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.

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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.


Chicago the day after Sct Patricks day

I arrived at Chicago at Sct Patricks day without knowing it. I knew about the basics, it's an Irish tradition, and that the river is colored green and there is a great party in the city of Chicago. I realized it when I saw people walking around with green hair and funny hats and everybody was so happy. I shot of the Millers Pub in Chicago with their Sct Patricks Days sign on. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

By chance I arrived in Chicago on the eve of Sct Patricks day and everybody wore green hats or hair and the city was partying. I of course have heard of this legendary day and I was also looking forward to see if they actually did color the river green. On my way up to the river I walked under the elevated railway and came by Millers pub and took a few photos. Later I got to the river and they sure had colored it green or rather super green.

About the processing of this photo

This one came out as a surprise to me and though it is a bit extreme, I like it. It’s much more like a painting Sometimes Photomatix does wonders for you. I processed this photo quite different than I usually do. I experiment with the things I learn and mix them together. This one is a cross-over of making HDR-like photos in Lightroom and then doing a real tone mapped HDR in Photomatix.

Initially I had 7 shots from -3 to +3. This is the -1 unprocessed:

Millers pub - unprocessed original

As you can see it is quite flat and the mood is far from the mood in the final photo. I had to shoot 7 shots, because it’s really dark underneath that elevated train and the sky is extremely bright in comparison, even though there were heavy clouds over Chicago that day.

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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.

The Spaniards Inn – Dick Turpins Pub?

The Spaniards Inn in Hampstead, London, is an old fantastic pub dating back to 1585. Quite possible the oldest pub I have ever been to. Apparently an episode of the legendary Dick Turpin featured the Spaniards inn. No surprise - the interior of the inn is very old too. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

Nikon D800, Nikkor 14-24mm, ISO 3200, 14mm, f/2.8 (0-exposure)

The Spaniards Inn in Hampstead, London, is an old fantastic pub dating back to 1585. Quite possible the oldest pub I have ever been to. Apparently an episode of the legendary Dick Turpin tv series featured the Spaniards inn. No surprise, really – the interior of the inn is very old too and would fit perfectly in.

This photo is shot just as we came out of the inn and waited for a cab. The road really is quite busy, but I got 5 shots almost without cars. I shot hand held at ISO 3200. ISO 3200 on the Nikon D800 is something I usually try to avoid, but for some reason this image really survived and there was no more noise than I could clean up, without ruining the photo. I used Noiseware to reduce the noise.

The photo is processed from the +1 exposure in Lightroom and then I made a hand made HDR processing, where I mixed in 3 of the 4 other shots. Overall the Lightroom image was good enough, but the lamps was totally burned out. I used the really dark images and used layer masks to blend in the lamps to my final image.

The double door on the left hand side I had to work a lot with. The headlights of the cab hit the door and really ruined it. I had the option either to crop it out or to restore it. I chose to restore it from the darkest images and then did a little healing brush work to get it good enough.

This is the before photo:

London - Spaniards Inn - original

I tried to do an HDR in Photomatix, but because of the high noise levels I got at ISO 3200 this only got worse in Photomatix and I stuck to do a hand made HDR in stead.



How to make HDR like photos in Lightroom

Lake Matheson on the South Island of New Zealand offers an exceptional view of Mount Cook reflecting in the water. And if you get up early, the water is completely still. If you ever go to Fox Glacier and stay for the night, do yourself the favor and get up early to see this. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

Nikon D800, Nikkor 14-24mm, ISO 200, 24mm, f/5.6, 1/400 (-2 exposure)

This shot is from Lake Matheson on the south island of New Zealand. It has an exceptional view of Mount Cook reflecting in the lake. My last post was about the photographers plague, where the building you intended to photograph is covered in scaffolding when you get there. This time it was a cloud covering the summit of Mount Cook. Well, it didn’t change the fact that the view and peacefulness at Lake Matheson is absolutely stunning.

This particular photo is handheld. The Lake is surrounded with wood and it’s really only a few places that you can shoot and I had to lean out a bit to get this shot. A tripod was no option, and not really necessary either, as it turned out later.

About the processing of HDR like photos in Lightroom

I had 9 handheld exposure bracketed shots ranging from -4 to +4. What I tend to do when I get home from a photo shoot is to scan the images for what is usable and unusable. For this I use my homemade collection of Lightroom presets and click through a few. This usually gives me an idea of where a photo can go. Sometimes I stay in Lightroom, do some more adjustments and finish up in Lightroom.

In this case one of my presets just made this photo. I tried to do my usual workflow, with Photomatix Pro, but I couldn’t get a result that matched what I got in Lightroom. I even tried out using NIK HDR Pro 2, but that didn’t work out either. After having had the photo lying around for a long time I picked it up again, once more tried the Photomatix, but still couldn’t get anything better than what Lightroom gave me. So instead I finished up the Lightroom version.

