Battle of the HDR Tips Round 1: Ratcliff vs. Sammon

Photograph by TreyRatcliff
It's Round 1 of the week-long Battle of the HDR Photo Tips: Trey Ratcliff vs. Rick Sammon. Thank you for joining us ringside.

Trey Ratcliff is some dude on the internet that runs Stuck in Customs. His mom visits his blog every day. If people leave bad comments, then his mom gets 'em.
Rick Sammon was at Woodstock and still tries to maintain the PLJ feeling of the '60s. He also scuba dived in Lake Baikal, Sibera – where he photographed the nerpa.

Here we go:

Ratcliff: When I give these tips, just imagine a Michael-Weston-voice over.

Sometimes, when you’re out shooting, it’s best to plan to improvise. You gotta have a plan, but you also need to think back on our feet. Many photographers (myself included) have an introverted side, where you kind of feel comfortable blending into the background, quietly making magic through your lens… but that won’t help you change your future when opportunity arises spontaneously

As an HDR photographer, I am intimately aware of “HDR situations” — those times when there is more light than my camera can handle. This was one of those situations. I had already scouted the entire island of Ibiza, and I knew where the sun was setting and it’s relative location to landmarks of interest. So I knew this beach was going to be perfect. It was going to be a great sunset shot anyway, but then I saw this Italian girl with some friends. She was jumping around, happy, and very spunky. I think anyone that wears a bathing suit like that has a bit of spunky-coefficient that is to be expected. Anyway, I thought she would add something to the beauty of the scene, so to speak, and I went over to talk to her.

She didn’t speak a lick of English, but there is an international language of gestures and “fun communication”. If you both go into it with a nice effort, then it’s really fun to try to talk to someone with this way. Anyway, she said her name was “Wendy” – Italian is “Guendalina.”

I asked her if I could take a photo while she strolled into the ocean. She excitedly said yes and bounced down to the beach. I already had my tripod set up with the background how I wanted it, and I motioned, giving her a specific direction in which to walk. Without a hitch, she walked right in with no problems, and I fired away. There was no need for a re-take, we got it on the first try.

I normally would take 5 exposures here, from +2 to -2. If the sun was up, I would have done +3 to -3. But, this gal wasn’t standing still, nor did I want her to. Since I always shoot in RAW mode (JPEG is for children), I knew that one of my middle exposures would be perfect. I used one of those RAWs to create the final HDR you see at the opening of this post.

Photograph by Rick Sammon

Sammon: Go from flat to fab. When there is little contrast in a scene, HDR images tend to look flat. There are many ways to boost contrast, such as increasing the contrast in Lightroom, Photoshop and Aperture. The fastest and easiest way to boost contrast, as well as color and detail, is to use the Spicify filter in Topaz Adjust.

In Photoshop, Curves is the best way to increase the contrast range in a scene.

In Curves, create an "S" curve. But first, move the top and bottom of the Curve lightly inward. That helps to preserve highlights and shadows.

Middle Exposure.
Above: Middle exposure of three-exposure HDR bracketing sequence: 0, +2 EV and -2 EV.

I took the pictures for the HR sequence at Angkor Wat, Cambodia about an hour after sunrise, when everyone, including my wife and I, were heading back to the parking lot. The boat was in a perfect position to balance the scene - filling up the dead space. If you go to Angkor Wat, get there about one hour before sunrise. It's packed with tourists and photographers with tripods!

• • •

 To learn more about Trey's HDR work, click here.

To learn more about my latest HDR project, Rick Sammon's HDR Portfolio app for the iPad, click here.

Explore the light,

Soon Come: Gale Tattersall Interview on DPE Podcast

Soon come: My interview on the Digital Photo Experience podcast with Gale Tattersall, whose many accomplishments include being the director of photography on "House, M.D."

We talked about his craft, his HD SLR workshops, his work with the Canon 5D Mark II,  his family. . . and of course "House."

Juan Pons and I love doing the podcast. We have interviewed some of today's top pros – and have answered many of your questions. Keep those questions coming. Go to our site to see how to submit a question.

Gale is a true pro. An inspiration. Stay tuned.

Explore the light,

Blogging About Blogging?

Well, I never thought I'd be blogging about blogging. But hey, if Kramer can write a coffee table book on coffee tables, I guess it's ok.

I just wanted to thank the folks at "Blog of Note" for naming my blog a Blog of Note. Kinda cool.

