Landscape Pro-AI hits the photography world- a review
Hills Run Rd, Maniototo, Central Otago
Fujifilm X-T1, XF 10-24/4 @ 14mm
ISO 200, f11 @ 1/160s
“We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.”
― Marshall McLuhan
I am bemused.
And I can feel the winds of the future beating on my face again. The last time that happened was at the beginning of the 1990’s. I was invited by a friend who worked for Kodak New Zealand (remember them?). Come along, he said, and bring a couple of transparencies with you. Come and see the future.
He was right.
I turned up with two precious Ektachromes and an open mind. There before us were two computers, one a Mac, and the other a PC, a monster 486 DX2 66 running 8MB (yes, MB!) of Ram and whopping 20 MB hard drive. We met a strange new device called a film scanner on one end and a dye sub printer that looked as if it had come straight out of the rack on an AWACS (it had). There was a gigantic camera like a Nikon F5 on steroids. It was the way of the future, they confidently told us. Its huge 2MP sensor would do all we could ever want. And the software in the computer was something called PhotoShop V1.0. Film will be dead in 18 months, they crowed, so buy up all the Tri-X and T- Max you need now, while you can. I have a friend who still uses T-Max 100. To the best of my knowledge, he can still buy it…
However, I felt the chill wind of the future blowing through the library of carefully acquired and treasured darkroom and film knowledge in my head, flicking at the books in the shelves, and promising to blow them into the dustbin of irrelevance. As I stared at the dye-sub print in my hands, I realised that I was facing the future, and a small voice told me that if I didn’t get on the train, it would leave the station, and I would be left on the platform.
I got with the program.
That was then, and this is now.
And I am feeling that same chill wind again.
A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a reference to a new product that had appeared on the market, an app that promised to make processing my landscape photographs easy. I sensed the mockery in his message, sniggered to myself, and then moved on to the next task.
However, that small chilly voice was still whispering in my ear. You really need to have a look. I sensed clouds blowing in my crystal ball, so I looked closer. I downloaded a trial copy, had a brief look and…contacted Anthropics, the developers, in England. They sent me through an evaluation copy, which I have been exploring.
The results are startling.
What it is
LandscapePro Studio is an add-on app, which operates either as a standalone desktop app or as a plugin for PhotoShop and Lightroom. So far no different from any of the myriad of similar apps out there.
It offers the ability to quickly edit landscape photographs and produce a stellar result. Again, not that different.
However, the way it works is quite different, and here it stands out, to my mind, from the rest of the pack.
I wrote to the developers, after a first play. Something seemed waaaaaay different. It all seemed too easy. And, somehow, I sensed a different model here.
What is happening in the back-end, I asked? Is there something I should know about?
Their answer was:
“We are, I believe, the first people to use AI in a commercial product for automatically selecting areas, which is why after dragging labels in, it can make a good guess about what the selections should be. The relighting and to an extent the depth of field calculate a 3d model of the landscape in order to work out what it would look like at different focal distances and if you shone lights at it from different angles. I believe we are also the first people to automatically separate the clouds from the atmosphere behind them, which is why you can use sliders to edit them separately. “
Ah. There it is. AI. The wolf in a pen full of all the post-processing sheep we have carefully nurtured and raised and call our own.
You can buy either the Standard version at $US39.95 or the Studio Version for $US59.95 at the time of writing. The Studio version offers the following over the standard version:
- Read RAW and DNG formats (yes, it supports Fujifilm RAW!)
- Read and write 16-bit Tiff files support conversion between different colour spaces, along with monitor and working colour spaces
- Works as a PhotoShop, PhotoShop Elements and Lightroom plugin.
The download is a moderate 132MB. You unpack it and it installs as both a desktop app and a plugin for PhotoShop and Lightroom (assuming you have bought the studio version).
The first step is to open a file.
The second step is to assign labels to various part s of the image. You drag a label onto, say, mountains or water, or ground, or trees. It immediately applies masks to what it thinks are those areas, coloured differently for each label. Anyone who has spent hours laboriously selecting and clearcutting with pens and brushes, is going to curse the ease of this one. Naturally it misses areas. In that case, just drag and fill in the areas until selection is done (not long).
It then asks you to identify the horizon. That being done, it moves to the pane where you operate on each of the masks and rework the image as you want. A series of panels down the left side of the screen of you the ability to make changes.
Add & edit areas allows you to change the masks, adding and/or subtracting and softening edges if necessary.
There are global presets, which make overall changes to the whole picture with one click.
- The whole Picture sliders allow you more control over the whole picture changes.
- There is a Depth function, which allows you to change the colours based on the distance from the camera.
- The Style panel offers you the opportunity to make images Black and White, Sepia, or add vignettes.
- Then the fun really begins.
- The Water, Ground, Sky and Unlabelled functions allow you to make heavy changes.
To see how good it was, I decided to throw the app a curved ball and see how it coped.
