Smart IBL is all the buzz these days

Here's a word to all my new blog readers from the photography corner:

What fascinates me about HDR is the ability to capture light rays from the real world and use them for creating artworks. I don't even mean this in a metaphysical way. Tonemapping is one creative aspect of bending this captured light into the shape I want, but you could also take that first statement very literal.
A panoramic HDR image contains a lighting situation in its entirety. It's every light level from every direction. It's a virtual location that can be re-purposed over and over again in 3D graphics. That's what I do in my day job as VFX artist all the time. And that's also what the HDR panoramas, which I'm sharing each month, are for. To create images like this one:

Just look at this perfect integration into the background! Or the fact that there is a background at all! And it's so simple. This is the Smart IBL system, invented right here, by the HDRlabs gang.

When an HDR pano is wrapped up into a Smart IBL preset, such a scene can be setup with just a single button click. And it works in almost every 3D software. Here is what it looks like in modo:

This awesome Trainsformer robot was built by my friend and coworker Dan De'Entremont. It's a steam train, click here to see it transform.

I've done a bit of post-processing on it with Photoshop and Magic Bullet Photo Looks. Here is a close-up of the direct render output (rollover the image to compare with the final version).

Great New Tutorial Video

Smart IBL is heavily featured in my old buddy Christophe Desse's new mental ray shading tutorial. (The link may require signing up for the Autodesk AREA, but no worries, it's free.)

Christophe shows in his unmistakable Frenchman charms how easy and useful it is to use Smart IBL for testing a CG model in a variety of real-world lighting situations.

10 Tips for Lighting and Look Development

Cosku Turhan summarizes in a wonderfully clear article how important HDR images are nowadays in VFX production. And he also shows that the sIBL is getting around a lot, apparently all the way to Sony Pictures Imageworks…

Built-in Smart IBL support in EIAS9

Electric Image is back! This was one of the hottest 3D programs in the days of Terminator and Star Wars, but has been dormant ever since. Now under new ownership, with a new excited dev team, this renderer is rising again like a phoenix!

And Smart IBL is built right in! This integration goes really deep, just check out the feature list!

The last video of this long blog post is made by Thomas Egger, a veteran user and new captain of the Electric Image ship. It's 5-minute quickie, using the same Red Rock Canyon environment this blog post started with (the current sIBL-of-the-month). Watch it here on Vimeo.
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Why the Nikon D800 is almost perfect for HDR

Highslide JS

As reward for finishing The HDRI Handbook 2.0, I treated myself with a shiny new Nikon D800E. First off, it's an amazing camera. I immediately fell in love with it.

There is a dedicated BKT button on the top, which makes switching to exposure bracketing just as quick as changing ISO or white balance. This prominent button position gives the exposure bracketing feature also the same level of importance as ISO, white balance and quality setting. I can only applaud this decision.

The lab tests at DxO Mark have shown that the sensor is the reigning champion in dynamic range coverage with over 14 EVs. My first shots have confirmed that this camera records an amazing amount detail in the RAW headroom.

The D800 also inherited the autobracketing mode from the other Nikons, which is a blessing and a curse.

Yes indeed, zipping through 9 frame bursts with the push of a button is awesome. But the maximum interval of 1 EV is just silly. Why, oh Nikon, why? I don't know anyone who ever shot with a smaller EV interval, so the maximum setting is also the only (barely) usable one.

If a firmware upgrade would unlock a max bracketing interval of 3 EVs this would be the perfect camera!

See, the trouble is that the D800 is much slower than my previous D300. Significantly slower. Half the frame rate!

That's why increasing the EV interval is no longer a "would be nice" feature–it's now downright critical. We don't have time to waste. Shooting in 2 EV intervals would cover the same total dynamic range with half the number of frames. So 2 EV would be the optimum setting for everyday use. It brings the effective shooting speed back to what we're used to. But why stop there? I believe this wonderful FX sensor is tough enough to deliver clean pixel data for each exposure slice taken in 3 EV intervals. I may need to go that high only once a month, but it would be comforting to have the option.

Please Nikon, lift this silly 1 EV limit! Give me options, give me 3!

Why would you build a Ferrari with a single gear? This camera deserves to be freed from a firmware limitation that was based on the technology we had 10 years ago. Canon always allowed 2 EV intervals, and I'm tired of my Canon buddies rubbing this fact under my nose. Please Nikon, jump ahead to 3 EV intervals and give me another reason to be a proud Nikon shooter. I beg you, please!

Why am I so passionate about it?

Because in every other regard this camera is absolutely amazing. The resolution of 36 MP sounds like overkill, but it is a heaven's gift for panorama shooting.

Monthly sIBL now in Ultra-HighRes

Suddenly my panoramas are 20.000 pixel wide (that's an OpenEXR file of 560 MB, taxing 1.2 GB of memory when loaded)–with the same shooting method that I used for years: 6 Fisheye shots around. Check it out, now you can zoom way into the picture!

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The HDRI Handbook 2.0 is real and coming soon

The printing presses are rolling as we speak.

It is now confirmed that The HDRI Handbook 2.0 will arrive just in time for Christmas.

And what a book it is! Over 660 pages!

I spent the last two years working on it, every single day, even put my day job on hold. I was determined to write not only the most comprehensive HDR book, but also the best instructional book on photography, period.

If you read my first HDRI Handbook, now is the time to upgrade! The HDRI Handbook 2.0 is a complete rewrite and includes advanced sections that will kick you to the next level. Automatic bracketing controllers, 14 stops of exposure detail in a single RAW file, shooting HDR video… the list of things unthinkable 5 years ago is long.

Why so many pages?

HDR imaging has made massive strides forward in recent years, it has come out of obscurity and invaded the mass market.
At first I wasn't sure if the new book should be more geared towards beginners or the newly formed league of advanced HDR cracks. During writing I found out that I can have both. So the growth from 340 to 660 pages happened in both directions: Now the book has a steady incline of experience level, from clear step-by-step recipes for absolute beginners to hyper-advanced methods for HDR pros.
Everybody will find something new in The HDRI Handbook 2.0, I promise.

Want to know more?

Check out the new HDRI Handbook 2.0 page (and please do recommend it to your friends)!
Explore the interactive Table of Contents or try your hands on a Sample Tutorial.
Pre-order The HDRI Handbook 2.0 from Amazon to get one from the first crate that arrives!

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Welcome Endeavour!

Highslide JS

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

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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