Colour processing Madam Tussauds photographs in Aperture

Yesterday I published several photos from Madam Tussauds, Sydney and mentioned the lighting at the museum was challenging. I briefly explained that I’d done the post-processing in Aperture by using a Portra preset and a lot of fiddling with white balance.

A few people contacted me asking if they could see the before and after photos. I think it’s a great idea, so here we go. Let me explain the process in a bit more detail.

Taking the photographs

As I mentioned yesterday, the photographs were shot in RAW with a Fuji X100S. I kept the aperture wide open at f2 for the most part and even with that the ISO was hovering between 1600 and 3200.

The lighting was extremely varied and obviously I couldn’t influence it much. Flash is not allowed in the museum, and it probably would’ve killed the atmosphere anyway. Obviously, I couldn’t change any lights either. All I could do was use my body to reflect a little bit of light off my light coloured shirt.

The overall ambient light was almost red and not bright enough. Some sculptures had blue and violet lights coming from the sides which made them look really cool in the museum, but a pain to photograph.

Post-processing the photographs

As soon as I got back home, I imported all 211 photographs into Aperture. I did a quick edit to pick my favourites and from there did a second pass to select the ones I published yesterday. Most of the photos are of my daughter playing with the props and interacting with the sculptures. The museum is very kid-friendly and they encourage people to touch and experiment with things.

Once I had narrowed it down to about 20 photos of sculptures, I went in to the Adjustments pane in Aperture and tried to colour correct the photos.

This is what they look like straight out of the camera:

Aperture Presets Before

The first thing I tried was the Skin Tone control in the White Balance brick. It often works really well. Just click on the eye dropper icon and then click somewhere on the skin. I find selecting the cheeks works best.

That instantly made it a lot better. It removed the redness and brought out other colours. But it still wasn’t right.

Right, of course, being subjective. What looks right for you might not be what looks right for me. And since I don’t know what Einstein’s skin looked like in real life, I’ll just have to pick what looks good to me.

After toying around with the Skin Tone slider a bit I decided to try the Neutral Grey control. I clicked on his shirt, which is supposedly white, but that didn’t work. Then I clicked on the grey line behind him on the left side of the photo and that got me really close. A little fiddling with the slider got me 95% there.

I then put the Black Point down to zero in the Exposure brick. The default was 3.

After that, I applied the beta version of the Portra preset for Aperture from Rob Boyer that I mentioned yesterday. It’s very subtle but does an amazing job. As a side note, I haven’t had time to experiment with the final version, but going by the beta I’m sure it’ll be awesome.

I honestly never used Portra in the film days, so I have no idea what it looked like. What I do know is that this preset makes the images come alive in a very natural way.

For most of the photos, that was it:

  • Fiddle with White Balance
  • Reduce Black Point
  • Apply Portra preset

Here’s what Einstein looks like after the tweaks above.

Aperture Presets After

Some photographs had mixed light and weren’t as straightforward. For example, Bruce Willis was under red-orange ambient light but had purple, pink, and blue lights around him.

For these, I followed the same process except I manipulated the colour a bit more with a Curves adjustment. I went into the RGB channels and adjusted them until it looked right. For some, I also reduced Saturation a tad.

Perfect Photo Suite 8 available in November 2013

onOne software recently announced Perfect Photo Suite 8, the new version of their flagship photo editing product available in November 2013. Although honestly, calling it a product is misleading. It’s actually several different ones rolled up into one. They call them modules but each one is a full fledged application with amazing capabilities, and they all work together seamlessly.

The new version includes:

  1. Effects
  2. Portrait
  3. Black & White
  4. Layers
  5. Mask
  6. Resize
  7. Enhance and Browse

I’ve been using Perfect Photo Suite 7 for a few months now and I’ve been impressed. It works as a stand alone applicaton or as a plugin for Apple Aperture, which is the way I use it. It also works with Lightroom and Photoshop of course.

Since I started using Perfect Photo Suite, I haven’t opened Photoshop much. In fact, I’m pretty sure that these days I only open PS for the Liquefy tool once in a while. Other than that, everything I want to do I can do with Aperture and Perfect Photo Suite.

The Portrait module has a pretty impressive skin smoothing feature. The B&W module has so many options that it’s easy to get the exact look you want. Masking is super easy with their “masking bug” and it’s great to have layers without having to open Photoshop. And if you want to print a huge image, the Resize module can upsize a photograph with minimal loss in quality. It’s truly impressive.

I can only imagine what the new version will do and I’m eager to try it out.

A few new features from Perfect Photo Suite 8:

  • The Perfect Eraser with content-fill technology
  • A re-engineered Effects module that performs better and is built on adjustable filters and presets that you have ultimate control over
  • New filters (there will be more than twice as many!) that let you add popular looks and effects—including HDR, Dynamic Contrast, Vintage, Antique, and Grunge
  • FocalPoint technology more seamlessly integrated with the rest of the Suite
  • An easier to use Masking Bug
  • A more flexible and powerful batch processing options

They’re offering a discount during the pre-sale period if you order before 19 September. There’s also a live webinar where they’ll show a sneak-peek of what’s new in Perfect Photo Suite 8.

Apple Aperture Workflow: Export photos directly to Flickr

I had stopped using Flickr for a while just because it was a pain to upload images. I had to export the images from Aperture, then either open the browser and upload manually or open the Flickr application to upload as a batch. But the fact that there was no way of easily do it from within my workflow made it a tedious task.

Fortunately, I found FlickrExport for Aperture, a free plugin by Connected Flow. Now all I have to do is select a bunch of photographs right from within Aperture and “Export to Flickr”, which opens up the window below. From there I can give each image its unique title and description, plus add tags and set privacy preferences. What I love is that I can also decide where to add the images to inside Flickr. I can choose to add them straight into the photostream, to an existing set, or to a brand new set.

FlickrExport Plugin for Aperture

The plugin also lets me set the size and format without having to export anything separately. I just assign the photographs to be sent to Flickr as JPEG’s of no more than 450 pixels on the longest side and click Export.

The plugin I’m using is the FlickrExport Lite for Aperture 1.0.6, which is free and can be downloaded from the Apple website. But Connected Flow also have a full version with extra features for £14. I haven’t tried it as the Lite version does everything I need, but you may want to download the demo of the full version and give it a try to see if it meets your needs. The Lite version doesn’t seem to be available from their website anymore.

You can get the plugin from:

– FlickrExport Lite for Aperture from Apple
– FlickrExport full version from Apple
– FlickrExport full version from Connected Flow

Using Apple’s Aperture

After a lot of testing with the trial versions of both Apple’s Aperture and Adobe’s Lightroom, I’ve decided to buy Aperture for my photography. I really did extensive testing of both applications for a few months. I downloaded the trials on 2 computers and then reinstalled the system on one of them, so I used them for a total of 3 months. I actually had duplicate libraries and edited my favorite shots in both programs.

Honestly, they’re both excellent programs and I only slightly favored Aperture because I liked its organizational features better and integration with the rest of the Mac applications. In terms of image quality I couldn’t tell the difference and I actually liked some features in Lightroom better. I found Lightroom much easier to use as a newbie, but once I got the hang of Aperture I fell in love with the interface.