Smart IBL in Architectural Rendering

For freeware programmers there's no better compliment than happy users spreading the word.

Even better, when they do that with tutorials. That's why I just love this video, making great use of Steve Pedler's latest Cinema4D sIBL loader (which, by the way, has recently been updated to include a VRay setup.) Awesome results, even without using the background from the sIBL sets.

Smart image based lighting (sIBL) overview from rob redman on Vimeo.

On the flip side, I have always argued that Smart IBL works best when used as starting point. You get a head start, from 0 to 80% in an instant, but for an exceptional lighting it pays off to add a bit more. Just like in this second user tutorial, where the background and the mood come straight from the Barcelona Rooftops set, leaving you more time to finesse the final image. The tutorial is centered around 3dMAX and VRay, but the method is completely universal.

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RED's Epic to get Variable HDR mode

The web is buzzing with the teaser that RED's fearless leader Jim Jannard has just announced. He has posted several times on the Reduser forums that they have just completed a test using the not yet shipping EPIC. The test was on the just activated, "Variable HDR mode". The test charts they shot were not stills, but shooting 24fps and 1/48th shutter and Jim claims it encompassed 18 stops (per frame). Knowing the users on the forum would want proof, Jim invited over Michael Cioni, Founder of Light Iron Digital so that he'd have a third party to confirm the tests.

Michael Cioni's comment he posted on Reduser reads:

"Today I saw more stops from a captured R3D than I could with my own naked eye. No exaggeration. I've long talked about a world in which digital technology-driven dynamic range exceeds what the human eye can render. I am dangerously close to being speechless."

Michael Cioni, LightIronDigital

Jim then went on in later posts to say that it is unlikely they will have the Variable HDR mode enabled when EPIC starts shipping. It will likely be something that can be activated later (as has been the case with their current REDOne offering).

It will be interesting to see if RED gets out of the gate before Spheron ships any camera with their HDR video technology. Spheron was tight lipped at Siggraph and said they don't yet have any target dates for a working camera to buy. Regardless, Spheron's needs to be tethered to storage whereas it would seem RED already has figured out how to do this in R3D files. Interesting times in HDR Video!

In perspective, the Spheron camera promises 20 f-stops, current Top-DSLRs range around 13 f-stops, and human vision can make out 14 f-stops in a single view. So the RED EPIC's 18 f-stops are a pretty big leap for a mass market product, which the Spheron is probably not aiming for anyway.

The gossip started on Reduser in this thread.
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Introducing Michael James as new co-blogger

HDRLabs has always been a great place of collaboration, so many people are running HDR-related projects here:

It's a nice little community of HDR nuts, that makes this place into what it is. Open, professional, cutting edge.

In hindsight, having only myself bring you the news on this blog sounds rather silly. I'm always late and too often allow things to fall through the cracks. So, today the open spirit will extend to this news blog as well: it will be a shared space for multiple news reporters.

Say hello to Michael James

Michael James is a professional real-estate photographer in Florida, his clients are realtors, builders and architects. Michael was very quick to adopt HDR into his regular workflow, building up an impressive portfolio, and he became a strong HDR advocate by sharing his thoughts on He's shot more than 700 properties in the last 4 years, delivering about twenty tonemapped images each. That’s a track record of well over 14,000 HDR images captured and tonemapped for commercial use.

Michael, say hello to the world

I want to thank Christian for inviting me to play in his sand box here at HDR Labs. He and I never discussed the following, but I'll say it now. His book The HDRI Handbook had an instrumental role in my HDR workflow. Although I've adopted some new apps and workflows over the past couple of years, many of the concepts and techniques taught in his book spilled over into my pipeline.

I look forward to sharing news, tid bits and tips and tricks about HDR here on HDR Labs in the months and years to come.
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More HDR Video from Spheron

Spheron already had an early HDR video camera for Siggraph 2009. Unfortunately, the prototype got stuck in customs.

For Siggraph 2010 Spheron was better prepared. They shot this demo video, showing impressive handling of low-light and high contrast footage.

Spheron HDR video – footage from SpheronVR AG on Vimeo.

Unlike the rig with two cameras we talked about earlier, this is a single-device video camera shooting 20 EVs of dynamic range in full HD, with up to 50 fps. The prototype is outfitted with a PL-mount, so they shot this demo video on ARRI Master Prime lenses. But the inofficial word is that it could just as well be outfitted with Canon or Nikon mounts for photo lenses.

There is a big mystery about the sensor, which is claimed to prevent the dreaded rolling shutter effect by doing a true full-frame simultaneous capture. The footage is recorded as uncompressed EXR sequence via fiber channel connection on a RAID. For this demo the footage was treated in Nuke; it would also load right into After Effects, Fusion, or any 3d app.

This high-speed data pipe from sensor to storage is where Spheron has put in most of the innovation. Considering the huge amount of data in an uncompressed HDR video stream, bandwidth is a real bottleneck. There's still some work to do to make a marketable product out of this working prototype. Spheron mentions portability as the next thing to be solved, but I say: Just go for it! As long as it fits in a rugged stage box that can be wheeled off a truck, it's certainly just as portable as most other high-end system found on a movie set.

