The Weekend Post – How to find the perfect Sunrise Spot

Soft light in Nyhavn

I shot “Soft light in Nyhavn” in Copenhagen in Denmark.

Timing and location can be a game changer for a photo and sometimes you have to option to plan for something special. At other times, you just have to accept what it is, good or bad. But you can help yourself, if you have the right tools. More about that later, first a story about how I learned a lesson or two.

When I shot this photo on a very early morning, I didn’t realize that I had a gem in my hand.

This location is a place in Copenhagen called Nyhavn and it is a very famous location. And as any other famous location, it has been shot to death.

However, this morning, I captured something special, and I only have shot two shots of it. This is the second. When I published the first one, some local photographers called it ‘the best shot of Nyhavn ever seen’. Wow! The bad part is, that I didn’t see what I shot when I shot it.

This is shot very close to midsummer, and my clock radio had been on at 3 AM, and this photo is shot at 4 AM. But, what was on my mind, was something completely different. I was afraid that I was going to miss the moment when the Sun rose behind The Opera House all the way down in the other end.

I had misjudged the timing and been delayed by a couple of drunk Polish guys looking for a ferry to Poland. I was so focused on my target, that I didn’t see this one. I just made two quick shots and moved on.

Had I seen what I had, I would have made a whole series from this location. The colors and the light were just fantastic, but I didn’t see that. The lines formed by the clouds are fantastic, but I didn’t see that.

The only thing, that was on my mind, was getting the sunrise behind the Opera House.

Continue reading “The Weekend Post – How to find the perfect Sunrise Spot”

The Weekend Post: The Three Most Important Tips for Photographers

The old main building of the University of Copenhagen.

This post is The Weekend Post – sign up on the website, to get it on email. Last week I showed how to get two great and yet somewhat different photos, out of one photo. If you missed it, you can find it here.

This week I will dive into three things, that I find very important to improve if you want to improve as a photographer. I will put this into three solid tips, that will improve your photography. It’s not the usual tips, but it’s three things that make a big a difference.

We all know the phrases ‘Composition is everything’, ‘Timing is everything’ and ‘ Light is everything’, and somehow they seem both to work together, and yet still, if they are not contradictory, at they are least not the same thing. So which is right? Well, sort of all three at the same time.

If you have a poor composition, your photo will, no matter what you do to it in the post-processing, not be very successful. I once read that a bad composition is a turd, and no matter what you do in the post-processing, it will still be a turd. I tend to agree, and yet I have some reservations. I believe it’s a balance of several things, the composition being one of them. A weaker  composition, can to some extent be compensated by great light, timing and post-processing, and you will still end up with a successful photo.

Tip #1 Learn to post-process and learn it fast

If you can make everything peak, you will have a stunning photo. If you can get the perfect composition, in the perfect light, with the perfect timing, you will have a perfect photo … IF you know how to process the photo perfectly too. If you do not know how to post-process the ‘perfect photo’, it will never be a winner.

One of the reasons, why I got into photography, and the very essence of “Caught in Pixels” is the realization, that an SOOC (Straight Out Of Camera) photo usually is not interesting. It is the post-processing, that brings a photo to life. No matter how good your composition, light and timing is, if the photo has a poor processing, everything falls apart. The post-processing is the glue that ties everything together. And the better post-processing, the stronger is the glue.

Far too many people, think that extreme processing makes a good photography, but it doesn’t. If you want to have success with your photography, you need to have control of post-processing and have it on a (tight) leash. Have a look at this photo, in a badly processed version, and afterwards in a good processing.

Bad processing 2

An example of a poorly processed photo. This is a 30 second processing process. It almost hurt my eyes to look at this, and they keep floating around searching for focus points.

And now the exactly same photo, just processed competently.

The same photo processed in a good way. This is a 2-3 hour processing process. This one is much more peaceful, and the eyes wander straight to the pulpit.

In the first version of the photo, is a classically badly processed HDR. And it is that kind of processing, that has given HDR photos a bad reputation. It is too much of everything, and the depth is completely gone, because everything seems equally important. If everything is enhanced, nothing is enhanced.

