How to plan photo trips?

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,

One of things I really find myself spending a lot of time doing, is planning where to take photos. Location, location, location. This particular HDR photo I shot some 30 km from my home. And even though I had planned, what I wanted, I ended up with something completely different.

The crop had just been harvested, and hay lay in the fields, either as huge rolls or as long piles of hay. I wanted to shoot some photos of that and I got up real early. Way before sunrise. But I realized, when I stood in the field, that hay really doesn’t do well before sunrise, and the fields I had picked, really wasn’t that interesting for photography. They were Just too flat I think.

I started driving north, more or less along Roskilde fiord, hoping for some better fields. I stopped a few times and tried a few shots, but not really happy with what I got.

And then when I got to Gershøj, I remembered a little harbor and an old Inn. I drove down there a couple of really drunk guys hung around, but they seemed peaceful enough. The harbor and inn was not as picturesque as I remembered them. I did shoot a little, but not really happy, and the sunrise was almost there. I made a quick decision, not to hang around and wait for the sunrise, ran to the car made it for one last chance to get something I liked.

And lucky I was. I had got up on the road, turned right, and then I saw this gorgeous little red church, and the sun just rising above the horizon. I threw in the car and got out.

I drove home happy! Had I not been stubborn, I would not have got anything that morning.

Lessons learned: Even though you have something particular in your mind, it’s not necessarily that you will bring home. And keep your eyes open! You might just, come across something quite wonderful!

Split toning doing the magic … again

On an early spring day in the mist, I encountered a boat full of rowers, moving almost silently through the water. Only small splashes of water as the oars go in and out of the water. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

Canon 400D, Sigma 30mm f/1.4, ISO 100, 30mm, f/10, 1/1600 sec

Once more I have been digging around in my old photos, and found this one from Røsnæs in Denmark. A rowning boat coming by in the mist, and a motorboat slightly further out. Once again it’s the split toning in Lightroom that does the magic.

From this original JPEG photo (still hadn’t switched to RAW):

Denmark - Rowing in the midst

I could get to this result:

Denmark - Rowing in the mist settings

I added (using split toning) a lot of yellow to the highlights and then a little bit of purple to the shadows. I tuned the colors a little bit more, later in Photoshop. But this was my starting point and I could see, that I was on to something.

I also added a radial filter, to punch the yellow even more, in the center and I also brightened the center up, like the sun was out there. In fact the Sun was a little to the right of the scene, and not within the frame. But hey – who’s counting?

Denmark - Rowing in the mist radial


This is not the final photo, but it’s 80% of the photo. I took it into Photoshop and did some noise reduction and removed some JPEG artifacts (grainy spots).

Finally I cropped the stones out. I do like the stones, but I liked it better without the stones in the foreground. They are slightly too dominating and breaks the peace.



Long exposure HDR

The Opera House of Copenhagen caught just before sunrise. It's a long exposure. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

This photo is taken 35 minutes later than the last ones I published from Nyhavn, Copenhagen. This is the Opera House of Copenhagen, Denmark, and I have been down there a few mornings to try to get a good shot, but the sunrise has always turned into … a grey one. But this time I was rewarded with a grand ‘almost’ sunrise. I never actually saw the sun, it went behind the clouds before it got up. I saw the sunshine on the buildings behind me, but I never saw the sun. But I did get a wonderful display of colors!

I do like Long Exposure photography. It really fascinates me, what the long exposure does to both water and clouds. And on a morning like this, when the water wasn’t particular smooth, and the Opera house didn’t make a good reflection in the water, a long exposure is a perfect solution. I took out my 10 stop B+W screw on filter and placed that on my 16-35mm lens. A lens I have purchased for this sole purpose, to be able to attach filters on it.

What I did was to first shoot the 7 HDR shots, and then I screwed the filter on the lens, and did a 58 seconds exposure (using a cable release). My plan was to use the water, and maybe the clouds from the long exposure, and mix it with the HDR shot. As it turned out, I must have moved the camera ever so slightly when I put on the filter, because the images doesn’t fit on top of each other. That is a risk.

Then I thought of something I learned from another photographer ‘Photography is always a compromise‘! I looked at the long exposure. It really was an almost perfectly exposed photo. Only a few blown outs in the darks and lights, and some of it even in the corner, which I knew I would crop away anyway:

Opera house copenhagen histogram

Continue reading “Long exposure HDR”

Happy New Year!

