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.
People strolling early in the morning on the Michigan Avenue bridge over the Chicago River. This was taken just as the sun was peeking up over the Lake Michigan horizon and the light was a deep orange. The sun’s rays had a straight shot down the river — unimpeded by skyscrapers — so the bridge managed to catch the best light.
We played in the snow today — quite a change from the warm, Texas weather. While I have no interest in living in a snowy climate again I do enjoy getting in the snow every once in a while. I took five of my children up to Stevens Pass in Washington for the express purpose of playing in the snow. There has been all sorts of snow up there in the past few days so we knew it would be fun. Things looked even better when it began snowing in the Seattle area before we even left the house.
After getting all wet and cold we headed back down the mountain and explored some side roads to enjoy the scenery. At one spot my daughter (the one in the picture above) pointed out a spot she thought would be nice for a group photo (below). At another nearby spot she asked me to take a few pictures of her in front of a bridge and the snow-covered trees (no one else wanted to get out of the car again).
Photo stuff…In the group photo below you can see the snow falling in front of our faces — we wanted to show the extent of the falling snow. However, in the individual shots we wanted to avoid the snow in the face and found a space under some trees which allowed that. However, it was so dark that we had to add some flash into the mix (no gels used). With the others waiting in the car I didn’t spend much time perfecting things but we like what we got.
The odd composition above came from just moving around trying different things out. I don’t like it…but my daughter does so I’m posting that one.
To do this image justice it really needs to be viewed large. Click here for the full-res version.
On a photowalk last weekend (see previous post) I shot some frames in hopes of stitching a panorama of the Austin Skyline as viewed from the SRV statue on Auditorium Shores. I bracketed my shots with a mind toward using HDR and/or compositing to capture most of the dynamic range. I had no intention of filling in the deep shadows of course — It was getting dark after all.
In processing I set off to try the HDR route (I believe this is my first ever pano in HDR) and based on advice from Dave Wilson I first tonemapped the separate frames (3 exposures used for each) using the same settings in Photomatix. I used something on the order of 60% “strength” and tried to keep the HDR look toned down (FYI, the original exposures really do have this much blue in them). I tweaked the perspective of the individual frames a bit in Lightroom then merged to a panorama in CS5 using the ‘cylinder’ setting for the stitch. I could write an entire post about my perspective and stitching issues but suffice it to say that using the ‘auto’ setting was giving me very skewed perspectives from my wide-ish angle frames (30mm on a full-frame body). The automatic blending of the exposures after the stitch usually does a bang-up job of matching colors and creating a seamless stitch but I did have to manually tweak one area to make it match. Hopefully it’s not too noticeable…I won’t point it out of course. The HDR was a bit too saturated for my taste (it still kind of is…can’t make up my mind how I want this to look) so I used the vibrance adjustment to tone it down. Curves adjustments were used in various places for some final tweaks. No original exposures were masked into the final image.
Most of my family still lives in the Chicago area so we make a yearly trek to IL. As part of this year’s trip I took some of my family on an overnight visit to downtown Chicago. Life has kept me from being able to spend much time on photography but I had hopes of doing some “serious” photography in the city this year. I figured that being on vacation would allow some time for pics but the highest priority was spending time with the kids and that’s what I mostly did. I did manage some shots but really couldn’t spend time composing or trying different vantage points.
That said, I snuck out of the hotel room at sunrise and headed toward Michigan Avenue. I caught a glimpse of the orange light of the early morning sun on the Trump Tower from a block away so I picked up the pace and walked to the Chicago River a block east of Michigan Ave. In order to get the composition I wanted I had to set up the camera on one of the pillars of the stone wall above the river. I was a bit nervous about that but just moved with caution to avoid knocking everything over the wall.
There are several things I like about this shot. The orange glow of the Trump Tower was just right. I liked how the wide-angle lens makes the buildings on either side of the river lean as if they’re getting ready for a cross-river showdown. Finally, I’m partial to Chicago and therefore just think any downtown shot in the city looks cool. I hope you like it too.
As for processing, this shot started life as a 4-exposure HDR (-4, -2, 0, +2). Three exposures were nearly sufficient but I needed the -4 exposure to tame the reflective highlights at the bottom of the Trump Tower. I brought the tonemapped image into Photoshop with the four original exposures and masked pieces of each into the image. I use Noiseware to clean up the sky. Finally, some sharpening and curves adjustments and I was pretty much done. I had intended to play around with Topaz Adjust to see what I came up with but I never got around to that…maybe I’ll have some fun with that in the future.
Here’s a daytime shot of the Trump Tower. As you can see, there’s no orange in that building at all — the morning sun was simply *that* orange.
