Approach

HDR Problems in Lightroom

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Sony RX10, ISO80, f/5.6, 1/40"
Sony RX10, ISO80, f/5.6, 1/40″

If you are a Lightroom user you are probably aware that the recent release of version 6 included Photo merge for panorama and HDR photography. In fact, that seems to be pretty much all that was in the new release. In the past I have written about the merge to panorama but not about HDR.

Over the weekend I made an exploratory trip to Wales with a friend and found myself on the banks of a river looking at quite a nice scene. At the time I was shooting Infrared but as the sky clouded up I decided to switch to conventional colour photography using the Sony RX10. Unfortunately the dynamic range of the scene appeared to exceed the capabilities of the Sony (even with a 2 stop ND grad filter for the sky) so I decided to shoot some HDR sequences.

Shooting HDR images in the Sony is a snap. The auto bracketing function allows you to set multiple exposures at quite wide exposure gaps. For this particular shot I chose a 1 stop interval for 3 images. This would give me a correctly exposed image, one that is under exposed by 1 stops and one that’s over exposed by 1 stops. (You can also use 2 stop intervals and a few other combinations if you like). The plan was then to combine these in Lightroom into a new DNG file that could be processed.

When I processed the images I decided to set the Ghosting option as the images were captured handheld which could have introduced movement. I also expected the trees and plants in the scene to be showing some movement between shots as there was a slight breeze. When I processed the image files and zoomed in the foreground looked quite good.

Foreground close up of Lightroom HDR at 100% magnification
Foreground close up of Lightroom HDR at 100% magnification

But when I looked at the upper part of the image I found a significant amount of blending artefacts in the leaves of the trees.

Lightroom HDR at 100% magnification showing ghosting
Lightroom HDR at 100% magnification showing ghosting

Following this disappointment I thought that I would try the blending in Nik HDR Efex to check the results.

Nik HDR Efex at 100% also showing ghosting
Nik HDR Efex at 100% also showing ghosting

It was a little better but still not perfect. What I did like about the Lightroom version though was that it looked totally natural whilst the Nik version appeared “fake”.

Then I tried reprocessing the RAW file with careful editing. The result is the one you see at the top of this page and came out much better than I had expected. The moral of this story is that you have much more power in your RAW files than you might at first think.

How Much Depth of Field

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Hale, Cornwall. Sony RX10, ISO80, f/5.6, 1/50".
Hale, Cornwall. Sony RX10, ISO80, f/5.6, 1/50″.

Last week I took a well-deserved break (at least in my eyes) and went on holiday to Cornwall. Whilst away I took this photo that I wanted to share with you. The reason for sharing is not that this is a great Landscape image (I have a much better one taken at sunset rather than on an overcast day, that I will share soon). No the reason for sharing this is that it illustrates just how much depth of field can be achieved with smaller sensor cameras.

This image was taken using a Sony RX10 which has a 1” sensor. This is slightly smaller than the micro 43 sensors but somehow Sony has managed to cram 20Mpixels onto it. If you were looking at the print of this scene you would say that the image was in focus from the foreground to the background. It’s only when you view the image at 100% magnification on the screen that you see the distant lighthouse is very slightly outside the depth of field but is still acceptably sharp. Also the flowers nearest to the camera (literally inches from the camera) are out of focus but again this isn’t objectionable. Interestingly you don’t notice either of these points on the print as the image appears very natural.

What really makes you stop and think though is that the Aperture used to achieve this is f/5.6. The trick to this if there is one, is where you place the point of focus. Here I was focussing on the hillside just beyond the foreground flowers (probably around 10 feet from the camera. Had I tried to get all the flowers in perfect focus I would have lost the distant lighthouse. This compromise appears to work very well.

I hope this gives you food for thought about depth of field and needing to use very small apertures.

Sony RX10 Exposure Tips

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Sony RX10, f/5.6, ISO80, 1/250", 2 stop ND Grad
Sony RX10, f/5.6, ISO80, 1/250″, 2 stop ND Grad

I mentioned in my last blog that I had been using the Sony RX10 exclusively over the last week and in doing so I noticed a few things about how to get a good exposure. Here is what I learned:

When the highlights clip they literally fall of a cliff. This can make the areas around the blown highlights appear very ugly. The Olympus EM5 highlights by contrast seem to behave much more like film, which seem to be more gradual.

