The Orton Effect tutorial – digital magic

In Sweden there is an old junk yard, that closed sometime in the seventies. The old cars were just left, and as time passed by, a forrest grew up around the cars. Today this is an open air museum, and it is great fun to walk around looking at this ghost junk yard in Ryd, Sweden. Photo by: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com

Ryd Junk Yard in Sweden.

The Orton Effect is named after photographer Michael Orton, who invented the method back in the 1980′s – that’s in the film era, but you can apply it to digital photos too. It’s like digital magic. And digitally you can even control it much better and easier than you could in the old film days.

The Orton effect applies a magical soft and dreamy look to your photos, you could call it Glow. It has a softness to it, and yet it remains a sharp photo, if zoomed in.

The junk yard photo above, has Orton Effect applied in the trees and the leaves, and the tree below also has Orton Effect (click to see larger version). And as you can see, it is both sharpness and unsharpness at the same time. That is what gives the magic dreamy look.

Example of Orton Effect

It really can be that piece of digital magic, you add to a photo, that makes it really unique and special, but you must use it with care. I fairly often use it (or one of it’s sisters – which I describe later). I use it in perhaps 20% of my photos, but I only use it selectively and sometimes even only in very subtle ways. If you compared to a version without, you would be able to see the difference, but otherwise you wouldn’t notice it, because I use it with care.

This is the final version of the tree from Wanaka in New Zealand, and it has one of the strongest uses of the Orton Effect I have ever used:

To anyone who has been to Wanaka on the South Island of New Zealand, they would know what the THE tree is. And this is NOT the one, but it is a tree in Wanaka that I liked too. Photo: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com

How to make the Orton Effect step by step

There are some requirements for making the Orton Effect, and these are:

  • You need to have Photoshop (any version) or Gimp.
  • You also need an over exposed photo. But don’t worry you can make one artificially.

The Orton effect works best on overexposed photos. If you do not have an over exposed photo, you can increase exposure artificially both in Photoshop and in Lightroom. I shoot HDR photos most of the time, which gives me over exposed photos that I can use for the Orton Effect. Later in this tutorial I will show how to make artificial overexposed photos, but also a couple of alternatives to the Orton Effect.

Let’s make some Orton Effect.

Step 1: First open your overexposed photo in Photoshop or Gimp. Duplicate the layer twice, so that you have three layers with the same image.

Step 1 - Duplicate layer

Step 2: On the top layer you have to change the Blend Mode to “Multiply”.
Step 2 - Set blend mode to multiply

Step 3: The second layer must be out of focus, that is you have to blur it. You use Gaussian Blur to do that.
Step 3 - Select gaussian blur for the middle layerStep 5: Try moving the slider between different pixel levels. As you can see in the preview, the Orton Effect changes, as you change the blur levels. It changes quite a lot.

There really are no rights or wrongs, just different effects, and you pick one that you like.
Step 4 - Blur the middle layerStep 7: Don’t always use the same blur level, experiment for different effects, before picking one.

Step 5 - Experiment with blur levelStep 8: Merge the two layers forming the Orton Effect into one layer, that makes it easier to work with.

You can merge the two layers by selecting them and pressing CTRL + E or selecting it from the context menu.
Step 6 - Merge layersStep 9: Using the effect globally is generally not a good thing and by merging the two layers, you can add a layer mask, and the mask in what you like.

Create a black layer mask to hide the layer. This allows you to paint in what level of “Orton Effect” you want to apply in your photo, and more important, where to apply it.

You can add a Layer Mask by pressing the button, and then invert the layer mask by pressing CTRL+I, while having the mask in focus. Or you press ALT (or CMD on a Mac) and press the button, and you will get a black mask.
Step 7 - Add a layer mask

Step 10: Using the brush tool (read about layer blending here, if it’s new to you) you can paint in what level of Orton Effect you want in your photo. As you can see I only use it selectively.
Step 8 - Blend layers

The Sisters of the Orton Effect

You might already be thinking ‘What happens if I use some of the other blend modes?’ Well, most gives something that is quite unusable and psychedelic, but ‘Soft light’ and ‘Overlay’ gives something that you can use. The method is otherwise exactly the same, and the effect is somewhat similar, in particular for the ‘Soft light’.
Step 9 - There are other blendmodes

The advantage of using the Soft light and Overlay is that you can easier stick to your ordinary exposures.

