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Drawing with light

8 Feb

drawing with light- Photo Gallery Picasso

1949, Jan 01




Infrared photography

1 Feb

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Infra Red – The Invisible Light

Take a good look around you and you’ll see and endless diversity of hues in all the colors of the rainbow: The grass is green, the sky is blue, the roses are red and the future is bright. Now imagine that on top of all the colors you can see, there are other ranges that are normally invisible to us, colors that for us don’t exist but they’re out there and for some animals they are a part of everyday life. I am talking about the Infra-Red (IR) spectrum and in this article I will show it to you. By the way, clicking on the small photos will enlarge them.


1. Introduction

2. What is Infra-Red?

3. How can we see it?

a.     Film cameras

b.    Digital cameras

c.     IR filter

4. What does it do?

5. Photographing techniques:

a.     White balance

b.    Light metering

c.     Focus

d.    Aperture

e.     Shutter

f.     ND filter

g.    Location location location

6. Compositions

7. Post processing:

a.     Switching channels

b.    Adjusting hues

c.     Sharpening

8. Summary

1. Introduction – To be honest, I feel a little like a magician revealing a trick. I suppose most of you look at the photos and think “hmmm… Is it snow? But it can’t be, it was taken in Israel in the middle of summer, so what is it? Wooow”. In this article you will understand exactly how the technique works, it is one of the less common forms of photography and I think one of the more fascinating ones. Enjoy.

2. Infra-Red – The spectrum of light that is visible to us is only a small portion of an enormous spectrum of short and long electro-magnetic waves. An example of the short-length waves are X rays and Gamma rays that are filled with energy and an example of the long wave-lengths is Microwaves and Radio waves.

Infra-Red light is divided into three groups: Near Infra-Red (Near IR) which is in the range of 700-1300 nm; Medium IR which is in the range of 1300-3000 nm and thermal IR which is in the range of 3000-30,000 nm. Thermal Infra-Red light is produced by warm objects while Near IR and Medium IR are reflected off objects just like visible light, which is produced by the sun. When it comes to photography, we will be dealing with the Near IR range.

3. How can you see it? Well, you can’t. Seriously, unlike some animals, we can’t see Infra-Red light. But fortunately for us the camera can see it.

a.     With film cameras it is best to use a special IR film that is sensitive to that form of light. These kinds of films are used mainly in a special technique of capturing light, and most of them are black and white films and require special refrigeration.

b.    With digital cameras (like we love) the sensor is, fortunately, sensitive to Infra-Red light, so what’s the catch? Most cameras and especially the SLR ones contain a filter that blocks IR light and prevents it from ever reaching the sensor. The reason for it is to improve the final quality of the photo. How do I know that my camera is able to capture IR? A wise man taught me a trick: You take the television remote control, aim it at your camera and take a photo while pressing one of the remote control’s buttons. If you can see the remote control’s IR light bulb flash, the camera can capture IR, If not…Well then, I’m sorry. The most sensitive camera will show a sharp bright spot and the less sensitive ones will show a blurry smudged spot. The most IR friendly cameras are Sony’s, Minolta being the most advanced of them, the Nikon D70 (which I am using), Canon G3, G2 and more.

c.     So we have a camera, what now? We add the IR filter, whose purpose is to block all visible light except IR light, in front of the lens. The filter will look completely black to our eyes (because we are blind to IR light, remember?). The filters can be categorized according to the wave lengths of visible light that they block, for example Hoya R72 allows IR rays longer than 720 nm, the Hoya R90 (horribly expensive) allows IR rays longer than 900 and so on.

4. What does it do? Well, so we’ve learned what IR light is, and how we can see it. But what is it good for? Infra-Red photography creates a very special effect of a dreamy photo out of this world because the hues that are shown are entirely different than those we see in reality, the foliage looks snowy white and the sky looks dark or even black. You can see landscapes that you are used to seeing every day in a truly “different light”. That is why I, and many others, like this photographing technique.

