The Golden Gate Bridge in HDR

Check out a larger version of this image here.

Thanks to some inspiration from Trey Ratcliff after interviewing him for the This Week in Photography podcast, and reading his book A World in HDR, I decided to see what all the fuss is about and give this technique a try for myself.

I grabbed my Nikon D700, a 14-24mm lens, and a tripod, and drove up to San Francisco to see what I could capture. The obvious place to shoot from was the Golden Gate Bridge, I wasn’t trying to create “art” per say, but rather to gather some pixels with which to try out this technique… so the GG was just as good of a spot as any.

I set the camera to auto-bracket five f-stops (+2 and -2) — I realize that I could’ve gotten similar (or the same) results with just three exposures, but then this was all an experiment, and I had a blank 16GB CF card in the camera after all… so what was a few more megabytes? Oh yea, I was shooting in the raw file format.  

Once everything was set up (camera settings, vantage point, composition, etc) it was surprisingly easy to snap the shots. As Trey instructs in his book, and in the free HDR tutorial on his blog — I was sure to pay attention to moving elements in the scene. In the case of this photo, nearly everything was moving; the surf, the sailboat, the clouds, and yes even the unfortunate naked person walking along the surf. I figured regardless of all the movement, this would be a good test to see how Photomatix handled the scene.

After importing everything in to Lightroom 2, I did some spotting on one of the images. As it turns out, I had to do ALOT of spotting. I somehow managed to get what seemed like the entire beach onto my sensor. But thankfully I only had to invest time spotting ONE image in Lightroom, then all I had to do was sync those edits to the other four images. What a time saver!

Once the images were spotted and cropped, I exported them using the Lightroom Photomatix export module. I played around for a while with the sliders in Photomatix, figuring I’d read the instructions later to figure out what the sliders were actually doing. After I seasoned the image to taste, I hit a button to send the image back to Lightroom. Once back in the LR, I boosted the blacks a bit, added a slight vignette and that was it!

It was surprisingly easy to do this I must say. And as I played around with the sliders in Photomatix I saw how easy it was to create that controversial “over done” HDR look. My aim in the above image was to not make it an obvious HDR image, but rather just make the actual scene better. I think I accomplished that, and I’m looking forward to experimenting more with this technique. It’s a blast!

Here’s the shot with no processing:

Baker Beach - Golden Gate Bridge

If you’re interested in experimenting with HDR, here are some resources to get you started:

A World in HDR – Trey Ratcliff
Free HDR Tutorial – Trey Ratcliff
Complete Adobe Photoshop CS4 for Digital Photographers – Colin Smith

  • http://briankeifer.com Brian

    Well done! Any HDR that doesn’t beat the view over the head with its HDR-ish-ness is a good one in my book. =)

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/comatosed/ Comatosed

    I agree with Brian too, usually the first HDR is way over the top (see here:http://www.flickr.com/groups/myfirsthdr/). Excellent restraint shown here. Great photo and processing.

  • http://weathershenkerphotography.com Julia

    Found this via @treyratcliff. I think it’s fantastic! It looks like a regular old photo and I tried to see what was so HDR about it til I saw the original. Wow, isn’t HDR powerful??

    I am also inspired to take my first HDR photo thanks to Trey and his book and blog. I took the photos a little over a week ago, but I haven’t started the post processing. Thanks for the great tip/reminder on duplicating spot edits inside Lightroom!!

  • http://www.thomasrtucker.com Thomas R. Tucker

    Great HDR image. Not over done and a great example of using technology to get the best image possible. Well done and thanks for sharing.

  • http://twitter.com/geekmum Kate

    Wow! Wonderful photo and very nice HDR. This is a perfect example of my favorite kind of HDR processing; take a beautiful image and kick it up a notch. Not overdone at all, as so many photogs are tempted to do. Great job!

  • robin

    your first HDR turned out looking great. can’t wait to take a photo that i can try HDR on.

  • joe

    Could you post the original RAW files you used to make this?

