Category Archives: Photo Lessons

True HDR explained and examples

I thought I’d spend the 2nd day of 2015 talking about “True HDR” versus “HDR effects”.

One is actually HDR, the other isn’t.

A bit of background. HDR is unique to digital photography, because back in the olden days (Pre-Bush Jr) most photography was done via a chemical process. Exposing film in a camera caused a reaction with light sensitive silver nitrate compounds, which were then dunked in various chemical baths to be “developed”. It was during this time/temperature process that the real magic of photography occurred. You never got to see the results until after this process, and I can vividly recall my palpitating heart the first time I opened a processing tank to view my first ever developed roll of Tri-X. Almost beat out by my first ever solo landing in a Cessna… Almost.

Film had a small range of contrast it could handle before it either made shadows go completely black or the highlights went complete white. This range depended on the film you were using. Slide film has the lowest (narrowest) contrast range; certain negative films the widest range.

With black and white negative film one could adjust exposure and then development to compress the image, also called “Zone System”. The Zone System is best remembered as “expose for shadows, process for highlights”

This was best used by photographers utilizing large format cameras, where a single frame could be processed differently from the other frames.

With digital, there is really no processing. So HDR was developed as a way to compensate for the limited exposure range of digital sensors. This is accomplished by making several exposures of a scene, bracketing each exposure to get images with good shadow detail then images with good highlight detail.

Using Photoshop or another piece of software, you then could stack the images and merge them into one single image with shadow and highlight detail. There are various effects that happen, and a good HDR image is almost like what the human eye can see.

Everything else is artistic intent.

HDR effects are simply taking a single, evenly exposed image and getting the HDR look by compressing highlights and shadows and causing edge effects. It’s not really, truly HDR. It’s just an effect.

That effect certainly can’t bring out details in shadows in a scene with extreme range.

Let’s take an extreme example. I uploaded to my gallery a scene of a piece of gnarled tree trunk with the sun backlighting the wood and pine needles. This one I did a 7-EV bracket to allow of the extreme brightness of the direct sun peeking through the pine needles.

Here’s a collage of the 7 exposure range I used….

All 7 exposures. (Click to Loupeify)

All 7 exposures. (Click to Loupeify)

Looking at the contact sheet, you can see where my trusty Nikon thought the proper exposure should be, exposure #4.  Wow…  It’s losing the shadows badly…  and the better single exposure is #5, or plus 1 EV.

And that’s where True HDR comes in.

Using only photoshop, I did a Merge to HDR pro, and played with the settings to achieve a very nice HDR of the scene.

Vola!  Click to gigantisize

Vola! Click to gigantisize

Next post I’ll examine several of the Android apps for HDR photography….

Also posted in Advice, How-To, lessons, photography Tagged , , , , |

Homemade Film Washer – How To

If you are into old-school photography and are shooting black and white, chances are you are processing your own film.

The final step in processing film is to remove all traces of chemicals using during processing. Modern films require much less washing than older films, but one still needs to remove all traces of the “fixer” or “hypo” during the wash. Without proper washing, that roll of film could be ruined by chemical stains later on, making it almost impossible to recover any images on it.

You can wash the film by running water into the developing tank, or use a drop-in film washer built for the purpose.

There are perhaps four types of film washers currently available, most run about 60 to 90 dollars mail-order.

Or you can make one yourself and save money.

The shopping list is small and can be found at any “big box” hardware store.

  • 4″ PVC pipe in a 2 foot length – $3.98
  • 4″ PVC closet pipe flange with knock-out plug – $6.77
  • 4″ PVC “test cap” – $0.83
  • 3/8 inch plastic tube fitting (I used one from a hose sprayer adapter from the grocery store), but these can be bought for about $1.00 or so.

Total out the store – about $12.54.

Optional is a jar of PVC cement. I omitted using this because the pipe fitted together quite well and this allows me to make changes to the design or for cleaning.

Start by cutting the PVC pipe to a length of 9 inches, with an optional cut of a ring of PVC material ¾” long (see photos). I used a compound miter saw to make the cuts, making sure the cuts were absolutely square and accurate. If you don’t have such a saw, borrow a friends or ask at the store for help in cutting, as 4″ PVC is quite thick and hard to cut by hand.

To make the simplest washer possible, you can simply attach the PVC pipe to the pipe flange, drill the 3/8″ hole, and attach the tube fitting and start using it. With this option, you will need a spare film reel at the bottom to avoid too much water pressure hitting the fragile film.

I decided to use the test cap to create a platform to rest the film reels on and create turbulence in the water flow. To do this, I used a ¾” piece of the pipe, placed this into the bottom of the flange then drilled a 3/8″ hole for the plastic tube fitting. Then I drilled several large holes into the test cap, and placed it into the remaining 9 inch piece of PVC to form the bottom film reel platform.

