Archive for July, 2011

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 http://www.photographers-toolbox.com. 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 www.onlinemetals.com. 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. Onlinemetals.com 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!