A Better Approach to HDR Processing Workflow with Adobe Lightroom

Last year, I wrote a bit about my mid-2011 photography processing workflow. I talked about how, for single-image HDR processing using RAW images, I would open them in Photomatix Pro rather than using Lightroom’s export image capability. I also wrote how, for HDR bracketed images, I did use Lightroom’s export image capability to convert them to JPEGs for processing in PhotoMatix pro.

My friend Doug Kaye has shared his new insights about a better workflow for HDR processing – one that maximizes the dynamic range available for post-processing rather than limits it as the Lightroom export flow automatically does. Be sure to read his insights – along with those of Klaus Herrmann who introduced the notion creating extended EV value images as TIFF files from the original bracketed RAW images in his article “Creating HDR Images the Right Way.” If you have comments for Doug, please share them on his Google+ post.

Painted Ladies – Victorians in San Francisco

Painted Ladies - San Francisco - 2008

Here’s another view of the Victorian homes across from San Francisco’s Alamo Square known as the Painted Ladies. There are usually several photographers up on this grassy hillside shooting this scene with the combination of the Victorians in the foreground and the San Francisco skyline in the background.

On this particular morning in February 2009, there was a clearing winter store and the sun had just begun lighting part of the city as the clouds remained in the sky. I had been up on Twin Peaks as the clearing began where I saw the opportunity to capture some interesting light and sky in this classic San Francisco shot.

This image was post-processed first as a single image HDR (from my Canon 5D Mark II) using Photomatix Pro and then in Photoshop CS5 using a combination of techniques that accentuate the drama in the sky and the colors and lighting of the Victorians themselves. Click on the image itself to see a larger version.

The Valley in January – Yosemite – 2011

The Valley in January - Yosemite - 2011

We’ve all seen photographs of this particular vantage point – Tunnel View as you enter Yosemite Valley on Wawona Road. When the valley opens up in front of you as you emerge from the tunnel, it’s stunning. And photographers love shooting the valley view from this site.

This January we spent a few days in Yosemite – and, naturally, we stopped at Tunnel View to snap a photo or two. As I was relaxing this Labor Day, I went looking through those photos to see if one might have potential. I chose this one taken in the late afternoon – because of the expansive view – and also because of how the sun shadow swept across the valley from upper right to lower left.

In the original image (see below), the shadow area in the lower right quadrant is almost completely darkened. I wondered what I might be able to accomplish with post-processing and first did a single-image tone mapped HDR of the original RAW file taken with my Canon 5D Mark II. Photomatix Pro did an amazing job of popping the details up out of the shadow area – including beautiful Bridalveil Fall. But, the rest of the image was very busy – a cluttered mess. I wanted something that was non-traditional – a different kind of perspective from this iconic location.

First, I used Nik’s Silver Efex 2 to convert the image to black and white. I adjusted the toning a bit, added a vignette – but was still unhappy with the result. After trying a couple of other filters, I settled in on the combination of the Low Key filter in Nik’s Color Efex 3 and Topaz Simplify. The toning is the result of Low Key, the reduced complexity/busy-ness of the image is the result of simplify. I used a tweak in Viveza to drop a control point on Bridalveil and brighten that up just a touch before pulling the image back into Lightroom for final noise reduction.

The result is different from the traditional valley view photos – hope you also enjoy the difference! Click on the image to see the large version.

Yosemite from Tunnel View - January 2011

Yosemite – Handheld HDR with Canon 5D Mark II

Half Dome - Yosemite - 2010

Very early yesterday, I headed into Yosemite National Park for a quick one day photo shoot – with my Canon 5D Mark II and Canon PowerShot S90 in hand. You can see some early results in my Yosemite Flickr set here.

Most of the photos I shot with the 5D were shot on a monopod – good for some stability and sharpness in the individual images but not good enough for post-processing HDR images without aligning the photos.

