HDR

Under The (Harbor) Bridge

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.

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Ruined Reflections

Ruined Reflection, Austin Skyline, Panorama stitched from 3 HDR frames, 45mm, f/8

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.


Harbor Hotel At Rowes Wharf

Harbor Hotel Entrance 17mm, f/8, 5 exposures, ISO 100

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).

One of the Original Exposures


Honda

Honda 30mm, f/7.1

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.


Skyscraper

Skyscraper

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.


Dark Down Below

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.


Take Me Out To The Ballgame

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/7162405578/in/photostream

Fenway Park in HDR, 17mm, f/13, 3-exp, ISO 100

Here’s another view of Fenway Park which I processed as an HDR.  I took a bunch of pictures around the place a few weeks ago and am only now getting around to looking at most of them.  The back of the scoreboard provides a nice main subject IMO.  Ideally I would have gotten the foreground people at full height (i.e. head-to-toe) in these shots but my lens wasn’t capable of that at this tripod height (and I didn’t like the perspective with the tripod all the way down near the ground). I took lots of exposures (range of 7-9 stops…can’t remember) but only used three of them for this image.  Why only three?  Because I don’t mind a few blown-out highlights where “appropriate” and I certainly don’t mind shadows without detail.  In fact, my number one criticism of HDRs is that many people process them in a way which brings out far too much detail in the shadows and eliminates too many of the blacks.

Processing…After running the three exposures through Nik HDR Efex Pro I brought the image into Photoshop with the three original exposures.  I only ended up using two exposures: One for partially blending in the sky to help keep the colors reasonable-ish and the other one was masked in for the street and people (after an exposure tweak).  As always I used several masked curves adjustment layers (in luminosity blend mode because this image had plenty of color saturation already).  The jet contrail bugs me but I’d make a mess of it if I tried to clone it out.  Since I was standing below the sign and using a wide-angle lens the perspective (tilt on the sides) was rather extreme.  A quick free transform was used to stretch out the top corners of the image somewhat.  I didn’t attempt to eliminate all the distortion of course.  After this type of stretching with a free transform, the height of things (the people in particular) gets a bit squashed so I used a reverse crop and another free transform to stretch the image vertically and bring the people back to normal.  Maybe I’ll do a poor-man’s tutorial (the only kind I have the skills for) showing those steps in an upcoming post.


2011 NCAA Volleyball Championship

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 🙂

The Kiddos…


Boston Skyline…Blue Hour

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/7116298547/in/photostream

Boston Skyline At Blue Hour 23mm, f/8, 6 exp, ISO 100

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.


Where Everybody Knows Your Name

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/6968461368/in/photostream

Cheers! 17mm, f/10, 6 exp, ISO 100

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.