Copenhagen is just beautiful

Have you ever visited Copenhagen?  If so, what did you think?

As I have stated here many times (and likely will now), I loved Copenhagen.  I had never been to what I would consider northern Europe or Scandinavia, and I haven't been back since.  I hope that will change in 2014...we will find out.

Anyways, it was beautiful and just as culturally rich as the other parts of Europe that I have been to.  Not that I expected anything otherwise.  I didn't really know what to expect, come to think of it.  

Isn't this place just awesome?

And there were castles - you know I love those!

Lastly, there is Nyhavn.  This is their historic waterfront canal district which is now populated with bars, shops and restaurants.  There are also these great old wooden ships, and many of the townhouses lining the canal are brightly colored.  It's just beautiful.

I took this shot on my very first night there, during sunset.  It had been a rainy mess when I arrived after a long, long day of travel.  I thought about calling it a day, but curiosity always wins that battle, so off I went.  I'm sure glad I did!

And for fun, here is a screenshot I took during processing in Color Efex Pro, showing the "Before" on the Left and the "After" on the Right.  As you can see, I used 5 different filters here, all providing a specific effect on the final image.  In particular, I wanted to bring up the contrast and the color, which this is great for.

The suspension bridge in Waco

This is one heck of an awesome bridge!

Do you love bridges?  I sure do.  They are one of my favorite photographic subjects (and I feel like I say that a lot here on the blog....but there are a lot of things I love to shoot!).  There's something about them that just draws me in.  You know what I mean?  

It is probably a combination of the architecture, the water that they are usually over, and the symbolism they represent to me - a connecting of disparate parts, bringing together separate lands...that sort of thing.  I don't know...but they're cool.

Anyways...I was driving to Dallas one day and had the urge to stop in Waco and explore for a few minutes.  Waco is not exactly high on anyone's list of places to go shoot (sorry, Waco) but I had seen some pics of this bridge online and knew it was pretty close to the highway, so I figured it would make a quick stop.  It did.

It was super easy to get to and I had it entirely to myself, which is how I like things.  It was also an incredibly windy day with major clouds and stuff blowing through, as you can see in the pic.  Anyways, I shot all around, under and on top of this bridge until I felt like I got everything I wanted.

I love shots like this because there is such a color and texture difference between the bridge and the sky - I just like contrasts like that.  I also thought I would share a Before & After sort of thing, which is a screenshot of this photo from when I was working on it in Color Efex Pro.  That's the Before on the left, and the After on the right.  I haven't shared one of those here in a while - let me know if you want to see these more often, k?   

Using Color Efex Pro to finish an HDR

I am a huge fan of Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro, and use it on almost every image, especially my HDR work (which is most of what I do).  It is an incredibly capable piece of software, and one that I find both effective and easy to use.

I get a lot of questions on my Facebook page about this product, because I often post Before/After screenshots while I am processing a photo.  I thought I would make it easy for everyone and put this little tutorial together to show how I use the product and which filters specifically I like to use to adjust my images.  And while every image is different and therefore requires a custom approach, you can use this as a baseline for exploring your own creativity with Color Efex Pro.

Note that I have an older review of Color Efex Pro which you can find here.

Let me know if you have any questions, or feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section - thanks!


To give you a sense of how far this process will take us (although it is quick and easy), below is the -1 EV image as shot in camera.  This was actually the brightest one I got, oddly.  Anyways, the final result is the combination of HDR and Color Efex Pro.  It really takes things a long way!

Ok, I started the Color Efex Pro processing with this image below, which is a 7 frame HDR that was created in Photomatix.  As you can see, it is already a vast improvement over the previous single-frame shot, especially in light distribution.  Since I am not covering all the Photomatix stuff in this tutorial, I am going to just present the image as it came out of Photomatix.  I spent only about 10 minutes on it in Photomatix, which is about normal for me.  You can see my full HDR tutorial with Photomatix here.

Usually, the first filter I use is Detail Extractor.  As the name implies, it pulls a lot of detail out of the scene, but all filters are global in nature.  What I mean is that the changes or enhancements they make are applied to the entire image.

