Sneak peek at Nik Software's upcoming HDR tool

Nik Software, famous for filters plugins like Sharpener Pro and Color Efex Pro, is ramping up to enter the ever-growing HDR/tonemapping arena.

The unnamed HDR tool is currently in early development, somewhere between Alpha and Beta stage. At first sight it looks like an interesting blend between Magic Bullet Photo Looks and Lightroom, and it already features Nik's ingenious Control Points for truly localized adjustments, a wide variety of presets, and seamless Lightroom integration.

To see Nik's new baby in action sign up for a personal sneak peek webinar.

Here's a leaked recording of an earlier webcast, raw and uncut. Shortcuts to highlights are:

05:20 - Lightroom to Nik Software HDR via plugin, merging to HDR.
07:00 - Demo of some tonemapping presets.
09:10 - Alignment and De-Ghosting (fully automatic)
14:00 - Appearance setting
16:20 - Curves
18:00 - Toning a single JPEG (yuck)
25:00 - Localized changes using Control Points (nice)
33:00 - Painterly look walkthrough
40:00 - Q&A chatroom:
- It will be a plugin for Lightroom, Aperture, Photoshop CS, maybe Bridge.
- Ghost Removal included.
- No fixed release date or price yet.

Nik Software HDR Tool Sneak Preview from minus kronor on Vimeo.

Personally, I would rather care for using these tools while keeping the image in 32-bit mode, enabling color-correction and fine level tuning on real HDRIs. We will see how the Photoshop plugin version will turn out.

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Introducing: Real HDR webgallery

About a year ago Rafal Mantiuk invented HDR-HTML, which is a clever way to display HDR images on a website with a real exposure slider. Now I took that technology, polished it a bit, and came up with a beautiful new HDR Web Viewer.

This is the beginning of a whole new gallery section, but it also brings up the old question again: What do you consider a "Real HDR Image"? There are many different opinions about it, all of them very valid, and I would like to use this opportunity to make it the subject of a survey.

Go check out the Real HDR Viewer!

Please do participate in the survey on the bottom of that page, takes only a second.
And then tell a friend so we get another opinion!

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Friday Webcast: HDR in CS5 with Jack Howard

Something to look forward to on Friday:

Jack Howard will open up his bag of tricks for you, showing off all the new HDR features in Photoshop CS5. It's a free O'Reilly web seminar, all you have to do is sign up and tune in at 10 AM (Pacific Time). That's right - it's broadcasting live on the world wide web, and you can get your questions answered in a Q&A session afterwards.

Sign up for Jack's Webinar here.

By the way - Jack just updated his "Practical HDRI" book to the second edition, featuring the latest techniques including CS5 and HDR PhotoStudio. It's a must-have for professional HDR photographers, now open for pre-order on Amazon.

Update: If you missed it, you can watch a recording on O'Reilly's Webcast site or with Adobe Connect (which is how it was broadcast).

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sIBL-GUI 3 released, along with a flood of new sIBL sets.

The new version of our automagical HDR lighting tool turned out awesome:
  • Real Google Maps inside
  • Seamlessly ties into Max, Maya and XSI via socket connections.
  • Fully customizable interface
  • Extendible with components
  • Database for managing huge amounts of sIBL-sets

Get sIBL_GUI 3 here, and check out this QuickStart screencast:

NOTE: If you're upgrading from sIBL_GUI 2, do a fresh install, DO NOT install over the old version. And in particular, make sure you're installing the new helper scripts for Maya/Max/XSI - the old ones are not compatible and won't connect to sIBL_GUI 3 correctly!

Veterans should also take a minute to see what's new in this in-depth screencast:

To celebrate this historic launch, Alex Hart from the Rhode Island School of Design donated 12 new sIBL sets for our archive. Awesome, thanks Alex!

On top of that, our dutch friend Bob Groothuis donated not one, but 4 unique sets for June's sIBL-of-the-month! It's a recently discovered bunker from the world wars, looks spectacular in this pano tour.

LightBitch 1.4

Lightwavers, on the other hand, can enjoy a brand new version of LightBitch - the down and dirty alternative way of HDR-lighting by extracting light sources.

LightBitch is now fully 64-bit compliant and has a special Export Compatible mode. That will ensure the generated light rig works perfectly fine in Maya, Max and XSI, via Lightwave's standard FBX export.

One more thing...

... in case you'd like to know what I'm doing in my day job. NBC just picked up The Cape for next season, which is the pilot I was recently working on at EdenFX.

We did the cape for the training sequence in CG, of course lit entirely with Smart IBL (in Lightwave). For this I spent some fun nights on set at the Queen Mary, shooting about 40 custom sIBL environments. And spent some more nights lighting, rendering and compositing. Also, we did several smoke effects here that required LightBitch to work nicely with MAX+FumeFX. See, I wasn't kidding: Smart IBL and LightBitch are production-proven, quite frankly I don't see how we could roll without them anymore.

Here's the trailer:

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May Shortcuts

Unified Color announces HDR photo contest winners.

