Lightroom Dynamic Range with LR/Enfuse

Posted in DSLR, General Photography, HDR, Review, technique with tags , , , , , on July 24, 2011 by Jim
Bok Tower

Bok Tower processed with LR/Enfuse

HDR without using HDR software?

  Well, not exactly. HDR is the abbreviation for High Dynamic Range images.  True HDR images are 32 bit, floating point files that are ultimately scaled back to ‘normal’ 8 bit images that can be displayed on a standard video monitor or printed on  printing paper.  The photographer takes a series of bracketed exposures and specialized software is required in order to ‘tone map’ the high dynamic range 32 bit file by a nearly pixel by pixel basis which can be somewhat controlled by the photographer.  However, tonemapped HDR images have garnered a reputation, whether deserved or not, of being overly saturated, over-the-top photos.  Sometimes these images are really cool, and sometimes they are just, well… over-the-top!

  However, long before the ability of photographers to create HDR images, there is a long-standing technique of using masks for the various exposed images to produce an image that contains a tonal range that is not possible to capture in a single image.  The first recorded attempt to use several exposures to cover an extreme range of exposure values was Gustave La Gray back in 1850 to photograph a seascape and retain detail in the sky and the sea.  He used one negative for the sky and another for the ocean and combined them later into one print. It is actually easier today to combine multiple images with masks in software such as Photoshop, but it still takes  a certain level of skill in order to accomplish this.

  So, some clever photographer/programmers have come up with an open source program called Enfuse.  This software is free and runs on a number of platforms, but isn’t easy too use due to it’s command line interface.  It also does not align the bracketed images.

  However, some other clever photographer/programmers took Enfuse and incorporated alignment routines and a GUI interface and even better, made it into a plug-in for Lightroom (as well as a stand alone version)!  That’s correct, you can now blend exposure bracketed images together inside of Lightroom without even using Photoshop.  The program doesn’t stop there, however, for you macro photographers, LR/Enfuse  will blend focus bracketed images together to produce a final image with a greater depth of field.  But wait, there’s more!  For you star gazers, LR/Enfuse will also blend a series of night photography images of star trails together!  Imagine being able to produce great star trails by taking a series of shorter time-exposures so that the foreground isn’t over exposed.

  Well, this sounds great, but how much would you expect to pay for all this ability?  Would you believe, it’s up to you?  LR/Enfuse is ‘donationware’ which means you pay what you think it’s worth to you (payment is accepted via PayPal in British pounds).  The trial version of the program will be limited to an output of 500 x 500 pixels, but once you donate, you will immediately receive an unlock key.

  LR/Enfuse is available at I recommend giving it a try and check out the tutorials and examples on the website.  While the final images aren’t really ‘true’ HDR, I was really impressed with the realism that is achieved and the ease in which to create them.

  On my upcoming trip to Mongolia, I’m planning to use LR/Enfuse to do startrail images on the Mongolian Steppes.  Check with the Fotobug Facebook fanpage or my Flickr account to see how they turn out!

DIY Panorama L Bracket

Posted in DIY, DSLR with tags , , , , , , on July 21, 2011 by Jim
L Bracket

Do it Yourself L bracket for Panoramas

Shortly I will be leaving for a photo workshop in Outer Mongolia. When I first travel to a destination I have never been to before, I spend time online checking out images from other photographers in order to get some idea what to expect and to be able to plan ahead for the images I wish to capture. The first thing that occurred to me is the vast open spaces of the Gobi Desert and the Mongolian Steppes. In my mind’s eye, I pictured wide vast panoramas of the distant mountains and isolated gers (tents). In order to properly capture such images, I knew from my research I would need some kind of ‘L’ bracket and offset on my ball head.

To best record proper panoramas, the camera should rotate around the nodal (“optical center”) of the lens and not around the camera tripod mount in order to avoid parallax errors. There is a nice commercial device called the Nodal Ninja available for proper panoramas, but these commercial devices can cost up to $400 and more. I needed something that would be easy to pack and carry and affordable. So, I ended up making an ‘L’ bracket and mounted it to an Arca-Swiss style plate intended for a 600-800mm lens (about 6.5 inches long).

The Arca-Swiss plate turned out to be easy. I found someone on eBay that sells a 6.5″ Arca-Swiss style mounting bracket for about $27, shipped. That would actually work fine for shooting a panorama with the camera oriented in landscape mode, but ideally the camera should be in portrait mount. So, I would need some kind of ‘L’ bracket that would allow me to mount the camera vertically, rather than horizontally.

Doing a bit more online research, I found that I could buy an aluminum angle bracket that was 3″ x 4″ from They will cut the bracket for you and I only needed a piece that was 1.5″ wide and 1/4″ thick. The price for this piece is about $1.10, but will cost around $10.00 to ship! Please note that after I bought this size bracket I realized it will work fine for my camera without the battery grip, but is too short with the grip. has larger brackets of 6″ x 6″, but they are thicker at .375″. I decided to simply remove my battery grip for doing panoramas, but will later experiment with the 6″ x 6″ angle aluminum.

