Monthly Archives: December 2011

Print those Images!

Print those Images

I can’t think of anything more satisfying then seeing one of my Images  printed large and hung on my wall. Well, maybe hung on someone else’s wall I like better. But either way, seeing that large print just completes things for me. 

So I would encourage YOU to print your images and I’ll give you some tips to get great prints because many people don’t print anymore or haven’t printed since they got their digital cameras so they aren’t always familiar with the process. 

This will be about printing at a commercial lab not home printing. Home printing on Large format Inkjet printers is and art and science all to itself and most people can’t afford to spend what it takes to do it right, so for their large format prints (larger than 8 x 10) most people turn to commercial labs. 

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Shooting Snow in HDR – Snow is HARD!

Shooting Snow in HDR – Snow is HARD! 

I have a line of Christmas Cards called The Lone Ornament. So when it snows inSouthern California…yes, it snows here…provided you go above 7,000 feet – I head up to the mountains to shoot for the next year’s card. So after it rain here on Thursday I knew there would be snow up there on Saturday. 

So I headed up to the mountain hamlet of Idyllwild. It started to snow as I arrived and when I got to Humber State park it was a “Picture” perfect scene.  About 6 inches of white puffy freshly fallen snow and it was snowing lightly as the sun played in and out of the clouds. I could not have asked for a better day…and I LOVE snow. 

I got the shots I needed for my cards and they came out fantastic (no you can’t see them, they are a secret till December of 2012). When I was done I thought I would hike up the trail and try having some fun shooting in the woods and do some HDR after all, surely snow have a high dynamic range…or… we would think. 

Measuring the DynamicRange 

I hiked up the trail (Huffing and puffing, 7,000 feet is rough) and set up my tripod amongst some beautiful scenes and I set about to measure the dynamic range. I set my meter to spot metering. In snow spot metering is essential for measuring the dynamic range, using other modes the snow played too big a part in the metering and threw off any real measurement. Using Evaluative/matrix metering actually showed NO dynamic range as it metered everything the same. 

 At the time the sun was out and at f/16 and ISO 160, for the brightest spot on the snow I got a shutter speed of 1/500, for the deepest shadow area of tree bark I got a shutter speed of 1/20. OK that sounds good, so roughly 5 stops of range to cover. 

But wait a minute. We have to remember one of the most important facts about in camera metering. In camera meters are reflective meters; they measure the reflected light off our subjects. And they are calibrated for middle gray. They will get the exposure correct if the object you are metering is middle gray (18%) or a midtone. If we measure white or black, the meter tries to make them gray. It will do that by underexposing white and overexposing black, both by about 2 stops. 

So knowing that, that 1/500th shutter speed would underexposure our snow by about two stops. So really the exposure for the snow would be 1/125th. So now 1/125th to 1/25 is really closer to 3 stops difference in range, which tells us we really don’t need HDR! 

But I pressed on and did some anyway. 


What I found worked best was 3 exposures. And if  I was using auto Exposure Bracketing it was best to also add in +1 Exposure Compensation to make up for the meter misreading the snow. Even though we know that snow will make the meter under expose by 2 stops, using +2 Exposure compensation was too much and our final bracket image was just too blown out. If I shot manual, I took the same compensation in mind and started my bracketing at 1/125 or 1/200 

The other thing I found was spacing, if the sun was shining bright on the snow, + – 2 stops worked fine. If the sun was not shining brightly on the snow + – 1EV actually worked better. Yes that is NOT a broad range but again, this is not as dynamic a situation as we may think it is. 

Here are three images I shot













Processing for snow

Shooting snow in HDR is just half the battle, processing it correctly is the send part. The problem most HDR processing programs have is handling white and especially large amounts of white. This has been my one pet peeve will all the developers. But it’s actually to be expected. Just like our meters want to make everything gray, that is also the function of the tone mapping of HDR programs. They will try to make everything a mid tone. This results in graying of all things white. So we need to take some steps to assure that doesn’t happen. 

Regardless if you are using Photomatix Pro or Nik HDR Efex Pro or any HDR program what we have to watch is how much compression we apply. In Photomatix this is Strength and Lighting adjustments. In HDR Efex Pro it is Tone Compression. 

If we were processing in Photomatix we would want our Lighting adjustments to be Natural + and a strength of under 50. In Nik HDR Efex Pro, which I used here, I used  Tone Compression. set to 0.

