Archive for the ‘brackets’ Tag

I Will Survive | A Grunge Collaboration   10 comments

There have been a few collaboration projects between photographers lately, usually revolving around HDR processing. I always find myself looking forward to the results, as they can serve to inform not only those readers who see the finals, but the contributors as well. Today, I think, we serve up another good example of this, along with a couple of surprises.

For those new to the idea: A few of us got together online and agreed to participate in the project. For each round, one person in the group provides a set of bracketed images, then each photographer applies their vision and processing skills to the set. The final image from each contributor, along with processing notes and other insights, are compiled and hosted on the blog site of whoever provided the set.

This week, it was my turn to provide the brackets for a project we call a “Grunge Collaboration.” Round 1 is here. Although the brackets can start with almost any character — a sunny landscape, even — in this collaboration we’re going for a gritty, grungy look in our results. Participants are James Brandon, Jerry Denham, Jim Denham, Jesse Pafundi, Chris Nitz, and myself, Rob Hanson. (But wait … that’s not all!)

This set of brackets came from my happenstance visit to Legend Hill Enterprises near Fredericksburg, Texas last April. Legend Hill is a buy-sell-trade business, according to signage on a large trailer near the road. Once you drive onto the property, you find yourself surrounded by literally hundreds of old, rusted pieces of farm equipment in various stages of decay, spread over many acres. After getting permission to shoot there, Susan trailed me in the truck while I stopped every few feet to click off more sets, acting like the proverbial kid in a candy store.

With a slight chin nod to Gloria Gaynor, I titled this set “I Will Survive.” It seemed fitting to me, as this formerly glorious beast was sitting amongst other pieces that had not been quite so lucky. It just needed a little quality love.

One note: When these projects first started, we posted the images without any narrative. Sometimes it’s good to let images stand on their own without commentary. It rather quickly becomes obvious that everyone approaches post-processing from a different perspective, and while that’s a beautiful thing, we’re left with only that one conclusion: Everyone has a different vision.

This week I’ve asked each contributor to share information about what they ‘see’ in the image, how it affected them, what they were thinking, and how that vision led to the choices they made in post-processing. It seems to me that we can all benefit by finding out more about this thought process as we consider each image, sort of like peeking into the mind of the photographer.

I hope this approach helps others, and if any readers have ideas on how this sort of project could be even more useful, please drop a comment and let us know. We’d love to hear your ideas. If you could ask a contributor any question, what would that question be?

We also have a special guest contributor joining us this week!  Read on to find out who jumped in, and to see his cut at the project. As he’s one of the true grunge meisters, I really admire his processing work and on a personal level I value his friendship, so I couldn’t resist asking him to join in this week’s fun. After all, he “just loves him some tractor.” I must’ve sensed that.  🙂

Here is the original 0EV bracket that we had to work with:

Original 0EV bracket for the I Will Survive grunge collaboration project

0EV bracket for "I Will Survive"

And here are the final images for this project…

From James Brandon:

James Brandon's version of "I Will Survive", part of the grunge collaboration project

James Brandon's version of "I Will Survive"

“Big thanks to Rob Hanson for a great set of brackets to work with for this week’s collaboration!

“In some of these HDR shots, I feel that you can get lost in the image when everything from foreground to background is in focus. Thatʼs fine in some cases, but in this image I wanted to get rid of any possible focus on the background (the trees, the other tractors, the junk, etc). I used textures, vignetting, and onOne FocalPoint to create some confusion around the corners of the images to draw the focus to the tractor.

“Sure, the tractor is the obvious subject here, but the subconscious can still be led astray. I also opted for a slightly cooled down white balance. The reason being that images like this donʼt exactly make me feel all warm and cozy :-). A junk yard with old tractors signifies the end of the road for these things, and I just didnʼt feel like a warm color balance and bright cloudy sky did that justice.”

