Monthly Archives: October 2011

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









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,




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,


Shooting Architectural Interiors – Processing with Nik HDR Efex Pro

In this post we are going to talk about shooting and processing Architectural Interiors.

The reason why

Many of you have probably looked at ads for homes on real estate website or the books you pick up for free at the grocery store. The images are usually taken by the agent to save money or may be even taken by professionals…well that just don’t know any better. They all have the tell tale look. They were shot during the day with tons of light coming into the windows and you get one of two things because of the wide dynamic range present. You get super bright blown out windows and a properly exposed room with quite a bit of flare around those windows. Or, you get properly exposed windows and a room so dark you can’t tell if it is a bedroom or the kitchen.

Now a good photographer could know better and shoot at night when you have more control over light, or they could bring in a huge amounts of artificial lights and  get the scene to work. But the truth is, either the realtor has no budget for this big bucks photographer with a truck full of grip equipment. Or they don’t have the time for shooting at night when the home owners are home. Enter HDR.


So lets discuss how to shoot an interior using HDR and then we will go over how to best process that shoot in Nik’s HDR Efex Pro.

Those of you that know me know I am not a big advocate of shooting a gazillion exposures. People think if 3 is good 12 must be amazing. And that just isn’t true. Sometimes it is a waste of time, of computing power and may lead to lesser images because of registration errors, shooting images beyond the dynamic range that is there which leads to soft or noisy images and a host of other reasons. Some of my most successful  Landscape HDR images have been shot with only 3 exposures.

But for this lesson I am going to go against my usual wisdom. For two reasons. One is a mater of dynamic range. As much as we may have shooting outdoors, sometimes we can have even more shooting an interior. We maybe have  EV15 (Exposure Value) light coming through a window, yet we also may have light as low as candle light in the room or EV4, 11 full stops of exposure. ( for an explanation of Exposure Value, see this great explanation and charts at Fred Parker Photography ) So that is one reason we will want to shoot quite a number of exposures, just to cover the Dynamic Range.

Reason two; Detail. As detailed as the outdoors is, we are viewing it from a distance and you may not see all the nuances of texture that every object has in that scene. In interior photography, everything is closer, more defined and with that we need to have texture that we can see and well, almost feel. The nap of the carpet, the texture of the upholstery. We’re closer we need to see that.

For this example I shot 9 exposures 1 stop apart. Exposures because that was the dynamic range I measured. 1 stop apart because of the desire for detail of tonality.

Determine your dynamic range

First I determined the dynamic range I needed  to cover. I could not have done this just from where the camera was on the tripod. Because the camera’s meter averages, even in spot mode. It would not have known the correct exposure for the windows light. So I brought my camera to the window itself and metered the light outdoors. This was my beginning exposure. And no, I didn’t need to shoot an underexposure of the outdoor light, I just needed to get it right. This exposure was f/16,  1/125 ISO250.  I then moved to the darkest area of the room and metered there, this would be my final exposure and I just need to  get between the two readings in one step intervals ( I didn’t do the math, I used the 3 clicks of the dial equal one stop trick) My end exposure was f/16, 2 sec. ISO 250. It took 9 images to get from one to the other.

Do YOU need to do 9 exposures? It depends on what your final destination for your images are. I did test with this shoot and shot HDR’s with 9, 7, 5 and 3 exposures. 9 had the best detail, 7 was very very close, 5 was good, 3 was eh. If you image is just destined for websize on a realtor’s website or in one of those small grocery store magazines, 3, 5 whatever, you’ll be fine and far above those that shoot the windows blown out. But say your image is destined for a big glossy Architectural Magazine or a large print on the wall of an Interior Designer. You want the 9 shots.

So once I determined what I needed for dynamic range , I returned the camera to the tripod and composed the scene . Now I like to turn on as many of the rooms lights as possible to give it a more natural look, or “as lived in” look. I will try to only have one color temperture of light on, Tungsten, Halogen, Florescent, because we will have enough problems with white balance with possibly two different light temperature source, we don’t need 5. For this shoot I was in luck, since the lights in the room were CFL’s balanced for 5000°k or daylight.

My scene was set and I shot the 9 frames. Here they are in contact sheet form. (Click to enlarge) The image sequence runs from the bottom left up and down to top right.


Now that we have our images shot, It’s time to merge and tone map them into our HDR image.

