Monthly Archives: January 2012

The HDR Portrait – Done My Way

The HDR Portrait

OK, so last week I had a challenge and I did an HDR Portrait, but it was a composite, marraging a HDR background with a standard image shot with OCF (Off Camera Flash). It was fun, it came out right but it wasn’t what I saw in my mind. How it should be done. One Take, 3 exposures done in real time.

I had to shoot some stuff for a magazine article on Saturday night with my beautiful model Noelle. We finished the shoot and she was tired, cold and hungry but I saw an opportunity for something and asked if she would do one more shot. She sighed and pouted. I said you don’t even need to smile, just stand there. She said OK one more.

I quickly set up the tripod and did 3 quick series of three shots. The first exposure (0) was shot with Noelle lit by an off camera flash, the other two were shot with just the natural light of the scene and I asked her to stand as still as possible since the  exposure times would be quite long

I shot at ISO 400, f/11 and Shutter speeds of 5 seconds(with a flash burst on her which stopped her motion), 1.3 seconds and 20 seconds. I had no idea if this would work.

These are my 3 images, The first image was about how dark it was at the time. It was 5:52 well past the 5:15 sunset.

 The OCF Shot

The 20 Second exposure which she did really well holding still

 I knew the biggest problem I would have would be ghosting from the merge of the OCF shot and the 20 Second shot. The first image was no problem since she didn’t even show up in it.

I knew I needed the best de-ghosting in the business so I turned to Photomatix Pro 4.1 and it’s selective De-Ghosting tool. I made a selection around Noele and then used the 0 exposure to de-ghost. It worked really well with just a little orange halo around her head which I worked on in PP.

I merged the 3 image s and then used the following settings in Photomatix Pro 4.1

Tone-Mapping: Detail Enhancer

Strength: 50
Saturation: 56
Detail Contrast 4.0
White Point .250%
Black Point: .200%
Gamma: 1.20

With the image the best it could be I brought the image into Photoshop. The biggest job there was first cloning all the Bird Poop off the area she was standing,  It glowed. After that I did an over all levels adjustment and some dodging and burning on her face and dress. A little work with the saturation brush to remove the orange halo around her head. And a little dodging of the white water.

I still wasn’t satisfied with her look, as much as the increased saturation from the HDR process improves landscapes, it is damaging to complexions. So I once again turned to the B & W contrast layer placed below the top layer and I reduced the opacity of the top color layer to about 65% I then created a mask around her so that the rest of the image’s color remained at full saturation.

The last process was to run the entire image through some noise reduction. This time I chose Neat Image because it does a good job of retaining detail in skin areas while reducing noise

And this was the final image
















If I had it to do over again. I wouldn’t have done it when Noelle was already warn out by a full shoot. I would have shot earlier so I wouldn’t have needed ISO 400 and I think I would have made the OCF shot the -2EV exposure. Since the flash exposure is the same regardless of shutter speed. I actually could have got that shot and had her run off because she wouldn’t have been captured by the low ambient light. I think it would have made for just a bit more detail in her and no problem at all with ghosting.

Overall, I’m really happy with it. It was a beautiful evening and a great night to shoot. I would have liked it if Noelle was a little more energetic but I understand why, but in a way I actually like her melancholy with the shot itself. She really did a great job the whole day and I can’t thank her enough for all the work she did.

Let me know what you think. I did it.  HDR + OCF = OMG!


So how much dynamic range did I actually capture? Photomatix Pro HDR Histogram

So how much dynamic range did I actually capture? Photomatix Pro 32 Bit HDR Histogram

Note! For this example, you must have the latest update to Photomatix HDR Pro V 4.1.3 or later. Please go to HDRsoft’s website and update or click check for updates  from your program’s help menu. 

How much range?

