Photo editing against the algorithm


Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Google Pixel phones have been praised and recognized for their camera prowess since the Pixel 2. Interestingly, it wasn’t the camera hardware that made them better. In fact, Google managed to beat most of the best camera phones year after year, all with average camera hardware. For example, it wasn’t until the Pixel 4 that Google started adding more than one camera to its Pixel devices. And the camera hardware didn’t really get much better until the Pixel 6 series.

What made Pixel devices so good at photography? We can thank Google’s algorithm and computational photography for such great results. In short, it was all about AI and post-processing. Google knows what generally makes an image good, and it enhances images intelligently. The trick is to improve exposure, balance highlights/shadows, increase contrast, boost colors, and so on.

Additionally, Google can recognize skies, faces, objects, pets, and many other objects. It can then enhance these sections without affecting the rest of the image. Then you have modes like Night Sight, Astrophotography, HDR, and more, which can take a series of shots and merge them together to create a single, better photo.

Google Pixel phones have been praised and recognized for their camera prowess since the Pixel 2.

Knowing most of it is thanks to editing, we’ve been wondering if it’s really all that good compared to someone who knows his way around photo editing. I’ve accepted the challenge and went against the Pixel 7 Pro to find out who edits photos better. Has machine managed to beat man in photo editing? Let’s find out together!

A little about the photo editor

Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

Hi there. Edgar here! I am Head of Imaging and Photography at Android Authority and have been a professional photographer for over a decade. Most of my work revolves around product photography, with a strong focus on mobile technology. I’ve done photography for a series of publications, as well as a variety of brands in the commercial sector.

Needless to say, I have plenty of image post-processing experience and know my way around Photoshop, Lightroom, Affinity Photo, Capture One, and others.

Photographer vs Google Pixel 7 Pro: The rules

The whole idea of this challenge is that we want to showcase what a little bit of editing knowledge can do for the average consumer. As such, I won’t be going too crazy with editing, and we can consider most of this post-processing as developing photos instead. We’ll play a bit with simpler edits, like changing the exposure, contrast, colors, shadows, etc. I won’t be replacing large objects or doing anything fancy. I might spot-heal some unwanted distractions, but that’s a simple feature anyone can do. I’ll also try to limit cropping unless I feel it makes a significant difference.

The Pixel 7 renders images in a split second, but I am not a machine so I gave myself a 5-minute limit on editing time. And because we know most of you probably don’t have paid photo editing software, I did it all with Lightroom. You can get the mobile Lightroom version and use most features for free. If you want a completely free alternative, Snapseed is just as good.

Furthermore, I did not shoot any of these photos. These were captured by our writer C. Scott Brown, an amateur hobbyist photographer with a more casual perspective on photography. Simply said, he is an average camera phone user. He shot all images in both RAW and JPEG. I will manually edit the uncompressed, unaltered RAW photos, and the Google Pixel 7 Pro will handle the JPEG post-processing.

Photographer vs Google Pixel 7 Pro: Let’s compare!

Any camera, including the Pixel 7 Pro’s, will get its best results with ample lighting. The sun is a powerful light source, so let’s take a look at some daylight photos first to see what we’re working with.

Both of these cactus images seemed a little dull and slightly under-exposed, so I increased the exposure and contrast to give the image more depth. I also lowered the highlights and increased the shadows to give it a more balanced look. The colors needed a bit more oomph, so I went ahead and increased the vibrance to give it a more fun aesthetic. Because Lightroom allows for automatic sky selection, I was able to focus on reducing exposure and highlights on the sky, while deepening the shadows and making the temperature cooler to make the blue sky pop.

On the prickly pear fruit image, I also increased the sharpness and texture to enhance the detail a bit.

I was more playful with this roses shot, as I noticed it had plenty of colors to play around with. Also, while the bigger flower was the clear subject, it got mixed up with everything going on in the image. I fixed the exposure and increased the contrast to give the image more depth. Then I increased the vibrance and saturation to enhance the colors. When all was done, I decided to give more emphasis on the main flower by making everything else just a bit darker. I used a mixture of vignetting and the brush tool to do this. When I had selected all but the flower, I reduced the exposure a bit.

I went a bit lighter on this flower, as all I wanted was to make it pop a bit more. I made the temperature warmer and increased the color vibrance. After that, I made slight edits to the exposure and lowered the highlights.

This park photo is one of my favorites. As soon as I saw it, the image of what I wanted it to look like popped right into my head. The image was great, but the Pixel 7 Pro really didn’t make the best out of this photo. In fact, it all looks a bit dead to me, which is not what a park should look like in real life. It needs to feel alive, colorful, and warm. Something that takes you away from the dryness and coldness of the city. It had to be almost like a cartoon or painting.

I increased the exposure and contrast to make everything pop more. I lowered the highlights to ensure the sky wasn’t too bright. Now, the magic happens when you edit the colors. I increased the vibrance to highlight the colors more, then moved the saturation up to deepen the colors and give the image a cartoon-esque look. It was also important to make the temperature warmer, to give everything that warm sunny day feeling that’s so inviting.

Like other images in this post, I smart-selected the sky and made the temperature cooler for a blue sky. I also removed the airplane trail in the top-right corner.

