30 posts

HDR – How Many Images to Use

Bottom line:  There is no hard and fast rule.

HDR has been a part of photography, in one way or another, for over 100 years – since the 1880s.  But in our modern form of photography, it’s been around for about 10 years.  There are all kinds of thoughts and theories about HDR.  Some hate it, some love it.  Those who hate it typically don’t know a lot about it and are opining based on a very limited exposure to it.  Those who love it may do so because they like the surreal, grunge look that – still – is popular in some circles.  Others, rightly, view it as a tool among the many available to the photographer. Continue reading

HDR: To Bracket or Not to Bracket….

….. if that is the question then the answer is: Bracket.  At least if you want the best of what HDR can give you.

There’s still a belief in some circles that taking a single image, making multiple copies of it with adjusted exposure settings and tossing those ‘fake brackets’ into the HDR cooker will produce different and better results than just tonemapping a single image. Some also think it’s as good as shooting an in camera bracket. Let’s dispell an HDR myth, shall we? Continue reading

Lions and Tigers and Bit Depth….. Oh My

This will be just a quickie today. There’s a lot of confusion in digital photography circles about the terms Dynamic Range and Bit Depth and how they’re related. Some think that they’re completely interconnected. They’re not. It gets even more confusing when HDR is brought into the mix. Let’s try to clarify. Continue reading

Quick Overview of Photomatix 4.1

The folks at HDRSoft released a new version of their HDR software recently. As a beta tester for the software I got to see some of the new features during development and there’s some really good stuff in this update.

The first thing that’s evident is the speed. The speed increase was introduced with v4.0 a few months ago. PM has never been sluggish but the uptick in the new version is certainly welcomed. Continue reading

The ‘Forced’ Digital Upgrade – A Small Morning Rant

I’ve recently been a part of some discussions on commonalities between film and digital and film concepts that have carried over to digital. In particular, a discussion on whether HDR techniques could be used with scanned film (they can) and on whether Zone System concepts could be applied in digital photography (some can). Continue reading

Book Review – Practical HDRI, 2nd Ed by Jack Howard

I’ve had an interest in HDR photography for several years. It’s a wonderful innovation for the art of photography but I’ve felt that it could have some terrific application in commercial photography. And it has. An increasing number of photographers have been adding HDR to their arsenal; particularly in the architectural/real estate area. Continue reading

Organising your Photos

I had several questions during the workshop I taught last fall about organising photos. Not surprisingly, some of the attendees were having trouble finding particular images or in developing a good organisational structure for their photos. Some who’d been shooting only in low rez JPEG at the time had never moved their images off the memory card. They had literally hundreds of images sitting on the card. Continue reading

My Christmas Wishlist for Adobe

It’s that time of year. The time of snow and presents under the tree. A lump of coal for some of the more naughty. Christmas is the time for wishes. When we were kids, it seemed that magic happened on Christmas day and most of our wishes came true. The big ones at least. Now that we’re adults the wishes are different and more difficult to fulfill. But we wish nonetheless.

So here, in this little piece of the blogoshphere is my Christmas Wishlist for Adobe. I’m only going to cover the two products I use – Photoshop and Lightroom. But if you use others in the Adobe product family, toss your wishes into the comments.  Yes, there’s a lot of HDR stuff in here but, hey, I do HDR and the rest of Photoshop is pretty damn good after 20 years. Continue reading

HDR Tutorial

After completing the review series on various HDR software programs and talking about how well each could create realistic and grunge/surrealistic results, I figured it might be appropriate to put together a more in depth tutorial on how the results were obtained as well as some of my own, personal, approaches to shooting and editing for HDR.

The tutorial will concentrate on using Photomatix from HDRSoft but the techniques discussed for using PM apply to other HDR software programs as well. The names of the individual tonemapping operators may be different but the functionalities are much the same. Continue reading

HDR Software Review Pt XI – Nik HDR Efex Pro

Another new entrant into the HDR software field has been introduced by Nik Software. HDR Efex Pro is the newest in a series of plugins from Nik. The software installs the tonemapping plugin as well as a merge script so you can do both the merging and tonemapping. Nik’s 32 bit flavour is EXR (as opposed to Radiance HDR).

I’ll state upfront that I don’t own any Nik products (I’m using the trial version for this review). I, personally, feel the products are overpriced for what you get and I’m not a fan of ‘canned’ or ‘recipe’ based solutions. I know you can make adjustments after choosing a preset, but I still prefer a more DIY approach. I also know that Nik has a lot of users and a lot of fans and that’s fine. I’m just stating my viewpoint.

