HDR Is For Me

Thursday, July 22, 2010


I have recently been playing around with HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photography. I tried it a few times a while back using the HDR automation in Photoshop CS4, but had poor results that were to say the least, uninspiring. A month or so ago I did an assignment for a client that required me to do landscape photography. I scheduled the shoot for a window of what was supposed to be good weather. It was not as good as predicted. Dark overcast clouds with bright sun lit areas made exposures that captured the scene on full glory were difficult. When faced with this situation following the rule of thumb you expose for the highlights and let the shadows fall dark. But not any more. I shot a handful of the images with bracketed exposures thinking that I would use HDR to add some punch to the otherwise difficult lighting that I was faced with. To pull it all together since I had had unsatisfactory results with Photoshop alone I invested in Photomatix Pro, a dedicated HDR software. I was very pleased with the results.

So what exactly is HRD photography?

HDR is an acronym for High Dynamic Range. HDR photography is a digital photography post-processing technique that allows a greater dynamic range of luminances between the lightest and darkest areas of an image. What this means is that in a single image you can include a far greater range of values from the dark shadow areas to the bright highlight areas then can be captured by film or with digital cameras.  So much more in fact that you can actually capture a wider range of values than the human eye can see at any one time.

HDR accomplishes this by combining multiple images shot with different exposures each properly exposing for a different range of luminance or brightness within the subject; think bracketing. With computer software you can digitally combine these multiple exposures into a single image that includes properly exposed detail from dark shadow areas to bright highlights.

Take a look at the two images on the right.  The top one is a traditional single exposure shot using the best exposure I could for the scene. Notice the dark detail-less shadow areas on the right side of the canyon and the bright slightly overexposed highlights on the left side. In the second shot, made using HDR, five different frames, each shot with a different exposure are combined allowing you can see a much larger range of luminance throughout the scene.

I don’t want to get more technical than this in this post. My intent is not to write a whole lesson in HDR photography. There are a lot of great resources on the web that can explain it better than I can. I’ll list some at the end of this post. My intent here is to share my excitement for some of the images I have been creating lately using this technique.
View of Mt Sneffells (14,150ft.) and the San Juan Mountain Range from Dallas Divide, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado, USA

As we have entered our “monsoon” weather pattern here in the San Juans there have been a lot of great opportunities for photographing dramatic storm clouds and light. I made this image of Mt. Sneffells from the famous Dallas Divide.


Notice in this shot the bright sky and clouds hold detail as well as the dark areas of the wood on the shaded side of this old mining building in the ghost town of Ironton.


And I am really liking how HDR images convert to black and white.


As I said, I first tried this process in Photoshop CS4 with poor and discouraging results. After a lot of research I finally bought Photomatix Pro and am thrilled with the results.  The latest release of Photoshop CS5 is supposed to include a dramatic improvement in it’s HDR ability. I have not upgraded yet so I can not report on it. But I can say that in my research on HDR, Photomatix Pro seems to be the standard of excellence. I highly recommend it.

You can download Photomatix here. It costs $39  for the light version, and and $99 for the Pro. You may also download the full Pro version on an unlimited trial basis. It adds a watermark across the image however until you purchase the license.

Here are some resources I found on line that I found very helpful.

Trey Ratcliff’s blog, Stuck in Customs
Trey seems to specialize in HDR and creates some realy cool images. They are more to the extremely manipulated side for my taste, but still very cool stuff. He also has a really good introduction to HDR, the HDR workflow, and reviews for additional software that he uses to fine tune his images.

Introduction to HDR by John Paul Caponigro
This article that appears in Digital Photo Pro magazine by John Paul Caponigro is the best resource I have found for just straight out telling you what each adjustment slider in Photomatix Pro does.

And Don’t over look the Resources on High Dynamic Range photography links on the Photomatix web site.

The Photographer’s Ephemeris For iPhone

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Photographer’s Ephemeris is a great tool and it is now available for the iPhone or in my case the iTouch (I’m not an iPhone owner). I wrote about it back in April 2009 in my post presenting resources for calculating the sun and moon position. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is the creation of Stephen Trainor and I like it because it matches sun and moon, rise and set information for any location with a graphical interface generated by Google Maps. Best of all it is totally FREE! Stephen accepts donations however and I encourage you to donate and support this great tool.