How about a selfie? And not just any selfie! This is a portrait mode selfie, with a blurred background and all. You’ll be glad to know you can accomplish this bokeh effect in post-processing. This is the only image in which I got close to my 5-minute limit, so just know that creating fake bokeh takes a bit.

Lightroom offers a person selection tool, so I went ahead and used it to outline our friend Scott, here. After this, I had to invert the selection, so everything except Scott was selected. As you can see, the Pixel-processed image has some outlining issues in the helmet’s top and the straps. Lightroom’s selection wasn’t perfect here either, but I added those parts manually using the brush tool. When I had Scott outlined, I went ahead and reduced the sharpness all the way down on the selected area. I also increased noise reduction as much as I could. This created the soft, bokeh effect everyone loves so much.

Of course, I also made general enhancements to exposure and color.

This shot is very similar to the other image of the park. I increased the exposure and contrast, reduced highlights, and enhanced colors. Additionally, I created a bit more of a shadowy area in the lower section of the image. It’s a slight one, but it helps make you feel like you’re there, enjoying the tree’s shade and looking at the landscape.

Not much to do here. I increased the exposure and contrast, while also increasing the texture and sharpness to make all that detail in the wood stand out. I also made the temperature warmer for a more realistic daylight look.

I just couldn’t leave the greens and purples so muted. This gorgeous flower had to stand out more. After fixing the exposure settings, I raised the vibrance and saturation just a bit. I also deepened the blacks to give everything a richer, darker look. It just makes plants look more luscious.

This pic reminded me a lot of that Windows XP wallpaper, albeit in yellow instead of green. I wanted the picture to assimilate that look, but more subtly. The first step was to fix exposure and increase vibrance. I also selected the sky to make it bluer, but with a more aqua tone. The temperature was warmer, and the photographer’s shadow was removed.

Aside from exposure settings, I went manual on this lake shot to make select edits to the sky and the water. I made both bluer. Additionally, I made sure to make the reflection of the mountain more green.

This cabin was a simpler edit. It was mostly fixing exposure, reducing the highlights, making the temperature warmer, and increasing the color vibrance to make the painting colors stand out.

Jack-o’-lanterns are naturally connected to Halloween. This image needed to be darker and gloomier, while also highlighting the intensity of the flame inside. It’s all about the contrast. I increased the exposure, but reduced the highlights and whites. I also deepened the blacks and added a smooth vignette around the frame, which I cropped to center the pumpkins. A warmer look goes better with Halloween and the fire, so I changed the temperature accordingly and increased the vibrance to bring the colors to life.

I did something very similar to this image. I wanted to keep its dark essence while enhancing it. So I lowered the highlights and increased the shadows a bit. I also got rid of that red hue in the fence, making it more naturally brown by cooling the temperature of the photo.

This particular photo was very complex, as the camera shot almost directly into the sun, creating a very high contrast that usually kills both the highlights and the shadows. I’m happy with my results, though. First, I had to even out the exposure, which I did by reducing contrast, highlights, and whites. You should also increase shadows. I wanted the fence and trees to look natural, so I balanced the washed-out look by deepening the blacks.

The photo still looked a bit muted, thanks to all the contrast reduction. I used the dehaze tool to deepen colors further. I also brought out more detail in everything by increasing the texture. Once again, the sky was a bit too mute, so I selected it and made it bluer.

Which photos did you like better?

142 votes

What do you think of the results? Of course, photography is highly subjective, and we all have different thoughts on what is aesthetically pleasing and what isn’t. My biased opinion is that machine is far from beating man in photography. This is because there is no such thing as a perfect algorithm or solution for creativity.

There is no such thing as a perfect algorithm or solution for creativity.

We all have a different idea of how a photo should look, and it changes depending on many factors, including your mood, the surrounding light, memories, psychology, and more. Learning to edit ensures that photos end up just the way you want them, not how an algorithm thinks you’ll like them.

Reality of Ukraine War Laid Bare in Stark New Photography Collection


Photojournalist Lynsey Addario could not have been a closer witness to the devastation of the war in Ukraine when Russian forces fired mortar shells as civilians tried to evacuate from Irpin, near Kyiv, on March 6.

A round exploded only feet in front of her and her colleague, leaving four members of a family, including two children, dead on the street.

“That was extremely difficult because we were both in shock,” she told Newsweek, “it’s rare as a journalist that you are actually in the attack that you end up photographing.”

The image by Justyna Mielnikiewicz shows roadblocks on the main road leading from Kyiv to Kharkiv. The image is from the book “Relentless Courage: Ukraine and the World at War” published by Blue Star Press.
Justyna Mielnikiewicz/ MAPS for WSJ

She had previously defended her controversial image after it was published on the front page of The New York Times, as an important testament to Russian aggression.

It is one of a collection of striking pictures by photojournalists in a newly released photo book, Relentless Courage: Ukraine and the World at War, published by Blue Star Press, which documents the human cost of President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion.

“A lot of the policies and punishments that have been imposed on Putin have been because of the testimonies and the documentation of journalists on the ground, whether it’s from the war crimes in Bucha to the intentional targeting of civilians,” she said.

“I’ve covered war for over two decades and I’ve rarely seen people pay attention to my coverage the way they have in Ukraine,” she said.

