Stuck In Customs

The place your mind can go before you travel there

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Happy Girls in Guangxi and more great feedback on The Arcanum

More Great Feedback on The Arcanum!

First, The Arcanum hit #8 of the Top 51 Websites for Learning Online. Amazing! That’s a great tribute the the team, the Masters, and the Apprentices! Thanks everyone!

And here are two wonderful Apprentices who made some lovely posts about their thoughts and experiences! The first is from Rose Fredriksen and the second is from Marjorie McDonald.

Daily Photo – Happy Girls in Guangxi!

One night I went out in the rain to take photos while staying in the little town of Yangshao. It was great fun! I was using my Sony A7r and my Leica 35mm f/1.4 which requires manual focus. Naturally, this means I need both hands to take photos. Luckily I had my guide Andy with me to help hold the umbrella!

Happy Girls in Guangxi!

Photo Information

  • Date Taken2014-06-05 00:00:00
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/500
  • Aperture
  • ISO4000
  • Focal Length
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramManual
  • Exposure Bias

Feeding Chooks in Feng Huang

Chook Update

In addition to our new dog, my wife has also found it necessary to get three chickens. We built a special coup and stuff. And then after we built it, she decided she wanted it on the other side of the house. The chooks did not help with that move. And here we are, about 15 weeks into it, and these chooks have only laid THREE eggs. She says it’s because their too young… I don’t know what to believe any more with these damned things.

Daily Photo – Feeding Chooks in Feng Huang

When in Feng Huang, I decided to go down to the river to take some photos. There was a direct way, but I thought it might be more interesting to zig-zag my way there through alleys. One of the most wonderful things about China is how safe it is. I never had any fear for my life or anything as I move around these places. It’s so safe, in fact, that it’s almost eerie! But, eerie in a good way, of course…

Feeding Chooks in Feng Huang

Photo Information

  • Date Taken2016-08-12 06:01:14
  • Camera
  • Camera Make
  • Exposure Time
  • Aperturef/1.4
  • ISO1600
  • Focal Length50mm (50mm in 35mm)
  • Flashflash did not fire
  • Exposure Programaperture priority
  • Exposure Bias

Thanks for all the nice feedback on the new tutorial!

As regular visitors know, we get a lot of new traffic here via my two tutorials. I basically created them because I was getting literally dozens of emails per day asking how I do these photos. I always feel bad totally ignoring people, but I just don’t have time to email back everyone. Instead, I put together two tutorials. The first HDR Tutorial is a free and has helped thousands of people get into HDR Photography. The second, newer tutorial is on Texturing has over an hour-long video and includes 100 hi-res textures. I selected them from over 2,000 textures and refined them down to just the best!

Here is some feedback from tutorial dowloaders!

Jeff Clow: “This collection of textures is truly world class – and by that I mean not simply how brilliant they are, but the fact that they’ve been compiled from fascinating places around the world. The unique textures work superbly well as backgrounds and overlays, and I highly recommend them to any photographer who wants to improve and enhance their images. This texture package is ‘must have’ tool for any serious photographer.”

Scott Dungan: ” What a resource! Stuck in Customs World of Textures has provided me with textures that are difficult or impossible to produce in Photoshop. These textures allow me to produce images with the hand coated look of early photographic processes. Thank you for your World of Textures Stuck in Customs.”

Scotty Graham: “I just downloaded the premium package, and am very impressed with both the quality of the textures and the video tutorial. Trey’s video tutorial is worthwhile to the professional as well as the Photoshop beginner. As a professional photographer, I enjoyed watching Trey’s workflow and creative process unfold right before my eyes….(would be nice to see the same kind of thing with his HDR images). His textures are bar-none some of the best I have seen and/or used. They rival anything else you may see for sale on line, and for 100 textures, his price is very fair. If you are looking to move your photography style up one notch, don’t hesitate to purchase this package….you will not regret it.”

Chris Nowakowski: “All I have to say is WOW! These textures are amazing! They blow everything and anything that I have seen out the water! The video tutorial is so easy to use, even the pro that I am, I still learned a few new tricks! I still remember when I first heard about you and I used your tutorial on HDR to further develop my skills. That tutorial helped me make the art I do today. Now, with this tutorial not only am I not worried about getting my ROI out of it, but I also know that it will inspire me as an artist to further per sue my photography and take it to new heights. It’s hard to sum it all up. All I know is that this rocks as much as you do.”

Thelonius Gonzo: “Just viewed the tutorial. I know dollars are worth something (less and less everyday) but honestly, if you are interested at all in texture effects, and like me, are not already a Photoshop expert, then this tutorial is well worth the asking price. I swear I may need a few weeks to really ingest all of it. The only downside of this is that I feel like I’m cheating.”

Below are a few shots with the effect:

Icelandic Horse, Stuck in Textures

Frozen in Time

HDR and Photoshop and Lightroom

How do I use HDR in Photoshop?

I get this question a lot! I have an answer for you, but it is not what you expect.

First off, I have a FREE HDR Tutorial for Mac or HDR Tutorial for Windows here on StuckInCustoms.com that describes the step by step process. You’ll see that Photoshop is sometimes part of the process, although I strongly recommend you use something else to do the “HDR” bit.

Do you primarily use a Mac to edit your photos? If so, then check out Aurora HDR 2017! I worked with Macphun for over a year to build the ultimate HDR software! If you’re primarily a Windows user then I would definitely use Photomatix Pro. I’ve used and recommended Photomatix Pro for many years. They gave me a Photomatix Coupon Code of “TREYRATCLIFF” that will save you 15%.

