Portland LDS Temple

We spent the day at OMSI watching the kids run around and have fun. I sugar crashed about 1:30 local time and crawled into the cafeteria (not literally, but it sure felt like it) and ate the first thing I could find. That part wasn’t so fun.

On the way in we saw the spires of the Portland LDS temple sticking out of the trees. I mentioned this to our friends who were hauling us around and they said we would stop by on the way back. Which, of course, we did.

Here’s a couple of pictures I took. Both low key HDR. Not a great lighting moment, but I’m determined to prove you can take reasonable pictures during times when the light isn’t perfect – since that is most of the time and, secretly, because I don’t want to get up at 5:00 in the morning to try and catch good light.

All in all, I liked the results. They won’t make anyone gasp in amazement, but they are worth looking at.

Quick hey – La Costa Resort in Carlsbad

I haven’t spent much time at home the last couple of weeks. We did two family reunions and I did a week long sales meeting for work in San Diego. 2 days at home and tomorrow we’re leaving for Oregon for our last vacation trip of the summer. Out of money and out of PTO so it’s time to call it quits.

I did a lot of shooting. I took about 240 portraits and 12 group shots at the sales meeting. I’ve been spending a lot of time cleaning those up – just finished tonight. This was my first time shooting outside with a light and umbrella. It went great until the cloud cover broke. I was shooting so fast that I didn’t notice until way late and I shot a bunch way over exposed. I managed to save them all, although some are a little interesting. Kind of a high key look. And the colors are very vibrant.  We learn best from our mistakes. I did much better the second day – chimped after every shot and adjusted when I started to lose my whites.

The sales meeting was at the La Costa Resort in Carlsbad. While I was wondering around I shot a few shots of the resort.

We’re doing the Oregon coast this week end. I hope to get some good shots.

Arches 2010 Gallery

I’ve finally finished going through my Arches images.  I pulled and finished 23 images out of the approx 900 that I took in Arches and Canyon Lands National Parks last month during the John Paul Caponigro Workshop. It was an amazing week end with an inspiring group of people. I left Moab with great memories, fresh, inspiring insights and enough new images to provide months of material to practice my finishing techniques.

This selection represents the strongest images from that weekend. I explored a number of different techniques as I worked through them, applying what I thought worked best for a particular image, a few times just playing around until I came up with something I liked.  In the spirit of the blog, this group of images isn’t so much a finished display piece as it is an exploration of possibilities. It shows different techniques hopefully mostly successful.

I’m by no means finished. I want to do some black and whites. I have a motion series I want to pull together. But I also need to get out and shot some new stuff to keep pushing and growing. To keep my eye in practice.  And to provide more material based on what I’ve learned from this group.

I hope you enjoy it. Please feel free to leave comments about what you like, or don’t like.

2010 Arches Gallery


< Click film strip to view Gallery >


Next week is Scout Camp. Lots of trees, mountains and Boy Scouts, not much in the way of technology. So I might not be around for a bit. But I’m taking my camera and hopefully I’ll find some time to sneak away and explore a bit.

Over the top HDR (WAY over the top)

I’m still working through my Arches images. I’m almost done. I’ve been holding back because I didn’t want to finish and not have anything new to show off. But I decided to prime the pump a little tiny bit.

I bracketed almost everything I shot and I’ve HDR’d most of them. But I did that just to give me a full exposure range – not to ‘HDR’ the final image.  I HDR’d the raw images to broaden the range, loaded them back in Lightroom then processed them normally from there.

This image just wasn’t making it for me. It was close, but I wasn’t excited. Then I had an urge – let’s HDR it hard. I’ve never tried it before, so this is my first.

Kind of like it.

I used CS5’s HDR tool.

Sky Panos

While we were in Moab we took hundreds of pictures of beautiful, powerful rock formations against plain, boring skies. A lot of blaa blue and slate grey – with the occasional cloud.  Sunday night we had a pretty good storm blow through, leaving a cold day on Monday and a new weather pattern – this one with clouds.

