Is Digitally Bracketing Exposures A Good Idea? By Sean Bagshaw

by Sean Bagshaw
August 19th, 2014

On the topic of creating high dynamic range (HDR) photographs I was recently asked a question about the viability of taking a minimal number of bracketed exposures in a high contrast situation and later filling in the gaps in the exposure range with digitally generated exposures. While this isn’t a new concept in high dynamic range photography, it is one that comes up frequently and isn’t entirely intuitive. I felt that others might benefit from reading the Q&A or sharing their own thoughts on the topic.

The contrast range in this scene was too great to be contained in a single exposure.

The contrast range in this scene was too great to be contained in a single exposure.

QUESTION: I photograph with a Nikon D5000. One of the features I am less than satisfied with is that auto bracketing is limited to three exposures. Sometimes that is simply not enough. The conventional wisdom seems to indicate:

1. don’t spread out your brackets more than one or two exposure values (EV).
2. Lightroom/Adobe Camera Raw can safely push/pull an exposure ±2 EV

What if I exposed three captures -3 EV, 0 EV and +3 EV? Then I should be able to make virtual copies of these in Lightroom, spreading each ±1 EV and the ends also ±2 EV. I would then end up with effectively an 11 stop range which is large enough for all but the most extreme lighting conditions I have encountered.

Do you think this technique has a decent chance of producing a quality HDR image? Note that my goal is to produce fine art prints, so to be useful for me it would have to produce very clean digital negatives.

Bracketed exposures from -3 EV to +2 EV

Exposures bracketed in camera from -3 EV to +2 EV

ANSWER: The first consideration is how the high dynamic range image will be created. You can combine bracketed exposures using one of many HDR software applications or you can manually blend exposures using masking techniques. Exposure requirements will vary depending on the contrast of the scene and the blending technique. Having a full set of exposures at one stop increments can be more important for HDR software than manually blending exposures. HDR software usually does best (and often requires) being given a full range of exposures with narrow and consistent EV increments, as you point out. One stop is common, but I know people who go to extremes and bracket in 1/2 or 1/3 stops. I don’t use HDR software in my workflow. All the HDR software I have used tends to create image quality and adjustment control issues of various types, regardless of how the bracketed exposures were created.

Even though I usually take a full range of exposures, often only two of the exposures are required when manually blending using masking techniques. If I have one complete exposure for the sky and one complete exposure for the landscape, then I only blend these two exposures and keep my life simple. This video from my Extending Dynamic Range tutorials demonstrates a simple two exposure blend.

You may get lucky while using your camera’s three shot auto bracket feature and find that you captured the precise two exposures you need for such a blend, but since every scenario is different there isn’t a reliable way to reproduce this every time.

In more extreme contrast situations there may be brighter areas of the sky or very extreme areas of shadow and highlight in the landscape that require the use of additional exposures. When manual blending, one can make decisions about which exposures and how many exposures to use on an case by case basis. Having a full range of exposures to choose from is helpful in this respect. Blending exposures with masks is a challenging skill, but with practice I find that better control and better final image quality can be achieved. Some very fine printed images are being created with HDR software to be sure, but if the best quality is your goal you will eventually run into some downsides.

So, if you don’t capture a full range of exposures is it a good option to fill in the gaps digitally? As you describe, it is possible to create virtual copies in Lightroom with different EVs. Per the “conventional wisdom” Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw certainly can be used to push or pull exposure. However, to what degree this can be done and what can be considered “safe” is subjective. It depends on whether you push or pull the exposure and what side affects you are willing to accept.

If the best image quality is your goal, having “properly” exposed captures can be just as important as the number and increment of those exposures. What constitutes a “proper” exposure isn’t necessarily intuitive. Digitally reducing  exposure (pushing) in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw is generally “safe”. In fact it can actually be preferable. One way to hide noise in an image is to digitally decrease exposure making the image darker. Intentionally over exposing (also known as Exposing To The Right or ETTR) and then digitally lowering the exposure produces better image quality. This is why ETTR is commonly advocated in digital photography. When it comes to bracketing, digitally creating +1 EV and +2 EV exposures from a +3 EV capture in Lightroom should give great results in the mid-tones and shadows. The highlights will be clipped but these should be contained in your darker exposures.  For a more complete run down on the virtues of ETTR and some examples check out this article by Jeff Schewe.

Digitally increasing exposure (pulling) is where you will run into problems. Dark regions of an image are very data poor so they have a low signal to noise ratio. The reason they are dark is because relatively few photons (signals) were collected by the sensor. Digitally increasing the exposure of underexposed images boosts the signal but also boosts the noise. With a low signal to noise ratio the noise will overpower the signal. An image captured at -3 EV and then digitally lightened two stops to -1 EV will show substantial quality issues. For best image quality it is preferable to avoid lightening dark areas as much as possible.

