Can Lightroom Compete with HDR?

HDR (right) and Lightroom (Left)

HDR (right) and Lightroom (Left)

Note: This is a subjective article about photography, adobe lightroom and hdr . Take whatever I say as you wish.

I use Lightroom all of the time, as I suspect many of you do as well. It’s a great tool which has gotten better and better with each iteration. Lightroom 5, with it improved Shadows and Highlight sliders can really make the difference in a photo where, for whatever reason, the exposure got out of control. A master craftsman like Joe McNally would probably just tell you to take a better picture to begin with, but when I am running and gunning it’s not always an option for me to spend 30 minutes to an entire day making sure every zone of a photograph is properly exposed.

One of the bonuses of Lightroom’s Shadow, Highlight and Clarity slider is that you can start to get into the realm of HDR photography with just a single photo. Traditional HDR requires at least two bracketed photos. I’d say 3 would be the average, but I know some people who claim to use as many 11, to achieve better overall zone exposure in their photographs. I guess if they need 11, that’s fine. HDR programs like Photomatix makes merging multiple files into an HDR file fairly easy and straightforward. Even Photoshop has a Merge to HDR function, although I find it’s results to be less than optimal.

Only a few years ago, Photomatix was practically the only game in town; there were and are still other options, but Photomatix seems to be the most widely used. So, when I would take a series of photos for HDR purposes that’s the program I used. Then one day, while playing around with my merged file in Photomatix, I decided, eh, maybe this photo wasn’t a good candidate for HDR after all. So I went back into Lightroom, grabbed my 0.0 exposed photo out of the batch and started to play with it there. What I found was that I was readily able to create an HDR-ish image that kept in line with what I was originally looking for. Then I thought, what if went back into my library and found other images that I had originally merged into HDR? Could I use a single photo out of a series to create a photo that closely matched the file that Photomatix had output? The answer was, yes… sort of.

First off, I was impressed that I could use Lightroom 5’s sliders to change the global tonality as much as I could. And while it never recovered the shadows or highlights as drastically as a true HDR process could, it came close enough and the results were actually more to my liking.

HDR’s main function is to compress the over all exposure in such a way that the tonal quality of the image is pretty much the same across the entire image. The result is a dramatic, if not sometimes flat, image that reveals all types of details from highlights and shadows. The problem with that is the story and the mood of a location are often rooted in those highlights and shadows. It’s great to bring more depth into your photos, but too much is, well, too much and we’ve all seen what too much looks like. Do a Google image search for HDR and you’ll be blitzed with clown vomit colors and images so normalized that they almost hurt to look at it. A great HDR artist, (see my friend Neil Kremer’s stream here on Flickr), puts a lot more work into his HDR images rather than pressing a button in Photomatix and posting the result. He spends a lot of time in Photoshop dodging, burning and blending to make sure his images are both real and surreal. And, honestly, if you’re going to do HDR you should be doing it Neil’s way.

But I think there’s a great middle ground hiding within Lightroom that let’s you bring out these extra details without losing drama — all with a single, well exposed image. The image above is an example of a 3 bracketed photo. merged and output from Photomatix, and then a single photo (the 0.0 exposed photo from the batch) processed in Lightroom. There are differences, no doubt, and some people may still prefer the look of the Photomatix image over its Lightroom cousin, but you can see that there’s a great possibility there in Lightroom to create some dynamically ranged photos that still retain character.

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Portrait, Wedding and Advertising photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio area.

My New 600ex-rt Speedlite – Benjamin Lehman Commercial Photography

I‘ve always been a studio strobe kind of guy. My feeling was that studio strobes offered me more flexibility. It gave me more power output when I needed it, it gave me better coverage when I needed and I felt, since they have external battery packs, that I could put them anywhere I would ever need to. It also seems like the best light shaping modifiers were always available for the larger lights. These, among other reasons, always made me feel like if I was going to drop a wad (<-super technical term) of cash on a lighting system that it would be safer spending it on a larger studio strobe. Basically, I thought I had all my bases covered.

But over the past few years I found that when I was setting up my lighting schemes I would often relegate my studio strobes to background tasks, like lighting the environment or using them as large light washes to bring up ambiance a stop or so. Meanwhile, my old, smaller 430ex and 285HV flashes were being used as focused key lights and kickers. Without realizing it I was relying on my smaller flashes for a lot of my precision work. As time progressed I started to use them more in the field and not long after that came an awareness that I had actually been limiting myself by relying so heavily on studio strobes in a lot of situations.

Studio strobes have their use, and that use is big light. When I say big light, I mean any situation where either coverage or sheer energy is needed. When I was working on my project for the Akron Canton Regional Foodbank, where I was often shooting in the noon-day sun, I needed their large power output to reign in the ambient sun so I could put more flattering light on my subjects.