5. Photographing techniques: “Enough with your babbling Roie, just tell us how to take the picture already…” Oh well, I didn’t know you’re so stressed. So here is how you perform the technique, step by step:

a.     White balance – Infra-Red hues are more than red (well duh…), they are so red that their white balance is off the scale of the automatic and preset WB in most cameras. That is why we need to perform manual white balance with a white piece of paper, or an 18% gray card to get the more precise colors, or perform the white balance on a green surface like grass to increase the effect of white foliage. If you think about it, it is better not to photograph with RAW because even with most RAW editing programs you can’t reach a white balance less than 2000 Kelvin degrees while the IR’s is much shorter.

b.    Light Metering – Light Metering should be performed with the camera in an evaluative metering mode, and don’t worry too much, in most cases the metering will turn out fine. You should watch out for burnt areas because in IR they turn out blue the more you get near them. If it’s necessary, you should apply some negative exposure compensation and then adjust levels in photoshop, but most importantly avoid burnt areas. It is highly recommended to switch to manual mode (M) to get the most accurate exposures with the best control.

c.     Focus – You should perform the focus before adding the IR filter to make sure that you focus correctly and switch to manual mode to maintain the focus. If you are lazy, you can use manual focus and estimate the distance (in that case automatic is better).

d.    Aperture – It’s recommended to photograph with relatively small apertures and avoid open ones. This is because we lose a little sharpness in IR photography and shutting the aperture helps a lot in that way. In compact cameras an aperture of F/5.6 and in DSLRs and aperture of F/11 should do the trick.

e.     Shutter – Due to two reasons, a small aperture and low IR sensitivity, we are forced to use slow shutter speeds, for better and for worst. Why better? Because a special effect is produced over water and clouds in very long exposures. Why worse? Because you need a tripod and it’s difficult to capture moving objects (people, animals etc.).

f.     ND filter – Sometimes it’s better to photograph with an ND filter that reduces the amount of light entering the camera even more in order to achieve longer exposures and improve the effect.

g.    Location – It’s best to shoot from a shaded place. First and foremost, because it’s hot to stand in the sun, and second because the camera loves shooting from shaded places. In addition, I would recommend blocking the viewfinder in DSLR to prevent light for leaking into the system.

6. Compositions – It’s possible to achieve very special images, but we can also use special compositions to get better effects. The following rules are only additions to the known laws of composition.

a.     Sky – the sky turns out dark and the clouds turn out bright. This creates an excellent and dramatic contrast that can contribute greatly to the photo.

b.    Foliage – we should attempt to capture special structures of foliage that can be interesting when we should keep in mind that all foliage will turn out completely white.

c.     Water – because of the long exposure water will appear with a very unique silky texture. This can be used and improved with reflection games.

d.    Structures – It’s very nice to photograph familiar structures with foliage around them and create a very dramatic photo that people will be awe-struck when viewing it for the first time.

e.     People – It’s pretty hard to incorporate people in the photo, and if you do try and photo them, it’s better not to show faces (unless the purpose is to spook). If you incorporate people or animals, then you should open the aperture a bit to shorten the exposure time.

7. Post processing: After taking the photo, the job is far from over. We shall now switch to Photoshop to see how we improve the frame to a special and appealing look. I take it that you are familiar with the basics of Photoshop.

a.     Switching channels – When first opening the photo, we will see a photo like in the example attached, in brownish-red hues (depending on what type of white balance we used). This photo can be useful, but I also want to show you a result that is more soothing to the eye. We open the Image menu > Adjustments > Channel mixer and choose the later. A window will open like in the attached example. Under the red channel you should reduce the red from 100% to 0% and increase the blue from 0% to 100%, and on the blue channel do the opposite – decrease blue from 100% to 0% and increase red to 100%. There you have it, the channels are switched (as simple as with the TV…). (It is recommended to click on the images to enlarge them)

b.    Adjusting Levels – It might be that the photo is still not with the hues that we desire it to have and that is why we will adjust the levels properly (Ctrl+L) and adjust the color balance (Ctrl+B) to achieve colors that are more suitable to us, in the shadows, midtones and highlights.

c.     Sharpening – Because there is a certain degree of fuzziness, it is recommended to perform sharpening with Unsharp mask as necessary (reminder – Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp mask). I used the following parameters: Threshhold: 1, Radius: 2.0, amount: 80%.

d.    After the processing is done you should have a result similar to this. But of course you can perform different processings including the incorporation of a regular photo and an IR photo in two layers etc.etc. The sky’s the limit.

e.     Naturally, it’s possible to present the photo in black and white with all the techniques of turning it black and white and not in color. The results are very interesting as well.

8. Summary:

As we see, Infra-Red isn’t a very simple technique but despite that any one can use it (with the right equipment). I personally love this technique and I know that you can undoubtedly reach incredible results with it. I hope that this guide was clear and I hope you learned something new and enjoyed it.

how to set auto-bracketing features in my camera

26 Jan

HDR Bracketing with the D90


I have been playing around with High Dynamic Range, and although some photographers don’t like the effect, I personally love it.

