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Deliberate Photography and HDR

I was listening to the This Week in Photography podcast the other day, in particular episode #255 and realised that I was not alone. I often plan and pre-visualise my HDRs. I will even scout an area to find the best angle to shoot the subject that has caught my attention. I also often check sunrise, moonrise and sunset, moonset as well as best locations to shoot from. It often allows me to make better photographs in general, I am not going to mention HDR Photographs, I am just going to show you a deliberate photograph.

Telkom/Hillbrow tower by Pascal Parent (PascalParent) on

Telkom/Hillbrow tower by Pascal Parent

This is one of the 2 beacon used by the people of Johannesburg to locate themselves without a GPS, it is visible from far in all directions and today, as you can see, very well lit.
Completed in 1971, the TELKOM (or Hillbrow) tower it stands at 269m and is a part of the Johannesburg skyline along the second and shorter Sentech Tower (239m) to the west of Johannesburg and the multitude of other buildings in between.

I’d like to thank Andrew Stevenson for bearing the cold and darkness and accompanying me in this shoot.

HDR Photographers worth looking at.

We all know the controversy around HDR, I personal have heard them all. I believe that HDR has a place in the photography world. I thought that I would show you rather than explain to you why HDR photography appeals to me so much.

Here are some HDR photographers from around the world worth following, each of these people has either influenced or inspired me in some ways. These photographers are unafraid and bold in the art that HDR is but none are fringe artists that use HDR to distort our world. Most are after the reality of what we see and make our perception of this world better and I thank them for it. If you know of more please add to the comments area.

In no special order here is my list, I follow each of these photographers and always look forward to their next post.

Author name: Elia Locardi
Marina Bay Sands and The Helix Bridge - (Singapore)
Some great travel photography that will make you wish you were there with the added bonus a few words of photographic wisdom well worth reading.


Author name: Miroslav Petrasko
Website: HDR Shooter
Everything is blue
Great photography from and around Europe with a really simple to follow tutorial.


Author name: Jim Nix
Website: Nomadic Pursuits
Stroget shimmers
Exquisite travel photography from around the globe that makes you dream and inspires.


Author name: Trey Ratcliff
Website: Stuck in Customs
The Secret Workshop of Jules Verne
The travel photographer that turned me onto HDR. Photography, stories and tutorials all worth the time.


Author name: Klaus Herrmann
Website: farbspiel photography
Klaus Herrmann’s by-line is “View. Learn. Connect”. Need I say more?


All photographs show here are done so with the express authorisation from the copyright holder or/and are holding a CC licences.

High Dynamic Range workflow

I get asked how I do my HDRs a lot, I more than often direct people to the master and, by definition even if we have never met, teacher Trey Ratcliff. His work is the one that got me back into HDR in the first place, however it seems that my style is a tad different from his. The truth is that I evolve and try different techniques with each photograph. I could not reproduce an exact match to something I did before. As all arts, nearly, each piece is unique, that is true for me but my workflow is constant.

First and foremost, not all situations are good for HDR work! This is important, not all photos make for a good HDR, you will need high contrast, little movement and time to shoot an HDR. But try never the less, see what works for you and what does not.

  • Shooting the HDR, it all starts here!
    • As with normal photography, get that EV 0 photo as you would if you where not doing an HDR, this is your reference photo it owe to be perfect every time. So expose it right and do as if HDR did not exist, I cannot stress this enough. I personally shoot everything a 1/3 of a stop lower, I like it better that way but that is up to taste and preferences. Know this though, all the rules of photography applies.
    • Shoot in RAW, you should anyways.
    • I, generally, do 3 handheld photographs, EV 0, +3, –3 at f/8, ISO 100, it’s no secret that I found that f/8 is magic for HDR photography, I tried others for example low depth of field which I generally love just does not work for me.
    • Frame it right, in fact because I do it handheld I frame it wider, yes I crop my HDRs a bit but to the slight movement of handheld photography.You can go manual but you will need a tripod or do like me use Aperture Priority.
    • Do not change you aperture or ISO, is an HDR only the speed should change!
    • Set your camera to shoot all 3 (or more if you can) in one go, see your camera manual under bracketing.
    • The tip to know how many photo’s you need? Expose for the highlight get your reading then expose to the shadow get the reading again, I use 3EV because of my camera’s limitations but calculate how many photographs you need according to your EV bracketing mode.

Now that you have the 3 (or more) photos and I assume you have imported them on to your computer using your favourite tool, let’s review my workflow step by step. See the results bellow, in this case I used 3 photograph.

