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Monthly Archives: December 2012
So often these days as I scan Google+ or 500px I see HDRs that I’m sorry, are just horrible photographs. The only thing of interest at all in them is that they are an HDR and sometimes I’ll admit, that alone draws the eye. But HDR should not be the feature, it should be a great photograph…and I used this technique to capture it. Anymore I don’t even say “I shot an HDR”, I simply, took a photograph
So I implore you to, First look for a great photograph, interesting light and shadow, texture and composition and then judge, what techniques do I need to use to capture my vision? If the scene is beyond the dynamics of your camera, THEN use HDR (or other methods) to capture it.
Thought for the day, short and sweet.
There are many ways to process and HDR, many different styles. Certainly not everyone likes the same look and there are clearly some Battle Lines drawn with different sides vehemently defending the “Look” that they prefer. Is there a right style? Of course not, it’s photography, it’s art, everyone works and see differently.
But I thought I would show a few of the different styles out there. And recognize that these are not clearly set in stone and even my interpretation of a certain style may not be what you think it is. And also there are laterally thousands of interpretations in between.
I’m presenting these mostly straight out of the HDR Processing software with out any post editing since that can alter things to another even further degree, I did make some adjustments just to keep the lightness levels similar except for those styles that simply are not light. I will also show a couple of the styles done with two different programs, Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 and HDRsoft’s PhotomatixPro 4.2. Since even which software you use can vary the look.
Also be aware that these styles can look very different depending on subject matter
EDIT! I’ve posted a follow-up for this post including some presets for NIk HDR Efex Pro2 HERE
The first thing I want to show is a Standard Photograph, exposed for the building, as would be possible in a single image with it’s limited dynamic range
The next style is judging by the HDR Group at Google + a very popular style.
It is charaterised by a very mid-range tone, some graying to whites and possibly some haloing if one isn’t careful. It can also be high on detail but isn’t alaways
Probably tied for Most Popular with grunge is this style
It is characterized by a softer look, very saturated. Looking very much like somone may have painted it (hence the name)
The next style is generally preferred by older Photographers, or Non HDR Photographers …and NOTHING wrong with Older Photographers. I’m one. ( I’ve seen the demographics on this, so don’t be offended)
In one iteration it is very “Photographic ” looking, more like a standard photograph of a well exposed standard dynamic range scene. Another thinking on it is “As the eye Sees” look, which doesn’t quite use a standard photograph as it model for look but rather how we actually see things. It is natural looking but perhaps with a bit more detail. ( This is the method I prescribe too, how well is not for me to judge)
This Next style is preferred by those who do Interiors of buildings (Old and dilapidated in many cases), Auto and Motorcycles and also younger people that play video games for it’s CGI look. It’s extremely detailed and textural with deeper shadows
This last category I’ve made up the name myself and it’s used often for people that do Compositing of Backgrounds and People. I named it for the person that put the style on the map mostly, although he may not like my interpretation of it.
It’s highly detailed and textured, It’s dark and foreboding in nature and very much de-saturated
So what are you? Or are you something completely different?
Hope that Helps,
I’ll start this rant off with my usual disclaimer: Artistic Intent, I don’t care what you do to your image provided it was Artistic Intent. Backwards, inside out and purple…fine if that’s was your intent. It’s when you did it because you didn’t know any better, that’s when I have a problem and I’m here to help.
My two biggest pet peeves in HDR images are; Halos and Gray Clouds that should be white. The funny thing is, most likely the same thing is responsible for both.
It’s a very simple fix but one that a lot of people don’t seem to either know about or even want to fix. But it certainly drives me nuts. Now I am not talking about gray storm clouds and having them mean and menacing-looking, as is possible in HDR images. I’m talking about beautiful white puffy clouds on a fair weather day being turned gray by over-processing the image. You may, as this image shows, also have some graying to the blue sky and some black halos around the clouds- all of them undesireable
It seems to be more pronounced in Photomatix possibly than other programs but certainly possible in all and it has a simple cause and a simple fix.
