The Chapel Of The Transfiguration

This year, our Winter In The Tetons Workshop group didn't experience anywhere near the volume of snow that the area normally gets.  The advantage to that is we could get a lot more places to shoot.  One of those places was The Chapel Of The Transfiguration. 

This little chapel was built in 1925 and still holds Sunday Services in the summertime.  Each chaplain at the church serves for one month each summer.  It is also a popular spot for small weddings.  Let's not forget the has one of the best views of any small church I've ever seen.

Although I have visited the church many times, I haven't photographed it very much.  Inside the church is a tough scene to deal with, exposure wise.  You have a dimly lit church on the inside and a big, bright window that looks out onto the mountains.  There is such a big exposure difference the best way to handle it is to bracket your exposures for HDR.  That is exactly what I did.  I took seven separate exposures to ensure I had detail covered from the brights to the darks.  Then I merged them as a HDR inside Lightroom Classic CC.  After I had the merged HDR photo I decided to process it in black and white.  I really like the feel of it as a black and white, too.

Aperture-priority, f/16, ISO 100, 7 varied exposures

I made this image with my Canon 5D IV and Tamron 28-300mm lens.  Since I shot for HDR I did use my Sirui Tripod and ballhead.

The Old Shelby Hotel

Over this past weekend I took a trip with a friend of mine, Brad Lackey with Lookout Mountain Photography, to visit an abandoned building known as The Old Shelby Hotel.   

This hotel has quite the history.  It was said to be the first building in Alabama to have running water and electric lights.  It also played an important role in The Civil War as it served as a hospital and also training grounds for soldiers at different points during the war.  Today it is merely a shell of what used to be...but that's the kind of thing us photographers live for, right?

ISO 100, 15mm, F/11 and 6 bracketed shutter speeds

This is an HDR image.  If you want to capture all of the highlight and shadow detail in a scene like this you really have no other choice than HDR.  In a room that is dark with  bright light coming into the windows, there is no way to pull all of that detail out of one RAW file.  

Here I took 6 shots bracketed from -3 all the way to +2 at 1 stop apart.  Then I merged them using Lightroom's HDR Photo Merge feature.  After tweaking a bit inside Lightroom, I jumped over to On1 Perfect Effects to finish this image.  I used one of my favorite presets for this kind of stuff.  It's called Kryptonite.  It gives a pretty strong effect, but you are able to dial the opacity slider back to your amount that suits your taste...just like you would in Photoshop.

This image was made with my Sony A7R II, Metabones Adapter and Tamron 15-30mm Lens.  All of this was mounted on my Sirui W-2204 tripod and K-20 Ballhead.

Saint Mary's Roman Catholic Church

So, while in Charleston, SC I decided I was going to check to see if they had any catholic churches that I could photograph.  I knew there were some in Savannah, GA and Savannah and Charleston are very similar types of cities.  After some quick Googling I came up with a church that looked interesting....St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church.

ISO 400, 12mm Fisheye, F/8, 5 bracketed shots for HDR

The image above is from the alter looking back towards the exit.   I liked this perspective as it allowed me to show more of the gorgeous ceiling and includes the pipes from the organ.

From the outside, this building isn't special at all.  It looks like every other building around it....square.  This one does have a cross on top, though.  The inside is amazing!!

This is a 5 shot HDR Bracket that was merged in Photomatix Pro and later processed in Lightroom and On1 Perfect Effects 9.5.  If you haven't picked up, or updated your On1 Software to 9.5 yet, do it!  The biggest improvement for me is it is much quicker.

I shot this using my Sony A7R, Rokinon and 12mm Fisheye Lens.  This was mounted atop my Vanguard Abeo Plus 323CT tripod.

Upcoming Old Car City Workshop

The Nature In Focus Workshop at Old Car City starts this coming Friday. I am super excited about all the offerings we have this time around.  We are going to be doing casual shooting of the cars on Friday including HDR and macro.  We will also be working on composition and working with tough exposure situations.  Then on Friday night we will have the place to ourselves for a little light painting work.  Saturday we have arranged for a few models to show up to work with lighting and portraiture.  It's going to be a blast!

