2 More HDR

First, just to get it out of the way, I have a thing for signs. Texture and signs. Better yet, texture on signs. Someday maybe we’ll get into the why. For now, we’re just going over the how. Particularly, the how as it relates to HDR.

I did two shots today. For both I put the camera on a tripod to get past the registration issue I had with Photomatix on my last set of hand helds. I also shot 5 shots of each, 2 stops each side of correct. I’ve only done 3 shots before, 1 stop either side of correct.

These were taken on an overcast day, very flat light. So not much contrast, beyond the contrast within the subject itself. One had a lot, the other not so much.

The first one is a painted metal sign on a metal post. I liked the color transitions from the weather induced fading. Some subtle texture on the post. And the bullet holes – always an interesting commentary on man’s base instinct when you put a gun in his hand. Sorry, I regress…


This is the straight, non-HDR image at the correct exposure.

I Lightroom’d it – adjusting the white and black points – a lot (flat subject in flat light). Popped the color balance, burned the edges and cropped in tighter.

This is the HDR image, after the same basic Lightroom adjustments (after the HDR process). The only significant difference was the white/black point adjustments weren’t as dramatic.


Still using the demo copy of Photomatix – hence the watermarks…

The differences are not dramatic. The most obvious difference is the blacks aren’t as intense in the HDR. Normally I like the more powerful blacks. Pops more. But as you spend more time on the HDR image you start to see more subtle details, a bit more detail overall. And that would be why the black isn’t as intense – there’s more detail in there. Check out the orange overlay on the left side of the black bar around ‘WARNING’. It’s completely gone on the straight image.

The second is another, more creative sign.

This is the non-HDR image at the correct exposure with the same Lightroom adjustments as the previous image, without the edge burning:


In this case there is a lot more detail in the image itself due to the white paint on the black tire.


Again, the blacks are less dynamic in the HDR because it captured a great deal more detail than in the straight image. It is more obvious in the tire over the metal sign because there is so much more detail in the blacks of the tire than in the black paint on the sign.

The greens in the back ground are also much richer in the HDR than in the straight image. That would be due to the difference in the range between the black of the tire and the background in the base exposure. In order to lighten up the tire in the ‘correct’ exposure it over exposed slightly, washing out the background colors. The HDR composite was able to restore that.


Overall – I really like the effect. Very much like the effort I made in my Black and White with my Simplified Zone process.

As a follow up to my previous post about whether HDR is a Fad or a valid technique. The HDR images that are out there are all powerful, very dramatic images. A lot of detail. But, in a general sense, they push the image to the side of dramatic impact. And it works. But I think that is what many people are pushing back against when they rip on HDR.

What I like about it is the exact opposite. It is the ability it gives me to capture and display the subtle detail that is lost due to exposure range limits. With my Simplified Zone I’d meter the highlight, the black and determine the number stops in between. I’d expose the image between the range marks. Then I’d adjust the development to push the range out or pull it in, depending on the range between the stops.  It only really worked on the view camera since I could process each exposure individually. I’m doing the exact same thing here for the same reason – to get the full range of detail.

That – I believe – is the valid, long term use that HDR provides. The other, while beautiful and powerful, I expect will go the way of other fads. It will fade away when something else comes along.

Meanwhile, the serious artist will use it subtly, carefully and to great affect.

A phrase worth some consideration

From David duChemin on his blog at: PixelatedImage.com

He discusses the question we often ask before we commit to an endeavor: ‘Am I good enough?

To often we forget to ask: ‘Do I love it enough?

It takes both. Maybe more of the second than the first.

He closes with the following:

Whatever the next step for you is, take it boldly. These are not times for the timid;
there’s no reward in tiptoeing through life only to make it safely to death.

Wow, in half a sentence he states what I’ve been trying to incorporate into my sense of being, into my way of living – to step up and LIVE life, not just exist.  To do – not just observe.

