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June 2008 Newsletter
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GOAL Assignment (see text)

May GOAL Assignment: Expand the Dynamic Range


Being able to create a nice HDR image like this takes a lot of effort in the field as well as a little bit of software magic. Let's delve into the process to see how it is done.


Using Photoshop CS3 Merge to HDR function. Choose File --> Automate --> Merge to HDR.


Browse for the images you want to use and press the OK button.


Here's the "unmapped" data from all the files. You can pick and choose which files to keep or throw away in this screen.


This is the 32 bit file in Photoshop. It hasn't been tone mapped yet, so it doesn't look quite right.


Move the slider at the bottom of the window to the left to see all the highlight data.


Move the slider at the bottom of the window to the right to see all the shadow data.


Now it is time to tone map. Convert the file to 8-bit mode or 16-bit mode by choosing Image --> Mode --> 8-bit (or 16-bit).


Choose what type of HDR Conversion you want for the photo. The first three are automated (Exposure and Gamma, Highlight Compensation, Equalize Histogram). The Local Adjustments setting takes some skill with curves and good knowledge of the tone mapping process.


This is the histogram for the Local Adjustments tool. You'll be making a curve that does a good job of compressing the High Dynamic Range image to a Low Dynamic Range image. Good luck! The resulting photograph is shown to the top of the graph. The end result isn't so great actually.


When you are using Photoshop Elements to make HDR images, you'll be copying one image on top of the other and be creating a layer stack.


Erase the "bad part" of the top image so the "good part" of the bottom image shines through. The process is very simple and straight forward. This example here shows how I've erased half of the image (left side).


Here's the final result from creating the HDR image from Photoshop Elements. Not bad eh? You can do the same thing in CS3 using layers and masks.


Here's the HDR image in Photomatix Pro. This image is the unprocessed image before tone mapping. It looks funny here because it hasn't been compressed into a Low Dynamic Range image.


This is the finished product using the Details Enhancer tab. You can see how the image seems to take on somewhat of an artistic look. Some people really like this look and others think it looks too over the top. What do you think?






June GOAL Assignment: Capturing the Moment


Capturing the moment takes skill, timing and patience. If you shoot too late, the moment is gone forever. This month, practice timing your photographs for the perfect moment. The peak of action. The excitement on the face. The jump off the ground.



Digital Tidbits: Uploading Setup Files to your Nikon D300


You can easily save all of your Nikon D300 camera's menus to a CF card for easy re-loading later. Here's the screen from the camera's Setup menu where you save or load the settings. Go to the Setup menu (wrench) and choose Save/load settings.


Now choose Save settings to save all your camera's menu items to the memory card.


I dedicated one of my old CF cards for just holding the D300 menu settings.


To upload the settings back to your camera, insert the correct CF card that contains the settings. Then go to the Setup Menu and choose Save/load settings. Next, choose Load settings and you are done!



Mike Hagen - Out There Images Newsletter - June 2008

In this Newsletter:
Greetings
May GOAL Assignment Answers: Expand the Dynamic Range
June GOAL Assignment: Capturing the Moment
Digital Tidbits: Uploading setup files to your Nikon D300
Workshop Updates

Greetings folks! June is here and 2008 is almost half over. Have you accomplished half of your photographic goals yet? I know I haven’t. There is so much to experience and so little time to do it in.

May was a busy month with quite a few private workshops as well as Nikonians Academy workshops in Cincinnati, OH and Portland, OR. This is the first time that I’ve been to Cincinnati and I must say that the people there were amazingly friendly and kind. Everywhere I went, people were happy to help and everyone had smiles on their faces. I’ll also say that you haven’t lived until you’ve downed a plate of 5-way chili and a couple of Cheese Coneys from Skyline Chili. I’ll definitely be back to Cincinnati for more workshops!

I’m off again on Tuesday for some more workshops in Atlanta, GA and Dallas, TX. I’ll be teaching a 4-day printing workshop in Dallas that will cover everything you need to know for achieving amazing large-format inkjet printing. I’m really looking forward to this workshop as I know the people who attend will be learning valuable information to help them vastly improve their printing skills. In between the workshops, I plan to take photos along the Gulf Coast of the USA. If time permits, I’ll photograph through Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas. It’s going to be great fun.