Then it was a matter of connecting the wash hose to the new washer and running a test. A small amount of water leaked from the bottom, as I did not glue anything together. This leaking is OK as “Fixer” is a bit heavier than water and this helps the washing process.

To test, I used a drop of red dye in the water, placed 4 film reels into the washer and ran the water at a small rate. The time it took to completely clear the red dye was 6 minutes. Combined with lifting the reels and agitating the water, this wash time could be cut to 4 minutes or less.

I originally built a washer in the mid-1980s, but after several moves this piece of equipment was lost. I researched buying a commercial washer and even on online auction sites, they’re still more expensive the buy than to make.



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A nice, inexpensive 6x6cm camera

Nope, not a Hasselblad

Back in 2000, I felt the need to get back into the darkroom. I was still shooting film – but I wanted something bigger than 35mm. I was introduced to the Kiev cameras.

Beth - Agfa-25 studio shoot

My first one was a basic model, the Kiev 88. No hand crank, basic Hasse-style A100 film backs. It had some issues, like a copper focal-plain shutter and reflective interior. Once I stopped all the light leaks and reworked the interior, the images were startling sharp and vivid. I mean, with Agfa-25 film in my studio, I got very good images.

I’ve had occasion to use a real Hassie, never owned one. This is very similar, except in one important way.

Where the Hasselblad has a shutter in the lens, the Kiev is a focal-plane shutter. The Hasselblad can sync with a strobe outside at any shutter speed (thus controlling ambiant light in the shot*) the Kiev 88 can only sync at 1/30th.

This beast is HEAVY. Be prepared to use a tripod while shooting. Especially compared to a DSLR.

Thing is – I haven’t really done a lot of photography with this Kiev for a while. That’s gotta change here real soon!

Also posted in Equipment reviews, photography Tagged , |

My Review of Flashpoint II 620m, 300 Watt Second AC / DC Monolight Strobe.

Originally submitted at Adorama

Flashpoint II 620m, 300 Watt Second AC / DC Monolight Strobe.

A nice little unit!

By DTPhoto from Austin, Texas on 7/27/2011


5out of 5

Pros: Attach Securely, Good Color Value, Durable, Powerful

Best Uses: Indoors, General Use

Describe Yourself: Pro Photographer

Was this a gift?: No

I was pleasantly surprised. I had no idea what to expect from a monolight that was cheaper than an Alien Bee.

I bought this as a replacement for a Photogenic Powerlight. I used one or two lights for most of my set-ups, and thus far I’m impressed!

It’s nice and lightweight. The connection system is nice and easy to use. I’ve used Speedotrons, Broncolors, Novatrons & Dynalights. This connection system is as good, if not better, than those (for a monolight system). I’ve beat systems into the ground and I’m wondering if this one will last 22 years like my powerlight..

I like this unit enough to plan to order a few more!

My cat Manny – single light bounce onto ceiling,


Tags: Made with Product


Also posted in lighting, photography, product

Photography Rates 101 – what I need from you for a Job Quote

Sometimes I encounter some confusion when I give a rate for a job request. I hope the following will help avoid confusion in the future.

But first, a joke to illustrate what a Professional Photographer is:


There was an engineer who had an exceptional gift for fixing all things mechanical. After serving his company loyally for over 30 years, he happily retired. Several years later the company contacted him regarding a seemingly impossible problem they were having with one of their multi-million dollar machines. They had tried everything and everyone else to get the machine to work but to no avail.

In desperation, they called on the retired engineer who had solved so many of their problems in the past. The engineer reluctantly took the challenge. He spent a day studying the huge machine. Finally, at the end of the day, he marked a small “x” in chalk on a particular component of the machine and said, “This is where your problem is.” The part was replaced and the machine worked perfectly again. The company received a bill for $50,000 from the engineer for his service. They demanded an itemized accounting of his charges.

The engineer responded briefly: One chalk mark $1; Knowing where to put it $49,999.
It was paid in full and the engineer retired again in peace.

When you are hiring a professional photographer, you are paying for years of experience, knowledge of optics and lighting, and if the job involves models, the ability and expertise in directing models into poses that are required for the job.

What type of lighting is needed? What resolution is best for the final usage?

What type of make-up will the model need? Wardrobe (if any)?

Need a glass bottle photographed which shows off the glass texture and evenly lit without losing details? Will it need to look like a refreshing drink or is it OK for it turn out bland and non-appetizing? (Probably not, but you’d be amazed at how many photographers can’t shoot a damned bottle to look cold and refreshing…)

You need a professional photographer!!

