Archive for the ‘Underwater Photo Tips’ Category

Imaging: How To Take Your Photos To The Extreme In Post Production

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015


Why take your RAW adjustments to 11? Because it’s one louder than 10, as Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel so aptly put it. “Taking it to 11” refers to taking something to an extreme — I usually don’t recommend taking post-processing to an extreme, but there are times when a little extra juice from Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) really does the trick.

Maxing It Out

How to take your RAW photos to the max in post production

Erin Quigley

This image of schooling barracuda is way too blue. After white balancing in Lightroom or ACR, I’ve maxed out both the Temp (blue/yellow) and Tint (green/pink) sliders, but I still don’t have the effect that I really want.

I’d like to make the fish more neutral, without having to resort to any elaborate painting or masking.

It would be fab if I could push the White Balance sliders just a little bit beyond their limits — to 11, if you will.

By using a Smart Object workflow in Photoshop, I can.

What Is A Smart Object?

What is a Smart Object in Photoshop

A Smart Object is a Photoshop layer that packages selected image data and embeds it into a special container. This container maintains nondestructive editing capacities for whatever’s embedded inside. Although any layer or combination of layers can be transformed into a Smart Object, only Smart Objects coming straight from Lightroom or ACR will maintain actual RAW image data. In this case I’ll create a Smart Object that embeds the RAW file of the barracuda, along with the Lightroom Develop module adjustments that have already been made to the file.

To open a Smart Object from Lightroom, go to Photo>Edit In>Open as Smart Object in Photoshop.

To open a Smart Object from ACR, hold down the Shift key and click on the Open Object button at the bottom of the window.

A Smart Object can be identified by the small icon at the bottom right of its layer thumbnail. To re-edit the embedded RAW image from within the Smart Object, double-click on the Smart Object thumbnail, and ACR will open. Notice that the original Lightroom Develop module adjustments or initial ACR settings are maintained. By using a Smart Object workflow, you can access and re-edit these settings directly from Photoshop’s layers panel.

Turn It Up to 11 with a Camera RAW Smart Filter

How to use a camera RAW smart filter

To be able to re-edit RAW settings directly from a Photoshop layer is useful on its own, but the object is to go beyond the limits of the original ACR sliders. To do that, a Camera Raw Smart Filter is called for. To add a Camera Raw Smart Filter, go to Filter>Camera Raw Filter. A new ACR window will open automatically.

When I add a Camera Raw Smart Filter to the barracuda Smart Object, I get a clean new ACR window. Because the sliders in the new window start at zero, I can add more of whatever settings are maxed out in the original ACR adjustments.
By sliding the zeroed-out Temp slider to the right toward yellow, I get extra oomph from my white balance. The adjustment knocks back the remaining blue on the fish, and I’m much happier. I could not have achieved this white balance with an ordinary Lightroom or ACR adjustment. At this point, I can jiggle more sliders, brushes or filters on either the original Smart Object ACR settings or the Camera Raw Smart Filter to finish my editing.

Smart Filter Functions

Functions of a Smart Filter in Photoshop

  1. To toggle a Smart Filter’s visibility, click the eyeball next to it on and off.
  2. To reopen a Smart Filter, double-click on its name in the Layers panel.
  3. Smart Filters have their own layer mask. When the layer mask is active, painting on the image with black conceals the effect of the Smart Filter in the painted area. This makes every tool in ACR a potentially local tool.
  4. Smart Filters have a separate blending mode and opacity control accessed by clicking on the small lines-and-arrows icon at the bottom right of the layer.

Saving Smart Objects

When you create a Smart Object in Photoshop via Lightroom, saving the Photoshop document puts the layered Smart Object file into the same folder as the original file and amends the file name to reflect its Smart Object status. The next time you look at the image in Lightroom, you’ll see the Smart Object version right next to the original in the grid. When a Smart Object is created via Adobe Camera Raw, saving the Smart Object opens a Save As dialogue box, which lets you rename the file and save it to the location you wish.

