Tag Archives: HDR

Reader Question Answered

In our post the other day about shooting Mid-Day, Reader David Ames…who is also a good friend and a great photographer and also one of those people  you just always say “What a great guy” when they walk away after seeing them. Asked this question:

I’ve been shooting quite a few custom cars lately using HDR. Getting these car owners out during the golden hour is pretty much impossible. Talking about specular highlights, these cars are more than shinny. What adverse effects if any would using a circular polarizer and HDR have. Probably going to test it out tomorrow at a car show but wanted you take on the subject.

Which is a great question.

Shooting cars is a very difficult thing to do and do right especially Mid-Day particularly because they are so shiny. Reflections cause a multitude of problems. From causing metering to be off from specular highlights, Reflections of unsightly objects into the cars, Balance of lighting in different areas of the cars and probably a few more I can’t think of at the moment.

Sometimes you can use these reflections to your advantage, such as getting a cool Gleam of the sun off of a chrome piece. and sometimes they just ruin the shot completely.


So let’s adress David’s question about the polarizer first.

The quick answer is Maybe; We have to know one fact about polarizer first. THEY HAVE NO  EFFECT ON REFLECTIONS ON METAL OBJECTS. You can Google why not but they just don’t. So with a lot of Custom Cars especially from Days Gone By. Those cars have a lot of chromed or plated areas. The polarizer will have no effect on reflections on that part of the car. Metallic finishes that have a large amount of metal flake in them also may not be as affected as straight paint color may. And lastly polarizer work in relation to angles or planes. Mostly at 90 degrees to the reflective source at maximum and tailing off from there. And if we look at a car, we can see there are MANY different planes and angles to them.

So let’s look at a quickie shot I did today to see some of the effects.

The first image was shot with a polarizer at maximum in relation to the side of the vehicle (My Blue Stead)

Looking at the green arrows, They show that reflections in the window glass and the side of the vehicle have pretty much been eliminated.

Looking at the red arrows, you see that it had no effect on the hood because that is at a plane that is 90 degrees from the plane of the door. Also you can see that the specular highlight in the chrome of the headlight had zero effect from the polarizer.

The orange arrow shows  the real problem area. The hot spot on the fender cause by a specular highlight from a point source light ( The sun) Because of the angle I shot at, that angle relates exactly to the opposite angle that the sun was to the car to me. Angle of incidence – Angle of reflection



















And that was not an angle that was affected by the polarizer

Now if we look at this second shot, same shot but the polarizer set at the minimum for the side reflections or 180 degrees from the first shot.

Looks what happens to the side, how the reflections now appear, but then look at the hood, how the reflections have disappeared.

And finally notice, that the specular in the headlight and then the fender remain unchanged

So the bottom line is, polarizers can help but you need to understand them and then JUST USE YOUR EYES.  OK, I have a reflection here I don’t like, can I eliminate it this way or that way? Look and see.

Use of HDR Mid-Day

Yes it can help your mid-day image. If you look at the above images you notice a lot of harsh shadows and if you can use HDR to even out some of those shadows you may get a better final image. BUT HDR will NOT help tame reflection, in fact it may make them worse because it brings out detail. I’m sure you’ve seen some of those highly processed HDR’s of say totally chromed out motorcycles. Well you can see the detail in every tiny reflection there is. So there are some advantages to using HDR for the Mid-Day or any time of day automotive shoot. But you still need to be totally aware of reflections.

Here is an example of how a reflection can ruin a great shot…and I love this shot…but there is a reflection of another car in the side of the Spyder that makes me Cringe every time I look at it. But I couldn’t control where the car was and where the car reflected into it was.



So what’s the real bottom line here when it comes to shooting Automotive shots and reflections, specular highlights, Polarizers and HDR.

Because you are dealing with such a highly reflective object you have to be aware of all light sources and you have to be aware of everything that reflects into the object. This is just like doing highly reflective  Product photography except you can’t fit it into a table top light box. And doing that type of photography it teaches us that we CAN NOT have point source lighting. It just doesn’t work unless we want a glint or gleam in certain areas

So what do you? if you look at a lot of great automotive photography, you will see two things. They shoot at dusk when we have eliminated the point source light of the sun. In the studio they use HUGE diffuser panels above in front of the lighting. They may be as big as and some time 2 to 3 times the size of what they are shooting.  Then they add smaller diffused source light to put highlight where they want them. So you get nice even light without the hot spots that are a problem shooting during the day from specular light and point source light.