Connecticut-born Addario received a Courage in Journalism award from the International Women’s Media Foundation this year and was part of a New York Times team that won a Pulitzer prize in 2009 for their coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Unflinching in their depictions of the impact of war, the book’s images from five featured photojournalists and other photographers document death, evacuations, burials and the trauma endured by Ukrainians.

This photo by Carol Guzy shows Kyiv resident Oleksandra Yemelianovna Kulahyna, 93, who was a nurse for 43 years. Although she shares memories of WWII, she couldn’t comprehend that the Russian invasion had begun.
Carol Guzy
A young boy looks out the bus window after leaving the Kharkiv metro station after seeking shelter there for three months after Russia’s invasion. The photo by Svet Jacqueline is from the book “Relentless Courage: Ukraine and the World at War”
Svet Jacqueline

Justyna Mielnikiewicz was in Dnipro on February 24 when the war started. “It was like the whole country within a day was just hit,” she told Newsweek. “The scale of the attack was so overwhelming.”

Covering the war for The Wall Street Journal, she said that after the initial shock of the invasion, she noticed Ukrainians got to work organizing themselves with volunteer centers being set up.

There were logistical difficulties in getting around, not helped by gasoline shortages and the dangers posed by the fact that the “whole country had become a frontline.”

“It’s important to show people as individuals and not some kind of anonymous mass representing some abstract suffering. I believe in showing individual stories,” Mielnikiewicz said.

“In a time of war, I think you just tune into other people’s emotions,” she said. While she saw herself as a chronicler of the war, it was still important to help where she could. “I’m still a human.”

Meanwhile, another of Addario’s images in the book was taken right at the start of the war during a mass mobilization of volunteers. Flanked by two women holding guns is a teacher called Yuliya looking up in tears.

Ukrainian volunteer Yuliya (center) cries as she is transported to a center for volunteer fighters in Kyiv on February 26, 2022. The image was taken by Lynsey Addario.
LYNSEY ADDARIO
This image by Carol Guzy is part of a collection from the photo book “Relentless Courage: Ukraine and the World at War” published by Blue Star Press and distributed by Penguin Random House.
Carol Guzy

“I asked her, ‘why are you crying?’ And she said, ‘I’m scared. I’m scared for my country. I’m scared for my future,'” said Addario.

“It was incredible to me to see a teacher go and despite her incredible fear, to volunteer and she’s still in the military,” she said.

“I have witnessed that sort of resilience and determination to fight against the Russians from the very beginning and that’s what sort of made this war unique for me.

“As well as this incredible bravery, people are so unified and they are totally determined to not let Russia take over their country.”

Holiday reviews inspire postcards from hell in nightmarish DALL-E 2 project


AI art generators are a controversial new creative tool, and many are unsure about what role they’ll come to play. But sometimes a fun creative experiment comes along that seems like just the thing they can serve for. 

Skimming through TripAdvisor reviews can be enough to out anyone off travel forever. Almost every destination seems to have at least a couple of scathing reviews that make it sound like hell on Earth. But what if the place really was that bad? Well, someone’s used AI to show what some popular tourist destinations would look like according to their worst write ups, and they look bad (unsure of how the technology works? See our guide to how to use DALL-E 2).

England’s most prized prehistoric monument (Image credit: My Favourite Cottages)

Many of us will have been disappointed by the reality of certain popular tourist destinations compared to the postcard images we saw before our trip. Some people really vent that frustration in colourful online reviews, which can often put potential future visitors off.

So Holiday Rental Company My Favourite Cottages (opens in new tab) has reimagined the UK’s top tourist attractions according to one-star reviews, with the help of the AI-powered text-to-image generator DALL-E 2 (opens in new tab). It used text prompts comprising each attraction’s name and keywords from their worst TripAdvisor reviews. Then the image generator did its thing. So, what do some of the UK’s top tourist attractions look like in the eyes of their harshest critics? Here are some more examples.

Unsurprisingly, the images suggest that the main complaint in TripAdvisor reviews is crowds, but then we all know you need to get up at 5am or use some serious editing in Photoshop to get those clean images of landmarks free from crowds. But it’s a nice use of AI as a tool to imagine what things could look like rather than to try to create a finished work of art. 

For more on AI art, see how the best AI art generators compare. And if you want to edit you’re holiday snaps to get rid of scenes like this, it’s worth noting that there’s an Adobe Black Friday deal on Creative Cloud right now (see the prices in your area below).

Read more:

Deal Alert: Save $100 on the Tokina atx-m 11-18mm f/2.8 for Sony E


Looking to expand your lens collection for your crop-sensor Sony mirrorless camera or a perfect holiday gift for a Sony shooter in your life? The Japanese lens manufacturer Tokina has an instant savings deal just for you. For a limited time, get $100 off the new Tokina atx-m 11-18mm f/2.8.

Announced in mid-September 2022, the Tokina atx-m 11-18mm f/2.8 E is the first super-wide-angle zoom lens designed exclusively for mirrorless cameras.

Fully compatible with Sony E-mount APS-C bodies, the lens features a constant f/2.8 aperture and a 17-27mm equivalent focal range in 35mm full-frame terms, providing an angle of view of between 104 and 77 degrees.

Features and specs of the lens include a compact and lightweight body, 13 elements in 11 groups (including two aspherical elements and two super-low dispersion elements), a 9-bladed aperture diaphragm, a stepping motor, a close focusing distance of 0.62 feet (0.19m), a filter size of 67mm, a macro ratio of 1:9.2, and a micro USB port for future firmware updates.

