Stars above the London Tower Bridge

London City Hall with the London Tower Bridge just after midnight. Only a few people hovers around the area. The stars are peaking out from the skies. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

I used to live in London back in 1991-92. London has changed a lot since then. Many new modern buildings have replaced old ones and I must admit, that they are doing a really good job of doing this. Magnificent architecture and daring shapes takes London into the new millennium, as the true world metro-pol city it is.

The London City Hall looks like a … space helmet or a twisted egg, and there’s this amphi theater right in front of it. And it is built just next to the old London Tower Bridge and it stands beautiful in the night. And behind my is the alley that leads to another of Londons new buildings, the Shard.

The making of this photo

The photo is a 7 shot HDR ranging from -4 to +2. I often shoot with an exposure compensation of -1 or -2 in night conditions like this, with really really bright parts (lamps) and really dark shadows. I only use -2 if I shoot 9 shots. Why do I do that? Because the lamps really are bright in the night and the camera really is struggling trying to capture all light, so my -4 shots are aimed at the light sources only.

The 7 shots I tone mapped in Photomatix Pro. I have worked a long time with this photo afterwards both in Lightroom and in Photoshop, without really finding what I wanted. This is the original untouched photo (the 0 exposure):2013-06-19-London_senior-950

While this is in many ways is a nice photo I wanted more of it, and there are things I don’t like about it. As it turned out, it proved to be quite a problem to hit the right node, and the major problem really was the sky. It was far too orange to my taste, mind you it was kind of orange when I was there, but it just didn’t really work.

I tried a lot of different things. The HDR process only made the orange sky even worse. I tried working with the white balance and the helped a bit. In the end I ended up using very cold colors on is photo, to take out the orange colors,

While working the image I realized, that the light beams on the Tower Bridge shone up in the air, while not very easy to see I decided to exaggerate them and that helped quite a bit. I did that using dodge and burn tools, by raising the exposure in an area like a beam going up from the sky.

UK - City hall and london tower bridge

To emphasize the light beams even more, I increased the contrast on the clouds. What happened then, was that the upper left corner went black.

It was dark, but the increased contrast made it black and it looked like a hole in the clouds existed, and that gave me the idea of putting stars there.

I have this great photo of the Milky way I shot in Sweden some time ago, that lacks a good scene, but the stars really are nice.


I decided to merge the stars into the left hand corner like this and I made the light beams even more visible using a curved layer. Now things started work for me!

UK - City hall and london tower bridge step 2Here you can see that I add layers with a channel mixer. I do that to work with the colors and take out the orange. Things go a bit too blue and in Lightroom I ended up de-saturating a lot of the clouds and adding some yellow to the bridge, to make it work nicely.

I also removed the orange two flags. This required some detailed work with the clone stamp tool in Photoshop. My son said – wow it’s just like “Tron” – and his Daddy was happy! Even though it is “only” London.

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

First impressions – Review of Photomatix Pro 5 beta 4

The London Tower Bridge is one of the worlds most well known landmarks. Photo by: Jacob Surland,
London Tower Bridge – a 5 shot HDR photo processed with Photomatix Pro 5 beta 4 and then mixed with a long exposure image for the fountain and the clouds. The Long exposure I made using my 10 stop ND filter from B+W. I did use a final filter High Key from Topaz Adjust to get the more pseuchedelic look.

Some of you might have noticed that a new version of Photomatix Pro 5 is on its way. The official beta 4 is now available and I have had a quick glance at it. After having played around with for a awhile I am a bit disappointed, but there are a few goodies too.

The wording – that is the usability – has changed in general to the better. By using the right words you can do a lot for the ease of use of a software program. For instance instead of calling a feature ‘Align source image – by correcting vertical and horizontal shifts’ it gets a lot easier to understand from the new wording: ‘Align source images – Taken on tripod’. I’m a great fan of usability and this is great usability in it’s essence. Straight talk for normal human beings to understand, not engineer talk that only a small group of people can understand.

