Monday, October 3, 2011

To HDR Or Not To HDR, That Is The Question

Over the weekend we took part in Scott Kelby's World Wide Photo Walk.  Ours was set up for Sunday and at quarter to seven my wife called down and said "it's raining, are we still going?".  I had just checked for Kent, Connecticut and saw that the rain would clear by 9:00 AM and we should have a nice day for a photo walk.  I called back and said we'd be fine and we'll still go.  Today's image gives an idea of what the result was at about 9:45.  A beautiful New England fall day.  Blue skies with puffy white clouds and just enough sun to produce some good shots.  It's not really hard to find good shots walking through the small town of Kent.  The total length of the walk was probably less than a half mile.  One quarter mile down Main Street and one quarter coming back, exploring the alleys and back yards (of businesses).  There's an art studio back there with sculptures in the yard, a highly decorated little outside mall with all sorts kitschy knickknacks, bric-a-brac, and the like.  Just a real fun place to get some of those small, detail shots that go well in a storytelling photo essay.  I spent most of the morning with the camera set to shoot five shot brackets in the high speed continuous shooting mode.  That way I could either select the exposure I liked best or go for a three or five shot HDR.  With at least one of the shots, the 2 Stop underexposed image is the one I like best of the five shots in the group.  It's dark and brooding, with great shadows and an old fashioned white outside lamp shade as the focal point.  You may see it here in the gallery later this week.  Today's image comes from the same technique.  Shoot a five shot bracket and either pick the best exposure or use three or five of the images to produce an HDR image.  Watta ya think?  Is it one shot, brought to its full potential?  Is it a three shot HDR?  Or, is it a five shot HDR?  Do your best analysis and make your SWAG (Scientific Wild A$$ Guess). To find out which it is, hit the "Read More".

No sense going for suspense, it's a five shot HDR.  Rather than going for the illustrative style of HDR, I went for the photo-realistic side of the fence.  The five shot HDR was only the starting point.  It's done using Adobe Photoshop CS5's HDR Pro.  I find that the CS5 version of doing HDR is very good on the realistic side.  It seems to me to be harder to go to the far side using CS5.  Nik Software's HDR EFEXPro or HDRSoft's Photomatix Pro look to be able to do a better job on the illustrative side of the docket.  One of these days I'll download the thirty day trials of each and give them a true workout and then do a review of each to give my opinions of which does what better. 
I find that I can get a very illustrative HDR look on landscapes using Scott Kelby's "Dave Hill Effect" formula without doing anything HDR.  Then again, there are times when people will comment of "what an interesting HDR effect" and I'll have to explain that there's no type a HDR applied.  It's just taking the image to a hyper-real place using extreme Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layers.  There's never one technique that does it all and mixing and matching this and that usually comes up with something a little different  from the norm.
One thing I do have to say is that using Smart Objects and nesting Layers as Smart Objects gives just an amazing amount of flexibility.  See a move way back in the processing that resulted in something that too exaggerated?  Just go back through the nested Smart Objects, make the correction, and Save and Close your way back up to the present condition.  Simply incredible.
Today's image doesn't have a lot of color changes done in CS5.  Most of the color tweaks were done in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3.  In fact, today's image probably had a half dozen trips back and forth from LR3 to CS5.  The first trip back to LR3 results in whateverFileName.Edit.psd.  The second trip back gets named whateverFileName.Edit.Edit.psd and so on.  Things better done in LR3 are done there.  Things that have to be done in CS5 (pixel edits) are done in CS5.  Everything has its advantage and being able to make use of those advantages is one of the keys of having both available.