I used to hear photographers say they didn’t like the look of HDR (high dynamic range) photos. Software progressed and it got to where an HDR photo was perfectly natural. We got a photo that looked like what we saw with our eyes versus a cartoonish image.
Things continue to progress in the photo processing world. Today, the Shadow and Highlight sliders in Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom are doing what HDR used to do.
Below you see two images taken in the historic district of Sibiu, Romania. One is HDR — a blend of seven images using Nik by DxO. The other is straight out of the camera with the highlights properly exposed. Can you see any difference?
Sibiu, Romania, historic center.
Sibiu, Romania, historic center.
HDR made from seven images processing as above
HDR made from seven exposures
Straight processing as above
HDR made from seven images processing as above
Give this concept a try next time you find yourself photographing a contrasty scene. Get the highlights perfectly exposed. Then bring out the shadows later with the Shadow slider in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom.
A little bit of explanation before you read this story by my husband Gary Clark. Gary’s a well-respected writer and he sometimes sends stories to me while I’m traveling. He wrote this story earlier this month while I was in Romania leading a photo tour. Gary refers to “the woman-who-makes-the-coffee” in the story. That’s Gary’s pet name for me when I travel. He frequently complains that “the woman-who-makes-the-coffee failed to do her job so I had to make my own coffee.”
Encounter in Romania with Dr. Vladislav by Gary Clark
The woman-who-makes-the-coffee watched a crimson sunset over the Carpathian Mountains as an old building creaked in the distance and wolves howled from a darkening forest. Suddenly a bat flying on fast-flapping wings swept past her, and she, being a renowned nature photographer, berated herself for not having her camera ready to take its picture. For how many bats of the Arizona desert had she photographed sucking nectar out of fruiting plants to now miss shooting a picture of a Transylvanian bat sucking nourishment from fruits or eating insects….she knew not what it ate. For Romania had more species of bats than any other.
Nectar-feeding bat in Arizona photographed by the woman-who-makes-the-coffee
Vampire bat photographed by the woman-who-makes-the-coffee
Not being deterred, the woman-who-makes-the-coffee dashed into the hostel where she was staying. She grabbed her camera and rigged her flash equipment to photograph nighttime bats. What if she photographed a rare or endangered Transylvanian bat like the elusive Horseshoe Bat? Ah, she would then cement her place in the annals of legendary photographers.
As she started out of the door, a female cook in the hostelry said, “Woe to one in these parts who dares to snap a picture of a bat.”
The woman-who-makes-the-coffee chuckled to herself and thought, “Well, I guess the old timers still hold onto folk tales.”
Out in the dank night she waited. A cold breeze cut through her jacket like icicles. She shivered when a feeling like a cool breath wafted against her neck, but forgot about it when a bat suddenly appeared zigzagging in flight only a few yards away. She lifted the camera and took aim, making sure her settings were correct and that the shutter would trigger her flash.
Snap! Snap! And snap scores of times as the bat flew back and forth in front of her.
“I got it!” she cried, “I got it!”
Back in her room, the woman-who-makes-the-coffee was wholly bewildered. “What did I do wrong?” she said to herself.
No image had appeared in her camera. She downloaded the card onto her laptop. Still no image. She could not explain the anomaly, but rather than staying up all night to try again for a photograph, she went to bed. She snuggled under the warm blankets of her bed and wished her husband were with her.
Tapping noises on the window sounded like pellets of ice. “Must be snowing,” she thought.
But she could have sworn a shadow of that flying bat was silhouetted against the window.
Next evening she sat at dinner with the group she was leading on a photo tour. The dining room was large with a high ceiling and, despite the lights, the room was gloomy. Sitting at a nearby table was a tall man in a smart black suit, a starched white shirt, and a red cravat around his neck. His jet black hair set off a pearly white face, uncommon for a man, and his eyes though sunken glistened like obsidian.
He walked over the photography group’s table and addressed the woman-who-makes-the-coffee.
“Excuse me, dear madam, but are you per chance the famous woman-who-makes-the-coffee? I have so admired your photographs. They bring life to me like rays of sunshine, a beauty that in my line of work I don’t get to see.”
Whereupon the woman-who-makes-the-coffee said, “Won’t you join us? I’ll take a group picture with you in it.”
“No, but thank you for the offer. By the way, I thought I saw you trying to photograph a bat last evening. Any luck?”
“No, darn it!” said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee. “Something went wrong with my camera.”
“Perhaps I may be of assistance,” said the black-suited man in a mellifluous voice. “You see, I’m an expert on European bats, especially those of Transylvania.”
“That’d be great!” said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee. “I’ll be trying again after dinner.”
One of the male photographers in the group looked up at the black-suited man and said, “What kind of work do you do?”
