Saturday, 20 April 2013

HDR - It's not just for that over-processed look

High Dynamic Range - It's a bit like Marmite, you either love it hate it.

HDR often gets a bad press and to be honest when someone mentions HDR we all think of those over processed, grungy cartoon like images.  Well, it doesn't always have to be like that, in fact, a lot of images you see everyday are most likely created using HDR techniques.

So for those of you who don't like HDR, have never tried to create an HDR image or are just plain curious please read on.  This is a short and sweet explanation of why HDR can be a good process to use to get the most of your images.  (Disclaimer - I'm not an expert.  This is just from experience)

Why HDR ?  High Dynamic Range is a process used to obtain more information from a scene than the camera is capable of in one shot.  Our eyes are much better than the camera lens/sensor at seeing all of the tonal ranges in a scene.  The fact that we can increase and decrease our pupils to suit the brightness of a scene means that we can take in a dynamic range of upto 24 stops.  However, that amount of stops is only achievable because our pupils constantly change size as we look around a scene.  The camera does not have that capability when taking a single image.

If we were to look at a scene with our eyes and kept our pupils at a fixed size the dynamic range reduces to around 10-14 stops.  Most current DSLR's can capture 8-11 stops so now there isn't that much of a difference between our eyes and the cameras eye.  The challenge is how to capture those 24 stops ?  (or enough stops to show off everything in the scene.)

In order for the camera to mimic our pupils we need to capture over and under exposed images as well as the correct (or middle) image. This isn't limited to 3 shots though, some people take upto 9 shots (-4,-3,-2,-1,0,1,2,3,4).

If you take a typical landscape scene were you have land (foreground) at the bottom of the scene and sky (background) at the top it is difficult to expose for both in the one shot.  If you expose for the sky your foreground will be too dark and if you expose for the land your sky will be blown out.  So why not just use a grad filter or sort it in Photoshop later !

Well, there are a number of ways to address this issue.  Some processes make use of much more data than others and this is why some processes work well and others not so well.  If you take your landscape shot using a grad filter you'll get the exposure balanced right in camera but then all of the data you get to process will be captured in one single file.  If you take a number of shots (HDR) then you have a a lot more data to play with (especially if you are 32bit)

HDR is one method you can use to capture the required range of stops.  As mentioned at the start, it doesn't have to be a grungy cartoon image but simply processed enough to pull the required detail out in the right places.  It doesn't have to be 9 shots either, 3 will do...and in some cases only 1 !

Ok, so how can I do a HDR image with one shot ?   Well technically not HDR but if you take 3 bracketed shots of a scene at say -1,0 and +1 then open up the middle image in Camera Raw (assuming you are shooting raw and with a Canon).  Now take the exposure slider and move it one stop over and one stop under.  Did either the shadows or highlights blow out when you did that ?  If not, then you have all of the dynamic range detail that you need in the one shot, you don't need the -1 or the +1.  You just need to use the Raw tools to bring out the detail where you need it.    That's something to bear in mind as anything that reduces the amount of work you need to do on an image is a big bonus.

So, back to HDR.  Now that you have your set of bracketed images, load them up into your choice of software and use the presets and sliders in a way that gets all of the required detail correctly exposed but without turning into a cartoon.  Using the sliders correctly will allow you to get all of the required detail out of the highlights and shadows.  In the landscape example you should be able to get a good balance between your foreground (land) and background (sky) as you would if you were using a grad filter.

I hope this has been of use to you.  If not, well you managed to get this far so something must have kept your attention :-)

Saturday, 18 August 2012

"Great Expectations"

PC on, Chrome fired up, Google Maps, Paris, street view, various locations......I did this for about a month ahead of the Welshot Paris "All Night Photo Shoot" with Will Cheung  FRPS held earlier this month.  I also spent hours trawling through "Paris" tagged pictures on 500px and flickr to get myself fired up for the trip.

Doing the research was great because it made me feel more familiar with the environment we would be working in and it also helped inspire and motivate me to think hard about the shots I really wanted to get.

Then of course there is the downside.  This is when you start finding some truly great pictures or start looking through work by some of the masters such as Cartier-Bresson.  It's so easy to look at other peoples work, work which they have taken years to perfect, to then assume that you'll get a bunch of great pictures in just one night.

Ok, so I did have a few ideas about what pictures I wanted to take but I put things into perspective and set my expectations in a way that I knew wouldn't leave me disappointed after the shoot.  Then to complicate things it turned out that due to the flight times a few of us would actually have most of Saturday and all of Sunday to shoot as well as the overnighter.  

I guess there are a number of things I learned during this trip, mostly to do with photography but I've always believed that the more I get into photography the less my challenges are to do with photography.   Does that make sense ?    

I'll try and explain...... here are a few of the things that I'm talking about;

Getting from one location to another - Is this dead time while you travel from the arc du triomphe to the Louvre ?  No, the streets and the metro are great places to shoot so you should be looking for opportunities all the time.  It's the journey as much as the destination that is important.