That still leaves us with some pretty dingy whites so we need to make an adjustment to our white levels and quite a bit of it to, I used between 20 and 40% more white levels to get the images right, you want the brightest parts of the snow just below blowing out. I also added about 12% blacks to bring back a little shadow detail and then about 20% to the structure. My fine adjustment just to bring out a bit more detail I upped the method strength to 20% with the Neutral method. 

This gave me the most pleasing look to the image, the cool part was I needed no further post processing for any  of the images in Photoshop or Lightroom. 


























Now comparing it to a single image shot with the correct exposure, you really won’t see a huge difference. In fact I think you could work with a single image and get similar results. We don’t really see a big difference in range because quite frankly, there isn’t much anyway. But there is an improvement in detail that I feel may be worth it. Would I shoot snow in HDR again? Maybe, but I am not sure it was worth the effort completely. 

Perhaps since it was such a beautiful day in the wood and snow, I should have forsaken the tripod and all the set-up and time it took and just enjoyed the hike more and shot conventionally…but then again…I DO run The HDR Image…soooo 

Hope that helps, 

Final note to self, make sure you waterproof hiking boots, subset note to self, be thankful that wool socks keep you warm even when wet.  


The Tattle Tail Histogram & HDR

I’ve often talked about only shooting HDR when necessary and then have gone on to tell ways of measuring the Dynamic Range to see if it is sufficient to warrant shooting HDR.

But here is a quick way to determine  if you do need HDR, It’s not fool proof but usually is a very good and quick way to at least know you may be on the right track.

I was coming back from hiking in the snow in the mountains and I saw this driving home thinking it might be an interesting shot. So I snapped one off. One quick look and I knew it would never be OK without HDR. I was just too tired from hiking to break out everything to set up so I just passed it by. But I noticed the histogram and really made the connection between the two

Here’s the image and the Histogram. Whenever you see two big peaks at each end and a really shallow valley in between, you may need HDR


Hope that helps,


I’ve been trying too hard – 3 is enough – Editorial

So, I am the author of a blog on HDR so my images should be the best possible example of how to do HDR and be great images and I thought I was doing a fairly good job of that. But then for research on what people might be interested in learning I went on to  a lot of forums to see what people were talking about and how they were doing things.

I knew my methods and I thought they worked. But people were talking so differently and in large numbers of people were doing it differently than I. Heck even when I visited a major HDR software company, THEY were doing it differently.

They Say

Everyone was talking about 7 and 9 images shot. 1EV or smaller increments. making adjustments on the raw images before processing into an HDR ( I will only do White balance adjustments pre conversion). All kinds of thins to get the perfect image. And I thought to myself, my old adage that in most cases to shoot just 3 frames 2EV apart, surely must be wrong. I must just be lazy and I wasn’t putting enough effort into getting the best image possible.

So lately I was shooting 7 frames, 9 frames 10 frames! Standing on my head, wearing copper bracelets, eating vegan…anything to get that ultimate HDR Image…and they weren’t

It smacked me in the face the other evening after I shot the Hotel Del Coronado, I wasn’t even excited about shooting it because. I had to get it perfect because it was for a tutorial so the pressure was on and surely I needed to shoot 20 frames and lock my mirror up and…ugh. When I got home and processed the images. I first did the 6 frames 1EV spacing I had shot, then I went back and just did 3 frames 2EV apart. There was NO difference in fact the 3 frames were slightly better on white areas and only then when zooming into 100%. Visibly there was no difference and shooting more than 3 frames with closer spacing was in fact just a huge waste of time.

Whih is which?



It was at that point I thought back to my most successful HDR images almost all of them were shot with just 3 exposures . The reason the software company wanted to talk to me was because I was getting results they weren’t (Lots of exposures) This image, my most successful selling image…3 exposures.

My magazine cover… 3 exposures






We need to remember that when we take an exposure it doesn’t just span that 1EV or 2EV spacing,most of the exposures are easily covering a dynamic range of 6 – 7 stops. As we move to the  extreme ends of exposure our dynamic range will decrease because we fall into  the noise floor or blowout region. But we still have a wide enough dynamic range in each shot that 2EV spacing is enough. Are there times that we need to do more than 3 exposures? Of course there is and we saw in the Shooting the Sun  or Shooting Architectural Interiorspost, you may need to shoot beyond 3 because there is just that much Dynamic range that needs to be covered. But still 2EV pacing is fine, cover the range you have measured and stop. The worst sin of all is overshooting the range. Totally Blown out or most black exposures do nothing and in fact detract and take away detail  from the image.

