Archive for the ‘tonemapping’ Tag

Sometimes, It Is…   4 comments

Sometimes, It Is...


Gamble, an abandoned lobster boat found alongside Route 1 in northern Maine.

We woke up in the tent one morning and decided that it was too chilly to stick around outside, so we took a photo road trip up to Moosehorn NWR a few miles north of us. (Truck heater, yay!) Alongside the route, we found this poor, dilapidated beast in a vacant lot, an equally sad looking abandoned Gulf gas station.

We could only imagine what kind of story might be behind the vessel, its legacy on the water, and what conditions caused its demise.


An HDR from five frames, the original version showed just how colorful and lucious the foliage was at the time, but I didn’t think that it set the mood for the image. Using a number of layer techniques and a subtle filter from OnOne, I tried to create the mood as I saw it on that cold and overcast day.

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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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Grandfather’s Legacy   14 comments

Grandfather's Legacy


We recently had the pleasure of spending a day with Jeff, a new friend who builds the most amazing birdhouses out of timber and tin recovered from old barns, sheds, and smoke houses. Wandering about his rural property while chatting and taking photos, we got a better sense of his artistic inclinations. We already knew that he loved each of his birdhouse creations. What we discovered was that he seemed to be on a mission to repurpose old buildings, giving them a second life by saving them from inexorably melting into the landscape.

At his property, a quiet place dotted with sheds, cabins, and workshops, I noticed an irresistible old tractor peeking out from an open shed. As we had other places to visit, we had almost passed this by. It turned out that the tractor was more important than we knew…

The tractor is a ’55 Allis Chalmers B. Jeff’s wife’s grandfather owned it and used it to work his garden. He was a farmer for much of his life and he loved his tractor. Grandfather is now gone, but the tractor is being maintained almost as a monument to his memory, perhaps one of the last tangible reminders of the man who used it to till the land.

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At the End of Day   10 comments

Thurston's Wharf


In the recent HDR Collaboration project, Inland Sailor, I mentioned that prior to snapping those brackets we had indulged in a great lobster dinner. This scene is from Thurston’s Lobster Pound in Bernard, Maine, where lobster boats unload their daily catch to be enjoyed at the waterfront restaurant. It’s a great place to kick back and enjoy the scenery while waiting for your crustaceans to steam.

To be honest, I’ve become a bit bored with standard processing techniques, even though there is always room for improvement (perhaps particularly so in my case.) I’m sure it’s just a temporary condition. However, in order to fully break away from my typical stuff, I decided to give the image more of a nostalgic, postcard feel using a few techniques that I don’t usually approach. Given that the composition of the original shot was cluttered and had a chaos of different colors, I like the way that this treatment works with the scene, and hope you like it, too.

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Starting with an tonemapped image from 7 exposures (+/-1EV, f/14, 75mm, ISO200), I applied a Shadowmap derived from Nik’s Silver Efex Pro, adjusted for some imperfections, then turned around in SEP to apply both aged toning and light vignette effects. Seeing that it was a bit too monochromatic, I allowed just a hint of color to sneak through in places. Various other more subtle plug-ins were used, including Topaz DeNoise and Nik’s Color Efex Pro 4 for final dressing.

BEWARE – An HDR Collaboration Project   9 comments


Time for another round of the HDR Collaboration project! This time, the brackets were hosted by Mark “Silent G” Gvazdinskas, but since he doesn’t yet have a blog, I offered to put his results here. Mark promised us all a free puppy if we hosted him. Personally, I like Black Labs.

If this is your first time visiting the HDR Collaboration project, in each round one contributor provides a set of image brackets to the group, and we apply our personal sense of style in post-processing. As we usually see in the results, there is a wide range of ‘personality’ that can be applied to a given image. A good image is created in post-processing in equal measure to the importance of composition, lighting, lens choice, and other factors, and it’s always fascinating to see how others ‘see’ the same picture.

Each photographer represented here has a body of work that speaks volumes to their talents. Please be sure to visit their pages, galleries, and blogs by clicking the links associated with each name.

So, Mark Gvazdinskas presents the following, but…. do BEWARE :


“Welcome to this installment of the HDR Collaboration Project!  This is my first time hosting brackets and second time participating—what an incredible opportunity it is to be working with these talented photographers. The usual suspects took part in this round: Mike “TheaterWiz” Criswell, Jim DenhamJacques “FotoFreq” GudéRob Hanson, Bob LussierMark Garbowski, and myself, Mark Gvazdinskas.