It’s time for you to start thinking about photo opportunities this Fall. We have a wonderful 4-day workshop planed in Washington’s North Cascades based out of Mazama, WA. We’ve run this workshop for the last few years and we always have a wonderful time in this visually stunning part of the world. We’ll be based out of the Mazama Country Inn (www.mazamacountryinn.com) and will photograph the beautiful North Cascades National Park, the western-themed town of Winthrop and the granite cathedrals of the Early Winter Spires. This trip is amazing, fun and is a great place to challenge yourself photographically. You can see more information here: www.outthereimages.com/travel_workshop.html

In other news, Nikon just announced a new version of their image browser, Nikon View NX. This is a free program and it works great for quickly viewing and opening your Nikon files. I like to use it as a fast way to review my images immediately after downloading from the memory cards. The interface has improved and there is now a quick adjust option on the side panel that allows you to make some simple changes to your images. Each new iteration of the program greatly improves usability and in this version, I like the simple histogram view as well as the new ability to quickly set zoom at 50%, 100%, 200% and “fit to window”.

You can download the new version (1.1.0) here:
Mac Website

Windows Website



May GOAL Assignment: Expand the Dynamic Range

Last month’s Get Out And Learn (GOAL) assignment was to take photographs that are beyond the dynamic range of your camera’s sensor. The way you do this is by bracketing your shots in-camera and then using software to pick the best exposed portions of each photograph for the final image. In this article, I’ll take you through the process and explain what you need to think about in order to achieve great results.

The process I’ll be describing here is called high dynamic range imaging. The abbreviated term for this is HDRI and is sometimes just referred to as HDR. When I talk to people about the HDR process, many people ask “how do you know if the photo is beyond your camera’s dynamic range?” In other words, what types of photos require the use of HDR techniques and what scenes can you just take “straight”?

First, you have to understand what your camera’s built-in limitations are. Simply stated, your digital SLR camera can capture light within a brightness range of about 5 stops. If you want everything in your image to be “seen” by the sensor, then the darkest thing in your photo can’t be any more than approximately 5 stops from the lightest thing in your photo. There is a lot of debate around how many stops your camera can actually capture, but for the purposes of this article, let’s just all agree that the value is approximately 5 stops.

Next up is to measure the brightness range (dynamic range) in your photograph. What I like to do is to set my camera to spot meter and then point the meter at the brightest object and the darkest object in my scene. Using Manual exposure I set my exposure meter to “zero” on both the brightest thing and the darkest thing. I then take mental note of the shutter speeds for each of those items and count the number of stops between them.

For example, let’s say I was taking a photo of a yellow flower in a green field. I would point my spot meter at the petals of the flower and make a mental note of the shutter speed. Let’s say that the shutter speed was 1/250 second. Then, I would point my meter at the green field and adjust my shutter speed so that my light meter read “zero” and take another mental note of the shutter speed. Let’s say that it was 1/60 second.

Next, I count how many stops are between the two shutter speeds. Starting at 1/250 second, I count down to 1/60 second. 1/250 to 1/125 is one stop. 1/125 to 1/60 is another stop. Total dynamic range is two stops. This easily falls within my camera’s 5-stop dynamic range, so I just take the photo as a standard image.

For a different example, let’s say I was taking a photo of a sunset over the ocean like the photo of Montana de Oro State Park to the left. I point my spot meter at the rocks and get a shutter speed of 1 second. I point my spot meter at the sun and get a shutter speed of 1/500 second. Let’s count stops: 1/500 -> 1/250 -> 1/125 -> 1/60 -> 1/30 -> 1/15 -> 1/8 -> 1/4 -> 1/2 -> 1. That’s a total of 9 stops. Obviously, the scene is well beyond what my camera can capture in a single exposure, so now I have to resort to alternate methods to capture the image. There are a variety of tools and techniques to do this, but I’ll just talk about exposure bracketing for this example.

The first step in the exposure process is to use a good, solid tripod. At the end of the HDR process, you’ll be stacking digital photos on top of each other and it is important that the camera doesn’t move during each of the frames. Some software can compensate for a little bit of camera movement, but you will always get better results if the camera is locked down tight on a tripod.

Next, you’ll need to take a series of photos at different exposures. I like to take anywhere between three and five images in my sequence separated by 1 to 2 stops each. For example, in the Montana de Oro shot, you would take one image at 1/125, one at 1/30, one at 1/8 and one at 1/2. I do this by either setting up my camera’s auto exposure bracketing or by just shooting the photos in manual mode and changing the shutter speed each time. The sequence of photos spans the range between the darkest and the brightest elements of the scene, so you have now captured the entire dynamic range with three or four photographs.