In this case (and in most cases), I do not want to bring out details in the sky, so I use their Control Points to remove the filter selectively from the sky.  That cleans things up a bit, in my opinion.  See the white dots in the sky?  Those are the Control Points, and I have placed 3 in the sky to remove the detail.  Do you see the section on the right panel that says Control Points?  The one with the circle and the minus sign is used to remove the effect of the filter from the section of the photo where you place it.  And yes, you can adjust the size of the section once you place the Control Point there.

Notice the panel on the right side of the frame?  Under where it says Color Efex Pro?

That is the filter adjustment panel, and the various sliders are what allow you to adjust the photo (Detail Extractor, Contrast, Saturation).

Once you finish with that filter, it’s time to add another one, which you do by clicking on the “+Add Filter” button below the adjustment panel.  The ability to stack filters is where a lot of the magic of this product comes into play.

Next, I go for Pro Contrast.  This is a powerful filter and is always on my list to use on an image.

There is Correct Contrast and Dynamic Contrast.  I like both, but be careful with Dynamic Contrast as it tends to darken the sky at times.  Again I used their Control Points at 4 different spots in the sky, allowing me to maintain the original look of the sky without having the contrast adjustments overly darken the sky or the clouds.

There is also the option to Correct Color Cast.  I used that one rarely, but it is effective. 

After getting those sliders where you want them, once again click on “+Add Filter” and this time I use "Brilliance/Warmth”.  The sliders for Saturation and Warmth are pretty straightforward.  The last one is Perceptual Saturation and it is very powerful so be careful or things may get out of hand. :-)

One more click on “+Add Filter” and this time it’s the Skylight Filter.  I love this one and it’s a great way to warm up a scene.  When I was there, the setting sun cast an intense and warm glow on me and I wanted to recreate that, as some of the feeling has not come through in the photo least to me.

So with the Skylight Filter, it’s just the one slider, labeled Strength.  I bump that up a bit to amp up the warmth and bring this back to the way I remember it.

Now, here is where I start double-checking my settings on each filter and decide whether that individual filter has helped the final result, or if it needs to be adjusted one way or another.

Here’s the easy way to do this.  See the box in the upper right where all the filters are listed?  See the box to the left of each filter name with a check box in it?  All you have to do is uncheck that box, and it turns off the filter.  I start at the top and work my way down, unchecking one at a time and examining the photo after each un-checking.

Screen Shot 2013-07-27 at 4.01.45 PM.png

I ask myself whether the filter has helped or hindered the feeling I am trying to convey, and to what degree.  Usually I find that I go back into each filter and make slight adjustments during this process. I always end up making a few changes, at least.

In the image below I have unchecked the first one, Detail Extractor.  As you can see, much of the detail has been removed.  I like having the detail in the arch and the ground, so I add the check back to the box, and the filter settings I used are returned to the photo.  But since I had inserted Control Points in the sky, the details are not added there.

Next, I uncheck Pro Contrast (and the photo gets a little flatter to my eye) I decide to check the box again so that the contrast adjustments remain.

Then I uncheck Brilliance/Warmth (and the photo loses its punch, so I add it back)...

...and then I uncheck Skylight ( and it loses significant warmth so I add this one back too).

So I have decided overall that I am happy with the results thus far, so I click Save and the photo is returned to my library in Aperture.

Once there I make a few more adjustments (Skin Smoothing in the sky to give it a cleaner look; Sharpen to bring up the ground a bit).  I also reduced the saturation in a few spots, especially the greens.

Here’s the final result:

As you can see, using Color Efex Pro is a very effective way to bring your HDR photos to life!

I hope this little tutorial was helpful and do let me know if you have any questions!

Sunrise on the 16th Street Mall

Do you ever find yourself in absolutely the WRONG place when the light gets all awesome?  It happens, and it never stops sucking when it does happen.  You don’t really get over it, or used to it.  It always sucks.  But what can you do about it?

I know what I do.  I fire away at anything I can so at least I feel like I am being photographically productive.  The pictures don’t end up being remarkable, or special in any way, but at least I made an effort.  You have to capture some light.

That very thing happened on this cold, wet, and otherwise miserable morning in Denver.  Don’t get me wrong - I love Denver - but I was cold, wet and miserable.  I had fired some nice shots prior to this, such as this one of Union Station.  So the morning wasn’t a total bust.

But a while later I found myself on this street corner at the bottom of the 16th Street Mall, and the sunrise light was getting all fabulous, and I literally had no where I could go to get a great subject for this shot.  So I just fired away from the street corner, and had to deal with it.  It happens.