If you are using HDR software the following is important to note. As far as I know, no HDR software is capable of reading the exposure adjustments you make to raw or DNG files in Lightroom or Camera Raw. Raw adjustments are only parameters contained in the metada and HDR software does not access these parameters. This means that in order for HDR software to use your digitally bracketed exposures you would first need to open the virtual copies and save them as tif files with different EVs, and then load the tif files into the HDR software.

So, your proposed technique can work to an extent if you take the right steps. In many cases it may even produce very good results. However, to minimize noise, it would be best to create your digital exposures by always lowering the exposure of the brighter frames and not the other way around. For example, generate +1 and +2 EV virtual copies from a +3 EV capture, -1 and -2 EV copies from a 0 EV capture and -4 and -5 EV copies from a -3 EV capture.

There are occasions in which I will create exposures digitally for the purpose of blending. Sometimes I fail to take a complete range of bracketed exposures or I’m not able to use one or more of my exposures due to things moving in the frame between shots. At a minimum I make sure I have one exposure for highlights, one exposure for mid-tones and one exposure for shadows. Usually I try to capture a full range of exposures if I can. This ensures the most flexibility. A properly exposed series of images with one stop increments will give you a more complete gradient of tonal information to work with compared to capturing just three exposures taken at three stop increments.

Taking all of the above into account, let’s address the central motivation behind your question, the limited auto bracketing capability of your camera. If your camera would auto-bracket more than three exposures it is unlikely that you would be considering using digitally created exposures in the first place. I recommend making it a non-issue by not using the auto bracket feature at all, regardless of how many shots your camera will bracket. My camera will auto bracket up to seven EVs but I never use auto bracketing unless I have a specific reason to (such as hand-held bracketing for example). Nearly every scene requires a different number of exposures and the range of exposures is rarely centered perfectly around the meter’s 0 EV. Using an arbitrary number of auto bracketed exposures means regularly capturing too many or too few exposures (in your case with a max of three, usually too few). And if the actual exposure is shifted from what the camera meter picks as 0 EV, then you might have the right number of exposures but going in the wrong direction. Manually bracketing exposures solves these issues. I take my first frame at 0 EV and then I check the histogram. Sometimes one exposure is all I need. If the histogram shows clipping of highlights or shadows or both, then I compensate my exposure up and/or down one stop at a time until I have one frame with a histogram that properly exposes for the shadows, one frame with a histogram that properly exposes for the highlights and some number of one stop increments in between. Sometimes the scene dictates two exposures, or three or five or eight or eleven. Whatever the contrast range requires, this technique ensures that I have what I need, but not more.  This video from the Extending Dynamic Range series illustrates this concept further.

Another manual bracketing technique I use is tonal region bracketing using my camera’s live view feature. In aperture priority mode I move the exposure target box around on the screen to various tonal zones, such as an area of brightest sky, mid-tone land and dark shadows, and take a shot in each zone. The camera automatically adjusts the exposure for each zone as I shoot. The result is a series of exposures that should contain the proper exposure for each tonal zone. They may not be one stop increments, but as long as I have optimal exposures for highlights, mid-tones and shadows I don’t care. Of course, this technique doesn’t work well when using HDR software which expects consistent EV increments.

Finally, not every scene we encounter has high contrast light so bracketing is frequently not necessary. When photographing in balanced, low and medium contrast light situations all the tonal information readily fits within a single exposure. I regularly come across people auto bracketing nine exposures in low and moderate contrast light, just as a matter of habit. In such situations it isn’t necessary to take two exposures, let alone nine. I start with one exposure and look at the histogram. If I see that all the tonal values have been captured, I’m done. Taking valuable time and filling up memory cards with additional exposures is something I do only if I absolutely have to. Many of my images are captured in a single exposure. With a single exposure I attempt to get a proper exposure (ETTR) without clipping the highlights. In post this enables me to decrease the EV and do as little shadow recovery as possible. This gives better results than starting with an underexposed image and trying to lighten it to bring out shadow detail. Again, see the Jeff Schewe article for more insight into why this is the case.

Featured Photographer-Patrick Di Fruscia

by Chip Phillips
August 7th, 2014

by Chip Phillips

 

This month we welcome Patrick Di Fruscia as our guest photographer.  Patrick has been an inspiration to me from the very beginning.  I remember looking at his images on Flickr in awe, and thinking “I want to take pictures like that some day!”.  I am happy to have the opportunity to ask him some questions!

