HDR Organ Mountains

The above shot was taken in 2008 in Las Cruces, NM.  It was an overcast, windy day, with great big gray clouds rolling in over the mountains threatening their wrath.  I took bracketed shots all over the place, hoping to do this "HDR" thing I had heard about.   I made some weak attempts at in-photoshop HDR at the time, and remember being disappointed.

I have learned a thing or two about HDR since then.  HDR stands for "High Dynamic Range."  It basically refers to an image with way more color and light information than your computer monitor can display.

HDR is an attempt to fix a problem that plagues all photography.  The photographic sensor is never as good as the human eye/brain.  A person can look at the scene above and see the mountains, the sky and the foreground flowers with the same clarity.  A camera is not that good and usually you would have to choose what you wanted correctly exposed: the mountain, the clouds or the flowers.

With HDR, you can (theoretically) have your cake and eat it too.  A lot of times this is done by bracketing in camera and actually taking 3 images at different exposures.  Then these images are combined into an HDR image which has way more color information than your monitor can display, and you use software (I used Photomatix) to create an image that (hopefully) has everything correctly exposed.

I won't get into technical details, since I'm far from an expert (and maybe I will post a how-to in the future).  I created this HDR with one shot (instead of the usual 3 or 5).  Since it was RAW, I was able to create my -2, 0 and +2 exposures (exported as JPEGs) off the one image.  In Photomatix I played with it until it looked close enough and then exported the Photomatix tone mapped image and the 3 exposures to Photoshop as layers.  The sky was a bit neon so I used a layer mask to mask through the HDR layer to tone it down.  My original shot had blown highlights in the clouds, so no matter what I did could bring some of the cloud texture back.

The key with HDR is realizing that it is not a magic bullet for photography.  It is just a way to capture multiple exposure settings in one image. Great for landscapes on a cloudy day, indoor shots with bright windows, or anywhere else where you want to retain details in the shadows and highlights.

The Sky Makes the Desert

HDR Image of a beautiful New Mexican sky

This is my first attempt at serious HDR.  I bit the bullet and bought a licencse for Photomatix Lite.  Photoshop CS3 has some tone-mapping options for HDR photos, but Photomatix blows CS3 out of the water in that department, and while CS5 is supposedly much better, I'd rather spend $40 than $400, at least for now.

The above image is pretty much out-of-the-box from Photomatix Pro.  I had taken 3 bracketed exposures of the desert sky behind my house in New Mexico a couple years ago (makes you wonder why I left, huh?).

If you aren't familiar with HDR (High Dynamic Range), it's basically a way of taking multiple exposures of the same scene and combining them to make a very realistic looking image.  I'm not nearly as good at explaining things as wikipedia, so I will direct you there if you are really interested.

I just set my camera to Auto Exposure Bracket at +2/-2, and probably shot this hand-held.  The subject is far enough away that any movement I made can be "fixed" with image alignment.  Most of the time you'd want a tripod to do it "right".

These are the exposures straight from the camera.  You can tell each one has different levels of detail for different parts of the sky or the ground.


There are countless examples of HDR "gone wrong", but I think good HDR is one that brings out the image as it would look if you were actually there.  And I think this particular image does that pretty well.

Spring Twenty Ten

With the vinegar comes the sugar, and in Champaign, that means that with the bitter Winter comes the Spring. And Spring has come, in a big way.

As one is apt to do, when the sun fights back the bitter cold, and the grass, birds and flowers come to life, I went outside. Actually: my wife, my dogs and I went outside. We went to Crystal Lake park in Urbana. Of course I had to bust out my camera, and Christina had to put up with me spending 10 minutes at a time peering at tiny flowers through my lens while she wandered off with Thor and Cleo.

Similar to my Fall Panorama I posted last year, I made a panorama of one of the better views of the park. I used Photoshop's built in "Photo Merge" feature, and I love it! I need to remember to use it more often, now that I have a machine that can do one in less than a bazillion hours. Click it for bigness!

A Spring panorama that feebly tries to convey the warmth and calmness of a spring day in Champaign.

And because I'm all about close-up, depth of focus effects, here is a shot of some tiny pansies that were growing in the grass. I love this shot, because it feels like it could be a background for Alice in Wonderland or something. Foolishly I was shooting at ISO 400, so it's a tad grainy. Oh well.

An army of tiny purple pansies

My new 50mm did not monopolize the shoot, though! I did catch a shot of this sunbathing goose using my long angle lens. I've heard that geese are mean, and I didn't want to test my luck with this one. I tried to bring out the warmth of the sun from the late afternoon.

A goose, catching some warm rays

And, finally, I tried another HDR shot. It's hard to do them anyway, let alone hand-held, and I think I kind of succeeded. Basically this shot was tricky because the bridge was under shade, and the clearing was bright. So I had to use two exposures, one with the bridge properly exposed, and one with the clearing properly exposed. Then I brought out the color and bumped up the contrast. I kinda like it

A lonely wooden bridge leading to a bright green clearing

By the way, so far i'm keeping up with my three shooting-sessions a week plan. I will post two more blog entries later in the week. COMMENT!