Category Archives: Stuck In Customs

Evolving HDR Techniques

I’d like to think that I’m not too old or set in my ways to learn new things.  Especially when it comes to photography.  Although I’ve been at it for quite awhile, I admit that  there’s a lot I don’t know.

I find this especially true when it comes to HDR.  When I first discovered it, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  The images were so detailed, and has such a huge range of color and contrast.  I knew this was something I wanted to learn.  Searching online led me to Trey Ratcliff’s website – Stuck in Customs.  Not only were his images beautiful and inspiring, but he was giving away his techniques!

More searching on the web led me to other folk’s HDR work.  Most of it was pretty grungy.  And, I have to admit that I kind of liked the grunge, especially when used on old cars or machinery.  That was when I was trying to come up with my own HDR workflow,  and got caught up in the grunge.

Time has passed, and I continue in my quest to produce very clean and less “overcooked” HDR images.  The old saying that “less is more” certainly seems to be true here.  Lately I’ve been revisiting some of my previous images, and in some cases cringing.  Some of my HDR attempts were really pretty lousy.

One of the smart things I started doing is to shoot just about everything in RAW.  This has allowed me to go back and work with the original image files, and being RAW, there’s so much more adjustment latitude available.  While Jpegs are ok, they aren’t as flexible as RAW files because they are preprocessed by the camera.  That’s one reason why Jpegs look better straight out of the camera compared to a RAW file.  RAW files are meant to be post processed!  Unfortunately, I also discovered that all of the images from my Sony NEX3 were set to Jpeg.  Oh well, that’ll teach me to pay more attention to detail!

As the title of this post suggests, my techniques are evolving.  I’ve gone back to basics and worked on single image RAW files (no HDR), just to make sure that I actually had something worthy of all the processing time.  After all, if I was making nothing but crap images and tried to make them masterpieces with HDR, I was wasting a lot of time.  One of the things I discovered by doing this was some of my images really didn’t need the HDR treatment, while others would benefit with a more subtle or restrained approach.

My point to all of this is to keep learning.  Keep refining your techniques whether it’s HDR or a more traditional approach.  There are a lot of great free resources out there, and I have shared them in previous posts.  I’ll mention one of them again – HDR One.  There’s a wealth of HDR knowledge on this site and it’s worth the investment of time.

To illustrate my point, I’m going to share some of my dirty laundry, before and after processed images.  Hopefully you’ll agree that the after images are improvements.  Don’t be bashful with your comments, I can take it!

Carson Peak

Above – Before.  Over processed, poorly processed.

Carson Peak, HDR

Above – After.  In addition to a more subtle HDR approach, this image was cropped slightly differently.

Silver Lake

Above –  Before.  I’m almost ashamed to share this one. It’s hideously overcooked.

Silver Lake, HDR

Above – After.  I think this one is much better.  While it retains its wonderful detail and contrast, the colors are more natural.

Hopefully I was able to help you see what I meant by evolving techniques.  For me, it seems that I’m never quite done with processing an image.  I’m reminded of this quote – “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” ~ Ansel Adams.

Don’t be afraid to revisit some of your pictures and apply new or refined techniques to them.  You may be surprised at what you get.

Until next time – Happy Shooting!

10 Helpful Photography Websites

I’m often asked where I learned about a particular technique or where I get my photography related information.  These are great questions, and I’ll try to answer them in this quick post.

For starters, I’ve been interested in photography as long as I can remember.  This is a lifelong passion (or vice)!  It all started when I received my 1st camera, a Kodak 110 Instamatic.  When I have an interest in something, I dig in and try to learn all I can about it.  Most of what I’ve learned is good old fashioned trail and error.  I’d read about something in a photography magazine and I’d go out and try it.  Lots of film processing and experimenting.  Somewhere in the middle of that, I completed the New York Photography Institute’s home study course.

Everything I mentioned above is pre-digital photography and pre-internet.  Now, in this digital world, all of the information you need is at your finger-tips!  The trick is to find it.  That’s where I’m hoping this post can help.  Some of these websites have specific information and others are more general in nature.  Some provide in-depth equipment reviews, while others are geared more to real hands-on use.  One thing for sure is that there’s a lot of knowledge floating around out there, you just have to look for it and apply it.  That’s doesn’t mean to copy someone else’s style exactly, but rather to tailor it to your needs and adapt your own style.  Here’s the list:

Ken Rockwell – Camera and equipment reviews, general photography information.