 

Live-Before-you-Die---Moraine-Lake,-Alberta-,-Canada

 

How did you get your start in photography, and who are/were your inspirations? I used to work as a marketing manager in a sport supplement company and one day the owner came to me and asked me to undertake the task of learning photography. He grew tired of paying professional photographers to take pictures of athletes and images of his whole product line. At first, I thought this was an absurd request but decided to try it anyway. He purchased my first camera, and there I went, trying to learn this great tool. I literally started reading everything I could find about photography and quickly this task became a hobby. I was taking pictures of pretty much everything from buildings to cars, flowers, insects..you name it. My hobby really turned into a passion the time I did a road trip across the charming province and Quebec and ended up on top of Mt Ernest Laforce in the Gaspe Peninsula. I knew then that this was my calling. That day it hit me like some sort of divine intervention… I wanted to experience, see & feel the beauty of our beautiful planet and photography was the perfect medium to do it. Since then I have set my lifelong goal to always perfect my craft. I know that this will be an endless curve and I will only have myself to blame if I don’t live up to my full potential. As far as Inspirations, didn’t really have any to start with.

 Long-Way-Home---Faroe-Islands

What are some of your favorite new photographic locations, or locations that you haven’t shot yet that you are looking forward to shooting? I really want to visit New Zealand and Patagonia..these two locations are definitely on the top of my my bucket list.

 

Your images have always been inspirational to me, especially your images from Norway. Tell us about your connection to Norway.  I was really fortunate to meet a photographer friend from Norway back in 2005 named Terje Sorgjerd while on a photography trip in Costa Rica. He then invited me over to his country to join him on a road trip. I immediately fell in love with this beautiful country. So much that I decided to join him again in 2010 for another great road trip…this time we made it all the way to Lofoten. This is a definite must place to visit for all landscape photographers. I barely scratched the surface of this great country. Really want and need to go back soon.

 Desolate-Beauty---Wet-Valley,-Norway

Many people have jumped ship from Canon and gone over to Nikon. Are you part of this crowd, and why or why not? Or, have you always used Nikon? Tell us a bit about your equipment. I did also jumped ship from Canon to Nikon. I have lots of demand for large prints and for now I feel that Nikon offers the best tool for the type of photography I do. The high megapixel and high dynamic range of the Nikon D800E brings me want I need in order to produce large prints. I am not sold to one company or another, I use whatever I feel can help me deliver the highest images possible for the type of photography I do.

 Sharpened-version

What are you excited about in regards to photography in the future? What are you concerned about?  I cant really say that I am excited or concerned about anything in regards to the technical side of photography aside from maybe one day we will have sensor that can capture the images exactly as the human eye can see it with high dynamic range. This will definitely make my life easier. What excites me the most about photography is the fact that this is a career/passion that I can do till the rest of my life. No need to think about retiring when you do something you love.

When-the-Heart-Rules-The-Mind---Lofoten,-Norway

Stay Strong & Live with Passion
Patrick Di Fruscia
www.DiFrusciaPhotography.com
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Follow me on Instagram: @difruscia

Movies That Inspire and Excite

by Adrian Klein
August 4th, 2014

Chances are you would rather be out exploring and enjoying outdoors whether curb side view, hiking miles into the woods, paddling majestic waterways or the myriad of other options instead of reading a blog post. I can relate, seeing amazing places in photos and videos is rarely enough.

Not long ago I was having lunch with someone that said something I could not relate to at all. He said seeing amazing places in videos and photos is good enough for him and he doesn’t need to go see them himself (obviously he is not a photographer or outdoor enthusiast). For me it’s the exact opposite. When I read, see or hear about locations that offer great adventures or fantastic photo opportunities I want to go. It whets my appetite for more. I may never get to a particular location I am viewing photos of or dreaming about yet it certainly fuels the fire to simply get out. Being an armchair adventurer is not the goal. Getting out is and that is exactly what happens!

Baraka

One way I get inspired is watching flicks that make me think about places I have been, where I want to go, how I take my photos. Below is a short list of movies that makes me excited about getting out for the next outing or capturing the next spectacular photo.

One Man’s Wilderness
Few of us will ever attempt (or even desire to attempt) what Richard (Dick) Proenneke does for many years of his life. After spending decades working in the rat race around age 50 he decides to leave it all behind for year-around living of solitude in the Alaskan Wilderness. He creates his cabin, tools and more documenting his journey in writing along with some video and photo work.
I first heard about the story when someone gave me the book as a gift and since then I have also received or purchased multiple documentaries on his story. I will likely never make such an extreme change in lifestyle yet it’s a great reminder to me how important alone time is outdoors for photography, for rejuvenation, for simply reflecting on life and escaping the hustle and bustle daily life brings for many of us.

