Archive for the ‘HDR Expose’ Category

Limmer’s Workbench   9 comments

Limmer's Workbench


The main workbench at Limmer & Sons Custom Boots in Intervale, New Hampshire.

You might recall this location from other images, “The Bootmaker”, “They Never Call”, and “Consigned”, among others. Let’s suggest that it’s a target-rich environment for an HDR photographer.

When talking to Pete Limmer last fall, he had mentioned that some of those earlier pictures were “very detailed.” I never really found out if that was a good thing, or not, but for this image I thought I’d hedge my bets by presenting a more realistic, less ‘hyper’ image. In fact, I had processed this scene some time ago and kept it on file, but when I opened it up for review, it was sort of an assault on the eyes. So, I reprocessed it completely to come up with this version.

I’m planning to create a new video tutorial soon, titled something like, “Why Photomatix Pro alone isn’t enough.” Often, when trying to come up with a realistic-looking HDR image, Photomatix falls short for me — I find that the output can often be soft. Other programs such as HDR Expose (from Unified Color) or ImageFuser tend to be better choices, although I almost always wind up blending in some Photomatix versions before doing more detailed processing. For this version, I started with the output from HDR Expose, adjusted it using 32-Float, and then layered in a Photomatix tonemap at 24% Normal and a Shadowmap at 22% Hard Light as a base before setting about with other adjustments (brightness, skew, de-fringe, etc.) and filter techniques (Nik Color Efex Pro.)

In the end, I think it created a balance between the high-detail of a very complicated environment, along with a good dose of realism. I also really appreciate Peter and Ken letting me into the back of the shop during working hours to capture this unique scene.

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Tobacco Row   9 comments

Tobacco Row
Immediately across the road from the old barn featured in Serviceable, we found this fairly large field of tobacco that I thought would make an interesting composition.

This is a very typical scene here in eastern NC. Whether it’s tobacco, corn, soybeans, or cotton, once you get out of the town centers, the terrain is pretty much devoted to agriculture.

Being one who is more aligned with nature rather than cities, I find a certain beauty in almost anything green and growing. On this warm, windy day, the plants were dancing around in the breeze, and a few had thrown brilliant yellow flower heads. But this particular field caused me to consider the dichotomy of what we do…

Sure, the plants are pretty, but I remember a time about 20 years ago when tobacco had a grip on me that was almost impossible to overcome. It took multiple attempts and many tools (I was up to six patches a day ;^) ) to kick the habit that I had developed over the previous 20 years of smoking. I’m now quite free of that, but it always struck me: How could someone who loves the outdoors and climbing mountains also pour poisonous, carcinogenic smoke into his lungs? It never made much sense, not then, not now.

Witnessing this schism in myself, I also wondered how we can so complain about the rising cost of healthcare, and yet continue to allow people to participate in a habit that has no real effect other than to destroy living tissue, and how we continue to enable ‘big tobacco’ in providing the product. Sure, it comes down to a matter of ‘personal freedom’, but still…

A good friend of mine wrote recently about similar disparities, and I rolled his words around in my mind as I watched the split between common sense and personal choice: “I believe we should do more to save our planet. I believe we should focus more of our money and efforts on our own country and less on the rest of the world, at least until we are back on track. I believe we should focus more on educating our children, and teachers should be paid more and professional athletes should be paid less.” (This was just one small part of his post.)

I guess that everywhere we look, we can see a difference between things that make sense, and our continued participation in an activity that flies in the face of that sense. In this particular field, we’re growing a product that specifically kills people, but the cultivation of hemp (not pot) — with over 40,000 industrial, nutritional and pharmacological uses — is somehow still illegal in the U.S.

This is not so much a rant about tobacco, per se, but more about the continued schizophrenic behaviors that we tend to exhibit as humans. I believe that we can and will eventually make better choices, but sometimes it seems the pace of this evolution is glacially slow.

And yet, isn’t there a certain beauty in being around to watch how we live, learn, and grow to maturity, taking note of our own foibles and eccentricities? I’m just glad that I get to stick around another day to watch what happens next.

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Au Clair de la Lune (By the Light of the Moon)   10 comments

A sublime full moon rises over the ocean at Acadia National Park, Maine

An autumn moonrise at Acadia National Park, Maine.