For the example I’m showing here, remember that the brightest spot in the photo (the sun) registered at 1/500s and the darkest registered at 1s. You might be asking why I didn’t take any of my photos at the 1/500s or 1s shutter speeds? The answer is because my camera has a 5-stop range for each exposure. If you photograph at 1/125 second, then your camera can capture from 1/500 down to 1/30 (5-stops) in one exposure. We are going to use this overlapping range to help create an image that has a range of 9 stops.

Ok, now that we’ve captured the images in the field, it is time to go home to our computer and perform some digital magic. I want to show three methods for creating the final product using three popular software products: Photoshop CS3, Photoshop Elements, Photomatix Pro.

Photoshop CS3
There are many ways to skin the HDR cat in Photoshop CS3. One of those is to use the automated Merge to HDR command to create your HDR image. Using CS3 to do your HDR work isn’t for the faint of heart though. It requires skillful use of a process called tone mapping. You can use their automated tone mapping utility or you can do it yourself via a tone mapping curve. I’ll be the first to say that the process isn’t easy and I’ll also say that I generally haven’t been happy with the HDR results I get from Photoshop. But, let’s give it a try. Follow along with the text and the pictures to the left.

The first step is to open the Merge to HDR dialog box from the CS3 menu.
1. Go to File --> Automate --> Merge to HDR.

2. Next, Browse for your images from your hard drive and then press OK. Now, wait a few minutes while Photoshop processes all your images into a 32 bit file. Photoshop takes all the data from all the photos and puts it into a floating point format which contains all the highlight information and shadow information. The problem is that your computer can’t display the full range of data, so you can only see a small segment of it at any one time.

3. At the bottom of your new photo, you’ll see a slider that allows you to see the full range of brightness information. Take your slider and move it to the right to see the shadow data, move it to the left to see the highlight data. The challenge now is to find a way to convert the 32-bits of data into a format that you can actually print and use. We do that by changing the 32-bit file into an 8-bit or 16-bit file. Once you make this change, Photoshop will bring up a dialog box that gives you a number of options for tone mapping. Tone mapping is the process of taking a broad range of tones (brightnesses) and compressing them down to a smaller range of tones. Another way to think of it is taking a high dynamic range (i.e. 10 stops) and compressing it down to a narrow dynamic range (i.e. 5 stops).

4. Let’s do it. Go to your menu and choose Edit --> Mode --> 8-bit. Once this happens, you’ll get a new window that allows you to choose between different methods for the HDR conversion (tone mapping). They are Exposure and Gamma, Highlight Compression, Equalize Histogram and Local Adaptation. The first three choices are fairly limited in their usefulness, so I like to use the Local Adaptation method. This requires pretty savvy knowledge of curves to pull off well, but the general approach is to suppress the highlight information and amplify the shadow information. You do this by making a “reverse s-curve”, but there’s a lot more to it than that.

Sometimes you have to take a specific tonal region and push it up or down to make the photo work. Also, there isn’t any one recipe that works for everything since all images are different. The challenge here is to compress the brightness range (lower contrast) but still come away with a photo that has visual “snap”. These curves will require quite a few adjustment points and won’t really look like any other curve you’ve used in the past. Be careful that you don’t cause solarization in the skies when you make these curves. Also, it is easy to overdo the HDR effect, creating something that looks like it was photographed in Technicolor neon.

Once you are happy with your conversion, click ok and then allow Photoshop to process all the images into your 8-bit or 16-bit file. Now you can work on your image just like any other image in Photoshop and add saturation, layers, etc.

Photoshop Elements
Photoshop Elements doesn’t have any fancy automated capabilities like Merge to HDR, so you are going to have to do this the old fashioned way. What I mean is that you are going to take the photo that has the best exposure for the sky and paste it on top of the photo that has the best exposure for the rocks in the foreground. Then, you are going to take your eraser tool and erase away the rocks in the top photo so that the rocks in the bottom photo “shine through”. This method isn’t bad, but it just takes a little bit of effort to make sure that your erasing is accurate.

Here are the steps:
1. Open both images.
2. Copy one image and paste it on top of the other image. You will now have two layers.
3. Select your eraser tool and erase away the “bad” part of the top photo, revealing the “good” part of the bottom photo.
4. Done!

