I was taking some shots for work recently where the sky had some nice cloud detail and the foreground was in a lot of shade. Since the pictures were needed for a project, I was covering my bases and shot some brackets to allow me to do some processing in HDR later. Some people hate HDR but I have always been looking to use it to get a shot that reflects more the human eye’s ability to deal with extremes of contrast. With a wide range of light levels in a shot, HDR can give you a more usable image.
However, when I was processing the shots, I was struck by how I could use the middle exposure alone and, with some helpful adjustment of exposure, shadows and highlights, I was able to get much the same sort of result as the HDR image provided. The raw files seem to have enough latitude for processing that going to the bother of taking and processing the HDR image hardly seemed worth it. There are still situations where the range of exposure is so wide – outdoor sunlight and shady interiors – that it is still probably necessary to bracket and process later. However, for a lot of the situations I used to use HDR for, there seems little point. How many of you still shoot HDR?
While scanning through some images, one of the shots that showed up in my catalog was an HDR processing of some shots of a US Army Chinook. It had been processed with a plugin that I had previously experimented with. I thought it looked over vibrant but I was impressed with the way the dark interior of the helicopter had shown up while the outside was also well lit. I decided to have another go at processing the images.
I used Lightroom initially to do the processing. It came out surprisingly well and looked not unlike the outcome from the plugin. However, there was some ghosting on people in the shot and there was a lot of chromatic aberration. I have noticed issues with Lightroom making a worse job of it than Photoshop so I decided to try HDR Pro in Photoshop as well and use Camera Raw for tone mapping. The outcome was very similar from an overall perspective. However, the ghosting was virtually eliminated and the aberration was not apparent either. It clearly is still a better bet than Lightroom.
I was at the Museum of Flight for the IPMS exhibit but, while I was visiting, I figured it would be churlish not to take a picture of the M-21 that dominates the main hall. It is actually a bit difficult to photograph and there is a lot of contrast with the background and it is always busy so a bit cluttered. I knew it wasn’t going to be a great shot but decided to crop tighter on the airframe and shoot bracketed exposures and maybe go with an HDR process. It isn’t great but it came out better than I had expected.
Just before Christmas we made a trip to Vancouver Island to see Butchart Gardens at night with their illuminations. We got there before the sun went down and took a stroll through the Japanese Garden, a section that is closed for the night event. At the bottom of the garden, you come to Butchart Cove. There was a hole in the trees that provided a very predictable but worthwhile frame for the view into the cove. I decided to go for HDR for the shot given the extreme range of light between the shady trees and the exposed cove.
A while back I saw a Scott Kelby video on YouTube about the HDR functionality in Lightroom and that in Photoshop. I had assumed that they were the same prior to seeing his video but he showed that the Photoshop version of the HDR was significantly cleaner than that in Lightroom. I was interested in how this could be but I wasn’t too concerned. The Lightroom version was so easy to use I figured the impact was not so much that it would show up in my shots.
Then, I found out I was wrong. I was in the cockpit of the Comet at the Museum of Flight’s restoration facility at Paine Field. I took a sequence for HDR because the cockpit is very dark but the view out of the windows is much brighter. It isn’t particularly important since the view outside is nothing special but I did it anyway since I was there. The lighter shot had quite a bit of shadow noise and, when I created the HDR in Lightroom, the noise was very conspicuous on the finished version. I decided to try it in Photoshop to see what happened. The difference was significant. I include both of the full shots as processed along with the section of cockpit shadow so you can see the impact.
The east side of Lake Washington used to have a lot more train traffic. A line ran up that side of the lake but the railroad closed it down and then the interstate was rebuilt and went over the previous right of way. In Bellevue, the tracks crossed a valley on a large trestle bridge, the Wilburton Trestle. This wooden structure was modified at some point to allow an expansion of the road that ran underneath it but, once the railroad was closed, it fell out of use.
For the longest time, I didn’t even notice it. While it is close to the interstate, it is off to one side at a time when you don’t have much time to look around. When I finally noticed it, I was amazed I had driven by so many times. Even then, I never got a chance to take pictures. I was hoping for better weather but winter has not really helped in that regard so, one afternoon, as I was heading back from Bellevue, I stopped off to check it out.
