Camera Raw

1The only time one ACR’s adjustmentd shows up in another ACR is when opening an image as a Smart Object in Photoshop from within Lightroom. Photoshop will open the image in internal ACR with the adjustment sliders as they were in Lightroom.

Raw files in external ACR

Whenever you open a raw image file type that ACR supports, Photoshop will automatically open it in external ACR. Here you can make adjustments to your heart’s content.

  • If you regret your changes:
    • exit out of ACR by clicking Cancel or start over by holding the alt key (opt on Mac) and clicking on Reset.
  • If you are satisfied with your changes do one of the following:
    • save them2 and exit out of ACR by clicking on Done.
    • save them and start working on the image in “normal” Photoshop by clicking on Open Image.
    • don’t save them but start working on the image in “normal” Photoshop with the changes applied by holding the alt key (opt on Mac) and clicking on Open Copy.
    • save them on a new image with a different name and/or settings, while keeping the original unchanged by clicking on the Save Image… button.

After using one of the methods that opens the image in “normal” Photoshop you will not have the ability to re-open the image in external ACR for further editing while working in “normal” Photoshop. You can still achieve this by re-opening the file as usual, but if you want the aforementioned ability (and I highly recommend it) you can get it this way:

  • save your changes and start working on the image in “normal” Photoshop while maintaining the ability to return to external ACR for further adjustments by holding the shift key (cmd on Mac, I think) and choosing Open Object.3

This only works on raw file types. You can get creative using this method and have multiple layers using external ACR by dragging in said layers from different documents.

2 When I speak of ACR saving your changes I mean that the next time you open that raw file in external ACR, all of the sliders will be as you left them. It’s still perfectly fine to reset them and go back to the original image settings. However you cannot do this by holding the alt key (opt on Mac) and clicking on Reset, as this will only reset the settings to what they were when you opened the image. If you want to reset all settings completely back to what they were when they came out of the camera you can turn off the settings for each panel (Basic, Tone Curve, Detail, etc) back to their defaults by clicking on the small Toggle button to the bottom right of the image or using the shortcut ctrl+alt+p (cmd+opt+p on Mac). This also works on files that you have saved with a different name and settings as long as the file is still a raw image type.

3 This is not the same as opening a file regularly into “normal” Photoshop, turning it into a Smart Object and adding a filter to it. This goes into the realm of internal ACR which is covered further down.

Other file types in external ACR

Raw image file types are not the only ones that can be opened in external ACR. To open other file types, such as JPGs or even multilayer TIFFs/PSDs (these will be flattened to a single layer) in external ACR, simply choose File -> Open As… (note this is not the same as File -> Open…)  in Photoshop and then choose Camera Raw  from the drop-down menu.

Even for non-raw images you will get better quality results using ACR (either internal or external — there is technically no difference in quality as I explain further down) than working in “normal” Photoshop. Check out this article and watch the video at the end.

Internal ACR

Internal ACR is the Camera Raw version that works as a filter and which we can add to any layer in “normal” Photoshop. It involves turning said layer into a Smart Object by right clicking on the layer’s title in the Layers panel and choosing Convert to Smart Object. Then simply choose Filter -> Camera Raw Filter…

This version of ACR is not available to truly raw images and it has less features than external ACR. However it still results in better image quality than using Photoshop’s other filters or adjustment layers. All of this is explained below.

Differences between internal and external ACR

Technically speaking no version of ACR is better than another when it comes to image quality. This is also true in practice when working on non-raw images since the files already have a lot less information in them.

Realize that if a raw image file is opened in “normal” Photoshop AND not as a Smart Object, it has also been converted to bit-mapped format and lost a lot of its information. Converting it to a Smart Object at this point will not make a difference. The image will only open in internal ACR at this point (through the use of the ACR filter).

Truly raw images will only open in external ACR.

In addition, there are actually less features available to internal ACR. A clear representation is shown in the image below and I would recommend playing with external ACR to see what each “extra” feature is about. Snapshots is especially useful to me.

Internal vs. External ACR

 

My workflow and recommendations

I always shoot raw and import my photos straight into Lightroom. From there I make my adjustments, which are never destructive since Lightroom by its nature only works with ACR.

If I need to achieve something that is only possible in Photoshop I choose Edit In -> Open as Smart Object in Photoshop… (if you get a weird pop-up, see this post for the solution). At this point the image is not truly raw anymore, but there is no way to access any of Photoshop’s exclusive features while working with a truly raw image anyway. At least by choosing to open the image as a Smart Object I am already ready to make any extra adjustments just in case (remember that adjustments in ACR always give the best results even for non-raw images). From there I can work with Photoshop to my heart’s content and hit save when I am done to automatically import my new file into Lightroom.

