Welcome Endeavour!

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Last weekend the Space Shuttle was parked in its new home in the California Science Center. The big air show, however, happened a few weeks ago. That's when the shuttle was flying into LA.

For this last leg of the final trip of the Endeavour the route planners drew a giant pretzel on the map. They made sure the event can be seen from all the landmark locations, including Disneyland, the Griffith Observatory, Universal Studios in Burbank, and Downtown LA.

To get these shots I climbed up the hill behind my house (for insiders–that's Runyon Canyon, military route). Of course I took my bazooka lens with me, the Nikon 80-400mm (effectively 120-600mm on my D300s). Make sure to click on these images to see them in full size!

What I had not expected was that the shuttle flew an extremely tight turn directly around the hill I was standing on. One full round. It was an amazing spectacle.

That's why I dedicate the new sIBL-of-the-month to all the fine engieers at NASA and the showmasters at the California Science Center!

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Tandent Lightbrush released

An incredible new software has surfaced, that can separate a photograph into reflectance and illumination components.

Simply mind-boggling, isn't it? Imagine the creative potential that opens up when you change one of these components and then recombine them. You can change colors and textures of objects, alter the shadow softness, relight a photo digitally, and whatnot...

At this time there is no demo version and detailed information how this software really works is sparse. Mike Seymour wrote an excellent article on FXGuide, and our good friend Lee Perry-Smith says this:

You use helpers and guides to identify areas on the input image that you want to process. So you can identify the shadow areas and then identify the sample average of the light area, so it can process the differences. It works best on RAW images but can work to some degree on .JPG's.

I only got to see the before and after images that I sent over to evaluate the program, I didn't get to use it. At the time there were some videos floating around on their website of it in use but they have gone now I think.

That apple and building example on their site is the best case, controlled sample. I think there is a reason why there aren't many images of peoples faces or body shots on there, simply because the results aren't that consistent but I could be wrong.

Well, this process will only get better in time. It's a great start, an exciting glimpse at the future of computational photography. Read the official description (and order your copy for today's special of $1500) on www.tandent.com/lightbrush/

PS: Burning Man 2012 just ended.

I couldn't go, sadly, and so I watched the live stream while stitching some panoramas I took in on the playa in 2011. Here is last year's Temple of Transition for you, in the sharing spirit of Burning Man as free monthly sIBL set.

Love, and Peace Out!
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Panorama Weaving

Earlier this month the SIGGRAPH conference was held in LA, and as usual I scouted out some of the most interesting papers for you. This is one of them:

Panorama Weaving: Fast and Flexible Seam Processing

When shooting panoramas of busy places, things that move through the scene often get bits chopped off on the seam borders. The result is a very special kind of ghosting–not the semitransparent spirits known from HDR merging, but the headless horseman type of ghost. Which is even more disturbing.

PTGui has a dedicated Mask tab to fix this situation, Autopano Giga will have something similar in the upcoming version 3. But now scientists have found a much more intuitive way: instead of masking ghosts in the source images, they propose a method for editing the seam lines directly in the panorama!

Read the paper or check out this video:

Pretty cool, eh? The fact that the editing is done on the final image really does it for me. I can imagine a similar interactive method could also work very well for HDR ghost removal, where the software lets me explore possible solutions and pick the one that looks best…
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V-Ray in real life

A group of rockstar VFX artists has put together this bad-ass film for V-Ray's 10th anniversary.
It's not only entertaining as hell, but also very informative on the latest HDR-related features.

If all that talk about dome lights, importance sampling, biased vs. unbiased rendering sounds confusing to you, fear not! Just recently I have added clear, plain-speak explanations of exactly these topics to the The HDRI Handbook 2.0. I figured that those are vital features for modern render engines (not limited to V-Ray at all), and apparently these guys think so too.

And yeah, I kinda miss the chrome balls, too. But not too much.
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Back from the depths

Hey everybody,

This blog was awfully quiet lately, and the reason is that I poured every waking minute into finishing the book. Now it's done.

You read that right: The HDRI Handbook 2.0 is finally delivered. Yay! It's twice the pages of the first one, I spent twice the amount of time writing it (the last two years, in fact). So it really is a true version 2.0!

Right now the manuscript in the middle of the cycle of copy-editing, layout, and proof reading. It's definitely out on the shelves by Christmas, probably earlier. I will keep you updated.

While we wait I can get this website back into shape, starting with a new sIBL-of-the-month. That's one of my favorite traditions. This month I'm releasing a sunny jungle road from Barbados, on the Cherry Tree Hill to be exact. Check out the panorama!

And here is how this sIBL set looks in modo 601:

All I did was drag and drop it from the preset browser into the viewport. Done. And then rotated the render view (!) until I liked the framing. Reflections, lighting, even the ground shadow under the car - all that is built automatically, and it renders so efficiently that the Render Preview is actually realtime.
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Photomatix 4.2 update

The new Photomatix update has been out for a while, so it's about time to drop a few lines about the new features.

Most obvious is the revised Presets panel, which now has subcategories and more/better standard presets. Then there's a brand-new Finishing Touch panel. It opens right after tonemapping and offers the typical basic mix of contrast, color, and sharpness adjustment.

Well, it all works as expected and this certainly catches up with all the other tonemapping tools. However, I will still post-process all my images in Photoshop, just because that's more intuitive and gives me the flexibility to fix things up with layers and content-aware sorcery. Sometimes, when layers are not needed, I use Lightroom for post-processing. I'm sort of set in my ways there, so the new Finishing Touches may be fine in general but are not for me.

The new feature I find most important is actually hidden in the Preferences.

Previously, the Mac version of Photomatix relied on OSX's built-in OpenEXR support. And that was always buggy. See, OSX tends to clip all the highlights beyond the 1.0 value, and to prevent this Photomatix was aligning the base exposure of every EXR file to the brightest highlight (a method called Normalizing). While that may be fine for normal images (except that they may look unexpectedly dark in Photoshop), it throws a monkey wrench into a panorama stitching workflow. Each panorama sector had different exposure.

Now in Photomatix 4.2 you can simply uncheck the Save EXR files with Mac OS X API option and all EXR files will have consistent exposure. So now they stitch perfectly in PTGui.

Good stuff. Highly recommended update! Grab Photomatix 4.2 here.
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