High-dynamic range puts shooters on cutting edge

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As the vineyard photography class approached the mid-term of the fall quarter at Walla Walla Community College the students seemed ready for a big challenge.

Each year the students enter this class with a camera and a dream and my task is to enhance their digital knowledge to distinguish themselves in their future business pursuits. One of my goals for the students in my class is to introduce them to all aspects of cutting-edge digital photography.

The dream in this class was to introduce the students to just-released software called HDR Efex Pro. The software developed by Nik is able to use a revolutionary all-in-one workflow (merging five photos into one) to quickly create HDR (high dynamic range) images that range from "realistic" to "artistic."

To be sure the software would not be too complex I attended several hours of instruction via webinars and tutorials offered online.

Satisfied that this new software could be mastered I told the students to gather their camera gear and we walked out to the parking lot to carpool up into the foothills of the Blue Mountains.

The late afternoon was going to be perfect for this photo shoot as the white clouds were streaking in the blue sky and the sun was casting lingering shadows, creating wonderful contrasts to the rolling foothills. The roads and fields glistened in the afternoon glow of the sun and would provide all the components the students would need for this adventure.

This field trip would be very different for the class as they would not be limited to narrow vineyard rows or constrained angles to take their pictures. The scenes would be wide open and challenge would be how to crop the scenes.

For this photo shoot it did not matter whether the students had a point-and-shoot camera or a larger format camera, as the principles would remain the same for the camera setup.

First, we focused on the digital camera set up which would be quite different than the class was used to doing. I asked them to set the ISO to the lowest setting 100; set the image quality size to RAW or JPEG Large; set the white balance to Sun as we had a clear and sunny day; set the exposure mode to Aperture-Priority so the light would remain constant and the camera adjusts the shutter speed. On a sunny day set the f stop between f 11 and f 16; set the bracketing to exposure bracketing and rotate the dial to five exposures (this means the camera will be taking five pictures of the same subject and will vary the exposures from neutral to +1, +2, -1, -2).

The pictures will look overexposed or dark at one end and the other pictures will look washed out. This is all part of the plan.

Now with the camera's settings adjusted they mounted them on tripods and turned off the image stabilizers on the lens, as the tripod would compensate for the camera stability.

The fun began as the students scanned the hillsides looking for shadows and contrasts to capture in HDR began focusing on the scenes and imagery of the hillside looking for shadows and contrasts to capture for the HDR.

The one caveat to this new software is that it is a plug-in, which means the user must have Adobe Photoshop Elements, Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture on their computer for it to work.

Like all aspects of the new digital technology this application may not be for everyone but for the students it gave them a new tool to help keep their dream alive.

Don Fleming can be reached at don512@me.com.

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