Here comes the ebook!

Happy new year! Today the ebook version of the HDRI Handbook 2.0 was officially released. It is now available from these sources:

However, the book was designed as hardcopy. The ebook alone does not give you the full experience. The ebook has lower resolution, does not include the companion DVD, and the continuous text flow eliminates the sophisticated layout of the real book.

Advantages of the Paperback Edition

The ebook isn't bad. I tried it. But the paperback is better. Here are the reasons:

Paper Advantage #1: Higher Resolution

This book has coffee table qualities and is filled with great high-resolution prints in full color. In the ebook all that is compressed down to screen resolution. It has to be, otherwise the ebook would be a 2 GB document. This book is massive, it's much larger than the average. Even after compression it's still 160 MB, which triggers a file size warning on the Kindle and slightly slows down browsing on the iPad. That's due to thousands of images embedded in the ebook, and they all look even better in print.

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This images and layout in this book have coffee-table qualities.

Paper Advantage #2: Designed for Print

The layout of this book is refined to perfection and really plays with the medium paper. There are many double-page spread images, the guest interviews are presented as magazine-style portfolios, and annotated screenshots appear on the same pages as the corresponding tutorial steps (by insisting on the latter I drove my layout editor to the brink of insanity). More critically, there are interactive parts (crossword puzzles, page-folding comparison galleries, cut-out pages for your camera bag) and even a few easter eggs in the print layout. All that is kind of lost in the ebook translation. On the flipside, the ebook does not take advantage of the interactive opportunities the digital medium offers.

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Crossword puzzles are a fun way to test your knowledge; and they do work best in the printed edition.
If you shy away from scribbling in books (even though it's perfectly legal), you will find interactive Flash games on the companion DVD (which is also exclusive to the paperback edition)

Paper Advantage #3: Exclusive Companion DVD

The ebook does not come with a DVD. And you really miss out a lot, because all my original source files used in the tutorials are on that DVD. This is pretty unique in the world of photography books: every tutorial is 100% repeatable. You get everything you need to follow the tutorial steps and arrive at your very own version of the tutorial images. It's learning by doing, or at least learning by dissecting the layer stacks in the provided PSD file and tinkering with the material yourself.

Those are three strong reasons why I highly recommend getting the Paperback Edition.

Why am I so against ebooks?

I'm not. I love ebooks. I don't read novels on paper anymore, only on my Kindle.

But photography books and reference books are different. I always have bunch of photo books on my living room table that I like to browse casually, and I keep a bunch of technical reference books on my desk shelf as reassurance I can quickly look up anything, anytime. The HDRI Handbook 2.0 is meant to fit in both of these places.

Mind you, as far as ebook translations go, this was done very professionally. Headlines are properly tagged and cross-references are clickable links. But it's still a translation. To make a photography or reference book work well in a digital format, it needs a whole different structure than just a PDF translation. Tutorials would need to be video snippets (instead of screen shot sequences), galleries would need to be fullscreen gizmos with gesture-enabled browsing, comparison tables would need to pull updates from the web, and when we're talking about panoramic images they should be presented in an interactive pano viewer. Even writing for an interactive medium is different than writing for a printed book. Instead of a steady-pacing train of thought a well written ebook is delivered in smaller packets, more suitable for browsing than deep immersive reading.

So that's why I argue against my own book in ebook form. Making it the best possible hardcopy book was my focus, and had I designed it as ebook the result would be very very different. I honestly believe the printed edition will exceed your highest expectations. Whereas the ebook is pretty much what you expect: the PDF of a paper book. The ebook is useful as backup or secondary, always-with-you version, but it's not a substitute for the real book.

But when can I get the paper book, then?

Well, it can only be a matter of days.

The original plan was to release the ebook one week after the paperback, just to make a clear point that this is the primary version. But as it turns out, moving physical items around the globe is harder than flipping the switch to enable a download. Somewhere in America, there is truck loaded with 22.117 lbs of books. Yes, such surreal number is shown as "package weight" on the UPS tracking page. Apparently it is now in Hagerstown, which is 24 miles short of the destination: the central warehouse in Chambersburg, PA. That's where the Amazon trucks are standing by, with running engines, to distribute the colorful load all over the country. Well, maybe they are not, but in any case it can only be a matter of days until the paperback version becomes available.