http://www.dickproenneke.com/

SALT
If you are picturing Angelina Jolie as a Russian spy right now chances are you are on the wrong blog. During the summer of 2010 I was getting ready to head for bed one evening when I figured I would watch a few minutes of TV before calling it a night. There are not many shows I watch and considering our TV gets less than 20 stations (mostly CSPAN and community access) you can tell our family is not big tube watchers. That said a couple stations I do enjoy from our wide assortment includes OPB and Discovery. That night I clicked on OPB and was immediately engulfed with what was on…which I found out afterward was the short film SALT. I subsequently took the time to watch the full video less than a week later.
Murray Fredericks as a landscape photographer documents his numerous solo adventures on Lake Eyre in Australia. Besides stunning video and photos he talks about what he is thinking while spending weeks alone on this vast open lake including SAT calls with his family. I place this in the must-view-category for any landscape or adventure photographer.

http://www.saltdoco.com/index.htm

Baraka and Samsara
Anyone that is serious into time lapse photography knows of the movies Baraka and it’s recent sequel Samsara. When I first met my wife over a decade ago she mentioned a movie Baraka playing at our local independent theatre that I would likely enjoy. Entering the theatre filled with mostly empty red velvet seats I had low hopes. Walking out I was in awe. 96 minutes of amazing footage with no words other than a few tribal chants.
Since then I have purchased Baraka and earlier this year my wife bought me the sequel which I have also watched and enjoyed just as much.  If you have not seen either of these you are missing out. They are worth your time.

http://barakasamsara.com/baraka/about

The Other Side of the Ice
There are two kinds of people, those that gravitate to the ocean and those that gravitate to land. I am naturally drawn to spending my time on land with a little water sprinkled in for good measure. I have full respect for those that can spend many weeks and months on a ship and little time ashore.
In The Other Side of the Ice a family successfully navigates the infamous Northwest Passage over a five month journey. It does not happen without amazing views, emotional struggles and close calls. I will say this is the only title in this post that I have not seen the whole movie. I read the book which I feel was very good yet all the reviews and trailers for the movie don’t excite me as much as the book. If you are not a book reader then the movie is an option.

The Other Side of the Ice

Happy People
There are very few of us left on planet Earth choosing to live without most of what the modern world offers… smartphones, high tech cars, piped heat/water, online ordering, the list goes on. This documentary shows the life of trappers and their families living in Bakhtia, the heart of Siberian Taiga. It’s a reminder that we don’t always need all the fancy gadgets of the modern world to survive and be happy.  When I leave the house and forget my iPhone, and I wonder how I will do a few hours without it I need to remember and think of folks in this film. Although not the life for me to live day-in-day-out, they obviously do quite well with very little. What can you do without?

180 South
At home sick one day roaming Netflix streaming I came across this movie. I remembered hearing about it yet hadn’t taken the time to watch it until this point. Amazing documentary, plain and simple. If you are in search of adventure, good stories and amazing visual feasts look no further. It’s hard to watch and not want to back your bags the next day for exotic lands. When thinking of travel and adventure documentaries, 180 South is first to come to mind.

I leave you with a quote from another movie about adventure, Into the Wild. I love the book and movie yet it’s more main stream which is why I left it out of this post.

“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.”
- Christopher McCandless

What movies get you excited about getting outdoors for photography or fun?

Something Different, Something Fun: 3 AutoPainter Apps for the Smartphone by David M. Cobb

by photocascadia
July 28th, 2014

Something Different, Something Fun: 3 AutoPainter Apps for the Smartphone

By David M. Cobb

Meerkerk Garden Monet style.

Meerkerk Garden Monet style.

I recently downloaded the AutoPainter apps by Mediachance for my iPhone, and immediately began to play. The apps use your photos to imitate the styles of famous painters like Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne, etc. You can download AutoPainter 1, 2, and 3 to turn your iPhone images into painterly shots. (Of course not all images work–a crappy image will be a crappy painterly image.) I’ve found the apps work particularly well with flowers or greenery, so think like an impressionist and you’ll get the idea of what works and what doesn’t work.

To create a painterly image open one of the AutoPainter apps, choose an artist, go to your camera roll to choose a photo, and click begin–the app does the rest. Each AutoPainter offers four different artists to choose from, so there are 12 artists combined on the three apps. I’ve included two samples in the styles of Monet and Van Gogh as examples of converted images that I liked.

Gorge Wildflowers Van Gogh style.

Columbia Gorge Wildflowers Van Gogh style.

Lime Kiln Lighthouse – The Elusive One by Kevin McNeal

by photocascadia
July 24th, 2014

 

Lime Kiln Lighthouse During Storm

Lime Kiln Lighthouse During Storm

 

One of my favorite subjects to photograph is lighthouses.  There’re so many possibilities in terms of composition when shooting lighthouses. And when it comes to deciding what image or images to display its really hard to decide a favorite. I recently came back from a trip to the San Jan Islands to shoot the Lime Kiln Lighthouse. Ever since I began photography I have seen images of this lighthouse in magazines, books, and the Internet. It has always been a goal of mine to capture this mesmerizing subject in amazing conditions. I have visited this place half a dozen times but have always met with cloudy conditions. This past week I finally got some great weather and was able to shoot the lighthouse for three straight days.

