Monthly Archives: October 2011

Reader Feature Image of the Week

This weeks reader image comes from Stephen P.













Image info from Stephen:

This image was shot at Fort Anne in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, Canada in August 2010.  We stopped here on one of the classic foggy days on the Bay of Fundy.  The fog was so thick this day that you could only see about a football field in front of you.  Beyond the tree and rolling hills there is supposedly the Bay of Fundy, but I never saw it that day.  
I had my Nikon D80 with a 24-70mm lens at 70mm for a tight crop.  I knelt down for the better perspective and stability and took 3 exposures by 2-stops each.  I shot at f/5.6 and ISO200 to try to minimize the camera shake at my brightest image (which was at 1/30s). 
I merged in Photomatix with settings that I do not remember.  I post processed in LR3, increasing the clarity and vibrance to bring out lots of detail and color in the arch.  In the original HDR, the tree in the background was blurred due to a little wind.  I took the middle image and created two virtual copies in LR, one at +2 and one at -2.  I then merged them in Photomatix with the same settings as the original.  Then I blended the tree section from the single image HDR into the merged HDR, and the result is above.
This image looks even better as a metallic 8×10 print hanging in my office =)
Really wonderful image Stephen. I like how you used the wall as a natural frame to both frame the view and carry the viewers eye into the distance. And some good problem solving to get the image right.  Great job! Thanks Stephen.
Remember if you would like to have your HDR Image featured or Critiqued just follow the directions here
Image Copyright 2010 Stephen P, Do not use or copy without permission

Readers take on HDR Processing (More Images added)

Thankfully a few brave souls sent in their versions of the Automobile images I shot for out Shooting Automobiles Tutorial.

Ken L

The first comes from fellow photographer and great friend Ken L.

Ken reminded me that HDR doesn’t have to be in color at all in fact it can look awesome in B & W. He also reminded me that it may be time to do a tutorial ON B & W conversion methods for those that haven’t ventured there.

Here is Ken’s take on both HDR Processing and B & W












Ken found good tonal balance for the Truck and also has great contrast WITH detail in the mountains which was hard to get.

One thing really cool is. Ken seamlessly MOVED the watermark to the side of the image away from the center that I had placed it. Ken also cropped the image a little more widescreen in aspect ratio for emphasis.

Ken, besides being a great photographer is also a Lightroom Expert so if you have questions about that program , he is the go to guy.

Thanks  Ken!

Miguel P 

The next set of three images come from Miguel P.

Miguel attacked it from a few different angles which I really like. It shows that there is no one way to do anything and everyone has different styles and tastes which keeps the world from becoming boring.  For this exercise Miguel Chose to instead use Nik’s HDR Efex Pro which was a great choice. I will let Miguel own words describe some of the things he did.

This is Miguel’s “Baseline”  image 












“Baseline: This was the image straight out of Nik’s software. At first, I was just going to use the settings that you gave us, but then I decided to start from scratch and play around a little bit. “
Next Miguel was also smart enough to take that Baseline image and do a B & W conversion
“Black and White: I’ve read/heard that HDR’s can be converted into some great BW, so I gave it a shot. I’m not sure that I’m 100% happy with the shot as it still looks a little flat and I can’t figure out why. I feel that the car doesn’t really pop away from the background.”
Notice how different Miguel’s B & W look than Ken’s. This is because there can be just as many ways to convert to B & W as there are to do HDR tone mapping. To answer Miguel. That’s a very common thing to happen with B & W conversions.
 When we have Color in an image, sometimes the color alone is what provides that separation OR draws the eye to something. In  a photograph the first thing the eye is drawn to is the brightest object in the image, secondly the eye is drawn to certain colors, Shades of Red, Yellow and Orange draw the eye first and cause excitement, Shades of Blue and Green Less so and are more calming.
 But, when you take away the color you are only left with tone. So the eye would look for the brightest object or areas of contrast firsts. It’s why not every image converts well. But the other thing is you may have to increase the contrast in a B & W over the color version. Since the color may provide some separation in the image that tone alone as it is can’t. I’ll show you how to do that when I do the B & W tutorial.
Last is Miguel’s Final Version is his fully finished color HDR conversion which he took farther than I did…And I am glad. It shows the possibilities and the artistic styles that people have or are possible.
“Color: Ok, I may have gone a little overboard here, but I like it! I did a bit of dodging and burning on the car. I also used a high pass sharpening on the entire image, added a black layer mask, and then painted in areas that I thought needed a little more “grunge”. I also saturated the mountains a little bit 🙂
One thing that I did notice is that HDR’s really bring out any sort of sensor dust that you have in the camera. There was some up in the skies, and a couple of dots on the car itself. I also noticed that the sky was very grainy (I still don’t know how to make skies look good when using HDR!), so I used the clarity slider in Lightroom (set to -50) and painted over the sky.”
I like it too Miguel. I think it was really done well in that it goes farther to one end ( Grunge/painterly) but doesn’t get silly and has a full range of tones.
Skies are indeed one of the hardest parts to get right and are often what HDR programs get wrong. There are some tools to get them better such as using the Highlight Smoothing in Photomatix but sometimes that can’t get it right. On occasion  when a sky is that important to me in the image  I have replaced the entire sky with one of my other exposures that gets it right. The handling of highlights is one of the things that HDR doesn’t always get right. It was something I discussed with Nik when I talked with them.
As far as sensor spots go, the HDR process itself does seem to bring them out. But the biggest culprit actually is using tight apertures (f/16 etc) Most sensor spots are not visible in image shot at more Normal apertures. But when we stop down the dof itself will make the spot way more visible. In fact if you want to check your sensor for dust, set your aperture to f/22 and shoot a plain cloudless blue sky. You will see every speck on that sensor. Change the aperture to f/6.3 and I bet you don’t see one.

Duane W

Duane W sent in these two images
Duane went for a much more subduded natural look here. He said “After doing my normal work flow.   I used some additional gradient layers in both versions to help bring out the details.”

