Before the Coffee

June 9, 2009

Walk slowly, feel, engage….. be there.

Filed under: HDR, Urban Decay — Tags: , , , , — beforethecoffee @ 8:27 pm

I’m always impressed with photographers that can take a scene that is neither beautiful nor unique and through careful composition create thought provoking art. These are typically the scenes or subjects that most of us walk past and never look back. But what happens when you find something that catches your eye, what do you do? I tend to slow down, walk around, see how the foreground elements line up with the background elements. I never drop and shoot without looking at all the options, unless I need to work fast. Sometimes I even walk away from the scene for a short time then walk back and see how it feels. This is how I prepare to shoot but by far the most important step for me is the mental process of deciding what I want from the shot. What exactly am I trying to capture, to convey, to express in this pic. I actually visualize the final image, then I begin to shoot.



October 13, 2008

The Circular Polarizer and HDR – don’t retire that polarizer yet

Filed under: have the book? Read more, HDR — Tags: , , — beforethecoffee @ 7:46 pm

We are all aware of the benefits of the circular polarizer in single image photography. It has the ability to darken the sky and remove reflections from shiny surfaces. I started wondering, could there be a benefit in using the circular polarizer when shooting HDR image sets or does the merging and tonemapping process nullify or eliminate the polarizing effect? I decided to create two HDR images of a scene, one taken with a polarizer and the other taken without the polarizer, then compare the results.

Some salient points about the polarizer.
1. Darkens the sky greatest at 90 degress to direction of light.
2. Removes reflections or glare (darkens water).
3. Degree of polarization varies with direction of light.
4. Images taken with wide angle lenses can have uneven blue skies (note: 24mm used below).

Single 0EV Images – Polarizer Left Image    No Polarizer Right Image

Compare these single images and you’ll notice the polarizer (left) has darkened the sky and has dramatically reduced the glare on the red chairs. Notice the Polarizer has also created a triangular shaped blue region in the top right. This is due to the 24mm focal length capturing a large region of sky and in this case the direction of light approaches 90 degress toward the top right.

HDR Images Polarizer Left Image    No Polarizer Right Image
(both tonemapped with default settings in Photomatix)

HDR processing of the polarized image set (left) and the unpolarized image set (right) has created similar tones in the blue sky. Using a polarizer doesn’t help the saturation of the blue sky when creating HDR images. The HDR merging process simply uses a less exposed image in the set to achieve saturation.

When it comes to glare reduction it’s a different story. The polarizer offers a noticeable benefit in the reduction of glare and more saturated colors when creating HDR images. Notice the red chairs and compare points 1, 2, and 3. I would still keep your polarizer in your camera bag and use it for glare reduction on those shiny surfaces.

July 20, 2008

The Fight

Filed under: HDR, Model, people, Studio — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — beforethecoffee @ 3:08 pm

The creation of this image began at the studio when a friend, Colin Foster attending the Hallmark Institute of Photography needed to get some shots for his final portfolio submission. Colin wanted to shoot a fight scene similar to many on the internet. I was concerned about copying the work of others but Colin explained that students often replicate poses and lighting setups as part of the learning process. Colin and I shot the same models in the boxing scene but we both added our own backgrounds. Here is Colin’s version

I got my daughters, Brooke (L) and Kara (R) to come by for a few hours. The make up artist was Aimee Dorsey from Model Mayhem and her passion is gruesome-ness.

They were shot separately with both acting the part of being hit, then the hitter. Colin and I took turns shooting them.

D3, ISO 200, F13, 1/200sec.  24-70mm at 70mm

While on vacation in South Carolina I visited the pier in Garden City and felt it had many of the qualities I wanted for the fight scene. Lighting with depth, dark areas and great symmetry and perspective. This shot was taken about 5:30am during a time when only people fishing are allowed on the pier.

I set up on the empty pier and shot 5 images at 1EV spacing. I ended up blending in the single -1EV image with the HDR because Kara and Brooke were shot with a black background and a dark pier scene was needed to avoid problems blending the flying hair.

