You live to learn

I know there's a gazillion news items to talk about, from Photoshop CS6 over Photomatix 4.2 to when my book is finally going to be done. But more to that later. This one is also urgent news:

My good friend and occasional co-blogger Michael James is holding a live webinar on Tuesday. (Recording: Part 1, Part 2)
As professional real-estate photographer on the sunny coast of Florida he faces worst-case scenarios of indoor/outdoor scenes with massive dynamic range on a daily basis. So he knows a trick or two. Ask him about his technique to correct white balance of conflicting light temperatures…

There's only 1000 seats, 600+ are already gone.


I heard that another 400 people signed up after reading this blog post. Crazy. Now I feel all powerful and stuff… Just in case you missed the show, here is the recording:

On a related note, I will also hold a seminar soon-ish, at the photoact 2012 conference.
Here the seats are more limited; only a few more than 100 tickets are available. There's an impressive line-up of speakers, so it promises to be a very interesting and intimate event. If you want to be part of it, I recommend to sign up before June 1.

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Real HDR support in Lightroom 4.1 RC2

Finally! A footnote on John Nack's blog tipped me off: The next Lightroom update can process real 32-bit TIFF images! Of course I had to put it to the test right away...

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Toning real HDR files in Lightroom needs some extreme slider settings.

This is my regular test image, with a vast dynamic range of more than 18 EVs. The result isn't bad at all, compared with the original and a few other tonemappers on the RealHDR page. I had to drag all the adjustment sliders to the full extreme, which is a sure sign that Lightroom is technically built to handle about as much dynamic range as you can expect in a single RAW file (current record is 14.4 EVs, held by the Nikon D800). Still, I'm pleasantly surprised how natural and free of artifacts the image turned out.

Download Lightroom 4.1RC and see for yourself.

Keep it coming, Adobe!
The next step should certainly be OpenEXR support. Full-on 32-bit TIFFs are annoyingly huge for no good reason. Seriously! For the image above it's 120 MB versus 30 MB in EXR, with absolutely no quality difference.

PS: According to ancient tradition I released a brand new sIBL-of-the-month. This time it's a Renaissance Cemetery, spiced up with an extra dose of cinematic mood.
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The Big 5

Thank you so much for coming here! Love you all. Every one of you 5 million! Wow. That number doesn't even include the community forum, because I have it excluded from visitor tracking for better privacy protection of the members.

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Coincidentally, I'm also delivering chapter 5 to the awesome editorial staff at RockyNook. Major milestone. If you've read the first HDRI-Handbook you will know that I have only 2 more chapters to go: Panostitching and 3D. Huge parts of those are already re-written. And since I'm playing tag race with my bad ass layouter Petra, that means The HDRI Handbook 2.0 is possibly on your shelf in July/August.

In the meantime, I can offer you some eye candy in my new sIBL-of-the-month:

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Ginger HDR for After Effects is out!

John Hable did it! The first fully-fledged tonemapping plugin for After Effects is now available.

Watch this teaser trailer:

Go grab it right now from Intro special until March 31 is $129, then it's $199. The Merger for fusing the frames captured with a Magic Lantern-hacked Canon is free for all.

Frankly, I think GingerHDR is pretty useful for any sort of look development in regular compositing, not just HDR. Just look at this sheer wealth of tone and color adjustments:

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Everything is fully explained a whole series of exceptionally clear tutorial videos. Well done, John, thank you so much! That plug-in certainly sets the bar high, kicking video tonemapping into the mainstream like a ninja!

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Canon 5D Mark III and Dolby's JPEG-HDR

Seems like hell has frozen over! The new Canon 5D Mark III has an HDR mode, and what's even more important: wide bracketing. Chuck Westfall from the Professional Engineering & Solutions Division at Canon USA explains it like this:

The important part is that you can also save the original exposures. Fully automatic "HDR art mode" always looks great on paper, but ultimately it takes out the fun of creating something unique. Michael James has been collecting all the relevant (and sometimes conflicting) info on HDR in the 5D Mark III on No need to repeat it all here.

