I am curious. Nothing in particular, just curious…

I am curious. Nothing in particular, just curious. I look up when everyone else is looking down… They say “curious George” – I’m not so sure about the “George” part but otherwise… I wonder how many otherwise perfectly normal people would spend their Sunday morning laying right smack in the middle of the way in a busy mall (and in some pretty indecent pose I might add) taking shots at the mall cupola. Judging by the looks I received – not too many. Which makes me wonder – why don’t they see it the same way? We are all given at least two eyes (some got three, they call us “photographers”) so why don’t they see it? I am pretty sure I have missed some untold numbers of bugs and worms, and maybe a few dog piles – all due to paying attention to what’s up in the sky – but it doesn’t bother me too much. I wonder why?

#wp #architecture #architecturalphotography

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“Twice-cooked HDR” – Dealing with extreme contrast

I am sure you know what “twice cooked pork” is (if not – here it is). Basically, the pork is cooked once (boiled), then diced and cooked again (fried in the Wok). If you approach “cooking” the HDR image in the same way as cooking a dish, then it is only logical to try to cook different “ingredients” in different pots and then mix, slice and dice them just before serving the final dish to the table. At least, that’s what I attempted to do with the following image.

Final “twice cooked” HDR

The above image is the interior of the Memorial Church in Stanford, CA. Beside being quite interesting from the architectural point of view, it is also quite challenging to photograph because of the skylight in the cupola. On a sunny day (which is the most typical day in Stanford), the difference between the brightest part (skylight) and the darkest area (deep in the naves) can easily reach about 6 stops, which is not only outside of the physical capability of a single frame capture but also exceed the “plus/minus two stops” bracketing range of my Canon. So… to deal with the situation, I had to “cook” my image twice. Here’s how.

Gathering the ingredients

First, I took 6 frames with 1 EV step (as shown below). This particular location allows tripods (which is rather uncommon but since they do allow it, there was no reason not to take advantage of it).

Why six? Because it allows me to pull much more details in the shadows while keeping the noise in check. Also, the final image is not as “contrasty” as it would have been otherwise. Just for fun, I processed two HDRs using the same parameters – one with all six frames and the other one with only three (the brightest, the darkest and the “normal” one). The difference is fairly obvious:

Cooking the “ingredients”

Now that we have the raw frames, let’s take a brief look at them. Almost immediately, we see that the skylight is almost entirely blown out except for the two darkest frames, and the light ones have some considerable halo around the skylight (and the dome in general). It is fairly obvious that we will need two different sets of parameters to deal with the skylight (and the dome) vs. the interior of the church and the naves. So I got into my “digital kitchen” and started cooking. For HDR processing, I almost exclusively use Photomatrix, which gives me quite a bit of control.

First, I wanted to get a good “base” image with details in shadows. I didn’t care much if the skylight didn’t look good, I just wanted to have as much details in the shadows as I could get without getting too much noise and without creating those ugly “HDR-ish” halos. For the curious, on the left you can see my parameter settings in Photomatrix (I use version 4.2.2). As you can see, I went rather conservatively on the Midtones Adjustments and Saturation. This parameter set resulted in the “base” image below. Not too bad overall, I can see quite a bit of details in the shadows; the contrast is quite low but it does not bother me all too much because the overall image is usable and it is much easier to increase contrast than to decrease it. Also, I am thoroughly unimpressed with the look of the dome – much as expected.

Now that we have the base, let’s go back and “cook” another HDR, this time emphasizing the dome and the skylight. I loaded the source frames back into Photomatrix and dialed in the same parameters, then started playing with the sliders, increasing the contrast and decreasing the highlight brightness. After a short while, I had the following image – my second part for the upcoming “dish”:

As you can see, the details in the shadows took considerable turn to the worse but the dome looks much better now!

Well, now that we have the ingredients, let’s mix them and serve the dish! Here we leave Photomatrix and jump into Photoshop.

