Texas State Capitol In HDR

On our recent trip to Texas we spent an afternoon at the Texas State Capitol with our Nephews. The light wasn't great for "straight up" photography so I shot a lot of bracketed images and then ran through Google/Nik Software's excellent HDR Efex Pro software. I've been happy witht many of the results, including this one of the North side of the Capitol: A slightly over the top HDR image of the North end of the Texas State Capitol


As you can see the details are a bit exaggerated but I like the overall result. The HDR processing brought out a lot of the reflections in the capitol windows as well as in the skylight at the bottom of the frame. Underneath that skylight is a Texas Sized underground office building. I took some shots of the capitol building from below the skylight that I have yet to process so keep your fingers crossed that I have some keepers! :-) If you also notice, I got the Texas State Flag flapping nicely in the breeze. I didn't notice that until I got the images in Lightroom and started working on them.

Greetings From Driftwood Texas

While we were in Austin I met up with Jim Nix, a great guy who maintains a fantastic travel/photography blog called Nomadic Pursuits. Jim is a bit of an internet photography "celebrity" because he posts many great images as he travels around. Much of his work is done in HDR and the unique look that can be achieved using this method complements many of the scenes he photographs. While we were walking around Downtown Austin one evening with our cameras Jim mentioned that I really needed to take the drive to Driftwood Texas to photograph a unique building, an old Texaco service station that has been converted to a private residence. Well, the next day, we did exactly that. But not before stopping along the way to have some tasty Texas BBQ at The Salt Lick! After we had our fill of slow-smoked ribs, brisket and sausage we drove a few miles until we came upon the building. It was mid day and a bit windy but I figured I could get some decent images of the building. After dashing back and forth to the middle of the road several times to get some shots I had a few different perspectives of the building. Here's the one I like the most so far (subject to change, of course) :-) Greetings from Driftwood

The building is definitely a little Kitschy but in a good way. It is in good shape and the owner has kept the classic Texaco sign and fuel pump brightly painted. Because of that, and the fact that the light was pretty harsh, I bracketed three shots and processed the images in HDR Efex Pro which is my "go-to" HDR software. It's easy to use, fast and integrates with Lightroom very well. I'm definitely not an HDR expert but I think I'm getting better at it. To go with the nature of the subject, I went a little "overboard" with the HDR processing, just because I could. I like the effect HDR gave to the building bringing out the texture of the stone and wood. I tilted the image a bit in Lightroom to exaggerate the perspective.

I've got a few more images from out Texas trip to go through so hopefully I'll be sharing those in the next week or so. Until the.....


The Bean In HDR

When we were in Chicago a couple weeks ago my plan was mostly to get images with my film cameras. In addition to film, I did carry my DSLR with me, as you saw in the last post. So, while I work to develop, scan and post-process the film I figured I'd better look at some of the images from the Canon T3i DSLR.

My Take On HDR

One of the "styles" of photography I do enjoy working with is HDR, or "High Dynamic Range". It's a relatively recent way of processing that can really help bring out the full range of an image. Unfortunately HDR has gotten a bad rap in many circles, mostly because of many of the crappy HDR images (IMHO) that people post. I tend to be on the opposite side of that because I try to produce "natural" HDR as much as possible. What does that mean? Well, to me, natural HDR is something that reproduces the full dynamic range of the scene without over-exaggerating it. I use HDR Efex Pro from Google to process my HDR and I've been very happy with the results. I'm by no means a master at HDR but I think I'm getting better at it.

Here's an HDR from one of the more famous attractions in Chicago, the Cloudgate sculpture, better known as "The Bean":

The Bean In HDR

 Camera Settings And HDR Processing

As you can see, The Bean is a unique structure and people flock to it to look at all the interesting reflections it produces. We've visited it each time we've been in Chicago over the past 8 years. This year I wanted to get it in both digital and film. I think the digital version processed as HDR came out pretty good. I captured 3 images (one at regular exposure, one at -2 and one at +2). The "base" image was taken at the 20mm focal length on my Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. The ISO was set at 100 and the exposure was 1/500th of a second at f/6.3. While I normally use a tripod for HDR I had to handhold the camera this time, which is one of the reasons I went with an exposure that yielded a higher shutter speed. Luckily it was a bright, sunny day so the shutter speeds were fairly fast, even at the +2 (two stops over-exposed) setting. I imported the images into Lightroom, added some basic meta information, and then exported them to HDR Efex pro 2 to generate the HDR.