Quick Verdict for HDR on Mac

I don’t use Photoshop at all when using Aurora HDR 2017 — this is because Aurora has layers and lets me fix everything right inside of there. Having said that, I may go into Photoshop in the end to use some content-aware-fill to get rid of annoying things like power lines or ugly birds. But I don’t use the HDR-in-Photoshop options…

Quick Verdict for HDR on Windows

Photomatix Pro is the clear winner. Photoshop “Merge to HDR” is much better than earlier iterations of the software, but it has few other redeeming qualities.

Photomatix Pro:

  • Faster (MUCH FASTER – see the chart below)
  • Upgraded noise-reduction just for HDR
  • Better ghosting control
  • and more image control for higher quality images

Photoshop “Merge to HDR” Pro excels in:

  • Having one integrated solution right inside Photoshop
  • Easier to learn because there are a few less controls

HDR in Lightroom

This article does not go into depth other than to say that HDR in Lightroom does not produce very strong results. The resulting image I would say has extremely subtle HDR effects, which some people like. Sometimes the effects are so subtle that I barely even notice a difference. The entire process is also very slow. Again, you can use the more powerful tools listed above (like Aurora HDR) to do subtle effects or more artsy effects.

Photoshop vs. Photomatix Pro Comparison

Note that this testing was done in CS5, although there have been no significant changes I can see since Photoshop CC has arrived.

Item Adobe Photoshop Photomatix Pro
RAW Photos – Loading 7 Images (before Tonemapping) 1:54 (Test 1)

2:01 (Test 2)

0:58 (Test 1)

0:56 (Test 2)

RAW Photos – I make adjustments, then click to process 0:50 (Test 1)

0:52 (Test 2)

0:08 (Test 1)

0:08 (Test 2)

RAW Total Processing Time (Average) 2:48 1:05
JPG Photos – Loading 7 Images (before Tonemapping) 1:01* (Test 1)

0:57 (Test 2)

0:41 (Test 1)

0:40 (Test 2)

JPG Photos – Loading 7 Images (before Tonemapping) 0:27 (Test 1)

0:29 (Test 2)

0:07 (Test 1)

0:08 (Test 2)

JPG Total Processing Time (Average) 1:27 0:48

* Photoshop Gives you a warning about not using JPG photos to make an HDR. You have to click “OK”, but I did not include that wait time in my timings.

Test Subjects and System:

I chose a 7-exposure session from a lake at sunset near Nikko, Japan. The exposures ranged from -3 to +3.

I have a speedy 17″ MacBook Pro. I bought it about 9 months ago — the specs are to the right.

In the Photoshop test, the only things running were Photoshop (in 64-bit mode), Bridge, and Skitch for taking screenshots. In the Photomatix Pro test, I kept those running + Photomatix Pro.

HDR-Photo

Photomatix Pro 4

Special Conditions:

Now, the Photoshop Merge to HDR Pro option does not allow me to turn on and off Auto-Alignment, Cropping, or anything else. Normally, I turn that off in Photomatix because I use a tripod. To keep the tests fair, I turned on the Align Source Images, Cropping, and Reduce Noise in Photomatix Pro. That way, it was doing the same tasks as Photoshop. However, in my normal conditions, I don’t have those turned on, which makes Photomatix even faster.

Also, as you can see I processed with RAW and JPG files. I preach in my HDR Tutorial that using JPGs is just fine. I don’t see any difference in quality. But, I do notice that JPGs are much faster. This is important!

Overall Speed

In these tests, Photomatix Pro 4.0 was much much faster. There’s almost no comparison.

Photomatix Pro processed the images in 1:05 — Photoshop did the same job in 2:48. It was more than twice as fast!

There are two intense “Computer Processing” periods. The first is when you load the images into the program. After this is done, the human takes over and adjusts the sliders. Then there is a second period of processing.

Speed – Loading the Images

Photoshop “Merge to HDR” was slow. Painfully slow! During the loading of the images, it give a few indications of why it is so slow. After a period of time it says “Aligning”. Then, after another bit, it says. “Transforming”. Then for another longer period, it says “Crop”. I did not touch the computer at all during this time… I kept the timer on my iPhone going to watch.

In these tests, the only thing I had running was Photoshop and Bridge. This is not typical. Note that I am usually running Google Chrome, Tweetdeck, Mail, and iTunes for music. So all the times you see in the chart are actually much higher, and the delta between Photoshop and Photomatix Pro grows even more.

My first broken test:

What I had running in the background for all the tests before the reboot:

  • Tweetdeck
  • Google Chrome with about 6 tabs (gmail, websites, nothing too taxing)
  • iTunes playing music
  • Photoshop
  • Bridge
  • Apple Mail & iCal
  • Skitch

The first time I ran it with Merge to HDR Pro, it took 6:05 (six minutes and five seconds) to load. Just amazingly slow! Then, I thought, “Well, I do have it in 32-bit mode,” since I was also running some old plugins. So I tried it again in 64-bit mode. I shut down Photoshop and re-opened. Then I did the Merge to HDR Pro option through Bridge again. The second time it took 13:10. THIRTEEN MINUTES. I was just about to Force Quit the program — I was sure something was wrong! How can this be — in 64-bit mode? Isn’t it supposed to be faster?