So I will go back to my original statement. In most situations 3 Exposures  2 stops apart is sufficient and beneficial and will save you time in shooting and especially in processing time. You don’t need that agony of 10 exposures waiting for them to merge.

And my last bit of advice is; If the scene does not call for HDR, don’t use HDR. I think I was reminded of that when I was shooting the sun for that series. Later in the day in a pasture during the golden hour when the sun was low and soft and the dynamic ranges decrease and are able to be captured. I shot this image which turns out to be one of my favorite images of this year. Single exposure – no HDR. Is it a big and bold image like a lot of HDRs? Absolutely not. It’s a simple scene of a simple subject but with the essence of great photography…amazing and beautiful light


This all of course is just my opinion and I expect you to experiment and try and do what you find best. But this is my opinon for the day…and longer

Hope that helps,


Shooting HDD – Holiday Decoration Displays

Shooting HDD –HolidayDecoration Displays in HDR

It’s that time of year when the world is aglow with Holiday Decorations, so I thought it would be a good time to do a quick lesson on how to shoot HDD using HDR. 

First off, of course we want to shoot these at night, only we really DON’T want to shoot them at night. We want to shoot them at dusk, that time just after sunset and before the sky plunges into total darkness. This way we not only see the beautiful lights we also get a better rendition of the building or houses them selves 

Hotel Del Coronado

So right after sunset I headed over to one of the most spectacular places for holiday light in an old style traditional way, The Hotel Del Coronado on Coronado Island California. 

The Set-up

I set up my tripod but before I placed my camera on it, I took a few seconds to measure the dynamic range of the scene, It wasn’t that wide but would take 3 images 2 stops apart. I actually did do a few sequences of 6 shots 1 EV apart but I will talk about them in a post to follow this one tomorrow. 

In this first shot I measured the sidewalk in front of me and got a reading of 6 seconds and then I moved to the brightest area of the sky and got a reading of .8 seconds. I merely needed to connect the dots from there. 

 I shot at f/22 and ISO 320. I chose f/22 because I was hoping to get some star effects on the light and that really didn’t work out unless you look at a couple of the chandeliers visible inside the building. If I were to do it again I would have gone with just f/16 since the point source lights were really too far away and too small to get a good effect on them.

I used a slightly higher ISO because there was a slight wind off the ocean and I was hoping to not have to go with super long exposure times. Plus being the time of year it was there were a lot of visitors and I was trying to shoot quickly to keep them from ghosting the image. 

Here is my first shot, shot right after sunset by a small bridge


I processed it in Photomatix Pro 4.1, using most of my standard tone mapping mix, Strength 85

Light adjustment natural, Gamma 1.20 and a little kick of white and black levels. 

I wanted to be a little different this time so I did all my final adjustments in Lightroom instead of taking the image to Photoshop. The biggest reason was there were some angular distortions shooting the architecture. So I straightened up some lines and then just added a little Vibrance and Clarity and I was done. No need for Photoshop at all. 

In the next shot I changed positions and this was shot about 20 minutes later






The lighting conditions were now the same ISO320 and now f/20 (no reason for the change I just hit the dial by mistake). But the times for the three exposures bow ranged from 30 seconds to 2 seconds, again I covered them in 3 – 2EV exposures, and again, finished up my image all in Lightroom.















 Moving Indoors

I then moved inside to the lobby of theDelto the beautiful all wood lobby and the magnificent tree. Unfortunately due to fire regulations, they now have had to change to an artificial tree and as much as I miss the great real trees they used to display, they still do an absolutely magnificent job of decorati8ng it with a different theme every year.

 I took up position on the second floor ( where I’m not supposed to be) and  because I knew it would be an easy shoot, set my camera on AV mode and just did an auto 3 exposure 2EV bracket. 

For these images I turned to finishing them in Nik HDR Efex Pro because of the fine detail present. Photomatix does detail just fine. But I enjoyed using Nik HDR Efex Pro for out interior shoot 2 months ago, so I returned to it here. 