There are a couple of others of these wordings that has changed for the better. The Button “Process” has been changed to “Apply and Finish”.

The algorithm for aligning images should be improved, but that is fairly hard to test. I have never really had any problem with the one from Photomatix 4 – but improvements of course is good.

The deghosting as been changed too and is better. However I never use the deghosting tool. I might give it a try or two, but basically I think you get a better result using by blending one of the source image in using layered masks in Photoshop or GIMP.

A couple of new processing methods has been added. Tone mapping has got a ‘Contrast optimizer’ method in addition to the Details Enhancer and the Tone Compressor:

Step 04 - Tone mapping methods

The ‘Contrast Optimizer’ is great for natural looking images, but is not worth much for more creative processing. I will probably not use it for much. The fusion also got an ‘Fusion/Real estate’ optimized for images to show both interior and the outside for real estate photographers. That’s not really me either. So I’m stuck with the Fusion/Natural and Tone Mapping/Details Enhancer.

The details enhancer has got a single change. Luminosity has changed to Tone Compression, but it does exactly the same. In fact the Details enhancer does exactly the same as before. I had hoped for more fun and creative options, but got disappointed on that. I have tried to process images with both Photomatix Pro 4 and Photomatix Pro 5 beta 4, with the exact same settings and the images are identical. That really disappointed me. The noise levels are the same. One of the weaker points in Photomatix Pro is the noise it produces. Of course there are other ways of handling the noise, would just have been nice if the algorithm had been better at handling noise.

I had also hoped for the loop feature to do a perfect processing, so that you would see the real deal, but that is still very poor.

First impressions - Loop still poor

Conclusion of a preliminary review of Photomatix Pro 5 beta 4

There are number of usability improvements in the software, which really makes it easier to use, and some improvements in some of the more automatic parts of the software, like deghosting and auto aligning.

There are also a couple of new processing algorithms, but they are targeted to a different group than the more creative HDR photographers.

But for the more creative side this version is a more or less 1:1 with the old Photomatix 4.

Good thing that if you bought Photomatix 4.2 or later, you get the Photomatix pro 5 for free.

So I’m a bit disappointed.

Try out the beta of Photomatix Pro 5 here – it will still water mark the images if you haven’t purchased it.

Remember that I have a detailed Free HDR photo tutorial and by by using the coupon code “caughtinpixels” you can get 15% off when you buy Photomatix Pro.


How to take photos while driving

We drove from Cherbourg in Normandy to Saint Malo in Brittany while the sun was setting. I opened the window and shot this tree. Not two sunsets are alike, and I would love to photograph each single one of them. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

Nikon D800, Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8, ISO 100, 27mm, f/5.6, 1/1250 sec

Rule number #1 – Don’t ever drive the car and take pictures at the same time!

The shot above is shot while driving from Cherbourg in Normandy to Saint Malo in Brittany. I got this scene in the neighborhood of Saint Mere Eglise. There was a beautiful sunset, but we would arrive late and couldn’t afford the time to stop to take any photos. But with the right configuration of the camera and some training, you can get good photos and sometimes even great photos out of the window of a driving car.

We’ve been on a few road trip vacations and a thing you just can’t do is to stop every two minutes to take a photograph. It just doesn’t work with the family (and schedule). But don’t get too frustrated! Let your spouse do a lot of the driving and arm yourself with a lens that allows some zooming, but not too much. My preferred lens is a 24-70mm on a full frame camera, which would be something like 18-55mm if you have a cropped sensor camera.

One thing you can’t do while driving 60 mph is to adjust the camera – you have to have some overall working quite good settings.

Then configure your camera to the following settings (look up in your manual if you are unsure how to do it), and then you will be just fine shooting:

Step 1: Fast shutter speed.