As you can see, you still end up with a a nice and glowing images, that has a dreamy touch. This is Soft Light:
Step 10 - try other blend modesAnd this is Overlay:
Step 11 - This is Overlay mode

As it happens I often end up using either blend mode ‘Soft light’ or ‘Overlay’, rather than ‘Multiply’ because it works better with normal exposures, and therefore is easier to incorporate in my existing processing workflow. Or maybe I am just lazy.

Changing the Exposure to Overexposed

It’s really no big deal to make an over-exposed photo artificially. In Lightroom there is a slider for it, and you can make a virtual copy of the normal exposure, increase the exposure of it and export it along with the normal exposure.

Step 12 - Change exposure to overexposed

And in Photoshop you can add an Adjustment Layer for exposure, and do the exact same thing. And if you duplicate your layer, and merge the Adjustment layer to the duplicate, you will have both the normal exposure and the overexposed as two layers.
Step 13 - Changing exposure in PhotoshopAdjust the exposure to overexposed by 2 stops.
Step 14 - Photoshop exposure layer

And then you can do the Orton Effect easily:

Example 2 of Orton EffectEnjoy using the Orton Effect or one of it’s sisters, but remember, to use it with care. Too much of everything is not great.

How to handle strong noise

Milford Sound is surely one of the most beautiful places on Earth. This is Mitre Peak at the gates of Milford Sound just before sunrise. Photo by: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com

As I have been writing about I have been searching for something I can use as a new style. I have had a feeling of what I was looking for. I have had a few shots at it, without striking a clean note.

But as I was rumbling through older photos I came across this one, which I never processed before and applied one of the Lightroom filters I made last week – and there it was! A clean note. Or at least the beginning of it. I did a little extra post-processing here and there, but not a lot, and I was happy … for about 10 seconds. I zoomed in, and saw that the image was ruined by noise. I had shot it at ISO 10159 (why why WHY!!!). Because I had had the camera on Auto ISO the day before, while driving through a tunnel to get to this wonderful place. And this photo is shot almost in darkness.

It is processed in Lightroom only, except for the Noise reduction. To handle the noise reduction, I started by reducing the size of the image to about half resolution, not half megapixels. I shot this at 36 megapixels, cropped it down to 29.5 megapixels, and what I did was to reduce the resolution from 7360×4004 to 3676×2000 and thus reducing it to 7 megapixels). After I had done that I applied noise reduction to the final result. And this is it.

I used Noiseware for the noise reduction, and I used the Default settings. There are a number of various settings, but I quickly started loosing details, so I stuck with the default filter.

The photo is still noisy, but it actually works quite nice with the colors and style I think. If I had used stronger noise reduction I would have lost so many details, that the photo would have been ruined.

In my Arcanum cohorte one of my fellow apprentices asked about when to do noise reduction. I first tried to do the noise reduction before the resolution reduction, but that gave a terrible result. Then I reduced the size first and then did the noise reduction, and that was a much better result. This is still noisy, but at least it is regular noise.

Gotta get my Mojo working!

The city of Luxemburg is placed in and above a canyon. Along the edge of the canyon a balcony runs giving you a fantastic view of the beautiful old city below. It's nick named the most beautiful balcony in Europe. Luxemburg is both modern and an old city, with a grand history of war, money and politics. And there are many great restaurants for food lovers like me. Absolutely worth a visit. Photo by: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com

 

I am a realist by Nature. Sometimes that is a curse and at other times it’s a blessing.

