Harbor Bridge flies high over the Corpus Christi Ship Channel and whenever I’m in this parking lot (Texas State Aquarium) I find this vantage – and vanishing — point rather interesting. I finally snagged a picture of it on our last trip. It wasn’t prime time for photography but the cloud cover helped. There are probably many interesting views and compositions to be had here. The title comes from the Red Hot Chili Peppers song…I always think of it when I’m here.
The image is an HDR made from 3 frames. Using HDR helped keep the sky in check somewhat and bring a *little* out of the shadows. I always try to keep plenty of “dark” (i.e. shadows) in my HDRs.
On a still day Austin’s Lady Bird Lake (still Town Lake to me) is a great spot to shoot the growing skyline (note yet another construction crane gracing the view) and get great reflections off the water. I met an out-of-town friend at Lou Neff Point this morning and was surprised to find that the lake was completely overgrown with a plant called Eurasian Water Milfoil. In hindsight I might have expected it as we had seen a lot of milfoil while kayaking on the lake recently but even then I wouldn’t have expected so much of it on the surface. Adding to the disappointment was that the forecast of “some clouds in the morning” wasn’t to be (until well after sunrise anyway).
Well, we were there and figured we might as well shoot some “stuff”. We fought off the mosquitos and fired away. I decided to shoot a panorama in order to increase the resolution a bit. I shot 3 frames — each bracketed +/-1 stop — and used Nik HDR Efex Pro to create very subtle (IMO) HDR images. Photoshop stitched them together nicely and I used several curves and saturation adjustment layers to tweak the final image.
Sometimes a wide-angle lens isn’t quite wide enough. I took this shot at the wide end of my 17-40mm lens and it just couldn’t capture it all. The entrance to this hotel is amazing and is visible from across Boston Harbor (see here).
I used 5 exposures to make this HDR but I honestly could have gotten by with only two or three. As always I wasn’t trying to eliminate the shadows by using HDR but rather attempting to bring out some depth and tone down some highlights. Notice that the building on the left out by the harbor just disappears into shadow — that’s how it should be as it really looks that way. I used Nik HDR Efex Pro to create the starting image, then used a dark exposure to tone down a few of the bright lights. There was a bit of masking for the couple standing near the left, a couple of tonemapping artifacts fixed up, and basic contrast adjustments. One thing that bothers me a little is how the lights near the left doorway have quite a green tone while the lights on the right are rather white (I’m a poet and didn’t even know it). I decided not to balance them out — for whatever reason that’s just the way they were (see original exposure below).
I’m making arrangements for another trip to Boston and it put in mind some of the photos I took on my last trip. While taking this photo of the Boston Skyline, a young couple pulled up on a motorcycle, parked it, and walked off to enjoy the view of the skyline across Boston Harbor. The bike had all sorts of accessory lights which cast a deep reddish-orange glow around it (see below but note the white balance isn’t quite right on the color version). I took some photos of it and generated this B+W HDR. There was a bit of noise in the result…I left it in, I kind of like it.
I was headed to my trolley tour stop in Boston when I spotted this picture. Sun peeking from behind the building, moderate interest in the sky, sky and cloud reflections in the windows of the tall building, and dappled reflections of light in the short one. As I took the shot I got a bonus lens flare and guy crossing the street. It’s not an *amazing* scene, but pleasant enough IMO.
This is an HDR and naturally it bugs me that there’s a slight halo around that tall skyscraper. The thing is, that halo is present in the original exposures too. Despite the fact that there will be those who attribute the halo effect to “bad HDR”, I decided to leave it as is. For those of you interested in one method of fixing this (particularly in difficult, detailed scenes), see Dave Wilson’s handy tips here.
The bright portion of the street (and the guy walking across) were masked in from a single exposure. That exposure (fast shutter speed to freeze his motion somewhat) was tweaked a bit to match the scene as I saw fit. Given that it was a bright, sunny day I wanted it to still look “bright” and I wanted the portion of the street at the left to remain in shadow. One could argue that I should have used a slower shutter speed to show his motion but that’s simply a matter of personal preference — neither one is more correct than the other IMO. Various curves were masked in all over the place as usual.