I was a bit surprised at the number of questions I received regarding the sunset image below [Click on images to view them larger on flickr. Then click “ALL SIZES” above the image on flickr to view it large].
Most questions came from people who (as far as I know) do not have any particular knowledge or experience with photography. I’ll try to explain how this image was done in a generally non-technical way. No *promises* that I won’t use geeky terms and all that though…
First question — Can I see it larger (and in better resolution than facebook)? Yes. Click on the image above to view it on flickr then click on “ALL SIZES” above the photo to see a large version.
In answer to another question: No, this isn’t a painting. This image was generated using 5 exposures from the camera and processed in various pieces of software. I didn’t do any “painting” on the computer — all the colors and light that you see came from information in the 5 image files from the camera. However, depending on how you process an image it can look very much like a painting. In software all the pixels are manipulated in a myriad of ways — more or less saturation, brightness, etc. to bring out or tone down the colors. Check out http://www.hdrspotting.com and you’ll see some images that very much look like paintings.
Another question — Is it “fake”? Only if your definition of “real” is “light straight into the camera, image straight out of the camera”. In that case it’s very fake, as are 99.999% of the images you see in books, magazines, catalogs, black and white, etc. All those images are manipulated (often heavily) in some form or fashion. Ansel Adams was famous for spending hours in the darkroom manipulating portions of his prints…are his images fake? Also, when you put any sort of filter in front of your lens you’re manipulating the light and making the image look different. Even your (digital) camera does processing on the image before generating it. Two different cameras may give slightly different results when capturing the same scene.
Whether or not various effects or manipulations are desirable and/or attractive is a completely subjective matter. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I like a strong effect, sometimes very subtle. This is true with respect to any type of photography or art. Could say tons more about that but I won’t bore you further. My personal opinion is that if you are honest — not misrepresenting how the image came about or how it was manipulated — then the only thing that matters is whether you and/or your target audience/client like it.
I’ll attempt to explain a bit of the “What, Why, and How?” of this type of image in as non-technical terms as possible.
The term for this type of image is “HDR” which is an acronym for “high dynamic range”. If any photogeek reading this wants to get into a debate about what is properly called “HDR” versus “tonemapping”, just know that I don’t care. If you think I’m poisoning the photography world with incorrect usage of the term “HDR”, I can live with that.
Why use HDR? The reason is to capture all the different levels of light in a scene. The human eye can roam around a scene and dynamically adjust to a wide range of light levels. A camera — even a high-tech one — cannot handle this wide range when capturing a scene with large disparities in light/dark. The camera makes a guess at the best exposure which results in some areas being too light, some too dark. When using HDR one generally takes three to five different exposures, some exposed to capture the dark areas (long exposures) and some the bright areas (short exposures). Think about pictures you’ve taken of a sunset in the past. You usually end up with one of two results: Either the sky looks great but the landscape (or your wife) is a black silhouette or the landscape is normal and the sky is completely white (all the sunset colors are gone because the camera over-exposed that portion of the image). If one of these is the effect you’re after, great. If not, you need to use special filters, use software, or a combination of both (I don’t use filters personally).
After capturing these multiple exposures I shove them through some software (Photomatix in my case). The *very* simple explanation is that the software merges the multiple exposures into one image such that each area is properly exposed. A really strange image results from that step. I then use Photoshop to ‘fix’ some of what that software did by bringing in pieces of the original exposures from the camera. After this it’s the usual brightness, contrast, saturation, etc. adjustments that many of you probably do on your own images in the software that came packaged with your camera or maybe on Picasa. Understand, that’s an extremely paraphrased version of what goes on. The total time to do this varies but the ‘Pennybacker Sunset’ image took approximately 1.5 hours (included two complete restarts because I messed things up beyond repair…I’m new to this HDR stuff).
Maybe I’ll write my own tutorial someday as I seem to be settling in a general groove in the way I’m processing my images. However, I think you’ll be far better served by reading tutorials from the others I list below. I’ll let you hunt for their tutorial links just so you have to check out their sites a little. I’ve used information from each of these — very helpful.
Trey Ratcliff (http://www.stuckincustoms.com)
Jim Nix (http://www.nomadicpursuits.com/blog/)
Dave Wilson (http://davewilsonphotography.com)
Well, I’ve probably created more questions than I’ve given answers. If you’d like to see more images you can add me as a contact on flickr and change your settings to notify you when I add photos (not all of them are HDR). My flickr site is http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk.
Here’s a parting shot from the evening that I took the sunset shot. Click through to the flickr page to read a bit about this one. Be sure to click on “ALL SIZES” to see it best.