You might be able to see, that a strong photo and composition is behind the bad processing, but a poor processing takes the away the quality of the photo. In the first version, the first thing that comes into my mind, is ‘too much, too much of everything’. In the second version, there is a much stronger balance in the photo, and this is the difference.

I have often received the comment “Normally I don’t like HDR photos, but I like this one you have made'”. Of course, this makes me happy, but it also makes me think. I have received that kind of comment, where I think I have knocked myself out in HDR, and gone quite extreme, like in this one from Copenhagen Central station:

A heavyly processed HDR photo, with the award “I dont’ like HDR, but I like this one”.

Why that comment is given to the photo of Central station in Copenhagen, does make me wonder. HDR apparently divides people into two groups, those who like it, and those who hate it. And yet, some of the people, who are dedicated haters of HDR, still likes photos like mine. Even if I have done an extreme HDR processing. Why? I think it is because I have kept a foot in the real world, and I don’t have a lot of classical processing mistakes.

There hundreds of ways I could have processed it, and another person could have processed the photo in yet another hundred ways, and anyway would have made it to a successful photo. The way I did it, I just made it mine. I keep depth in the photo, by controlling highlights and shadows. I play with them, and enhance some, and flatten others, but I don’t enhance everything, and that is an important part.

If I had released the photo from Copenhagen central station, in a crazy psychedelic HDR processing, like the one from the cathedral above, this would never have received any appraisal from an HDR hater. It would have been categorized as ‘a typically HDR’. HDR is not a synonym for bad post-processing, but unfortunately, there are tons of badly processed HDR photos out there.

A large part of my game is HDR, but it is generally applicable. You need to learn to do proper post-processing, to make quality photos.

It requires more than pressing a button or perhaps even investing 30 seconds on processing images, to create something, that is pleasing to more people, even people who are declared ‘haters of HDR photography’. That is because the quality of the HDR photos increases, by doing proper post-processing.

Learn post-processing and learn it fast. It’s one of the most important factors. Do not rely on ‘press a button’ processing. In these Instagram and Snapseed days, everyone can do that. Don’t be everyone else. Be yourself!

Learn to post-processing, and learn it fast. Be yourself… No, you will not make nearly as many photos in the same time, but wouldn’t you rather make high-quality photos? I know I would.

Quality is everything!

I believe that is the truth. It is a much more complex matter, than ‘light is everything’ or ‘composition is everything’. It is about the quality of the photo, and light and composition are factors in this equation, but they can not stand alone. Quality is to an extent a subjective matter, but there are also many objective elements. One of them being, bad processing doesn’t fly.

Tip #2 Learn to listen to that little voice inside your head

What you have to do, when making a photo is to strive to get as high a quality as possible. This begins, when you grab your camera, to go out shooting, and goes through many different steps, until you finally stop post-processing, because it is finished.

As time passes by, and your overall skills improve, something else happens. A small voice in the back of your head appears. It says, ‘is that good enough?‘. It happens when you are post-processing your photos, but also when you are shooting photos. No matter where you hear it, you should pay attention to it.

The first time I was seriously aware of that little voice was when I did this shot. First I did the one on the left, and the little voice said ‘You are almost there, you are on the right track, just move the camera a bit‘. I heard that little voice, and three shots later, I had the composition working my way.

Listen to that little voice

Moving the camera a bit to the left, and a bit down, as my little voice suggested to me, makes the difference between a nice shot and a killer shot. It was the last but one shot, I shot that morning, because the Sun came out too strong only a few minutes later and had I not listened to the voice, I would not have gotten this photo.

The same goes when you post-process you photos. Learn to listen to that voice saying ‘ahh, is that contrast just over the top?‘ or ‘something is missing in that area!‘ It takes some practice to be able to hear this little voice, but it is usually right. It is about finding a balance, that works well with a photo, no matter if you are aiming at something natural looking or you are aiming, at something more surreal. It has to be balanced nicely.

