Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Rest of my Photo Toolkit

Wild Geranium at Messenger Woods, Homer Glen, IL – May, 2012

As the last post was all about the tools I use to capture my images, I thought I’d share in this post the tools I use once I bring the images back home (or to the RV).

But first a brief diversion to answer a question from reader Terry in Oklahoma City to explain a bit more about the filters I use.  There are lots of software filters included in many of the major photo editing programs and folks might start to think that it’s unnecessary to buy camera filters anymore because you can “correct it later with software.”   This can indeed be true in a number of situations, but not all!  I still use 2 kinds of filters at the camera because software still can’t quite mimic them.  They are:


  • a glass Circular Polarizer that screws on the front of the lens (I use a warming polarizer to make landscape colors “pop” better than traditional cool-toned polarizers").


  • Graduated Neutral Density and Reverse ND Grad filters (these are rectangular-shaped plastic resin) that I handhold directly against the front of the lens.  These can also produce some neat starbursts when photographing a sunset or sunrise.

I’ve been using Singh-Ray filters for the last few years, and while they are super expensive, they produce quality images that will be “kicked up a notch” from those taken with lesser-quality filters.

Sing-Ray has an excellent training video on how to use these filters and their before/after effects--    They also have a great blog that features some really wonderful landscape photography and photgraphers.

So, back to my post-processing toolkit!


I used to do my primary photo editing at home where I had a Windows workstation with large pro-grade NEC LCD monitor.  But now that I RV for months at a time and mobility is critical, I’m quite satisfied with the anti-glare screen on my 15” Apple MacBook Pro. It has a decent shadow range and colors appear more true and less over-saturated than my previous Sony PC laptop. 

Photo Editing Software:

I recently upgraded to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 (from version 2), and I’ve been blown away by the recent improvements—mostly, the new shadow and highlight controls which add incredible dynamic range while preserving a very natural look.  If you already have Lightroom, this $79 upgrade is a no-brainer!

I use Lightroom for the majority of my photo editing, but when working on an individual image that requires some advanced editing (such as removing distracting poles and utility lines such as I did with the Shamrock Conoco shot), I open the image in Adobe Photoshop Elements.


If you only want to invest in one photo editor, PSE is it!  I used to use the full version of Photoshop, but when layer masks and the spot healing brush made their way into PSE version 9, I no longer needed full-Photoshop (since I mostly just edit images for electronic-only viewing, the 8-bit editing of PSE is sufficient).

Plug-In Bells and Whistles:
Both Lightroom and PSE come with a decent set of pre-sets and filters, but if I really want to go all-out on a particular image, I turn to two Photoshop plug-in solutions that work with both Lightroom and PSE (as well as any other software than accepts Photoshop plug-ins).

21OAL0lXb3L._SL500_AA300_I’ve used Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro filters since they first came out, but after recently upgrading to version 4, I’m even more impressed!  Their new Detail Extractor filter (used in conjunction with Lightroom 4’s shadow/highlight sliders), make it virtually unnecessary to shoot multiple images and combine in HDR software to get a wider dynamic range.

In the past, a single-shot image like the one below would have been nearly impossible for me to edit into something usable.  The shadows were just too under-exposed to be usable.


But with Lightroom 4 and Color Efex Pro 4, I’m able to pull out very natural-looking subtle shadow detail and bring the image much closer to what I actually saw in just a couple of clicks!


My other “go to” set of plug-ins is the excellent Topaz Labs Plug-In Bundle:


The full bundle has 10 different plug-ins that do all kinds of different effects, but I mainly stick with Topaz Adjust when I want to do a more aggressive HDR look such as this:


Topaz Adjust is very similar to Color Efex Pro (and a lot cheaper), so if you can only buy 1, give it a try!  It will let you do subtle effects as well—I just happen to like some of their wilder HDR presets.

I also like Topaz DeNoise a lot, and still prefer it even to Lightroom 4’s improved Noise Reduction control.  It has some really good algorithms for removing noise (those grainy dots from high ISO or HDR photos) while still maintaining sharpness.

