NIK’s HDR Efex Pro

I used NIK’s HDR Efex Pro software on a couple of my images from Saturday’s 2010 Toronto Zombie Walk.

HDR software is often overused by some photographers and the image ends up looking really fake.

Of course, when you’re dealing with zombies who cares 🙂 I also discovered that an image like this one which is actually just a little out of focus still works when given the HDR touch.

But really great HDR images don’t look fake. They look better.

NIK’s HDR Efex Pro is not only hugely powerful but absolutely dead-drop simple to use.

It’s easy to load a single image (I couldn’t handhold the camera steady enough or get my subjects to stay still enough to get three bracketed  images in close enough registration to upload into HDR Efex Pro) or multiple images (which is really the correct way to use the software. A tripod is essential for getting the best registration) .

From there, I can use any of the several dozen presets or go manual with the slider controls and the U-Point Technology.

If you haven’t used U-Point Technology (found in NIK software including the amazing NX Capture 2 RAW editor for Nikon files) you have no idea what you’re missing.

It’s way faster than Photoshop and works very differently to create fabulous changes to your images. Best of all you can selectively change almost any aspect of your image without having to go to the trouble of creating a Photoshop layer which can create huge file sizes.

The image of the girl here is done in NIK’s HDR Efex Pro. I just kept the effect down a little and I think it looks way better than the original image.

One of the best things about NIK software is the company offers virtually unlimied support.  The online live webinars and archived demos area really useful. I’ve attended scores of the webinars and they are very professionally run and full of information on how to incorporate NIK’s products into your workflow. They start and end on time and the content is always first class.

For example today I’m watching a HDR webinar being conducted by master photographer John Barclay. This is so cool.

NIK makes my digital darkroom much, much more powerful than anything I could have done back in my wet darkroom days. Sure I miss the smell of the D-76 and the fixer chemicals but now I can sit in a nicely lit office working on my Macbook Pro 🙂

Big Softbox Outdoors

Professional portrait shooters sure like using really big softboxes.

But why? And, how do you use one?

The “go-to-guy” when it comes to using speedlights on location is Joe McNally. Joe has posted a short You Tube video that shows Joe shooting a fabulous sunset shot in St. Lucia.

Notice how Joe has a assistant holding a softbox and moving the light to just the right spot on the subject while Joe has his camera set to exposure for the natural sunset light.

The softbox that Joe is using is an Elinchrom (highly recommended) Quadra.

So why a softbox over an umbrella? Softboxes and umbrellas both soften light. The softbox creates a more defined edge to the light and is perfect for feathering the light on a model. How about umbrellas? They spread light more than a softbox and can be used as a bounced light source or a shoot-through source.

 

Thanks Zombies

Lots of really positive comments about the 600 images I posted on FLickr and SmugMug from Saturday’s 2010 Zombie Walk in Toronto.

I love special events photography and I’m pleased that so many folks are enjoying the images.

Keep me in mind if you’re organizing a special event and want a photographer who’s not brain-dead 🙂

Zombie Walk Photos Are Up

What a great Toronto  2010 Zombie Walk on Saturday, Oct. 23rd. Thousands of folks dressed up as their favourite dead person and gathered at Trinity-Bellwoods Park. I got there early around 11 am and by the time I left around 5pm I had shot over 1,500 images.

The best 600 are up on both my SmugMug site and my Flickr site. All the images are available for free download for any non-commercial use. Anyone wishing to download a full-size image suitable for printing is invited to contact me at peter@peterwest.ca for information on how and pricing ($5 for each full-resolution image).

All of the photos have been extensively worked on (took me 12 hours to do the lot) and some have been done in Nik’s new HDR Efex Pro software which is really cool. (I’ll talk about it more in a day or so right here.)

ZOMBIE WALK PHOTO INFO

Hi Everyone. On Saturday, October 23 I will be shooting photos of the 2010 Toronto Zombie Walk and posting images for free download at my online gallery at Peter West Photo. (Right now there’s just a scary photo of me as a place holder.)

All of the photos will be in low resolution and are suitable for use on Facebook or other online use. The images will likely yield a 4″ X 6″ print as well and you can use them as you wish for non-commercial use. The watermark Peter West Photo can be cropped out in most photos.

Anyone wishing a high resolution image without the watermark and suitable for printing upwards of a 16″ X 20″ colour print may send me an email letting me know the image number (all images will be identified by a unique number). The cost per photo is $5 and I will send you details of how to make payment via return email.

