Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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Often times I'm looking around and I find images that just seem to have this great balance and exposure to them that gives them such a stunning look.

I always wonder why I can never get similar results. Is it my equipment (I have a Canon EOS 40D, but only have kit lenses)? Is it my process of taking the picture (Do I not expose them properly)? Is it the post-process work (is there some magic involved?)? A combination of all three?

My best guess is that these are HDR images, but I can never get mine to look so authentic and crisp (they usually come out looking like plastic and slightly blurry. (Though I also use Photoshop's built in HDR processing, is there a separate program I should use?) Also, if it's HDR are there any awesome tutorials anyone knows of? I know it's a simple google search but there are hundreds of tutorials and I would question the quality of some.

Below are some examples of the images I mean:

Source: http://aureliecurie.com/

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5  
I doubt you had acquired author's permission to publish the photos under CC license that applies to content of this site, so I replaced them with links. –  Imre Dec 3 '11 at 19:10
    
Oh I'm sorry! I didn't mean to break any rules. Typically on stackexchange websites people always edit it to show pictures if they are links. (I did link back to the source). I apologize for that, it won't happen again :] –  Johannes Dec 4 '11 at 6:21
    
Perhaps we are more sensitive about copyright issues then :) –  Imre Dec 4 '11 at 10:11
1  
Having thought about it, what's different is that you shouldn't publish work of others without permission. On other sites, you usually upload images (such as screenshots) created by yourself, and that's encouraged here also. –  Imre Dec 9 '11 at 14:52
5  
links are dead now anyway... –  Matt Grum Nov 1 '12 at 9:32

6 Answers 6

up vote 5 down vote accepted

You are on the right track. HDR, along with a good set post production techniques will likely be the ticket.

If you only have kit lenses, you are limited by your equipment I would say. I would at a minimum step up to something like a Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens, or if you can spend the money, any Canon lens with a "L" in the name. A high quality lens does make a difference in giving you contrast, color, and sharp photos. The kit lenses offered with the Canon 40D do not really give that high quality in my opinion.

As another answer pointed out, Photomatix software for HDR images is probably the best offered, although Photoshop is not that far behind these days.

The images you posted are very stunning. I think a good eye, location, and post production went a far away in producing that "stunning" look. Go out and try to find a great location, shoot an HDR, and come back here if your results are not quite what you wanted, then propose a new question to us on how to get it closer to your desired result!

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Thank you so much on all your advice! –  Johannes Dec 4 '11 at 6:55
    
Apart from using HDR technique, the images could be taken at different focus points - you focus on nearest object, then on the part of image that is out of focus and again.. When you combine those images, you get one with everything in focus. –  Petr Újezdský Nov 10 '12 at 1:41
    
what would be an equivalent lens recommendation for Nikon line? any 50mm f/1.8 lenses ? those tend to vary in price greatly –  Sonic Soul Nov 11 '12 at 20:05
    
@SonicSoul - The Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D would be equivalent. It isn't a specific lens that you need to capture these images, just that a basic kit lens will be limiting, and the 50mm f/1.8 lenses are a good place to start for reasonably priced wide aperture lenses. –  dpollitt Nov 11 '12 at 22:57

I would say they are HDR images.

The built-in photoshop HDR program is not that great. You would want to look into Oloneo, Photomatix or Nik Software. Of these Photomatix is the recognized leader, and you can use some components of their software for free. The other two have 30 day trials.

If yours are blurry, it may be the aligning and ghost removal. Use a tripod and try to take the exposures as quickly as possible to avoid movement in clouds, trees, and so forth. Once it merges the images, the result will look fairly "muddy". You have to play with the sliders to restore good contrast to the image.