Stairway to nowhere…looks kind of eerie down there. HDR of an outdoor staircase in Snohomish, WA. One of many random(ish) shots I took while my wife was enjoying a massage in town. In keeping with my view that many HDR guys (and gals) go too far and bring out too much detail in the shadows, I tried to process just enough to give a sense of what’s down there without bringing it out completely.
My daughters and I can’t wait for NCAA volleyball to start…
At most sporting events I’m in attendance because I want to *watch* the event. I’m always tempted to carry my camera with me but I generally leave it at home so I’m not distracted. When I attended the semi-finals of the NCAA volleyball championship this past December I left my camera behind. However, when I saw that fans were allowed to carry in any camera/lens combo they wanted, I decided to take my camera and 70-200mm f/2.8L IS to the championship match and at least take a few pictures.
While warm ups were going on I experimented a bit with settings. When shooting any fast-action sport one is generally trying to freeze the action (there are exceptions to this of course). If you don’t use a relatively fast shutter speed you have no chance of getting a decent photo of a hard kill for instance — unless your goal is to turn the ball into a blur that you can hardly see in the frame. Manual mode is pretty much a given in a venue like the Alamodome as the light never changes and being very well-lit a fast shutter speed is possible (the gym where my daughters play is not so well-lit and a really fast shutter speed isn’t possible) . For shots of the action on the court I settled on using manual mode with 1/750s to 1/1000s shutter, f/2.8 aperture, and ISO 2000. Generally the only time you vary your exposure is if you are taking shots of the crowd as opposed to the court (the crowd near the court was lit a stop or so less than the court).
I was able to convince the elevator operator to allow me and my son upstairs to the skybox area so we could take some pictures from a different perspective. While there, a pro photog plopped down two seats away from us and we got to chatting a bit. I asked him what settings he typically used in the stadium and they were 1/1250s, f/2.8, ISO 2500 — not far off what I was shooting. He said my settings were fine for the lens I was using (70-200mm) but he wanted that slightly faster shutter because he was using a 400mm lens and needed some help compensating for lens movement. We talked about depth of field (DOF) a bit too. Up in the balcony we were maybe 200 feet from the net which gave him a DOF of approximately 10-12 feet (depends on the camera body…he had one of the Canon 1D bodies I’m sure). That really required accurate focus — if he accidentally focused on a back row the action *at* the net would be out of focus. When I shot at 200mm, I had a great DOF of about 52 feet to work with.
My 5D mkii has great high ISO performance which is nice for these sporting events but one huge deficiency is its (relatively) low frame rate — not so great for sports. I was kind of jealous of the pro as he machine-gunned frames when a kill was imminent. Of course, the slow frame rate cuts down on the number of images I need to go through in post
Last weekend, after spending the day touring Boston, I walked across the pedestrian bridge (near the left side of the above image) next to Seaport Blvd which connects downtown to the old seaport district. The bridge is part of the South Bay Harbor Trail. I stopped for dinner and waited for the sun to set behind the city. As I neared this photo spot I found that four photographers were already sitting there — tripods and cameras already set up. I walked toward them and without a word stopped 10′ in front of them and pretended to set up my tripod. Silence. After a few seconds I turned and said I was just kidding and relieved laughter set in. I asked if it was OK to set up just behind them and they were nice enough to extend an offer to make room in the middle of them if I wanted (I just set up behind and above them).
My intent was to bracket a bunch of exposures as it got darker using f/22 to get a starburst effect. I switched to f/8 because (1) I really wasn’t getting much of that effect, (2) f/8 is good and sharp, and (3) my exposures were getting longer than 30 seconds and I was too lazy to start timing the exposures manually even though I was using a remote White balance was set to daylight. That’s somewhat arbitrary since I always shoot in RAW but it helps keep things consistent when viewed in the LCD. I included a couple of straight-out-of-the-camera exposures below so you can see a sample of what I was working with.