Check out a couple great examples of automotive lighting, These guys rock. Study what they do and try to apply it

Easton Chang

Tim Wallace

Also check out Porsche’s Website under each vehicle they have images and wallpaper downloads. they have some great automotive photography there and if you study it you learn a lot

I also want to say, I am not an automotive photgrapher nor do I pretend to be. The above is just some common photography tips. Study and learn from the people that do it great.

As a final word to David. I totally get you don’t always have the option of shooting in the perfcet place at  the perfect time with a $10,000 light bank above the car.

So look, use the tools you have whether that is a polarizer, HDR or just moving 10 feet to the left to tame as best you can the reflection and put them where YOU want as best you can. It is possible to shoot during the day. BUT you have to LOOK


Hope that helps,



Shooting Automobiles – Part – 2 – Processing

Shooting Automobiles – Part – 2 – Processing

 Yesterday we covered the shooting of automobiles. Today we will concentrate on the post processing of those images and more specifically post processing the images as High Dynamic Range images. 

As promised I will take you through this step by step just as I would do the image, so you get to see everything that “I” put into it. Just bear one thing in mind, what I do on my image may not what you need to do on your image. Even though I will give my settings in Photomatix doesn’t mean that those will be correct for your image because every image is different. 

They may be a good starting point but I tweak even my starting point to get what I need out of that particular image. Plus you may not even want to have the same effect that I want. If you want a more painterly effect your starting points would be way different than mine. 

Processing In Photomatix Pro 4.1 

Starting with the 3 images I showed you yesterday I open them in Photomatix Pro 4.1. Even though ghosting should not be an issue, I still brought it into the manual de-ghosting screen for a check. This image didn’t need any help but as we will see in the image I shot with OCF, there were about 6 areas with Blinkie-Blackies that needed to be fixed. More on that later. 

So opening the image in the tone mapping screen, Moving down the list I used: Detail Enhancer, Strength 40, Saturation 70, Luminosity -2, Detail Contrast +6.0, Lighting effect Medium, 

Other settings I adjusted;

  • Smooth Highlights 28, I used this to have a smoother gradation of the sky and took some of the gray out of it that can happen in highlights.
  • White Point: 2.000%, this actually has a much larger effect on overall brightness of the image than Luminosity ever has. Still not sure why they call it that.
  • Black Point: 0.092% just to bring back some of the shadows and blacks in the image
  • Gamma: 1.20, this brings the Midtones where I want them. If you watch your histogram of your image, you will see a center peak in almost every image, this controls where that peak is. I prefer it slightly to the left of center but in the end I look at my image more than the histogram to see what look right. It’s just an interesting correlation you may like to see
  • Saturation Highlights: 7.0 this controls the saturation on the highlights only. They appeared a bit washed out so I wanted to add a bit more to them. 

This got the image as far as I would get with the controls of Photomatix. The image now needs some more local adjustments so I will bring the Image into Photoshop or you could bring it back into Lightroom if that is where you like to work. 

This is the image as finished in Photomatix 4.1



For those of you using Nik HDR Efex Pro, I achieved similar results using these setting

  • Compression: 43%
  • Saturation: 22%
  • Structure: 9%
  • Blacks: 12%
  • Whites:19%
  • Warmth: 26%
  • HDR Method: Natural

Final adjustments in Photoshop 

The first thing I notice and should have noticed when shooting is that the horizon line is not straight. We want to look at the horizon line and not our vehicle because we shot at an angle to it the front should be lower than the rear. So using the measuring tool and Rotate Canvas; arbitrary, I straighten the horizon. (Note there are other ways to get this done in later versions of Photoshop and in Lightroom)

While I am at it since I have to crop the image anyway I will crop in a bit to eliminate some of the periphery of the background.




 With our image now level and cropped at this point I will zoom into 100% and take care of any sensor spots that may be visible in the sky or other areas. Its best these are taken care of now and I use my Spot Healing Brush tool to fix those.

