One way to do it… Pegasus and the Clouds HDR

I have been asked to do this, so I am obliging 🙂

Let me start by saying “I am not an expert”, far from it, I am a hobbyist who experiments with various forms of photography, I happen to like HDR images although I don’t believe I have yet gotten a perfect one, but I have some I like very much and one that has even been recognised and included in a Best Of HDRs collection on WebShots.

Normally when photographers do a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image, it is in full glorious colour, but I have always been fascinated by the idea that some scenes render better in black and white, and that some of those same scenes may even render nicely in a black and white HDR.  I think I mentioned some of the terminology before, but for clarification I will write this post as if I never did  🙂

What is an HDR?  As I understand it, and HDR is an image that tries to capture as much detail in a scene as possible, especially those in brightly lit areas and shadowed areas.  This is where HDRs work best, in a scene that has both heavy shadow and brightly lit areas.  The human eye and brain is amazing, when we look at a scene, we can see the details in both these areas at once, but a camera usually takes its metering from one area, so if we meter for the “average” light of the scene, we get some blown out areas of highlights and some extra dark shadows, if we expose for the darker areas, all the detail in the brighter areas disappear, and vice versa.

In an HDR, we take at least three images or exposures.  You can take more, I have had limited success with more images and do intend to keep experimenting with that in the future.  The greater the tonal differences from bright to dark in the scene the more images you take the better, or more precisely, the more variation in the exposure from image to image, the smoother the transition in details from light to dark will be.  For the purposes of this blog-post I confine the description to the three that I took for the “Pegasus and the Clouds” photograph of my previous post.

I use a Canon Digital Rebel T1i (also known as the EOS 500D in Europe and the KissX3 Digital in Japan), it is my first SLR camera, so all my descriptions will be formed around this camera for this post.  For my three exposures I wanted to get a wide difference in the exposures to get the impact from the clouds, so went into the Exposure compensation settings and with the scroll wheel widened the AEB or Auto Exposure Bracketing settings to +2ev and -2ev, with it set like this, I will be able to take three consecutive photos, one at normal or 0ev, one at -2ev (or underexposed) and one at +2ev (or overexposed).  I also activate “continuous shooting” on the camera, when I press the shutter button, it will take all three exposures consecutively.  One tip, use a tripod if you can, I have a bad habit of not having mine around when I want to try an HDR and always have to try them handheld, this usually plays havoc with aligning the three images in the creation process.  Since the Canon shot all three without me even lifting my finger off the button, this helped a bit as I was hand-holding  the camera:-)

The images to the left are the three exposures, as shot from the camera, the top one being “normal” followed by the underexposed shot that gives me lots of detail in the clouds, and then the overexposed shot that gives me more details in the trees and shrubs.  Since I intended this to be a Black and White HDR, I did not do any colour adjustments in Adobe Lightroom.  I am trying out Lightroom, it is an amazing software for cataloging and processing my RAW files, Amazon has it for under $300.  From Lightroom I exported the three images so that I could process the HDR in a separate software, I had never tried before so I tried using DNG files as my export this time.

The software I wanted to try the HDR combination in is Mediachance’s Dynamic HDR, for its very capable handling of HDRs I find the $55 price tag reasonable.  In this software I go to “Create new HDRI” and add my three images, verify the “ev” values, select “align files in next step”.  and hit OK.

In the alignment stage, the software “fixes” one image, and allows you to manually or automatically align the other two, I usually assume that I had no rotational alignment issues with holding the camera and concentrate on the vertical and horizontal alignment of each layer, I usually reset the values to zero and move from there.  I tend to pick a spot where there are vertical and horizontal lines or crossing lines to align, it gives more contrast and overlay assistance.

Some things I find uncontrollable, like the movement of leaves in the wind, for this black and white, I chose to just ignore them  🙂  If after aligning one portion of the image you find that there is mis-alignment in a separate area, then you need to get into the complex area of “pinning” the portion and moving on to the next area and pinning and aligning it, and so on… just remember that there are two layer that you have to align each time.

Once you think you have the image aligned as you need, hit OK and go onto the next stage which I find the most fascinating, the Tone Mapping, this is where we get to bring out the details in those areas we really want them.  Dynamic HDR has some nice presets that just need tweaking for personal preference.

For the dramatic effect I was looking for with the clouds, I went for a Ultra-Contrast local method of tone mapping, I applied the “sky” 3D filter and lowered the smoothness of that filter to get the most out of the clouds, and just played with the dramatic light strength and radius for personal preference in lighting effects.  Once I had it how I wanted I processed and saved it to a high res TIFF file, which I then re-imported into Lightroom.  Just a note here; the tone mapping portion is where the photographer’s idea of the HDR is expressed, there is so much that you can do, from creating a “cartoony” type image (which I find less preferable) to a more natural type image, to a strong highly tonal image, and more.

At this point I could have just done a Black and White conversion in Lightroom and called it a day, but I was curious to see how my favourite monochrome plugin would treat the image, so I edited the new image in Nik Silver Efex, for my black and white conversion, not much to it, just some neutral conversion and then back to Lightroom.

In Lightroom, I noticed a lot of grain in the image, so I did a touch of noise reduction, some luminance smoothing and some negative clarity, and finally a small crop to remove the post on the far right of the image.

I hope I covered everything I did, since I had to do some re-creation on this as I wasn’t planning a “how to” post on this  🙂  so now I have a before and after image, a normal shot with no processing or editing, give the gloomy sky I could have done some contrast and still gotten a nice image, and the resulting HDR in BW

Just a closing note; this is based on my experience with this one image, there are other HDR software out there and there are other Black and White software too, the ones mentioned here are just the ones I was trying out with this image.  Go out, have fun!


19 thoughts on “One way to do it… Pegasus and the Clouds HDR

  1. Congrats on reaching 50! 😉 I like the results you were able to get. You guys make me want to get out there, get a camera (a real one!) and start shooting.

    1. Thanks, I hope it helps a bit 🙂 My brother reminded me of another software that’s in Beta (that I had mentioned in a previous post), it’s called Oloneo PhotoEngine and it’s free to try right now, a very nice HDR software too.

    1. Thanks Sandra, as an admirer of your photos, I am flattered that you found something to use from my blog 🙂 just remember that this was my experience, and that there are other HDR tutorials out there. I hope you do have fun trying it as I always do 🙂

    1. Thanks 🙂 I actually suggest you try all three and see which works best for you 🙂 So far Oloneo is free because it is still in development, and both the others have a trial period 🙂 But so far I am becoming a big fan of the Nik HDR Efex Pro

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