Get Your Hands Dirty

The language of Smart Objects and Smart Filters can be confusing, but push past the mumbo-jumbo. Don’t be afraid to experiment. All the adjustments are completely nondestructive, and mastering this technique will pay off as an excellent addition to your post-production arsenal.

Erin Quigley is an Adobe ACE certified digital-imaging consultant and an award-winning shooter. provides custom tutorials and one-on-one instruction for the underwater photographic community.

Imaging: How To Flag Your Best Photos Using Adobe Lightroom

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

Not all photos are contest winners. Cut down on the underachievers in your image library by flagging keepers versus clunkers right of the bat as Lightroom imports them.

You only need to remember three letters on your keyboard: “P” for Flag, “X” for Reject and “U” for Unflag. Getting in the habit of making a quick first pass every time you import will keep your catalog lean and mean. You can get to work immediately after hitting the Import button. There’s no need to wait for the import to complete, or for previews to finish rendering.


Select an imported image and hit the space bar. You’ll be looking at a single image in Loupe view. Is it a keeper, a clunker or a can’t-decide?

Adobe Lightroom Tutorial: Flagging and Rejecting Photos

Erin Quigley

If it’s a keeper, press the “P” key to flag the image as a pick. A small white flag appears in the tool bar, and also in the upper-left corner of the image thumbnail in Grid view.

If it’s a clunker, press the “X” key to set the image as rejected. This time you’ll see a small black flag, and the Grid view thumbnail will be grayed out. Note that hitting “X” does not delete the image but simply marks it as rejected.

If you can’t decide whether the image is a keeper or a clunker, skip it and use the right arrow key on your keyboard to advance to the next image. If you change your mind about an image that you’ve already flagged, hit the “U” key to unflag it.


Once you’ve made it through the entire import, do away with the duds. Either go to Photo>Delete Rejected Photos in the top Library menu or use the keyboard shortcut Command-Delete (Mac), or Control-Delete (PC) to gather the rejected images together for deletion.

Adobe Lightroom Tutorial: Deleting Rejected Photos

Erin Quigley

In the Delete Rejected Photos dialogue box, make sure to choose Delete from Disk, and not the default choice, Remove. If you choose Remove, the images will be removed from the Lightroom catalog but will remain on your drive, cluttering up your library and lying in wait to cause chaos and confusion later on.


When you have to decide between very similar images or pick the best from a series, Lightroom’s Compare and Survey views are there to help. Compare view shows you two images side by side; Survey view tiles multiple images on a single screen.

Adobe Lightroom Tutorial: How To Compare And Survey Photos

Erin Quigley

To use Compare view, select two or more images and click the Compare view icon. The keyboard shortcut is “C.”

By default, the left preview is Select and the right is Candidate. Click on an image to activate it. You’ll see a narrow, white frame around the active image.

The Select preview is fixed; the Candidate preview can be changed for comparison with Select. Clicking the right or left arrow replaces the Candidate with the next image in the folder in the direction of the arrow, allowing you to see if there’s a better Select. If you find one, click on the Make Select or Swap icon, then continue the process until you’ve found the best Select.

To zoom in on both previews simultaneously, make sure the lock icon on the tool bar is closed and slide the Zoom slider right next to it. Unlocking the lock icon lets you zoom in on only the active preview. Pressing the Sync button matches the zoom on both previews. I use this all the time to compare eye sharpness.

To use Survey view, select a group of photos. Click the Survey View icon or use the keyboard shortcut “N.”

Click on an image to select it in the Survey window. Roll the cursor over it to reveal flagging and other rating options. Clicking the “X” in the bottom-right corner of the preview removes a photo from the group but doesn’t flag it or delete it from Lightroom, so make sure to flag rejects before removing them. Eliminate photos one by one until you’ve narrowed them down to just the best.

Erin Quigley is an Adobe ACE certified digital-imaging consultant and an award-winning shooter. provides custom tutorials and one-on-one instruction for the underwater photographic community.