I didn’t need to do much to get a great image. Compression was 22% a slight exposure adjustment of -.65% added 8% Black and then changed the HDR method to Crisp at 10% and that was it. 

Again I finished the image in Lightroom with just a few corrections and slight adjustments and I had a final image
















I changed to a vertical camera position and shot this sequence, using the similar adjustments


























Well of course I know you are curios so I did one other exposure and instead used Photomatix for the Tone Mapping. Again like I always say, neither one is correct but they produce such different results
















I also included a single image to show what it would look like without using HDR for our HDD. It’s OK but just doesn’t have the reality that our HDR does.


And just as I was leaving I spotted this Vignette in a small staircase and just fell in love with the light it had. While I was setting up a Bride and Groom went up there and got a couple of snaps by their friends with their P & S cameras. I SO wanted to shoot them in those chairs. It really could have been a magical shoot but I didn’t have the lighting I would have needed to carry it off. 

BUT I LOVE this shot. It’s not Christmassy, but I love it.


 I  hope this helped a bit to show you how I shoot HDD with HDR. I have been shooting the Hotel Del Coronado for the past 15 years. Without a doubt this has been the best capture ever. Thanks for coming along



Using Layer Masks

Using Layer Masks 

I’ve talked a lot about “masking this off” or using a “Layer mask”  in Photoshop with the assumption that everybody knew how to use them. And that was a bad assumption on my part. So I’m going to do a quick little tutorial on layers masks and how to make and use them. 

When we place a layer onto an image in Photoshop, it can be many things, it can be an “Adjustment Layer” where you made a specific adjustment to an image, Levels Curves, Saturation etc and applied it to an image but as a separate layer so not to change or damage the original image and make those changes reversible.

We could also add a texture layer, a color or gradiant layer a text layer, we can even put a whole photograph on top of another in a layer as we would do in a “Blend” as I showed here

Now a layer, in most cases is a solid object above the layer below. But what if we wanted to show some of the layer below this layer? Well we could just use the eraser tool to erase away the top layer. But the problem with that is once you erase away that area is gone unless you step back in your history. Erasing is very hard to fine tune. “Oops went to far can I put some back?” No you can’t. So instead we use a layer Mask, which allows us that flexibility of taking away, putting back, feathering and varying opacity.

Practice Sample.

So let’s make a practice sample so we can easily see how to use layer masks.

Start in Photoshop and go to File> New and let’s make a new image. We’ll make it easy and use one of the presets and make an 800 x 600 image. You don’t need to worry much about anything about this new image except for the size. Most likely you will now have an 800x 600 white image on your screen now. If you have a different color or even a transparent one that’s OK we’ll fix that in the next step 

Now go to your tools and select the Paint Bucket Tool, then go to the color palette and click on the foreground color. Choose any color you like but to make this more visual choose something other than Black or white. In my case I chose full red. Fill your image using the paint bucket tool with red 

Now go to Layer> New and add a layer on top of the red layer. Once again go back to your paint bucket tool and now choose a different color. In my case I chose full Blue and fill the next layer with a different color. 

You should now have two layers and your layers should look like this. 

Now at the bottom of your layer palate you will see an Rectangle with a white circle in it and if you hover over it, it will say “Add Layer mask” click that and it will add a layer mask to your top layer. You should now see a white box next to the blue box in your layers panel, The White box is your layers mask. 

Now let’s go back to our color palette and return them to the default values by pressing “D” on our keyboard. Make Black your color ( you can swap easily between white and black by pressing “X”) And grab your brush tool set to a size 200 soft brush and with black as your color, take a swipe across the Blue layer (making sure the White layer mask is highlighted ion your layer panel). What happened? You now see the red layer below. 

By painting black on that layer mask, you “revealed” the layer below. Here s the most important part to take away from this: White Conceals, Black Reveals, the layer below. 

Now switch your color back to white (x) and paint back over it. It conceals the red layer below in as little or as much as you want. 

Now this may also be a very good time to get to understand Brush “Hardness” hardness is how hard or soft the edge of the brush is. Soft would give you a very diffuse edge; Hard would give you a very defined edge. So with your one swipe across, below that change your brush hardness to 100 (by clicking the downward arrow next to your brush size) and take another swipe across your image with black. See the difference in the edge? 