Now, if you are on the go, you can get this information on your iPhone or iTouch. The mobile app is not free however. It will set you back $8.99 and is available here through the iTunes Store.

If you haven’t been to the Photographer’s Ephemeris web site lately, click on over there. Stephen has posted some video tutorials on how to use the program.  Watch these for a great demonstration of the true power of this program.

Pet Photography for Kids; Tips and Techniques

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Yesterday I taught fifteen 5 year old kids tips and techniques for taking better photographs of pets. We started off with a short classroom session in which we discussed tips and techniques. Then we met outside where the local Ridgway Second Chance Humane Society was kind enough to meet us with some of their volunteer staff and more cooperative dogs awaiting adoption. Some great personal stories were shared by the students. I learned a lot about the variety of pets out there, and the kids were very excited to get to do some hands on work photographing the dogs. 

Here are the highlights of what the kids learned and then got to put in to practice.

 Be Patient and Calm:
  • Pet photography requires a lot of patience. Your energy level will affect the animals so stay calm.

  • If you are patient enough, your pet will relax and you will have the opportunity to get a decent shot.

  • Animals are naturally uncooperative, so it’s up to you to anticipate the best moments to shoot pictures.  Work with your pets, not against them.

  • If you are longing for a formal pet portrait shot, try to schedule the photo session when you’re animal is somewhat sleepy or just woke up. It will be much easier to keep him still.

  • If you want a more dynamic shot, pick a time when your pet is energetic.
  • Photograph your pet in great light. In the case of animals, that’s almost always natural light, go outside.

  • Avoid direct sunlight, as it can alter natural coloring and increase the contrast between shadow and light, hiding some features. Look for a shady spot or choose a bright but overcast day.

  • The light next to a large window or open door or late day sunlight makes all animals look great.

  • Don’t use a flash, this can cause red-eye and distort the true coloring & shading of your pet.
  •  The exceptions are if your pet has a black coat, in which case a flash or bright sunlight can actually bring out shading and texture which may be lost in photos taken under other lighting conditions.
  • Keep your camera at the animal’s eye level. You want to avoid having all of your pet pictures taken from a human eye’s view, which is to say, looking down. Get down on your hands and knees if you have to.

  • When photographing a living creature, it’s almost always best to focus on the eyes. Make the eyes sharp. It’s where people look first.

  • Decide if you want a portrait of full body shot
  • Use a long lens. Zoom in. That will throw through the background out of focus, which is a way to give contrast between the background and your pet.

  • Look for simple backgrounds that will contrast against your pet. In other words, if you have a black dog look for a light colored background. If you have a white cat, look for a dark background. Spend time considering what the background will be

  • Eliminate distracting background items by composing to avoid them. Try shifting your position so that the background becomes less busy. If you notice a tricycle, basketball, or trashcan behind your pet, move. Use a distant shrub or plain grass instead.
  • Your pet is not a person; they do not understand they are having their photo taken. So be patient and don’t fight them.

  • Let them play with the camera…sniff it, put there nose in it…let them get comfortable.

  • Play with your pet. Keep your pet as comfortable and at ease as possible. Cameras can be distracting for some animals, so if you cannot get your pet to behave normally, try having someone else divert their attention and keep them engaged.

  • If your pet will not sit still, have someone hold them in position. If you are shooting a tight portrait, then hands and arms are easily cropped out of the frame.

  • Get close to your pet whether it’s a horse or a goldfish. Fill the frame with the animal you love and leave out all of that distracting other stuff like lawn furniture and telephones.

  • Take plenty of tightly cropped facial photographs with a zoom lens if possible, and have their face fill the frame while still in sharp focus. Try taking some three-quarter views as well as from the front. A slightly angled pose can sometimes make a beautiful portrait photograph.

  • A good idea is to have favorite treats or toys at the ready. Hold them up near the camera to catch (and hopefully hold) interest in the right direction. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to be silly. Try making funny and unusual noises or movements to get their attention.
Capture your pet’s personality:
  •  A successful picture is one that conveys the character of its subject. You know your pet better than anyone else. If you have a lazy cat, show him yawning, if your dog is of a playful type; show him in action performing his favorite trick.

  • Take a picture that reflects some characteristic, such as curiosity, goofiness, loving adoration, or confidence.

  • You do not have to include every inch of your pet, only the parts needed to express what you’re trying to capture.
If you have tips I didn’t include let me hear about them in the comments section below.