11 contestants were selected by a jury of professional photographers, taking home pretty awesome prizes. Congratulations to all the winners. You're now one step closer to snatching the grand prize: a MacBook Pro + National Geographic Workshop.

The contest will continue all throughout the year, now accepting submissions for round two.

Find out more in the Press Release and check out the Winner Gallery.

Open Camera Controller v3.2b

Our OCC project has been quickly adopted by photographers worldwide. We already see the fruits of this community spirit, forum member Achim Berg came up with some significant improvements:
  • uses more widely available parts
  • features a 'heartbeat' LED
  • no wire bridges needed on the circuit board itself

Achim also developed a slim version that fits inside a regular-sized GBA module. Assembly is currently too tricky to share, however Achim doesn't mind making OCC cables for the electronically challenged (like myself). Just drop him a line in this thread.

Read the updated OCC Cable tutorial.

Smart IBL is now truly universal

The "Big Five" in 3d software are Maya, MAX, XSI, Lightwave and Cinema 4D. And now, that Steve Pedler single-handedly wrote a Cinema4D Loader Plugin, we have them all covered. Yay. It was a welcome reason for me to update the Smart IBL Software page.

Smart IBL already found great acceptance in the Cinema4D community. Here's a sweet rendertest from

they are back - example of sIBL loader for Cinema 4D from Marcin CzerwiƄski on Vimeo.

See more praise for sIBL in C4D on, on CGTalk, and here.

Lee Perry-Smith posted some breathtaking renderings on CGFeedback using Smart IBL (in a variety of renderers: VRay, mental ray, Ligtwave).
Elvis Blazencic's Corvette renderings (using Smart IBL in Lightwave) were chosen as Picture-of-the-Month in the Lightwave3D newsletter.
And the 3D-World Magazine #130 once again features some free sIBL-sets on the DVD, exclusively provided by Bob Groothuis, HDR-VFX, and yours truly.

ProEXR 1.5 Photoshop Plugin

Now that you updated to CS5, it's time to update the plugin that fixes Photoshop's OpenEXR support. Yes, it's still needed, which is a case for another post...

ProEXR version 1.5 is faster, better, and free for existing users. It also comes with a new EZ plugin for people that get easily confused with multi-layer support but still prefer to have control over Alpha Channels and file compression. Although After Effects CS5 ships with ProEXR, you should still download the update to get the excellent EXR Comp Creator.

Reminder: My readers get ProEXR for $76,- instead of $95,-. Just answer the security question on the the software page to pickup your coupon.

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Tucson 2010, Part 2

Welcome back to my coverage of the Pano Conference.

I mentioned in part 1 that is about to make their huge library accessible on the iPhone browser. It's currently in beta stage, and just not quite there yet.

Charles Armstrong: Remote Realities

The real potential of the iPhone is in native Apps.

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This is where Tour Wrist from Spark Labs comes in. It may not have as many panoramas as 360cities in the database (yet), but it presents them in super-slick way. It basically turns your iPhone in a window into the panorama. Using compass and accelerometer it tracks along with your motion and shows whatever you would see at the pictured location. It's also GPS-aware, with community ratings, linked tours, and all that jazz.

The killer feature is that you can even shoot, tag and upload your own panorama tours with this App. For that you just need a clip-on fisheye lens, and the App walks you through all the steps. They call this feature an "AmaTour", and while that obviously won't compare to professionally stitched panos, it's pretty cool for the casual shooter. And the best: Tour Wrist is free.

So, how do they make money then?

There are three pretty innovative revenue models.
  • Users can book hotels and flights associated with the pano locations, right within the app. That is handled through affiliate programs, and the revenue is shared 50/50 with the photographer.
  • People can order a custom VR Tour for their business, which is then commissioned to photographers in the area. So the app is your agent, in that case.
  • As professional VR photographer you can order a custom branded version of the program, which will make you shine in front of your clients.

Currently they are working on the iPad version, which is probably going to steal the show.

Mark Segal: Aerial Panoramas

Granted, that has nothing to do with HDR (again), but it's still pretty awesome:

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Mark Segal from SkyPan Internationl hangs a pano camera under the belly of an RC helicopter, and shoots gorgeous balcony views from not-yet-built skyscrapers. Or other places of interest like golf courses or event locations. If you're asking me, these people are just looking for any excuse to go wild with their heavy-duty electric copters. ;)

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Their pano copter features:
  • feet lift up with hydraulics
  • remotely controlled gimbal head
  • can carry 26 lbs
  • up to 400 feet

And it shoots images like these:

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Check out Skypan's Gallery or Mark Segal's website for more aerial eyecandy.

Mark knew some interesting stories about "Always keeping the copter in line-of-sight" and "Trying not to crash into waves on ocean fly-bys". With the new small HD cameras he also gets an live signal to a ground-based control monitor. That's your low-budget opening shot right there. Although I must admit that the footage on the website could greatly benefit from some good old-fashioned After Effects motion stabilizing.

If you're looking into getting your own RC helicam off the ground, Mark recommends checking out!

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