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Seeing in HDR

Lisa Snider

On Saturday, August 18, 2012, the Calvert Photography Club met for its monthly meeting at the Calvert Library - Fairview in Owings. President Guy Stephens opened the meeting with a warm welcome to all, and especially any visitors or new members. He also offered a brief introduction of the club, including who we are and what we do. 

Guy opened the “Club Business” portion of the meeting with a reminder about our Photography Boot Camp, which is scheduled for September 29, 2012 at Annmarie Garden. As of the meeting, only 3 spaces remained for this full day, hands-on session. If the session does sell out and additional interest is shown, a second camp may be scheduled in the future. 

It is now time for entries for the Solomon’s Island fall exhibit, which will be on display from September through November.  Images submitted should be of Calvert County and should include fall scenes, such as fall festivals and fairs. Six images are generally selected out of those submitted. The deadline for submission is September 8. 

Treasurer Bonnie Bryant provided her report next. There were no disbursements made during the month, and we received dues from several new members. Bonnie continues to maintain the snack sign-up sheet, and is in need of volunteers to bring a snack beginning with the September meeting. Bonnie also circulates the monthly sign-in sheet, which we encourage everyone to sign. 

Finally, Library Coordinator Spencer Johnson provided an update on the club’s lending library, highlighting a new title available to borrow, “Black and White - from Snapshots to Great Shots,” which includes a discussion of the transfer of photos from color to Black and White. Club members should see Spencer if they are interested in borrowing this new book, and should visit the “Club Members’ Only” section of our web site for other titles available to borrow, which currently number over 30. We ask that books are borrowed for no more than 2 months, to keep them circulating. 

Jeff talks HDRToday’s meeting topic was “HDR Revisited,” presented by Vice President Jeff Smallwood. He began his discussion by asking club members “What do you think HDR is?”, and followed that question with this answer - “methods and techniques used to gain greater exposure range in an image.” Why use HDR? The human eye sees 14 or more stops or tones, which your camera can’t accurately capture in just one frame. By taking several frames of a scene at multiple exposures and melding them together with HDR software, the final image will more closely resemble what you saw.

HDR is not a new technique - it dates back as early as 1856-1857, when it was used by Gustave Le Gray, who manually overlayed images with different exposures, to produce a new one. Critics may argue that HDR is not true photography and when pushed too far, the results may not depict an exact rendition of what was seen. However, when used more subtly, it provides a way to see the whole range of tones which were present in a scene.

HDR can be especially inspiring when used in Black and White photographs, and was a favorite technique of renowned photographer  
Ansel Adams.

TipsTo use the HDR technique, you must take 3 or more images of a scene by bracketing, or using 3 different exposures (between 4 and 9 exposures may also be taken, but more merged exposures doesn’t necessarily guarantee a better result). Little to no motion should be part of the scene, as motion will create a ghosting effect when the images are merged. After taking the exposures, software is used to merge the images together and after tonemapping, the multiple images are compressed into one viewable file.

Software that can be used for HDR processing includes Adobe Photoshop, HDR Soft Photomatix, Nik Software - HDR Efex Pro II, and the free software, Luminance HDR

Jeff uses Photomatix 4, so he did his first demonstration using this software. Later, he used the free software Luminance HDR, which handles RAW files and did a very nice job of processing his images. HDR is particularly effective when shooting waterfalls and the rocks surrounding them, as Jeff was able to show in his presentation. 

Here are Jeff’s tips for using this technique effectively: (1) sometimes less is more; (2) pick a scene for HDR carefully, as not all scenes lend themselves to HDR processing (the more range of tones, the better your results may be); (3) use a flatter exposure as your baseline (use a baseline shot that is ½ stop lower than zero, to build your exposures); (4) set your camera to aperture priority and (5) if you can, set your camera to capture the three or more exposures automatically, using the auto drive feature on your camera to click off the exposures quickly, which will minimize hand movements, which lead to ghosting in the final image.

