Blog, HDR, Tips, Urbex

Why HDR pt2-For effect

Title-‘For Vincent’

  In a previous post I showed the practical benefits of using HDR to help achieve a better representation of a scene when contrast levels exceed that of the cameras capability. This time I’ve chosen to show how you can use HDR software to give your pictures a much more painterly look.

This area of photography has come under much criticism over recent years and I for one have become rather fed up with it as ultimately is all rather pointless, in fact the argument doesn’t differ too much from what the impressionist painters went though during the 19th century, or indeed the modern artists of today. It simply comes down to this: It’s your art, do it how you want to do it. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. If it’s not your thing, fair enough, ignore it and move on.

Anyhow, let continue…

As explained previously, you will ideally still be bracketing your exposures when out shooting, but you can create this look by making a pseudo HDR image out of one shot if there is a good tonal range running throughout. The difference between making a picture look realistic or painterly has a lot to do with how you set the smoothness slider (assuming your using Photomatix), so in this instance you’ll be wanting to set it more to the left, if not all the way to to the left. There is no hard and fast rule as to how you set all of the other sliders so it’ll be just a case or trial and error as every picture will react in slightly different ways, so play around with all of them to see what happens. For this reason it is always best to have the software reset everything when starting a new project.

In my opinion it’s still desirable to avoid getting halos, but the main objective is to get the dark and light areas to a pretty even level. So that’s really all there is to it. What you’ll end up with is something that (to me at least) looks a lot more impressionistic. This is exactly what went through my mind when I was out on an urbex shoot last year and came across this chair, it immediately screamed of  Vincent van Gogh’s Chair and I set about doing my own take with the vase of flowers.

So have fun with your photography and try something new.

Thanks for stopping by.

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Blog, Landscapes, Tips

Slow that shutter

Title-‘Silk & Stone’

There has been a big trend in recent times for using large stop ND filters to help achieve a slower shutter speed at brighter times of the day, with the one big attraction being able to create that misty look given to water. The one thing that is much harder to get though, is the ethereal look that comes as a result of both a slower shutter and low light. Don’t get me wrong, I love misty water shots but to me the ones taken at dawn or dusk have a much greater sense of mood.

Being a common side effect of shooting water in low light means you don’t need to spend big bucks on fancy ND filters either, but whether you’re out at dawn or dusk there is one thing that you will need, and that is moving water; it’ll be no good if you’re standing by a lake with water so still it’s like looking at a mirror.

Getting that misty effect is quite straight forward; you’ll want to set the iso to it’s lowest setting such as iso100 (200 on some Nikon models), and make sure you have the camera on a tripod with either a cable or remote release. Ideally you’ll want to be aiming for a shutter speed greater than 1 second as it is at this speed that water starts to blur nicely. Your choice of f~stop is up to you but I tend to set mine between f16 and f22 to help with both depth of field and slowing the shutter further.

The picture you see above was shot with the tripod straddling across the middle of a stream, very close to the water with me trying very hard not to slip on the wet rocks. Thank goodness I had a decent pair of walking shoes on. It was taken at iso200 for 30seconds with the white balance set to sunny. Because of the time of day ( late eve) the shot has been given a very blue cast, but when I tried to correct for this in Lightroom it seemed to lose its mood, so I left it as shot.

Blog, Tips

Adding a texture

Why not add an extra dimension to your photographs by adding a texture. From giving your photographs the appearance of being printed on different types of papers or materials, to using surfaces such as rust, wood or peeled paint to add a new creative look and feel, adding textures is a heck of a lot of fun and creates endless possibilities for your photographs .

Adding textures is really quite a simple process, all you need is a basic understanding of using layers in Photoshop. The real trick is knowing what images to use and also what kinds of textures will work with them. There is no right or wrong, but you will know whether a picture works or not. It’s just down to trial and error.
The first thing to do is get yourself a few textures together. Get out and take pictures of all manor of things – tree bark, brick, wood flooring, peeling paint – all these and more can make interesting backdrops for your pictures. In addition to making your own texture library there are many other places offering ready made textures, which are great if you want to get stuck in as soon as possible…However, there are a couple of things to remember if using other peoples work. Firstly, I personally feel that there is a greater satisfaction if all the work that goes into creating your picture is your own. Secondly, make sure you look at the licensing terms of any third party images you want to use. Ideally you’ll want these to be Public domain should you wish to sell your work later down the line. I see a lot of folks offering textures under Creative Commons licenses and this is where you may want to really consider whether or not you want to use said images. The vast majority of creative commons works include the ‘non-commercial’ part, meaning that if you wish to sell your images you’ll need to get permission from the creator of the the texture first. To be honest this is an extra hassle that I can do without. If, however, you’re doing it for your own personal pleasure then go ahead and use whatever you think will work best for you.

Once you have your images the next thing is to combine them. Open both images into Photoshop and either use the move tool to drag the texture photo onto your main photo or simply copy the texture image and paste it onto your main image. You should see each image as a separate layers in the layers pallet. Making sure the texture is the top layer, change the blend mode to either multiply or overlay, whichever you like the look of best. After that you can muck about with opacity, rub bits out using the eraser tool, or pretty much do whatever you like.

For the images above and below I used the same texture image, (a shot of a dirty old window) which gives these images a more vintage feel, plus the uneven putty made for a good border too.

For the image above I used the same texture as the first two for the border and then added a second texture (peeling paint) to use over the paperwork.

For this image I used another dirty window covered with cobwebs, only this time I overlayed it twice and in different rotations to create a backdrop for the rose. I then used the eraser tool to rub through where the rose was.