If the photos are blurred or shaken, you can’t use them. Shutter speed is the one control you have to set fixed to 1/1250. This is fast enough to freeze a straw of grass even close to the car, while driving 60 mph. Put your camera on S (if you have a Nikon) or Tv (if you have a Canon). This will allow you to set the shutter speed to a fixed speed. Dial until you see 1/1250 in the display.

I started out on 1/1000 sec but I have decreased it one notch to 1/1250 sec.

Step 2: Focal length

You can’t zoom too far in for two reasons. Number 1, you can’t frame anything, because the car is rumbling. Better to take a bit wider photos and then crop them in the post processing. The further you zoom in, the faster the shutter speed will have to be. Of cause you could make an even faster shutter speed, but you would then put more strain on other factors of the camera and you will risk ending up with unusuable photos.

You can’t go too wide either, because you then include the car. Most of my successful shots are between 24mm and 70mm (or 18mm 55mm on a cropped sensor).

Step 3: Auto ISO

You don’t have time to test what ISO you should set the camera to. You only have one chance on each photo. By setting the camera to auto-ISO you let the camera decide what f-stop to use and what ISO to use. It does this quite well – your camera is quite clever.

Step 4: Under expose a little bit

It’s better to slightly under expose a photo than slightly over expose it. Why? Because blown out parts doesn’t look very good to the eye, while black parts are much easier accepted. I have found that if I set my Nikon cameras to an exposure compensation (the +/- button on the camera) to -2/3 of an exposure, I rarely get blown out highlights, if it is broad daylight.

In more difficult lighting situations I shoot exposure bracketed hand held. I know that I will not be able to use them for HDR because they will be different photos, but I can use the best exposure.

In the cause of the photo above I had set the camera to take a -2, -1 and a 0, and with the exposure compensation of -2/3 I got some weird exposures like -2 2/3 and -1 2/3 and -2/3. But never mind the numbers, just shoot away! I got a good exposure at -1 2/3 and that one I used for the photo above.

Step 5: Focusing

You can either set the auto-focus to the center or you can use manual focus. It depends a bit on the focal length you are using and what you are trying to hit. In this particular photo I used manual focus and set it to infinity, because the light was fading and I had trouble getting the camera to focus at all.

Step 6: Learn to read the landscape

You then have to learn to read the landscape passing by. You don’t get a lot of time to react and when you see a great photo it is too late to shoot it. You have to read that the scene is coming and then shoot when it’s there. It’s a difficult situation hitting a target while moving, but while you are trying you will get better and better at it.

What I had in my mind this particular evening was a lone tree, if anything else showed up, I would try that as well. To shoot one of these lonely trees I first of all had to find a hole in the highway fencing. I could see these coming up from time to time. Second I had to have the combination of a hole in the fence and a lone tree. I was lucky and got this shot, which pretty much was what I was after.

Step 7: Get close to the window to avoid reflections

You have to get the camera close to the window to avoid too many reflections in the window and you have to keep the window reasonable clean. Or at least shoot around splashed bugs on the wind screen. The closer you get the camera the less important the dirt is.

Step 8: Don’t drive the car

Let somebody else drive the car. It is way to dangerous and illegal to take photos while driving yourself.

Another example

This is from New Zealand on our way to Lake Tekapo.

On The Road Again

Nikon D600, Nikkor 28-300mm, ISO 100, 35mm, f/3.8, 1/1000 sec


HDR of Mont Saint Michel from a distance at night

Mont Saint Michel, one of frances most important tourist attractions, with a history that spands for more than a 1000 years. It's a monastery built like a fortress in on an island. Due to the tide, it's some times an island and sometimes you can walk all the way to it, however you should only do it with a guide because of the danger of quicksand. Photo by Jacob Surland,