So for a cost of $38, I had the pieces I needed. The Arca-Swiss plate required no modification and could be used as is. For the aluminum angle bracket, I carefully measured two holes and drilled them out. The hole on the 3″ side would need to be tapped for a 1/4-20 thread to screw into the Arca-Swiss plate. This hole should be as close to the center of the lens as possible when the camera is mounted on the 4″ side, vertically. For the 4″ side, I needed a slightly larger hole to be drilled in order to mount the camera with a 1/4-20 screw (to mount via the tripod socket). I also realized that my Canon 5D had to be raised up on the 4″ side in order to permit my remote cables to be connected. I couldn’t turn the camera the other way around so that the connectors were at the top as the 4″ side is too short when the camera is oriented this way.

After carefully drilling the holes and tapping the hole on the 3″ side, I filed down the rough edges and then painted the L bracket flat black. Finally, I cut a piece of thin rubber and used super glue to glue it to the 4″ side to protect the base of the camera and to provide a better grip to keep the camera from rotating.

The longer Arca-Swiss plate allows the camera to be offset from the rotation point of the ball head, so that the pivot point will be around the lens and not the camera. This point will actually change with different lenses and eventually I may test and mark the Arca-Swiss plate for each of my wide lenses so that I can quickly set it up and be reasonably sure that I’m rotating around the ‘optical center’ of the lens.

Finally, all I have to do is stitch the final images together in Photoshop!

Keep an eye on The Fotobug fan page and my Flickr page to see results of my little home-made bracket!

HDR – Bad?

Posted in General Photography, Photography General, technique with tags , , , , , on January 12, 2011 by Jim

The Music Lesson

The Music Lesson by Johannes Vermeer

Since I have been shooting HDR (High Dynamic Range) images, I constantly hear and read some rather nasty comments against this technique. Trey Ratcliff told me he takes the attitude just to ignore them, but I wonder just what it is that these individuals find so distasteful? Yes, I have seen some really over-the-top HDR images, but I have also seen a lot of over-the-top non-HDR images. It would be a very big stretch to conclude that all photography is bad just because one particular image isn’t the best. However, there are those who apply that logic to HDR!

The image at the top of this article is the famous painting “The Music Lesson” by the Dutch master, Johannes Vermeer, painted around 1662. I recommend trying to find a larger version of the image and study it carefully. Please note, that this image was produced long before photography. Do you note that it is an HDR image! Note the detail that is contained in the shadows as well as the highlights. Had Vermeer been a 17th century digital photographer, this image would have darker shadows with little detail and those windows would be white blobs (unless he was using a number of strobes to match these values – just another way to deal with dynamic range!).

Yet, the canvas was just as incapable of containing this full range of values as modern photo paper. The tone of the raw canvas is the brightest value that can be represented and the choice of inks limit the darkest values. So, the genius of Vermeer was being able to “tone map” the room into the dynamic limits of the canvas he painted on. Just like photographers have to tone map the series of images for final presentation.

Since Vermeer didn’t have a Nikon DIV or Canon VIID, nor could he even imagine the dynamic limits of film or digital sensors. He painted what he saw. Like it or not, we see in HDR. Our eyes are amazing and can constantly adjust for changes in light levels as we scan a room or landscape. Check other paintings – particularly those before the invention of photography and notice that paintings capture an apparent range of light values, because that is the way our eyes see the world.

Perhaps that is why people often exclaim when they look at an HDR image – “why, that looks like a painting”!



Posted in DSLR, General Photography, Review, Video with tags , , , , , , , on January 6, 2011 by Jim

Lightworks Open Source

Video capability for professional level DSLR cameras is here to stay, so anyone wishing to get the most of that new camera should have some knowledge and ability to shoot and edit video. However, that means more expensive software such as Adobe Premiere, Apple’s Final Cut Pro or even Avid. Until now, that is.

Editshare has just released their Academy and Emmy award-winning professional-grade editor, Lightworks, into open source. That means it is free!!! Just a simple download! Lightworks is no slouch, having cut hundreds of films such as Pulp Fiction, The Departed, Centurion and Shutter Island. It includes a full feature set of editorial tools and is being used by many top Hollywood professional editors. It even has stereoscopic support and realtime effects including multiple secondary colour correctors. Lightworks has an advanced effects pipeline, utilizing the power of your GPU. And with support for up to 2K workflows with realtime effects, it is the most advanced editing application available. It even accepts Premiere plug-ins.

Head on over to LIGHTWORKS to download and try it out for yourself. Currently it is only available for Windows 32 and 64 bit systems, but support for Linux and Mac OSX is coming later in 2011.

Want to become a better photographer?

Posted in General Photography, Photography General, technique on January 4, 2011 by Jim

I have been fortunate to be able to spend some time and talk with some outstanding photographers on my podcast (The Fotobug), and although their approach and interests may differ, the one thing that they all have in common is the fact they all get out there and make the magic happen! I really encourage reading photo magazines and photography books, but the only way you are really going to improve is to go grab your camera and use it. The more you use your camera, the more comfortable you will feel with it and before you know it, the camera becomes an extension of yourself and you are going to find that you will be able to spend more time concentrating on the image you see in your viewfinder and less time fumbling with camera controls and worry about shutter speeds, aperture settings, etc.