Merging the HDRs

This part is probably the easiest one: I simply put both HDR’s on separate layers (the “base” one on top) and start masking, slicing and dicing.

I bring the cupola from the “contrasty” second HDR and while at that, adjust the curves on it to give the image more “pop”. Also, I fix the “vignette” on the floor (bottom left and bottom right corners). My Photoshop layer palette looks like the one on the left – basically, I pick up the entire skylight and a bit of the contrast on the pillars from the second “contrasty” image, while the details in the shadows come from the first “soft” one.

Once I’m done mixing, I drop the image back into the Lightroom and add just a touch of “Clarity” adjustment and sharpening and voila! We have our “twice-cooked HDR” ready. Of course, there are still some issues to be fixed – there are some traces of the original halo around the skylight for example, but overall it is not too bad and I’m satisfied with the outcome – the image is quite usable and the problems are rather minor and another half and hour in Photoshop could easily fix all the remaining issues.

So here it is folks – enjoy and never stop experimenting!

Cheers,
Alex Stepanov, Photographer

Wonderful…   Jeffrey Sullivan originally shared this post: Belt of VenusThe shadow…

Wonderful…

Jeffrey Sullivan originally shared this post: Belt of Venus
The shadow of the earth follows the sunset light into the sky as darkness creeps over the landscape below.  The planet Venus is often visible close to the horizon at sunrise and sunset when this colorful effect can be seen, so it’s often referred to as the “Belt of Venus”.

These conditions at Mono Lake, the ultra-calm lake and intense sunset color, most frequently in the late fall and winter, when the sun is low in the sky and the heat, convection and winds of summer are practically nonexistent.

#NatureMonday +Rolf Hicker

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I am the road

For some reason, I only feel at home while on the road. Don’t ask me why… I think, it must be something related to the ancestry – while everyone else was busy trying to descend from the apes (please direct your comments to certain Mr. Darwin), I took the shortcut and descended from a gipsy dog who wasn’t very busy at the moment 🙂 Seemed like a good idea at the time… Now I’m bound to ramble. Luckily, there is no shortage of open roads in California and each one is beautiful in its own way…

#wp #travelphotography #california #landscapephotography #landscape

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For some reason, I always look up. I’m not sure…

For some reason, I always look up. I'm not sure why. Most people look down to watch their step; I trust my feet to take me wherever they are inclined to walk to, while the head (and the camera) are otherwise occupied. Here we have one of those rare moments when both the feet and the head happen to work together so that they brought me up to this fantastic building in downtown Montreal. The rest is… um… history.

#wp #architecture #architecturephotography #montréal  

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Canon is jumping into the “mirrorless camera” pool! At long Alex Koloskov originally shared this post: In case you are…

Canon is jumping into the "mirrorless camera" pool! At long last…

#wp  

Alex Koloskov originally shared this post: In case you are looking where to spend some $$, I just updated Photigy.com deals&discounts page:
http://www.photigy.com/hot-deals-for-photographers
Looks like B&H has a pretty good ones, and some of them expiring in 3 days.

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This is one of the light tests that I did…

This is one of the light tests that I did for the "DIY lighting" explained in this post: http://www.photigy.com/do-it-yourself-sony-speakers/

This shot did not make it into the cut and was patiently waiting for its time to shine (very literally, it was a very shiny corkscrew 🙂

#wp #productphotography #studio  

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What do you do when the auto-focus goes on strike…

What do you do when the auto-focus goes on strike?

