Llangelynin–A Very Small Church

It’s been a busy old week. First of all I’ve been trialling some new photography software, not only for HDR but also for post processing my photographs. I’ve never been a fan of Adobe’s Subscription Model and as much as I like Lightroom for it’s cataloguing and RAW Development, Photoshop played very little part in my normal workflow. But what I really don’t like is that if you don’t keep up the monthly subscriptions then you lose the ability to work with your photographs. For me the problem has always been to find an alternative to Lightroom and that’s where ACDSee Ultimate might come in handy. I want to own the software not rent it. But at the moment I’m only trialling it, although I must admit I do like what I’ve seen so far.

So this weeks challenge is Tiny. I thought about this for a while and as you can see from the photographs, TINY is relevant, when you compare the size of the church to say a cathedral.

Llangelynin

Llangelynin is perched on a hill approximately 900 feet above the Conwy Valley in North Wales. There is a single track road that runs nears to the church but the last part of the access is on foot. Inside the church it’s very sparse. Some wooden benches and stone floors. Those flowers are plastic, but they do add a splash of colour. Llangelynin is not used on a regular basis for church services, I think it’s only about a couple of times a year, Easter and Christmas.

Llangelynin Interior

I did say I was working on trialling two bits of software. The other one is easyHDR. For a long time now I’ve been dissatisfied with the results I get from PhotoMatix. I don’t know what it is but PhotoMatix seems to be stuck in a time-warp, just never advancing. I can’t remember the last time HDRSoft issued a major release.

I just checked it was November 2013, that’s 3 years ago. That really is a long time in software terms, sure it’s stable, and there have been quite a few dot releases but it just doesn’t excite me any more. Whereas easyHDR is not mainstream but I enjoy using it.

Anyway, here’s what other bloggers are saying about this weeks challenge

In My Own Words Weekly Photo Challenge- Tiny
Photography Journal Blog Weekly Photo Challenge- Tiny
Weekly Photo Challenge – Small on Tiny – Celina2609’s Blog
Our Own Little Walk of Fame – Aggie’s Amygdala
Say Tiny! – Blog of Hammad Rais
thephotoseye Tiny Thrills
Another Tiny View – Rebecca Wiseman Portfolio
Miss Jerz-tucky Weekly Photo Challenge- Tiny
Words Like Honey Weekly Photo Challenge- Tiny
deetravelssite.wordpress.com Tiny

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Goodbye Luminosity Masking, Welcome Back HDR

Over the last few weeks I have wasted so much time trying to master Luminosity Masking. Sometimes I thought I had got it and then I would have a total failure, or several of them. Now you might be asking “what is Luminosity Masking?”

Luminosity masks are the cornerstone of tone-based image adjustments. These masks provide a convenient way to select specific tones in an image which can then be altered as the user sees fit. They have the ability to overcome shortcomings in the tonal values that were captured by the camera or film and to correct tones that shifted during image manipulation. Beyond simplifying these standard adjustments, however, luminosity masks also encourage a very individual approach to interpreting light. Luminosity masks make the captured light incredibly flexible and thereby provide the artist photographer unique opportunities to use Photoshop to explore their personal vision through photography. – Tony Kuyper

I have watched numerous tutorials, experimented on multitudes of photographs, spent hours at the PC, sometimes late into the night, trying to master this technique. All for very mixed results. Why? Because I want to display my photographs in the best possible way……and the experts will all tell you that “Luminosity Masking is much better than HDR. Oh! By the way I’ve got a course I can sell you to help you master the technique”. Look at this photograph. It’s not a great sunset, by any means but the photograph will serve to show what I mean.

Luminosity Masking

After messing around with Luminosity Masks for about 15 minutes I managed to get the image above. Look closely at it. It looks flat, lacks contrast, everything seems muddy, excuse the pun. I had to go an extra step to bring some contrast back into the scene by using ON1 Perfect Effects Dynamic Contrast filter.

Luminosity Masking with Contrast
Previously I had always used HDR to blend my photographs together. HDR is great for high contrast scenes such as sunsets or inside buildings and I like the results I get.

