You can’t win ’em all

Friday 13th should never be considered as a day for photography, but it was a day off and a chance to get out somewhere.  Plans were loosely made, and fell apart straight away when the duvet proved heavier than planned. Scratch a trip to Ironbridge Gorge then, and justify that by saying the weather probably wouldn’t be quite right anyway – too much cloud cover.  What next? Hmmm. Haven’t shot any aircraft for a while, and have been meaning to head to Birmingham Airport and try and get some “interesting” shots from the Elmdon side of the runway, where a chance exists to shoot the aircraft landing or departing with some background.

This was a chance to try out some new tricks. I have had an Eye-Fi card for some time, and have recently started testing it in anger – I’ll be blogging the results of my experiments with that soon. Using that I planned to try and edit some of the pics “real-time” on the iPhone and post them online. Also sitting in the drawer for some time has been my 1.7x teleconverter, so I chucked that in the bag too to try and get some close-up shots.

GZBAF A321 Monarch at Birmingham

Heat haze blights this shot of a Monarch A321 about to touch down on 33 at Birmingham.

The site I’d scouted out on Google Earth was a multi-storey car park near the old tower, which while it was easy to get too and had quite good views over the airfield was behind two hangars and needed to be two stories higher to give me an unrestricted view of the runway. Is there a better spot on that side of the airfield? I don’t know, I couldn’t find one and it’s a shame because the sun was behind me and it had some serious potential. If anyone knows of anywhere better – away from lightposts, antennae and building work please comment on here…it would have been perfect for Runway 33 touchdowns were it not for those pesky hangars!

Despite the visibility restrictions there was still plenty of opportunity to catch aircraft in the last seconds of the flight – you just had to time it right to avoid the clutter. The sunlight being behind didn’t turn out to be a benefit though as the sky had gone all milky and meh, while the temperatures continued to rise to the mid 20s. That high temperature brought with it the one thing it is impossible to edit out – heat haze. I suspect that the haze was rising off the buildings around and beneath my vantage point but an image I know was in focus and should on a normal day have been sharp turned out like the shot above of the Monarch A321. The heat haze is visible over much of the photo, and while you expect to see it form the engines the fuselage should be sharp and smooth – as should be the power lines above the aircraft. Rats.

L\

An unusual visitor to Birmingham and one I got a good shot of luckily!

There is one other factor which may have caused the image to be unsharp and that is the teleconverter. I’ve owned this for a year and very rarely used it, so haven’t got much to compare it with. It takes my 70-200mm up to a 340mm maximum zoom, and reduces the aperture to f/4.8 from f/2.8. Reviews say a teleconverter can cause loss of sharpness but looking back through some old images I took at 340mm I can’t see this much difference. I don’t think I will be blaming the teleconverter, but my choice of day to travel. Early morning or late evening would have yielded better results I’m sure.

It wasn’t all a failure though, I got a few good shots such as the French Air Force A340, and a small detour to East Midlands on the way home yielded some more opportunities for the future. Click on either picture to view the gallery of rogues from my day. Many of the shots from both Birmingham and East Mids were more interesting that my Myrtle Avenue shots at Heathrow which generally are nice aircraft in the sky but with no background interest like the terminals or the runway. I like to try and be creative with my aviation shots, capturing the touchdown maybe or a close-up shot – but hitherto I’ve been mostly unsuccessful. It’s all about the location and I still haven’t quite found the right spot at airports with big interesting heavy metal. I’ll keep looking.

Back from holiday, back to reality

Well it was a good three weeks or so while it lasted but last Saturday the inevitable happened and we had to board one of Mr Branson’s jumbo jets and return to the UK. We returned to what was described as a heatwave so I guess that goes some way to absorbing the shock of the return – normally when we get back from holiday in early February there is snow or frost on the ground in the UK.