I also encourage you to consider workshops and seminars in order to interact with other photographers to learn new techniques and to help keep up your inspiration. C’mon, what are you doing sitting there reading this blog? Get out there and make some great images!! (Don’t forget to share!).

Sintel Video

Posted in DSLR, Photographers to inspire, Podcast, Video on October 1, 2010 by Jim Sintel

Sintel Poster

Although, strictly speaking, this post doesn’t have a lot to do with general photography, but if you are interested in DSLR video then I believe you will find this most interesting. I was quite moved by this video, especially considering the film was put together with open source programs ( and volunteers. This is the same software I use for my podcast at
The 15 minute movie can be downloaded (in several formats and sizes) at I recommend you check it out and please let me know what you think! This is their 3rd film and if you would like to try your hand at computer animation, a free version of Blender is available at Yes, I did say FREE – it is an open source program available for the Mac, PC and Linux platforms.

Black Rapid Straps

Posted in General Photography, Review with tags , , , on September 26, 2010 by Jim

RS 7 Black Rapid strap

Frequently I have been stopped by other photographers and asked about – my camera strap? Yes – the strap! I purchased my first Black Rapid RS7 a few months ago after researching for a comfortable, practical camera strap, I decided on the Black Rapid. In fact, I liked it so much, I purchased a second for my other camera.
These straps are comfortable, quick to attach and remove and keep the camera at a comfortable position by your side. Yet, you can quickly pull the camera up into shooting position. I also find that the two RS7 straps work great, even though Black Rapid makes a dual strap.
Check them out – highly recommended!

Quick Tip – Dust to Dust!

Posted in DSLR, Photography General, technique, Video with tags , , , , , , , , on September 23, 2010 by Jim

Dust in your DSLR getting you down? Me too! I find dust especially a problem if you are using your DSLR cameras for video. Perhaps it is because a smaller portion of the sensor is being used, but I tend to see dust on video that I don’t see on the still images.

I keep the body cap on my camera when I’m traveling and not shooting. When I put a lens on, I generally toss the body cap and end lens cap back into my camera bag. How about you? Bad idea! That is a great way to pick up dust. When the body cap is placed back on the camera, there is a good possibility there is dust lurking on it just waiting to jump onto that sensor! Of course, using an air bulb to blow off the dust first is a good idea, but I also recommend taking the rear-lens cap and the body cap and join them together! Just a simple twist and it not only keeps them from bouncing around in your bag (vest, pocket, whatever!), but will help keep dust out of the inside of the caps!

PluralEyes Coming to a PC near you!

Posted in Review, technique, Video with tags , , , , , on August 9, 2010 by Jim
Taping training videos

Video guy - yeah, that

If you make videos, or use your DSLR to make videos, and use a separate device to record your audio, unless you are editing with Final Cut Pro on a Mac, you could go crazy trying to sync up your video and audio. I’ve been jealous of the Mac video editors for a long time, as they had some magic software called PluralEyes that would do all the syncing work for them.

Well, finally, they must heard my cries of anguish and took pity on me, because now Singular Software is releasing PluralEyes for Premiere CS4 and CS5 on the PC platform!! Also note that it is available for Sony Vegas.

Skeptic that I am, I decided to really issue PluralEyes a challenge. Even though the software is currently in beta for the PC, I shot 42 clips, no clap stick or sync marker of any kind, and the video was recorded on a Zoom H4N. I brought the whole mess back to my PC, loaded up Premiere Pro CS5, loaded up the video clips on the sequence line and below it, I loaded up the recorded audio from the Zoom. I exported the project as a FCP project file, loaded that file up into PluralEyes – left all the options at their default values, then walked away.

When I returned, PluralEyes indicated it was done. So (still a skeptic!), I loaded up my original project, then imported the new synced project that PluralEyes created – and to my utter amazement and astonishment – all clips were synced to the audio! This HAS to be magic!! Actually – I’m lying. There was one clip that didn’t sync (since there were only a couple spoken words), but they were placed next to each other on the timeline and I was easily able to sync that one. I didn’t try, but I’m sure if I had applied some of the more advanced sync options, PluralEyes would have synced that one as well. (I REALLY like the name of the sync option “Try Really Hard”!!!).

I cannot even describe how much time this is going to save me from performing a mundane task that I absolutely detested. Plus, I don’t have to urge the talent to clap their hands or mess with a clap-stick. In fact, as long as the audio recorder is running, I can start and stop the cameras as I please and PluralEyes will still synchronize them! I can even shoot with both my 5D and 7D at the same time and PluralEyes will even sync the overlaps so that I can use the multi-camera edit feature in Premiere.

Best of all – PluralEyes is currently in beta release, so Singular is offering it as a FREE beta download! If this is the beta, I can’t wait to use the final version. At a price point of only $149, I have placed it on my “Must Have” list.

Highly recommended!! to download the trial version!

Click Here to BUY! Special Introductory Price!

Give us a Listen!