Best tutorials are probably Stuck in Customs

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1  
Yes, Photomatix, Stuck in Customs tutorial, and a tripod! Rinse and repeat! –  dpollitt Dec 4 '11 at 3:03
    
Thanks for the great tutorial/software recommendations :] –  Johannes Dec 4 '11 at 6:55
    
While Photoshop's HDR processing isn't great, it's probably the best alignment tool you can use. If you import to PS as layers, then use the Auto Align Layers feature, crop the extra pixels as necessary, then re-export (without HDR processing), you're ready to import into, say, Nik. Just remember to turn of the alignment feature in the final HDR software -- it's expecting errors, so if there aren't any, it'll make them for you. –  user2719 Feb 20 '12 at 1:24
    
Good point. I've often had to do just that. I really like Nik, but it's alignment and deghosting at this stage are quite poor. –  MikeW Feb 20 '12 at 2:09

Looking at those examples, I would put HDR on the back end of a workflow list of:

  • Location
  • Timing
  • Lighting - Natural
  • Correct Exposure/Aperture
  • Lighting - Fill/Assisted
  • Filters
  • Post-production
  • Advanced post (such as HDR)

It is easy to compare a high-quality professional shoot to your shots out-of-the-camera and feel dispirited, but the joys of photography are the discoveries. Shooting in Auto mode at midday with a kit lens will have a different result to shooting in Manual, at pre-sunset golden hour with a decent lens and a polarizing filter (or shooting with some ND filters). These small technique changes can add huge results. Likewise small post-production edits.

I do want to add that you do not need a Canon L lens to necessarily have automatically better photos, and any such insistence tears away even the many recent decades of photographic history. Having said that, the day you begin to master your first L lens (for me a workhorse 24-70mm f/2.8), is an exciting one. Eventually the fundamentals of light, location and exposure come back into focus as the primary source of a successful shot.

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Agree with MikeW, I would also say that they are HDR photos.

As for the software, Photoshop HDR program is not satisfying.Photomatix is a good choice but it's a litte complex for me. Then my friend recommended me the HDR Darkroom which offers an impressive selection of editing tools that can be applied easily during the merging process, including Noise Reduction, Alignment and Deghosting among others.

I got useful infomation from HDRlabs when I started making my own HDR photos. It has tutorials covering almost all the questions you may have. Here is their Tips & Tricks FAQ page, you'd better have a look.

Good luck :)

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The example photographs (aurelie curie) are high contrast subjects - light sources under low ambient light. For this type of work, flare needs to be controlled. This begins with using high quality optics and keeping optical surfaces clean.

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If your HDR images are blurry you are either moving the camera slightly (use tripod and mirror lockup - the 40D has it) or use a lens that can't resolve the details you are shooting. The best use of a kit lens is in the trash. If your resources are limited, the best option for you to get a sharp lens for a crop body (like 40D) are kit lenses which have hte optical quality like an L lens zoom. The sharpest lens you can ever get for little money is Canon 40mm 2.8 pancake (150$!). It is the only lens I have ever seen reviewed that doesn't blur on a crop sensor (even L lenses do that).

Other than that I suggest you get these:

  • Canon 28mm 1.8 USM (300-400$)
  • Canon 40mm pancake (150$) if you want a really sharp lens rivaling L lenses
    • or Canon 50mm 1.4 USM (300-400$) (but it is not as sharp on a crop body)
  • Canon 85 1.8 USM (300-400$)
    • or the full manual Rokinon/samyang 85mm 1.4 (this is the second sharp lens that can rival the 2000$ L lenses that you can get cheap - around 270$)

I recommend USM lenses with full time manual, as it is the best way to get your images sharp.

Look here what happens when you switch from fullframe to crop to the sharpness:

http://lenstests.com/reviews/canon-ef-50mm-f1.4-usm-page-2

http://lenstests.com/reviews/canon-ef-40mm-f2.8-stm-page-2

Oh, and instead of your kit lens standard zoom, you need a 17-50, 18-50, or 17-55 fixed aperture F2.8 lens. Tamron's considered good value. But it doesn't have fulltime manual, while Canon's does.

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