On my flight home I plugged six exposures into Nik HDR Efex Pro. My personal default is to use the realistic-subtle preset as a starting point 99% of the time and I tweak a bit in Nik. Tweaking and saving complete, I took the Nik output into Photoshop along with a couple of the darker exposures and masked in a few spots which were still over-exposed after the HDR junk. I toned down the colors in the water and burned the sidewalk darker a bit (more on the dodging and burning below). Relative to colors, I did want an “HDR look” to this image but I sometimes find the reflections and colors on the water to be a bit overdone for my taste in these skyline shots. I also dropped the overall saturation by 20 points to bring it back to realistic colors as tools like Nik HDR Efex Pro and Photomatix tend to saturate everything a lot.
Finally, since the perspective wasn’t too bad I decided to fix it by stretching out the top corners a bit and aligning the buildings with rulers to make them more upright on the edges (the SOOC images above do not have that correction). If you do too big of an edit like this it can degrade the image but it’s fine for this one. The final image turned out crisp and sharp at high resolution.
This screenshot shows my dodging and burning layer. A trick I learned watching a Joe Brady video (something about Photoshop for landscapes sponsored by Xrite) is to create a new layer, fill it with 50% gray, then dodge and burn on that with black/white. There’s no real need for that but the layer gives you a visual to show where you’re doing your adjustments.
Had lunch at the basement bar in Cheers on Beacon Street in Boston — the inspiration for the TV show and the place you see when they would show the outside shots. It was a tiny little place and spots at the bar were coveted but I happened to come in at just the right time to get a spot. There was also an upstairs bar which mimics the set of the show but frankly the room had none of the feel of what the show looked like…not very impressive. Downstairs was the place to be. While waiting for my food I set the camera on the bar and fired off some brackets. Even though I used f/10 the DOF is really shallow due to the close focus distance. I didn’t want super long shutter times given the movement of the bartender and the people seated on the other side. f/10 was a decent balance (I shot brackets at f/4 and f/22 also and later picked what I liked the best).
In the gift shop they had this infant onesy. Pretty funny when you think of the words to the theme song.
The sea and seafood are big attractions in Boston and for most of my meals during my visit I’ve tried to get some sort of fish and/or chowder. Fitting with a seaside theme, I discovered this bit of art near the Boston Harbor Hotel on Atlantic Ave. while walking back to my car the other night. In hindsight I should have taken a close-up shot of how this was constructed. Essentially, it was made of a bazillion rough pieces of colored glass / acrylic — rather cool IMO. I found the colors and the glow on the sidewalk rather interesting as well. Oddly enough, I had walked right past this in the daylight and didn’t notice it at all. After dark, however, it was very prominent. Maybe some of you have seen this before but I hadn’t and that gave me the perfect excuse to post it — something out of the ordinary from Boston.
I used a tone mapped version of the image to get the sidewalk portion then (mostly) masked in the underwater scene from one of the original exposures. I shot at ISO 200 because with ISO 100 I could never quite complete my exposures before people walked across the scene. I had a thought to purposely catch passers-by at various shutter speeds but it had been a long day and I was ready to get back to my hotel. Next time…
I frankly haven’t been very impressed with the iPhone’s HDR feature until yesterday. The image at the top was taken with my iPhone 4S with the HDR option turned on, then edited quickly with Lightroom to add some contrast and clarity mainly. I often try the HDR feature and don’t see a ton of difference. This time the HDR option just happened to be left on from the last time I’d tried it but as you can see, the results are impressive for a phone camera.
Here are the straight-out-of-the-iphone images:
There’s something amazing about a building which is still standing after nearly 1000 years. This is St. John’s Chapel in the White Tower…in the Tower of London. This image is from 3 handheld exposures — part HDR, part composite. The dynamic range was extreme here with the dark shadows and the bright light streaming in the windows.