Well we artistic types are so misunderstood
Everyone’s a critic, they don’t know when something’s good
Just let us have our space and freedom to create
And when the work is finished, we’ll tell you if it’s great

— from “Stephen’s Exhibition” by Stuart Davis

After a long run of dominating the High Dynamic Range marketplace, the venerable Photomatix Pro now has a lot of company. Unified Color’s product set is very strong. Nik Software recently released HDR Efex Pro. Photoshop CS5 introduced Merge to HDR Pro. HDR Darkroom Pro is soon to be released. Topaz Adjust even has settings that emulate HDR effects.

To suggest that HDR photography is here to stay seems facile. Companies would not invest effort and cash into developing products if there were no market identified for them. Camera manufacturers are pushing the limits of sensor technology ever farther, increasing dynamic range in-camera, long before an image ever goes to post.

In the midst of this evolution, the debate over whether HDR is a legitimate form of photography continues as it has for some time. (See the comments under James Brandon’s recent article, 19 Examples of HDR Done Right.) There are some who believe that processing an image using HDR techniques doesn’t constitute photography at all. I usually dismiss these monocular arguments, as most people realize that the technique of tonemapping an HDR image to a target output device is really no different than putting a circular polarizer on your lens, or greasing that filter for a vignette blur, or dodging & burning in the darkroom, or farming multiple images, and so on.

Yes, it’s photography. HDR processing uses a set of techniques in order to accomplish a style. As artists, if we used a pencil instead of a camera, it would be called ‘drawing’ regardless of our personal tastes in art. Whether it was a piece by Rembrandt, or a child’s first creation on the refrigerator, it’s still ‘drawing’ and the final product is a unique creation by an artist.  In much the same way, HDR processing employs technical methods in order to achieve a specific style. Whether one likes a particular style should be more the question, and ultimately that comes down to a matter of personal preference. But, for one to dismiss the entire body of HDR or tonemapped images because of one’s personal prejudices about a technique is to entirely miss the beauty of an artist’s stylization.

What I like most about photography is that it allows me to express an artistic vision based on an actual experience I’ve had, or to accurately recreate a scene that I’ve experienced so that I can try to bring you there with me.

What I like most about HDR photography in particular is that it allows anyone to apply their own sense of creativity on a standard photographic image, expressing their unique vision and talents. In doing so, we can take an everyday scene and draw attention to it in new ways, pulling the viewer into a scene, helping to share the mood and feel of the setting, and conveying the emotions that the photographer felt when taking the frames. Can you do this with conventional photography? Sure, but with HDR the palette for expressing one’s vision can be far more extensive.

In the end, though, what is it that we’re trying to achieve?

As artists, we want to create new things. We need to be creative; if the drive wasn’t there, we wouldn’t be doing this. We want to push the limits of the current tools and technology into new forms of expression. As with any art form, some of these attempts may fall flat, but we’re driven to create nonetheless.

We want to be seen. Even if we prefer to ‘hide behind the camera’ we want the fruits of our efforts to be seen and appreciated by others. Much like a mirror, it is the reflection of ourselves in an-other that satisfies the artist’s soul, that helps us to know that we exist, and that our efforts are not wasted. The creative loop of Arting is completed when our final image is seen by others who then reflect back their appreciation, or perhaps even their thoughtful criticism.

Given that, I’ve been wondering why the mere appearance of HDR images can conjure up rather caustic, mindless rants from some people. The thing that bothers me most about those rants is that they can only serve to diminish a person’s creative potential, were we only to place any real stock in them. In service of the ego, detraction is the commentator’s attempt to pull someone away from Creativity back to the bland, middling ground of Certainty. When people suggest, “All HDR sucks,” it’s akin to saying that because you don’t like an abstract style of painting, anything created with a paintbrush sucks.  With these condescending comments, it is clear that technique is being badly confused with style in the mind of the commenter, and that’s an error.

The technical foundation of HDR is improving every day, and yes, HDR is here to stay whether some people prefer it or not. As fellow photographers, we must remember that not only is everyone at their own stage of development in terms of creative potential, but that they each have their unique and equally precious vision. There is no “good” or “bad” art in this context, just the product of creative potential, widely varied and infinitely interesting, and that should be celebrated, not denigrated.


(Yes, the image above was processed using HDR techniques.)

And The Winners Are…   4 comments


For the past three weeks, I’ve been holding a contest to win a free copy of HDR Expose or 32 Float from Unified Color.

The entries are in, a number of eyes have seen them, and it’s time to announce the winners:

The first winner, grabbing his choice of Unified Color’s HDR Expose or 32 Float, is arkitekt878 :

In our view, the composition contributed a lot to this image, leading the eye from the chains and walkway, to the lights on the building, and then off in the distance to the city lights and sunset. Both the deep shadows of the foreground pebbles and the bright lights were well controlled. There are no artifacts or haloing to be seen.

