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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 Mobile Photographer

Off late, I have been obsessed with Instagram, the popular photo sharing tool on my phone. To be honest, I got into phone photography a little late, only a few months back – 2 reasons for this, I own a DSLR so thought using the mobile is beneath me and I had an iphone3G with a 2MP camera covered with dust, so totally avoided taking pictures with it.

My reason to get a high end phone was the camera which accompanied it; currently I use an HTC Sensation XE with a 8MP camera.  I end up using my phone for both, taking pictures and processing pictures on the go, these are images taken earlier with my DSLR. Yes yes I know some of you are saying why post production on a mobile? The answer is pretty straight forward – it is “simple”, Photoshop is fairly complicated and time consuming; layers and more layers, I am all for Photoshop only if I have ample time on my hand, 99% of the time that is not the case.

For shooting while on bike rides, I mostly use the phone’s default camera , it starts up the fastest and hence, my next favourite application is Panorama. The phone makes it so easy, at least 3-5 slide panoramas are just a click and moving the camera left to right, very intuitive and opens a whole lot of options for the rookie panorama photographer. What stands out in all these apps on the mobile is the fact that they come with default effects, Black and White, Sepia, HDR and so on, these are the kind of effects you would only find in a high end software a couple of years back. Personally, I do a lot of correction, mix and match using applications, filters, cropping till I get the right image. Once done, generally the images go up on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – just so convenient using the mobile, no searching in directories and so on…select check boxes and upload one time.

There are multiple schools of thoughts basis mobile photography, there are people who love it and some who say it is a gimmick – let me explain why. Like I mentioned earlier, the current generation of phones offer multiple corrective tools and filters. These help make average pictures look rather dramatic Instagram is a good example of the same. The purists believe there is no effort there; the shot is not setup, the lighting is not adjusted, post production skills are zero and hence even if the shot is nice it is still gimmicky. I disagree just because it is easy does not take away from creativity and effort. Take mail for example, it use to be a painful process until e-mail came along now it’s easier, of course this does not take away that like the original mail the email has to be written/typed, similarly a picture need to be taken.

I still use my DSLR on weekends and will continue to do so, the control it gives me is phenomenal. The phone on the other hand is like a higher end digital camera that I carry around everywhere. Most pictures you see around this post have been taken or treated using my phone while i was riding my trusty Bajaj Avenger. I would highly recommend using the phone to shoot candid shots and difficult to reach areas (I know what you are thinking and that is not what I meant). Below are a few tips that will help you snap some really awesome images using your mobile –

  • Like your DSLR know your phone camera, the newer ones have similar functions, DOF, ISO, Scenes etc, check settings on your phone for more
  • Activate the Grid and use the rule of 3rds very important for all rookie photographers
  • Try and use the phone the same way you would use a DSLR, look at the lighting around you, create the composition in your head and then shoot.
  • Touch Screen phones allow you to focus on objects just by touching the screen, check how that works on your phone
  • Use filters on multiple applications till you achieve the desired effect on the image
  • Crop ruthlessly, mobile devices attract a lot of distractions in the background, it is the nature of the beast, ensure you cut them out as required.
  • Share your pictures in social networks, beyond the morale boost it will keep you clicking
  • Follow professional photographers on various social networks, try imitating them, there is no shame in that.

I hope you guys enjoyed reading the post, do share links to your pictures in the comment section below, my instagram ID is mihirshah1975 if you are there drop by to say Hi!

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2012 in Trips & Rides

 

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