Archive for the ‘Lightroom’ Category

Superior Sunrise

Superior Sunrise © 2012

Morning Light

An early spring trip to the shore found the Great Lake mostly devoid of ice and activity.  The hue of he sky reflected on the waters surface, broken only by a stray piece of ice here and there.  As though a nod to the rising sun the beacons cast the last of their light to welcome the day.  The morning, strangely warm but expectedly calm, was ushered along by a warm breeze like a spring kiss.   The clouds covered the skies and let through only light with shades of blue.   Slowly the blue was replaced with the Gray of the clouds but for now a splash of color entertained the senses.

Skagen Town Hall

©2010 Gary Udstrand


Skagen Town Hall is located between Greenbush and Badger in the NW corner of MN.   As a kid we lived just a few short miles from here and drove by it almost every day.  Now, years later I have moved on and get back home just a few times a year.  Seeing the town hall reminds me of my childhood and all the adventures that comes with growing up in rural area.  

Many things are different and have changed since my youth, this town hall however is not among them.  The trees may be a little taller and the paint chipped a tad more here and there but in my minds eye it looks the same as it did the first time I happened to cast a glance its way.

Silver Efex Pro 2

Just this past week Nik released an update to their incredibly popular, and powerful, black and white conversion plugin.   This plugin works with many image editing tools but my use is confined to Lightroom and Photoshop.  For this particular image I used the plugin from within Lightroom.

There are several new features to recommend the updated version.  Two of these features are the Amplify Blacks and Amplify Whites and both are exceptional.  The photo above was shot in very flat light and did not hold much promise.  I tried the usual tweaks in both Photoshop CS5 and Lightroom and could not get the look or the depth that I wanted in the image.

When I finally got a copy of Silver Efex Pro 2 one of the first images that I processed was the one above.   I previewed one preset after another and I have to say I really enjoyed seeing all the possibilities  that were just a simple click away.   I finally settled on one, the default I believe, and then using the amplify blacks and whites I was able to expand the tonal contrast and add some depth to the image.   Just what I wanted.  

Lazy Summer Day

The hike had left us hot and tired and our sense of adventure had waned. Wading into the cool water we began to feel our spirits rise. Rejuvenated, our interest returned and the exploring once again began in earnest.

Classic Americana

The processing on this image has a very Norman Rockwell type of feel.  I really like this effect on certain photos,   In this image  the scene, the setting and the kids are timeless and remind us of an era where youth and innocence were celebrated.  To me the photo and effect compliment each other perfectly.

This scene harkens back to a time when days were simpler and ones pastimes were more about enjoying the things around you rather then the things you have.   A stream, a stick and a kid seem so right.  To me, this photo is about the wonder of discovery and the innocence of youth.

Make your own Rockwell

Since this is a photo blog I felt it was worth at least a few words on how I processed this image.  And, if you are interested in this effect you will be happy to hear that all it needs is a few words.  🙂

This photo was shot as a jpg by an ordinary P&S camera and processed in Lightroom.    In Lightroom I simply boosted the blacks a small amount and then opened the image in Topaz Adjust.

Topaz Adjust

I have run other images on my blog in the past that discussed Topaz Adjust in more detail (see blog article here).  For the image above it could not be more simple.  Once the image was opened in Topaz Adjust I simply selected the Psychedelic preset.  I played around with some of the sliders but in the end I just went back to the default settings. 

Adjust has lots of different looks and effects and it a very creative and useful tool to add to your arsenal.   Among other things you can approximate the Dave Hill effect or get something like the above which is kind of a cross between a Rockwell painting and the Dave Hill Effect. 

Topaz does have a 30 day trial for most of its plugins, including Adjust.  It is a very fun and creative tool and well worth the time to download and kick the tires.  If you decide to buy you can use the coupon code tnttopaz and save 10%.

Image Blending in Lightroom with Enfuse

The Minneapolis skyline after dark can be spectacular.   In the picture above the skyline and its vibrant colors are reflected on the mirror-like finish of Lake Calhoun.

Dynamic Range

Before we can start a discussion about HDR (High Dynamic Range), we first need to begin with an understanding of what dynamic range means.  In photography dynamic range is the ratio between the minimum (shadows) and the maximum (highlights) light intensities in an image.   This ratio is measured in f-stops when referring to digital cameras.

I will leave it to the experts to debate how f-stops of dynamic range the various formats and cameras can attain.  Even if you use the very best DSLR it is still likely that you will on occasion (often?) find photo opportunities that will exceed the dynamic range of the camera.  This is where HDR and/or blending techniques come in.

For those looking for more information about dynamic range you can find a great reference here.

HDR or High Dynamic Range

HDR has become a very popular technique due in large part to a number of very good tools that have become available.  Photomatix is probably the most well known and popular, and while it does a good job, it can be very difficult to get decent results.  Most HDR that I have seen ends up looking kind of unreal and/or like a cartoon.   Some people like this, but it is not for me.

The trick, I think, is to use the tools to accomplish a subtle effect and to not go overboard.  While the goal is to present a much larger dynamic range than can be accomplished with a single shot, you should also strive for realism.

