Winter and light

Winter can present some amazing light. Sometimes this light may be better captured using HDR techniques, sometimes not. Outdoor winter photography is probably the environment that most cameras Automatic program has the most problems with. The camera typically gets both the exposure and white balance wrong. All the large white areas can also create problems for the auto focus that tries to find something to focus on by looking for sharp contrasts.
On top of that we also have the problem with the cold itself. The camera gear itself can actually handle the cold quite well. The big problem is when you get back home, into to the warmth that you’ve been longing for. At the same time you get the feeling back in your fingers and toes your camera gear may have a really tough time due to condensation. The condensation can be seen on the outside, but the dangerous condensation happens inside the camera and lens.
To keep your camera healthy remember to remove the memory card (because you want to look at the pictures right away, right?) before you enter the house. Then leave your camera in your photo bag, closed. Leave the photo bag closed for several hours, preferably until next day depending on the temperature differences. This way the gear will be heated slowly so that no condensation will build up. If you really need to “defrost” your camera quicker you need to put it in a sealed plastic bag. The main thing here is that the air around the camera has to have the same humidity as it was outside. If you let in air from the house into the bag then it will condensate.
The cold temperature will also make your batteries perform worse than normal. So make sure they are fully charged, and if you have extra batteries, don’t leave them home.
If you’ve never looked at it before, then this is the time to look at the histogram. Most cameras have it, even the really simple compacts. The height of the graph shows the amount of pixels that have this intensity with black being to the far left and white to the far right. Make sure that you do not have a spike at the far right. This means that the picture is overexposed. The camera is often fooled the all the white and, in my experience, often underexpose. The easy fix here is to add, for example +1, to exposure compensation – but keep an eye on the histogram.
The white balance can be set manually on most cameras. A good start is around 5600 Kelvin. Make it a bit higher if you want more warmth, or if you are shooting ice, you may go down to 4900 for a more dominant blue tint.
And last, if you can, use RAW. It will give you that extra chance to fix exposure with at least one exposure step back home that jpeg will not.

More of my winter photography in Sweden can be found at http://reveman.smugmug.com/Nature/Sweden-Winter/

High Dynamic Range – A start

I friend of mine introduced me to HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography. It’s interesting while at the same time being a new challenge in itself. The challenge is that you combine a number of pictures into one. This is typically done using the cameras multi-bracketing feature.

That means that the camera is instructed to make several exposures using various exposure compensations. A typical scenario would be to have the camera set to +-2 EV using three brackets.

That will result in 3 pictures being taken. One with normal exposure, one with +2 EV exposure (over exposed) and last one with -2 EV exposure (under exposed). When these pictures are combined a total image is composed which much higher dynamic range – that means high detail in both the dark and light areas.

During normal, single exposure photography, one has to choose which area to focus on or rather, to prioritize in terms of lightning. Depending on the camera this may have different names and different algorithms. In some modes an average is used and in other modes a single spot is chosen. In all cases though, the camera is not able to achieve the same dynamics that the human eye can handle. A common example is taking a picture indoor on a sunny day. The human eye has no problem in seeing both the interior of the room together with what is seen through a window from the outside. This can typically never be done with a normal camera with a single picture. You have to choose either to make the room look good (with the exterior being just a white spot) or the exterior to look good (with the interior of the room in more or less darkness).

Going back to the challenges of HDR. We have now taken the pictures and merged them together and should now have the same dynamic range (or better) than our eyes have. Unfortunately the computer displays as well as the printers we use also have a limited dynamic range. So in order to show the HDR picture we now have to compress the range into something that can be displayed or printed. If we just squeezed it back together without any hint of what we want to prioritize then we’re back where we started. Instead there are different approaches which lead to a more or less natural look. Depending on your taste you may find the result to be everywhere from ugly, surrealistic to really nice.

I tend to use HDR in a number of different areas – all quite different goals. I encourage you to try this for yourself and find your own favorite subjects.

All of these pictures and more can be found in my photo galleries at http://reveman.smugmug.com/