Currently I am trying to push new styles out of my photos, but it doesn’t really work for me, yet. Life has taught me, that everything is hard the first time you try. Experience comes in … well levels. You get stuck from time to time, but suddenly you can do whatever you were trying to do. A new skill has been acquired (tada.wav). Sometimes you don’t even realize, what was difficult is in fact no longer difficult.

Then for a while you get comfortable with what you are doing – your mojo is working just great. But then you start trying to reach new areas. Things get hard, and you have to get mojo working again.

Currently I find myself in such a place. I don’t full fill my own expectations to myself to the level I want to be on. I don’t get exactly the results that I want. I am searching for the answer, searching for the key that will unlock the door I want to go through. I am confident that I will find the key, not sure when, though. But eventually I will succeed. This life has taught me.

One of the things I have been dealing with is colors. The danger over over saturating photos, while not leaving them flat and colorless. I am addicted to the colors, and the more I use them, the more I want them, and suddenly, I am over the edge. This photo I have processed over the last couple of days, with the specific goal to keep saturation well under control.

This is a an in between version:

Luxemburg before

#1: The original had this boomerang cloud, slightly darker than the rest of the clouds. I enhanced it to get an “object” in the sky, to work with the ground. But I wasn’t really happy with it, until I noticed that there were some natural edges or cuts in the clouds.

#2 I used this natural cuts, to brighten up the sides of the boomerang cloud and ended up with a cloud like an object in the sky. This worked much better with the composition, I think.

About the photo

The city of Luxembourg is placed in and above a canyon. Along the edge of the canyon runs a balcony giving you a fantastic view of the beautiful old city below. It’s nick named the most beautiful balcony in Europe. Luxembourg is both modern and an old city, with a grand history of war, money and politics. And there are many great restaurants for food lovers like me. Absolutely worth a visit.

Understanding HDR part V – Understanding and handling tone mapping

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one the most idyllic German medieval towns I have visited. Fot that reason I have been there three times. This split road is particularly lovely I think. Photo by: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com

In the previous articles we have covered the theory behind HDR, and why it is necessary to take more than one shot. How to improve the image quality, by pushing the histogram to the right and various approaches to post-process HDR photos. This is fundamental knowledge to HDR photography.

If you did not read them, you might want to. You find them here:

The purpose and result of HDR software

Because you shoot several shots of the same scene, you have to use a tool to put them together. You can either do it manually, and blend the images, by stacking the photos in Photoshop or GIMP and then blend them into a final HDR photo using layer masks. Or you can use a tool that will do this automatically.

The automatic HDR software is probably the more common approach.

The problem of doing something, automatically is, that you are less in control, and the engine might not do want you want it do, or it will do more than you want it to do. Like in all other aspects of of life ‘there is no silver bullet’. There is no secret recipe, that will give you fantastic HDR photos, by pressing a button.

But making a fantastic HDR photo, does not have to be difficult, if you just know what to do, and have done a little practicing. I will help you understanding, what it is that you (need to) do.

As covered in part IV, the purpose of the HDR software is a two step process, first to merge the photos together to a 32-bit image file (the real HDR photo), and second to transform it into a 16-bit image, because you can’t see the 32-bit image properly. The 16-bit, is not really an HDR photo, but is usually referred to as the HDR, and this I also do, just bear in mind that the 32-bit image is technically the HDR photo.

A tone mapping algorithm will map the tones from 32-bit to 16-bit and a fusion algorithm will blend the photos.

The fusion algorithm does not have the same flexibility and artistic options as does the tone mapper, and for that reason I personally prefer to use a tone mapper, rather than use a less flexible fusion algorithm. But it is a matter of personal taste.

Tone mappers also come in many flavors, and to me, artistic flexibility is the most important thing.

Single exposure tone mapping

The tone mapper maps tones from one image to another, by passing the image through an algorithm. The merging of three images into the 32-bit HDR, does not have anything to do with the tone mapper itself.