I'll keep blogging away.

Speaking of which . . . the "Battle of the HDR Tips - Ratcliff vs. Sammon," starts on Trey's site and on my site on Monday. Stay tuned! Scroll around here for more info.

Explore the light - and never underestimate the power of blogging,

Just Released: Rick Sammon's HDR Portfolio iPad App - A great way to master HDR photography.

My latest how-to iPad app - Rick Sammon's HDR Portfolio - is here!

And speaking of "here," the "Battle of the HDR Photo Tips, Ratcliff vs. Sammon," starts here on my blog, as well as on Trey Ratcliff's site, any day now. Join us ringside for the HDR photo fun.

Developed my Dr. Dave Wilson, who also developed my iPhone and iPad apps, Rick Sammon's 24/7 Photo Buffet, the interactive app features solid how-to information (tips, tricks and techniques) and more 300 images, including 30 of my latest HDR images. Several movies, including a clip me shooting an HDR sequence, are also included.

What's more, the app offers one of the coolest features I have seen when it comes to teaching and illustrating HDR: HDR Dissolve™.

To activate HDR Dissolve™ Simply touch the photo to see it magically transform into the final HDR image. Normal images dissolve into great HDR images - just by touching them! In some cases, a set of three original photos are provided, followed by one or more processed HDR images. Nice work Dr. Dave!

The app is divided into four major sections, making it easy to access the photographs and how-to information.

• Introduction – Dr. Dave and I cover the basics of HDR image making. Photographs, text and movies are provided for fast learning.

• Inside – Learn how to shoot in extreme contrast situations, and learn how to see the light and exposure for the dynamic range of a scene.

 • Outside – Travel with me around the world and see how he captures cityscapes, landscapes, and interior scenes, during the day and at night.

 • Nature – Learn how to capture the beauty of nature without being limited by the existing lighting conditions.  

This is not an app to process or take pictures. Please do not buy this app to edit your photos – it doesn’t so that! It is an educational app for digital SLR and compact camera photographers.

For each HDR image, I provides the location, number of exposures, processing program used, and tips about HDR and/or standard photography. EXIF camera and exposure info is also included for many images. A quick e-mail feature lets you share any image with family and friends.

Size: This app contains more than 100 MB of movies and photos. It’s self-contained, so you don’t need an Internet connection to use it.

To order the app and start the HDR learning and fun, click here.

$ave a Few Buck$: If you are new to HDR image-making and need an HDR plug-in (Nik Software's HDR Efex Pro) or program (HDR's Photomatix), click here to get the program/plug-in . . . and a discount (if you use the appropriate discount codes). While you are there, check out Topaz Adjust, which also helps expand the dynamic range of an image.

To see all my apps, click here.

Explore the light,

P.S. If you don't have an iPad, check out my book on HDR photography. It's pack with info and photo, too!

What's the First Thing You Do In Lightroom?

When I teach Lightroom, I ask the workshop students, "What's the first thing you do when you open the program?"

Some folks say, "Crop."

Others say, "Adjust the Exposure."

Still others say, "I don't know what the heck to do first. Help!"

Well, here is what I recommend as a very first step: Put down your stylus (if you are using a Wacom tablet) or take your hand off your mouse, and ask yourself, "What is lacking in a picture - and what can I do to make it better?"

Take your time, think a lot . . . as Cat Stevens used to say/sing.

Here is an example of what I'm talking about.
Above is a screen grab of my original image in Lightroom. In looking at the original photograph (the best I could get with my Canon 100-400mm IS lens from a bleacher that was about 300 yards away from these charging Mongolian soldiers), I asked myself: "What is lacking in the picture?"

The picture was lacking:
• Impact 
• Contrast 
• Color 
• Sharpness  

Knowing that, I made the following adjustments. The order does really not matter - except for sharpening. You should always sharpen last.

• Impact - improved by cropping out the dead space.
• Contrast - improved by adjusting the Tone Curve. 
• Color - improved by increasing the Saturation.
• Sharpness - improved by boosting the Clarity and Sharpness.

Play around with the Tone Curve. It is one of the coolest features in Lightroom. Also, when you are sharpening, place the most important part of the picture in the Sharpening window.

Below is another shot from the same event. Here, too, Lightroom came to the rescue!

Explore the light,

P.S. You can order Lightroom here: