Category Archives: Photomatix

Timing Is Everything

Have you ever wondered why photos of the same place can look so different?  Maybe you’ve seen some stunning photos of a place you’d like to visit while browsing a magazine or online.  Once you’re there and taking some photos of your own, you notice that they seem kind of blah.  Keep reading, maybe I can help.

Like the title of this post suggests, timing is everything!  One of the biggest differences between your blah photo and one from someone else that is drop dead gorgeous is the quality of light.  What does that mean?  For me it has always been referred to as the golden hour.  This usually refers to the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset.  The sun is low in the sky and the light can take on a rich, golden tone.  Of course this depends on where you are and what season you’re in.

Once the sun starts climbing, the light becomes more harsh and contrast increases.  That once beautiful scene can turn into something much less appealing (photographically speaking).  The dynamic range (the difference in light between the highlights and shadows) increases beyond the cameras ability to capture it.  You end up having to choose which one to base your exposure on, leaving you with either blown out highlights or black shadows with no detail.

One of the ways to continue photographing a scene when the sun starts to climb is to employ HDR (High Dynamic Range).  Typically you would make 3 exposures of the same scene (camera on a tripod is best), and merge them in post processing software like Photomatix.  HDR can help you create some wonderful mid-day shots that were at one time very difficult.  Some restraint is necessary to keep your image from taking on a cartoonish appearance.

That’s enough about HDR.  I’ve talked about it quite a bit in previous posts and you can look in my archives if you want to read more.  A google search will also take you to some very knowledgable folks with a lot of info on the subject.

Getting back to timing, there’s really nothing quite like capturing a scene early in the morning.  The air is fresh and clean, and the sun starts to paint everything in rich golden light.  Sounds wonderful doesn’t it?  Unfortunately it doesn’t always work out this way.  There are times when the sun just seems to pop up and the golden hour turns into the golden minute.  I’m sure there are some very good technical reasons for this, but I won’t try to guess as to what they are.  When this happens, I try to make the best of it.  There are times when the magic just isn’t going to happen and there’s nothing you can do about it but enjoy the rest of the day.

Luckily there’s one more chance in the day to try again.  Just because the light wasn’t great in the morning doesn’t mean it won’t be fantastic in the evening!  Conditions change, and you need to adapt.  Keep an eye on the sky and get ready.  Sometimes all it takes are a few clouds to turn a blank, boring sky into a breathing taking sunset!

Keep in mind the time that the golden hour happens is related to where you are.  If you are up in the mountains it’s going to be later than if you are on the flat land.  The sun has to get high enough to get over the mountain peaks.  It can also happen that sunrise may not be the best time for golden hour photos as sunset.  It can help you choose the best time for photos by doing some research.

The whole point of this post is to help you increase your odds of capturing that knock out photo.  I’m not saying that you can’t get some great mid-day shots, it can just be more difficult.  There are certainly many photographers that buck the odds and post some truly fantastic mid-day shots.  I’m trying to point out that you stand a better chance of hitting that home run by working with the golden hour light.

Here are some examples.  These are all from one of my favorite places for photography, Morro Bay.

I hope the examples above give you an idea of what I’m trying to describe.  There are a couple of photos that are blah, at least to my eyes.  There are also a few that really seem to work.  How do I know?  Hundreds of hits on various photo sharing websites!  It pleases me that other people/photographers also enjoy some of my work.  It motivates me to get out of bed and get out there to make more!

That’s it for this post.  Remember, timing is everything!
Until next time – Happy Shooting!

Before and After

Before and After

It’s been too long since my last post!  Starting a new position (same Company) and the time change, and-and-and….  The extra time has allowed me to think this post through and hopefully it will help those interested in HDR.

The images above are of the same old truck, they were just processed differently and at different times.  The photo was taken at Bodie, a Ghost Town in California.  The only changes to the original below was to convert it from RAW to Jpeg and resizing.

Old Truck, Original, Sony NEX3

Overall, it’s not bad!  I used my Sony NEX3 for this and I think it handled the overhead harsh light quite nicely.  The settings I used were Aperture Priority, f/5.0, 1/500 sec., ISO 200.  I exaggerated the angle of the truck to give it a low to high perspective and a unique non-traditional point of view.

At the time I made this image, I was just getting interested in HDR photography, but didn’t really know much about it.  My thoughts were to make things as “grungy” as possible.  So, I really worked this old truck.  Since this was a single RAW file, I need to use it as a base to create the extra exposures needed for processing (Pseudo HDR).  It’s actually pretty easy to do, using programs such as Adobe’s Camera RAW or Lightroom (or several others).  Below is a screenshot of the Old Truck in Camera RAW:

Old Truck in Camera RAW

As you can see in the image above, there are quite a few adjustments you can make prior to exporting the image to your photo editor (Photoshop in my case).  The most important one to the Pseudo HDR process is the “Exposure” slider.  The exposure is currently “0”, meaning this is exactly as it was recorded in the camera.  The beauty of using RAW is being able to make adjustments to previous camera settings.  The RAW file could be considered a Digital Negative.  Click on this link to read more about RAW files.

