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Archive for the ‘HDR’ Category

In the Port of Ilwaco, WA.

Barbed wire waves, St. Elmo’s fire glowing electric in the rigging, the stain of neglect on her bow; run aground on reefs of time: there she sits, high and dry.

My son said, half-jokingly, that he’d like to live on her and fix her up. If only :-)

I suggest viewing this in original size.

Making the Photo:

We were visiting the Port on a Sunday morning, strolling down the unusually quiet quay with my wife, son and his girlfriend, when these day-glow orange floats across the street from the docks snuck into my peripheral vision. They were piled up against a fence next to a holding area filled with boats in various stages of repair or decay. I left the group and walked a bit closer, then spotted the Jeanie O and this composition just jumped into the viewfinder. I spot-metered on the boat’s window under the vertical topaz-colored mast and made this single shot.

Because the contrast ratios were high, I really wanted to shoot this as HDR, but opted not to try it hand-held. So I then walked a few hundred yards back to our car, got my tripod, returned to the scene and set up. Problem was, by the time I went to the car and back, the family had caught up with me and we’d started gabbing, and the “moment” was lost; guess I just broke my concentration. What I got was ok, but I knew I hadn’t duplicated this exact composition again (in the bright light of the location, the camera’s LCD screen was pretty much useless for critical viewing).

Back at the computer, after deciding to go with this, I processed the RAW file as a pseudo-HDR in Photomatix.  The purpose was to “process the digital negative” to reduce the contrast, particularly to pull the highlights away from being blown. Next the shot was processed for sharpness and noise reduction. Great noise reduction software is a must when processing most pseudo-HDRs; the darker regions tend to get noisy really fast. Then I used Topaz Adjust for post-processing, and the first result was this:

_DSC1623-pseudo_PS-fixer-noise-Topaz-ExpCor^adapt-clone

This is a nice “straight” representation of the scene. But when I shot this, what got me about the composition was the sense that the ship was riding up, over the obstacles in front, like a ship rises over waves in the sea. Sitting there looking at the screen, the title phrase “The Wreck of the Jeanie O” sprang into mind… and the clear-cut desire to present this as a dramatic scene – reminiscent of a wreck at sea – swept over me, well, like a wave. So back into Topaz Adjust for post processing (to match my “post visualization”).  The result was this:

_DSC1623-pseudo_PS-works-FLATTENED-1-TWOTJO-1

I still have some difficulty with “expressive” photography. I was trained to accomplish, and strived to achieve photo realism; non-interpretive rendering. But just as I’ve learned to let the urge to shoot a subject take over (when the urge to shoot hits, I shoot) so I’m learning to let myself alter a photo to tell a tale. The key word is “let”. The urge to go with a bit of “ghost ship” on this was strong, and came straight out of the right brain; it wasn’t planned or considered; I didn’t stop and think about what to do; “maybe I should try this…” No, the right brain had the thought, knew what to do, and did it. I, the left brain, had to shut up and stay out of the way.  After the processing, part of me wanted to start quibbling; “Oh, what about this? And What about that?” And the right brain had to say “Shush. It’s ok… just relax and enjoy it.”

Subject note:

A wreck the Jeanie O is, but she didn’t run aground on the rocks surrounding Cape Disappointment (I love the names Lewis and Clark gave to places on this coast. “Dismal Notch” may be my favorite…). She’d run aground on reefs of neglect, spurred on by the economics of making and keeping her sea worthy.  But the world of “people who go down to the sea in ships” is not a consumer-driven use-it-and-throw-it-away culture. So it wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that someone actually plans to restore the Jeanie O and take her home to the sea. If the hull is sound, the rest can be fixed.

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The Americana Diner in Hightstown, NJ.

Gleaming stainless steel, bright neon lights – cases full of goodies…

5 shot HDR handheld.

Making the photo

Saying “HDR” in a note on Flickr might be called “trolling for pixel-peepers”. But this shot begged for HDR. The contrast ratios were extreme – we’ve got direct line-of-sight to both the neon signs and the fluorescent bulbs in the goodies case, and bright reflective shiny areas from a multitude of highlight spots and floods. But we’ve also got areas of important detail in dark shadow. Furthermore, the “spread spectrum” effect – the smear of light that can be had with HDR is effective in portraying an “old time” look, appropriate for the subject.

The problem of course is that I’m in a public place, with no tripod or lights, and although this was before the dinner crush, there were people scurrying about. So, there are two photographic problems to solve; how get that shot – adequately sharp – without a tripod, and how to control the scene – at least enough to get the shot I visualized.