“Night surgeon, of sorts, in an urgent care center. Such services in our country are offered without charge, unlike in your country,” said the black-suited man.
“Oh, so you must be a doctor,” said the male photographer. “What’s your name?”
The male photographer chuckled and said, “It’s kind of funny, but you look like Dracula. No offense. Just the movies, you know.”
“Tourists from your country always say that to any man in a dark suit,” said Dr. Vladislav. “Seems your country is obsessed with scary movies about…vampires. Even the castle built by the Russians to fool American tourists into thinking it’s the ancient home of Dracula draws thousands of American tourists. Russians are good at fooling Americans, eh?”
“Now just hold on!,” said the male photographer.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Dr. Vladislav. “Just kidding. We know Americans are fine people with, if I may say, fine, intelligent women like the woman-who-makes-the-coffee.”
“My husband read a book about Dracula,” said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee. “I think it was called The Historian, or something like that.”
“Ah, yes,” said Dr. Vladislav. “Written by Miss Elizabeth Kostova. We’re good friends. She now lives in Romania, you know. Runs a writing school, and like me, works at night.”
“My husband is a writer,” said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee. “He’s always wanted to see Dracula’s castle and is really aggravated about the Russian fake.”
“As am I,” said Dr. Vladislav. “I can sadly assure your husband that the once glorious castle of Dracula…he was an admired Count, you know…anyway, his castle has been obliterated from the earth. Fortunately, his memory lives.”
The group fell silent. The dining hall seemed to darken as a chilled air suffused the room.
“Shoot, I’ve got to go photograph bats,” said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee. “Since you know about the bats here,” she said to Dr. Vladislav, “would you mind helping me find one to photograph?”
“I’d be delighted,” said the doctor.
One of the female photographers in the group named Jane quickly rose from her chair and said, “Do you mind if I come along?”
“Sure, come on,” said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee. “Get your camera, and let’s go shoot bats. Put on that big coat of yours. It’s freezing out there.”
The others decided to go to their rooms.
Outside in the bleak icy night under a New Moon, Jane and the woman-who-makes-the-coffee stood staring into the dark hoping for a bat to fly within in shooting range. Suddenly, the woman-who-makes-the-coffee felt a quiver in her neck and scrunched up her shoulders as though trying to cover her throat.
“May I help you find a bat,” said Dr. Vladislav.
“That’d be wonderful,” said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee. “Thank you. But you’re not wearing a coat. Aren’t you cold?”
“My people are, so to speak, a cold blooded race,” said the doctor. “But shhhh… here come the bats!”
Then two, three, and eventually 20 bats flew within camera shot. The woman-who-makes-the-coffee fired her camera with flashes lighting up the darkness like quick bolts of lightning. Her companion Jane did likewise.
The two women were so excited that they didn’t notice the chorus of wolves howling as though in the crescendo of a requiem.
“I think I got some good shots,” said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee.
“Me, too,” said Jane. “But I’m tired. Think I’ll download my pictures when I get home. Can’t see much detail on my camera in this heavy darkness.”
“Well, I do see the bat photos on my camera,” said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee, “but you’re right, it’s too dim to see any details.”
Weeks laterone evening when the woman-who-makes-the-coffee was sitting on her living room couch and showing the bat pictures to her husband, Socks the cat, sitting in the husband’s lap, began glaring at the photographs while hairs on his back reared up and his tail flared like a bottlebrush. Socks uttered a guttural growl.
The phone rang.
It was Jane from the photography tour calling.
“You’re not going to believe this,” she said.
“What?” asked the woman-who-makes-the-coffee.
“Remember me taking a picture of you with Dr. Vladislav when we were photographing the bats? He was standing right beside you, and you were showing him the bat pictures on the back of your camera.”
“Yeah, of course, I remember,” said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee. “He was really helpful in getting us on the bats.”
“Right,” said Jane. “But just one problem that I can’t figure out.”
“Tell me,” said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee.
“I took lots of shots of the two of you standing next to each other. Ten shots in all.”
“Well, I remember taking pictures of you holding up your camera to Dr. Vladislav standing right beside you.”
“Yes, I remember,” said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee. “So how did your shots turn out?”
Silence on the other end of the line.
“Jane, are you still there?”
“Yes,” said Jane. “But my shots of you and Dr. Vladislav together….I mean, you look great standing there with a big smile.”
“And….”, said the woman-who-makes-the-coffee.
“In all those photos,” Jane whispered, “Vladislav IS NOT THERE!
I had the pleasure of using the Singh-Ray Filter 830 Infrared Filter during my recent photo tour to Ireland. It was great to get to play with the filter and use it in a variety of settings.
(Please see my previous posts on Singh-Ray Infrared Filters. Canon users need to use the 830. Nikon users can use either but Canon cameras need the 830.)
