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Topaz Labs Software
- Software Review – Topaz Lab’s new -Clarity
- Unified Color Technologies HDR Photo Contest
- Last Chance for 15% off the Nik Collection by Google
- Topaz Labs releases B & W Effects 2.1
- Why HDRs Don’t Look Real
- The Nik Collection by Google only $149!!!
- HDR Pro in Photoshop CS6 – Using ACR
- Twilight – Nature’s HDR
- HDR does not = Light
- onOne Perfect B & W
- Did a Little Housecleaning and a Re-focus
- Free Software from onOne !
- 5 Quick Steps to better HDRs – Step 5
- 5 Quick Steps to better HDRs – Step 4
- 5 Quick Steps to better HDRs – Step 3
- 5 Quick Steps to better HDRs – Step 2
- 5 Quick Steps to better HDRs – Step 1
- Oloneo Releases update to PhotoEngine and HDR Engine and announces Winter Sale LAST DAYS
- HDR – How Many Exposures are Enough?
- Follow up on “HDR Styles” Nik Presets download
- Triggertrap Mobile – LE HDR Trigger – Product Review
- Thought for the Day – First take a Great Photo
- HDR Styles
- Gray Skies forever? Photomatix Pro
- HDR – What is it we actually do?
- Shooting the HDR Night Cityscape
- Measuring & Exposing for Dynamic Range
- OnOne Photo Suite 7 now availble in 3 versions
- At SeeNLearn – Shooting the Telephoto Landscape
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Category Archives: HDR Lesson
Unified Color Technologies HDR Photo Contest
Belmont, CA – May 7, 2013 – Unified Color Technologies, the experts in high dynamic range imaging (HDR), today announced the call for entries for its latest HDR imaging contest. Unified Color’s HDR applications, from the workflow-streamlining HDR Express 2, to the full-featured standalone HDR Expose 2 and the Photoshop® plug-in 32 Float V2, offer photographers of every skill level a powerful HDR editing tool designed to create the most true-to-life HDR images possible.
WHAT: Unified Color Technologies, the experts in high dynamic range imaging (HDR), is launching THE FIRST OF its semi-annual HDR Photo Contests.
WHEN: The contest will last for 43 days, and submissions can be made from Tuesday, May 7th until midnight on Tuesday, June 18th. The winners will be announced on the company website and blog on June 12th.
HOW TO ENTER: To enter, participants choose their favorite HDR image(s) and resize them to 72 ppi with a width no wider than 900 pixels and email the entries to Unified Color at email@example.com. The entries must be in .jpg or .bef format. The body of the entry email must state “I have read and accept the contest rules” and include the entrant’s name, email, and phone number. The entry must have been edited in HDR Expose 2, HDR Express 2 or 32 Float v2 at some point in its creation. Complete contest rules are available at: http://unifiedcolor.com/HDR-Contest-Rules
THE WINNER: There will be one over-all winner who will receive a $500 gift card to B&H Photo. There will also be two Honorable Mentions who will each win $100 gift cards to B&H Photo.
For more information about Unified Color or the photo contest, please visit http://www.unifiedcolor.com.
About Unified Color
Unified Color Technologies is redefining the capabilities of visual technology with a unique color system that powers the next-generation of high dynamic range (HDR) imaging devices and software. A significant improvement over current industry standards, Unified Color’s new Beyond RGBTM color model presents a versatile color platform which is able to map a much larger color space encompassing the full human visual spectrum including colors found in nature and man-made light sources. Beyond RGB is available for licensing to digital imaging companies looking for a competitive market advantage. Powered by the Beyond RGB color model, the company’s flagship HDR software offerings have set a new industry standard for creating, depicting and editing the most realistic HDR images. More information about Unified Color can be found at http://www.unifiedcolor.com.
As always the update is fre to anyone that owns B & W Effects
The new updates to B&W Effects 2.1 make it the most powerful and comprehensive black and white conversion software on the market. The two biggest additions are:
The Zone System Viewing Mode lets you see your image broken down into 11 zones that represent the full tonal scale going from 0 as black to 10 as white. Zones are shown in different highlight colors for easy viewing. This viewing mode helps you determine whether or not you have the full tonal range in your image and then make exposure adjustments in our conversion module to correct these tones.
The Borders feature in B&W Effects 2.1 allows you to choose from several realistic darkroom borders, with several styles including both bleeding and crisp edges. This new feature also allows you to select the size of the border.