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. For those who aren’t so acquainted with this high-tech shutterbug lingo, dynamic range is basically just the difference between the lightest light and darkest dark you can capture in a photo. Once your subject exceeds the camera’s dynamic range, the highlights tend to wash out to white, or the darks simply become big black blobs. It’s notoriously difficult to snap a photo that captures both ends of this spectrum, but with modern shooting techniques and advanced post-processing software, photographers have devised ways to make it happen. This is basically what HDR is: a specific style of photo with an unusually high dynamic range that couldn’t otherwise be achieved in a single photograph
Read more: http://www.digitaltrends.com/how-to/what-is-hdr-beginners-guide-to-high-dynamic-range-photography/#ixzz43eS4zF3E

However, HDR gets a bad press due to the surreal images that are often seen on the internet. Have a look at the image below this is the type of photograph that gets HDR a bad press.

Awful Awful HDR

The thing is HDR is a technique but it’s also a “look” which can produce results from the realistic through to the surreal. I don’t like this surreal type of HDR but I would never criticise anyone if they produced something like this. After all I have always said “My Photograph, My Vision”.

For me HDR can be used to create a natural looking photograph where the highlights and shadows are balanced to produce a photograph more like I saw at the time of pressing the shutter on my camera.

Lightroom HDR

So that’s it for me. No more Luminosity Masks. It’s back to HDR, takes me approximately five minutes to get the result I want using Lightroom’s HDR module, leaving me more time to get out and take photographs.

Topaz Impression – Release The Artist.

Over the past few weeks I have been beta testing a new plugin for Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom called Topaz Impression. Many people were upset when Adobe removed the Paint Filter from Photoshop but it looks like Topaz have managed to fill the gap with their new plugin Impression which allows you to create a paint look to your photographs. I’m not giving you a formal review here, just a quick look at what can be achieved with very little effort.

Sheep

The interface is really simple and there about 43 presets that you can use to get an instant look. All you have to do is select the preset from the right hand side and Topaz Impression will do the rest.

Interface

For the more adventurous and for those who want to experiment you can click on the preset which will enable you to adjust individual settings, such as brush stroke, paint thickness, smudging, type of brush, texture etc. You can see here how I have changed this photograph of the robin.

Interface2

Topaz Impression is not something I’m going to use very day, far from it.  It’s one of those tools I will keep in my arsenal and when I want to add some texture to a photograph I will blend in something like this black and white sketch to my original photograph

Valle-Crucis-Cloisters

In the photograph below I have layered in the black and white sketch which gives me the starting point for working on this photograph which I am going to use in a composite image. I wanted the pale floors and wall because I will use this later to colour match the additional items that i will be adding to the image.

Sketch-and-Original

When I took this photograph a couple of years ago I always thought it would make a great painting. It’s sat on my hard drive, I’ve used it a couple of times for blog posts but by using Topaz Impression I’ve finally managed to get this photograph how I originally envisioned it would turn out.

Portrait

When you use Impression you can add textures to the final result. As usual Topaz supply a batch of them for everyday use. Can you add your own textures? I’m not sure, that’s something I really must check out. In the image below I used one of the ready-made canvas textures. Whilst I was writing this i decided to check out if I could add to Topaz Impression some of the textures that I have created myself. Directly through the program interface you can’t but you can by saving your own textures as PNG files and a size of 512 x 512 pixels and then placing them in the Textures folder for Topaz Impression. Now that is handy.

Tryfan

This photograph with the pink flowers was one of those that I screwed up when I was taking it. Slightly out of focus, especially in the foreground area with t he pink flowers, I had got the lighting wrong as well but Topaz Impression has made a good job of turning it into a nice soft painting. I’d like to leave you with this final photograph. Couple of weeks ago I created this out-of-box image as a demonstration for someone and yesterday I thought it would be a good idea to turn it into a painting. I’m quite pleased with the results. What do you think?

RV8tors

Here’s the disclaimer part. As a beta tester for Topaz Labs I was supplied with a free license at the end of the trial and that’s as far as it goes. I do not make any money for mentioning Topaz or any of their products. It is not my intention to recommend any product that I may talk about in my blog, all I am doing is letting you know what I use and why. I leave you to decide if that product could be of value to you in your work and as such I will provide a link so that you can read for yourself what the developers have to say.

32 bit HDR

When we take a photograph the camera does it’s best to capture the full dynamic range but most cameras only capture a range of around 6 to 10 f-stops at best. On the other hand our eyes are extremely adaptive, they’re more sensitive to intensity rather than colour and it’s estimated that our eye can see over a dynamic range of nearly 24 f-stops. So what the camera captures is not exactly what we are seeing.

Take for example this image. Taken as the sun was setting, I remember that there was colour and definition in the clouds and I could see perfectly clearly the inside of the shelter, including underneath that bench. Yet, the camera struggles to give me what I saw.

