Do your HDR (high dynamic range) exposure captures from the field look like this?
If they do, then you are not getting the best quality possible in your HDR imagery. Sure, the finished HDR image will look great especially on the web….
But when you make that great big print, the noise in the shadows will be very noticeable:
To prevent noise in the shadows you have to make exposures that push the shadows into the upper 1/3rd of the histogram. Often it takes five photos at 2 EV (exposure values) apart to get the shadows bright enough.
The final result looks great and when enlarged it has no noise in the shadows!
Thanks to Royce Howland for teaching us about proper HDR capture techniques. We have enlisted Royce to help us teach our first HDR Photography Workshop in the Canadian Rockies. And to make our learning experience even more complete we have secured special access to the Nordegg Coal Mine which offers fantastic HDR opportunities. And of course we’ll also do fine landscapes in the secret canyons of the Kootenay Plains. Coal Mines, Canyons, and the Canadian Rockies: An HDR Photography Workshop is sure to expand your HDR knowledge and delivers access to unique image-making opportunities. If you sign up before January 31, 2014 you’ll also get our entire oopoomoo eBook library for FREE ($200 value)!
If you can’t make it out to this intense HDR and processing workshop, we also reveal our dirty little shortcut for HDR processing in our new eBook, 7 Quick and Dirty Processing Shortcuts for Lazy Photographers. But relying only on shortcuts is like biking with training wheels on…it’s out in the field, getting hands-on feedback from three instructors where the real investment in your photography is!
To whet your appetite for all the creative possibilities at the coal mine, check out a few of our photos below:
We are excited to announce a very special workshop with guest instructor Royce Howland that is all about HDR photography highlighting special access to a huge, historic coal mining site and the virgin canyons of the Bighorn Wildland. This HDR workshop gives photographers rare and special access to Nordegg’s unique non-operational coal mining plant at the Brazeau Collieries. No need to be rushed along by tour guides: you’ll have a day and a half to explore one of the most intact charcoal briquette mines in North America. The Brazeau Collieries is a photographer’s dream jam-packed with intriguing artifacts, dilapidated buildings and the skeletal remains of equipment and vehicles rusting away in a lonely, industrial boneyard. As well, we’ll visit the lesser known canyons and secret spots of the Kootenay Plains and Abraham Lake to practice our refined HDR techniques. This workshop is a structured learning opportunity with a combination of classroom time and plenty of practice time in fantastic field locations. Come and join us May 28 – June 1 2014 for this unique and fun photo workshop! To learn more simply click here.
Early booking bonus! Anyone who signs up for this workshop by January 31st, 2014 will receive the entire oopoomoo eBook library on CD at the workshop! That’s 19 eBooks and a total value of $195.00 — an incredible collection! (Read the small print: this bonus can only be collected upon attendance at the workshop and is limited to those eBooks published by oopoomoo at the date of this post.)
The story:2004 – 5 were a tough couple of years in a lot of different ways. Because of some of what had been going down, I had a bunch of time on my hands and used it to get outdoors more than any time since childhood. I took the camera along and finally got focused on what I was doing with it.Christmas of 2005 was the turning point. I was in Banff, having seriously needed to get away from it all. Dawn of December 25 found me standing all by myself on the shoreline of frozen Lake Minnewanka, receiving a providential gift of light. 🙂 As I looked out over the dark emerald-coloured ice, daybreak lit up the clouds with a rich warm glow. I felt both energized and at peace, and I took some exposures that resulted in a photograph substantially as I actually meant to make it. Looking back, I later realized this was a defining moment for a couple of reasons.First, I finally had enough craft that I could capture, develop and present something that I felt did more than feebly hint at the wonderful world I had seen before me. All the hours I’d spent trying to sort out tools and techniques reached a point where the final results of the work clicked. I’ve progressed further in my craft since then, and know I could do a better job of the technical stuff now. But this image was the first significant example of what has come to be my preferred way of working… a combined field and digital creative process by which I’m making my photographs come out how I want them and see them in my head, rather than what previously felt like coming up short in a battle with my tools.Second, I experienced what has become an even more important purpose in photography for me — making something creative through a blend of seeing, experiencing, interpreting and expressing my view of the world. For all the fact that I’m still a gearhead and value what craftsmanship brings to the