Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Trouble With Trees

The Trouble with Trees  

Trees, those dastardly arch nemesis of HDR, especially in winter, devoid of leaves, waiting to strike havoc and fear amongst small children…and HDR artists.
What do I mean? Trees against a bright sky pose a big challenge to anyone doing HDR, and for a number of reason. The first and worst, is Haloing. A quite common occurrence in HDR when you have a dark edge next to a bright edge. The HDR program will try to lighten the dark object in tone mapping and when it does, it feathers or “Smoothes” the gradation to the adjacent area. If that happens to be a light area, it creates a halo.
 Now it’s bad enough when you have a dark building edge next to a bright sky, But now image 100’s  or 1000’s of branches or limbs against  dark sky. That spells  T-R-O-U-B-L-E
Next problem is alignment, Even with a good tripod a light wind can cause movement of the branches. Even without movement sometimes the HDR program itself just gets confused because it doesn’t know how to align the edges. sometime if you have no movement it may be better to turn off alignment.
So maybe the best thing is just to avoid trees in winter or power lines or any of the other lines of contrast that cause us headaches. Well of course we know that’s not a good reason. Some times those trees just look friggen cool. So let’s see what we can do to make them work in our image.
I set out yesterday morning to find our victim, which happened to be in my side yard ( Note, this is not a great photograph but merely contains the elements necessary for this exercise). I have, a tree, a dark foreboding sky and I added in another element that may be the worst enemy of HDR; a large area of white, the white fence
A note to HDR software makers. PLEASE work on making white be able to be white. This is probably the biggest downfall of every HDR program. Graying. I know we want to map things differently, make shadows midtones make Midtones midtones brings highlight down to midtones…SOMETIME. Bu we still need White to be white and black to be black…*steps down off soapbox*
OK sorry for that outburst, back to our image. To make things even more difficult, I hand held the three image exposure.
I had three images (ISO 200 f/11) 1/500, 1/125 & 1/30. Taking them into Photomatix Pro 4.1. They aligned perfectly because of the great alignment capabilities of Photomatix pro. In Tonemapping, I used a “Painterly” preset which is very popular amongst HDRers. This is my result
Strength 100
Color Saturation 50
Luminosity 6.0
Detail Contrast 6.0
Lighting adjustments Medium
White point .490%
Black Point .010%
Yikes, next bus leaving for Halo-Town
So of course the first move could be, well do what you always do, go for your “As the eye sees” look and more natural appearance.
OK, that helps. But I hear the screams ” Peter, that’s  fine for you but I WANT the painterly look!!” I agree, so what can we try to fix our problem
Well, we could try just changing our Light adjustment from Medium to Natural +, that should help
Mm…no not really, fixes some problems, causes others.
OK well why not just pull back the strength? To say 35?
No, Flatsville. Not the look we want at all
How about if we try Luminosity? Let’s pull it back to -4.0
Ugh no, that made it worse.
Micro-Smoothing? surely that will do it.
No, not even close
Well, we COULD use the best solution to haloing problems that Photomatix has to offer. Highlight Smoothing…yes yes, that will do it 
Yes! see that fixed most of it…”Peter…PETER!, you took away my Big foreboding skies. I WANT MY PAINTERLY LOOK!!!”
OK, I know you do. So maybe the true solution to our problem lies outside of our HDR program. As I discussed in this article. HDR programs do a great job with global adjustments but for Local adjustments we need to turn to Photoshop. ( One Note Nik HDR EFEX Pro does do some great things with control point local adjustments, I just don’t think it is the right tool for this although it could be with enough work) 
Opening our original Painterly image in Photoshop, after duplicating our layer, I immediately went for the burn tool. I set it for Highlights and a strength of 7-10% and with a large soft brush began painting over the halo’d branches and the trunk of tree. This will remove some of the highlights on the branches but really won’t affect their look because most of the branches are actually shadow or shadows brought up into the midrange, Our Burn tool will only affect the highlights around those branches.
Working around the tree within a few minutes I got this result. We still have all the look of our painterly effect just now void of the halos around the branches.
But of course this still wasn’t good enough for me because I want that fence white! I could have just moved to the Dodge tool and highlights again. But that would be a lot of work and can have some uneven effects. So instead I just added a curves adjustment layer and then easily , because we have some straight lines, masked to curves adjustment to only the fence.
So the final result, I was able to keep those dark foreboding skies of the painterly effect, got my fence white but eliminated a good portion of all the haloing in our image
See now trees aren’so bad are they? So go out today and hug a tree, Then fire off 3 exposures
(Geez, I have to clean my concrete…ahh just painterly effect grunge)
Hope that helps

Double Process – The Better Grunge HDR?

Double Processing

Readers familiar with this site know I am not a big fan of the “Grunge” Style of HDR. I don’t say don’t do it, it’s just not my cup of tea (I think I have been watching Wheeler Dealer, the British show, too much this week, Mate!). Although I do admit I would like to have some fun  playing with a grunge style but every time I do my “Fans” or my customers give it a big thumbs down and say they like my more natural or “As the eye sees” style of HDR. And I agree for the most part, I do what works for me.