  • http://www.maletic.org Dusan Maletic

    Nice! Love the sky…

    Here is my very first HDR from few months back, done using free Photomatix version:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/dusanmal/2847326612/

  • http://www.creative-captions.com Dennis O.

    Can you photoshop out the dude walking the dog? Kinda looks like he’s been in the sun a bit too long. Takes one’s eye’s away from the bridge.

  • http://www.creative-captions.com Dennis O.

    Oops, looking at full size, not a dog but a log. Dude should also not be wearing a speedo…eek!!

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/blacken1772/ Scott LePage

    A fantastic example of the HDR proses can do. Excellent! I could do without the naked fat guy though. :]

  • Sae

    Great photo!

  • DARYL (BUTCH) BUTCHER

    Nice. I like your approach … don’t blow it out of proportion but “make it better”. It is, sometimes, hard for me to tell if the HDR is the bigger contributor to the HDRs or the 14-24mm lens. :-) Keep that “smoothing” to the right. :-) Like your site. Wish I could find a template that I could live with. I just don’t want to mess with code. Been there, done that.

  • http://www.stuckincustoms.com Trey Ratcliff

    You rock!

    I saw this link on Twitter. Have you heard of Twitter? It’s this social networky thing. You can tell people what you are ordering at Starbucks and stuff and it’s totally rad.

    Now, your result is very good. I like it! :) I’m so happy that more and more people are being turned onto HDR and what it can do. I’m also glad the tutorial helped you to achieve this! If you have any suggestions on how to improve it, please let me know. I continue to iterate on it every 3 months or so based on feedback so that I can always keep it easy and fresh.

    In your shot, the sand came out much warmer and the clouds came out much moodier. This is a scene which already did not have a lot of “dynamic” range in it. It was an overcast day and everything was well lit. However, while there, the eye can certainly pick up a lot more textures and subtleties in the water and in the clouds.

    Your new water has some nice greens and blues in there, which were really there! You now have a much more interesting contrasting shape between the surf and the sand. Similarly, the distant mountains across the bay are more defined, while still maintaining a sense of heavy fog.

    Last, doesn’t it feel a bit “small” on your blog? Mhmmm… you know what I’m talkin’ about. You want people to experience this thing large and in charge don’t ya? Mhmmm that’s right.

  • http://ZHphotographs.com Zac Henderson

    Very well done. Its always refreshing to see HDRs done correctly. There’s some real subtleties brought out by the HDR that couldn’t be seen in the original.

  • Ray Craft

    Great 1st try with HDR. Since I am now trying my hand at landscape, I will try to mix in a little HDR as well. I will order Trey’s book and use it as a guide. Thanks you for passing this along to your followers.

  • http://samueltludwig.com Samuel Ludwig

    If your approach to the scene was, I’d like to generate a tone-mapped image that doesn’t look like the setting was jacked up to 11, well then, bravo, mission accomplished.

    On the other hand… As Trey said, this is a really low dynamic range scene, so it’s quite easy to ‘under-do’ it.

    But, in all honesty. I think the shot is kind of a bore. The comments seem to all be focusing on how ‘restrained’ your are in your deployment of tone-mapping instead of praise towards things that usually lead towards successful photography.

    In all, I’m just trying to keep you honest. But really Fred? You’re better than this, the scene and composition are both a bore. Tone-mapping or not.

  • http://samueltludwig.com Samuel Ludwig

    If your approach to the scene was, I’d like to generate a tone-mapped image that doesn’t look like the setting was jacked up to 11, well then, bravo, mission accomplished.

    On the other hand… As Trey said, this is a really low dynamic range scene, so it’s quite easy to ‘under-do’ it.

    But, in all honesty. I think the shot is kind of a bore. The comments seem to all be focusing on how ‘restrained’ your are in your deployment of tone-mapping instead of praise towards things that usually lead towards successful photography.

    In all, I’m just trying to keep you honest. But really Fred? You’re better than this, the scene and composition are both a bore. Tone-mapping or not.

