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More HDR Photography – Allied Arts Guild in Menlo Park

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!

Getting Outside

Allied Arts Guild, Menlo Park, CA

HDR – Fully Processed

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


Original Photo

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


After Photomatix Pro

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

Allied Arts Guild, Menlo Park, CA

After 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?

2 replies on “More HDR Photography – Allied Arts Guild in Menlo Park”

An old axiom of artists and painters like me is that painting is ‘better’ as photography cannot capture the true range of values the eye sees in one picture. In photography the darks are always too dark, and the lights too bright. When an artist paints on location, they paint what the eye sees as it adjusts to the lights and darks of a particular scene. I think HDR processing may have thrown that old axiom out the window!
A thought just occurred to me…someday, maybe we should have a ‘shootout’. We’ll meet somewhere, I’ll do a quick plein air painting, you do an HDR shoot, and we will compare the results. Might be fun.

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