So that is the basics of using a mask. Most times I use a Soft brush so there is a smooth transition between what I want to show and what to conceal but there will be times you need to use a hard edge to clearly define what you want to show, such as cutting out an object. 

But wait, what if I want to go somewhere in between? I want to show the layer below but not fully or I want to apply just a little of the effect layer in some parts and it fully in others? 

There are two ways to accomplish that. The first is to vary the opacity and fill of the brush. Here is a swipe across using 50% Opacity and full on the brush. You can see that if only partially shows the layer below in fact it turns the swipe purple with the mix of red and blue. 

But that’s not my favorite way of doing this even though it may be the preferred method of Photoshop Professionals. 

If White Conceals and Black Reveals, Then what would a shade of gray do? Exactly!

When I want to vary the amount of the layer below to show through I use varying shades of gray to paint over and accomplish this. It gives men great control and is quickly and easily done. The lighter the shade of gray, the less will show through, the closer to black the more that will be revealed. Choosing middle gray accomplished the same thing that the other method above did. 


Just to re-emphasis something I said earlier: If at any point you get White or Black paint instead of just masking on your image. Make sure that the Layer Mask is selected on the Layer Palatte

And that is using layers mask, short and sweet.

Hope that Helps,


The Definition of HDR

The Definition of HDR 

So I was reading on a forum the other day about the definition of HDR, High Dynamic Range Photography. Some people argued there wasn’t one, most other argued to make what ever they shot- the definition of HDR and a lot of truly baseless arguments and more of rationalizations.  I put a few of my thoughts in but it really went no where and I didn’t feel like arguing anymore. 

So I thought I would give MY definition of what HDR is. This, like everything else on my blog, is my opinion. And my opinions are based on my experience or what I have done only. I’m not schooled nor have a degree in anything I have ever done in photography. I speak only from what I have done, experienced, experimented with. Am I right? I don’t know. I only know what I think I know. But I won’t tell you what “they” say. I will tell you what I know. 

Looking at the definitions people had for HDR: If it was beyond the dynamic range of a Monitor, It was HDR. If it was processed with HDR software, it was HDR. If it was tone-mapped it was HDR. If it was a RAW image, it was HDR. If it was 3 Exposures from a single RAW image, it was HDR. 

All of which I would just say…No. 

It seemed most people just wanted to justify that their single exposure or whatever they shot, however they shot was HDR because it looked HDR. Which I will again say…No 

So here is my definition of HDR. 

There are many things that have a dynamic range. A print (100:1) a Monitor (100:1 – 1000:1) A camera single image (1:1000 – 4:000:1) NONE of those are High Dynamic Range and just because you may exceed one of those examples of Dynamic range  does not make an image an HDR. Every one of those are Low Dynamic Range. 

My definition of High Dynamic Range Images is based on SCENE DYNAMICS. Scene dynamics that I believe are High Dynamic Range are those that are above what a Camera can caoture in and a single image and are 10:000: 1 or “As the eye sees” or higher such as the 100,000:1 that are very possible in nature (Remember those images with the sun in them?) 

If you use High Dynamic Range techniques but capture a low dynamic range scene is it truly High Dynamic Range Imagery? No, I don’t think it is. And yes I have done such things and posted them here and I also showed cases where that scenario goes horribly wrong. I still believe if you can capture the image in one exposure, then you don’t need nor would I advise you to use HDR techniques. 

Does that mean I am against single image processing or tone mapping? No, I have softened my stance on that. It actually can be quite fun and I did have some fun using Topaz Adjust 4 & 5. BUT I firmly do not believe they are HDRs. They are what they are – fun. 

And if you remember this post, I do believe there actually is a reason to use tone-mapping on single images. But that is NOT to make an HDR, but rather to map tones more closely to how the human eye sees. I believe that the basis for how a digital sensor “Sees” was based on a film model; and not on the human eye.( Alowing that they do account for the eyes sensitivity to colors) It was based on something linear and I don’t believe the human eye is that linear. Just as human hearing is not linear (we are more sensitive to high frequencies than we are to low, well until we get old). So I am fine with people tone-mapping single images. They just aren’t HDRs. 

So if you capture what is not capturable with a single image and that range is closer to what is visible by the human eye or higher, I believe you have captured a true High Dynamic Range Image, which of course we have to tone map down to a Standard Dynamic Range Image to be displayed on monitors or in print. 

My 2 Cents on the matter