In Focus, Bangkok Photography Blog July 18th, 2009

A Monk’s View / Helicon Focus Review

In Focus, Bangkok Images
July 18, 2009
By BKKSteve

Greece Hotel Guide
Aquarius Apartments
Renia Hotel Apartments
Alkyon Resort Hotel
Kalamaki Beach Hotel Corinth

Feature Photograph

Challenge yourself! I was waiting for my car to be washed and like a child had already rummaged through the magazines, flipped through the three available television channels, and touched everything that looked interesting and was still bored. What does a child do in such circumstances? Yep, they think of a game to help pass the time. My game for the day was to come up with a Feature Photograph using my compact point and shoot, before my car was finished.

Looking around at all the interesting things a car wash has to offer a keen photographer I finally settled on an oil spot. Why? Have you noticed that oil spots are an endangered species? Cars built in the last few decades seem to have very few if any oil or other fluid leaks. Also, I figured if I could make a subject as brain numbing as an oil spot interesting.. that would be an achievement all by itself.

I set out taking this composition using the same compositional elements I would with any landscape photograph. A foreground (darker shadow areas with small spots), a mid-ground (oil spots with shiny and colorful reflection), and a background (well exposed bare patch of concrete), all of which were distinctive enough from each other to qualify. I also incorporated as much “tonal variation” as possible using the available light. Add a sharp focus to enhance detail and this might be the most interesting oil spot you’ve seen all month.

But then I took it a step further. Could I make it commercially viable? Not really as is, who wants a picture of an oil spot? But I’d challenged myself and couldn’t give up. I brought the image into Photoshop and started experimenting and I think I came up with a sort of Art Deco abstract idea. This is the sort of image you’ll find hanging in the waiting areas of dentists offices and commercial buildings that make you wonder just who in the hell chooses their art.

You’ll also find studies showing abstracts such as this, even contrived abstracts, catch peoples attention for small periods of time. It varies, but these small periods of time help individuals experience an overall feeling of a shorter waiting time.

Challenge yourself. Play games. Experiment in Photoshop. Stick your fingers in the paint and smear them on construction paper. Granted, the elephants in Thailand can make much more interesting art, but you’ll still have a lot of fun!

A Monk’s View

This week I’m going to do something different. Something I’d previously decided not to do. I want to share a story told to me by a monk I interviewed in Yala several years ago. I’ve spend more than a few months total in this region, made some good friends, and been taken into the confidence of a few. This story you might remember from several years back. The details were printed in the local and some international papers, but so far I’m the only person actually granted an interview with the surviving monk. The eyewitness. I recorded his story and have recently reviewed the transcripts for accuracy. This is his story.

Before I begin let me tell you that the images from this trip fell victim to my great RAID crash of 2006.. so all I have left are small jpegs which aren’t necessarily the best choice for this story. The importance of backing up your images cannot be overstated.

About ten years ago there was a young Thai teenager being raised in the deep south. Without the guidance of a father or other male mentor he learned to drink and experimented with drugs. The drug use became more frequent and soon he was hooked. What family he had disowned him. He’d steal anything he could to buy more drugs and it didn’t take long until he accepted that his life would probably end at any time. He had nothing to look forward to but his next fix.

An old monk from the local temple observed his plight and offered to help. Help was refused. The old monk persisted and several months later the young Thai teenager decided to accept his help. He knew otherwise he would die, or worse end up in a local prison.

Withdrawal was hell. The teenager thought he was going to die, and he almost wished he was dead already. But for the first time in his life a male figure seemed to really care about him. The old monk never left his side, soothing him, talking to him about his bright future, encouraging him.

Within a few weeks the teenager was better, but obviously not cured. He knew he’d always be an addict, but he’d also learned he could stay clean and make something of his life. It was his choice. Soon her donned the robes of an apprentice monk and started his studies with the old monk. The old monk nurtured and educated this young man. The young man had never respected anyone more in his life. He finally felt wanted. He finally felt he’d found a home in the monkhood and the temple. He decided to remain a monk for life.

