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High Dynamic Range Experiments, Part 2

Continuing from part 1, here are more experiments using Photomatix to generate HDR pictures. Note that this is the free trial version of Photomatix, which adds watermarks to the pictures. The pictures were taken using at least 1-stop exposure bracketing steps between the pictures. They were tone-mapped in Photomatix, then edited in Photoshop and converted to JPEGs.

HDR pictures often look like paintings. For centuries, painters have learned how to represent extremes of light and dark in their creations, by using proper colors and shading. They can't actually capture the true dynamic ranges of scenery, but they can give an impression of it, while still maintaining details in both the most brightly lit areas and the darkest shadows. Photographs have not been able to do the same until HDR processing, so people aren't used to seeing it. Also, Photomatix can accentuate and saturate colors, making them look almost surreal. This can make for very dramatic and appealing photographs, at the expense of realism. The pictures can be tweaked so they look more realistic.

Almaden Quicksilver County Park

This is a rainbow seen from the Mockingbird Lane staging area. In a normal photograph, if the foreground were exposed properly, the rainbow would be washed out and hard to see. The HDR picture darkens the sky and brings out the colors of the rainbow, while still maintaining rich colors and details in the foreground.

A forest shot like this on a cloudy day is not too hard to expose properly, but the Photomatix rendering intensifies the colors while brightening up the scene.

Guadalupe Oak Grove Park

Forest shots with sunlight filtering through the trees are often difficult to expose properly. Either the dappled sunlit areas get overexposed, or the shadow areas are too dark. This HDR version tones down the sunlit areas, while maintaining details in the shadows.

In this scene, the sky and clouds are dramatically highlighted. This was taken with a polaroid filter, which darkens the sky relative to the clouds, but Photomatix increases that contrast even more. Also, the colors of the mapboard are enhanced to the point where it looks like a painting. This will be seen more later. This can be toned down by reducing the color saturation.

In this shot, the Santa Teresa Hills and the Almaden Valley homes are brightened up, while the sky is darkened.

Hayes Mansion and Edenvale Gardens Park

The sun is behind the clouds, so the sky is very bright. The building is backlit, and the lawn is lit by indirect light.

This picture of the Hayes Mansion looks like a painting. The colors of the roofs and flowers are enhanced.

This looks even more like a painting. The buildings are backlit and in shade.

The ring in the foreground is in deep shade. The lawn in the background is sunlit. The buildings are backlit. Normally, this would be a very difficult shot. Below are two of the original raw pictures that make up this shot. The one on the left is exposed properly for the background, while the one on the right is exposed properly for the foreground. HDR processing combines the two so that detail can be seen in both the foreground and background objects.

Here the background buildings and lawn are properly exposed, but the ring in the foreground and the trees are completely black
Here the foreground is properly exposed, but the background is so over-exposed that the lawn and buildings are nearly indiscernible.

The color saturation on the tree leaves is dramatic

Martial Cottle Ranch

These pictures of the Martial Cottle Ranch were taken mid-day, with the fields in the foreground in full or partial sunlight. Compare these with the pictures in Part 1, where the fields are in deep shade.

Hellyer County Park, Cottonwood Lake

This picture of the group picnic shade at Hellyer looks like a painting. HDR processing lightens up the under-side of the shade structure. The contrast between the Below are two of the raw pictures that made up this HDR shot:

Here the shade structure and lawn are properly exposed, with detail visible under the shade, but the sky on the left has lost a lot of detail. The sky to the right is OK.
Here, the bright sky on the left is properly exposed, with much more detail visible in the clouds, but the foreground has gone nearly completely black, and the sky to the right is too dark.

The colors of the grass and leaves are enhanced.

The sun is directly behind the clouds. The bench and plants in the foreground would normally be silhouetted, but are brightened up by HDR processing.

The sun is just to the right of the picture.

This shot shows more foreground objects.

The sun is to the left of the picture, illuminating the bushes in the foreground, while the trees in the background are shaded by clouds.

The sun is just to the left of the picture, side-lighting the grasses in the foreground.

This is another shot of the picnic structure at sunset. The clouds are very bright, while the sky is very dark.

Santa Teresa Park

The Bernal-Gulnac-Joice Ranch. The HDR photo maintains the details on the shaded side of the buildings and the wall, as well as the clouds, while darkening the sky.

The old barn has dark wood. The wall and parts of the barn are in shadow. The clouds and sky are bright. There is a wide range of tones here, but details are visible in all.

Shooting up the Joice Trail towards the sun behind the clouds and trees, HDR brings out the foreground details, which would otherwise be lost in the shadow.

Shooting west along the Norred Trail, the hills are partially backlit, so are in shade, while the clouds are lit by the sun. The HDR picture brings out the details on the shaded parts of the hills.

On the path leading to Santa Teresa Spring, the foreground is mostly brightly sunlist, as are the clouds. The spring area and the trees along the canal are in deep shade.

The pond at Santa Teresa Spring is in dappled shade on sunny days, making it particularly difficult to expose properly, especially without burning out the sky in the background. In this HDR picture, details can be seen in the deepest shade, while shading in the bright clouds in the sky can still be seen.

Vasona Lake County Park

Vasona Lake County Park is arguably the most scenic County Park, at least on a year-round basis. At this time of year, Christmas light displays are put up all over the park for the Fantasy of Lights program. At the time I went, the skies were clear and cloudless. Vasona has a wide variety of environments, which makes it good for testing out various HDR conditions. Unfortunately, it is a busy park, with lots of people running around, which does not make for good HDR pictures. I had to wait until people were cleared out of the scene or were not moving fast before taking the pictures. Below are some examples of the pictures I took. I used a different tone-mapping technique on most of these, called "Tone Compressor," which gives more contrasty pictures, but a little more realistic-looking than the method I used in the pictures above, called "Details Enhancer." I also used PhotoImpact to process the pictures, adjusting the brightness and contrast and enhancing the sharpness.

This is on the Los Gatos Creek Trail. It has a mixture of brightly-lit areas and deep shade.

This picture demonstrates what happens when you have moving objects in a composite HDR picture. This is the same section of trail, but with a jogger running down the middle of the trail. The individual pictures making up this shot were taken a few seconds apart. Note the ghosting effect. The ghosts in the middle of the trail are the same jogger in different pictures. The people on the side did not move as much, so the ghosting effect is less apparent. This picture was also tone-mapped using the Details Enhancer, while the picture above it used Tone Compressor. Note how the contrast is lower, and it looks more like a painting.

This is the group picnic area, shooting from the deep shade of a  grove of trees into the brightly-lit lawn and picnic area.

This is a backlit picture. The sunlight is reflecting off the waters of Los Gatos Creek and causing the leaves of the foreground bush to glow.

This is shooting across the creek at the row of Christmas lights and red sweetgum trees in the parking lot. The sky was darkened with a Polaroid filter.

Shooting through the trees at the lights and sponsor sign.

This is shooting along the row of trees in the parking lot, showing how the colors are enhanced.

Pictures by Ronald Horii. Page created 12/27/08, updated 1/28/10