Saturday, March 06, 2010

Streets Pseudo-HDR Frenzy

Ever since the beginning of this week, I was rather spaced out, having this constant HDR fetish thoughts going on over my head, day in day out. I have pretty much refrained myself from touching the camera until the weekend arrives. KL weather has been quite unforgivingly hot lately, and anyone would have thought clear skies were abundant everywhere. I have always wanted to explore the streets of Pudu area, which was pretty close to the Times Square shopping mall (a couple of minutes walk away) Since I have a few errands to run there, I took the opportunity to go HDR frenzy before tackling the errands to feed the fetish cravings I am having recently.

Since I was hoping to go all wide with the Olympus 11-22mm F2.8-3.5, I do have some scenes worked out in my mind. To be able to optimize the landscape/scenery effects you would often find on awe-worthy HDR photographs all over the internet or photography magazines, the golden ray of early morning is very important. Therefore, I woke up impossibly early on this Saturday morning, hoping to catch the glimpse of morning golden ray hitting the streets of KL, bathing it in a warm glitter. I did keep my promise of waking up early, but much to my disappointment, it was raining. Somebody tell me, what did I ever do wrong to the weather? Why is it that every time I wanted to do some photography, prepared well for it and when I was about to step out it just blardy rains !! And at most busy of times with all other life perks, the weather was so temptingly fine but I cannot do a thing at such busy times. Weather has been really cruel to me.

So, like any ordianry guy would do, I slept in, until much later, when the sky started to clear out. It was already rather late, approaching 9am when I made my journey out of the house. With morning golden sun or not, I will make my way to the streets and make my Pseudo-HDR shots happen. I have been having so many thoughts and questions in my mind that I can only answer and put to rest when I try them out on the field. Finally I was having this tiny free time, there was no chance in hell I would let anything stop me, not even if it means I had to skip the best opportunity of shooting the scene.

Why am I getting so crazy about Pseudo-HDR? For those of you who had just joined in, I had gave HDR a try-out not too long ago (read this entry) and by that first attempt, I have somehow become hooked to it. The one most interesting element that makes HDR processing so much fun, is the unpredictability of the results. Merging so many exposures together can expand the spectrum of the dynamic range, adding more space to extreme shadow and highlight areas, but the overall photo outcome, of how everything turns out to be can be very unpredictable. You can never guess the results accurately, and so far, each time the photo has been processed, it never failed to make me go "Whoah, I did not know it could turn out this way !!". This part of not knowing what you can make happen in each photo before processing them just adds so much more interest and drive in shooting more and exploring the possibilities in different situations.

Cantilever design. Scary !!

Nonetheless, all I have been experimenting so far was pseudo-HDR, meaning the dynamic range was captured using one single RAW file, converted to a fake HDR image file. Yes, this is a fake HDR, and is not as effective and as what it was supposed to be by combining multiple exposed photographs together. I chose pseudo-HDR over the real thing for a couple of strong reasons: 1) I was on the streets, it is impossible to avoid cars and people passing by every now and then. Pseudo-HDR eliminates this problem, since it does not require combination of images. 2) A need to carry tripod can be quite a burden, especially when I was on the move. Being discreet and fast in response are the traits I desperately need on the streets. 3) I do need that much dynamic range. My original intentions of using pseudo-HDR was just to expand the dynamic range and break the ordinary limitations. Squeezing in that little extra bit of details into the photographs can add much more depth to them.

What do I feel about the session this time? I feel rather inspired, because this was something relatively new to me. On ordinary occasions, I already have certain photo outcome expectations worked out in my head of what I want the end product of the photo to look like. Whether I want to convert them photo to black and white, how I want to crop or how the colours will be presented, are all part of the thinking process even before making the shutter button click. For HDR purposes however, it was the total opposite. I have to leave most of the tasks to the camera, and have faith in the RAW image to capture enough details and dynamic range for processing later. Nevertheless, the outcomes have been quite satisfying, though not to the extent of "WOW", since I can see lots of ways to improve in the coming session.

The cool part about processing pseudo-HDR is the simplicity of it. At first, I fear of jumping into HDR world because of two primary reasons: 1) The common HDR photos you see everywhere are usually overbaked with fake colours and look almost like paintings 2) HDR processing takes time and certain know-hows to do it. Gosh, you even hear of stories of how people mearge 12 exposures together, and spend like 30 minutes tone-mapping and processing it to bring then "oomph" factor out.

Thankfully, I have discovered those two points can be countered. Whether how fake the photo comes out to be depends on the photographer, and the photographer decides what he wanted to present in the end. As for me, realism is very important in my photographs. I may have over-processed some of my photographs, but I always make sure they fall into the category of looking real, and still appeal like real life subjects taken by photographs. Of course, I cannot stop people from liking what they see in the typical painting-like HDR results. To each, his own right? Knowing that I can control this, I process my photos in moderation.

Ok, this photo is totally random and unrelated. Not a HDR.

Pseudo-HDR is the answer to those lazy bums like myself. All I had to do, was to drag the RAW file into an open window of Photomatix Pro, and voila, a HDR image file is automatically generated for me, in seconds !! It was as simple, and as fast as that. No need to merge photographs, no need to worry about exposures and bracketing, and alignments or ghosting. Then I go to the tone mapping settings, which was simpler to work with than I have imagined. I know I have not quite mastered the settings yet, but with a few slides there and here, a push of a button or two, basically you are almost done. The more sophosticated processing can come later when you are getting really serious about HDR photography. But for a beginner like me, and for someone who just wished to add a new dimension to his otherwise boring looking street shots, I think this method worked very effectively, and efficiently.

So yeah, have you tried to use Pseudo-HDR lately? If not, why not give it a try. It can be quite interesting, I assure you.


  1. All hail the new HDR God!

    #2 is awesome.

  2. hey jason,
    WTF, was just mucking around only. later the real gods will come strike me with lightning.
    Not even real HDR !! Heh.
    But thanks. Number 2 is my favourite too. Well, actually, it is my only favourite from this series LOL

  3. LOL! i paused at the last pic and wondered if it's also HDR, before reading the caption below it. LOL! aduh.

  4. hey allen,
    LOL !!!! Gotcha !!

  5. Wonder what's the outcome if you turn the last photo into a HDR. Haha.

  6. hey chong,
    it was shot in Jpeg !! LOL