Looks good Duanne. The only thing I might change on the B & W is on the hood windshield area, it appears dark. This could be a difference in monitor calibration betwen the two of us.
So thanks to Ken , Miguel and Duanne for contributing their images, Really some great work here and I can’t thank you guys enough for taking the time
 There is still time for YOU to send yours in. I will add to the post as I get others in so you are NOT too late

Product Review: Topaz Labs -Topaz Adjust 4 – HDR without the HDR Mess?

If you are a big fan of the “Grunge ” or “Painterly” Styles of  HDR or if you would like the HDR look to your Single  images but just can’t be bothered with all the work. Well I may have a easy and inexpensive fix for your desire.

Topaz Adjust 4 from Topaz Labs

Now you may be saying, “Peter that’s certainly not your style” and you are right, it isn’t. But I have to be honest and cognizant of the fact that those styles are some of the most popular for people that enjoy HDR Photographs. And I will let you in on a dirty little secret of the Photographic Art world. Grunge and Painterly HDR styles far outsell realistic HDR styles when it comes to selling prints. So I think it would be a little foolish of myself to deny those styles or force my opinions on anyone.

So onwards.

Topaz Adjust 4 is a Photoshop Plug-in which you might guess means you need Photoshop but they do have a free product called Topaz Fusion Express that makes their programs compatible with Lightroom, Aperture and iPhoto along with a couple free editing programs like Irfanview.

Topaz Adjust 4 is available by itself for an inexpensive price or in a Bundle of 10 Topaz programs which works out to a very inexpensive price per program when purchased that way.

It works like most Plug-in, it is available under the “Filter” menu in Photoshop. I would suggest as I usually do, before applying or launching Topaz Adjust 4, you duplicate your layer so the effect is applied upon that layer only to give you more flexibility as I will discuss later.

Launching Topaz Adjust 4 brings up a familiar LR Style panel. Presets on the left, Adjustments on the right and Image preview in the center. The program launches quickly and also auto-previews the last used previously preset. The speed tells me this is not a processor demanding program.


There are Presets that mostly deal with color pop and those that deal with increasing detail and then of course a few that do both. You can also Save your own presets as well as Import and export them to share with other users. I found most of the presets on the heavy side but again, that’s ME. For most users the presets will be just about right and I am sure many just choose one and don’t even touch the adjustment panel


The Adjustment Panel on the right starts with an Exposure section which is where you would do work to compress the exposure of the image to get more of that HDR look, Next below that is a section to work on how much detail you want in an image and you really can go anywhere from mild to wild with these controls. The next section down controls Color if you want to add some saturation pop (or take some away) and finally there is a Noise section which seemed to be effective but limited in adjustments. This may not be a problem if you buy the bundle because you will have Topaz De-Noise which can be launched from this application. Any adjustments made were applied and the preview refreshed rather quickly.

OK, I’ll admit it was fun

NOW comes the confession. I actually had fun using this. Yeah it’s way beyond where I will normally go with images but it was nice to just play and get some wild effects on some of my images in my portfolio. And that is part of it. It can be very image dependant. Using the Automotive images I shot in the previous post were not so successful but when I opened some images from a car show I shot two years ago they worked perfectly and were well suited to any treatment I applied.

Use it on a layer

Now I mentioned using them on a new layer earlier. This is appealing to me and how I work because although I may not love the wild style, I can, by varying the opacity of that layer, have as as little or as much of that style as I want and by doing that was certainly able to find something pleasing to my eye. I certainly could see using the Detailed preset for some work.

So summing it up, it’s kinda like how I eat. I try to eat healthy as much as I can, but the truth is, I loves me some hot wings. Topaz Adjust 4 may just be your hot wings.

Here are some of  images and the original to compare to ( Click to enlarge)


If you would like to buy or try Topaz Adjust 4 click here

Hope that helps,


Try YOUR hand at processing my Automobile Image

Reader Miguel P. asked if I could let others have a try at processing the image I did in our Shooting Automobile series and I thought that would be a great idea.

So I have  made available for download the three images I used and also the preset I used as both a starting point in Photomatix Pro and also for Nik HDR Efex Pro.

The Photomatix Preset is THI Exp.XMP and the Nik Preset is Example.NP. Load them in the Tone Mapping under Load Preset

So download the file and have a ball. Take it where ever YOU want to go with it. Mild to Wild!

If you like submit the image back to me at pt (at) and I will post a bunch of the reader versions , IF I get any back.

Or just have fun and learn for yourself

Here’s the Zip File Automotive.ZIP



Shooting Automobiles – Part – 2 – Processing

Shooting Automobiles – Part – 2 – Processing

 Yesterday we covered the shooting of automobiles. Today we will concentrate on the post processing of those images and more specifically post processing the images as High Dynamic Range images. 

As promised I will take you through this step by step just as I would do the image, so you get to see everything that “I” put into it. Just bear one thing in mind, what I do on my image may not what you need to do on your image. Even though I will give my settings in Photomatix doesn’t mean that those will be correct for your image because every image is different. 

They may be a good starting point but I tweak even my starting point to get what I need out of that particular image. Plus you may not even want to have the same effect that I want. If you want a more painterly effect your starting points would be way different than mine. 

Processing In Photomatix Pro 4.1 

Starting with the 3 images I showed you yesterday I open them in Photomatix Pro 4.1. Even though ghosting should not be an issue, I still brought it into the manual de-ghosting screen for a check. This image didn’t need any help but as we will see in the image I shot with OCF, there were about 6 areas with Blinkie-Blackies that needed to be fixed. More on that later. 