 Problem Areas 

Now it’s time to move on examining the image and see what areas may need work 


The first thing I wanted to tackle was the sky and the mountains in the background. Since this is a large area, I decided to use a Curves adjustment layer and mask it just to that area. In The curves box, I brought the highlight across a bit to lighten the highlights and then used my eye dropper to determine where the mountains were on the line and brought those down in levels. I then painted out the rest of the image in the layer mask so that this adjustment only affected the sky and bright mountains. Just to tweak those mountain ever so it more, I burned the shadows on them just a bit.








The rest of the work was just dodging and burning the problem areas. Keeping in mind that if we want to take down highlight you burn highlights you don’t add more shadow. Some times burning and dodging is not as intuitive as we want it to be so you need to work on the right segment. To bring out the wheels and headlights more, I set the dodge tool to Highlight and 10%.

 After all my dodging and burning I finished off the image with a sharpening layer using Nik Sharpening Pro 3.0 set to Display: Adaptive Sharpening and 60% 

Final Image 

Here is the final image as I see fit


You’ll probably notice these are not HUGE changes to our image but rather just the finishing details that make it the best it can be.



Our Advanced Shoot HDR + OCF 

Finishing our OCF image off was a very similar process so I don’t think I should bore you with that recap. The one thing that WAS very different was in the beginning stage when I was merging the files. As I said earlier there were areas that I needed to get rid of the Blinkie-Blackies (For an explanation of Blinkie- Blackies see this post). 

These occurred because we had some bright highlights in the 0 exposure from the Off Camera Lights. These didn’t occur in our +2 and -2 frames because the lights did not fire then (On purpose) so it caused a severe difference that the software didn’t know how to handle without some intervention by me 

So I selected the problem areas in the De-Ghosting section of Photomatix Pro 4.1 and selected the 0 image as the image to use to de-ghost.



After that, the workflow continued just as I did the other shot. Determine my problem areas and addressing them all as needed.

This is the final HDR + OCF image. (You may note a difference in the trucks color, this is because the color of the light was so different after twilight, I decided to keep that pink hue as that is what was there at the time. I am not a big fan over-correcting white balance to something that wasn’t there)




Now you may ask, couldn’t you have done the same without OCF? Not really because you have to remember one thing. This image was shot well past sunset. It was dark!… as I was reminded by the two packs of coyotes that started their twilight serenade…which led me to pack up and leave. But we never would have gotten the specular highlights on the trucks body without using some artificial light. 

Now of course we could have, as we did, just shot earlier when that light was there. But the mountains in the background would have had a totally different look as we can see. 

So I hope this help you to try and go out and shoot automobiles. Again you may want a totally different look to your HDR as many people do. So do what you want in Photomatix to get YOUR desired effect. But then take a moment to analyze that result and see where some touch up is needed. You don’t need to do my workflow or my adjustments but just understand it and what does what.


Here are a couple more shots from the night with varying degrees of success

Hope that helps,



Do I really need HDR?

Do I really need HDR?

Great question. I always tell people, if you don’t need HDR don’t use it. If you can capture an image correctly without it, do so. But that is the same advice I would give for any photographic tool or accessory. If you don’t need a polarizing filter? take it off, No need for fill flash? don’t use it. Don’t need Photoshop? Print your image SOOC. HDR is just another tool.

There are many ways to do without HDR. The time of day you shoot, and more importantly, your angle to the sun can take away any need to shoot with HDR. When the sun is setting turn your back to the sunset and shoot that way. In a lot of cases not only are you able to capture the dynamic range of a scene, you actually will be capturing something 10 times better than the sunset.

But what about the times when, with conventional photography, you wouldn’t even have attempted the shot because you knew, as good as it looks to your eyes, you are never going to be able to capture that as you saw it on camera. I think this is the perfect time to pull out the best tool for the job and get that image that previously was impossible. In some case that may just be a Graduated Neutral Density Filter. I use them all the time and I do like them and for when I am shooting the ocean they are perfect because of the straight line at the horizon.

But what happens when you have irregular shapes to deal with? A mountain range or, in the case to follow, architectural arches leading to a bright scene. A graduated neutral density filter is useless.

