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The Most Popular Posts of 2011

The Golden Gate - New Year's Day - 2011
Clearing Winter Storm – Golden Gate Bridge – San Francisco, California

As we’re wrapping up 2011, I took a look back at what posts on this blog generated the most page views during 2011. Here’s the top twelve list (in honor of 2012!) – along with my commentary on each post:

Compact HDR HDR Photography Photography Photography - Canon PowerShot S95 Stanford

Back in Stanford’s Memorial Court – 2011

Memorial Court - Stanford - 2011

Last night I was walking to my Stanford Continuing Studies photography workshop as the skies were beginning to clear from our first of the season rainstorm. The clouds were richly textured and with the sunset glow reflecting off a portion. As I walked to class, my mind was still reeling from the news of Steve Jobs’ death that I had heard just a bit before. Somehow this image brought me back into focus.

This image is a 3-shot handheld HDR taken with my Canon PowerShot S95. It was post-processed in Photomatix Pro and Nik’s Color Efex Pro 4 (details enhancer and tonal contrast) with the final tweaks, noise reduction, vignette, etc. applied in Lightroom 3.5.

HDR Photography Mare Island Photography Photography - Canon 5D Mark II

The Dry Dock – Mare Island – 2011

Drydock - Mare Island - 2011

A few weeks back, Doug Kaye and I did some exploring around Mare Island – the old naval shipyard in Vallejo, California. This was my first time there – and I was struck by the sheer size of the place, the immensity of the buildings, and the urban texture that remains. While we were only there about two hours, we had a lot of fun getting acquainted with the site – which is famous for early evening twilight shots in much better light.

This image is a classic three shot HDR image shot taken hand-held over a fence with my Canon 5D Mark II. Because I was holding the camera over my head, I used Live View to try to align it for the shots. It was post-processed first in Photomatix Pro – also responsible for aligning the hand-held images, and then adjusted in Photoshop using Nik’s Viveza 2 and Color Efex Pro 3. I love the symmetry of the shot, the dramatic lines in the dry dock and the texture – enhanced via the HDR processing.

See my Mare Island archive page for a few more shots taken that Sunday afternoon.

HDR Photography Photography San Francisco/California

Special Day: Airship Over San Francisco Bay

Airship over San Francisco Bay - 2008

Some days are a lot more productive than others. We all know that. Looking back at my photo archive, this particular day – December 28, 2008 – was a very productive day for me in San Francisco. It was mostly about the weather and sky that day.

This image is one of the examples – the Airship Ventures Zeppelin above San Francisco Bay. I love the tonality in this image. An airship over the Bay is a rare event – and the cloudy weather on this late December day added much more drama to this image vs. the often boring clear blue sky!

This image was shot with my Canon EOS 40D (since sold) using a Canon EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens. As I recall, the vantage point was Twin Peaks. I post-processed it first in Lightroom 3 and then in Photoshop using Nik’s Color Efex Pro 3 and then back into Lightroom for final polishing.

Another example of a special image shot this same day is this Painted Ladies image of the Victorian houses across from Alamo Square. Again, it’s the contrasty sky that adds a dimension of interest to this image along with the clarity and crispness of the homes themselves. It’s one of my personal favorites.

Many photographers talk about the special glow of morning and evening light – and I agree with them about those special times of day. But weather creates other opportunities. Living where I do near San Francisco, it’s interesting weather that gets me into the car driving up toward the City to see what I can find. These are a couple of great examples – shot on the same day in late December 2008.

Painted Ladies - San Francisco - 2008

HDR Photography Mare Island Photography Photography - Canon 5D Mark II Photography - Canon PowerShot S95 Photomatix Pro

A Peek Inside Building 680 at Mare Island

Building 680 - Mare Island - Ready to Go - 2011

Doug Kaye and I spent a bit of time exploring Mare Island this afternoon.

I was amazed at the scale of the place. Huge buildings. Imagining this place with thousands of workers doing their thing. Brings back yet another sense of the greatest generation – how they were able to build and deliver on something of this scale. Yes, it is a great country!

This is one of the images we got peeking into the windows of Building 680, perhaps the largest building on the island. What did they make here, we wondered? This image is a hand-held HDR shot using my tiny Canon PowerShot S95 – with its lens flat up against the glass.

Below is another version – somewhat aggressively post-processed into a black and white. It’s the same building – but a different wing – and this version was shot using my Canon 5D Mark II with a 28mm f/1.8 lens.

Tracks - Building 680 - Mare Island - 2011

HDR Photography Photography Photography - Black & White Photography - Canon 5D Mark II Photomatix Pro San Juan Bautista

The Crosses at Mission San Juan Bautista


Just out back of Mission San Juan Bautista is a small, private cemetery with a locked gate. In the cemetery, there are about twenty crosses spread across the hillside – but apparently they mark many, many more graves. The San Andreas fault runs along the base of the hill just below this cemetery as does the original path of El Camino Real.

This image was taken over the locked gate – using my Canon 5D Mark II with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS lens. The image was first processed as a single image HDR using Photomatix Pro and then converted to black and white with Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2. A subtle color tone was added to slightly warm the image.