Mont Saint Michel, one of frances most important tourist attractions, with a history that spands more than a millinium. It’s a monastery built like a fortress on an island. Due to the tide, it’s sometimes an island and sometimes you can walk all the way to it, however you should only do it with a guide because of the danger of quicksand. It’s oozing of middle age and it’s so beautiful, however also very popular with the tourist. We arrived just around midday and we got almost lifted up and carried away by the crowd. We quickly bought a sandwich and found the wall and walk for a little while there and found a spot with fewer people. If you are planning to travel to Mont Saint Michel, do make sure that you are there in the evening as well. A lot of the people leave the small middle age town late in the afternoon and after dinner, you can get around much easier. You can also take a break from the people by walking around Mont Saint Michel, given that it is not high tide. The monastery itself is a master piece in architecture. The monastery gardens is so beautiful and the terrace in front of the church is so magnificent and the view… Wow! The Monastery is very popular and you will get to stand in line for some time.

How to take HDR shots at night

When you take night shots with stars above and some foreground you almost have to take two shots. One for the sky with the stars and one for the ground. In this case I have shot 7 bracketed shots with 1 EV step between each photo ranging from -3 to +3. It’s hard to shoot at night if you have really bright light sources as well as really dark areas. The dynamic range becomes enourmous. In this case there’s a strongly lit monastery with huge spotlights located on an island and surrounded by darkness. The spotlights real easy burn out.

To be sure to get everything I shoot 7 shots, which is only just enough.

How to photograph stars

Having solved how to capture all of the light, the next problem is to get a good shot of the stars. A thing that surprised me the first time I photographed stars, is that they actually move quite fast. As a consequence of that you have to have fairly fast shutter speeds to get round stars, otherwise this will become oblong or long trails. This can be an effect, but that was not what I wanted.

The longer focal length you are shooting your shot at, the more apparent the movement of the stars will be. If you use a really wide angle lens you can shoot exposures of shoot 15 seconds and get fairly round stars, I shot this at 70mm and at 13 seconds, and my stars are a bit too long for what I had hoped for. The 7th and lightest exposure is the shot aimed at getting my stars. In this shot Mont Saint Michel is burned out, but the sky well exposed. This is the EXIF data for the star shot:

Mont Saint Michel from a distance - Star shot

 Nikon D800, Nikkor 28-300mm, ISO 800, 70mm, f/5.0, 13 sec

As you can see the lights on the monastery is burned out, but the stars visible, but the stars are a bit long to what I had wished:

Mont Saint Michel from a distance - Oblong stars

100% crop

Unfortunately I didn’t realize the problem until later in my shootings and at that time I had changed the focal length to 28mm. The solution was to increase the ISO. Eventually I went to ISO 2000. I was working under pressure, because it was getting very late and my son was tired and the buses kept coming by with their headlights pointed straight into the lens, so I had to time my 7 shots. And on top of that, I wanted a few different compositions.

At my 28mm shots the stars are much more round, and this is even at 20 seconds, which is 7 seconds longer. This means that focal length is very strong factor when photographing stars. The light changed rapidly and it rapidly grew darker:

Mont Saint Michel from a distance - Star shot ISO 2000

100% crop

The comprise with a higher ISO is more noise and when you remove the noise, you also lose some stars, because the noise reduction software can’t tell the difference between noise and stars.

Shooting stars is difficult and there are some trade offs you have to make.

Processing stars and monastery

Photomatix (and any other HDR software) handles star lit skies badly for at least two reasons.

1) There is no dynamic light – the sky is almost completely black with a few dot’s on it. Photomatix will try to expand the dynamic range and the result is really noisy and not very good.

2) The stars move – more than you think. Not one of the 7 shots has got the stars in the same place and when merged you will get duplicated stars.

The solution to this is only to use one exposure for the sky, the lightest shot. and make an HDR for the rest of your image.

The stars I processed in Lightroom using these settings:

Mont Saint Michel from a distance - stars processing

Contrast and Clarity is what really makes the stars pop. Because of the huge spotlights, my processing also takes that into account. It’s a balance of great stars and spotlights.

The noise in the sky I handled in Noiseware, which I find Noiseware good at handling noise without deleting too many of the stars. I have bought the Noiseware plugin for Photoshop and handle the noise from Photoshop later in the process.