So you shot 88 frames 1 stop apart and for sure you must have captured all the dynamic range in the universe…or did you? Well how would we really know what the captured dynamic range was of all our exposures.
We really can’t count on our finished product, after all it’s really not a high dynamic range image, it’s just a tone-mapped one that simulates to our eye the range that was in our scene. And if we are heavy handed in our Tone-mapping we may even have a lower dynamic range than our single image is capable of.
So how can we tell what range we actually captured? Via a little known and little talked about feature that was added to Photomatix 4.1 (Fixed in V 4.1.3) – The HDR 32 Bit Histogram.
The what? The HDR 32 Bit Histogram. This histogram only works with the 32bit Intermediary HDR image that is generated before you go to tone-mapping. If you don’t allow the software to stop at this point before it continues on to the tone-mapping screen, perhaps you should. It may tell you some fun things.
Now unfortunately, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this histogram. the truth is I really couldn’t find much about it anywhere. But I did find it.
To activate it when your 32 bit file is open, click ctrl/cmd H or go to view>HDR Histogram. At the bottom of that screen you will see “Estimated Dynamic Range” and it  is expressed as Contrast Ratio X:1. There is also a Log Scale from -6 to +6 and the resulting histogram for the file.
In the test I did with different files, it seems to be accurate. Is it exact? I have no way of knowing, but scene I knew to be low in dynamic range and those high in dynamic range seemed to fall in place exactly as I would have expected.
Here are a few examples of  32 Bit Images and their HDR Histogram.
In this one I knew it was low dynamic range and the resulting image was poor
 This was a very high dynamic scene and the contrast ratio proves that
Even though you would think this was high dynamic range because the sun was in it, it actually was typical for a mid day shot
This one was a 9 Exposure 1 Stop image. I actually thought it may have been a higher dynamic range. But it was very overcast that day or maybe I didn’t shoot it as well as I thought
Here is a chart so you can get an idea of what those contrast ratio mean in a practical sense
If you would like to know more specifics about Dynamic Range, checkout my buddy Sean’s website Cambridge in Colour
I thought this was interesting and fun to look at, it may actually be helpful down the road to look at what works and what doesn’t work and really what we are shooting. For me it fills ina few more parts of the puzzle and makes me more confident in what I do.
Anyway, Hope that helps,

Compositing the HDR Portrait – Topaz ReMask 3

Compositing the HDR portrait – Topaz Remask 3 

I was challenged to do this by a few people, last week a Long Island Photography group asked if it was possible (most said no). Then this week, a friend sent me a link to Joel Grimes and his commercial work blending HDR and sports photography and kind of challenged me to see what it would look like if I did it. (Never challenge me) 

I’ve had this idea for almost a year now but I had a different vision for it, which I still will try next weekend when I have a model for a different reason but if we have spare time I will try my other method. But inspired by the above I thought I would give an HDR Portrait a whirl using compositing of two images using Topaz Remask 3 to make the selection masking process as easy and precise as possible. 

First let’s take a look at out two images. 

Our background: this was an image I shot in San Diego’s Balboa Park a little over a year ago. It is a 3 exposure HDR, finished in Photomatix Pro.






















 The Model Image was shot two months prior when I was shooting images for my book, How to Take Great Photos. It is a standard photograph shot using OCF


Topaz Adjust 5

The first thing I did was take my background image and it needed more of an HDR look to it…yes I actually wanted to grunge it up a bit. I could have started from scratch and reprocessed the image in Photomatix, this time with a heavier hand. But I knew that wasn’t really necessary as I had a tool that would do it with much less work: Topaz Adjust 5 

I opened the image in Photoshop, duplicated the background and then used my plug-in for Topaz Adjust 5. I went to the HDR Presets and selected HDR Heavy Pop Grunge. This provided just the look I was after


 With my background image as I wanted it, it was time to move to my Model Portrait of lovely Noelle and to start the masking process for a smooth and precise selection

 Topaz Remask 3

Opening the image in Topaz Remask 3, It was a simple task of painting red what I wanted to remove, painting green what I wanted to keep and using the Blue Compute brush to paint a line around the subject to compute what stayed and what went


After about 15 minutes to really get things right, slowly refining the mask till it was perfect. I had the mask I needed for the selection


Bringing it back into Photoshop, here is the selected image of our model Noelle.


After a few adjustments it was time to drag our model onto ourBalboaParkbackground. Using the move tool, I simply dragged the selection onto our background image. At this point I needed to mirror flip her so that she was facing the right direction to fit into our scene. I did that with Edit>Transform> Flip horizontal. Then, again using the move tool, positioned her where I wanted in the frame.























At this point she really wasn’t blending well into the scene so I thought she needed a little HDR look to her too. I duplicated the layer and again I returned to Topaz Adjust 5 but this time I went a little lighter handed and used one of the Vibrant Collection presets: Detail – Strong. 