The shot above didn’t turn out quite as cool as I’d hoped but it’s fun nonetheless. While out on a photo walk on the University of Texas campus I set up my camera on my tripod as the photographer crowd gathered on the steps of the UT Tower. As people milled around I captured shots in a semi-regular cadence. My idea was to capture people in different positions and mask them together in Photoshop. When I uploaded my photos to my computer it turned out that I really didn’t capture enough frames. For example, look at the guy in the red jacket. He probably wandered all around the scene but in reality I only capture him in a few spots. There are a couple of people who did appear in widely varied positions around the scene.
The photo above was captured at the base of the UT Tower, a prominent 307-foot building on the University of Texas campus. A couple other views of the UT Tower are shown below.
[Update: By popular demand I cropped the original image (which is now at the bottom of the post) to remove the railing. Once I did that crop, I really felt like the fountain was too close to the edge of the frame so I cropped that out too. Hated to lose it, but it needed to go. I also used Lightroom's healing brush to get rid of a few heads and such which were on the edge of the frame due to the crop. Finally, I cropped out the top of the sky to get an aspect ratio I liked and added a touch of vignette. If I were reworking this image I'd probably do some cloning in the sky to make it "fit" better on the edges of the frame but I'm not going to go through that effort for this shot. Thanks everyone for the input!]
My wife and I are planning a trip this summer with three of our older girls. We haven’t settled on a destination yet but in the process of thinking about the upcoming trip I couldn’t help but reminisce about our trip to Paris two years ago. I would happily go to Paris again — so many things I didn’t get to see last time (and so many I’d like to see again).
I took the shot above (an HDR processed from three handheld exposures) on our first day in Paris. This one is almost impressionist in feel. The edges are soft and I only partially masked in some of the ghosted people from the various exposure. It would be unacceptable as a print but makes a nice, moody image when viewed at the appropriate size (smallish).
A couple of days ago a friend of mine emailed to ask my opinion regarding new tires for his car. That car — pictured above — was my car and daily ride for four years and his inquiry reminded me of some of the pictures I had taken of it. I wrote that I was thinking about selling it when I posted this street scene from Paris a couple of years back. Shortly after that post I did sell it (obviously). I think I gave my friend a really good deal, but my wife thought we should pay him to take it off our hands. So, don’t tell her that I miss it!
As for the picture itself, first know that I wasn’t so into my car that I took pictures of it all the time. Rather, I occasionally used it as a test subject when I wanted to learn something new about photography. The picture above was taken in my driveway for a dailyshoot.com assignment — “mode of transportation”. I started out to make a “normal” HDR (if there is such a thing) but bagged that idea. Here’s what I wrote about it at the time: “Another opportunity to try for a decent shot of the car. From the beginning I intended to make a black and white HDR image so I took bracketed exposures. However, the tonemapped image (from Photomatix) was terrible and I quickly determined that the best image would come from the normal exposure with a few bits and pieces masked in from the over-exposed shot. Still HDR in the manual sense (manual processing), just not tonemapped in Photomatix (or similar software). Lots of room for improvement but there’s that real job thing…”. There *are* a few glaring defects in the photo but I like the overall look and decided to post it in spite of those.
For any car buffs out there, this is a 2000 BMW 540i with the six-speed manual transmission and sport package. I miss the power of the V8, the handling, and the six-speed manual, but not the constant repairs
While in Hawaii I managed to catch the sunrise most mornings (not necessarily for pictures). As the sun rose over this jetty in Kauai I stopped all the way down to f/22 in hopes of getting a nice sunburst — success. The lens flare effect (real — not added in post) is nice too. I had hoped to get more interest and/or color out of that rope in the rocks but it doesn’t add much unfortunately.
The image was processed in Nik HDR Efex Pro using 9 exposures. Lightroom was used for most of the touch-up and then Photoshop was used for curves and noise adjustments.