Why, turn it into a "painting" of course 🙂 This one was a prime example of auto-out-of-focus image so it was destined to become an "oil painting". For some reason, it looks even better that way…

#wp #landscapephotography  

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The last part of the “Image theft” article is out PHOTIGY originally shared this post: Law and Order 101: Image…

The last part of the "Image theft" article is out and live here on PHOTIGY

#copyright #wp #copyrightinfringement  

PHOTIGY originally shared this post: Law and Order 101: Image theft examined and explained (Part three)
by +Alex Stepanov 
In this installment of the “Law & Order 101”, we talk about combating digital theft, how to assert your right and how to file a “take down” request:
http://www.photigy.com/image-theft-examined-part3/

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“Instant HDR”: How to spruce up your image with tone mapping

By Alex Stepanov (www.astepanov.com)

I’m sure you know what instant coffee is – drop a spoonful (or two) into the cup, pour in some boiling water and voila! Personally, I can’t survive without that brown stuff. It’s not nearly as good as the “real” brewed coffee but when you don’t have time and/or energy to go out and seek the properly prepared coffee, then this instant mix maybe just “good enough”…

Single image tone mapping is just like instant coffee – it does not produce as good an image as the “full-blown” HDR process would but it may help to spruce up your image with very little time and effort.

Most often, the term “tone mapping” is brought up in connection with HDR photography. Even the Wikipedia article on tone mapping, defines it as “a technique used… to map one set of colors to another in order to approximate the appearance of high dynamic range images in a medium that has a more limited dynamic range”. While tone mapping is certainly a key part of the HDR workflow process, it is often overlooked that the key concept of tone mapping is “recalculating the colors” and HDR is just one of the applications. In other words, you can just as well “tone map” colors of an “ordinary” non-HDR image and often times produce quite remarkable results!

First things first

Before we begin, I’d like to say that in order to fully benefit from tone mapping, you need to start with a good well-exposed image in the first place. Don’t expect to salvage a shot that belongs in the trash bin – more often than not, it won’t happen. Also, tone mapping is more of an art rather than precise science – you need to play with it a little bit to get the feeling and figure out your own personal parameters.

For the purpose of this article, I used Photomatrix 4.2.2 but any other version better than 3.0 will do fine. In fact, if you use some other HDR software, check out the menus – there is a good chance you will find the “tone mapping” tools tucked in somewhere.

Step by step

First, I started with this image of the City of Arts ad Sciences in Valencia (below) that I took last summer.
I use Lightroom plugin as a shortcut (it saves me a few clicks) but you can achieve the same results by starting Photomatrix and loading the file (File -> Open…) and then clicking the “Tone Mapping” button (see the inset below).
The plugin automates all those tasks for me, so once I export the image to Photomatrix, I drop right into the image processing area. Now, Photomatrix comes with a truckload of presets of all sorts but for the purpose of this particular task, I ignore all of them except what is now called “Photographic” (used to be known as “Compressor Default” in the previous versions). Once you click on the preset, the Tone Compressor parameter palette will pop up and at that point, you basically have to start “playing with the dials” and see whether you like the outcome.

A couple of points that are worth keeping in mind while tweaking the image:
* Tone mapping often times increases the graininess of the image so I always check the “loupe” view just to make sure I don’t get some crazy harsh grain
* Usually, I increase (move to the right) the “Compression” slider, while decreasing (moving to the left) the “Brightness” slider. My personal preference is to produce a slightly “under-exposed” image rather than blow away highlights or increase grain to the levels when it is impossible to rid of. The third slider (“Contrast Adaptation”) mostly controls the color intensity and it is up to you how far you’d like to go on that – much like salt and pepper, everyone has a different taste for that. Personally, I try to go rather conservatively.

But let’s get back to our image. Once I’m done playing with the dials and the resulting image looks OK, the final parameter set will look somewhat like the one on the right. Again, every image is different so play away!

At this point, I click on ‘Save and Re-Import’ button, which brings the tonemapped image back to Lightroom for final adjustments. Of those, you may need to bump up the noise suppression a notch or two in order to combat with the increased grain and maybe add some sharpening so that the final image does not become too soft. In my case, I added about 25% of Luminance noise reduction and about 30% sharpening at 0.8 with 40% masking to deal with the increased “softening”.

Once everything is done, we get our final image. Looks not too shabby! And the best part – it took us about 15 minutes from start to finish.

That’s it for now. Have fun with tone mapping and never stop experimenting!

Cheers,
Alex Stepanov, Photographer