So I decided to reboot and try again. I was worried that maybe there had been a memory leak or something had just gummed up the works. Because thirteen minutes just didn’t make sense! Now, I am using big images from a Nikon D3X. And these were RAW files, but that still seems like way too long…

After I rebooted, I loaded NO OTHER PROGRAMS expect for Photoshop, Bridge, and Skitch. I did not like doing this for the test, because this is not a “normal” environment for me. I usually have several things running. This time, it was much faster and clocked in at 1:54. So, after this, I decided to restart the whole test and have nothing else running to keep the results as clean as possible.

Speed – Processing the Images

After you make your slider changes, you can process them. There is a period of waiting whilst the image processes. Again, Photomatix Pro was not just a little faster, but way faster.

For the RAW files, Photoshop took an average of 8 seconds and Photoshop Merge to HDR Pro took a whopping 51 seconds (two tests at :50 and :52).

And remember… I wasn’t doing anything else on the computer… I wasn’t checking the mail or tweeting or anything… just watching the water boil…

Photo Quality and Control

I’ve been using previous versions of Photomatix for years, so I am familiar with the sliders. Because I am a private tester, Photomatix would not allow me to post screenshots of the new GUI. However, it is very similar to previous versions.

The new Photoshop “Merge to HDR” dialogs are very similar to that of Photomatix Pro. However, they do not have nearly as fine control. There are about 1/3 as many sliders, which is good and bad. It’s good in terms of simplicity, but it is bad it terms of flexibility.

I find that there are so many different sorts of HDR shooting conditions. The more sliders you have to adjust one part of a photo for one condition and another for a different condition — the better. I’ve processed a bunch of images with both now, and I prefer Photomatix Pro. I get much more fine-grained control.

More importantly, I feel like I get more “pop” with the Photomatix Pro controls. It’s tough to explain… what do you think? What’s your experience with these tools so far?

HDR-Photo
HDR-Photo

The two above images are from Photomatix Pro 4.0 (left) and Photoshop Merge to HDR (right). Although it is probably hard to tell at this resolution, I believe the Photomatix Pro one has finer control. Both tools allow you to move the sliders around until you are happy with the image… so there is not really a one-to-one comparison possible here… Also, I did not show the new GUI for Photomatix Pro 4.0 at the request of the developer.

Better Ghosting Control

I remember when Merge to HDR Pro was announced that it had this cool feature for repairing ghosts. Ghosts are those nasty bits where part of an image is moving around in the various frames. A dog running across the bottom of the frame would be a good example.

Well, Photomatix Pro 1-ups Photoshop! It allows you to control various ghosts around the frame at the same time! Basically, there is an intermediate step where you can drag the mouse around one area and select a new single “source” image for that area, and then do it again for another section. For example, you may want to pick the dog from one exposure and the blowing tree from another. It’s great flexibility and very smart.

Noise Reduction for HDR

Photoshop did make some very nice changes with Noise Reduction, but that is part of the RAW import process. Since the Merge to HDR Pro option goes around that, you don’t get any of the good Noise Reduction for HDR images inside Photoshop.

Photomatix Pro 4.0 has a newer, more robust way to reduce noise. It even allows you to adjust the noise in the “input” images before they even begin the processing period. Smart.

The image there to the right was taken from a single RAW. As most of you HDR veterans know, noise at night is a big problem. The new Noise Reduction in Photomatix (which works even for a single RAW photo) really saved me a lot of time.

You can click on the image there to go see the full size on SmugMug. You’ll notice little white bits… they almost look like stars that I drew in, but they are falling sparkles from previous explosions

HDR-Photo

HDR Toning – Are you kidding me?

I was also intrigued by another little feature in Photoshop that all the videos were raving about. It is called “HDR Toning…” and it allows you to take your image inside Photoshop and give it an “HDR Look”. Cool, I thought! Well, I got in there to try it, and it told me that I had to Flatten the entire image first! That means, basically, that you have to take all of your layers and make them one. This is a deal-killer for me, since I like to have several layers open while I am working on an image.

Worse, it makes no sense! Most of the other Photoshop filters and controls work on a single layer without requiring the entire thing to be flattened. What’s up Adobe? You gotta fix that up… it’s sloppy.

HDR-Photo
HDR-Photo

The Final Photo – The Lake at Nikko

This place was Cold with a capital C, as you can plainly see.

And worse, I had forgotten my special little gloves with the flip-up fingertips. So I was goin’ finger-commando while trying to line up this shot. The wind was pretty stiff in my face. The wind always seems to be against you, eh? I think I just never notice it when it comes from any other angle.

By the way, there is only one place that is convenient to quickly warm up your fingers.

There is an older, historic part of Nikko that is about a 30 minute drive away. The drive is practically straight up a mountain, through a series of switchbacks. During the entire time up the mountain, I was surrounded by clouds. I thought it would be quite miserable at the top. But once I poked out, everything was free and clear. I was between cloud layers, exactly where this chilly lake sat at sunset.

HDR-Photo

HDR Photos for you made with a combination of Photomatix and Photoshop

Here are a few photos photos for you. You can see more on at my Portfolio. I make a new one every day here on the home page at StuckInCustoms.com, so you are welcome to come back daily! 🙂

The Mist From The Tree Tops Fell On Me From Above And Behind

Moonrise Kingdom

Downtown Beijing After Rain

Road Trip New Zealand!

