How to: a tip for working with Lightroom old presets

Lampetia Cape, Cetraro, CS, Italy

If you, like me, have been messing around with Adobe Lightroom for a bit you’ve probably accumulated quite a few presets, and more importantly you’ve probably come up with some of your own tailored to your own style and work.

Problem is, when Lightroom changed the processing engine, many old presets stopped working. This was necessary because with the new version of the engine, the 2012, the available sliders and their latitude changed as well.
Continue reading “How to: a tip for working with Lightroom old presets”

How to get the right colors from negative films

Kodak Ektar 100 colors, Hasselblad 500c/m and Distagon 50mm f/4

Scanning color negatives is the Holy Grail of the film lover.

The scanning part, per se, is no different that the one you have to carry with any other film, color or black and white. The tricky part comes when you try to obtain natural, or at the very least, pleasant colors from that piece of films covered in a bright orange mask.

A bit of help may come from some new kind of negative film, like the Rollei Digibase, that does not make use of such orange mask; but you will still have an hard time sorting out how to get an usable picture if you don’t know a few tricks.

I will assume here that you have had your negatives processed by a lab, or that you followed my previous posts on how to develop & scan them at home – that you can find here:


Best film scanner: Canon 5D Mark II vs Drum scanner vs Epson v700

How to scan films using a digital camera

How to develop color negatives in C-41, the easy way


Now you have your film neatly cut in strips and scanned. It’s time for a trip into Photoshop!

Open your freshly scanned image and invert it: CTRL + I on Windows, CMD + I on Mac. It will look something like this:

before image

Don’t panic. Now it is time to use one of the most powerful tools of Photoshop: the curves. They look scary, but are not that difficult to understand, really. Basically at the bottom you have a couple of arrows: these set black and white point. And then you can manipulate the curve, pulling and dragging around, to your heart’s content until the image looks good.

Here is like I do it: first choose one of the colors from the drop down menu on the top part of the curve panel. We well start with red. Drag the left bottom arrow keeping pressed the ALT (Windows) / OPT (Mac) button. You will notice that the image goes away, replaced by a monochromatic version, but that at some point details starts to appear. Those details are actually areas of blocked out shadows or burnt highlights, so we will stop just a fraction before something starts to show up.

Repeat the process, always keeping ALT / OPT pressed, for the right arrow and then for the green and the blue colors.

At this point the image starts to look pretty good, but a fair bet is that the colors are still quite a bit off, with some heavy color cast.

Photoshop CS6 curves

To remove it just switch to the opposite color in the drop down menu (if the color cast is red go for blue and vice-versa) and manipulate the actual curve keeping an eye on the image. Try to not overcomplicate things. Often one control point, like you can see in the blue curve, is enough.

I find that rarely, if ever, I have to recur to more than two points. The second one is mostly just for the sake of cleaning a bit the shadows, that often tend to have some kind of blue cast for “environmental reasons”, because of the light that bathed the scene, or a green cast when you shoot under a tree in spring or summer.

Something like the image at the beginning of this post is what you will get. Quite a difference from the blue mess we started with!

P.s.: you will notice that the leaves in this image tends to go from green-ish to yellow-ish tonalities more or less from the bottom to the top part. This has nothing to do with processing: it matches the scene, or in other words it is exactly like this particular tree was.

The importance of choosing the right raw converter

Forest of the Tasso

A while ago I tested pretty much all the raw converters available at the time with a Canon 5D Mark II:

But I advised in the review that the results were camera-dependant, meaning that each software gives the best possible results with a specific sensor / camera combination.

This does not mean that the results with other cameras are unusable, by any means; they will be simply average.

To “visually” understand what I’m saying just take a look at the following pictures.


Photoshop CS6RawPhotoProcessor

It’s exactly the same file, with zero post-processing other than the a straight raw conversion, without any optimization or aesthetics considerations to have the output look pretty much the same between the two softwares –  meaning that it sucks big time. 🙂 It has been shot with a Sony Nex 7, then developed once with Photoshop CS6 and the last iteration of its Camera Raw and once with RawPhotoProcessor (RPP for its friends and family!).

Obviously in both cases the sharpening has been set to zero, even if this is hard to accept given the vast difference visible – and yes I double checked!

Photoshop CS6RawPhotoProcessor

RPP “corrected” also the magenta shift you can see in the borders of the image and the chromatic aberration present in high contrast transitions.