  • http://williambeem.com William Beem

    I think it’s a good beginning. Like you, I’m just now trying HDR. I was in Las Vegas this week and took a lot of bracket exposures in different areas, both handheld and with a tripod, to see what works for me or not.

    I’m really enjoying it now that I’ve realized that HDR doesn’t have to look crappy. I signed up for the workshop in Tampa that Scott Bourne and Trey Ratcliff are providing, so I hope I’ll pick up even more techniques to apply to my future HDR images.

  • Chris Stampar

    This is a great photo Frederick. I love the deep, rich colors (not overdone though), and you handled the moving elements extremely well. I especially like what this technique did to the detail in the clouds at the top of the frame, and as Trey mentioned, the rich color in the water. I really appreciate your extensive, yet not boring, breakdown of your little excursion and your post-processing. Great shot!

  • http://www.blackdiamondproductions.net Brent

    It’s nice to see the before and after thanks for sharing that part of the workflow… I was inspired by his B&W HDR look … just not sure the outcome I like destroying pixels and I know many looking at HDR style work do not like to see that..

    Ex: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2576/4217789968_e31e228a5f_b.jpg

    I know everyone is entitled to opinions but balancing those opinions are sometimes very difficult for some..

  • http://www.blackdiamondproductions.net Brent

    It’s nice to see the before and after thanks for sharing that part of the workflow… I was inspired by his B&W HDR look … just not sure the outcome I like destroying pixels and I know many looking at HDR style work do not like to see that..

    Ex: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2576/4217789968_e31e228a5f_b.jpg

    I know everyone is entitled to opinions but balancing those opinions are sometimes very difficult for some..

  • http://www.talkephotography.com Talke Photography

    FV, here is an HDR of the GGB Bridge I took this past year…its a great subject in HDR!

    http://talkephotography.com/p431818424/h1b3a0e2e#h1b3a0e2e

    Enjoy! Pete

  • http://wasatchreflections.com Darrin

    I love shooting in HDR and over time my technique has gotten better. This is not the only format I shoot in or edit in, but it has its place in the photography world. It brings out details and colors that would be very difficult if not impossible to achieve in any other way.

  • http://wasatchreflections.com Darrin

    I love shooting in HDR and over time my technique has gotten better. This is not the only format I shoot in or edit in, but it has its place in the photography world. It brings out details and colors that would be very difficult if not impossible to achieve in any other way.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/bush Marianne Bush

    That is so cool, Fredrick. One of my first HDRs two years ago was taken from that spot. You did a great job. It IS fun, isn’t it?

  • JohnA

    I have never attempted this method but as I look at this It looks very good. I have seen some of the more extreme HDR’s and some are just over the top but others are kind of cool.
    This is very conservative and I like it.
    book Photographing Nature:

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003405425882 Mai

      Great lnsdacape… love the path leading us to the misty valley – great composition, and a subtle HDR photo (which makes a pleasant change).

  • Martin

    Hi Frederick. I like what you have done. If I may, I humbly suggest you find a scene with true high dynamic range for this technique. Of course, this is all a matter of taste and I’m pleased to see someone of your talents give it a shot.

  • Martin

    Hi Frederick. I like what you have done. If I may, I humbly suggest you find a scene with true high dynamic range for this technique. Of course, this is all a matter of taste and I’m pleased to see someone of your talents give it a shot.

  • zak

    what a beautiful image of the gg bridge! doesn’t look “manipulated” at all. congrats!

  • http://scottwyden.com Scott

    Beautiful HDR Frederick!

  • http://scottwyden.com Scott

    Beautiful HDR Frederick!

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  • http://adamsviewsimaging.blogspot.com/ John E Adams

    Bravo and welcome! Your comparisons are a wonderful example of what the process brings to the table – what the cameras (yes even the D700) just can’t do yet -;0)

    Great blog, a new follow for me – found via Trey.