Other new features in B&W Effects 2.1 include the apply button and new languages such as French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese.
I had a chance toplay around with B & W Effects 2.1 pre-release and really enjoyed it. I thought the Zone System viewing was very good and may help people that don’t understand either the Zone System or even their histogram to better understand tonal range which is so important in B & W . The control in B & W effects 2.1 is great, the new Borders a nice addition and they have good and useful presets, which is not always the case. Plus it comes in at a very nice price.
To try, buy or update Topaz Labs B & W Effects 2.1 Click the Box below
Let’s start out by saying; you may not want your HDRs to look real, maybe that’s not your Artistic intent or vision. Or maybe you don’t even know what your artist intent or vision is and maybe you are just following what others do. And that’s OK, It all depends what you want out of something. But perhaps, if you want to take images beyond snapshots and work on Art you may want to delve into what your vision is.
But on the pretense that you want your images to look real and natural, what is it that makes so many HDR images not look real at all?
The quick answers is: lack of shadow.
To understand this better we need to delve into the world of art and painting/drawing. It’s kind of ironic that if we want to find realism in our photographs we look to Painters. But the truth is a Photograph is no more real than a painting and it is the artist that takes it to where he/she wants it to be in the style he prefers to work in.
If your intent in painting is to have a Realism style to your Painting/Drawings then you follow the same path that needs to be taken in Photography. The things that take you where your intent goes are:
Ah Shadow. Why is shadow important? Shadow brings depth, shape and texture to an image, whether it is a painting or a photograph.
If we were painting a still life of a bowl of fruit, as often is a beginning lesson for the art student, if it was a bowl of lemons and we just drew oblong objects and painted them yellow, would they look realistic? No not at all, they would look flat and have no shape whatsoever.
By adding shadow, we can make that flat oblong object and make it look round, 3 dimensional and globe like.
Also by the use of shadow in our painting we could make the skin of the lemon appear to have texture as we add shadow to all the dimples in the skin of the lemon. Plain yellow the same tone will never look like a real lemon. And painting small black dots won’t do it either. In fact, those dimples in the lemon are the same color as the rest of the lemon, but shadow makes them appear different to our eyes and also makes us use a different shade of paint to represent them in a painting.
How did we get here?
How did we get so unreal looking in our HDRs. Well somewhere along the way we were led into believing that we need to “Bring tones up out of the Shadows” To have “Detail in all Areas”. which of course has some truth to it. We are trying to see, in our HDR photographs, as our eyes do and because of our eye’s extended dynamic range, we are able to see detail in shadows that can get lost in a normal photograph. We also have to keep in mind. that we now have to fit this wide dynamic range into a Standard dynamic range medium (LCD Screen/Print).
But somewhere along the way, the way was lost. We brought up the shadows so far that we now created what I refer to as a Mono-Luminance image. Yes we have different hues but we even things out so far that every hue has the same luminance level and we now created a SUPER LOW DYNAMIC RANGE IMAGE, not only that but in seeking more detail in the shadows we eliminated the detail because we LOST the shadows! The very thing that defines shape and texture and full range of Hue, Shade and Tone.
So a little further down the road after this first wave of nonsense was over, someone determined that, “Ah I see what’s wrong, there is no shadow information, there is no black point. So they turned to the controls that are listed as: “Shadow” or “Black” and they began to jack up those controls. But in doing that they created what I call “Dirty” HDRs. They look dirty and smudged like someone working in the coal mine just handled all your images.
So, if shadows are what’s missing, why didn’t increasing the shadow or black fix it? Simply because…shadows aren’t black. They can be but in most cases – far more cases- Shadows are not black.
Returning to our painting
if we wanted to represent a shadow in our painting, we wouldn’t use black. We might use a darker shade of the same hue, or we could even use a complimentary color to represent the shadow and in varying degrees to get the full gradient of that shadow. And there may eventually be some black or maybe there never would be.
If I was painting a picture of a shadow on white fence, would I use Black? No, I would most likely use a light shade of gray; in fact that shade of gray could be so light that it would be considered a highlight in our histogram. So why when adjusting our photograph would increasing the “Shadows” adjustment change or bring back our TRUE shadow? Of course the answer is; it wouldn’t
If we look at the histogram for this image we see that there isn’t even any information in the shadows part of the histogram, even though of course the image has shadow
Confusion of Terms
This comes from a confusion of terms; we use the same word to describe two different things, In Photography we use Shadow, Midtone and Highlight to describe the spectrum of tones from Dark to Light or “Zones” But just because something has a shadow, does not mean that that shadow falls within the zone of a Shadow tone
We can see that if we increase the “Shadows” slider on our Levels adjustment it has no real effect on the Shadow and once again it just dirties up the image. Adjusting the midtones would affect the shadow since that is the range in which they occur.