So lets examine this photo made using a 5 Exposure 1 – 1.5 Stop HDR ( Tone mapping: Strength 70, Saturation 70, High Smoothing ,-1.20 Gamma in Photomatix)

This image really portrays the scene as I saw it; Great clouds and blue skies, shadows & light coming through the arches. The back of the arches in the shade but still clearly visible to my eyes as is the tree on the right.

Now suppose we didn’t use HDR, what would the image look like? This is one of the exposure from the 5 I took that gets the most right.

It’s really not too bad, but the problems areas are: the tree to the right is definitely lost to the shadows and the biggest problem is those beautiful blue skies and puffy white clouds have lost all their detail.

So, we could using digital darkroom techniques try to bring some of that back

This was using a heavy dose of Shadows & Highlights in Photoshop

Well, this helped, it did bring back the tree into the image and got a little more detail back into the sky, but it couldn’t do much because there are parts of the clouds that were just completely blown out so there is no detail to recover. The other real problem is that it applied this adjustment globally to the whole image, so some areas that should have stayed in the shadows are now brought up into the mid-tones, making for a “flat” image. Yes we could have tried using a Layer Mask, but that can be a lot of work and time.

In this example I used some  Faux HDR “Lucis Effect”  to bring back some detail which it is quite good at but again,we still are not near where the HDR image is in overall balance and again it acted too globally.

Now what if we started with an image that got the clouds and skies right, could we have adjusted that?


This attempt really gave the worst results because you can see, the parts where there still was some detail are now full with ugly noise and again there are some areas that were just totally lost in the shadows wth no information to retrieve.

Now, maybe if I really worked long and hard in the digital darkroom I could have achieved better results  on a standard photograph. Lots of layer masks and adjustments, dodging, burning, sharpening, noise reduction. But do I really want to waste that much time in my studio working? Or…would I rather be out shooting, taking the less than a minute to shoot 5 frames and come back and process the image in a few minutes and have the best results. The answer is clear what I would choose.

Hope that helps!


Anatomy of a shot, HDR

I recently took this shot. 

 I like it, I like the drama and the light to it.  So let’s take it apart.

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Anatomy of a shot

I recently took this shot. 

 I like it, I like the drama and the light to it.  So let’s take it apart.

First off, the day I shot, I saw that it would be a gray stormy day with intense clouds. Something we don’t get often in my area but something I knew would add a lot to the shot and also be a perfect candidate for HDRI. Why? well the dynamics are so broad. When you have broken clouds where the sun comes through the dynamic range get pretty high. Also the area on the grounds gets some deep shadow. So knowing that this would be a high Dynamic range day, I knew it would be a great day to shoot.

The next thing I thought of was the water. I wanted to see a lot of drama and movement to the water itself. So how do we show movement in water? A high shutter speed? No, not really, a high shutter speed freezes the water so it tends to “stop” the motion not show it. Really what we want is to use a slow shutter speed. Now granted we are going to take at least three exposure so we know the one exposed for the shadows will be longer than the rest but will it really be slow enough?

To show motion we need at least a couple seconds long shot. Problem is there was still a lot of light. So even at f/22 and ISO 100 the 0 meter shot would be 1/10 of a second. Not even close. So, luckily the Canon5D will go to ISO 50, That gained me one stop of shutter speed. Then it was on to the Auxiliary Equipment. I put a .9 B & W Neutral Density filter on the Canon 17-40mm Lens. The .9 filter is good for 3 more stop of light.

So with that in place I now had a 0 exposure of  f/22 ISO 50 @ .6 seconds, a -2 exposure of 1/6th second and a +2 exposure of…2.5  Seconds. Finally enough to get some movement in the water.

With my camera mounted on a steady tripod, mirror lockup set in the custom function and a wired remote control I snapped off my 3 shots in AV mode Bracketing. Checked my histogram for all three and could see I banged the shadows and the highlight hard enough for a good HDR.

When I set up this shot I wanted just a bit of the sun that was below the clouds to show, just to give a hint of what was lighting the rock and the waves. I finished shooting some other scenes all the way to sunset, when the clouds broke quite a bit but still provided some other great shots as seen here.

Once I headed home I downloaded the images from my card to computer, organized and tagged them in Bridge and then selected what looked to be the best compositions to work on in Photomatix.

