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HDR for Beginners

High Dynamic Range Photography – this has been the debate basis the ever growing photographer community for the past few years now. HDR, as it is popularly known, is definitely gaining momentum; pictures taken using this method are regularly displayed in museums (Trey Ratcliff’s famous fireworks picture at the Smithsonian) and considered works of art. Then there are the DSLR snobs, people who believe that manual mode is the only way to go; if you use a photo editing software you are a scar on their perfect portrait, they noise police pictures and so on. My take on this is fairly straightforward I love HDR, I also use a lot of editing tools and 99% of the time I don’t shoot in manual mode. I am what you may term as the rogue community; please note this community is much larger than the DSLR snob community. I thought it would be a good idea to share my experience with HDR on this post; also have added a few tips in there so you can get started with HDR if you are already not an addict.

I happened to stumble on HDR by chance, a couple of years back when I bought my first camera. I was looking at tutorial videos online and just happened to catch a video showcasing HDR images, I was hooked from that point on. Unfortunately, I used a bridge camera then and hence could not really work on the technique. About a year ago, I bought my first DSLR – and that’s Tip 1 also, when buying a new camera, get one with a bracketing option it’s a must for HDR. Moving on, it’s been a year now and I do believe I have the basics down and am moving in the right direction basis the technique. Below are a few standard questions and answers which will get you started on this awesome technique:

1) What is HDR photography?

Putting it simply, HDR is a photography technique where images can represent more accurately the range of intensity levels found in real scenes, from direct sunlight to faint starlight. In normal English, it shows you what the eye see but with enhanced colours and lights.

2) Do I need a special camera for shooting HDR?

Not really, any camera will do, but it helps if your camera has a bracketing option.

3) What is Bracketing?

Bracketing is basically when you take pictures at multiple exposures. Most entry level cameras allow you to take 3 such pictures – normal, over and under exposed.

4) Do I need a special software for this?

Unfortunately yes, there are tons of them available in the market; I would recommend Photoshop and Photomatix for the same.

5) How do I get started with HDR?

The following is a simple guide to start using HDR in your regular photography. I have tried to keep it simple and easy to understand, but if you do have questions, please add them to the comments below. Start with setting your camera to multiple shots, then go to the bracketing option it will be listed as exposure bracketing in most cameras. Set the value to 2. This will take 3 shots at different exposures once you press the shutter down. If you are like me and your hand is not very steady, use a tripod. Another tip here: shoot in Raw mode, the flexibility raw images give you while editing is amazing. So now that you have your first images, what do you do next? Download the images on your PC and import them into Photoshop or Photomatix, you will have to use the bridge option in Photoshop and then select merge to HDR; in Photomatix, load Bracketed pictures will do the same for you. Now this will open Pandora ’s Box for you, I will briefly touch on Photomatix options here to give you an idea of what each does and how it will shape your pictures; in Photoshop the same happens but for some reason it is not subtle and images tend to look un-natural. This holds true for CS5… I have not yet used CS6. Note: this part of the tutorial only covers the first few options, I will be covering others in a more detailed post. The first options you will see once Photomatix merge options, you can align pictures here, remove ghosts and reduce noise. Once done the following options will show up:

Strength

Controls the strength of the contrast enhancements; a value of 100 gives the maximum increase in both local and global contrast enhancements.  I prefer this to be at around 80 as 100 makes certain colours bleed.

Color Saturation

Controls black and white to colour settings; the greater the saturation, the more intense the colour. A value of 0 produces a gray scale image and 100 pushes colour all the way up.

Luminosity

This controls how light or dark your highlights are in the image. Moving the slider to the right boosts shadow details and brightens the image. Moving it to the left has the opposite effect, and gives a more “natural” look to the resulting image.

Detail and Contrast

This is self explanatory; this will increase detailing and contrast giving your picture a smooth or a hard feel.

Lighting Adjustment

When you’re just starting, I would suggest you click the check box in this option and use the preset tools – natural for a natural look, surreal for a look which is more HDR like with Halos and medium for a combination of both.

Once you are done playing with these settings and happy with the image you have, select process and you will have your first HDR image. I hope to put up a more detailed article on HDR in the future, but the post above will get you started in a short period of time. I have put some HDR images on this post. These were shot during our recent Monsoon Roadtrip. One point of advice: first try HDR in the day time, night has its sets of challenges and you will need a lot more equipment to get it right. Like with everything, the more you practise HDR, the better you get at it. Do share your pictures with us via comments or on twitter. Enjoy shooting! Incase you’re wondering which camera I use?  Nikon D5100.