In the heart of Copenhagen lies the ill named New Port. A long time ago it was the new port, but as years has passed by, New Port has turned into a very port full. This is the place to go for cold beer on hot summer day or grab a traditional danish meal. A great place that must be seen. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

This will be my last post of 2013 and I wish everybody a Happy New Year. It’s been quite a year. I started out from absolutely nothing, with this blog. I didn’t have an exact purpose yet, but as people started asking questions, the purpose became more clear. I have focused on delivering high quality photos and sharing ‘the making of…’, that is explaining what I did in particular with each photo. And this has turned into quite a success – I now have thousands of readers every month – much more than I expected, when I started out.

I also did a rather popular review of the D800, D600/D610 and Canon 5D Mark III, based on my real life experiences (you can read here if you missed it). For unplanned reasons I ended up having three high end cameras at the same time, and had them for more than 6 months, allowing me to review them from a different perspective, compared to the traditional reviewers around the world.

About this photo

This is Nyhavn (New Port) in Copenhagen, Denmark. It’s a 7 shot HDR, which I processed in Photomatix Pro and Photoshop. I took this just before sunrise. The clouds already had begun turning purple and it looked quite crazy in this photo. In particular when I had run it through the Photomatix Pro.

This is the original 0 exposure:

Denmark - Nyhavn before

I ended up, taking the much of the colors out of the sky, to get a better color balance photo. Colors are very important to photos and getting a good color balance, is important. If something is to extreme, try to dial it down. If you can…

At the other end of this canal, I took this photo only 10 minutes earlier. This one certainly has got crazy colors. The rain reflects the light and the sunrise is about to begin in the far end and things went very colorful later. I gave up fixing the colors in this one, but as an quite extreme one, I do like it:

One of the major sites in lies in the heart of Copenhagen. It's called Nyhavn and means New Harbor. This is just before sunrise, before the neon lights are shut off. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

The Main Entrance of Tivoli at Christmas

Copenhagen Tivoli Gardens is the second oldest amusements parks in the world. At Christmas they open with Christmas Stalls where you can buy all kinds goodies for your belly and go around and get a true Christmas feeling. Absolutelly very recommendable if you ever go to Copenhagen during Christmast. This is the main entrance. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

Last year just before Christmas I took a late walk in the streets of Copenhagen with my tripod and my camera. For a long time I stood in front the entrance of the worlds second oldest amusement park: Tivoli.

It’s always incredible busy in in front of Tivoli and I really wanted a shot not too crowded with people, so I had to wait. I think I stood for 20 minutes waiting for the shots with the fewest people and allowing a long peek into the old garden. And this was what I got and I’m pretty happy with it.

However, it’s not perfect. One of the good things about taking several shots as you do in HDR, is that you get several options to merge from. In this case I had 7 different exposures ranging from –3 to +3. The longest exposure is 10 seconds, which is enough to make fast moving people disappear.

Let’s look at the untouched 0-exposureand, and see what immediate problems there is with this image:

Tivoli gates analasis

#1: They forgot to turn on one torch (or it had blown out, it was quite windy). Fortunately this photo is symmetric, and I can just mirror it to get a torch for the right hand side, and because I have 7 images, I will be able to get a torch that is not an exact mirror of the first one.

#2: The photo is taken on a 14 mm lens, which is extremely wide angled. Things in the corners of a wide angle lens does get warped, and this drum doesn’t look good. I can’t really fix it, without some kind of compromise.

#3: The stars hanging from the roof of the main gate is swinging in the strong wind. By using one of the images with a faster shutter speed, it might be good enough for a fairly sharp star. I did try to take the photos while the wind was less intense.

#4: It’s a busy area and people are moving around. Some blurry people can look quite cool, but others looks bad in the image. The goal is to get leave the cool ones and remove the ugly ones.

#5: Because this shot is shot with a wide angled lens that is tipped slightly upwards, the buildings leans. Sometimes this looks cool, but in this photo it’s not particular flattering. However, I will be in trouble when I start fixing it, because of the drum on the soldier. But more about that later.

Making the tone mapped image

First I merged the 7 shots in Photomatix Pro (by the way I just found out that there is a Photomatix Essentials. As far as I can see this gives you less artistic options, which I really can’t recommend if you want to do more artistic HDR photos).

There is a lot of dynamic light in this photo, because of all of the lights and the really dark sky and shadows. It’s difficult to capture all light, for that reason I shot from –3 to +3.