Have just received a “D90” as a Christmas present and needed to set it up to fire a bracket of 3 shots 2 stops apart. I found the following on another website :-

Many people (especially HDR folks) have commented that they would like an auto-bracketing feature where the camera takes the bracketing sequence with only one press of the shutter release button. This allows you to avoid camera shake caused by pressing the shutter release between each exposure.

I have discovered a way to make the camera do this:

1. Press the BKT button and set the bracketing to 3F by rotating the main command dial. Using the sub-command dial set the exposure increment to whatever you like. I prefer 1 stop intervals.

2.Go to CSM c3 Self-timer. Set the delay time, 5 seconds should be enough to allow the camera and tripod to stabilize. Next, set the number of shots to 3.

3. This step is optional. Go to CSM d6 and set the Continuous Low shooting speed to 4 fps.

4. Press the Release mode button and rotate the main command dial until the self-timer icon appears with the Continuous Low shooting icon above it.

5. Press the shutter release button. After the self-timer delay the camera will perform auto-bracketing with one push of the shutter release button.

HDR tutorial (for Photography)

26 Jan


HDR is short for High Dynamic Range. It is a post-processing of taking either one image or a series of images, combining them, and adjusting the contrast ratios to do things that are virtually impossible with a single aperture and shutter speed. I would say that about 75% of my images use the technique, and if you are new to it, then you may notice a slightly different “look and feel” to my photographs. You should also probably note that HDR is a very broad categorization, and I really hate categorization. My process starts with using basic HDR techniques, but then there are many more steps to help the photos look more… let’s say… evocative.

I can talk a little bit more about the philosophy behind the photography style here for a quick moment. You might consider that the way the human brain keeps track of imagery is not the same way your computer keeps track of picture files. There is not one aperture, shutter speed, etc. In fact, sometimes when you are in a beautiful place or with special people and you take photos — have you ever noticed when you get back and show them to people you have to say, “Well, you really had to be there.” Even great photographers with amazing cameras can only very rarely grab the scene exactly as they saw it. Cameras, by their basic-machine-nature, are very good at capturing “images”, lines, shadows, shapes — but they are not good at capturing a scene the way the mind remembers and maps it. When you are actually there on the scene, your eye travels back and forth, letting in more light in some areas, less light in others, and you create a “patchwork-quilt” of the scene. Furthermore, you will tie in many emotions and feelings into the imagery as well, and those get associated right there beside the scene. Now, you will find that as you explore the HDR process, that photos can start to evoke those deep memories and emotions in a more tangible way. It’s really a wonderful way of “tricking” your brain into experiencing much more than a normal photograph.

I will post a few interesting HDR photographs that I have taken that people seem to like. This first image below is the first HDR photograph ever to hang in the Smithsonian Institution in D.C. I think this goes to show how mainstream and accepted HDR can be, if the technique is properly applied.

HDR Image

HDR Image

HDR Image

HDR Image

HDR Image

HDR Image

HDR Photo

HDR Image

HDR Image

HDR Image


So here is a picture of my desktop before I launch all of these apps. Speaking of which, Macs are great, and my Mac’s CPU does not melt – it handles all this stuff with reckless aplomb. I used to hate Macs and hate Mac people, but I’m a changed man. These things are great! Okay, I digressed way too early in this tutorial.

By the way, all the steps in the tutorial are the same, whether or not you are using a PC or a Mac.

HDR DesktopHere is an image of my desktop before the sweet storm of HDR greatness that will follow. 


  • Photomatix Pro (required) – It’s already inexpensive, and you can save more money by using the Photomatix Coupon Code STUCKINCUSTOMS. Go to the Photomatix website and have fun! For more detailed info, see my full Photomatix Review.
  • Photoshop (recommended) – You can buy Photoshop or Photoshop Elements right from the Adobe website, and begin the download.
  • Noiseware Professional (optional) – I have tried a multitude of “noise reduction” software packages. You’ll notice that the HDR process can create a bit of noise, to say the least. I use Noiseware Professional (forWindows or Mac).
    • Note:  After you “Proceed to Checkout”, use the Imagenomic Coupon Code “STUCKINCUSTOMS” to save even more money!
  • Topaz Adjust (optional and awesome) – You can grab it from the Topaz Website. This product can help bring some contrast and pop into the final product. I have a Topaz Adjust Review here on the site if you want to read more. If you can afford a little more, I suggest the whole Topaz Photoshop Bundle since it comes with a lot of other goodies too!
  • What else do I use? – I use many tools and have a blast with them all. If you want other amazing pieces of software that I use, then I suggest you see my Nik Review and my onOne Plugin Review. Both are great!