HDR with Photomatix

I ran the same images I did my last HDR from through Photomatix to see what you get from paying for something (except I haven’t paid for it yet – doing the trial thing – but it’s supposed to be the same thing).

Here’s the SOOTC  jpg images:




Here’s the HDR that I produced using CS3:


I liked the details it picked up in the shadows, but was disappointed that the window washed out.  The colors are also washed out.  The alignment was spot on.

Here’s the HDR I produced using Photomatix Pro3:


The final result was actually a lot darker than this so I added some fill to brighten it up.

The colors just blew off the page. I actually had to pull back the magenta/red cast – added a bunch of green and blue. That brought it into better balance. But still, compared to the CS3 version the color is just in the wow stage – big difference. I was amazed at the amount of reflected green cast that came off of the leaves.

It also kept the details in the window and didn’t let that burn out. Not that a brick wall is the sexyist thing in the world, but I can tell what it is now.

Except for one thing it is a great improvement. The alignment is off. The CS3 image lined everything up perfectly, but Photomatix left a slight overlap.

CS3 Alignment detail:


Photomatix Alignment detail:


Another feature of Photomatix is Blending. I tried that to see if it would balance out the window detail and what it would do in the shadows:


As expected, more detail in the window and everything else not as dramatic as the HDR. Again, the alignment is off a tad. That’s disappointing.  I realize I can help that by using a tripod, but CS3 did such a great job lining it up I’m surprised Photomatix didn’t. Oh well. Time to dig into the tutorials on the Photomatix site and see if I can do better next time. Shot some more images last week end I can try out.


I actually got 3 hits on the site over the past couple of weeks – of course while I was completely ignoring it. Two came from a comment I posted on pixelatedimage.com and another without a source.

The moment of excitement was immediately overwhelmed by the feeling of horror that people actually looked at the crap I’ve got up right now.  The duality of displaying your work and exposing your thoughts/feelings/efforts. Excitement that others can share and experience it with you – fear that they might not like it and or you.

Some words about our subject

The artist who is only a painter may well become intimidated by his degree-bearing brethren. Under the charmed light of their MA’s, their PhD’s, their accumulated honors and designations, the scholars speak of art in terms of class and category, and under headings of which the artist may never have heard. While he himself may have read extensively about art – and I think that most artists do read a great deal about art, and know a great deal about it – while he may have looked at scores of paintings, have dwelt upon them and absorbed them, his interest has been a different one; he has absorbed visually, not verbally. The idea of classifying such work would never have occurred to him, because to him the work is unique; it exists in itself alone. It is its distinction from other art, not its commonality with other art, that interests him. If the work has no such distinction, if it does not stand alone, he has no reason for remembering it.

The Shape of Content, by Ben Shahn, pg 18

I have a young friend who, through most of  his high-school years, was given to writing poetry. He is now entering his junior year in the university. The other evening I asked him what sort of verse he had been writing, and whether I might read some of it. He replied, “Oh, I’ve stopped writing poetry.” Then he explained, “There’s so much that you have to know before you can write poetry. There are so many forms that you have to master first. Actually,” he said, “I just wrote because I liked to put things down. It didn’t amount to much; it was only free verse.”

Perhaps my young friend would never under any circumstances have become a good poet. Perhaps he should have had the drive and persistence to master those forms which have defeated him – I myself think he should. But I wonder whether it was made clear to him that all poetic forms have derived from practice; that in the very act of writing poetry he was, however crudely, beginning to create form. I wonder whether it was pointed out to him that form is an instrument, not a tyrant; that whatever measures, rhythms, rhymes, or groupings of sounds best suited his own expressive purpose could be turned to form – possibly just his own personal form, but form; and that it too might in time take its place in the awesome hierarchy of poetic devices

The Shape of Content, by Ben Shahn, pg 19

Scholarship is perhaps man’s most rewarding occupation, but that scholarship which dries up its own creative sources is a reductio ad absurdum, a contradiction of itself.

