Click here for more information about Harold Davis photography workshops.
Featured workshop: 2013.12.07 and 2013.12.08—Photographing Flowers for Transparency, Two-Day Workshop
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Category Archives: HDR
The Chateau de Nazelles is located a few miles from Amboise in the Loire Valley. Built by some of the same craftsmen that constructed Chenonceau Chateau, today it is a wonderful bed and breakfast that I used as a base of operations. This image, in monochromatic HDR, conveys the feeling that being there is like visiting old France—and is more like a line drawing, or lithograph, than a photo. However, color images to come will also show the incredible lushness of the Loire in spring.
Exposure info: Nine exposures, each exposure at f/22 and ISO 100, with shutter speeds ranging from one second to 1/200 of a second; tripod mounted; exposures combined using Nik HDR Efex Pro and processed in Photoshop, with monochromatic conversion using Nik Silver Efex Pro and Photoshop black & white adjustment layers.
There’s one somewhat discordant element in this tableau of a metallurgic assayer’s desk, shot at Laws Railroad Museum near Bishop, California. What is the gun doing in the image?
According to the docent I spoke with, most assayers tended to deal in gold and other precious metals as well as to assay it. The natural tendency for miners hitting what passed for civilization out of their stakes in Death Valley or the Panamint Range was to want to get some ready money quickly—no doubt for some to spend on booze and women in wild boom towns like Bodie. These miners would often come to feel that they had been low-balled by assayers who had taken advantage of them; hence, a revolver to defend against disgruntled small mining stake-holders was standard equipment for most metallurgists.
Exposure data: 52mm, ten exposures at shutter speeds between 1/80 of a second and five seconds, each exposure at f/13 and ISO 200, tripod mounted; exposures combined using Nik HDR Efex Pro and Photoshop, and converted to monochromatic using Photoshop, Nik Silver Efex and Topaz Adjust.
In the desert life is harsh, and the intensity of light reflects the harshness of conditions. Photography is best at the fringes of the day—the “golden hour” leading up to sunset, the half hour just after sunset, and the half hour of comparatively serene light one finds at dawn.
I created this monochromatic HDR image shortly after sunrise in Glorieta Canyon, part of the Anza-Borrego Desert in southeastern California. To make the image I used my 200mm macro lens, and mounted my camera on a tripod. There were five exposures, shot at ISO 100 and f/16. Shutter speeds varied between 1/13 of a second (darkest) and 1.3 seconds (brightest).
The images were processed from the RAW using Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) and Nik HDR Efex Pro, then combined in Photoshop using layering. I used Photoshop, Nik Color Efex, Topaz Adjust, Topaz Simply, and PixelBender to enhance the image. Finally, I converted the image to monochromatic using Photoshop, Nik Silver Efex, and a “reserved” layer from the original HDR Efex monochromatic HDR processing.
Above 10,000 feet in the arid White Mountains in eastern California the ancient Bristlecone Pines thrive. In this extreme environment wood decomposes slowly, and these trees can look more dead than alive. In this state a tree can live on for centuries, the spark of life embedded within the enduring structure of wood.
Coming upon a composition of apparently dead wood formed by a living Bristlecone Pine, I could see that I wanted a black and white image that showed the spectacular patterns of wood grain—and also that the ability to make this image was beyond the tonal range of any single capture. So I resolved my dilemma by making multiple captures, and taking the image from mundane to striking in its tonal variety.
Exposure and processing data: 200mm macro lens, six exposures at shutter speeds ranging from 1/500 of a second to 7/10 of a second, each exposure at f/32 and ISO 200, tripod mounted; RAW files processed in Adobe Camera RAW and Nik HDR Efex Pro with post-production in Photoshop, monochromatic conversion using Photoshop and Nik Silver Efex Pro.
In this image of the Bay Bridge the moon seems to be “captured” within the tower of the Bay Bridge. The image is a hand-HDR blend of six exposures at shutter speeds from 1/2 of a second to 8 seconds. During one of the exposures the lights for The Bay Lights, an art installation and project by Leo Villareal that will come on “for real” on March 5, 2013 appeared briefly (in testing mode I guess), and I painted them in on a layer at about 30% opacity. Note that this light show has nothing to do with the 75th anniversary of the Bay Bridge, which has come and gone—and is simply a rather wonderful art installation.