“Engineered from the ground up, Tokina has brought the legendary, multiple award winning optical technology from the ATX 11-16mm f2.8 to mirrorless cameras,” Tokina says. “The new Tokina atx-m 11-18mm f2.8 sets the new standard for compact, fast aperture super wide-angle lenses specifically engineered to meet the high performance requirements of today’s crop-sensor mirrorless cameras.

“At the heart of the new optical design are two aspherical elements combined with two super low-dispersion lenses that suppresses chromatic aberrations, nearly eliminates coma at the edges at f2.8, and produces superior contrast and color reproduction. Making the lens an excellent choice for any type of photography including astrophotography.”

Tokina says the the atx-m 11-18mm f/2.8 E is ideal for landscapes, group photos, environmental portraits, architecture, astrophotography, automobile photography, street photography, documentary videos, and vlogging.

Here are a few official sample photos captured with the lens (a larger selection of images can be found on Tokina’s website):

While the lens ordinarily carries a price tag of $599, Tokina is offering $100 in instant holiday savings, allowing you to purchase one for just $499 while the deal lasts.

Head on over to the Tokina USA online store if you’d like to order the lens. Shipping is free on orders of $75 or more.

Digital Artist Julien Tabet Creates Photo-Manipulations Of Animals In Surreal Situations




French Renes-based digital artist Julien Tabet creates photo-manipulations of animals in surreal situations. Julien’s specialty is to relook at animals by re-interpreting the laws of Nature, in order to share a world different from the one we know. His images are made of fantasy, fun, poetry, and seem to have no limits.

His work is 100% digital, combining photo manipulation and illustration. He always pays attention to detail, on the border between realism and fantasy.

Scroll down and inspire yourself. Please check Julien’s more amazing work on his Website and Instagram.

You can find Julien Tabet on the web:

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THE GREAT OUTDOORS: Incoming geese inspire a photo challenge | Lifestyles


It is no secret that I’m addicted to nature photography, which I practice on an almost daily basis regardless of weather conditions. In fact bad conditions sometime produce some neat images. I love “shooting” sunrises; they usually are the thing that gets me going in the morning. With sunrises, or sunsets, the secret to getting good ones is to be out there before they occur. Sometimes the best sky color is before the sun rises or after it sets, and you need to be in a good position before that happens. After sunrise, I head to a likely wildlife scene.

Lately I have been sitting along the Feeder Road off Route 77 near a marsh where geese and ducks come to rest in the morning. No hunting is allowed on this marsh, so many of the waterfowl naturally pick it for a safe haven. This was my favorite spot last week as I aimed to get good flight shots of geese coming in. Lighting and wind need to be from the right angle, and the birds are fast, so you have to be on the ball. It is very satisfying to catch that goose image, tack sharp, as he cups and drops into the marsh.

I used to do a lot of waterfowl hunting and the incoming geese always seemed to be the most exciting to watch. That’s still true today as I hunt them with my camera. Their distance calling tunes me in to their arrival and even when they are about to take off. I take way too many pictures of them in flight, but that’s necessary to catch the birds’ most flattering positions, which involves how the light is hitting them, their wing positions and their angle to the camera.

One shot I’m always trying to capture is their flying upside-down (yes, you read that right!). Sometimes when a flock is coming in to land they come in from a high altitude and are in a hurry to get to their chosen landing spot. To do this they “slip” sideways as they drop from the sky, and even flip over on their backs, which cuts wind resistance and helps them drop more quickly. Now, this maneuver takes only a split second, and they do it individually, not as a group. Thus it can be very difficult to catch this move. The best way is to just click away as you see birds in the flock doing this and hope you catch one upside-down.

When the birds are ready to leave the marsh, their body positioning and type of call usually prompt me to get ready. I try to catch them both flying and running on the water as they get airborne. Again, it is a matter of taking a lot of shots to catch it just right.

A lot of other things went on as I waited for various groups of geese to arrive. One morning a pair of trumpeter swans flew over me from a side that I don’t eyeball that much, and by the time I saw them I could only get angling-away images, not very flattering to the swans. A few mornings later, now peeking at the southeast side of my position more often, I caught the pair coming towards me. Getting ready, I kept focusing on them as they approached, and hit the “trigger” a number of times as they passed low and right in front of me. Each time I did, the thought “got it” clicked in my mind, and the end result was about six great, tack-sharp, well-exposed and flattering shots. As they continued on their way I took a deep breath — I often hold my breath as I shoot, probably a habit from my long range woodchuck hunting days that gave me a more accurate shot. A quick review of the shots proved I hit the nail right on the head, and my day was made even if the geese and ducks didn’t cooperate.

Other creatures often show themselves while I’m waiting out a particular set up like this. A mink will scramble in front of me, never giving a good shot because it is so quick in its sudden appearance and disappearance. Then there’s the great blue heron that has not flown south yet, offering some close “fishing” poses to me. Although not as plentiful as the incoming geese in this marsh, some mallards, pintails, teal and an occasional wood duck come in, elevating the excitement for me.

When the geese do start arriving there seems to be numerous groups coming in, one after another, which keeps me on the ball and breathless as I concentrate on various groups, trying to pick ones with good background, or doing quick maneuvers and coming in at the right angles.