Now she had the detail I wanted to match the background but she still didn’t blend with the tone of the image as much as I would have liked. So I used a trick I showed you a year ago when I did the shoot at the harbor. I duplicated the model layer again and this time opened Topaz BW effects and selected the Platinum preset. 






















I then turned the color layer above back on and changed the opacity of the color level to about 65%. Now she seemed to blend in pretty well, but I still wanted her to look more natural because going too far can highlight things that are not flattering to a woman. 

After a few tweaks here and there with position, and a little use of the blur tool around some of the edges and a little dodging and burning. I had the look I wanted for the image


The last step was to take a soft brush and some dark gray set to a medium opacity and on a new layer add some shadows behind her feet to make her blend in better


























 At this point I though it best if the image was cropped but I couldn’t decide which way I should crop it to 8  x 10 proportions, so I did both.
























You tell me. 

I hope you enjoyed that. It actually was a lot of fun and challenging to do. I haven’t been a fan of compositing, preferring to do all my work in camera. But I am happy with the results and of course I really can’t resist a challenge from anyone.


Hope that helps,


Composition – What Brings Order to a Photograph


Composition is one of the aspects of a photograph that makes it appear better to the eye. It’s a “Reason” not a “Rule as some may lead you to believe.  

 Nothing in composition was man made. Man only quantified why something was attractive or pleasing to the eye. It wasn’t like the rule of thirds was invented when the first man wrote it down, it was merely that he quantified why something looked better that occurs, quite naturally
So let’s look at a few things to looks for in composition that can help us achieve a better photograph. Nothing is etched in stone as some may lead you to believe and if you break one rule you may actually have just fallen into another one without knowing it and if the end result is something visually pleasing and adds to the image and captures an audience, then do it.

Composition Part Deux

Composition Part Deux

Hi everyone, sorry I’ve been away. Had a new magazine assignment and that kept me busy this week. Sorry to neglect you.
Seeing that I started the week with a quick hint on composition I thought I should end the week talking about composition again. This time with a more complete guide to it.
I think it’s important to go over basic photography lessons because what I find is that all too often when shooting HDR, the HDR becomes the most important part of the image and we throw everything else out the window and we loose some of the essence of what makes a great photo…a great photo. HDR does not make a great photo, it only allows us to capture the full dynamic range of a great photo. If we make it first and foremost, we may just have a perfectly exposed…bad photograph.
So let’s look at a few things to looks for in composition that can help us achieve a better photograph. Nothing is etched in stone as some may lead you to believe and if you break one rule you may actually have just fallen into another one without knowing it and if the end result is something visually pleasing and adds to the image and captures an audience, then do it.
One quick thought on Rules of composition. Nothing in composition was man made. Man only quantified why something was attractive or pleasing to the eye. It wasn’t like the rule of thirds was invented when the first man wrote it down, it was merely that he quantified why something looked better that occurs, quite naturally

A foreground subject

For me this is just something I find to be really important and I tend to stress it more than maybe other photographers do. But I have heard that when choosing photographs for magazines a lot of editors reject images because they lack a foreground subject. After all we have seen millions and millions of shots of a beautiful sunset, but all that may be of interest is the beautiful sunset itself, we didn’t do anything to add to that and make it a beautiful PHOTOGRAPH of a sunset.
So, always, in the right situation have a foreground subject. A start for the viewer, Here, look here, see this, then move on as you are carried to the background and the rest of my photograph.























The Rule of Thirds

I don’t think anything gets pounded into new photographers for composition than the rule of thirds. We naturally like to center things and people that just start taking photographs often do just that. But it may not be the most pleasing and visual interest to our photographs. Placing our subject at the intersection of Thirds of the scene add better visual interest and balance to our photographs. If you have a horizon line in your image, place that at a Third also from top to bottom.



























Golden Mean or Ratio

Based on a mathematical formula that appears in nature (Fibonacci numbers) – think Nautilus shell here – Golden mean is another way to place object within our scene in a pleasing way.
I’ve demonstrated it here using both a Golden Spiral and also Golden Triangles

Leading Lines

We capture our viewers attention with our primary subject, then we use leading lines to draw the viewers eye farther into the image and our secondary subject. Leading the viewer to look where we intend
But leading lines don’t have to be so hard and obvious 


























Sometimes symmetry just works, sometimes it can be boring. But with the right balance, again, it can bring interest to the work



























Balance and weighting

Even though it is obvious in the photo below that the cars behind our main subject are not the same scale as our subject, the weight of all those cars together equals the weight of our main subject