Photoshop CS6RawPhotoProcessor

I’ve wrote “corrected” in quotes because there is no specific command in RPP for doing so, it’s a matter of demosaicing algorithm used. Especially the CA can actually be often a product of the algorithm used and not of the lens.

Keep in mind that I’m showing here one result only, but I tried different files, shot ad different ISO values, and different raw converters. And the ones that worked best with the Canon 5D Mark II files performed rather poorly with the Sony Nex 7 ones.

So it definitely pays testing your own equipment. It takes a few hours, but then you will be sure to extract each ounce of quality from your gear.

Happy Holidays!

Review: Magic Lantern, for photographers

I don’t do a lot of video, if anything at all. For this reason I, like many others fellow photographers, have ignored till now a piece of software that every respectable videographer uses since the beginning.

I’m talking about Magic Lantern. In short, it is an alternative firmware, free and open source, that works in parallel with the Canon one, unlocking an awful lot of features. I will repeat below the advice that the Magic Lantern team gives: like everything that works on the hardware this firmware can brick and / or destroy your camera. It is highly unlikely, but it is possible. So, if you don’t want to take the risk, please don’t install it.


Magic Lantern is not approved nor endorsed by Canon in any way, and using it will probably void your warranty. […] Use this software at your own risk.


That said, I haven’t had the slightest problem in installation or in use. And the Magic Lantern team label their last release, the 2.3, as production-ready, meaning that is not a beta anymore.

The last “Unified” stable release works with a bunch of different cameras:
– 5D Mark II
– 50D (you can shot video too!) & 60D
– 500D & 550D & 600D

If you feel adventurous you may try the “Nightly build” – a version still under development – that supports also:
– 7D
– 5D Mark III
– Eos M
– 1100D & T3
– 5D

Here you can find a general introduction to the project, how to install and disinstall it, ect.:

And at the following link you can get your copy:


Now there are many reviews out there written from a videographer point of view. This one will be from a photographer perspective, instead.



I’m really happy with the extra features and the customizability of Magic Lantern, so much that I think that Canon should learn more than a trick or two from them and make those functions available straight from the factory, giving that there are no hardware limitations, but just laziness in writing the firmware.



The only, manageable, cons are:
1) the camera, having more code to load, takes maybe a second more to start. Not a problem whatsoever, at least with the 5D Mark II; I never turn the camera off anyway, unless I’ve done shooting.

2) the Magic Lantern team claims that, for the same reason, the camera drains a bit more juice from the battery. With the camera in standby this goes from the 5%/h of the default firmware up till the 10%/h (a whopping 27%/h on my own camera!) of the Magic Lantern one, depending on how much features are switched on.


The features

Now we will examine individually a few of the – tons! – of additional functions enabled on a Canon 5D Mark II by Magic Lantern that are interesting from a photographer – again, not videographer – point of view.

REC PictureStyle

You can choose a different Picture Style for visualization on the Live View screen, with respect to the one you will register your images with.
Really handy if you, like me, tends to shot Raw using the flattest picture styles you can get. The flat style helps keeping the contrast at bay and the highlights in shape, given that you want the maximum possible quality to be delivered to the raw converter of you choice. But at the same time, with a flat style, you can have problems judging your photos and if you achieved the correct focus. Just enable this voice and choose a nice and contrasty Picture Style: problem solved.


Zebra stripes that appear on areas under or overexposed – or both, your choice – in real time in Live View. Really invaluable, and you can also set the thresholds for them to appear.


Focus peak

Did you hate the Sony Nex cameras, but you wished your own camera had their amazing focus peaking capability? Done.


Magic Zoom

This is my favorite function. I actually installed the thing, at first, exclusively to have this. It is – again, a bit like on the Sony Nex – a magnified view (up to 3x, and you can define how large the patch has to be) of the focus point inside the normal view that you can switch on/off just half-pressing the shutter button. This way you can check focus in a breeze and precisely, without loosing sight, literally, of the big picture. Moreover, you can also enable in the function submenu two kinds of split-focusing simulations, both of which work surprisingly well.


My second favorite function. The cropmarks are masks – you can also make your own – to help you composing through the Live View. I loved my Hasselblad, so I end up a lot of time shooting in a square format. Now I can check directly on camera if the composition works. The only downside is that you can see them only when Live View is in “Movie mode”.

You can download the masks I made here (two 6×6 – one with a grid the other one plain – and two cinematic 16:9 – also one with grid and the other plain): [important: do not simply copy the following images, they are just for reference but they are not in the correct format]



And from this guy here you can learn how to make your own masks with PhotoShop (or MS Paint, if you are on Windows):


Ghost Image

This can show a transparent overlay that can be generated from any image in Play mode. It is a godsend for multi-exposures lovers and to line the various shots in panoramic photography.