One of the features of the RX10 is that you can display “zebras” in the live view. These “zebras” show you where the scene is exceeding the dynamic range of the sensor and the highlights are blown. You can also set the level of this so that you see a warning before the damage is done. For my camera I have this set at 100%+ so that if I see zebras I know there is clipping which as mentioned above can look quite ugly. I do this because I shoot RAW and can usually recover some of the damage.

What I have found is that there just isn’t much headroom in the RAW files beyond the zebras so you need to take care. With most cameras I have found I can expose to the right (deliberately overexpose the image) and then correct this by careful processing of the RAW file. This typically results in a higher quality image with less shadow noise and more detail. With the Sony RX10 this doesn’t seem to be the case and leaving the camera to calculate the exposure without any compensation seems to render very good images.

So how much can I over expose the image by? Well it seems to be only 2/3 of a stop. BUT a nice feature I have noticed is that the histogram that you can display whilst taking the image seems to reflect what is being captured in the RAW file whilst the zebras seem to indicate where the JPEG file will blow the highlights. I have noticed that I can be showing the warning zebras (set at 100%) but the histogram shows no clipping. The JPEG will show clipping but when I get the RAW file into Lightroom I can fully recover the problem areas.

Hope this helps other Sony RX10 owners out there.

Catching Up

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Ulswater Sunrise, EM5 + 12-40 lens. ISO200, f/6.3, 2"
Ulswater Sunrise, EM5 + 12-40 lens. ISO200, f/6.3, 2″

Well that’s Christmas and New Year over with, at least for another year. It was great in that I managed to see many of my family, some of whom I don’t get to see that often. On the down side I ended up not achieving much on my ever growing list of work. Current projects that I intended to finish over the period (and didn’t) included:

  • Publish my latest book “Beginning Photography the Right Way”
  • Launch a new set of Lightroom Presets called the “Polaroid Construction Kit” and which as the name suggests allow you to give images a “Polaroid look” in Lightroom.
  • Produce Video Tutorials to support my “Essential Photoshop” book. I have wanted to do this for a long time but only now found software that I’m happy to work with.
  • Finish the new website as there are some areas that need further development.

I did manage to:

  • Publish the quarterly newsletter including a video tutorial
  • Shoot some new material in the Lake District (see above image)
  • Answer all the many emails that came in over the holiday period

I think it’s about time I set myself a strategy and defined some goals for the year or I could find myself busy without achieving anything. Hopefully I can include shooting lots of new material and sharing some video tutorials.

An Important Decision

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Ullswater Boat Jetty, The Lake District, England
Ullswater Boat Jetty, The Lake District, England

It was an early start yesterday. Up at 4:30 in the morning in order to make the 2 hour journey to Ullswater in the Lake District for a dawn shoot. Despite the early morning start it was without question one of the most enjoyable days photography that I have ever had.

Overnight the temperature had dropped like a stone and there was a thick haw frost on the ground. Most waters in the Lakes had a thin layer of ice starting to form around their edges but because the temperature had dropped rapidly the deeper water was still cooling. Instead of ice covering their surface they had a wonderful mist and the conditions just got better as the day went on. The image you see above is of the boat jetty near Pooley Bridge, at dawn. Captured on the Olympus OMD EM5 with Olympus 12-40mm lens and a 0.3 ND Grad on the sky. Aperture was f/9.0 (a mistake as I would have shot this at f/7.1 usually). ISO200 and shutter speed 1/125″.

So you might ask, what is the important decision? The answer is, that I have decided to sell the Nikon D800; but I want to explain and share my reasoning.

Firstly, this is the third trip I have made where I can’t bring myself to carry the extra weight. When I returned from Bolivia I suffered a prolapsed disk at the base of my neck and for a while it looked like I might need major surgery. Fortunately, this is looking less likely now but the pain over the past couple of months has been unbearable at times – and pain killers just didn’t have an effect on it. I was finding that even trying to lift and support the heavier equipment was aggravating the pain.