Jeff also recommends that if you think a scene will be particularly effective in HDR, shoot the bracketed scene in color, convert the images using HDR, and then convert the final HDR image into Black and White. While a tripod may be used for taking the bracketed shots, it is not necessary. 

Further, once you have the shots taken, and are processing them using the HDR software, keep in mind that tonemapping refers to making local adjustments on an image - exposure fusion takes the average of the tones in the image, and stacks them together. Therefore, tonemapping gives you more finite control over your image.

In closing, HDR is a fun technique - don’t be afraid to play and experiment with it. The outcome of this technique represents your vision or your art, which may or may not appeal to everyone. Our September shooting assignment is HDR - so get out and shoot, and see what magic you can capture! 

Guy talks HDRAfter a snack break and a stretch, President Guy Stephens gave a presentation on some HDR software by Nik - HDR Effects Pro 2, which he uses and likes. Nik is very good about providing education with its products, which Guy especially appreciates. HDR Effects Pro 2 is a plug in, which offers lots of bells and whistles for finite control over merging your images, including the ability to select control points, to do localized adjustments. This software is also fun to play with - Guy recommends that you begin working on an image by moving the slider all the way to the right, and then all the way to the left, to get a feel of what extreme adjustments you can make. Then, move the slider carefully, looking for that sweet spot that makes your image perfection to your eye.   

After demonstrating this cool software, Guy announced a special free giveaway today, courtesy of Nik - a copy of HDR Effects Pro 2. Earlier in the meeting, club members were encouraged to submit their names for the drawing. Sandy had the honor of drawing the winning name - Allan Barth was the lucky winner of the software. For those who may be interested in purchasing the software, Guy offered that the club has been given a 15% off code to use at the Nik website through October 6 - CALVERT. 

Next up, the club was treated to a slideshow by fellow club member Sandy Carr, who visited San Francisco this summer. Her slideshow began with images from the famed Alcatraz, and continued with beautiful images of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Crookiest Street, and other iconic images of San Francisco. Club members are encouraged to share their work by signing up to present a slideshow at a future meeting. The slideshow sign-up sheet is maintained by Education Program Coordinator Robbin Haigler, who addressed the club next.

Robbin provided the following overview of the club’s upcoming events. Our next meeting is Saturday, September 15th at the Prince Frederick campus of the College of Southern Maryland, and features guest speaker Cameron Davidson. Mr. Davidson is an acclaimed aerial photographer with a book out featuring his photography of the Chesapeake Bay. Those planning to attend this meeting (club members and non-members alike) should indicate their desire to attend by filling out the sign-up sheet, as seats are limited, and will be on a first-come, first serve basis, with club members given first preference.

The club’s September 1st field trip will be to the B&B Auto Salvage Ltd., in Upper Marlboro. We will have to sign a waiver before entering the junk yard, but will have free range to photograph after that. More information will be provided by future e-mail, including how to sign up to go. 

Our next shooting assignment is HDR, using the tips as presented at today’s meeting. For those not owning HDR software, you may wish to download the free Luminance HDR software, which you may find at:  http://qtpfsgui.sourceforge.net/ .

Finally, in lieu of an October field trip, the club will hold its annual picnic, this year scheduled for 3:00 p.m. on October 6th at Spider Hall Farm. The cost will be $8.00 per person, which will include admission to the 8-acre farm and permission to photograph it (with some limited exceptions), a hay ride, and your own pumpkin to take home. Club members are also asked to bring a dish to share, keeping in mind that electrical outlets at this venue will be limited. Please sign up with the name of the dish you will bring, and the number of guests attending with you (if any), as soon as possible. 

The last segment of the meeting featured 7 images taken by our club members depicting this month’s shooting assignment, “Natural Light.” As 7 images were submitted by club volunteers this month, rather than 6, only 3 minutes was allotted to critique each image. Our critique team opened the session by citing what they liked about the image, as well as offering constructive criticism, when appropriate.  The rest of the club members were then invited to offer their critiques, until the allotted time was up. Club members will be invited to submit their HDR images (our next shooting assignment) for critique at our September meeting. Watch for an e-mail from Guy, announcing the same. 