A classic mistake made by novice photographers, diving into post-processing, is to be too drastic in the post-processing. Too much HDR effect, too much Contrast, too much Clarity or too much saturation. We have all been novices, and have made all the same mistakes. And it is by listening to that little voice, in the back of our heads, that we improve.

There is nothing wrong, by going a little bit crazy, and wild. You just need to balance it in the photo. The sunrise photo, has a crazy wild processing too, but it is only applied locally. And it is a very strong element in the equation, that gives the image a high quality.

In most cases, global adjustments (saturation, contrast etc) to a photo is not enough, to make a photo reach its full potential. I am tempted to say that the whole difference, between a successfully processed photo and a less successfully processed photo, is the ability of the photographer to apply changes locally, accordingly to what is necessary.

This might be a little bit abstract, but in the photo above, I did a lot of standard processing, but what knocks this photo into being something special, is the heavy enhancement of the jetty.

Local processing

The jetty is heavily processed. The exposure has been increased, and a 100% clarity pen and some detail enhancement from a Topaz Adjust filter have been applied to the jetty. Had I applied those effects globally to my photo, it would have been ruined the balance, due to over processing, but applied to just the jetty is amazing. And it is the little voice in the back of my head that suggests that, and I listen to it.

The little voice in the back of your head will eventually begin to say ‘that does not look too interesting, can we either enhance or hide it?‘ or ‘this is the important element, it needs to be popped!‘. What is important is that you, listen to that little voice, when it speaks. The little voice is your intuition, and the intuition is MUCH stronger than the rest of your conscious brain.

Learn to listen to that little voice saying ‘ahh is that composition or processing good enough?’ Usually, that little voice is right, it’s you sub-conscience, and it is much more powerful than the rest of your brain. Learn to listen to it, and act on it, to improve your photography. You learn from making mistakes, but only if you notice you make them!

Learn from your mistakes. Your little voice points out your mistakes, listen to it! And learn from it.

Tip #3 Learn to separate the good photos from the bad photos

I have more than 100.000 photos in my library. Even if some are series of 3, 5, 7 or 9 HDR photos, it is still a lot of different photos. I don’t have time enough, to process all of them, not yet anyway, but not all are worth processing either. If I was to try to process them all, I would not have enough time at all.

Since I don’t have the time, to process all photos, I should only focus on the ones resulting in quality photos. Not all can be killer shots, but certainly above my personal minimum level of quality.

One of the pitfalls I regularly fall into is that I try to process a photo, that is clearly never going to turn out any good. This is something, I have seen other photographers do too. For some reason these photos attract us, I know I am attracted to them because I see them as problems that need to be solved and I love to solve problems. But some problems are just unsolvable or extremely time-consuming to solve, and I end up wasting valuable time, with mediocre results.

A photo might not be worth processing for many different reasons. It could be the clouds that are boring, the wrong time of the day, or even wrong time of the year or simply, that the composition has failed. Some of these things are fixable, and some are not.

Train yourself in identifying the photos worth processing. I use a star system in Lightroom.  When I imporort new photos, into my catalog I rate them 3 stars.

0 stars: Not in the evaluation process

1 star: I will not look at this photo again.

2 stars: Maybe on a rainy day, but probably never.

3 stars: Unevaluated.

4 stars: Has potential

5 stars: Ready to process.

Often I have a lot of different, and yet similar compositions, and picking the strongest ones, takes a bit practice, but it is worth spending that time. You learn a lot from evaluating your own photos.

Sometimes, when you have evaluated your photos, you can see, that if you had moved the camera, or it had been shot at a different time of the day or year, it would have been a better photo. And sometimes, you have the option to actually go back and reshoot. Put the photos in a folder for reshooting, not to forget.

Don’t work too long on ‘not good enough’ photos, you just waste valuable time. If you have the option, go back and reshoot, and that way you will learn from your mistakes. Or move on to other photos, just being able to stop yourself, is learning too.

There is a lot of satisfaction, as well as a lot of learned lessons, gained from going back and reshooting a location, and doing everything right. The right timing and the right composition, and going back home to do the right processing.