Posted in DSLR, General Photography, Podcast, Video on July 16, 2010 by Jim


Fotobug - Elusive Image Podcasts

I just posted the Fotobug podcast number 4 and the next one will be ready in a week or so. If you are interested in nature, travel or even general photography – give us a listen! The podcast is available at PODBEAN and is also available on iTunes and Zune. I recommend you subscribe so you don’t miss any episodes!

In addition to the previous episodes featuring interviews with Clyde Butcher and Trey Ratcliff, the new podcasts feature a tour of Clyde Butcher’s darkroom facility and Clyde’s “backyard” in the Big Cypress Swamp, as well as an interview with writer, director, producer, cameraman, Richard Clabaugh and a sneak preview of his latest film, EYEBORGS. Rick discusses the use of DSLR video capable cameras being used on professional Hollywood style films.

We also feature discussions on the latest news in photography and new equipment, such as the iPad. Upcoming episodes will feature more interviews, software reviews, techniques, and a series of training videos hosted by photographer Jason Hahn. The first video is about wading techniques based upon Jason’s article in the August issue of Popular Photography. Last, but not least, we will be discussing our latest photo tours and workshops (Everglades workshop in November and Costa Rica in March for Outdoor Photo Workshops, as well as my tour to Mongolia in August, 2011).

So, now you know why I’ve been lax in my postings here!! Please check out our Fotobug Podcasts, don’t forget to rate us, (I recommend subscribing) and we want to hear from you about your photo tours, workshops, questions, complaints, etc.

64bit Raw Viewers?

Posted in General Photography, Photography General, Review with tags , , , , on April 15, 2010 by Jim

Rufous-tailed hummingbird

I just put together a new computer to edit my podcasts (PODCAST) and to edit the new HD formats, I decided on Windows 7 64bit OS along with the new Intel 930 processor and 6Gb memory. Great machine – but there was one small problem: I loaded up the Canon raw codec to view my RAW image files and discovered Canon doesn’t support 64bit – neither does Nikon! That’s a real problem – although I use Lightroom, sometimes I just want to do a quick look at the RAW images using the Windows viewer.

However, I discovered that all is not lost! Axel Rietschin Software Developments to the rescue! Axel has developed a complete set of raw codecs for all the major manufacturers that will work in 64bit (and 32bit) operating systems and is currently selling the codecs at the bargain price of only $5.99! He also has an image view that sounds quite interesting and I may download the trial version and check it out. Go to HERE and check out the codecs and his image viewer!

His codecs and viewer work on regular 32bit systems as well and I recommend you check it out!

Podcast now live!

Posted in Photographers to inspire, Photography General with tags on April 4, 2010 by Jim

Clyde Butcher

Our long awaited podcast is now live! The first podcast features an interview by James Shadle with Clyde Butcher and an interview I conducted in Tampa with HDR guru, Trey Ratcliff.
The podcast is also available on iTunes, Zune, etc. and I hope you will subscribe and consider commenting. In the mean time, go here – – to watch the Elusive Image Podcast!

HDR Workflow

Posted in technique with tags , , , , , on February 23, 2010 by Jim

Monk and Begger in Lhasa, Tibet.

HDR is rapidly becoming more mainstream. I recently met Trey Ratcliff ( in Tampa and I’m seeing more and more articles on the technique in mainstream photo magazines. For Canon shooters (sorry Nikon folks, but these techniques may likely work for you too!), I am going to post my workflow for taking and processing HDR images.

First of all, on most of the Canon models except for the 1D and 1Ds, the camera is limited to 3 exposures for AEB (automatic exposure bracketing). While this is good for most images, there are times where a wider range might be desirable. So, I pre-set and register a -2 stop (plus on shot right on the proper exposure!) AEB on the C1 setting of my 5D and 7D and a +3 stop AEB on C2. I do this by setting up the camera for ISO 100, AV mode, f/8 on the lens and then AEB setting the highest bracketed shot at the 0 setting on the dial by adjusting the exposure compensation. I also set the camera for rapid fire. I then use the menu to register this to Custom setting 1 (the C1 on the mode dial on the top left of the camera). I change the AEB range by changing the exposure compensation dial to begin at 1 stop over the 0 point and register this setting to C2. If I need more or less aperature, it is easy to quickly change these settings on the fly and re-register them.

When shooting, I line up my shot, turn the dial to C1 and use a wireless remote to fire off three shots, then turn the dial to C2 and fire 3 more – voila! a 6 exposure range! I may adjust this range to favor underexposing instead of more shots overexposing, depending upon the scene I’m photographing.

Once I return home, I transfer the RAW images into my computer backup drives (of course I’m shooting RAW!). I then use Lightroom to select the range of RAW images for each shot (and may even do some minor white balance correcting), then I select Export and export the range of images into Photomatix or HDRShop – more often than not, I transfer them as JPGs, but TIFs are fine too!

Once in the HDR software – I tonemap the image to my liking, then process it and save it. Now, I go back into Lightroom and transfer the original RAW images into Photoshop by selecting Edit in Photoshop in layers. This will transfer the images into one project as individual layers. I then bring in the tonemapped image, copy and paste it on top of the layers. Finally, I apply layer maps and selectively adjust the tonemapped image as appropriate from the original RAW images – generally light and darker areas, and remove subject movement, if necessary. At this stage, the adjustments are very subjective.

