Sunday, September 23, 2012

I Broke a Cardinal Rule of HDR...But Really, It Wasn't My Fault

One of the cardinal rules of HDR photography is to always, always shoot with a tripod...and I always do, except for when I can't...or more importantly when I'm not allowed to.

It's obvious that we use a tripod to have a stable platform, especially when shooting multiple exposures for HDR images because we want to minimize any camera movement so all those exposures will align properly in post. However, there are some really great places to shoot, usually inside, that will not allow you to use a tripod or a monopod. Dundurn Castle in Hamilton is one of these places.

I found myself there not too long ago and saw that they do regular tours, but they don't allow tripods (or monopods) as the place is over 175 years old. It's an historical site and preservation is critically important.

So I'm inside, with some really good natural light, but in a number of rooms it was a little spotty. Knowing that I was going inside I immediately thought HDR would be my best bet to draw out all of the tones that a single exposure would leave behind. But without a tripod I had to shoot handheld. This is where things got a little tricky.

I had to raise my ISO to 1600 and sometimes push it a little bit further so noise was going to be an issue. I was shooting a 5 exposure bracket and my wide open exposures were getting up to 1/10th and sometime 1/5th of a sec...yikes! Handheld at 1/10th and 1/5th? That for sure will cause some issues. I was shooting with the Nikon 10-24mm wide angle lens at the 10-12 mm end, as well as bracing myself to walls, doorframes or anything else I could find, so I was hoping that I would be able to get away with a few of those exposures.

I was pleasantly surprised find that I had a few that worked out pretty well. More than I was expecting. However, some were a little soft with the slower shutter speeds...oh well, it wasn't my fault remember?!?

I got to try out Nik Software's HRD Efex Pro 2 for the first time and I'm totally sold on it! I love the new features. Finishing was done with Viveza and Color Efex Pro.



Sunday, September 2, 2012

ColorMunki To The Rescue!

First off, since I'm Canadian I have trouble spelling "colour" without the "u", but for the sake of getting the product name correct I'll go along with it...for now :)

As with many photographers I like to work as accurately as I can with my the colour of my images and that means having a properly calibrated display. I have been using a LaCie 321 display with the Blue Eye Pro calibration tool. Up until late last year I had no problems. Using an older Dell Win XP laptop things worked quite well.

What changed? Well, I moved over to a MacBook Pro. This is when I started to have some issues. The old laptop was connected with a DVI cable as that's what is native on the display; however, the Mac is now using the new Thunderbolt port. No problem, I just got the MiniDisplay Port to DVI adapter and the display works as it should, except for when it came time to calibrate. This is where the problems started.

As it was going through it's steps I kept getting an error at the monitor connection stage prior to measuring the colour patches. This was strange because the Test and Report feature was able to measure and report on the current settings without an issue. So it became troubleshooting time. Downloaded the updated software for the Mac OS, didn't work. Next I contacted LaCie and set up a service ticket and was pointed to a newer update as OS Lion was still new... it didn't work. It was interesting to note that this newer update was released about 6 months before Lion was launched... is it compatible with OS Lion? Who knows?

After a lot of back and forth with LaCie service I was told it was the Thunderbolt port that was not compatible with the DVI connection on the display as it could not translate the necessary information. Just for fun I tried calibrating the display on my laptop to see if that would work. Low and behold, I get the same error, which tells me that it's probably not the Thunderbolt connection issue as it was not in play. Anyway, the problem was never really resolved. I still think it's a software issue that was never made compatible for OS Lion. So basically it was either buy a new display or try a new calibration tool...both expensive options.

I decided that lesser of 2 evils was to try a new calibration tool first. If it didn't work then it would be time to get a new display, but I would still need a good calibration tool anyway.

Enter ColorMunki Photo... problem solved! It worked regardless of the Thunderbolt adapter connection issue.

I can't remember an easier piece of software, and hardware, to use. Set-up was dead simple and it walks you through all of the steps required to calibrate your display and create a printer profile. You have the option of letting the program set all of the settings for you, or you can take the more advanced route of configuring it to your own settings. A nice feature of the advanced route is that you can use the ambient  light sensor to take a luminance value of your work space and identify the appropriate luminance level for your display.

Did I mention that it worked? Even with the same adapter through the Thunderbolt port? Needless to say I was pretty happy. Granted the ColorMunki Photo is not cheap, but it's still only a 1/3 the price of a decent display. So I was hedging my bets on this one and it turned out in my favour.

Now, this highlights an ever present issue of upgrading your gear whether it's a new computer or an OS update. I expected that I would need to update a lot of programs and drivers for some older gear when I moved to a Mac, and in some cases just bite the bullet and buy the latest (as in this case). You really need to do a lot of research when upgrading so that you know what will work, but especially what won't work.

So if you're in the market for a display calibration tool I would highly recommend the Color Munki. You can check them out here