For this shoot, I knew the right tool for the job was Nik HDR Efex Pro Anyone that has seen my workshop in my garage knows I always have more than one tool for any job . For this job HDR Efex Pro was the correct tool because of the amount and quality of detail.

Selecting my 9 images in Lightroom 3 I exported them to HDR Efex Pro. In the first part of the tone mapping, I wanted to get my overall look. So I worked on the right panel and started with the following setting.  Tone Compression 22%. Saturation 20%, Structure 4%, Black 6% and Whites 8%

This yielded me this image

Using Control Points

Not a bad starting point for overall balance. But the windows just aren’t right. This is going to be hard for any HDR program to get right because the software will look for the brightest points  and the darkest points and put them where it thinks best. It just gets them wrong here. All is not lost though, enter the beauty of Nik HDR Efex Pro’s Control Points. I placed 9 control points in this image. In the windows, on the Photos on two walls, on the ceiling and on the fireplace. I adjusted these all individually to get the best balance for all the areas and most importantly,  to bring back the detail to the windows.

Here are what the control points looked like and also how it looks when you click on the control points mask so you can really see all the areas that control points are affecting


Once I had this all the best I could I took the image into Photoshop For some final touches and this yielded us our final image.

I wish you could see the detail in the full resolution file. The grain of the leather and the nap of the carpet is incredible and the print this made was really as the room looked. Truth be told if I was going to submit this to a high end magazine I may work on the windows even further which would have taken a lot of time and may not be worth it just for realtor submissions.

Getting the correct White Balance

As I spoke about earlier, we also need to consider white balance when working with interior shots.  In a big budget shoot, we could of course  use some gels on all the different light sources to make them all the same color temperature. But we may not have the time nor budget to do such things. We could change bulbs. But most homeowners probably don’t want you messing around with all the light fixtures in their home. So let’s just go simple.

In most instances, I recommend doing a white balance for the predominate light source in our scene. But lets look at the room I shot here and see what the real life experience will be. This also is why shooting RAW is so important, besides giving us the ultimate dynamic range and color latitude, it also allows us to go in later and easily change the white balance of our shoot.

So for this image, the predominant light was outdoor light coming in from the windows along with 3 sources of incandecant light as accents only. The day was cloudy and rainy so setting the white balance for cloudy yielded these results.

Not bad and since I am a landscape shooter I tend to like warm light but I think this is just too much

Let’s try adjusting for the Tungsten Light and see what that returns

Yeah, That’s not any better, in fact I think it’s quite worse. The lights themselves look good but the tone overall is much too cool

Hmmm…OK. Let’s try just as it was shot with the Auto-White balance

To me this is the best of all worlds and the best balance that could be had. Comparing a print of this image to the actual room that day was pretty much spot on for “As the eye sees” my favorite reference. Funny I guess Auto White Balance doesn’t suck as much as some seem to think.

I hope this has helped you understand how to shoot and post process Architectural Interior images, maybe this could provide you with a new income stream selling to Real Estate agents that need every tool they can muster in such a down market.

Equipment used for this shoot: Canon 5D  , Canon 17-40 4.0 L ,  Canon Remote Control , Manfrotto Tripod and Head and of course Nik HDR Efex Pro

Hope that helps,


Follow up on ” What to Focus on”

In response to the article on “What to Focus on – Hyperfocal Distance and more

Dunne W asked the question: “What would you recommend when you want place you focus for the Hyperfocal point in the scene, but also a Good Midtone for metering for our HDR’s. I guess what if a midtone is not in the area of the Hyperfocal area?”

Which really is a great question because depending on what Focus mode you are in, The focus point used may also be the point used for the camera’s metering.

Now if you are shooting in manual exposure mode. This really isn’t too big of a problem. Simply before you lock your camera into the tripod. get a 0 metering point from your scene ( as Duane says a midtone) remember that shutter speed and then work to each side from there. ( Quick tip if you don’t want to do the math of what the shutter speeds  you need to shoot at for your exposures, do this. Set your 0 exposure shutter speed and then for your next exposure count the clicks of the exposure wheel, 3 for each stop you want, 6 if you were doing 2 stops. No need to even look in the viewfinder)

This really is a more important question if you are doing Automatic Exposure bracketing in Aperture Priority mode. Because establishing a correct 0 exposure will ensure that those exposures that are bracketed around that o point are correct as I talked about in this post.