The temple was small, but growing. The monks at this temple did a lot of hard physical labor building new buildings, walls, and storage facilities. They worked hard together, studied long hours together, and the temple grew and served well the local Buddhists. <Someone ought to mention to this monk not to overdo it with the face whitening creamStick>

On two sides of the temple were residential homes. In the front a street. In the back a rice field open to a nice view. The monks dormitory was nothing more than a cement building with small bare rooms with large wooden doors.

The young monk had heard much about the violence in the south and the bombings and beheadings. Still, he knew that for hundreds of years Muslims and Buddhists have lived side by side in peace and this was still the rule and not the exception. The temple was considered a place of sanctuary. Everyone was welcome and safe there.

One day everything changed. The young monk was in a building preparing food when he heard a bunch of yelling and men ordering around other men. He looked out the door and saw a group of men dressed in the local Muslim garb holding AK-47’s on the other monks and the volunteers who had come to work. They were ordering them up against the building where they lived.

Fearing for his life the young monk hid under a table. He had to watch, to see what was happening to the old monk and his other brothers. From his hiding place under the table he watched in horror as the men were beaten, humiliated, and lined up against the building where they lived and shot. He felt like his life ended as he watched the old monk fall lifeless to the ground. That wasn’t the end of the assault on the old monk. He stayed under the table shaking in fear and silently crying. He was found several hours later by the soldiers who responded to the local’s calls for help. Bullet holes can be seen in the door and far walls.

He remembers watching them remove the bodies. He didn’t sleep or move for days. He was sure the men would come back and finish the job and kill the people they missed. When they didn’t come back he set about cleaning the blood stains as best he could. Each day he continued their work alone. There was no one left to help him. Only a picture which still hung on a wall.

The locals, both Muslim and Buddhist supported his efforts and brought him supplies, food, and volunteered labor. They built tall watchtowers and military style bunkers so they could keep an eye out for the next assault. Police guarded the compound.

The work on the temple continues, the young monk is now the senior monk. The children of volunteers play in the courtyard and swing in hammocks set up in the bunkers. Life continues for the young monk, but he’ll never forget the hollow void previously filled by the old monk and his brothers.

I arrived almost a year later. I’d read about this and remember noting that the location or even town name wasn’t given. The authorities didn’t want the place attacked again, and they didn’t want the entire story going to the press to inflame tensions even more. I’ve been careful to be very general in the above narrative. The transcripts revealed many more details of the horror and deaths.

I spent over two months in the southern three provinces making friends and contacts before anyone would talk to me about this small temple and what happened there that horrific day. I had to be “vetted” and earn a certain amount of trust. I won’t go into how this was done, or the details of the people who made the final decision. I will say I greatly admire the selfless man who leads the Buddhists in the southern three regions. He opens himself to Muslims and Buddhists alike, and yet still must live in hiding, changing his location every few days lest he be assassinated. I’ve maintained contact with this man and my new friends, and I’ll never forget the time I spent with the young monk.

We pulled into the temple in the late morning. The military style watch towers surprised me. I parked next to a bunker built from sandbags. We were expected and a lunch was provided. After lunch we talked. We talked until well after last light. He told me his story and cried.

About four months later I returned to the temple. I’d kept my word and not told anyone his story. Our agreement was to let a few years pass so tensions would ease. I’d also brought him his portrait sealed in a frame of teak with polyurethane covering the portrait. This was as weather resistant to the elements as I could make it. Because monks usually live in harsh environments exposed to the elements, photographs quickly fade and become unrecognizable. This one would last his lifetime.

I once again parked by the bunker noting the progress which had been made during my absence. New high walls now provided a measure of security from the rice field where the assailants walked in from before. New modest (very) buildings for teaching and the locals who needed temporary shelter. Even the landscaping had been improved a bit. Looking around I didn’t see my friend the young monk. No one came to greet me. The old dormitory remained empty and untouched. Bullet holes remained as a reminder.