And yes, many are fairly expensive. Especially photographers who have a huge studio!!

A brother-in-law or friend with a new “Olympus” DSLR and kit lens is NOT a professional photographer.

Neither probably is the guy with a new camera who’s charging $50.00 for a headshot.

Professional photographers do not have to be licensed in Texas (or other states) like Plumbers or electricians, but it’d sure help if we did have to go through a licensing process. I think 30+ years as a photographer pretty much licenses me to be a pro.

Now, about my rates….

I have several rate “tiers”. The primary two top tiers are “Commercial” and “Personal”.

The Commercial photography I do is anything in the following:

  • Product Photography
  • Executive Portrait Photography, staff and board of directors
  • Company newsletter and prospectus photography
  • Advertising, Editorial and Marketing Photography
  • Conferences /Trade Shows and Event Photography
  • Glamour magazine layouts, calendars, posters.

I further divide my rates into two distinct areas: “Editorial” and “Advertising”. I consider magazine layouts, website layouts and website only shoots to be “Editorial”, the rest is “Advertising”.

I typically charge less if I am hired for several days, or for a editorial layout which will act as promotional material for myself, versus a slick Ad shot where no one, not even the client, will know who shot the piece.

All my rates are quoted ONLY on request, and all quotes will try to include the following:

  • Usage rights
  • Modeling fees
  • Assistant Fee
  • Hair/Make-up fees
  • Film/Processing or Digital Capture fees
  • Other expenses.

You see the bit above called “Usage Rights?” That’s a term no one has ever heard of unless they’ve dealt with professional photographers or worked in advertising. What this means is, even though you’ve hired a photographer, the photographer still owns the rights to the images photographed. US Law, Title 17, states all forms of art are property of the creator unless agreed to otherwise prior to employment. Most commercial photographers are non-employee contractors and thus, own all rights to all images created. Those rights are then licensed to the client for specific usages and time limits. Any other use is considered infringement and can land the infringer in some serious legal hot water at the federal level.

Even portrait photographers have this protection. On school portrait packages you now see an added fee for “copyright release”.

Often, I get people only telling me what they want photographed, and they usually do not tell me what the image will be used for in any way. I need this info to create a proper bid on the job, and to know how to shoot the object or person so it’ll look great in its final form.

If one is targeting off-set printing of a photograph, it’ll need a different profile and tweeking to look the same as it would on a PC screen, or on a traditional photographic print.

All the other fees are needed in making any project work out. You can’t expect a model to work for free and sign a release giving you the rights to publish his/her photo without being paid. No one works for free if anyone else is being paid.

With Personal Photography, I can comfortably quote rates online, giving a price for a shoot, because 99% of all headshots or portraits will be done in the same manner and are usually only for someone’s wall or social networking website.

I typically spend a lot less time preparing for such a shoot versus a editorial magazine shoot where I need 4 models, make-up and props. I typically spend 2 to 3 days in preproduction for a shoot for every day I bill the client.

In all cases, for all types of clients, I require a 50% deposit up front before I can lock the booking into my calendar. This is because in the past I have had far too many clients fail to arrive after I’ve set-up, traveled or hired assistants for a shoot.

Before asking for a quote, you will also need to tell me the budget for the project. Without this information, I can’t determine if the job is even worth me providing a quote. There are too many variables in this to provide a “Ball Park” figure if you don’t even have a “Ball Park” budget. Hell, by telling me the projected photography budget, I can tell right away if I can do the job for that or not.

I’m easy to get along with, and I can negotiate for most any budget, but I do need to charge for any shoot. The more info you give me, the better on target my quote can be.


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Photo Shooting Table

Photographing glass, bottles or anything semi-transparent is easy with the right set-up.

Home build rig designed to allow me to photograph a piece of glassware, a bottle, or even moldy bread with the option of lighting from below to highlight a bottle’s contents, with some added light from above to fill in the details of the item, with the option of placing a strobe head behind the paper and having it light up the bottle from behind.

It’s made from 1/2″ PVC pipe, and a lot of T’s and Elbows. I have a piece of glass as the top, and I use a roll of high end vellum as the sweep.

Here, I have one strobe head shooting upwards to light up the table with a soft box set as a fill.

The image below shows how this all comes together to make a beer bottle “glow” and create a decent gradient as the background. I added a piece of black cloth to avoid lens flare from the strobe aimed upwards.

The rig ran me about $25.00 in PVC parts and the glue. I’ll post some detailed photos of it, including dimensions for anyone wanting to make one for themselves. The key to this design is the rear cross support is well below the level of the glass top, to allow for some back-lit images without having a shadow appear in the images.

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