Once I am done adjusting and flattening the image, I may bring it into a plugin such as Topaz Adjust or Phototools, or apply a curve to the final image, sharpen, size and convert it to an sRGB if it is destined for the web. Again, at this point it is highly subjective and often I will try different processes on it until I get something that I like.

Finally, RAW images alone also contain more dynamic range than can be displayed on a normal monitor or in print and sometimes a single RAW image processed in Photomatix or other software can benefit and that is how the image on this article was done!

Travels Beyond the Edge

Posted in Photographers to inspire with tags on February 10, 2010 by Jim
Art Wofle

Abstract man gallery - Art Wolfe

Like many artists, photographers tend to find a comfort zone and therefore become classified according to a particular style or subject. However, I find it very refreshing when a photographer steps out of that zone and looks at a subject in a new way or attempts a new style.

I’m sure that many of you are familiar with the work of Art Wolfe. He has a PBS series running called Travels to the Edge where a video crew follows him to remote locations as he photographs the amazing cultures, landscapes and wildlife from around the world. While I have never met Art, I have spoken to him on the phone and have many of his books, including Migrations which he sent me an autographed copy.

I always thought of Art as a wildlife/travel photographer, that is until recently! A fellow co-worker told me that her son was hired by Art to pose in his Seattle studio for a new series he was working on called The Abstract Man Exhibit. When some of his images were finally displayed on his website, I was blown away. His amazing black and white studies were totally outside of my concept of an Art Wolfe image.

Yet, when I returned to look at his Migrations book, or at the fine images in his online gallery, there is an element of his new work that was really there all along and I just never noticed. In the Migrations book he has wonderfully abstract images of thousands, or tens of thousands animals or birds that lose their individual identities and instead become wonderful patterns of colors and forms. In fact, very much like the extension of the fantastic new Abstract Man images.

I recommend going to Art’s gallery (Art’s Gallery) and then go and pick up your camera and try something new as well.

A World in HDR – review

Posted in Review with tags on January 29, 2010 by Jim

World in HDR

World in HDR

I finally got around to reading Trey Ratcliff’s new book, A World in HDR. In a blog post a few days ago, I mentioned that I recently met Trey and was fortunate to attend his HDR (high dynamic range) image workshop in Tampa. I had already pre-purchased his book, but I confess I just now got around to reading it! Not just pursuing his amazing images, but actually reading it (quite a concept, no?).

First of all, the image quality of his pictures in the book are good, but you really need to go to his website to get the full impact. I’m afraid the printing quality is unable to do justice to the tones and colors in the digital versions. It occurred to me as I flipped through the book how amazing these images would be once enlarged to poster size prints.

However, there is one section of the book that I really want to comment on. Although the book does contain a tutorial for creating HDR images in the end, Trey urges the reader to use that merely as a foundation to build on. He does describe briefly the thought process and software he used on each individual image, which is likely more important than the step by step process that he uses.

Trey goes on to explain that he really doesn’t believe in giving out a step by step process. He believes that doing so (such as in most of our education systems) demonstrates the ‘how’ but never addresses the ‘why’. In other words, if you follow a recipe, you will end up with the same results every time, but if everyone did that, there would be no innovation or creativity and there would be no new recipes! He presents examples such as the early French impressionist painters such as Monet, Pissarro, and Renoir whose work was really discovered and approved by the public and not the artistic community at the time. The work of these impressionists was just too radical and different for the prevailing art community.

His comments go right to the heart of the problem I see with a lot of workshops. What good is it to adopt someone else’s style and methods without adapting and building upon that work? After all, the workshop presenter is already creating his/her images that way, so what good is it for the attendees to go and create the identical type of images? Where is the creativity and innovation?

Trey urges the reader to take the essence of what he is doing, then add a big dash of yourself and go create something new and wonderful as well! I couldn’t agree more.

I recommend grabbing a copy of A World in HDR, and don’t just look at the pretty pictures –read it, then go out and be creative!

Feather Detail

Posted in technique with tags , on January 27, 2010 by Jim

I have searched for a technique to enhance feather detail in white birds. I think I may have found one! Simply increasing contrast doesn’t work as that tends to muddy up the whites. I also tried copying the white areas to a new layer in Photoshop and using various layer modes with limited success. I found that using linear burn was best, but still didn’t give me quite what I wanted. The gull picture at left (click for a larger view) was one such image. I liked the position of the gull, but the whites of the feathers lacked detail and the picture fell flat. I knew the detail was contained in the RAW image, but how to pull it out?

Some time ago I purchased LucisArt and really hadn’t done much with it. I remember it wasn’t an inexpensive program, but the newer Lucis Pro is $595! However, I created a new layer from the original and applied the LucisArt plugin to it to increase the contrast. The plugin dramatically increased the feather detail without turning the whites into a muddy gray. I then reduced the opacity of this layer and used a layer mask to further blend it into the original to my liking – and voila! I finally achieved the look I was after!