Nature’s creatures are not the only things that keep me entertained while I’m in this area. The seasonal road is traveled by both vehicles and hikers looking to see nature or photograph it, and sometimes it’s pretty funny watching the wildlife outmaneuver these people. I can often predict what’s going to happen. Someone stops quickly and jumps out of their vehicle, camera in hand for a picture, only to find the creature has disappeared. Or, they walk or drive by never seeing the wildlife right off the road, because they don’t know how to look for it.

Nature photography can be addictive but that is OK because it makes you more appreciative of what’s out there.

I have a list of folks to whom I send my nature images. If you’re interested in seeing what I see, send me your email address and a request and I’ll add you to the list.

Doug Domedion, outdoorsman and nature photographer, resides in Medina. Contact him at 585-798-4022 or woodduck2020@yahoo.com.

How to produce space images using James Webb Space Telescope data


We live in rather amazing times, with private citizens travelling to space and citizen scientists contributing to the knowledge base of professional astronomy.

Now, just as it did with the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA has made data from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) available for download, for anyone to process for themselves.

Below is our final image of NGC 3132, processed from raw Webb data. Here we’ll walk you through how to do it, step-by-step.

See the James Webb Space Telescope’s latest images for inspiration and read our guide to image processing for more advice.

NGC 3132, captured by the James Webb Space Telescope and processed by Warren Keller.

How to get raw data from James Webb Space Telescope

Visit the MAST Portal, an archive named after Barbara Mikulski, a retired US senator and staunch supporter of space exploration.

Clicking on Advanced search at the top of the page opens a new window.

On the far right, type ‘JWST’ in the Mission box and press Enter.

At far left, under Columns, select Release date and scroll down to the box of the same name.

Type ‘2022-07-13 14:00:00’ as the beginning date and time – 13 July 2022 being the day on which the first observations were released to the public.

With the end date at default (the year 2050), note the number of Records found at the top of the page.

At the time of writing, there were already over 120,000 in the archive.

As NGC 3132 is our target and was one of the first data sets released, entering an end date of ‘2022-07-13 16:00:00’ displays a manageable 2,325 records.

Clicking Search at top left reveals the individual file folders and you’ll need to narrow the field yet again.

Under Instrument in the Filters box at left, choose the near-infrared data by checking NIRCAM.

Depending on the width of your monitor and browser window, you may need to use the scroll bar at the bottom to slide over to the Target name column.

Also note the Filters column. I found F187N, F356W and F444W to be the most useful filters.

Click on the floppy disc icons of records 13, 15 and 18 to download the zipped folders to your computer (see image below).

Choose your colours

Unzip the folder to a suitable location on your computer then open the parent folder, then a second folder with the same name and, finally, the JWST directory.

Next, open the Nircam folder, discarding all but the FITS file ending in ‘i2d.’

Double-clicking that file will open seven individual files in your program of choice, mine being PixInsight.

Of these, the seventh and last to open has a _SCI suffix and is the only file that you’ll need.

When finished, you will be left with three files to post-process, each ending in ‘i2d.fits’, with the filter names f444w_f470n, f356w and f187n.

Those of us who process narrowband images will understand the concept of ‘mapping’ data that’s invisible to the human eye to colours that we can perceive.

The same is true here. Rather than the emission lines of the Hubble palette, we’re now dealing with Webb’s near-infrared information.

How best to assign these filters? For guidance, search online for ‘NIRCam Filters – JWST User Documentation’ or visit the NIRCam Filters page.

There you will find a full-colour graph illustrating the transmission lines of each filter from short to long wavelengths.

While there’s no single, correct way to proceed, it made sense to me to assign the shortest wavelength data (F187N) to the blue channel, as blue is on the shorter end of the visible spectrum.

Conversely, I mapped the long wavelength F470N data to red and the medium F356W to green.

I found this to be the most aesthetically pleasing colour blend for this particular object, and strikingly similar to the Hubble SHO palette (see image below).

After marrying the channels with PixInsight’s Channel combination process, the images were cropped of edge artefacts and stretched with Histogram transformation (HT).

Transferring a Boosted autostretch from the STF (Screen transfer function) to HT with the RGB channels unlinked provided a great start to good colour.

PixInsight’s SCNR (Subtractive chromatic noise reduction) was then applied to reduce an undesirable green cast in the stars (see image below).

From there, a range mask was applied, so that contrast, sharpness and colour saturation could be boosted in the nebula only.

As the data was so clean, no noise reduction was needed for our final image, which you can see at the very top of this page.

If you’re a Photoshop-based processor, be sure to view Nico Carver’s excellent tutorial, ‘Can I process the JWST data better than NASA?’ on his ‘Nebula Photos’ YouTube channel, which you can view below

Processing JWST data: 3 quick tips

  1. Knowing the release date of a particular data set will help narrow your records search considerably.
  2. Note that the strength of the NIRCam’s infrared signal may render noise reduction unnecessary.
  3. While gathering the data is a rather tedious process, the end result is well worth the effort!

Have you processed your own James Webb Space Telescope data? We’d love to see it! Get in touch by emailing contactus@skyatnightmagazine.com.

This guide originally appeared in the November 2022 issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.

