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.
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.
Selime Monastery, Cappadocia, Turkey (Left: Photomatix version | Right: Hand Blended version)
In my previous post, I talked about how I used the concept of Luminance Masks from Tony Kuyper’s blog to make a hand blended HDR as an alternative to Photomatix. This post shows a side by side comparison of the Photomatix version of the image on the left, and the hand blended version on the right.
Bear in mind that I haven’t worked as much on the Photomatix version, which could be made to look a little better, but it still serves as a good comparison. Also bear in mind that I’ve only done one hand blended HDR to date and many, many Photomatix ones, so Photomatix has the advantage there. I’m not going to talk much about how to do hand blending as Tony does an excellent job of it on his blog, and I recommend that you read it.
Here’s what I think so far:
- Ease of Use.
Photomatix is far and away the easier of the two techniques to use. Tonemapping your three bracketed images in Photomatix takes all of a minute, and the final image can then be cleaned up and adjusted in Photoshop, which should take from a few minutes to an hour at most. Hand blending requires far more decision making, followed by a lot of selections and actions in Photoshop. These can be speeded up by automating in Photoshop, but even so this first image took me three evenings to complete. With practice, I could reduce the time a lot, but it would still be nowhere near as fast as Photomatix.
Photomatix tonemapping settings used for this image.
- Control. Photomatix has a few sliders to twiddle and then it throws out a tonemapped image. There’s not much control, but it does what it needs to do very well. The downside is that you can only work on the overall image, and you seldom get it that you are happy with the entire image. Hand blending lets you have an incredible amount of control. You can split your images into as many zones of tonal range from light to dark as you like, and you can decide exactly which ones to blend together in which part of your image. The choice is so open that it’s quite overwhelming, but that’s the fun of it. On the image above, I think Photomatix has flattened the rock texture in the cave too much, and has done odd things to the sky, but has improved the texture on the light ground outside the cave. Hand blending allowed me to improve the inside rock texture, although I think I could have done a better job on the outside ground.
- Picture Quality.
The way in which the techniques differ makes a big difference in final image quality. Photomatix blends your three bracketed photos together into one tonemapped image, and in the process can increase the amount of noise in the image considerably. If you go too aggressive on the settings, you can also get unpleasant looking haloes forming on edges between light and dark areas (for example at the rock / sky edge of the above image). With hand blending you layer your bracketed photos on top of each other in Photoshop. You then use masks to determine which parts of which image you want to see. Because you aren’t processing the underlying images, you aren’t increasing noise, forming haloes, or producing other undesirable effects on your image. The difference is very apparent to me when I look at a full size version of each of these images, but makes less difference at web sizes.
Photoshops layers used for hand blended HDR instead of Photomatix tonemapping. The bracket set is arranged from darkest on top to lightest on the lowest layer, and the luminance masks are carefully created to ensure the best blend of the three images.
- Look. Photomatix has a look that has become quite prevalent in the world of HDR. Some people love it, some hate it. I enjoy it, especially when not overdone, but it remains a very distinctive look. What I’ve enjoyed about hand blending so far is that it doesn’t seem to automatically have a look, or at least it’s more natural, and you are far more free to make the HDR image match your memory of the scene.
In summary, Photomatix will allow you to process your HDRs quickly, they will look pretty good, but will have a distinctive Photomatix look. Hand blending will take considerably more time and Photoshop skills, but will allow for a better quality image with a very high degree of control in the blending and final look.
Selime Monastery, Cappadocia, Turkey
If you were a monk living in the Selime Monastery, this is the lovely view you would have from your room … of the volcano. Maybe to remind you of the fire and brimstone that awaits you in the next world if you don’t behave yourself in this one? The volcano is the reason this room is carved from the rock, and why there are so many cave houses in Cappadocia. This volcano, and the two others in the neighbourhood, have over time covered the whole area in a volcanic rock called tuff, which is quite soft as rock goes. From about the 5th century AD the area became popular with early Christians who were hiding from the Romans and later from the Turks, and they accommodated themselves by carving dwellings out of the tuff. This entire monastery complex is carved from the rock, with chapels, sleeping rooms, store rooms and stables, and dates from about the 13th century. There are several other churches nearby, also carved from the rock, and some are still covered in beautiful wall paintings dating back many centuries. Nearby there is even an underground city carved from the rock, which descends 11 stories and 85 metres underground. The whole Cappadocian region has long been distinctive for its cave dwellings and many are still in use even today. It’s an amazing place to visit, and totally weird and alien.
Before and After
This is my first attempt at manual HDR, and I’m quite pleased with the results. I used the usual -2, 0 and +2 exposure bracketing and hand held the shots. When it came to tone mapping, I abandoned my usual Photomatix and used the luminance mask technique of Tony Kuyper to manually blend my three shots. This let me carefully select which parts of each exposure to use, and allowed me to keep the HDR look quite subtle. The down side is that it took many more hours to produce the final result, and the Photoshop file was approaching a gig in size at some points. Even with 4 gigs of RAM my iMac turned into iMolasses. I’m sure more practice will speed the workflow up considerably though.
The before and after shots show the 0 exposure compensation shot on the left, and the hand blended HDR on the right. Next time I will post a before and after with the Photomatix version of this image, and chat about how the techniques differ.
Isa Bey Mosque, Selcuk, Turkey
I saw all these carved stones set out against a wall at the Isa Bey Mosque in Selcuk, Turkey. I’m not sure if they are gravestones or some other kind of marker, but they looked to me like they had been set up by some archaeologist, all collected together, so that he or she could ponder where in the puzzle of restoration each piece fitted. It was common sight at historic sites throughout Turkey.
It made me chuckle that this was the kind of puzzle that needed a crane to assemble. We actually saw a huge crane in use at one site with disgruntled looking workmen standing around while an archaeologist directed the crane to move a presumably several ton block of stone about. How about this way? Or this way? No, maybe this way …
This image is my first attempt at using the Photoshop luminance mask technique of Tony Kuyper. He has some excellent and fascinating tutorials on his website. On first read it’s terribly complex stuff, but with practice I think it will come to be a lot easier, and it looks (amongst other things) like a great alternative to doing HDR with specialist HDR software like Photomatix. The luminance mask technique is far more manual and allows superb control of the final image. It’s well worth a very slow and careful read on his site, and it’s also well worth downloading his photoshop actions so you can try it for yourself.
This particular photo is not HDR and was not bracketed. I did try a single exposure tone-mapping of it in Photomatix, but in this case I prefer the far more natural and contrasty look that came from using luminance masks.
I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to say on this technique later, but first I need many more late nights to fiddle on it.