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Lightroom HDR – An alternative, not a game changer

Lightroom6Trafalgar Photography websites and twitter feeds have been going crazy over the last 48 hours with the release of Lightroom CC (or 6). I’ve seen a few videos already on Lightroom’s new features and without wanting to burst the party bubble, I can’t find anything new that’s really that revolutionary. Yes there are a couple of additions that will make things a bit easier, and it’s faster (if you say so), but the headlines seem to be ‘merge to panorama’ (I wasn’t aware Lightroom didn’t do this already) and ‘merge to HDR’. The latter is of course of particular interest to me.

Now for the record, let me put it out there that I love Lightroom. It was my favourite photography program for many years and helped further my passion with photography. Now that I am a bit more skilled in photoshop, I tend to use that a lot more, simply because it can basically do everything Lightroom can do (in the development sense) and a whole lot more. Yes organisation is important, and all of my photos still live, begin and end in Lightroom, but for me the real magic these days lies in Photoshop.

That said, there is still lots I love about Lightroom and was eager to test out the new HDR feature, as soon as I heard Lightroom was implementing this. First of all, I genuinely did question if Lightroom really needs this. With other specialised HDR software out there like Photomatix, which Lightroom has made it very easy to export to, I can only think that Adobe are trying to make it slightly quicker, and push Lightroom to being a one-stop shop for all photographic processes. The problem with that though, is nearly every photography program has it’s particular strength, and Lightroom’s is raw processing. Photomatix’s is HDR. For Lightroom to compete any where near on the same level as Photomatix, it would have to have many variable options, and tone-mapping processes that can lead to varying HDR ‘looks’. It does not have any of these. When you select a group of photographs and select ‘merge to HDR’, you get 3 options for creating the HDR – Auto-align (click on or off), Auto-tone (click on or off) and the level of ghost reduction. It then produces the merged HDR image, which also contains some pre-processing involving my least favourite method of creating an HDR image, by pushing the highlights slider to 0 and the shadows slider to max (or near enough). You can then process the image as you would any other Lightroom image. You obviously cannot layer mask different photographs, meaning one of the fundamental aspects of HDR is lost, which is to process the tone-mapped image with features from the original bracketed photos.

I created the photograph above using the HDR process in Lightroom, and I think it shows what Lightroom HDR can do pretty well, that is producing natural looking HDR pictures. I think this is perhaps its intended field. I was underwhelmed at first with the HDR picture that Lightroom produced after the merge, but I soon got underway, transforming the image into the best result I could. The thing that impressed me the most actually was the sharpening aspect, which seems to work really well with the HDR images Lightroom creates. The sharpening slider in general seems improved in Lightroom. So the details and the sharpening look great for a natural image, but I can’t really see how you can push the HDR harder, should you wish to do. I won’t rule out using HDR in Lightroom in future, but can see myself using perhaps it for the interior photography work I do, which calls for a more realistic look.

Photomatix vs Lightroom

I also went back and created a new Lightroom HDR of a previous picture I had initially processed in Photomatix (with additional post processing achieved in Photoshop). The top picture was created in Photomatix, and though I created it a few years ago now (and would not exactly be the result I would aim for today), you can see the small details (especially in shadow areas) miles better than in Lightroom’s HDR image below it. The whole photograph itself gives a much more interesting and atmospheric look than the Lightroom version. It just evokes the scene to a far greater degree for myself as the photographer. This is where I worry that one of the main points with HDR is lost, that photography programs want to create natural HDR looks, which would always have been possible with exposure blending and layer masking anyway. HDR does have a look that people associate with it, which largely derives from the tone-mapping process but it’s a look that lends itself to creating an image a bit more artistic and punchier than a stander photograph.

Rural Poland by Pete Halewood

LightroomCCRuralPoland

Conclusion

As the title states, HDR processing in Lightroom is an alternative method of creating HDR images, but I doubt HDR lovers like myself will be skipping Photomatix to settle for Lightroom’s HDR processing. It is not revolutionary in any way. In Lightroom, there simply aren’t the options to create diverse and unique HDR images, and it’s strength lies in more natural images, for which I can see it being used quite extensively for.

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Twitter for Photographers

Twitter does not seem the most obvious platform for a photographer sharing his or her work online, but anyone who follows me (230 people currently, give or take 1 or 2 people by the end of the day) will know that I regularly post photos on Twitter, nearly everyday in fact. It feels good to me, because it is not about getting lots of attention, comments or favourites (though they are always welcome!), it’s just about putting photos out there for everyone to enjoy. I started it a few months ago to bridge the gap between me setting up a new blog site, and it certainly is a lot easier and quicker to post a photo on Twitter than write a blog. I keep it going regardless because as I said, I just enjoy it. I have quite a few years of photographs now to draw on as well, plus I can put up quick snaps I probably would not put up on this blog or social media sites like Flickr.