Distractions - Paying lots of money and spending time away from home are big deals to most people. Add in the thrill of going to a foreign country and visiting such an amazing location and you can easily get distracted.  Do you stick to a game plan ?   Do you go with whatever takes your eye when you get there ?  I guess the point is that there is so much to shoot and so little time.  Unless you are focused you are going to be whizzing about all over the place trying to capture everything.

Hurry up and wait - I'm certainly guilty of doing things too quickly.  Probably more to do with the above but I often found myself rushing the shot because I wanted to move onto the next one.  I guess I felt that time was short and didn't want to hold anyone else up.

Pace yourself - I was awake for 44 hours in total from start to finish.  So, on arrival in Paris do I shoot all over the City during the day, then do the night workshop and then continue to shoot through the Sunday ?  I'd love that but I knew I had to pace myself.  Looking back though I think I got that a bit wrong.  If I could do it again I certainly would have done more on both days.
Lounging around outside Notre Dame on Saturday and then again at the Louvre on Sunday certainly helped the tired feet and weary eyes but I know that valuable shooting time was sacrificed. I know I could have done more and got more pictures.

When I was thinking about writing a blog for the Paris trip there were so many aspects of it that I thought it best to break them down into smaller posts.  That's why I've just covered these topics here. Things that aren't directly about photography but did have an impact on the number, type and quality of shots I took. 

I know this valuable experience will help me with future trips, shoots and projects etc.  It has already helped me decide my next project and resurrect one that I failed at earlier in the year. 

My next post will be all about the fantastic gang at Welshot and the photography skills I picked up / developed during the Paris trip.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Welshot - Snapshot Day, Liverpool - April 15th 2012

On Sunday 15th April 2012 the Welshot Imaging Photographic Academy held a "Snapshot" day to launch the Academy in Liverpool. The event was opened by Will Cheung FRPS, Editor of Advanced Photographer Magazine. Lee Iggulden and Eifion Williams are the driving force behind Welshot and their continued drive, enthusiasm and ambition is an inspiration to all.

As an existing Academy Member I was lucky enough to be asked to help out on the day. I jumped at the chance and thought I'd share my experience here;

I missed the actual start of the Snapshot Day so cannot comment too much on the opening words from Will Cheung FRPS or the session lead by Zoe Richards of Zoe Photography about how to pose your model. However, I do know that Will and Lee would have got everyone fired up for a fun filled day from the moment they arrived. I also know from experience that Zoe would have shared some really useful advice and prepared everyone for the first modules. In fact, I did hear several comments throughout the day about how good Zoe's first session was.

I joined my group on the waterfront in front of the Liver Building where delegates where being put through their creative paces by John Arnold. A variety of techniques were being put to good use and people where certainly being made to think about what they were capturing. I spoke to a few members of the group and they all seemed to be having a good time and picking up useful tips along the way. They were a great bunch and everyone was pitching in with ideas, questions and comments.

Next we were off to the steps of the Cunard Building where Radha was braving the bitterly cold wind while Will Cheung showed us how to photograph her with off-camera flash (Will had a nice warm coat on by the way). Obviously Welshot cannot guarantee the weather but that's all part of the learning experience, you have to deal with what you have and make the most of it. Bright sunshine and freezing wind is not an ideal combination but Will explained how to deal with those sorts of situations.

The group I was with included people of varying experience and it was good to hear advice being shared between the group as well as from Will. This wasn't just about people taking a load of photo's, every delegate was told which settings to use - and why. They were also asking lots of questions about off-camera flash, what to use, when to use it, etc, etc.

The groups moved around a couple of times so we also got to work with Hazel and Beth. Academy Member Tim Charlesworth ensured everything ran like clockwork so delegates got as much time as possible using their cameras. We used off-camera flash again with Beth but opted for natural light and reflectors with Hazel. Again we were adapting to our environment and making best use of the equipment to hand. So, having changeable weather (cloudy/sunny/cloudy/windy/sunny etc) is a must when you are learning because it is never how the text book says it is.

Before the models turned into frozen statues we packed up and headed back to base for some lunch and a well earned drink. The models did a fantastic job in the freezing cold for 3 hours without complaining...troopers all of them.

The atmosphere back in the hotel was very relaxed and although there was all sorts of planning and preparation going on behind the scenes it was kept well hidden and the delegates were left to mix and mingle sharing stories from the morning sessions. Everyone seemed to be getting involved and were keen to get started on the afternoon.

I was working with Welshot Team leader Paul Smith and Will Cheung FRPS helping out with the Studio set-ups. During the morning I moved around with the same group of people whereas in the afternoon I stayed in the same place and so got to meet the rest of the delegates as they passed through.  

The Studio set-ups where quite daunting to anyone not familiar with them but Will gave an introduction to each group explaining how everything worked. Each delegate then got some one-to-one time with Will and Paul learning what settings to use and how to get different effects. There is a huge amount to learn when it comes to studio lighting which is why Welshot will be running a "Lighting Academy" in the near future, be sure to check the website for details.

