When I got back from Morro Bay I posted a number of images from the trip including this one of a sea otter at dawn. it’s an image similar to one I took back in 2009 that I’ve been trying to reproduce ever since so I could get a higher quality version of it — and I finally did.

Sea Otter Mom with her pup at dawn, Morro Bay Harbor

I got a lot of really good feedback on the image and a few print requests, which confirmed my belief in the image, but I also knew that the image would need a lot of work to get ready for print. The initial processing was my fairly standard and quick set — for this image about 15 minutes — and I felt I could do a lot better.

This weekend I sat down and gave it the time it needed and more careful processing, and now the image looks like this:

Sea Otter Mom with her pup at dawn, Morro Bay Harbor

That is about two and a half hours of work, all in Lightroom. The initial processing took advantage of Lightroom’s new luminance masking, but I found while trying to get a better masking on the otter so I went back to the brush and some careful detail work. The end result? I love it, and it looks great on paper.

For what it’s worth, here’s the starting point:

Sea Otter Mom with her pup at dawn, Morro Bay Harbor

Yes, that’s not a wonderfully exposed image; I was shooting another subject when I looked down the beach and realized that I had a chance at the shot I’ve wanted for years — but the sun was just coming over the mountains and I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time, so I hustled down the beach, set up the tripod and started framing. I did get a few frames off and then the sun cleared the mountain and the color completely faded — literally maybe 2 minutes from when I first noticed it to when I headed to the car for breakfast.

So this image needs a lot of work, which says a lot both about the capabilities of Lightroom to make this possible and of the Fuji sensor to grab the information needed to allow me to mold it into the image I want. I wish I’d had another five minutes to get thing settled and the exposure dialed in, but in nature photography that doesn’t always happen.

This image ended up taking about 2 hours to finish, because there’s a lot of fussy masking needed. It was important to me to bring out some detail and texture in the otters themselves rather than a full silhouette like the initial version, and I think I succeeded at doing that.

This one’s going up on my wall, and I’m damned proud of it and I think it’s lovely. I hope you agree.

By the way, I’m happy to say that this image is now available as a print over at Fineartamerica. I hope you enjoy it.

A first look at Luminar 2018

I’ve been watching the chatter about the newly released Luminar 2018 app from MacPhun, which is positioning itself as a no-compromise alternative to Lightroom. I’ve been intending to take it for a test drive, and as I was working on this image, I realized it would be an interesting one to throw into Luminar and see what I could do it with.

This isn’t a review of Luminar; it’s not even an example of how great Luminar is as an application. I literally downloaded and installed Luminar and opened up a copy of my image and started trying things.

I spent about an hour in Luminar, throwing out two attempts and then digging into it for a third. This is what I ended up with:

That image has some issues, most of which are because I didn’t finish all the fussy parts of the masking for the otter. I do think, however, that it gives an idea of what’s possible in Luminar.

I have to admit, I’m impressed. As someone who’s never touched the software before and didn’t read any documentation on it — I did view some Youtube videos that did overviews of the software — I was able to quickly pick up how the software wanted me to do things. I did go digging for documentation once, and that was how to handle the masking so I could deal with different parts of the image separately.

A big takeaway from this? If you’re a Lightroom user curious about Luminar, your skill in using Lightroom will be a good starting point for taking up Luminar. When you install Luminar it gets installed into Lightroom as a plug-in so you can edit image from within Lightroom and continue to use that program as your asset manager; Luminar has a DAM system in the plan but right now it’s processing only.

Luminar, in fact, looks to be an interesting tool for some kinds of processing even if you do the majority of your work in Lightroom — it seems especially good at styling images, for instance and there are some neat tools available in it. There’s a filter they have called “Accent — AI” that seems to act like a smart polarizer on steroids on skies that I really like in my first tests.

Luminar builds its processing around three concepts: Workspaces, filters and layers. When you load in an image, it’s placed in a workspace. You can add in filters, each of which handles a specific task. some will be very familiar to Lightroom users, like Develop, Clarity or Vignette. Others are more like the kind of features you’d get from Nik’s or Topaz Labs plug-in sets, including things like Fog, or Golden Hour.

You can also add layers; Luminar supports three types: Adjustment, Image and Stamped. Adjustment layers act much like they do in Photoshop, and allow you to bring in a full set of filters into that layer, and create a layer mask to control one part of the image and leave the rest alone. Image layers allow you to merge images together for things like sky replacement or focus stacking.

I still need to put more time into using Luminar before I’m willing to do a full review, but my initial reaction is quite favorable: it’s a very accessible program for existing Lightroom users and the differences in how they operate mostly come from Luminar giving you capabilities that don’t exist in Lightroom like Adjustment layers. The filters are for the most part pretty intuitive, and since processing is non-destructive, you can try stuff and throw it out without worry.

So count me impressed; This image is pretty close to a worst case scenario for processing because I effectively have to break it to get it to look how I want. The main difference I saw between Luminar and Lightroom was that I had to work harder to pull detail of of the blacks in the otter, but I was able to do so with some experimentation (dodge/burn is your friend here)

The lack of digital asset management means it’s not a full replacement for Lightroom, at least not yet, but it’s already earned a permanent place in my plug-in area where the Nik tools once lived. Even in this early stage of my using it I can see places where it’s going to come in very handy.

Definitely a tool you should check out.