This last example shows an example of, how I deliberately went back to shoot a specific scene. When I was there in May and everything was green and just too green. Grass, fields, trees, everything was just green and then more green. Instead, I returned not long before the harvest, when the fields had turned yellow and I reshot. The Sun was in a different location at sunset, and I had to move into the field, to get the Sun behind the trees in the far background. This allowed me to use the tracks in the field as leading lines.

 

Going back and reshoot

The photo on the right couldn’t have been shot in May, even if the sunset was nice in May, and it was nice. This I could do, because this is pretty close to where I live, and I can just go there.

If you are travelling, you might not have the option to go back, and yet you still might have. I often travel to cities, and as it turns out, you often pass the different locations more than once. Often during the day as well as night. What I have begun to do, is to shoot daytime photos, and review them, and then go back and reshoot early in the morning or in the evening. This way, I get some ‘practising’ time.

Doing this, saves me time later, because the sorting processes will be easier, simply because I have less photos, trying to find the best composition.

Summary

These three tips require something of you, but photography does! You can not improve your photography, if you do not put some kind of work into it. There is no silver bullet, only sweat. Some of the things, might come easier to some of you, while others have to work harder. But eventually, if you work hard enough, you can succeed.

These three tips, will make you a better photographer, and remember a photographer is not only, about being in the field. It is also about bringing a photo to life in the post-processing. And because, it is only you, who does things the exact same way, as you do, you will get your own style, in time.

–Jacob Surland

About composition – Sometimes centering works

Rubjergknude light house

Rubjerg Knude Fyr in Denmark.

I have approximately 20 different compositions from this day. It was a bright summer day just after midday. The light was pretty hard, but just a little bit of summer haze defused the light a tiny bit. But not enough to make great light. Of the 20 compositions, this one, is the one that works best, and it works really well, even if I broke the rule “do not center your primary object”. I did that, and it yet it still works, but why is that?

I have been thinking about the ‘why’. Let me start by showing you the original unprocessed shot:

Rubjerg knude hard light original

Unprocessed shot of Rubjerg Knude Fyr.

The unprocessed photo is flat, and the light is pretty hard. The sky is uninteresting, and yet you can see the potential. There some leading lines and a couple of other important details.

The tower is shot at close to an exact 45-degree angle. Dead on angles usually work well. as for the dead center. This is no different than shooting a building straight from the front, like this shot:

Pantheon in Rome at night

The Pantheon in Rome shot dead on from the front. A strong composition.

Symmetry is pleasing to the eye, a square building, like the lighthouse, gives symmetry when shot at a 45-degree angle. This is the first important factor. When you work with symmetry, it often works well, to have the object the center, in particular if you can support it with leading lines.

The leading lines in the shot from Pantheon are easy to spot. Man made lines, and they all (if extended) point to the door. This draws the eyes of the viewer to the center of the image, to the door, and the door itself is also a focus point because it is so bright.

But how about the leading lines in the lighthouse photo? There are plenty! Let’s have a look:

Rubjerg knude hard light leading lines

Leading lines. Some are more subtle than others.

As you can see, there are many leading lines. Some are more subtle than others. The one going from the left-hand lower corner is very subtle, but there are lines going through the sand dune. And the curved orange line going through the sand is very powerful, and probably the most important one. And then you have the sand dune horizon that also work as leading lines from left and right.

During the post-processing, I also enhanced some lines, and I created some new ones. The sky I had, in the original photo, didn’t work well. I replaced that, with another sky, shot just before sunset. A sky that had the soft light, that we like so much. I made a mask, and dumped the new sky. The sky was shot at higher resolution, and it allowed me to move the sky around until I found the strongest position for it.

The new sky also adds some leading lines. There is the brighter cloud wiggling like an s-curve from the right to the center of the image, and you also have it coming down from the top. And from the left, you have clear blue sky moving in. Everything pointing to the lighthouse.