Imaging: Understanding Your Camera’s Histogram

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

If you’re not already shooting with the help of your camera’s histogram, it’s time to start. A histogram is a graph that shows the distribution of tonal values from black to white in your image, and it’s a very accurate indicator of overall exposure. If you’re not checking out the histogram as you shoot, your exposures are a guess at best.


ETTR (exposing to the right) is a RAW-image-capture technique that increases the exposure of an image in order to maximize the amount of data collected by the camera’s sensor.

Because the digital image sensors collect 50 percent of all available data in the single brightest stop, underexposing your photo by even a small amount is tantamount to tossing a significant amount of information out the window. An underexposed shot often looks just dandy on the back of the camera, but in fact, the LCD preview is a terrible predictor of exposure. Use the histogram to analyze what kind of exposure you’re capturing with each shot.

For the sake of this example, let’s say that a camera has five stops of dynamic range (from darkest to brightest) and shoots a 12-bit RAW image, which is capable of recording a total of 4,096 tonal values. You’d think that each of the five stops should be able to record 850 tones — about a fifth of the total — but that’s not how it works. In reality, the brightest stop (farthest to the right on the histogram) collects a weighty 2,048 values, with each subsequent stop to the left (darker) recording half the amount of the previous one. In short, the right side of the histogram holds the data, and the left side holds the noise.


This technique isn’t something you’ll necessarily use on every shot. It’s not easy to use the ETTR technique when the dynamic range of the camera is already pushed to its limits; for instance, when shooting sun balls or other ultra-high-contrast scenes. ETTR pays of most in moderate- and low- contrast shooting scenarios, where the ultimate goal is to bias your exposure brighter, with the histogram snugged up to the right, but not so far to the right that the highlights get “clipped” by running into the right edge.


Pay close attention to the camera’s highlight-warning “blinkies.” When you see them start to flash, it’s time to back off. They’re a friendly reminder that you may be in danger of blowing out highlights. Specular highlights, which are reflections of light from shiny surfaces like water, fish scales and critter eyeballs, might not contain enough critical detail to worry about in small amounts, but completely obliterated highlights are not recoverable and spell doom for your picture. A little clipping is OK; a lot is bad.


All ETTR images need work in post. Right out of the camera, ETTR captures often appear washed out or overexposed. All those yummy tones in the brightest part of the image need to be mashed back toward the left of the histogram in order to restore richness, saturation and contrast to the shot.

Remember, the Highlights and Shadows sliders are detail sliders meant to restore detail in bright or dark areas without affecting clipping. The Whites and Blacks sliders establish the actual white and black points in your photo.

  1. In the Basic panel, slide the Highlights slider all the way left.

  2. Slide Exposure toward the left to lower the overall brightness level.

  3. Add Contrast if necessary.

  4. While holding down OPT (Mac) or ALT (PC), click on the handle of the Whites slider. You’ll see a black- clipping preview screen. Slide the handle toward the right until you begin to see small areas of color. Slide back toward the left until just the tiniest pinpoint of light pixels remains. Those light pixels are the white point in your image.

  5. Slide the Shadows slider to the left until the shadow details are as you desire.

  6. While holding down OPT (Mac) or ALT (PC), click on the handle of the Blacks slider. You’ll see a white- clipping preview screen. Slide the handle toward the left until you begin to see small areas of color, then slide back toward the right until just a smidge of dark remains. Those dark pixels represent the black point in your image.

  7. Re-adjust any of the Basic panel sliders as needed.

  8. Move on to the HSL panel (Hue, Saturation and Luminance) and local tools.

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Dive with Olympus: A beginning shooter tries the TG-4 and the E-M5 Mark II

Friday, September 11th, 2015

Ever since I started carrying a video camera on every dive a few years back, I wondered: If this thing starts to flood, will I know? What if it’s flooding right now and I just can’t tell?

Turns out, oh yeah, you’ll know. But if the camera you’re using is the Olympus Stylus Tough TG-4, it really doesn’t matter.

