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Suono: Playing with HDR Photography

I envy Dougerino’s proficiency with High Dynamic Range (HDR) photographs.  On a photo-walk with him at the Seattle Aquarium on Saturday, 2008-09-20, I figured this was my best chance to get some tips and try the technique myself.  I also figured that the garish lighting and colors in aquarium displays would grant me license to mess up color saturation and other aspects of HDR that would be unreal for many other subjects.  I’m using the subject to cover up my inexperience with the technique.

Sea Anemones at Seattle Aquarium, 2008-09-20 (HDR photo, click for Flickr sets)

My first non-trial effort is the photograph of sea anemones in captivity, above.   The HDR image is produced from three separate digital exposures using my Nikon D80.  It took a while to learn how to set the D80 to automatically take three successive pictures at –2ev (2 full stops under), +0ev (normal metered exposure), and +2ev (two stops over), but I finally got it working.

The downside of this arrangement is that it takes a while for the camera to grab the three separate shots, I can’t see what is happening (the SLR mirror being raised) while the images are being taken, and the +2ev exposure is noticeably slow under low light conditions.  Keeping the camera stable is important.  I was hand-holding my camera, with my back against a wall.  That, combined with using a Vibration Reduction (VR) lens had the images be more stable than I deserved. 

While I and the camera were still enough, the anemones were not motionless as sea water circulated in the tank.  Look closely at the full-size Flickr version and you will see what looks like multiple-exposure effects in the tubes of the center anemone.  The tops of the tall anemones are also fuzzed because of movement there.

Now that HDR images, not to mention saturated color and extreme Photoshop effects,  are becoming popular on Flickr and photography web sites, it is easy to suspect HDR where it is not present.  Sometimes, the clues are pretty subtle.

Beside the hands-on tips from Dougerino, I found Trey Ratcliff’s Stuck in Customs web site with great examples and tutorial information.   Because Ratcliff offers many HDR images, I thought that was before me in his “Some of my favorite shots of children.”  Ratcliff’s HDR tutorial illustrates the use of PhotoShop layering techniques to eliminate blurred images in the combined separate exposures.  I thought I was seeing that in the image of the girl in this detail:

Stuck in Customs: Bangkok Belly Flop (detail, click for original) 

No.  That is not an HDR image.  My suspicions were groundless.  Some photographs are richly hued and at the right moment without requiring doctoring, at least not of the HDR kind.

The following image from the same set is an HDR image. 

Stuck in Customs: Morning Skaters in Iceland (click for original)

If you look at the largest image on Flickr, you can see that there are indications of skater motion in comparison with the clarity of the ice surface.  I also suspect there was not a 4-stop range.  The D2X might have been working in a faster range of shutter speeds, too.

That’s all guesswork.  It is valuable to be able to discern how a photographic subject was lighted, an unaccustomed test that I seldom pass.  Now I must also train my photographer eye to discern how HDR was used, if at all, along with other digital-processing effects.

Meanwhile, I am able to enjoy and learn from the wonderful images that appear in daily Stuck in Customs posts.  You can too.

Suonare is the Italian verb for “to play” in the sense that a pianist plays a keyboard.  With the advent of computer-based music and photographic-image processing, I extent the notion to similar play via my computer keyboard, not just my MIDI controller.  Suono is “I play.”


That turned out great. Makes me wish I had tried an HDR of that scene.

Yeah, Tray Ratcliff is great inspiration. And those photos of kids are amazing. the one of Cambodia reminded me of a girl I took some pictures of at Angkor Wat. Not because it's anywhere near his shots, just because it's a smiling kid in Cambodia.
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