Storage and Viewing:
I keep all of my laptop images backed up to an external hard drive while traveling.  But as soon as I find some good, strong unlimited WiFi, I upload my edited images to my Flickr Pro account.


For $24.95/year I can upload and store an unlimited number of full-resolution JPG images (up to 50MB each), and can access them from my various mobile devices and TV set-top boxes such as AppleTV and Roku.

The one downside to Flickr is that it won’t store my RAW or editable PSD file formats, however, just within the past month, both Microsoft and Google have updated their online file storage solutions (Windows SkyDrive and Google Drive) making it now possible to store pretty large amounts of data for a minimal price (or even free!).  On future extended RV trips, I plan to also start backing up my edited PSD files to these solutions whenever I have the wifi bandwidth available to do so. 


Finally, at home, I have a great network hard drive, a Western Digital MyBook Live, that allows me to store/retrieve files and full backups of all my computer data wirelessly throughout the house.  A neat added feature is that the contents of the MyBook Live can also be accessible to me where ever I’m traveling via the free website or their WD2go mobile apps.  This came in super handy for me this past winter when I was out in Arizona and needed some older files that I had forgotten to copy to my laptop.  Thank goodness for WD2go!!!


  1. Nice pictorial examples.

    I read blah blah blah PRETTY PICTURE! blah blah blah OOH LOOK!, but your more savvy readers will appreciate this info.

    Where was the city-lights photo taken? I want to go to there.

    1. ha ha Rox, you are too funny! Well, your blog pics are just fine the way they are :-) The city lights were overlooking Tucson on the Catalina Highway (road to Mt. Lemmon). When it's hotter than Hades in Tucson, you just drive a few minutes on this road to a higher elevation that's cooler-- how convenient is that?!!

  2. I'm afraid that was also more than I can understand about photo editing. I just use Picasa, but then my pictures are just for my enjoyment on the blog. :)

    1. I greatly enjoy your blog photos too Judy! You get some of the best wildlife photos-- I just never tire of looking at them!

  3. Thanks, Lynne.

    While I seldom do much in post processing, I do occasionally crop or perhaps lighten them some. I'm still working with Microsoft's Digital Image Pro 7 and Adobe Photoshop Elements 6. While I sometimes get photos that aren't exactly as I remembered seeing with the naked eye, I generally do little processing because I like going with what God shows me.

    I used to have a circular polarizing when I still used film, but haven't purchased for the digital yet. I don't do much "creative" photography, so I'm not likely to need the neutral density and reverse ND filters.

    For anyone else reading, aren't the polarizing filters supposed to minimize the glare, especially off of water, to allow one to see what is under the surface of the water?

    1. Yes indeed polarizers do indeed cut glare. Most folks think that just applies to water shots or perhaps photographing thru a window. But glare can also be present on wet green foliage or in mid-morning/mid-afternoon bright sunlight. If you buy only 1 filter for your camera, a circular polarizer will certainly be quite useful!

  4. Thanks again. I have always enjoyed seeing your photos and hearing of your travels, so keep up the good work.

  5. Lynne,

    Thanks so much for the info. So far, my only filter is a Circular Polarizing, and it certainly helps get rid of glare and not just in water pics. I use the full version of Photoshop at work, but I don't have it on my home computer, which is something I need to remedy. I was wondering if Photoshop Elements would have enough features; sounds like I need to investigate it.

    1. Yeah, I bought PSE9 on a whim thinking I'd surely get tired of missing this or that and then want to pay the big money to upgrade my old CS2 version of Photoshop. But, surprise, surprise! I realized, since I don't print anything and don't need to edit my work for commercial reproduction, PSE's 8-bit editing is really just fine for me...and the savings were enough to upgrade Lightroom and my plug-ins!

  6. Both of these photography posts have been very informative and much appreciated. Thanks for the recommendation to buy Singh Ray filters because the ones I have been buying are hit and miss quality.

  7. Wow, I don't have the mind for all that, glad others do. I do better with painting ... outdoors.... from life. My pics are just so-so. Glad you are enjoying yourself out there, and glad you are enjoying your photography cuz we all need something special uniquely our own to do. Happy summer to you!


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