It’s not very often that I do these kinds of images but they are a lot of fun and can make pleasing works of photo-art.

If you have any other suggestions and tips then feel free to leave a comment for others to see.

Blog, HDR, Tips

Why HDR?

So I’m not the first to show the benefits of using HDR but I thought I’d do a short post on it anyway. 🙂

While going through some photos of our holiday to the south of France last summer, I stumbled upon a set of brackets that I hadn’t done anything with, that of an empty street in Provence (above). Now I’ll admit there’s nothing that special about the shot, but there was enough I liked for me to press the shutter. I think it was the beautiful weather and peacefulness that I found pleasing. Whatever my motivation, it shows the usefulness of bracketing your photographs to make an HDR image that  represents a scene more accurately than a single shot can.

These three shots show the different exposures needed to capture all of the elements within the scene. The one on the left is the cameras recommended exposure, the middle is -2EV and is needed to retain detail in the white door which had blown out in the left example, finally the right shot was +2EV and was needed to  capture the areas in shadow. Now to my eye, the areas in shadow on the overexposed image are pretty much as I saw them on the day, so as you can see, due to the huge contrast that my eye compensated for but the camera couldn’t, combining the three shots was the best way to achieve a photo with the tonal range more accurately reproduced.  (Whether you use an HDR program to combine your shots or merge them by hand in a program like Photoshop is up to you). Once I have the tonal range sorted I can then continue to work on an image, giving it the look and feel I have in mind, if I so wish.

The main image was produced using Photomatix Pro with final adjustments done in Lightroom. There are plenty of other HDR software programs out there but it’s up to you to give them a try to see which you prefer, I always seem to come back to Photomatix.

I hope this has been of some use. Like I said, it’s a post to show the benefits of HDR rather than being a tutorial.

Thanks for looking.

Blog, Tips, Urbex

My old style grunge look

(By adding a mono layer to your image you can give your shot a whole new look)

Over the past year I have become know in photography circles for being something of a HDR chap, and for the most part the bulk of my work during 2010 was indeed processed using HDR software. It hasn’t always been that way, in fact I didn’t have any HDR software until January of 2010…Since then I’ve caught the bug and haven’t regretted it one bit. Prior to 2010 I used a different method of giving my Urban exploration work that ‘grunge’ look by blending both colour and mono layers together in Photoshop.

There can be a lot of fiddling about with getting the tones and levels right but the basic idea is this: Open your picture into Photoshop (I’m using Elements) and duplicate the layer, then set the blend mode on the new layer to ‘Screen’, this will lighten the photo. Then right click on that layer and select ‘Merge layer’, you will be back to one layer. Duplicate this layer and convert the new layer to mono using your preferred method. If you use the ‘Convert to Back and white’ tool you will see a range of presets that give different mono looks, such as infra-red, landscape, portrait etc Play around with these and see how the colours react (though you will be seeing black and white). e.g For the picture above I chose to use the infra-red as it darkened the blues and brightened the green areas. Now you have both a colour and mono layer in the layers pallet. With the mono layer still selected, change the blend mono to ‘Multiply’. What you should now see is a much more contrasty and dirty looking picture and if you’re happy with the way it looks then flatten the layers and save. I find that for the most part additional adjustments are required but these vary from picture to picture, usually I’ll change the opacity of the mono layer or use adjustment layers to change the brightness and contrast for each layer. Sometimes I will flatten the layers and use the highlight/shadow tool to balance the image.

As you can see it is not an exact science, but with a little Photoshop know-how you can give your shots that dirty grungy look that some derelict places seem to benefit from, at least in my opinion.

Here is a shot I did a couple of years back using the same method.

Blog, Landscapes, Tips

The Early Bird

Bodiam Castle shot moments before sunrise giving a lovely orange glow reflected on the clouds.

The early bird catches the worm, and the same goes for photographers if you want to get out and take great pictures. There is no hard and fast rule but generally speaking the best time to get a great quality of light is to be out at either end of the day. From dawn till just after sunrise, and from about an hour either side of sunset.

Get there early!

Of course there are going to be differing factors throughout the year, such as shorter days during winter where the sun is also lower, and longer days during the summer months where the sun gets much higher and stronger, but whatever time of the year I would always recommend getting out as early as is necessary. Find out when sunrise is and get there at least an hour before, this will give you time to walk around to find the best spot and set your gear up. If you’re ready to go with time to spare you’ll be much more relaxed giving you the opportunity to take in your surroundings. I think that if you can immerse yourself with what’s going on around you, the feeling you get will translate to the picture and hopefully the viewer.

Take these pictures for example. I arrived whilst it was still dark thus giving me time to have a good walk around to view all the angles and consider different compositions. Once I had the pictures in my head it was just a matter of watching the sky to see where the first signs of light would come from. The low morning sun gives beautiful warm tones and because it’s low it casts shadows that define elements in the scene, giving a greater sense of shape and depth. The shot above was bracketed and tonemapped so I could get some detail in the stonework which the camera couldn’t record in a single exposure but my eye could see perfectly. I could’ve used an ND grad to help balance the sky but this would have darkened the tops of the towers. Even when doing an HDR image it is important to keep the shadows and not get carried away with balancing all the elements in the scene just because the software can make it possible.

The shot below (taken on a different day, not bracketed) shows the light just after sunrise, with the warmth of the sun being just enough to evaporate the water giving the scene a wonderful moody atmosphere. It just wouldn’t have had the same feel and impact had it been taken during the middle of the day, and I certainly wouldn’t have got all the steam coming from that moat.

So get up early and don’t be tempted by the warmth of that duvet…You’ll be rewarded.