While out in the USA I had the MacBook with me and tried my best to keep on top of the photo editing in the evenings and when time permitted, but didn’t want to delete any of the original files until I got home so ended up filling about 250GB of hard drive space during the holiday…holding the original files in Lightroom and then exporting the edits to Aperture also increased the disk space usage somewhat, but it seems to be a workflow that is working for me at the moment so I’ll stick with it. I also haven’t published many images at all yet, I tried to choose a picture of the day and uploaded that one completed to Flickr. The rest will have to wait…

Splash Mountain

…and by the rest there isn’t actually that many. We’ve been out to Florida enough by now that I was aiming to get some good shots of Megan, and some of what I described to myself as “Wow” or detail shots from around the parks. Wow shots were shots of the quality I see on Flickr from so many of the photographers who are lucky to call Walt Disney World their home, and are able to visit regularly – different angles and shots that tourists may miss. How did I do in this challenge? Meh. I got a few good shots, but only three or four of my pictures of the day really stand out for me as images I’m really proud of – one of which is the shot on the right of Splash Mountain at night. You can view my other Pictures of the Day by clicking that image to move to the gallery of all 24 images.

Numbers wise it is surprising to see how many shots I took. I took about 6,500 shots in total over the 3 1/2 weeks we were out in the USA. Of those I have kept just 380 to be published, or synced to iPhones/iPads for display. While that number seems small I took 42 shots which were converted into 3-shot HDR images and a further 21 keepers were converted from 7 or more shots into HDR, so you could say in total I’ve kept about 650 shots. Ironically that tallies with my normal average of keeping about 10% of what I shoot – I’ve wanted to improve this average for some time but have never managed to for whatever reason.

Why take so many you ask? Good question, and I wish I didn’t. Some of it was down to experimentation – I’ve never managed to get good shots in the dark rides for example, but this time armed with better knowledge and camera skill I went in to the rides with a plan to get more shots. I got some good images in The Little Mermaid and Winnie The Pooh for example, but didn’t manage to get much in the likes of Peter Pan or Pirates of the Caribbean – both are significantly darker than the first two mentioned. Each time I went in a ride I tended to snap off 50-100 images depending on the ride, and didn’t spend much time looking through the viewfinder but rather snapping and looking – so the results and throwaway images will reflect that. Fireworks are another example where I take a lot and keep just a few – we saw the fireworks at Epcot and Magic Kingdom, and I set the camera up and more-or-less let it shoot for the whole time while I watched. I then kept just a few because at the end of the day who wants to see 200 fireworks shots?! Shots of Megan were few and far between this time, she seems to be at a “reluctant” stage with camera posing right now, so we just let her get on with it and enjoy the holiday.

So overall a great holiday with great weather (well, except a couple of rainy days but we coped!) and some interesting learning with the camera, particularly in dark rides. I really wish I could spend a whole year just photographing the parks and areas around there, just the odd night simply isn’t enough time to nail the perfect shot, but what I’ve gotten this time I’ve pretty pleased with. In the coming days I’ll finally finish tagging the rest of my images and they will join Linda’s images in the Florida 2014 galleries. Thanks for looking!

 

The Circular Polariser Filter – I get it now

Those of you who know and have been out shooting with me will have heard me say that I “don’t get” polarising filters. I’ve had a Hoya Circular Polariser for some time and it’s sat in a drawer looking forlorn, because every time I use it I seem to get no noticeable difference in the shots and as a result don’t use it unless I want to stack filters for long exposure shots.

Speaking to a friend recently about the problems of taking shots on holiday where the sun is bright and the sky somehow bluer got me thinking about my forgotten filter so I dug it out of the studio before we headed to Florida. Having used it for a few days I can honestly say that I fully appreciate the filter now. It is a godsend and during the day helps the outdoor shots I get no end.

The sun is directly overhead here in Florida and toasty hot by late morning, so the shadows are harsh and the light bright. Using the Polariser I’m getting a deeper blue sky and a reduction in the amount of reflection by a significant margin. Without it I’d be consigning even more shots to the junk folder, and I’m not taking as many this year anyway.

The Benefits of a Polarising Filter

The Benefits of a Polarising Filter

To demonstrate what I mean the image to the left shows just the difference a polarising filter makes. This shot is taken in aperture-priority mode with the aperture at f/4.0 and ISO 100. I used the Nikon D610 with the Nikon 24-70mm lens.

The left half is without the filter and is 1/1250 exposure while the right half with the polariser is down at 1/400 exposure. The colours are sooooo much better in the sky and the lake while leaving the boat (well, soda sales kiosk) pretty much untouched. Except for cropping and a tiny bit of sharpening there have been no other edits to this image which shows the difference that the filter is making.