Arkitekt878 used 4 Exposures (-2, -1, 0, +1) merged to HDR in Photoshop and processed with 32 Float.  He says, “Just a quick note for interest. The place where I’m standing to take this gets covered twice a day by the tide.”


The next winner is George Palov with his image from Devetaki Cave, Bulgaria:

George says,

“It was shot in 7 Exposures through 1-1/3 EV steps (1/50 – 5sec) + I took an extra one “1/250″ for the bright “eye” window. On tripod + Promote Remote Control. Merged and adjusted in HDR Expose only. Very hard shooting conditions – pitch dark holes + overly bright spots. What I liked about this photo is the unintended heart shape of the light spot on the ground from the sun beam.”


Honorable Mention‘ goes to Anthony Woodhouse’s fourth entry, “Boat Park, Llyn Brenig”, which can be seen in Anthony’s Flickr photostream.

Thanks to all for participating in the contest. I hope you had as much fun with it as I did.

Sunrise at Otter Point   2 comments

A beautiful sunrise at Otter Point, Acadia National Park, Maine.

If one has never been to this place, one should visit, at least once.

Of all the places we travel in New England in the fall, Acadia National Park is one of our favorite stops. The conundrum is that we appreciate solitude and wilderness, but ANP in autumn is anything but empty. Over the years, though, we’ve found a rhythm to visiting, and know of a few small spots where you can spend the day with very few signs of human activity. Despite the popularity of ANP (one of the most heavily visited of the National Parks), the natural beauty is, I think, unparalleled, particularly on the east coast.

Feel the warmth of the sun by viewing larger. Just click on the image to open a new window.

This image proved fairly difficult to process, and I went through several iterations. Whenever I got the sun flare to show up as I wanted (i.e., not blown out), most of the HDR processing programs created serious halos, especially around the tree branches on the left. Trying to merge in original exposures or sky-enhanced layers proved to be too difficult because of the varying intensities of light in the sky. It turned out to be a tug-of-war between a good sun flare and excessive haloing, with neither really winning. In the end, although I merged the brackets (+/-2EV) with HDR Expose, Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro turned out the best preliminary result, although some fixing up had to be done: Denoising filters used to knock down HDR Efex Pro’s noise levels wound up overly softening a few elements. Once again, Topaz InFocus, my new favorite plug-in, came to the rescue to bring back the detail in the rocks. I also have to give a nod to the Content-Aware Fill feature of my new Photoshop CS5 for taking out some lens refraction spots… nothing could’ve been easier!

The Bowl at Acadia National Park, Maine   2 comments

The Bowl, a small pond near the Gorham Trail in Acadia National Park, Maine


It was just another beautiful autumn day at Acadia National Park on the Maine coast.

This is The Bowl, a small tarn near the Beehives on the eastern side of Mt. Desert Island. It was such a nice day, we just had to pull up for a while. Couldn’t just sit there — right? — so I started clicking off some hand-held brackets. Because of the inevitable camera motion when shooting hand-held and the usual softness brought about by HDR processing, this image needed some help. It was shot at 11mm f/2.8 with a CPL filter, which didn’t help matters.

While I don’t often recite highly detailed recipes, I thought this was a good example of “rescuing” an image that would otherwise sit as nothing more than a pleasant memory in the library. Thanks to one of my new favorite toys, Topaz InFocus, it became a viable HDR image.

I started off with a three-bracket (+/-2EV) merge in HDR Expose, with basic brightness and highlight adjustments in Unified Color’s Photoshop plug-in, 32 Float. Returning the result as a layer, a lens correction was used to relieve some barrel distortion. I invoked the new Topaz InFocus filter, dialing in just the right radius settings for this subject (1.76 radius, 2.7 suppress) in order to provide sharp detail in the wood grain of the logs. There were artifacts left in the tree line and water surface, but these could be addressed later. Having recently received an upgrade to Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 Complete, I had access to the Pro Contrast filter, which can really help to pop an image and remove color cast. Topaz DeNoise was then used to remove the artifacts created by the InFocus pass (I’m trying to wean myself off of Imagenomic Noiseware Pro since they’re not currently 64-bit.) I had originally used one of my favorite tricks, Nik’s Darken/Lighten Center, to bring the eye toward the logs, but it created a hyper-polarized effect by darkening the sky, which just seemed unnaturally blue.