I’ll post the hi-rez image in a private password protected gallery and I will send you a link within 24 hours (likely right away but I want to under promise and over deliver).

NIK HDR Efex PRO Changes Everything

I’m experimenting with NIK’s new HDR Efex Pro software and it makes it soooo easy to do high-dynamic range images.

HDR images are showing up everywhere. Trey Ratcliff’s Stuck in Customs blog (That’s one of Trey’s photos of the waterfall.) is a great place to explore what HDR photography looks like as is Eduardo Chacon’s site.

Also, if you look closely lots of magazines and newspapers (although the press photographers are loathed to admit it) are using HDR on some of their feature images.

Essentially all you have to do is shoot three or more images with differing exposure values (+2  0  -2  for example) that are of the same subject (best done with a tripod but handheld is possible) and open them all at the same time in Lightroom, Aperture, or Photoshop (64-bit only for now in PS) and then open HDR Efex PRO….and stand back because that’s it 🙂

HDR Efex Pro has a whole series of presets on the left side of the screen that change the basic look of the HDR image. Very cool. Plus there are the regular NIK HDR tool bar on the right side of the screen so you can make custom changes that suit your image.

So how do I know so much about HDR photography all of a sudden? I took advantage of NIK’s free online seminar on HDR this morning and believe me – HDR Efex Pro rocks and it’s so simple, even I can’t screw it up. (NIK hosts free online seminars that will show you how to use all of their products. NIK’s products are easy to use and really, really effective. They make me look like a much better photographer than I really am! How’s that for honesty 🙂

As most of you know, I have the entire NIK collection including the Nikon only Capture NX 2 RAW editor (which I still think is THE BEST RAW editor for Nikon’s proprietary NEF RAW files) and I also have the companion Colour Efex Pro 3 software that rocks with NX2.

Now I do get asked a lot at club meetings which software is best and since I have Photoshop CS4, Photoshop Elements, Adobe Lightroom 2 and 3; NX Capture 2, Picasa (from Google); IPhoto (for Mac) and I had Corel Paintshop Photo Pro I can state unequivocally – it depends 🙂 and you get what you pay for.

If you want to use the NIK collection (highly recommended for both its ability to make your images look better and ease of use) then for me it’s either Lightroom 3 or Photoshop.

Now I find Lightroom 3 as my go-to photo editor for my special events photography where it’s not unknown for me to shoot a thousand or more images that need editing and processing right away.

Yes you can do that in Photoshop but Lightroom 3 is also a very sophisticated data base that helps me keep my images safe and at hand. And, truthfully, I almost never use Photoshop anymore. Graphic artists and photographers working on single images love Photoshop and for good reason. You can do ANYTHING you want in Photoshop. But I have much more modest needs.

What I usually want to do is process hundreds of images quickly and professionally and I don’t want to take all day doing it. That’s a Lightroom 3 job.

So what’s with Capture NX2? When I am working on individual images – especially landscapes – then it’s NX2 for me and NIK’s Colour Efex Pro 3. The U-point technology is way cooler than Photoshop layers IMHO. It’s lightyears faster to work with and produces terrific results and costs $250 as compared to $800 for Photoshop.

I’ve never used Aperture for Mac but the NIK collection works with it and Aperture is highly regarded by professional shooters. NIK’s collection is $360 here in Canada and Aperture is $214. Finally Photoshop Elements 8.0 for Windows (and it works for Mac too) is $100 and NIK’s software is compatible so this is the least expensive solution.

What I recommend is to purchase or use one photo editor until you know why you might want to buy something more expensive. For most of my work anyone of the above would do but if I had to pick one it would be Lightroom 3 for its overall versatility and price point at around $370.

Oakville Camera Club

Another filled-house crowd at the Oakville Camera Club last night. This is the little camera club that’s growing up fast. The night started with an excellent half-hour slide show by club member Fraser Farmer and after the break my friend Michael Willems walked the crowd through the basics of proper exposure.

At his site www.speedlighter.ca Michael has a post on using a light meter. If you’ve never used an external light meter you will want to read this post.

And if you want to become a better photographer, then join your local camera club. Here in Oakville, Ontario we’ve got our pick of a half dozen clubs within a 45-minute drive. The Oakville Camera Club caters to the new photographer and has been blessed by visits from some of the best photography teachers in southern Ontario.

Some clubs are arty. Some clubs are exclusive. And some clubs, like Oakville, are a lot of fun. I always pick fun 🙂

Here’s a shot from a recent club meeting where one member brought in his framed photos.