The key thing to remember is that I MUST take it off when I shoot indoors – the filter gives about a 1-stop reduction in light, so when I venture indoors and shoot a dark ride at ISO 3200 and yet still can’t get a sensible shutter speed it’s time to think about what I’ve left screwed onto the front of the lens…caught me out twice this has already, d’oh.

The experts say that it is best to get it right in camera and they aren’t wrong. I’ve not yet found a filter or plug-in which works as well as this to reduce the glare and enhance the colours, and as a result the Polarising Filter has pride of place in my new little camera bag, and will stay with me all holiday – and back home if we ever get blue skies in the UK!

Back in London

My trips to London continue, although probably won’t happen again between now and the end of May due to other commitments. Each time I visit London I devise a cunning plan, a list of targets and a theme I wanted to work on. This trip I wanted to do some long exposure work and have a play with my new 10-stop ND filter, so the plan was to start at Blackfriars Bridge before heading to the Millennium Bridge for long exposure, before a river boat ride to Docklands to meet Geoff. After a bit of time in Docklands the general idea was to head back to Parliament for sunset and finally get some night shots of Battersea Power Station. So a lot of moving around.

Now, plans are all well and good when they work and everything is lined up nicely. The timings and everything worked perfectly and I even hit the right train home, which was unexpected. The problem is when the weather or other circumstances don’t co-opearate, then the plan needs to be flexible. The weather was fantastically warm with a breeze which I was hoping for to get movement in the clouds on my long exposure shots – all good so far. Problem was there wasn’t so much cloud as a milky white sky. Meh. My mistake was to persevere with the idea of long exposures rather than diving off into street photography or something that wouldn’t matter so much if the weather wasn’t giving the effects I wanted.

Anyway, it still worked out to be an OK day and while I didn’t get as many shots as I thought I might I still got a few, and have had some ideas for places to return to and try something different – plus an interesting day out with Stuart and meeting Geoff, it wasn’t a wasted day at all.

Busy Busy

Commuters rushing around in Reuters Plaza beneath Canary Wharf. Click the image to view the whole gallery.

Useful iPhone Apps

As many of you will know I’m an iPhone user and have been for many years. One of the key phrases of iPhone users has always been the advertising slogan “there’s an app for that” and it’s true – there is. From football scores to train timetables there are over 1 million apps now in the iTunes Store. Android and Windows users have their own app stores, LE Calculator screenshotI’m sure there are many apps on there but can’t really comment.

There are many photography apps available on the store, some more useful than others. The iOS camera app is a bit meh, although improving, so other camera control apps are out there which allow better control and editing functions. Many people use Snapseed for editing, recently purchased by Google, but there are other little utility gems out there – and I’ve found a pretty hand one too. Best of all, it’s free.

I visited the coastline around Weston-Super-Mare last week with the intention of trying out some long exposure photography. Armed with 10-stop and 6-stop Hoya filters off I went. Calculating the exposure time can be a nightmare if you are as numerically dyslexic as I am, so finding the LE Calculator was a bonus to say the least.

The app couldn’t be easier to use – select the filter strength, and the metered time the camera gave you before you bolted the filters on and the result is shown big and bold. It’ll even act as a timer for you if the camera doesn’t have a counter on it (the one thing Canon does that Nikon doesn’t). One small complaint is that the timer doesn’t actually refer to what the time was – I managed to get an exposure of 2hrs using both filters, and mistakenly assumed it meant 2mins!!!

So in summary LE Calculator is a decent looking app which is free, simple to use and pleasingly accurate – I found that after one shot I’d gotten the exposure about spot on and didn’t need to re-take the image because of exposure, merely for my incompetence. The only other thing to ensure you know is what strength the filter is – in my case I have an ND64 (6 stop) and an ND1000 (10 stop). As in many things in photography there are many numbers to describe things and they don’t necessarily make sense…!

The Photography Show

I’ve never visited a Photography trade show before, in previous years there has been one at the NEC called Focus on Imaging but that was replaced this year with The Photography Show, and I decided to head along and see what was happening. A four-day event in two halls of the NEC vying with such other conferences as the Santander Convention and most prestigious of all The Concrete Show, the Photography Show promised stands and stages and all sorts to see and do.