You can take a single (well exposed) image, and put that through the tone mapper, and you will get a similar result, as had you used a 32-bit HDR photo. The viewer will see the photo, and recognize it, as what is commonly referred to as ‘an HDR photo’ (keeping in mind, that the only HDR really is the 32-bit image, that we can’t see properly).

Not all single exposure images gives great results in the tone mapping algorithm. It depends very much on how well exposed the image is.

A couple of examples of single exposures I have tone mapped:

University of Copenhagen

Lighthouse on the edge

To commoners these photos will look like HDR photos, because what is commonly referred to as HDR photos, really are tone mapped images. And the commoners, will not know the difference. I hope I have made it clear enough to you.

Side effects when tone mapping

Tone mapping is not without flaws, in particular if you push the gas pedal towards the floor. To me the tone mapper is a flexible tool, that you can bend, not necessarily to your will, but can bend into many interesting and artistic results, but if you are not careful, you can also get the worst image ever. This opens up for creativity and I do use this to great extend, and with great care.

Let’s walk through some of the common side effects from tone mapping.

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Understanding HDR part IV – HDR and Tone mapping

Amsterdam Maritime History Museum looks beautiful in the early morning. The building reflects in almost perfectly smooth water. Behind me, the city is beginning to come alive. Photo by: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com

This is the fourth article in my series of articles on getting a better and deeper understanding of HDR photography.

If you haven’t read the previous articles, you might find them interesting too before reading this one.

High Dynamic Range and Tone Mapping

Is HDR the same as tone mapping and vice versa? No, it is not. However, it is two terms that people often confuse with each other, and it is quite important to get a grasp on which is which, if you ask me.

In Part II about the Dynamic Range I said that a High Dynamic Range photo, is a photo that is merged from several different exposures into one final photo. This way you extend the cameras natural dynamic range and get more detail.

People with some knowledge of photography, will often recognize an HDR photo, as being an HDR photo. But what they recognize is really something different, than the fact it is an HDR photo, if by HDR, we stick to, that it is several photos merged into one.

Continue reading

Understanding HDR part III – The Histograms

Piccadilly is always crowded - well almost always. And shooting photos there is difficult because of all of the people. But when you patiently are waiting, with your camera on tripod, people also get curious and come talking to you. This particular image is assembled from 9 various photos, with different people and light settings.  Photo by: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com

May the Histograms be with you!

Use the Histograms, Luke!

In this article I will cover histograms. I will use the knowledge from part I and part II of this series of articles on Understand HDR. If you missed the first two, you might want to read them too.

Some of the questions I will try to answer in this article, are ‘What is a histogram?’, ‘Why are histograms important in HDR photography?’ While answering there will be other findings; findings like: ‘Why is it important to push the histogram to the right?’

When I started on digital photography I noticed the histograms on my camera, when I played back my photos on the LCD screen. I did not really realize what, it was. I guessed it was some kind of graphical representation of the photo, which is true, but the real understanding I did not realize until much later.

Last year I attended a photo workshop, and the coach managed in a few hours, to explain to everybody, even the wives of the photo geeks, what a histogram is, how important it is and how to use it in a field. I was quite impressed by this deed. 

Histograms are one of the most important tools for a digital photographer. It is always important, also if you are shooting HDR photos, some think it might not be, but it is. I still sometimes forget to check my histograms and I regret it when I get home.

What is a histogram and what does it show?

A histogram is a visual representation of how the tonal range is in a photo. The height of the bars in histogram, tells us how many pixels in the image have the specific tones.

The far left of the histogram is black and the far right is white. If there is a lot of high bars in the left hand side of the histogram, the image will have a lot of dark tones, while if there is a lot of high bars to the right, the image will have a lot of bright tones.

This photo is a well exposed photo:

Histogram - bell curve

A photo like this, is a well a exposed photo because the bars does not touch either side of the histogram. But it tells us more than that. From the distribution of the height of the bars, we can see that there is a peak in bright tones end of the histogram, which tells us a lot of brightness exists. And of course that is the bright clouds.