The images start with my own version so here goes:

BEWARE by Mark Gvazdinskas

“I don’t know about everyone else but I had a heck of a time with this set. I’ve shot this area in Marin Headlands, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, several times and have only once lucked out with sun. Naturally, that day I didn’t have the fisheye. Knowing this particular day would be foggy (in SF, GET OUT) I still made the trip up the winding road to grab this entire abandoned WWI/II bunker with the Nikkor 10.5mm/f2.8 Fisheye lens. I stood with my back to the corner and fired away — the bunker is maybe 10x10ft and the fisheye was the only way to grab all the tags and windows without pano gear. The fog made this especially tough as there truly wasn’t much background to work with, but rest assured this is one of the most rugged and gorgeous coastlines you’ll ever stumble upon (which is why I find the BEWARE tag to be so fitting) — views will take you all the way up Highway 1 to Muir and Stinson Beaches and leave the lonely Pacific Coast Highway trailing off in the distance. I personally love the eerie, foggy days in Marin Headlands. You can’t see the bridge but you know it’s there and all you can hear beyond the crashing waves is the bellow of a horn from Point Bonita Lighthouse — it feels like Shutter Island.

I used all the available brackets, put them through Photomatix 4.0, then into Lightroom 3 for some tweaking. Naturally Color Efex Pro and Focal Point 2 came into the mix, but only a couple layers since the background didn’t have much more than fog and an undetermined horizon.

I hope everyone had a good time with this set and thanks again for letting me share!”

BEWARE by Mark "Silent G" Gvazdinskas


BEWARE by Mike “Theaterwiz” Criswell:

“Thanks for the great brackets Mark aka Silent “G”, fun to play with for sure. This is actually a second version after I butchered the outside scene in the first by mistake. I ran all 9 brackets through Photomatix then started throwing all kinds of filters at the image, I think I started over 3 times in the process. Athough I had too many tweaks to even keep track of most everything was done in Topaz, I even used a hint of the new B&W effects plugin. I wanted to give the weird Alien art a presence and I wanted the inside of the bunker to have a nice warm glowing feeling without taking away from the foggy goodness of the outside scene. Thanks again for the brackets “G””

BEWARE by Mike "Theaterwiz" Criswell


BEWARE by Jim Denham:

“Thanks to Mark “Silent G” for supplying the brackets and to Rob for hosting this round of the collaboration project! Love this scene and how it really is two scenes in one – The graffiti covered building interior and the beautiful coastal scene on the exterior! Good stuff.

I focused on two things, the ‘Beware’ writing above the window on the right because it was the title of the image, and the scenic outdoors. Made a selection of the outdoor panels in order to edit them separate from the indoors. Darkened up the outside a bit and added some saturation, along with some sharpening. To the inside, I applied the Spicify preset from Topaz, then dodged the ‘Beware’ letters to make them standout a bit while darkening up the rest.”

BEWARE by Jim Denham


BEWARE by Jacques “Fotofreq” Gudé:

“Man, Silent “G”, what a great set of brackets.  Used to be I did not care for graffiti in URBEX environments, but I suppose I’ve come to appreciate some of the cool wall art out there.  In this shot, I really dug the ‘Beware’ graphics, together with that cool green dude, which is why I tried to accentuate those elements.  To process this one, I used only  seven of the brackets, dumping the darkest two.  After running those seven brackets through Photomatix, I pulled the resulting tone-mapped canvas into Photoshop CS5, together with the 5 lightest original bracketed shots.  After masking in the parts I needed to get the base look I envisioned, I used several of Nik’s Color Efex Pro filters, as well as Nik’s Viveza 2 to finish things off.  As always, my Wacom Intuos 4 tablet was indispensable in my post-processing.  Thanks a million for letting me work this set, Mark!”

BEWARE by Jacques "Fotofreq" Gudé


BEWARE by Rob Hanson:

“Thanks for the great set of brackets, Mark!

I found this to be an interesting subject. As I looked at the elements, it seemed that there were only a few ways to go, as the surroundings are fairly straightforward — no mysterious stairways, no dark secrets, no creepy asbestos hanging from the ceiling. Then I realized that my approach would lay in balancing the interesting, grungy interior with the sublime scenic view outside. Too much or too little in either direction would yield an unrealistic balance.

My result is based, then, on HDR Express and 32 Float, programs which render color well and provide a very realistic result. Float allowed me to create several 32-bit layers — one for the base, one to highlight the exterior, and one for the interior, masking in and out along the way. Once I had the overall balance where I wanted, I boiled the file down to 16-bit and went off in other directions.

In addition to bringing out the details and knocking down saturation in some areas, I used warming and cooling filters and dodging/burning to lead the eye where I wanted it to go — past the blue man and out the door.  I also took out some of the severe fisheye effect without removing it altogether… it just seemed a bit too bendy at first. Finally, I used my super-secret-patented* de-fringing technique to get rid of some obvious magenta fringe around the doorways. (* It’s no secret at all.)  In all, I had about 25 different layers during processing.

I really enjoyed processing this set, as it provided a unique challenge in balancing two disparate elements — the landscape view and interior grunge. Very interesting…”

BEWARE by Rob Hanson


BEWARE by Bob Lussier:

“Mr G, this is awesome. I’ve only been to the Bay area once. This image makes me want to go back and explore. I kept to a relatively straightforward processing style for this. After running the brackets through Photomatix, I used a couple of filters in onOne’s PhotoTools suite. Just a touch of Blue Dawn Leonidas and some sharpening. I reversed the mask on the sharpening layer and removed the effect on the outdoors portion of the image. I wanted to make sure the interior maintained a crusty, grungy feel, in contrast to the slightly soft outdoors.”