The sequence of exposures in this image was shot during Saturday’s smashing moonrise adventure workshop—which I feel was good photographically and a very successful workshop despite the break-in of my van. I started with color images, combined them, manipulated them in post-production to create an image with an extended range of tonal values—withthe results shown below. To finish the image, I then converted it to black and white, using layers and masking to control how each section of the image converted.
Wandering on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais, high above Stinson Beach, the Bolinas lagoon, Duxbury Reef, and the open Pacific the seascape below was cloud-covered. As the sun began to set, thermals opened an area offshore and I was reminded of a quote from Thoreau of Walden fame: “Who has not seen in imagination, when looking into the sunset sky…the foundation of all those fables?”
There’s magic in the sunset sky, yet we’re scared to succumb to such a simple infatuation. Beauty can make us grumpy, and put us in mind of postcards. Actor Dustin Hoffman cynically put it this way: “I envy people who can just look at a sunset. I wonder how you can shoot it. There is nothing more grotesque to me.”
Photography can be many things. I’m here to tell you it is okay to shoot sunsets. Personally, I cannot look at one without being moved, and recognizing the foundation of fables as day turns to night.
In New York’s Central Park the lush—but artificial—landscapes make the cityscape look almost pastoral in its beauty. Central Park is the landscape architecture masterpiece of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, created in the mid 1800s.
Almost everything about the landscape of Central Park—lakes, meadows, hills, and rocks—was artfully and artificially created and placed. The result is an apparent pastoral paradise in which glimpses of the city only seem to enhance the lush natural landscape. The building shown reflected in the man-made lake in this image is the tower of the luxury Sherry Netherland Hotel, located along Fifth Avenue at the southern end of the park.
When designing Central Park, Olmsted and Vaux turned to the Yosemite Valley floor as a source of inspiration (Olmsted had visited Yosemite a few years before beginning the Central Park design). Compared to the wilderness landscape, Central Park seems faux (if you’ll pardon the rhyme with “Vaux”)—but certainly a wonderful enhancement to life in New York.
How the image was made: This is five exposures taken with my camera on a tripod. Each exposure was shot at 18mm, f/13, and ISO 200. Shutter speeds ranged from 1/2 a second to 1/320 of a second. I used Photoshop and Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 to create a single composite High Dynamic Range (HDR) image.
On a rooftop high above New York the lights of the city sparkled in the night. From so far above even the noise of the city was muted—all I could hear was an occasional siren far below, echoing in the strong wind.
To make this image, with my camera on a tripod, I used manual exposure control to snap five exposures. I used my 10.5mm fisheye lens. Each exposure was at ISO 200 and f/3.5. The shutter speeds ranged from 2/5 of a second to 15 seconds.
I was on the road and didn’t have much time for elaborate HDR post-processing, so I simply fed the images through Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 at the default settings, with the results you see above.
In fact, as the author of Creating HDR Photos: The Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Photography, one kind of HDR or another informs most of my photography.
Want to learn my HDR thoughts and techniques?
Here are some comments of participants from my previous HDR Bootcamp workshop:
- “Great day to learn how to better take and process single and bracketed images for maximizing dynamic range.”
- “Excellent. Great new material and clear explanations of techniques and new software.”
- “Harold offered an excellent overview of HDR technique. He took the time to ensure that each of us was able to follow along in making HDR images manually and then in processing them in several different software programs.”
- “Incredibly helpful workshop. I feel like I now have the knowledge to do HDR the right way.”
- “This ‘Bootcamp’ was well organized , well paced, good value-added content. I enjoyed it and got a lot out of it.”
So far as I know I am the inventor of my process for creating images of flowers using a lightbox that are transparent—actually, images that seem translucent. This process relies on digital capture and post-production techniques and would not have been possible in film photography.
Like all photography the technique relies on illusion. Specifically, the illusion in this case has to do with the fact that lighter areas in an image can appear more translucent to the human eye—whether or not they actually are. The reality is that the effect has to do with color differential rather than degrees of opacity, but this is not the way the difference is perceived.