Inception Reflection New York

The Rock Moved So Slowly That I Did Not Notice

walking alone and being somewhat lost on which way

The Secret Workshop Of Jules Verne

Reflections on the Eiffel Tower Isn't it romantic?  What could be more perfect than a beautiful sunset here in Paris?There was a big storm all day long, but I could see the clouds were beginning to break up a little to the west, and I knew there was a possibility the sun would dip into an opening beneath the heavy clouds.  So, with that intense possibility, I headed over to the Eiffel Tower area hoping the light would turn out right...I also made a behind-the-scenes video.  Since you guys have been so nice over on Google+, I'll share that video exclusively there first, so be sure to stay tuned... I'm still editing the thing together!- Trey RatcliffRead more here at the Stuck in Customs blog.

Fourth on Lake Austin

Aurora Australis Galactica

An Abandoned Game Trail in China

There Evolved a Technopolis

Lijiang at Night

The Secret Crystal LakeThis remote lake was so icy cold.  You would think it's about 33 degrees or something, right?  It felt like absolute zero.  I dropped a little piece of my tripod in here and my hand almost froze off trying to retrieve it.In the distance you can see where the glacier comes into contact with the glassy lake; it gives a sense of the epic scale here.- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

Hong Kong from the Peak on a Summer's Night If you want to see how I made this (and how you can too!), visit my HDR Tutorial. I hope it gives you some new tricks!I had a long day waking up at 5 AM to take a series of subways and trains up to Shenzen for some meetings. I had a Chinese VISA, which you don't need to get into Hong Kong, but I had to use to cross the official Chinese border after getting off the train. I didn't realize that it was a one-time use VISA, and I had to go to Shanghai the next day. This caused a lot of problems with the Chinese officials, a body of government with which I do not enjoy causing problems.Anyway, after I got back to Hong Kong after a day in Shenzen, I was hot and sweaty and in the sort of meeting clothes that aren't great for being hot and sweaty in. But, everything about Hong Kong was still awesome and I had too look hard for things to complain about. The sun was setting, and I made it up to The Peak just in time for a shot.This was a 5-exposure HDR shot at 100 ISO, and, of course, a sturdy tripod to get all the lights as steady as possible.- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

Sunset in Ibiza Ibiza is a fabulous island off the coast of Spain that is the "in" destination for all the Euros that like to get trashed, party, dress in white, do medium-level-drugs, and stay on the beach without many clothes.I saw this girl bouncing around and very happy about something, so I went over and said hello, introducing myself.  She didn't speak much English, but I managed to ask her if I could take a photo of her.  She enthusiastically said yes, and I explained the sitch as we walked over to the water, mostly using interpretive dance to span the language gap.  She was Italian and her name was Wendy.  I think that is a strange name for an Italian, but I didn't question it.  Anyway, I asked her just to walk off into the ocean and I would take a photo.  She did just that, and I grabbed this shot just as the sun was dipping below the horizon.- Trey RatcliffThe rest of this entry resides here at stuckincustoms.com.

The Treetop Temple Protects Kyoto

Approaching Mount Fuji from the Old Village What a perfect place this is!I’ve been to Japan many times, but I never had the chance to visit Mt. Fuji! This time, Tom and I made a point to do it, and this was one of our fist stops. You can see much more about it in the video above!- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

Bryce Canyon National Park

A Neo-Rockwellian Christmas When dad is a photographer, then there is a major degree of pressure to deliver photos on all the requisite holidays and celebrations! So, I decided to try to re-invent the family Christmas photo with HDR. Please note that many of my inventions go down in flames, but, as Winston Churchill said, “success is the ability to go from one failure to the next with no loss of enthusiasm”.Christmas scenes have a lot of light levels. The lights on the tree, the deep greens withn the branches, a roaring fire, lights in the room, reflections off the ornaments, and the like. It’s wild! I’m pretty sure this is why people like Christmas scenes so much - a wonderful treat for the eyes that is rich in texture and rich in light. Traditionally, it’s been very difficult to capture so much richness in a single photo, saving a lucky and heroic combination of shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and lenses.The tree lights made the faces of my three stunt-children (who are also my real children) glow perfectly. No flash could have achieved this, unless you are the kind of Rambo-flash guy that would go bury one inside the tree to hit their faces from the left. But, let’s face it. That’s hard.This was a 5-exposure HDR. You will notice that I often use 5 exposures, but note I could have done it with 3 exposures at -2, 0, and +2. Some silly Nikon cameras, like the D3X I use, will not let you step by twos, so I had to take 5 at -2, -1, 0, +1, and +2. The middle exposure, from which the kid’s faces were masked in and perfectly lit, was shot at f/4 aperture, shutter speed of 1/250, 100 ISO, and at 28mm.- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

Reflecting on the Taj Mahal

Coming Home

Welcome to the this page about HDR and Photoshop. I put it together based on many questions I get about how to create an HDR in Photoshop.

Many regular readers here who have seen my full HDR Tutorial know that Photoshop is a major part of the equation. However, I would caution people against only using Photoshop to create an HDR.

I have created thousands and thousands of HDR Photographs. This site is extremely popular both with professional and amateur photographers that are into cutting-edge visualization. As such, I get many offers from dozens of software packages to product HDR images. I try all the software, including every version of Photoshop, so I am very comfortable in stating judgments on the matter.

My Recommendation

I recommend that Photoshop is very much part of the process, but the first step should be to process the photo using Photomatix.  See below for the full explanation.