Te Hīkoi Toi: Photography that captures our people and places


Sebastian Clarke (Ngāti Awa, Pākehā) is a writer and researcher interested in New Zealand architectural and craft histories.

On my daily walk into the city, I’m frequently reminded of all the things in my own neighbourhood I never stopped to photograph: the humpy roof of architect Ian Athfield’s freshly demolished First Church of Christ Science on Willis St, one of countless fantastic window displays at Hunters and Collectors, or a particularly witty protest sign I saw near Parliament years ago. After a quick moment of regret, I reconcile myself by remembering I live in the same city as Andrew Ross.

Ross talks about his photography as a duty. Attentive to the ever-evolving nature of his city, Wellington, Ross has been active in documenting local scenes on the precipice of change for over 30 years. At Photospace Gallery on Courtenay Place, Ross’ latest exhibition, People and Places, has recently opened.

It’s the photographer totally in his large format, silver gelatin print element. Ross is often recognised as a master photographer of historic places, however, it’s not just the age of a building where the appeal lies. Ross talks about being drawn to environments that “feed the souls” of their inhabitants. This extends beyond homes, to bookstores, music venues, ceramics studios, and motorcycle garages, all of which he has photographed for this exhibition.

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And although he’s behind the camera, these are all environments where Ross is a part of the community or a friend to his subject. This familiar association is apparent in his works. There is a quiet sympathy present in his photographs. You can appreciate this in the images where Ross’ subjects meet the camera with a sense of ease, and the trust and faith they have in their photographer’s perspective is plain to see. One such image is that of Rainbow Books on Riddiford St, Newtown, where the bookstore owner Brian Stenner and dog Tag sit proudly in front of the teeming bookstore alongside friends, Lindsey and Gordon.

Ross’ photographs of people are excellent, but it is his photographs without them that I find the most beguiling. While they may not appear in the frame, these interior images reveal to us so much about people and serve as worthy portraits of those who cultivate their lives within these spaces.

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Living Room Glenside 2022 is a riot of a room but despite the chaos the photograph is meticulous.

The photograph of a Glenside living room is a prime example. Here is a riot of a room, where objects abound and light fittings are put to work as coat stands. But despite this chaos, the photograph is meticulous. The room is suspended still, as light pours in and every interior element is captured with Ross’ signature precision. As a viewer, this photograph and many others in People and Places are ones to luxuriate in – demanding you to get up close and bask in their details.

Exposure Exhibition He Kahoni Kitea, the annual graduate showcase at Massey University College of Creative Arts, continues this week. It is always worth a visit and this year I was especially impressed by the photography of Iolo Adams and Amber-Jayne Bain, both graduating with a Bachelor of Design with Honours.

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Massey graduate Iolo Adams’ work ‘Studies in Natural Temporality’ at Exposure.

Iolo Adams’ installation Windows to Yesterday and Tomorrow includes verdant images of the Wairarapa bush. The images have been carefully constructed to offer a generous study of this environment. In one photograph, a mirror has been inserted into the landscape enabling the single image to convey multiple, meta views of the sun-soaked Wairarapa scene. The result is visually dynamic and technically accomplished. The same level of care has gone into the curatorial arrangement of Adams’ photographs at Exposure which come together as an immersive and striking presentation.

The Rogues Gallery is a series of powerful portraits by Bain. Here, Bain has photographed a range of fellow photographers, writers, and other artistic people with the intent of capturing something of their creative essence. Each subject has been photographed by Bain twice, with two distinct approaches to portraiture having been utilised. There are relaxed, contextual photographs of the featured individuals in their own environments as well as close-up studio portraits that immediately command attention.

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Portrait of Natalie Jones by Amber-Jayne Bain, at Exposure.

Bain’s images of arts practitioner Natalie Jones evidence the photographer’s dual method. In one image, Jones is seen working away into the night from inside her caravan office, while her accompanying portrait shows a very different Jones positioned in the centre of the frame against a deep red backdrop, staunchly looking right at the viewer. Bain has a real skill for this latter kind of photography, depicting her subjects with a confident blend of humanity and strength.

Both Adams and Bain have physical photobooks to accompany their exhibited works and, with a show as expansive as Exposure, it is well worth allowing plenty of time to not only enjoy the works installed within the galleries, but also to view these and other photobooks which have been finely assembled and offer further perspectives on the work of these emerging photographers.

  • People and Places, Photospace Gallery, until Jan 28. Exposure Exhibition He Kahoni Kitea, Massey, until Nov 25.

PRINT: Sebastian Clarke (Ngāti Awa, Pākehā) is a writer and researcher interested in New Zealand architectural and craft histories.

How to capture moody monochrome landscapes


January 12, 2022

Landscape pro Jeremy Walker is your guide to capturing moody and atmospheric monochrome landscapes this winter


Why mono? It’s a simple enough question. Why not instead utilise the full ability of the modern sensor and shoot in glorious colour? To me, the answer is not a technical one. I find there is an undefinable quality about black & white images that I just don’t get from an image that was shot at sunrise or sunset and packed with super-juiced post production primary colours.