And if we look at the effects of over-tone compression (Mono-Luminance) we see, the shadow gets faint and we lose the texture in the wood fence, all making the image look less real and flat
The Cure – It’s all about Contrast
HDR processing involves lowering Contrast, compressing say a contrast ratio of 100,000:1 to 1,000:1.But it does not mean eliminating it, it means we have FULL contrast for our medium
So how do we fix all this? First off, get off to a good start. Don’t use a lot of the controls that get you in trouble in the first place. If you use Nik HDR Efex Pro 2, don’t use a lot of compression. The more we compress the tonal range, the more true shadows get lost. We need enough compression to fit that wide dynamic range of our multiple exposures down to what is viewable in our final medium, but that’s it. Don’t use any more than that. If you are using Photomatix Pro, watch out how much strength and lighting adjustment you use, these two controls take care of compression also. Even if you simply use Lightroom or ACR, watch how much Fill and Recovery or White and Shadow as it is called in LR4 (There’s that word again)
So once we have better control from the start we can also bring back true shadows in post or using other controls in our HDR programs. We can increase the true shadows by increasing contrast of our shades or tones. We can use the Gamma control in Photomatix, or when using Levels in Photoshop, the center control for Midtones is also known as the Gamma Control and also can increase contrast in the areas we need and not just the “Shadow” areas (Zones 0 – 3 if you follow the zone system). With Curves adjustment we can increase contrast throughout the image with something as simple as an S-curve. A Good Gamma adjustment can eliminate the “Fog” that ia a part of so many images I see.
If you’ve ever wondered how the Hyper real effects work, they work on the same thing but at a different level, they make Micro-Contrast adjustments to all tones. This is the effects you see when using Nik’s Structure control, Lightroom’s Clarity or Topaz Adjust and Lucasart Plug- ins. In fact if we just change a few things, it’s how sharpening works too…but enough
Now if you like the current state of the art…well, that’s fine it is your art. But if you are wondering why people say it doesn’t look real…look in the shadows…the REAL Shadows
Oh and if you want my interpretation of the “Real” HDR, here is the same image we started with, with real sensible adjustments and …shadows. Shadows throughout the entire tonal range
Hope that Helps,
Not anymore, The great folks at Nik by Google are offering their entire collection of Plug-ins for only $149, that’s 70% off the price it was.
For that $149 you get
- Nik HDR Efex Pro 2
- Nik Color Efex Pro 4
- Nik Silver Effect Pro 2
- Nik Dfine 2
- Nik Vivesa 2
- Nik Sharpener Pro 3
Wow….. That is so much power at your fingertips
I’ve never been a fan of making HDRs in Photoshop; other programs like Photomatix and Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 were just simpler and just had much better results. So when I upgraded to Adobe Photoshop CS6 ® a few months ago ( Which I absolutely LOVE), I have to be honest, I really didn’t even take much more than a cursory look at its improved HDR module.
But I thought, if I’m going to talk and teach HDR I need to look at all the tools out there. Not everyone will have the same tools and they may need advice on using a different one.
So I went back to explore HDR Pro in Photoshop CS6. ®
I selected a 3 Exposure set, I recently shot in the desert, in Photoshop Bridge and then went to Tools>Photoshop>Merge to HDR Pro. Alternatively you could use Mini-Bridge in Photoshop, select the 3 files, right click and go to Photoshop>Merge to HDR Pro and lastly you could also in Lightroom select the files and right click and say Edit in> Merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop….whew…too many ways, you choose
Once we do this command, Photoshop will open each image and align them before merging. The HDR Pro dialog will then come up and in 8 or 16bit in the dropdown, with its sets of controls and 4 different types of Tone –Mapping/adjustments.
The only one possibly worth while playing with is “Local Adaptation” So I went through and did the best I could but still couldn’t get anything close to what I get in plug-ins or stand alone HDR programs
Here’s the result.
So, is that it? That all I can do in the “new and improved” Photoshop HDR Pro? No actually CS6 has one more trick up its sleeve and a more powerful tone-mapping tool: Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and a 32 bit file
While still in HDR Pro, drop the mode box down to 32bit. You’ll loose all the controls but we really don’t care, we just want the 32 bit file. Now go down and click OK and save the file as a 32 bit File, You have a few options but I choose to use a Tiff.
