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The content in this blog is entirely driven by my interest in Travel and Photography. I welcome alternative opinions on my posts and encourage discussion, however any non-constructive comments will be removed from the site.

By Willem, Jan 17 2016 06:03PM

When I first started editing my photographs on a computer around 8 years ago people used to fit into one of two camps when it came to HDR photography; you either loved it or hated it. Fast forward to today and the fact is you can’t ignore it no matter your feelings on the matter. There is a very good chance that the phone you carry around every day uses the process. We know this for sure because if you’re fortunate enough to own an iPhone, they don’t even attempt to hide it. At the top right of the phone you will see the little “HDR” logo. Apple lets you turn this off, but others are less forthcoming and less flexible with their offerings. We start to see HDR in some of the more advanced consumer and lower end DSLRs on the market today as well. My point is that the technology is here to stay and has progressed significantly.

I started using HDR software several years back and some of my early work received a lot of complementary comments from friends but it was also an extremely challenging prospect to balance the effect and avoid anything gimmicky. As cameras got better and Photoshop’s Lightroom improved, I completely ditched the dedicated HDR software and worked with the 90% solution that Lightroom offered. Recently I have been fortunate enough to work with some new software that was loaned to me by a company called Franzis. If you haven’t come across them yet you should check out their website and offerings. Now in their fourth iteration, HDR Projects 4 Professional is a fantastic piece of software that combines so effortlessly into Lightroom that anyone would be pre-programed to use it. Now if you don’t read any further take these three things away 1) HDR Projects 4 is a very useful HDR tool 2) Their selective adjustments brush puts Adobe’s to shame 3) It is a perfect companion to Adobe Lightroom.

I recently came back from Meteora in Greece where I was confronted with a lot of situations which the dynamic range of my camera simple couldn’t cope with. Ie I either had to sacrifice a well-lit foreground for a blown out sky or a well exposed sky for a dark or black foreground. The gut response in this situation was to set up a tripod and whip out some graduated filters but the harshness of the mountain skies meant that this was really a case for some bracketing and post processing.

The process for getting running on HDR Projects 4 is quite straight forward. For the purposes of this discussion I have used Lightroom as my starting point simply because it is part of my photography flow. So as usual, you open up Lightroom, import your photos and start browsing through. I came across this image of Saint Stefanos nunnery which I had managed to retain some of the sky in, but completely lost details on the bottom and left side of the photo.

Exporting to HDR Projects 4 was as easy as right clicking and letting the program switch you over automatically. You can even import the photo with whatever corrections/edits you have already made, which is simply fantastic. When you first land in HDR Projects you are welcomed with a complicated, but ultimately quite logical entrance screen. The only con about this screen is that it forces you to make decisions upfront which you won’t understand the first time around. If you’re not quite sure what to do tutorials online have assured me that just simply clicking through this is the best option until you are an experienced user. In fact, that is one of the nice things about HDR Projects 4. The defaults and pre-programmed settings are ace! You can be sure that when you eventually get down to post-processing you aren’t facing an hour long jargon-filled battery-draining experience. In the version I used I had access to 134 defaults which crossed a wide variety of photo subjects and tones. With the Meteora picture, I jumped straight to “Natural Dark Back Light” since I had taken the photo with the sun off to the top right of the photo.

There are a couple of neat editing features to use regularly when editing HDR photos. Most of the editing is done on the left side panel and the “Optimization Assistant” is one of the first you want to look at in order to tweak some of the default settings to improve the image quality. In my case the greens were too strong so I had to tone that back slightly using the “Dynamic” slider. The other option you’re going to want to use a lot is the “Corrections” tool which is similar to some of the spot removal tools we know but with one improvement: spot identification. I would like to see an improvement to the spot identification tool which on its own is a great concept, but still perhaps in an infancy phase. If you’re using a 4-year-old camera like me, spots are an increasingly regular frustration.

Exporting the edited photo back into Lightroom was disorienting at first but as soon as I realized what HDR projects 4 was doing it made perfect sense. Whilst moving over to HDR Projects you aren’t asked to save the photo, but going backwards you have to save the project you are working on so unfortunately the changes are permanent, but fortunately the changes don’t overwrite what you were originally doing in Lightroom in the first place. Once you get this the importing of photos is extremely quick and efficient. The same functionality is built in for other programs as well.

Overall I can see myself using this HDR software regularly and I’m currently experimenting with using less extreme ranges and optimizing the outputs. As you can see from one of the attached screenshots it fits onto lightroom like a glove which really makes it a treat to use.