Okay now that we have the required and optional software established, we can move on to the next part of the tutorial.
Continue to Page 2 of the Tutorial!


To create an HDR image, you need is a camera that can either:

  • Shoot in “Auto-bracketing mode” or “Auto-exposure mode”
  • or, shoot in RAW  (You can also create an HDR image out of a single RAW photo)

I talk about my HDR Camera equipment stuff here on the site, which is much more organized than the following Hawthornesque ramble. That equipment page lists out all kinds of nice recommendations if you are just getting started, or even looking for a little upgrade action.

Although you can make a decent HDR from a single RAW file, I recommend using a camera that has autobracketing. Autobracketing is the ability for your camera to take at least 3 pictures right after one another, each at different exposures. Sometimes it’s called “Exposure Bracketing”. If you are hunting around the menus on your camera now, just look for the words Autobracketing and perhaps some numbers like -2, 0, +2. If you have a DSLR camera, then you probably already have this ability.

What equipment do I have? People always ask me this, assuming, “Wow you must have a nice camera!” Well, I do have nice cameras (Nikon D3X and D3S as backup), but many of my best pictures were taken earlier with a lesser Nikons. I’m also not what I would consider a hardcore hardware guy – I use equipment to bend nature to my will, and I can do the same sort of work with just about any equipment. I’ve now got much higher-end equipment because I can now see the subtleties… somehow I can justify spending a lot of money for minor improvements in the shots. I justify many sketchy things in my life, but so do you, so why not add camera equipment to the heap of latent guilt?

I started with a Nikon D70. I then went on to the D2X before getting the D3X that now fills my life like a sweet song. In addition, I use four lenses. Again for details on the lenses, visit the HDR Camera section.

As for tripods, I have a giant one with a silky smooth rotating fat head. I used to have a tiny tripod, but it was too shaky. You gotta have a solid tripod. What? You don’t want to carry around a tripod? Comon… if you are going out to shoot beautiful pictures, you better get serious. Also, if you have it over your shoulder or carry it in an aggressive way, it makes an effective weapon. As you can see, I go all over the world, often into sketchy areas, and a big tripod is often an effective deterrent. I carry it so much, I am very good at flipping it around and whipping it around my body like ninja nunchaku.


It is key to choose good HDR candidates. What I look for are extreme levels in light in a given scene.


Consider those situations where there is extreme light and extreme dark, and how you are able to see it when you are there in real life, but you just know if you take a photo of it that it won’t come out right. Also, you normally would not dare to take a photo looking directly into the sun, right? Well with HDR you can… It will open up a new world to you… and the more HDR photography you shoot and process, the more you will learn to appreciate light and the world we live in.

In the last several years, I have taken note of how I see the world versus the way others see the world. It’s one of those age-old questions: “Is green to me the same as green to you? Maybe you just use the word green, but you actually see what I call yellow!” Well, this question also applies to HDR. Personally, I see the world in HDR, and that is how I record my memories. I find these photos entirely pleasing to admire. Now, I notice that about 80% of other people also feel the same way. This seems very consistent across audiences when I speak at universities, photo clubs, seminars, and the like. And, if you have read this far, then surely you see the world like me, and you are excited that you have finally found a window into the truth and future of recording imagery for the rest of your life.

Of course, this means 20% of people do not see the world like us. In fact, they absolutely despise HDR photography. Occasionally, you will get some old-school people that think post-processing is the work of the devil.  But, most often, I am convinced they simply don’t see the world like this. They see the world exactly how the camera spits out normal images. That’s okay… there is no convincing them… Hey, we can’t make everyone happy, can we?


Let’s work on a photo I did in New York City in Times Square. We’ll go through this guy step by step.

Now, this is a pretty good example of having to re-train your brain about light levels. Remember, when you are there, on the scene, your brain can handle it. You fill in the dark areas with light and there is nothing so bright that you can’t read it. But getting a good shot of Times Square without HDR is next to impossible. Keep this in mind as you are around your house, in your neighborhood, driving around your city — you really are taking for granted how your brain is able to filter the light levels that your camera cannot.

And here is another photographic-philosophical moment. Everyone shoots Times Square in New York. Everyone. Professionals, tourists, teenagers with grainy cell phone cameras, etc. Think about it and name your worldwide location: Paris, New York, Shanghai – these places are filled with thousands of photographers, many of them very very good, with incredible equipment and great training. YET, it is still quite difficult to get an “original” shot. You end up with just about the same shot that everyone or anyone else can get. So this New York picture is a good example. If you look at this one below, you will see it is a “decent” and “serviceable” shot. However, look at the final version right below that, and you can see how much more interesting and engaging it is.