The reason the clouds look gray is that the image’s tonal range has been completely compressed to that of a mid-tone. When you make white a midtone…it turns to gray. Simple as that.
To fix it, is just as simple, Turn down your strength, use a more natural Lighting setting. That’s all you have to do. You can up your detail or saturation or whatever you want to do, but use these control judiciously. Oh and I bet your Halos take a vacation too.
Hope that helps,
I read with interest a post on Google+ the other day. A gentleman stated. “I’ve started to do more of my work in Lightroom”. Another poster asked, “You mean Tone-Mapping?” The first person replied, “No, I’m extending the Dynamic Range of a single image in Lightroom using the controls”
So it made me think; Does anyone really understand what it is we do as HDR practitioners? I think not.
Let’s make one thing clear up front: We are not creating High Dynamic Range images…wait let me say that again…WE ARE NOT CREATING HIGH DYNAMIC RANGE IMAGES. And in case you missed it, we… are…not…creating…high dynamic range… images. We simply aren’t.
So what is it we are doing? We, hope to capture a scene with a high dynamic range in multiple exposures. We then take those images and compress them to fit in a Standard Dynamic Range medium – that may be Print or Screen Display.
Our final images are Standard Dynamic Range images (or in many cases that I have seen, actually Low Dynamic Range images). The image only hopes to simulate a High Dynamic Range scene that our eyes saw but our cameras unable to capture in a single image..
Our Standard Dynamic Range end products may have as low a dynamic range as 100:1 in the case of prints or as high as 1000:1 in the case of a good quality monitor. The Images we captured may have a range of >1,000 all the way to 100,000:1 or more but we never see that range in our final product it is only simulated.
What we are doing is taking something1,000 inches long, compressing it and fitting it in a 100 inch box. We hope that it is not noticeable the parts we took out to make it fit.
So really what the person in my first article was doing WAS tone-mapping- Moving a tone from one place to another- He did not extend the dynamic range of his image because you can’t beyond what is possible for that medium.
We think Tone-Mapping is only part of HDR, but it’s done many times in our images. When a camera takes the signal from the sensor that may be 12 or 14 bit and makes a Jpeg (8-bit), it is tone mapping.
I think it is important we know what it is we are doing; I think this needed to be said.
For those of you that have read my articles on shooting the natural looking HDR Landscape, forget everything you read…well almost everything… when it comes to Night Cityscapes. They are a totally different animal in shooting and processing.
Setting up to shoot
Before we get to exposures and processing, first lets look at how we should shoot a night cityscape regardless of if we are shooting HDR or not.
The first part of this is, even though we are shooting a “Night” cityscape the best time to shoot one is not at “night” but rather during dusk – the 45 minute period following sunset. During dusk it helps that there is still some light to the sky and may help to separate our subject, the buildings, from the background. It will also allow more light on the buildings so we can see more detail in them that may be lost when we are shooting in total darkness besides the light from building and street lights.
Next, since we know we are shooting with much less light than daylight we know we will need to shoot on a tripod because of longer shutter speeds. Of course we could up our ISO but noise is already a huge problem with night shots we really don’t want to exacerbate it more. So the better choice is a sturdy tripod.
When we shoot any long exposures good tripod practices come into play, but they take on even more importance than maybe even shooting a daytime landscape. When we shoot a textured landscape we may not be aware of very small movements. But now when shooting a cityscape with very small point sources of lights, that movement, will be much more evident in our image. So therefore, while I may not use Mirror lockup in a lot of my landscape shooting, I will use it for night cityscapes.
Keeping with our good practices, this also means using our remote shutter releases or timers and I also like to use AEB – automatic exposure bracketing- because it keeps my hands off the camera that could cause movement in between frames (HDR only).
The last part of shooting will be aperture choice. Since most times we are quite a distance from the cityscape and well past the Hyperfocal distance, depth of field is not much of a problem and that opens us up to other choices than we may use during the day. For this shoot I chose f/8 because it tends to be the sweet spot for my lens’s (Canon 24-105mm L 4.0) sharpness. Tests I did this night at f/16 showed just the slightest softness due to diffraction at that aperture. Because of the distance to subject even f/4 is very usable.