 

Admiring The Sunset

Admiring The Sunset

Lime Kiln Lighthouse is found on Friday Harbor, which is one of the many islands that make up the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest. To get here you need to take a ferry from Anacortes, which runs only a few times a day. Once on the island it is a short twenty-minute drive across the island to Lime Kiln State Park. Accessing the lighthouse is easy with a short hike and can be photographed from both sides.

Spooky Watcher Of Lime Kiln Lighthouse

Spooky Watcher Of Lime Kiln Lighthouse

 

Like most people I try to check the internet for up to the minute weather reports and time adventures with favorable conditions but for some reason the Lime Kiln Lighthouse has always alluded me and never worked out so when I made the decision to go the weather forecast was calling for partly cloudy conditions all week so I figured this was my chance. I made the drive to Anacortes from Olympia but was dealt a bad blow in traffic and it took me double the time to get there.

 

Late Twilight Image Of Lime Kiln Lighthouse

Late TwilightI mage Of Lime Kiln Lighthouse

 

As I pulled up to the ticket booth the lady explained I just missed the 4:45 pm and would now have to wait till 8:45 pm. This meant I would miss another opportunity to photograph this lighthouse that had been getting the better of me ever since I began photography. With sadness I began to tell me story to the lady hoping she could come up with a solution to my problem. With a little change in her voice she explained that I might just make a ferry ride to Lopez Island and then do some island hoping to catch a last minute ferry that would get me to Friday Harbor by 9pm and the lighthouse by 9:30pm. Sunset was at 9:20pm. Would that be too late and would I have to forgo this trip again and try again another day?

 

Golden Light In The Cove

Golden Light In The Cove

 

I decided to give it a try and when it was all done and said I got to the lighthouse a little earlier than expected and was treated to an amazing sunset. In the end I was able to capture three full days of different conditions and now setting on a composition would be the toughest part. When I edit my images one or two might strike me as standouts and make the choice easy for me but other times not so easy.

 

The Quiet Night - Lime Kiln Lighthouse

The Quiet Night – Lime Kiln Lighthouse

 

 

Starry Night At Lime Kiln Lighthouse

Starry Night At Lime Kiln Lighthouse

 

 

This was one of those times. I had so many choices to go with that I decided to write this blog on my frustration and hopefully receive some feedback from my readers. So I would love to know if you have any favorites out of this image since I am not sure where to begin..

 

Looking Up At The Storm - Lime Kiln Lighthouse

Looking Up At The Storm – Lime Kiln Lighthouse

 

 

 

Sony Alpha A6000-by Chip Phillips

by Chip Phillips
July 16th, 2014

 

_24C0127

About a month ago, I realized I should probably get something smaller than my 4+ lb DSLR to take pictures of my new family.  I also wanted something that would give me good enough image quality so that if I was out somewhere without my main kit I could still shoot some landscape “keepers”.  My first purchase was a Sony RX100. I purchased this neat little camera based on some great reviews, very compact size, and fast fixed lens.  The fact that it had a larger than normal sensor for a compact was what pushed me click the “buy now” button on Amazon.  Keep in mind, this was all a bit of an impulse, as I had a newborn only a few days old and not a ton of time to research.  That, and I was feeling pretty groggy :)  I received the camera a day later, took some images, and while the quality was good, plenty good for most, it just wasn’t going to cut it for the price I payed for that camera.  So, I came across this nice little comparison website  and after swapping cameras for a while, I came across the A6000 which I had never heard of.  As you can see, it holds its own pretty well even against my Canon 5D Mark III (only up to around ISO 400 though), and is visibly miles ahead of the RX100.  To be fair, there is always bit of focus error with these types of tests unless manual focus is used, with live view, zoomed in 10x.   Even then, some lenses either back focus (like my new Canon 24-70 f4L) or front focus.  So some softness could be due to that.  I can attest to the difference in detail between both Sonys though, because I have personally tested both.

Sony A6000 Canon 5d mark III Sony RX100

So I bought one.  Then, I read some reviews of the Sony 10-18mm F4 ultra-wide angle lens and thought I’d check one of those too.  Nice little ultra-wide zoom!  I also picked up a Sony 35mm f1.8 lens for shallow depth of field shots.  Really Right Stuff makes an L-Plate for this camera, and you can get polarizers for the lenses and a cable release for long exposures.  All together the entire kit weighs about as much as my Canon 5D Mark III and one lens!  This should be great for backpacking, or traveling.  It does feel good to get back to the DSLR after shooting with this thing for a while though.  A couple of things that could use improvement IMO are:  better high-ISO performance, the digital viewfinder image looks pretty ridiculous.  I haven’t looked into many other mirror-less cameras, but MUCH prefer seeing through the lens of my DSLR.  Also, the viewfinder/LCD, when switched to auto detect, can be really annoying-switching back and forth while composing a shot if a hand or finger sets it off.  And, build.  The build is pretty good, but the dial on the back feels a bit cheap, and slightly loose. Things that really impress me are: image quality, auto focus (amazing), speed, size, and  the image stabilization within the lenses is really good.  Actually, the lenses that Sony makes for this are pretty freaking good too, especially for their featherlight weight.