The Shape of  Content, by Ben Shahn, pg 19

Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.
— Erich Fromm

Cool new thing (for me) – HDR

A new discovery (at least for me) – HDR or High Dynamic Range Images.

See Wikipedia – HDR for a good definition.

The idea is to take bracketed exposures of the same image and merge them to increase the image’s dynamic range. I’d planned on doing one by hand this spring at the cabin to balance the inside light with the outside light. Then I discovered that Photoshop will do it for me. How cool is that?

To try it out I found a couple of pictures I took at the Reception Center where my sister was married in March. I pulled up the HDR function in PS3 (File – Automate – Merge to HDR), selected the pictures to merge and let it do its thing. It did a good job. What was really cool, I shot these using a monopod so they weren’t perfectly aligned. The merge process did an amazing job lining them up.

I noticed the difference mostly in the shadows. They are much richer in detail. Some detail in front of the blown out windows was defined better. What didn’t happen, which I expected, is that my blown out windows didn’t fill in. The darkest exposure actually had detail outside the windows, but it didn’t pick that up in the merged image.

The first set I did from 3 pictures:






 Here’s the HDR:



The next set I did from 2 pictures (because that’s all I had). The result wasn’t as strong, but there is a difference:




Here’s the HDR:


I finished with basic Level Adjustment and White Balance on the final image.

I wasn’t sure how visible it would be in a low-res web image (these are at 96 ppi) but it is still there.

I love this effect.

First Step…

There are, in my mind, two approaches to learning – memorization and integration through repetition. Memorization takes more a focused effort and provides immediate results but fades over time. Integration takes longer, provides results more slowly, but when you get it, you keep it. That’s particularly true when you’re developing skills. Sure, you can memorize the Photoshop features, know what they all do, but until you start using them, it’s just not going to jell.

I’ve been using Photoshop since v3. I can do the basic stuff real well, crop, resize, spot, some easy clean up. I’ve never moved far beyond that. I’ve done the tutorial thing over and over. I walk through the instructions, kind of see what they are doing and walk away more frustrated than enriched. My current book, ‘Lightroom & Photoshop Workflow Bible’ by Mark Fitzgerald was a new approach and has made all the difference. Instead of going through steps he walks through the process and how the tools play into the process. For the first time its coming together.

When a new understanding is building, its always nice to come across some independant reinforcement. I found it on Scott Kelby’s Photoshop Insider. His Weds guest blogger was Tomasz Opasinski. He has a unique take on learning Photoshop that dove tailed with my new approach. 

 To free myself from tutorials, to free myself from someone’s way of thinking, from someone’s way of doing things… to THINK PHOTOSHOP. What I mean is that by reading and following someone else’s tutorials I was able to REPEAT his/her actions… but from one tutorial to another I lost MY OWN way of CREATING new things. I stopped THINKING… I began relying on SOMEONE ELSE’S ways of doing things in design or Photoshop. I just got LAZY…

Read the entire article here.

I learned years ago when I was teaching programming that the people who tried to find the solution in a book never caught on. Those who tried to figure out how the pieces worked first where the ones who succeeded.

I read my book all the way through once. Got the concept down, but not much in the way of real skill development.  Then I turned the book back to page one, got a pen and paper (actually my netbook and MS OneNote) and I read slowly, built a Help Sheet to burn the info into my head and to give me a memory boost later. Then I stopped and played with it for awhile. It’s taken a long time, I’m still working at it, but I’m feeling pretty good with Lightroom. Just starting to play with Photoshop. For the first time I feel like I know what I’m doing instead of just pushing buttons and hoping it works.

To finish, I’ll share today’s project.

