Cathedrals and HDR

By Mark

Have I mentioned how much I love my 14-24mm wide angle lens Sarah got me for Christmas?  One of the things I knew I would find on our Ireland was lots of beautiful old churches and cathedrals.

Killarney Cathedral

Killarney Cathedral

These massive structures pose some distinctive photographic challenges.  There is a huge range of light as these were mostly built before the introduction of electricity.  The huge stained glass windows provide color but their reach can be limited.  Next, you have the sheer scale of the buildings.  Cathedrals were intended to be imposing and impressive reminders of the power of the church.  Soaring roofs and columns with intricate carvings add lots of dark shadows to try and capture. Finally, there are side rooms and art pieces everywhere which are intended to catch the eye and inspire the viewer.  Taken all together these are exactly the kinds of circumstances for which HDR was designed. 

I very purposely shot a lot of 7 shot bracketed grouping planning to convert them when I processed them.

One of the more useful, but underused features in LR are the Stacking commands.  Instead of cluttering up your screen space you can just make a pile and only see the top shot.  

Once I have created my final results, I just put that on top and the originals are hidden, however they remain accessible if I change my mind.  

7 Shot stacks in LR

7 Shot stacks in LR

Since you can create HDR directly from LR these days, I played around with the number of different processing tools I had and was interested to observe that the results varied widely.  You can use LR, Photoshop, Nik’s HDR Efx, or OnOne Perfect Effects HDR Panel.  I found that there really isn’t a common vocabulary among the tools.  Which version I liked seemed to have more to do with the subject than in the software I used.  I processed Ashford Castle’s grand hallway in Photoshop. 

I used OnOne for Killarney’s St Mary’s Cathedral, but liked the baptistery much better directly from LR.   

Finally, I used Nik for this single image HDR toning to bring out the details of the peat pile, while not overdoing the rest of the cottage.  

As with most things in the Photoshop world, there are multiple ways of doing anything and you as the “artist” need to use the tools that bring the image to life as you want the viewer to see it. 

Lightroom CC New Pano and HDR Feature

By Mark

LR has always required external programs like Photoshop for more advanced editing techniques.  While that is still true for multi-layer compositing and individual pixel bending, the gap continues to shrink.  User demands for features such as the ability to create panoramas and High Dynamic Range (HDR) images directly have finally been met.   There seems to be broad community consensus that they did a really good job on the panoramas, but that HDR is just so-so.  One of the key technologies Adobe finally took advantage in modern computers was the computational power found on the video cards themselves.  These specialized Graphic Processing Units (GPU) are designed to handle the insane level of demand for modern video games.  Previously, LR was just too slow to handle the massive computations required for edge matching and the masking required for seamless blending of big images. 

The processes for both Panos and HDRs are pretty straightforward. 

Simply select the images you want to use and either from the Photo>>Photomerge Panorama. 

It opens up a new panel allowing you to choose what kind of perspective you want.  Normally, you just want to leave it alone.  One additional useful feature is the auto crop, which will trim off any missing pixels. 

From there you can go back in and conduct any additional editing as it retains all of the .DNG information from the original images. 

For example, you can take your image into OnOne and apply one of my favorite effects- the Tilt-shift perspective.  I like how it makes the image look like a model. 

For HDR images the process is exactly the same. 

It is important to note that the merged image now has the full 32bit depth.  Nifty eh?  Now go play with your images.  

Natural Looking HDR

The human eye still has more capability to see objects in light conditions ranging from deep shadows all the way to very bright light than the best camera out there.  Lots of people are using software to create images that combine multiple images taken at different exposures into one image which can express the full High Dynamic Range.  Lots of these images are processed to create a highly stylized, almost cartoon like rendition of the scene.   Those are very creative, but the technique can also be used to create a more subtle and natural image as well.  We went back to the farmer’s market to shoot and my favorite sunflower vendor was there with his plants.  Since I was shooting with my 105 f/2.8 macro lens, I knew I wanted to capture as much of the detail in the blooms as possible.  To really do this well, you have to shoot on a tripod and set up your camera to bracket the exposure.  All that means is that your camera takes pictures with plus and minus shutter speeds from how you set it up.  You can choose the increment and the number of photos you want.  I shot a five shot bracket—two above and two below the shutter speed I originally selected.  Because I was using the macro, I wanted to control the depth of field, so I set the camera to aperture mode and established the f-stop at f/8.  I wanted most of the flower to be in focus. My base image was established for the mid-tones of the picture and was for 1/80 of a second.

  The camera then went down to 1/200 and 1/125 to get the shadows and up to 1/50 and 1/30 to capture the highlights.

In LR it becomes pretty simple, but does require Photoshop.  In versions prior to CS5, the HDR tools really were bad and you needed one of the many available plug-ins.  CS5 provides a very good tool suite.  Select all five of your photos and then go the menu and select Photo>Edit In> Merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop.  It will automatically stack them as layers and open up the HDR Pro Menu.  The filmstrip at the bottom displays your photos with the stops between them.   If you don’t like the impact of one of them, you can simply uncheck the selection.

Adjusting the sliders in the menu allows you to control the effect.  The largest impacts are from the detail and the strength sliders.  Here is one with both of them pushed up, it really highlights the contrasts in the image.

Just a few subtle tweaks though to those same controls bring out an image more aligned with how it looks to my eyes.  Of course there is no right answer, it is really all in what you the artist are trying to accomplish.