Wooden trestle structures are a curious thing and very typical of old American railroads. The dull light may not have helped emphasis the structure much but it does reduce the contrast you can get with something so sheltered underneath. Even so I used HDR a bit to help manage the exposure range. Supposedly, the future for the trestle will be as part of the expanding trail network for the eastside. It is suggested that it will reopen to trail users by 2020. I think I shall ride down to it at that point to check the view out. I imagine it is pretty good from up there.
The combination of the Super Moon, the blue moon and the lunar eclipse was something a lot of people were interested in. Sadly, we were due to have a cloudy night so none of the excitement was going to be on show. As the sun was setting at the beginning of the evening that this was all due to happen, I was walking out of the office at the same time the moon was rising. At this point we still had a clear sky. I hadn’t planned anything but I did have a camera to hand so grabbed a few shots for the hell of it.
I decided to try and bracket for an HDR shot. The twilight meant there was something closer to an even exposure between the foreground and the background than you normally manage with a moon shot but it was still a wide range. HDR gave a bit more to play with. Then I headed home and the clouds rolled in.
Highway 101 passes Hecata Head and crosses a river before entering a tunnel through the cliffs. The bridge is a pretty elegant structure. Unfortunately, winter is not a good time to try and photograph it. It is tucked in amongst the hills and the sun will only be on it when in the west and probably only in the middle of summer when it gets a lot further north. I had to work with what we had in the shade. Playing around with exposures and working with some HDR processing did allow me to bring a bit more punch to the shots which I felt represented more of what I actually saw while I was there.
I am a little late to discovering the Enfuse plugin for working with HDR images. I started out many years ago using Photomatix. At the time, it was the go to software for creating HDR images. Then Adobe got a lot better with their HDR software within Photoshop and I started to use that. Even more recently, Adobe built HDR processing in to Lightroom and I didn’t need to go to Photoshop at all. The HDR software worked reasonably well so I stuck with it. I sometimes felt that it didn’t do as good a job of using the full range of the exposures but it was okay.
I wasn’t entirely satisfied though so have kept an eye on other options. Someone mentioned Enfuse to me so I decided to give it a go. It is a plugin for Lightroom and, in the free download, you can try it out but with a limitation on the output image size of 500 pixels. Obviously this isn’t useful for anything other than testing but that is the point.
The first thing I tried it on was a shot I made at Half Moon Bay looking up at a P-51 Mustang prop and directly into the sun. This is certainly as much of a range of exposures as you are likely to get. The perfect thing for an HDR trial. The results in the small scale file seemed pretty impressive so I decided to buy the package. There is no fixed price. You make a donation via PayPal and get a registration code. I am impressed by the quality of some of the work people put out so I am happy to donate for what they do. With the software activated, I reran the P-51 shots. Below is the version I got from Lightroom’s own HDR and following it the version from Enfuse.
I did have some issues initially. Lightroom was not reimporting the image after it was created. This turned out to be an issue with the way I named the file in the dialog and a tweak to that seemed to fix things. Strangely, it had been fine on the trial so I have no idea why it became an issue but it is done. I also played with a slightly less extreme case with an F-22 and, as above, the Lightroom version is first and the Enfuse version is second. I was really pleased with the result on this one with a very natural look to things. So far, I see Enfuse being a useful tool for my HDR going forward.
I previously posted an item about the DC-7 tanker that was parked up on the Erickson ramp. Over the course of the few days we were there, this aircraft had a few visits from me. It’s positioning was not always ideal for what I wanted. The evening light was often great for photos but, sadly, the aircraft was almost exactly tail on to the setting sun. However, that did provide some silhouette options as well as playing with HDR to see if I could come up with something I liked.
One morning the sun came up as there was still some rain in the area. There was some good light on the nose for a while but the best option was the rainbow that formed in the background and was well aligned with the aircraft. I tried a variety of things over the days and some of those results are here. Of course, it would have been far more fun to see it in action!