The only part of the HDR image I end up using is the monastery, it being the only real object in the scene apart from the stars. This is the output from Photomatix:

Mont Saint Michel from a distance - Tone mapped

This is a bit more colorful than my final result and a bit more flat and washed out. It looks too HDR for what I wanted. It needs to be a little more contrasty, some of the gray areas must become darker and even black. Dark areas are important to get a strong image.

What I did was blend some of the original -3 and -2 to exposures gently into this tone mapped version and finally arrive at this result:

Mont Saint Michel from a distance - finalNotice that some strong shadows have been introduced to replace washed out shadows and also the hyper green trees are more natural now.

Want to get started on HDR photography?

If you too want to get started on HDR photography and get make great HDR photos you can get a 15% discount on Photomatix by using the coupon code “caughtinpixels”. Get photomatix Pro.

And then read my thorough HDR tutorial and look at my images and learn a ton of different tips to improve your post-processing skills.



Sunset at Juno Beach more than 69 years after D-day

Sunset at Juno Beach. It's a very strong set of feelings that go through you, when you stand on the beaches on which the allied forces landed on the 6. of june 1944, also known as D-Day. Almost 60 years later you still find left overs from the war and from the 150.000 troops that landed on the beach that early morning. Almost 60 years later I got this peaceful photo from Juno beach, which is the beach where the Canadians landed. Imagening the number of dead people and the horrible events that took place on that day, is indeed very moving. This photo is taken at low tide and several hundred meters from the the coast line and only half way to the water. Photo by Jacob Surland,

Nikon D600, Nikkor 14-24mm, ISO 1600, 14mm, f/3.2, 1/50 sec

It’s a very strong set of feelings that go through you, when you stand on the beaches on which the allied forces landed on the 6. of june 1944, also known as D-Day. Almost 70 years later you still find left overs from the war and from the 150.000 troops that landed on the beach that early morning. Almost 70 years later I got this peaceful photo from Juno beach, which is the beach where the Canadians landed. Imagening the number of dead people and the horrible events that took place on that day, is indeed very moving. This photo is taken at low tide and several hundred meters from the the coast line and only half way to the water.

About the shooting

I shot this photo as an bracketed shot. I shot it hand held at ISO 1600 on my Nikon D600. I wasn’t prepared for shooting any photos this evening and had not brought the tripod. However I managed to get some decent shots hand held and by working with the noise reduction, I get a decent result. Not the same quality, as if I had used a tripod.

I have found out, that when I shoot single exposures using both the Nikon D600 and Nikon D800 I need to set the exposure compensation to -2/3 EV step. This will in most cases give me an image that is slightly under exposed but with no burned out areas.

This was the setting my camera had when I went to the beach, and when I activated bracketed -2, 0 and +2, it will also get adjusted by the -2/3 of an exposure step. This gives odd exposures -2 2/3, -2/3 and +1 1/3

This photo I used for this one ended up being the +1 1/3 exposure. It is very bright, but has got almost no burned out high lights. If you look at the histogram you can see the information is spread all across, and all of the histogram to the right is used. For some reason you can keep more information in the right hand side of the histogram, than in the left hand (and dark side), so if you exposure to use the right hand side, you get more information in your photo and in this case less noise. This is called Expose To The Right (ETTR). In this case I can use the overexposed with a good result.

Juno beach - histogram


To get the look and feel I adjusted the White Balance to Daylight, even though it was not day light. That gives the warm bluish purple mood of the clouds. And then I changed the exposure compensation in Lightroom to -2 – which brought me to -2/3, which I normally shoot in.

I then exported to Photoshop to do straightening up and noise reduction. I used Noiseware for noise reduction.

I used a lot of time removing footsteps in the sand. Optimal there would have been no foot steps, but people were walking all around. There was no way to get the shot without any foot steps.