Natural Framing

Use existing elements in the image to frame your subject. Again what we are trying to do is lead the viewer where we want. An image has just seconds to grab a viewers attention. We don’t want them to have to take too much time to find what we want them to find. They may just loose interest

























Use Color and Brightness

Our eyes are drawn to certain colors, that’s why Fire Trucks are red. Certain colors make an object stick out, some make the object retreat. Use that to lead the viewer where you want. Also brightness  or contrast draws the eye. So make your subject the brightest part of the scene to draw the eye too it
When our subject is yellow, our eye goes immediately there
But look what happens when we change that flower to a recessive color. The eye hunts for the subject

Mix up your orientation

Have you noticed something about a lot of my “Landscapes”?Tthey are shot in a vertical or “portrait” orientation. People assume that Landscapes are shot in Landscape orientation and portraits are shot in portrait orientation. The funny thing is my best friend is a great senior portrait shooter and we have always found we naturally go the other way. My hands when they go up to shoot naturally go for a vertical or portrait orientation, that’s the look I want most times. She on the other hand for her portraits will go for a landscape orientation. They just work for us. But it’s fun to mix things up even if you find it un-natural. Sometimes it just gives a different perspective on things


And then sometimes…I just don’t give crap about the rules at all and I just want something centered 

 Notice, I didn’t center the horizon though 😉
There is much to be learned about composition. But a lot of it depends upon how your mind works. Are you right brained (the so called artistic mind)? Or are you left brained (the analytical mind)? Right brained people tend to just see composition but not really know why. Left brained people, it will be more of a  thought out process but they may not see it naturally. Both may get there, they just do it differently. Well, that’s my opinion anyway.
Hope that helps a bit. Like I always like to stress it is STILL all about good photography, we are just using a different tool to realize our artistic vision. But don’t make HDR the star of the show if there is not a good stage below it.
Hope that helps

From the Ground Up – Composition

From the ground up.

Living where I do with all the sights to see and photograph, I see a lot of photographers around and I love watching them shoot. But nothing bugs me more than watching a photographer set up their tripod, eye level, and shoot and that’s it. They may  pick it up and move it down the beach. But they set it up again, eye level, click, done, go home.
Years ago when my photos first started getting noticed, I got noticed for my style, for the type of shots I took. My shoe shots. What? you shoot shoes? No, My shoe shots. I would set my camera to a tight aperture, focus at hyperfocal distance. Place the camera on top of my shoe (so it wouldn’t get dirty or wet) and take a shot, usually with a object in the foreground.
I never looked through the viewfinder,so I really didn’t know what I got till I got home. Sometimes I got nothing, sometimes I got pure magic and a lot of times I got some very crooked horizons. My most notable shot and probably still my best selling shot was this one of a Starfish I took on the beach in Oregon. It’s a view from the ground up and it became a part of my style. So much so my first blog was named groundUp photography.
Now not all the shots I do today are done that way but more likely than not you will find me laying down on the job, looking for a new perspective on the shot. You’d be surprised how the look of a photo can change just by getting down low and shooting up. This is really true when we have foreground objects in our scenes. Getting down on the same level as a field of poppies or  even  a stupid tennis ball on beach. If you are trying to find me in a field of photographers, just look for the one covered in dirt and stickers in his shirt.
I was reminded of it again as I shot on the beach in Oceanside California. As all the other photographers set up their tripods, 5 foot high. Mine was set-up legs splayed as low as they would go and my camera was a foot off the ground. I would have laid on the sand but it was cold and getting soaked would not have made for a good time so I settled for 1 foot high and just a wet knee.
(All three images, shot 3 exposures +-2EV, Tonemapped in Photomatix)
So next time you go out, don’t be afraid to get down (just don’t boogie) and find a new perspective for your shots. I think you may be pleasantly surprised
Hope that helps

I should have known this…but I didn’t – AEB and Manual Mode

AEB and Manual Mode

I pride myself on knowing my equipment, so this hurts

I was fiddling with my camera because I needed to answer someone’s question about Aperture priority and AEB (Automatic Exposure Bracketing). Now of course I know and had suggested to people that they use AP + AEB to get their 3 exposure bracket. Of course I also knew that you could do AEB and use  Shutter Priority mode, which we don’t suggest for HDR because we want a constant aperture and therefore a constant Depth of Field

What I never realized was that on my Camera (Canon 5D) and other Canons models along with Nikons ( as far as I know, I checked with a Nikon user but would like another confirmation) what I didn’t realize was that AEB was possible in Manual Mode too. On Canon’s in manual, You can choose an aperture and the camera will bracket just as it does in any of the semi-auto modes. I’ll be darned. I should have know this but I didn’t and the 40 years I spent shooting Manual Film Camera, AEB wasn’t even an option on those fully manual mechanical wonders.

