Sunday, August 26, 2018

Rocks, Water, and HDR

New Preston, Connecticut

Yesterday I was out early looking for soft morning light on this massive rock formation with a stream running through it. The feature is on a parcel of land that Steep Rock Preserve hopes to acquire to add to their holdings. The idea is to have a hiking trail leading here from the Waramaug Pinnacle that's part of the Macricostas Preserve section. The pictures will be used in the promotion and fund raising to acquire the land.

Even with a thin scrim of cloud in the sky and the sun well below the "horizon" of the pinnacle to the east, the brightness ranges deep in the woods were enormous. I ended up shooting everything with three or four stop bracketing. Back home, I brought the shoot into Lightroom (unusual for me, I prefer to use Bridge/ACR/PSCC as my standard digital capture workflow) to use its HDR merger feature.

Every time I've tried HDR functions in the past I've disliked the results. The light range may be encompassed, but the pictures looked completely artificial to me. However, a few months ago I got a notice of a new approach to HDR available in Lightroom and have been meaning to experiment with it. You just select the bracketed exposures and order up a merger, which Lightroom then saves as a new, enormous, .dng Raw file. The .dng files from the Lumix GX7 camera I was using come in around 15-16 MB, the merged .dng files are about 75 MB.

You can then work on the new .dng just as you would with any other Raw file, except that this big file lets you access all of the data from the three or four merged exposures, not just a single capture. For example, the Exposure slider increases its range from four "stops" to ten.

So, as Lightroom made each new .dng file, I exported it to another folder. Then I switched to my usual workflow and brought that folder into Bridge and opened the files into ACR for adjustment. In a couple cases I should have made another still darker exposure to fully retain the highlights, but overall these are the nicest HDR results I've ever gotten. The pictures look smooth and natural to my eye, without the artificial look that has bothered me about all previous HDR experiments.

For comparison, here's a setup record shot that I took with my iPhone 7 Plus. The remarkably useful HDR function of the phone's remarkably good camera is utterly overpowered by the brightness range. I think it even would have stressed the brightness range capability of large format HP5-Plus developed in PMK pyro and printed in palladium, but I think it would have handled it. Now, when digital capture reaches that standard in a single capture...


Ed said...

I have never attempted to do any HDR work. The examples I”ve seen never looked natural to me and definitely had a district “HDR” look to them. These pictures look very natural to me, and don’t look anything like the HDR examples I’ve seen. Probably this best HDR pictures I’ve seen. I might have to look a little closer at trying some HDR. Thanks for the post and your workflow.


Carl Weese said...

These are the best HDR experiments I've ever done. The other nice thing is the workflow: instead of coping with a whole special program interface for HDR manipulation, Lightroom simply combines all the available data into a new giant .dng file which you then work on in your familiar Raw processor environment. I only used Lightroom to create the merged .dng, then worked on the files in my usual way in ACR.