So opening the image in the tone mapping screen, Moving down the list I used: Detail Enhancer, Strength 40, Saturation 70, Luminosity -2, Detail Contrast +6.0, Lighting effect Medium, 

Other settings I adjusted;

  • Smooth Highlights 28, I used this to have a smoother gradation of the sky and took some of the gray out of it that can happen in highlights.
  • White Point: 2.000%, this actually has a much larger effect on overall brightness of the image than Luminosity ever has. Still not sure why they call it that.
  • Black Point: 0.092% just to bring back some of the shadows and blacks in the image
  • Gamma: 1.20, this brings the Midtones where I want them. If you watch your histogram of your image, you will see a center peak in almost every image, this controls where that peak is. I prefer it slightly to the left of center but in the end I look at my image more than the histogram to see what look right. It’s just an interesting correlation you may like to see
  • Saturation Highlights: 7.0 this controls the saturation on the highlights only. They appeared a bit washed out so I wanted to add a bit more to them. 

This got the image as far as I would get with the controls of Photomatix. The image now needs some more local adjustments so I will bring the Image into Photoshop or you could bring it back into Lightroom if that is where you like to work. 

This is the image as finished in Photomatix 4.1



For those of you using Nik HDR Efex Pro, I achieved similar results using these setting

  • Compression: 43%
  • Saturation: 22%
  • Structure: 9%
  • Blacks: 12%
  • Whites:19%
  • Warmth: 26%
  • HDR Method: Natural

Final adjustments in Photoshop 

The first thing I notice and should have noticed when shooting is that the horizon line is not straight. We want to look at the horizon line and not our vehicle because we shot at an angle to it the front should be lower than the rear. So using the measuring tool and Rotate Canvas; arbitrary, I straighten the horizon. (Note there are other ways to get this done in later versions of Photoshop and in Lightroom)

While I am at it since I have to crop the image anyway I will crop in a bit to eliminate some of the periphery of the background.




 With our image now level and cropped at this point I will zoom into 100% and take care of any sensor spots that may be visible in the sky or other areas. Its best these are taken care of now and I use my Spot Healing Brush tool to fix those.

 Problem Areas 

Now it’s time to move on examining the image and see what areas may need work 


The first thing I wanted to tackle was the sky and the mountains in the background. Since this is a large area, I decided to use a Curves adjustment layer and mask it just to that area. In The curves box, I brought the highlight across a bit to lighten the highlights and then used my eye dropper to determine where the mountains were on the line and brought those down in levels. I then painted out the rest of the image in the layer mask so that this adjustment only affected the sky and bright mountains. Just to tweak those mountain ever so it more, I burned the shadows on them just a bit.








The rest of the work was just dodging and burning the problem areas. Keeping in mind that if we want to take down highlight you burn highlights you don’t add more shadow. Some times burning and dodging is not as intuitive as we want it to be so you need to work on the right segment. To bring out the wheels and headlights more, I set the dodge tool to Highlight and 10%.

 After all my dodging and burning I finished off the image with a sharpening layer using Nik Sharpening Pro 3.0 set to Display: Adaptive Sharpening and 60% 

Final Image 

Here is the final image as I see fit


You’ll probably notice these are not HUGE changes to our image but rather just the finishing details that make it the best it can be.



Our Advanced Shoot HDR + OCF 

Finishing our OCF image off was a very similar process so I don’t think I should bore you with that recap. The one thing that WAS very different was in the beginning stage when I was merging the files. As I said earlier there were areas that I needed to get rid of the Blinkie-Blackies (For an explanation of Blinkie- Blackies see this post). 

These occurred because we had some bright highlights in the 0 exposure from the Off Camera Lights. These didn’t occur in our +2 and -2 frames because the lights did not fire then (On purpose) so it caused a severe difference that the software didn’t know how to handle without some intervention by me 

So I selected the problem areas in the De-Ghosting section of Photomatix Pro 4.1 and selected the 0 image as the image to use to de-ghost.



After that, the workflow continued just as I did the other shot. Determine my problem areas and addressing them all as needed.

This is the final HDR + OCF image. (You may note a difference in the trucks color, this is because the color of the light was so different after twilight, I decided to keep that pink hue as that is what was there at the time. I am not a big fan over-correcting white balance to something that wasn’t there)




Now you may ask, couldn’t you have done the same without OCF? Not really because you have to remember one thing. This image was shot well past sunset. It was dark!… as I was reminded by the two packs of coyotes that started their twilight serenade…which led me to pack up and leave. But we never would have gotten the specular highlights on the trucks body without using some artificial light. 

Now of course we could have, as we did, just shot earlier when that light was there. But the mountains in the background would have had a totally different look as we can see. 

So I hope this help you to try and go out and shoot automobiles. Again you may want a totally different look to your HDR as many people do. So do what you want in Photomatix to get YOUR desired effect. But then take a moment to analyze that result and see where some touch up is needed. You don’t need to do my workflow or my adjustments but just understand it and what does what.


Here are a couple more shots from the night with varying degrees of success

Hope that helps,



Shooting Automobiles – Part 1 – The Shoot

Shooting Automobiles – Part 1 – The Shoot 

Today we are going to look at yet another subject that can benefit greatly from shooting and processing in HDR-HighDynamicRange: the Automobile. 

Automobiles are almost like shooting portraits outdoors, shot wrong and at the wrong time of day can lead to disappointment. So let’s take a close look at what it takes to get a truly pleasing shot. Today we will focus on setting up the shoot itself and tomorrow we will work on the processing. 

I am also going to do this in two parts, a basic shoot and then an advanced set-up for those that may want to take this above and beyond. 

Location, Location, Location 

Shooting an automobile is as much about the background as it is the car itself. In the wrong environment the car will loose the appeal that we as photographers or more importantly the client, (Classic Car Owner, Auto Manufacturer etc) desire. So first we have to find the location; that may be a twisting mountain road, along the shore of the ocean or lake, In front of a cityscape, day or night or in our case, the oft used, desert dry lake bed. 

For this shoot I chose the Clark Lake dry lake bed in the Anza-Borrego desert of California. My Favorite place to shoot. 

My choice of locations and the desire to shoot HDR was confirmed today when I opened up Road & Track magazine and saw a shot of a 2012 Dodge Charger shot in HDR IN the Anza-Borrego desert. I regularly run into their team doing tests along the way from their Newport Beach headquarters to the desert. In fact, for inspiration for your shoot check out the better automotive publications and even the websites for car manufactures like Porsche and Lamborghini. They often have some downloadable wallpapers that have some stunning photography. 