For the HDR processing, I have come up with a couple of presets that I call "Natural" These are generally fairly mild on all the parmeters which gives me a nicely done image fairly quickly. I usually tweak some minor things but usually I just preview the image and hit the "Save" button to send it back to Lightroom. Once the HDR image is in Lightroom I add some sharpening, crop if needed, etc. and I'm pretty much good to go. I know there are a lot of much more advanced (and involved) HDR workflows but for me, at this point, I'm pretty happy with how I generate my HDR images.

From HDR To B&W Film

I'm still working on the B&W film version ( I actually still need to develop the roll) and hope to get everything developed, scanned, cleaned up and posted in the next week or so. I think it will be an interesting comparison even though the compositions are I think completely different. Stay tuned for the results...

What's Your Take On HDR

I'd really enjoy hearing your opinion on HDR. Do you use it, or not? If you do use it, how do you process your HDR images? leave a comment and let's discuss. Looking forward to hearing your opinions.



The End Of Fall At Roswell Mill

Most of the Fall colors are gone here in North Georgia. I think the peak was the last week of October.  I've been very busy  with everything except photography & time has slipped by so fast that Fall is almost over. I was looking to get out one more time when I saw a post from Travis Rhoads  of a fantastic image he captured at Roswell Mill. I've lived in the area for almost 7 years but wasn't aware of this location. I Googled it and saw that it was pretty close to home so we ventured out there late Saturday afternoon hoping there would be some color left. Well, there was some color but things were obviously past the peak. I still managed to get a few good shots of the mill and surrounding area. Here's my take on capturing the mill's falls, composed of 3 images processed in HDR & Color Efex:

The End Of Fall At Roswell Mill

I took my Rolleicord as well and got a couple images on Kodak Portra 400 film which I should be able to process/scan this coming weekend.

HDR Landscape Photograph-Clouds Over The Canyon

Here's another image from our recent trip out to Colorado that shows the power of using HDR in creating a landscape photograph. This one is of Red Canyon at Colorado National Monument: Colorado National Monument's Red CanyonI took this about 50 minutes before "official" sunset but the Sun was already pretty low in the Western sky (left side of the image) and it was highlighting the canyon walls and the clouds above the canyon. The colors of the canyon were starting to appear but so were the shadows at the bottom of the canyon (especially on the left side). I wanted to show the entire canyon as I saw it and with the depth of the canyon, the bright clouds and the differences in lighting between the West and East walls of the canyon I knew it would be next to impossible to get anywhere close to a proper exposure with just one image.

The only way to do it was by bracketing my shots. I did 3 shots (-2,0,+2) and dumped the brackets into HDR Efex Pro2 to get this result, which comes very close to what Pam and I saw that evening.

Another win for HDR landscape photography!



Photo Trip To The Great Smoky Mountains

 Hello everybody. After a too long break, I'm hopefully back to regular posting here on the blog. Work has settled down and I have a bit more free time. I'm getting back to using the camera and we recently took a trip up to Tennessee and Great Smoky Mountains National Park with one of our photography meetup groups, The Decatur Digital Photography Meetup, and spent a few days in the mountains. Both Pam and I took a bunch of images but it was a bit of a challenge because the weather was more stormy than not.

On Friday, we were driving West across the park on Highway 441 when we stopped to photograph the mountains and valleys below us. The sky was threatening rain but the clouds were pretty cool. I decided to braket my shots and do an HDR to see what I could come up with. Here's the result:

I think it came out pretty good. In fact, I think this is one of the better images I've produced :-) I used a mild HDR effect in Nik's HDR Efex Pro and am very, very happy with the result.

That night we met for Dinner in Gatlinburg and I shot this sign with my Canon Powershot S95:

The quality of images from this little camera is very nice, and it's a perfect "carry around" camera. Most of the shots in my Project 365were shot with the Powershot because it was easy to take with me wherever I went

I'm still working on images from the rest of the trip and will post some of the results here in the next few days so stay tuned...

It feels good to be back shooting again. We have some trips planned for this Summer so I hope to be able to get some "keepers".






The Famous Golden Triangle Of Pittsburgh

Pam and I visited Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago. We spent 4 days visiting my Parents, Brother, Sister-in-law and niece and nephew. In between the family events we got away a couple of times to take some photographs of my hometown. While the weather was fine for visiting family, it wasn't the best for photography.  We got up early one morning to view the sunrise over the city from Mt Washington but there was a fair amount of fog/mist in the air so the images we got weren't very good. The next day we stopped by the West End Overlook to get a view of the city in the afternoon. The light was pretty flat but overall better than the previous morning. I managed to get a few decent images of Pittsburgh's famous landmark, The Golden Triangle:  

The image above is the result of combining three bracketed images in HDR Efex Proand then  making a few additional adjustments in Color Efex Pro, mainly to contrast.