The 0 Ev

Our eyes see details in the Shadows as well as the details in the Highlights. But a camera with its limited dynamic range struggles to capture the same amount of detail in the scene. In the end we are left with the choice of – the image (+2 Ev) to get details in the Shadows or under-exposing (-2 Ev) to get details in the Highlights. But we won’t get both the same way our eyes can.

Highlights and Shadows

Alternatively we could try to fix the image by Dodging or Burning but there is simply not enough detail in the picture to cover the whole tonal range.

And this is where HDR or High Dynamic Range comes in. If we could combine all the exposures into one image, using the best detail from both the Shadows and Highlights, we would have enough dynamic range to display the image as we saw it.

Over the years HDR has been used to give those surreal images that many photographers decry with a vengeance. Personally I have nothing against the surreal images, there are some great ones out there, I’ve even done some myself. The way I look at it is, if an HDR image is good enough to be hung in the Smithsonian, and one has, then HDR can’t be all wrong. So much so that many camera manufacturers include HDR settings in their camera menus these days. My Pentax K-30 has four HDR settings, from Natural to Surreal, each setting taking a bracket of three images. However, as I mainly photograph land and seascapes I tend to go for the more natural look in my HDR images.

I have used many of the HDR programs available, some well-known, some not so. PhotoMatix, SNS-HDR Pro, NIK HDR EFEX, Dynamic Photo HDR and currently my main weapon of choice, Machinery HDR Effects. In all cases the programs mentioned can deliver a natural looking HDR image, You just have to make sure that you go easy with the various sliders and settings in each program.

Recently I watched a video about some of the new capabilities of Adobe Lightroom 4.1, which I use to develop all of my RAW files. I don’t really use Photoshop much these days as most of my post processing is also done in Lightroom. One of the great new features is the ability to process 32 bit HDR files directly in Lightroom, just as though we were developing a RAW file, and the great thing is the process is quite simple.

Ashampoo_Snap_2012.10.21_13h21m05s_003_Obviously you need Lightroom 4.1. Adobe would recommend Photoshop to do the HDR bit but not everyone can afford the high cost of Photoshop, including myself. Fortunately the makers of PhotoMatix, HDRSoft have created a low cost plugin for Lightroom that allows you to create the 32 bit file and then bring it back into Lightroom automatically for final editing.

How does it work. First you need some bracketed photographs. Select them all within Lightroom, right click, choose Export and then Merge to 32-bit HDR. Lightroom and the plugin will do their thin and at the end Lightroom will add the new 32 bit file to the catalogue

Ashampoo_Snap_2012.10.21_13h35m33s_005_ViewNow comes the hard bit. Choose the Develop module in Lightroom and do the following;

Highlights –100
Shadows + 100
Clarity + 100

That’s it, nothing else to do. In reality sometimes you don’t need the Clarity set to +100, or the Shadows so high.

The best way to check is with the Histogram to make sure you are getting the full Dynamic Range

Ashampoo_Snap_2012.10.21_13h40m13s_006_ -Bridge View-

So what sort of results do you get.This bracket of 5 images from –2 to +2 was taken at Weston-super-Mare and processed using the Lightroom method. Compare it to the same image at the top of the page which was taken at the same time, but only one photograph was taken.

Beach Shelter

I think you will agree with me that the HDR image shows definition in the Shadows as well as the Highlights and does not resemble the surreal images that are so often associated with HDR Processing.

I’d like to leave you with a couple of more images processed the Lightroom way. The first one is a 3 exposure bracket, –2 to +2 photographed in the cloisters of Gloucester Cathedral. It was early morning (07:30) and very dark outside because of heavy rain. The spotlights were turned on to pick out some of the details in the roof and the alcoves

Cathedral Cloisters

The second one was taken on the beach at Prestatyn just as the sun was setting. Once again it was a bracket of 3 images from –2 to +2.

Reflections

This process using Lightroom has been getting very good reviews in HDR circles and I can understand why after trying it for myself. I am impressed with the simplicity of the process. I spend less time creating the final image the results look far more natural. Noise levels, which have always been a by-product of HDR processing, are substantially less in the images I have processed so far using this method.

Size Does Matter…

…or so my wife keeps telling me. Come to think of it she’s right, especially when you are using HDR software to process your images. Take this one for example;

I originally processed it using SNS-HDR Pro, which gives a very natural looking image, but I wanted to experiment with blending in a very vivid and punchy output from Photomatix. What a mess! They just wouldn’t line up and no matter what I did the new image always looked slightly blurred. Time for some investigation.