From Jerry Denham:

Jerry Denham's version of "I Will Survive"

Jerry Denham's version of "I Will Survive"

“I was very intrigued by the brackets. I really liked the number of options that were available to concentrate on. I was originally focused on the two headlights but then I was very drawn to the scars and scrapes on the center of the tractor.  I tried to do what I could to try and make both areas stand out together, but wasn’t successful. Being a grunge collaboration, I concentrated on the scars and scrapes.  I really tried to bring out the red color of that portion of the tractor.  I used Picasa to do some soft focus enhancements to try and direct a little more attention to those scars and scrapes.  Had a great time with this.”

From Jim Denham:

Jim Denham's version of "I Will Survive"

Jim Denham's version of "I Will Survive

“Love tractors, and this one’s got some serious grit to it! I wanted to bring out the rusty color and texture, so I used two Topaz presets – Exposure Color Stretch and Clarify – selectively, along with a high pass sharpen. The surrounding setting was eating up the tractor, so applied a selective focus and reduced the saturation to make the tractor pop out at ya!”

From Rob Hanson:

Rob Hanson's version of "I Will Survive"

Rob Hanson's version of "I Will Survive"

“I took some liberties. 🙂

“First, I found that things just felt better if I flipped the image, and in my view it seemed to change the composition substantially. When I first worked with this new orientation, it seemed that the tractor was pulling a curved line of wreckage through the junkyard. Perhaps this has something to do with how westerners read from left to right, but I now see a clear vector starting from the willow tree, moving left along the line of junk, to the leftmost tractor grille, and then along through the subject, sort of like a rusty conga line. I don’t know, it just works for me, and whenever I flipped back to the original orientation that feeling was lost. With the discovery of that circular vector, and wanting to place this guy in his rightful place, I chose not to ‘hide’ the background junk, as it now seems an integral part of my theme.

“In keeping with the grunge motif, I wanted a decidedly post-apocalyptic feel without making the overall composition too dark. By creating a gloomy, atmospheric backdrop in the clouds and tree line I feel that the composition gained more depth, differentiating the lighter foreground from the dark background. Desaturating the image helped contribute to the gloaming. For the subject, I wanted to retain all of that rusty, gritty texture, and seeing a face in the trapezoidal front panel that reminded me of “The Scream” by Edvard Munch, I selected this area for a bit of extra treatment to call out that detail.

“This little guy has hope, thinking that he has prevailed over all the other poor, unfortunate wrecks. His proud stance; his vivid colors; his clear, baby blue eyes peering hopefully into the darkness all suggest that he’s a survivor of the junkyard apocalypse. Let’s not spoil his day by telling him it’s over.”

From Chris Nitz:

Chris Nitz's version of "I Will Survive"

Chris Nitz's version of "I Will Survive"

“I sat on these brackets for a few days before processing them. The tractor had my attention, but I had no idea what I wanted to do with it. It was rusty, broken down, and no longer working hard for the farmer who once owned it. This once vital piece of equipment now sits in a field left to rot.

“It did not hit me where I wanted to go with this image until I was merging the brackets into an HDR image. When I did this, there were several areas of detraction from the tractor. It was not until I moved this into a black and white photo that everything fell into place. At this point, the decay and rot called out to me. It screamed light leaks, noise, and textures. The black and white conversion help in drawing the eye back to the tractor. Everything else is there to help with the decrepit feeling.

Thanks to Rob for providing this fun set of brackets to play with.”

From Jesse Pafundi:

Jesse Padundi's version of "I Will Survive"

Jesse Padundi's version of "I Will Survive"

“When I see scenes like this, I usually look for something specific that really shows how time has taken it’s toll on the subject. In a case like this, overgrown grass taking its grip on the tractor is a tell tale sign how just how long it has been sitting here. I knew I wanted to maintain focus there.

“Now to the coolest part. I have a tendency to see inanimate objects as alive. My imagination tends to run wild from time to time, so I immediately noticed how this poor tractor seemed to be crying out for help. The lights as desperate eyes. The front opening as a gaping mouth pleading to be used. You see it now, don’t you? Yes, you do. Well, there’s my vision in a nutshell.”