Armed with our tickets a couple of friends and myself caught the train from Milton Keynes to the NEC in Birmingham. Not as straight-forward as it sounds that, the moral of the story is to double-check which train you are getting on just in case you end up at the wrong end of the country – but hey we made it, and had a scenic tour of the platforms at Rugby station as well while we waited for the correct train to catch up with us.  Whoops.

Hall 12

The Nikon stand dominates the entrance to Hall 12 at the NEC, home to The Photography Show.

The Show was certainly large, halls 11 and 12 at the NEC are a fair old size and were fully utilised. All the major manufacturers were there with Canon, Nikon, Fuji and Olympus having some of the biggest stands. Lots of stands had displays with demonstration areas and Nikon in particular had it’s Nikon School doing demos and talks from various Nikon users – Joe McNally spoke on the Nikon Stage, as well as doing a 90min show on the Super Stage which was very interesting as he described some of his work for National Geographic and other magazines over the years. The Super Stage talks were additional charges, but for a tenner it was pretty good value – if somewhat cramped seating!

There were many good deals to be had, but my aim on the Sunday was to look around and absorb as much of the talks and demos as I could. This proved to be a problem because the show was probably a little too crowded to be honest. Manfrotto had a stage with demos on lighting and reflectors amongst other things, and the two that we saw were very interesting. The problem with it was that you were standing in the walkway and it got crowded very quickly. Taking a shot of the model was tricky for example, and it wasn’t helped that just behind us the Hasselblad stand were doing equally good demonstrations so bottle-necks quickly formed. Similarly the Live Stage and Catwalk had interesting features and talks too, but again while I wanted to try and take shots of the Karate demonstration the crowd was 4 or 5 deep so hearing what was happening was tricky enough, let alone photographing it.

The one area you could photograph in relative space and peace was the garden section, a small corner with live plants to practice macro photography, an interesting idea which worked well. I’ve seen some great shots of the photographers at work there, crouched down with lenses close to the flowers.

And what were the show offers like? There were so many stands selling everything from printers to camera straps, and everything in between. My target for the show was NOT to look at the lenses. I don’t need a new lens, they are expensive. But oh so shiny. So yes I did look – although not at the price tag! Having checked out the offers – and comparing them with the internet back home – I drove back on the Monday armed with a shopping list and acquired myself some new studio lights, which will make the studio far more versatile and a couple of other small bits and pieces.  I personally think I was very restrained…

So was the show worth the visit? Definitely. It was the first year, it was very well attended – ridiculously so on Monday it was so crowded and hopefully next year they’ll make some more space to allow better interaction with the live demonstrations – that was probably the only downer on the show this year. The 2015 dates are already announced, keep the 21st-24th March free…and the wallet loaded!

The Great Editing Debate

Those who know me will know I’m a bit of an Apple fan. Having bought an iPhone 3G back in 2008 I’ve become a firm believer in how well the different devices interact with each other and how simple everything is to run. As a result this household now has a complete array of Apple products from AppleTV to MacBooks, and with recent software updates photo editing, storage and display has never been easier.

Yes, iTunes is a bit of a beast these days and could do with simplifying. But generally speaking Apple’s software (and indeed operating system, be it iOS or Mavericks) does what it says on the tin and works very well for the purpose it is designed for. This fact extends to their Aperture software which I have been using since early 2011. Aperture is a typical piece of Apple software – clean, simple, and easy to use. The way it holds images and creates a library for them is simplicity in itself, and the editing tools work for me most of the time – some complex edits need to be done in Photoshop, but not that many. The biggest omission from Aperture is the lack of lens correction, but for most images this isn’t a big deal. It looks clean, it is easy to navigate and easy to publish from. I’ve got all my photos sorted and easy to find in Aperture, which looks like this – this is the Projects view where each day is sorted into its own folder.

The "Projects" page - each photo day is easily sorted.