HDR Photography Photography Photography - Canon 5D Mark II Photomatix Pro Stanford

The Arches in the Stanford Quad

The Arches in the Stanford Quad by Scott Loftesness

A couple of weeks ago, I was out walking around Stanford and came across this scene just off the inner Quad. This image was shot as a single image HDR with my Canon 5D Mark II and the Canon EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens. For this shot, ISO was 100, shutter speed was 1/320 with the lens at f/4.6 at 130 mm. The image was post-processed using Photomatix Pro and tweaked slightly in Photoshop CS5.

Hope you enjoy!

Gardens HDR Photography Photography Photography - Canon PowerShot S95 Portland

In a Corner of the Japanese Garden

Japanese Lantern - Painterly - by Scott Loftesness

As I was heading back to the airport in Portland yesterday, I stopped by the beautiful Japanese Garden in Washington Park on the hills west of Portland. This particular image captured my eye as I explored the beauty of this place.

I captured it using my tiny Canon PowerShot S95 as a single shot RAW image and then manipulated it using a combination of Photomatix Pro and Photoshop CS5. The key filter I played with in adjusting this image was the Adobe Pixel Bender filter in OilPaint mode.

In keeping with the garden’s photography policy, this image credits the “Portland Japanese Garden, Portland, OR“.

Hope you enjoy it!

HDR Photography Photography Photography - Canon PowerShot S95 Photomatix Pro Stanford

Sequence @ Stanford

Sequence @ Cantor Arts Center - Stanford University- by Scott Loftesness

This afternoon I visited the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford to see the new Sequence sculpture by Richard Serra that had just been installed. Cantor is exhibiting this amazing work until 2010 when it will be moved to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

The image above is a single image HDR shot using my tiny Canon PowerShot S95. The image was post-processed as a single RAW using Photomatix Pro and then tweaked a bit in Photoshop before uploading it here.

While the colors are over saturated a bit compared to “real life”, I just love how this image turned out. The shades of color, the gradations, and the lovely curves all make this a very special image for me – and hopefully for you!

More of my Sequence photos are available here. Here’s a 2 minute video of my walk thru the sculpture:

Compact HDR HDR Photography Lightroom Photography Photography - Canon PowerShot S95 Photomatix Pro

Single RAW HDR Processing with the Canon PowerShot S95

[Update: These same techniques apply to the Canon PowerShot S100 and, I believe, to the Canon PowerShot S110 as well as the Canon PowerShot S95.]

Recently, I’ve begun doing more HDR post-processing of single-shot RAW images I’ve shot using my always handy Canon PowerShot S95. This is the camera that goes almost everywhere I do – it’s in my backpack!

Canon PowerShot S95It’s capable of producing some beautiful single RAW HDR images – see this example that I shot last weekend in San Francisco.

Cable Car - San Francisco - 2011

Oh, by the way, I didn’t worry about lens barrel distortion when I post-processed that shot of a San Francisco Muni Cable Car!

One of the things to beware of when doing single RAW processing – particularly with compact cameras like the S95 – is just how much lens barrel distortion exists in the RAW file output by the camera. This distortion can be surprisingly significant – but it takes just a couple of additional steps in the post-processing workflow to deal with it – when required.

Note that some images, while having the distortion, look fine to the human eye without any of this additional post-processing. You’ll have to be the judge as to when to tweak further and when to accept the initial result instead.

As described in my recent photography workflow article, my S95 images all come first into Lightroom where they’re stored in my photo masters directory on an external hard drive. I use a Smart Collection in Lightroom to highlight all of the RAW images in my collection. When I’m interested in doing some post-processing, I’ll browse that collection of RAW images and then use the Show in Finder menu item to open a Finder window with that image selection. I’ll then drag that image onto Photomatix in my dock and begin the HDR post-processing. Once that’s complete, I’ll save the resulting JPEG and import that into Lightroom. It’s then that I apply Lightroom’s adjustments to deal with the barrel distortion problems – as well as dealing with any chromatic aberrations that might have cropped up along the way.

Below you can see two images that illustrate the problem – the first is the output from Photomatix following single image HDR processing. The second is the final result following post-processing in Lightroom to remove the distortion and chromatic aberration. In between, I used Lightroom’s Lens Correction adjustments to perfect the image.

First image – following single image HDR processing in Photomatix Pro:


Notice the geometric distortion in the rectangle around the Dairy’s logo. That’s the lens barrel distortion that hasn’t (yet) been corrected.

If you look closely at the right border of the logo, you can see some chromatic aberration – a bit of red that’s seeping in next to the tight border. We’ll fix that too in Lightroom!

Second image – following the use of Lightroom’s Lens Correction/Manual (mostly using the Distortion, Vertical and Horizontal sliders) and using the Red/Cyan slider in that same Chromatic Aberration section. It’s like magic how it moves those pixels around at your command!


These tiny compact cameras are wonderful for shooting RAW images on the go – but sometimes you’ll need to further refine the resulting images to square things up and correct the lens distortion when using their RAW images for single-image HDR. In an ideal world, Photomatix would be able to do this automatically when importing a single-image RAW – maybe that will come along sometime?

PS: Are you curious where I took this shot? Here’s the spot – the corner of Mission St. and Ocean Ave. in Carmel, CA. You can see the Carmel Dairy logo on the wall – presumably long protected from paint over by citizens of Carmel!

Carmel Dairy