Here are some travel shots taken with the A6000.

_DSC0624 copy _DSC0647 _DSC0628 copy

PRE-VISUALIZATION PART 1 – STARTING THE PROCESS

by photocascadia
July 10th, 2014

by Zack Schnepf

I’m going to start a new series on what I consider to be the most important part of my photography. It’s also one the most challenging concepts for many of my students during workshops.

What do I mean when I say pre-visualization? This is concept I learned from my artist parents, from studying fine art in college and from Alain Briot. Pre-visualization is forming an idea for an image and using it as a roadmap to capture and process an image. Before I even pick up my camera I want to have an idea of what I’m trying to communicate, or achieve with this image. I want to evaluate a location, assess it’s potential in different light, atmosphere and conditions; and I want to come up with different composition ideas that express what I’m trying to say about each specific location. Once I have a pre-visualized idea; I then start problem solving. I figure out how to best capture the information I need so I have everything I need when I get home to process the image. Once I’m home on my processing workstation, I use that same pre-visualized idea to guide my processing to create the final master file

Part 1: Starting the process

Anytime I’m going to visit a new location I research it extensively. I find guides for a specific location, look at images that have already been shot of an area, and try to figure out when would be the best time to visit. This gives me a good starting point.

Once I arrive to a new location the first thing I do is explore. I normally don’t even get my camera out unless I want to take a reference shot to look at later for ideas. I usually just hike around and get a sense of the place. It’s almost a meditation for me. I try to let my mind relax and grab on to things intuitively. For instance, if I notice a cool formation in the foreground I make a mental note of it. I start picking out the elements that attract me to this location and make a mental list.

Once I’ve thoroughly explored the area, the real process of pre-visualization begins. I start trying to figure out how to arrange all these compositional elements to create an image that captures the essence of that place. I also try to communicate part my own experience. For example, if the morning is serene and peaceful I try to compose the image to communicate that, I would also process the image to try to keep with that theme. This process is always challenging, I thought the more I practiced the easier it would get, but it’s always a struggle and a lot of mental effort. However, I do work a lot faster the more I practice.

Here is a good example. The only reason I was able to capture this image was because I had scouted this area the day before. Even though I was exhausted from backpacking all day and hadn’t set up camp yet, I dropped my pack and started scouting before we lost the light. I found this spot and knew it’s where I wanted to be in the morning. I could see the sun would rise behind the lake and would backlight the scene and really bring out the essence of this incredible location.

Blazing Enchantments

Blazing Enchantments

In the next parts of this series I’ll talk about how I continue to pre-visualize throughout my entire workflow.

Tony Kuyper’s Updated Actions Panel: Great New Features and Photoshop CC (2014) Compatible

by Sean Bagshaw
June 30th, 2014

 

Like the guys here at Photo Cascadia, many readers of the Photo Cascadia blog have been using Tony Kuyper’s luminosity mask tutorials and Photoshop actions for years. Many readers are also aware that Tony recently produced an update to his custom actions panel. Despite how well known Tony’s resources have become in the world of outdoor photography, I’m sure we have some readers who haven’t run across luminosity masks yet or who have heard of them but aren’t exactly sure what they are or what they do. With the recent release of Tony’s update, as well as the release of Photoshop CC (2014), I wrote this article to quickly bring everyone up to speed.

Luminosity masks and Tony Kuyper's actions were essential in many of the adjustments made during the developing of this image.

Luminosity masks and Tony Kuyper’s actions were essential in many of the adjustments made during the developing of this image.

The update of Tony’s TKActions Panel became necessary when Adobe announced that the 2014 version of Photoshop CC (released on June 18, 2014) would require custom panels to be coded in HTML5 and would no longer support the use of panels built with Flash, like the original TK Actions Panel was. One option for Tony would have been to recode an exact copy of the original TK Panel with HTML5, a painstaking process in its own right. However, Tony felt that he could make the panel even better, so he spent a lot of time consulting with myself and other experienced users and adding new actions and powerful new features to the TKActions Panel. As a result, not only does the panel continue to be functional (thankfully) for those of us who are using Photoshop CC (2014), but everyone, including Photoshop CS5 and CS6 users, gets the benefit of all the new features.