Hang in there. Believe me, nobody is more frustrated with this delayed release than me. If you're waiting for your pre-order, do not jump on the ebook! Wait it out, it will be worth it. As early bird you still got it five dollars cheaper than everybody else, because Amazon just raised the price to $38. Still, worth every penny…

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Happy Holidays!

A bunch of things did not happen in the last few days.
The world did not end on the 21st (hooray!), but also the HDRI-Handbook 2.0 was not delivered by the 24th. I'm a bit baffled myself that this shipment from the Korean printing facility takes this long. Guess the container was stuck it customs (inside joke), or Amazon simply takes the projected release date very very literal. I'm quietly suspecting Amazon is just a machine, or some robotic computer monstrosity that doesn't really celebrate Christmas.

Well, then so be it. Holidays season is just getting started!

December 28 is the official release date, and that's when The HDRI Handbook 2.0 ships! I'm so excited that my book will finally have some readers (950 have pre-ordered it already). Can't wait to hear what you say…

Win This Book!

RockyNook is hosting a raffle on Facebook. Like them and you can win a copy.

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Some website updates

First off, there's a new sIBL-of-the-month. (That's a good page to bookmark. I release a new free HDR pano every month. Haven't missed a single month since July 2007)

How I found the grandfather tree

Barbados is a sweet tropical island. I was there for a plate shoot for a TV show - a very welcome assignment I must admit. Tiny 5-man unit, zig-zagging around the island, capturing beaches and tropical background plates.

There is only a tiny patch of rain forest left on Barbados, but thankfully we had a local guide. I was scouting the location by riding on the back of the jeep, standing up and holding on to the roof rails, Indy-style. Just to enjoy the surround-view. And when I spotted this giant grandfather tree, I knew I had to take a panorama from up high. The real challenge was to stand very still to keep the jeep from wobbling…

New HDR Software page with Popular Vote

I have also updated the grand list of all HDR programs, which is another very popular corner here on HDRLabs. For the longest time it featured a 5-star user rating, which was actually a free web service glued in via scripts (for curious minds, it was called JS-Kit). Well, that web service recently shut down and so I had to come up with something new.

See, over time most of the ratings settled on 4 stars. That's when the actual stars became meaningless. It was much more interesting to see how many people actually care to vote for a particular program, so the vote count became the more significant number. This phenomenon is well described in this post on Petapixel: Why Five Star Ratings Aren't Very Helpful…

That's why I proudly introduce my very own, animated, entirely self-hosted "Vote Flipper" widget. Everybody gets one vote per day, so the higher the number the more people care about it. Go ahead, give it a try yourself on the HDR Software page (always accessible with the Tools link on the top of this page).
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The very first copy of the HDRI Handbook 2.0 is here!

One of the perks of being an author is that you get your own book first, directly from the factory via priority air mail. What you see here is the very first HDRI Handbook 2.0 on my coffee table. And it looks absolutely stunning!

Here are some more sneak peeks:

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This is a very typical tutorial page. Every step is clearly marked in the screenshot with a number pointing to the full explanation.

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You can clearly tell the 7 chapters apart from the side, because they are separated by black pages. These are the artist spotlights.

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That's what an artist spotlight looks like: a deeply investigative (borderline nosy) interview, coupled with a gorgeous gallery.

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The entire book is filled with full-color photographs and illustrations. You'll be hard-pressed to find any text-only pages at all.

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The HDRI Handbook 2.0 is twice as thick as the first one.

On the way to you

Cruising somewhere in the Pacific, there is now a container ship with 5000 of these bad boys. They are scheduled to arrive at the warehouse on December 20. Maybe, with a bit of luck, Amazon will deliver it just in time for Christmas Eve.

Pre-order yours from Amazon now!

Please help spreading the word!
Like the book homepage, read the interactive table of contents, or try a sample tutorial.

For bloggers and journalists there is also a new press kit. It contains the official press release, web badges, and direct publisher contact for requesting a review copy.

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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

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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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