HDR Expose 3 – Images We Love, by John Santoro

 HDR Images, HDR Styles, News  Comments Off on HDR Expose 3 – Images We Love, by John Santoro
Aug 282014

“We often visit Flickr to see what’s new in HDR photography. As you know by now, we’re into natural HDR. So, when we do a search on “HDR Expose 3″ we’re often gratified to see the inspiring images created by users of our software. Here are three great examples of what’s on Flickr right now. Click on the image to be taken to the photographers Flickr page.”

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Aug 042014

“One of the features in HDR Expose 3 our customers tell us outperforms our competition is the Merge Key Frame feature that makes de-ghosting amazingly accurate. In this image, taken after sunset, of a young couple drinking in Half Dome at Yosemite’s Glacier Point gives a great illustration. In the middle of frame of the three-frame bracket sequence the young woman on the right turned her head to look at her boyfriend. I selected a frame where she was looking at Half Dome as the key frame and Expose 3 eliminated the movement. Really neat!”

– John Santoro

“The following image,  of Half Dome at sunset, shows HDR Expose 3 delivering truly natural HDR processing results.”

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Image by John Santoro

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Apr 272012

This is obvious but essential. As tempting as it may be to shoot free hand (or from the hip),if you want good, sharp HDR images you need to stabilize your camera. Ideally, use a sturdy tripod, or in a pinch, set the camera down on a solid surface.



Second, some of your over exposed frames need to capture shadow details and you may actually be shooting at shutter speeds so long that you can have difficulties holding the camera steady. So in addition to creating problems aligning frames that shifted due to the camera changing position between frames, you may also have frames that are blurry due to long exposure times. These will have a negative affect on the merge process and image sharpness.In addition to a sturdy tripod or solid surface to mount the camera, you will also want to minimize any movement caused by you touching the camera between shots. This can be accomplished a number of ways, the easiest of which is to use the self timer or a cable release trigger to fire the camera. Another option that several professionals use is Promote Remote www.promotesystems.com. This device plugs-in to your camera and actually takes over the bracketing and exposure controls. This is a huge benefit for Canon shooters with cameras that only support 3 shot bracketing.Of course if you really want to get picky and you are shooting with a D-SLR, you’ll mount the camera on a weighted tripod with a sturdy ball head, put the camera in Mirror-Up mode and use the cable release or Promote Remote to fire the camera. This adds an extra delay between the moment the mirror goes up and when the shutter opens, reducing any additional vibration caused by the mirror flipping up and down.Don’t forget, if you are using Vibration Reduction, Image Stabilized or Steady Shot lenses, turn this feature off when the camera is attached to a tripod. You don’t want to induce lens movement when the camera isn’t moving.There are some promising new camera and sensor technologies on the horizon that will allow for very fast sequential exposures that may eventually get us to the point of having a virtual 1-click HDR series that can be captured freehand without the need for a tripod. Until then, its better to not hold your breath and just use the reliable tripod.


Photography 101: HDR imaging explained by John Santoro

 HDR Images, HDR Info, HDR Software, HDR Styles  Comments Off on Photography 101: HDR imaging explained by John Santoro
Apr 212012

Every once in a while we run across another way to describe HDR photography. There is the ongoing controversy over whether HDR constitutes real photography. We think HDR is advanced photography.

Here’s a great explanation of HDR techniques we found in NDTV Gadgets.

No matter how many people look at a photograph shot using the ‘High Dynamic Range’ (HDR) technique, there will always be a handful who will challenge its authenticity as a photograph, and claim it to be either a painting or an elaborately photoshopped image. The struggle of convincing people that HDR qualifies as photography has been a long and arduous one, with both sides being supported by prominent figures in the field. The primary bone of contention arises from a lack of understanding of what the HDR technique is, and towards that end, here is a point-by-point break down of the process and its history.

First off, we must clearly understand what the HDR technique entails. When we take a single photograph of a scene, our camera captures a certain amount of color information, a certain amount of brightness information and a certain amount of contrast information. By virtue of the laws of physics, the digital sensor is only capable of capturing a limited amount of information, an amount that is far less than what the human eye can comprehend.

The range of information luminance (combination of color, contrast and brightness) that the camera sensor captures for ONE exposure is called the dynamic range of the sensor. For most modern DSLRs, this number varies between 7 and 11 stops of exposure whereas the eye can easily recognize up to 15 stops of information. However, when speaking of HDR images, we are most concerned with not the luminance information, but in capturing the widest possible gamut of contrast range. While modern day digital sensors have a contrast ratio of up to 2048:1, the human eye’s contrast detection ranges from 1024:1 to 16384:1. This large contrast range is what enables us to see the tree leaves as green despite the sun shining from right behind them in a blue sky. Shoot the same scene with a camera and the green of the color will turn black and the sky would go absolutely white.