In between Studio lighting work the delegates were also photographing still life which on this occasion was food photography. Welshot Maestro Eifion and Team Leader Peter Hudson were on hand to show delegates various techniques for capturing food & drink. Delegates also got a demonstration of lighting gear from Lastolite where a variety of products were on display.

The next sessions were ran at the same time so delegates had to decide on either a "Lightroom - Benefits of upgrading from v3 to v4" module with John Arnold or a "Life lessons for the Working Professional" with Zoe Richards. I didn't count but it looked like a pretty even split between the two. Both sessions were very informative and interactive with delegates getting involved, asking questions etc. As with all of the modules on the day they provide a "snapshot" of the subject. Welshot run specific modules ranging from Academy evenings to 1-day, 2-day and 5-day workshops on a variety of subjects.

Finally everyone re-grouped in the main room and Lee gave a quick talk on how Academy Members work can be sold and how it is marketed by Welshot. That was followed by a presentation from Will Cheung covering how to get work published in magazines. This was very informative and generated lots of questions.

Then to round off the day there were a few thank-you's for the people who arranged and ran the day as well as some raffle prizes including huge discounts off workshops and magazine subscriptions.

I'm really sorry for the length of this review but if you got this far it was worth it. I certainly enjoyed the day and as with all Welshot events I did learn quite a few things and met lots of great people.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Project 50 (A journey)

50 pictures, 50 days, 50mm f/1.4 lens.....

That was the target I set myself at the start of the year.  I didn't set any other criteria as I wanted to be able to take pictures of absolutely anything.  The reason for this was because I wanted this Project to help me better understand what it is I like taking pictures of.  I thought that by the end of the Project I would be able to look back on the 50 pictures and see a pattern, trend or genre jump out at me.  Oh, and I also wanted a set of nice pictures too !

The 50th day was Sunday, 19th February and I was kind of sad when I posted the final picture up into my flickr set.  It was the end of a journey in a number of ways, ok it's not a Project 365 or anything but it's still hard work coming up with a decent image each day.  During the project I had fallen behind a few times by either not taking any pictures on a particular day or not liking what I had taken.  This was easily fixed though by taking more pictures next time around.  In fact, I had a set of reserve images just in case I fell short at the end.

So, here I am with 50 pictures hoping they will direct me towards my next project and narrow down the type of photographs I like taking.  This is where it gets confusing so bear with me.  The type of photographs I like taking do not appear anywhere in my 50 pictures.   That's right, looking through the pictures I can clearly see that something is missing.  What I can see though are pictures where I have made use of the flexibility of the 50mm f/1.4 lens.  The majority of images have a very shallow depth of field which is used to highlight a specific subject in the picture.  Additionally, they are all taken in a way which enabled me to produce a square crop image after post processing.  So, the project has confirmed the fact that I love images with a very shallow depth of field.  I also like images where a single subject dominates the shot.  I also started to play with some processing techniques to help me develop a style.  This was really interesting and I have found a couple of areas to work on.  You'll notice a number of pictures have been de-saturated but not too much.

People, where are the people ????
I had to turn this thing on it's head to get some answers.  Obviously, the type of pictures I like are the ones I didn't take any of !  So how does that make sense ?  Simple....."Comfort Zone".  Something I need to get out of if I'm going to take my photography any further.

The Project failed in that sense because I didn't set any specific criteria.  By leaving the subject completely open I gave myself a back door, a way in which I could just take pictures (half decent ones mind) of anything .  So my sub-conscious was at work here making sure that I didn't have to step out of my comfort zone.  In fact, when you look at the pictures you'll notice that the vast majority where taken indoors.  I guess my sub-conscious didn't want me to get any fresh air or exercise either !

Time to put things right
While the Project was running I was flicking through a few photo magazines and books looking for inspiration for the next Project.  It occurred to me that in order to work out my favourite type of photography I had to analyse the type of pictures I like looking at rather than the ones I like taking.  The battle with my sub-conscious had started and I was already plotting the next project before this one had finished.  I would recommend a couple of books by John Berger;  "Ways of seeing" and "About looking".  I must admit it took me a while to get into them but there are pennies dropping everywhere.

This thread is going to go off on a huge tangent but I wanted to include this much in the Project 50 update as it demonstrates the kind of thing you can get out of a photo project.  Look out for my next blog detailing the new project.

So, back to Project 50
If you are looking for inspiration, a small project to get you out with your camera or just looking to improve your skills then I would strongly recommend doing a project 50 (or similar).  The rules are completely up to you so you can get as much or as little out of it.  The huge benefit you get is stretching your creativity.  Having to come up with a new and unique image every day certainly does that.

I hope you like the images and I guess if you got this far you were able to put up with my ramblings too.  I achieved my goals in a round-about sort of way and learnt a lot more about my photography and my comfort zone as well.

Here are a couple of mosaics showing all 50 images.  These were created with "Big Huge Labs" on Flickr.

The full set can be found here