But the truth is these are two separate steps because when we use Hyperfocal Distance. It is best done ( as maybe I should have explained) with the Autofocus turned off . Using the Distance Scale on our lens (which hopefully your new lens still has , not all do) we set it for the hyperfocal distance and then turn off Auto-Focus. In fact turning off Auto Focus while shooting an HDR is actually really important for two reasons. One, because we want the focus point to stay constant in each exposure we shoot. And also when  we focus at a distance as opposed to close up, the zoom and  framing of the images changes ever so slightly, not a lot but it is noticeable if you take two shots on a tripod a different focal points and  switch between the two. Both things lead to loss of sharpness in our final image.
Anyway, getting back to Duane’s question. So now that you have locked  focus, you need to worry about locking exposure and depending on which focus mode you are in (even though the AF on your lens is turned off) But if you are in Matrix or Evaluative focus mode (Nikon/Canon) the focus point selected is where you meter is biased towards. In all other modes, Spot, Centerpoint average etc. The meter is biased towards the center of your focus screen. So wherever that is pointed is where it is going to get it’s 0 reading from regardless of where you may have focused.
We can correct for this by:
  • Adjusted our exposure manually as I stated earlier
  • Using the exposure lock button on our camera. Unfortunately, this only stays active for 5 seconds if you take your finger off the shutter release. So even if you lock it, if you don’t take the image within 5 seconds it will re-meter the scene
  • Use Exposure compensation along with Exposure Bracketing,  Which is something I do very often.

You can use Exposure Compensation by either just figuring it out mathematically. The sky where I am pointed at is 1/400 and my midtone is 1/100 therefore I need to set -2 stops EC. Or you can let the camera do the thinking, Point it at your midtone and get a reading and then put the camera in shooting position and adjust the compensation till you get the same reading you did when pointed at the mid-tone.

Of course EC is usually limited to 2 stop +-, so if it is really far off between the two areas. It’s always best to just resort to manual exposure


Hope that helps



HDR How To Page update

I updated the” HDR How To” page to reflect the changes in some of the Panels and controls in Photomatix Pro 4.1.

This will make it easier for people to follow along  if the downloaded  or purchased the latest version

Remember, use coupon code:  theHDRimage to get 15% off your Photomatix Pro 4.1 Purchase

What to focus on – Hyperfocal Distance and more

 Reader and fellow photographer Duane W. Asked “Can you explain Hyper focal distance and where and how should I actually focus?

Now this really isn’t a HDR question per say but it is a very relevant one since a good portion of HDRs are landscapes or objects that we may need a very deep depth of field for. In fact shallow DOF images are not really that great but of course there are exceptions.

Depth of Field

So let’s examine how to get the maximum Depth of field and also how and what should be our subject of focus.

First lets go over what makes up Depth of Field (DOF from here out) DOF is determined by: Aperture, Focal Length and Distance to subject. The smaller the aperture, (higher the f/number) the deeper the DOF. The wider the focal length, the deeper the DOF, The farther away you are from the subject, the deeper the DOF (Of course in all cases the opposite is true.)

So for the most part, a good amount of all landscapes and HDR of architecture or objects are shot with wide angle lenses. So we’ll take that part as a given. The distance to subject can vary greatly. So that leaves Aperture and you may think, well for the deepest DOF, I’ll just crank it down to the smallest aperture I have.

Well, that would be wrong. The problem being; Diffraction. Diffraction causes loss of sharpness in our image and it comes from using too small an aperture. Some is good, more isn’t better. Now there is a long and involved story behind it but I will let you Google that part. But I’ll just say that it is dependant on your sensor size on how far you can go. For a Full Frame DSLR, you should Max out at about f/16, for a crop sensor DSLR, about f/11 and for point and shoot camera, about f/8. Can you go more? Yeah you can get away with it sometimes and sometimes you need to when you are trying for long shutter speeds for the image. But the above guidelines are pretty good.

So now that we know how to get a deep depth of field, let’s look at focusing techniques that best take advantage of that.


All too often when people take Landscape images they just focus on the distant horizon or “Infinity” on our camera’s focusing scale. And that may be fine. But sometimes that is the last place we want to focus. It really depends on the composition of our image and the element within that image.

