Experimenting with Natural Looking HDR in Zion

Experimenting with Natural Looking HDR in Zion

When NAB wrapped in April I wanted to take a few days to explore some of the great national parks in the area. So I rented a car and did a small camping road trip through Zion and Bryce Canyon.

The south of Utah is an insanely beautiful assortment of one national park after another, buffered by state parks and national forests. There’s a state park named Kodachrome, after the film stock used to capture its vibrant colors in National Geographic’s first photo series of the location. Plus there’s Arches and Canyonlands, which I had to save for another trip.

While at NAB I caught a bit of a photography workshop that went into HDR. I had written HDR off a while ago as a very specific, over-processed ‘look.’ But the workshop went in to other uses, including more natural looks to get a wider dynamic range but not look over-processed.

So since I was going on my mini-camping road trip to take pictures (something I hadn’t been doing much of in a while), I figured I’d take a lot of bracketed shots to see if I could use HDR to make more dynamic, natural looking pictures.

Using Photomatix, I definitely was not disappointed. It had a variety of ways to blend the images and finely tune the details. It comes with a solid assortment of presets. Plus there even ways to correct for handheld bracketing and ‘ghosting,’ to correct for leaves or other objects naturally moving around during longer exposures.

It also has a great Lightroom workflow that let’s your roundtrip the images you want to merge and bring the final image back to LR.

In this post is the final image from Kolob Canyon in Zion. I’ve including the original bracketed images. I was doing 5 photos for each shot, but the f-stop maxed out at 2.8 for the over exposure images, so I ended up having two of the same shot.

I’ll be posting more final images and bracketed breakdowns in the future.

Kolab Canyon Mashup Bracket

5 Ways to Use Still Photos in Movies That Are Not the Ken Burns Effect

While not usually a problem for fiction films (unless it’s a stylistic choice), most documentaries find the only visual media available for some parts of the film are still photos. The most common method that comes to mind to add movement to still photos is the Ken Burns effect.

While obviously effective and the staple of many PBS films, with the advent of After Effects and other tools, there are many more ways to dynamically include stills in movies. Here are five.

The 2.5th Dimension

Using Photoshop and After Effects, you can achieve amazing results by removing elements from still photos and compositing them in a 3D space. These moves can be as simple as a pan or dolly with a little depth, to full blown camera fly-throughs of entire composited scenes.

Last Best Hope

American: The Bill Hicks Story



Coffee Meets Celluloid: Caffeine as Developer

Interesting article on using coffee, tea, or vitamin c as a developer. Caffeine apparently works really well as a developing agent – how cool is that!

Yes, it will take a lot longer (25 minutes for T-Max 400) and more light (rated at ISO 100), but if you’re shooting film I feel like you’re doing it for the satisfaction in making an image by hand as much as possible. Now this just adds to that by controlling the developing process yourself.

Check out the recipe over here at Shutterbug. Seems like there will be some experimenting involved. And you can use water as a stop bath and salt water for a fixer. Would love to see more images (or some 16 mm movies!!) developed with this home brew. Coffee and Celluloid combine!

How to Operate Your DSLR via Your iPhone for $4

Want to control your digital SLR camera from your iPhone (or Touch)? When I was taking pictures of grilled cheese sandwiches, there was a bit of downtime between the grillin’, so I figured out how to work this totally awesome magic, all for less than $4.

(While writing this and researching links, I realized OnOne has their own dedicated tethered shooting app. However, their app is $20 while the one I describe below is only $4. And before you say there’s a $2 Lite version, you can do so much more with Keymote)

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Digital camera ((This post is specifically geared toward Nikon and Canon shooters, but as far as I can tell, as long as you can tether your camera (that goes for point and shoot too) and you can control it from your computer via keyboard shortcuts, then this should work.))
  • Laptop or computer (Mac) with USB cable for tethering
  • Tethering software for your camera (links and free workarounds for Nikon users below)
  • iPhone or iPod Touch
  • Keymote iPhone App and their free receiver software installed on your computer

First is to get your camera and laptop setup to shoot tethered. Scott Kelby and Joe McNally have great posts on their personal setups and if you want more details on tethering you should check them out.

However, what they leave out is a free tethering option for us Nikon shooters. Canon users have a free ride with the EOS Capture Utility. The Nikon option is Camera Control Pro 2, but it’s $160.

If you don’t want all the bells and whistles and just want to be able to operate your camera from your computer, there’s Sofortbild, a free Mac tethered shooting app. Actually, it’s quiet amazing for free. You can control all your settings, have images displayed full screen, setup time lapse, and probably do 90% of the things you’d want to do in Camera Control, but for none of the cost.

So you’ve got your free tethering setup, now you need to make the magic happen with your iPhone. Keymote is an app that once linked with your computer it let’s you save sets of keyboard shortcuts to specific groups. There’s a bunch of preset program specific ones you can download, such as Front Row, Hulu, Finder, Final Cut Pro, or, in our case, you can create a new one, such as this:


The iPhone and Mac connect via a wireless network. Don’t worry, you don’t actually need to be in a hot spot. You can just create a network with your Mac and join it through your iPhone.

It’s pretty simple from here. With Sofortbild and Keymote launched and the two paired, just press away and watch everything go to work.

This worked out really well with the food when I had to position something and snap a picture before it all toppled over. Other uses I can think of are working with kids, getting a better connection with subjects and models, and anything else where timing or ruining the moment is at risk by running back behind your camera.

And as I said, Keymote will work with anything that uses keyboard shortcuts. So it’s been really nice to sit back on the couch and watch some cuts in Final Cut, and even be able to mark clips and subclip raw footage.

Grilled Food Photography

Ultimate Grilled Cheese

So here’s one of the images from the food photography shoot. And here’s the lighting setup:

My main goal was to fill the image with as much soft light as possible. This setup is what I settled with later on. Main light behind the food, kind of low to rake across the sandwich and give it some texture. Even though that strobe is going through a baffle and the silk on the soft box, I added the extra diffusion to spread the light some more and even further soften it.

Later on I settled on using a small strobe through an umbrella as fill. Originally I created some fill cards (seen below the table) from some thick poster board scored down the center so it folds shut and forms a V. Had one on either side of the sandwich, leaving a gap for the lens. That worked pretty well, but the table was pretty small and it was hard keeping everything balanced. Plus it was nice to have some control to raise the fill light if needed.

The ‘seamless’ background was made from a few sheets of poster board taped to the table and clamped on a stand.

I had a pretty sweet tethered rig (first time I got it all set up) to the computer with a really awesome camera remote that I’ll write about separately.

As for photographing the food itself, let’s just say I’m sure food stylists are worth their weight in gold. There’s so many ridiculous and amazing ways to keep food looking great and to get cool effects (like a steamer for steam or spraying glue onto pancakes so they don’t get soggy from syrup) that someone who specializes in this would know. We went through a bunch of sandwiches and eventually figured ways to make things work and look good.

The biggest issue was sandwiches falling apart. Easy enough solution to just jab the back with a bunch of toothpicks.

I also found that food photography is all about the details. I would just get my fingers all in the sandwich and move pieces around until it looked its best.

All in all it was a fun day and I look forward to going back to the restaurant to see some large prints of the pictures.

If you’re ever in Vero Beach be sure to check them out and grab some yummy sandwiches at Grilligans.

Cheesy Photos

Heading back from Vero Beach after a grilled cheese photo shoot. It’s for Grilligans, this awesome resturaunt that makes a variety of grilled cheese sandwiches and delicious shakes (a perk of food photography is you get to try everything).

Here’s a teaser photo. I’ll have some lighting photos and final shots later on.

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