First picture is SOOTC (Straight Out Of The Camera):


The second image is after I finished my basic Lightroom corrections, White Balance, Exposure, Blacks, a couple of gradations, some color mod, some vibrance and a sharpness adjustment:


Then I wanted to see if I could do a decent B&W. My real love. I dropped out the color in Lightroom, fine tuned the Exposure, Blacks and Contrast. A little more gradient darkening around the edges. Played with the color channels which really popped the eyes. Then I dropped it in Photoshop, some more fine tuning, some creative burning and printed one. To grey. I added some sepia (actually a little yellow, a little red, a little green, some more yellow, took out the green…):


All in all, a definite improvement. And what was really cool, I started with an end in mind and actually got the the desired result.

Texture intrigues me

I love texture, shape and direction. I love the random details, the organic patterns. And after 20 years, I find myself going right back to the same visual elements I captured and enjoyed then.

I definitely have a thing for asphalt. Lines painted on asphalt. Paper things squashed into asphalt.

I took this image on the road outside of my apartment at college in the mid ’80s. It was accepted in the Annual Student Fine Arts Exhibit – the only show I ever entered. I entered 3 images, two were accepted. It holds a tender place in my sense of artistic self.

Directions - 1986

I took these images on my first excursion with my new cool new Nikon D90.





Do you see a common vision – or maybe a enduring obsession?

I do.

Artists of the Future

I’ve been telling people that my next career will be as a high school art teacher. I don’t know if that is where I’ll end up, but it does give me something to work toward that requires a broad range of skills and a solid understanding of the creative/artistic world. And I like to teach. I was a teacher’s aid in College and taught community ed photo classes for a bunch of years, among other things.  I really enjoyed that. I learn better when I have to review and organize the data well enough to teach others. I enjoy the give and take. And, though I’ll never admit it, I like the feeling of respect/admiration/look-up-to-it-ness that is available if you are a good teacher. And I’m pretty good.

And at the moment, I have 3 built in students I can teach, indoctrinate and expose to what I think is neat and fun – my kids.

R is 12 and we share altogether to many shared hang-ups. One of our basic challenges is the need to do everything, try everything. While she does well at everything she tries, she isn’t becoming amazing at any one thing. She doesn’t give any one thing a chance to really develop. She’s always been a pretty good with a pen, maybe just a little better than average, but she hasn’t spent a lot of time with it. This year she is taking art and doing well and really liking it. I’ve been impressed at moments of real creative thought. Maybe this one will catch her interest more than the half a dozen other things she’s got going on.


This is from a quick sketch that she did years ago that I liked and stuck in a book and found a while ago.


A few weeks ago her class had a contest where they had to design an environmental Google logo. I was impressed with what she came up with.

A is 9 and is naturally good at everything he does.  Art isn’t really his thing – he doesn’t sit down to do it for its sake. But when he is forced to sit quietly he’s pretty good with a pencil and paper and with a hunk of clay. He likes creating his ‘creatures’. Some day he plans on creating a comic book full of them. When ever he gets some clay he’s taking to sculpting them. He created an entire army of them:


K is my dedicated artist. She spends hours drawing and coloring, cutting and pasting. When she was learning to write she came up with her own method of holding a pencil/pen with the tips of her fingers – looks stange but it gives her very tight control. From the beginning I was always amazed at her control and detail. Plus I just love to watch her do her thing.


R started a pottery class where they learned how to make little pinch pot creatures. We’ve had two previous pinch pot lessons at home so all three of them know the concept. I had R teach us how to build the creatures. She is a natural teacher (she feels the need to be in charge and teaching provides that) and she did a good job. They all made their own creature and R made tounges for the other two and they all came out very fun. I like mine, but I’m a little jealous because I didn’t do a tounge – but my nose it cool. Did the Karl Malden thing. I’ll drop pictures in when we’ve painted and fired them.

They may never be artists, but at least they’ll have the opportunity that I never had to explore and see if they like it.

Plus I just like the natural sense of beauty that comes out of their young minds and fingers. It isn’t based on years of education and critical reviews. It just a natural effort that is fun and natural and pure. The gift of childhood.