This method is simple and effective. In fact, I use a very similar method in Photoshop CS3 when I want to do quick and dirty HDR images. CS3 gives you the ability to do layer masks for the “erasing” but the concept is almost identical. The disadvantage of working in Elements is that if you make a mistake erasing, you have to start over again (or go back in history) to retry. In general though, if you do a good job with your exposures and with your erasing, you can create an amazing HDR image in PS Elements.

Photomatix Pro
Photomatix Pro is the Grand Poobah of HDR Imaging software. The good folks at HDR Soft (www.hdrsoft.com) have created a software masterpiece that does its job exceedingly well. The great thing about Photomatix Pro is that it takes the mystery out of tone mapping. It allows you to move sliders to create the final effect rather than using curves or layers or masks. Another great thing about Photomatix Pro is that you can almost always get a final result that you really like. In other words, it does a really good job with the HDR conversion!

You can download a free trial of Photomatix Pro that gives full functionality to test out the program. When using the program in trial mode, it will imprint a watermark over your completed photo. If you decide to buy the software after you’ve tested it, then you can purchase a product key to deactivate the watermarks. The price for Photomatix Pro is $99 USD.

Here are some tips for using the program.
1. Start the program.
2. Click on the Generate HDR image button.
3. Choose your images from the Browse… button and click OK.
4. Choose alignment method and click OK. Wait while Photomatix converts the files.

5. Now, you’ll see the unprocessed HDR image. It looks terrible right now because you are looking at the full tonal range (brightness range) and your computer screen is not capable of displaying the range of data.

6. To do the conversion, you have to click the Tone Mapping button.

7. Choose one of two tone mapping methods: Details Enhancer or Tone Compressor. The Details Enhancer is for creating a more artistic interpretation of the image while the Tone Compressor is for creating a more photo realistic look.

8. There isn’t a correct method or approach for making adjustments. Basically, move the sliders, click the tabs and choose the buttons until you are happy with the results. Once you arrive at a “nice” photo, you are done with the adjustments.

9. Now, you can click the Process button to create the final output. Again, you’ll have to wait a minute or so while the program completes the tone mapping.

10. Save the photo for output/printing.

I really like the output I get from Photomatix far more than the output I get from the Photoshop methods. Photomatix is easy to use and fairly intuitive and the process involves far less finesse than Photoshop. HDRSoft has definitely made a very effective program that is simple and efficient. They get my double thumbs up rating for sure!




June GOAL Assignment: Capture the Moment
One of the most difficult things in all of photography is trying to capture the perfect moment with your camera. Facial expressions change in the blink of an eye. Intense concentration lasts a mere second. An animal’s attention is caught by a snapping twig and the moment is gone forever. We should all aspire to capturing the best possible moment of a photograph. Our forefathers of photography were often very skilled at this approach. In 1957, the great photographer Cartier-Bresson told the Washington Post, “Photography is not like painting. There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative. Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.”

Your GOAL (Get Out And Learn) assignment this month is to work diligently at timing your photographs so that you capture the moment. Don’t just rely on your camera’s fast frame rate to do it for you. Try to anticipate the moment and capture it for forever.





Digital Tidbits: Uploading Setup Files to your Nikon D300
Your D300 camera is an amazing piece of technology that can be customized for just about any photo situation you come across. Most of you know that you can program your Custom Settings menus and your Shooting menus for your own specific needs. But did you know that you can actually save these settings to a memory card for future reference?

I have recently saved all of my camera’s settings to an old CF card so that I have it always available before an important shoot. For example, let’s say that I have programmed my menu banks for landscape photography. I go out for a day of shooting landscapes, then at the end of the day I change over to take some photographs of a family at the beach at sunset. Let’s say that rather than change to a different bank for portraits, I just change some parameters in my Landscape bank such as color space, ISO and Picture Controls. Let’s then say that the next morning, I wake up to do more landscape work but forget to change those parameters back to the original Landscape settings. It wouldn’t be until I arrived home that I remembered my mistake when I see everything was mistakenly shot in sRGB versus Adobe RGB or ISO 1600 versus ISO 100.

To get around this, I recommend saving your settings to a memory card so that you can simply plug that card into your camera and re-set all of your personal menu settings back into the camera. The process of saving your settings is very simple and straightforward on the D300 camera.

Here’s the method:
1. Format an old CF memory card in your camera.
2. Set up all of your banks and menus to your preferences. If you haven’t done this yet, then this step can take anywhere from 30 minutes to multiple hours. (Also, remember that I have setup cards posted here that you can download for free: www.outthereimages.com/publishing.html )
3. Go to your Setup (wrench) menu and choose Save/load settings
4. Choose Save settings and click “OK”.
5. Now your menu bank information is saved to a memory card. Take the card out and label it with a Sharpie pen. I called mine “D300 Menu Settings.”
6. Done!

