...now browsing by tag


Image of the Month–January

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

Happy New Year!  As 2010 begins, I’m already late with my Image of the Month post.  We made a last minute trip to Yosemite National Park and I simply didn’t have time to post while we were gone.  I do hope your new year is off to a great start, though.

2009 was a great year.  Photographically, I had the opportunity to make images in several fantastic locations.  I learned more about image processing and through my interactions with other photographers, I feel like I grew leaps and bounds this year.  My wife and I watched our son grow and change in ways I can’t imagine.  Every day he amazes me.  With such a great year in mind, I thought it would be appropriate to display my final photograph of 2009 as January’s image.

This–of course–is El Capitan, with the Merced River in the foreground.  On warm winter days, fog rises from the river as the sun sets.  Combine this with the last rays of daylight on El Cap, and you’ve got a fantastic sight to see.  I hope you enjoy it!

Gates of the Valley, December 2009

Gates of the Valley, December 2009

Over the next few days, I’ll get my Yosemite page updated with all the new images from my trip, as well as sharing many of them here.

Another California sunrise

Monday, December 21st, 2009

Here’s another California sunrise from my new page, California Sunrises & Sunsets.  This is a recent picture, taken last Friday morning at Bolsa Chica wetlands near Huntington Beach, California.  Three original images were taken, -1, 0, and +1 EV, and were processed and tone mapped in Photomatix Pro.  I’m quite happy with the result, as it was a beautiful way to start the day.

Sunrise, Bolsa Chica Bay, December 2009

Sunrise, Bolsa Chica Bay, December 2009

A quick visit to Joshua Tree National Park

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Last week’s Veteran’s Day holiday enabled me to sneak out to Joshua Tree National Park for the night.  In my ongoing series on Topophilia (there will be more posts on that in the near future), I have featured photographers who inspire me to think outside of the box.  In that spirit, I headed out for Joshua Tree, vowing to myself that I would making more images of the park’s namesake plants.  My goal instead was to visit a natural arch, called Arch Rock (and sometimes White Tank Arch), I had recently read about.  

Located on the Pinto Basin Road, the arch is a short hike from the White Tank campground, and I had the place to myself.  I’m still editing images, but here are two I made on my trip.


Arch Rock I, Joshua Tree National Park, November 2009

Arch Rock I, Joshua Tree National Park, November 2009


Arch Rock II, Joshua Tree National Park, November 2009

Arch Rock II, Joshua Tree National Park, November 2009

Mammoth Peak at dawn

Monday, September 28th, 2009

I’ve been sitting on this image since we got back from our Yosemite* trip in August for two reasons.  The first is that I haven’t had much time to give it more than a half-hearted attempt.  The second is that I didn’t know how to process it.  I was photographing Mammoth Peak** from across Tioga Lake, and the sunrise really was beautiful, but the wind was howling, and I was disappointed with the RAW files that I got home with.  I did a rough edit, but haven’t yet made a good effort to edit it properly.

However, today I had a chance to sit down and play with it more.  This is actually a blend of 3 shots, using Photomatix, and a technique I’ve described previously.

Mammoth Peak at dawn, Yosemite National Park, California, August 2009

*Although Mammoth Peak is in Yosemite National Park, Tioga Lake is not–its just outside the east entrance at Tioga Pass

**Mammoth Peak is not to be confused with the more popular Mammoth Mountain, about 30 miles south

Tone mapping a single image: RAW or TIFF? A comparison.

Friday, September 11th, 2009

In hindsight this seems like a no-brainer, but since its come up in a few threads recently (e.g. http://www.naturescapes.net/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=162031 ), I thought I would address the question of whether its better to feed a TIFF or RAW file into Photomatix for HDR generation. For this comparison, I chose to tone map only one image, not several. Although you probably already know the outcome, the end images are only subtly different, but getting there was quite different.