Let me give you one piece of advice, This way you can sleep at night, not toss and turn and worry about one more thing. If your subject of the image is the mountain range or the lake or the sunset over the ocean and there is no subject in the foreground. Focus at infinity…done.

But, if you take the advice that I offer in my …See class, “Always have a subject in the foreground and leading lines to your background”, well, now you have something to think about.

Hyperfocal Distance

Hyperfocal Distance is a distance to focus on, based on Focal Length and Aperture that will have the maximum DOF possible with that lens at those setting. When focused at the Hyperfocal Distance, your DOF will extend from ½ the Hyperfocal Distance all the way to infinity.

“But I stink at math how can I figure out Hyperfocal Distance?” Well luckily there are many charts and programs and website to do that math for you. On the web you can go to and right there you can plug in your camera, focal length and aperture and not only will it give you the Hyperfocal distance. You can also use it to figure out DOF for other shooting situations.

But of course you don’t always have your computer around when you are out shooting. Well then do what I do, get a DOF ap for your smart phone. Check the ap store for your particular phone for DOF calculators and I’m sure you will find one no problem. The good thing about an ap on your phone rather then just using a website on your phone is even if you are in remote locations away from any signal, your ap will work.

Focus in Practice

Let’s take look at how this all works in practice.

Equipment used for this test was a Full Frame Canon 5D Camera along with a Canon 17-40 4.0 L Lens set to 17mm. All shots were taken at f/16  1/100 ISO 100

In the first example the Pencil cup was placed at the Hyperfocal distance of our lens and aperture setting. The Hyperfocal distance in this case was 2 feet. 

With the lens focused at 2 feet, our image is in the field of acceptable focus from 1 foot (half the Hyperfocal distance) all the way to infinity. The pencil can is sharp and if we look at the zoom you can see that the 12 Inch mark is clear. If we look at the background we can see that it falls well within the field of acceptable focus (remember that the point of focus is the only part that is perfectly sharp) 

















Now lets move the cup closer to the camera, in fact let’s make it extreme and place it at the minimum focus distance of the  Canon 17-40L lens: .75’

Placing the focus on the Pencil Can, We can see the can is perfectly sharp. The distant background is now slightly out of focus.














Setting the focus at the Hyperfocal distance, the background now comes into the field of focus and the pencil can looses some of its focus.


Placing the focus at infinity is the worst scenario and with the background in focus but no sharpness or focus whatsoever on the pencil can, our subject.






So here is where you need to make a decision. For me, I would place focus on the subject itself.  Because of the size and scale of the subject in the overall image, I want that totally sharp and would give up a little of the background focus

Making the decision

Here are some Guidelines to help you make that decision.

  • If your subject is in the background and no items of interest in the foreground: Focus at infinity done, sleep at night.
  • If you have a foreground subject but not one clearly defined subject, focus at the Hyperfocal distance
  • If you have a clearly defined foreground subject that is at or closer to the camera than the Hyperfocal distance, focus ON the subject.
  • If the composition and scale allows, place your subject at the hyperfocal distance. Best of all worlds

Here are some examples of when you would use what.

In this case with a clear and difined subject that was closer than my hyperfocal distance, I chose to focus on the subject, the tennis ball












In this image I have a foreground subject but it isn’t a single subject or point and I need the maximum depth of field. So I focused at the hyperfocal distance. Which in this case was on a 1.6X crop camera, 10mm Lens, f/20 and the hyperfocal distance was 11 inches

















Focus Stacking

Ok, so we are done right? Almost, what if I have tried everything and becauee of the combinations of focal length and distance to subject and aperture I just can’t get that deep deep DOF I need! Am I out of luck? Nope, your last ditch effort is: Focus Stacking.

Focus stacking is something that is done often with Macro photography. Because of the close distnace to subject and focal length used the total DOF is often in mm. So people will use sophisticated programs to stack images shot at different focus distance to blend into a single image with greater DOF. Well we don’t need to get that compliacted and we can take just two images, One focused on our subject and one focus at our background and blend those tow together using layer masks just like I showed you for adding adjustment layer masks.

This image was done just that way because I wanted to clouds and the mountain behind the poppy field to be in better total focus.











Hope that helps,


Quick Tip: Cure the HDR Blinky-Blackies

Ever get an HDR with this? {click to enlarge}

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