HDR Imaging – An Introduction

Over the past number of years a tremendous amount has been written about HDR imaging and the state of the art has evolved at a rapid pace.  This blog contains some of my thoughts about this topic, some of the work that I have done in HDR and a tip or two.

First off, what is HDR? High Dynamic Range photography is a combination of photographic and editing techniques for extending the dynamic range of luminosity of an image.  What this means in real-world terms is that some of the darker parts of a scene can be treated with more light and some of the brighter parts can receive a bit less light, so that the overall effect results in a more complete viewing experience of the scene when processed.

A view over the Connecticut River at Turner's Falls.
A view over the Connecticut River at Turner’s Falls.

The concept of extending the dynamic range covered in an image is not as new, as you might think: in the 1850s, French photographer Gustave LeGray combined multiple negatives of sea and sky to create seascapes that are stunning to behold with dramatic skies.  Significant additional developments were made in the 1930s and 1940s through manual dodging and burning (increasing and decreasing of exposure) of areas in a negative to create a more dramatic print; Ansel Adams was a true artist in this process, as can be seen in many of his famous landscapes.

The advent of massive processing power in desktop computers combined with Digital Photography has created a new level of interest, which has allowed many photographers to capitalize on some of the algorithmic advances that have been made in the 1980s and 1990s in image processing.

Cape Neddick, ME, is the location of Nubble Light an oft-photographed landmark.
Cape Neddick, ME, is the location of Nubble Light an oft-photographed landmark.

At this point in time, there are also numerous cameras available, which do the HDR processing on-the-fly, taking multiple images and combining them into a single HDR image with preset processing settings.

As touched on earlier, the HDR process extends the dynamic range of luminosity in an image; this enables us to bring the range of image capture somewhat closer to that available in the human eye.  Camera sensors have gotten better over the past years, so that the range of the camera’s sensor starts to rival that of the human eye, which may lead one to think that the need for HDR is diminishing.  This definitely is true from the perspective of being able to ‘see’ as much as the human eye with the camera.

The fair bathroom is a piece of Americana that looks best in the early morning hours.
The fair bathroom is a piece of Americana that looks best in the early morning hours.

From my point of view, there is no diminished reason to use HDR imaging, as there are several benefits to working with HDR that cannot be achieved easily through other means, such as:

  • The setting of very specific moods within the image.
  • Creating that dramatic sky, which Gustave LeGray was after
  • Surreal, hyper-realism

There definitely are other great reasons for HDR, but these are some of my personal favorites.  I have included a couple of samples from my work with HDR in this post to give a bit of flavor.

I mentioned tips in the beginning of this post, so here are a couple from my experience with HDR:

  • Bring a tripod!  It will make your processing work that much easier later – the Cape Neddick image was shot free-hand with the camera on HDR, so it is possible)
  • If possible, meter the light, so that you can set your bracketing up correctly for a good range.  As a rule of thumb, I use -2, -1, 0, +1 and +2 for my exposure values in a range of 5 shots; more or less will work, depending on the scene.
  • Have a vision of what you want to achieve with your shot, before you process it.  Aimless HDR processing is never very fruitful, regardless of the quality of the software; with a vision in mind, you will know when you have arrived at the sweet spot of your endeavor.
  • Experiment!  Not every image will make a great HDR image, which can only be found out through experimentation.

And, of course, most importantly, have fun when working your images.  You’re not going to convince everyone that you did the right thing when processing your ‘killer’ image, but, if you’re happy with the end result, you can smile despite what someone else says about it.

Instagram Projects – 365 Skies

Many of us have looked at means to keep our photography fresh throughout the year, particularly those of us who suffer from one or more of the following symptoms:

  • not enough hours in the day
  • perfectionism, perfectionism, perfectionism
  • chasing the ideal shot

and many other maladies that get in the way of what we might term our creative muse.  Of course, most of these are self-inflicted, except, possibly, needing more than 24 hours to accomplish everything that we would like to do.  All of these are a matter of priorities, some of which you may say are outside the sphere of our control.

Morning at Tougas Farm.
Morning at Tougas Farm.

One of the crutches that many of us photographers will use is to undertake a longer-term, simple project to give us at least the feeling that we’re accomplishing something along the lines of our craft (dear reader, there is a hint of sarcasm there….more on that later).  Two years ago, I made the decision to grab a crutch and start a 365 day project, which went pretty well for a while, until I missed a day.  The project was to simply take a photo every day, which seems simple enough, but wasn’t simple enough for me to complete; I think I lasted about 4 or so months.

