Archive for the technique Category

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!

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”!


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!).

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!

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!

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!