Yosemite To The Rescue

This week our Digital Marketing Director needed a good example of High Dynamic Range photography for one of his clients. This image of the Yosemite valley worked perfectly because there is a very large difference in brightness levels between the sunlit peak in the background and the shadow covered stream in the foreground. This image is impossible to take on film without the use of neutral density filters that would draw down the light on the mountain. We love natural HDR.

More From the 2014 HDR Contest

Here's another fine image by Howard Fingerhut who was a finalist in the 2014 HDR Contest. This is a very pleasing composition that makes nice use of HDR processing. This would have been a difficult scene to render with a single camera image. Well done Howard!

Keep checking the blog for more examples from the 2014 contest and see how your skills compare. We think you have what it takes to submit a great entry this year.

Photos That Rescue

When photographer Stuart Holroyed moved to Cyprus he met a woman who ran a small rescue center for dogs. The photos and story that resulted will warm your heart.

HDR Contest Photos We Like

The Unified Color HDR contest is coming in early spring. So for the next few posts we'll be sharing some of the finalist images in the Spring 2014 contest. We'll end the series with the winning images. Here's a wonderfully executed HDR image by Mark Rupert where he tamed a bright sky and a village street in shadow. Well done!

Keep visiting the blog for more great HDR examples

photo by Mark Rupert

HDR Contest On The Horizon

It's the new year and the Unified Color HDR contest is coming in early spring. For the next few posts we'll be sharing some of the finalist images in the Spring 2014 contest. We'll end the series with the winning images. Here's a great look at Half Dome in Yosemite National Park by Luke Shearer. Luke had a number of images make it to the finalist level in 2014.

You may have what it takes to win this year's contest. The only way to find out is to enter. Keep coming back to the blog to be either inspired by last year's entries or pumped up to be the next winner.

John Omvik's HDR Tip - Capture The Whole Range

Here is one of VP of Marketing, John Omvik's valuable HDR photography tips that answers one of the questions we get often. Here's John:

Capture The Whole Range

One of the questions I am asked most often is, “How many photos do I need to shoot for HDR, 3, 5, more? The answer to this question is as it is for so many photography questions; It depends. The truth is, there is no single answer that will apply to all cases. The dynamic range of every scene can vary significantly. As I mentioned in my first tip, there are many types of low contrast scenes that don’t even require HDR techniques.

You need to develop an eye for contrast to see when HDR is actually needed. This typically begins with bright sun lit landscapes and cityscapes that have high contrast levels between the shade and bright lit areas. If you have a landscape scene with a dramatic cloudy sky and you want to bring out the tonality of the clouds as well as the landscape below, this may be a good use for HDR.

If you are balancing an interior room exposure with windows, this is definitely a HDR situation. If you have small bright light sources and dark shadow areas that you want to capture you have an even higher contrast range.
The key to all of these is making sure that you have enough bracketed exposures. It is critical that your exposure series be large enough to capture the whole dynamic range of the scene, make sure that you not only shoot the right number of bracketed shots, but that you are also capturing the key highlight information.

The best way to confirm this is to check the camera histogram to ensure that the selected range has at least one image containing all highlight information. In most images shadow areas are not as critical as highlights and can be clipped in order to preserve a certain level of contrast.

The best way to verify your HDR Exposures is with the histogram view on the LCD display. Make sure that you have a shot with a gap between where the data ends on the left and the left side of the histogram. This indicates that you have at least one underexposed frame that preserves the highlight information. From there simply increase your exposure time by 1-stop i.e. double the exposure time. If the image with the gap was shot at 1/1000th f/8.0 shoot the next one stop brighter at 1/500th f/8.0 and the next at 1/250th f/8.0 until you see a gap between where the data starts on the right and the right side of the histogram.

Here is an example of an HDR scene I photographed. I wasn’t sure how many stops of exposure were needed to render the dynamic range of the scene so I set my Nikon D300 to bracket 9 exposures at 1-stop increments to ensure that I captured everything. If you are using a camera that does not support 9-stop bracketing, you can set the camera in manual mode and manually double the shutter speed between each exposure or use a programmable 3rd party device such as the Promote Remote to set the brackets.

You can see that this scene has a lot of rich shadow detail as well as some definition in the clouds even though it was an overcast day. After the first 0ev default exposure, I could tell that HDR was needed.



Note how both the shadows and the highlights are clipped. There is no way a single exposure could capture the full range of this scene.

Photos That Changed Photographer's Lives

New National Geographic editor Jessie Wender reached out to the photographers she would be working with.

"(As) a new photo editor at National Geographic, I was eager to learn more about the photographers we work with, many of whom I haven’t met in person. In honor of Thanksgiving, I asked ten of them to share an image that they were especially thankful for having taken – one that had perhaps changed the way they thought about something, or had a large impact on the trajectory of their career. Below are the stories and images they shared...

Here's one example from the story. Click on the image to see the entire piece.

"It was a challenging task to light Hang Son Doong cave in Vietnam. Discovered in 2009, it is one of the biggest cave galleries in the world. The pictured gallery is a mile long, 200 yards high, and not quite that wide. We needed 14 people to light this immense room. It was very chaotic....."

Photos We Love

In our hunt for the best of HDR photography we often run into compelling photo collections that aren't really HDR but compelling nevertheless. You'll enjoy this one. Click on the image to see the full collection.

HDR Tip by James Brandon - Prevent Muddy Whites

High Dynamic Range photography is all about taking an image with a range of brightness larger than your display device can handle and taming it to deliver an attractive and believable image. No matter which HDR software package you use it’s inherent in the HDR process that you will have to make critical decisions about how you want to handle pixels that need to be wrestled back into your display’s dynamic range.

Shooting and teaching pro James Brandon gives us a tip on how to tame muddy highlights that can happen by over processing. This is the first in a series of valuable tips on HDR photography James will be providing us each month for our blog and newsletters. Let’s dive in!

TIP: Don't Let Your Whites Get Muddy!

One of the more common mistakes I see in HDR is the loss of correct color in a photograph. This could be from pushing specific channels too far like your reds, or from trying too hard to get a "properly exposed image." One mistake that I've been seeing frequently are the muddy whites caused by forcing an image’s histogram into submission. If you simply didn't capture full range of light in a scene, but still tell a program like HDR Express to get rid of any white clipping, the program will take your whites and turn them muddy to make you happy. Don't fall victim to this processing fail! Here's a screenshot from HDR Express of what I'm talking about.

gray hole

Muddy whites are a dead giveaway to a poor HDR image, so avoid them like the plague. It's ok to have blown highlights sometimes! Sure, it would have been nice to have captured the full range of light, but this isn't a perfect world, and that isn't always going to happen. Instead, pull your Highlights slider back until those white start to look clean again. Mess around with the other sliders a bit and you'll be surprised at how much detail you actually may still be able to pull out.


In this version, I pulled back the highlights slider to make the highlights look cleaner. To see if your highlights are blown, you can either look at the histogram which I pointed to in the top right, or you can click the "H" above the histogram to activate the blown highlights overlay which you can now see in red in the image. If you're still hooked on bringing in the detail, take your darkest RAW file and pull the exposure down to see if you can bring out the details. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. Cheers, and happy shooting!


The Good and the Bad of HDR

Here at UCT we're proponents of "natural" HDR. The bizarre, over-saturated and too frequently seen processing that many have called "HDR" drives us crazy. In this article James Brandon who has graced this blog in the past points out what he believes is a collection of HDR images "done right". Click on "Like" if you agree.

photo by Rob Hanson

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