Wednesday, December 30, 2009

HDR Alignment Tip

For Christmas, one of the gifts I received was Scott Kelby's "The Adobe Photoshop CS4 Book for Digital Photographers".  It's jammed packed with great tips on how to do everything from stack files in Adobe Bridge, to sharpening pictures the "professional" way.  Something new to this version vs the CS3 version I had prior is that he dedicates a chapter to HDR processing.  I learned a great new tip that I want to pass along to you.

Instead of creating the initial 32-bit HDR merged photo in Photomatix Pro, create it in Photoshop CS4 and then save it as an .hdr file.  Then do the tonemapping portion in Photomatix.

I wondered why he recommended this because I really couldn't find a justification as to why.  But, I think one of the reasons was because Adobe's alignment "engine" (for lack of a better term) is much better than Photomatix's.  For an example, I'll use a part of my Williamson County Courthouse and Tree shot that you can see on Flickr:

 Shot 1.

Shot 1 above is the shot after it was created in Photomatix and shot 2 below is the one created in Photoshop.  Check out the difference in alignment!  Most of my shots are like that toward the edges and it's been bugging me for quite a while.  I just can't get over how much better it is!

 Shot 2.

However, I noticed that the colors in the shot created by Photoshop are not quite as vibrant, but I think that can be overcome with a little post-processing.  Also, there are some artifacts that are dealt with a little differently, but nothing that the normal post-processing won't take care of as well.  The only other downside is that it takes quite a bit longer for Photoshop to merge the shots than Photomatix, but the wait may certainly be worth it.  Scott Kelby is THE MAN!

I'm certainly happy I got this book and can't wait to try it on some new shots.  Now, to find the time and the place to get out and shoot.  Hmmm... Where to go...?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!, originally uploaded by EvanGearing.
If there's anyone out there who reads this silly little blog, thank you and Merry Christmas. My wife and I wish you all the best during this holiday season.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"A World In HDR" Review

Trey Ratcliff, aka StuckInCustoms, finally released his new book, "A World In HDR".  Ever since he announced that he was writing a book, I couldn't wait to get it. I've been following Trey on his website and drooling over some of his wonderful images he's taken during his travels for quite a while now.  I even use some of the techniques he discusses in his tutorial, which has really helped my processing.  He's a big influence on my work.  I think I signed up to get it on Amazon back in August.  It finally came on Friday last week and I just finished reading it a day or two ago.  Now take what I'm about to say with a grain of salt.  This is my first book review and I still consider myself an intermediate photographer.  With all of that said, here's what I think:

Overall, I'm a little disappointed.  Maybe my expectations were way too high, but I really don't think so.

The book starts out with a chapter on what High Dynamic Range photography is and how your brain interprets light.  He explains that the eye darts around quickly, taking in different levels of light and how your brain puts the different light levels together in a sort of snapshot, giving you a vision of the scenery around you that a normal camera cannot possibly express in one snap of the shutter.   The next chapter quickly explains how art forms evolve, such as music, and how HDR is evolving photography.  In these two chapters, he uses words such as "synethesia" and "eleemosynary" and speaks about art quite well, but that's not for my taste.  I'm pretty simple and just want to get to the meat and potatoes of how to do it.   Time to break out the dictionary.  He then very quickly begins his showcase of amazing images and where he was when he took them.

The photography is stunning to say the least.  He is certainly a pioneer in this medium.  Some of my faves include, "The Magic of Disney", "The Icy Pit to Hell", and "Hong Kong From the Peak on a Summer's Night."  Shots such as these fill the pages through chapter 4 and make up the bulk of the book.  The descriptions of his images are a fun read.  Trey has a wry sense of humor that I enjoy.  When he talks about his Russian tent-mate Yuri or explains the steps you need to take to get a shot inside of a cathedral, I snickered a little too loudly.