D3, ISO800, 0EV=F10, .6sec. 24-70mm at 48mm, tripod

Tyler and Becca modeled the next night on the pier to add to the fight scene. The job was for Tyler to look surprised as Becca alerted him to the fight. It was kind of a “hey look at that” moment. Notice that she’s pointing and grabbing his arm at about the same time he notices the action. I chose a specific spot based on the lighting, then during breaks in the crowd they would walk forward and strike their poses. The girl in the white skirt was fully visible in one of the shots so I included her in the final image.

D3, ISO 4000, F2.2, 1/60sec. handheld, 50mm (fixed)

The next night I walked the pier with my 50mm lens and even on a D3 it’s small enough to be stealth. I shot fishermen doing their thing on the pier. I was hoping to get someone bringing in a big one but that never happened. I left the pier about midnight. The fisherman’s bucket was white and I used Hue/saturation to colorize it close to Brooke’ hand wraps.

D3, ISO 4000, F4.5, 1/13sec. handheld, 50mm (fixed)

The final image is a composite of 4 images for the people, 2 of fish plus the HDR image. Total of 11 images.

June 24, 2008

Many Thanks

Filed under: HDR — Tags: , , , , , , — beforethecoffee @ 10:34 am

A special thanks to all the readers of my book, you made me number 1. May you capture the full range life has to offer!

I knew that photographers would begin to see HDR as a tool that offers a wide range of looks. Many of us, including me, labeled HDR as too surreal and felt it would be a fad. Well now, photographers are learning that HDR can offer a more conventional look; HDR images can look like a single shot AND offer lower noise in the shadows with captured highlights.

Here is an email I received last week from the publisher of my book:

Just thought you might like to know that your book is #1 on BookScan, which is the data base that keeps track of all books sold in the US. Your book is outselling every other photography book in the country right now!!!


Haley Pritchard
Photography Books, Editor
Lark Books 


If you are interested in a personalized autographed copy of my book drop us a note or call:


June 16, 2008

Jordan Page

Jordan Page is a musician from Annapolis, Maryland with a title song called Pendulum. His music has been inspired by his passion for social change throughout the world. His lyrics are powerful (from Pendulum):

The pendulum swings from the left to the right and momentum increases the need for the fight
It’s a moment of blindness in a lifetime of sight
& I am lost somewhere the middle
and it became clear that putting him in front of a clock with the pendulum swinging would support the lyrics.
Working with Jordan on this project has been very uplifting, inspiring me to be more aware of how my choices in life affect the entire world, starting with my own inner world.
Here is his myspace page to hear some of his music

This image is a composite image made from one HDR and 10 single images. Here’s the breakdown:

1. The Jetty and water is a single image.
2. The grandfather clock is an HDR image.
3. Jordan’s pic was taken in the studio with a 3 light setup.
4. The sky was intended to be an HDR image but the -1EV image did the trick, tone mapped.
5. The birds were photographed from the jetty on a different day – a high shutter speed was the main objective.
6. The airplanes are models that were photographed at a local hobby store.

The jetty and water didn’t need much treatment, only curves and a color gradient was added for effect.

The grandfather clock is from a local store with a $3750 price tag. I asked the clerk if I could set up a tripod and take some shots, “no problem.” I merged 3 images (-2EV, 0EV, +2EV) in Photomatix. The clock was in perfect condition so in Photoshop I decided to mess it up. I added some cracks, broke off a corner, rotated some of the wood in the cabinet (top), broke the counter weight loose and laid it sideways in the cabinet. Then I added texture from a pic of clay I had.

The clock got some final treatment to depict the passage of time. I moved the clock hands around the face and created a swinging pendulum.

When Jordan arrived it was certain right away he had to be wearing the “Trust Me” shirt. Then he pointed out that the bottom of his shoe said “world.” So now we have a message, “Trust Me, World.”

The lighting for Jordan started out as a 6 light setup and after some testing I decided it was too much light for that shiny head of his. The final setup was a reflector back left and back right for rim lighting and a ringflash at the camera. I used a bronze background for better blending with the clock.

The sky started out as HDR from 5 images then I found I was happiest with just using the -1EV image and doing some curve adjustments on it.

The warplanes were taken with flash held near the camera at the hobby store. I took a bunch of shots and left just before I wore out my welcome. Selecting the warplanes from the background turned out to be tedious work but I finally got it.

Thank you Christina Buffington and Jordan Page for making this a successful project.

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