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Understanding HDR part II – The Dynamic Range

Churches in Denmark are usually small white churches, but once in while you come by a red one. This one is in Gershoej on Zealand. Photo by: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com

What does High Dynamic Range exactly mean? To understand High Dynamic Range, you need to understand Dynamic Range first. Now that we are clear on what EVS is, we can talk about the Dynamic Range in terms of Exposure Value Steps  (If you missed Part I of this series, you might want to read Understanding Exposure Value Steps first).

In photography the Dynamic Range is the difference between the darkest and brightest part of a scene. Some scenes have a bigger difference (brighter or darker areas) than others do, they have a higher dynamic range.

Imagine a scene with some really dark shadows, like under trees, and some really bright sunlit areas and the Sun itself included (like the photo above). If you take a photo of this scene, your camera will leave some areas either completely white or completely black. This is because the dynamic range is incredibly high. The difference in the intensity of the light is huge and a camera can not record it all in one photo. Infact, the human eye is much better at that.

How much light a camera can capture, from the darkest area to the brightest area is called the Dynamic Range of the camera and it is measured in Exposure Value Steps or EVS.

Not two brands or camera models has got the same dynamic range and the difference from camera to camera is quite big. In the end it comes down to, how sensible to light the sensor inside the camera is, but also how the camera uses the sensor. Two camera models using the same sensor, might not have the same performance.

If you have a scene and you can’t get a good shot of it, without blowing either the highlights or the shadows, you can extend the dynamic range, by shooting two additional photos, one darker and one brighter.

Now you have three photos, including one to cover the highlights better and one to cover the shadows better. These must be merged using a piece of software. And this new merged photo is the High Dynamic Range photo. A photo that has extended the native dynamic range of the camera.

Let’s say, that you shoot the dark one at exposure compensation -2 and the bright one at exposure compensation +2. This way you extend the cameras limited dynamic range by 4 EVS, (that is -2 in the dark end and +2 in the bright one).

Dynamic Range in three shots

Three exposure bracketed shots at -2, 0 and +2.

A camera has a native dynamic range. My Fuji Finepix x100 has got a dynamic range of 12.4 EVS, while my Nikon D800 has got a dynamic range of 14.4. The Canon 5D Mark III only has got 11.7 EVS in the dynamic range. All cameras are different.

But what does this mean? Let’s stick to the example of -2, 0 and +2.

Dynamic Range example

In case of the Canon 5D Mark III, then it has got a dynamic range of 11.7 EVS, the total dynamic range will then be 11.7 EVS +4 EVS  (2 EVS extra for dark and 2 EVS extra for the bright exposure) = 15.7 EVS. That’s an increase of the dynamic range covered of 34%!

The Nikon D800 will be 14.4 EVS + 4 EVS = 18.4 EVS. An increase of approx. 28%.

Sony A7R is 14.1 EVS + 4 EVS = 18.1 EVS. An increase of approx. 28%.

As you can see from these three high end cameras mentioned, even high end cameras from leading camera brands are very different. Canon in general has got less dynamic range, than Sony and Sony has less than Nikon. And this pattern goes all the way to entry level cameras.

How do you find out about such things? Well, I always find my information on specific cameras at www.dxomark.com. They have an extensive database of sensor tests and it is very likely that you will find exactly your camera there too.

And if you are in the market for a new camera, and haven’t chosen brand yet, this is something you seriously should take into consideration, before choosing your brand.

Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) options are important!

As an HDR photographer, you are very interested in what options you have for bracketing your shots. How many shots can you bracket? Can you do it on a timer or remote control? How many EVS can you have between your shots?

This is really important stuff for the HDR photographer!

While the Canon 5D Mark III, from the example above, is the camera with the lowest dynamic range, it does have the most flexible bracketing system of the three and it it can cover more dynamic range, than any of the others. It allows 7 shots of up to 3 EVS between each shot.