Also included with the image on each page is a little technical blurb in red italics that tells you what he did in that particular photographic situation as far as f-stop, iso or even possibly processing.  However, it's not too in-depth and most of this technical info does not explain the actual settings he used in the software, save for maybe a couple of shots.  He really wants you to try to figure it out on your own for the most part.  I was hoping for more things like how much luminosity he used, did he used LucisArt in this one, did he use other software in that one.  Again, great shots, but not much technical info.

Speaking of technical, chapters 5 and 6 go into his tutorial and other software recommendations.  His tutorial in chapter 5 is fantastic.  After his instruction, one could really process photos into HDR quite easily.  However, it's the one you can get on his website for free, except for a couple of minor updates.  That was another little disappointment.  The only new thing I found here is that he changed the opacity of the brush tool for masking from 30% on the tutorial on his website, to 50% in the book.  He also explains double-tonemapping, which is new as far as I can tell.  That's about it.  Chapter 6 also reviews some other software that he uses and those reviews can be found on his website as well.

That's it!  No conclusion or anything.  So overall, I think it's a good book, but disappointing at the same time.  I think the tutorial should've been more toward the beginning of the book.  I think this would help prepare the reader with a foundation of what he did in some of the images where he actually does talk a little about the processing he performed.  Also, I really expected this book to include more about the actual settings he used in the software while processing each image and what other camera settings he used.  I remember watching one of his videos in Atlanta where a person he was with asked him what bracket settings he would use in a particular situation.  He would say something like (I'm paraphrasing), " I would bracket at -1 to +1 here because of this type of light."  THAT's the kind of stuff I was looking for!  I also really didn't care for all of the artsy-fartsy references to Monet, Renoit and the like.  But, this is an art form and I can't really ding him for this.  It's just a little too high-falutin' for me.

I guess I expected a technical book and what I got was an art book.  My first clue should have been the title, "A World In HDR".  That is a good title since it really discusses just that.

It's a great coffee table book and a great book for those getting started in HDR photography or have never heard of HDR photography.  But, for those of us who have been doing this for a little while now, you can get just about everything in the book from his website.  Not that that's a bad thing, but unless you want to help him by buying his book as a thank you for the work he's brought to the world, you may just want to stick with his StuckInCustoms website.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Georgetown Antique Mall

Georgetown Antique Mall, originally uploaded by EvanGearing.
Before work Wednesday morning, I decided to grab the camera and head to the square in my hometown of Georgetown, TX and try to get some shots before the streets started filling with cars. The square is a beautifully typical small town in Texas with the old courthouse in the middle and old western storefronts surrounding the courthouse on all sides. Some of the stores have great displays in their windows for the Christmas season and leave their lights on all night. It's perfect for the photographer. This is one of those storefronts. As you can see, it's the Georgetown Antique Mall with a wonderfully decorated Christmas tree and other holiday props. I just couldn't pass this one up.

It's a 5 bracket HDR from a Nikon D90, -2 to +2 EV at one stop increments. Other stats include ISO 200, f13 exposure, 11.5 mm.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Schlitterbahn Lights

Schlitterbahn Lights, originally uploaded by EvanGearing.
The Schlitterbahn water-park in New Braunfels, Texas has an event going on right now called the "Hill Country Christmas". They've decked out the whole park with lights, put in a skating rink and opened a couple water slides to be used as "alpine slides".. It's a great time for photos, but unfortunately while I was there, the rain drizzled, so some shots I took are quite worthless. However, some aren't too bad and I'm posting those. This is a shot of the entrance to an area where they have snow-making machines and a big indoor eating area for private parties. You can see a couple of water spots on the lens. It was all I could do to keep the lens clean. I should invent some sort of anti-water spot lens device like an internal lens heater to keep this from happening... Yeah, that's it!... On second thought, nah.