Just recently though I’ve found myself using the Photoshop Raw processing more and more. Partly for the lens correction abilities, but also because it just seems that little bit better at dragging the details out of the original raw image. Switching between Aperture and Photoshop is not that easy because you cannot export a RAW file from Aperture into Photoshop – it sends a TIFF file across so you lose the ability to edit the raw data. I’ve been exporting the RAW file onto the desktop and editing it in Photoshop before saving the file and re-importing the edit back into Aperture. Not a big deal, but it adds a bit of faff to my workflow.

So with the thought in my mind that Adobe software does improve the quality of the editing I’m trying out Lightroom 5. Many of my photography friends use Lightroom and swear by it, some even swear in front of it I’m sure so I’ve installed it and copied all of my 2014 images across to have a proper play when I already have a rough idea of the outcome. That was the first problem before I even got to edit everything – Lightroom doesn’t manage the library – it expects you to. Lightroom is nowhere near as intuitive, clean or simple as Aperture either – it takes me an age to find anything but that should improve with time. The key thing for me is that it doesn’t look as easy to use, far too many drop-downs or hidden options. Below is a shot of Lightroom in Library mode.

As I say, nowhere near as clean. You can’t view an image in perfect full-screen. You sort of can, but it retains a border oddly and I can’t remove it. Publishing images on Aperture is a one-click process, highlight the image(s) and send them to Flickr or SmugMug. It seems way more difficult on Lightroom and takes much more time, the same with exporting – although I’ll admit I’ve found a slightly quicker way to do that now.

But for editing the image, once I’d moved into the “Develop” section and found the controls anyway, Lightroom is brilliant. It has the Adobe Camera Raw engine built-in, so the edits in Lightroom are the same as I’d do in Photoshop. I can bring out far more details in Lightroom than I can in Aperture, I can do the lens corrections automatically, the sharpening and noise reduction sliders actually work in Lightroom too. Big plusses there, and I can also send files from Lightroom directly to Photomatix and have the result returned to Lightroom. Bingo. There is a Photomatix plug-in for Aperture which does it in-house but it just isn’t quite as good as the main program. I posted two identical images on Facebook recently – one edited in Aperture, the other Lightroom – and the Lightroom picture was almost universally preferred – including by myself.

The final nail in Lightroom’s coffin for me is the ability to share images easily. Using Aperture all my devices (iPad, iPhone, AppleTV) are automatically synchronised with the latest images through iTunes. I don’t have to think about it, I have it set up in iTunes for each device and they just update. Not possible in Lightroom, iTunes doesn’t talk to it – I’d have to get iTunes to look in the folders and that is a receipe for disaster in my mind.

So where do I go from here? I love the editing power of Lightroom, but hate the complexity of the library (or lack thereof) and incompatibility with everything else. It seems far too complicated generally, too many hidden functions and cluttered displays although I’m sure this is a) a matter of personal preferences, b) customisable and c) I’ll get used to it eventually! I’m going to try taking some images and using Lightroom to edit them before using Aperture as my storage library, but that kind of defeats the object I reckon. The aim was to simplify my workflow, if my workflow has to include exporting to the desktop and back into Aperture occasionally well so be it. I think I’ll be waiting for Apple to finally release Aperture 4 and hope it is a significant improvement in the editing department, because as a library and a tool generally it is still well ahead in my opinion.

My Challenge for 2014

Some of you may have been pondering my numerous visits into London – a city I’ve never professed to like very much – this year. I’ve made three trips already and there will be many more to come. Now seems like the time to expand on why I’m making these trips. All revolves around my idea for a challenge for 2014, something to keep my creative juices flowing and to make me think and push me to improve this year.

Since I got into photography in late 2010 I’ve used different projects or challenges as a way to learn.  In 2011 I did a 365 project: a photo a day, for a whole year. I did it and didn’t miss a day or cheat or anything, but it was hard at times to put it mildly. In 2012 and 2013 I had the Photographer of the Year competition to challenge me: I came close to winning it in 2012 and not quite so close in 2013. This year I’ll be attempting the Photographer of the Year again although it won’t be quite the same as the previous two years in terms of challenge because so many of the previous winners and challengers of the title have pulled out for one reason or another so I’ve decided to try something different – I’m going to gain a distinction from the Royal Photographic Society.