I started with a base image, shot in Zion National Park last weekend:

This is the RAW image; all I did before feeding it into Photomatix was adjust the white balance to “shady” in DPP. The TIFF image looked identical; all I did was save it as an uncompressed TIFF with no other change. As soon as I opened the RAW image in Photomatix, it underwent a process of demosaicing and decompressing. I could already tell that it would be taking advantage of the “extra” info in the RAW image. It opened the image as a “pseudo-HDR” image, and I was able to obtain some stats on it:

The TIFF image opened simply as the TIFF image, and there was no more information associated with it than with a regular image. I first tonemapped the images using the Details Enhancer algorithm, and saved them as TIFF files for use in PS. There wasn’t much difference between the two:

Here’s the RAW file tone mapped with DE:

And the TIFF file tone mapped with DE:

Then I did the same thing using the Tone Compressor algorithm:

The RAW file:

And the TIFF file:

Whoa! I can only assume this funky-looking image is the result of the loss of information during conversion from RAW to TIFF early in my workflow. So, now I have 2 tone mapped images obtained from the original RAW file, and 2 from the original TIFF file. My workflow for each of the 2 final images was slightly different although not much:

For the RAW-derived images I used the DE tone mapped image as the base image in PS, and pasted the TC image over it. I used the Overlay blending mode at ~30% opacity, and the image looked pretty good. I did levels and curves adjustments (and also a desaturation of about -15), noise reduction with Imagenomic Noiseware, then some sharpening and I called it good:

For the TIFF-derived images, I again used the DE tone mapped image as the base image, and pasted the TC image over it. This time, because of the extreme nature of the TC image, I used a “Linear Burn” blending mode at about 25% opacity, and the image looked pretty natural. After normal processing (including noise reduction), here is what I got:

In the end the differences between the images are subtle, and I like them both for different reasons. The RAW-derived image looks more “natural”, but I sort of like the reddish “glow” that’s present in the TIFF derived image. The no-brainer here is that you certainly lose a lot of valuable information by using TIFF instead of RAW for this sort of application.

I doubt anyone cares as much as I do (haha), but this was an instructive exercise to go through.

Yosemite sunset 1: Olmsted Point

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

I really think that Yosemite is one of those parks that I could photograph forever, and not ever capture it all.  While I’ve visited Olmsted Point before, I have never been there in good light.  I love the view of Half Dome, as well as the trees, and the large stones moved into their present location by glacial activity–the glacial erratics.  

Today’s photos illustrate the glacial erratics, as well as highlight the star of the show, Half Dome.  


Olmsted Point in evening light I, August 2009


Olmsted Point in evening light II, August 2009

Sierra Nevada/Yosemite trip

Monday, August 17th, 2009

Sometimes, the best laid plans are the ones that are worth changing.  As I mentioned in my last post, we have an 18 month-old and he absolutely loves camping.  When we arrived at our campsite north of Lee Vining, CA last week, he was as excited as any little boy can be.  However, he doesn’t know he can’t play as hard at 10,000′ elevation as he can here at nearly sea level.  After a long night, we decided to break camp (at 3:45 am) and drive into Lee Vining (3,000′ lower) to give our son a break from the altitude.

We ended up getting a hotel room (yes…amazingly enough) so wife and son could sleep.  Since I was awake, I drove up to Tioga Pass for sunrise.  The glacial tarns there have amazing reflections at dawn, and I was able to get into the spirit of the Sierra:

Tioga Pass sunrise, August 2009

A new day dawned on Tioga Pass and I could tell it was going to be an amazing trip!  More images to follow…

High Dynamic Range photography, part II: fixing the halo

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

Yesterday, I outlined one of the biggest problems with HDR photography I’ve encountered since venturing down that road a couple of months ago: the dreaded halo.  The “fix” of getting around it is surprisingly simple, and I’ll walk you through it with an image I recently edited:

Sunrise, Joshua Tree National Park, California, January 2009

This is a 3-shot HDR that I processed just last week, after getting the courage to try HDR.  You might be asking why I’m not following through on the image I showed you yesterday.  Well, in the interest of full disclosure, I still haven’t processed it.  However, I will follow the same workflow on that image as for this one. 