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Posted by on September 14, 2012 in Helmets & More

 

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Our First DSLR

It’s been a while since I wrote a post on photography; anyways, this post is about a DLSR that we picked up a few months ago.

Here is the story in brief – After months and months of contemplating and mental masturbation, we finally gave in and bought a Nikon D5100 DSLR. Before this purchase, we used to used an Olympus super zoom and a Sony Cybershot – this has been probably the longest debated purchase in our life – check the picture on the right, the camera looks pretty kick-ass. As soon as I bought the camera, I thought I was Yousuf Karsh – for people who don’t know who he is, Google/YouTube him – legendary photographer, shot some of the most iconic pictures of our time (Click here to view his work).

Moving on, the” Karsh feeling” crumbled in seconds as soon as I tried manual focus; could not shoot any image without it being blurry. At a point, my uncle and I started questioning the store owner, if the camera had an issue; finally figured that the lens has an option and quickly switched it to auto and then everything was fine. Rode home and realised the shopkeeper has removed the lens, struggled for about 15 minutes on that – finally saw a video on Youtube and figured it out (Thank God for Youtube and some awesome Tutorials). Intense studies followed basis the manual, online guides, etc. I think I got around to using the camera 2-3 days after actually buying it; by now I knew most of the important navigation buttons.  Like with most new things we buy, I started carrying the camera everywhere, (if you have read my earlier posts on mobile photography you know this is a obsession), made an effort to go on photo walks, try and take weird angle pictures and all that jazz, I would even walk up to people and ask permission to take their pictures – have put up some pictures showcasing my photography escapades in this post.

After about a month I realised that the lens I got with the camera was not good enough….. actually the kit lens was fine, it’s just that I am so used to a zoom lens, so after another month of mental masturbation I went and picked up the 55-300mm lens. Again that had its own learning curve, but adapted to it faster due to a comfort with using zoom features in my earlier camera (do note, still manual focus is a massive challenge). By now, I had started using photography jargon also: DOF, Shutter Speed, Aperture, Lighting Conditions and everything that one needs to convince themselves they are photography experts….

So what is the point of all this? A couple of things I would like to highlight here; nothing comes remotely close to a good DSLR – people will tell you a lot of things, will you use it regularly, too expensive and so on, but once you use a camera like that everything else feels sad. Personally, I think one needs a lot of commitment to actually see some results with a DSLR, an insanely expensive camera does not guarantee superb shots, like with anything you need to practise to get good at it. Some base level Photoshop understanding is required, purists can fight this, but generally all photographers use some amount of post processing. All the reading in the world will not get you practical experience – need to go out and shoot, after a while it will become a pain to lug the camera around but you need to make that extra effort. Be ready to spend money – these things are an addiction; have bought new lenses, a camera bag, automatic shutter control and a camera stand so far.

I try and take the DSLR on all my bike rides, have put up some pictures in this article and across the blog, but to be honest, sometimes it is just about riding, so photography takes a back seat, I do hope to use the video recording function on the camera to share some awesome trips on the blog. Till then, check out some shot using our new DSLR and do share any of your photography and Bike stories in the comments section below.

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Posted by on July 2, 2012 in Helmets & More

 

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The Weekend Pilgrimage

It’s been 36 years now that I have been staying in Bombay (Still can’t get around to calling it Mumbai). In all these years I have visited all the popular landmarks in the city, but never got around to visiting the Haji Ali Dargah – the main reason for this – it was damn scary to go there, it’s in the middle of the sea! Last weekend, I had decided to go on a photography walk to Mahalakshmi Mandir; the same eventually moved on to a Dargah walk below are some details of how that happened.

Like with all Sundays mornings, I woke up and lazed in bed for a while; eventually realized that I have to catch early glimpses of Mahalakshmi Mandir and jumped out of bed, called Milind (twin brother) who was on his bike ride to come and fetch me. We then went on a wild goose chase to find a location to shoot pictures – Marine Drive, VT, Walkeshwar, Grant Road Vegetable Market, but no real luck! Some places were overly crowded with cops, others were shut. Finally, I asked Milind to drop me to Mahalakshmi; note, I always knew I wanted to go there but I wanted a bike ride also. On reaching the Mandir, I realized that it had pretty much remained the same; I had come there about 10 years back to fix lights on the Mandir (I used to do that a few years back) – the same florists, Pandits sitting to get aarti done, etc. What has changed was the stairway which led to the Mandir – it’s like a secure cocoon, metal detectors, overhead cover, etc. This kind of put me off, I took a few pictures but then walked out.