There is one more thing the new sky added, and that is a repeated shape. The cloud where it says #1 repeats the shape (more or less) of the lighthouse, this is also a well working a compositional trick.

The dark and bright lines coming in, from the right-hand corner I enhanced by using some simple dodge and burn (making things brighter and darker in local areas). This enhanced existing lines.

A centered composition can be a strong composition

So, what at a first glance looks like a simple composition, turns out to be quite complex. All of these lines makes it a very powerful composition, and if you compare it to the photo of Pantheon, it is a very similar composition. All lines point to the center of the image, where you find the brightest part (the bright door and the bright lighthouse).

The straight on composition used on the Pantheon photo, is a strong composition, even if it seems simple. The interesting composition, are the ones, that order things in a pleasing way, no matter how complex that may be. And usually in a way, that you don’t normally see with your human eye.

The head-on shot of some building or whatever, is unusual for the human eye. How often to you stand at the exact center and watch a building or similar? Hardly ever! And that is why it is unusual to the human eye and is a strong composition, and it is pleasing because it is symmetric.

The hard part is to know when to use the centered composition, and especially when NOT to use it. One of the important factors is, can you get a perfect symmetry? Then it’s probably ok. If it is supported by leading lines, then go ahead for sure!

The processing details

As for the rest of the processing. The photo still had a bit of hard light to it, and I began to add some textures. I find that textures can be used to add that missing element, that softness in the colors, take off the edge of the hard light.

When I was done, I could see, that the texture was too much, and I had second thoughts on the textures. I made a new copy of the image, without the texture part. That’s one of the great things about working with layers in Photoshop. You can just hide some. Now I had these two images:

Now I had these two images:

Rubjerg knude hard light mixing

 Too strong textures and no texture version.

I found that neither worked to my satisfaction. One had too strong textures, but the other one missed something.

In the end, I decided to do a compromise. I loaded both images as layers into Photoshop and changed the global opacity for the top layer, which happened to be the one without textures. And moved the slider back and forth, until I had the right amount of textures, to my taste, and that was at 45% opacity.

Rubjerg knude texture mixing

And my final step, was to do a clean up in the photo. Removing irregularities, stones, rubble etc. that did no good thing to the image.

–Jacob Surland

Paris seen from the rooftop of the Arch of Triumph

A grand view of Paris seen from the top of the Arch of Triumph. The weather was not very good for photography, but it was the only chance I had to get up there, so I stayed stubbornly and covered my camera from the rain. And I am happy that I did, I got many good shots from up there. This one is one of my favorites.--Jacob Surlandwww.caughtinpixels.comArt sale as limited prints. Photo by Jacob Surland, Licensed Creative Commons non-commercial v4.0. No Derivative Work. Protected by Pixsy.com.

Paris seen from the top of the Arch of Triumph in bad weather.

I was in Paris last week to exhibit at Art Shopping at Carrousel du Louvre 2015. A pretty exciting thing. As a photographer, I, of course, could not go to Paris, and not shoot photos, and I carefully planned what to photograph, and when, while not exhibiting.

I did a very careful planning of what I want to shoot mornings and evenings, and what to shoot while driving down there, and back again. It’s the first time I have been the so prepared – and yet you can still meet obstacles.

I will only have one blue hour evening, and where did I want to go? In the end, I decided for the rooftop of the Arch of Triumph. There is a magnificent view of Paris from up there. I got there in good time and waited in the line. After waiting 30 minutes in the line, I got so close to the ticket office and saw a sign which said ‘no bags larger than 40cm’ mine is 53cm and my hope sank. What a stupid mistake to make. I knew that I could not use tripods up there, but no big bags? I took a deep breath, and went took a shot at it, anyway, and I slipped through. The security guard just received a large group to pay his attention to and did not pay attention to the size of my bag. Lucky me.

I thought I was home free from there, but noo… There was a more specific security check, before going up to the top of the roof. The security lady started saying something about the size of the bag, but I just opened it and showed her my camera equipment. She said ‘no tripods’, but I knew that and had prepared for that, and she let me through.

