Part 3: How Godzilla stomped on my Lightroom habit

ON1 Photo RAW 2018's Effects and Layers modules

By johnhilvert in Columns on Apr 23, 2018

Our intrepid software dabbler, John Hilvert, concludes his migration from Lightroom v6.14, venturing further in his odyssey with ON1 Photo RAW 2018. Exploring its advanced capabilities, he initiates the Godzilla and Inception projects amongst others. He returns from the journey, renewed and ready to be a better Pentax post-processor than before.

Yet he discovers a downside from this empowerment. Though ON1 delivers impressive features, it  seems inconsistently organised, making future workflow and interface improvements essential for post-processing without tears.

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The last chapter compared ON1 Photo RAW 2018 favourably with Lightroom’s functionality, performance and value. But moving to another post-processing editor requires more than being good enough. The time and pressure of learning the new technology needs to be worth it.

This concluding chapter discusses how it outperforms Lightroom by integrating Photoshop layers, masking, its dynamic approach to blending and array of effects to offer new directions in your RAW image’s output.

Here are three examples to illustrate this promise.

Three Projects

The Godzilla project was inspired by some audacious entrants in previous post-processing competitions who managed to incorporate that fearsome post-nuclear Japanese icon within an otherwise mundane landscape resulting in gobsmacking output. 

The composite image process requires three things: finding a suitable landscape image, processing an image of Godzilla processed with a transparent background and layering and merging the two into one reasonably credible image.

Lightroom users will need to access Adobe Photoshop or Topaz ReMask tools to produce a similar result.

ON1 did it within the one program. The first step was using ON1’s masking tools to transform Godzilla’s opaque background to transparent. This was done with just one click of its Quick Mask tool hidden in the Layers Module at the top menu. Just “apply” it over the figure whose background you want to make transparent.

Godzilla with white background
Godzilla transparent

The second step was giving the rather bland landscape image a certain drama more fitting for the composite. ON1’s powerful Haze filter and Dynamic Contrast filter make short work of this.

RAW unprocessed landscape
Optimised landscape for Godzilla

Then the Godzilla figure is inserted it the landscape in layers. My version makes Godzilla smaller than usual to fit. But he could easily be expanded and placed further down the track.  I then burned in the road to mimic Godzilla’s shadow, added a few more touch-ups with the chisel mask tool and there you go.

inserting GodzillaFinal composite of GodzillainceptionThe Inception project sought to mimic the look of the unreal perspectives that featured in the Inception movie of 2010 directed by Christopher Nolan. Not for everyone but it's worth learning as a post-processing technique. At its best, it is done by combining at least one other image to form a composite such as a bird's eye eye-view and a more conventional view.

I wondered whether I could just use the one image and rotate it left and right, masking and compositing the three in layers. 

This involved some experimental masking of the three images joining, blending, tone-enhancing and blurring them until it looked quirky enough to merge and then clean up. 

Below is my first attempt at perspective distortion with some futzing about within dodging and burning effects and blends. 

inception experimentFinally, I played with a more moderate enhancement, using texture blending by replacing the dull sky with a more interesting one. This was not done in layers, but deploying a texture of afternoon clouds, masking out the blander sky and brightening the foreground with its dynamic contrast filter.

unprocessed - bland sky
optimised landscape replacing sky

I also found ON1's luminosity mask tools powerful, fun and quite easy to deploy once I viewed the tutorial below. 

 .

It offers a more powerful approach to managing images with high dynamic range and selecting and enhancing the tonal range of otherwise average images.

RAW unprocessed
Using luminosity masks to improved tonal range

None of these enhancements are possible with Lightroom without relying on Photoshop or equivalent masking and layer tools. ON1 Photo RAW 2018 panders to my taste for contrasty images. However I found its ever-present opacity sliders an avenue for winding this back, visually.

They did not take more than about 20 minutes to produce the result. And it made me feel empowered that I could utilise it in two post-processing competitions with promising results. .

A new downside: ON1’s Inconsistent interface

modules managerBut I discovered a new downside to this functionality. ON1's numerous filters, effects and layers incur a new learning curve. Workflow can be chaotic as features found in the develop module (the Lightroom equivalent) also appear in Effects and Layers in different guises, leading to confusion. Going backward from layers to (say) effects or develop modules can lead to losing your last edits unless you save a virtual version of your image.

Its default workflow moves from Browse (selecting the image) -> Develop (Cropping and optimising the RAW image similar to Lightroom) -> Effects (Selecting from a huge range of styles and filters, masking and applying them in part or the whole of the image) -> Layers (for advanced masking and composite work) -> leading to Resize (output and printing).

These require selecting small scruffy icons on the right side of its interface, implying a top to bottom flow for managing the post-processing. Not so. 

Processing functions almost autonomously within these separate modules. But moving the wrong way (say from layers to Develop) may not faithfully carry your progressed work between them. I have learned you can lose work unless you save a virtual version as you go. ON1's lack of a history log can become profound at this point.

Matters get confusing when some masking and clone tools emerge (and hide) on the left and header areas such as quick mask, magic eraser, perfect brush etc… depending on which module are in. Standard tone, colour and sharpening tools can be found with varying functionalities in Develop and Effects modules. It's a mess, but I got used to it.

One workflow suggestion has been to divide processing images minimally in Develop and reserve the finessing to Effects. This inconsistent organisation undermines ON1's ambition to replace Lightroom. Playing the game of Where-do-I-find-that-tool-in-which-module can be disorienting.  

My gripe is with the Quick Mask tool. I discovered it only by accident as it only appears when you are in Layers and not Effects. Along with its superb Haze filter, ON1's Quick Mask tool effortlessly traced Godzilla. I was in love. Yet it makes more sense to have it in the Effects module along with other masking tools. This is also a contentious issue among ON1 RAW veterans, who are still petitioning for Quick Mask's return to the Effects module.

ON1 developers: please take this clue from one of your smitten but frustrated users: Quick Mask is a power tool that should remain in Effects.

In time, I hope to get used to ON1’s now-you-see-this-tool-now-you-don’t interface for the bulk of my post-processing. But it would be sweet if ON1 developers rationalised and refined its software interface to make accessing common features like Quick Mask, less irritating.

These are not deal-breakers, folks. While Lightroom possess the more refined interface, ON1 Photo Raw 2018 grows on you. It continues to intrigue and stretch my post-processing skills. It's early days and I feel a need to make another Godzilla composite for the next post-processing competition.

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