As I walked through the compound I noticed no one looked at me. No one would talk. Something was wrong and I didn’t know what. Finally I noticed an old lady cooking who I recognized and when no one else was near we approached her and asked about the young monk and the others I’d met on my last visit.

She told me that the “elders” really didn’t believe I’d keep the story to myself. They feared I’d release the story and the assailants or their associates would come back and kill him because he was an eyewitness. Supposedly there was much debate about why a “farang” was trusted in the first place. Why not a local Thai reporter. At the time the only local reporters worked for Channel 5, Thaksin’s news network. I suppose a farang was trusted more than the locals, at least until they thought about it. Then they relocated the young monk and those close to him and no one would tell me where he was or how I could get in contact with him.

The old lady saw the portrait I was carrying. She promised me she’d get it to him. I took another look around the compound and left. Honored that I was chosen and trusted to tell his story. Disappointed that the trust didn’t endure. And saddened because I wasn’t to see the young monk again.

More than a few years have gone by and this is the first time I’ve told the his story. At least a ‘washed’ version of his story. Until I know he’s okay and I have his consent, the details will remain with me.

Meanwhile the violence once again has really picked up in the South. Buildings bombed, police killed, citizens beheaded, teachers slain. Its almost like the new group of politicians in power have went full circle and are now back where we were 3 years ago.

Helicon Focus Review

I’d like to introduce Craig Lamson. Craig has been a professional product photographer for over 3 decades. Craig has done it all and I encourage you to check out his website for the best product photography you’ll ever have the privilege of viewing. Often times I can spend a great amount of time viewing just one of his images and learning while observing how he uses light. Craig is a master of light, and I’m afraid that is an understatement.

Helicon Focus

A Review By Craig Lamson

"As far as the eye can see" copyright Craig Lamson 2009

The Promise of Infinte Focus

We have all had that oh-so-perfect image perfectly framed in our viewfinder. Carefully we check the light meter and select the proper exposure based on our desired depth of focus. With great anticipation we press the shutter release and capture the fleeing moment of time for posterity.

Once back at the computer we process our new masterpiece and open it up at 100% in Photoshop zooming in and scrolling around to admire all the wonderful detail. This joyous moment is often spoiled when we discover that our masterpiece suffers from areas of soft focus that spoil our desired result. With the standard method of stopping the lens down to f16, f22 or more to extend depth of focus, we again find disappointment at 100%. Lens diffraction has robbed the image of all the fine detail.

Depth of focus is controlled in a few different ways. Focal length of the lens, wider angle lenses giving more depth of focus. Camera to subject focusing distance, focusing on objects closer to the camera reduces depth of field in most instances. Selecting a smaller aperture, the smaller the f-stop the greater depth of focus. Using a tilt shit lens or a technical camera to change the plane of focus to increase depth of focus.

Even with all of these creative options at our command, there are times when they are simply not enough to fulfill out creative vision.

Enter Helicon Focus

Now, thanks to the good folks at Helicon Soft LTD., computer software comes to the rescue.

http://www.heliconsoft.com/heliconfocus.html

Their product, Helicon Focus, lets you extend the depth of focus in your digital photographs by taking a number of “focus bracketed” images of the same scene, and blending them to create the final, extreme depth of focus image. I’m a photographer…not a software wiz. I don’t really know what’s happening “under the hood” but it works and works very well. For this review I was supplied with a copy of the most current version of Helicon Focus, V4.8. Let’s check it out!

As Easy as 1-2-3 or 4-5-6-7-8…

Shooting the frames.