The BEFORE shot, selected in Lightroom. Note that Lightroom is not required — but many clever people use it to organize their photos!

HDR Tutorial - The Before ShotThis is the “Before” shot. It’s not bad… just a bit boring and predictable.

Times Square at DuskThis is the “After” shot, once we have completed the HDR Tutorial. It is much more interesting and alive, no? To me, HDR really helps capture the “feeling” of the place and evoke interesting thoughts.


Set up your camera in Aperture Priority mode. This is important because you don’t want the multiple photos to have different areas of blur.

Turn on Autobracketing. If you have 3 pics in the autobracket, set it up at -2, 0, +2. On my Nikon D3x, I usually take 5 pics at -2, -1, 0, 1, +2. I’d prefer just to take 3 pics at -2, 0, and +2, but this camera only steps by 1. I think you will find this +2 to -2 range satisfactory for 95% of situations. An exception, for example, would be shooting the interior of a house that is extremely dark and there are windows where the outside is extremely bright.

Other best practices:

  • For 95% of situations, going from +2 to -2 is enough light range.
  • Shoot in RAW, if you can. JPG is okay, but RAW gives your more flexibility later in the processing. RAW photos contain a lot more light information than a JPEG. Please note that when processing in Photomatix later, the RAWs are no better than JPEGs.
  • Use a tripod, unless you have the steady arms of a late-model Terminator robot.

Below, you can see that I have selected 5 pictures from Times Square. You can also easily see that they are all taken at different shutter speeds.

HDR Tutorial - Lightroom and the 5 shotsHere is a screenshot of Lightroom (which is not required), showing the 5 exposures of multiple scenes.


Now it is time to fire up Photomatix and get crunk in the HDR house. Okay that was stupid.

Photomatix will take your 3+ shots and convert them into an HDR image. You can then tonemap the image and save it as a JPEG. I’ll take you through this process.

You can run Photomatix in a few ways:

  • To generate an single HDR from some autobraketed shots (most common for beginners and the bulk of this tutorial)
  • To do a huge batch of HDRs after you come back from a shoot
  • To convert a single RAW photo into an HDR

Let’s go over the first one in detail. I’ll mention the others later, but they are not too hard to figure out after you understand how the first one works.

When Photomatix is loaded up, you just see a menu. Note that I am using Photomatix 3.2 here and new versions come out all the time, but later iterations should still work within the margin of error of the following screenshots.

Note: You will see that I have 5 JPGs here. I used Lightroom to convert the 5 RAWS to 5 JPG. You can use Photomatix to open up the RAW photos as well, but Photomatix itself will do the conversion on its own. After speaking with the engineers at Photomatix, they tell me it is a little better to do the conversion on your own.

HDR TutorialPhotomatix – Selecting some photos for HDR Processing

Choose the images you like then click OK. You will then see a second dialog. I have selected the most common choices that I make. In this case, I feared there might have been a tiny amount of camera shake even on the tripod, so I asked Photomatix to try to align.

Normally, I use a tripod and a wired shutter release, so I have no camera shake. If you are doing hand-held, then, of course, always choose “Align source images”. I get mixed results with the other choices. I have a better program for reducing noise and a better method in Photoshop for fixing “ghosting artifacts”. You can play with those options, if you wish, however. There are not many wrong choices you can make on this dialog, so don’t panic.

In this Preprocess dialog, I rarely make any selections. However, if you did handheld shots, go ahead and select “Align Source Images”. Additionally, if you shot with a higher ISO, you should also select “Reduce Noise.”


Click Preprocess and now your computer will churn like a farm of computers generating a single frame from a Pixar movie.  Note that if you checked any of the boxes above, this processing steps even longer.

You will soon see a strange looking image on the screen. You are not done yet – not even close. That is an HDR image and you can’t really do anything with it until it is tonemapped. So, now click on “Tone Mapping” (note this is also available via the menu system)/ Now you will get a nice little dialog with all these fun gizmos and Willy Wonka-like controls.

Every picture is different. There is no “right way” to set these sliders. There is certainly a “wrong” way to do it, though. I am sure you have seen lots of crappy HDR images. Below, I paste an example of how you can really make your image look too funkadelic. Funkadelic is cool if that is what you want or you have a lot of druggie friends that like laser light shows and your mind-bending HDRs, but most people don’t like them. Actually, please don’t look at my old work. It’s a little over-the-top too… I cringe when I think about it. Just look at the newer stuff. Thank you kindly.