15th century tower house in late autumn, Dumfries and Galloway. Leica M10-R, 1/30sec at f/8, ISO 100, Silver Efex Pro

Black & white imagery is of course not for everyone, and I recently heard a client on a workshop say bluntly, ‘I don’t do black & white’, which is fair enough, but I feel they are missing out on an incredibly creative part of the photographic process. The days of starting your photographic career by mixing chemicals in the bathroom, sticking bin bags across the window to achieve blackout, an enlarger precariously perched on a stool and prints being washed in the bath probably just do not happen any more, but processing your own black & white negatives and then printing them really concentrated the creative mind.

You looked at the world in black & white, your whole photographic output was in mono and so you looked at the world in terms of shadows, tones, contrast and texture. Colour, unlike today, rarely came into the equation.

Being in the right place at the right time

Shooting moody monochrome landscapes requires a great deal more effort than just getting up for a sunrise or sunset and then hitting the saturation slider in post production. Having found a location that will work well in mono is one thing; being there at the right time in the right conditions is another.

Cuillin Hills in winter, Isle of Skye. Nikon D810, 1/640sec at f/8, ISO 64. Three images stitched together in Photoshop. Converted to B+W in Silver Efex Pro

Weather forecasts showing the percentage of cloud and rain, wind speed and direction become critical. A forecast showing a 50% chance of rain with the wind at 15 to 20 miles an hour can be encouraging. Basically, look for sunny intervals with frequent showers.

Clearing (or approaching) storm clouds on a background of deep blue sky with dark patchy shadows scudding across the landscape are heaven for those photographers who want oodles of mood and drama, although there is a price to pay for such dramatic conditions. By the very nature of wanting storm clouds, the chances are you are going to get wet, cold, hit by hailstones or even snowed on, but trust me on this one, it will be worth it.

Hunkering down on a hillside, even well prepared and in the right outdoor kit, can seem slightly unpleasant at times but when the storm clears you are there, in place and ready to shoot. There is no getting out of the car, getting togged up and having to walk to the right spot; if you do this the chances are you will have missed the shot, that transient moment when all the elements have come together for just a split second.

Marlborough Downs in late summer, Wiltshire. Leica M10, 1/250sec at f/8, ISO 100, Silver Efex Pro

Yes, you may have to suffer a cold waterdrop dribbling down your neck or a hard hailstone hitting home, but to be in the right place at the right time, ready and waiting and then getting the image, there is no better feeling, even after hours of discomfort. Thinking and shooting in mono also opens up the possibility of a larger, longer working window.

Sunrises and sunsets with their pretty pink skies come and go after about an hour but when you are shooting in mono there is often an opportunity to be shooting much longer into the day. Yes, the conditions and location will play a huge part in how long you can shoot for but even several hours after sunrise or before sunset you can often still use the light to your advantage.

Late autumn, winter and even early spring are great times to be thinking in terms of shooting mono as there is precious little colour in the landscape anyway and the sun is never going to climb too high in the sky.

Post production

When you are shooting moody monochrome landscapes, you should be aware of how you are going to process them and what sort of feel and look you are going to give your images. The doyen of many landscape photographers, Ansel Adams, always said visualise the final print on the wall before you take the camera out of the bag, and this still holds true today.

Avebury stone circle in late winter, Wiltshire. Leica M10, 1/125sec at f/5.6, ISO 100, Silver Efex Pro

When you are on location you should know what look and feel your image will have and when you are sat in front of your computer you should know how to achieve the desired result. Creating moody monochrome landscapes is not just a case of pushing the saturation slider to the left in Photoshop, desaturating the image and hoping for the best. Contrast, clarity and colour channels can all come into play in creating the look and feel you want.

Possibly the best-known software for creating black & white images is the superb Nik Silver Efex Pro. It is a very creative and powerful program with many presets but it too has its limitations. It can be a very aggressive piece of software so you need to check your images carefully for any deficiencies and imperfections that it may create.

In using software that has many presets you also risk having your images look like everyone else’s and so you must be very careful and selective in what you use. Look to create your own style, apply a pic ‘n’ mix type of approach to your selections so that hopefully no one else will have quite the same look and feel to their images.

Beech Trees, Marlborough Downs, Wiltshire. Leica M10, 1/250th at f/8, ISO 100, Silver Efex Pro

You have visualised and shot your landscape as a black & white, but of course the camera chip is seeing colour (unless you have the stunning Leica M10 Monochrom) and the resultant raw file will contain all the colour information that was in front of you at the time of shooting. In converting the raw file to a black & white image the software is using the colour information and you can turn this to your advantage.

For instance, if you want dark black skies, make your blues as dark as possible, using a polariser or grad. Even when you are shooting for a black & white image you still must be aware of colour and how its conversion will affect the resultant image.

Conclusion

Even if black & white photography is not for you, I urge you this winter to give it a go. Not just pleasant images with a wide tonal range and a well-balanced histogram but images with solid blacks, and mood and drama by the bucket-load. Set your camera monitor to mono and visualise and explore a drama-filled world devoid of colour.


Why it works

Before

The ruins of Kilchurn Castle on the shores of Loch Awe are often photographed at sunrise with calm waters, reflections, snow on the hills and perhaps a thin layer of mist wafting by. I wanted to see what the castle was like late on a breezy, wet winter’s afternoon. My visit was more in hope than anticipation as it had rained all day. Scotland in winter is always a frustrating battle against the elements.