Continue reading “The Main Entrance of Tivoli at Christmas”

Roskilde Cathedral in the Mist

To create this photo I have used the clone healing brush and the perspective crop in Photoshop.  It is a 7 shot HDR photo, and I used Photomatix pro, to create both a single tone mapped image and a double tone mapped image, which I mixed with the original ones.

The original photo is not a bad one, but neither perfect.

Jack the ripper is around - before v2

#1: I removed the branches. When I straighten the church, some disappeared, but I ended up removing them completely. When I took the shot, made sure, that they were included and did not cover the church. I used the brush healing tool in Photoshop.

#2 The sky I worked with, to emphasize the light in the mist. That is an important part of the mood. I increased the contrast and saturation a bit.

#3 The church I straighten to a certain level. I can’t straighten it completely, because it makes a small fat church, which is not the reality. The compromise is somewhere in between completely straightened and this. Ideally I would have gone further away, but that was not possible.

#4 The acid color of the light from these lamp posts I didn’t like, so I worked with the colors, and mixed that into my final photo. I did that, by making a new layer in Photoshop, opened the Hue/Saturation dialog (CTRL+U) and dialed back some of the yellow and green. I then mixed the lamps into my image.

#5 These lamps are blown out, but because I shot it in HDR I can achieve the moody great look from the lamps, in stead of just a white blob. There is not a lot of dynamic light in this photo otherwise, but the lamps I save.

#6 I then used more healing brush to remove the snow. I used a clone stamp after wards to get a better result on the cobble stones.

#7 The cobble stones is the double tone mapped image. What I get from the double tone mapped image, is the lovely reflections from the lamps and the many details and textures in the cobble stones.

This is one of the photos, where you might ask “Why HDR it?” – well, I did get more details within the windows of the church and on the lamps. I also got more shots, so that I could remove people and the car coming around the corner. And then it added some of the magic, mysterious Jack the Ripper mood.

Photomatix: Tone mapping or fusioning?

Salvad Park just north of Roskilde in Denmark and is a place for gorgeous sunsets. You can stay the night in refuges. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

Photomatix offers many different processing algorithms, each with a different set of parameters. But cut down to what really works, more artistically there are really only two different algorithms. It is the Tone mapping -> Details enhancer and the Exposure Fusion -> Fusion/Natural.

Tone mapping - details enhancer

Exposure Fusion - Fusion Natural

Neither one is better or worse than the other, but they produce different results and in some cases one yields a much better result than the other. Tone mapping does give more artistic HDR photos, but also has the drawback of producing more noise into the photo. Noise is small grains in your image and you don’t really want it in the image, unless of course you add it artistically. You camera produces this as digital noise, and Photomatix enhances it.

If you expect to end up using Tone Mapping, make sure to do some noise reduction. Photomatix does a decent job of reducing the noise, but often you want to apply Noise reduction on the final image too.

Remember to use Reduce Noise

“Tone mapping -> Details Enhancer” is in general more ”HDR’ish” and gives you what you normally recognize as an HDR photo.

The post-processing

This is the 0-exposure and original photo:

Original photo of Sunset at Salvad Parken

I did 7 exposures all together from -3 to +3. I did -3 because I was shooting straight into the sun. The +3 really isn’t necessary, but that is what the Nikon D800 delivers by default on 7 exposures.

I processed the 7 photos in Photomatix Pro and used the Natural / Fusion method. This gave some really nice grass in front. The sky I was not too happy with.

To get a better sky, I returned to Lightroom and started playing around with the -3 exposure. I used the -3 exposure, because it was only the sky I was looking at. The ground was completely black, but the sky well exposed.

To get some really nice colors, I started to play around with the tones. When I was happy with the sky, I exported that image. I now had 9 images.

  • 7 original shots
  • 1 HDR natural / fusion image
  • 1 Great Sky Made In Lightroom image

What I did last was to mix the sky and the HDR photo together and got the final result. I used Photoshop to blend the two images.


Tracks in the field

The crop was almost ready for harvesting. I was at the same location, Salvad Park, a few months earlier, but then everything was green. It didn't make any sense to take photos of it, because all would be green. In the distance you can see Roskilde Fiord. Photo by: Jacob Surland,
Nikon D600, Sigma 12-24mm, ISO 100, 12mm, f/5.6, 1/320

The crop was almost ready for harvesting when I shot this shot. I was at the exact same location, Salvad Park, a few months earlier, but then everything was green – much too green, but I did like the location, so I made a mental note of it. Actually I did shoot the scene and hoped it would, turn out ok, but of cause it didn’t. Just too green.