Actually, I keep my older stuff up there to illustrate how much progress you can make in such a short time.  I hope this is as inspirational for you as it is embarrassing to me.

HDR Tutorial (by Stuck in Customs)Friends don’t let friends do HDR on drugs

Above, you can see the options I selected. It’s way overdone. The key setting is that “Light Smoothing”. Don’t move it too far to the left. Please! For the sake of humanity.

Below, you can see better selections. Here are a few things I do… although none of these are cast in stone:

  • Strength – Keep it at 100%.  We can dial it back later when we re-mix it with one of the originals in Photoshop.
  • Color Saturation – Keep it reasonable.  Don’t over-saturate your photo.  Again, each photo is different.  There is a difference between color that pops and color that bleeds too electric.  Remember, HDR is about light, not about over-saturation!
  • Luminosity – This is used for the “painterly effect”, let us say.  The further to the right, the less contrast will be in the photo.  If you find yourself with “Halo” problems in daylight shots, moving this to the far right will help.  The other way to get rid of that problem is described later.
  • Microcontrast – A mysterious slider that helps the details and fluctuations in colors on the very small scale.  Like the others, play with this until it looks and feels right.
  • Smoothing – This is an important slider that effects the “HDRness” of the shot.  The more to the left, the more psychedelic.
  • White Point & Black Point – Move these right and left until that bell curve in the histogram rests inside the area.  If that histogram at the bottom bleeds off the left or right side, then you are losing light, and that is no good.
  • All the other sliders?  They are interesting, but I honestly don’t use them much.  The Micro-smoothing can help with noise, although I use a special noise reduction program we will discuss soon.
HDR Tutorial (by Stuck in Customs)Photomatix and some slightly more reasonable settings…

Once you have set everything up with the sliders, click Process and save the result. You’ll be bringing it into Photoshop next for final cleanup.


What? You are not good at Photoshop? First you tell me you don’t like carrying tripods, and then you tell me you don’t like using Photoshop. How about this… Let’s get you a little bit out of your comfort zone, eh? That’s what good friends do right… push you to make yourself better. If you keep doing things you are comfortable with, then you are never going to improve and experience new things, right? So comon… get with it.. Photoshop is great fun.

First, if you are horrible at Photoshop, then I recommend you spend a little time watching Photoshop User TV. They have a free weekly podcast and a bunch of old episodes you can catch up on. They go through about three examples per week – mini-tutorials. Over time you will get to know all the tools and how to use them. 95% of the tutorials you see on Photoshop TV will have nothing to do with HDR, but they will get you familiar with the tools. I use many many many tools in Photoshop to clean up and perfect my final images… you will get there too… just be patient and try to learn a few new things per week in Photoshop. If you learn 3 things a week, that’s over 150 things a year.

As you might have seen, Photomatix is great, but it probably messed up parts of the image that you now need to repair.

This, briefly, is what we are gonna do:

  • Import all of the original images plus the .JPG we just made in Photomatix
    • Please note that this is kind of overkill to import all of them – over time, you will probably only import just the ones you need, as you will see. Also, most likely you will have 4 images — the 3 originals plus your Photomatix result.
  • Repair the areas that are blown-out with the DARKEST of the original images by using “Masking”.
  • Repair the ghosted pedestrian and cars by selecting the best RAW, which we will have adjusted to have nice coloring in the RAW importer


First, did you know the RAW importer for Photoshop can also work with JPEGs? It’s true! Go set that up in your preferences under File Handling.

Now, go ahead and open the original images plus the Photomatix result JPG in Photoshop. The dialog you see below is the RAW importer for Photoshop. It is very nice because it has these wonderful sliders that you can use to pull out additional light information. This is the wonderful secret of the RAW photo! As opposed to the JPEG, the RAW contains extra light information you can access using the RAW importer.

What I am going to do is select my favorite of the Original shots, and adjust the sliders so that it looks as close as possible to the Photomatix result. You see, what we are going to do here is re-mix THIS photo with the Photomatix one to both a) make it look more realistic and b) repair the ghosting.

How many of the original images should you bring into Photoshop? It depends on which of them you want to remix. In this case, I will import three of them – the three I want to remix. There are elements from each of these three exposures that I will remix into the tonemapped version. Please note this is the “Master’s Touch”. You do not have to go through all of this careful remixing if you just want to use the result of the Photomatix tonemapping.

You can see my settings – how I increased the Fill Light, increased the Blacks, and adjusted the Vibrance, Saturation, and Clarity. You can adjust yours as need be.