Continue reading »

Paradise Lost – Behind the Scenes at the Salton Sea

Over the past weekend I ventured out to  one of my 3 favorite spots  to shoot, The Salton Sea – California. (the other 2 that complete the 3 are, The Anza- Borrego Desert and Yosemite NP)

The Salton Sea may be one of the strangest and most bizarre places in America. What was a large dry sink in the middle of the desert, it was filled by man’s mishap and the run off of irrigation water from the fertile Imperial Valley. With no escape for the water except to evaporation, the sea quickly became more saline than the ocean  but much more vile and poisonous.

What was to be the next Palm Springs in the late 50’s and early 60’s of the last century, it fell victim to it’s own toxicity and it became a wasteland of water and abandonment. But that’s probably what makes it interesting.

It was not the best day to shoot, It was a clear sky but with a huge haze hanging over it from water vapor of the Sea and I arrived at a bad time to shoot just past noon. But sometime you have to take what you are given. I knew I wanted to shoot the interiors of some of the abandoned buildings so I couldn’t wait for the better light of later in the day.

It’s a scary place to shoot. The people well, they are there for a purpose, either outcast of society. Or the senior citizens that can’t afford any better and who remember better times at the  sea. But the areas I go to are not quite a place one should go alone. But I do. I’m not as afraid of the people as I am of the Dogs. And of the Birds, that fly out of the building with a roar of flapping wings that scares the **** out of you as you enter a dark door way.

But I have to say the thing that creeped me out the most…were two young girls on bikes that rode up as I was shooting an old trailer. They rode up without a word and stopped and stared at me. I smiled and waved, but they just stared with blank expressions, and then without a word to each other they simultaneously rode off. It had all the looks of one of “Those” movies and if nothing else, I feared they may return with their Dad…and his shotgun. So I made haste.

So with those conditions it made it very difficult to shoot HDRs. But I did but you have to adapt to the situation. The need to get out of a place in a hurry meant no time to set-up tripods and try things over and over again. Most times I had to park outside of what I wanted to shoot with the engine running and the door open. Mean dogs run fast.

So all of the shoot was done handheld. This meant using some higher ISOs than I would have liked.But if you expose right and then  process for natural look. Noise is not much of a problem at all. I was at ISO 640 for a lot of the interior shots. Sometimes going as high as 1600. And outside I kept it at ISO 200-400 remembering I was handholding everything.

All the exposures were done using Aperture Priority and Automatic Exposure Bracketing. When necessary, I used Exposure Compensation to shift the point at which the exposures were centered

I was happier with the interior shots than the outdoors ones. The light luckily was Low Winter light but it still wasn’t perfect light or time of day.

I spent about 3 hours in and out of buildings, homes, trailers and even outhouses. I got what I wanted and then to relive some of the stress of shooting under those conditions I headed up to the North shore where there is a nice State Park where I could watch the birds, count the  thousands of dead fish and watch the sunset which is always made beautiful by the water vapor and the dust of the desert in the air.













To see all 90 of the shots from the day, please visit my Portfolio page blog at


If…How 32 bit images tell the whole story

If… your 32 bit image looks pretty good, most likely your scene did not need HDR

If …your 32 bit image looks really bad, chances are you captured a true High Dynamic Range scene

I don’t know how many of you stop Photomatics at the point when it creates a 32 Bit Image just before you go on to tone-mapping. If you don’t then maybe you should (it’s on the screen when you make your alignment and de-ghosting choices)

 The 32 bit image can really tell you a lot about what you captured and how in the end your image will turn out.

Here is a 32 bit image of 3 exposures +/- 2 and it is somewhat fitting. As you can see it doesn’t look too bad right now, but the final result really wasn’t that much different than the 0 exposure.







While on the other hand, this 32 bit image shows that there was in fact a wide dynamic range that could not be capture in one exposure.


















I’ll be back tomorrow with more on my Salton Sea shoot.

Hope that helps,