Archive for the 'HDR Photography' Category


Library of Celsus at Ephesus, Turkey


Library of Celsus, Ephesus, Turkey

This is the beautiful Library of Celsus at Ephesus in Turkey, now nearly 1,900 years old.

The building was built both as a library to hold some 12,000 scrolls and as a memorial to Tiberius Julius Celsus, a Roman senator, consul and governor of Asia. Consul Celsus was rich enough to leave enough money to build the library, and he was buried in a sarcophagus inside it, this somewhat surprising mix of functions being apparantly as unusual then as today. The Library was completed in 135 AD, and was one of the best stocked of ancient times. It burnt down in an earthquake about 130 years later, leaving only the facade. It was rebuilt as a nymphaeum, which is rather less racy than it sounds, and was just an elaborate water feature. This too was destroyed, including the facade, in the late Byzantine period. The facade was restored in the 1970s to the state you see it here, and today it is one of the highlights of Ephesus.

It’s a stunning piece of architecture, and the stonework is incredibly carved. Need I say it makes me very happy to see so much money and effort expended on a library? Yes, it does. Well done, Consul Celsus!

It’s also hard to tell that I was surrounded by about 10,000 people when I took this picture. This place is beset by tourists from dawn till dusk, and getting people-free photographs here is a serious challenge. In the parking lot outside, they were playing a game of ‘fit 100 tour buses into a parking lot designed for 20’ that involved a lot of hooting. It was quite a sight, and made me glad we walked the two kilmetres from the nearest town instead of bussed.

To the boats!

Sinfonia lifeboat deck

Luminance Mask version

I have been experimenting quite a bit recently with different methods of expanding the dynamic range of my photos, which is really an easier way of saying ‘making a better distribution of dark to light tones in an image without there being too-light lights and too-dark darks’.

Two of my favourite methods of doing this are using luminance masks and HDR tonemapping.

Luminance masking is a technique developed by Tony Kuyper which allows you to very carefully select certain ranges of tones on your image and selectively lighten or darken them. Tony goes into a lot of detail on how to do this on his website, which is well worth reading. It’s certainly way too complicated for me to summarise quickly, and you will be kept up way into the night as you follow Tony’s tutorials. What I like about his technique is that it keeps the final image looking very natural, while still allowing your photo to show a far greater tonal range than your camera can capture in a single shot.


Sinfonia lifeboat deck (Photomatix)

Tonemapped HDR version

By way of contrast I’ve also shown a tonemapped HDR file. I used Photomatix HDR software, which I find the most useful of the many I have tried. I shot a bracket set of three shots, at -2, 0 and +2 exposure compensation. Then I ran them through Photomatix, trying to keep the settings as minimal and natural as possible. This software tonemaps the image, which means that it tries to compress the tones from the three images into a single image.

As you can see, it gives the photo a certain look. Everything looks softer, warmer, and more textured. In particular the tonemapping technique brings more light into all the shadow areas, usually far more than would naturally occur in such areas. Objects almost seem to glow from within. It’s enough to confuse the viewer into thinking that the image looks a little strange, without being able to quite say what it is. The advantage is that it can make the image a little more compelling due to its strangeness, while the disadvantage is that your image just looks, well, strange.

After seeing enough Photomatix images they can tend to start looking all the same. With this image, I think the HDR look is quite interesting and adds a bit of a steampunk feel. If I had to choose though, I would go for the more natural look of the Luminance Mask version.

This scene is of the lifeboat deck on the cruise ship Sinfonia of the MSC line, while we were en-route from Durban to Mozambique. The rest of the passengers were playing bingo and slot machines after dinner, so I decided to get out on deck and nab some photos. The lifeboat area was particularly interesting with all its heavy equipment. We had practised life boat drill here during the day. It was pretty chaotic, and I’m glad we didn’t need to use the lifeboats for real. The short people at the back had to stare at the life jacket of the preson in front of them for half an hour. At least the life jackets had whistles, which livened up the proceedings somewhat.

Kogel Bay at Dusk

Kogelbaai at Sunset


View of Kogel Bay at Dusk

After spending a relaxing day out at Rooi Els, a coastal village just beyond the corner of the mountain in the distance, we stopped at the very picturesque Kogel Bay for a sunset photo opportunity.

Kogel Bay has sadly been in the news recently for the tragic great white shark attack on bodyboarder, David Lilienfeld.