Trey’s Undeniable Truth of HDR Photography #34: If you shoot during the daytime and there is a nice blue sky, your HDR processing will make your sky look gray, mottled, and possibly give it a halo that will make viewers curl in a ball and cry. If you do not fix this in Photoshop by masking in the original sky before you upload to show your friends, then they may no longer be your friends.

HDR Tutorial (by Stuck in Customs)Opening up an original photo with the RAW Importer

Okay, moving on. Maybe you should go get another coffee or a glass of red… things are about to get juicy.



In the screenshot below, look down in the lower right at the layers. You can see the four layers there. I put the Photomatix result on the top layer, and stacked the other three below. The order does not matter. Note that as you become more advanced, you will not need to bring in all of these originals. Maybe just one or two will do the trick.

To import the photos, there are a variety of ways, as there is with everything in Photoshop!  If you read the following bullet point list, I will assume you are a beginner, so I will try tell you the easiest way!

  • After you open all 4 (or your number) into Photoshop, you should have 4 windows or tabs open in Photoshop.
    • Bonus Tip: If you have Adobe Bridge, you can select all the photos, then go to Tools>Photoshop…>Load Files into Photoshop Layers… and voila, all are in one Photoshop window!
  • Go to your Tonemapped photo that was the result of the Photomatix process. Remember this is your “Base Layer”. We will copy and paste all the other photos into this image.
  • Go to one of the original photos.
  • On the Menu, choose Select > All.  Then Edit > Copy.  Then go back to your Base Layer and do a Edit > Paste.  Then you will have 2 layers.
  • Continue to repeat this with all of the other photos.
  • Once you have all the layers in one photo, you can re-arrange them as you see fit. I usually put the HDR result on the top.

I have also made sure to align all the images so they are neatly stacked:

  • Select all the layers with CTRL or SHIFT-clicking them, then use Auto-Align under the Edit Menu – default options are fine.
  • …Or you can press V to get into move mode and use the arrow keys at 300% to nudge them around. This is usually what I have to do with the HDR layer, turning it on and off to make sure it’s lined up just right.

HDR Tutorial

Photoshop – Here we have the HDR image on top with some of the original photos on layers beneath.

If you look closely at the layers on the right in the screenshot below, you can see that I have created a LAYER MASK for the TOP LAYER. If you see those little black and gray marks there, that is where I have painted black to see the layer beneath. I used the Brush, adjusted the opacity to about 30%, and kept painting until enough of the lower layer shined through.

To create a mask and start revealing the layer underneath:

  • Click on the top layer (the one you want to punch through)
  • On the Menu, go to Layer > Create Layer Mask > Reveal All.
  • Choose the brush tool (or hit B).
  • At the top, there are two areas to adjust:
    • “Opacity” –  Set that to 30%.  This means how hard you will be pushing down the brush to punch through to the bottom layer. Multiple brush strokes will make that percentage go up… For example, if you brush over the same spot ten times or so, you’ll be at 100% see-through!
    • Brush – Click that dropdown and make the brush size 100.  You will keep adjusting this size throughout, depending on what you want!
      • Quick Tip – to change the size of the brush quickly use the bracket keys ( [ and ] )
  • Now that you created the mask, you will see a little white box on that layer down in the lower right.  See it? Click on that little white box it because THAT represents the mask.
  • Make sure your chosen color over on the right is BLACK.
  • Start using the brush on the photo.  Each stroke will make that layer 30% more transparent.  If you stroke the same area over and over again, you will get to 100%, which allows you to see the layer underneath.
  • After you are done masking the two layers together, Merge Layers in the menu or by pressing Command (Ctrl on PC) E.
  • Bonus Tip: Are you still MASSIVELY confused by Masking?  This happens often because of my lousy description.  I suggest you visit this nice YouTube Video on Masking (note that I did not make that video).

You will notice the areas in which I painted. Those areas were blown out and unreadable. So, I chose the DARKEST layer, in which the signs were very readable. I masked those through so we can read, for example, the ticker on the right at the ABC Studios.

Photoshop – Stacking the Layers and Starting to Mask. The gray areas in the white box represent where we have “punched through” to the lower level.

I hope that was easy for you to understand, at least in concept. People sometimes have trouble with Masking, so I hope I explained it okay.

The next thing I do is combine the top two layers by selecting both of them by selecting Layer > Merge Layers. Below, you can see how I have combined the layers top two. Now I only have three layers.

Combined those two (by Stuck in Customs)

Photoshop – I have combined the top two layers after masking.  Now just three remain.

This process of masking and combining should repeated until you are happy with the results.

