Weekly Photo Challenge: Hidden

Stump in the Water (not a Deep Purple song).

While out at a pond with my family, I was intrigued by all the life and activity just below the surface of the water around this inert stump but I was being called to join the rest of the people I was with so I didn’t take the time to put a polarizer on the lens. As is often the case, what I thought would be a “good enough” picture just wasn’t after I uploaded the day’s images to my computer and took a closer look. So I decided to do some tweaking.

There was so much more going on below the surface.

Interesting, eh? The way I got the details of what was under the reflective surface of the pond was by applying the high dynamic range imaging (HDRI) techniques to a single image. Usually you use this technique quite deliberately after careful planning that involves putting your camera on a tripod, taking several shots at different shutter speeds so you properly expose both details in the highlights and shadows (and everything in between), and then feed all the images through a special computer program. When you apply HDRI techniques to a single source image, the resulting HDRI image is sometimes referred to as an FHDRI, or Fake High Dynamic Range Image.

Here’s how you can do the very same thing I did to some old images you might have in the archives…

Same pond, another stump. Actually, I kind of like the image as-is, but I just can't seem to leave well enough alone! Look for the FHDRI-processed version of this image farther down in this post.

    1. Find an image you shot in the RAW format that has a lot of contrast. If your camera is able to save RAW images, you really should be shooting RAW images all the time in spite of the large file size — the flexibility in editing RAW images truly outweighs any disk space-saving benefits of shooting in JPEG, for example.
    2. Save the image as a TIFF.
    3. Move the exposure adjustment slider to the -2 EV (exposure value) setting. Save that picture with a different filename than the first (I suggest adding “-2” to the end).
    4. Move the exposure adjustment slider to the +2 EV (exposure value) setting. Save that picture with a different filename than the first (I suggest adding “+2” to the end).
    5. If you don’t already have a program to generate HDRI images and to tonemap them, I recommend Luminance HDR because it’s free and it does a pretty good job.
    6. Open the program and follow instructions. I suggest you just go with the default setting to begin with and only change them if things don’t work out to your satisfaction. Note: Whether you use Luminance HDR or another program, having used three (or more!) files from the same exposure might fool it. When the files are loaded into the program, the EV value of each file will be shown beside the filename. If all EV numbers are the same, then for your “-2” file subtract 2.0 from the value displayed and enter it as the value. Same thing goes for your “+2” file but this time add 2.0 to the value displayed and enter it as the value.
    7. Click through until you get to a prompt that says something like “Generate HDRI”… click that button!
    8. It might take a couple of minutes for the HDR image to be generated but when it is, save it. Don’t worry if the resulting image looks flat and crummy… we’re only just getting started!
    9. Look for the button that says something like “Tonemap the Image”. A new window will open, and you’ll have a whole new set of confusing controls to deal with.
    10. If your original image was large, then look for the “result size” or “output size” selector and choose something smaller than the original dimensions of your file. Luminance HDR doesn’t have a real-time preview so when you change a setting, nothing happens on-screen until you hit the “tonemap” button on the bottom. You’ll probably have to try a bunch of different settings before you arrive at something you’ll be really happy with and large files can take a lot of time for your computer to process. I suggest you first set the “result size” to something small, like something in the neighbourhood of 500 pixels.
    11. After you get what looks like something great at 500 pixels, increase the result size to the max! If you like what you got, save that image!
    12. Play around with the different settings, starting with the “pregamma” setting, which basically controls brightness. I suggest that you try adjusting the pregamma first of all to zero in on the general range you’ll be working in and then try the other adjustments afterwards to really bring out the character you’re looking for.
    13. If you got images that just don’t show any signs of promise, try a different “Operator”, which can be found in the upper left quarter of the screen. Each operator uses a different mathematical formula to arrive at a final image and has its own particular look. If I remember correctly, I used the Mantiuk operator for the two FHDRIs on this page. Once you change operators, you’ll have to start trying different settings all over again and different operators have different settings to adjust. The one they all have in common is the “pregamma” setting.

Here’s the final image…

I think this looks like a volcanic island patrolled by giant tadpoles and minnows.

So, there you have it. Run out now and make your own HDRIs and FHDRIs. Don’t forget to post the results and let me know about them!

See you next week.

About HoaiPhai

I'm up late digging up the dirt. View all posts by HoaiPhai

22 responses to “Weekly Photo Challenge: Hidden

  • betharr

    fantastic explanation. I learned a lot.
    and I’ll try to practice these lessons.
    thx a lot, HP. IM impressed.
    I’m more excited about it.
    waiting for the opportunity to exercise.
    something similar to what you photographed.

    • HoaiPhai

      I’m really happy you liked this post! Your specialization of street photography is very much reality-based and even though this technique results in abstract-looking images, it’s possible to use HDRI as a way to produce a sense of hyper reality to only parts of the image. These thechniques make people look unreal, but they are great at bringing out textures. I once took a series of bracketed photos of an opening in a concrete wall showing part of a garden. I intended to make an HDRI of the whole scene but the plants just didn’t look right. So what I did was I made a two-layer file with the HDRI on the top layer and the best “normal” image below, and then masked out the opening in the concrete wall. The result was a normal-looking image with enhanced texture to the concrete. I’ll post those pictures next time. I can see you using this to reveal people behind reflections in windows, give the scene a grittier feel, etc.