Storm clouds hung over the hills, the wind ruffled the water, and the sun was well hidden, not a promising start. However, just for a few minutes a beam of light pierced the gloom and illuminated the stark trees in the foreground, the castle being almost an afterthought in the distant background.

After

I knew then with a bit of work in Photoshop and a black & white conversion in Silver Efex ProI would have the moody and dramatic image that I had in my mind’s eye. Judging the scene when you shoot it and knowing your software are key to this type of image. At the time of shooting, you should have an idea of what your final image will look like, and how you are going to achieve it.


Jeremy’s top tips for moody monochrome landscapes

Follow the weather forecasts

Don’t be put off by warnings of showers or even storms. You want moody and atmospheric conditions, but you need to find a balance of showers, sunshine, and a strong breeze. Use at least three different forecasters to get a good cross-section of what is likely to happen.

Go prepared

There may be a great deal of hanging around waiting for the perfect conditions. Warm waterproof clothing and the correct footwear are the essentials but carrying a flask of coffee and some comfort snacks can be just as important. A soft waterproof cushion to sit on and protect you from cold and damp surfaces during a long vigil is also a must!

Make use of filters

Use grads, polarisers and any other filters that will have an impact on how a colour or hue will translate into black & white. It’s also important you get to know your software and how it works with and interprets your raw files. This comes with experience so don’t let one shoot put you off. The more you shoot and process, the better understanding you will gain.

Appropriate subject matter

Pick an appropriate subject matter for your moody monochrome landscapes

Large, dark brooding skies work well over castles and ruins, less so over pretty rose-covered cottages. Try to choose a subject matter where the mood and drama help tell a story – ancient stone circles, Neolithic earthworks, and abandoned buildings like old churches can all look amazing with stormy skies and fleeting patches of light.

Perseverance

Judging the conditions at any given location is never going to be easy. There will be a great deal of frustration when the elements do not come together, hours spent just waiting with nothing to show for it. But when the light, clouds and the landscape come together in harmony the struggles will be worth it.


Jeremy Walker

Jeremy, one of the UK’s leading landscape photographers, is known for his eye-catching panoramas and moody black & white landscapes. Landscape is his acclaimed first book and he is in much demand as a speaker, writer, and workshop leader. See www.jeremywalker.co.uk or follow him on Facebook or Instagram.


Further reading

Tips for black and white photography

Mono magic: Black and white landscape photography



Twitter bans astrophotographer for three months over an “intimate” shot of a meteor


Can you imagine seeing anything “dirty” in a photo or video of a meteor? Yeah, neither can I. However, Twitter can, and it banned an astrophotographer this August because of that.

Astronomer and astrophotographer Mary McIntyre published a video of a meteor she took during the Perseid meteor shower. Twitter flagged it as “intimate content,” which resulted in banning the photographer for the whole three months!

The Perseid meteor shower is visible from mid-July to late August, and Mary took her photos on 11 August in Oxfordshire, UK, using a Canon 1100D and a kit lens. The meteor she shot left an ionization trail behind, making it quite a sight! “I honestly didn’t expect to see any of those with so much moonlight,” she wrote on Twitter. She posted a short video she composed from a fireball shot and seven subsequent images… And Twitter saw it as something that wasn’t allowed on the platform.

Here is the #IonizationTrail from the #Perseid #Fireball at 01:37 BST / 00:37 UT 13/08/22 from #Oxfordshire. Visually it was epic! Canon 1100D 18-55mm lens 8sec ISO-800 f/3.5. Video is made from the fireball + 7 subsequent images #Perseids2022 #PerseidsMeteorShower https://t.co/jSw3OTSw15

After Twitter flagged her video as “containing intimate content,” her only option was to delete the tweet. If she had accepted, she would have had to agree that she’s broken the rules. “It’s just crazy,” Mary told the BBC. “I don’t really want it on my record that I’ve been sharing pornographic material when I haven’t.”

Since she refused to delete the tweet of the sexy meteor, Twitter “rewarded” her with a three-month ban. She tried to appeal the decision but had no luck. Her account remained visible for three months, but she wasn’t allowed to access it.

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“I miss the interaction,” Mary said, adding that she felt “a bit cut off from the astronomy world.” But since the ban was placed in August – she’s now back on the platform.

I’m back!!!!!!!!!! After 3 months of being blocked due to my Perseid meteor video being flagged as intimate media, I wasn’t able to get my account back unless I admitted to breaking the rule. Huge thanks to the BBC & to everybody who has been tagging support for me 🙂

Speaking with the BBC, tech commentator Kate Bevan said that this was an example of the limitations of AI tools that Twitter and other social media use for content moderation. “AI tools are OK for quick and dirty decisions, but it shows that content moderation at scale is really difficult – both for humans and for the AI tools that are supporting them,” she said. “It’s even worse when there are no humans available to review bad AI decisions. Apart from the unfairness, it means the AI model isn’t getting feedback, so it will never learn to improve.”

This reminded me of my favorite story ever, when an AI tool for detecting explicit content kept flagging photos of deserts as “nudity.” Comments on that article were brilliant (“Send dunes” still cracks me up), but honestly, I can see how AI can identify some dunes as nudes. But I can’t understand how on earth even artificial intelligence can see anything dirty in photos of a meteor. How?! Do you have any idea? Enlighten me in the comments.

[via the BBC]