While Photomatix and similar tools use tone mapping and exposure fusion, there is another technique that can be used which is image blending.    One of the tools that can be used for blending is Enfuse.


Enfuse is an open source tool which can be downloaded for free.  The Wiki page does a much better job of describing it:

Enfuse Wiki page

Enfuse is a command-line program used to merge different exposures of the same scene to produce an image that looks very much like a tone mapped image (without the halos) but requires no creation of an HDR image. Therefore it is much simpler to use and allows the creation of very large multiple exposure panoramas.

Sounds like just what we want.  🙂

Lightroom plug-in

The downside to Enfuse is that it can be daunting to use for those less technically inclined.  It is a command line tool, and if you’ve never ventured out of Windows and into the world of command prompts, it could be a show stopper.   However, if you have Lightroom there is an alternative.

Timothy Armes, who has authored a number of Lightroom plug-ins, has created one just for Enfuse called LR/Enfuse. In short this plug-in allows you to simply select the images that you would like to blend within Lightroom.

Accessing the plug-in

Once you have the images selected the next step is to start the plug-in.   The Enfuse plug-in is a bit different from most, to launch the Enfuse process select  File->Plug-In Extra’s->Blend Exposures using LR/Enfuse.


When the plug-in is launched you are presented a window that contains four tabs that configure and control the output.  It may seem like a lot but  the settings for the most part do not change all that much between sessions and the actual blending options are limited to one tab (Enfuse)

Output tab

The output tab is where you specify the name and location of the output file.  I almost always output to the 16 bit TIFF format.  You can also opt to import the output file back into Lightroom, copy meta data to the blended image, etc..  You can see my typical settings below.

Auto Align Tab

The auto-align configuration determines how (or if) the images should be aligned during the blend.  Even shooting on a tripod I find that I do need to have the plug-in automatically align the images.  Even the slightest shift of the source material can lead to a blurry image, auto-aligning can correct for that.

Enfuse Tab

This tab is the one place where you are able to tweak the blending.   I leave the levels set to automatic and if you are just starting out you should too.

The other parameters control the weighting factors used by Enfuse to blend the images.  Input images are weighted according to their exposure, contrast and saturation.  Changing these values will effect the blend and how the pixels are blended.  The contrast weighting is the only one of the values that is not determined on a per pixel basis.    Instead it looks at a window of values whose size is determined by the Contrast Window Size.

Al the bottom of all the panels is a generate previews button,  I would recommend that you leave the auto generate unchecked and instead manually create a preview when you are done with  you r changes.


Configuration Tab

The configuration tab typically needs to be set up only once.  The only config here that is interesting is the preview pixel size.   The larger the size the longer it takes to generate the preview.  The default is 500 which is too small for my taste, 800 seems about right.

Shooting to blend

When shooting HDR, you typically will need 3-5 images which are bracketed at equal stops.    The beauty of blending is that you can be much more liberal with your source material.    The documentation for Enfuse recommends starting out with pictures bracketed by 2/3 to 1 1/3 stops to make it easier to visualize.   Typically you want to get a “base” exposure that is as close to the look you like and bracket from there.  If you are concerned about the shadows, bracket up and don’t worry about bracketing on the –EV side for highlights.  Blending is very forgiving and is not dependent on a certain mix of photos.

Also, to make your life easier, you will want to use a tripod.  Some of the various blending and/or tone mapping products will handle slight movements of the camera, but from my experience it is just best to start with images that are framed as identically as possible.

For the image I present here I shot three exposures.   As I said earlier I am not a huge fan of the really overdone HDR in most cases.  For some source material it works pretty well (see my article on Topaz adjust for one that I think puts the effect to good use.  IMHO   :-))   but for this scene I definitely wanted something with more realism.  Blending is just the tool.



Below are the three images that were blended to create the photo at the beginning of this article.   As you can see each image captures detail in some areas but not in all.  By blending the three images, we are able to get a final result that combines the areas from each photo to ultimately deliver an image that exceeds the dynamic range of a single frame.

Exposure at –2 EV

In this image you can see the details in the city lights and in the reflections on the water.   The buildings themselves are obscured by the shadows and the tree line is nothing more than a silhouette.


Exposure at 0 EV

At this exposure you can see the buildings are opening up and there is detail appearing in the tree line.


Exposure at +2 EV

Now we see lots of detail in the tree line but the buildings are washed out.  The city lights are mostly white blobs.




Blending images is a great way to increase the dynamic range of your photo.    It also has the advantage of providing a more realistic look, and with less work than the popular tone mapping tools.    As a bonus Enfuse itself is free and the plug-in for Lightroom is much cheaper than the popular tone mapping tools (think PhotoMatix).

In short if you are a landscape photographer, you owe it to yourself to try out Enfuse and blending;   Heck, any photographer would benefit from having this tool in their arsenal.   Download Enfuse and the plug-in and try it out.  I would love to hear from you and see your results.  I think you will be as excited about blending as I am.  🙂

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