7 shots at 3 EVS between each shot will be: -9,-6-,-3, 0, +3, +6 +9. That is a HUGE dynamic range covered. However, having 3 EVS between each shot can give bad results in post processing, and I don’t recommend it, but even at 2 EVS you get a huge dynamic range coverage.

Most cameras only allow to bracket 3 shots at maximum 2 EVS, as shown in the figure above (giving -2, 0 and +2 exposures). This extends the cameras native dynamic range with 4 EVS. And for many situations this is just fine.

If you are in the market for a camera, investigate the options! I was surprised to find out, that Nikon D3100 didn’t have any bracketing options. But there might be others, that don’t have it, and some models have more flexible bracketing options.

Personally I find it very important, that the native dynamic range of the camera is high. Using my D800 or D600, I capture almost the same in one shot, as the Canon 5D Mark III does in a -2, 0, +2 series. And this I personally find a huge advantage.

How to compensate for lacking bracketing options

I also have cameras that only do 3 exposures in bracketing, and they also support 3 EVS between each shot, but I really avoid doing this, unless I am caught in a difficult situation.

The reason why I avoid 3 Exposure Value Steps in my bracketing, is that I end up with nasty artifacts, in the post processing, because the HDR software can not put it together properly. What I do instead of increasing it them to 3 EVS in bracketing steps, is to shoot two series.

If you shoot a scene at -2, 0 and +2, then you can adjust the exposure compensation on your camera (the +/- button – look for it, and you will find it). If you adjust it to -1, and then shoot your series again, you will then get: -3, -1, +1. And if you kept your camera on a tripod and was careful, when you adjusted the camera, you know have 6 shots:

-3, -2, -1, 0, +1 and +2

And if your scene was too dark, you just adjust +1 instead of -1, and get 6 shots of:

-2, -1, 0, +1, +2 and +3

This you can do on almost any camera, and this is what I do, if caught between a rock and a hard place. And in really extreme situations you can shoot 3 series or adjust the compensation different. The camera is flexible enough, if you accept a little manual work.

If you are considering to buy a new camera and intend to shoot a lot of HDR, this is important stuff, that needs to be investigated before buying a new camera. I was misguided when I bought my Fujifilm X100 Finepix camera. It does have AEB, but not at 2 EVS, only at 1 EVS. I can take -1, 0, +1 and because it has a native dynamic range of 12.4 EVS, that sums up to 14.4 EVS in the high dynamic range photo, which is exactly what my D800 delivers in one photo. This is clearly not very optimal for me, and I end up using the X100 far too little.

And a funny thought – does that make the Nikon D800 photo a less High Dynamic Range photo, just because it can cover the same dynamic range in one photo, while the X100 needs 3 shots? What is High Dynamic Range? It is not clearly enough defined.

How to trigger the bracketed series is important too

When you start shooting HDR photos, you pretty quickly learn that, using a tripod is worth the effort. Even slightly moving cameras, can make a post-processing difficult. The most optimal thing, is not to touch the camera at all, while the camera shoots the bracketed shots.

Canon and Nikon offers the option of a timer 2 seconds, before the camera starts shooting the bracketed series. Usually two seconds is enough for the tripod stop stirring after you touched it.

Sony A7/A7R allows the use of a remote control. It would have been nicer to be able to use the timer (one device less to keep track of). The Sony NEX-7 does not allow any kind of remote triggering.

But as mentioned several times in this article, investigate the specific camera model, before buying it. Otherwise you might end up being disappointed. And it is expensive to be disappointed with a camera.

Further readings

5 Most important things to understand about HDR

Monaco is very known for its money and Formula 1. However, Monaco is a very beautiful city too. It is the second smallest country in the world. Only the Vatican is smaller. You find all sorts of beautiful old buildings. This flowerist on the corner I particularly liked. Photo by: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com

This is the first article in a series of 5 articles to explain the most important things there is to understand about HDR photography. If you want to make sure, that you don’t miss anything, you can follow me on Google+ or Twitter or sign up on new posts from my blog.

