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.
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.
Each year my mom sends hand-made Christmas ornaments to family and friends. They are usually very intricate in both structure and painting. It’s a bit harder now with our large family size but ours are typically personalized with our first names painted on the ornament. She does exceptional work on crafts like this. We always encouraged her to make a business out of her various crafty things but she was never interested.
Before the tree came down this year I decided to grab quick shots of some of the ornaments. While the crafts stand on their own artistically I’ll throw out a few comments on how I shot them. First off, I didn’t light them except with the lights on the tree and the ambient (tungsten) light in the room. I used a tripod and bracketed the shots thinking that I might even do some HDRs given the large difference between the shadows and the lights on the tree. In the end the only HDR is shown at the top of the post…it’s just OK photographically IMO. I didn’t spend any time in Photoshop trying to make it better. I experimented with aperture. I didn’t get enough DOF with f/2.8 — even when considering only the ornaments and not the tree and lights. Using f/22 gave interesting starbursts in the lights of course but required either very long shutter speeds at low ISO or a higher ISO which I avoided since I was planning on HDRs. Of course I could use any shutter speed I wanted but I was simply too lazy to do manual exposures/bracketing above the 30 second maximum sans “bulb” mode. I didn’t want to do starburst HDRs that badly. So, I ended up processing individual frames with apertures ranging from f/6.3 to get some bokeh vs. f/22 to get the starburst effect. Lightroom was used for some simple adjustments — mainly clarity, contrast, sharpening, and vignette. A variety of combinations are posted here.
For purposes of scale here’s a (blurry) picture of the above ornament with a quarter held next to it. Other ornaments are shown below.
Most people who like to do HDRs are suckers for reflections. I’m no exception and when my children and I walked into San Antonio’s Alamodome for the NCAA volleyball championship I saw these shiny floors and decided to fire off some brackets. I set up the camera to fire 3 brackets (the max on Canon) with the auto timer and set the camera on the floor. It would’ve been nearly impossible to change the settings without moving the camera so I didn’t even try. I took another set of brackets with more crowds in the picture but the motion was too great to process reasonably.
I ran this through Photomatix and then brought the tonemapped image into Photoshop along with the brightest exposure. I used a few adjustment layers on the bright exposure to semi-match it to what I wanted to fix — the people in the hallway and a few other areas where ghosting had caused some weirdness in the tonemapped image. After blending those areas in, I went to work on the result with a half-dozen other adjustment layers (mostly curves). There are some missing people-parts but I don’t really mind as it gives a sense of motion and the work to clone in new pieces wouldn’t be worth it.
Busy, busy, busy these days and no time for (much) photography. Posting my own photographic reminder of where I need to focus first…
Many of these pictures are reruns but I thought I’d post them in honor of Pearl Harbor Day. The aircraft carrier in the top image is the USS Lexington (CV-16) which was in service from 1943 through 1991 and now sits as a (very cool) museum in Corpus Christi, TX. This image is a 3-exposure HDR. I’m getting some odd pixelization on export from Lightroom which I can’t figure out but the point of posting this is not for the image’s sake itself anyway.
My grandfather joined the Navy during WWII (sometime after Pearl Harbor due to his age) and went through training to become a Navy pilot. I am very fortunate to have a 90-minute recording of him recounting his Navy experiences. My favorite quote: “I graduated from flight school on August 14th, 1945. The Japanese heard I was coming and surrendered the next day.” This is the most recent snapshot I have of him.
Hope you enjoy the rest of these photos from various air shows I’ve attended.
Although it was an overcast morning when I was photographing these rapids, an HDR was necessary to capture the whole dynamic range of the scene. Of course an overcast sky is easy to blow out but you’ll find that whitewater reflects so much light that it’s often completely blown out also. Or, if you’re letting your camera choose your exposure and your subject is anything other than the whitewater, your subject will likely be way underexposed. There are still a few tiny portions of my image which are blown out but it wasn’t my goal to prevent that — it was just to present the image in a way which more represented what the eye could see as opposed to what the camera could capture in a single frame.
