Processing Ireland – Part 1

Exploring processing techniques

Vacations are wonderful, as they give us time to unwind from our daily stressors, explore new locations, meet people in these places and generally recharge our batteries. Of course, the photographers among us (isn’t that nearly everyone these days?) come back with lots of pictures to remind us of some of the things that we encountered.

One of the things that I like to do in my photographic adventures is to capture exposure bracketed sequences. In the past, I have processed those with HDRsoft’s Photomatix Pro, a program that I have enjoyed for years. As there were a couple of hiccups with the program yesterday, I decided to look and see what else is out there these days, and found Aurora HDR…

Torc Waterfall

This image of Torc Waterfall nearby Killarney is the first one that I processed with Aurora HDR. The process was pretty straightforward, as there are a significant number of pre-loaded collections of settings. I used a ‘Better Sunrise’ setting as a starting point and tweaked contrast and HDR enhancement sliders to get to this point. Clearly, there’s more to explore for me in Aurora HDR, but it’s not a bad first effort.

In my second image, I decided to go for something a bit more aggressive…

A Tree Grows

For this image of a tree that has been growing in the center of Ross Abbey for centuries, I went to the Artistic collection and picked the Muddy Black & White setting as a starting point; I set the opacity to about 80% to let a bit of color bleed through and then went after tweaks in contrast and microstructure to get to this result. I wanted a sense of something older and somewhat mysterious, which now makes me want to go back and spend more than the 15-20 minutes we had at this abbey!

Hope you enjoy!

Creating a bit of magic

Technology and mood combine into photography

The combination of technology and photography have allowed for some rather interesting advances in what we can capture and the ease, with which images can be created.  As a result, we have created a generation of ‘mad snappers’, who, at times, appear to be more intent on photographing or recording an event than experiencing it.

As a photographic dinosaur, I tend to be somewhat careful in my shooting, as if there is still film involved.  Mind you, that doesn’t mean that I won’t make use of the immediate feedback that the LCD panel provides on the back of my camera; it’s nice to get some fast feedback on image composition and to use the histogram for exposure details.  However, I tend not to photograph everything that I see.

Standing against the approaching weather, Nubble Light provides a beacon of hope and safety.

Nubble Light on Cape Neddick, Maine, is one of the subjects that I had avoided photographing for a long time; I have seen so many photographs of this lighthouse, many of which are very good, that I found it hard to imagine that I could do something to contribute to the Nubble Light oeuvre.  Maybe it’s a little pretentious, but I like for my images to have an impact and emotion to them.

Until this fine June afternoon, when my mother and sister were visiting from the Netherlands.  Something clicked in my mind, when I saw the interplay of sea, clouds and light, which urged me to take several series of varying exposures from this lower angle.

About six weeks later, when my mood was dark enough, I created this image from those exposures, infused with sufficient drama and dark emotion to make me happy with the end product.

Hopefully, you find something that strikes a chord in you within this image!

Old Photos Are Fun

I’m sure that many of you suffer from the same photographers’ malady that I have: tons of images that you have forgotten about! Now, that is not all bad, because I have taken some bad photos in the past (and will take more in the future), which are best forgotten.

Bay of Fundy at Low Tide
Bay of Fundy at Low Tide

On the other hand, my photo editing/processing skills have expanded and improved over the years, so some of those not-so-great photos might benefit from a bit of this new skill level.  As I went looking for the source file for a reasonably nice landscape of Peggy’s Cove that I took in 2007, I stumbled across an image at the Bay of Fundy that just never pleased me.  If I would take it nowadays, it would be as an HDR sequence, so that I could really get everything I wanted in the image.

However, thanks to the wonderful folks at HDRsoft and the fact that I have played with Photomatix Pro for years, there was the possibility to come up with something new in this image.  It is no longer a pure photo, as I went rather painterly on this image, but I really enjoy the mood that is captured here.

Let me know how you like it and about the photos you have resurrected from the past!

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.