To start merging a set of files the command path is File>Automate>Merge to HDR Efex Pro. Very similar to the path for merging to Photoshop’s HDR Pro so there’s some familiarity here for those already using HDR Pro. A dialogue box opens where you choose your source files, choose whether you want to use alignment and deghosting. There are two types of deghosting and three possible strengths for each type. According to Nik, the Adaptive deghosting is best used for things like leaves/branches and the Global deghosting is best used for larger elements that move more through the scene like people or cars. We’ll see how these work later.  You can also choose to open the resulting file as a Smart Object. Continue reading

Advanced HDR Editing – Tutorial

When we’re working with tonemapped HDR images, sometimes additional editing is needed or desired.  Why?  Well, if we look at HDR as a way to expand dynamic range and as a way to give us a better starting point; rather than looking at HDR as an endpoint, then it makes sense that additional tweaking may be something we want to do.  In addition to that, the HDR process can sometimes do funny things with colours that we don’t want.  I wrote about HDR being a starting point in an earlier blog post,“The Great HDR Debate” .

What we’re going to look at in this tutorial are a couple methods to work with tonemapped HDR images to give us a the final image we want.  One approach is going to involve layer masks and the other is going to use layer blending modes.  The layer mask adjustment is going to build on my earlier layer mask tutorial.

Earlier this summer I shot some interiors of a well known cathedral in Toronto – St. Michael’s Catholic Cathedral.  My intent when I went into the church was to build on the ‘artistic architectural’ project.  It’s a terrific space with wonderful stained glass and architectural features.  The painting on the ceiling is magnificent. Continue reading

Photoimpressionism – Tutorial

Creating impressionistic images is something I find very satisfying and enjoyable about photography. There are several ways to create these types of images to generate a painterly, artistic result.

The making of impressionistic photos can be done with multiple exposures or with a single exposure and with either a film or digital camera. The guideline that follows will show how to do it both with film and digital as well as with both multiple and single exposures.


If you’re using an automatic film camera, it has to have a multiple exposure feature built into it. All of Canon’s EOS SLRs have this feature. Other camera manufacturers included it in some of their models but not all. In some models you can only make 2 shots on the same film frame but in other models you can do up to 9. Canon’s EOS SLRs allow up to 9 – but you can do more and I’ll explain how below. Continue reading

HDR Timelapse – Tutorial

This is a follow up to the previous intro to timelapse photography and will discuss using HDR images as the input. I started a group on Vimeo for HDR timelapse and there’s some absolutely stunning work in the collection from some truly talented artists. I’d suggest checking out if you’re looking for some creative inspiration.  HDR timelapse is a very cool sub-genre of timelapse that I was first introduced to a little over a year ago by Walter Arnold of The Digital Mirage.  I haven’t decided yet whether to thank him or curse him for it.  😉  I would really like to see him do some more of this kind of thing though because the clips I saw that got me interested in the technique were very good.

HDR timelapse isn’t any different from regular timelapse once the shooting and HDR merging/tonemapping is done. Where it ups the complexity level is in the shooting. In addition the regular intervalometer, you need an interval timer that will combine with bracketing to get your input images for HDR merging. Shooting Nikon, I’m fortunate that some Nikons have that functionality built in. Other camera makers don’t and getting it can be a bit tricky. The Promote Control mentioned in the previous tutorial will allow you to combine the two. If you’re a Nikon or Canon shooter, Chris Breeze of Breezebrowser fame has developed some software for shooting tethered to a laptop that allows you to combine interval timing and bracketing. The downside is, of course, that you have to be tethered which limits the usefulness of the application in some situations. Canon’s EOS Utility doesn’t offer the combined functionality, nor does shooting tethered via Lightroom v3.x. It’d be very cool if a smartphone app could be developed that would allow you to control the camera via an iPhone or Blackberry (or other smartphone) but still capture to the onboard memory card (sometimes I really do wish I could do programming…… well, no, not really).  When I used to shoot Canon I tried a couple third party intervalometers and while I could get them to combine with in camera AEB, it was kludgy at best.  Some of them top out at 99 shots before having to be reset so if you’re doing a 3 shot bracket, you only get 33 brackets before having to stop to reset the intervalometer.  I don’t believe something like the Canon TC 80N3 can be used to combined interval timing and AEB. Continue reading

HDR Software Review Series Pt X – Picturenaut

This is the last instalment in the series of HDR software reviews. If a new application comes along in the future, I may add it to the set and I’m in the process of looking at some new beta versions of a couple previous applications so will likely update those reviews in the future with new information; but for all intents and purposes this is it. What started out as a list of about 5 applications has grown to a 10 part series. From a purely personal standpoint, if I never see the images that have been used in all these reviews again it’ll be too soon. 😀 I hope the thoughts I’ve laid out have been useful for some people and perhaps given some insight from the standpoint of a casual user.

