Getting a unique shot of a subject like Half Dome in Yosemite is no easy task. Millions of tourists, many carrying good cameras and armed with a good grasp of photography, visit this location every year. The plethora of photographs taken from all angles at all times of day really does make this a challenge, but Andrew, Giacomo and I set out to do it anyway. In doing some night photography on the previous nights, we noticed that there was a window of about 10-15 minutes where the light “lingered” in the sky; the sun had officially set, but there was still a decent amount of light left, enough to provide depth in the foreground and a gradient of color above. Timing, however, was critical, as it wasn’t always obvious exactly when to start shooting, and we only had one shot as we knew we’d need close to a 30 minute exposure to achieve the star trails we wanted. The second we pressed the shutter, we were committed to that time window for that night. Too early and we’d have too much light in the sky and be unable to see the stars; too late and we’d have a normal star trail image which would lack any detail in the foreground. We knew we were going to be at Mirror Lake the next night, and the view of Half Dome from that spot is perhaps the most awe-inspiring and iconic, so we wanted to have the perfect shot lined up, which would require learning precisely when this window of light would occur. That final shot came out well, but it was thanks to our observation the night before that we were able to get that critical window of light. This shot, from Glacier Point, is another single shot HDR, and as such required a good bit of Photoshop to get it the way I wanted it. Other byproducts of these ultra-long exposures include sensor-level noise, as you can see in the lower left corner of the shot, as well as a distinct loss of detail in moving objects, which can be seen in the “clumpiness” or softness of the tree. Despite all of this, the final shot is just how I like it: surreal but not insane. It makes people stop and say “wait a minute…” and you get to explain to them why it’s not just a photograph. At that point they either write you off as a talentless hack or beg you to teach them how to use Photomatix…
The band of yellow light just above the horizon is what we were going for by waiting for that moment just a few minutes after the sun set directly behind us.
I know I make this point very often (indeed, as often as I can!) but here, yet again, is an example of why I value HDR as much as I do. Take a peek at the original shot… at best it is “eh, kinda cool.” Definitely not blog post material. But with a lot of tweaking, all that data in the 30MB+ RAW file can be turned into, well, my new desktop background anyway 🙂
Those streaks in the sky that are clearly not stars are airplanes... unbelievably annoying to remove! Next time I do this I will set up AA guns next to my tripod...
A brief reminder that winter does come to an end. At the end of last summer, I went to visit a friend’s beach house on the Georgia coast, and brought my camera out on a walk one day. Hopefully the sand and the sea can help ward off any winter chills…
A lonely conch shell in the sand. Many of the ones I saw had little inhabitants, but they were all too shy to let me take pictures of them
Unfortunately I didn't have my tripod, so I couldn't shoot a bracket. However, I liked this boat enough to do a single-shot process on the photo. I especially like the name, "Rip Tide"
This has to be one of my favorite shots that I’ve taken over the past few years. It was one of those times when “everything came together” as they say, and as Andrew mentioned it was in a large way a group effort between the three of us. Knowing we wanted to get a night shot of the iconic Half Dome with star trails behind it, we scoped out the location early on in the day, while there was still plenty of light. We spent hours taking test shots to get the framing we wanted, and as night fell we had all 3 of our cameras constantly taking images, comparing exposure times, apertures, every variable really, trying to do our best educated guesswork as to what the final settings should be. We knew we had about a 15-minute window to get the “perfect shot;” there is a very small period of time right as the first stars begin to show before the sun truly sets, leaving you some light in the sky that we knew would reflect off the mountain and give some detail to the foreground as well as give the sky a much bluer hue. As luck would have it, the setting sun cast a reddish orange hue directly on the face of Half Dome, which translated really well in the long exposure that I ended up finally taking. That exposure was 868 seconds long, at an aperture of F/4, ISO 200, and 16mm. Of course, it was just a single shot, and I had to process it out in Photoshop to create the light and the dark images needed to make the final HDR image. If I could go back and do it again, I’d bump the ISO to 400 and go for about 1000 seconds, but overall this came out pretty well! It took a huge amount of time to get right, as I had to remove a ton of pixel-level noise manually, especially in the foreground trees (if you zoom in on the full-rez image you can still see there’s a lot of it!) but needless to say, this one’s been my desktop background since I got back from Yosemite! Now we need a new banner image….
In addition to noise, I also had to Photoshop out about 5 different airplanes that cut across the entire image... Yosemite may be far from LA by car, but the planes never stop flying over!