Note that this image was shot at ISO 320. There’s nothing magical about 320 per se but when you’re shooting fast-moving water, you’ll find a certain shutter speed which gives the “look” you want. If you’re shutter speed is too long, the water is simply a blur. If it’s too short, you lose some sense of the motion. Of course freezing motion or completely blurred water may very well be the “look” you want but in this case I wanted somewhere in the middle. I chose f/11 as my aperture because it’s in the sweet spot of the lens yet gives reasonable depth of field when the focus distance is relatively long. With the aperture fixed, ISO became my main lever for setting the range of shutter speeds I’d capture in my brackets. I shot brackets from ISO 100 up to 1600 and chose this ISO 320 value for the final image based on how the water looked. This allowed me to keep some detail in the water such as what you see in the water pouring over the smallish rock outcropping near the center of the image.
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.
Sunday night I enjoyed an evening photowalk with Todd Landry and several of the local “HDR Mafia” in Austin (Atmtx, Dave Wilson, Jim Nix, and Pete Talke) . I played around with some framing under the First Street Bridge and liked the sideways ‘V’ formed by the shadows under the bridge and on the water. I shot lots of brackets for this but I only used enough to give a hint of light under the bridge. I started down the path of masking in some of a lighter exposure but in the end preferred the deep shadow and how it draws more attention to the skyline and its reflection.
I tonemapped 7 exposures in Photomatix and blended pieces of the original exposures back in. This was followed by a few curves adjustments masked in here and there, selective sharpening, and noise reduction in much of the image. I had some chromatic aberration issues which I couldn’t get to go away via Lightroom adjustments so I used a trick I learned a while back: duplicate the final background layer, do a gaussian blur of 10-15 pixels, change the blend mode to ‘color’, and selectively mask into the problem areas. Works great for the most part but can cause a little of that blur to show sometimes.
We walked over to the SRV statue on Auditorium Shores to take some panoramas of the Austin skyline just after sunset. I got some cool shots but am frankly unable to get a stitch with a decent perspective (so far). I’ll keep working on that. Meanwhile, I decided to post a couple shots I took while the guys were shooting the skyline. Both were taken with my 50mm f/1.4 lens but I experimented a bit. One image used f/1.4 in order to get extreme bokeh while the other used f/8 to tone the bokeh down and show the skyline better.
My wife and I just enjoyed a four-day weekend in Montana’s Stillwater County with four other couples (I’ll post a picture of this fantastically good-looking group soon). While out wandering among the ranches early one morning I spotted this rusty old tractor just off the highway. Dramatic skies + rusty tractor + twisted barbed wire + broken fence posts = great HDR scene.
I shot seven exposures to capture the entire dynamic range. Since I generally like to leave some deep shadows in my HDRs I probably could have done without the brightest exposure. Likewise with the darkest exposure…not *sure* that I needed it but I shot it anyway.
After tonemapping in Photomatix I fired up Photoshop with the intent of doing the usual blending with the original exposures and adjusting with curves. The image had a bit too much color saturation for my taste and as I tried different methods to tone that down I got the idea to turn this into an antique-ish photo. So, I used a channel mixer adjustment layer and tweaked to take almost all the color out, my new goal being to make it look like a photo that had been sitting under the glass on someone’s desk for fifty years. Five curves layers/masks were used and noise was reduced in the sky. All it needs IMO is a leather-skinned farmer leaning on the wheel with a blade of grass stuck in his mouth.
I shot this shadowy basement scene on a recent HDR Mafia photo trip to the Seaholm Power Plant in Austin, TX. The graffiti was inviting so I joined my friend Van, who was already capturing this general scene with his camera.
I created this image by tonemapping 6 exposures in Photomatix then using several masked curves layers in Photoshop. My intent was to highlight the graffiti itself and simply tried to keep the rest of the scene rather neutral.
The image below was processed in a similar manner. Again, my intent was to amp things up and no attempt was made to match the colors to the image above. In this image I kept most of the curves in “normal” blend mode and allowed the colors to become more saturated throughout the whole frame.
Photographers wish they could take all their pictures during the golden light of sunrise and sunset but for those of us far south of the polar circle (in the northern hemisphere of course) those are very brief moments in time. During my recent trip I wanted to make the most of my available time so I photographed what interested me regardless of the quality of light. Even the “poor” pictures make for good memories. Adding to the problem of harsh sunlight was a very thick haze. I don’t know if was related to the heat or possibly due to smoke from wildfires, but it was a problem for pictures.