Some of my friends are involved in “HDR Tennis” where one of them posts a set of bracketed shots and they all process them in their own way. Once the processed HDRs are posted the public can vote on their favorites. All that to say that when the latest HDR Tennis brackets were posted — from the interior of the Texas Capitol building — it reminded me of some bracketed shots I had yet to process.
On the same night I took these shots, I walked inside the Capitol and grabbed some shots inside. The building is beautiful and one could spend weeks taking a range of pictures from the standard rotunda images to abstracts of fancy railings, floors, windows, door knobs and hinges. I took a few bracketed sets that I hadn’t done before then had to run off to pick up my daughters nearby.
Both images were processed from 6 exposures in Nik HDR Efex Pro. Minor tweaks were done in Lightroom after that.
I’m posting another HDR that I processed in my Photomatix vs Nik HDR Efex Pro evaluation war. The subject here is the lobby of the St. Regis Hotel on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. There was a multi-level water feature (a bit of which you see in this image) which provided all sorts of reflections and begged to be turned into some HDRs. I didn’t have a tripod with me so I simply plopped the camera down on a ledge and fired of 9 bracket exposures in several locations. This limited my composition choices but I was able to get the main thing I was after — the reflections in the water. The hotel is situated in a beautiful spot on the island and commands a gorgeous view the mountains across a small bay. If I’d had a tripod I would have taken shots from other positions to include a nice view of the ocean and mountains through the windows.
In this case Photomatix was dramatically better for quickly coming up with a result I liked. The photo above is almost straight out of Photomatix — I only added some clarity/sharpening/noise reduction after that. Nik gave some interesting results but did a lousy job keeping the clouds outside from being blown out. Whenever I used the more realistic presets (realistic HDRs are generally my preference) the view out the windows was completely blown out. No doubt I could have figured out how to get an acceptable result but it was taking a lot of time to begin to match what I got out of the Photomatix effort.
You’ll note the large shift in color cast across the image. This was due to the prominence of daylight through the windows on the left side versus the interior tungsten lighting on the right. It bothered me at first but it’s more realistic this way so I decided to leave the color as-is.
Today I’m posting an HDR panorama of the Hanalei Valley in Kauai, Hawaii. The main crop in the valley is taro. I mentioned in another post that I rarely lugged the tripod around while out with the family but I did usually have it in the car. When we stopped at this lookout I went ahead and used to capture images for a pano of this valley. As you can clearly see the dynamic range was quite large, especially with the bright clouds. I quickly picked an exposure (using manual mode) and fired off 3 exposures per position. I didn’t want to hold the family up so I didn’t take the time to capture the whole dynamic range. As such, the clouds still are blown out in spots but it’s still a picture worth having from the trip.
I tonemapped each set of brackets using the same settings then used Photoshop to stitch them together. After that I simply tweaked the contrast. One obvious improvement would be to clone or crop out the branch sticking into the top left part of the frame but I haven’t yet taken the time…
I recently downloaded a trial version of Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro. I’d been semi-disappointed in many HDRs I’d created in Photomatix and had heard many people say they’d made the switch to Nik. If you’re hoping for a complete review of Nik HDR Efex Pro I apologize in advance — I’m only going to give some impressions here.
First, a bit on Photomatix. It’s great software in many ways and I’ve used it to make many cool (IMO) images. However, in many of my HDRs of late I’ve ended up doing so much masking in Photoshop after tone mapping in Photomatix that I’m practically producing a composite of the original exposures. Photomatix often doesn’t handle motion to my liking — leaving way too much work to do afterwards. I’ll readily admit that it could be the user — I’m no wizard with Photomatix. It could also be that I’m getting pickier as time goes on. On the plus side, I find Photomatix to be much faster than Nik but I don’t process all that many HDRs so that’s not a huge factor.
I used Nik HDR Efex Pro to process all but one of the images in this post. For my own comparison purposes I processed another Hawaii coast photo — similar to the one at the top of this post — with Photomatix. It’s not completely apples-to-apples since I didn’t process the *same* photo but I ended up having to spend a ton of time in Photoshop fixing up the Photomatix image (basically ending up with a composite as I mentioned above).