If you happen to have a Samyang 8mm fish-eye lens this is for you. It lets you preview the rectified image generated from the lens.



Guess what? It is a spotmeter active 24h/7 in the middle of your image that gives you values in a 0-100% scale or in the RGB 0-255 values. If you love Ansel and the zone system you should be more than happy now.

HDR Bracketing

It is an extended shutter and / or Iso bracketing. You can variate the shots up to 5 EV, let the camera auto-detect the number of necessary frames, preview the fused frames and even generate an Enfuse script to align and merge the files once they are on the computer.



Exactly what you think. You can program it with a delayed start up to 8 hours, decide the duration between two shots or stop after X pictures.


Bulb / Focus ramp

It is a feature for people who like to shoot time-lapses. It adjusts the exposure level while the light changes (hint: think “sunset”).


Bulb timer

You can now program exposures up to an 8h (yes, hours) length.


LCD Sensor Remote

This is awesome. You can actually shoot the camera, and even enabling mirror lock-up, just waving you hand in front of the LCD. No touching necessary. Goodbye vibrations and cable releases! Wait, it’s not all, because…


Audio Remote Shot

…you can also release the shutter just snapping your fingers! And naturally you can also use this for shooting bullets piercing water filled balloons. 🙂 But wait (again), because you can also…


Motion Detect

…have the camera shoot all by itself if it detects movement – or, in alternative, changes in the exposure levels – in the framed area. And for this – and the Audio Remote function – you can even tune the sensitivity.

Trap Focus

Similar to the preceding function, and well known to every sport photographer. You focus where your subject should pass, and wait. When it will be in focus the camera will shoot all by itself.


Stack Focus

If you do macro, you know you need this. With this function you will be able to capture a series of pictures of the subject, each of which with a little displacement of the focus plane. Once downloaded on the computer you will have to join them – the camera does not do this for you – and you will have a nice, impossible-to-get-otherwise, extended plane of focus.

LV Contrast / LV saturation

This two let you tweak the aspect of the pictures as they are displayed during Live View (but not how they are registered). This way you can, for example, pump the contrast to focus more easily or desaturate the image to compose straight in black & white.


LV Display Gain

With this one you can push the Live View display up to 7 stops more. It means that you can focus withe relative ease in pitch black darkness (astro & concerts photographers, are you listening?).

Image Review Settings…

Here you have a subset of options:
> SET+MainDial: with this you can compare two images, one on top of the other, with a diagonal split (look at the example below)
> Image Review: this alone can convince you to install Magic Lantern. You will not have to press “Play” anymore to zoom in an image, but just push the “zoom in” button
> Quick Zoom: even better. With this enabled one push on the “zoom in” button and you are at 100%; one other push and you are back at the image fitting on the screen.

Live View Zoom Settings…

Another interesting subset of options:
> Zoom 5x & Zoom 10x: you can enable / disable them indipendently
> Auto exposure on Zoom: switch the preview on autoexposure if you zoom, so you can check focus even if you legacy lens is stopped down to f/16 and you don’t have the “Exposure simulation” on in the Live View options
> Increase SharpContrast: increase sharpness and contrast when you use the Live View zoom, to facilitate to check for focus errors
> Zoom on Half Shutter / Zoom with Focus Ring: you will be able to engage the Live View zoom just half-pressing the shutter button or – with certain Canon lenses – just rotating the focus ring.

Shutter Count

This – duh – counts the numbers of shutter & Live View actuations of the camera.


Ambient light

It is not calibrated, but it reads the EV level of the ambient light hitting the back of the camera. I may be mistaken, but I think that, doing a bit of homework, I should be able to use this function as a “poor man” incident light meter when I’m too lazy to bring a proper one.


Another welcome function is the tiny percentage value that appears over the battery indicator in the rear screen, so you’ll know that those nice full-bars battery is actually going down pretty fast…


Last thing: please keep in mind that:

– in addition to this already really long list, Magic Lantern gives you also literally dozens of video-specific functions that I didn’t mentioned here

– almost each of the photographic functions listed above it is customizable to a great extent.

So the only way to get to really know this software is trying it firsthand.


In conclusion, a great firmware that needs only to suck up less battery power to became a perfect one.


Rating: ★★★★☆ [5 if they will manage to limit the battery drain]