This shot is an HDR photo, shot with my Nikon D600 and my newest wide angle lens Sigma 12-24mm, which I love. It’s a shot straight into the sun. Had I used my Nikon D800 I would have tried to avoid the sun to blow out, which is really difficult, because the sun is so bright. But recently I have come to the conclusion, that somehow the eye accepts that the sun is blown out, because you can’t look at the sun with the naked eye anyway. If you look at other photos the sun is often blown out and that is really OK. What I did do, though, was make an exposure compensation of -2/3, and instead of getting -2, 0, 2, I got some awkward exposures -2 2/3, -2/3 and then 1 1/3. But that made more of the sky come out right.

The photo is processed in Photomatix Pro, as well as in Lightroom. It was a bit windy, so I had to use only one exposure for the crop that is closest, otherwise it would be ghosted. This exposure I did in Lightroom and made it mix nicely with the rest of the HDR. I used layered masks in Photoshop to mix the images.

This is the original image:

Tracks in the field - original

How to get inspired by Presets in Lightroom

In the center of Copenhagen Denmark lies the old Kings Garden. On summer days the park is crowded with young people sitting around the park enjoying the great weather. The old Orangery, now a restaurant, is placed in fence surrounding the garden. Photo by Jacob Surland,

In the center of Copenhagen Denmark lies the old Kings Garden. On summer days the park is crowded with young people sitting around the park enjoying the great weather. The old Orangery, now a restaurant, is placed in the fence surrounding the garden. One day I will go in there!

About the processing

Can you believe that I almost deleted this photo? A few weeks ago I did some clean up. I was running low on disk space and decided to clean out in my photos. “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst” said Henri Cartier-Bresson and he is right, at least to some extend. When I started out just over a year ago I shot a lot of photos and most was completely useless. Completely! Some I got rid of at once, but others I didn’t get the time to get rid of until a few weeks ago.

This one was from a day with a fairly ok sunset and I was on my way home from work and got my camera out, but I didn’t really feel that I got what I wanted when I took my shots.

I have a two step procedure when I delete photos. I mark them as “rejected” in Lightroom (press X). Then I review them later before deleting. I get ticks in my eyes, when people start talking about deleting stuff. It’s so irreversible. But sometimes it’s just necessary.

When I came to this image I marked it as rejected:

Orangery - Original

but, I accidentally hovered over one of my presets called “HDR Armageddon Sunset” in Lightroom which gave me this look:

Orangery - Armageddon

And I thought – well maybe the sunset isn’t that bad. I added a gradient filter in Lightroom to bring back some of the blue in the sky and pressed the “Upright Auto” button and cropped slightly. That gave this result:

Orangery - Armageddon Adjusted

Now I was 100% sure, that this was something to work with. I exported this photo to my post-processing folder and exported the rest of the 5 hand held exposure bracketed shots (-2, -1, 0, +1 and +2) to Photomatix Pro and did a tone mapped version of the image. I knew I had to get something that matched the sky of my Lightroom version of the image.

As I had suspected before exporting it into Photomatix, the sky didn’t come out very well from Photomatix. This is a common problem. Often the sky turns gray, very noisy or gets nasty halos. The sky very often get’s ruined. Instead I used the sky from the Lightroom export and mixed that with the tone mapped HDR image.

Final touches

I used NIK Color Efex Pro 4 to finish up the sky. There is a filter called Tonal Contrast that is good to get details out of the sky (amongst other things). I blended this gently into the image to the extend that I felt worked well.

I very rarely use a complete version of a filtered image, not matter what filter it is. I use Topaz Adjust and NIK Color Efex frequently, but occasionally I also use OnOne Perfect Suite. But I always duplicate my image before starting the filter and then I use layered masks in Photoshop (or GIMP) to mix in the parts that I like. This really is an advanced kind of Dodge and Burn.

I do the same with Noise reduction software. I don’t apply unnecessary noise reduction to parts of the image that don’t need it. I would just loose details by doing that. So I use layered masks to mix in the parts that needs to be noise reduced, typically areas like the sky.


I didn’t use my preset completely, but I did get inspired and got a successful photo from something that I almost deleted. I use presets a lot this way – to get an idea. Sometimes I finish up the idea in Lightroom and at other times like this, I start up an HDR processing workflow.