By Willem, Jan 2 2013 11:07PM

The Location: The Falls of Dochart lay on the A827 near the village of Killin, West of Perth and just North of Loch Lommond and the Trossachs National Park. In all honesty it’s a very hard place to miss, but perhaps too far along the road for most people visiting Loch Lommond. It’s roughly an hour and half drive from Glasgow, but certainly not a boring drive as the roads curve in and out of some of the finest Glens and Lochs Scotland has to offer.

Photo Opportunities: Personally I have seen both mountain bikers and canoeists tackle the falls in the summer and winter respectively, so you won’t be without inspiration. It’s the kind of place you can walk around for hours to find the perfect picture and I highly recommend you do. The presence of a local parking lot and the fact the main road crosses next to the falls means that it is a prime spot for tourist photos as well. Wet seasons can bring about gushing water which will come out looking like something from Ghostbusters on a long exposure. On the other hand, drier seasons may allow for more silky long-exposures and opens up more areas to seek out the perfect photo.

Skills & Equipment: Patience; to find the right spot and deal with the never ending line of traffic and tourists. A tripod & ND Filters; long exposures are a must, and a 10stop filter might even help you remove a tourist or two if they are active enough.

Grub: No valuable insight here; the Falls of Dochart Inn is right next to the falls (no surprise there) and serves a decent dish. Cards can only be used for purchases over £10 so bring some cash if you only fancy a coffee and some home-baked goods in the Café (which is next to the bar and restaurant).

By Willem, Aug 3 2012 08:21PM

I cannot legitimately call this day 1 simply because I spent 8hrs glued to a computer monitor, 3hrs on a train, 5km on a bike and took two photos; on my iPhone. Hardly the type of high-energy, creatively challenging, tour I had envisioned. However, as a novice cycle-tourer today has been invaluable. First and foremost… if you haven’t strapped anything to your bike using wires, masking tape, rope or glue… it’s going to fall off. I managed to drop my bicycle pump in the middle of Union Street, my pannier cover in the train station and my jacket leading up to the hostel.

Oh snap!!! Rebecca Adlington just got bronze in the 800m freestyle. That will be a huge disappointment for her and the British. Inverness however barely blinked an eyelid. It’s Friday night after all.

Lesson #2. If you strap a magnet powered light and a magnet powered odometer to the same wheel, you’ll make Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins look slow on paper. It sounds obvious, but trust me it’s not so when you’re fitting the odometer in a bouncy train with everybody watching. FAIL!!!

Tomorrow starts with a 7am train from Inverness to Invershin followed by a 44mile journey from Invershin to Ullapool cross the northern heartland of Scotland and to a place widely praised by colleagues. However one dared to share a story about how a Russian fishing boat found itself based out of Ullapool and on its own resulted in the local prostitution trade. Starting to doubt my choice of destinations…

By Willem, Jun 20 2012 01:00PM

Like the majority of people my age, I fully embrace the technology thrown at me by anyone with a computer and an idea. However, I also believe that it's important to remember where we came from and what it took us to get to where we are now.

Now, usually we would just visit a museum for those nostalgic moments, however some of out there go even further and make old tech work in this new world. Yesterday's Technology Today (that might be a cool blog actually). I, for instance, love grungy old cameras. I actively use my Olympus OM10 (my first camera) despite the grainy images, expensive developing costs and lack of shutter priority. Many people feel the same about old cars, records, etc.

One particularly outdated technology (more so now with the iphone) is postcards. Although they are hanging on better than letters, postcards still face an uphill battle against new tech. In my own battle against the impending extinction of postcards I have been using snapfish to produce postcards to send around to friends. Although great in principle, I will say a couple of damning things against snapfish. 1) shocking quality. I sent a card to my parents and it was completely scratched up when it arrive. Similar reports from other friends. 2) Most of us send postcards on holiday. Arranging snapfish photos to be delivered to my hotel in Venice is a little hard when I'm only staying there for 2 nights....

Enter "Stick on Postcards". have created postcards with a sticker on the front so that you can put your own photos on a postcard backing and hey presto!!! Instant postcard. Most big cities you travel around will have 1-hr photo developing (found it everywhere in India), so it's completely possible to get your photos printed, slap on a postcard back and make all your friends and family jealous before you get home. If you happen to travel a little further afield. I would recommend using a Polaroid PoGo to make little prints and stick those onto the back of your postcard. So come on people! Lets rejuvenate the humble Postcard!

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