Combining an HDR with a Long Exposure

This is an HDR photo of London Tower Bridge combined with a long exposure of a  exposure of a double decker London bus passing by. Photo by Jacob Surland. See more at

Buy a Print of London Tower Bridge

I love London and have done so since the very first time I was there in 1989. I lived there from 1991 to 1992 and have spend much time experiencing London. There are so many things to see and do in London – including crossing the London Tower Bridge. Many things have changed in the past twenty odd years, a lot of new buildings, a city skyline, new colors on the London Tower Bridge, the Millennium Wheel etc. London has changed and moved as a city should do.

This particular photo I had somewhat in my mind before I even traveled to London. First I got 7 bracketed shots to be used for an HDR. These I took using automatic exposure bracketing mode (AEB) and because I used the timer and the automatic bracketing I didn’t really have any control of how a bus would look in the photo. So what I did was to concentrate on getting my 7 shots with as few people and cars as I could. I had my camera on a tripod and after my 7 shots, I left the camera on the tripod without moving it. I switched to manual (M) on my camera and adjusted the ISO and shutter speed till I got the exposure length that was long enough to show the bus as lines in a long exposure. I practiced on cars passing by. In this case I used 1.6 seconds, which gave nice long lines. When my exposure was adjusted I just had to wait for a London bus. It was getting late and the buses didn’t come in as great numbers as earlier, but I was lucky to get one. So when the bus was right next to me, I pressed the shutter release and that gave me the long exposure of the bus.

London Tower Bridge - The bus

Nikon D800, Nikon 14-24mm, ISO 100, 14mm, f/5.0, 1.6 sec

I then processed my London Tower Bridge HDR photo using Photomatix Pro and Photoshop. Afterwards I did a little Lightroom processing on the bus photo, to make the look and feel match the HDR image. I then loaded the two images into two different layers in Photoshop CS and blended the bus with the HDR photo to the final result.

A devils game at Sydney Opera House – removing people

A Devils Game at Sydney Opera House A boy playing with his diablo at the top of the stair in front of Sydney Opera House. Photo by Jacob Surland,

Buy a print

There are so many great angles to shoot the Sydney Opera House from, but unfortunately also terrible many people hovering around the great landmark. I had about half an hour to shoot photos, and one particular couple stayed right in the same spot for at least 30 minutes. They are on all of my photos…

The boy is my 12 year old son playing with his Diablo. I took many photos of this scene, because I had to “capture a moment” and you rarely get that in one single shot. However in this shot, where I feel I did capture the moment, was a guy in a red t-shirt passing behind and the couple of course was there too. But by using one of the other images I could remove the guy in the red t-shirt, however, the couple I had to remove using the Clone stamp and healing brush in Photoshop.

Removing large areas with the clone stamp can’t be perfect, because you have no way of knowing what is behind the area that you remove, but with a careful hand, you can reconstruct something the eye accepts. And it is about deceiving the viewer. The viewer must not notice!

This is the original unprocessed photo shot with a Nikon 28-300mm lens on my Nikon D600 camera. I do like the D600, despite the dust problems, because it takes fantastic photos and does 5.5 shots pr second, which is good when you want to capture a moment.

A devils game at the Sydney Opera House - Original

Nikon D600, Nikon 28-300mm, ISO 400, 28 mm, f/8.0, 1/400 sec

The photo below I used to remove the guy in the red t-shirt. I used the same Lightroom processing, to make the images have the same mood and colors. The final Image I have processed a little bit more to get the final result.

A devils game at the Sydney Opera House - second shot

And what is the result of the healing brush and clone stamp removed people – not like they never existed, but good enough to deceive the viewer:

A devils game at the Sydney Opera House - removed people

Understanding crop factor, wide angled lenses and tele lenses

Not so hidden passage When I shot this photo I was worried about the bum walking in the far end of the passage, but because I used a wide angled lens, he got pushed so far away, that he grew so small that it didn't matter. It is a shot from the back side of the National Museum in Denmark.
Not so hidden passage

When I shot this photo I was worried about the bum walking in the far end of the passage, but because I used a wide angled lens, he got pushed so far away, that he grew so small that it didn’t matter. But when I shot this shot, I didn’t really understand what was going on and because I have spend quite some time thinking about it, I will share my thoughts on the topic.