One afternoon we stopped at the Sotol Vista Overlook to take some pictures. This desert overlook is roughly halfway between the Chisos Mountains and the Rio Grande along Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. The small gap in the horizon is Santa Elena Canyon — 14 miles as the crow flies according to a sign posted here. Looks tiny but the canyon walls rise up to 1500′ above the river per the park service’s website. I bracketed a bunch of scenes and hoped for the best. I came up with this 6-exposure HDR (the first HDR I’ve done in quite a while) and I rather like it, especially considering the harsh light and haze. I made attempts at processing single frames but the dynamic range was way too large (I don’t own an ND graduated filter — yet — else I would have made use of it here).
Processing consisted of tonemapping in Photomatix, an s-curve, sharpening, noise reduction, and a slight color tweak with the channel mixer in Photoshop. I didn’t do any blending with the original exposures.
You know HDR is a verb, right? I didn’t realize until WordPress renamed my link that I’d used that title before (see that post here). Which do you like most? The non-HDR version (above) or the HDR version (below)? There’s no right answer of course but my favorite is the non-HDR image. I’d post them side-by-side but WordPress is giving me formatting fits…will update the post if I ever figure it out.
While in the Seattle area for a wedding last month my son and I went on a short photowalk in the little town of Snohomish. Snohomish is one of those cutesy towns with shops for tourists and all that. That morning it was just wet, dreary, and cold — somewhere in the high 30s with a stiff breeze to go along with it. The wet and dreary thing makes for decent HDR conditions typically but the cold I could have done without, especially having had temps in the low 80s when we left Austin the afternoon before.
On our walk I grabbed some brackets of these stairs for a semi-abstract image. It’s sort of urbex but maybe I’d call it “garden urbex” with all the moss growing (the stairs were surrounded by plants and flowers too). The dynamic range frankly wasn’t very high but as I’ve posted before one can get cool images just going through the tonemapping process. Last night I decided to process this scene but as I inspected the brackets I determined that using a single exposure would give me the image I wanted. Part of that decision was driven by the fact that I’ve gone through a few of David Nightingale’s (chromasia) tutorials and was itching to try my hand at some things. On a whim I took 5 exposures and did an HDR for comparison. It’s not an entirely fair comparison though as I only spent a quick 5 minutes tweaking the Photomatix output. However, I wasn’t really interested in trying to match the single exposure I processed. Rather, I purposely processed it without even looking at the single image so that I would rethink everything as I went through the process again (albeit very quickly).
Some details on the processing of the single-exposure image (shown at the top of the post): I began with the intent of going black and white but as I played with the channel mixer I ran across some color settings I liked. I ended up using -26 red, +129 green, and -7 blue. I used various curves layers to tweak parts of the image to taste (see the screenshot showing the masks below). All curves were simply adjusted on the RGB channel. This image was ripe for some individual color adjustments but I only have so much time for all this photo stuff.
A quick rundown on the curves layers: the darken and s-curve layers were blended in normal mode and the s-curve went a little stronger on the highlights side. The lighten and “curves 1” (forgot to rename it) were in luminosity mode and as you see from the masks, targeted very specific parts of the image. Curves 1 was a very strong s-curve to bring out the contrast in the beam along the steps. “Lighten” brought out a bit of detail in the wet shadows in the nooks and crannies. I topped things off with a vibrance adjustment of +14 (the HDR image had a +25 adjustment b/c the curves layers I used didn’t bring nearly as much color as in the other image).
Notice that the original (below) has a piece of peeled paint on the bottom step. I cloned that out since it interrupted the edge of the frame. It fit with the image but was just in the wrong place. That’s the only cloning I did.
Cropping was difficult. Not quite happy with it but I was less happy with the 17 other ways I tried.
Posting a couple HDRs from the recent HDR Mafia photo shoot at Seaholm Power Plant. This door was at the top of a stairwell where I had hoped to gain access to the crane in the main turbine room. The crane door was locked as was this door which would have provided roof access. Fortunately we had access to the roof via other means but we never did get access to the crane.