A what I hear you ask? A distinction (see the RPS website here) is a standard of achievement recognised throughout the world. Specifically I’m going for the Licentiate distinction, which gives me the right to put the letters LRPS after my name, should I chose. I’ve been reading up on this for a while and have now decided to bite the bullet and put some effort into bringing my work up to the standard required. Licentiateship is the first (lowest) distinction, and it is possible to progress to an ARPS (Associateship) and FRPS (Fellowship) but these are a way off for me yet. The website describes the Licentiateship as “images of a high standard of photographic execution – demanding but achievable for most dedicated photographers.” so I reckon with a bit of effort to improve my images and probably more importantly the presentation and selection of the images it should be achievable for me.

In a nutshell I have to present a panel of ten printed images to a panel of judges for assessment. These images should be based loosely on a theme and presented in a complementary way to each other so that the panel of prints flows nicely. The RPS hold critique sessions and have online and other methods of support, so it should be achievable with the support available and there will be a tangible result at the end of the journey.

The trips to London are to give me some material on a subject to work with. While I haven’t yet decided on the exact composition or theme it will be based around London. I reckon that I need a varied selection of work so I don’t want it all to be night photography or all architecture for example. I’m going to spend a fair part of this year exploring different parts of London and the many different types of photography that are possible in the capital city before deciding on my panel of prints. From London I can easily shoot many categories – street, long-exposure, night, HDR, architectural, people, transport, maybe even wildlife. I’ll try my best to improve my work and to make it varied while keeping to a coherent theme.

Distinctions and external competitions are something that are so difficult to get to understand, but I’m beginning to figure them out slowly. They aren’t mentioned or explained as much in clubs as they perhaps should be, because I think both are good ways for photographers to advance the quality of their work. That is my aim, I hope it works and that I can learn and improve as the year goes on.

So there is my challenge for 2014. I’ve announced it now so I can’t back out! Hopefully I’ll get some cracking images along the way and as I start to progress my LRPS application I’ll blog it all on here so people can see the journey I’ve made, and I hope it ends up ultimately successful!

HDR: Good or evil?

HDR is one of the more divisive post-processing techniques in modern photography. Many love it and use it all the times while others will describe it as unnatural and ruinous. So which is it?

I suppose the first question should be WHAT is it? HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and as the name suggests it is a set of post-processing techniques to produce a greater range of luminosity in an image than a standard image would normally show. It can often be done in camera these days – even iPhones have a HDR mode – but is most often done in post-processing with software such as Photoshop or Photomatix. The idea is that processing it allows more details in the image by combining a number of differently-exposed images, which allows the shadows or highlights (bright or dark areas) in a “normal” image to display more data.

So why is HDR frowned upon so much? It’s a good question, and a difficult one to answer dispassionately. Some people absolutely love it and use it all the time, others will say it gives an unnatural effect and ruins an image. I personally believe both arguments are valid. HDR has a place in photography, especially these days with all the magic that can be done in Photoshop, but is something that should be used with caution. Time and a place and all that. It is also very easy to “over-do” HDR, and I can look back through some of my older images and shudder at the processing I made on them back then.

In my opinion the best HDR images are the ones where the viewer doesn’t realise it is HDR at all. Here are two shots I’ve taken of buildings at night, one is HDR and the other one isn’t. See if you can tell which is which…

The London Skyline

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, two images both taken at night with a variety of colours and reflections in the water and on the buildings. Both look pretty similar in quality, with none of the obvious ghosting around the sharp edges or excessive contrasts and graininess that a HDR image can show.  The London Skyline shot is however in HDR, and the Dolphin Hotel is a straight image. Of the two images the Dolphin Hotel is much brighter and more evenly lit, so was easier to extract the data in a single shot. London had many different levels of lighting ranging from the brightly lit dome of St Pauls to the much dimmer arches of Blackfriars Bridge.

The human eye will have seen the London skyline pretty much as that photo on the right, but then the human eye can take in much more information and light than the sensor on a digital camera. A human eye can see up to 12 stops of light, which the camera is limited to around 3.  This is where the HDR bit becomes useful and can help to extract more data from a scene, especially one with large differences in light from the darkest areas to the brightest.

