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.

What I’ve Learned about Photography in 2011

IMG_7971
“I’ve got you babe!” – Battery Mendell, Marin County, California

2011 turned out to be a big year for me in my pursuit of photography skills. As I reflect back on my learnings, I thought I’d try to write down the highlights of the year for me in this New Year’s Eve post.

Beginning with my purchase of my first digital SLR about five years ago (a Canon 30D which I purchased immediately after reading Doc Searls post about his evaluation of this camera!), I’ve been making steady progress learning more about both the most important shooting skills for capturing images as well as the post-processing techniques that can really help enhance an image.

For me, it’s all about trying to get it right at capture time in the camera – but then also maximizing the image’s beauty in post-processing. Among other things, I’ve learned that even if the capture isn’t perfect, the end result can still be stunning with the right post-processing. But, it all begins with trying to get the right image at capture.

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F/V Point Reyes at Sunrise – Tomales Bay – 2010

Last year, I took a photo workshop at Tomales Bay led by Dave Wyman and Ken Rockwell. One of the spots along our adventure was this fishing boat aground at Inverness – a boat that’s been photographed many, many times! We had some beautiful light this particular morning.

Earlier this week I selected this image to attempt to enhance it a bit in Photoshop CS5. Click to continue reading the approach I took.Here’s the original image:

IMG 3466 orig
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New Photoshop Learnings from Jaime Ibarra

I recently took a 1:1 workshop with Jaime Ibarra – wanting to learn more about his technique for post-processing images. His approach to post-processing is strikingly different – and one which I enjoy. And he’s also an amazing photographer as well!

Jaime and I spent a couple of hours together via Skype video talking about both his approach to photography, some new challenges for me, and then his approach to post-processing images in Photoshop. I’ve been to several photography workshops over the last couple of years – but this one was really unique and different – and I learned a lot!

Frankly, I expected our time together would focus mostly on post-processing – but we spent a lot of time upfront talking just about photography, what it means to us, how we approach it, how we’re challenged by it, etc. That discussion was surprising for me – and enlightening. Great fun. Perhaps even more useful to me in terms of my wanting to learn about portrait shooting than the post-processing techniques Jaime subsequently shared.

So, what did I learn? Here’s an example of an image I both shot and post-processed earlier today using some of what I learned from my workshop with Jaime. The colors are different – not exactly unusual, but different. Different enough to matter and capture the mood. The venue is the California Avenue Farmers Market in Palo Alto. The image is titled “Karmel Korn” – shot with my Canon 5D Mark II with the Canon 135mm f/2 lens.

Kettle Korn -Palo Alto - 2011

Thanks to both Trey Ratcliff and Victor Cajiao for introducing me to Jaime.

Douglas C-47 Skytrain at Castle Air Museum

Douglas C-47 Skytrain at Castle Air Museum

Here’s another photo from almost four years ago taken at the Castle Air Museum in Atwater, California. This time, it’s a C-47 Skytrain, the workhorse transport aircraft of WW II, the Berlin Airlift, etc.

This shot was taken using my first digital SLR, a Canon 30D, as a single RAW image. Postprocessing was done using Lightroom 3, Photoshop CS5 (to remove power lines, etc) along with Nik’s HDR Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro.

Hope you enjoy it!

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.

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!

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