When I bought my first DSLR back in 2007, a Canon 400D, I was told that I had to multiply my mm on the lens by 1.6. And because I had a 300 mm lens, that was equivalent of 480mm. I found this odd, but that was cool because I had a 70-300mm, which was really a 112-480mm. The crop factor made it an  even more extreme tele zoom lens. That was cool. I learned too that there are different crop factors, e.g. Nikon has a crop factor of  only 1.5, so I thought Canon was just a notch better than Nikon at this crop factor thing. Later I found out, that this was one big misunderstanding.

To fully understand this I have to explain several things, I will:

  • Explain the difference between a camera with an APS-C sensor and a camera with a full frame sensor.
  • Then I will explain how conversions between the APS-C sensor and full frame sensor work.
  • I will also explain how wide angle and tele lenses work and what lens compression is.
  • And last I will explain a bit about what effect this while crop factor thing has on bokeh (out of focus back ground).

It’s actually less than a year ago I figured out how it really works and that it is a big mistake, to think of it as ‘equivalent’. It was after I bought my Canon 5D Mark III and a bunch of lenses, that I learned how it really works (you might also like to read my Review of Canon 5D Mark III vs Nikon D800 and Nikon D600).

A cropped sensor (APS-C sensor) vs a full frame sensor

Inside a digital camera, there is a sensor that captures the light that comes through the lens and translates that into an image. Sensors in DSLRs most commonly comes roughly in two different sizes, the APS-C sensor and the full frame sensor. The smaller APS-C sensor is approx 23mm x 15mm, while the larger full frame sensor is about 36mm x 24mm. The exact size varies from brand to brand. The full frame sensor corresponds to the old 35mm films.

Size of Full frame vs Cropped sensor

When you attach a lens to a camera, a lens does not change how it works, whether it is attached to a full frame camera or an APS-C camera. A 15mm lens is defined from the way the glass is constructed and placed in the lens. By moving it to from one camera type to the other, does not change the lens or the glass.

The difference lies in what is captured by the sensor and because the APS-C sensor is smaller, it also captures a smaller portion of the scene that comes through the lens, while a full frame sensor captures a larger portion of what comes through the lens. And this is very important to understand! If you didn’t quite understand it, I encourage you to try to read it again.

If I shoot a scene with a 15mm lens on a full frame camera body and I then move the lens to an APS-C camera body and shoot the scene again, I will get a smaller portion of the scenery with the APS-C sensor. If I cropped the image I shot with the full frame camera in Lightroom or Photoshop in the post-process, I would get exactly the same image from the two cameras (probably in different mega pixels, but otherwise the same image).

If I want to capture the same scene on the APS-C camera, I would have to compensate, for what the sensor crops away. There are two ways of compensating, one is to move further away and the other is use a wider lens, which captures more of the scenery. Let’s stick with the wider lens.

Now the crop factor comes into play. It is calculated like this using the width of the sensor 36mm / 23mm = approx 1.5. And remember the exact numbers vary from brand to brand.

So if I used a 10mm lens on an APS-C sensor, that would compensate from what the sensor crops away, because 10mm x 1.5 = 15mm. The is the reason for the confusion of the lenses being ‘equivalent’. But let’s not forget, that it is not longer the same glass in the lenses. On my full frame camera I have a 15mm lens and I have a 10mm lens on my APS-C camera and they do produce different images, as you will be able to see further down in this article.

And these two lenses behave different because of lens compression, which brings me to the other part.