You need to plan ahead when you consider using this program for a photograph. A tripod and a remote shutter release, while not required, will yield the very best results. Likewise your choice of subject matter for extended depth of focus photography is important. Things that move in your scene like leaves, water, clouds and people can cause problems that are impossible or at least very difficult to repair in the final image. Helicon Focus does include a set to retouching tools to help repair minor problems. Remember this is just another tool in your creative toolkit, to be used when the situation requires it.

To create an extended depth of focus photograph using Helicon Focus you start by shooting “focus brackets”. These are nothing more than consecutive exposures of the same scene with the lens focused at different points within the scene. If you regularly do exposure bracketing you will easily understand the concept, only in this case it’s the focus that changes, not the exposure. For those of you unsure of the concept it works like this:

Setup your camera on a tripod (for the best results) and carefully frame your image and select the proper exposure. Since we are using software to create the desired depth of field you can safely use the sharpest f-stop for your lens which is typically two stops down from wide open.

Focus your camera on the nearest point in the image you want in focus. Carefully check and set your exposure. I suggest you use your camera on the manual setting to eliminate any possibility of exposure shifts during the creation of your focus stack.

Shoot your first image, using your remote shutter release and mirror lock up if your camera has that function. Our goal here is precision and maximum image sharpness.

Being very careful to not move the camera, refocus to a point a bit deeper into the scene and make another exposure. Male sure the depth of focus for each image overlaps the prior image. You may need to use the stop down button on your camera body to see exactly the amount of depth of focus your lens is producing at a given f-stop.

Continue this process until you have changed the focus to include every area in your scene you want to be rendered in sharp focus. It takes a bit of trial and error to determine just how much you must change focus for each image. Don’t fret this step… the end results are worth the time spent in experimentation.

You now have your focus bracket frames. There may be as few as three or as many as 15 or more. The choice is yours and depends on the amount of DOF required and the f-stop of the lens you have chosen. I will suggest you play it safe and shoot more frames than you think you will need. You can disregard any frames you don’t need later when you run Helicon Focus.

The user interface of Helicon Focus is clean and simple to use, and has a feature set to suit the beginner or professional user.

Running Helicon Focus

Here is where the magic happens. The software is surprisingly easy to use and produces stunning results with the default settings. Helicon Focus will also allow the power user to alter the output based on a number of settings. Rather than delve into custom settings lets just work our images using the preset defaults.

Your first decision is what to do with your focus stacked images. If you shoot in raw format (you do shoot raw don’t you?) you can choose to process your images in your favorite raw processor of let Helicon Focus do it for you. If you chose to let Helicon Focus process your raw files you can select the method in the preferences section of the program. I prefer Phase One Capture 4 to process my Canon 1DsMKIII files so I decided to make the conversions prior to running Helicon Focus.

Opening the program brings up a very simple and intuitive interface. On the left is the viewing window which displays your selected image. On top of this window are tabs that select the functions of the program. Selecting a tab shows the contents and actions in a smaller window on the right side.

When you click the files tab you select the browser to find the files you want to process in Helicon Focus. Once in the proper directory simply place a checkmark in the box for each of the files you want to include in your stack. At this point you can simply press the RUN button at the top of the right hand window and Helicon Focus will create your blended image. When it is completely processed you can save your new image to the location of your choice using the save tab or the save button in the toolbar.

"Alone in a crowd" copyright Craig Lamson 2009

Getting Creative

I’ve always been the type of guy who looks at something and asks, what else can I do with this? Helicon Focus is no different. Sure it is superb for creating extended depth of focus but can it produce extended and limited depth of focus at the same time? The answer is a resounding yes!

I’ve taken to shooting landscape and botanicals as a relaxing change from my normal photographic fare of advertising images. When shooting flower macros I’ve had a hard time achieving those creamy, out of focus backgrounds and a nice, fully focused flower in the foreground. When you stop the lens down to assure a fully focused flower you destroy the creamy background.

