This blog is a collection of photography and processing techniques which can be used to further enhance your photography.
High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography
Here's a short tutorial on how to do HDR photography. This image was taken inside the main chapel at San Juan Batista Mission, near Hollister, CA. Some parts of the scene were in deep shadow, whereas others were lit by the window on the left. Digital camera sensors struggle to record extreme light ranges which are easily handled by our human eyes. High dynamic range photography is one of the techniques that can be used to capture a wide range of light levels and tone map it into a single image which represents the scene as seen by the human eye.
To process a HDR image, it is easiest to use the auto-bracket function in your digital SLR. Most cameras support taking three bracketed images - I usually bracket images at -2EV, 0, +2EV. Further, HDR software like Photomatix Pro, can auto-align hand-held shots, which is handy if you are shooting without a tripod.
Once in Photomatix, I play around with the luminosity, lighting, white point and the dark point sliders till I get the image looking just right - not too "HDR-ish". The next step is to save the image as a 16-bit TIFF file. At this point I will re-import the tone mapped TIFF file back into Lightroom.
The final step of processing is to export the image back into an image editing program - I use Adobe Photoshop CS6. Once in Photoshop, I will further enhance the image using curves and luminosity layers, and a final bit of burning/dodging, resulting in an image like the one you see.
If you can dream it, you can do it!
Yelapa, Mexico, 2011
There's a little story behind this image. Yelapa, is a little coastal village accessible only by water taxi from Puerto Valllarta. There's a nice waterfall in the jungles receding away from the coast. The hike to the waterfall is dotted by many tiny villages. One of these sported a tiny coffee shop where the lady served us the best cappuccino we've ever tasted!
After serving coffee, the lady went back to chatting with her friends, while her children ran around, playful and unmindful of the tourist traffic on the trail. With the mom's permission I shot this picture of them as they settled down on a bench to enjoy a bag of cheetos. The little girl turned and looked at me just as the shutter clicked!
This image served as inspiration to my ten-year old daughter who was working on her school speech - the theme was Walt Disney's famous quote "If you can dream it, you can do it." To her it reflected the challenges faced by kids in developing countries who don't have access to basic education and schooling. Her hope is that it inspires the next generation of kids to grow up and tackle such issues as providing education to under-privileged kids.
[Some editing details: The original version showed too much of the background clutter which distracted from the main subjects. So a bit of cropping to the top and right emphasized the subjects. Finally a bit of dodging/burning to de-emphasize the sunny spots in the background made it a much stronger image.]
Using burning and dodging effectively
Dodging and burning are techniques developed during film processing to selectively brighten or darken portions of an image during film developing.
These techniques can also be effectively applied during post-processing digital images. I took this image near Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. What attracted me to this scene is that the red colors stood out from the green backdrop.
While shooting I reviewed the RGB histogram carefully to make sure the red channel was not blown out (a very likely occurrence due to the high contrasts between the reds and greens).
Later while processing the image on my computer, I realized that I wanted the flowers to stand out even more from the background.
I used Lightroom's selective adjustment brush to dodge (make brighter) the foreground flower. A fine brush size and a subtle exposure enhancement works best for this.
This was followed by burn (make darker) the surrounding foliage using a large (coarse) brush size. Dodging adds the effect of a natural vignette around the main subject.
A combination of these techniques made the flowers almost glow and stand out from the foliage.
Composition Tips for shooting landscapes
I thought I will use this latest image of mine to share certain effective composition rules for Landscape Photography in general. The first rule is that rules are meant to be broken ;-) There is a time and place for each rule, and ultimately your judgement must prevail.
1. Rule of thirds
I will restate this oft-quoted rule as it proves effective and pleasing to the eye in general. Always place the horizon on the upper or lower third of the image, depending on whether you want to highlight the sky or the foreground. In this image, the sky was rather plain and boring, so I decided to highlight the foreground instead.
2. Use a foreground object
This technique works very well for images shot in the portrait mode. The rock in this image, serves as a point for the eye to enter the image and also as a "resting place" for the eye. It tends to add a 3D feel to your images and is a powerful landscape technique. Also of interest is that the rock is placed on the lower third of the image, further exemplifying the rule of thirds.
3. Use of leading lines
Once the eye has entered the image, you want to lead the eye throughout the image and then exit it. Leading lines are a good technique to achieve this. In this image, the receding wave lines served to lead the eye towards the Natural Bridges rock formation and then exit the image with the cloud on the top.