As I said I used one of my homemade presets. The presets work really well for inspiration, but I usually do some minor adjustsments, because all photos are different.

This is the original unprocessed photo:

New Zealand - Lake Matheson at Sunrise - original

To do an HDR like photo in Photomatix, you have to have a RAW file. If you just shoot in JPEG you will find that you do not have enough information in the shadows in particular.

If you have shot a RAW file, like I have done here, you then open up the Shadows and lower the Highlights. You do that by setting Shadows to +100 and Highlights to -100. This results in a bit flat photo, but you can already see that the shadows are not almost black and the bright parts are darker giving a better balance.

New Zealand - Lake Matheson at Sunrise - HDR step 1

The next step is to get the the Blacks and Whites adjusted to make the most of the information in the RAW file. You do that by spreading out the Histogram (I will do a post on the histogram later).

These are the settings I ended up with:

New Zealand - Lake Matheson at Sunrise

#1: You slide the Whites slider into the possitive area and keep a good eye on the histogram. You will notice it extends to the right. If you keep moving the Whites to the right you will get blown outs, that is completely white pixels. Usually you don’t want that. In the upper right hand corner of the histogram is a small triangle. If this get’s turned on, you will have blown outs. You can click it to see where or you can press ALT key (command key on Mac) while dragging and you will see the exact spots. You maximize the whites, without getting any blown outs. In this case it’s Whites at +21.

#2 Then you do the same for Blacks, except you move it the the left in to the negative area. It’s important to have black in your photo, just not too much. I do this visually and stop when I like the result. Usually I can see that the warning triangle in the left hand corner of the Histogram is turned on. But that’s ok.

#3 This is where the settings are adjusted.

The result of this step gives you something that looks HDR’ish, but made in Lightroom. What you den can do is shift around on the Contrast and Clarity until you get something you like and you can adjust all of the other goodies that Lightroom offers. At the end, just remember to check the Whites has got blown outs while you worked the image.

Lightroom presets available soon

As I said I use Lightroom presets quite a bit. I use them to get a good start or to get inspired. I have made my own collection. I am still working on finishing it up, but when I am done, I will make it available to buy from this website.

If you are want to get notified when it arrives you can sign up to follow this blog in the lower right hand corner.



National Gallery in London

On Trafalgar Square in London lies the enormous National Gallery. An old huge beautiful building. Photo by: Jacob Surland, Nikon D800, Nikkor 14-24mm, ISO 800, 15mm, f/6.3, 1.3 sec

This is the National Gallery in London. The square in front of it is Trafalgar Square and Lord Nelson stands on his pillar right behind me.

I’m going back to London next week for some business. I plan on bringing my camera. Maybe I will get up early one day and grab a few shots as the city awakes.

This photo is an HDR photo made from 5 exposures (-2, -1, 0, +1 and +2). I have processed it first in Photomatix to get my tone mapped image. Then I blended in Photoshop, mostly to remove ghosted people. Last but not least, and that is what makes the photo work, I added some artificial light sources on the shape in the lower part of the image and around the buildings (you might want to read about adding artificial light sources here).

This is the original 0-exposure with no adjustments:

Shape in front of The National Gallery - Before

How to use advanced Dodging and Burning to improve your photo

At daytime Mont Saint Michel is crowded with tourists, but later, when the sun is down people leave the place. It's a labyrinth of small streets and alleys criss crossing their way to the entrance of the monastery on the top of the mountain. Small lamps light up and make it very Harry Potter medieval town. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

Buy a print

Only recently I realized how powerful a tool and technique dodging and burning really is. I always thought of classic dodging and burning, but modern digital dodging and burning is much much more powerful and I have started to use it in some quite cool ways and I will show you how you can use this to improve the mood of your photo. I have written a tutorial on dodging and burning here.

In the article I have shown two different techniques used in the photo above, try and hover the mouse to see the changes I did with the Brush Adjustment tool::


And then hover to see what I did with the Radial Filter:


Notice how I have lit up the passage up the stairs and the platform at the far end of the passage and added light in the street. This makes the viewer curious and it seems welcoming and I achieved the warm and welcoming image I wanted.

Further examples and readings

Read the detailed tutorial on dodging and burning here.

I have been using Dodging and Burning many times and these are just two examples:

A Moeraki Boulder

Here I burned the shadow of the rock to emphasize it.

and in the next one I dodged the snow, to make it look like the light is shining from the viking ship.

Viking ship lit in the Winter

Do you want to make photos like these too?

All three of these images are made like HDR – which is an advanced photo technique, that you can learn too. If you want to make images like this, I can recommend to read my completely free and very detailed HDR tutorial and that you get your hand on a copy of Photomatix Pro. I can offer you 15% discount by using the coupon code “caughtinpixels”.