OK, so this might be a temporary condition (I certainly hope it is) but other things are more permanent and important. One of the reasons I bought the D800 was that a lot of people were claiming how the image quality is exceptional with the right lenses and I would agree, yes it is. The camera would perform very well even with lesser quality lenses but needed a little more adjustment to really bring this out. But the important point is, the image performance is no better at low ISO (which I use almost exclusively) than the EM5. In fact, the corner and edge sharpness of the EM5 images beats the D800 even with high quality lenses.

All I really get with the D800 is an image file that produces a 24.5″ inch image rather than 15.36″ at 300dpi. Does this additional image size matter? Well, unless I am going to be making a print larger than 30″ and look at this with my nose pressed against it. You really need to be doubling the print size to notice the difference in output quality due to the way inkjet printers work. If you print on Matt paper then you might even need to go larger than this. As for output to the Internet, there is no benefit to having more pixels and then throwing most of these away by downsizing the image.

Where the D800 does score well over the EM5 is in the RAW files. I seem to be able to push these all over the place in editing and see almost no noise, even in shadow areas. This is very nice but again it comes with a downside. The RAW files from the D800 do seem to need much more processing in comparison to the EM5 RAW files. It’s almost as if the D800 RAW files are a little flat, possibly to the additional dynamic range the camera has. Whatever the reason, it feels like I am having to relearn how to get the most out of the camera and I don’t really have time for that at the moment.

The final and most important problem is that the D800 really doesn’t suit my style of shooting. What I don’t like to do is pop the camera on a tripod, spend a lot of time getting into position, check everything and then make one or two good exposures. This just doesn’t work for me. My approach is to move around and into the subject, taking lots of pictures and checking them regularly. As I work I find images that I like or things I like about an image that I work with to incorporate. The shots gradually get better until I arrive at the image I want. This style of working isn’t for everyone but if it’s your style, you will find it hard working with a large DSLR.

I do have to admit though that I didn’t always recognise this. It was only when I moved to the EM5 that my shooting style really started to develop in this way and that I started to feel free. Now when I try to go back it’s as though I am constrained and I have lost that feeling of freedom and spontaneity.

So, this is my reasoning but I will caveat it with a final thought. I reserve the right to change my mind. As I was writing this I was looking back at some of my RAW files from the D800 and they do have a quality that I really like. I’m just not sure it’s enough to make me want to keep the camera.

The Bleak Weather Returns

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Sony RX10 - ISO80, 1/80" at f/5.6. 2 stop ND Grad filter on the sky.
Sony RX10 – ISO80, 1/80″ at f/5.6. 2 stop ND Grad filter on the sky.

I was out walking yesterday in the Lakes – what a mistake. The weather was dreadful. It was windy, foggy and the rain was driving down hard. Despite this I managed to pull out the Sony RX10 and rattled off a few frames. I quite like the one above as I think it conveys well just how poor the weather was.

New Website Call

I’m also going to be taking some time out shortly to build my new Lenscraft website. I know that quite a few people who read the Lightweight Photography blog are members of Lenscraft so I would like to publicise an offer. If you are a Lenscraft member, have your own website and would like me to add a link in the “Members Sites” section, email your details to me at robin@lenscraft.co.uk. I just need your name and a link to your site. Obviously feel free to return the link but there is no requirement.

Friday image No.036

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RWhalley_5D_2011_IMG_1252_50_18_2.5

Isn’t it strange how your taste in photography seems to change. I shot this image just over three years ago. I recall considering this a poor trip at the time as I didn’t really come back with any “high octane” dramatic shots. What I did get was quite a lot of nice, tranquil scenes which I relegated to a folder on my hard drive and promptly forgot about.

Last week I was clearing out some images in order to start work on my new website (coming soon). That’s when I saw this image and wondered why I hadn’t bothered very much with it. Now that I look at it, I really like the scene and the colours.

I hope you like it and have a great weekend.