As for the mechanics of using Nik HDR Efex Pro, it’s quite simple. In each of the images (5-ish?) that I’ve processed with it I’ve started out with a preset and tweaked from there. Of course I’m still learning all the sliders, etc. but I’m happy with it so far. I find the “control point” concept useful (it defines circles in which you can separately tweak portions of the image) but I would prefer that it worked more like the adjustment brush in Lightroom where you can choose exactly where the effects are applied. The final images here aren’t completely to my liking (some spots would get fixed if I were to spend more time on the images) but are illustrative enough for this post.
We’re having a great time in Hawaii. Scenes like the one above abound here on the island of Kauai. This shot was taken at Ke’e Beach which is at the end of the road on the north shore of Kauai. The land beyond is only accessible by trail, boat, or helicopter. Jurassic Park was filmed somewhere in those mountains so many of you have had a glimpse of what it’s like.
As much as I like to take (and process) photos, I *try* to limit it when on family vacations. We went all over the east and north shore the other day but I only dragged my tripod out of the car once. When we walked along Ke’e Beach I didn’t have a tripod so I put the camera down on some mossy rocks and used the timer to fire off 3 exposures. I didn’t quite eliminate the blown-out highlights in my exposures but I didn’t want to be a drag on the group and spend a bunch of time fooling with the camera. I used Photomatix to tonemap the exposures then Photoshop to play with some curves adjustments.
Remember Google Buzz? A few years ago a guy named Leo Teles shared some bracketed shots for folks to process into an HDR. I don’t have a link to the original images despite trying an image search on google but I linked to his photoblog above.
On my flight to San Francisco Monday I processed Leo’s brackets just for grins while taking a break from reading The Red Badge of Courage on my little iPhone screen…didn’t spend a ton of time on it. I did go for the ominous look — dark sky, deep shadows in the little nooks and crannies of the building.
Processing was started in Photomatix, then I did a series of curves adjustments in Photoshop to tweak “this and that”. Noise reduction was done on the sky and I selectively sharpened many areas. With more time (maybe on my flight back to Austin later this week???) I would spend time getting the whole sky to a more homogenous blue hue (making the whole sky dark). I would also balance out the exposure of the building — Photomatix makes the building itself rather “blotchy” for lack of a better word.
On a recent evening I dropped my daughters off at the IMAX theater downtown and decided to poke around with the camera while waiting for them. I had in mind a particular shot of the Capitol (which is only a few blocks away from the IMAX). The planned shot was one of the Capitol’s reflection on another building. I had been inspired to get this planned shot after noticing the reflection on our drive home from the Texas Longhorn volleyball matches. In these drive-by glimpses it seemed like such a cool place for a shot, not so much in person though. It turned out not to be compelling at all and I never even put the camera up to my eye when I arrived at the spot.
While trekking around I noticed this a puddle in the parking lot above and decided to get some images of the Capitol in the reflection. While shooting a car approached at one point. I realized that if I stayed where I was the car would be forced to drive through the puddle, messing up my glassy reflection. So, I quickly grabbed the tripod and backed away to allow the car to go around the water. Turns out it was a security guard and I think I aroused his suspicions after grabbing my stuff and running off a bit. He quizzed me a bit but was satisfied that I was up to no harm and let me continue.
The shot above was a single exposure which was tweaked a bit in Lightroom. I shot this with several apertures — f/16 in hopes of awesome starbursts from the lights (f/22 was beyond my 30-second manual exposure, I did not have my remote along, and I was not going to hold my shutter button in bulb mode), f/2.8 in case I liked the bokeh of the background. I decided that I liked the background (parking lot) mostly in focus to make it clear what the scene was about.
The following shot started life as a 7-exposure HDR but I bet I masked in enough from the original exposures to make it more of a composite in the end.