All the images below are 240 second exposures, ISO 400-800, and f/stop of f/9 to f/22. In my experimentation, I’ve learned that you start with one exposure as above. Take the photo and then check the histogram. More exposure is needed if the histogram doesn’t hit the right side. Less exposure is needed if the histogram spikes up the right side. Be prepared for some trial and error.
Please read my previous posts on using this filter. It is a great tool and could be just what you need to add a bit of creativity to your photography.
I was in Ireland recently leading a photo tour. A favorite location of mine for light painting at night is Burrishoole Abbey in County Mayo.
We set our cameras on tripods, composed the shot, focused, and then set our exposures for 30 seconds. Then I “Painted” the outside of the building with an amber flashlight. In one 30-second exposure I might cover half the building. We reminded the group that they would use layers in Photoshop to get a photo of the entire building illuminated in amber light.
Toward the end of our shoot at Burrishoole, I decided to make a change. I told the group to leave their f/stops at 22, change the ISO to 800, and take a 4-minute exposure using Bulb. We took one photo to check exposure. Personally, I needed to change my f/stop to f/9.
Then we clicked the shutters and left them open for 4-minutes. During that time, I painted the building one more time with the amber flashlight. Notice I had enough time to go inside and paint the window openings.
Each photo is a bit different but the last was much easier to make. Many photographers don’t like Photoshop layers or don’t want to learn layers. Personally, I think layers is a super powerful tool but do understand the learning curve can be steep.
Next time you do light painting, consider using a very long exposure as an alternative to layers.
At sunset in July we were cruising down the Rio Piquiri in the Pantanal of Brazil. Junior, the boat driver, killed the motor and pointed to a pair of jaguars sitting on the riverbank.
There were 10 people in the boat and all were squirming to get their cameras and find the jaguars. The boat was bobbing in the water. There was a lot of movement to try to photograph something after sunset.
I pushed the ISO button on my camera and rolled the dial all the way to 51,200. I could only get a 50th of a second shutter speed. No way the photos were going to work with a shutter speed like that!
Raul, our guide, had been bragging about this high-powered flashlight that he’d received as a gift from a previous guest. His little flashlight was nearly a spotlight.
“Raul, point that flashlight at the jaguars!” I yelled. It was magic! The light was enough light to give us shutter speeds in the 1/160th or 1/200th of a second range.
A modern high-power flashlight and modern cameras with high ISO gave us the ability to photograph a jaguar in the dark. I love it!
I love infrared photos but somehow I never seemed to get around to having an old camera converted to infrared. So earlier this year I got an email ad from Singh-Ray Filters advertising their infrared filter. My hand grabbed my computer mouse without my will and order the filter. Before I knew it, Singh-Ray’s IR 690 filter was heading to my doorstep.
The filter arrived, I read some articles online, and then went out to give it a try. The photos came out RED. Yep, they were red but they were supposed to be red.
The articles I read said that the photos out of the camera would be red. I was then supposed to process with method #1, method #2, or method #3 to get an infrared image.
I tried all the methods and simply had a black-and-white image. No snowy-white grass or grass that look so great in infrared photos. I could never get anything that even remotely looked like infrared.
Out of frustration, I sent an email to the folks at Singh-Ray Filters. I got an immediate response and they put me in touch with one of their experts. That man and I exchanged photos and emails for the next two weeks. I shot photos with the filter, processed them per his instructions, but nothing worked. He paid for me to ship my filter to him so he could use it on his camera.
In the end, we found that my Canon 5D Mark IV and my Canon Rebel need a Singh-Ray 830 Infrared filter. The IR 690 filter only yields a black-and-white image after processing.
Mystery solved. Singh-Ray Filters immediately shipped me an 830 Infrared Filter and issued a credit for my 690 IR filter once they received it.
Thanks to the great customer service at Singh-Ray Filters I’m now shooting infrared photos and loving my 830 Infrared filter.
By the way, the IR 690 filter works fine on Nikon camera. We found this situation only applies to Canon cameras.
Here’s how to take a photo with the 830 Infrared Filter:
Set the camera to the Bulb exposure mode and decide which f/stop you’ll use.
Frame the shot and focus the lens.
Turn off auto-focus on the lens.
Screw the filter on the lens without moving the focus ring.
You can’t see through the IR filters.
With the camera in Bulb
Take the photo with the shutter open for about 4-minute.
Adjust based on the histogram. A bit less time if the photo is too bright or a bit more time if the photo is too dark.