From our Special Guest Contributor (Can you guess who?)

“Hey folks; Jacques “the Fotofreq” Gudé, here!  Oh, how I love me some Tractor!!  So, when Rob asked me If I’d be interested in being surprise guest processor on his awesome site, I jumped at the chance.  Thanks Rob!

“Once I had Rob’s brackets to work with, I knew I wanted to focus attention on the front end of the tractor, including the massive, cool engine.  So I post-processed and looked at my results; I was not happy!  But I sent it to Rob anyway, and asked for some critique.  Man, am I glad I did that, because I could see he was finding some of the same weaknesses in my work that I was.  Well, that just will not do!  After all, I’ve got a reputation, right?  So, back to the drawing board.

“THIS TIME, I decided I was going for the look you get when you lighting an object under a full moon.  I also wanted to give the shot a 3D look, which I did by dodging and burning depth into the various components of the tractor using my Wacom tablet.  The moral of the story is, if you don’t like your work when you’re done with it, it’s probably not up to par.  Thanks, Rob, for the honest and very helpful critique!”


Thanks, everyone, for a great collaboration project!

Please be sure to visit the web sites for each contributor. You’ll find some fabulous images and insights there on a regular basis. All links above open in a new browser tab or window, so have at it.


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Promote Control   2 comments


When people are first learning about HDR photography, one of the most often asked questions is, “How should I set the exposure bracketing on my camera?” Since this is a function of the camera that many photographers rarely rely on, just getting it set up might seem to be a mystery, but there are manuals for that. (Umm… you did read the manual, right? 8) ) Beyond learning the basics of automatic exposure bracketing (AEB) on your camera, though, there is the question of exactly which settings you’d want to choose for a given HDR situation.

The common wisdom is that you should set your camera to take a minimum of three exposures at Exposure Values of -2EV, 0EV, and +2EV. This works out pretty well for most people and most shooting situations. It’s also about the safest advice that one can give for shooting HDR brackets, as many entry-level and ‘prosumer’ cameras are capable of doing this.  There are differences between camera models, though. Some can take five brackets, for example, but only allow for 1EV spacing between them.  A rare few allow nine brackets, but be ready to stimulate the economy by shelling out some serious cash for the camera. (To view a comparison of AEB capabilities on different camera models, check here to open the list in a new window.)

Whether you’re shooting the camera’s maximum of three brackets or five, experience has shown that shooting in this limited range does not always capture all the data you need for the best result!

If the scene that you’re shooting has limited dynamic range (here’s an example), or if the sun is at 90-degrees, you can shoot three brackets at +/-2EV and get a decent result. In fact, it seems that the majority of published HDR images use those settings. But, we could expand on that same principle and suggest a new axiom: The greater the dynamic range of the scene, the more brackets you want, and brackets tighter than 2 steps are goodness.

Without getting overly technical, the sensor on each camera model has a maximum dynamic range that it can capture. Within that dynamic range capability, there is a “sweet spot” for each model, a range where the captured data is represented well. (You can get more information on your camera and lens combination at DxOMark.) If the dynamic range of your scene falls outside of those capabilities across three brackets, the resulting HDR image will suffer in terms of blown-out highlights and crushed shadows. In the overall scheme of things, the image will probably still look pretty impressive, but it won’t be all that it can be.

We also need to bear in mind that whatever image we’re viewing, whether it’s a print or on-screen, has been tonemapped down from the full 32-bit HDR to a version that current technology can display, so in a sense, much of the original HDR data is ‘lost’.  Given that this is the case, doesn’t it make sense to start with the best possible set of data?

There is now a way to get around the limitations of your camera’s AEB function, and a way to get tighter brackets. I had been hearing about a device called the Promote Control, from Promote Systems, as something that can open up the shooting capabilities of almost any camera. Having heard nothing but positive talk about the device, I decided to get one.  Happy, happy… One of the best days we can have is when the B&H box shows up on the doorstep (and you’re fast enough to beat the neighbor to it.)