Further reading: Spheron Press Release and on FXGuide (halfway down the page)

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August Shortcuts

Unified Color announces Photoshop plugin: 32 Float

This sounds exciting: All the great tools from HDR Expose, right inside Photoshop. The launch of the new plugin "32 Float" is scheduled for August 23, and it will be compatible with CS3, CS4 and CS5. Have not tried it myself, but if Unified Color did it right this $99 plugin could actually give your old CS3 more HDR editing tools than the upgrade to CS5.
More details in the Press Release.

Oloneo PhotoEngine enters the scene with a splash

An all-new HDR software came seemingly out of nowhere, now available as public beta. At first sight it has pretty polished interface and offers an innovative HDR ReLight module: Merge several images shot with different light sources, and then control intensity and white balance of each light individually.

Michael James has put together a first look review. Also, there is already a forum thread with great examples and rather diverging opinions on usability.

Photomatix 4 coming closer

The beta versions are coming faster from HDRSoft now, which is usually a sign of an upcoming release. Photomatix 4 promises significant speed improvements, preset thumbnails and several workflow enhancements.

Site Updates

The new sIBL-of-the-month adds a juicy green forest scene to our archive, and the battle for top seats in the Hot-on-Flickr gallery has restarted.

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HDR PhotoStudio is dead. Long live HDR Expose!

The fine folks at Unified Color have changed more than just the name.

It's a complete overhaul, in the user interface and in the internal logic. What remains the same is the philosophy: You can edit your HDR in full 32-bit up until the end - when you save the image. It's really up to you if you apply just a color correction, de-noising and cleanup work on an HDR destined for lighting a CG scene. Or to take it to another tonemapper, for that matter. But you can just as well keep tweaking the look in HDR Expose, reveal highlights detail and work out small local contrasts until it looks nice on your screen - then you have effectively tonemapped your image in HDR Expose.

So, what's new?

  • Lightroom and Aperture plugin included for seamless integration
  • Colormanaged Display
  • Editable History Stack (can be saved as Recipes)
  • Live Histogram
  • 64-bit, GPU and multicore acceleration

It's all about the creative workflow

Highslide JS

Working with HDR Expose takes on the form of creative jam sessions. There's no pre-determined set of tools to use, instead you decide for yourself what sliders you need and stack as many of them as you want. For example, if you want to extract local contrasts with the Highlight/Shadow tool twice, just add this effect again.
Think of these operators like Adjustment Layers in Photoshop. Every effect works on the result of the previous one, but you can always go back in your operator stack and tweak the settings without loosing anything. With a tiny plus icon above the stack you can save the entire list as a recipe, which will then be ready for batch processing or as starting point for the next image.

Non-technical thinking

Technical decisions, like bit depth and compression of saved files, are all kept out of the way in the preferences. You set your workflow settings once you installed HDR Expose, and won't be bothered with that stuff again. I recommend setting up in your calibrated monitor profile right away, and choose TIFF: 16 bit / LZW and EXR with PIZ compression.
The same applies to the Lightroom Export plugin: You do your settings once in the overall Export dialog, and from there on you just invoke the plugin silently with the context menu.

High-quality legacy

One specialty that HDR Expose inherited from HDR PhotoStudio is the excellent halo reduction. Whenever you touch local contrasts (possible in multiple tools), you can set the quality of the halo reduction in 4 levels: Preview, Moderate, High, Ultimate. Calculation times can increase tremendously when switching to Ultimate, but when you need that extra bit of quality, it's there.

I had the chance to play with an early beta version, and so the 4th image in the tonemapping comparison on the Real HDR page (labelled "Photoreal") was actually created with HDR Expose. According to the survey below the images, people really liked the results a lot.


I was about to complain about stability issues I experienced with the beta, but now I'm happy to report that the release version turned out rock-stable (even on 32 MegaPixel imagery). There is, however, still some untapped potential for speeding up the performance, especially in Batch mode. There is no option to take panoramic projections into account, so you'd better be careful when applying local contrast enhancements to spherical panoramas. Despite the built-in ghost reduction, the HDR Merge module is not the best-in-class either.

Bottom line:

HDR Expose is currently the only software providing an end-to-end HDR workflow. It's indispensable for VFX artists to fine tune HDR lighting maps and highly recommended for photographers to create a natural tonemapping. It offers an unrivaled amount of control over colors and details, so it's a perfect match for control freaks like me aiming for the perfect picture.

After all, HDR Expose is a free upgrade for HDR PhotoStudio users. For everyone else there is a promotional offer of $99,- until the end of the month, but if you own the HDRI-Handbook that offer is in fact permanent for you. You'd just have to pick up your coupon on the software page...

So what are you waiting for? Download the demo or watch the new tutorial videos! Oh, and don't forget that June 26 is the deadline for Unified Color's HDR Contest phase 2!

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