The first topic will be to understand f-stops and exposure value steps (EVS). These are very important factors for any HDR photographer.

The next article will be about understanding the details of Dynamic Range. We will build on the understanding of EVS covered in this article.

Please read the full article here on EVS here.

5 easy steps to improve your HDR photography

Monaco is a beautiful little country. At the center you find the old Casino Monte Carlo. Rich people come and park their cool cars and people gather to envy the cars and take pictures of them. Photo by: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com

I often hear someone saying about my photos “Usually I do not like HDR photos, but I this one I like. You have not overdone it.” This kind of comment of course makes me happy; who doesn’t like to get appraisal of ones work? But I also think to myself “You should know how much I have treated this photo – this is HDR extreme!“.

I have heard it so many times, that I have started thinking about, what it is that people “who don’t like HDR’s” don’t like. Because, clearly, it is not the HDR they don’t like. It must be something else.

I believe that one of the things they don’t like, is when the HDR photos are badly processed. If you want to make great HDR’s, there are some rules, you have to oboy, no-matter if you are doing extreme HDR’s or more natural looking HDR’s.

Save 15% on Photomatix Pro. Remember that by using the coupon code “caughtinpixels” you will get 15% discount on Photomatix Pro here. Photomatix is the HDR tool in the world.

Tip #1 Do not have halos in your HDR’s

Halos tells that you are not very good at processing your photos – or at least sloppy about it. Halos can in some cases be really really difficult to fix. But in most cases I find it easy, to moderate easy. The problem usually comes, when you start boosting your effects.

Monaco halosLearn to control your boosting of effects. Do not apply the strongest effect you possible can. Do go either one step at a time or do it more moderately. It is not a competition of going most extreme. It is all about making an awesome photo. This is NOT awesome.

You can do almost anything with your HDR, go lightly, extreme etc. Just do not have halos!

Check out my HDR tutorial to see how to remove halos. And here you will also see how to use effects selectively. One of the most important rules, is that you don’t have to use an effect globally in your photo. If the effect only improves 10%, of the photo, by all means, only use it in 10% of the photo and throw away the rest.

Tip #2 Be there at the right time

I am not a great fan of daylight HDR’s. Yes, often you do have a very high dynamic range in the middle of the day, and you can only cover it using HDR technology, but you usually do not get the coolest photos. Yes, you can usually hand held the camera, because there is much more light, and therefore the shutter speeds will be much faster, but it shows in the final result.

This is 20 minutes difference. Do you agree, it was worth waiting for those 20 minutes? And it is not only the much cooler car, that does the trick. It is the light.

Monaco - timing

The timing goes for all photography really, but HDRs kick in the turbo, when it get’s low light.

Tip #3 Use a tripod

If you already have learned to accept tip #2, then do not be tempted to shoot with out a tripod. If you do not use a tripod, you will have to compensate in other ways. First you will open your lens to the lowest f number and will end up at f/2.8 or f/3.5 or whatever your lens supports. Second, you will get longer exposure times, and when they get so slow, you can’t keep the camera still, you will increase the ISO.

A nasty side effect of making HDR’s, is the noise. It kind of comes with the concept, because details are enhanced. Some HDR products are better at handling the noise than others. And you can do a lot with noise reduction, but still… You loose quality and details.

The only way around it, is to use a tripod and have those longer exposure times, too keep the ISO as low as possible.

It took some convincing for me to use the tripod … always! And I felt stupid the first times I used the tripod among people, but I have learned, that you gain respect. And whenever you put up the tripod, people stop up, and take the “same” photo using their cell phones.

Tip #4 Setup the camera right

Setting the ISO

Fix your ISO to as low a setting as possible – do not use auto ISO! You will get far too much noise in the bright exposures.

It is a compromise, when it get’s darker, you will have to increase the ISO, to stay within the 30 second exposure, for the longest exposure. If you need to have a longer exposure than 30 seconds, you can either increase the ISO or the aperture (a lower aperture number). This is a compromise.