This last instalment will look at Picturenaut. I was initially reluctant to include it because unlike all the other applications in the series, Picturenaut isn’t a commercial product. My feeling is that if someone’s offering a piece of software for sale, it’s open to be reviewed and critiqued but if someone’s offering up a piece of software for free it’s a different matter.

Picturenaut can be downloaded from the HDRLabs website which, as many of you probably know, is owned and maintained by Christian Bloch. Christian is well known in HDR circles and is the author of The HDRI Handbook which is highly recommended as one of the two seminal reads for users of HDR both new and advanced along with Practical HDRI. Continue reading

Creating Timelapse Videos – Tutorial

I’m likely to slowly migrate most of what’s on my main website to the WordPress format and figured I’d start with this tutorial rather than putting it over there.

I’ve been doing a fair bit of timelapse shooting of late and have had some questions about the process so thought I’d put together a short tutorial. This isn’t going to go into extensive depth on video editing as that’s really beyond the scope of what I’m wanting to outline here.

Timelapse is the opposite of high speed photography. In high speed photography, you capture images at a very fast frame rate and when played back at a normal frame rate, the action appears slowed down. In timelapse, you’re effectively lapsing time or skipping time. You capture at a slower frame rate and when played back at a normal rate, action appears sped up. If you’ve seen, for example, a video of the progression of a flower bud coming into bloom, that’s timelapse. Continue reading

HDR Software Review Series Pt VIII – Preview of Oloneo Photo Engine

I received an email from the folks behind Photo Engine a few weeks ago telling me they were going to be launching a new software package that did HDR and a whole lot more and asking if I’d be interested in being part of the beta group. Sure, I said.

I’ve been playing with the software now for a couple weeks. What follows is essentially a review like others in the series but keep in mind that things could change since this is only the first beta of the program.

I’ll say upfront that Photo Engine is a very complex piece of software. It takes a bit of time to get a feel for it. There’s some terrifically complex coding in the background related to the HDR Relight feature to be sure. In general, while what I’ve seen so far is looking like it’s going to be a very good program, there some complexities and features that are superfluous and attention could have been paid elsewhere. More on that as we progress.  I also think that some of what’s in this software is geared toward CG artists and may not be a lot of use to photographers.

There’s a particular feature of Photo Engine that I haven’t tried yet and that won’t be covered in this preview.  It’s the HDR Relight feature.  I’ll state upfront that I’m a bit skeptical as to the applicability of this for photographers – it may be one of those aspects of the software that CG artists will use more – but will keep an open mind and reserve final judgement till I’ve had the chance to try it out. Continue reading

HDR Software Review Series Pt VII – HDR Darkroom

HDR Darkroom is another relative newcomer to the HDR software scene. I say relative newcomer because it came to market after many of the well known apps like Photomatix, Dynamic Photo HDR and FDRTools.  I only became aware of it in the last couple months and decided to add it to the growing list of software apps in this series.

I should state upfront that after sending some questions to the folks who produce HDR Darkroom, they’ve provided me with a full version (sans watermark) and in return, I’m going to provide them with some samples to use on their web gallery at no cost.

Unlike many of the other applications coming out on the market, HDRDR is ‘just’ an HDR application.  It’s not trying to be all things to all people, which is a plus in my book.  They’re concentrating on one thing with HDRDR and concentrating on doing it well.  32 bit files can be saved either as Radiance (.hdr) or OpenEXR (.exr).  When saving JPEG files, there are no quality options.  The file is saved at full size and full quality.  Personally, I prefer this.

On opening the program, the GUI is clean and simple with a menu bar at the top and menu icons down the left.  This allows you to use whatever method you’re comfortable with to work.  Positioning your mouse over an icon brings up a description of what it is so you’re not working blind if you use the icons. Continue reading