I’ve been curious for a while about how Kogel Bay got its name. Kogel is Dutch for bullets and musket balls and things like that. It’s been suggested that the early Dutch settlers at the Cape thought that the round boulders common on this stretch of coastline resembled cannon balls, hence the name Kogel Bay. I even read a description that suggested that the round boulders rolling around in the waves sound like cannon balls loose on the deck of a pitching ship, but I didn’t find any noisy boulders like that on the day I went.

Nor any sharks fortunately.


Before and After

No Photomatix was used in the making of this image. But even so this is sort of, but not quite, an HDR. I took two exposures, one for the sky and one for the rocks, and blended them by hand. This effectively expands the tonal range of the image like HDR does, but in a far more subtle and controlled way than Photomatix.

After that I used some selective contrast, saturation and sharpening to make the image pop.


Kogelbaai at Sunset (before)Kogelbaai at Sunset

The Big Rock Candy Mountain

Pamukkale, Turkey


This is Pamukkale in Turkey. Its name translates evocatively into Cotton Castle, which reminds me of the Big Rock Candy Mountain of the depression era song, though unfortunately a lot less sweet. It was Easter yesterday, and my brain is still in sweet mode. Yum.

But back to Pamukkale. It’s called Cotton Castle because it’s covered from top to bottom in white travertine, deposited here over thousands of years by the action of hot springs. The travertine forms naturally into cascading terraces and pools. The effect is very strange, very beautiful, and very dazzling without sunglasses.

The mineral rich waters have had the reputation since ancient times of possessing healing properties. A spa was built here sometime in the 200s BC to take advantage of these properties, and the city of Heirapolis grew up around the spa. It was a popular place for the sick and for retiring to. Today the ruins are still visible on top of Pamukkale (you can see some in the background), and are currently being excavated. In a country that possesses far more than its fair share of ruined Roman and Greek cities, it’s not the most spectacular of ruins, and is easily eclipsed by the incredible travertine formations.

People still come here in their droves as tourists, and it’s now a World Heritage Site. You can see the floods of tourists arriving in the disance, all barefoot to minimise damage to the travertine, and carrying their shoes in their hands. We got up very early and managed to just beat the crowds to the pools and to get relatively people-free photographs. Most of the pools are off-limits to protect them, but swimming is allowed in a few of them. The pools are actually quite shallow and slippery, so people paddle tentatively in rolled up pants more than swim. When we were here, a lot of people found it appropriate to strip down to bikinis and pose in exaggerated Zoolander poses for their photos to be taken, with complete seriousness and lack of irony. It made for great peoplewatching!


Before and After

This is an interesting shot for this blog, because it’s not really an HDR shot in the usual sense. I’ve combined two shots instead of the usual three, one taken at 0 exposure compensation and one at -2 underexposed. Instead of Photomatix HDR software, I then combined the two shots by hand in Photoshop. I ended up using mostly the -2 shot, but bringing in the highlights from the 0 shot to give a larger range of tones and more contrast to the final image.

Pamukkale, Turkey (before)Pamukkale, Turkey


Telescope at Sutherland


South African Astronomical Observatory, Sutherland

This is one of over a dozen telescopes operated by the South African Astronomical Observatory at their main base of operations at Sutherland in the Northern Cape. They range from some rather old ones from the 1940s, to the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), inaugurated in 2005, which is new and quite, well, large.

The observatory was moved from Cape Town in the early 1970s because of light pollution, and Sutherland was selected as the new site because it was far from any light sources, and because it is one of the most cloud-free parts of the country. Funny that when we were there the clouds decided to come out and spoil our night time star-gazing (but aid our photography). The (usual) lack of clouds, together with the altitude here, also means that Sutherland is legendarily cold, and is usually the coldest part of the country every winter. This time we stayed in an old stone cottage in the town with lots of charm but no heating whatsoever, and so spent most of the time in several jerseys, trying to keep slightly warm.

I’ve made a few visits now to Sutherland in winter, and keep hoping to be caught in the snow, but no luck yet. For a South African, where we get almost no snow, it seems the most glamourous excuse in the world to call in leave at work due to being snowed in!

The image is an HDR composite of 3 hand held images, at exposure compensations of -2, 0 and 2, and they were tone-mapped in Photomatix Pro Software.

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