Remember that you can get 15% of Photomatix Pro by using my coupon code “caughtinpixels”. You can also read my tutorials on blending layers and using Photomatix here.

Armageddon Sunset – Yet Another Way to Make HDR

Roskilde fiord revisited for an amageddon sunset to try out my brand new Sigma 12-24mm full frame lens. My first impression is very good. Photo by Jacob Surland - see more photos and tutorials at

Buy a print

There are many ways of making HDR photos and this is yet another way. I have used Merge to 32-bit HDR, a plugin for Lightroom, made by HDR Soft who also makes the state of the art HDR software Photomatix Pro. Merge to 32-bit HDR just does the first step of what Photomatix does. It merges your photos into one 32-bit TIFF photo and reimports it back into Lightroom. It does not do any tone mapping of the photo and the result is quite neutral when it get’s into Lightroom. But the photo is loaded with  information from all of your bracketed photos and you can start playing around with the development module in Lightroom and get the most impressive things out of your photo.

One of the huge advantages doing an HDR in this way, is that you don’t get the noise that tone mapping sometimes gives. And it really is very easy in many ways, especially if you start to build or gather a collection of Lightroom presets. Over the last few months I have been creating presets in Lightroom, which really makes sense, because I save a lot of time when I post process my photos. Not only do presets work as … well presets … a lot of preset post-processing configurations, but it has another advantage, they inspire me. Presets give me ideas and inspiration as I try out some of the presets. I might not use a preset as the single click post-processing, but it does give me a good (and fast) start.

I quite fond of my presets and I’m working on making my Lightroom presets available from this website in the near future. I will make them available along with a guide to explain the concepts and ideas to what I do and how the presets work and can be used, with some examples.

I already showed, that you make HDR photos, even though you are using Lightroom post-processing. I showed how to use Lightroom and GIMP to make an HDR (you can find the tutorial here). And now I will show how to do it with Merge to 32-bit HDR and Lightroom to make an HDR photo.

Merge to 32-bit HDR from HDR Soft

You need both Lightroom and Merge 32 from HDR Soft. If you use the Discount code “caughtinpixels” on HDR soft you will get a 15% discount when you buy anything from HDR Soft. You can also buy it bundled with Photomatix Pro

‘Merge to 32-bit HDR’ plugs it self into Lightroom. First you select your bracketed photos, like I just selected my 5 bracketed photos below. Then you start the export into Merge to 32-bit HDR this way:

Armageddon Sunset - Merge 32 export

You then get some options. Normally I really do recommend a different process to remove ghosting in your photos, but on the other hand, if the automatic deghosting does a good job, you are done quickly and if it doesn’t give a good result, you can always turn to my recommend procedure. My recommended process is to mask one of the photos into the HDR photo, where the photo is ghosted. You can do that using either GIMP or Photoshop. With this particular photo, I think deghosting did a good job.

Armageddon Sunset - Merge 32 export step 2

When the photo is reimported into Lightroom it’s a neutral flat and a bit dark photo, which is completely unprocessed:

Armageddon Sunset - Original

I then applied one of my presets called Armageddon Sunset Revisited. It adds an orange hue to a sunset photo giving it this very sunset feeling. I did do one more thing. I want the boat in front to pop a little more. By using the brush feature in Lightroom, I painted on the boats and the small path, and increased the exposure and contrast a bit.

Armageddon sunset - Local adjustments

When I merge my 5 exposure bracketed photos into one 32-bit tiff file I have got a lot more information, than I just had in 1 RAW file. TIFF files comes in 8-bit, 16-bit (the normal) and 32-bit – the more bits, the more information. When you do HDR’s and tone mapped images, the 32-bit image is an intermediate product, that you normally don’t use or see, but this tool just exports it. The more information there is in one image, the more details I can extract from the shadows and the highlights, and a 32-bit file can contain A LOT more information than any RAW file can contain. But it also takes up a lot of hard drive. My Nikon D800 produces 400+ Mb 32-bit TIFF files, when made from 5 HDR shots. So the 32-bit TIFF files, are not keepers in my world- they are intermediate products I delete, when I have made my final image. I then export my final image as a 16-bit TIFF file and reimport and delete the 32-bit TIFF file to save disk space.

If you have Lightroom and want to try out this way of making HDR photos, you can buy Merge to 32-bit HDR from HDR Soft with a 15% discount by using my discount code “caughtinpixels”.

And soon you will be able to get my Lightroom presets from this website.