It was another bright sunny January early afternoon today – following a clear, crisp night last night with temps early this morning in the mid-30′s and frost on the deck!
After (seemingly!) playing endlessly with Twitter and FriendFeed this morning, I decided to leave the computer behind and to head outdoors to do some more mid-day, bright sun, high dynamic range (HDR) photography. For me, HDR is perfect for mid-day, high contrast sun/shadow photography – just the opposite of that special early morning / early evening soft light that photographers otherwise learn to love.
This time, I wanted to stay close to home and minimize the travel time. Stanford University is always an option – it’s literally just around the corner and is where I started my HDR exploits in early September 2008. There’s a world of photo opportunities still waiting for me there at Stanford. But, been there, done that! I was looking for new adventures today!
Deciding the Shoot
In the process of trying to decide where to head, I took a look at Thomas Hawk’s hugely useful page: Top 10 Places for Photography in San Francisco – with its links to many of his sets on Flickr of favorite Bay Area Photographic Destinations and Micro Neighborhoods.
As I was reading his stuff and looking at some of his amazing pictures, it dawned on me that I hadn’t been to Menlo Park’s Allied Arts Guild in years! No need for a trip back to Stanford or up to The City when there’s a great spot nearby with some very interesting architecture, gardens and, yes, as it turned out, even some holiday decorations still in place.
The Shoot at Allied Arts Guild
I ended up shooting seventeen handheld HDR scenes (17 x 3 = 51 actual photographs) at Allied Arts. There were only a couple of other folks on the grounds – so I pretty much had the place to myself (most of the shops and the Red Currant café were closed today – I’m sure for some much deserved post-holiday R&R!).
I was shooting today with my Canon 40D Digital SLR
using the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens
. As usual with HDR, I was shooting 3 shots in high-speed at f/4 (wide open on this lens) using +/- 2 stop exposure bracketing in Aperture Priority mode. As I’ve been doing recently, all of today’s HDR photos were shot in hand-held mode without a tripod/monopod.
Workflow after the Shoot
Here’s how the workflow went once I got back home to the computer. I imported the 51 images from my Canon 40D’s SD card into Lightroom 2.2. I prefer to keep my original RAW images in a separate folder and Lightroom’s import process makes that easy.
Initial HDR Processing
After Lightroom finished importing from the card, I started Photomatix Pro and began the initial post-processing step of converting the photos to HDR with tone mapping. I simply point Photomatix Pro at the folder with my RAW originals, complete the HDR processing for each one individually and then save the post-processed result (as JPEG) back into the same folder with the original RAW files.
(There’s a Photomatix plug-in available from HDRsoft that is supposed to expedite this process – but I find it much simply to just navigate to the originals in the folder. Maybe if I had put the originals directly into the Lightroom catalog I’d prefer to use that plug-in?)
Synchronizing Folder with Lightroom
When I’ve completed all of the processing in Photomatix Pro, I then go back to Lightroom – in the Library module – and click on the folder in the Folders left sidebar. I then select Library/Synchronize Folders which will pull the new, tone-mapped HDR photos, into Lightroom’s catalog – along with the originals.
Stack the Photos in Lightroom
Once I have them all imported, I use Lightroom to stack the photos – there will be 4 for each “shot” – and put the post-processed HDR version on the top of the stack. This condenses the grid view nicely – so that all you see are the rich, post-processed HDR versions. If you ever need to get back to the 3 originals, they’re also in the same stack. I uploaded the Photomatix Pro post-processing images to this Flickr set. You can get a sense for how good they are – or aren’t!
Post-Processing (Step 2) in Lightroom
The next (and final!) step was to do a final bit of post-processing using Lightroom 2.2′s Develop module – with its Adjustment Brush, Gradient Filters, and vignette capabilities. After using Lightroom for these final adjustments, I uploaded the result to a second Flickr set. If you compare the two sets, you can get a sense of the power of both tools combined.
A Full Afternoon!
All of this takes time! In today’s case, I’d say that the post-processing using Photomatix Pro took about twice as long to complete (over an hour) than the original shoot! The second post-processing step using Lightroom’s tools took a bit less time.
All in all, it ended up being a full afternoon! See my New Year’s wish for a better solution that would enable wonderful HDR photography without such a painful, manual workflow process.
How’s that for a winter afternoon’s worth of HDR photography?