You may end up juggling even wider apertures and changes in ISO if you are doing bracketing since you don’t want to hit the 30 second exposure wall that most cameras have. In other words, if you are shooting 3 Exposure 2ev spacing and your middle exposure is 10 seconds you will have a problem because your +2 exposure should be 40 seconds but it won’t be because your camera stops at 30. So then either open up a stop or up your ISO a stop or more. This is another reason I did not use f/16 because it would mean too high of an ISO to get a correct bracket. Now that we are set to shoot let’s move on to the actual shooting.
The first part that most of us get wrong when shooting a night scene, whether traditional or HDR, is that we overexpose them. For the most part a night shot is a Low-Key image. For those of you unfamiliar with Low Key/ High Key; a low key image will have the majority of its value in the lower register of a histogram. A High Key image, the opposite, most of it’s values are in the upper register (No, High Key is not just shooting on a white background) So for our night image, the luminance values of our image will be mostly in the left third of our histogram to give us an image “as the eye sees”. But, just as when we shoot a predominately Black or White object, our camera’s meter is fooled and is trying to make it a midtone, it does the same thing when shooting at night and relying only on our meter the exposure will be pushed into the center zone of our histogram.
When shooting the night HDR, this problem gets exacerbated even more. If we are doing a 3 exposure +-2EV exposure, our 0 exposure is already over exposed – in this example- and then on top of that our +2 exposure will be all wrong and way overexposed and lead us to an image that is soft, with loss of detail and additional noise.
Understand that in a night image, besides street and building lights, there is almost no energy in the highlight area and shadow areas are supposed to be black and without detail to look correct “as the eye sees”
If we took out the point source lights in Night images and only saw what they illuminated, we would find that the image is not really that high of dynamic range. But since those sources do exist in a cityscape if we tried to capture the scene in a single image, either we would loose detail in the buildings getting the lights with detail or vice-versa. So while a night shot out in the desert illuminated by only the moon could be done with a single exposure, a night cityscape benefits from HDR, if done correctly.
So now knowing what we do, my suggestion as a starting point is to measure the scene and then under-expose by 2 stops. So we are basically shooting a -4,-2, 0 sequence but it may take some experimentation from there. We want our “Highlights” exposure to really only expose the street lights and we want our “Shadow” exposure to be no brighter than a midtone. In the actual shoot I got my best results at 1 1/3 to 1 2/3 stops under.
Shooting in this manor I got these three images
Manual Exposure, ISO 100, f/8, AEB 2EV, 5 Second, 1.3 Seconds, 20 Seconds
Not quite what we are used to seeing in an HDR bracket and as some of you may note, some of the single images may be acceptable on their own as a night image. But they are just not there for me. The only exposure that gets the Christmas tree right is the highlight exposure, the only exposure that gets the building lights right is the Middle exposure and the only image that gets the building exposures right is the shadow exposure.
Could I have probably processed my way to an acceptable single image? Yes, but I don’t want to. (I’m a spoiled HDR brat)
Speaking of processing lets work on that next
Processing the Night HDR Cityscape – Nik HDR Efex Pro 2
The first thing I did with my 3 exposures was white balance them in LR. This is another thing our camera will get all wrong especially since there may be 2 or more different sources of light in the image. I will say balance them to your tastes since I have very strong opinions about white balance and what we get so wrong in doing white balance but that’s the topic of another article. You really can’t do a bulk white balance adjustment to all the images shot in your shoot since the white balance changes as you go from the early parts of dusk where the majority of the light energy is from skylight, to later in the shoot where the majority of light energy will come from tungsten and low/high pressure sodium lights. Personally I chose a custom K setting of 5000°k during the first part of dusk to offset some blue and then a setting of 3700°k to offset the yellow of the city lights later in the shoot. In this instance the WB picker in LR, I feel, does not render the best results. With that done, on to our HDR processing.