Change the exposure in any increment you’d like + or – up to 2 stops, saving each increment as another image file.  I like to use Tiff files at this stage of the game.  You can create as many as you’d like, but for me I usually do them 1 stop apart both + and -, with 5 total images to work with.

Next, import all of your images into Photomatix or your favorite HDR processing program.  Below is a screenshot of the images merged for tone mapping in Photomatix:

Tone Mapping in Photomatix

If you compare the original RAW image to the one being tone mapped in Photomatix, you’ll already notice improvements in color, clarity, and shadow detail.  And another area of improvement is the white puffy clouds.  They seem to have more pronounced detail without being over done.

Another thing to notice in the Photomatix screen shot are all of the adjustment slider on the left and some of the presets on the right.  This is where you can either keep it real or in some cases, over-cook an image.  Since this isn’t a tutorial on using Photomatix, I’ll keep it short and say that I now stay away from the presets, and simply adjust the sliders until I get close to what I’m looking for.  Once the tone mapping process is done, you can save your newly merged and tone mapped image and bring it into your favorite photo editor for some final tweaks.

The image below is what the truck looked like after some heavy handed Photoshop adjustments:

Old Truck in Photoshop

Is there anything really wrong with this version of the Old Truck?  No, not really.  It boils down to personal taste.  While I was pleased with it at the time, I’m no longer interested in over doing the HDR, preferring instead to keep things somewhat real.

Here’s a short run-down of my “keeping it real” process.  I imported a version of the Old Truck into Photoshop that had some of the original features I wanted to retain, in this case it would be the sky.

Next, I copied that image, and pasted it into my work-in-progress as another layer.  Finally, I added a layer mask, picked a paint brush from the tools and painted away the parts of the image I wanted to keep the HDR look and left out the parts I wanted to keep real.  Here’s a screenshot of what that looked like in Photoshop:

Old Truck, Layers and Masks

There are already a lot of great tutorials on-line so I’m not going to go into specific detail.      If you like to actually see someone demonstrating this technique, I suggest going to Youtube and doing a search.  You’ll find more short videos on this subject than you may care to watch.

The main thing to know about using layers and masks is that you have the ability to blend in any part of one image with any other part of a separate image.  The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

And finally, here’s my newly re-processed version of the Old Truck:

Old Truck, Final version

Personally, I like this version much more than my original attempt.  It has both HDR elements that add some great texture and detail in the shadow areas, and just a touch of grunge without over doing it.  The other thing I like is the sky.  It’s much more real than my 1st version.  The clouds are puffy and slightly dreamy looking, not harsh and over done.

That’s it for this post!  Don’t be bashful, share your thoughts, questions, or comments.

Until next time, Happy Shooting!

To HDR or Not HDR…

As many of you know, I’ve really gotten the HDR bug.  But there are times when I wonder if I’ve overcooked an image.  Today was one of those times.  Here’s what I’m talking about.

Silver Lake, HDR

Above – HDR image of Silver Lake, taken with my Sony NEX3, processed in Photomatix and Photoshop CS6.

After I finished processing the image above, I posted it on my Facebook page, and then to Google +.  The reception was ok.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell if people are just being polite or they really like what’s posted.  The reason I’m bringing this up is because I personally wasn’t thrilled with this shot.  It’s hard to put my finger on it, but it just seems a little too realistic.  Everything is sharp, contrasty, and vivid.  Doesn’t it seem strange that I think it could be better without the HDR effects?

Back to the drawing board!  Here’s the original image:

Silver Lake, original ooc image

Above – Original image, out of the camera except for resizing and watermark, from my Sony NEX3.

As you can see, the original image leaves a lot to be desired.  The lighting is flat and uninteresting.  There’s also not a lot of contrast or sharpness, but some of this is due to the way I have the camera set.  I typically use minimal in-camera enhancements, preferring to make the adjustments on the computer (my personal preference).

Just in case you’re wondering, the settings on my NEX3 are:

  • f/5.0
  • 1/30th second
  • ISO 250
  • Auto White Balance

Instead of running multiple images (with different exposures) through Photomatix for HDR processing, I brought the original image into Photoshop CS6 and adjusted the contrast, sharpness, color saturation, and gave it a subtle vignette.  Here’s the result:

Silver Lake, Non-HDR

Above – single image from Sony NEX3, processed in Photoshop CS6, non-HDR.

I really think the image above is better than the HDR version at the top of this post.  The differences are subtle, but enough to change the feeling I get when I look at it.  The non-HDR version seems to better reflect my memory of that warm, beautiful morning when I was out for one of my many walks along the lake’s shoreline (with my 2 Cairn Terriers of course).

That’s it for now, until next time – Happy Shooting!