As for steadying the camera, I  was able to lean against a half-wall to help steady my body, but above the hips it was “photographer as tripod”. Now, there are a multitude of sites that describe proper camera holding, and everything applied here; elbows close in, camera held firmly, shoot on the exhale…and of course my camera/lens combo has built in anti-shake – without which getting a sharp single shot, let alone a HDR series, would have been pretty well impossible for this old photographer. But here’s the tip of the day: HDR software, the software that assembles individual images into the HDR master, is pretty good at aligning images which are displaced laterally and horizontally. Got that? it can automatically align left/right or up/down shifts. The anti-shake in most cameras does exactly the same thing. Together, they really push the odds of success with hand-held work  But neither the software nor the hardware anti-shake can do much if anything about pivots and twists. i.e. HDR software can help with shake. But it doesn’t help much if at all with camera twist or pivot because those things alter convergence – creating apparent changes in size; different parts of the image will be zoomed relative to each other. Displacement the software can deal with; differential zoom it cannot.

So, let the software and the built-in anti-shake deal with the displacements, and you concentrate on minimizing rotations. Combine the two and with a touch of luck you can get a good HDR shot (and by "good" I always mean; satisfactory for your purpose).

Of course it’s better to use a tripod; but even if you have one with you, you can’t always use one, so knowing how to make the most of what you’ve got will enable you to make shots you’d otherwise miss.

Scene control can be much more difficult to manage in an ad-hoc shooting environment. If you’ve recruited people to be in the scene you can give some direction, but in a totally candid scene such as this one must pick the critical moments as carefully as one picks the timing of a wave crashing to the shore. But for all of that, getting people to stand still for most scenes is challenging. But there is a solution.

Trey Ratcliff, arguably one of the modern masters of HDR, wrote an excellent tutorial on the subject which you can find on his blog here. In essence, you take the best single shot, process it to match the HDR tonally, then layer it and the HDR in Photoshop and mask the HDR over the single shot, allowing various pieces of the single shot(s) to be visible. The result is that certain elements, in this case the head of the waitress in the shot, can be rendered as sharp as your single shot allows.

You have a choice of what elements to emphasize in the final image. You can combine as many layers as you like, highlighting blur in one part of the final image, emphasizing tack-sharpness in another, until you arrive at the result which best satisfies your intentions.

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I took the exposures for this during my trip to Minnesota last summer, but only just got to process it this week.

Minneapolis is a vibrant, growing metropolis. But down by the Mississippi a district of old buildings has been preserved near St. Anthony Falls. This falls is the only falls on the Mississippi and its potential as a source of power – the engine of industry – was not lost upon those who built this place. The Stone Arch Bridge was built in 1883 to carry railroad cars as part of a major engineering project that included complex waterworks diverting the river’s power to turbines which in turn powered the numerous mills that grew along the shore. Many of those mills remain household names in America: Pillsbury, General Mills, Gold Medal, and many others.

I had very little time to explore this structure (people were waiting), and rain had started spitting from the storm clouds that turned the sky a vibrant purple in spots. This shot was made standing on the bridge (now a pedestrian and cyclist walkway – the last train traveled its length in 1965) looking back at the city. Sturdy, old, Midwestern mills frame beautiful modern structures reflecting strong sky light and clouds illuminated by the sun.

If you get up that way I suggest checking it out – photo ops abound!

Notes on making the picture

The scene was actually rather flat, but bright highlights in the distant window reflections and small shadows of the brick-lines contained key visual elements. So, while not a “typical” HDR scene, the small very dark and very bright bits had to be dealt with. So a 5 shot bracket was made (I should comment that my basic policy is “when possible and practical, bracket.” It’s cheap insurance: these days, with Digital cameras and digital film, banging off an extra few exposures is trivial and painless).

So here was a scene in which those distant windows, though tiny, were key. They were vibrant and colorful (I suggest viewing the image large on Flickr, then look closely at those distant building windows – you can make out the stunning cloud-scene reflected there). It’s accurate to say this is the subject of this photograph – “storm clouds reflected in distant windows- storm light on buildings”. There lay the other problem. The foreground buildings were in shadow from the clouds, flattening the scene. Worse, the muted yellow/brownish color of the bricks can suck the blue out of a bright sunlit sky, in shadow their colors turn downright dark and muddy, lifeless.

All of this was going through my head while setting up and taking the shot (complicated by, no tripod, wind and spits of rain).

Back at the computer, I processed the raw files with photomatix using the default settings. I then corrected the image for lens and convergence distortion (5 degrees) using a great little utility called PT-Lens (setting up the shot I knew I wanted the image as rectilinear as practical). Then it was off to Photoshop (and a couple of plugins) for contrast, color, sharpness and noise adjustments. The tricky part was that the brightnesses of the chimney and surrounding brick structures (i.e. what they’d look like in B&W) were very similar. However, the colors were sufficiently different that they could be successfully accentuated by pushing the saturation. The overall effect was adjusted to get the tonalaties of the foreground structures right – they “read right”, but those colors are more like what you would see on a sunny day. With these setting the distant newer buildings take on an other-worldy appearance – and the window reflections border on over-the-top… and for now, I decided to leave it that way. It further highlights the differences between the new and the old, the surreal and the real…

Then I’m sitting there looking at the image on-screen, and the light goes on in my head and I say – that’s what I wanted when I snapped the shutter.

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