A few tests confirmed that Photomatix wasn’t nearly as good as Photoshop CS5 at aligning the 3 raw images I had shot for each capture. So my workflow evolved into the following:

  1. Open the 3 images in PhotoShop as layers in a single document. The simplest way to do this is to use Bridge CS5 – selecting Tools – Photoshop – Load Files into Photoshop Layers… after selecting the 3 images to be used.
  2. Once Photoshop has opened the images, then select Edit – Auto Align to align the layers.
  3. Then select Files – Scripts – Export Layers to Files… to export each layer (now aligned with the others). Select JPG when prompted and select a filename and location that makes sense for these 3 images.
  4. Now that the images have been aligned (this is only a requirement for handheld HDR!), you can go ahead and open them in Photomatix and continue the HDR creation process.
  5. Once you’ve tweaked Photomatix and saved the resulting HDR image, you may want to open it again in Photoshop and apply a few additional adjustments – sharpening in particular.

That’s it – a bit complicated. Makes me want to go invest in a good tripod – to avoid the need to auto-align the images!

HOW TO: Setting up the Canon PowerShot S90 to Shoot HDR

Golden Gate Bridge - 2010

[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.]

A friend has asked how I’ve been setting up my Canon PowerShot S90 to take the HDR (High Dynamic Range) photos I’ve been sharing.

Here’s what I’ve been doing:

  1. Put the S90 into Aperture Priority mode by setting the mode dial to Av. By shooting in Av, you ensure that the camera isn’t adjusting the aperture (which could cause focus issues) but, rather, only shutter speed. 
  2. Select a fixed (not Auto) ISO (see p. 76 in the S90 manual). In daylight, choose 80 or 100. You want a fixed ISO so that the camera isn’t trying to adjust ISO between shots.
  3. Select Large format JPEG or RAW (see p. 72 in the S90 manual). (I find the Large JPEGs are the easiest to post-process while purists say to shoot in RAW. The S90 does a superb job of processing in-camera, so just choose Large JPEG when you’re getting started.)
  4. Turn on Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB mode – see p. 93 in the S90 manual). Chose the middle option – “Takes 3 different shots at different exposures”. While still in that setting, press the DISP button and turn the dial to select +/- 2 stops. This ensures that the camera takes 3 shots: one properly exposed, one underexposed by 2 stops, and one overexposed by 2 stops. These three photos are what Photomatix Pro then uses to create the HDR image.

Now, the S90 is ready to go.

For best results, mount the S90 on a tripod to prevent any movement as the three shots are being taken. If you don’t have a tripod, you can try handheld HDR – just try to brace your arm against a support to minimize any camera movement. When you hit the shutter button, the camera will take the 3 shots – about a shot per second. After 3 seconds or so, it’s done.

I post-process in Lightroom – using it to import the photos from the S90. I then use Photomatix Pro and just point it to the 3 shots in the file folder to begin generating the HDR image. Once the image has been generated and tone mapped, I save it back into the same folder and then import that image also into Lightroom – telling Lightroom to just add it to the catalog but not to copy it as the image is already in the folder.

For the best overall tutorial on HDR processing, be sure the see Trey Ratcliff’s Stuck in Customs HDR tutorial.

Shoot HDR on the Canon EOS 5D Mark II – Rodin’s Gates of Hell

IMG_0088_89_90_tonemappedHere’s my first attempt at handheld HDR photography using my new Canon EOS 5D Mark II.

The setting is Rodin’s Gates of Hell at the Cantor Arts Center on the Stanford University campus.

I love their description:

“The Rodin Sculpture Garden is open all hours, with lighting for nighttime viewing. Admission is free.”

I took three raw shots while seating on the ground, holding the camera as steady as I could, using Aperture Priority with three high-speed shots on the 5D Mark II.

Continue reading “Shoot HDR on the Canon EOS 5D Mark II – Rodin’s Gates of Hell”

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!

Continue reading “More HDR Photography – Allied Arts Guild in Menlo Park”