Monday, December 26, 2011

A winter without snow

I live just a couple of hundred yards from the Boise River, whose course provides the right-of-way for our Green Belt. As it winds its way through the city of Boise it provides a generous variety of scenery and natural attractions. The little stretch near me has several stands of cottonwood forests, islands, and ponds that I've become quite familiar with. It's odd that that familiarity contributes to my not taking my camera along most of the times I traipse through and around it, which is often. Perhaps I'm just not pushing myself enough to look for photos.

A week ago I saw an afternoon sky developing and I thought it might offer a promise of possibility, particularly for HDR, so I suited up for the 15 degree weather, donned my Nikon, perched my tripod on my shoulder, and lit out to the river. By the time I got there, the sky I in which I had seen so much promise had morphed into something completely different, but I was here and had the gear, so I was going to take some pictures. After all, one doesn't go to all this preparation and then not follow through.

Here's what happened:

This happens almost every time I have my camera with me: I'm really glad I did.

Inertia. It really can by one's enemy!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Trade Offs

There's no doubt that we can come up with breath taking, reality defying images using HDR and I'll be the first to admit I'm always ready to push the envelope in that direction. There are times, however, when we are required to stay within the bounds of credibility in order not to convey a false impression. Real estate photography is what I have immediately in mind. Straight forward non-manipulated images can be quite striking while making the subject look better than it did when we took the photo. Using a polarizer to minimize reflections and intensify skies is a good example. Did the house really look this striking? Was the sky really that blue? No, but we all agree that the use of the polarizing filter was easily justified.

So where do we cross the line into a fantasy land that we've created with our software toys? Usually the client wants and needs an honest portrayal of his or her property and as much as the "bloggers's delight" version might make them gasp in wonderment, it's probably way too far over the edge to be useful to them. But because we can show some restraint and produce realistic and honest photos using HDR, it becomes an excellent tool, especially if we're not inclined to make a major production out of a shoot using a truck load of extra lighting and peripheral equipment.

Above are the results of a shoot I did last week at Tamarack Resort here in Idaho. You can see it was a very bright, sunny day which makes great calendar scenics but causes us a whole bunch of unwanted issues when trying to do something out of the ordinary. The first is the "correctly" exposed image in the series of three I used, and it produced a decent shot that could have floated by the client. But compare it with the HDR composite image following it and tell me which you would prefer.

I like the way the shadows, especially under the eaves, opened up and the snow took on a more rich texture. Still, the photo looks fairly natural and gives a good showing of the house. Here are a few more that will show you some of the problems that bright day caused in a couple of rooms.

This last one of the staircase is admittedly coming close to the border of the fantastic but for me stays in the realm of the realistic and accurately portrays not only what I saw but especially what I felt when I saw it. I loved the mystery and inviting lines of these steps and I think that comes through in this image.

Have you been tinkering along these lines? If so, show me! I'd be glad to post a photo or two here I like them.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Back in the Saddle Again

I've wanted to catch you up on my efforts with HDR (see previous post). But I must not have wanted to do it that badly, I hear you murmur. Well, keeping a roof over and food on can be a time consuming business, which some of you may have noticed.

Last winter I was approached by a very successful Australian interior designer, Fiona Lochtenberg, to do an in-depth photo shoot of her new house at Tamarack, the famed ski resort just south of McCall, Idaho. I might add that it is most famed within the court system of Idaho, where the unfortunate property and anyone financially related to it have been bouncing around for years. In spite of the financial/legal issues surrounding the place, people with disposable income still find it quite an attractive place to be and own. And their reasons are quite apparent.

To do this shoot, which was going to be mostly interiors of a many-roomed mansion, I invested in a new Tamron SP 10-24mm zoom, equivalent to about a 16-37mm for those still stuck in 35mm slr film equivalents (me). It proved to be ideal for the job and I'm glad to have it.

Right up front I knew I was going to shoot this job in HDR (high dynamic range), even though I'd never used this technique on a job before. I figured I had done enough to have a solid enough grasp of it going in. As it turned out, I probably could not have done a better job without it, even though I would do several things differently today and did make a few mistakes along the way.

The weather was gray and gloomy during the last days of December and pulling an interesting shot of the exterior would have been quite a challenge using a straight forward technique. I relied on a heavy dose of HDR on this shot, giving it that surreal, dreamy aspect that is so easily achieved with it. In this case I forgive myself however, and am pleased with the results. I think the way the house blends into the environment, notwithstanding its imposing architecture, is admirable and pleasing. In retro-thought, I may have done well to have lighted up the windows, giving it more of a sanctuary from the harsh winter feeling. That was accomplished with this night shot:

The texture of the snow and the white highlights of the trees were not there in the straight shot version of this photo; I simply couldn't have done this without HDR.

The interior of the house was both a challenge and an exciting opportunity, with lots of design to make a photographer happy.

The house was replete with well-designed features and details which of course made my job both interesting a time consuming (I had a total of about eight hours to do the whole thing, which was adequate but just barely.

This second story patio overlooked a ski run that passes just a couple of yards from the walls of the house:

One of the most intriguing rooms of the house is the kitchen, which is on the interior wall of the main living room/dining area. The other three walls are glass, offering a fantastic view over Tamarack towards Donnelly. There is very little besides a Kitchen Aid to inform one that this is actually a kitchen and not a wet bar.

This is the open balcony of a guest room:

Because of the hundreds of files that resulted I would have been hard pressed to process them all adequately using just Photomatix so I purchased a program called HDR Express. There are many fewer controls and manual tweeks with the latter and it did indeed speed up the process significantly. I found myself dissatisfied with many of my favorite images however, so ended up going back and re-doing them with Photomatix, taking advantage of the hands-on adjustments it gives me. Both programs are great and I think each deserves some space on your hard drive, especially if you're going to be processing HDR shoots that result in more than a few dozen viable images.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

You can stop holding your breath now. . .

In my last entry which was, pathetically, some time ago, I mentioned my new and growing fanhood of High Dynamic Range photography (HDR). I have done a lot of it since then and have slogged my way through the fascination of the exotic and fantastic results one can achieve with it that can be, to say the least, rather extreme (but fun).

For several years, the number one software for generating HDR photos has been, without a doubt in my mind, Photomatix, published by HDRSoft.

The controls offered by its console offer an almost endless possibility of tweaking the many variables to obtain very different results with the same originals. It can be time consuming however, a point to which I'll return as soon as you look at a few of the HDR photos I've done in the past year:

Upon the opening of Idaho's newly refurbished state capitol last year, I was one of the first to visit and photograph its new shininess. There was abundant light for normal photography but I couldn't resist doing the HDR. Since this technique relies on multiple exposures, there is always one at the correct exposure that you can always use as a stand alone so doesn't always have to be one way or the other.

HDR can also be a powerful incentive to get you out into bad weather, if you don't already trend towards the intrepid, hardy, or adventuresome type. I've quite enjoyed what can be done on gray days and snowy scenery:

Above I mentioned how time consuming HDR can be so if you don't like post-production work, you'll probably grit your teeth a bit. Several weeks ago I was hired to photograph a newly completed chalet at Tamarack and I decided to use HDR as my primary approach. I knew I would be returning with a ton of files and the post-processing work flow was going to be crucial. I might just end up making $2 an hour on the job if I wasn't careful! In my next entry I'll tell you what I did. Even better I'll show you.