Just outside of Moab I stopped and shot a pano cloud shot. I stopped two more times between Burley and Boise and shot more clouds. Outside of town where the horizon was flat and there wasn’t a lot of clutter and there were wonderful cloud formations.

I didn’t do very well on the Moab set and it was still a bit grey. But the Idaho sets were clean and I kept the sequence simple.  I shot 3 1 stop brackets all the way around.

I wasn’t sure how well Photoshop would do stitching them together. Was there enough information in the images for it to hook them up? I included the ground as I shot, but not much. So I wasn’t sure how it would do. I was pleasantly surprised.

The first one I tried I processed via HDR. I did the HDR processing on each shot, before I merged them. I used CS5 and did a soft merge – enough to build a full exposure range. I saved the settings and processed all of the images with the same settings.  Then I ran it through the pano merge – using the auto method:

This is a 7 image merge, almost the entire way around. It merged beautifully. I didn’t do anything to help this – it was all Photoshop. It did a great job.

Then I processed the base images to see how it looked as a non-HDR:

I actually like this one better. The overall exposure range is less and it is less contrasty, but I like the look better.

The second one is a non-HDR from 13 images. On this one I followed a cloud formation up in the middle. I had 12 images even with the horizon and one shot up a level right in the middle. Again, I wasn’t sure if Photoshop would pull it in clean:

Again, it joined it without a problem.

I’m not into skies for the sake of skies. But they will be good resources for other shots that need something in the sky, like some of my Arches pictures. I dropped the last sky pano into the following Arches shot and it helped a lot. It was nice having such a big image – it let me drag the sky around until I found a good match.

The first one as I shot it:

The same image, with the clouds added:

Because the lines along the rock were well defined the selection was pretty simple using the quick select tool. But I had a halo around the inside of the arch, on the left side. I tried to feather that, a bunch of times at different settings, but that didn’t help. I was about to do the unspeakable and actually ask our Photoshop person at work for help when I found the solution in one of my Photoshop books. Just read it, didn’t even realize it was the solution until I tried it a few days later.

It was pretty simple – brush in white in overlay mode on the mask. Cleaned it right up.

Overall, I like the result.

I’m still going through my Moab images. I pulled out about 40 shots that might work. I’m through the first 12 or 13. When I get though them all I’ll put them together as a slide show and post it. Some pictures I’ve already posted and some new ones.

I’ll try to make it worth the wait.

CS5 HDR – My first shot

I’ve been a bit absent – sorry about that.

I decided I needed to have more flexibility than I could get from wordpress.com. So I upgraded my current hosting plan, setup a couple of WordPress blogs there, one a replica of this site and played. I bought a WordPress book, found a bunch of custom templates to work with and discovered Windows Live Writer. I set up another blog from scratch on the new host server and have been spending most of my blog time there.  Now I need to move this one over.

I’ve also been messing around with CS5. I’ve been watching Kelby training vids and just messing with it – finding things and pushing buttons. I played around with the Content Aware fill and the Puppet Wrap – the cool new sexy things that at some point I may find a use for. I think the Content Aware fill will be nice, I just need to find where it works.  I need to play with Puppet Wrap more.

So far I’m liking the CS5 HDR. I’m a little irritated that I bought Photomatrix and haven’t hardly used it since – now I have this. Oh well – it’s just money, right?

I’ve only run a couple of things through and haven’t done anything hard yet, but I like it.

Here are the originals. 3 shots at .7 stop increments (not on purpose – I was going for full stop increments but I’m an idiot and I didn’t check it). All pictures were shot hand held so they needed to  be aligned (click to enlarge):

Here’s the original base exposure shot – standard Lightroom adjustments to Exposure and Blacks:

This is the base HDR image before any PS adjustments. All adjustments were made in the HDR panel:

The shadows opened up very nicely.  Detail depth is much better.

And this is the final, adjusted HDR:

I like the result. It aligned nicely, which was a problem I had with Photomatrix – not a big problem, but enough that I noticed it. The panel is simpler than Photomatrix which for the moment is nice, but usually that indicates less possibilities. Need to dig deeper to flush that out.

More to come on CS5 HDR.

One more thing to add – I need to move this to the new site. Editing this in the base maint tool basically stinks. Windows Live Writer is a joy compared to this. I’m motivated now.

An HDR Set

I am still playing around with HDR. Need to keep working with it to see where it fits best in my set of tools.

Here’s a set I did where it made a difference. The scene was a high contrast shot, late morning so the sun was a bit high. But still had some good shape and flow. The HDR added the extra bit of detail and contrast that pushed a slightly washed out image into a interesting image.

I’m still playing with the Detail Enhancer vs. the Tone Compressor. I like the Tone Compressor in my mountain shots – it plumps up the pine trees – a richer green with nicer luminance. Here’s a comparison.

This first shot is the middle image of my 3 shot, 1ev set. I applied base Exposure and Black Lightroom adjustments. I applied a Gradated filter to the sky.

 Base Image

The second shot is the HDR Detail Enhancer version:

 Detail Enhancer

The third shot is the HDR Tone Compressor version:

 Tone Compressor

Photomatix Registration Redo

On my first posting about Photomatix HDR I mentioned that I was disappointed that the registration of the images wasn’t very good. The same images were very tight in the PS CS3 HDR conversion, but didn’t work well when I did it in Photomatix.

In Photomatix, there are two registration options:

  • By correcting horizontal and vertical shifts
  • By matching features

I processed that first image using the first option. I didn’t like the results. I decided to run it again and see how it did.

Here’s the first image I did:


Here’s the new one, I generated using the second option:


The registration is much better. I also played around with the image a bit now that I’m more familiar with the tool and the process. The final look is different, not necessarily better. But the registration was tighter and that’s what I was looking for.

I finally bought a copy of Photomatix, so now I’m committed. I believe I understand the basics enough to really start exploring what I can do with it, to use it. I also signed up for the Kelby Training. The first course I ran was Matt Kloskowski’s Real World of HDR course.  It did two things. It filled some holes in what I’ve learned piecemeal of the last few weeks and it confirmed the rest of what I have learned and my conculsions. Matt’s approach is very simple – how to spread the exposure latitiude – not necessarily how to come up with the hard-core HDR affect. But he does show how to do that, he just doesn’t dwell on it. All in all a good course.

FYI – if you’re considering purchasing Photomatix and signing up for the Kelby Training, hook up with Kelby Training first and check out the HDR course. They have a promo code that will save almost enough money on Photomatix to cover your first month of Kelby. I did it in the wrong order, but I stumbled across another promo code so I was good.

On a totally un-related subject – I’ve  been watching the BBC (I think) produced show ‘MI5′. What an amazing show. Gritty, real, touching. The production techniques remind me of 24 – I think they did it first. Either way – I’ve really enjoyed it to this point. Look for it on your local PBS station.

a Pseudo-HDR image

This is a follow up to my last post.

In that post, where I created an ‘HDR’ image from a single RAW file I lightly threw out the following statement:

I guess it isn’t technically an HDR, just the Tone Map.

That’s been eating at me ever since. First, was I full of it and Second, what did that really mean? So I read up on the process and here’s some clarification.

Generating an HDR in Photomatix is a two part process. The first generates the HDR from multiple images. After that is complete the merged image is Tone-mapped. Tone Mapping is where the ‘magic’ happens. Most of the enhancements happen there.

So when you generate an ‘HDR’ from a single image you’re creating a ‘Pseudo-HDR’ that is ready to be tone mapped. This is the explaination from the Photomatix User Manual (pg 7):

Photomatix Pro allows you to create a 32-bit HDR image from a single RAW file. To do this, open one RAW file using File >Open, and Photomatix will convert it into a pseudo-HDR image. It is important to note, through, that an image created with a single RAW file cannot really be considered High Dynamic Range. The important characteristic of this pseudo-HDR image is that it is unprocessed. Its dynamic range is not much larger than the range of an already converted file.

So 1- I’m not full of it and 2 – it means that when we’re processing a single image what we’re really doing (in the Photomatix view of the world) is generating a tone-mapped image.  When we’re processing from multiple images, the first step combines the multiple images, generating a single image with a wider exposure range, then we generate a tone-mapped image.

There is an additional feature within Photomatix – Exposure Blending. This feature allows you to blend images with multiple exposures without the HDR effect. Example – shooting a interior with windows where the outside exposure doesn’t match the inside. You could take an exposure that captures the inside of the room and another that captures the detail in the window and blend them into a single image. I tried that the first time I played with Photomatix just to see what it would do. I haven’t tried it since them. I’ll explore that more later.

HDR from a single image

As promised, here’s my next foray into the realm of HDR. I ran a single RAW image through the Photomatix Tone Map. I guess it isn’t technically an HDR, just the Tone Map. Still, I wanted to see the impact.

The following is from the FAQ section of the Photomatix web site:

You can still use Photomatix when you have shot only one exposure in RAW mode. The big advantage, of course, is that you just need one image, so there is no need to use a tripod or to remember to auto-bracket, and it will also work if the subject is moving

However, the range of “workable” exposures you can get from a RAW file is limited. If you are shooting a high contrast scene, you are unlikely to match the results you would have with taking the scene under different exposures that can cover the whole dynamic range.

There are three techniques for using Photomatix with one single exposure taken in RAW mode:

· Technique 1:Open your RAW file in Photomatix to convert it into a pseudo-HDR image, then tone map it.
· Technique 2:Convert your RAW file into a 16 bits/channel image in your favorite RAW converter, open it in Photomatix, and tone map it.
· Technique 3:Create two or three exposures in your RAW converter and combine them in Photomatix as it they were “real” bracketed shots

For good results with these techniques, it is important to ensure the lowest noise level at capture time. For that, set the lowest ISO possible (ISO 100 for instance) and expose for the shadows when taking the RAW image, i.e. overexpose your shot. Even though the histogram of your camera may indicate that highlights will be lost, you should still be able to recover them during RAW conversion (unless the scene is too high contrast, but then a single image will not be sufficient for good results with Photomatix).

Deriving “fake” exposures from a single RAW file (technique 3 above) is theoretically an improper way of creating a 32-bit HDR image. If you intend to use the HDR image file for 3D rendering, then you should not use this technique, as you will not get accurate linear pixel values required for image based lighting. However, if you are only interested in the tone mapped result, then creating “fake” exposures is a valuable technique, as long as you get improved results over technique 1 or 2.

I picked a shot I took a few weeks ago of a hillside of fox tails and other assorted weeds. I loved the texture and the subtle color shift.

I popped the white balance up in the Tone Map since the original exposure range was pretty narrow. This brightened it up a bit. And I popped up the saturation just a bit – because I liked it. I left the rest of the Photomatix settings at their default. After I processed it I pulled it into LightRoom and did the normal LightRoom adjustments – White Point/Black Point and I sharpened it quite a bit (0 to 50).

Then I compared it to my LightRoom adjusted original. The original was significantly brighter (my normal tendency is to over expose everything -comes from being a commercial/fashion photographer in the mid 80’s). So I pulled down the brightness just a tad to bring it closer to the Tone Mapped image.

This is a side-by-side comparison of the full image – the Tone Mapped image is on the right: 

 Again, the differences are subtle, but they are there (click to enlarge).


The Tone Mapped image is just a tad richer in color and when you get real close and personal you see just a touch more detail in the highlights. Here’s a close up of the bottom right corner of the image to help see that (click to enlarge):


The contrast is a touch less and the image just feels a bit more open.

I’ve created larger images and I’ll link them as soon as I figure out how to do that, then you’ll be able to see it better.

Again, what I love about this is the extra level of subtle detail it brings out in the highlights and shadows and the slight increase in richness of the color. It isn’t sharper, its more detailed.

I’m still keeping the HDR/Tone Mapping adjustments to a minimum so I’m not getting the ‘wow’ effect that most of the HDR out there is associated with. We’ll play with that another day. For now, I’m enjoying the subtle touch. And I expect that is what I’ll come back to.

Next time I’ll try Technique #3 – create 2 or 3 different exposures from a single RAW file and run those through Photomatrix.