  • Hippie Cahier

    Every way I try to word the comment, it sounds like spam. You are so talented and knowledgable on the subject. I really like your blog. Thanks for sharing this . . .


    The final image of “the other stump” reminds me of something from my son’s sci-fi fantasy novels or games.

    You’ve got me hooked on this weekly photo challenge thing. I look forward to seeing what you come up with every week, and it never fails to impress!

    • HoaiPhai

      Thanks, this is the best kind of spam… the kind that inflates my ego! I get the most short-term hits off of the Photo Challenges and the most long-term hits off the Recumbent Reviews of the weirdo old-school lenses I own. Maybe I should take the hint and concentrate on these areas of writing. When you said “come up with every week” I actually laughed because you nailed it… almost every challenge I read the topic and then break out in a sweat trying to find a way to shoehorn my limited repertoire of styles and subjects to fit the current topic. My justifying my submissions’ adherence to the topic often takes more creativity than I invested in taking the actual photos!

  • thepetalpusher

    Fantastic photos! And thanks for the tutorial. I have many raw images that I can use.

    • HoaiPhai

      The beauty of adding a computer to the photographic workflow is that you can take an old image of a scene that inspired you that just didn’t pan out printing it “straight” and coax out what your mind’s eye saw. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Dave Farmer

    That second image has a strange alien quality to it, in fact rather like that strange secreted stuff in the Aliens movies. I loved the explanation too, I used to be a bit of a photography geek years ago until my camera and lenses were stolen. I’ve never got around to replacing them but this post is a true inspiration!

    • HoaiPhai

      I personally feel that there should be an exception to Canada’s ban on the death penalty for people who steal cameras, with a couple of years of hard labout tacked on (before the execution, of course) if there were images stolen along with the camera. I had a camera stolen with some film that was essentially my audition for being a fairly big regional rock band. If the liked the photos I had taken of them, I would have gone on the road, got a signing bonus, expenses paid for the summer, my photos on album covers, etc. As a result of losing all my equipment and those films, I entered about a period of a decade and a half of not having anything beyond a point-and-shoot. My address was inside the camera bag and the least the thief could have done with the money he got selling thousands of dollars of my camera stuff was to spend a couple of dallars in postage to send my films to me!

      Enough with the rant… yes, this technique can be used to creat otherworldly images, especially when you use the multishot technique. I’ve seen your photos of some of the places near where you live and if you were to combine the profundity of a wide angle lens, centuries-old buildings, dark cloudy skies, and HDRI, you’ll get some really gothic images! Dust off the old tripod and get bracketting!

    • HoaiPhai

      Thanks! I was thinking of doing a post of HDRIs but I’m holding out for a while because this summer I was not a particularly productive in the picture taking department. You really should try this technique… on the BC coast with ocean, trees, and clouds… you’d get some amazing prints!

  • nigel

    Amazing what can be done with PP. Thanks for sharing the details.

  • The Hook

    It’s amazing what goes unnoticed, right? You’ve enlightened and entertained, my friend; the two greatest achievements a blogger can boast. Nicely done.

  • pegoleg

    Hope you don’t mind if I skipped all the technical mumbo-jumbo and just ended up with my considered, professional opinion of the photos – coooool!

    • HoaiPhai

      No problem skimming over the boring parts! I’ve considered inserting little signs in my posts like “You’re almost done… only 2,000 words left to go. The pictures are at the bottom!”

  • Martina

    Great photos as always! I am sure more people would read my blog if I took better pictures. My sister takes photography lessons and I’ve been asking her loads of times if she could take some pictures for my blog posts…she says she has better things to do ( can’t blame her)…The point is that I just can’t “capture” the right moment, person or place and looking at the pictures ( not to mention the poor quality of my digital camera :)) they just all look plain 😦 You’re really talented!!!

    • HoaiPhai

      Thanks for the compliment! I’ve seen some of your photos and you have a great eye! Just take more pictures… the shutter finger needs to be exercised in order to achieve greatness, just like a soccer player’s leg muscles. Take pictures of what you know and what you think is visually appealing… have you tried portraits in the Township of Derbyshire, for example?

  • Quietly Battling Photographic Orthodoxy « HoaiPhai

    […] Fake High Dynamic Range Imaging (FHDRI), the latter’s method I quickly describe in my post Weekly Photo Challenge: Hidden. A couple of years ago it seemed like everyone was creating HDRI images and some photographers were […]

  • Mike Lilly

    Hey HoaiPhai, thanks for the processing tip! I’ll have to give that a go.

    • HoaiPhai

      I highly recommend you playing around with HDRI! Not all scenes need or benefit from this treatment but, if nothing else, it’s a whole lot of fun playing around with and seeing how many different looks your original photos can take on.

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