Realistic HDR

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Derwent Water, Keswick. Canon 5D MKII. 4 Image sequence merged to HDR with Nik HDR Efex Pro 2.
Derwent Water, Keswick. Canon 5D MKII. 4 Image sequence merged to HDR with Nik HDR Efex Pro 2.

If you read my newsletter on Lenscraft you will know that I’m working on a new book about HDR. You might find this odd if you know me well; following a brief fling with HDR back in 2007 I decided I didn’t like the technique and have been quite vocal about it. As a Landscape Photographer, I find unrealistic techniques make me cringe.

So what’s changed? In short, my understanding and skill with some of the software tools.

The image above which is from one of the worked examples in the book is a case in point. These images were shot on a Canon 5D and at the time I couldn’t tame the dynamic range with filters. I shot the sequence in the hope that one day I would be able to produce a realistic looking HDR image from them.

Well I think that time may be getting closer. The image isn’t yet quite as I would like it but it’s certainly appealing and doesn’t suffer from some of the obvious HDR signs that make me cringe.

And the software used for this? Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 – best of all it’s free.

The trick to making this approach work is to keep the Detail setting to “Realistic” when Tone Mapping. Also set the Depth to “Normal” and Drama to “Deep”. As you process the image be sure to increase contrast selectively as well as darken shadows. Once you have completed the Tone Mapping step it’s worth the image into Viveza where you close the shadows down and apply additional contrast if necessary.

It takes a little practice and feels as though you are engineering the HDR look out of the image. It’s time consuming but I think it’s worth the effort.

Friday Image No.99

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London by night. Canon 400D, ISO200, 8" at f/6.3
London by night. Canon 400D, ISO200, 8″ at f/6.3

This week’s Friday image is something a little different. My main Drobo storage unit (4TB) is full. I could buy more storage but given that all 4 drive bays are in use and the existing disk drives are all quite large, it would be a costly exercise. It’s much cheaper if I go and clean out some of the images I have cluttering it up that I just won’t use.

Whilst doing this I started coming across all sorts of shots. This one is from London, just below the Millennium Footbridge. I shot it with the camera on a Gorillapod wrapped around the railings of the footpath. Whilst I would have liked the footbridge not to have cut into the dome of St Pauls, I was more focussed on timing the shot. The bright patch of light you see just behind the central column of the bridge is a passing boat and I needed to judge the exposure just right.

Looking at this image now, what surprises me is how good a camera the Canon 400D was when the RAW files are processed with today’s software. If you haven’t processed any old RAW files in the latest software, you should give it a try.

Have a great weekend.

The Future of the Blog and Website

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The Hall of Mosses Trail, Hoh Rainforest
The Hall of Mosses Trail, Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park, Washington

Last week I posted a blog entry with a suggested mission statement and questions. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, I want to be sure that I am meeting the needs and expectations of you my readers. Secondly, it can be a struggle at times finding interesting material to write about.

Following publication, the post has drawn a lot of very useful feedback both as post comments and direct email. I would like to say a huge thank you to all those people who went to the trouble of contacting me to share your thoughts. This post is my attempt to put some structure around how I will use the blog and website in the future, based on your feedback. I should point out that I may deviate from this at times, but generally you can expect the following:

The Blog

  • The Lightweight Photographer blog will be used to answer the question “what am I doing at the moment”. This can include things that have caught my interest such as a new piece of software or new things I am experimenting with.
  • There will be a mix of equipment based the cameras I am using, probably in the ratio I use them. This means coverage will be skewed to Micro 43 but other equipment will also be featured from time to time. I will include thoughts about accessories such as tripods, filters as well as film, scanning, medium format, compact cameras and full frame. In short, you will hear about what I have been doing with my equipment and what my thoughts are.
  • If there is important news I will share it through the blog.
  • I will cover image processing, especially where I am frustrated with something, where I learn something new or I simply just want to experiment.
  • I will share any tips that cross my mind as I work.
  • I will continue to share examples of my images.

The Website

  • This is where longer tutorials and articles will appear. Material will be both written and video based with a definite emphasis on education/how to. This material is likely to be skewed towards image editing.
  • I will continue to develop Lenscraft as a free resource for photographers.
  • The Lenscraft Creative Store will continue and feature both free and paid products. More products will be added as time allows and this is where I will share my annual Christmas gift for members.

You Tube

  • This is a new channel I would like to develop. It will feature image editing videos as well as “out in the field” video footage.

I hope this sets out the future of the blog and website, providing reassurance of what to expect. My intention now is to focus on some of the answers to the questions I raised.

Once again, thank you.

Dear Microsoft – I’m Leaving You

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I have been with you for some 30 years now but today was the final nail in the coffin of our relationship. It was 1986 when we first got together and I loved your new DOS v3.2. It felt as though my computer was coming to life and you continued to entice me with new releases throughout the 80’s. As we moved into the 90’s you astounded me with Windows 3.0 and then 3.1. After that you developed fast and you achieved an exciting level of success.