While leaving, I thought I don’t have a picture of the Haji Ali Dargah so decided to brave the early morning sun and walk towards the Dargah to capture a few shots. On reaching close to Haji Ali Juice Center, I realised there is a small lane that I have never actually seen, I walked forward into the lane and saw a whole bunch of cops; a little worried by now about whether they will allow my camera in or not? To my surprise, it was smooth sailing. I walked down a path and realised this is the road that cuts through the sea towards the legendary Hajil Ali Dargah, major excitement happened in my world – this was an unexplored path for me. As I moved forward, I realized there was a low tide and hence safe to walk ahead (Note I have always had this fear) my immediate reaction – the road was like a flea market, owners were just opening their shops, but they were selling everything: bags, rubber bands, holy floral sheets, books and so on. By now I had gone trigger happy shooting everything and anything. I reached the middle of the road and realized I am on the opposite side of the city; this is something everyone must experience once in their life – the view is spectacular – cityscape on one side and the ocean on the other. Amazing! After a longish walk, I reached the Dargah, did not take any pictures there, and went in put a Chaddra on Sayed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari’s Dargah, bowed my head in respect and sat there for a few minutes. Trust me, the world slows down and you feel peace like you have never felt.

Some history on this awesome Heritage monument: The Haji Ali Dargah was constructed in 1431 in memory of a rich Muslim merchant, Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari (R.A.), who gave up all his worldly possessions before making a pilgrimage to Mecca. Hailing from Bukhara, in the ancient Persian Empire and now in Uzbekistan, Bukhari travelled around the world in the early to mid 15th century, and then settled in Mumbai. Haji Ali left this world during his journey to Mecca and miraculously, the casket carrying his body, floated back to these shores, getting stuck in the string of rocky islets just off the shore of Worli. Thus, the Dargah was constructed there. Good people, if you have not visited this monument, I suggest you drop everything and go there. It’s an experience you will not forget.

The Photo Gallery

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2012 in Trips & Rides

 

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The Photography and Bike connection

To start with, I think we are both wannabe Photographers and Bikers. At some level, both these hobbies are interconnected.

Let me explain. Both these can only be enjoyed to their fullest once you are financially secure – that would be between 30-50 for most people; the excitement and adrenaline rush one feels riding the bike on an empty road is equal to a great picture taken; like a camera, a bike needs constant attention and customization, this to fit your style of shooting/riding, both activities are social and get you to meet new people who share similar interests. The list goes on and on….

I generally carry 3 cameras when I mix both riding and photography; an Olympus SPUZ 565, Nikon D5100 and my handy telephone camera, currently it is a HTC sensation XE. It is a pain to lug all these around with additional lenses for the Nikon but the end result is definitely worth the effort. I would like to emphasize all hobbies or past times do require effort; people generally have a perception that one can pick up a hobby and magically he will find Utopia! Reality check does not happen………..you have to put in effort. That being said, I have been learning about photography for about 4 years now. The facilitation started pretty much after getting married and seeing awesome wedding pictures clicked by a friend (the gorgeous pictures were of the Mrs. I look scary on camera). Anyway, after a lot of R&D and debates, I bought a super zoom Olympus SP 565 UZ camera, read up everything there was to about camera and photography. To give you an idea I was familiar with words and phrases like aperture, depth of field, HD, FPS, Shutter Speed 1/2000, bulb, macro etc. From then on it’s been a snowball effect, pretty much live with my camera; I don’t take that many pictures though.

By now you are hopefully getting where I am going with this. Post the purchase of our bike, both my photography and riding have merged together seamlessly; the locations I discovered while travelling across the city are absolutely amazing. Check out some of my work in the gallery below. Beyond that, it has also gotten rid of my reservation with communicating with strangers. I end up speaking to people about both the bike and taking their picture; also strangers will randomly come and help you when you are juggling trying to change lenses while holding up the bike.

About the pictures – I generally shoot using the P mode on both my camera; this is where you control the aperture and the camera does the rest for you. I find pictures with controlled depth of field to be more dramatic, I try to follow the rule of thirds and general best practises but most times the discipline eludes me. I shoot because I enjoy doing it not because I want to boast about my technical genius with the camera. Over the last few months, I have found my zoom lens to be an invaluable tool; this especially when I am shooting from bridges or getting in a portrait from across the road. The Olympus has now been restricted to shooting panorama and macro images (the Nikon is just so much better). I am still figuring the ideal way to carry my camera stand on the bike… currently the bag I have does not support a stand. Once that is done I pretty much will be sorted.

Do share your riding experiences and images if you enjoy either of these hobbies. I hope to cover a lot more of photography while adding to our riding, food, movies and other escapades as we publish more articles on the blog. The street Panorama is where we live – do enjoy the gallery and leave comments.

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Posted by on April 27, 2012 in Trips & Rides

 

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