The technique for creating these images involves four distinctive stages, with aspects worthy of commentary at each stage:
- Manually bracketed HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography using backlighting
- Combining the bracketed exposure sequence using hand-HDR
- Adjusting the combined image
- Placing the image on a scanned or textured background (this step is optional)
The key observations about the HDR process I use in this technique are that it is high-key and that it is manual. High-key means that I throw away everything to the right of the histogram, I am really only looking for frames that are “overexposed” (at least according to the in-camera light meter). Manual means that I am not using an auto-bracketing program. There is more information about this style of HDR in Creating HDR Photos on pages 82-85.
In my book Photographing Flowers: Exploring Macro Worlds with Harold Davis there is a spread showing both the photographic setup I use for this technique and the manually bracketed exposure sequence that I used with a specific image (pages 184-185).
Putting together the bracketed exposure sequence is also a manual affair. Essentially, I start with the lightest image (to use as the white background) and use Photoshop to selectively paint in the contrasting areas I want for the final image. Usually this involves 4-6 different exposures and layers. I then often very selectively paste in some structurized details from an automated HDR program such as Nik HDR Efex Pro.
With Schizanthus grahamii and Iceberg Roses (shown above) I used a 40mm macro lens, and with my camera on a tripod shot six exposures with shutter speeds ranging from one second to 1/100 of a second. Each exposure was at f/10 and ISO 100. I combined the images starting with the one second exposure version (the lightest capture) as the bottom frame.
The image was finished by placing it on a scanned paper background. The formula I usually use is to blend the floral on white into a scanned background at 15% opacity using Normal blending mode, and (using a duplicate layer) also at 85% opacity using Multiply blending mode.
My technique for placement on a scanned paper background is shown and explained on pages 190-193 of Photographing Flowers.
Of course, another issue is the paper I print the image on—using special Washi such as the Moab Moenkopi Unruyu I used to print Peonies mon amour (shown above) can increase the appeal of an image greatly.
If my technique for photographing flowers on a lightbox intrigues you, may I suggest the Photographing Flowers for Transparency workshop I am giving in December 2012? This is a one-time special purpose event that will include demos and a chance for participants to try their hand at the technique with my guidance.
Most of the Bay area was sunny and blue, but a swath of fog washed in from the Pacific and buried the Golden Gate. From beneath the bridge pilings on the Fort Point battlements the view up of the Golden Gate Bridge seemed ancient and mysterious—subject matter that clearly beckoned for treatment as monochromatic HDR (High Dynamic Range) with its contrasts between the bright fog and the dark details of the bridge girders.
With my camera on my tripod pointing straight up, and a wide angle focal length (12mm), I made nine exposures. Each exposure was at f/8 and ISO 200. I manually bracketed between 1/50 of second (lightest) and 1/2500 of a second (darkest).
Putting the bracketed exposures together in the digital darkroom was a bit time consuming. My primary tool was Nik HDR Efex Pro 2, but I also used some hand-layering in Photoshop. I used the color conversion process to increase contrast and to continue to increase dynamic range—so when the time came to convert color values to black and white it wasn’t hard to create an interesting monochromatic image. My primary black and white conversion tool was Nik Silver Efex 2. I also used a Photoshop’s B&W Adjustment layer, choosing the Red Filter preset.
For more about my monochromatic HDR techniques you might want to take a look at my books Creating HDR Photos: The Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Photography and Creative Black & White: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques. Also note an upcoming HDR Bootcamp workshop and a digital Black & White Masterclass.
Here’s the color version of the image (before the black and white conversion):
And, just for fun, here’s a monochromatic inversion, created mostly by inverting the luminosity information in the monochromatic image, kind of like what one would have looking at a film negative as opposed to the positive print that could be made from the negative:
What takes eight exposures, a tripod, and a range of 12 EVs? If you guessed a RAW exposure sequence manually bracketed for HDR (High Dynamic Range) with a strongly back lit window display of old bottles in a mock-up antique apothecary (with stuffed and dimly-lit shelves to either side) you’d be right regarding the image below. I shot it at the unique and wonderful Laws Railroad Museum near Bishop, CA.
My eight exposures were shot at a 22mm focal length, an aperture of f/8 and an ISO of 200. Shutter speed durations ranged from 1/640 of a second to 2 seconds.
Want to learn how to shoot and process this kind of HDR sequence in a variety of conditions and with a variety of subject matter? You can read my book Creating HDR Photos: The Complete Guide To High Dynamic Range Photography or you can get it from the “the horse’s mouth”—that would be me!