I got to the roof, after climing a small narrow winding staircase. It really was taller than I expected, and when I got up there, the view was magnificent. I had taken no chances and was there almost two hours ahead of the sunset. So I had to wait.

Instead of a tripod, I had brought my Manfrotto Super Clamp which I bought at Amazons. This really is one of the best pieces of photo equipment I have, and especially if you compare it to the price. All photo equipment is insanely expensive, except for this one. It allows me to screw a ball head on, and then I can screw the Super Clamp onto my tripod, and have two cameras or as I had planned for the rooftop. It looks like this:

The Super Clamp is really made for filming equipment, but it works with cameras too.

Because I knew tripods wasn’t allowed, I had researched the nature of the roof and had seen from photos, that there was a spiked fence, which the Super Clamp would be super easy to attach to. And that was my plan. But I had not considered that the fence might be wobbly, and it certainly was. It turned out, that people leaned against it, while taking selfies, and children yanked in it. My camera would fly back and forth on long exposures.

While I waited, I searched for my compositions. This one I liked particularly well because it is different from the classic shot from up here. I also got the classic one, but this one I liked rather much. And guess what? It’s shot with a fisheye lens. You can hardly even tell!

While I waited, bad weather came. La Defense in the distance disappeared completely, and it got closer. At this time I did not feel very lucky at all, but in the end we only got a small portion of the bad weather; enough to have minor problems with rain, but not enough to ruin the photos.

Back to the wobbly fence. When it was time, and the exposures got longer, I waited until the fence was still, or if didn’t stay still, I held my breath and I put my full weight against the fence (hoping it would hold). I shot a lot of photos of the same composition and hoped that enough would be sharp enough to work with. As it turned out, it was not so bad at all. I got a lot useable photos.

So this photo I am quite happy with, not only because I like it, but also because I went through a lot of trouble to get it.

Long exposure view from the Rialto Bridge

The view from Rialto Bridge is world famous, and not without reason. It is stunning. I tried to capture a slightly different scene, than the classic Canal-Grande seen-from-the-Rialto-Bridge photo (though I shot that one too). I love that Mahony taxi boat in front of Hotel Rialto, and that restaurant with the golden light.--Jacob SurlandPhoto by Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com Licensed creative commons non-commercial v4.0. No derivative Work. Protected by Pixsy.com.

A long exposure from a classic block buster photo location in Venice. From the top of the Rialto Bridge.

The view from Rialto Bridge is world famous, and not without reason. It is stunning. I tried to capture a slightly different scene than the classic Canal-Grande seen-from-the-Rialto-Bridge photo (though I shot that one too). I love that Mahony taxi boat in front of Hotel Rialto, and that restaurant with the golden light.

I shot this HDR photo using a 6 stop filter, to increase the shutter time. The longest exposure was 30 seconds, which explains the smooth water. The Mahony taxi was kind enough to stay still long enough to be sharp. Some things you can’t control as a photographer, and needs to rely on luck for. I got lucky this time.

I was waiting for the city lights to be turned on. I had an idea that the three armed lamp would look awesome. What I hadn’t noticed, at this time, was that the large spotlight to light up the Rialto bridge was placed there too.

Rialto bridge lamp

A large spotlight ruined the intentions I had with this frame. I am glad I shot this before it was turned on.

While shooting from the Rialto Bridge there was live music.

 

Moeraki Boulders in a fake long exposure

Nature sometimes presents some odds things to human beings. Why do perfectly round boulders come out of the sea, at one particular beach in New Zealand? You can't help but stand and stare in wonder. I had something particular in mind when I got to the beach. A long exposure to enhance the peacefulness that you experience on a beach, but the light and waves wasn't right, and I did not get this the way I wanted it. But instead I made the long exposure look even longer, by using some horizontal motion blur. I then also changed the colors, until I got something I liked, and this is the result. Photo by: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com Licensed creative commons non-commercial v4.0. No derivative Work. Protected by Pixsy.com.

The Moeraki Boulders at Moeraki Beach on the South Island of New Zealand.