The final result came out pretty good but I'm still trying to figure out the best workflow for my HDR images. There are as many different ways of creating images as there are photographers so it might take a while for me to find a workflow that works best for me. I'll keep working on the process and trying different things. That's the beauty of digital photography, we can work and re-work our images any number of ways, whenever we want. Once we have a quality original image file (in RAW of course) our options are almost limitless!

Elkay And Oreo

Elkay and Oreo were always great friends and would follow each other to the ends of the earth: Take a good look at the image to see where I got the title. I took this photo this morning when we visited Star Iron & Metals here in Atlanta with the Southeastern Photographic Society Meetup. There were about 40 of us wandering around the property, which is a scrap metal business, taking photos of all kinds of "Rusty and Crusty" things. I spent most of my energy trying out my newly tricked-out camera, courtesy of a software "hack" that I installed a couple of days ago. It gave my Canon T3i a much advanced auto-bracketing feature that works great for HDR shooting. I'll do a post about it in the next week or so. I used HDR Efex Pro 2 and Color Efex Pro to post-process the image.

Reader Poll Results-Which Sunrise Photo Is Best

OK, its been a few days since I posted my "Which Photo Is Best" where I asked you to pick your favorite sunrise photo out of three different choices. Thanks to a bunch of you (11 to be exact), we can officially declare a "winner". Drumroll please.....................

The winner (by a large margin) of the competition is Sunrise Photo #3! Here is the image that won:

How I Processed The Images

As I said in the original post, the three images were just variations of the same basic shot. Now let's see what I did to create each image, starting with image #1:

Image #1 is the result of taking 3 bracketed shots (-2EV, 0EV,+2EV) and combining them into one HDR image using Nik's HDR Efex Pro 2. I've been experimenting with HDR techniques and on this trip I took a lot of bracketed shots, especially when the was a wide range of contrast. This sunrise scene was definitely one of those occasions. I figured that processing the image using HDR might allow me to get both the foreground and the sky exposed better than just one image. I ran the 3 images thru HDR Efex using one of the more neutral landscape settings. I then used Nik's Color Efex Pro to tweak the image a bit. The result was what you saw in image #1.

Image #2:

Sunrise photo image #2 is the result of taking just one of the 3 bracketed images, the "properly exposed" one and tweaking it as best I could to get both the foreground and sky to come out. This was the image that got the least number of votes (2) and that's what I expected. When compared to the other two images, this one is just "OK". Nothing really pops in it, despite my best efforts. I think the reason is that having only one image to work with

Image #3 (The winner):

Sunrise image #3 was made using the same bracketed images as I used in #1 but I processed them through the "Lightroom Enfuse Plugin" which is a different way of combining multiple images. Many people seem to think this technique produces the most "natural" looking results. And I guess, based on your feedback, you think the same :-) Compared to image #1 (the HDR) it is a bit brighter and doesn't have as much texture to it. I think this is a function of how the software combines the images.

My Favorite

Out of the three images I prefer image #1 (the HDR) but only by a little to Image #3. I just think that the end result is closest to what my eye actually saw that day. Both #1 and #3 are much better than #2 and I think it is because they are the end results of merging multiple images shot over a wider range of ecposure, which brings out more detail in a scene like this where there's a lot of contrast.

What's The Takeaway

Well, what have we learned by doing this little audience participation experiment?

I think the answer is a few things:

  1. Everybody sees things differently and there is no one "right way" to process an image. In the end, the only thing that matters is if YOU like it.
  2. Merging or combining multiple images shot over a wider range of exposure values can be a great way to bring out more detail in your images, especially if you have a wide range of contrast (dark shadows to bright highlights). There are multiple ways of merging the images and each has its pros and cons.
  3. Photography is supposed to be fun! I try never to forget that. Taking photos and processing them a number of diffeent ways to see what the end result is is one of the things that makes photography fun. As long as you like the end result that's all that should matter.
Thanks again to everyone who participated. I really appreciate your input and feedback!
I will definite be trying a few different post-processing options on a number of the images I still have to go through from our recent trip and I'll post the final results over the next week or two.
Happy Shooting!

Greensboro Presbyterian Church

Back in mid-May we visited some of the small tows along Interstate 20 East of the Atlanta area with other members of the Decatur Digital Photo Meetup. One of those tows was Greensboro, which is the county seat of Greene County.  Pam and I wandered through the center of town and came across the Presbyterian Church. The front door was mostly in the shadows but there was some sun mixing in with the shadows. I took 3 bracketed shots and combined them in HDR Efex Pro 2 to get this image: