Summer Fun – a composite

A few weeks ago I was sitting in the back reading ‘Within the Frame’. Naturally, I had my camera in my lap while I read. Just to enhance the reading experience. My daughter and her cousin were jumping on the tramp. It hit me that there was a good opportunity to do a fun little composite. So I shot a bunch of pictures and put them all together. Nothing brilliant by any means, but it was some practice in selections and blending. Learned a few things.


I showed it to my 7 year old daughter fully expecting her to be thrilled with it. Instead she scrunched her eye brows together and said that she didn’t like it – she prefers her pictures to be ‘realistic’.

Oh well.

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.

BW Versions of Yesterday's HDR

Just to take yesterday’s images the next step, I converted the two tire pictures to B&W to see how they fared.

I converted them using CS3’s Black & White  Adjustment tool. To keep the comparison fair, I used the same conversion settings (established for the HDR image and copied on the straight image):

  • Red   27
  • Yellow 30
  • Green 55
  • Cyan 53
  • Blue 188
  • Magenta 60

I adjusted Blue the most to get the detail in the tire the way I wanted it. Yellow darkened the background a bit.

Then I adjusted them both in Levels for Black/White Points and Midrange  (2 – 1.07 – 249). Again, I kept them the same to provide a clearer comparison.

This is the B&W version of the non-HDR image:


This is the B&W version of the HDR image:


And here they are smaller, but side-by-side:


The back grounds are different, but that could be adjusted if I focused on refining each one to to it’s own range.

The straight image pops more because of the stronger blacks – the HDR shows a fuller range of values, dropping the pop factor for the greater range of detail. The full Black and Whites are there, I dialed them in using the Levels adjustment. But since there is less over all it flattens just a bit. But I enjoy looking at the HDR image more – there’s more to look at. Like looking at an Ansel Adams, the more you look the more there is to see.

Now I need to explore pulling an HDR from a single raw, for those moments when you can’t bracket – or when there is a variable element in the image – like a person who refuses to sit completely still. We’ll see where that goes.

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.

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 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.

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.