In an effort to get geared up for this event, I went back and looked at some unprocessed images that I shot there last year.  This one is probably the most photographed scene there...the office.  When I approach a scene like this that is frequently photographed, I try to find a way to put a different spin on it.  In this case I tried to anchor the foreground with these blue car seats.  Then I try to lead your eye up to the office and even on past to the old cars in the background.  In an effort to help guide your eye, I've darkened and blurred the edges so you look directly at the subject.

I processed this image in Photomatix HDR Software, Adobe Lightroom and OnOne Perfect Effects 9.

5 images bracketed at F/11 and ISO 100.  Focal Length 24mm.

5 images bracketed at F/11 and ISO 100.  Focal Length 24mm.

This image was taken using my Sony A7R and Tamron Lenses 24-70mm Lens.  All Mounted on top of my Vanguard Abeo Plus 323CT Tripod. it dead?

I've had conversations lately with other photographers about HDR, or High Dynamic Range Photography, and weather or not the process is even needed as a tool any longer.

The reason I even question this is the ability of new sensors to capture such a huge dynamic range.  For example, I have the Sony A7S, I've seen tests where they say the sensor on that camera has a dynamic range of 14.5 stops!  That's huge!  When you compare that to just a few years ago when HDR was at a very popular point, sensors were recording 4, 6 or maybe 8 stops of dynamic range.  

So, is HDR dead?  I don't know if I would say it's dead by any means.  I am using it less and less now because I've pretty much switched to all Sony bodies and the sensors are amazing in these things for dynamic range.  I will still use it from time to time when there is a very large range of light in a scene, but that is not very often for me.

One thing I really am not doing anymore is what I called "exposure blending".  I used to take an image that would expose for the sky, say in a landscape image.  Then I would take a separate exposure for the foreground.  In post, I would "blend" those images together in Photoshop using layer masks to give a balanced exposure, as if you would get when using a graduated ND filter.  I have pretty much eliminated that whole process from my workflow based on how much range and information I can pull out of a single RAW file from my Sony bodies.

With that question out there, let me share an image I made a few years back at Old Car City in White, GA.  This scene caught my eye for many reasons, but one being the AM Radio Logo.  I am a fan of classic country music and it seems all the good AM stations that used to play it are all gone these days, so the logo is somewhat reminiscent for me.

ISO 100, 15mm, F/8 at varied shutter speeds for HDR

ISO 100, 15mm, F/8 at varied shutter speeds for HDR

So tell me are you still using HDR?  More or less than you used to?

The Barber Shop

One of the favorite locations when we walk around downtown Apalachicola, FL is the old barber shop.  It is definitely a place time has forgotten.  I typically shoot this scene every year.  We walk by when the shop is closed and shoot directly through the window.  This works out really well for several reasons but mainly no one is inside, so you can focus on the building, which is what you want in the first place.  Secondly, if you shoot from inside back out many times you end up capturing this cool, old building with a 2014 model car parked outside, which ruins the scene totally for me.

A few small things change here from year to year.  This year the barber was also making and selling Martin Birdhouses and he had one right up front on the bench.  This hasn't been something that has been there in the past, so I was excited to include that in my frame.  Other than that and a sign or two missing, it's pretty much the same.

We got to spend some time talking to the barber and a few of his family members the day before and they shared quite a bit of history of the place, which was very cool!

So, I shot this scene with my Canon 7D and Tamron 16-300mm Lens (excellent walk around lens) mounted on my Vanguard Abeo Plus 323CT tripod.  I simply positioned the lens placed directly against the front glass of the barber shop window.  This is important, because if you aren't pressed right up against the window, you will most likely get reflections in your shot that you do not want.  Once I got the lens where I wanted it, I positioned the tripod so that the lens wouldn't move then I fired off 4 or 5 bracketed shots.

I then processed this as a HDR shot using Photomatix Pro, did some tweaking in Lightroom and finsihed off in OnOne Perfect Photo Suite 9.  There are a few presets in the OnOne Photo suite that I love for HDR shots.  The first is one called Kryptonite.  It really punches the colors and details while blurring the edges.  The next one is called Just Enough Darkness.  Like you would think, this darkens the image quite a bit.  I typically will dial this effect back quite a bit, but it really adds a mood to the images and it works great for HDR shots.  Here is an image processed using both presets.