I choose the spot I wanted because having been there and shot many times I knew how the light would be at all times of the day. I knew at a certain time of day the lake bed would be pushed into shadow while the mountains behind it would still be lit and nicely lit come the golden hour. One note when shooting near large mountain ranges. You need to know that sunset behind those mountains can occur 1-2 hours before actual sunset depending on the altitude and your proximity to those mountains.

The good thing is that it provides for a very long twilight period where the sky provides plenty of light yet without any direct light on your subject. This is kinda of like working with a giant softbox in the sky. Plenty of soft natural light to make our subject look good. This lake bed has mountains on 3 sides so I knew I had to be there at 4PM even though actual sunset was 6:15PM but I actually was able to work past sunset with the aide of something else in the advanced setup of this tutorial. 

Shooting earlier in the day is not desirable, the light is too contrasty with harsh shadows and even if we could capture that dynamic range it isn’t pleasing to our subject at all 

So we want to shoot later when our subject is not in direct sunlight. 

Place the vehicle in the location you want. Again this may take some pre-scouting so you know where the light will be at what time and location 

Having a clean vehicle

This image is going to be sharp and full of detail so a clean vehicle is of the essence. Any blemish will show up. But, we may not have the luxury of a cover trailer to bring the vehicle to the location and it may get dusty just getting there or even while on the location if winds are high. If the vehicle is not your own, DON’T Touch it. Leave it to the car owner to clean. Any scratch you put into a $10,000 paint job will be your fault. 

 If the vehicle is your own or if the owner needs advice on how to clean the car on location, I recommend a California Car Duster to get the big stuff off and then wiping the car down with a Micro fiber cloth using a detailing lubricant such as Meguiar’s Car Detailer. This will prevent the tiny scratches you can get from wiping a car with a dry cloth.

The setup

 Once the vehicle is clean and in place you can begin to play with your setup as the light gets where you want it. Don’t wait for the light to be where you want to start to set-up as the light will change very quickly and you may only get 15 minutes with each lighting scenario so you have to be ready. 

You will need to determine angle and focal length for the shoot. In general we don’t want to shoot straight on to a side or the front or rear. We may want to have those shots as alternative angles but that won’t be our money shot. In general we want to be at a 30-45° angle to the side and encompassing either the front or the rear of the vehicle. Once we determine a general shooting area we need to consider the focal length we will shoot at. 

Focal Lengths

Again I will go back to the “Portrait” analogy. Just as in shooting a portrait, we want to choose a focal length that is pleasing to our subjects face or body. We don’t want any part particularly emphasized, especially if it makes the subject look odd. We want as much beauty as possible and emphasize only the positive. For this shoot I chose my Canon 24-105L 4.0 IS. It gave me the range that best suited this shoot.

 On my Full Frame Canon 5D, I like to use focal length of 50 – 70mm. On APS-C bodies this may be in the 35 – 50mm range on your camera. This gets me close enough to see the detail I want, yet still gives me the perspective I need to include a good amount of the scenic background. I have used up to 200mm at times but remember with a long focal length we loose the amount of the background shown due to perspective. If you are a fan of the Nifty Fifties ( Canon 50mm 1.8 Nikon 50mm 1.8) This may be a great time to break it out.

I don’t like to use wider angle lenses because we start to get distortion in size perspective of parts of the vehicle that are closest to the camera and that leads to a less pleasing look such as this one shot at 24mm.

 Notice how the front fender and wheel are disproportionate to the rest of the vehicle. This would be akin to making a person’s nose look big in a portrait. Not good. 

Also note this is a Standard Photograph in the natural light. It doesn’t have the Dynamic range we want with the blown out sky and no detail in the mountains 

The same shot at 50mm provided a much nicer perspective for our vehicle. But again note how the standard image, while getting the mountains now better lit, plunges our vehicle into darkness. Good thing we know about HDR.





We’ve got our location, we’ve got our vehicle placed there, we have it clean and we’ve chosen our angle and focal length. So now let’s shoot our HDR.


I measured the Dynamic range and knew it was well within the normal 3 Shot 2 stops apart shoot. So I set the camera to Aperture priority and Exposure Bracketing and took 3 shots. 0,+2.-2






These 3 shots get the midtones, the highlight sin the sky and mountains and the shadows of the vehicle all covered. 

Tomorrow in part 2 I will cover in its entirety the processing of these images.


Advanced shooting 

The previous was our normal HDR shoot and will be perfect for almost everything we want to do. But there are conditions where we may need to take it to the next level. 

In Photography we either need to “find the light” or “Create the light” I wanted to shot later into the actual twilight. The only problem with this is I loose some of the natural softbox lighting I get earlier in the evening, especially low on the body and into the wheels and tire area. So to fix that… 


OK so let’s decipher those acronyms. We know HDR, High Dynamic Range. OCF is, Off Camera Flash. If two things are all the rage in photography right now it is HDR and OCF. So why not combine the two. OCF is a way to tame dynamic range. You use the natural or ambient light to light your background and then provide strobe lighting for your subject and in a lot of cases that is good enough to get the image you want, But of course not for me. I want to take it one step further. 

Here is my Basic Set-up. Two Flashes on stands, One Canon 580EX and One Vivitar 285HV. And Cactus wireless triggers to fire the flashes remotely.  I used 42” Shoot-through Umbrellas (I added the second after I shot this shot on the Vivitar).  I also moved the flashes closer to the subject later to create a larger light source.


Of course we could do an entire lesson or website just on OCF, so I won’t. I will just show you some possibilities of using this set-up. But I will give you some pointers that can help.