Photomatix Pro 4.0

If you have Photomatix Pro 3 (use the Photomatix Coupon Code STUCKINCUSTOMS to save the most money), then you will get a FREE upgrade to Photomatix Pro 4.0 when it comes out… I don’t know when that will be, but I am guessing in the next few weeks. You can download it from the HDRSoft website.

New to HDR?

If you are new to HDR, you can enjoy my friendly, easy-to-use HDR Tutorial.  I’ve taught tens of thousands around the world how to do it… I’m sure I can teach you too!  The tutorial is free!

Quick Verdict

Photomatix Pro 4.0 is the clear winner.  Photoshop CS5 Merge to HDR is much better than CS4, and it has a few redeeming qualities.

Photomatix Pro 4.0:

  • Faster (MUCH FASTER – see the chart below)
  • Upgraded noise-reduction just for HDR
  • Better ghosting control
  • and more image control for higher quality images

Photoshop CS5 Merge to HDR Pro excels in:

  • Having one integrated solution right inside Photoshop
  • Easier to learn because there are less controls

Photoshop CS5 vs. Photomatix Pro Comparison

Item Adobe Photoshop CS5 Photomatix Pro 4.0
RAW Photos – Loading 7 Images (before Tonemapping) 1:54 (Test 1)

2:01 (Test 2)

0:58 (Test 1)

0:56 (Test 2)

RAW Photos – I make adjustments, then click to process 0:50 (Test 1)

0:52 (Test 2)

0:08 (Test 1)

0:08 (Test 2)

RAW Total Processing Time (Average) 2:48 1:05
JPG Photos – Loading 7 Images (before Tonemapping) 1:01* (Test 1)

0:57 (Test 2)

0:41 (Test 1)

0:40 (Test 2)

JPG Photos – Loading 7 Images (before Tonemapping) 0:27 (Test 1)

0:29 (Test 2)

0:07 (Test 1)

0:08 (Test 2)

JPG Total Processing Time (Average) 1:27 0:48

* Photoshop CS5 Gives you a warning about not using JPG photos to make an HDR.  You have to click “OK”, but I did not include that wait time in my timings.

Test Subjects and System:

I chose a 7-exposure session from a lake at sunset near Nikko, Japan.  The exposures ranged from -3 to +3.

I have a speedy 17″ MacBook Pro.  I bought it about 9 months ago — the specs are to the right.

In the Photoshop CS5 test, the only things running were Photoshop CS5 (in 64-bit mode), Bridge CS5, and Skitch for taking screenshots.  In the Photomatix Pro test, I kept those running + Photomatix Pro.

HDR-Photo

Photomatix Pro 4

Special Conditions:

Now, the Photoshop Merge to HDR Pro option does not allow me to turn on and off Auto-Alignment, Cropping, or anything else.  Normally, I turn that off in Photomatix because I use a tripod.  To keep the tests fair, I turned on the Align Source Images, Cropping, and Reduce Noise in Photomatix Pro.  That way, it was doing the same tasks as Photoshop.  However, in my normal conditions, I don’t have those turned on, which makes Photomatix even faster.

Also, as you can see I processed with RAW and JPG files.  I preach in my HDR Tutorial that using JPGs is just fine.  I don’t see any difference in quality.  But, I do notice that JPGs are much faster.  This is important!

Overall Speed

In these tests, Photomatix Pro 4.0 was much much faster.  There’s almost no comparison.

Photomatix Pro processed the images in 1:05 — Photoshop CS5 did the same job in 2:48.  It was more than twice as fast!

There are two intense “Computer Processing” periods. The first is when you load the images into the program.  After this is done, the human takes over and adjusts the sliders.  Then there is a second period of processing.

Speed – Loading the Images

Photoshop CS5 Merge to HDR was slow.  Painfully slow!  During the loading of the images, it give a few indications of why it is so slow.  After a period of time it says “Aligning”.  Then, after another bit, it says. “Transforming”.  Then for another longer period, it says “Crop”.  I did not touch the computer at all during this time…  I kept the timer on my iPhone going to watch.

In these tests, the only thing I had running was Photoshop CS5 and Bridge CS5.  This is not typical.  Note that I am usually running Google Chrome, Tweetdeck, Mail, and iTunes for music.  So all the times you see in the chart are actually much higher, and the delta between CS5 and Photomatix Pro grows even more.

My first broken test:

What I had running in the background for all the tests before the reboot:

  • Tweetdeck
  • Google Chrome with about 6 tabs (gmail, websites, nothing too taxing)
  • iTunes playing music
  • Photoshop CS5
  • Bridge CS5
  • Apple Mail & iCal
  • Skitch

The first time I ran it with Merge to HDR Pro, it took 6:05 (six minutes and five seconds) to load.  Just amazingly slow!  Then, I thought, “Well, I do have it in 32-bit mode,” since I was also running some old plugins.  So I tried it again in 64-bit mode.  I shut down Photoshop and re-opened.  Then I did the Merge to HDR Pro option through Bridge again.  The second time it took 13:10.  THIRTEEN MINUTES.  I was just about to Force Quit the program — I was sure something was wrong!  How can this be — in 64-bit mode?  Isn’t it supposed to be faster?

So I decided to reboot and try again. I was worried that maybe there had been a memory leak or something had just gummed up the works.  Because thirteen minutes just didn’t make sense!  Now, I am using big images from a Nikon D3X.  And these were RAW files, but that still seems like way too long…

After I rebooted, I loaded NO OTHER PROGRAMS expect for Photoshop CS5, Bridge CS5, and Skitch.  I did not like doing this for the test, because this is not a “normal” environment for me. I usually have several things running.  This time, it was much faster and clocked in at 1:54.  So, after this, I decided to restart the whole test and have nothing else running to keep the results as clean as possible.