Now with our 32bit file saved, return to Mini-Bridge, right click the file and say >Open with Camera RAW. You now have the full power of Adobe Camera Raw’s Module. Allowing you to do anything you could with a RAW file but this time a full 32 Bit one which extends some of the adjustments range
So using Camera Raw (ACR) we make adjustments to tonal range compression using the Highlight and Shadow sliders as we move each towards their maximums we compress the tonal range more (lowering the highlights, raising the shadows) or in the opposite direction darkening shadows and lighting highlights.
I found in this image I need to max the controls out to even get close to what I was looking for. Once I got the balance, I could go ahead and make white balance, contrast, Saturation and clarity adjustments to my liking and also use other tools like sharpening and lens correction or any of the tools available in ACR.
I still needed to finish the image in Photoshop which is not usual and a step I do when using any HDR Program so I clicked Open (clicking done just keeps the adjustments to the 32 bit file) Photoshop will now open the image with the settings you use in ACR, so it will open it as either a 16 bit or 8 bit files and color space you have chosen in ACR. From there you can use the full range of tools that are available for 8 or 16 bit files (32bit adjustments are limited and aren’t an option from this route)
So after a bit of tweaking I got a very good image from using Photoshop CS6 HDR Pro, much better than using any of the tone-mapping within HDR Pro.
Here is the final image and below that for comparison, one I edited in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2. Again just different looks just like we get different looks using any of the HDR Programs available. You’ll notice that I also choose different white balance settings for the two examples so that leads to some of the differences in looks here.
As a final note, you can now also do the same Tone –Mapping in Lightroom version 4.1 or later which allows for working on 32 Bit files in the Develop module. You still need to merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop, but you can do your tone mapping in either Lightroom 4.1 or PhotoshopCS6 ACR
Hope that helps,
Black and White is HOT right now. It’s gained back some of the popularity it had when I was shooting film with a lot of new photographers discovering the beauty of it. Even if they may not know or remember the smell, feel and nuances of Darkroom development of Black & White, they are loving the look of it in their digital images.
But a lot of people new to Black & White conversions are very confused by the multitudes of ways to convert their color images to Monotone in their editing software of choice. So many are turning to Third party plug-in software to help and simplify that process. With those plug-ins having many presets it makes it easy for people unfamiliar with the process to quickly find a style and look they desire. It could be accomplished traditionally in Photoshop or Lightroom but it tends to take a lot of experience, time and learning.
So I thought I would look this week at a recent new release in onOne’s very popular Perfect Photo Suite 7.1; onOne’s Perfect B & W
It’s available in all versions of the suite and also in two versions by itself. One that functions as a plug-in to Lightroom, Photoshop and aperture as well as a standalone or a version that functions only as a standalone
I used it as part of the Standalone Suite.
It was simple to open my test images either using the file menu or onOne’s browser and from there it was a quick trip into the B & W module. There it is set-up in the now standard configuration of Presets left, Preview center and Controls right.
The first place everyone will go, as they should, is to the preset browser. What I like about this is that they have very diverse presets and what’s nice is they have some really well made presets, which isn’t always the case.
Presets range from some pretty standard Fare to those broken down into looks from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries as well as some Hollywood inspired presets and then a nice range of film simulations which I thought did a really good job with good realistic grain
You can also of course use the controls to make up your own combination using different color channels even infrared to achieve the look you are looking for or if you just want to modify a preset close to the look you desire.
There are also brushes that you can use for local adjustments, lightening, darkening and adding detail to smaller areas rather than global…just please…walk away from the selective color! LOL.
You can also finish the image in borders if you choose to to simulate that old print look
The program worked just as it should and I have to say its strong suit is how well the presets are designed, that’s a big deal
Here are a few of the images I converted and the preset used for them. I really though the Ingrid warm preset for portraits was cool. It did a GREAT job on skin tones
And yes, Black & White HDR’s look great!
To Purchase or download free trial versions of onOne’s Perfect B & W. Click the banner below.
When it comes to shooting HDRs, one of the biggest questions asked is, how many exposures should I take and how far apart should they be spaced. Everyone has their opinions and I’ve seen people go everywhere from 19 exposures down to…well 1. With spacing all over the place from the uber-anal 1/3 stop to people just spacing them randomly.