Nature sometimes presents some odds things to human beings. Why do perfectly round boulders come out of the sea, at one particular beach in New Zealand? You can’t help but stand and stare in wonder. I had something particular in mind when I got to the beach. A long exposure to enhance the peacefulness that you experience on a beach, but the light and waves wasn’t right, and I did not get this the way I wanted it. But instead I made the long exposure look even longer, by using some horizontal motion blur. I then also changed the colors, until I got something I liked, and this is the result.

This is the original photo:

Moeraki boulders before

As you can see I have cropped the image some. As long as I have enough megapixels, I don’t mind cropping images, if it is an improvement. I would rather come home with a little extra scenery, and crop slightly at home than come home, and lack that last bit. Some believe in getting it right in the camera, but I don’t belong to that school. And as you can see I don’t mind faking colors and long exposure either. I see that as the freedom of the artist.

How to perfect a reflection using the Campanile di San Marco

We had a lot of rain the first couple of days in Venice. Too hard to shoot photos in, from time to time, but in the spells without too much rain, we took out our camera's. A good thing about the rain, is that many people disappear into restaurants, shops and cafes, and you can get a photo of the Piazza San Marco without too many people. Photo by: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com Licensed creative commons non-commercial v4.0. No derivative Work. Protected by Pixsy.com.

A small pool of water after the showers used to photography a reflection the Campanile di San Marco.

We had a lot of rain the first couple of days in Venice. Too hard to shoot photos in, from time to time, but in the spells without too much rain, we took out our camera’s. A good thing about the rain is that many people disappear into restaurants, shops and cafes, and you can get a photo of the Piazza San Marco without too many people.

The making of this photo

I literally sat down my Nikon D800 on at the edge of this pool of water and shot my HDR 5 shots. I have got an L-plate on the camera, that makes it very easy to snap on and off my ball head and change from horizontal to vertical. Another advantage is, that it gives a sort of a foot to have the camera on, and I just placed that straight on the ground.

Campanile di San Marco before

One of the five bracketed shots unedited. As you can see the surface of the water is not perfect.

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Buying guide for Neutral Density filters or ND filters

A longexposure of a sunset shot from London Tower Bridge, on a late summerday. Photo by: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com

“Thames Sunset” shot with a 10 stop ND filter allowing to exposure for 40 seconds with the Sun within the frame.

Using Neutral Density filters can make a dramatic change to your photos. The photo above is a 40-second exposure, which only is possible with something to stop down the light. The Sun is within the frame and had I shot without the filter, the shutter speed would have been 1/25 seconds. I shot this at ISO 100 and f/8. I could have gone to ISO 50 and to F/22, and changed the shutter speed to maybe around a 1/4 or a 1/2 seconds, but not 40 seconds.

ND filters are pretty expensive stuff, and I have ended up spending a fortune on them, not only because I have a fairly complete set, but also because I have made some mistakes. Expensive mistakes, that is. In this buying guide, I will try guide you not to make the same mistakes.

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How to use ND filters in Long exposure photography

Chateau Queras is placed like the old fortress it is, to guard the entrance to Queras, a beautiful area in the French. Quite a gem really, full of beautiful places and then this beautiful old castle. Photo by: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com

Chateau Queyras in the French Alps looks fantastic lit up in the night. This is a long exposure of no less than 370 seconds.

Long Exposure Photography is fascinating. By changing the exposure time, you achieve dramatic changes in the final result. The two photos featured in this post, are shot within a 25 minutes of each other. The first one is a long exposure og 370 seconds, and the second is a normal exposure of 0,5 seconds. Even if the images are processed different, you can easily tell the difference, if you look at the clouds.

When I went on photo workshop in the French Alps, I also got the chance to shoot the beautiful Chateau Queyras. If you walk up the mountain across the castle, you get a fantastic view of the castle. Photo by: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com

This is a normal exposure shot 25 minutes earlier than the first one. It is only 0,5 seconds, and is processed as an HDR image.

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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.

Continue reading “Understanding HDR part V – Understanding and handling tone mapping”