table, I’ve realized that the path of the artist is so much more challenging and fulfilling than just developing mechanical or technical skills. On December 25, 2005 I realized not only that I could pull together tools and techniques, but in fact I could pursue photography as a form of artistic work. I could do it, and I wanted to do it. Everything that has happened with my photography since then stems from that day.This will be a life-long pursuit, one that’s never fully realized, but is all the more exciting for that reason. So this image “Sunrise Over Deep Emerald Ice” is not my best or most important, because those photographs are yet to be made. But it was the first photograph — mile marker 0 — where I knew for sure I had set foot on a new path. I can’t wait to keep exploring it…
Samantha and I just finished our talk, Raw versus JPEG: Which one is Right for You? on the weekend, and participants asked some really great questions. One of the topics we covered in the presentation in detail was how to get great HDR images no matter what format, raw or JPEG, you choose. The first question we were asked was, “What software do you recommend for natural-looking HDR (High Dynamic Range) images?” The answer to that question is easy. Out of all the software for HDR that we have tried, we find Oloneo HDRengine to be the easiest and fastest to use for natural looking results. If you want the ‘Pro’ version of the software then choose Oloneo PhotoEngine, but really HDRengine will cover most everyone’s needs and at $59 it’s affordable! (BTW, we make no commission nor gain any benefit from Oloneo for this recommendation; we just think it’s a great product). Mac users: sorry, but this software is only available for Windows for now. For Mac users we recommend Photomatix.
The second question was whether it’s better to use JPEG or raw to make HDR photos. In the talk, we went over the reasons why we prefer raw for our HDR imagery, but you can use JPEG format and get great results if you expose the images correctly. We find that most people don’t expose their images correctly for HDR and as a result get noisy, chunky and un-natural looking images.
The most common approach when shooting for an HDR is to make at least three different exposures based around the camera’s meter reading of a scene. So, you would have three shots: one for the mid tones, one for the highlights and one for the shadows. The HDR software takes these three images and blends them all together into a single exposure. An easy way to get three quick exposures is to set your camera to auto-bracketing and have the camera snap the different photos. A common bracketing sequence used by photographers is 0 EV, -2 EV, +2 EV as shown below:
This histogram is typical of a high contrast scene. This mid tone exposure (0 EV) records the mid tones in the middle of the histogram but the shadows and highlights are clipped on the left and right side of the histogram.
The -2 EV exposure captures the highlights without any clipping.
The +2 EV exposure captures the shadows without clipping.
An HDR image can be made from these exposures but the file likely will end up being noisy and a bit crunchy looking.
We are firm believers in the idea of ‘expose right’ or ‘expose to the right’ as it is sometimes called. In this scenario, you push the histogram as far to the right as possible without clipping highlights. Doing so gives you better data that can be manipulated in software without getting noisy. The trick, though, is to apply the principles behind exposing right to HDR images. To get better HDRs without noise, you simply need to make three exposures where the mid tones, highlights and shadows each get shoved, in separate exposures, over to the upper right half of the histogram where the best data resides.
The darkest exposure should place the highlights into the upper right of the histogram without clipping (this is a -1 EV exposure).
The mid tone exposure should move the mid tone information over to the right side of the histogram (this is a +1 EV exposure). The red areas show highlight clipping but we aren’t concerned about them as we already have the best exposure for the highlights in the -1 EV exposure.
The exposure for the shadows should push the darkest area of the photo into the right half of the histogram like we see here. This is a +3 EV exposure. Most people would think this highly washed out image is of no use at all!
The HDR software maps the well-exposed information for the mid tones, the highlights, and the shadows into a final noise-free and natural image.
The idea here is to make your darkest capture no darker than is needed to expose for the highlights in a scene. Then expose the mid tones and shadows in accordance with the ‘expose right’ maxim, pushing this data to the right side of the histogram as well. Looking at washed out, extremely over-exposed photos is kind of tough to take, but once the HDR’s from these files are made you will be surprised by how clean and natural the final results are. Try it for yourself and see if it works for you! See you on the ‘light’ side!
A big thanks to Royce Howland who introduced us to Oloneo software and to this expose right technique for HDR photos!