Here’s my method for processing photos taken with the 830 Infrared Filter:
Open in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom
Open Hue Saturation Luminance
Move the red Luminance slider all the way to the right
Move the red Saturation slider all the way to the left
This gets rid of the red cast to the photo
Go back to the Basic Tab
Move the Exposure slider so the histogram hits the right corner
Move the Black slider so the histogram hits the left corner
Add some Contrast
Continue processing to taste
I’ve just begun shooting in infrared and processing those photos. Stay tuned. More discoveries in store.
My photo group was on the Serengeti in Tanzania during the last two weeks in May 2018.
One morning while out on a game drive, we got a call over the radio that a baby leopard was in danger on a nearby kopje. My driver, Tompson, picked up speed and told me what to expect. Along the way, I translated all the terms and relayed the situation to the people in my Land Cruiser.
Here’s the situation we were racing toward. A mother leopard left her young baby unattended on a kopje. A kopje is a pile of rocks on the Serengeti plain. The kopje has crevices between all the rocks. Sometimes trees and bushes grow on top of the kopje or around the base of the kopje.
This is traditionally a great place to raise cubs and stash them while out hunting or sleeping. The babies are usually pretty safe with nooks and crannies to sleep, sun, and play.
In this case, though, a group of olive baboons had gathered on the top of the kopje. Baboons hate leopards. That means the baboons will kill the baby leopard if they find it. With no mother leopard on site, the baby leopard was in real danger.
We arrived at the kopje in a few minutes and found a group of twenty baboons on one side of the kopje. After driving around the kopje, we found the baby leopard on the other side. The baby was very young and agitated. It paced, sat down, paced, and then sat again. The baby seemed to know things weren’t right.
We photographed the baby leopard and keep watching for the baboons. There was a good distance between the two so it seemed that the baby leopard was safe.
Then the baby leopard got nervous. It started climbing across the rocks of the kopje and maneuvered under bushes. It came into view then disappeared out of view. But the baboons must have smelled the baby or seen movement. Four large males started slowly moving across the top of the kopje toward the baby leopard.
Baby leopard moves to crevice
Baby leopard hides
The baby moved down the rocks and found a crevice. Maybe it was the crevice where it was born or a roosting place with its mother. The baby walked into the crevice, came back out, looked around, and then went back in the crevice. We all encouraged the baby to get deep into the crevice but, of course, our words meant nothing to the young leopard.
The four male baboons started perching on the rocks outside and above the crevice. The baby moved deeper in the crevice to escape the baboons. The baboons peered into the crevice. They moved closer to the crevice. The baby leopard was surrounded. If the baboons headed into the crevice, the baby was cornered.
Someone in the Land Cruiser next to me said “I don’t want to hear what comes next.” Someone else said, “I don’t want to see what’s coming.” My driver told me the baby was a goner and that there was no way the baby could fight off the baboons.
My driver suggested we pull the Land Cruiser back just in case the mother leopard was trying to get back from her hunt. I asked everyone in the three vehicles if they wanted to stay and watch the kill or move back and let nature happen.
Everyone agreed that the attack was going to be horrible. We had out photos of the baby leopard and everyone wanted to remember him as a cute, little kitten.
All three of our Land Cruisers pulled away from the kopje and we turned our backs on nature. During lunch we talked but the baby leopard and everyone wondered what happened. Our thoughts were really with the little guy.
When we left camp later in the day, my driver Tompson asked if I’d like to take the group back to the kopje to see what happened. Tompson assured me the baby was dead but I decided we needed to go back.
A half-hour later we were nearing the kopje. I started scanning the rocks for anything that looked like a leopard. There were no baboons in sight. Not one.
I stood up on my seat with my body out of the top of the Land Cruiser and started scanning the rocks. High up on one of the rocks I spotted the profile of a feline. “There she is,” I yelled. Tompson spotted the mother leopard immediately and drove the Land Cruiser in photography distance. The other two Land Cruisers in our group fell into position next to us.
Mother leopard was laid out on the top of the kopje all pretty and content. She had a fresh, deep gash from her nostril straight up her nose. She’d been in a fight and she was the winner.
Tompson popped up on his seat and poked out of the top of the Land Cruiser. He raised his arms high in the sky and yelled “You are a good mother leopard!!” The mother leopard beat off the baboons and she took a beating while doing it. Yet, was the baby alive?
My vehicle drove slowly to the other side of the kopje. There was the baby leopard! It was out in the open and resting on a nice warm rock. Baby was safe and Tompson gave the mother another “Your a good mother leopard!!” salute.
Mother leopard didn’t take to our noisy group of photographers. We were a good distance from her but were pretty excited that mother and baby were safe. I suspect we were a bit noisy.
The female moved deep into a crevice protected by a small bush. She bathed her injured nose one more time and then fell asleep. (People in my group would have given her all the Neosporin in their packs if she would have allowed us near her.) .
Baby leopard gave us a few more stunning photos and then fell asleep. It lived for another day in the Serengeti.