Speed – Processing the Images

After you make your slider changes, you can process them.  There is a period of waiting whilst the image processes.  Again, Photomatix Pro was not just a little faster, but way faster.

For the RAW files, Photoshop took an average of 8 seconds and Photoshop CS5 Merge to HDR Pro took a whopping 51 seconds (two tests at :50 and :52).

And remember… I wasn’t doing anything else on the computer… I wasn’t checking the mail or tweeting or anything… just watching the water boil…

Photo Quality and Control

I’ve been using previous versions of Photomatix for years, so I am familiar with the sliders.  Because I am a private tester, Photomatix would not allow me to post screenshots of the new GUI.  However, it is very similar to previous versions.

The new Photoshop CS5 Merge to HDR Pro dialogs are very similar to that of Photomatix Pro.  However, they do not have nearly as fine control.  There are about 1/3 as many sliders, which is good and bad.  It’s good in terms of simplicity, but it is bad it terms of flexibility.

I find that there are so many different sorts of HDR shooting conditions.  The more sliders you have to adjust one part of a photo for one condition and another for a different condition — the better.  I’ve processed a bunch of images with both now, and I prefer Photomatix Pro.  I get much more fine-grained control.

More importantly, I feel like I get more “pop” with the Photomatix Pro controls.  It’s tough to explain… what do you think?  What’s your experience with these tools so far?

HDR-Photo HDR-Photo

The two above images are from Photomatix Pro 4.0 (left) and Photoshop CS5 Merge to HDR (right). Although it is probably hard to tell at this resolution, I believe the Photomatix Pro one has finer control. Both tools allow you to move the sliders around until you are happy with the image… so there is not really a one-to-one comparison possible here… Also, I did not show the new GUI for Photomatix Pro 4.0 at the request of the developer.

Better Ghosting Control

I remember when CS5 Merge to HDR Pro was announced that it had this cool feature for repairing ghosts.  Ghosts are those nasty bits where part of an image is moving around in the various frames.  A dog running across the bottom of the frame would be a good example.

Well, Photomatix Pro 1-ups CS5!  It allows you to control various ghosts around the frame at the same time!  Basically, there is an intermediate step where you can drag the mouse around one area and select a new single “source” image for that area, and then do it again for another section.  For example, you may want to pick the dog from one exposure and the blowing tree from another.  It’s great flexibility and very smart.

Noise Reduction for HDR

CS5 did make some very nice changes with Noise Reduction, but that is part of the RAW import process.  Since the Merge to HDR Pro option goes around that, you don’t get any of the good Noise Reduction for HDR images inside CS5.

Photomatix Pro 4.0 has a newer, more robust way to reduce noise.  It even allows you to adjust the noise in the “input” images before they even begin the processing period.  Smart.

The image there to the right was taken from a single RAW. As most of you HDR veterans know, noise at night is a big problem. The new Noise Reduction in Photomatix (which works even for a single RAW photo) really saved me a lot of time.

You can click on the image there to go see the full size on SmugMug. You’ll notice little white bits… they almost look like stars that I drew in, but they are falling sparkles from previous explosions.

HDR-Photo

HDR Toning – Are you kidding me?

I was also intrigued by another little feature in CS5 that all the videos were raving about.  It is called “HDR Toning…” and it allows you to take your image inside Photoshop and give it an “HDR Look”.  Cool, I thought!  Well, I got in there to try it, and it told me that I had to Flatten the entire image first!  That means, basically, that you have to take all of your layers and make them one.  This is a deal-killer for me, since I like to have several layers open while I am working on an image.

Worse, it makes no sense!  Most of the other Photoshop filters and controls work on a single layer without requiring the entire thing to be flattened.  What’s up Adobe?  You gotta fix that up… it’s sloppy.

HDR-Photo HDR-Photo

What are Your Results So Far?

I’m sure many of you already have Photomatix 3. Now, I understand that the tonemapping algorithms are the same. So I am pretty sure that you will get similar speed results. We have a lot of great HDR Photographers that hang out around here… so I’m interested in hearing your feedback. Am I off my rocker? All I kept hearing about is HOW AWESOME Adobe CS5 is with HDR… but I just don’t see it. Am I living in a fantasy world?

I swear I must have watched about 30 videos when Photoshop CS5 came out — they were all about how amazing CS5 Merge to HDR Pro was. But, really — is it? It’s a big improvement over CS4, but that is like saying WW2 is a big improvement over the first one. Okay… that’s too harsh… but CS4 HDR was really really bad. CS5 is much better, but I just can’t come up with any compelling reasons to use it… from speed to image quality – I think Photomatix Pro 4.0 is a better product all around.

HDR-Photo

This is one of the first images I edited with Photomatix Pro 4.0 — I was very happy with the result!

The Final Photo – The Lake at Nikko

This place was Cold with a capital C, as you can plainly see.

And worse, I had forgotten my special little gloves with the flip-up fingertips. So I was goin’ finger-commando while trying to line up this shot. The wind was pretty stiff in my face. The wind always seems to be against you, eh? I think I just never notice it when it comes from any other angle.

By the way, there is only one place that is convenient to quickly warm up your fingers.