  • Make your light source as large as possible. This means having the lights as close to your subject as you can without being in the shot and also using a large diffuser to eliminate hotspots, This can be a Softbox or an umbrella or even shooting through a large diffuser, remember we are trying to evenly light a large object so we need a lot of nice diffuse light
  • Watch for reflections. We are also shooting a highly reflective object so we have to watch for distinct reflections of the lights. We do this primarily by using “Angle of incidence, angle of reflection” Meaning if the light is at the same but opposite angle our camera is to the subject. We will see a reflection. So if the camera is at a 45° angle to the car, we don’t want the light at an opposite 45° angle to it. 

One lucky part of doing this shoot for HDR, that would be a bad thing in regular OCF shooting, is that the flash takes a second to recharge. In a normal shoot this would mean some missed shots if you shot too quickly. I used this to my advantage because I only wanted the flash to fire on the 0 exposure shot. If I quickly took the +2,-2 shots afterwards the flash did not have enough time to recharge to fire. If I really needed to, I easily shut the trigger off on the camera after the first shot if I needed more time. 

To give you an idea what the shot looks like lit by the OCF flashes here is an example. What should be noted here is this shot was shot well past sunset and it was in fact quite dark. If you look at the shot settings you will see that it is ISO400 f/10 and 1.6 seconds of exposure! But also note that the strobe light matches the ambient which is something we would want.




Tomorrow we will look at this image processed with the other two for our final HDR. I know this doesn’t really delve into how to do OCF. It’s not meant to other than just give you a feel for it and see if it is something you might like to attempt. 

We still can get a great image using HDR alone so this may not be worth YOUR time. 

So be back tomorrow for part two of this tutorial. Post processing where I will take you step by step on how I finished two images and the final results.

I know, you don’t want to wait, but my typing finger is sore.



Help! I’ve broken my Bokeh and I can’t get up!

Bokeh is a term used for the Quality of the  OOFF (Out Of Focus Field) in an image. NO IT IS NOT the term for an image with a shallow depth of field. That would be: An image with a shallow depth of field. LOL

But a great bokah in an image is a very desirable things. Most times when we shoot HDRs we really don’t worry about this because we are shooting for a very deep DOF. Bokeh would be irrelevant for most of our shoots.

But suppose we want to be different, we want to use our artistic side and we want to shoot a subject and then have a very shallow DOF. No problem shoot away BUT as nice as HDR will make the subject of your image it will have a totally detrimental effect to the OOFF area and destroy any great bokeh your lens may have.

Let me show you, For this image I used my Canon 70-200L 4.0 lens which is known for it’s excellent bokeh. I shot a day lillie in front of my home with 3 exposures and at 200mm f/7.1. Now you may say f/71. That’s not going to give you a very shallow DOF, actually it’s probably still not enough since my Focal Length was 200mm and my distance to subject was 5 feet, that still gives me just a few inches of DOF. Shooting wide open would have given me less than an inch of DOF.

I processed the images in Photomatix Pro 4.1 and used the Painterly preset, Just taking the strength down a notch and adding a bit to the black levels.

Here is that image



















Now some may say,” That looks great”. And to an untrained eye it may. Because HDR brings out detail and perceived sharpness it is applying that to the background to the same degree that it does out subject where we do want the fine detail visible. The same thing can occur when someone oversharpens a standard photograph and applies that sharpening equally to the background. You are sharpening something that is not meant to be sharp and it destroys the look of the image.

But now look at the OOFF of a standard image with the true Bokeh of that area.


















Look at the softness and smooth transition of tone in the background. But we loose the extra tone and detail we may want in the our subject; the flower itself.

So is all lost? Not at all. Through the magic of Photoshop and our friend the layer mask, I took the HDR image and dragged it on top of my standard image and then just masked off the background to reveal the standard image background. Problem solved.

QUICK HINT: If you are dragging an image on top of another image and want to make sure that the two images are aligned. First start by dragging the image with the shift key held down. Then to fine tune the alignment, change the Layer mode on the top layer to “Difference” and the image should turn black, The better you align the images the more black the entire image will look especially on edges. Once you have the images aligned, return to Layer mode to normal.

This is the final image, HDR Subject, standard background with that creamy Bokeh









Readers submit your images! For Feature or Critique

There seemed to be a lot of interest in this and I think it would be fun and educational.

So I will accept images to be Highlighted once a week.

I want to break it up into Two  categories for different purposes

Feature Image

If you submit an image for a Feature Image, it is your best of the best but of course I’ll be the judge of the best of the submissions and I’ll feature what I think is an outstanding image. Doesn’t mean I don’t like you or I didn’t like your image. I just think this  one does something for me and I also think it will be enjoyed and learned from by others. I’m not going to Critique it, just give you a general Attaboy or may say why I picked it.

Critique Image

If you submit an image for critique, it may be your best of your best or it may be an image you are having a problem with. This is purely for a learning experience for yourself and others. BUT, you have to have a tough skin. I will not gloss over anything and will critique both on quality of the HDR and also the quality of photography. I will not be critiquing on artistic style.  There can be no hard feelings about it. It’s not personal.

How to submit an image

Prepare your image as such

  • Image Size: 1000 Pixels on the longest size
  • Watermarking: You may Watermark as you feel necessary but do it tastefully. If you are afraid of someone stealing your image, don’t post it on the internet.
  • Color Space: sRGB But I can fix any that aren’t
  • Exif: Keep intact, Do not use save for the web if possible

Tell me about the photo:

  • Where the image was shot
  • Camera and lens Used
  • Number of Images and stops apart
  • HDR Processing Software and any Presets you may have used.
  • Any post Processing you may have done.
  • And any short thing you may want to say about the image
  • Your Name and whether you want your full name posted or First name and last Initial

Submit your image to pt (at)   You know, put an @ where the at is. In The subject line of the E-mail say either: “Image for Feature” or “Image for Critique”

I’ll probably pick one Image a week and will decide on what day of the week to do this

OK Legal stuff: By submitting your image to me you grant me the license to post the Image on the HDR Image site. You also grant me the  right to rebroadcast that image on any Social Media that the HDR Image may use. No other License is granted nor implied. You retain the full Copyright to your image


Tell me what YOU want to know.