Early light over Rocky Pond
Early light over Rocky Pond

Of course, the failure to complete this project had the opposite effect of the intended one: I was disappointed that I couldn’t complete something this simple; the cause of this failure was not my inability to perform simple tasks, but rather my failure to plan ahead, or, to be more precise for this case, to set the right criteria for success.

Nearly all of us enjoy the accomplishment of reaching a goal that we have set for ourselves or that we have accepted as a challenge from someone else.  That being the case, why do so many of us fail to reach goals that we set for ourselves?  I’ll admit freely that this is not the first ‘self-imposed’ photography project that I failed to complete (there are even some non-photography projects on this list).

The good part that came from this failure is that I spent a little bit of time mulling over the reasons that I didn’t complete this project; a little time, but not much, as there were other shiny objects to attract my attention in due time.  Before I really understood the cause of my lack of success, I started another 365 Day project on January 1, 2013.

Snow with Blue Sky in Westborough.
Snow with Blue Sky in Westborough.

This project had a slightly different scope than my previous attempt; rather than leaving the project without any constraints, I decided to take a slight different strategy by setting the following constraints:

  • Each image was to be taken and posted on the day it was due
  • Each image was to be an Instagram

I will grant you that this is not very different from the previous attempt, as there was no constraint on subject matter, so the resultant images started all over the place, raining from items on my desk to flowers, cows, display cases, landscapes, what have you!

Northborough Savanna.
Northborough Savanna.

The initial foray into the 2013 project ranged from mildly inspired to uninspired photography, but at least lived up to the constraints that I set.  Clearly, uninspired photography is not what the goal is of a 365-day project, but it often comes with the territory, as we don’t always see things that inspire us in our daily journey through life.

What was different this time around, is that I started recognizing that there were opportunities for some inspired photography along the way, as I started seeing things in ways that I had not before both in terms of noticing items and being forced to think in a square format.  The other side effect is that I was reminded that there is a particular set of subjects in photography, for which my eye has a natural affection and I tend to photograph pretty well (even, if I say so myself – of course, we tend to be tough self-critics, which is one of the other things I learned to let go.

You can guess that there is a happy finish to this tale; I completed the 2013 365-day Instagram project with enough images of sufficient quality that I am putting them together in an 8×8 book (more on this in a future post), and, on the heels of rampant success, I have started my 2014 365-day project: 365 Skies.  What you will see posted for the year in this project are all Instagrams, but I am also taking the same scene with my DSLR, so that I can produce high-resolution HDR images of each day’s sky.  The reason for this is that I want to build my own library of skies to use in images in another series that I am slowly putting together: Surreal Tales (yes, you guessed it….there will be a future post about this).

My apologies for this long-winded post, which I hope you enjoyed.  If this reminds you of something that has been challenging for you, I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Kryptomorphaics #8 – Invasive Species

Invasive Species
Invasive Species

Image Description

This image is a bit different in the ‘Kryptomorphaics’ series in that it did not include any camera-based manipulation of the image.  ‘Invasive Species’ became apparent to me, as I was wondering through the systematic garden at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts.  I was on the prowl for some great new additions to the aforementioned series of abstract images and found a good number of them (the album can be found on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/frankjansenphotography/ – under ‘Projects in Progress’ ).  When I first looked at the flora presented to me in the small pond, my eyes went to some of the flowers and its structure against the sky; they presented an interesting subject, but didn’t have the pull, for which I tend to look in a subject.  Allowing my eyes to trace the outline of the reeds and flowers downward, I was surprised by the stillness of the reflection and closed in for a better look.

Taking a step unto the stone surround of the pond, I noticed that there was a hint of a breeze at the top of the reeds, while the surface of the pond remained quiet and glassy.  There was an abundance of small particulate matter floating in the pond, which gave me a sense of stellar matter floating throughout a galaxy; the tentative reflection of a bit of cloud hints at a galaxy that is reasonably close on the scale of the universe, but still distant enough to not directly affect the species floating throughout the vast empty space.  As the story of this plant-like species’ journey through the vastness of space began to unfold in my mind, I could see it taking the role of an invasive species looking to colonize some unsuspecting planet that suited its particular needs.  Surrounded by a cloud of seedlings, which are purposed to protect the main organism and scan the space ahead for a potential home world.  We cannot fully grasp the scale of the organism: it may be the size of a large city, such as New York, or as large as a small moon.  Only the destruction that it leaves in its wake gives us a measure of its voracity and appetite.

Enjoy this image, and don’t hesitate to let me know what it means to you.  I am curious how you may read the image.

Technical Details

This image was captured at 100 ISO, F/13 at 1/30 second shutter speed.  Color and contrast were adjusted for the desired effect in Photoshop.