My road trip earlier this summer ended in Disneyland, home of the iconic Alice in Wonderland Teacups. It’s a pretty cool attraction regardless, but at night, it’s quite a dazzling sight. Because the motion between and during exposures would have been just too much, this is a single-shot HDR of the ride in action at nighttime. I’ve never actually ridden the Teacups, but I have a feeling they’d make me sick: bring on all the crazy roller coasters you want, but as soon as a ride devolves down to concentrated spinning, I’m out.
Stay tuned for Tucker to post the full image of the current site banner from Yosemite. It may be the most planned shot on here and is certainly the most collaborative.
Just working on this image makes me want to go back... I've got the annual pass so I really have no excuse: Anaheim, CA
One of the things I miss most about my time is Australia was the birds-every day when I was outside, I could constantly hear or see at least a dozen different species of birds, from lorikeets to cockatoos to curlews. At times, they could be quite annoying (especially the curlews-their call sounded like someone screaming bloody murder and they would call at night seemingly outside my window) but as soon as I got back I missed their livelihood and diversity. Australia had a lot of awesome animals, and fortunately I had the chance to go to a wildlife sanctuary that was near the University I was studying at and see lots of them up close. Here are some of my favorite shots from that trip – all 1 shot HDRs because most of the animals moved too fast so I didn’t bother trying to use my tripod with them.
I'm not sure what kind of bird this one is, but I only saw one in the whole sanctuary. It looks kind of like a small ibis...but it's not. Hmm
The scariest animal I saw in Australia, in my opinion. The salties could live in salt or freshwater, and swim in the open ocean...AND GO ON LAND. NOWHERE IS SAFE. Ok, I guess they move pretty slow when its cold, but they can lunge like, 6 feet in the air and are ridiculously good at hiding in the water.
Definitely the cutest bird I saw. These little ducks are about the size of a shoe and make a delightful little whistling sound (which explains the name). I even got them to eat out of my hand.
Although I was mostly unsatisfied with many of the HDRs I tried to take in Australia, there is one glaring exception. First, I should explain. Part of the reason I was unhappy with many of my pictures from Australia was the fire control practices there. The Australians prevent massive, out-of-control wildfires by continually doing small controlled burns that partition the unburned land into small harmless fuel deposits. This results in a constant haze and smoke in the air, which made me dislike all the pictures I took (kind of like in another city I know). On to the exception: the very last night I stayed in James Cook University, where I was studying, my friends and I decided to stay up all night and go for a hike. That very night, the controlled burns were raging in our very back door, on the slopes of Mount Stewart which overlooks the university campus. When I realized this, I knew this was a rare opportunity so naturally I busted out my tripod and camera. Here’s what I saw.
The red lights on the left side of the picture are the lights of the radio towers on the top of Mount Stewart shining throughout the blazing inferno that raged below. Alright, the fires were not as out of control as I make them sound. But spectacular nonetheless, especially when the long exposure makes them look like such towering walls of flame.
So while I was still in New Zealand…Andrew and I saw some stuff. I’m actually in Australia now, but I still have shots left over from NZ that I wanted to post. I’m still working on the panorama…(I hope I can work something good enough to post with it ever)… I think I lack Andrew’s finesse with the panorama stuff (I guess that’s his specialty). One of the things I CAN do, however, is 1-shot HDRs and the standard type. Andrew and I went around the Otago Peninsula, which is near Dunedin, and saw/photographed some awesome wildlife, including sea lions, penguins, and albatross. We were spectacularly lucky to see this pair of sea lions playing together at Sandfly Bay, which we later learned from a local were a male/female pair. Then, we went to the end of the peninsula at Taiaroa Head and saw two Royal Albatross within minutes of each other, which we later learned was a fairly rare sight. Next we went to a penguin reserve and saw this juvenile yellow-eyed penguin, which uniquely was unafraid of humans, unlike normal yellow-eyed which are extremely shy. Overall, we were exceedingly lucky and fortunately were able to take some pictures of this amazing wildlife.
Hopefully Andrew will post some of the stunning video footage we got of these two playing...We didn't realize how fortunate we were to see them until later when we learned that there are only approximately 20 sea lions living in the entire Otago Peninsula area.
I admit freely I processed this somewhat heavily...I really wanted to focus on the penguin and the somewhat epic pose it was in. I was fortunate enough to steal a few shots with Andrew's 70-200 f/2.8L IS, which I discovered is an awesome lens. Perfect for this kind of wildlife photography where you don't want to get close but still want to get a close up kinda shot.