Original 0 EV

EV0 – 1/640, f/9, ISO 200

Original -3 EV

EV0 – 1/5000, f/9, ISO 200

Original +3 EV

EV0 – 1/80, f/9, ISO 200

[beforeafterpics id=’1′ image_before=’/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/HDR-Workflow-32.jpg’ image_after=’/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/HDR-Workflow-12.jpg’ /]

  • Step 1 – Create the HDR
    • Do not modify the originals, you will do the fine touches at the end of the process.
    • I convert them to JPEG at 1 EV separation, yes that means that I can end up with up to 11 photos, I only select the best 5 to 7 though.
      How do I get so many out of 3 photographs? Adobe Photoshop Lightroom has a slider for this sole purpose.
      This is why I shoot raw, I can pull up to a 2 EV photo up or down with very little degradation.
      Technically, you are able to do an HDR with only 1 photograph shot in RAW.
    • Import all the photos into the HDR program, I use Photomatix Pro, though there are a few others. 
      Protomatix Pro - Settings for processing exported files
      • The trick here is to tick “Align images”, “Crop aligned result” and selecting “by matching features” in case of movement, the perspective correction is selected because I use wide angle lenses.
      • “Reducing ghosting artifacts” in auto helps with movement that may have occurred, I tried most the setting “High” is always selected nowadays.
      • “Reduce Noise” on “All source images” helps for later noise control.
      • “Reduce chromatic aberration” helps latter as well.
      • As you can see I set it to reimport into Adobe Photoshop Lightroomin TIFF, TIFF keeps more information thus making it easier to edit later.
    • In Photomatix Pro, I will modify the settings to come as close as possible to the look I want, I generally start of with the “Enhancer – Default” preset, I find it smoother and more realistic.
      Do not do this if it is for a panoramic, the blending needs to be the same! In fact I created a preset that I can use for each panoramic sections.
    • Save it.
    • If it is a panoramic, merge and crop it before you go to step 2 and watch that sky if there is any.
  • Step 2
    • Topaz Adjust

      Because the HDR process flattens the colours, I import it into Topaz Adjust and use one of the colour enhancing filters, I do not always use the same one but I do use the “Spicify” filter more often then others, remember that each photograph is unique.

    • Here are the catches:
      • Grunge, I recently found a way around it, Topaz Adjust 5 (and maybe before) has a Transparency setting in the “3. Finishing Touches” section, I use that in addition to other settings.
      • Halo effect, that one is often hard to control.
  • Step 3
    • Adjust the final HDR as you would any other photos.
    • Do look at reducing grain.

As you see it’s not a complicated science, you can also go back to my previous entries where you will find more details about how to shoot an HDR and more.

Finally, enjoy doing them, it’s what photography is all about, enjoyment.

Here are some HDR photographers I follow (i will update regularly):

Last updated on the 6th of March 2012

HDR Panoramic Photography

I have been advocating and using HDR for certain photographic uses for a while now, the response has been rather positive, I can only assume that I must be doing something right. In the past month I have attempted to tackle a whole new aspect of HDR, pushing the envelop if you will, I started doing “large” daylight panoramic images. I am amazed by both the  results and response. I have learned so much more about HDR and normal photography in good lighting conditions (often not suitable for HDRs) and how to do good panoramic images.

The south western view from Signal Hill

So what is the trick?

  1. Take each section as wide as possible, all my panoramic images are done at 16mm, it will be more forgiving on your movement up and down.
  2. Overlap each section by at least 30%, 50% will give you double the information to stich.
  3. Keep the same focus, aperture, speed and ISO for each section, do not be afraid to go manual, in fact I encourage it.
  4. Tripods help, the truth is I do not use them much because I find them restrictive, say what you will it’s cumbersome to carry around.
  5. Before you do a panoramic, pan your camera, look where you begin and where you are going to end, find your panoramic line if you will, it’s like framing only wider. When doing the initial panning watch out for:
    1. The sun and flares.
    2. Water reflections.
    3. Moving people, animals and objects as they may appear more than once in your panoramic image.
    4. Camera tilting, try to stay on the same horizontal axis but keep that camera at 90 degrees.
    5. As so many say, look up, look down look everywhere, pan it twice or more before you start.
  6. When you do the panoramic sections do 30% more on either sides, it will let you crop better.
  7. Understand the fisheye effect and how to use it or avoid it, a panoramic image has lens curvature and that is that.
  8. 180 degrees panoramic images taken on a road or any visible straight live will result in a perceived 90 degrees panoramic.
  9. Use a good stitching program and there I have not found any software that beats Photoshop CS though I believe Photoshop Elements does it well to, though I have never used it. Why Photoshop Lightroom does not have it is beyond me. You can download the trial for any of them and try.
  10. Lastly, it takes processing time to do a panoramic image, be patient.

But most importantly, enjoy making and sharing them.