Kryptomorphaics #7 – Centripetus

Reality viewed through a web of perception

Image Description

On a beautiful Summer’s day I stopped at a rolling meadow to capture some of the landscape with my camera; less than twenty minutes later I got back in my car with a number of images, one of which is ‘Centripetus’.

In photographing landscapes, there is always a desire in me to capture something unusual that has not been seen the same way by all who were at the site.  Whether it is the beauty of the sky, unusual features traversing the landscape or an alternate point of view, there should be something in a landscape image that makes the viewer want to look more than once.

With my eyes alertly searching for just the right kind of view that would make an interesting photograph, I squinted a bit as I walked past a tree and some small bushes growing next to it; looking through the bushes toward a horizon that showed a beautiful color palette across the sky, I sensed something more.

The more that I sensed consists of a view through these very bushes toward the reality that lies beyond them, not a clear view, but one filtered through a veritable web of perception.  This view draws us in with the knowledge that there is more to be discovered beyond these bushes; we thirst to pass through the web and uncover what our eyes cannot yet see, while our entire being is tugged by the impetus to approach the center.

Take a moment to allow the eyes to slowly adjust and let themselves be drawn in; float with them and feel the force that resides within the green world in front of us.

Technical Details

This image was captured at 100 ISO, F/22 at 1/3 second shutter speed.  A snappy zoom twist with a modicum of camera rotation was used to create a sense of webbed delight.

Kryptomorphaics #6 – Introspection

Blue view of glacially deposited rocks

Image Description

In this image, ‘Introspection’, a sense of deep blue thoughts is evoked from within a deposit of rocks, brought to the site most likely with the help of the slow, methodical, yet inexorable power of a glacier.  These rocks have seen much change around them, while they themselves have changed only slowly; withstanding the test of time, they absorb the vibrations of the universe, as they pulse through them.  These rocks are an ancient recording device, filled with information, which may have immense value, if only it can be extracted.

The wisdom of the rocks stands in stark juxtaposition to the assumptions that we, humans, make about them; we hurl rocks as an insult to those, who we consider of inferior intellect: you have ROCKS for BRAINS!  If we take into consideration that every rock has been a receiver of universal data for many aeons, we should be astounded by the cornucopia of knowledge that resides within each pebble; the volumes of data that exist within a brain-sized boulder will indubitably contain all of Einstein’s theories, quantum mechanics and string theory.  If we think what might be stored in the rocks that make up Stonehenge, it will be well beyond our comprehension!

When the vibrations from these glacial deposits operate in harmony with our mind, wondrous images appear, an epiphany of geological proportions; allow the rocks to speak to you and listen carefully to their incantations…

Technical Details

This image was captured at 100 ISO, F/22 at 0.5 second shutter speed.  A reasonably quick twist of the zoom barrel brought out the flow from the rocks.  The original image was cropped and rotated 90 degrees; color and contrast were enhanced in Photoshop, but no effects were added to alter the image from that captured in the camera.

Kryptomorphaics #5 – Pyroplasm 3x

Starbirth in the Universal Fires
Pyroplasm 3x

Image Description

‘Pyroplasm 3x’ is one of the images that sprang from the first series of abstract images that I created within my camera.  Sitting around a campfire with a group of fellow photographers, I mused over photographing the fire in front of me; looking to capture more of the content that lies within the fire rather than a purely pictorial representation, I opened my senses to the nature of the fire and its very essence.  As a purely physical phenomenon, fire is the oxygenation of gaseous materials; upon deeper examination fire shows itself to have a life-force, to which many firefighters surely relate, as they stare down the flames and try to understand the next move of the fire in font of them.

Allowing my senses to open themselves up further to the campfire, I not only watch the playful dance of flames and feel the heat projecting from the various parts of the fire, but also listen intently to the sounds emanating from the fire and smell the oils in the wood and the smoke.  Going deeper, bringing myself to meditate while focused on the intensity of the center of the flames, I begin to feel the strength of the universal processes at work and begin to connect with the creative forces that are an innate part of fire’s destructive power.  Through this connection, I capture this image of creation juxtaposed by destruction, a universal dance of life and death.

I expect that each may have a different reaction to this image at various emotional levels, ranging from the visceral to the intellectual.  Enlarge the image and allow time for the senses to connect with it; please share what you feel in this capture, as I enjoy your thoughts and feedback.

Technical Details

This image was captured at 100 ISO, F/9 at 8 second shutter speed.  A gentle zoom twist was employed to get the some of the sense of flow.  A steady hand ensured that the continuity of the gaseous flow was preserved in the image.  The original image was cropped and rotated 90 degrees; color and contrast were enhanced in Photoshop, but no effects were added to alter the image from that captured in the camera.