I also began to wonder if I could do the same thing using Photomatix as a single RAW image (pseudo) HDR? I didn’t have time last night to try this, but that might work as well. I will attempt this and will post an update. Essentially, I plan to bring the original RAW image into Photomatix and process it so that it brings out the contrast in the bird’s feathers, ignoring the sky. I will then bring this image into Photshop and layer it with the original and then use masking and opacity to see if I can get a simliar result.

Please don’t hesitate to post your comments or techniques that you may have discovered to achieve the same or maybe even better results!

More HDR!

Posted in Photography General on January 26, 2010 by Jim

HDR Panther

HDR Panther from Ecuador

OK, I’ve received a few emails asking more about HDR (High Dynamic Range) – I highly recommend checking Stuck in Customs for tutorials on how to process these images. The image to the left is a captive panther I photographed during one of the Photo tours I conducted to Baños, Ecuador. I then processed the single RAW file using Photomatix and then finished up with some masking techniques in Photoshop. I really like the way it turned out! I have a number of images from my Photo tour to Turkey from last year on my gallery and on my Flickr account HERE. I’ll be happy to post more information by request! Although the panther image isn’t a “true” HDR image since it was created from a single RAW exposure, some images can benefit from processing in a similar manner and programs such as Photomatix can sometimes draw out more range from the RAW file than a ‘normal’ RAW processor.

By the way – I’ll be doing more HDR images on my upcoming Costa Rica photo tour (currently full), but if you are interested, we still need photographers for the Mongolia Photo Tour for August 2011! Still plenty of time to sign up – check HERE for more information on this tour! Should be lots of opportunities to try this technique in Mongolia!

Trey Ratcliff

Posted in Photographers to inspire with tags on January 25, 2010 by Jim

Trey Ratcliff HDR image - Savanah Ga.

There are some photographers with massive egos. Trey Ratcliff is not one of them. However, dogone it, the guy is good! If anyone should have an ego it should be Trey!

I first ran across Trey’s website,, while surfing the net for workshops and photo tours. I generally quickly browse these sites, take some notes and move on – but the images on Trey’s site not only kept me looking, I had to bookmark it and return again and again. About the time I discovered Trey and his work, he was just about to come out with a new book on HDR titled  A World in HDR  which quickly sold out on Amazon in the UK and then in the USA when first released! I felt fortunate to have had the forethought to pre-order a signed copy from Trey prior to the initial release.Then I found out Trey was going to do a workshop in Tampa – I signed up immediately and asked if he would grant an interview for my upcoming podcast. The answer was, “yes”!

It is very interesting meeting someone with so much talent and yet so humble. Especially for someone who picked up his first camera and became intersted in photography only three years ago. He even has one of his prints hanging in the Smithsonian. Not bad!

Like a lot of photographers who are pursuing HDR (high dynamic range) images, he has received more than his fair share of criticism – but most of that is coming from other photographers who just don’t get it. However, his fan base is growing wider by the minute thanks to the social networks and public galleries such as Flickr. I believe a lot of his success is also due to his willingness to share his techniques including all the tutorials he has posted on his website. He did tell me during the interview that he does not plan on conducting additional workshops, but he is very accessible on Facebook and has begun to include video tutorials on his website.

If you are not familiar with HDR (high dynamic range images), it is essentially a technique of shooting multiple exposures of a scene and then later combining them into a special format that covers a much wider range of exposures than a standard photograph. This image cannot be displayed on regular monitors and so the image needs to be tonemapped to narrow the range for ordinary display or for printing – and this is where the magic occurs.

Finally, anyone who travels as much as Trey does is OK in my book! I just don’t see where he finds the time to post one of his fine HDR images every day. I recommend you check out his book and bookmark his website. Even if you believe you don’t care for HDR, prepare to be inspired!

Kayaks and Cameras

Posted in General Photography with tags , , , , on January 4, 2010 by Jim


Cameras and kayaks

Perhaps I’m just tired of walking.

Last year, on a visit to Myakka State Park, I rented a kayak to get closer to the hundreds of roseate spoonbills feeding along the river bank. Now, I have rented kayaks and even canoes there before, but somehow this time it was different. I don’t exactly know why – but the bug bit me. Perhaps it was the large groups of shore and wading birds – black necked-stilts, wood storks, great egrets, plovers, etc. – all along the banks of the Myakka presenting marvelous photo opportunities. I don’t really know why – but within two months I bought my own kayak and one for Carolyn.

Suddenly, a whole new world of photo opportunities has opened up. I’m no longer limited to the trails and side roads, but now can explore the marshes and spoil islands off the coast. Now if the weather will just cooperate a bit, I’m ready to go paddling again!

PS – just in case you are wondering, I purchased a Native Ultimate 12 – great, stable craft for photography!

