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.
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.
I decided to process something different today. This shot of the “bean” — more properly known as the Cloud Gate in Chicago’s Millenium Park — is unique to me because of the way it interrupts the sky. It almost appears as if some weird time/space warp is going on. I also liked the gradients in the sky and the sky’s reflection in the bean. The original exposures were taken during our family’s annual trip to downtown Chicago last fall.
This image is a 2-exposure handheld HDR which was tonemapped in Photomatix then brought into Photoshop for masking and curves. Lots of masking and curves…and a little sharpening thrown in as well. The people were moving which presented some challenges…lots of masking. I did not add any saturation or other color mods other than what curves does.
I mentioned the gradients in the sky and it may appear that those are an artifact of the tonemapping step. Us HDR fanatics have all seen (and processed) images with various kinds of halos around objects. However, the original exposures contained these gradients/halos as well (one of the original exposures is shown below).
Desperate to do *something* photography-related I was going through some old bracketed exposures. I had the thought of looking through old exposures after reading Mike Criswell’s (aka Theaterwiz) blog (see this post: http://theaterwiz.wordpress.com/2011/01/13/rust-never-sleeps/).
I came across some brackets for this man-made waterfall I shot in TN a long time back and decided to do a little processing to see what look I could bring out in the rocks. I noticed that the center exposure was nearly a perfect exposure in the sense that almost nothing was blown out or unexposed. I decided to try tonemapping two versions — one using the two lighter exposures and one using all three exposures. After tonemapping each with the same settings, I processed them exactly the same way: blended the tonemapped layer with Topaz adjusted version of that layer at 50% opacity, added a saturation adjustment layer with +6 for the saturation, and a slight s-curve adjustment layer.
It’s very subtle and you may not really even be able to see much difference here on the blog, but the image using only two exposures has better color and contrast. The part of the image where the waterfall hits the rocks is more pleasing as well. Now, I could easily process the “poorer” image further and make it look almost exactly like the two-exposure version — mask in original exposures to get the water looking how I want and adjust color and contrast. However, no need for that if I start by tonemapping only the exposures which provide useful information. That turned out to be two exposures for this image — maybe I should call it MDR for “medium dynamic range”. Here’s the 3-exposure version. I don’t think you’ll see the difference on the blog but included it anyway for those of you with a discerning eye.
One might point out that possibly I didn’t choose a good center point to start with but in this case a brighter exposure wouldn’t have been useful either as I really don’t want to bring out any more details in the shadows. It was an overcast day and, if it weren’t for the brightness of some of the water, a single exposure would have done the trick.
Anyway, I thought this quick experiment mildly interesting and thought I’d share it. I was going to make a fancy split image thing for you compare side-by-side but it just isn’t dramatic enough to make the effort 🙂
Sometimes simple tweaks result in amazing improvements to an image. The photo above was the result of putting an original exposure through a simple ‘S’ curves adjustment, adding a very small cyan, blue, and yellow saturation boost, sharpening theedges of the wispy clouds, and a spin through noise reduction in Noiseware. That’s it. The curves adjustment by itself brought out a ton of color, especially the touch of red on the bottom of the darkest clouds. This edit was all of 5 minutes and 4 minutes of that was just experimentation.
I was going to try tonemapping a single exposure as well as tonemapping three bracketed exposures but there was no need (atleast not for what I was after). The clouds were moving so fast that a 3-exposure HDR would have required the whole sky to be masked from one exposure anyway. I would have been left with a tonemapped mountainside. Instead, I opted for the mountain to be a silhouette in order to put the focus on the sky.
Compositionally the image is not all that great. However, I was at my widest setting (18mm at the time) and didn’t want to chop off any more blue sky. I have other exposures in which I placed the sunrise in a more ideal spot but I’m not sure I like the overall image any better. Maybe I’ll post one at a later time.
This photo was taken last year in Davis Mountains State Park in Fort Davis, TX. During our week there we saw some of the most amazing cloud formations in the bluest of skies. The night skies are void of light pollution, providing beautiful views of the stars above. This of course is why the McDonald Observatory (part of the University of Texas) is located near Fort Davis. The weather is also very nice due to the high elevation (the town is about 5000′ and much of the park is higher). We were there in August and it got a touch warm in the hottest part of the day but it was very pleasant otherwise.
The original exposure is shown below for comparison.