There is an older, historic part of Nikko that is about a 30 minute drive away. The drive is practically straight up a mountain, through a series of switchbacks. During the entire time up the mountain, I was surrounded by clouds. I thought it would be quite miserable at the top. But once I poked out, everything was free and clear. I was between cloud layers, exactly where this chilly lake sat at sunset.

HDR-Photo

HDR Photo Equipment

As for I have a Nikon D3X, but it does not require a camera that beefy to make photos like the ones you see on the site. In fact, many of my photos were taken with a camera that only costs a fraction of this beast. I have a full rundown of HDR Camera recommendations here on the site as well.

What is HDR?

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. and many of the others are represented by Getty. I think this goes to show how mainstream and accepted HDR can be, if the technique is properly applied.

Fourth on Lake Austin

Farewell India

Merry D3Xmas from Trey and Stuck In Customs!

I've reached the end of the world

Sunflowers at Sunset, oh and I'm making a short film

Hong Kong from The Peak on a Summer Night

The Open Road

Aurora HDR 2017 is here, get it now!

It’s been a long two weeks but the wait is finally over, the new Aurora HDR 2017 for Macs is finally here and ready to download! I developed this software along with Macphun, an amazing company that has already created many other stunning photography tools for the Mac. The idea that after 10 years I finally got to create my own High Dynamic Range photography software and jam-pack it with all my favorite tricks was absolutely intoxicating!

I’ve been using this software now for a short eternity and we’ve taken my experience plus some great feedback from other users to create this new version. You can head over to our Aurora HDR 2017 Page see all the long list of new and improved features.

 

 



 

Note: Aurora HDR 2017 is still for Macs only. Yes, we truly are working on a Windows version (harder than it sounds) and when it’s released you will be the first to know!

 



 

Current Users of Aurora HDR Pro can upgrade for $49. Click here to find out if you qualify for an upgrade.

New Customers can Order Now for only $89, (Extended Pre-Order price for one week only until October 6).

 

 

New software… and new HDR tutorial to go with it!

It is an hour long Video tutorial to show how I use Aurora HDR 2017 in practically every situation. From outdoors to indoors, mixes to architecture, moving objects to single photos, people photos and everything in between. You’ll see how I use the tool in slightly different ways for all these situations. As usual, I start out the tutorials very slowly, aimed at total beginners. But then we move on to intermediate and advanced techniques.

Trey’s Super Bundle

If you’re feeling a little adventurous you should check out the Super Bundle which includes both Aurora HDR 2017 AND my full-length HDR Video Tutorial for Macs all in one, for cheaper than it would be to buy them separately 🙂

 



Happy Aurora HDR 2017 Pre-Order Day!

At some magical point today, Aurora HDR 2017 will become available for Pre-Order! I’ve been working on this thing like crazy, and I can’t wait to get it in your hands. Below are two videos where I talk more about it. One is an overall preview and the next is a hot tip.

What do you get with the Pre-Order?

Pre-Order Bonus Items:

Trey Ratcliff Deep Dive video and RAW files
1 Year basic subscription to SmugMug
60-day KelbyOne membership
25 Square Prints from Parabo.press (free global shipping)

What’s the history and the deal with Aurora HDR 2017?

A few years ago, I called up MacPhun to see if they wanted to collaborate on the ultimate HDR program. They said yes, and we built the original one over a year ago. It went gangbusters and has over 650,000 downloads. Yes, it’s only Mac so far, but there is a Windows version in development. Anyway, we listened to all the feedback and ideas and made this new version. As usual, I’ve been testing it all along the way…

What are the updates?

There are over 20 updates, but here are the latest ones.

New Luminosity Masks controls
New Zone System allows selective masking of specific areas of an image; new controls provide extensive fine-tuning, allowing users to make brightness adjustments in more precise areas.

New tone-mapping engine
The improved algorithm is quicker, reduces noise, and handles tone, contrast and details in all areas of your photo for more realistic, sharp and natural tone-mapping results.

New batch processing
Automatically recognizes brackets, and adds support for sub-­folders and Batch preset – the single most requested feature since the launch of Aurora HDR.

New Polarizing filter
Emulating the polarisation filter added to a lens, this feature gives colours more depth with a single swipe, and cuts haze – perfect for landscape photographers.

New powerful one-click presets
Including Signature Pro presets by Trey Ratcliff, Captain Kimo and Serge Ramelli, to yield fantastic results instantly.

New ways to work with Layers
Support of different Blend modes for Layers and Textures, with new options for Darken, Color Burn and Lighten.

New enhanced Top & Bottom Adjustment panel
Top and Bottom Adjustment includes new contrast, vibrance, and warmth sliders, adding an extra level of selective control.

Faster RAW processing & DNG support
Time-saving image processing, and improved DNG handling.

Introducing Aurora HDR 2017

Here’s a fun video I made that shows some of the new features.

Tip Video: Batch Processing

Here’s one of three new tip videos that illustrates the new Batch feature. To see all the videos and more, pop over to my Youtube Channel!

Crossing the wooden bridge in Venice

The New Travel / Map Area

We’re still working to refine everything with the new map function on the site — please let me know if you have any feedback! 🙂

Daily Photo – Crossing the wooden bridge in Venice

There are three huge bridges that cross the grand canal in Venice, and this is one of the most famous views. I'm always impressed at these feats of engineering… I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during the original construction in the olden days. It occurs to me I don't even really have any idea how bridges are even built! I kind of have an idea, but I don't think I could actually build one, or, at least, not one I was willing to walk on myself.