I’ve had a few pictures floating around that I’ve been working on the flow of, and I think I’ve gotten all the ripples out. Whew, ok, d’you think I killed the water metaphor enough yet? 😉 I took the water lily picture at the Botanical Gardens, always a good source of flower photography, which although not the most original, is not overdone without cause (flowers are pretty!!! yay). The mallard came upon me as I wandered around Lullwater Park at Emory University, probably expecting bread crumbs or something. I had no such gifts to offer, which probably explains the indignant look he is giving me. Oh, and, both are single-shot HDRs. Admittedly, I exaggerate the HDR processing on single-shot HDRs, or else I don’t feel like I’m getting enough out of the picture. Too much? Either way, thanks Photomatix 4!
A water lily blooms in on of the ponds in the Atlanta Botanical Gardens
A Mallard glares at me after I don't give it anything to eat. He left shortly after.
I know, I know, I haven’t posted in forever… a confluence of having nothing new and no time has led to this… but I once again went back in time, to an age when RAW was a little-understood setting in the camera and chose another shot from London to post. The Hampton Court Palace and surrounding gardens was home to many figures of British royalty, most notably King Henry VIII. He expanded the palace and added some ridiculously awesome gardens including mazes, fountains, lakes, you name it… I wish I could go back there, with the 5D Mark II, a tripod, and those same clouds and shoot this again! The image quality out of the 300D is laughably poor but the single-shot HDR capability of Photomatix 4 is (and I’ll say it again) just out of this world and makes this a picture worth posting. Unlike Trey Ratcliff’s most recent completely out of focus portrait. Um anyway. Trey’s work is usually great; no idea what he thought he was doing with that one.
I have a few more shots will post, one or two from Maine, one of the stormy cloudy Atlanta skyline, and some macro stuff. The bulk of my new material will start flooding in during and after my trip to Hawaii in late December. I am heading off to Ohio soon for my grandmothers funeral, so while the circumstances are not pleasant, I will definitely bring my camera and see what happens, see if I can’t make something good out of a sad situation. I’ll be in Maine for Thanksgiving, but I don’t have high hopes for that either because snow turns really nastily grey in most shots unless you get the light just right… but who knows. It’s always better to have the camera with you than to have that feeling of “oh, man, this is totally awesome… why is my camera at home??”
All of that awesome noise, chromatic aberration, and un-sharpness makes me appreciate technological advancement and love my 5D even more. Still, great clouds are great clouds!
I thought I’d straightened this in Photoshop, but it appears tilted here. Oh well. I don’t really have the desire to fix it…. even though it is distracting…. ugh
In the spirit of the season, here’s a 1-shot HDR from the Botanical Gardens. The gardens were all dressed up for Halloween when I went a few days ago, and yielded some cool pictures. More to follow…
A scarecrow dozes on his perch at the Botanical Gardens
I can’t stop raving about how awesome Photomatix 4 is with making HDR images out of single RAW files! It’s nearly magical, and no, this won’t be the last time you hear me (or any of us for that matter) say this. I’ve had a lot of fun digging through my photo library looking for some RAWs that deserve processing, and I remembered that on my trip to DC a few summers ago we had some great clouds as we visited the World War II memorial, on our way to the Lincoln Memorial. Yes, these shots fall under the category of “generic tourist shot made to look cool because of HDR” but that’s kinda the point. The HDR process turned a “boring” photo into something post-worthy, and I like that there is a new variable here beyond simply finding a good subject to photograph that can determine the quality of the photo. In this case, HDR was actually essential to these shots even being considered usable, and I’ve included links to the original RAW files (compressed, of course, but color-accurate) so you can see what I mean. They were poorly exposed to begin with.
I can't believe how much definition in the trees came through after the HDR process!
There is almost no definition in the trees!
Before the HDR process.
I rarely comment on issues of composition beyond the occasional note, but in the image below a lot of things are coming together to make this work. Obviously, symmetry is huge. 4 pillars on each side, opposing groves of trees, equal parts foreground and background, horizontal bands of clouds mirroring horizontal swaths of grass and pavement. All of the orthogonal lines converge on the single point on the horizon, the Memorial itself, but more prevalent is the layers of horizontal elements that recede back, the alternating grass and pavement, and bands of dark and light clouds. All of this is stark and obvious in the black and white; it is muted and becomes lost in the original color version.
The picture comes alive in black and white.