So HOW did I do it? A tripod is almost essential for HDR photography, because you are taking three (or more) images. On my Nikon D600 I have an auto-bracketing feature which takes three shots quickly at whatever exposure gaps I set – I normally take them at +2, 0 and -2 compensation which is what I did here. On these images I shot in Aperture priority mode with the aperture at f/8, which gave me three images of 8sec, 2sec and 30sec. I chose f/8 because it was the narrowest aperture I could get with the brighter image no more than 30sec recording time. So, I ended up with three RAW images which looked like this:

HDR originals

You can see here clearly the different light ranges the three images have captured. Using the dome of St Pauls as the guide, the “standard” image on the left is not too bad, while the middle image is clearly over-exposed. The image on the right has the most detail for the dome, and also many of the other lights visible, while the buildings are more clear in the middle image. So it’s the best bits of the middle and right images that will be merged with the standard image to increase and correct the level of detail.

How to merge it all though?  If you are feeling brave then you can do it all manually in Photoshop using layer masks and any other amount of wizardry. I’m not so good with Photoshop though, I can just about clone something out – most of the time.  Photoshop has a HDR function built in too, but I use a program called Photomatix to do the merging. Photomatix works as a standalone program or as a plugin within Aperture which is my default photo library and editing software on the Mac.  Simply load the three images into the software, answer a few simple questions on alignment and deghosting, and it does all the hard work. Once at the main page you have a variety of presets to enhance the image with ranging from Natural – which I use most of the time – to the more extreme HDR examples such as “Painterly”, which gives a more recognisable effect.  Once I’ve selected the best preset I then use the sliders to tweak the image and get the settings just as I want them. Once this is done the image is processed and you have a final set of options to add sharpness and contrast. Both can come out on the low side from a HDR image, the sharpness especially.

With the London Skyline image I first adjusted all the bracketed images in Adobe Camera Raw, correcting them for colour, contrast, shadows and highlights plus the Lens Correction. Although the originals are only small you will probably notice that I spent a lot of time removing the most populous item on the London skyline generally right now – the cranes. There are soooooo many of them!

So when shouldn’t you use HDR?  Again, it’s all down to taste really. HDR works best where there is a lot of light change from the darkest to the lightest, so portraits and pictures in the park on a sunny day might not work for it.  Moving objects in an image can be difficult to make good HDR images of, although the Photomatix software does manage to remove ghosting (where a person has moved from the first to the third image for example) quite well. It’s all down to experimentation really and what the photographer likes to see from the final image.

Taking a three-shot bracket isn’t the only way to get all the data for a HDR image. My shot of Blackfriars Station was a 10-shot HDR image taken completely manually. In Manual mode with aperture set to f/13 and ISO 100 I took 10 shots ranging from 60secs down to just 1sec, and then merged them all in. Why ten though? Well, it probably didn’t need quite that much but it gave the processing software far more information to play with. The final image took me a good couple of hours to process to get the colours and tones just how I wanted them, so HDR isn’t a “quick-fix” by any means! The final image though I was rather pleased with:

Blackfriars Station

For a far more comprehensive – and humorously written – tutorial on HDR with some awesome photographs to boot I’d recommend taking a few minutes to look at Trey Ratcliff’s HDR tutorial – it was the starting point for me to figure out how to get the best out of the technique, he also has some handy discount codes for the software.

If you want to see more examples of my HDR work, click on the Search button on the left and enter “HDR”. You’ll be surprised at some of the images that I’ve taken that are HDR. You should also be able to figure out quite quickly which ones were my earlier efforts at the method!

 

Seasons Greetings!

Christmas Card

Megan posing in her winter hat for the Christmas Card.

It’s been a bit quiet on the blog for a while – the run-up to Christmas has been it’s normal chaotic self which have rather put photography to the back burner for a little while. The only thing I’ve really managed to do photographically is get the home studio set up – which has been used a fair bit with Megan and some of her friends too. It has also been the location for our now-traditional Christmas Card shot of Megan (it’s the fourth year so that has to be a tradition right?)…

I’ll blog soon with my aims for 2014 but all that is really left to do at this time is to hope that one and all of you had a splendid Christmas where you ate far too much and received (and gave) lots of goodies. Thanks to all for reading and viewing my website in 2013, I hope you enjoy the New Year celebrations and have a great 2014!