I’d like to have at least a post a day but trying to come up with ideas of what to talk about can be difficult and I don’t want to do articles on things that maybe you just have no interest in ( I think color management may have been one of those such posts)

So tell me in comments or email me of something that may be of interest for you or even a question you have that may make a great subject for a post.

After all, this blog is for YOU, I hear myself talk all day long so I don’t need to hear what I have to say 😉




Follow up to Reader Vote

 Just following up on the reader vote where you cast your opinion on which processing you liked best.

Like I said, no opinion was right or wrong. It was just to see for myself what people prefer and maybe even for YOU to see what you prefer.

The two images were the same combined 7 Exposure 1 stop merge

Each were processed using a Photomatix Pro 4.1 Preset, Image A was the “Grunge” Preset in Photomatix. Image B, was my own preset that I made and use for my starting point for almost every image.

My Preset consists of the following: Detail Enhancer, Strength 70, Saturation 70, Lighting Adjustment: Natural, Gamma 1.20

In Contrast (Pun intended), The Grunge settings are: Detail Enhancer, Strength 100, Saturation 80, Luminosity 10, Detail Smoothing 10, Lighting Adjustments: Surreal, White Point 1.779%, Black Point 0.20%, Gamma .80

Or I guess we could say, as far apart as possible.

Neither one was finished with  any post processing. I wanted to see the reactions to the Presets in Photomatix alone.

The actual finished image using my Preset and then finishing  in Photoshop would have looked something more like this.












Thanks to all that participated, I found it interesting. I hope you did too.



Color Managment and Monitor Calibration

Okay so you just shot and processed the most amazing HDR ever and you decided to get that 40” x 60” print for your wall which set you back a few hundred bucks. But even though you sent to the lab a shot of the Taj Mahal, you get back something that looks like a turd on a crap pile. Or that same image you post on Google+ and you think is all wonderful. People are wondering why you even posted such an underexposed shot.

What’s at work here? Poor color management and no monitor calibration. One of the most important and perhaps confusing parts of a photographer’s workflow, yet one of the most overlooked.

So today let’s examine this and make some sense of it so that you can get the ultimate results out of all your HDRs and even your regular photographs.

Color Management

Color management is what assures that the color we see is the same that others will see and also other devices. So that what appears red to us, looks red to others or prints/ displays red on other devices. If it looks red to us and ends up looking orange to everyone else would be a problem.

Color Spaces and Profiles

Image © Image created by Jeff Schewe CC

A color space or  gamut is the range of colors visible and the number and variations of hues within that. There are 3 main color spaces used in photography: ProPhoto RGB, Adobe RGB and sRGB. Representing color gamuts from the widest to narrower, in order succession. There is also CMYK which is used by photographer’s that send their images in for print on a Printing press. But that would be a whole separate article in itself and most people don’t run into this

While it may seem that we want to use the widest Gamut possible, it’s not always the most desirable and in the end may not even be visible on either your monitor or the final print. Only some of the highest end monitors are able to even display the full Adobe RGB color space but as monitor increase in quality we may want to have the widest gamut possible.

There are occasions where using too wide a gamut can lead to problems later on down the line when we have to convert that gamut to a lesser one and that lesser one can’t contain all that the wide gamut produced, which can lead to posterization (banding) in our images.

Color Management in Photoshop

We choose a Color Space for our Working profile or space in our editing program. In Photoshop this would be under Edit> Color Settings


























Working our way down this screen, we would want to set our settings to custom so we can make the choices we want.

Working Space

Working space is the space we choose to work under in our editing program (in this case Photoshop) under working spaces the one we are concerned with is RGB and this is where you will make a personal choice. I use Adobe RGB. I think it is the Momma Bear choice of just right. Others may choose to work in ProPhoto. Others sRGB. Truth of the matter is if you really don’t know, choose sRGB. It will get you in the least trouble along the way. And really is just fine for most situations.

Does it really matter what I use?

Well It can. What you decide to use as your working space doesn’t really matter that much. BUT what you use as the Color Space that is embedded into the image that you send to someone else can make a difference depending on the use of the final image.

If you are going to use the image on a website, you should have that file in sRGB. SRGB is the standard for the internet. Although some web browsers are capable of reading color profiles. Most people don’t know how or where to even set them so if your image is in sRGB you will have the largest compatibility.

If you have your images printed by a Commercial Lab, see what profile they use or if not, if they read embedded profiles. If you send an Adobe RGB file to a Lab that requires the image in sRGB you will get some color shifts leading to a loss of quality of the print

But what if I want to work in a different space than the internet or a lab?

You absolutely can. In Photoshop there is a feature called “Convert to Profile” under the edit menu. Using this feature will successfully translate one color space to another. You may loose some color, but it will translate in in a way that things don’t go all wonky. 

Lightroom will automatically do this for you, just make sure when you export the final image that you set the color space correctly for its use.

Color Management Options

Once that choice is made we move down to the color management area which is REALLY important. Correct settings here will assure that if you bring an image in that you didn’t shoot or edit that image, it will adjust itself for what space you are working in. So the first thing I do is make sure that the three boxes for: Profile Mismatches, Missing Profiles and Pasting profiles are all checked. This will ensure that a warning dialog will pop up if you try to open an image with a different profile other than what your working space is and allows you to make a choice of what you to do if a mismatch occurs.

Under policies, the dropdown for RGB, you will see three choices; Off, Preserve Embedded profile, Convert to working space. I have mine set to preserve embedded profiles because I work on a lot of other people’s photos. You may want to have your set to convert to working space for simplicity. Just know that since you have the warning check boxes checked you will still have a choice upon opening an image if you decide to do something other than the default action.

If you don’t want to be bothered at all with this, Leave the default action as Convert to working space and turn off all the warning check boxes. Then Photoshop will just automatically convert a different profile than what is your working space. I just like the options.

So what do I say if I get a Pop-up telling me of a Mismatch or Missing profile?

If you get the warning box for a Profile Mismatch:

You can make a choice that best suits you. I usually honor the embedded profile because most likely someone has sent me an image to work on and I want to work on it and send it back the same way.