I also went ahead and did a quick Before & After comparison on this shot. Normally my comparisons are a bit more dramatic...cause you know, I like moving sliders around LOL...but in this case I feel like the changes that the HDR brought out (and of course, my processing choices) were a bit more subtle.  Just thought I would share.


The ceiling of the Natural History Museum

Dang this place is incredible - and big!!  This is the ceiling of the main room at the Natural History Museum in London, and it is most certainly worth a visit.  You will not be disappointed, especially if you came with a camera!  There’s a photo opp at every turn!

I have been here twice now and each time I keep thinking about Harry Potter and Hogwarts.  It just has that look.  I took this photo on my visit to London last September, but while I was in London last week I popped in there again.   To get a sense of scale, that little red speck along the bottom to the right is a person.

It’s the sort of place I imagine visiting each time I get there, if my schedule permits.  It’s just cool.  Maybe on one of these trips I will take some time and explore the exhibits too.  I get so caught up firing brackets that I forget about those sorts of things.  :-)

And here is an HDR Before and After for comparison purposes, if you enjoy that sort of thing:

NatHistLondonBeforeAfter (1).jpg

Off the beaten path in Bratislava

I really like Bratislava.  For a fairly small town, it packs in a lot of awesomeness for a photographer.  It is only about 45 minutes away from Vienna, but I imagine lots of people overlook it.  That’s a shame, really.  It feels like a nice little European village that is just filled with great character.

On second thought, maybe it’s better that more people don’t go there, since over-tourism may ruin some of the charm.  Either way, I enjoyed my visit there and despite sharing a lot of pics from there already, I have many more still to get to.

I caught this HDR one morning while wandering around in their old town historic district.  I started around sunrise, and had the place to myself, or at least it felt that way.  This image was taken on one of many back streets that I explored with my Nikon.  It was a fabulous start to a day!

And here is a Before & After comparison for those interested in HDR - quite a difference!

Bellagio reflected

After that last post, which was pretty long, I think my next few will be a bit shorter.

This is the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, just after sunrise one morning.  I love the light at sunrise, and being able to enjoy a scene in complete solitude - especially in Las Vegas - is pretty fabulous.  I will be in Las Vegas again soon, and will probably shoot this scene again since I have some other ideas for shots there.  Shooting the same scene twice - sound familiar?  Thanks for stopping by!

Well, I guess I couldn't pass up the opportunity to share a Before & After here.  I love HDR and when I compare the finished product with the straight-from-Photomatix result...there really is no comparison!

Golden hour in Nashville

I was in Nashville last week, and had a few spare minutes to shoot around the sunset hour one evening.  The sky had been empty all day, but as luck would have it, everything came together and the golden hour and then the sunset were incredible.  I was happy to be standing here for an hour, gunning brackets to the left and the right. I am always a fan of reflections, and when I can get a city skyline in great light like this, it just makes it that much better.  

I also put together another HDR Before & After which is always fun for comparison purposes...

Sunset in Copenhagen

I love European streets.  There's just something about them.  The cobblestones, the historic architecture - it just pleases me to look at them, whether through a camera lens or not (though to be honest, mostly through the lens).

This one is just off the Stroget in Copenhagen, Denmark.  I was having dinner and happened to look out the window of the restaurant.  I saw this stunning sunset coming together, and just had to run outside and get a shot.  The food will wait - the sunset will not!

One more thing: here is a Before & After version.  You can see how "flat" the photo was coming out of Photomatix (which is how I like it) and compared to the final result it is vastly different!

Temple Bar cityscape

There's just so much cool stuff to see in Ireland, and I have never even made it outside of Dublin!  Whenever I am there, I find myself wandering the streets and alleys of the Temple Bar District, usually early in the morning.  It's a beautiful and interesting historic district, with cobblestone streets and cool architecture.  Plus, in the morning you can usually get empty streets since the tourists are still asleep.

In this case, I actually set up for the shot and was about to fire my brackets when all of a sudden, several people walked into my shot, from different directions!  I was thinking "where did these folks come from?" but after that small crowd made their way to wherever they were going, it was back to being just me, my Nikon, and the silence of an empty European street.

I also thought I would put together another HDR Before & After comparison on this shot.  HDR sure makes a HUGE difference here!  Thanks and let me know your thoughts.