Friday, December 11, 2009

New Version of DXO Optics Released

I just received word that a new version of DXO Optics has been released... It's version 6.1. It's a great product to process photo from raw or jpeg to jpeg or tiff.  It corrects noise, lens distortion, color, and a whole host of other things to give you an even better shot than what first came out of your camera. I've used version 5.3.4 for a while before I started getting into the HDR thing.    Since then I haven't used it as much.  I'm looking forward to trying it because one thing intrigues me about this new version: supposedly it will render a shot to look like an HDR from one photo. Sometimes I try to get an HDR-type photo from one shot because multiple ones will have too much movement in it from wind or whatever, so this could be fun!  Here is the text from the email I received from them:

The DxO Labs team is pleased to inform you that DxO Optics Pro version 6.1 for Windows is now available!

Get professional-level image quality thanks to DxO Optics Pro.
Photographers the world over have recognized DxO Optics Pro's unique and automatic corrections for a large selection of DSLR cameras. In order to appeal to a broader user base, version 6.1 offers an even more intuitive user interface, more presets, and progressively more support for "advanced compact" cameras designed for the most demanding amateur photographers. DxO Optics Pro brings excellent results to photos shot with these cameras, in terms of both RAW conversion and optical corrections.

In addition to its large array of supported DSLR cameras, beginning with version 6.1, DxO Optics Pro now supports the Canon G11. DxO Labs will shortly add support for the Canon S90 in the days to follow, along with the Panasonic Lumix Lx3 and GH1 (slated for the beginning of 2010), as well as for other models in the advanced compact category.

Complete list of new features in v6.1 :

  • Support for the following cameras: Canon G11, Canon 7D, and Nikon D3000;
  • 56 new DxO Optics Modules for the following cameras: Canon 7D, 400D, 450D, 500D, Nikon D3, D300, D300s, D40x, D3000, Olympus E-30, E-420, E-510, E-620 and Sony A300;
  • Even more improvements to the user interface, include full-screen mode for easier photo viewing;
  • 6 new presets, including one that simulates HDR rendition—all from one shot and in one click! 

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Driskill XMas Tree

Driskill XMas Tree, originally uploaded by EvanGearing.
Here's another shot of the tree in the lobby of the Driskill. I think this will be the last of that as there are only so many angles and such, plus it's getting tiresome. It would probably be better to get this shot at night so there isn't so much daylight coming through, so I'll look forward to seeing other shots from the thing on Weds.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

BIG Topaz Bundle Deal - This weekend Only

No pics for this post, but I just wanted to pass a long a bit of info about the Topaz Bundle:

If you are interested they are offering a huge discount thru Scott Kelby's blog.  You can get the $179 Bundle for $119!  Pretty good deal.  I may get it for that!  The coupon code is SCOTTKELBY and is good thru midnight Sunday.  Almost can't pass that one up!

I'll have some more pics soon.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Christmas in the Driskill Mezzanine

Driskill Mezzanine, originally uploaded by EvanGearing.
Well, this past weekend I thought that I would take a trip to the Driskill Hotel on Monday during my lunch hour. Since it's beginning to be that time of year, I figured they they would have some nice decorations up. They sure do. It's looking very nice there.

Little did I know on Monday after I got back, I received Trey Ratcliff's newsletter stating that his book party was going to be at the Driskill with a photowalk there as well next week! Oh well. At least this way I got some shots without lots of photographers milling about. I still don't know if I can go or not. Also, one bad thing about going during my lunch hour is that I was a little rushed with all of my shots and the comps aren't the greatest. I'll have to go back another time and get some more when I have more time, whether it's Trey's party or not.

This is a shot on the mezzanine level, one floor above the main lobby.

One last thing I want to add here is that I processed these using PS CS4 and the Topaz Plugin Bundle. I'm trying these out as a possibility. I like Nik's software, but I've been using trial modes of those and they are oh so expensive. I think I get very similar results from Topaz and it's so much cheaper. I was wondering if anyone would like to tell me what you think, Topaz or Nik?

I have a couple more shots on my flickr photostream if you would like to take a look.


Disqus for Evan's Expo