Use aperture mode

Always use fixed aperture mode (A or Av depending on the brand) when you shoot your bracketed shots. You can also do this in manual mode, but I only use manual mode in extreme cases. If you using aperture mode, you will be just fine in 99.9% of all cases.

But why not use Shutter speed (S or Tv) mode? Because what the camera will do, is to change the aperture for each photo. And changing the aperture changes the depth of field. And if the depth of field changes, you will end up with photos, that are not identical.

A scenario you could end up with, is that the dark -2 exposure might be tack sharp, because it has the lowest aperture (highest number), and largest depth of field.

The normal 0 exposure will have slightly blurred background and the bright +2 exposure will have both blurred foreground and even more blurred background, because the brightest will have the lowest depth of field.

Three photos with changing Aperture you can not blend. They are not identical and the result will not be good.

Use a timer or remote control

Use a remote control, cable release or a timer to set off the bracketed series of photos. If you touch the camera, the photos might be shaken.

Tip #5 remember to check out your histogram.

If possible at all, make sure, that you have all light covered. The reason why you are shooting more exposures in the first place, is to cover all light, from the darkest shadow to the brightest light source. And if you miss out, when you are doing the bracketed serie, you are not much better off, than you were in the first place with only one photo.

Check your histogram on the cameras playback function and check that you have all light covered.

Monaco - histogramsSome situations are harder to cover than others, and might require more shots than others.

Some of the more difficult ones, are city night shots or shots having the Sun in the frame. Many of my city night shots, I often cover from -4 to +4 to get all information from the darkest shadows to the brightest light bulbs in the street lamps.

About the photo

I shot this photo in front of Monte Carlo Casino in a wild crowd of people with cameras. I only got four of my 5 planned shots, because a guard noticed my tripod. He was a senior member of the tripod police, and certainly did not like no tripods. I did not enter a discussion about, this being a public square, because I knew I had covered the light well enough, and got my cool car. I packed up my tripod and left the location happy.

Making the photo was really much more about mixing the four photos I had shot. The cool car is only present in the two of the four photos.

What I did, when I shot the serie, was a bit unusual, because of all of the crowd and the many cars passing by. I very carefully broke with my tip #4, and pressed shutter release manually for each exposure. Looking carefully at the scene for each photo. This way, I got my cool car, and made sure that I had photos with no people in more or less all parts.

Monaco beforeAs you can see, it was quite a challange because of all the people and cars.

Another problem was, that I had positioned the camera for the pedestrians crossing instead of the Casino. This was a bigger mistake than first anticipated. I ended up spending quite some time correcting the perspective. It wasn’t easy.

Removing the people required a very delicate mixing of the layers in Photoshop, and then some cloning too. But I ended up with a fairly clean photo.

When my photo was clean, I started to apply my effects on the lower half of the photo. The casino itself is HDR, but the rest is a handful of effects from various tools.

 

5 good reasons to buy the Sony A7R and 5 good reasons not to

On a warm summerday, I went to see Thingbaek Chalk Mines in Denmark. When I arrived, the mine was closed due to a wedding. Instead of just abanding the plan, I killed some time at the nearby Rebild National Park. A famous Danish American National Park. When I got back to the mine, my waiting was rewarded. Because of the wedding they had lit candles all over the mines. It was very beautiful. Photo by: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com

 

On a warm summer day, I went to see Thingbaek Chalk Mines in Denmark. When I arrived, the mine was closed due to a wedding. Instead of just abanding the plan, I killed some time at the nearby Rebild National Park. A famous Danish American National Park. When I got back to the mine, my waiting was rewarded. Because of the wedding they had lit candles all over the mines. It was very beautiful.

I have made an article or review, call it what you like, on my take on the Sony A7R. The camera is in many ways awesome, but it will not completely replace my Nikon D800 or D600 for that matter.

Please read about my 5 reasons to buy the Sony A7R (A7) and 5 reasons not to buy it here.