But the success went to your head. You became fat, bloated, lazy and slow; your software following in the same direction. Why did you work late into the evening wasting all that effort building a Flight Simulator into Excel 97? You should have been making things fast, simple and robust.

After this it was all downhill. You became irritating and arrogant. You stated to think you could throw your weight about and force others to change. You redeveloped the interface to MS Office and sat back to watch smugly as people around the world struggled to find essential features that were once in an easy to use menu.

When I last upgraded my PC I found that your Windows 7 software would only allow me to use a fraction of its power and you forced me to buy Windows 8. But what had you done, you had redesigned everything yet again so that I couldn’t find what I needed. You then enticed me with Windows 8.1, promising an improved experience. What awaited though me was the removal of a drive partition, the loss of important work and the remapping of all my disk drives. I’m sure you were punishing me for thinking about Apple.

And now Windows 10. I thought we had gotten past all our problems and were on the sound foundation you had promised me. But there is a niggle, those system drivers and constant updates you keep giving me are crashing my computer. My keyboard continues to randomly lose keystrokes whilst your spell checker re-writes my work in the background. All our laptops have issues. I have lost count of how many hours I have wasted trying to fix the damage and make this relationship work.

Today was the final straw in this long relationship. You saw fit to download one of your updates to a laptop which wrecked it completely. Nothing would work and half the files had vanished. I’m sure this was just another mistake and that you hadn’t intended the damage. You even sent over your little “Windows Update Helper” which popped up and helpfully proclaimed the laptop needed a complete reinstall of Windows.

The red mist descended over me as I envisaged hours of work in front of me to fix the problems.

So I want you to know that I went to the Apple Store where I found a very helpful man who sold me a MacBook Pro. It was a wonderful customer experience (you should try it). If this trial separation works, I’m leaving you for good.

Here’s to a retina future and better photography.

Friday Image No.98 & Thank You

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Cannon Beach, Oregon. Olympus EM5, 45mm, 0.4" at f/7.1 and ISO200
Cannon Beach, Oregon. Olympus EM5, 45mm, 0.4″ at f/7.1 and ISO200

I love being by the sea, especially when its sunset. This image was taken at Cannon Beach in Oregon. The sun had set around 30 minutes earlier and most people had cleared off the beach. There were just a handful of photographers left and the light was well balanced. A sea mist had also started to roll in which crated a lovely soft haze. This was taken with quite a long lens to help compress the scene. I also cropped out the unwanted foreground as I wasn’t able to get a close to the scene as I would have liked.

I would also like to take a moment and say thank you to all the people who has taken the time to provide feedback to my last post. I’m planning to give this real thought over the weekend and then update on my plans. I really appreciate all the support.

I hope you like the image and have a great weekend.


Help Me to Help You

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North Wales, Olympus EM5. 12-40 lens, 1/400 at f/7.1 and ISO200.
North Wales, Olympus EM5. 12-40 lens, 1/400 at f/7.1 and ISO200.

I have been reading some books about blogging recently and apparently I need a mission statement – okay, let’s go with this for a moment. When I started The Lightweight Photographer blog it was my intention to share information about lightweight cameras as well as information about achieving fast results when editing images. Four years on and I feel I have lost a little bit of focus. In an attempt to address this, I wrote a mission statement.

To create a valuable resource of lightweight photography information and to make this freely available.

And this is where I now need your help. When I sit down to write these blogs, as well as the tutorials on Lenscraft, I am guessing a little about what people want. I am also guessing as to what problems and concerns people have about following a lightweight approach. So…

  • Do you have concerns about the image quality of micro 43 for example?
  • Do you like to print A3 images and wonder if you will be giving up print detail?
  • Are you concerned about noise levels with compact cameras?
  • Do you wonder about the aperture you should use with micro 43 cameras for depth of field?
  • Do you shoot with a Lightweight camera? Why?

I really want to hear about your concerns, thoughts, observations and questions. This will allow me to focus the blog and my website to hopefully respond to some of these points. If it is to do with photography but in particular lightweight cameras and image editing, then I would like to hear.

Please take a moment to let me know your thoughts.

Thank you.

Friday Image No.97

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Canon Beach, Oregon.
Canon Beach, Oregon.

One of the things that I love most about the Olympus EM5 is the stabilization. It allows me to shoot at some ridiculously slow speeds that just shouldn’t be possible. Sometimes I do set the camera to burst mode and fire off 5 or 6 shots. Doing this I can be pretty sure that at least one of the images will be sharp.

The shot above is one such example where I shot handheld at 1/3”. Strangely, I then decided to add some blur to the image (around the edges) as the image looked too sharp. At least I had the choice to do this though. Had the shot been slightly blurred to start with it wouldn’t have worked.

Have a great weekend.