BEWARE by Bob Lussier

BEWARE by Mark Garbowski:

“These brackets nearly broke me. I don’t think it was anything inherent to the brackets. I think it was me, but the difficulty was real.

In my first attempt, I tried using the outdoor window views from one original bracket while heavily modifying the interior. It just ended up a chaotic, ugly mess with lots of halos and chromatic aberrations.

I’m still not in love with this result but I am at least satisfied with it. I applied the Tea Stained filter from On One to the Interior, then added the following Nik filters to the entire image: Pro Contrast, Skylight, and Brilliance/Warmth (with slider set to slightly cool). The last two filters somewhat counteract each other but I prefer the result to how it looks without either one applied. Go figure.

Finally, I added a lens correction in Photoshop because I personally was distracted by the curved doors and windows.

Silent G: I don’t think you meant it to be this hard but as it stands you challenged me and in the end i enjoyed it. Thanks.”

BEWARE by Mark Garbowski


Thanks for your entries, gentlemen. See you for the next round.







HDR Processing Techniques – A New Video Tutorial   25 comments

Pismo Beach pier sunset, image by Mark Patton, post-processed by Rob Hanson

Pier Pressure - Image by Mark "KonaFlyer" Patton


It’s finally here!

I’ve long wanted to create a video tutorial as a way of passing along ideas that others have contributed along the path of learning HDR processing. It took the urging of one Mark “Konaflyer” Patton to have me get down to business on the project. (Hence, the title of the image, “Pier Pressure.”) Mark had emailed, wanting to know how I achieved a certain “glossy” look to some of my HDR images. As it turns out, creating the video — and working on Mark’s brackets — was a lot more fun than I expected! Best of all, Mark has graciously agreed to let me post his image and the video for all to see in the interests of passing along knowledge to others. Thanks, Mark! Please be sure to visit Mark’s great Flickr photostream.

Perhaps… it was a bit too much fun. The resulting video turned out to be an hour long as I took Mark’s brackets from the original RAW files to the final product you see here. Although Mark has viewed this in its entirety, I had to break it into five different parts in order to satisfy the 15-minute restriction on YouTube.  That’s okay, I figure; In between segments you can get a cup of joe, slap yourself awake, or otherwise lift your spirits as we get down to some of the fine points of post-processing. I promise that next time I create a video, I’ll make it 15 minutes, or less.

I’ve included the embedded YouTube videos here. Later, when this blog post gets buried in the archives, you can access the videos via my Tutorials page. Or, if you’d like to subscribe to my YouTube channel, you can receive updates whenever new videos are posted.

You can view the videos directly from this blog page, or view them on YouTube. Either way, please remember to view them in 720p mode if your system is capable of that.

This is my first go at creating a video and posting it. So, if you see anything amiss, please let me know right away.  If you find anything useful or helpful in all of this, I’d love to hear about that as well. Comments and feedback are always welcomed here.

Cheers, and happy viewing.


Part 1: Includes Introduction, Image Analysis, Creating multiple tonemaps in Photomatix Pro


Part 2: Includes Layering & Blending Tonemap Files in Photoshop CS5, Image Cleanup Techniques


Part 3: Includes Defringing, Denoise, LAHR Sharpening


Part 4: Includes Nik Color Efex Pro, Color Fixing


Part 5: Includes Cropping, Finishing, Output Sharpening, Saving, and Conclusion

~ Ma ~ (Empty Space)   5 comments

In North Carolina, cypress logs rise out of the Neuse River, rendered as an all-white background, highlighting Ma, or empty space


For best effect, I recommend viewing this image Large on a White Background

Ma is a Japanese word which can be roughly translated as “gap”, “space”, “pause” or as “the space between two structural parts.” In Japanese, ma suggests interval. It is best described as a consciousness of place, not in the sense of an enclosed three-dimensional entity, but the simultaneous awareness of form and non-form deriving from an intensification of vision.

Ma is the thing that takes place in the imagination of the human who experiences these elements. Therefore ma can be defined as experiential place understood with emphasis on interval.

There is no equivalent single word term for Ma in the English language. Sad, but true.

In composing this, I recalled the extraordinary and controversial work of John Cage with his composition 4’33” wherein the three movements are performed without a single note being played, allowing it to be perceived as the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed

Thirty spokes meet in the hub,
but the empty space between them
is the essence of the wheel.

Pots are formed from clay,
but the empty space between it
is the essence of the pot.

Walls with windows and doors form the house,
but the empty space within it
is the essence of the house.

— Lao Tse “The Uses of Not”

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.

HDR Expose from Unified Color: A First Look   2 comments


Greetings —

This blog has recently been converted from another site.  The original HDR Expose blog entry has been made into a tutorial, but I didn’t want to break any links…

Please click here to see HDR Expose from Unified Color: A First Look

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