DIY Intervalometer for Canon & Nikon

Posted in Review with tags , , , , on December 29, 2009 by Jim

Completed Intervalometer from Otter Creek

This is an unusual item that Canon and Nikon photographers might find useful – an intervalometer! An intervalometer is a device that will permit the photographer to set the camera to take a series of images for a set interval. A common use is for time-lapse images of flowers opening, etc. Well, you can do the same thing with you DSLR from Canon or Nikon (others too, with the right adapter). This intervalometer is actually a kit which is available from created by Otter Creek (
Features of the CT-1 intervalometer include:
– Optically isolated interface to the camera
– Standard intervalometer function with options for setting delay time and exposure time.
– Built-in optical sensor for triggering camera with light/shadow.
– External port allows for easy integration of alternate trigger circuits (sound, light, …)
– Manual mode for simple trigger and bulb mode exposures.
– Two position pushbutton for trigger – focus/shutter, just like on the camera.
– 2′ cable terminated with Canon &reg E3 plug (2.5mm stereo)
– Optional cables for connecting with other cameras

For only $60 – and an evening of soldering – this might make a fun addition to your photo toys!!

Magic Lantern adds 5D MK II Enhancements

Posted in 1, Photography General with tags , , , , , on June 24, 2009 by Jim

A few weeks ago, Canon released a firmware update for the 5D Mark II, 1.1.0, which added the ability for photographers to capture video with manual control over exposure and ISO settings. Now, a hacker, Trammell Hudson, has released a beta update to the firmware which allows the photographer even more control over the video settings!

Full release notes:

  • Only works with Canon firmware version 1.1.0
  • Only the external mic input is supported
  • Canon firmware will restart if LiveView mode is exited or powersave
  • HDMI, USB and composite video output are disabled
  • Zebras can not be disabled, threshold is not configurable, color can not be changed
  • Canon’s onscreen menus will not function correctly (configure everything before booting the Magic Lantern firmware)
  • Picture Style button will bring up an event viewer
  • Digital zoom works
  • Button remapping is currently disabled
  • ALC is disabled
  • Digital gain is fixed at +12 dB
  • Analog gain is set to +10 dB
  • Windcut (highpass filter) is disabled
  • Lowpass filter is enabled with default params
  • EQ params are at the default settings
  • Magic Lantern warns that this is a beta and if it should turn your camera into a brick, you are welcome to keep both pieces! With that caveat – the firmware hack can be downloaded at: HERE!

    Strobist Boot Camp II

    Posted in Photography General with tags , , , , , on June 21, 2009 by Jim

    Strobist Boot Camp II - Head Shot

    A friend and I decided to participate in the latest Strobist Boot Camp II exercises by David Hobby, (Strobist Blogspot) and for my head shot, I wanted to see if I could use an MR-14EX macro ring flash as an on-camera fill. This image is the result of my test.

    The posted head shot here (courtesy of my friend, Fred!) is the result. I had a Canon 580Ex off to the subject’s right with a Honl grid, set on slave and triggered by the MR-14ex on the camera. The MR-14ex was set on manual and since the two strobes are already on banks A and B, I set the 580Ex on bank C. I manually set A and B to 1/64 power and the C bank (580EX) to 1/16 power so it would act as the key.

    The result: I believe the MR-14EX can act as an on-camera fill for short distances, perhaps up to 8 – 10 feet. The biggest disadvantage is that one is limited to the Canon macro lenses that support the MR-14EX! In this case, I used the 100mm macro, which is a great lens and the length is good for portraiture.

    I shot this with a Canon 5D MK II set on manual mode – 1/50 sec and f/6.3. I am pleased enough to continue experimenting with this setup!!


    Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , on March 24, 2009 by Jim
    Radio Popper with mounting system

    Radio Popper with mounting system

    I’ve been waiting for the Radiopopper Jr. system since last year when they were first announced.  However, the designers/manufacturers of the “Poppers” decided they weren’t happy with the design and decided to pull back and add all the new features that they were going to save for future models.  Now it appears the Jrx. Popper is finally going to be released next month!

    What is the Radiopopper?  For all you Strobist junkies out there, the Popper is a radio remote unit for your flash units.  If you are familiar with the PocketWizard, then you know what a Radio Popper is, except the Poppers are full TTL!!  That means the flash units can be used on automatic as well as manual!  These clever guys figured out how to take the infrared (IR) signal that flash units use to communicate TTL information and convert that into a radio signal that can be sent hundreds of feet, instead of ten to fifteen feet.  Even better, since these are radio units, the units do not have to have a direct ‘line of sight’ in order to operate – put ’em anywhere!  The Px units are now on the market and cost about $250 each for the transmitter and receiver.  However, the JRx model is suppose to come in around $50 each and will also work with the Px transmitter unit!

    I’ve been using the eBay $25 Hong Kong units, which are unfortunately not that reliable (lots of misfires) and don’t have much range, so I’m really looking forward to trying out the new Jrx which are suppose to be released late next month.  For more information, check out and click on their blog link for current status.  As soon as I get my hands on one I will post a review here and at my new forum at

    Camdapter(tm) Handstrap

    Posted in Review with tags , on March 3, 2009 by Jim
    Camdapter(tm) strap in action

    Camdapter(tm) strap

    Now and then I run across a product that not only performs better than promised, but the company that produces that product also has outstanding customer service.  A recent purchase of the Camdaper(TM) is such a product!

    The Camdapter(TM) is a handstrap system that consists of two parts: an optional adapter that bolts to the bottom of the camera (if required) and the straps themselves.

    Camdapter(TM) makes a number of different adapter plates and I decided to purchase the Arca  Neoprene plate which not only has strap holders for a neck strap and handstrap, but also serves as an Arca quick release plate for my ball head.