Until we meet again, remember that “photographers are a special breed, who always know how to keep what’s important in focus.”


Pandas, Tigers and Bears…

Karl Barth

On Saturday, August 4, the Calvert Photography Club went on a field trip to the National Zoo.  This was my first trip with the club since becoming a member.  I was really excited to get out there and interact with my fellow club members.  I also love the zoo.  The weather was good for shooting the animals despite the heat and humidity. 

Photo by Karl BarthIn preparing for the trip I knew I was going to need my 55-200 mm lens rather than the standard 18-55 mm lens.  I was anticipating the animals being far away.  I was also unsure if I should bring my tripod or not.  I often find myself getting blurry pictures with the 55-200 MM lens but I thought with the sun being out that wouldn’t be an issue. 

The car pool, consisting of other club members, I rode in arrived at the zoo around 8 AM.  Thanks to the wonderful suggestions forwarded by Rick Hagen, we started off in the Asia Trail where we saw a clouded leopard and the pandas of course.  My pictures of the clouded leopard didn’t turn out to my liking.  My focal point was focused on the leopard but I was unable to blur out the fence which was a distraction and also a little frustrating for me.

We continued on to the pandas who thankfully were already out and roaming around enjoying bamboo for breakfast.  One of them, sorry don’t know the name, walked towards our group and climbed on a rock.  I got a good shot of it but it came out a little blurry which I noticed while editing my photos.

After the pandas we headed over to the bird house and had some great photo opportunities.  There were flamingos, cranes, ostriches, etc.  The flamingos were my personal favorite.  Not only were they colorful but the way they slept by turning their necks along with their feathers gave me some great shots.

Photo by Karl BarthAfter the bird house, I separated from the rest of the group and walked around the rest of the zoo.  I was able to get some great shots of the orangutans on the zip line.  I also got some shots of the elephants outside playing and turtles.  Most of the animals weren’t very active due to the heat and humidity.  When I met with the rest of the group I was wiped out and ready to head home.

Later in the evening I began reviewing my pictures.  One thing I noticed right off the bat was I should have brought my tripod.  Most of pictures had a blurry background because I moved the camera just enough to create a blur.  If I had a tripod I probably wouldn’t have had that blur.  In addition, the other photos I took had a lot of noise because I set the ISO too high.  I set it high because I was primarily using a 200 shutter speed.  My camera would not allow me to use a lower aperture so my only option was to increase the ISO.

Overall I had a great time at the zoo and enjoyed spending time with my fellow club members.  I was a little disappointed with the way my photos turned out but I learned from my mistakes and know what to do next time.  I’m already planning another trip to the zoo.


Shooting with Longer Focal Lengths: Tips from Daniel

Daniel Coughlin

600mm NikonLonger lenses are great for photographing animals. They allow you to get “close” to the action without all the risk. In addition, the relatively shallower depth of field that comes with longer lenses can help create great separation between the subject and background. While there are many great uses for these types of lenses there are a few things to remember to make the most of them.

  • If space is available shoot with a tripod.
  • If space or weight are an issue consider using a monopod. They allow for greater mobility and quicker movements.
  • To prevent camera shake while hand holding longer lenses the rule of thumb is to not shoot at a slower shutter speed then the focal length of a lens. For example, if the focal length is 200mm then the slowest shutter speed you should use while hand holding the lens is 1/200sec. For those of you who have lenses with some form of an image stabilizer then you can use one or two shutter speeds slower.
  • When hand holding longer lenses draw your arms closer to your body to make a triangle and push the trigger between breaths. This will help prevent any unwanted movement of your upper body.
  • Utilize the tripod mounting collar on some longer lenses to switch between horizontal and vertical cropping quickly.
  • Use the lens shade. Focusing can be difficult if the sun is hitting the front glass element on the lens.
  • To help conserve battery life switch off the image stabilizer when it is not being utilized.

Until next time get out there and take some more photos!