The solution I found was to use the lens at widest f-stop to produce the creamy background blur and then focus bracketing with Helicon Focus processing to get that perfectly sharp flower. The results are unlike anything you can produce with conventional photography. And I’ve just scratched the surface of the creative applications for this product.

Helicon Focus Image compared to a single shot image

100% corner crops show the increased depth of focus obtained by using Helicon Focus

Nuts and Bolts

Helicon Focus is a very deep program with options and settings to fill the needs of the novice and expert users alike. It supports a large number of raw and processed file formats for input and can work is 64 bit mode, with multi processor support for faster processing. You can retouch your blended images to remove “ghosts” caused by subject movement, change the processing parameters, file output types, color space, bit depth etc. You can also create 3d images and panoramas.

An extended depth of focus image created with Helicon Focus and Helicon Remote software

All in all this is a very complete software package. For a detailed look be sure to stop by the Helicon Focus website and read the articles and view the samples.

If you shoot products, studio or location macros, or simply want the most detailed landscapes possible, check out Helicon Focus. It has found a permanent place in my image processing toolkit and I highly recommend it for yours.

The user interface of Helicon Remote is clean and intuitive.

A Look Into the Future

Helicon Soft Ltd. was kind enough to send over a beta version of its newest addition to the Helicon Focus family, Helicon Remote, for testing. Helicon Remote is a tethered shooters dream. It provides a computer interface for automatic focus adjustment and shooting of images for extended depth of field processing in Helicon Focus software.

Helicon remote works much like other tethering software in that you can remotely adjust focus, file type and other camera parameters directly from your keyboard. Where it exceeds the others is its ability to control focus and automatically produce “focus bracketed” frames. The upside of doing this with a remote application is repeatability and camera stability. You can check your composition, focus and exposure all on screen using your cameras live view feature. You select the number of frames and the number of steps for your focus stack as well as the size of the focus shift. Then it’s a simple click of the mouse and Helicon Remote controls your camera and exposes your frames. This is a hands-off operation as you never touch your camera after you compose your scene.

Helicon Remote is still in Beta testing and will only be available for cameras that feature a live view function. Look for a detailed review of this great program when it is released.

Steve’s Comments:

I really like this program! It does what it advertises and it does it very well. That’s saying a lot, because it’s often not the case.

Helicon Focus opens up possibilities you might not have ever considered by allowing a previously unheard of Depth of Field (DOF) at your lenses sharpest aperture. For me, this meant the biggest part of the learning curve was spent wrapping my mind around this amazing new capability, and then mentally adding it to my mental variable list.

Now when I’m out in the field or working in the studio and I’m appraising a scene or set, I can add unlimited DOF to the creative possibilities, keeping in mind the caveat: Using Helicon Focus takes forethought and purpose.

There are some points I’d like lightly cover:



Typical Uses

This is a program you use with purpose. It is not a program you use as an afterthought. My current image archive has over 142,000 images and I couldn’t find a single set of images to test this program with, so I had to go out and make some.

Helicon Focus is not something you would consider for casual tourist captures, photojournalism, weddings, events, sports, or wildlife. Helicon Focus however adds an exciting new dimension to micro and macro photography, landscapes, and many things you would do in a studio.



Why the Limitations?

The types of photography you’d use Helicon Focus for is limited because the process demands a set workflow where precision is the buzzword.

For optimum results you’ll need to be setup on a good solid tripod and locked down solid. You should use an external shutter release. Exposure should be as close to spot-on as possible, so taking the time to check out your histogram and dial in your exposure is mandatory. Do consider using mirror lockup if your shutter speeds are any lower than 1/60th. Start by focusing on the absolute closest object in the scene within your lenses MFD capabilities, and work your way through the scene focus slice by focus slice. When in doubt take more exposures.

It is possible to handhold the camera and do these things as the program features an alignment function similar to those you might be used to in HDR programs. For me personally, I can handhold and bracket exposure (using an auto-bracket feature or even manually) because I can still brace with two hands/arms. When you bracket focus with a DSLR you'll need to make sure your bracing style has your off-hand on the bottom of the lens barrel in such a position to move the focus ring without creating too much physical movement.

