A Foray into HDR

Like everything else, there is excellent  HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photography and there is horrible HDR Photography.    I have several contacts on flickr who are absolute masters at it.  Their images leave me positively awestruck.   But a lot of  the HDR  I see on flickr and elsewhere on the net is simply not my cup of tea.  The color is often flat, like the colored Sunday Comic Pages.  It’s dull and frankly it just doesn’t look real.   I suppose that’s the idea.   As they say in Maine, “whatever floats your boat”!   I had never dabbled in HDR.  For one thing,  the magazines I freelance for now and then will not accept HDR or composite images.  It’s single shot 300dpi or forget about it.  And the floral concerns I regularly shoot for want natural looking prints.  Their preference is high gloss.

After  walking into one of the most light challenging situations I have ever encountered in more than 40 years of photography,  I found myself downloading a trial version of  Photomatix Pro,  one of the more popular and user friendly HDR Software Programs on the market.    It was either that or go spend an awful lot of hard earned bucks for some high tech lighting gear which I would  seldom have use for.  The problem was a dark church with a huge, very bright,  circular plain glass window right behind the alter.  I was trying to take a wide shot from the rear of the almost pitch dark sanctuary so as to capture two very large set piece arrangements behind the alter on either side of this window.  After working for hours in Photoshop Elements 10, I managed to come up with a decent shot.   It was that experience which sent me to Photomatix Pro.  My first actual use of it was this morning.  I waited until the sun was just starting to blast into our our otherwise dark great room just after 5 am.   I took five shots with a Nikon D700.  Exposures were -4, -3, -0-, +3 and +4.  This is the result:


The Photomatix watermark is there because this is a free trial version.  It’s not a shot I would write home about but I figure it wasn’t bad for a first go at it.  It certainly fixed the almost blinding light coming through the foyer (to the right) that was blowing everything out.  It did a very nice job of reproducing the colors in the artwork my wife and I have in our house  (My sister and my father were both artists)   I’ll do more trial runs with the trial software to polish up my technique but I’m pretty confident that the next time I run into another one of those shots from hell,  I’ll have something in my hip pocket  to  bail me out of a tight spot.  I’d say Photomatix is about to get another new customer.  Peace, Love and Soul everybody…Thanks for the look and the read and….have a Great Weekend.

Sunrise Semester

Every morning I go through pretty much the same ritual.   After splashing some cold water in my face and pulling on some clothes,  I  head for the kitchen to give Henry Morgan something to eat.  Henry is my Cat.   And every morning, I tell myself, there’s no point to go out to the field to shoot another sunrise.  After all, I must have a bazillion sunrise shots salted away.  What on earth is the point of taking another!  But by the time I’ve fillled Henry’s water bowl,    I’ve decided I just can’t afford to miss it.  Jacket on, Camera around my neck,   I head out.   I usually start the quarter mile trek to the fields maybe 15 minutes before sunrise.  That gives me maybe five minutes to get in position for the big show.

There’s have been a few times I’ve regretted it but I suspect I could count those on one hand.  And mind you, I’ve been shooting sunrises for years.   Sure, quite a few lack a lot of drama.  That’s usually the case when the sky is crystal clear.  No clouds translates into a rather bland sunrise.  But even on those days, the predawn light is worth a picture or two.

But let me tell you…..when there are a few clouds or a front is moving in off the ocean, the results can be, well….breathtaking.

Lots of folks have asked about camera settings.  I shoot in Manual mode and in the predawn hours I always start out  at f3.5, 1/60th of a second with an exposure compensation of  minus one or 1.3.   I suppose it varies, but for me anyway,  1/60th is my limit for hand held shots with a VR (Vibration Reduction)  Lens.   Below that, I have to go to the tripod.  I have  a SLIK Pro DX 500.  Solid as a Rock.   Couple of other things,  Very seldom do I ever mess with the ISO and I almost always leave metering on Spot Metering.    Never meter the sun or the brightest part of the dawn.  Experiment around the sky and tweak your settings until you get the light you want.  That’s the beauty of digital photography.  No film to waste.    I seldom use filters but every once in a while, particularly in the summer months,  I’ll use a polarizer.  More often, a graduated Neutral Density filter so as to balance out the sky with the foreground when the foreground matters to me.  Often it doesn‘t.

I’ve gotten emails from visitors to my flickr site wanting to know how much I jack up the saturation in my sunrise shots?   All of my Cameras are Nikons and every one is set on Vivid Color from the get go so if anything, I may de-saturate an image.  I can’t remember ever increasing saturation.    Everything is shot in RAW  and all my shots are converted to tif images in photoshop elements, probably the cheapest, really good platform around for RAW conversion.  And another frequent question,   Do I do HDR?  Answer, Never.   I appreciate a good hdr shot as much as anyone, but its not my thing.

If you never get up before sunrise, do yourself a favor.  Do it one morning and take your camera with you.  it’s a powerful motivator to become an early riser.    See you soon on the next blog, or out in the field. Probably tomorrow morning.