    I opted for the Top Grain prostrap for the actual handgrip. This is a nice leather strap that not only looks great, but is nice and thick and should last forever!  There are other options listed, but apparently not currently available – other colors and designs, but I prefer the plain black strap anyway.

    Camdapter(tm) plate on camera

    Camdapter(tm) plate on camera

     Just minutes after I placed my order, I received, not an order confirmation notice, but a shipping notice along with a nice note from Jim Garavuso, the owner of the company and designer of the strap.  My order was placed on Friday and my order arrived on Monday!   Now that is service!

    My strap was already partially assembled on the adapter plate and was very easy to attach to my camera with an alan wrench that was included.  The wrench was even attached to a piece of leather to allow it to be attached to a strap or vest ring to take it along with you should you need to tighten or remove the adapter.

    The strap itself is nice and large and very comfortable.  I know it is going to last for years and it’s nice to see function and design merged together so perfectly. 

    Absolutely worth the price. Highly recommended!

    DXO Labs Camera Database

    Posted in Photography General with tags , , on November 17, 2008 by Jim

    home  DXO labs have been accumulating a lot of data for their DXO RAW convertor, lens correction software and just recently decided to release their findings to the public.  The new site is located at  The database now consists of a number of popular cameras and lenses and you may wish to check the site out to compare your favorite brand with others.  Please keep in mind that the database is only reflecting scientific measurements and does not include subjective information such as comfort, layout of controls, reliability, etc.  However, it should provide the “pixel-peepers” lots of new ammunition to argue pros and cons about the various cameras now available!  The site is free!

    Film is Dead

    Posted in Photography General with tags , on October 13, 2008 by Jim
    New Kodak Ektar film stock

    New Kodak Ektar film stock

    Well, not according to Kodak!  Kodak has announced a new low grain ISO 100 film stock.  I guess I’ll still have something to use in my old film bodies for awhile longer (I’m running out of refrigerated Ektachrome!).  This new stock is suppose to be very low grain and therefore quite sharp.  More details can be found on the Kodak site at   Once I’ve been able to get my hands on a roll, I’ll publish my opinions here!

    Canon 5D MK II HD Video

    Posted in Review with tags , , , on October 1, 2008 by Jim
    Laforet video shot with Canon 5D MK II

    Laforet video shot with Canon 5D MK II

    Canon recently announced their update to the aging 5D, the new 5D MK II.   Normally I wouldn’t get too excited except Canon added a new feature (likely inspired by Nikon’s latest release) and added HD video capability to this 21 Megapixel camera.  Since I have a background in filmmaking as well as still photography, I find this addition quite interesting.  However, just adding video capability isn’t a big deal, if the video is an after thought with low quality, jerky footage.

    But, that isn’t the case – Canon added 1080P HD 30 fps capability!  What makes this so exciting is the fact you achieve the same (or similiar) look and depth of field as the ‘big guys’ do with their 35mm motion picture cameras!  Will the actual video live up to the hype?

    Take a look at the following website – and see what you think.  I was amazed at the quality of the video shot with this pre-production camera.  Vincent Laforet is a New York based photographer (and one of Canon’s “Explorers of Light”) who managed to get his hands on this camera for a weekend and put together some sample video that is simply incredible.

    I read somewhere that National Geographic want their photographers to be versed in video as well as still photography and now one camera can do it all.

    I think I want one!

    John Moran

    Posted in Photographers to inspire with tags , , on September 26, 2008 by Jim
    Comet Hale Bopp by John Moran

    Comet Hale Bopp by John Moran


    Now and then I will discover the work of another photographer, and I feel obliged to urge other photographers to investigate their work.  I just encountered the work of Florida based photographer, John Moran and I urge everyone to check out his website at

    John was a photojournalist for 23 years in Gainesville.  He photographed comet Hale Bopp in 1997 and produced this stunning image.  Oh yea, this was before digital!  If you would like to know how it was done, head over to – hint:  it was all produced with a few dollars worth of hardware and a couple stobe lights,  a five minute exposure – and quite a bit of patience and ingenuity!

    New Photo Blog

    Posted in Photography General with tags , , , , on September 23, 2008 by Jim

      Ok, for all of you who have been receiving my Photo newsletter (if not, go to my website at and sign up!), many have suggested that I create a Blog to more quickly reveal photo techniques, new and interesting equipment,  interviews with other photographers and interesting work that I run across. 

      Although I lean heavily toward nature and travel photography, I’m quite impressed with the work being done by the photographers over at  Great learning center and highly recommended.  However, I began to wonder why nature photographers haven’t improved their work by practicing the techniques taught there, and then I ran across Frans Lanting who writes a column for Outdoor Photographer magazine.  Check out some of the great work he is doing at  I’m planning to apply the strobist techniques I’m learning to raise my photography to a new level!

      Ok, so on this blog I hope to create a journal of my journey to make better images, reveal new techniques and equipment, and to link to other photographers that are influencing my work.  Also, I intend to post journals during my many travels around the world well as display my travel images.  Hope you will be interested in following along!