Some quick Twitter tips I’ve learnt:

1. Post pics at the following resolution: 1024px long edge / 96dpi. Also add screen sharpening if you have the option (like on Lightroom). If you post bigger images, Twitter will convert them to this specification. It’s perfect for Twitter. Every picture on this blog is also posted at this resolution (if you click on them and see them in the Lightbox).

2. Don’t worry too much about hashtags – Everyone will tell you this is what Twitter is about, but I rarely if ever use them these days. Get the words into your tweet with the image and you will get found in the most unlikeliest of places.

3. Try to post pictures of or mentioning the English Civil War – The Sealed Knot reenactment guys go nuts for them! (see point 2)

To end this blog, please see a picture below called ‘Bus to Parliament’. I know my ratio of London pictures on this blog compared to other locations is ridiculous, but I’m running out of them fast!

BustoParliament

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Published in KBB magazine

cool&composed I’ve been very lucky this month, and have had some of my interior design photography work published in Kitchens, Bedrooms and Bathrooms magazine (April edition). You can see the cover page to the story above and some more photos I took from the shoot below.

Interior design photography has for a while now been the ‘other side’ to my photography, and is the direction where I would like to go professionally. It was an absolute joy to photograph this wonderful house in West Sussex last May, and am of course thrilled that the pictures have found their way into KBB magazine (they were doing a case study for the company that designed the kitchen).

The hard part is now finding more magazines that I can photograph for, which means I have to become a bit of a sales cold caller and networker, but needs must I guess. It would be worth it to be regularly shooting luxury homes and architecture.

I am also planning on doing another video blog soon regarding the pictures that appeared in KBB and how I processed them. I think it would be a good one, and I have lots of thoughts to share. Hope you enjoy the pictures!

MooringsTwitter-4 MooringsTwitter-3 MooringsTwitter-2 MooringsTwitter-1

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The Epic Westminster

Red Clouds Parliament by Pete HalewoodYou might have guessed that I’m running out of titles for Houses of Parliament pictures, but the name for this one came to me whilst looking at the clouds. This is probably the last photo I will process from the Trey Ratcliff London Photo Walk. I always thought there was 1 photo left from that day, and I also knew it was probably a Parliament one. Of course, not every picture I’ve processed has appeared on this blog yet (they have all been posted on Twitter) but they will be appearing soon.

I took so many pictures across from Westminster while the evening was drawing in, and there was one set of bracketed images that I always kept looking at, which contained the red clouds to the left of the picture. I thought at first that I could perhaps create the picture out of a single exposure, but I was much more satisfied with this the merged HDR version. I blended in the river from a single exposure but the rest is merged from 4 exposures.

As always, please click on the image to see a larger version in Lightbox.

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London2015NationalGallery

I know it’s not cool to rattle on about your individual achievements as a photographer, and I have no reason to boast about any either, but I was very chuffed that the picture above was a winner in Trey Ratcliff’s photo walk competition in London. As mentioned on a previous post, Trey’s theme for the day was to capture interesting images of other photographer’s taking pictures. The 1st prize was a £1500+ Quadcopter and 5 other winners would receive a ‘shopping spree’ around Trey’s online store. Trey would pick the winners based on his favourite photos from the event.

Having heard the theme, I immediately eradicated any chance of winning, as people photography is just not my thing. I was there to capture the landscapes of London, whilst learning from one of my biggest inspirations in the photography world. It’s funny how things turn out though, because as you can see, one of the photographers decided to take a picture of me, whilst I was trying to capture the National Gallery reflections in the rain-soaked Trafalgar Square. I guess it captured what Trey was after though, which was basically the photo walk event that took place in London.

Now I must state, I was not the overall winner. And in many a sense I’m glad I wasn’t. Of course it would have been nice to say I won, but the truth is beyond the initial fascination and excitement, I would have no idea what to do with the Quadcopter (yes it is a small helicopter that takes pictures). I’m sure I would end up killing someone or myself with it, and therefore, to avoid the prison sentence, it’s best not in my hands. As 1 of the 5 runners up, I have a licence to download a ridiculous amount of Trey’s tutorials from his website, of which I don’t even think I am halfway through yet. It was a great day in London and I’m looking forward to the good man coming back soon. Thanks Trey!

Trey&Me

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