Both images were tonemapped in Photomatix (6-7 exposures…don’t remember) then processed mostly via curves in Photoshop. I probably could have used only two exposures and gotten all the image information but I didn’t bother playing with that. The black and white version was simply a matter of adding a B+W adjustment layer to the image and tweaking the red and yellow adjustment. The color image used a series of masked curves, some of which were only applied to the red and/or blue channels. The lighting was actually relatively flat in the original exposures and I used curves to bring out the shadows more. The starburst in the keyhole was obtained by using an aperture of f/22.
I’m not sure whether I like the color or B+W version better.
Quick post tonight…
Today at lunch I joined Pete Talke, Steve Wampler, and Alex Suarez for a photo shoot in downtown Austin with a model named Tiffany. We took turns shooting pics and holding lights and reflectors. Tiffany was very easy to work with and we all got some great shots.
We started out in front of some cool doors on Colorado Street and in the course of an hour only moved a total of fifty feet. Next door to these doors is the entrance of a new bar called TenOak (the grand opening is tonight) — an entrance with another set of cool doors. We had been shooting for a while in front of the doors when one of the bar owners popped out and invited us to shoot inside if we’d send him some of the pics. Very cool…had the whole place to ourselves and he graciously encouraged us to shoot anywhere inside.
Rather than show pics of Tiffany just now, I thought I’d post a few environmental shots from our little shoot. Sometimes we all get so busy shooting that we forget to step back and grab some shots of the whole scene. I snapped a few shots of the group when we were out on the sidewalk and just before I had to take off I grabbed some bracketed shots in the bar with HDRs in mind. I didn’t have time to be very thoughtful about my compositions so bear with me. The image at the top shows a view of the bar with Tiffany posing on the bar itself (far side). Pete’s flash is on the bar at the right edge of the frame. He got some very cool shots with Tiffany’s reflection in the frame along with her (watch his blog — maybe he’ll post a couple).
The shot below is another view of the place and if you look carefully you’ll see Tiffany posing beneath the “E” in the “ELIXIR” sign.
Simple processing on both images: Photomatix, quick masking from original exposures, tweaks in Lightroom.
On a whim last weekend, my wife and I went to stay at a nearby resort called the Hyatt Lost Pines. It’s a great place set on 405 acres along the Colorado River near Bastrop, TX. Our goal was purely to get some relaxation time and we accomplished that in spades. The rough schedule was eat, read, nap, snack, walk, read…then repeat it all again. We had a thoroughly enjoyable time.
On a side note, many people who haven’t ever been to Texas think only of plains and tumbleweed (that pretty much sums up my picture of Texas when I lived in Illinois). However, the geography of Texas is quite varied and the eastern portion — starting around the location of this resort just east of Austin — is full of tall pine trees. Bastrop has dense areas of pines and this continues through much of the eastern part of the state. I’ll leave it to the reader to research where the “Lost” reference in the resort’s name originates but now you know why the “Pines” reference is applicable.
I managed a few pictures early Sunday morning. Normally on a trip like this I make it a point not to “do photography”. However, since the goal was to do whatever we found relaxing, I did spend about 45 minutes taking pictures early Sunday morning. There were many interesting things to photograph in the halls and main lobby but there were a surprising number of people milling about at 6am so I was limited somewhat.
The photo at the top of the post shows a table which was made from the trunk of one of six large pines which were removed from the property. It was a nice centerpiece for the main lobby and had a finish with the potential to provide some great reflected images. It wasn’t meant to be though as I didn’t find any pleasing compositions at the correct angles to make use of the mirror-like properties of the table. I tonemapped six exposures in photomatix then masked in pieces from the original exposures. One tricky thing about this image was controlling the white balance because the room was heavily tungsten-lit. I kept a lot of that warmth but found that each exposure had a bit of a different color cast and had to be individually adjusted in order to match the tonemapped layer for masking. I ran a copy of the nearly-finished image through Topaz Adjust and included that at about 60% opacity. Finally I used two curves adjustment layers to tweak parts of the image and selectively used Noiseware for noise reduction in parts of the frame.
This picture below of the main lobby was processed in much the same way as the above image. Note the light fixture hanging from the ceiling. It was also made from one of the pines on the property.