I selected the three images from above and merged them in Photomatix, aligning sources by matching features and reducing chromatic aberrations. I then went on to tone mapping them using the Detail Method. My settings were: Strength 75%. Saturation 70%, High Smoothing in light mode and then just a little negative 1.20 Gamma and that was it.

I processed and saved as a 16bit Tiff and brought the image into Photoshop for just some final touch-up. In photoshop I just; cloned out a couple sensor spots and then just set my density endpoints using curves and eyedroppers set to 5 shadows and 245 Highlights.  After that  just a little burning and dodging in a few areas just to touch up and I was done.

 A good successful days shoot even if I did get drenched at the end by a downpour. Luckily I had a big plastic bag that fit over my entire camera and lens and the top of the camera so no harm done even if I had wet feet.

HDRsoft Introduces Photomatix Pro 4.0

HDRsoft Updated their popular HDR software Photomatix Pro to version 4.0 on September 28th.

I haven’t had time yet to play with it and compare to previous versions but a quick glance shows to be what appears to be a better preview window along with some preset thumbnails, which I’m just not crazy about presets. And what is supposed to be better noise reduction in the image combining screen. I’ve got to give it a full run through and see all the goodies.

Of course they made some changes to the screens so now that made my HDR tutorial a little dated so I will have to update the tutorial a bit. But let me give it a workout first.

To update or to download Photomatix Pro Version 4.0 go to HDRsoft

HDR Lesson – How do I know if the scene is a good candidate for HDR?

How do I know if the scene is a good candidate for HDR?

This is a great question and one that is probably rarely asked. Not every scene in front of us is a good candidate and really if the Dynamic Range of the scene before us is not wider than the dynamic range of a standard image out of our cameras, we really shouldn’t use HDR. Not that you can’t but it really has no purpose and will in the end not look better.

So what is an easy way to determine if there is an excess of dynamic range that we need to switch over to using the HDR process?

 It’s generally accepted ( and argued) that the Human Eye is capable of  seeing a Dynamic range of about 24 f Stops (1 stop is the halving or doubling of light) But that is with the iris adjusting to the light. In one view, the eye is capable of about 10- 14 stops. In theory a high quality camera shot in RAW has a Dynamic range of about 11 stops, but in practice it is really closer to 6-8 stops. A print from that camera is capable of about 5 stops.

But the truth is, I’m not very good at science or math and I don’t want to be pulling out My Texas Instrument calculator or my slide rule and figuring this all out when I am shooting. In fact I really hate even having to think when I shoot. So what is an easy way to determine if the scene before you has enough dynamic range to make it worth the time to set-up and shoot an HDR Image?

We’ll use our meter

Take your camera and set it to manual exposure. Now set the metering mode to either spot or partial. These  are the most precise modes for measuring a small area of your viewfinder. Point your focus point (which also is your meter point) on the brightest area of the scene and adjust your exposure so that it registers +2 on your meter. Now move that meter point over the darkest area of the scene. If the meter hits or pegs past the -2 point, there is enough dynamic range to do an HDR. If your meter reads anywhere in between. There is no need to do an HDR.

Now let me give you one important note on here because I don’t want anyone looking into or pointing their camera directly at the sun and damaging either their eyes or their camera or BOTH!! . IF THE SUN IS IN THE FRAME OF THE IMAGE IMAGE, there is more then enough  Dynamic Range to shoot, Done, Game over, don’t even need to check.

Here are two examples so you can see what I mean from my backyard.

In this image, the light of the scene was very flat and really not much dynamic range. When I measured as above I only got about 1.5 f stops of change from the brightest area to the darkest

Metering for HDR

So this would not be a good candidate to shoot HDR.

But I still made one to show you, It doesn’t look better in fact it look flatter than the standard image above

HDR Poor Dynamic Range

Now the next morning, I had this scene in front of me as the sun rose.

Dynamic Range

As you can see the Dynamic Range is about 6 Stops ( It’s actually closer to 10 total but we won’t go there for now) and it really doesn’t make a good Standard Image at all. The sky is blown out and  shadow areas are too dark and into the noise floor of the image.

Here is a 5 shot HDR of the same scene, as you can see, this one was definitely a candidate for HDR and gave us more of what our eyes would see at that time of morning.

5 shot HDR

Hope that helps!