Recently six underwater shooters at skill levels from rank beginner — me — to the CEO of Backscatter Underwater Video & Photo came to Islamorada’s storied Cheeca Lodge to meet with a team from Olympus Cameras, to get hands-on underwater experience with the new OM-D E-M5 Mark II, the Stylus Tough TG-4, and the OM-D E-M1 FW 3.1. One of the first things that caught my attention was when Olympus technical specialist Eric Gensel told us the TG-4 is waterproof on its own to 50 feet, or 150 feet in the PT-056 housing.

That proved handy when, on the last day of our experiential, we descended at Key Largo’s Winch Hole and I suddenly realized I had joined a very special club. One look at the camera made very clear that the housing was filling up fast. (User error: I had allowed a corner of a desiccant tab to breach the seal.) Sheepish, I popped back to the surface, waving the TG-4 at Gensel, who simply handed me another camera and grabbed a freshwater hose, to give the salt-soaked housing a good rinse. Otherwise, no harm done.

That’s pretty typical of our experience with the TG-4: It’s built tough, as we proved again when ours were beat to heck on a wild and crazy jet ski tour of the bays and cuts around Islamorada. Like those Timex watches of old, the TG-4s took a licking and kept on ticking.

Earlier in the week, we had gotten about 10 minutes instruction each on the OM-D E-M5 Mark II, with PT-EP13 housing and UFL-3 strobe; the TG-4 in PT-056 housing with the same light; and Olympus’s OI-Share app, which among other things controls the cameras via built-in wi-fi. That was all that was necessary to get us ready to take the cameras underwater, even for a newbie like me. (Full disclosure: This was only the second time I had handled a DSLR, or a still camera of any kind, underwater.)

Coolest factoids from our briefing: The TG-4’s built-in GPS, which is designed to save your dive route to within 25-foot accuracy; and its “microscope mode,” for extreme close-ups. Shoots RAW, too.

Olympus underwater rep Bob Hahn chose dive sites perfect for our purpose. Within a half-hour to 45-minute boat ride from Key Largo are many shallow, sunny, fishy reefs popular with snorkelers and divers alike. Easy in, easy out, and lots to see without hardly moving the boat.

We started at the beloved statue of Christ of the Deep, which stands in about 25 feet of water at a site called Dry Rocks. From the Spurs — a fishy series of cigar-shaped small bommies inhabited by turtles — and action-packed Triple A reef, where every few feet seemed to offer a different macro circus, it was on to the spooky-cool wreck of the Hannah M. Bell, where a big bottlenose dolphin suddenly bombed past our two groups of divers arrayed around the expansive 19th-century remains. We finished up at Winch Hole and Hole in the Wall, and relished our last hour in the garden of sea fans at the Wellwood Restoration Site, where coral cultivation by Scuba Diving’s 2014 Sea Hero of the Year Ken Nedimyer is taking shape at the site of the 1984 wreck of the freighter Wellwood.

(Tip for anybody looking for a spot to try out a new system: the Upper Keys shallow, fishy reefs provided an easy testing ground, with wrecks, historic artifacts and swim-thrus, and a steady stream of big animals like sharks, turtles, rays and snorkelers.)

What were my takeaways? I didn’t try the OM-D E-M1 FW 3.1, Olympus’s professional rig, for which I’m clearly not ready. And I’m not qualified to review the other cameras per se, either, but several participants are. You can read Backscatter Underwater Video & Photo’s take here (TG-4) or here (E-M5 Mark II). Or Brent Durand of Underwater Photography Guide here (TG-4). And Dave Pardue from Imaging Resource on the Olympus housings we used here.

What sticks with me was the amazing video captured by the E-M5 Mark II — motion-picture quality; see for yourself at some of the links above — and how easy the TG-4 was to use, switching from video to stills, and the clarity of the screen displays, plus its live composite function, where you can watch a long exposure at night take shape before your eyes, in real time. Both systems were slightly negatively buoyant and easy to handle. Here’s hoping I get to handle one again, and soon.