I am giving an all-day HDR Bootcamp workshop on Saturday, Oct 6, 2012 here in Berkeley, CA. The cost is $195.00.
This will be a hands-on workshop in terms of both shooting and processing. I will demonstrate my unique post-processing techniques that cannot be learned anywhere else. Click here for more information and registration.
Early-bird special: Note that HDR Bootcamp (Saturday October 6), Digital Black & White Masterclass (Saturday November 3), and Photographing Flowers for Transparency (Saturday December 1) are each discounted by $20 each until August 31, 2012. These three workshops are among my most popular offerings, and I expect them to fill up extremely quickly in the next few weeks. Please register now to avoid disappointment.
I found this wall of plumbing parts in the farming tool shed at Green Gulch where I was leading the Tao of Photography workshop. To make the image I shot five exposures with my camera on a tripod, which I combined in post-production using Hand-HDR in Photoshop and HDR Efex Pro 2 from Nik Software.
Even though I tried to position the focal plane of the camera as parallel as possible to the cabinet of plumbing parts there was a parallax problem. The parallax issues were considerably mitigated in post-production using Photoshop perspective transformations so the image would appear “all squared away” (the title is in homage to the Gary Larson cartoon with this caption shown here in a physics textbook).
To learn more about Photoshop transformations and their power, check out The Compositor’s Cafeteria on page 166 of my Photoshop Darkroom 2: Creative Digital Transformations.
The other day I was lucky enough to get an opportunity to photograph a Falcon Motorcycle. These motorcycles are one-of-a-kind completely handmade works of art. As I particularly enjoy photographing machinery it was a real treat getting to photograph a machine that had been so carefully and artfully constructed.
To capture the subtle shapes and forms of the motorcycle’s engine it will surprise no one who reads my blog to learn that I used High Dynamic Range (HDR) techniques. This image was created from seven exposures. Each exposure was shot at f/11 and ISO 200. I used a tripod, and manually bracketed the shutter speeds in a range from two seconds to 1/200 of a second.
In post production I combined the exposures using Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro 2 and hand-layering in Photoshop.
My original thought had been to produce a monochromatic final image, but when I saw the results in color I decided the color version looked pretty good too!
I converted the color version to black and white using Nik Silver Efex 2, Photoshop Black & White adjustment layers, and a monochromatic HDR version processed from the original seven files.
These images will make stunning prints I think on Moab’s wonderful pearlized metallic Slickrock paper.
By the way, I’ve been asked a number of times recently why I often choose to shoot my HDR sequences using manual shutter speed bracketing rather than in-camera auto bracketing (which at first blush would seem easier). The answer, as I explain on page 76 of Creating HDR Photos, is that auto bracketing programs do not in fact capture enough extended dynamic range. So if you want to create HDR multi-shot imagery like mine you, too, will need to bracket manually. I plan to write a future blog story on the mechanics of keeping the camera absolutely still while one manually brackets.
Briefly noted: My new book Creating HDR Photos: The Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Photography is now shipping on Amazon. We are very excited about this book—you won’t find garish HDR in my book, you will find gentle and painterly HDR as well as information that shows you how to blend HDR exposures by hand, and puts HDR in the historical context of photography.
Here’s the book description from Amazon: Since the days of the first photographs, artists have used various techniques to extend the range of lights and darks in their photos. Photographic masters such as Ansel Adams and Edward Weston spent countless hours burning and dodging their prints to create images with extended dynamic range.
With the advent of digital photography, new horizons in extending dynamic range are possible. HDR techniques now make it easy to extend the dynamic range of an image well beyond the capability of the human eye.
In Creating HDR Photos, bestselling author Harold Davis covers the complete HDR workflow, from choosing the subjects that work best for HDR through processing RAW files to unlock the dynamic power of HDR. You’ll learn how to photograph multiple exposures and blend them into a single HDR image using various software programs. Best of all, you will find out how to control the style of your HDR images, from subtle to hyper-real, using a range of photographic and post-processing techniques.
Packed with stunning image examples, Creating HDR Photos brings this essential digital technique within every photographer’s grasp.
Click here to order Creating HDR Photos: The Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Photography from Amazon.