Exeunt Omnes

View past the stables in Westborough
Exeunt Omnes

Image Description

‘Exeunt Omnes’ is a view towards a doorway and past stables in an abandoned farm building near the former Westborough State Hospital in Massachusetts.  The environment is rich with detail that asks to be examined at leisure by the viewer.

The scene invokes thoughts of being in a forsaken, lonely place, where those who came before have all left a long time ago.  Despite their departure, we still feel them in how their existence impacted the environs in a palpable manner: initials on the door, drawings in the concrete, broken glass.  What occurred at this site?  Was it a warm, welcoming place at one time?

Allow yourself to be drawn in to explore in detail what you see ahead.  Follow those who came before toward the exit and the warm light that beckons.  Heed their warnings as you pass.

Technical Details

This image is an HDR composite of 5 exposures.  Photomatix Pro was used for the HDR processing.  It is also available as a limited edition print (16″x21″), which underscores the dramatic tension within the scene through rich tones and exquisite detail.

Kryptomorphaics #4 – Brush Abstraction 1

Zooming abstraction of a brush pile
Brush Abstraction 1

Image Description

‘Brush Abstraction 1’ beckoned me to explore its possibilities, as I walked past a seemingly innocuous pile of twigs that remained from cleaning up the apple orchard that I was photographing.  As I examined the brush pile, I felt drawn into a possible point of entry into an alternate space; not the traditional wormhole as described in physics and science fiction, but a solid connection with a plane of consciousness that hummed with the universal energy which pervades the universe.

As the eyes are relaxed and allowed to explore the various aspects of this image, you may feel your mind and maybe your entire presence drawn into the layered depths of exploration that surround all of us at all times. Go adrift and open all your senses while carefully listening to what they tell you.  You may feel yourself accelerating at times, then spinning or alternately floating along threads within the universe that guide your everyday movements unbeknownst to you.  Enjoy the feeling and breathe in the experience.  Be sure to detach yourself slowly from this journey, so that its effects connect and possibly enrich into your daily life.

After reading this blog entry, click on the image and spend a minute or so absorbing the visual content while focusing only on your breath, as in meditation.  Take a moment to reflect upon where the image takes you, and please share your experience in a comment to this entry; I look forward to hearing about your journey!

Technical Details

This image was captured at 100 ISO, F/22 at 1/13 second shutter speed.  A snap zoom twist was employed to get the radial blur.

Kryptomorphaics #3 – Cryptomorphosis 1

Angleic Butterfly emerging from Vines
Cryptomorphosis 1

Image Description

‘Cryptomorphosis 1’ received its title from what it performs in front of the viewer: the hidden (cryptic) content is transformed (morphed) to reveal itself.  An ethereal shape takes form in this image, as the energies flow through it, or, possibly, radiate from it.

Careful observation of nature in all its forms may lead us to uncover latent structure that resides beneath the first layer that we see.  The outer sheath presents a first order approximation of the power that dwells within each aspect of the flora and fauna of our planet.  As we know from Einstein’s equation that mass contains massive amounts of energy, we merely need to peel back the outer coverings to allow the living spirit within to appear before our eyes.

But this process is similar to what happens when we catch something with the corner of our eye, only to have it elude our senses when we turn to look straight at it: only at the most oblique angles and with all our senses attuned, will the cryptic form reveal itself to us.

Next time when you encounter Mother Nature in your daily travels, relax all your senses and let your intuition guide you where to turn your eyes to uncover what lies beneath the surface; you may surprise yourself and see an entirely new light!

Technical Details

This image was captured at 100 ISO, F/22 at 0.4 second shutter speed.  A gradual zoom twist was employed to get the radial blur, while taking an angle that would smear the white tips of the variegated vine to the upper left of the image.

Kryptomorphaics #2 – Orchard Tilt

Flying through an Apple Orchard into Another Dimension
Orchard Tilt

Image Description

In ‘Orchard Tilt’, the viewer is invited to release their mind from the bonds put upon them by the prevailing realities of the dimension, in which they travel, and let it escape to pull them into an alternate dimension, where they are free to explore and discover all that lies just beyond.

In our dreams we may find ourselves flying, as we are given the opportunity to go beyond gravity’s grasp into the sky; this infers a desire for exploration to push beyond the boundaries, within which we live our daily lives.  This very desire sets us apart and enables us to envision possibilities, strive for the heavens and achieve what was once described in fiction only.

Another aspect of ‘Orchard Tilt’ is that it provides a depiction of where the mind can go, when it moves beyond the limits of the body.  This is much like the experience one may have during meditation.

Technical Details

This image was captured at 100 ISO, F/22 at 0.16 second shutter speed.  A fairly rapid zoom twist was employed to get the radial blur.

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