Imaging Tutorial: How To Edit Shark Photos in Adobe Lightroom

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015
Before and After Black and White Conversion

Erin Quigley

Before and After

How to keep your shark photos sharp in post production.

Sharks are a favorite pho-to subject of mine, and I’ve developed a few post-production techniques that help perfect shark images.

1. Desaturate with an Adjustment Brush to remove unwanted color.

Using the Adjustment Brush and Negative Saturation Panel in Lightroom

Step 1

» In the Develop module of Lightroom, click on the Adjustment Brush icon. Slide the Saturation slider to the left to set a high negative value — you’ll finesse this later. You won’t see anything change until you paint with a brush in the image.

» Brush over areas on the shark where you see a blue- green color cast. If you get sloppy with the brush, holding down Opt (Mac) or Alt (PC) gives you a temporary eraser to tidy up.

» Move the Saturation slider back toward the right until you get the result you want.

2. Add Clarity with an Adjustment Brush to enhance pattern and emphasize eyes.

Clarity increases midtone contrast, giving the appearance of added sharpness and punch. Too much Clarity added globally in the Basic panel can make your image look overprocessed, so it’s better to add it locally using Lightroom’s Adjustment Brush and Filters.

» In the Develop module of Lightroom, click on the Adjustment Brush icon. Set a high positive value for Clarity by moving the slider all the way to the right. It doesn’t matter if you set it too high — you’ll dial it back later. You won’t see a change until you paint with the brush in the image.

» Brush over areas that have pattern or texture that you want to emphasize. Locally added Clarity can also work to punch up contrast in light rays. Adjust the slider back down to the level that looks best. You can also add Clarity with the Graduated or Radial filters.

3. Sharpen teeth, not water

How to Sharpen Teeth not Water in Lightroom

Step 3

Sharpening is the process of emphasizing edges. When sharpening gets applied to water, or other areas of flat color, it can do more harm than good. Luckily, Lightroom’s sharpening controls include a tool that lets you apply sharpening to only areas of critical contrast.

» In the Develop module, open the Detail panel.

» After setting the desired values for Amount, Radius and Detail, zoom out so you can see your whole photo. While holding down Opt (Mac) or Alt (PC), click and drag on the Masking slider. At first you’ll see a completely white screen. As you move the slider to the right, some areas be- come gray, and eventually some areas will be black. Where you see white pixels, 100 percent of the sharpen- ing values set in Amount, Radius and Detail are being applied. Gray pixels indicate a lesser value of sharpening, and black means that there’s no sharpening at all. Stop when you can see all critical detail in white, and flat areas in black.

4. Remove bubbles and bait using Content Aware Fill in Photoshop.

» Open your image in Photoshop. With the Lasso tool, draw a loose selection around the object you want to remove. Go to Edit>Fill, and choose Content Aware from the drop-down menu. If you have a Color Adaptation checkbox (Photoshop CC), click it on. Hit OK and watch the magic.

» Content Aware doesn’t always do a perfect job, but it usually gets you most of the way there. Use Photo- shop’s healing and cloning tools to clean up any details.

5. Use the Targeted Adjustment tool in Lightroom for black-and-white conversion.

» In the Develop module, select an image and click on the B&W tab near the HSL panel. The B&W Mix panel will open, and you’ll see Lightroom’s default black-and-white conversion of your image. Although your picture is now black-and-white, the panel sliders correspond to color channels,which makes the editing process nothing better than a guess if you don’t remember which part of your now black-and-white photo used to be a particular color.

» In the upper left corner of the B&W Mix panel is the Targeted Adjustment tool. Click on its icon to activate, and move your cursor into the image. Click and drag up in an area you wish to brighten, and down where you want it darker. It’s just that simple. The Targeted Adjustment tool also exists for the Tone Curve, another panel useful for creating dramatic monochromes.

Want More Tips for Editing Underwater Photos?

Check out Erin’s Tutorial on How To Remove Backscatter, Tips for Adjusting Water Color and Learn How To Make Sexy Black and White Conversions.