The State of the Art – HDR

The State of the Art – HDR

I hate HDR images! Whoa what? You have a website devoted to HDR images and you hate them? Yeah, well, kinda, I hate what has become the De facto standard for “That HDR Look”. Well hate is too powerful; I dislike them, for the most part.

HDR is a fairly new technology and whenever something new comes out people are not quite sure what to do with it. Let’s look back at another new technology that came out over 50 years ago. Stereo sound recordings. Before them everything was presented in Monophonic or just one speaker. Well we all know if we were listening to 4 musicians play, it would not sound like they were all playing from one spot. We might hear a guitar on our left, another on our right, the drums and the bass may be in the middle in front of us.

Then came stereo. Now the original purpose of stereo was to recreate more closely what it sounded like if we had musicians right in front of us playing and to recreate that soundstage. But because it was a new technology and there also was not enough other technology behind it to do it correctly, people didn’t know what to do with it and ended up doing things that really didn’t fit with the original purpose or mission.

Even the Beatles and their great producer George Martin didn’t quite know what to do. So some of their earliest attempts at Stereo put the instruments in one channel and the vocals on the other. Not really giving the effect at all that the musicians were playing in front of you. In fact George Martin hated the sound of these so much that many years later when he was remastering those albums for release on CD, he made them all in Monophonic because he knew that the stereo of that time was just wrong.

So what does this all have to do with HDR? I think the same thing has happened here. People don’t know what to do with HDRs and some things that aren’t really the original purpose or mission of HDR are become the standard for the “HDR look”.

So what is the original purpose or mission of HDR? Well, of course this is my opinion; we are trying to make a photograph that more closely resembles what we see in real life. And because the Dynamic Range of our eyes are much wider than a camera’s we can’t do that with conventional photographs, when photographing a scene that is wider than our camera is capable of capturing. Scenes that are not that wide in dynamic range are captured quite well using standard photography.

Here is an example of what I mean, it may be a little exaggerated but honestly it is not beyond what I have seen in HDR examples.


So I was there, I took the photograph. Is this what I saw? Did I see the deep dark gray scowly clouds? Did I see bright insets on the tower? Did I see haloing around areas of contrast around the buildings and trees? Did I see a mostly mid-toned scene or did I see one with full range from dark to light? Did it look CGI (Computer Generated Image)?

My answer would be no. But I still could get people to look at the above and go,”Coool!” because it was different and well what is expected from HDR these days.

However, I also had a lot of my photographer friends say to me when I told them I do HDR. “Oh, I hate HDR” I would reply, “Have you seen mine”, “No.”

Well here, look.

Good HDR

Most people would then say, I don’t like HDRs but I like yours. This example is more like what my eyes saw that day, White clouds, consistent tone to the building, no halo. Full range from dark to light. I’ve more closely recreated what I saw that day.

Is it perfect? Probably not. We really don’t have a great memory from things we see, our sense of smell is actually much better at remembering things. I also tend to go a little over on color saturation because the Buying public like it. Is that right? No, but I like making money too. So will I say is this  exact? No, but it’s close.

Now because I believe in art and artistry, let me say this: If the first image or one like it is your “Artistic Intent”. It’s what you intended, then I am all for it. Go do it! But if it is because you “thought” that was the way it should be. Because you saw other examples of HDR that looked like it by  even by some of the biggest proponents and originators of HDR . Or if you just didn’t know any better… then no, it’s not what the “State of the Art”  HDR should be.

Hello world! Welcome to the HDR Image

Hi everyone! Welcome to The HDR Image. High Dynamic Range as it should be.

Here I will show examples of my work in HDRI ( High Dynamic Range Imagery), show you some How To’s and talk about all things HDR. I hope you enjoy this and maybe learn a few things and most of all have fun with a new and exciting tool to add to your photography.

One note, If you came here to look for or discuss the science of this all you probably came to the wrong place. I’m not a scientist, nor a mathematician. I’m a photographer. Could I understand and follow a conversation about the it? Sure, but I don’t want to. It bores me to tears as it does many photographers that are more artist than technicians.

So even though there is a lot of technology to this, I’m not going into all the numbers and have people turn off and click off. It will be in the most simplest terms I know how to present and how most of my student like to learn.

If you are interested in the tech, I would point you to  Cambridge  in Colour Really a great read