I went into my back catalogue and found a Fujifilm RAW file shot on a workshop 3 years ago, when there was a lot of snow around. As we know, the image has some areas which are very similar tonally and yet quite different, both texturally and contextually. How would it cope?
In short, frighteningly well.
The interface IS SIMPLE. A little too simple. The browser is rudimentary at best, and it would be great to have something a little more informative. One way of doing this is to open it out of Lightroom, however it would be nice to be able to so with the standalone app. The design ethos for the interface is clean and modern and following the design aesthetic common to latest-generation websites.
The first screen is a blank space with a few sparse settings, and a row of icons, offering the ability to open files from the finder or File Explorer; examples of work, a series of 40-second tutorials which give a link to the website; a help menu which is rudimentary (the video tutorials are much more informative), and a feedback form.
So to work.
I opened the file, and waited for it to unpack the RAW file, a Fujifilm RAF. Total time around 15 secs on my machine, Opening a raw NEF from my Nikon D810 was much quicker, taking only around 5secs.
Once the app has decompressed, demosaiced and opened the file, a screen presents, where you drag labels onto the various parts of the image, for such things as water, trees, mountains and sky. The app advises you not to overdo the labelling. Once this is done, you move to the next screen.
Now you can add and edit areas. To enlarge a particular area, just drag the coloured area to where you want it to go. Moving the cursor quickly selects large areas, moving it slowly allows finer control. Note that you can add and edit areas at any time up to and including save.
The next screen asks you to place the horizon, and after that you are into the good stuff. You can then edit the labels and apply global adjustments to the file. One of the most surprising things is the lighting function. By dragging the sun symbol around, you can completely change the way light falls and watch as it adjusts shadows and highlights. Finally, there are options to sharpen and denoise if you wish. The sky panel offers you a huge range of options to add various clouds and times of day, to adjust atmosphere and cloud types and moods. I chose to keep my sky as close to the original as possible, but the temptation is there to “tart it up” with something spectacular. Whether you do or not is matter of your own sensibilities and aesthetic. There was a nice bonus. A particularly large and objectionable dust bunny simply evaporated.
One last thing: you are going to need horsepower to run this app. I found it put a strain on my system, a PC running an Intel Core i7 4790 Haswell with 16GB of DDR3 RAM on a Gigabyte Z97X-SlI motherboard, an NVIDA GTX950 graphics card, and Windows 10 Pro on a 256Gb Adata SX900 SSD. Consider a fast processor, at least 16Gb RAM, a good graphics card and an SSD as a minimum.
Post-production offers us the ability to take our images in any direction we choose. While many of us want to keep it simple and use a limited toolbox, because it is easier to do so, others of us like to have an expansive range of approaches and tools to achieve what we are trying to say. I meet many photographers who consider that they must master PhotoShop to be able to call themselves “proper” photographers.
I disagree. Beyond a certain level, that is true, however the range of options available to us to make meaningful work without paying the Adobe tax is increasing all the time. Apps like Affinity Photo, OnOne, Oloneo Photo Engine, Perfectly Clear and now Anthropics Technology LandscapePro now make it possible to produce striking work without ever having the scale the PhotoShop cliff.
A further thought. Post-production can be a simple or as complex as you wish it to be. You can be the DIY guy who uses a few simple tools to achieve anything, or you can be the person who has a comprehensive toolbox, with a specialised tool for every purpose. The choice is yours.
And with LandscapePro, I have an eerie feeling that we are seeing the front edge of a new wave of post-production possibility. And a new paradigm.
I sense a real danger here. It would be really easy to go for effect and introduce something that didn’t make sense, just because I could. While the cloud types are labelled, it is important to know what forms are prevalent in the place where the photograph was made, otherwise the risk is there of creating something that doesn’t make sense. The only way to avoid this trap is to have an acute awareness of the light and weather patterns of the area, along with the lighting found at different times of the day. If you aren’t careful, you could end up making a fool of yourself. Until LSP adds in ephemeris and Google map data, and I suspect one day it probably will, then I suggest caution.
And restraint. Especially restraint. This is a very powerful app, but one which could get away on you, simply because the wow factor is so easy to generate.
Which means that our efforts as landscape photographers need, more than ever, to be put into things which have never changed: understanding light, space, time and place.
Things I love
- Speed and ease of use
- Beautiful interface design
- Awesome and comprehensive effects
- The ability be either subtle or “out there”.
- A responsive development team, who are keen to listen to users and develop this app into something very special. Note that the suggestion tab on the first screen asks for feedback. That says a lot.
Things I would love to see.
- A better browser, something which is native and shows me thumbnails I can click on. The ability to see this on a second monitor would be a bonus, by say, offering the ability to detach the browser window and drag it to a second screen.
- A more advanced Save As menu, offering me the ability to save in 8- or 16-bit tiff, and export jpegs at different levels of compression. While you can set this in the Settings, it would be great to be able to do this at the end. Watermarking would be nice as well.
I have a lot of plugins and use a variety of RAW converters, because each one offers a different approach and feel to a visualisation. LandscapePro definitely deserves a place in my rather bulging toolbox.