Two months ago I did not know my aperture from my f-stop (answer is ... they're the same). As I posted earlier this week, I decided to take a class, and among other things learn about HDR Photogaphy (high dynamic Imaging)! My new camera is a Canon Powershot SX30 IS, and I'm finally learning how to use all its features ... including image bracketing (HDR) while I either give preference to Aperture Size or Shutter Speed (takes 3 images while adjusting the exposure up and down from my settings).
One's first impression, HDR might seem to be one of those features only for the camera geek, or professional photographer. I discovered otherwise. During a long bike ride on the Willard Munger Trail in northern Minnesota, I arrived at the St. Louis River gorge near Jay Cooke Park. As it was still morning, the sun had not reached well into the deep ravine. This meant shadows and sun where those two combination did not make for optimal photographs. Coming back at another time was not a preferred option, unless I wanted to add another 30 miles to my bike ride, not to mention another 1,000 foot hill climb.
Enter HDR to the rescue. I set my camera for aperture priority (distance landscapes), and soon had three bracketed photos (normal, shorter exposure, and longer exposure). The photos provided an interesting combination of color and shadow, but never in the same image. Well, using the magic of HDR integration, I combined the photos into one neat photo (see images at end of post).
Here are the three free HDR services and one paid option which I ultimately purchased ($30), and my reviews of each. I realize Photoshop would do a fantastic job, but remember I said this blog post was for amateur photographers. Photoshop is way to expensive for me.
- Luminance HDR: This software comes from Source Forge. As a software nerd I love this organization for some of the great free software that developers worldwide create for the open source community. While Luminance HDR works fine, it's complicated and tough to learn.
- Picturenaut: While this was the most recommended free HDR software I discovered mentioned on other blogs and web sites, I was disappointed with the results, and felt YoHDR as a free service was much easier and yielded better results.
- Photomatrix Essentials: This is the one paid HDR software I researched. It has a free 30 day trial one may download and test. I love the results, and it's easy to use. It gives me quite a few output options without scaring me with difficult choices and commands. Captain Kimo provides reviews of additional HDR software packages, and a discount of 15% if you decide to make the purchase.
- YoHDR: I love this service. While I did purchase PhotoMatrix Essentials for $30, you need to try YoHDR. It was created as a free service by three Silicon Valley engineers. It could not be more simple. You upload three versions of your photograph, and click convert. You then have two output options: photographic and natural.
As they say ... as corny as it sounds, a picture is worth a thousand words. Thus, here are my images from the St. Louis River gorge, and the final photo (actually a few options). The original images have been pair down in size for fast viewing. The HDR photos are provided at full resolution. Click upon any image to view at full size.
The other tool I use is Google's Picasa software (web and computer versions). It allows me to make basic edits, and share on the web.
Orginal Photo: aperture f8; shutter speed = 1/100 second
Unfortunately give the location of the railroad trestle over the river, I was forced to take this photo somewhat into the sun given the time of day. The end result are some color washouts.
Shorter Exposure (darker): aperture f8; shutter speed = 1/200 second
By shortening the shutter speed (automatic bracketing) I was able to get a deeper blue for the sky, and greens for pine trees.
Longer Exporsure (lighter): aperture f8; shutter speed = 1/80 second
The longer shutter speed (also taken automatically), I was able to get resolution on some of the shadow areas.
HDR Result #1: Photographic Option Choice
Notice how this photo combines elements of each of the three original images. The sky is blue, not washed out. Many shadows are eliminated, and one may actually see the bubbles from the upstream rapids.
HDR Result #2: Painterly Option Choice
As I mentionned, you become an artist. This version allowed me to bring out the color of the granite and all the red pine needles laying on the rocks. Remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It was fun playing around. These were details I had noticed with my eyes. My challenge was to represent these aspects of the scene in a photograph. A professional photographer could bring out much more using these images, but remember ... I said this blog post was for the amateur! Have fun and explore.