Crossing the wooden bridge in Venice

Photo Information

  • Date Taken2016-02-04 10:35:47
  • CameraFC300X
  • Camera MakeDJI
  • Exposure Time1/3000
  • Aperture2.8
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length3.6 mm
  • FlashNo flash function
  • Exposure ProgramUnknown (58655)
  • Exposure Bias-0.344

The Dock Crumbles

Phantom 4 Video

We’re getting lots of good feedback on the new Phantom 4 review video! Thanks again everyone, and don’t miss the new updated Phantom 4 Review.

Daily Photo – The Dock Crumbles

You'll recognize this beach immediately if you saw the new quadcopter review above. I like everything about this photo except for ONE thing. Can you guess what it is before you read the next para?

It's a small thing… but a tiny thing that gets under my skin. You see the photographer down there by the broken dock? I should have moved the quad just a little bit so that his figure did not bleed into the pier.

The Dock Crumbles

Photo Information

  • Date Taken2016-08-12 05:33:51
  • CameraFC330
  • Camera MakeDJI
  • Exposure Time1/147
  • Aperture2.8
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length0.0 mm
  • FlashNo flash function
  • Exposure ProgramUnknown (58655)
  • Exposure Bias

The Ritz-Carlton, Phulay Bay, Thailand

A Thailand Recap!

Now that I’m back home from a the 50-day trip, I’m gonna do a little 5-day recap of the 5 countries we visited along the way! Wow, what a trip… I’m still getting my head around the whole thing. Now, some of you may know how I absolutely love staying at these amazing Ritz-Carlton locations all around the world. I feel so grateful for our partnership and everything…I know I gush about them all the time, but, I mean, comon, really! Check out how beautiful it is there… and the whole team is so nice. Anyway, I just wanted to take a moment and say thank you! I never want to check out of any location…

Thailand Videos

Anyway, here’s a few favorite videos of Thailand.

Thailand Photos

Here’s a few favorite photos of Thailand this trip, both on the property and around the environs!


from Trey Ratcliff at http://www.StuckInCustoms.com

Here’s the beautiful entryway where I would come to meditate. More on that below for the daily photo!

Exploring The Archipelago Around Krabi In Thailand

We had the most amazing boat ride around the archipelago. By the way, this is a pretty good example of the “type” of photo the Hasselblad takes.

from Trey Ratcliff at http://www.StuckInCustoms.com

My daughter feeds a baby elephant on the beach. How Cute Can You Get?

from Trey Ratcliff at http://www.StuckInCustoms.com

Isabella pauses after dinner on a bridge before we return back to the room for the night. We were hoping the elephant would be there too, but he was not…

from Trey Ratcliff at http://www.StuckInCustoms.com

On one of our last nights here, we were treated to an amazing show from all the locals. The kids were enraptured and my camera was in a state of constant motion!

from Trey Ratcliff at http://www.StuckInCustoms.com

This was one of our nightly walks, from the bar to another beautiful restaurant for dinner. They had so many amazing restaurants on the property that our minds were in a state of constant-blowage!

Daily Photo – The Ritz-Carlton, Phulay Bay, Thailand

This is a pretty peaceful view on the way to morning meditation, wouldn't you say? By the time I walked through all these bamboo pathways and peaceful shapes, I was already in the right mindset. In fact, I think this is maybe my favorite memory of this place. It's not a specific moment, it's more that I felt like I was in a constant flow of meditation while there. And I can't wait to go back!

The Ritz-Carlton, Phulay Bay, Thailand

Photo Information

  • Date Taken2015-12-29 17:06:59
  • CameraH5D
  • Camera MakeHasselblad
  • Exposure Time8
  • Aperture4
  • ISO200
  • Focal Length28.0 mm
  • Flash
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone has a GREAT 2016… I think it’s gonna be an amazing one! I don’t really make New Year Resolutions, although I know it’s kind of a popular thing. I’m usually pretty good about making Completely Arbitrary Resolutions, and I do them randomly and just put them into motion immediately. This method has varied success.

Traveling Ratcliff Photo Circus Around The World!






I know I’ve done 3 days in a row here… I can’t commit to it because all this takes a lot of time and work, actually! But we did do some amazing things today that were worth capturing. It started out with all of us in a party van with a mirrored ceiling for a short ride to get on a boat. We took the boat for about an hour to visit four small islands around Phi Phi. They were amazing and we had a great time snorkeling and swimming. Where are they exactly? See This Google Map. We ended with a lunch on Bamboo Island before coming back… and pretty much after we got back, it was time to visit CoCo the baby elephant on the beach! CoCo is 3 years old and it was on the way to being a circus elephant, but the group here rescued him and now he does nothing but rest and relax and eat! Sounds nice… they say that chain is on him when in public because sometimes boats scare him and he runs wild!

Right before Coco walked home for the evening, the owner stopped for a moment for Scarlett to give a final snack for the night as the sun was setting.

from Trey Ratcliff at http://www.StuckInCustoms.com

Daily Photo – Right before Coco walked home for the evening

The owner stopped for a moment for Scarlett to give a final snack for the night as the sun was setting.

Right before Coco walked home for the evening

Photo Information

  • Date Taken2015-12-29 12:28:13
  • CameraH5D
  • Camera MakeHasselblad
  • Exposure Time1/125
  • Aperture4
  • ISO400
  • Focal Length35.0 mm
  • Flash
  • Exposure ProgramManual
  • Exposure Bias

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