Taking our 3 exposures into Nik HDR Efex Pro 2, we’ll start with alignment and deghosting. This is going to depend a lot on how you shot in the first place. But in this example because I was so careful in the shooting, I actually turned OFF, alignment and deghosting. In the perfect storm you can get a sharper more detailed image with out the software doing anything. But it really depends. You can tell when alignment/deghosting gets it all wrong or your shooting technique gets it all wrong, if you see black centers to your point sources of light or micro-ringing around those lights.
Once we get alignment correct we can merge our images and move on to the tone mapping. As I said at the beginning, forget everything I said when shooting the natural landscape. The first thing you should notice is, just like our camera tries to make everything a midtone, so will our HDR programs. There’s nothing wrong with them, (HDR Programs) it’s just what they do. It’s just knowing how to correct for that.
The first thing is compression, as they say in Brooklyn, forgetaboutit. In the first place for the majority of the image, the dynamic range is not that high so there isn’t much to tame with compression. Use too much compression and you will see an instant graying and dulling to the image and I don’t mean just 0 compression, I mean -100 compression. Your results may vary and they probably will, but just be aware, if you see a problem, you may have a fix here.
The next thing to work on is exposure. For most of the shots that night, I ended up reducing exposure by 50-60 % ! Next, work with the shadow and highlight to reduce or increase as necessary to increase detail and contrast globally. If you find it necessary you may need to use some control point to work on smaller areas without affecting the whole image. Use your judgment.
Structure, yes we all love structure but this is one control we really have to be careful with in a night shot. Sometimes just a little will cause huge amount of haloing around the buildings. The other problem is, like it or not, structure brings out noise especially in a blank sky, if you really need to use it use it with a control point on something you want more detail to but noise will not be as visible because of the texture of the object. For me I turn off structure and instead will use sharpening later in the process.
Saturation; I’m a saturation guy but again it is a control we really have to be careful with because it can cause Bloom around the point source lights. So use it to taste but be careful.
At this point you should be done and if you’re like me you finish the image off in Lightroom or Photoshop.
Processing the Night HDR Cityscape – Photomatix Pro 4
Processing in Photomatix proves to be the same situation as HDREfex Pro 2, I’m doing things Iwould not normally do with my HDRs for a natural look.
Opening the images in Photomtaix, I will use the Alignment and Auto-Deghosting before the merge. Once Merged and I begin Tone-mapping, I’ll start with a Strength of 75 and a Saturation of 70. Where I really go off my usaal path is with lighting effects, I normally use Natural or Narural + in my processing, this time I will go between Medium and Sureal a setting I almost never use.
Moving down to White Point I set that to about 0.036%, Black point to 1.55% and a Gamma of 1.20 and that’s all I do before I take the image into final processing
Final Processing - Nik HDR Efex Pro 2
Taking the image into LR, I made some horizon adjustments and lens correction (I prefer to do them post HDR process so as to not interfere possibly with alignment). Taking the image into Photoshop I wanted to remove some noise in the image and turned to Nik Define2.0. There are times I would just paint it to the sky and water in the image to retain the most detail in the buildings but I really had great detail to work with in the entire image.
And the last thing I did was sharpening using, of course, Nik Sharpener 3.0, in this instance I painted it only onto the buildings. The sky and water would not benefit from any sharpening and it would only increase noise.
And here is my final image. How “I” like my night images to look. Of course, as usual, your vision may vary.
Final Processing – Photomatix Pro 4
I followed the same process of noise reduction and sharpening, Thsi time turning instead to Topaz DeNoise 5 using the Raw-Strong setting and Topaz Detail 2 (soon to be 3)
This is a link to a med res. of the feature image on the top of the page image, my favorite image from 2 evenings done as a wide-format image and Process3ed with Nik HDR Efex Pro 2
If you would like to experiment with my 3 exposures and try your hand using your techniques, I have a download link for the 3 images plus a basic night preset as a starting point For Both Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 and HDRsoft’s Photomatix Pro4 for those that want to play. Remember my images are Copyright and you may only use them for personal use and education. You DO NOT have permissions of derivate art of any kind. Any other use and I will own your house…just kidding…maybe…kinda
Hope that helps
Thanks to Black & White artist and authority Cort Anderson for the inspiration for this article
Now I guess that is understandable because people do like the color pop that HDR can provide and it has become a staple of “That HDR Look”. But HDRs can make an outstanding Black & White image. Of the 1,000 HDR images in my portfolio 1/3 of them are a B & W conversion.