Now, you can easily reload those settings in your camera at any point in the future. Here’s the method:
1. Insert the memory card labeled “D300 Menu Settings.”
2. Go to your Setup (wrench) menu.
3. Choose Save/load settings.
4. Select Load settings and press “OK”.
5. Done!

All of your settings have now been reloaded with your previous menu selections. Reloading all your settings before each big shoot is a great way to help minimize your mistakes in the field.

For those of you who don’t want to setup your menus yourself, I’ve added the actual electronic D300 setup binary files to my website for you to download to your cameras. The files are located here:
http://www.outthereimages.com/publishing.html

Here’s how to download the data files from my website and then copy to your camera:
1. Click on the D300 setup file link at www.outthereimages.com/publishing.html
2. Download and save file to your computer. The file name is NCSETUP1.BIN
3. Copy file to your memory card. (Note, make sure you use a freshly formatted memory card).
4. Go to D300 Setup (wrench) Menu.
5. Choose Save/load settings
6. Choose Load settings
7. Done!

Now your D300 camera is set up exactly the same way that mine is setup.

As most of you know, I also have free downloadable PDF setup guides for your Nikon D70, D200, D300, D80 and D3 posted here:
www.outthereimages.com/publishing.html




Workshop Updates
Workshops continue to be popular, so we keep offering them! 2008 brings lots of workshops through Out There Images, Inc. and somewhere around 70 workshops scheduled at the Nikonians Academy (www.nikoniansacademy.com). Check out the information below for specific topics and dates.

The Art of Travel Photography Workshops
Join us for a photographic adventure in 2008! Learn how to turn your next vacation into an artistic event with our Art of Travel Photography Workshops. We just finished up our Columbia River Gorge waterfalls and spring bloom 4/24/08 ~ 4/27/08 trip and the next adventure will be in the North Cascades NP/Mazama 10/2/08 ~ 10/5/08. If you are thinking of signing up, contact us immediately in order to be placed on our signup list. Go here for more details:
www.outthereimages.com/travel_workshop.html

Photoshop Level I and II
These workshops are a great way to learn Photoshop while using practical, real world examples that photographers face each day. We are offering two levels of Photoshop instruction – Photoshop I and Photoshop II. Take them one at a time or take them as a group and get a 10% discount. Our Photoshop workshop is scheduled for July 25th and July 26th, 2008 in Seattle, WA. Go here for more information: www.outthereimages.com/portrait_workshop.html

Nikonians Academy Workshops
We'll be teaching great photographic subjects in Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Portland, Atlanta, Dallas, Washington DC, Tanzania, and more!

Our topics include:
- Two African Safaris
- Nikon D300
- Nikon D200
- Nikon D80/D70
- iTTL Flash
- Hands-on Digital Printing

Find out about all of our workshops here: www.nikoniansacademy.com.

Portrait Photography
We’ve brought back our popular Portrait Photography workshop this year. It will be scheduled for July 11-12, 2008 in Seattle, WA. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to use a flash meter, how to set up a studio, how to arrange your lighting or how to use flash, then this is the right workshop for you. It is a two-day event with lots and lots of hands-on learning and photography. Come along, you’ll enjoy it! I promise. Go here for more details: www.outthereimages.com/portrait_workshop.html

Private Tutoring
Private instruction is a very popular and affordable way to learn specifically what you want to learn in a one-on-one environment. During these sessions, we are able to work specifically on your own photographic needs and at your own pace. Available topics are studio lighting, nature photography, wedding photography, Photoshop, color management, digital workflow, flash photography, portraiture, exposure theory, and more. Many of our customers have requested specific topics and we have tailored our private tutoring to their needs. Call (253) 851-9054 or email (mike@outthereimages.com) if you have questions about this option.

Thanks:
I encourage you to try out some new photo techniques this month! If you need some inspiration, go back through our newsletter archive and see what we’ve been talking about over these last few years.

Until next time…

Best regards,

Mike Hagen
Out There Images, Inc. - "Get Out And Learn!"
PO Box 1966
Gig Harbor, WA 98335
www.outthereimages.com
mike@outthereimages.com
office: 253-851-9054
mobile: 360-750-1103
fax: 206-984-1817






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