    Cheers

    John E Adams

  • http://adamsviewsimaging.blogspot.com/ John E Adams

    Bravo and welcome! Your comparisons are a wonderful example of what the process brings to the table – what the cameras (yes even the D700) just can’t do yet -;0)

    Great blog, a new follow for me – found via Trey.

    Cheers

    John E Adams

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/34834498@N02/ Kirk

    Let’s see if I can echo the sentiments of others without sounding exactly the same: as you guys have mentioned on TWIP, HDR is a technique rather than a technology or art form per se, and one which you’ve used with subtlety and great effect here. Landscapes seem the perfect place to try out HDR.

    What I”m curious about is how much time one generally spends in post-processing an HDR image versus the regular adjustments in something like Aperture or Lightroom, from your (albeit limited in this case) experience.

    Thanks for the share

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/34834498@N02/ Kirk

    Let’s see if I can echo the sentiments of others without sounding exactly the same: as you guys have mentioned on TWIP, HDR is a technique rather than a technology or art form per se, and one which you’ve used with subtlety and great effect here. Landscapes seem the perfect place to try out HDR.

    What I”m curious about is how much time one generally spends in post-processing an HDR image versus the regular adjustments in something like Aperture or Lightroom, from your (albeit limited in this case) experience.

    Thanks for the share

  • http://jimaustin.squarespace.com/ Jim Austin

    Frederick

    Enjoy your blog and your excellent interviews. Keep up the HDR. Here ‘s some fun stuff to check out, along the path of keeping the natural HDR look. :)))

    Jim Austin HDR (the “why” and the “ways” of HDR, not the HOW TO). The second article includes work by Trey.

    1. Symphony in A Moment: HDR Photography from Eight Maestros
    by Jim Austin

    http://www.apogeephoto.com/sept2009/jaustin92009.html

    2. HDR For the Love of Light, Vision From Nine Photographers on Flickr

    by Jim Austin

    http://www.apogeephoto.com/feb2007/jaustin22007_1.shtmlz

    3. What HDR Really Stands For by Jim Austin
    http://www.apogeephoto.com/march2008/jaustin32008.shtml

  • http://jimaustin.squarespace.com/ Jim Austin

    Frederick

    Enjoy your blog and your excellent interviews. Keep up the HDR. Here ‘s some fun stuff to check out, along the path of keeping the natural HDR look. :)))

    Jim Austin HDR (the “why” and the “ways” of HDR, not the HOW TO). The second article includes work by Trey.

    1. Symphony in A Moment: HDR Photography from Eight Maestros
    by Jim Austin

    http://www.apogeephoto.com/sept2009/jaustin92009.html

    2. HDR For the Love of Light, Vision From Nine Photographers on Flickr

    by Jim Austin

    http://www.apogeephoto.com/feb2007/jaustin22007_1.shtmlz

    3. What HDR Really Stands For by Jim Austin
    http://www.apogeephoto.com/march2008/jaustin32008.shtml

  • Travis

    I love HDR. I have really been getting into it. I have had goo success using Bracketeer to enfuse bracketed exposures, but nothing compares to Photomatix. I downloaded the free trial and started reprocessing my old bracketed images and WOW! What a difference. It is great us can use as much or as little Tone Mapping as you want. Fred, you used great restraint in processing your image. Well done. I didn’t notice the dude until a few glances later. Kind of a naked version of Where’s Waldo.

    Here is an image I processed in Photomatix Pro’s free trial

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mackz/4307452120/

  • Travis

    I love HDR. I have really been getting into it. I have had goo success using Bracketeer to enfuse bracketed exposures, but nothing compares to Photomatix. I downloaded the free trial and started reprocessing my old bracketed images and WOW! What a difference. It is great us can use as much or as little Tone Mapping as you want. Fred, you used great restraint in processing your image. Well done. I didn’t notice the dude until a few glances later. Kind of a naked version of Where’s Waldo.

    Here is an image I processed in Photomatix Pro’s free trial

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mackz/4307452120/

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  • Marius

    Very cool indeed ! Well done !

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