If you are ALL about detail, B & W will bring that out to its finest. When we loose color it becomes all about Tonality and Textures. I have to say I love Black & White images, HDR or not. There are times an image and color just does not make sense to the mind and images I thought were toss-aways ended up being brilliant B & W images.
So I urge you to give B & W a try on your HDR images.
The B & W HDR
So what is the best method for converting your HDR to B & W? Should I do the conversion before or after I merge the image?
B & W Conversion Methods
There are many different ways to achieve a black & white image
From Pixel editing programs (Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, Gimp etc.)
- Convert to Grayscale (just remember to convert back to RGB if you want to use other filters)
- The Channel Mixer
- Gradient Maps
- Photoshop’s new B & W (CS6)
In Lightroom (or ACR) you can convert to Black & White and adjust the tonal balance with 8 different color channel adjustments (yes you adjust B & W with color channels) or use some of the presets built into Lightroom or available from or people/companies.
And finally there are some outstanding B & W conversion Plug-ins such as:
Without a doubt don’t use desaturate, it looses too much tonality in the image and you end up with a big gray blob. My preferences are: Convert to Grayscale because it converts tones correctly. But I have to say there are times I use the Channel Mixer or Gradient Maps because they just get a certain image right. I even have a slightly new method that I use often that is the subject of a magazine article but I can’t discuss it yet because they have the exclusive rights to the story. (Coming January 2013)
And finally I am impressed with using Lightroom or the Black & White in Photoshop (you can use it in Adobe Camera Raw or inside Photoshop) because they allow for some interesting changes in tonality.
All of these conversions are very straightforward methods. If you want to get conversions that mimic the effects of B & W film you are better off using one of the above software makers plug-in. They all allow you to simulate certain film types and add film grain. They also allow for “Toning” of you images such a sepia and cyanotype. There are also presets for making an image look like an old time photo with borders and plate emulsion looks.
Most times I just convert my final color HDR to Black & White. It saves me processing two images separately. I get great results in less time which sometimes is very important to me. I don’t just convert the image though, I will need to go in and do a final Curves adjustment because without color we may need to make some contrast adjustments to get everything in place.
But suppose you want to experiment with preprocessing your images into B & W before the HDR Merge.
A very simple way to do this if you use Lightroom is to make Virtual copies of all your exposures. Simply select all your exposures, right click them and say “Create Virtual Copies”. Virtual copies are great because they don’t take up more disk space since you are still using the same base RAW file; you are just applying another set of instructions (developing) to those RAW files.
Once you have those Virtual copies created, with them selected go into the Develop Module One image will come up and do a straightforward convert to Black & White Which can be done either by Pressing Black & White in the Basic tab or down on the HSL/Color/B&W tab. Don’t get fancy here and try to manipulate each image because we don’t know the final effect that will have in our Merge.
Once you have that image converted, at the bottom of the module, press sync. This will convert all the selected images. With that done, returning to the Library module it’s an easy step to right click again and export those files to your favorite HDR Program
As you can see in these examples, One converted before the HDR Merge, one after; there isn’t a huge difference in the two but it may be something you want to experiment with
If you don’t use Lightroom or Aperture you will need to make a Tiff or Jpeg (I prefer 16 bit Tiffs for HDR) Black & White conversion copy for all your exposures and then bring those into your HDR Program.
One thing I wouldn’t do; If you choose to use one of the dedicated Black & white programs, I wouldn’t use those for a pre-conversion especially if the add film grain or make for a contrasty conversion. Since noise multiples with HDR Merge the final HDR image may not be as pleasing. If you choose to use those I would stick to converting post HDR Processing.