One thing that has become clear to me (pun not intended) is that Topaz InFocus tends to work best when you have discrete, straight edges in an image. The cityscape that Topaz provides on their website is a good example of this. For this landscape image of The Bowl, you wouldn’t want to preview the area of trees, as that area is soft and irregularly shaped. Bringing the InFocus preview window to the logs and foreground detail, however, provided the harder edges needed for the filter’s algorithms to work properly. Knowing this seems to be one key to having the filter work best for you.

You can see this image larger by clicking on it. A new window will open on the Waterscapes gallery.

Hobnobbin’   Leave a comment

A pool outside an estate on a bright sunny day, New Bern, North Carolina

Sorry about the dearth of posts, lately. I’ve been fairly well wrapped up with various shoots and a sometimes pesky little thing called ‘life.’

This image was a test from a real estate shoot, but I liked it well enough to keep it. Typically, I’d like to shoot in more benign conditions than the middle of a bright, sunny day, but we can’t always pick and choose. In this case, I think the bright light makes for an inviting pool scene.

Click on the image to see a larger version.

Processed from 9 exposures at 1EV steps using Promote Control. Merged using Unified Color’s HDR Expose and adjusted in Photoshop CS with 32 Float, also from Unified Color. I liked what Photomatix Pro 4 did with the stonework, so I touched in a little detail from that program using layer masking. Actually had to knock the blues back a bit, too! The first ‘final’ version’s sky looked a bit too contrived. Finally, the windows were reflecting a lot of blue, which was distracting, so I applied an Exposure adjustment layer in that area to tone down the glare. A noise-reduction run on the sky with Noiseware Pro was the only other adjustment.

Discount coupons for the above software are located here.

Serenity Now, and then…   Leave a comment

Susan enjoys a serene sunrise at Otter Point, Acadia National Park, Maine


I love you more than words can express, and far more than I ever imagined myself capable. You’re my friend, my teacher, my inspiration, my love.

— The minute I heard my first love story I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was. Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.    (Rumi)

Remain centered. And if that center ever falters, I’ll be there. I can be nowhere else.

Win a Free Copy of HDR Expose or 32 Float   27 comments

Scenic waterway near Bernard, Maine, on Mount Desert Island, on a beautifully clear day.

Win a Free Copy of HDR Expose or 32 Float

(The image above was processed from three exposures -2EV, 0EV, +2EV merged with HDR Expose and processed using 32 Float. Click on the image to see a larger version in a new window.)

Note: This contest is now closed to new entries. Thank you to all the entrants for participating. Winner(s) will be announced shortly, so please stay tuned.

Thanks to my affiliation with the folks at Unified Color, I’m able to offer a free copy of both HDR Expose and 32 Float to two lucky people. All you have to do is download trial versions of the programs, process your original brackets, and show me the final result. In two weeks, two winners will be chosen from all entries.

The guidelines are simple:

1) Download a free trial copy of HDR Expose ($149.99 value) and/or 32 Float ($99 value)  from Unified Color.  The fully-featured trial versions are good for 30 days, with no watermarks, and no restrictions.

2) Pick a set of your own exposure brackets and create your best work using HDR Expose and/or 32 Float. No single-exposure entries, please, as this is all about High Dynamic Range (HDR).

3) Post a link to the comment section of this blog entry, pointing to your final image, which can be saved as a 8- or 16-bit TIF or 8-bit JPG file. The image can be on Flickr, on another photo sharing site, on your own website, or it can be hosted on your server where I can download it for a look. As long as I can get to it, we’ll be fine. (Important Note: Facebook Album entries will not be eligible for consideration.) When you post the link, please indicate which product(s) you used, and how many exposures went into the final version. Your email address will not be visible to others, but the link will be. This will have the added benefit of driving traffic to your site.

4) Please keep a copy of your final BEF file (Unified Color’s format.)  If you’re the winner, I may ask you for that file for possible further use. You’ll retain all copyrights, of course.

5) To keep the playing field level, do not apply any other filters, effects, adjustment layers, or other tweaks on the image. Work with it it entirely in BEF 32-bit format, using only HDR Expose or 32 Float.