I’ve explored this before in blog posts of the past but I thought I would take a look at it again in a slightly different way and I thought I would take some images from this past weekends shoot at the surreal Salton Sea and put them to as scientific a test as I could.
Now if you have a method that works for you that’s great. I’m not here to change your mind or your workflow. But this is for people that don’t know or are confused by all the options. It’s taken mostly from my perspective: I don’t like to do things that waste my time or energy for little or no gain, but I will go the extra mile for something that pleases me and obtains my goal.
Here is a little of the methods of my test. All images were shot in Raw on my Canon 5D with a 17-40mm L lens at 17mm. Both scenes’ dynamic range was measured by the camera meter and the maximum number of images at 1EV spacing to cover that range were taken.
All images were imported into Lightroom and no adjustments were made to the images. The images were exported to Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 in varying Numbers and EV spacings making final HDRs for each. No alignment, deghosting or CA adjustments were used since they can vary the look of an image. The same Preset, that I custom made for each test Scene, was applied to all images of that Scene to keep the look constant.
The images were then taken into Photoshop and the same Levels adjustment layer was applied to all images to make an image look as close as possible to a totally finished image with the exception that no Noise Reduction or Sharpening was applied to any image so we could see the full range of noise from different scenarios…whew..Ok…let’s go
Real world testing
OK, I have to say there were some thing I was hoping would happen, but you can’t do a scientific test if you WANT a desired outcome. You have to look at it honestly and open mindedly. I have to say I was surprised by some things and then other things just make pure sense
Here is our first scene. This scene is very high dynamic range; using the 32 bit Histogram in Photomatix Pro the captured scene has a contrast ratio of 149,255:1 which is incredibly high, pretty much beyond that of the human eye in one look. It’s a tough scene also to shoot. It’s directly into the sun and then the subject is highly backlit which is not a great scenario to shoot under since backlit subjects don’t have the best light on them, it’s very flat and desaturated and doesn’t always make for the best images. But it is tough and that’s what I wanted. The sun in any scene always increases the dynamic range of a scene especially when it is still far above the horizon line.
I measured the dynamic range of the scene and knew I needed with my aperture at f/22 and ISO 200 to use shutter speeds from 1/4000 to 1/15. I would cover that in 1EV spacing giving me 9 Images (I also shot a 10th at 1/8 but did not use it in this experiment since it yielded very little information [blowout}
Here is what those exposures looked like
Here are the Number of exposures and Stops I tried
* 9 exposures 1 Ev (stop) intervals. This represents the entire DR of the scene 9 stops + Camera Dynamic Range
* 5 Exposures 2Ev intervals. This again represents the entire scene of 9 stops but the interval between exposures is wider
* 7 Exposures 1Ev interval. This drops the brightest and darkest exposures so it represents 7 stops but still 1 stop between exposures
* 5 Exposures 1Ev interval. This drops the 2 brightest exposures and the 2 darkest for a 4 stop range, with 1 stop in between
* 3 Exposures 2EV interval, represents again the same 4 stop range but in 2stop intervals
I processed all 5 images and the results actually surprised me. I really thought I would easily be able to distinguish between the 9/1 image and the 3/2 image and it simply, at normal viewing size and distance ,was not that easy to see.
I really thought, especially the area around the sun, I would see a huge difference, I thought I would see ore of a moiré pattern to the sky and I thought noise would just be out of control on the 3/2 image. It just wasn’t so.
Here are the 5 images and I’m going to have a little fun. I will letter the images and you try to put them in order from the 9/1 image to the 3/2 image. My little blind test. I realize you will only have a 900 pixel image to work with. But that also gives a real world viewing example. POst what order you think they should be in comments and I’ll say in comments later what the order actually is.
So why do I think this is? Shouldn’t there have been a clear winner? Here’s what I think; we tend to think of these exposures as slices 1 or 2 EV wide slices, when in fact they really aren’t. They are the full dynamic range of our cameras, each exposure represent that full dynamic range until we get to the end exposures where the dynamic range is limited by noise at the low end and saturation at the top end. We are merely varying the zero point of the exposure and that DR.
Each of the exposures represent the full dynamic range of our cameras that vary from about 7 Stops up to almost 12 stops for the very best cameras. The DR of the camera also varies with ISO
So when we have an image like the 3/2ev image it does not just represent 4 stops, it represents about 13-16 stops when you add in the 9 stops my Canon 5D is capable of plus the moving zero point of the 3 exposures. In my thinking, this is why we don’t see very different images viewed like this.