This isn’t an everything and end all on Black & White conversion, rather it’s just an encouragement to try Black & White on your HDR Images. You may be pleasantly surprised how much you like it.
Hope that helps,
What I do is quite simple. I set my camera to Aperture Priority mode and the aperture and ISO I will be shooting with. I then set my metering mode to spot. I use aperture priority for this instead of Manual because I am just looking for numbers (shutter speeds) right now. I may, and probably will, end up shooting in a different mode, most likely manual.
I then seek out the brightest and darkest areas of my scene. If the sun is in the shot, don’t measure it for many reasons. First off it’s not good for your eyes or your camera and secondly because of its brightness you will end up with exposures that in reality have very little use. If the sun is just at the horizon line you may be OK, but anything above that you are asking for trouble. But in most circumstances if the sun is in my image I will meter slightly to the side or above it.
Also make note of one phenomenon, just as the sun hit the horizon it is not always the brightest region of the image and the clear sky above or a reflection off a cloud may actually register higher
So setting my spot meter on the brightest area I will take note of the shutter speed at that point, I then search my field for the darkest area of the scene and take note of that shutter speed. Now the only thing I need to do is connect those two with a number of exposures
So we know that using our camera’s reflective meters (or even a handheld reflective meter) that meter is going to meter for a midtone and that’s OK because we really don’t want that brightest or darkest area to be anything but a midtone at the most. There is no point in taking a highlight and making it a shadow nor a shadow and making it a highlight.
Shooting exposure beyond those two measured midtones will lead us to shooting way too many exposures which lead to problems with alignment and processing speed later. Also, shooting exposures beyond what we measured leads to problem with noise in shadows and loss of detail in highlights (Bloom)
Deciding on Exposures
The first thing I will think about in my head is, how many stop range is the dynamic range of this scene. Luckily since we are using shutter speed it’s easy to think in your mind how many stops. A doubling or Halving of Shutter speed is one stop. 1/100 to 1/200 = one stop.
If I have less than 4 stops, I probably won’t shoot an HDR at all. There really is no point; our cameras are able to cover that dynamic Range.
If I measure at or around 4 stops I’m probably just going to use AEB (Automatic Exposure Bracketing) with a shutter speed in the middle of the two ends as my starting point and just do 3 exposures +-2EV(stops). This is really sufficient for 1/.2 of the scenarios we come across outdoors.
If it is beyond that I will shoot 1 step exposures going from one end to the other, no matter what that number of exposures is. And I don’t sit there and calculate it out. I start with my camera set at one end of the range and then just turn my shutter exposure dial 3 click for every stop (my camera is set for 1/3 stop intervals) Until I see my final exposure is at the other end.
Some of the newest camera on the scene now allow for 7 or 9 exposures AEB, if you’re lucky enough to have one you can set yours up instead of the method I use. This also helps eliminate and camera shake even on a tripod as moving a dial can cause.
After I shoot my first series, I will go through and check my histograms and make sure I have pretty much pegged each end. If I see one or either end not quite to the end I may add an exposure or two
The only thing left to do if you are shooting close to sunrise or sunset is to keep an eye on the starting point of your exposures as the light changes every 10 minutes or so. This is when I have my handheld exposure meter handy so I don’t need to take the camera off the tripod to get a reading.
Then after the sun sets, you should measure the entire range again as it will change quite dramatically shooting into the Blue Hour as the Dynamic Range lowers considerable although the first 10-15 minutes of Blue Hour the DR of the sky is still quote high.
And that’s all I do
The ever popular Perfect Photo Suite 7 from our friends at onOne Software is now available in 3 different versions so there is a version just for you no matter what your photo editing software of choice is
They of course have the Perfect Photo Suite 7 Premium version which was just released at the end of October with many great upgrades from Perfect Photo Suite 6 and this version can be used just about any way you please;
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- As a Plug-In for Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements
New are the Standard Edition and Lightroom & Aperture edition
The standard edition are for those of you that may not use any of the above software but still would like to add the power of onOne Perfect Photo Suite 7 to the editing of your JPEG images. This edition is a standalone version only
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