Roadside Snow On the Rocks – Working with Layers

I’m finally starting to slow down a little bit and try to concentrate on learning more about the software that I use to process my photos.  Rather than cranking out a lot of so-so shots, I’m trying to pick one shot (or one set of brackets) and play around with the various options in Paintshop Pro to compare the results of various techniques.  Tonight I started trying to figure out how to use adjustment levels in my processing.

I ran across a great blog called HDR Cookbook that is authored by Klaus Herrmann, who turns out some of the most beautiful HDR images I’ve seen. The HDR Cookbook is filled with some very useful information that is very helpful to beginners like myself. One of the first chapters discusses workflow, and I found some extremely helpful information in there about using levels to separate each tweak to the image so that the original image is untouched. The tutorial is written for the Photoshop products (including Adobe Camera Raw), which I don’t own, but I was able to translate a lot of the information to Paintshop Photo Pro with no difficulty.

One thing that the Cookbook talks about at the very beginning is a phenomenon called “chromatic aberration” (CA). This is the purple fringe that sometimes shows up when there are areas of high contrast in a photo. I hadn’t had to deal with that problem until I started processing HDR’s from the snow shots from this past weekend. The Cookbook recommends using Adobe Camera Raw to remove the CA. Since that software isn’t in my arsenal, I tried using the Photomatix option “Reduce Chromatic Aberration” during the HDR process, but it didn’t appear to have much of an effect…the purple was still there. Of course, you have to zoom in close to see it, but now that I know it’s there, it will haunt me.

Anyway, I did the best I could with this shot, playing with separate layers for Topaz Adjust, DeNoise, Curves, and Saturation. I couldn’t figure out how to create a separate layer for sharpening, so I applied that step after I merged the layers. The great thing is, I still have all the original image files and I can go back and try this over and over until I get it right as I learn more about the process.

So, here’s my shot for today…snow on the roadside rocks. Enjoy!

Roadside Snow and Stone

Checking out the Slopes – HDR or Not?

When we visited the Snowbowl Ski Resort recently, they had just had their first snowfall of the year the previous night.  It wasn’t enough to completely cover everything, but it was certainly enough to cause some excitement among the people who had driven to the top of the mountain just to view the scenery.  And, of course, the kids were thrilled.

I was happy to get a chance to photograph snow at the same time I was shooting pictures of the aspens.  I was shooting everything in bracketed series of three (-2.0/0.0/+2.0), in both RAW and JPG format, just to try and cover my options for processing.  I wasn’t sure whether I would want to give these the HDR treatment, or just work with the single images.

Here’s an example of just how different the processes can be.  I took this shot just around 1:00 in the afternoon.  It was heavily overcast, with low-hanging clouds and fog in the trees just a few hundred yards above where we were.  It was a tricky lighting scenario with the dark pines, white snow, golden aspens and gray clouds.  There was a guy and his two kids climbing the slopes, offering a great perspective of how large the trees and the slope are.

Here’s the shot I took at “normal” exposure (I had set the camera to Aperture Priority mode), and let the camera control the shutter speed.  This one was at F/14 at 1/100 second, with the Nikon D5000’s equivalent of ISO 100.  I tweaked this one a little bit in Topaz Adjust (yeah, I went ahead and purchased it last night), and then did a little more adjusting in Paintshop Pro X3 (CLICK THE IMAGES TO VIEW LARGE!):

Now here is the same shot, but processed as an HDR by merging the three bracketed images in Photomatix v4.  I used the Fusion preset in Photomatix, and used the de-ghosting functionality to take care of the movement of the hikers between the three shots.  I then did some adjusting in Topaz Adjust, with final tweaks in Paintshop Pro, and here’s the result:

I like the way the HDR kept the gray of the clouds while highlighting the gold of the aspens, and this one obviously has more detail of the snow on the pines but to me it looks over-processed.  And I don’t think either of the images are exactly what I saw, color-wise.

So, I’ll keep practicing and processing until I get better at using the software as well as the camera.  But, it was sure fun seeing the snow last week.  Hopefully it’s a sign of a good ski season just around the corner.