The Promote Control has several different modes: time-lapse with start delay, one shot, and manual hold, but the mode of most interest to us is the HDR mode. You can read about it on the Promote Systems website, but in short, you can set the Promote Control in HDR mode to take a sick number of bracketed shots, and it allows you to set the EV steps between each in 0.3EV increments. So, if I want to take a bracketed series of, say, 15 frames with 1EV in between each, you just use the buttons on the Promote Control to set it up, then press the Start button.

Some functions of the Promote Control require an optional shutter cable to activate them, such as the Mirror Lock Up (MLU) function, which helps to reduce the vibration caused by the camera’s mirror swinging up on each shot, or for shots longer than the camera’s maximum exposure time, often 30 seconds. In addition, the Promote tends to shoot frames far more slowly without that shutter cable.

Here’s the problem that I ran into: My camera model was not on Promote’s list of cameras that accept the optional shutter cable. In my situation, since I wasn’t terribly affected by the lack of MLU or long-exposure functionality, the biggest problem was the sluggish shutter activation speed without the cable.  If I were shooting a large set of brackets on a landscape with moving clouds, by the time the series was done, the clouds would have moved enough to cause ghosting issues in post-processing. Having the capability to shoot wide and tight brackets outweighed that issue enough for me to spring for the Promote Control.

But, it never hurts to ask the question. With an upcoming photo safari in mind, I contacted the people at Promote Systems to see if a shutter cable for my camera model would soon be available (there was a rumor floating around about that.)  I was told that, yes, it would soon be available, but not in time for my trip.  Bummer.

Over the next week or so, I worked with Max Mamonkin at Promote Systems, and guided by the advice of a friend, to come up with an alternative solution, one which required me to cut into my Nikon MC-DC2 cable release and rig it for my camera, requiring only a 3/8″ stereo headphone jack from Radio Shack. Although the micro-soldering was touchy, we managed to get a DIY cable up and running.

Having accomplished that, Max could have let the issue rest, knowing that I had a solution for my field trip, but he continued on my behalf. Promote Systems received a test batch of the new cables, and Max immediately tested and shipped one out to me. It works like a charm!

Let’s see how this breaks down: A reasonably priced ($299) electronic device with a USB interface for future firmware upgrades that allows a seemingly ridiculous number of brackets at almost any EV interval.  Check.  Responsive and friendly customer service people. Check. A support specialist that goes above and beyond the call to get this cable into my hands in a timely fashion, in time for a major photo opportunity… Priceless.

I really can’t say enough good about Promote Systems and the people there. They’ve been quite helpful in this process, and I thank them very much.

Best wishes,


Note: I am not affiliated with Promote Systems in any way other than being a satisfied customer.

Ruling the Roost – Photomatix Pro 4   2 comments

A peacock sits in an oak tree at the Joseph Jefferson mansion, New Iberia, Louisiana

I finally had a chance to open up the new Photomatix Pro 4 program, currently in public beta.  I had been looking forward to checking out some of the new features, particularly the anti-ghosting capabilities.

Some people have had mixed results with the anti-ghosting feature, but in the case of this bracket set it seemed to work very well.  I knew that the peacock had moved his head while I was shooting the bracket — which previously prevented me from bothering to process it — so I figured it would be a good test of the new Photomatix.

During processing, Photomatix Pro 4 allows you to draw a boundary around an area that is ghosted. From there, you can select Preview to see how Photomatix will handle the ghosting by pulling information from a single exposure.  If that doesn’t work out well, you have the choice of selecting another exposure, which I did in this case by choosing the -2EV frame.  Once this is done, you can proceed along in the usual fashion.

Just for grins, I ran the same bracket through the program without choosing the anti-ghosting features, which I assume is using much the same algorithm that Photomatix Pro 3 used.  The result of that pass was this:

While this was just my first pass with the program, things look pretty good.  There are other new features that I’ll talk about in future blog posts, so please do stay tuned.

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