But what if I were to do a Grunge style, what would it look like? Well, I don’t think it would look anything like the Grunge presets in popular HDR programs. But how would I do it? With a little known technique that well started for me, as a mistake: Double Processing.

Double processing? What’s that? Well quite simply, it is taking your image and running it through your tone mapping…Twice!

So let’s take a look at a couple images from my portfolio down as I normally would do with pretty much my normal process in Photomatix Pro 4.1

The first one is from the old artillery bunkers above the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands

The Next Image is from an abandoned filling station in Vista New Mexico.

Now let’s see what these images look like using the standard Grunge Preset in Photomatix.


 They certainly have that look. But they are just too Mid-toned for me. How about if we make them look surrealistic but with some better tonality throughout the image?

So how do we double process in Photomatix. It’s really quite simple. If you are using the Standalone version, after you do your first round on normal tone mapping, you hit process and it applies the tone mapping. Usually at this point you hit save. Well instead, we just press the Tone- Mapping Button again and it takes the image right back into the tone-mapping screen and applies the previous settings again to the image. Or you could change them up a bit if you wanted to go for a different look.

If you are using Lightroom and the image gets taken back into Lightroom after the tone-mapping, simply export that single image again into Photomatix.

For mine, I just applied the same settings again (Strength 70, Saturation 70, Light Adjustments: Natural, Gamma -1.20)

Here are the results


Ok not bad, but let’s take it just a bit further and bring in some more of the detail that the Grunge style has. We’ll do that by using some different software. Topaz Adjust 5.

Have I told you how improved the new Topaz adjust 5 is? They have some REALLY useful presets and I’ve begun using some of them on standard images to make what I get in camera look more like what my eye sees when I am shooting. For this example, I just used the “Detail” preset in Topaz Adjust 5, Just to increase our detail and add a  bit of edge contrast.


And there you have it, MY version of Grunge. Might not be your style, might not be something my customers would even buy. But it was fun and a different way to do things for those times you might want to go over the top a bit. Or if you’ve already been going over the top, a better workflow that may improve your images.


Okay, now where did I put my Cup of  Tea mate?


Hope that helps

Anatomy of a Shoot – The Grab

Anatomy of a Shoot – The Grab

Sometimes…your best shot of the day is just a grab.
Ocotillo California
I hadn’t even pressed the shutter once on my trip and I was already pissed off. I was 100 miles from home and I left my wallet home. No money, No Credit Cards, No Drivers License. Luckily they didn’t ask for ID at the Border Patrol Check Point ( No I wasn’t crossing any border, we have Border Patrol Checkpoint within the state) It wouldn’t have been fun sitting around while they checked my status.
Piss off point two. I was told there was some great germination of desert wildflowers out at Fossil Canyon ( Shell Canyon) in an area of the desert I don’t normally go to. So I thought I should check it out for the coming weeks when the deserts (hopefully) come alive with beautiful wildflowers to bring a different andcolorful look to the often mono-toned desert landscape. So I drive 100 miles…and there is nothing, nada, zip, zero. I have no clue what they were talking about in a web piece I had read. It was as barren as I have seen.
So, I parked and ate lunch anyway and then decided to check out Shell Canyon since I have never hiked there before. It didn’t look promising but I was there and nothing much else to do. Maybe there was some hidden gem up the trail. So after lunch I just grabbed my 5D and a 17-40 L Lens and nothing else for a quick walk into the canyon. Hopefully there would be something interesting. There wasn’t. It was pretty run of the mill as far as desert canyons go. Pretty drab. NO plant life really to speak of. Not even any really interesting formations to shoot. So after about 1/4 mile I turn around and head out.
Pretty dejected on the way out, as I near the mouth of the canyon I see this light on a single rock. It looks pretty cool but I don’t think much of it. But I stop and handheld, I fire off a 3 exposure +-2 set and I continue on my merry way.
I spent the rest of the day in Agua Caliente, a part of the Anza-Borrego desert that isn’t visited by many but there are some nice areas of fish hook cactus, teddy bear chollas and agaves. It’s early in the season so nothing spectacular for color but there was some beautiful light just before mountain sunset (Remember when shooting in a canyon or area surrounded by mountains that the sun will set behind those mountains about  an hour  or more before actual sunset) and I also was able to get a couple shots of coyote and jack rabbit which was nice. I’m usually not able to get as close as I did to them.
The day ended on a good note because for me, any day in the desert is a great day. This one was no different. The end of the day is always beautiful there. Even if there is nothing to shoot.
I got home and after dinner began to do my sort of the days shoot. I didn’t shoot much HDR because there wasn’t a need to. The light the rest of the day was quite beautiful but not super high in DR. So I processed a bunch of Black and White shots of cactus and the like. I got a few nice shots but nothing earth shattering. At the end I went back and processed that 3 shot I did at the mouth of the canyon.
I processed in Photomatix and the color image was nice but thenI took into Photoshop and I processed it using my convert to grayscale action I made…and there it was… that was the IT in it. There was the light you look for and it was at a point in the day where light is usually it’s worst – Midday. It was just a quick grab when there was nothing else to shoot. But that was the shot of the day. The one that makes everything worth the effort. Light – Found
Be Ready, you never know what you will find