Calibrate multiple monitors with a Spyder4express™

Anyone who is serious about the color accuracy of their photo or video projects knows the importance of display calibration. Using a hardware sensor is the way to go, but if you have multiple monitors and opt for one of DataColor’s popular Spyder products, you better be ready to shell out some serious cash for a more high-end version. That’s because the software for the entry-level Spyder4express limits calibration to a single display… or does it? The other Spyders do have additional advantages over the Spyder4express, but by using a bit of ingenuity it is entirely possible to calibrate multiple monitors using this little guy.

THE PROBLEM

The way the Spyder4express software keeps its users from calibrating multiple monitors is quite simple. After it finishes running its process on the first monitor, a color profile is created for that display. So far so good — this is the way every calibration software works. But as the user attempts to calibrate the second monitor s/he will run into the first obstacle: the program window seems to be “stuck” on the same monitor as before, meaning it will only be possible to calibrate on that monitor. This part’s easy to get past. On Windows simply open the Displays control panel and set the second monitor as the main display. The Spyder4express software will only calibrate whatever display is set as the main display.

The big problem comes after you calibrate the second monitor and realize that the color profile created has overwritten the color profile for the first monitor. There is no way to name color profiles from within the Spyder4express’s software — it will automatically name every profile it creates “Spyder4Express.icm”, overwriting any earlier profile with the same name.

Spyder4express

THE SOLUTION

The way to get past this limitation of the Spyder4Express’s software is to rename each color profile right after creation. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as renaming the file, although that’s a good start. Navigate to your system color folder (in Windows 8 it’s C:\WINDOWS\system32\spool\drivers\color), find Spyder4Express.icm and give it a more descriptive name.

Now the next step involves renaming the profile’s “internal name,” the name stored within the file — the name the Spyder4Express’s software actually cares about. And that’s not so straightforward, at least not on a PC. I believe that Macs come with a pre-installed software that allows modifying a profile’s internal name, but PC users will first have to download Andrew Shepherd’s ICC Profile Toolkit.

After installing the program, it might be a good idea to take a look at the ReadMe file for a short lesson on how to use it. It mentions tooltips and a context menu, but for some reason I couldn’t see either even after following the troubleshooting directions. Not a big deal. Simply navigate to the folder where the program was installed and run ChangeDescription.exe.

From there you should be able to open the profile you want to edit and make the changes. But let’s back up a little because to be honest even that didn’t go so smoothly for me. Strangely enough I was not able to browse to my system color folder from the Open dialog box. No problem, I just copied the path (C:\Program Files (x86)\ICC Profile Toolkit) into the “File name” field, hit enter and voilà!

Oh and for quickly switching between profiles may I suggest a free program by X-Rite called “DisplayProfile.” I will not link directly to it because I want you to access it from this guide, which explains yet another good reason to use “DisplayProfile” AND gives you an extra bonus. Curious? Click.

Salvaging a mediocre photo

Last month I went out to take some photos of an oak tree nearby, but I was not very happy with the results. Yesterday I got inspired to go through and try to do some post processing on them. I felt like the last photo of the day actually had some potential and in the end I was very happy with the result.

Oak tree

HOW IT WAS DONE
I started out in Lightroom with some regular tone adjustments, and then I worked with the White Balance. I decided to bring it up quite dramatically in order to emphasize the orange color of the sky. Next I decided to brighten up the ground so I used a Graduated Filter and brought up the Exposure. It started looking pretty nice but I didn’t like how my White Balance adjustments had also given the ground an orange tint so I decided to bring the image into Photoshop to work on it with more control.

In Photoshop I separated the image into two layers, one above the horizon line and one under (the “ground” layer). I used Color Balance and Hue/Saturation adjustments on the ground layer to get the color the way I wanted, then I brightened it up even more with Brightness/Contrast and Levels adjustments.  Then I decided that I had actually made the sky too orange and even worse, I had lost all of the blue. So I “cheated” a little: I used the Gradient Tool going from a nice blue color to transparent and I let that “sky” layer have it! Even though the tree itself was on the same layer it was not visibly affected since it was completely dark anyway.

I finished up the job by bringing the photo back into Lightroom, sharpening it, and adding a nice vignette.

The lesson to be learned here is not only that mediocre photos can be salvaged with the right tools, but also that maybe some of those photos aren’t so mediocre after all. My oak tree had a simple, but very nice composition so really, the only thing wrong was with the exposure and colors. Since I always shoot in RAW there was a lot I could do in post-processing. That mediocre photo is now the top viewed, liked, and commented on photo in my 500px account.