The final image is a panorama stitched from 10 frames. Due to the way I shot the frames I was left with a piece of sky which had no pixels and thus I either needed to crop the image accordingly or clone in some sky. I chose the cloning route and it turned out reasonably…I’m not overly skilled with the cloning tool. I increased the exposure of the buildings with an adjustment layer and mask. Then I increased the tonal range of the sky with a curves adjustment layer and mask. “Increased the tonal range of the sky” makes me sound really smart but I have to admit that I got that from David Nightingale’s tutorial on curves (see here: http://www.chromasia.com/tutorials/online/curves/). This really helped to sky out a lot. I added some noise reduction here and there and voila…a panorama of the main lobby area of the resort. It’s nothing too exciting but it was good shooting and post-processing practice. It really has to be viewed large to appreciate it (click on the image to view on flickr).
I promised someone I’d either write a brief description of how (in the general sense) HDRs are done or point them to other tutorials. I decided to do both and provide a (hopefully) brief write-up. I know before I even start that I always feel like I need to clarify and expound on things too much (I need an editor). For some of you this will be basic, basic, basic. Others just learning about HDR or photography in general will feel like I’ve skipped all sorts of things they need to know. However, I just don’t have the time, nor the skill probably, to make a great tutorial for everyone and I think others have done that anyway. I don’t plan to go into much detail about the when and why to use HDR techniques (or what the technical definitions of “HDR”, “tonemapping”, etc are). I’ll provide some links to other tutorials at the end of the post. Those of you who read this feel free to add other links in the comments.
One note that I’ll start off with is that the definition of a “good” HDR is completely subjective. Same with any other photograph and I don’t get why people still argue over whether a photograph is good or not. You either like it or you don’t…your own opinion is what counts. With HDR in particular there’s this religious aspect to it where some worship and others scorn. Within the group of photogs who dabble in HDR there’s even religious debate. How many exposures to use? When should you use HDR and when should you not? When is “tonemapping” the proper term to describe the process versus the term “HDR” (yeah, I really saw someone go off on that topic — probably the same people who argue over using the term “kleenex” instead of “tissue”)? I don’t mind if some people want to be all technical about it. They just shouldn’t get so hot and bothered about those of us who don’t care about the technicalities. A good HDR is one *you* like. For example, on a popular HDR site (http://hdrspotting.com) I think that many of the editor’s picks are awful. However, that’s just my opinion and it doesn’t matter if others’ opinions differ.
Brief definitions: HDR = high dynamic range. Tonemapping = something the Photomatix software does when it munges your images together. That’s as far as *I* want to get into that.
My idea of when to shoot multiple images at differing exposures (“bracketing” your exposures): Whenever you want. HDR techniques can result in really cool images even when the dynamic range isn’t all that “high”. Maybe you can get the same result from a single exposure, or two exposures. That’s great, but digital film is cheap and it’s nice to be sure you’ve got the exposures you want.
Here are three exposures I’ll use for this tutorial (I actually used 7 exposures for the final image but I’m trying to keep it simple-ish):
Note that in the dark exposure the sky is nice and blue and the sun isn’t blowing everything out. In the center exposure you’ve got decent exposure in the pasture beyond the cabins, some detail in the trees and leaves, and what I consider good exposure in the shadow areas (ie they still look like shadows and aren’t over-exposed). The lightest exposure provides more detail in the shadows. Again, I actually used 7 exposures for this image so that in every area of the frame I would have good (an entirely subjective term) exposure in at least one of the images.
My typical steps after importing my images on the computer:
1) Slight tweaks in Adobe Lightroom. I might do small contrast/exposure adjustments. I usually attempt to fix chromatic aberration.
2) Open the original exposures in Photomatix (I go directly from Lightroom to Photomatix) and tonemap to get a starting point for the final image. There are all sorts of settings and sliders in Photomatix to control what your output image looks like but I’ll leave those for others to describe. I just play with things until I like something. Here’s an example of an output file from Photomatix.
Note that some of the best features of each exposure are retained in this image. The sky is a deep blue, the sun isn’t blowing things out, the view of the shadow side of cabins still look like shadows, etc. Frankly, this output from Photomatix turned out better than many images I do. However, what I immediately see that I’d like to improve is the contrast, sharpness, and the details in the shadows (don’t want to overdo it but I want to bring out more and increase the exposure slightly). For this image, that’s about it. Many times the Photomatix output severely lacks contrast but this one isn’t bad at all. Sometimes the color saturation is messed up…again, this one is pretty close to how I’d like it.