The Updated TKActions Panel

The Updated TKActions Panel

So what are Luminosity Masks and what does the TKActions Panel do (this article explains the basics)? Luminosity masks are created with the use of luminosity selections which can be generated from Alpha Channels in Photoshop. One of the most important aspects of Photoshop is the ability to make selections and masks. Luminosity selections are very precise and self-feathering selections based on the luminosity, or brightness value, of every pixel in an image. Using luminosity selections to create luminosity masks provides an unparalleled degree of control over image adjustments and provides access to an endless variety of creative image developing techniques. In the following video I demonstrate some of the basics of luminosity masks.

It’s possible to manually generate all the luminosity selections and masks in Photoshop, but doing so is a time consuming endeavor requiring a carpel tunnel inducing number of mouse clicks. To streamline the use of luminosity masks, Tony started creating Photoshop actions that would automatically reproduce all the repetitive procedures required to make them. The TKActions Panel adds even further efficiency and functionality to the actions. The panel is a command center from which to launch the various actions with a single click.

Some of the features in the updated version of the panel include:
1) A new two-tab layout for improved efficiency
2) Color-coded sections
3) “View” buttons to provide a visual overlay of which pixels are actually selected
4) Zone masks that focus adjustments to very narrow tonal ranges
5) Web-sharpening actions for vertical and horizontal dimensions and for high-definition dimensions
6) Several new buttons to correspond to some techniques discussed in recent blog posts.
7) One-click live selections (instead of Ctrl/Cmd-clicking a mask)
8) New buttons for creating adjustment layers and changing blending modes
9) Simplified subtracted mask generation
10) “Progressive actions” for experimenting with many different options

After years of studying Tony’s tutorials, using his techniques and developing some of my own, he and I began collaborating to produce video tutorials to help people learn how to utilize luminosity masks and get the most Tony’s actions.

If you are interested in learning more about luminosity masks and Tony’s techniques in general there are many resources available. Tony maintains a substantial library of free luminosity mask tutorials on his website and his blog. Additionally I have several videos available to view on-line that will give you a good preview of what is possible. The video excerpts at the bottom of this page are from the tutorial series I produced called The TK Panel. The series is the direct companion and resource for all the new features Tony has added to the updated panel.

In addition, Tony’s luminosity mask tutorials and tools have become indispensable to photographers and Photoshop users around the world. Many have taken time to write about them on their own. Some of these include John Shaw, Alister BennRichard Wong, Michael Breitung, Don Smith, André Distel and Ryan Cary.

All of Tony’s actions and tutorials, as well as the video tutorials I produced to go with them, are available on my website (OutdoorExposurePhoto.com) and also on Tony’s Special Offers page.  I hope this information on luminosity masks in general and the update on the current TKActions Panel has been informative. Feel free to contact me or leave a comment if you have questions or anything to share.

Badlands of Central Oregon

by Adrian Klein
June 23rd, 2014

By Adrian Klein

I stand there watching the sunset feeling as remote as one can be. No other people except my friend and I, enjoy the sounds and smells of nature. That is the beauty of the Badlands in Central Oregon for those that don’t want to involve a big backpack or hiking trip covering a large distance or elevation to escape. You feel very removed from it all yet only miles up the path and miles up the road is a bustling town.

Only hours earlier my friend and I were sitting in the sun at one of Bend’s newer breweries. No shortage of good ones to visit yet that is a different blog post. After finishing up our meal and IPA we set out on the highway. It was a short drive. About 20 miles and we were at the trailhead for Oregon Badlands Wilderness.

Wildflowers in the Badlands appear to be growing from the ends of this dead bush.

It’s May and as you step out of the car you quickly realize why this is no place to visit in summer. With the high expected of 70 degrees Fahrenheit it’s a cooker in my book when the sun pokes through the clouds. It’s the weekend yet the trailhead has all of three cars, including ours. This is my second time here and neither time was busy.

The Badlands is high desert. There is no water source when you are out there unless you consider putting out a bucket to catch rain drops that infrequent the area. The lack of water is made up by very easy hiking even with a full backpack. The elevation is basically flat. Our 3 mile hike maybe gained a hundred feet. Well in all reality lost 100 ft too so let’s just call it even.

Badlands Light Storm

Storm light brings on a nice glow at the end of the day at the Badlands Wilderness.

The few trails throughout the wilderness are easy to follow. That said a GPS and map would be helpful if you venture too far off trail. Everything looks the same and I could see getting lost while off trail as an easy achievement whether intended or not. Here is a map for more details.

Now to the photography aspect, this is a blog relating to photography after all.

Seasons:

  • Spring – The wildflowers are out usually in April and May and the temps are comfortable.
  • Summer – Avoid unless you like very hot dry conditions, without a water source, and no flowers. This place would not appeal to me for photography in summer.
  • Fall – The temps are back to comfortable and Rabbitbrush will add some nice color to your images.
  • Winter – Going when a light layer of show has fallen appears to be the right choice. I plan to try it this winter.

Overall you have options every season except summer. My personal opinion of course.