I won’t post the source images, but I will post the tone mapped images.  For my workflow, I generally follow Royce Howland’s suggested settings  for both the DE and TC methods of tone mapping.  With that said, here is the image tone mapped using the DE algorithm:


There is some lens flare that I’ll later clone out, but do you see the halo around the joshua tree?  That light purple line all the way around the whole thing?  That’s what we want to get rid of.  Other than that, this image doesn’t look too bad; its lacking some midtone contrast, which is also characteristic of the DE tone mapping algorithm in Photomatix.

Now let’s look at the other tone mapped image, the one done using the TC algorithm:


What do you see?  First you see that its very contrasty–almost too contrasty–especially compared to the other tone mapped image.  However, what you don’t see is the halo!  The TC tone mapping algorithm does not give you a halo.  Good.  Now, we can open these two images in Photoshop and pick apart the best of both tone mapping methods.

I like to use the DE tone mapped image as my base image, and I copy and paste the TC image over the top of it.  The next step–the crux of this workflow–is to choose a blending mode for the TC layer that–at least mostly–eliminated the halo in the DC image.  I’ve had pretty good luck with Overlay, Color Burn, and Linear Burn, but probably the most success in Overlay.  Overlay multiplies the dark areas and screens the light areas, and logically would be good for eliminating the halo.  

Once you’ve settled upon a blending mode that looks more or less “natural”, you will need to adjust the opacity slider to make it look even better.  On this image, I settled for 35% opacity.  

I hate to be anticlimactic, but once you’re done blending these two layers, you’re pretty much done and can edit the image like normal.  There was a little halo still left at the top of the joshua tree, so I selected the inverse of the tree and just closed the sky to look less halo-ish.   In addition, I cloned out some lens flare, and applied noise reduction (I use Imagenomic’s Noiseware).  Other than sharpening and levels/curves I didn’t do much to it.  One thing I’ve found is that I don’t have to apply much saturation to HDR images–they look pretty good as is.

I hope that this has been helpful, and that you find it useful.  I’d love to hear feedback as you try this method with your own images!

High Dynamic Range photography, part I

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Although its been popular for a while, I’ve recently begun working with multiple images to produce high dynamic range (HDR) photographs.  What is HDR?  HDR is a series of methods developed to produce a high dynamic range image from a set of photographs taken with a range of exposures.  There are multiple methods for producing an HDR image, from blending multiple shots in Photoshop to processing a single RAW image multiple times and blending those in Photoshop to using HDR software like Photomatix.

My goal here isn’t to tell you how to make an HDR photograph, because there are already fantastic tutorials out there, written by people much more talented than I am.  Probably the most complete tutorial was written by Royce Howland over at Naturescapes.net.

Because you can probably already produce an HDR image on your own, I want to share some nuances of the process I’ve learned to make your images look more realistic.  These aren’t new techniques, and I didn’t come up with all of them myself–to give credit where credit is due, Royce Howland, E.J. Peiker and Paul Stoczylas are the masters.  I’m but a student.

Part I: Getting rid of the halo

Photomatix is a powerful program and has a very user-friendly interface that pretty much does the work of producing an HDR image for you.  Because there are no monitors that can visualize that kind of dynamic range in an image, you must first tone map the image before being able to display it.  You have two options: Details Enhancer (DE) and Tone Compressor (TC).  DE is the default, and although it lacks some mid-tone contrast, it looks a lot better than a straight TC image which is way over-saturated.

The problem with tone mapping with only one algorithm is that you’re limited by each one’s constraints.  For instance, halos are a big constraint of the DE algorithm:

Towers of the Virgin 2Towers of the Virgin, Zion National Park, Utah, June 2009

This shot looks pretty good, but you notice at the junction between the sky and the cliffs that the sky turns noticeably light blue–that’s because I only tone mapped with the DE algorithm.

This halo can be especially problematic in images where you have trees against the sky.  In this series of posts, I’ll cover a couple of methods I’ve learned to make the HDR image look a little more  realistic and squelch that halo!

Stay tuned…