3) In this case I will open Photoshop (PS) with the two brighter exposures as well as the Photomatix output (“open as layers” from Lightroom). My first step in PS is to add a curves adjustment to get the contrast closer to where I’d like it. If you don’t have PS or an editor which lets you adjust “curves” you can just adjust “contrast” (every editor should have that). I would then duplicate my Photomatix layer and use a piece of software called Topaz Adjust to play around with the image to see if it can accomplish that shadow detail/exposure adjustment that I’d like (it often does a great job). I can also do the same thing by using levels/curves/exposure adjustments and mask them in to various areas of the frame. Assuming I get a usable result from Topaz I will then selectively mask that Topaz layer into areas of the image where I want those adjustments made. For this image I used a combination of Topaz Adjust and curves adjustments.
Final tweaks might include noise reduction (not needed here) and more sharpening. I used plain, old “unsharp mask” in PS for this image.
Hope that’s moderately interesting and/or helpful for some of you. For those who haven’t ever messed around with HDR I hope it whets your appetite for trying it out. I listed a few links below. These are off the top of my head and there are many more where these came from…but I’m not going to list more. Search for “HDR tutorial” on the internet and you’ll find plenty of advice. Experiment with it and make images to suit your own tastes.
http://www.nomadicpursuits.com/ (link on right side)
http://davewilsonphotography.com/ (tutorials link at the top)
http://places2explore.wordpress.com/ (link on right side
Thought I’d post another image from the photog excursion to the Holly Street Power Plant. We had a great time and processing the images helps to re-live the experience somewhat. I also want to get through some of these images and pass them on to the folks at Austin Energy in a timely manner. Today we — a group of Austin photogs who somehow ended up being called the HDR Mafia — had a group lunch at Chuy’s. Every month or two we get together and talk photo stuff. It’s great to hear about what others are experimenting with, what they’re doing business-wise, etc. Not everyone uses HDR extensively but we all dabble in it at least.
The image at the top is a 6-exposure HDR which was taken in the generator room. Processing consisted of tonemapping in Photomatix, masking in pieces of various original exposures, masking parts of two layers processed with different settings in Topaz Adjust, then playing with a couple of curves layers and masking them in appropriately. I didn’t notice the blue glow until I got the exposures home…not sure where that came from. It adds a bit of mystery.
The image below is a 4-exposure HDR of a random beam with huge cables attached. This was also in the generator room. Countless items like this were available to shoot. I processed this image in a more straightforward-ish manner. I tonemapped in Photomatix, added curves adjustment layers to portions of the frame, and blended in a layer processed in Topaz Adjust (but I used a much more subtle preset than I did with the top image). I’m really not stuck on one way to process or one final outcome with these HDR images. It’s not like a wedding shoot where one needs to pay great attention to color matching sets of images and such. I consider each of these HDRs to be its own thing and play each by ear as I process. The outcome is greatly influenced by what I’m in the mood for at the moment.
Mike Connell set up an appointment for several of us local Austinites to tour and photograph inside the Holly Street Power Plant (see Mike’s story here). It would have been a joy to see the place even if we couldn’t photograph it. When energy was still being generated here I used to run the trails adjacent to it and I’ve always wanted to see inside the place. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to join my friends for this adventure. The plant has been closed for a few years and is scheduled for demolition starting in a few months so this is a last-chance opportunity.
There is no electrical power in the plant currently and as we entered through an unlit room our guide — a burly guy named Bobby Gosey — remarked that we wouldn’t believe how creepy the place is at night. Most of the floors were metal grates which creaked and clanked as we walked and the darkness below was apparently endless in the dimly-lit environment. None of us had to push our imagination too far to believe him.
As I’ve perused the resulting images I’ve thrown out far more than I’ve decided to keep but I do like how a few turned out. The photo above shows the entrance to one of the control room areas. I thought it was an appropriate image to start with given the prominent Austin Energy logo on the door. I’ll post “something rusty” in the future.
While poking around online, I found a site which has all the “as-built” architectural drawings for the power plant. I find these drawings kind of cool…I’m just a geek that way. Here’s the link for you other geeks: http://www.holly.austinenergy.com/asbuilts.htm.
Thanks go out to Carlos Cordova and Bobby Gosey for accommodating our group and giving us freedom to roam at will throughout the facility.