Badlands Flower

Fragile and delicate sand lilies on the desert floor. Taken with iPhone 5S

Points of Interest:

  • Views – If you want to get up “high” your only options are a few large rock formations such as Flatiron Rock that will get you up just high enough to see over the trees and out to the mountain ranges.
  • Flowers – As mentioned the spring season will bring a variety of flowers. My photos only show a few types that you will see.
  • Trees – One of the highlights of this place is the endless assortment of knotted and gnarled juniper trees. Not as cool as the timeless bristle cone trees yet I saw many that remind me of them.
  • Rocks – Some of the rock formations were rather interesting. I saw a number of cool colors/textures that would make for possible triptych photos as well as the more common anchor for your foreground when taking landscapes.
  • Weather – Going in spring increases your chance of more dramatic skies. All seasons except summer has a decent shot to experience something except dull gray or crystal blue. We were fortunate enough on our trip to get some thunder and lightning rolling in around sunset.
Twist and Burn

A close up of a juniper tree that appears to have met it’s final day with the strike of a lightning bolt.

In summary if you are looking for an under-visited desert with compositions that take a little time to find (but are worth the time finding) then this is a place worth taking a trip to. We chose backpacking to be close to where we wanted to take the photos yet hiking in early or later in the day is certainly an option as long as you are well equipped to find your way.

The sunset view from the top of Flatiron Rock in the Badlands.

Photographing in Fog by David M. Cobb

by photocascadia
June 16th, 2014

Photographing in Fog

By David M. Cobb

 

Fog in the Great Smoky Mountains clears out the background clutter.

Fog in the Great Smoky Mountains clears out the background clutter.

 

Fog is the great equalizer in landscape photography; it can simplify the composition by eliminating all the background “noise” which can clutter an image. It also adds an air of mystery and intrigue to heighten the drama of a photo. When shooting fog you need to check your histogram and move your exposure time accordingly. Cameras tend to underexpose an image in mist, so I’m often shooting at +1 on my metering. Your white balance can come into play too, so experiment with the mood of an image. At 4000 Kelvin the fog will have that cool blue hue which can give a feel for the chill in the air, or at 6000 Kelvin you can punch up the warmth of an image if you choose. When processing your photo, you can play with the white balance for the look you like best. I also don’t add much contrast to foggy images when processing, because the more contrast you add the less fog you’ll have in the photo.

Don't add too much contrast to a foggy image.

Don’t add too much contrast to a foggy image.

While photographing in the fog I pay attention to my exposure time. If it’s a thick “pea soup” fog, I may adjust my aperture to f8 or f11 for a shorter exposure time. The longer the aperture stays open the thicker the fog will be in your photo. In fog, I really don’t worry about depth-of-field too much since the mist will shroud the image in the distance. If the fog is light, but I’d like to give the illusion that it’s thicker, I might shoot at f16 or f22 for a longer exposure time. For the interval the aperture is open fog keeps rolling by, and the fog in the photo will appear thicker than it actually was at the time.

You can easily shoot at f8 or f11 on foggy days.

You can easily shoot at f8 or f11 on foggy days.

Mixing fog at Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone.

Mixing fog at Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone.

There are different types of fog and they act differently. Along the coast the fog will come and go with beautiful breaks of light from time to time.  This type of advection fog is harder to predict as warm air moves over cool water, but it appears like clockwork at certain times of the day in the Redwoods. Another type of fog (called mixing fog) originates from natural geological phenomenon like geysers, hot springs, or even warm lakes. On cool mornings or evenings this fog will be thick, but recedes quickly as the day warms. I enjoy photographing radiation fog a lot too, and I find this kind often on fall mornings as temperatures near the surface of the land are below dew point. You can predict this variety of condensation more accurately by checking temperatures and dew points online for the area you’re photographing. If you have clear skies and a calm morning, chances are you’ll get some good morning conditions for photography. I’ve also captured upslope fog as warm air is pushed up a mountain valley until it condenses. I’ve been in this type of fog many times, but I’d rather photograph it filling the valley from the mountains above.

Radiation fog fills the cool valleys of the Sawtooth Mountains.

Radiation fog fills the cool valleys of the Sawtooth Mountains.

Coastal fog is difficult to predict.

Coastal fog is difficult to predict.

 

Upslope fog in the Goat Rocks Wilderness with Rainier in the distance.

Upslope fog in the Goat Rocks Wilderness with Rainier in the distance.

A couple more pointers on fog: if it’s thick fog concentrate on form and shape since that’s what will carry the image, and if the fog is breaking then concentrate on light because it can be spectacular. And if you are in fog, don’t forget to check your lens now and again since you may need to wipe off a few water droplets from collecting condensation.

A light morning mist rises above these Texas wildflowers.

A light morning mist rises above these Texas wildflowers.