So the above scene of looking up at a leaf with the blue sky and the sun in the background can be broken down into three areas, photographically. The sun would be called the ‘highlight’ area, where there is maximum illumination, the leaf would be called the ‘shadows’ area because the viewing surface of the leaf is directly in front of the source of light (causing it to be covered in a shadow) and the sky would be considered the ‘midtones’ area as its illumination is less than the highlight area, but more than the leaf. What HDR photography entails is taking three photographs, without moving the camera, of the three areas we just spoke of so as to get them as best exposed as possible.

Most modern day DSLRs now allow users to set exposure bracketing, an automated method where the camera takes a set number of photos at exposure levels a set increment away from the base exposure. Of the DSLRs that offer this feature, most allow only three exposures within an exposure difference of 2 stops, meaning, if the base exposure is set at zero, then the 2nd exposure will be under-exposed by 2 stops and the third exposure will be over-exposed by 2 stops. There are three things to always keep in mind when attempting at HDR photography.

1) The same exposure difference will not work for all kinds of scenes, meaning, what settings may work for one scene, might not work for another.

2) Not all scenes can be shot as HDR. These would generally include scenes where the mid-day sun is high in the air and your subject stands right in front of it.

3) Shooting the primary exposures is only the first step of a two-step process.

Once the exposures have been shot, they need to be processed in software developed to create HDR images out of multiple exposures. Again, this is not as simple as taking different parts of an image and pasting it onto a single image. The process involves reading color, brightness and contrast information in the photos and merging that information into a single jpg file with all the information blending in smoothly, as if it were all part of a singular image to begin with.

The process for doing this is called ‘Tone Mapping’, where the overall contrast ratio is reduced to that of a normal photograph, but the local contrast of each pixel is maintained with respect to its neighboring pixel. Tone mapping offers a plethora of settings that control almost every aspect of the merged image, from amount of contrast to amount of saturation to the amount of ‘blend’ of the three (or more) images. This is where, as an artist, you would decide whether to keep the HDR blend look realistic, turn it into a surreal blast of colors and contrast.

While the best HDR images are created through an arduous process, toiling in the field and then on the computer, there are certain cameras that allow in-camera HDR, with some newer cellphones also sporting the feature, for example, the iPhone 4(s). The native HDR mode on such devices would shoot two exposures (one for shadows and one for highlights) before blending them, and then simply present the blended result. The user often would not have any control over how the images get blended together. There are a few apps for the iPhone that does allow some level of control over the settings, but the number of shots being limited to two effectively leaves out much of the contrast information that is normally contained in the midtones shot.

HDR photography existed in the era of film, where photographers would splice together negatives of different exposures to create one perfectly blended positive image, and now, the same technique is being carried out through the digital workflow. The process of HDR requires just as much creativity as it does technical skill, so the only way to master it, as one would photography, is through a lot of practice. So get out there with your cameras and tripods and start shooting!

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John Omvik’s HDR Tip 6 – Always Shoot In RAW mode

 HDR Images, HDR Info, HDR Software, HDR Styles, News  Comments Off on John Omvik’s HDR Tip 6 – Always Shoot In RAW mode
Mar 092012

Photo: © 2012 John Santoro

Most HDR Software can accept JPEG, TIFF or RAW files as input for the merge process, and HDR Express and HDR Expose are no exceptions. If you only have JPEG or TIFF legacy images that you want to process you don’t have an option, but going forward you will get better results if you shoot and process RAW image files for HDR.JPEG and TIFF files are great final output file types, but they have been processed causing clipped exposure ranges, artifacts due to applied contrast curves and in the case of JPEG files, artifacts due to compression.

When we merge individual images into 32-bit HDR images, we need to undo most of those changes to create the linear data to process the areas of exposure overlap. In many cases this works well, but in some cases such as extreme lighting conditions working with JPEG or TIFF source files can create areas of posterization where especially highlight data can be clipped in processed files. JPEG source images have the additional disadvantage of compression artifacts that will change the between the different exposures and create alignment issues.

Closeup of merged RAW image

Closeup of merged jpeg image with artifacts circled


You want to isolate the differences between the bracketed images to only exposure times. If each image has different JPEG compression artifacts in different areas of the image these changes will be exaggerated when merged.

RAW Files provide us much better source data to work with. The data is linear and has not been process or had tone curves applied. Also, RAW files typically have 12 or 14-bits of data with extended highlight information. This allows us to create 32-bit HDR images with much smoother transitions and less potential for posterization with no compression artifacts.

So if you have a choice going forward when shooting for HDR set the camera to RAW and do the HDR merge and tone mapping operations first on 32-bit HDR data. Then, save the image as a TIFF file. If you still have some local corrections or retouching to do, work on the output TIFF file then.

The fundamental workflow rule of digital photography processing is to start with the big items first and work your way down to the smaller details. In HDR, processing the merge and the tone mapping are the first order of business.

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