Steve’s Digicams – Digital camera reviews, news, photo contests.

Steve Huff Photo – Camera reviews, passion, inspiration.

DP Review – Camera and lens reviews, forums, articles.

Photography Talk –  Forums, photo sharing, reviews, tips, articles.

Stuck in Customs – HDR Photography (if you’re interested in HDR, start here).

HDR One – HDR Photography, articles, tutorials, downloadable magazine.

Adorama – Online Camera Superstore, great photography how-to videos!

B&H Photo – The Big Kid on the block!  Online camera super-superstore!

Photography Life – Articles, news, reviews.

That’s my shortlist.  There are many, many more out there waiting to be discovered (at least by me).  With so much information available, it can sometimes be overwhelming.  My bookmarked website list is very long, but the sites I listed above are those that I visit the most.

In addition to the websites that have photography information, there’s a lot to be gained by becoming active in forums.  Sharing your photos with others and looking at their work (both good and not so good) can be a tremendous learning experience.  One of the places I’m really starting to enjoy and use on a daily basis is Google+.

Google+ started out kind of slow.  It seemed to be a Facebook wanna-be, and I didn’t pay much attention to it.  That is until it introduced “Communities”.  The Communities feature is similar to Forums on other websites, where each Community is targeted to a specific subject (not just photography).  Where Google+ shines is the quality and layout of uploaded photos.  They just look better on Google+ (compared to Facebook).  I belong to several photography Communities including 3 for HDR photography and 1 for Black and White.  It’s something you’ll need to see for yourself.  Seeing the quality work of other photographers from around the world is very inspiring!

If you have any helpful photography websites, please share them!  It’s been said that no one of us is smarter than all of us, and I believe that.  If you have a website that will help others with their quest to become better photographers, please don’t be bashful!

Until next time – Happy Shooting!


Always Something to Learn (HDR).

There’s one thing about photography, and that is there’s always something to learn.  If you think you know it all, you’re just not trying anything new or different, or you’re in a rut.  I’ve been interested in photography for a long time, and it seems like there’s always something new.  Whether it’s a new piece of equipment, some new software, or a new post processing technique, there’s always something to learn and keep it interesting.

Now I’ve mentioned in previous posts the technique called HDR (High Dynamic Range).  The process involves the blending of 3 images of varying exposure and ending up with 1 image that not only has detail in the highlights, but in the shadows as well.  It allows the image to be much more real in terms of what the person experienced when they made it.  Your eyes (and brain) can process much more range of light and dark in a scene than your camera can.  That’s why when you look at a scene of a beautiful cloudy sky, trees, and a lake, you can see all of it.  Then you take a picture and are disappointed when the sky is blown out an you can’t see any of the clouds, and the trees near the lake are so dark there isn’t much detail.  This is the perfect time to try HDR.

You can find a lot of information on HDR.  One of the best places to start is Trey Ratcliff’s website:
Stuck in Customs

After dabbling in HDR for a little while now, I’ve been wanting to refine my technique.  But it seemed like I was always ending up with the same type of image, kind of edgy, maybe a little over done, and everyone once in a while I’d really nail one.  In my quest for more information, I found a great resource in an ebook.  I have a Nook Tablet and love to use it for reading so I started to search for photography books in general, and found “Improve Your HDR Photography” by Jim Harmer.  This book is only 138 pages, but gets right to it.  I found some very useful, very specific information on improving my HDR photography, just like the title says.  For less than 10 dollars this little ebook is a real winner.  You can see some of Jim’s work here:  Jim Harmer Photography

So, here’s what I have after reading the book.  This is a re-do of an image that I wasn’t really happy with from the 1st go round with HDR.  Here’s the before:

It’s ok, but I thought it could be better.  For my re-do I merged these 3 shots with Photomatix:
 Normal exposure.
Underexposed by 1 stop.
Overexposed by 1 stop.
All 3 were opened in Photomatix, blended, and tone-mapped.  After that, it was into Photoshop  for some final adjustments.  
The final product has more realistic colors and tones.  Compared to my 1st attempt, I think this version is more dramatic and true to what I actually experienced that wonderful evening.
That’s it, hope you liked this post!  See you next time!