You learn something every day. A photographer for over 31 years, I recently discovered DxO Optics Pro v3.5—a superior software program for perfecting my fine-art and editorial images.
Back in May 2005, I photographed an author for a book-cover photo. We hit several locations in Manhattan, shooting spontaneously, without so much as a reflector for fill. Lighting was marginal and contrasty at times, but the images were just what we wanted. Because of the unexpectedly high volume of images I took that day, I switched from shooting RAW to low-compression JPEGs.
After the shoot, I processed some of the best images manually in Photoshop, applying noise reduction and unsharp mask. I was spending an hour or more on each image to optimize shadow detail and achieve a full tonal range.
Then I remembered reading about DxO Optics Pro on www.luminous-landscape.com. I downloaded the trial version and had the software “process” a contrasty image I had had difficulty processing manually. To my total surprise, DxO Optics Pro did a better job in less than two minutes than I was able to do in over 90 minutes in Photoshop.
Integrated and Fully Automated
Some of DxO’s features are available in other software programs, but nowhere else are they available in one integrated and fully automated package. DxO’s lens modules feature is the software’s very best and most distinctive function. In fact, it’s so good, I’d have bought DxO even if it were the software’s only feature. The software knows the deficiencies of the lenses, for which there are modules, and makes appropriate corrections for lens distortion, resolution, vignetting, and chromatic aberration automatically.
Corrections are made using the EXIF information supplied by a digital camera. The software looks at the lens, the focal length chosen (if the lens is a zoom), the aperture, and the focusing distance. Unfortunately for Canon users, like me, the cameras do not include focusing distance in their EXIF information, so this must be set manually in DxO.
The software also applies appropriate amounts of noise reduction and sharpening, which I can—and do—at times fine-tune later using DxO’s expert control level panel. The final results can be impressive and dramatic.
DxO has not only improved my final images and reduced the amount of time I spend processing, it has streamlined my workflow in other ways. For example, I frequently shoot fleeting moments that don’t permit bracketing and exposure blending.
The pundits tell me to “expose to the right” of the histogram since underexposure is detrimental to the quality of the image in the shadow or darker areas. But blowing out a highlight, which is possible even with RAW data, is just as bad. So I underexpose, sometimes as much as one stop, relying on DxO’s excellent noise reduction to clean up the shadow areas and detail in the highlights.
Also, since discovering DxO, it’s not uncommon for me to process an entire shoot after deleting the obviously unusable images. The benefit is I can’t possibly overlook a good image. Doing this manually, even with Photoshop actions, is really not practical. With DxO I’m not only able to do this, I’m comfortable letting the software digitally process images while I attend to other tasks. It’s like having a capable assistant working at my keyboard.
I used this method of mass processing recently when I photographed a dramatic sunrise over Manhattan (p. 30). DxO processed all of the images immediately afterward, while I was having breakfast, allowing me to quickly and easily choose the best image of the batch.
That particular Manhattan skyline image has just been printed in Switzerland as a 24x36-inch poster for worldwide distribution. It’s also available as a 22x33-inch limited-edition fine-art print.
This function is also particularly beneficial if I am showing a large edit of a shoot to clients. My unprocessed images typically lack contrast and are somewhat dark, and because I have in-camera sharpening turned off, they also appear soft. Anyone viewing one of my unprocessed shoots might conclude that I incorrectly exposed virtually every photograph.
I can have DxO attach an SRGB profile to each photo and reduce all images to screen resolution for others to view online. This is revolutionary as far as my digital workflow is concerned.