In the meantime, something of bigger magnitude happened at the Mobile World Congress:

Dolby licenses JPEG-HDR to Qualcomm

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JPEG-HDR shown on an Android tablet with full exposure control.
(image credit: Stephen Shankland/CNET)

This is the type of HDR mode I have been waiting for. JPEG-HDR is a true HDR format, it preserves all the dynamic range and can be re-exposed and tonemapped any way you like. On top of that, it is disguised as normal JPEG for programs without HDR capabilities. This movie wraps it up quite nicely:

Putting real HDR capabilities into the Qualcomm's next Snapdragon S4 processor is a stroke of genius. Because it will be instantly available to an entire generation of Android devices. Samsung Galaxy, Blackberry, HTC Evo … all together that's 340 devices running on the current generation Snapdragon S3 processors. The S4 is the first snowball that may unleash an avalanche. It also supports the OpenCL standard and has advanced GPU-acceleration for the Unreal and Unity 3D engines, which will make many people in the CG world very happy. The unconfirmed rumor on the streets (PCmag) is that another unannounced chipmaker licensed JPEG-HDR. Canon? Nikon? Sony? Who knows…

Head over to CNET to read the full story, or read Qualcomm's Press Release on Snapdragon S4.
You can also read an introduction to JPEG-HDR in my HDRI-Handbook (p 57-59). It was written 5 years ago, but this is the first time this tech is actually coming out of the closet.

So these are the two major game changers of last week.
I don't want to sound ungrateful, but if everybody could please just stop revolutionizing HDR Imaging for a month or two; some people are trying to write an HDR-book down here.
Thank you very much.

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Lightroom 4 and HDR

A photo friend told to me once, that HDR is like alcohol. "You need to get horribly drunk a few times to understand what’s wrong with that" he said. Some people may get hooked, sure, but most find their personal threshold and then use HDR occasionally in socially acceptable doses.

Lightroom, however, is like crack for photographers. You had no idea what all the fuzz is about, but once you tried it there is no escape. It inevitably becomes the centerpiece of your entire workflow. Suddenly everything seems so easy, effortless and fun. Photographers in an advanced state of addiction don’t go out without their Lightroom library, even if it’s just on the iPad.

And now Adobe Labs cooked up Lightroom 4 beta.

This new version will let you
  • apply more targeted edits to selected areas,
  • manage videos (even edit them to a degree),
  • trace your steps on a GPS map,
  • create and order photo books from Blurb,
  • soft-proof prints.

All the features above are well documented in the DPReview hands-on Preview and Ian Lyons’ Digital Darkroom. I'll just concentrate on the part relevant to HDR.

What's with HDR and Lightroom 4?

Specifically, what's with developing RAW files to be merged to an HDR? That's still the primary use case, LR4 still doesn't support HDR directly. But it does have a new color engine under the hood, with better quality.

So, it's better?

Yes and no. Adobe shot slightly past the goal line. It’s true that Lightroom 4 extracts more dynamic range from a RAW image. And it's true that this is absolutely awesome for single shots. But when you have an exposure sequence, that's actually counter productive. For HDR the overexposed shots are supposed to look like way, because clipped highlights signalize the HDR merger to look at the next image for better data. But when every image is individually optimized with a smooth film-like shoulder for the highlights, that is throwing a big monkey wrench into the inner mechanism of HDR merging.

Show me!

Okay, here's a bracketing sequence is in 1 EV steps. If you drop the second and fourth shot, that would represent the typical 3-frame +/- 2 EVs most people shoot. No, it's not a perfect sequence; it just barely covers the dynamic range of the scene. In Lightroom 3 it takes some dirty tricks to squeeze the last bit of highlight data from RAW headroom of the first image.

In Lightroom 4 it's easier. The RAW headroom data is automatically squeezed out, but from every image. Even those that barely have any. That waters down the resulting HDR, and all highlight details are mushed together. Here's how that looks like after merging and tonemapping:

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Both images merged with Photomatix and tonemapped with identical settings (Default preset, +8.0 Detail Contrast).

Long story short: These are the development settings for Lightroom 4 to get optimal HDR results.

These settings will make sure the highlights (that LR4 recovers anyway) are not compressed so tightly together. They basically iron out the shoulder kink of the tone curve. I tried it with a dozen different images, and these settings consistently result in 1.5 to 1.8 EVs more dynamic range in the HDR.

Go ahead and give it a try! Lightroom4 is a free download from Adobe Labs. Free until March 31 (but of course, you’ll be hooked by then).

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