Understanding lens compression (Wide angle and tele lenses)

The human eye sees the world much in the same way as a 50mm lens does. That’s probably one of the reasons, why 50mm lenses are popular among photographers. Almost every camera brand has got a fairly cheap and excellent 50mm prime lens.

Wide angle lenses are shorter than 50mm, while tele lenses are longer than 50mm. Both wide angle and tele lenses comes with a zoom (e.g. 16-35mm and 70-200mm), and there are lenses that works in both areas, like the very popular 24-70mm zoom lens. Every brand seems to have a superb 24-70mm, as well as they have a 50mm lens.

But what happens when you get a longer lens? Or shorter lens? In terms of millimeters that is.

Let’s start with the tele lenses. You most probably have realized, that they enlarge things, but something else happens too. Things get compressed. Even though things you have within your frame, are far apart, can suddenly look close to each other. This is called lens compression.

And what happens with a wide angle lens is, the exact opposite, things get pushed further away, than they really are. And when you get to the extreme wide angel things in the corners gets distorted too. So a wide angle lens decompress or expands a scenery.

This calls for some examples to get the grip of it. I found a bridge here in my hometown, and then I shot this bridge as the primary object in my photo, and kept it approximately the same size, and different focal lengths. This is something, that you can’t do with your own eyes, but your brain knows how to translate it.

I have tried keep the frame of the bridge in the same size, and started at 14mm, in which case I had to actually stand on the bridge, and then I moved backwards and took shots at 24mm, 50mm, 70mm,100mm, 200mm and 300mm. And that gives this sequence of photos:

Lens compression 14mm moving14mm. Can you spot the tree in the center?
Lens compression 24mm moving24mm. You can see a small tree in the center now.
Lens compression 50mm moving50mm. Now the tree is clear, but still small. This is the way the human eye sees it.
Lens compression 70mm moving70mm. The tree grows.
Lens compression 100mm moving100mm. The tree now fills the inner frame of the bridge.
Lens compression 200mm moving200mm. The tree has grown out of the inner frame of the bridge.
Lens compression 300mm moving300mm. Now you can’t even see the horizon.

Lens compression 14mm fixed location

And this final image is back to the 14mm, taken from where I took the 300mm shot.

As you can see things change quite dramatically. As you get longer focal lenths, things that are further away suddenly seems closer. The tree in the back ground, suddenly grows big.

This you can use as a feature, when you compose your photo, either by pushing something further away or pulling something close. If you use a tele lens to shoot mountains, you can make them look bigger, than they really are.

Lens compression on cropped and full frame cameras

Let’s return to the cropped camera vs full frame camera issue and the crop factor. As you might be able to realize now, a crop factor of 1.5, does not make a 10mm lens on an APS-C camera equivalent to a 15mm lens on a full frame camera.

Depth of field on cropped vs full frame cameras

Another thing, that comes from the optics, is that wide angle lenses have a huge depth of field, meaning that you can have almost everything in focus, while tele lenses are good to make blurry back grounds on portraits. If you are shooting landscape photos using extreme wide angle lenses, you will be able to get even more in focus on a 10mm lens compared with a 15mm lens. This can be an advantage. So a cropped camera will in general have a larger depth of field, than a full frame camere, if you use the crop factor to recalculate the focal length. But this also has got one more implication, which involves the bokeh.

Bokeh on cropped vs full frame cameras

Because the depth of field is larger on a cropped camera, if you use the crop factor calculation on the focal length (like 30mm on a cropped camera equals 45mm on a full frame camera), the bokeh also changes. The bokeh is the “out of focus” blurry back ground that looks to great on portraits. Let’s have a look at a 100% crop of both images at the same resolution.

DX bokeh100% crop of a 30mm, f/2.8 on a cropped camera. Notice the bokeh on the flowers.

FX bokeh

100% crop of 45mm, f/2.8 on a full frame camera. Notice much softer and stronger bokeh.

As you can see you get a much softer and nicer bokeh on the full frame camera, which is an advantage if you are shooting photos, where you need the bokeh.