First crack at HDR

Mon, Aug 19, 2013
A couple weeks ago while spending the weekend in St. Augustine, FL, I decided to try my hand at getting some HDR shots.  While the results are probably not fit for human consumption, I thought I'd share, after all my goal here is to HDR everything...

I'm using a Canon 60D which allows for three-shot auto-bracketing.  In both of these examples I used a plus/minus 2ev bracket.

Take 1

Here's the first set, which is sunrise at the Castillo de San Marcos with one of the bastions in the foreground.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugPhoto & Video Sharing by SmugMugPhoto & Video Sharing by SmugMug

From left to right, that's -2ev, 0ev, and +2ev

As you may have noticed, the fort itself is never out of the shadows, so I decided to intervene.  I popped the +2ev image into lightroom and increased the exposure  +3.5 ev.  That introduced a bunch of noise, so I tried to get that out with noise reduction.  Keep in mind, I'm new to all of this stuff, so I'm not particularly good at it.  Maybe there is a way to bring something out of the shadows, but what I did probably wasn't it:

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

So with my four "exposures" in hand, I popped over into Photomatix and churned this out:

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Not wild about the colors and the lens flare that carried over from my shitty revved-up software overexposure, I brought it back into lightroom for some touch-up:

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Meh, it's not bad for a first shot at HDR.  It's got some problems, and I didn't get enough detail in any of my exposures to do justice to the foreground.  Nonetheless, some of the shadows here are kindof neat.

Take 2

The next morning, I just went out in front of our hotel on St. Augustine Beach and got some sunrise photos with a dune and some sea oats in the foreground.  The sunrise was really pretty and there was a shrimp boat right in the middle of the sun's reflection on the ocean.  Pretty picturesque; here's how I barfed on it.

Original +-2 ev inputs: top to bottom (-2, 0, +2)

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

I'm pretty fond of that middle, 0ev, exposure.  Anyway, right off the bat I'm feeling good about the range of exposure information I got here.  So here's what came out of Photomatix:

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

OK, so a little more range than any of the individual exposures - more color than the over exposure, and more highlights to work with than either of the two darker exposures. Also, there seems to be some more depth to the scene.  Unfortunately, there's some ghosting of the oats, but not a deal-breaker.  Let's see if we can un-grey that sky - pop it back into lightroom and monkey with the exposure values and some of the color values and we get:

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Viola- it's a blue beach! gag.  I'm digging the colors and contrast in the sky, but otherwise...

Anyway, these were my first couple attempts at an HDR workflow.  While they aren't entirely atrocious they certainly point towards room for improvement.

Update (2013-08-24):

I'm currently working through Raphael "R.C." Concepcion's The HDR Book.  Good title, huh?  I'm only a few chapters in, but already I've learned a lot by following along with the tutorials he provides.  I'll write more in depth on this book later.  For now though, it's worth mentioning that his tutorials have helped my level up my Photoshop skills enough to take a shot at improving the above image.  My primary gripe is with the dark, blue beach and I mostly got that fixed.  I also removed that con-trail just above the sea oats.  Since I was at it I monkeyed with the sky a little too... jury's still out on whether that was an improvement or not.  Here's the new image:

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Well, that's that.