As you can see the workflow takes purpose and time.. This is common for landscape and studio photographers.



Outdoor Scene Limitations?

Scenes captured outdoors tend to be dynamic. Movement might not be obvious at the time, but if there is movement in the scene the set of captures won’t be suitable for the Helicon Focus process.

Clouds move, and they move at different speeds. Depending on their height and the season they can be almost stationary, or as fast as several hundred knots per hour. Pay attention to the clouds, pick a point in the sky/clouds and reference it to a landmark, preferably at 90 degrees. Count how long it takes for significant movement. If the resulting time is longer than it takes for you to effect the series of captures consider adjusting your composition or using another method.

Water moves. Even seemingly peaceful lakes have surface movement from the wind, ripples, etc.. so take notice of any bodies of water and adjust your composition accordingly.

Birds. I can’t count the number of times I’ve taken a series of exposures for HDR purposes only to discover during post I didn’t notice the flock of Canadian Geese flying right through the middle of the composition.

Flora moves. Leaves rustle, grass sways, flowers almost shake back and forth. All of these areas will not come into focus using Helicon Focus when you combine the captures. This doesn’t rule out using Helicon Focus, but it is something you should consider in your composition.



Summary

I’m excited about Helicon Focus. It’s a great new tool which allows you to effect captures you never would have considered before.

Helicon Focus has a 16 bit workflow that supports multiple-CPU cores and threads and takes advantage of 64 bit operating systems. This is good, because when you start processing the number of “slice” exposures you’ll need for some scenes, you’ll need some serious computing power. Files supported are RAW, TIFF, JPEG, PSD, and BMP images in either 8 or 16 bit.

The “Dust Map” is a nice feature for processing out dust spots, but I haven’t had a chance to use this feature.

3D Modeling (comes with a 3D viewer) is something else I haven’t tried, but I’m looking forward to it. Some of the examples on Helicon’s site are simply awesome.

Helicon Focus also has 2D panorama functions when I intend to try out on my next venture along the Thai/Myanmar border next month. The mountains up there are just incredible.

To the folks at Helicon Focus: Great software! Where’s my Lightroom plug-in? ;o)

Photography News of Interest

When I was shooting Nikon one of my favorite lenses was the 135mm F2 DC. Sharp and the bokeh was great. Many times I wished I’d purchased the shorter 105mm F2 DC version. Would this have been a good choice? Read the review here.

The new Canon Digital Rebel T1i DSLR offers 15.1mp’s, a very small and light body, HD video, and a host of other features. Digital Photography Review does a complete and thorough review on the T1i and it gets their Highest Recommendation. Read the review here.

The Nikon D5000 DSLR competes directly with the Canon T1i. 12.3mp’s, small and light body, and HD video. Plus, it has an articulating LCD which many consider a big advantage when using live view or video. Image Resource did a great review on the D5000. Read the review here.

As digital cameras come with more “megapixels” your storage requirements will increase. There’s nothing worse than losing years worth of images and other data because you didn’t back up. It’s imperative that your primary and secondary storage devices be top quality units backed by a solid reputation and warranty. It’s even better if they’re fast and have a great connectivity. Western Digital’s new World Edition II is VERY Mac friendly and with its quad interface (esata, firewire 400/800, USB 2.0) and 4tb capacity it stands alone at the time of my buy list. I think I’ll be ordering at least one of these for personal use. You can read more about the Western Digital World Edition II here.

Readers' Submissions

Khun Steve,

Greetings!

We have pretty much completed our landscaping but would not mind a few more plants and tress but I guess that will come in due time. Daily morning and evening swims are nice. Relaxing by the pool in the sala in the evening is also nice. The cool calm sea breeze is often present so it is pleasant. And no mosquitoes. How refreshing.

