Jonathan Fleming's Blog

A Photography Blog

Posts Tagged ‘post processing

HDR with Photomatix Pro

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Alright, I finally did it. I broke down and gave HDR a try (click image above for large version). Creating a HDR or high dynamic range image involves blending multiple exposures together in order to display detail in the final image that would otherwise be lost in a single exposure. Our eyes are capable of looking at a scene with bright highlights and dark shadows and still see an immense amount of detail. Cameras simply don’t have that kind of ability, which is why blending exposures is useful when a scene contains very bright and very dark elements at the same time.

I set my D300s to automatically bracket a series of photos for me at 1 stop increments, and here’s what I got out of the camera:

Notice that if the sky looks good, the beach looks too dark. Conversely, if the sand looks detailed, the sky is blown out. There’s simply too much range for the camera to pick up detail in all areas of the frame. Yes, I suppose I could have used a split neutral density filter to even things out, but the purpose of this shoot was to experiment with HDR.

Exposure blending used to be extremely difficult, requiring the use of multiple layers, masks, and a whole lot of brush strokes to manually bring out detail in the HDR image. Nowadays, it’s dead simple. Photoshop has a “merge to HDR” feature built-in, but it’s not quite as good as standalone software like Photomatix Pro, which I used to merge this HDR image. All I had to do was drag the four bracketed images above straight from Lightroom 3 Beta 2 into Photomatix Pro, specify a few parameters, and POOF! It spit out an HDR image. Of course, what you see at the top of this post is not what you get right after the merge in Photomatix. I still had to tone map the HDR, then export it as a standard image file back into Lightroom for post-processing before it looked satisfactory.

I’m pretty excited about how easy the process was. My goal was to try to convey the scene the way my own eyes saw it, and I have to say that the final result looks very close to what I experienced that evening. Overall, I’m glad that I decided to give HDR a try, and I look forward using this photographic tool again.

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Camera Specs: Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC at f/13 ISO200, various shutter speeds.

Why I Shoot RAW

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Just like any given subject on the planet, there are many varying opinions on the JPEG vs RAW issue. As for me, I shoot RAW. Ok, so I’ll shoot the occasional JPEG, perhaps when using my Canon S90. But other than that, it’s all about RAW for me. Why?

There are many advantages to shooting RAW, but let’s stick to one for this post. In the screen capture above, the color of the image on the right is very close to what came out of my camera when I took this shot. If I shot it in JPEG, the warmer white balance I chose on-camera would have been locked in, making this the only possible interpretation of the scene’s color. The ability to reinterpret a scene by selecting a different white balance later is one key reason I shoot RAW.

When I first took this photo, I was pretty happy with the way the warmer color looked when viewing image on the LCD of my camera. After uploading it to my computer and viewing it larger, I was still pretty happy with it. Upon giving it even further thought, however, I decided that the warm color didn’t really represent how I truly felt at the moment of capture, when I was actually there. And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? It’s very important for an artist to convey not just what a scene looks like, but what it felt like to actually be there, experiencing the scene.

So what was I feeling at the moment of capture here? A little bit of loneliness from strolling the streets of Kyoto very early in the morning for one. The cool spring air was chilling yet refreshing, and I was dazzled by the all the reflections on the ground that were caused by the light but steady rainfall that day. I decided to convey that feeling more effectively by turning down the white balance temperature (in LR3 beta), resulting in the cooler, bluer version of the image (above). If I had shot JPEG, I would have been stuck with the warm version. It would have still been a nice image, but again, I would have lost the ability to reinterpret the scene in a way that truly conveys my feelings.

Couldn’t I have just taken a second shot with a cooler white balance adjustment at the camera? Of course! But that idea didn’t really hit me until much later. Only after several times of coming back to this image and thinking about the scene did I finally decide that I wanted it to look different than I originally intended. Shooting the image in RAW allowed me to go through this longer thought process, and then make the desired changes to the image. Who knows, maybe I’ll want to change even more aspects of this image later, with newer, more powerful software that will inevitably be released as time goes on. RAW gives me that flexibility, JPEG doesn’t.

…and that’s one reason why I shoot RAW!

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Top Image: Screen grab from the develop module in Lightroom 3 Beta 2
Second Image: Nikon D300s + Tokina 50-135mm f/2.8 at 60mm f5.6 ISO400 1/125 second

Be sure to check the progress of my gallery of images from my last trip to Japan on flickr!