But noon-day photo shoots don’t happen that often. The Foodbank job was very run-and-gun, but usually when you’re contracted to take photos you have a lot more control of your shooting schedule and thus you can take your portraits in more forgiving situations. It’s in these controlled situations where a set of speedlites can easily provide you with the power and flexibility that you need.

Where Can You Use Speedlites?

Canon's new flagship speedlite, the 600ex-rt

Canon’s new flagship speedlite, the 600ex-rt

Pretty much anywhere you could use any other type of light except for maybe the scenario I mentioned above (and even then a large bank of speedlites can do the job, as illustrated by Joe McNally). There are unique properties shared by all speedlites that make them a good, defacto go-to choice for photographs. Their full-featured; even a ‘simple’ speedlite like the vivitar 285HV Zoom Thyristor (who comes up with these names!?) has all the basic  control that the more expensive speedlites offer. Another bonus is the size – these things are small. I can fit 3 or 4 of these speedlites into my camera bag and still have room for my two main cameras, gels, extra lenses, wireless triggers, and batteries.

Anyway, if you’ve used speedlites before none of this is news to you, and so this brings me to the point of this post: Canon’s newest speedlite, the 600ex-rt which I recently purchased.

No ceremonial unboxing for this light. I got it in the mail at 12, and by 1 o’clock I had it pressed into service. In case you’re unable to read between the lines here, that’s a testament to just how easy it is to use this speedlite. I was able to put it on my camera and start shooting, full featured right away, without having to read the 40,000 page manual that comes with it. I had an event I was contracted to shoot. It took place in a large outdoor venue and this meant my main issue was controlling the ambient light from the sun. Most of the event took place under a large, unwalled tent. The ceilings of the tent were anywhere between 12 and 40 feet tall. I found I was able to point the 600ex straight up, zoomed to 200mm at full power and fill the entire tent with soft, flattering light. More than that, I was able to slave my older 430ex II to the 600ex and use it as a kicker to give the event photos an aesthetic more usually found in wedding photos. Where event photos are usually flat, and rather mugshot/driver’s license looking, I was able to use the 600ex to take the quality light and thus the quality of the photos up to a much more professional level.

A little about the flash itself. It’s larger than it’s predecessor, nearly half again the size of the 430ex II. But that extra size means it’s more powerful and versatile. The back of the flash has a lot more in common with the 530ex II that it does with the stripped down 430ex II. However, users of either of these older flashes will still be able to pick up the new 600ex and put it to use without any frustration. The controls are laid out logically. The buttons feel responsive when you interact with them. With the old 430ex II, it often felt like you had to press the buttons nearly through the front of the flash in order to to get it to register, not so with the 600ex. Button presses are easy and precise. The dial is also very reactive, although it is a little hard to turn if your fingers are sweaty or wet during humid days.

Switching from ETTL to Manual (the two modes I use exclusively) is as easy as pressing the larger MODE button twice. Other modes included are Multi, for action/sports shots, and EXT.A and EXT.M for in flash metering.

The back of the 600ex-rt

The back of the 600ex-rt

Turning your 600ex into a master for group flash control is just as easy. Simply press the Wireless/Linked Shooting button to cycle through the modes that best fit your situation. The 600ex-rt has a radio transmitter built in (thus the ‘rt’ in 600ex-rt) for use with other 600ex-rts. Because I only have one 600ex-rt at the moment, I used the optical slave mode to control my 430ex II. From the menu you can control all of the functions of your master 600ex as well as the functions for your slaved speedlite, such as exposure compensation. While radio transmission would be the go-to option if you have multiple 600exs, the optical method worked fantastically, blowing away my expectation. When I had the 600ex pointing straight up into the ceiling, it was still able to control the 430ex II which was often all of the way across the room – some 40 to 60 feet away.

The 600ex II also comes with a nice plastic gel holder, although the flash only comes with tungsten balanced gels, no florescent gels – hrmmmm. I also noticed that the flash seems to have two little electric “eyes” under the area where the gels snap on – these are used to transmit color correction information to your camera based on the gel you are currently using. How cool is that?! No more dialing in kelvin numbers to get white balance!

In an effort to keep a long post from getting longer let me just sum this up by saying if you are a studio strobe purist, like I was, take a chance on a speedlite like the 600ex. You’ll find it has its uses in the studio and that it’s indispensable in the field.

Key Features Summary

  • Easy to use right out of the box
  • Great power output
  • Intuitive, if not a little clumsy at times, LCD interface
  • Good button and dial response
  • Slightly large, but very sturdy
  • Great master/slave functionality
  • Gel system with built in color correction technology
  • Optical and Radio Transmission master/slave modes
  • Flash zoom up to 200mm
  • Power range from 1/128 to 1/1
  • Produces a beautiful throw of light
  • Works just as good as a studio strobe in many situations.

