Clarity

After my recent post of “Pacific Rim“, I have received quite a few PM’s asking me “How did I achieve such sharpness?” So I decided to do a short write up to help people achieve similar sharpness for their shots.

There are actually quite a few factors that come into play when determining sharpness. And the most important is to get all of these properly into place.

1) Weather: The weather should be preferably clear and no haze or whatsoever stuff in the air that will degrade the shot. I can’t predict the weather or whatsoever so this depends on your luck.

2) Equipment – Tripod, lens and camera. I will say that tripod is damn important. I always state in my photo post what tripod I using and equipment. Nearly all my shots are done with a tripod. For long exposure shots above – 1/30s, I will go tripod mode. A good tripod is much cheaper than numerous cheapo tripods. I will personally recommend the Sirui tripod and you can get them from Tkfoto. My tripod is N1004 which is the cheapest in the range for N-series cause I am quite a budget guy. The reason why I bought the N1004 is because the lowest angle it can bend to is nearly 90 which is very important for some low shots and the monopod functions which is useful for trekking purposes. I also upgraded my ballhead to the G20 because of stability. Another recommendation of tripod will be Manfrotto 190XPro but I don’t it as much as the Sirui because it is damn heavy.
Lens – Tokina 11-16 is the best. No other recommendation or option in the UWA category that can defeat it. I have personally tested Sigma and Nikon still Tokina 11-16 wins all hands down. This also depends on your luck as my copy of Tokina produces super sharp OOC pictures. Out there are lots and lots of debates about which UWA for DX, just trust me and go for the Tokina 11-16. I will let my pictures speak for themselves.
Camera – D7000 is the best bang for the buck. A lot of people looked down on its ability and quite a couple of my friends just do not understand why I chose to stick to it. What alot of people dont know is that the the Dynamic Range of D7000 is really really really really good. The 2nd hand body is about 700SGD as compared to a D7100 1300SGD or a 5DM2 1800SGD. And for that price, I dare to challenge both of these cameras to a shoot out in landscape capability. I am able to achieve at least 90% of their Dynamic range ability. If you allow me to bracket my shots, I will win or be on comparable terms so much so that if I say I took it with a 5DM3 you will also believe me. I really couldn’t think of a better subsitution in the market for such value. Of course, there is the Pentax K5 which is only about 500SGD but the downside of Pentax is that it becomes really hard to get lens and equipment cheap and the AF for k5 is…not as good. I am here to make a statement out there to all those gear crazy people, focus on your photography not your gear. Just get the best value and move on, stop changing gear. One last thing about D7000, the handling is just ownage. A friend of mine (60D user) picked up my D7000 recently and started playing with it. After a while, he asks me “How come Canon don’t want to add this and that like the D7000?” Personally, the other camera that is comparable to the handling will be the Pentax.

3) Post Process – This is the 2nd part to the whole photography process. Taking the shot is the easy part and creative part is the post which is also the harder process. I have to emphasize that Pacific Rim was a single shot raw. No blending or whatsoever to retrieve back the details. For those, who shoot Cityscape often, the common problems that we encounter are highlight and verticals.
Highlights – easily clipped because the sign on the buildings are very bright and will be easily lost as details when you just shoot as per your 0ev. Which is why you need to trial and error on your camera to see how much is the extent you can recover in post.
Verticals – Don’t tilt your camera. Period.

Camera Raw/Lightroom (both work the same):
Adjust your highlights (-50 or even more if needed) Just zoom in one of the building signals and see the effect on it.
Increase your shadows (20-30) by just a bit so that you can recover abit details. Holding down the “Alt” u adjust both your blacks and whites till you see some spots. Then you bump your clarity to 20 and try not to bump that much because clarity isn’t a good way to sharpen your image.
Adjust your vibrance to 20-30 and that depends on your camera, I am only sure about the D7000 settings.
Decrease saturation by -3 to make up for contrast increase. It is abit hard for me to explain this unusual decision.
Increased the exposure (~0.3) because I rmb I underexposed the shot by 0.7 during the shoot. Why did I underexposed? It is because my D7000 always meter by +0.3 EV and this is through my 3 months of experimenting and observing and then I start to find out such weird stuff. It is different from every camera. I really understand my D7000 very well. For instance, it has a tendency to go more “blueish” during Blue Hour which is why I preset my AWB to compensate for the over blue-ish. When you start to understand your camera well, it is much better than changing camera. Because you will start to think of ways to solve the puzzle. I feel a good photographer is someone who can solve “puzzles” in any situation. I strongly, encourage people out there today, to go and understand your camera. I even understand that Nikon has a weird way of neutralizing the colors so I gotta make up for the colors via color correction in PS.
Contrast – Increase to about 10. I will not recommend going above 20.
Lens correction as usual and rmb to zoom in to check your verticals.

Sharpening – There are several ways to do it.
1) LR/Camera Raw Sharpening. You really gotta experiment with the values till you find a good balance.
2) High Pass filter.
3) Nik Software Sharpening
Please take extreme caution when sharpening because when you sharpen, you increase the noise. I found a nice balance between both which is 75% is for sharpening and 25% is for noise reduction.

The above steps took me less than 10mins to complete. I take 1 hour or so to clean up the rest of the photo. When I am lazy, I will just post the photo despite having some noise. But that day, I am feeling extremely hardworking so I pixel peep my whole photo to clear up any remnant noise.

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