IMPORTANT AMMENDMENT: Since one of the key features of 32 Float is that you can use multiple Photoshop layers derived from the original BEF file, I am updating Rule 5 to allow the use of Masking Layers. In other words, when working with 32 Float in Photoshop, you can work on your original 32-bit BEF file, making a Photoshop layer that exploits, say, the highlights of a photo. You can then go back to the BEF file (first layer) and create another new layer to exploit the shadow areas. Using Photoshop Layer Masks, you can selectively mask in/out certain parts of the image. (There is a tutorial for this on the UCT website, called “32 Float Dual Process Feature” located here. Or, you can view it on YouTube )  But please, no Curves, Exposure, Saturation, Brightness, or other Photoshop adjustment layers, and no 3rd-party filters (NIK, Topaz, Lucis, etc.)

6) The deadline for submission of entries is midnight (Eastern U.S.) on Saturday, November 27th, 2010. (Three weeks from the beginning of the contest.) Entries submitted after that will not be considered.

7) You may submit up to seven (7) images for consideration. To keep things organized, please submit each image link as a new comment.

8) Above all, Have Fun!

If you have a moment, please tell your friends about this contest, Tweet about it, etc.  The more the merrier.

Eligibility to Enter

Entrants must NOT be an employee of Unified Color or Matter Communications (or any of its or their affiliates, parent companies, or subsidiary companies), or one of the contest judges, or an immediate family member of such an employee or such a contest judge, or a person living in the same household of such an employee or such a contest judge;

By submitting an entry in this contest, each Entrant represents and warrants:

  • The image is original, and the contest participant owns the copyright or any other associated intellectual-property rights in the image.
  • The image does not infringe the copyright, rights of publicity or privacy, or any other intellectual-property or proprietary rights of any other person or entity.
  • Any persons depicted in the image who are recognizable or identifiable from their image are 18 years of age or over and have given their signed, written consent to have their image used in this contest (and released any rights of publicity or privacy).
  • Any building or architecture depicted in the image is located in or ordinarily visible from a public place, or, for any such building or architecture that is not located in or ordinarily visible from a public place, if the building or architecture is protected by copyright, Entrant must have the appropriate rights to submit the image and grant the rights provided in these contest rules and terms and conditions; and Entrants must be prepared to provide a signed release from the person or entity owning the copyright.
  • For any sculptures, statues, paintings, or other works of art that are depicted in the image, Entrant must have the appropriate rights to submit the image and grant the rights provided in these contest rules and terms and conditions; and Entrants must be prepared to provide a signed release from the person or entity owning the copyright in any such sculptures, statues, paintings, or other works of art.
  • The image has not previously won an award in any photography contest or other type of media or public recognition.
  • The image does not contain obscene, profane, offensive, lewd, pornographic, or otherwise inappropriate content.

Still. Reflecting.   5 comments

A view across a tidal pool from Ship Harbor Nature Trail, to Wonderland, at Acadia National Park, Maine

Time for more reflection, I suppose.

This image seems to serve as an adjunct to my previous post Reflections: Creativity and Certainty.

Here in the U.S., we’ve recently seen a swing of the pendulum away from the side of unfolding Creativity, with many of the people unwilling to let go of the dock of Certainty.  I think this perfectly reflects a basic part of human nature.  We’re uplifted by the drive for newness and innovation, and yet we tend to keep a tight grip on what we know to be certain, stable, predictable. Because of this, we have landed perfectly in the middle, at least for the time being.  According to the ‘pundits’ (again, the term being used with no small degree of sarcasm) the people do not want what has been termed a ‘progressive’ politic, yet neither do they want to accept the old model.

Never before has middle-of-the-roadism been so exciting! Where do we go from here? As with all things evolution, time will tell. For now, at the very least, the process of democracy seems to be alive and well, with people exercising their right to choose, and that is a beautiful thing.

Consider this my homage to that center. It is balanced and centered. It is ‘progressive’ in that it is an HDR image, and yet ‘conservative’ in its realism. It represents the great span of nature, yet it’s a simple scene. The water is shallow, and the water is deep. Soft trees / hard rock. Bright light / deep shadow. Warm air / cold water.

If nothing else, it’s something to reflect upon.

Thanks for stopping by,



This image was created from a bracketed set of three RAW files. They were first converted to TIF, and then merged using HDR Expose from Unified Color (20% discount is available here.)  Since I tend to do most editing in Photoshop CS, I used 32 Float to do all necessary adjustments, added just a touch of NIK Color Efex Pro to even out the sky a bit, and then touched in NIK’s Darken/Lighten Center on just the foreground.

I had tried other programs and techniques on this image, but they seemed a little too “forward.” This was perfectly where I wanted it, and completely as it was the day I saw it. (Yes, it was a brilliantly clear, autumn day.)

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