ISO 100, 16mm, F/8 at varying shutter speeds

ISO 100, 16mm, F/8 at varying shutter speeds

So, I couldn't decide which way I wanted to process this, so I thought "Let's go with a lot of color, or not much at all.".  So, I took the image back into OnOne and used the Perfect Black and White 9.  This time I processed it to retain just a very small amount of color.

ISO 100, 16mm, F/8 at varying shutter speeds

ISO 100, 16mm, F/8 at varying shutter speeds

Since, I couldn't decide I thought I'd share both.  Maybe you can help me decide.

Perfect Photo Suite 8.5 Now Available!

I received an email earlier today that OnOne had released the updated version 8.5 of their Perfect Photo Suite.  I came home right away and updated mine.

Here's a few of the things that have improved in the latest version:

"The update to 8.5 will provide a faster browser, way faster actually! It will also have substantial improvements to the Perfect Eraser and make results that much better. Overall stability and performance has been improved in the Suite to make it that more powerful of a photo editor."

Here is a video from OnOne of the new perfect eraser in action:


Existing owners of Perfect Photo Suite 8 are eligible for a free update. New users may purchase the Premium Edition for $179.95 or the Lightroom & Aperture Edition for only $99.95. The Standard Edition, a standalone application, is available for $79.95. Owners of earlier versions of the Perfect Photo Suite can upgrade to the Premium Edition for $99.95 or the Lightroom & Aperture Edition for $79.95. 

Click this link to download.  This one!

To HDR or not to HDR...

Often times I am asked questions at workshops and presentations that go like "Is there more detail in a HDR shot than a single frame shot processed to look like a HDR shot?" or "How do I know when I should take a HDR shot vs. a single exposure?" or "How much difference is there in an HDR shot vs. a single frame shot?".

Well, I always answer the "When to take a HDR shot" question with an answer like "Whenever the dynamic range in your scene is greater than your camera can handle within a single frame.".  This basically means if you can't get all of the highlight detail and all of the shadow detail in a single shot, then it's time to HDR.

As far as the other questions about "Is there more detail in a HDR vs. non HDR" and "How big a difference is there" questions...I thought I'd try to show you.

This image is a single shot processed in Adobe Lightroom and OnOne Perfect Effects Software.

This was shot at F/16, ISO 100 and 1/3 second.  The focal length was 50mm.

Now, here's a shot that was 5 combined shots at 1 stop apart with the same aperture, F/16, same ISO and focal length.

Right away there are several differences I notice.

  • The detail in the barn behind the firetruck is better in the HDR shot.  (I don't really want you to see that, so I like how it looks better in the non-HDR shot)
  • The detail in all the shadow areas of the hoses are far greater in the HDR shot.
  • Highlight detail is much better in the lights in the HDR shot.
  • All the fine details are greatly enhanced in the HDR shot.

None of these are "goods" or "bads" for either case.  In this instance I personally perfer the non-HDR version.I believe having the shadow areas "plugged" creates a mood that I am going for.  Not to mention, these areas I couldn't really see with my eye standing here either.  I'm also able to isolate my subject better in the non-HDR shot and not have as many distractions.

So, to answer a few questions....

Is there more detail in a Merged HDR shot?  Absolutely!  There is simply more data to work with, so there will be better detail and information.

When should you shoot HDR vs. not?  It's all personal preference, really.  In this case, The dynamic range of this scene was greater than my camera could capture in a single frame, however, I ended up liking the non-HDR version better.  Mostly because it fit the mood I was going for on this particular shot.  

When I am in a place like Old Car City, where this photo was taken, I typically bracket for HDR and then decided when I'm at my computer if I like a single frame shot or the HDR shot better.  

I'm a big HDR fan, it just happens that this time the single frame shot won me over.

Upcoming workshops

I just wanted to remind everyone of workshops that I have upcoming this spring...


The one I am most excited about is the Spring workshop in lovely Grand Teton National Park.  Click here for more info.


The most recent upcoming workshop is Spring in the Great Smoky Mountains in April.  Click here for more info.


Finally, a waterfall workshop in Alabama's beautiful Bankhead National Forest in May.  Click here for more infor on this one.


Also, do not forget that anyone that attends any workshop with me throughout the year will be eligible to enter a photo contest that will consist of prizes like a Full Collection of the NIk Software Suite and a Tamron 70-300mm lens.

I hope to see you at a workshop in the near future!!