Finally unpacked my new camera. I've only taken a few shots with it as I still carry my point and click Sony every where I go. The new camera is for planned photo shooting and trips where I figure it would be nice to have along. Attached are 2 of the some of the few first shots. Nothing special as I was just testing it out.

So, I take it you have not been down this way recently. Give a call sometime. Ciao for now. Later.

M

M –

You certainly are living the good life! This is a perspective of Thailand that many visitors to the Kingdom only hear about, but rarely see. You’ve successfully built your home and life here in Thailand, and now you can look forward to enjoying your new home. The home has certainly turned out great!

I’m sure you’ll get great use and pleasure from your new DSLR. Enjoy!

Steve

I suspect the readers submissions will be a highly anticipated section of this column and I encourage anyone with photographs and travel accounts they�d like to share to please send them to me at: [email protected]


Readers' Questions

Steve;

About the HDR shots from last week. One last question. If the F2.8 lens would always produce such severe CA inside the temple, how could I have prevented it?

Koen

Hi Koen –

About CA.. CA manifests under certain conditions. On areas where there is a darker vertical/horizontal line.. with a very bright background. The transition pushes the lenses ability to resolve producing CA. Almost any lens at larger apertures will make CA.. with very few very expensive exceptions. If you had metered for the outside sky.. the inside of the temple would have been very dark, but the CA would not have been there.. or it would be very well controlled.. enough so that the CA controls in LR could easily take care of it. That would give you one image without CA.. and HDR or blending.. would have allowed you to create a finished/processed image without CA.

So.. Any lens at wider apertures will manifest CA under those conditions and that exposure. The key is to modify the exposure.. eliminating or reducing the CA.. and that will give you a CA free base image in the CA prone areas..

Hard to explain..

On a tripod.. you could also have shot at F8-11.. and tackle CA that way. Your exposure times would have been greatly reduced, everything sharper, better image quality..

Steve

Please submit your questions to [email protected] All questions will be answered and most will show up in the weekly column.


A Snapshot of Bangkok Images Week in Review

An unremarkable week as I spend much of the summer with my son.


Infocus Blog

Priority For Best Image Quality

With photography there is always more than one way to do things. The recent discussion on HDR raises several questions. One being, is HDR the only way to capture a scene with a dynamic range greater than the cameras capabilities to capture. In other words, your camera might be able to capture seven stops of dynamic range, but the scene you want to photograph requires 14 stops. What other choices do you have besides HDR? I’ll list them in order of what normally produces the best image quality.

Neutral Density Graduated Filters

The closer you can come to capturing the desired image straight from the camera, before software manipulation becomes required, the better your image quality will be. This is a hard and fast rule.

If your cameras sensors can only capture seven stops how can you improve this “in camera?” Through the use of ND grad filters. These filters have are clear on the bottom, and darker on top. The dark side reduces light from 1-3 stops. Remember, one stop doubles the amount of light increasing, and halves it decreasing.

You normally buy ND grad filters in a set of three. 1, 2, and 3 stops. You can stack them for up to six stops.

Blending

If the sky is the reason the dynamic range is so high in your scene, you can capture two images. One exposed for the sky, one exposed for the rest of the scene. Combine the best parts in Photoshop. This is relatively easy to do.

High Dynamic Range (HDR) Processing

We’ve already discussed this method many times and it’s very popular. You take several exposures of the same scene at different exposure settings, and then combine 2-10+ images in a HDR processing program. You then tone map and process to taste. Sounds easy, but as you know there’s a lot to it.

Which Method to Use?

This very much depends on the scene, how much time you have, and how much gear you want to carry.

I’ll be breaking out the ND grad filter set in the coming weeks and showing you some examples. I hesitate to promote this method too much because its inconvenient, and I like to promote photography as a fun activity. Still, there are times when ND grad filters are desirable so we’ll cover their use.

Until next time..