Does this mean there were NO differences? Absolutely not, but it really took some pixel peeping at 100 and 200% to really pinpoint and see the differences.
I’ve made some 100% crops of an area of the images and you will be able to see full size if you click on the image and open it in a new window or download the image to look at in your editing software.
Most of the difference you see will have to do with noise and tonality and the results are not really that surprising
Here’s my analysis
* 9/1 image. Best image off them all, very little noise good gradation of tone and color throughout. This image should be the best one
* 5/2 image. Really close to the 9/1 image. no greater noise which is expected since the image still covers the same DR. Tonality may be the slightest bit less but I don’t know if I’m just seeing it because I now what image it is.
* 7/1 Image. Tonality is still good because of the close exposures give good gradation. However the noise level picks up which should be expected since we are minus two exposures so the software has to work a little harder to map those tones bringing some shadows up and increasing noise
* 5/1 now things really become easy to see at 100% crops even if we can’t on the full size image. Loss of tone and the noise has gone up once again because now we are missing 4 images of information
* 3/2 about the same as 5/1 noise wise but with even more loss of tone. Which should be as expected.
Even with these differences, the truth is all of the images are still very usable and we wouldn’t have e noticed easily some of these things if we didn’t have the other examples to compare too.
But these results were with an image that really had a high dynamic range scene to capture and at those times you may need to throw everything you have up against it.
What about a scene that is more typical of what I see a lot of people shoot as HDRs.
The next image has a Dynamic Range measured in Photomatix 32 Bit histogram of 829:1. Technically not a High Dynamic Range scene. But it has some shadow areas and like I said many people…even myself, might shoot this as an HDR. Do exposures and spacing matter on this image?
I did the same type test, the scene measure lower but knowing I was doing this test I went ahead and shot 7 exposure 1EV anyway
f/22 ISO 200 Shutter speeds from 1/400 to 1/5
The images I made were
I also took the 0 image and tone- mapped that image because honestly, this scene is not beyond the DR of my camera so I wanted to see how that image would compare.
Here are the results below in the order from above
Honestly there isn’t any visible difference between the 3 HDRs and the Single image just misses in tonality a bit.
But we should look closer once again just to see where the differences may be
While I still might crown the 7/1 image king, there really isn’t that much to talk about. All the other HDR 100% crops look pretty much the same. You can see the tonality loss in the single image and it does have more noise but that to be expected. I also included a straight out of the camera single image for comparison and the tonality really isn’t there, especially in the shadows (again expected) but that image did have the lowest noise…once again expected.
The first thing to conclude, is that this test does NOT say you should always shoot 9 exposures, what it does say is that for the best image quality you should shoot the dynamic range of the scene, whether that takes 9 exposures or 1
What it also says is that; even if you don’t, you still will get a very usable image
Covering the DR of the Scene does matter, the spacing not quite as much. (9/1 and 5/2 covered the same DR) The most important part is capturing the entire dynamic range of the scene and ONLY that. There is no need to exceed it. Those images actually hinder an image, both in quality and also alignment problems. Did I really prove that in this test? No, but I have done it in others and those exposures are unnecessary. So shoot up to the Dynamic Range but you don’t need to shoot MORE than that
We also have seen that how dynamic that scene is also plays a role in how anal we have to be about capturing every last point of Dynamic range.
But we really have to take other things into consideration and for some of you these considerations won’t matter and you continue to do 19 exposures 1/3 which is fine, it’s your time.
If we take into consideration, things like:
* How will this image be used, huge print or just web postings
* Are we using a Tripod? Firing off 9 shots without one is tricky to say the least
* Storage issues, I know my cards fill up real fast with a day of 7 & 9 exposure shooting
* Processing time, it take a lot longer to merge and align 9 images than 3
* Alignment issues themselves. With poor shooting/tripod habits and 9 images you may have a loss of detail because the software just can not get everything right. It may have an easier time aligning 3
So while under the microscope there is real difference, taking into consideration everything that goes into it, you now may be able to make a better decision how you want to shoot. I know I’ll probably rethink using 1EV and switch to 2EV on difficult scenes. I already use 3/2Ev very frequently for hand holding and scenes that are not demanding and I think the test shows for that, it’s a good choice
Hope that helps
Oh for those of you guessing the order for the first part, they were just as presented
I know no one would tell you to guess the order and then keep them in the order…but I wanted to really make it about SEEING a difference
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