First step was to download some trials of various HDR software packages. The RAW output from my camera in DNG format is 3872 x 2592 pixels. ACR does not change this size when it’s reading the RAW files or when it’s converting them to TIFF. So where possible I used ACR to export my RAW images to the various HDR software packages. In all cases I allowed the HDR package to align the three RAW images and then process them. The final processed image I then saved as a TIFF file.

Now I can understand that after the alignment process the RAW images are not exactly going to be 3872 x 2592 pixels anymore because the software has to move them around slightly. Which means that to present me with a uniform image at the end of the processing there might have to be some cropping. What I wasn’t prepared for though was the variations in the size of cropping and, in some cases, actually making the images larger than 3872 x 2592. The table below shows the results from the tests I carried out.

Source Image Size
Camera 3872 x 2592
Adobe Camera RAW 3872 x 2592
PhotoMatix 3872 x 2592 *
Dynamic Photo HDR 3896 x 2616
HDR Expose 3884 x 2602
HDR Photo Pro 3844 x 2578
NIK HDR Efex 3861 x 2758
SNS-HDR Pro 3876 x 2586

PhotoMatix was the only one that preserved the original image size when exported from Lightroom, but, only if you remember to make sure that the Tick Box “Crop Aligned Result” isn’t selected.

If you’re like me you probably have several HDR applications in your arsenal. My tests show me that to blend different HDR outputs I’m going to have a few problems when it comes to the size of the images. It may only be a few pixels difference between each one but in this case “Size Does Matter”

Unified Color HDR Express – First Impressions

 

Unified Color have announced the launch of their new HDR Software, HDR Express. Based on Unified Color’s patented 32 bit color space, HDR Express is designed to make processing HDR images as easy as possible , using a simple set of interactive tools and presets.

To see if it really was as easy as Unified Color say I downloaded the 30 day trial version. The download was fast, as was installation, including the Lightroom plugin. Once installed I set HDR Express running as a standalone program and used the create/merge option to add my bracket of RAW files

HDR Express presents you with the option to align the source images and choose a method of reducing ghosting artifacts.

After the merge process has finished HDR Express gives you the option of choosing one of five tone mapping options. 

 

The type of tone mapping you choose will enable HDR Express to set exposure and highlight/shadow values for the image. Once you have chosen the tone mapping the next step is to select the look of your HDR image by selecting one of the pre-defined styles.  Alternatively you can create your own style and save it for future use. I very quickly found a favourite in the Vivid Style setting which gave me a natural looking image with some very rich colours, but not over-saturated.

The presets are a good starting point but you can also fine tune your settings by adjusting the sliders on the right hand side.

One of the things I really liked about HDR Express was the minimal amount of sliders to use. In all there are only seven and they are used as follows;

  • Brightness – Sets the Exposure
  • Highlights – Recovers Highlight Detail
  • Shadows – Recovers Shadow Detail

These first three sliders control the tone mapping options. The next 4 are for fine-tuning the tone mapped image

  • Black Point – Establishes the Black Point
  • Contrast – Sets Local Contrast Strength
  • Saturation – Sets the Saturation Amount
  • White Balance – Allows you to control the Warmth and Tint

I found that if I used these controls in conjunction with the Histogram and the Highlight & Shadow warnings I could really eliminate many of the overblown highlights and too dark shadow areas.

Pressing the H and S buttons on the histogram will emphasise any highlights or shadows which are out of range.

HDR Preview gradually shows all the detail from the Shadows through to the Highlights when a new HDR image is opened. The first time I saw the HDR Preview I thought something had gone wrong. The image in the main screen of HDR Express starts dark and gradually gets lighter and lighter until you see an almost white preview. Fortunately you can turn this feature off.

HDR Express allows you to set your preferences for file saving which HDR Express calls Export for some reason. You can save your image as an 8 bit JPEG, 8/16 bit TIFF or as a 32 bit BEF file. These settings will automatically be applied when you save a file.

I was really impressed with the way HDR Express simplifies the tone mapping process and yet it gave me excellent results in all of the test images I used, two of which you can see below.

If it were not for the fact that I already use HDR Expose from Unified Color I would readily switch to HDR Express as my HDR tool of choice.

Please note: I am not in any way affiliated to Unified Color although I do use HDR Expose for tone mapping my HDR images. My views on HDR Express are exactly that, my own personal view.