I’ve been holding back on some of these pictures I took at the Palio because how much extra work single-shot processing generates…between exporting out, noise reduction, and my computer slowness (which crops up randomly despite the SSD I installed). Well, as you may have heard, Photomatix 4 is kind of a game changer in terms of 1-shot HDR processing. I feel like the ease of its workflow would legitimately allow for Sports HDR, with RAW format images and Photomatix’s batch processing capabilities. However, most of the single-shot HDRs I’ve processed have less of the surreal feel to them, and look more like really well lit pictures. Which is great. Most people would probably prefer just having their pictures look better without looking strange, which is now super easy. For example, it would be (nearly) impossible for me to shoot a bracket for this picture, but now I was able to process this in less the 30 minutes…
The rider from Torre dashes by
Owing largely to the baller nature of Photomatix 4, I have a sudden desire to go back and process single-shot images that I had always told myself “Hmm, I might come back to this eventually,” but never did. Recently I accidentally happened across this shot from an event Kodak held on campus WAY back in January… Thinking back now, it was a really cool thing of them to do and I’m really glad Karl and I RSVP’d quickly for it since there were only about 15 people who got to do it. Two guys from Kodak brought in some pretty hardcore equipment so we could go hands-on with it… just for kicks. We split into two groups, each with a camera and either a monstrous zoom lens or a fast 35mm prime and then proceeded to shoot a small scene anywhere we wanted on campus. It was pretty much an exercise in seeing first hand what legitimate 35mm motion picture cameras can do with no graded or time pressure. Unfortunately, I had to leave before it was over so I couldn’t give my contact info (they processed the film that each group shot and mailed a DVD of it later) so I hope Karl kept the DVD because I’d really like to see it at some point. Regardless, it was a pretty cool way to spend an afternoon
I like how the color of his shirt came out… but on the whole like the B&W more. Fortunately, “both” was my third option…
Karl scopes things out at the Kodak event. I hope they come back sometime, it was pretty legit... Los Angeles CA
Something about this kind of image in B&W just makes it better... I really can't decide though: Los Angeles CA
Photomatix 4 is finally out, and man, it was worth the wait. The entire application has been sped up significantly, and the interface is a lot nicer. The best new feature by FAR though is the single-shot RAW tone-mapping ability. You could somewhat do this in previous versions, and we’d been getting around it by “faking” the HDR process and making 3 shots by lightening and darkening the same image in photoshop and saving out the copies, but that was time-consuming and annoying. Now, at the click of a button, Photomatix treats your single RAW file as though it were a bracketed set… with AMAZING results. Truly, this will enable creativity far beyond what we could do before for a few reasons, mainly that you can do HDRs of moving subjects with a single shot, and if you have some RAWS from before you knew about HDR (as I do) you will be able to make them come alive! That second reason is why I’m so excited, because I have TONS of RAW photos that I will now be able to process and post. I dug way, way back for this one, from right around the time that photography was becoming interesting to me, in 9th grade. This is (… obviously) Stonehenge, from a trip to London that we took, and I had shot in RAW that particular day because I didn’t know what it was and wanted to experiment. Turns out, the Canon Digital Rebel 300D did not capture RAW data that well, and the resulting files were really, really dark. Not a problem for Photomatix 4!
Even though I didn't know anything about photography and had no formal training, it's hard to mess up a picture of Stonehenge! It's also hard to take a unique picture... HDR helps with that, making it a bit different than the average tourist shot.
Clouds, clouds, and more clouds! It has been brought to my attention that there are, in fact, other types of clouds in the world besides the cumulus variety, but I think it is clear from my photographs that it I prefer the fluffy, billowyness and re
sulting drama and contrast that cumulus clouds bring to HDR. While looking for an entirely different photograph in my library, I stumbled across a few RAW images I had taken of the Williams College campus sometime during second semester of my sophomore year. My good friend Sam and I decided to take a walk on that interesting night, and I brought my camera with me and grabbed a few pretty cool shots of the oncoming clouds scudding over Greylock Quad. Of course, these were not meant to be HDR’d; in fact, these were really not meant for much at all… but they were taken in RAW, and had just enough dynamic range in the single image for me to pull a +2 and -2 version out of the RAW converter and throw the 3 into Photomatix. The original shot was taken at ISO 800, as it was rather dark outside, so the resulting HDR was quite noisy, but nothing a little Topaz DeNoise couldn’t handle. It was also shot at f/2.8, which is really not ideal due to the heavy vignetting and loss of sharpness, but again, I was hand-holding in low light. At any rate, the final shot is kinda cool, and one of the few HDRs I have of that gorgeous campus. There were a few I took as actual brackets during my freshman year, but I don’t like any of them so they will not see the light of day on this site. Perhaps when I finish my year off, I will have the chance to really explore that campus and the surrounding landscape with my tripod and do some proper HDR!
My dorm was on the bottom right, a few buildings back. I love the patterns of the receding buildings, as well as of the lights in the rooms.