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Advertising, Portrait and Wedding Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio area.

 

Why I love my f/4 lenses

I‘m a big believer in depth of field, also known as DoF. It’s a great way to give your photos a professional, artistic atheistic. It also had a practical function that it helps set your subjects off of the background by making them the main focus, (pun totally intended), of the picture.

Larger apertures, such as 1.4 and 2.8 are masters of soft fuzzy background, and a lot of photographers will only shoot portraits with their apertures wide open, even in well lit environment. I don’t have a problem with this, as I use my 2.8 lenses all of the time, but I think photographers will often forgo an equally good, (or even better in many situations), option of shooting with a f/4 lens.

Why Shoot With an f/4 Lens

There’s more than one reason why f/4 is just as good or better than f/2.8 or 1.4. First is the simplest reason: f/4 is cheaper. You can buy a canon 70-200mm f/4 lens for $1,300 or less, whereas the f/2.8 version of that lens is over $1,000 more expensive. Right off the bat you can save yourself a grand and spend that money on other things, such as a speedlight or maybe even a f/1.4 50mm for those times you feel like you an extremely shallow DoF.

The second reason is the lenses are just as good as their more expensive counter parts. I’ve been using my 70-200mm for over 8 years and the images it produces are spectacular. A larger DoF doesn’t mean better image quality, it just means softer backgrounds and better use of available light.

But wait! The third reason negates that whole, “larger aperture means more light,” argument all together. If you have a modern digital camera, say one that’s been released within the last 3 years, then you are reaping the benefits of decades of research and development spend on camera sensors.

My 5D Mark III can shoot at 6400 ISO with out any noticeable noise. I’ve shot at higher ISOs as well, and just a little post processing in Lightroom will remove what little noticeable noise there might be. Even my 5D Mark II, now 7 years old, can still handle an ISO of 6400 without an issue when using my f/4.0 lens with the help of a little noise reduction in post.

The last reason f/4 is great is because it has nearly the same DoF blur as a f/2.8 lens. And, in my opinion, I like the way DoF is handled at f/4 better. At 2.8 you’ll often notice that your background is turned to soup with shapes lost completely and colors bleeding together, muddying up what’s behind your subject. With f/4.0 you can keep a little of that color and shape separation in the background while still being soft and pleasing.  Yeah, the difference is noticeable, but barely.

One more bonus with f/4 — sharpness. The smaller the aperture, the more over all focus you gain and when you’re taking pictures of people, animals or anything else that has a tendency to move. This extra focal depth could make the difference between landing the shot, and just missing it.

Illustrated below is just how similar f/4 and 2.8 really are.

aperture-example

So, don’t knock 4/f, embrace it!

 

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Wedding, Portrait and Advertising Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio are.

 

Bow Wow Beach, Stow Ohio Dog Photography

If you have a social, water-loving dog, then there’s no better place to be than Bow Wow Beach in Stow, Ohio.

Being the proud dog-dad of an Austrialian Cattle Dog and yellow Labrador, we decided to take our dogs to this dog park and wow, were we blown away by what a great experience it is. It’s large, (7.5 acres!), fenced in and features a lake at it’s center, complete with sandy beach. We’re asked constantly for pet portraits and Bow Wow Beach provides the perfect backdrop. No prim and proper dog-wearing-tuxedo photos here. No, this is a place for your dog to run around, get wet and jostle with the other natives.

If you want a photo of your dog with a genuine smile across his or her face, then plan on taking them here. You’ll have a blast too, watching your four-legged friend run around, diving in the water, and chasing the other pooches.

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Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Portrait Photographer in the Canton, North East Ohio area.

Wedding Photography – Jesse & Chris at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Massillon, Ohio

I had the great pleasure and honor to be the wedding photographer for Jesse & Chris. The ceremony was at Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Massillon, Ohio.

The wedding was exceptionally fun for me because it presented me with a few creative challenges — which, by the way, is something I truly love. Unique obstacles are a great way to improve creativity in a new situation, and the lessons you learn under these circumstances can be taken with you into the next photography project and put to great use.

For this wedding, it was a very compressed time-frame. The Bride & Groom would be showing up only an hour before the ceremony. The real catch, however, was that there was a service being held in the church that was scheduled to last 15 minutes into that hour. That would give me 45 minutes to set up lights, photograph preparation, candid and detail shots; all of which no wedding should be without. I realized the day before that this was more a test of my own personal speed and aptitude rather than a test of my ability to come overly prepared. I loaded all of our gear into the car as usual and readied myself to move like the wind once the parishioners had filed out of the church and that’s exactly what I did when I arrived on the spot. Read on about my adventures below the video.

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