If the Profile is missing:

If you can’t contact the person to ask what was used the best bet is to just play it safe and assign a space of sRGB.

Conversion Options

Under Conversion options: Engine, Leave as Adobe Ace anything else is really for advance users
Under Intent (Rendering Intent) I use Relative Colorimetric to keep the relationships betweens colors on conversion. You could also choose Perceptual if you are going from a very wide gamut to a narrow one. But for the most part Relative Colorimetric works just fine.
Check the box for black point compensation checked and I also check the box for dither. Dither can reduce the banding I talked about earlier in our images.

Once you are done, click OK and your settings for your color management in Photoshop are set.

Color management in Lightroom

For some odd reason, Adobe wants to keep the color management within Lightroom a secret; In fact they don’t even want you to be able to mess with it so you can’t. But, through a little investigation, I will at least tell you how it works.

When you are viewing files in the Library module, they are displayed in Adobe RGB. When you are in the develop module and working on a RAW file, the working space is ProPhoto RGB. When you open a Tiff, Jpeg or a PSD file, Lightroom will honor the embedded profile for that image. (We’ll talk about embedding and saving profiles in a bit)

That’s the way it is, you can’t change it. But it really is fine.

For those of you that use Photoshop Elements, your choices are a little more limited and quite honestly the reason it is not a professional editing program, even though it works really well for editing. In the settings of Elements, you basically have two choices; Optimized for print (Adobe RGB) or Optimized for display (sRGB)

Next step

Okay, so now that we have all our setting correct in Photoshop or Lightroom how do we assure that what you see on your monitor is what I see on mine. We do this by calibrating our monitors.

Monitor Calibration

Monitor Calibration is calibrating our monitor, through the use of a Hardware & Software device, to a certain standard. When two monitors are calibrated to the same standard they will look relatively the same. I say relatively because in the real world there still may be some slight differences.

Right out of the box LCD monitors are almost always too bright and the color temperature is way too cool, approx 9300°k. Manufacturers do this for two reasons; to make the monitor pop on the showroom shelf (brighter appears better) and also at these settings it make it easier to read text especially in a brightly lit room. So if you do a lot of text editing. Well this may be great. But we are photographers and it’s not.

We could try to calibrate our monitors by eye, but our eyes are very bad at doing this. Everyone’s eyes see color and brightness a little differently in fact my left eye sees color a little warmer than my right. So instead of using our eyes it’s best to use a Hardware Calibration device that uses either a colorimeter or s spectrophotometer.

The two most popular brands are  i1 Display Pro by X-rite and The Spyder 3 Pro by Datacolor. It’s kinda a Nikon/Canon thing, everyone having their favorite. I’ve used a Spyder for years now. But I don’t think I would have a problem using X-rite’s either.



Choose a Standard

Just like we needed to determine a “standard” with our editing program’s working space, so too do we need to determine a standard for our calibration. There are two common standards used most often. The first calls for a White Temperature of 6500°k and a Gamma of 2.2. The Second calls for a standard of 5000°k White and 2.2 Gamma…  Choosing one depends on the use of your image and also the need to match someone else’s standard such as a Photo Print Lab.

If you normally edit in an average lit room and your images are destined only for the web, the 6500°k. Gamma 2.2 would probably be your best choice. If however such as in my case, I am trying to match the standard used by the labs that do my prints. I also edit in an almost dark condition as far as room light is concerned. So the best choice for what I am doing is 5000°k, Gamma 2.2. You may also see a Luminance standard specified which can range from 80 to 140 cd/m2. 100 is usually called for by most labs.

Once you determine the standard you want as a target, you follow the directions for your particular device. It will display some standard colors and then match and adjust what it knows the color to be with what it is reading.  You may need to make some adjustments to the monitor’s setting itself. For color temp, gamma, brightness and contrast. The profile the calibration generates can make adjustments to the color and brightness but it has its limits so if you make the initial adjustments necessary the calibrator may not need to work as hard. Make sure you calibrate the monitor under the conditions you will be editing under.

Once the calibration process is done. The calibration software will generate an ICM profile which will load when your computer starts up. Make sure it loads on start up and you usually can tell because at a certain point at startup you can see the monitor’s color and  brightness change. Because of a change in the Windows operating system with Vista and Windows 7, there have been occurrences of the monitor loosing its profile when the monitor goes to sleep or even if a warning window pops up. For the most part this has been cleared up in updates to calibration software but it still may occur.

Putting it all together

So now we have our settings set and our monitor calibrated. We can feel better that what we see is what other people – that have calibrated their monitors and set their setting – will see. But in order to enable others to know what standard you are actually talking about, when we save an image we need to embed the Color profile, that we worked on or converted to, into the image data itself. We do that in the Save As command and dialog box by checking the box for Color and the Profile used.



In Lightroom, we would do this on Export and choose the color space that we want the image exported with.

Now with the profile embedded in your image not only will this make your workflow, color and constancy better. Anyone else that opens your file will know how it should look too.

Okay, I’m sorry but this is just way too confusing and complicated for me.

You’re right, Color management and calibrating is one of the most confusing parts for all photographers

So let me just break it down into a couple points and just try to follow them and you still will be way ahead of everyone

* Calibrate your monitor. I know even this part is hard but try your best. It really is just that important. Some of the calibrators have a basic and advanced mode. Use the basic mode to just get you up and running quickly. There are some lower priced calibrators out there too
* Use sRGB as your working space and embed or export with that.
* Turn off the warning check boxes and just have Photoshop convert to the working space. You won’t have to worry about this in Lightroom

And just leave it at that. That is the best default, least worrisome of all options. Then go out and take some great photos and sleep at night.

Hope that helps,




Reader Vote – Which do you prefer?

Two of the same image, Just processed differently in Photomatix Pro 4.1

Which do you prefer and why? There is no wrong opinion, only that you have one.

A or B and why?  Vote in comments



Stop your complainin’ LOL

OK, I got a lot of complaints about the readabilty of  white letters on a black background.