Moving on, the next step in this particular photo is masking in the pedestrians so that they do not look “ghosted”.  When they are moving around between the frames, Photomatix gets confused.  I prefer to find my favorite of the original shots where the people are in the most interesting formation.  I then use that photo to remix with the original.  Below, you can see I have zoomed in on the pedestrians and created a mask on the top layer.  I have used the Brush on the top layer to reveal the clean pedestrian layer beneath.  Note that the pedestrians are not crystal clear, and I did not mind a bit of “motion” here, since it is Times Square after all.

HDR Tutorial (by Stuck in Customs)

De-ghosting the image by masking through to the layer where the people look best


You will notice that you probably have a lot of noise in the finished result. The HDR Process does this… it is an unfortunate side effect, but easily cleaned up.

I will not go into the full description of Noiseware here, but you are welcome to go read my Noiseware Review.

The only thing I really have to do is to show you the following screenshot. I mean, are you kidding me? The only tip I can add beyond this, for a full master’s touch, is to create a duplicate layer of your finished product before doing the noise reduction. It may get rid of some details you quite like, in which case you can use the masking tricks above to just keep the details and noise how you best see fit for your own work of art.

As you can see below, this can help make your final product look a lot more silky-smooth.

Noiseware Review
This is the best software I have used for Noise reduction – better than Noise Ninja!

Below, we can see the final image once again! All the hard work has paid off! Behold!

Times Square at Dusk
The final product, after a lot of fun steps… remember… it’s the journey, not the destination…

Now that you are done with that, here are some other tools that I recommend. These are part of my workflow, and I recommend you get these and play with them all!

  • Lucis Pro – I’ve also started using Lucis Pro more and more. It’s a lot like LucisArt, but it’s even better. I’ve written a Lucis Pro Review and a Lucis Tutorial here on the site, which maybe you can save for later. The same coupon code for LucisArt applies here of “TREYRATCLIFF”. She tells me it’s the best one available.
  • Nik Software – Nik makes a great suite of tools I recommend. Use the Coupon Code of “STUCKINCUSTOMS” to save the most amount of money. You can get it from the Nik Software website. I have a full Nik Review here on the site for more info.
  • OnOne Software – This is another great suite of powerful tools that I use a lot. Use the Coupon Code “STUCKINCUSTOMS” to save the most amount of money when ordering from the onOne Software website. I have a full review of the OnOne Plugin here on the site for you.


Many of my images get a visit from the sweet lady Lucis.

The LucisArt Plugin is awesome. I suggest you download the trial and give it a run! The trial is nice because you get a preview window that shows what all the cool sliders do. If you buy it, be sure to use this Lucis Coupon Code of TREYRATCLIFF.  If I ever meet you in person, you can buy me a cappuccino or something… You can get the trial or order it at the LucisArt Website.

Note that sometimes I use an even better program, and you can find out more about that at the Lucis Pro Review.  I really don’t mean to overwhelm you with options, just to let you know that there are good, better, and best paths to sharpening.

When you use LucisArt, I suggest the SCULPTURE setting with the top slider less than 12 and the bottom slider above 70 or so. Now, the screenshot below has the bottom slider at 55 original just to show you how it makes the lines “pop”. It’s a bit like UNSHARP MASK, but quite a bit better, in my judgment.

HDR Tutorial (by Stuck in Customs)


In Photomatix, go you can simply open a RAW file and then go right to Tone Mapping! If you are on a Mac, you can just drag your RAW file and drop it right on the Photomatix application. This is a new feature, and a welcome time saver… You will get a little warning that it is not a true HDR image (a pseudo-HDR image), but just ignore that.

People ask me all the time if it is better to use just One RAW or multiple. Well, sometimes you have no choice if the subject is moving… but the result can be quite nice in both conditions. For the record, I always take multiple exposures whenever possible.

To show you how good images can look from just a single RAW file, here are a few examples. A great one is that shot of Chicago. I was hanging out of a helicopter at sunset. There was certainly no easy way to get multiple exposures there! I believe the following examples will show you how amazing HDR can be with a single RAW!

HDR Photo

HDR Tutorial Photo

HDR Tutorial Photo

HDR Landscape Photo

HDR Tutorial Photo

That is an hour of your life you will never get back, but let’s hope you formed some good memories and skills to create more. Best of luck and I thank you for all your comments and feedback. I currently have over 30,000 emails unread in my photography inbox, so I apologize if I do not get back to you… just don’t have enough time I am afraid. But thanks for all your comments and support! I hope you all have as much fun with HDR as I am – again, best of luck to you!