How about our new lovely 228 gray with black lettering?

Now go read..and shut-up…LOL



Reader Image of the Week – Duane Willis

Rocky Falls

Our first feature Reader Image of the week comes from Duane Willis

Click to enlarge












THI: Duane Where was this image shot?
DW: Rocky Falls – Ozark National Scenic Riverways; It is located east of Eminence Missouri

THI: What equipment did you use for the shoot?
DW: Nikon 7000 ; Nikon 24-70 Lens, Manfrotto Tripod

THI: How many exposures did you shoot and how many stops?
DW: 3 Exposure (-2, 0, +2)

THI: What software did you use for processing?
DW: Photomatix 4.1.1 and Photoshop Elements 7

THI: Anything else you want to say about this image?
DW: This is  “Rocky Falls” with the Fall color and its 40 foot cascade of water dropping down to a clear pool of cold spring water.  It is one of the small “Shut-ins” formed from molten rock.


PT: I really like this image. What a great place to visit. There is nothing like this around here. What I like about the image is that the brightest part of the image is what your eye will go first and that is the main fall, perfectly silkened with a slow shutter speed and placed precisely for great composition

The eye is then allowed to wander up the falls to the beautiful fall foliage which has just the right amount of saturation. That is something that easily can get out of hand and you will see that with blow out in the red channel.

And best of all, this is a full range HDR taking us from the white of the water to pure black of the shadow areas of the falls. Which truly is “As the eye would see”

So what do you all think, Should a reader image be a weekly event or not? Let me know.

Image Copyright 2011 Duane Willis, All rights reserved

Bottom Line – It’s still “All About the Light”

All too often I see HDR used as THE important element of an image. It’s not, it’s a process, it’s a tool. Lately when I post images I don’t even say, this is an HDR. It’s irrelevant. Just as what kind of camera did I use, or what shutter speed I shot at or what editing program did I use. They aren’t relevant to the end image. Just how you got there.

So I have been thinking about the above paragraph for a while now but what I didn’t realize was that my shoot this weekend  would prove it to me.

Great Photography

Before I begin that tale, let me first explain what I believe is great photography. Great photography is all about the light finding great light and most importantly shadow and the placement of shadow with-in an image. Great photography is about having an artistic mind to see that great light and also the eye to place that subject of light within a field or more plainly stated, Composition. Once you have the eye for the light, shadow and composition, it’s having the knowledge to capture that and  frankly, NOT F*** it up! This is , to me, the essence of great photography and what I will always and forever strive for. HDR is just one of the tools I use to get there.

 Back to the shoot

I always say I never preconceive what I will shoot when I go to a certain area because the area always tells me what to shoot. This day was no different as I headed out to the Anza-Borrego desert in California. I had thoughts that I would like to shoot the Calcite Mine in the north-east section of the park. Just finding the trail to go off-road on was tough enough and once I got half way there, the trail took a turn for the worse, too tough even for my mighty blue steed and all I could picture was myself being on one of those Video mishap shows with my truck tumbling down a drop off to the desert floor below. So at that point I choose to turn around and look for something else.

I was told there were also some Slot Canyons in the area. So I set off to find them, a short distance away I found them and started hiking the trail. Aha, my best friend the desert had once again, told me what to shoot.

One note of caution. Never hike alone, always have sufficient water and food, NEVER hike in a slot canyon without first checking weather conditions. Even storms miles away can quickly fill a slot canyon with torrents of water that you cannot escape. And finally NEVER EVER EVER EVER drive off road without a minimum of a trail map but really GPS GPS GPS. Really…not kidding. I use a GPS enabled laptop with mapping software that can show some off road trails that a standard GPS unit for cars may not.

As I hiked into this amazing find not only did I think , here was my shoot I also thought here is my story or my next The HDR Image post. I was really excited. What could be a better post then talking about shooting a slot canyon? Because they have always been almost impossible to shoot the  way  you want because of the high dynamic range of clear blue sky down into the dark recesses. So I shot away, excitedly assembling the blog post in my mind as I walked along and shot. This was a very cool slot canyon with a lot of amazing rock structures to see. But as I shot, something was wrong. Usually I can tell just from reviewing the images  and histograms when I will have a good image. Something was wrong but I just pushed it aside because I was excited about the story I wanted to tell.

When I got home, I started reviewing and processing the images and again, something was wrong. Ummm these…sucked. So I pushed the HDR process harder and harder well past where I normally would go. And they got more let’s say HDRy, but the didn’t get any better. Until I finally realized, this was a high dynamic range scene for sure, but in the majority of the scene, there was absolutely No Light or I should say, QUALITY light.

While there was a nice blue sky and some cool light on the peaks at the top of the canyon, The majority of the scene was extremely flat shadowless light. We may call this “Tonal” light. Which can be good for showing tones in an image. The problem was the canyon walls were very mono tones, not even the various tones of reds and yellow you may see at say Antelope Canyon, AZ. A lot was pink or gray mud colored rock. The rock was however full of texture. but to show that off you need “textural” light or light with high contrast. which at this  time of day just wasn’t there. And me pushing processing in HDR to the max was NOT going to give me that.  Even processing in B & W didn’t help, in fact it proved the point. On conversion almost everything in the image became the same tone.

I was so engrossed in getting the story, I forgot about the most important part, The photography, finding the light. High Dynamic Range does not equal…great light.

So you may say, “Your friend the desert lied to you, there wasn’t  a shoot there at all”  Well actually there was. As I pulled my mighty blue steed up out of the ravine and back onto S22, the sun had just set and it plunged the desert into twilight. My friend told me, pull over, now it’s time. and with the beautiful light of twilight over the desert, I got these shots.














Moral of the story: Great photography will always be about the light. No amount of manipulation is a substitute for that. Your mission should always remain true to make a great photograph. High Dynamic Range does not = Great Light. HDR will not make great light. And sometimes a hike is just a great hike. Lesson learned.


Hope that helps,