Tuesday, December 9, 2008

HDR Feature: Greg Saulmon

Greg Saulmon is constantly surprising me with his outstanding HDR Photographs. Greg doesn't label himself as a photographer, but I think he deserves the title with the quality of work he is putting out and the creative methods he uses to produce his HDR Photographs. I remember Greg telling me he wasn't sure if he could justify the purchase of the HDR software that he is currently using. He was unsure if he would even use the software often enough to think the purchase was worth it. Well, I am glad he went ahead and made the purchase, because every time I see Greg's photographs I am blown away at the compositions he composes and then builds into an HDR masterpiece.

Unlike most photographers using pricey D-SLR cameras, Greg is out there shooting with a Canon PowerShot A530. This camera is only putting out 5 mega pixels. Another outstanding method he is chosen to do, something most HDR photographers wouldn't be found doing, is, he does not use a tripod to produce his photographs. Greg shoots "3-6 separate exposures" with out a tripod. He shot each of these with the assistance of the ground (the pigeon), fences (the shot of memorial bridge) or walls (the chain-link fence, Court Square) Greg's creative methods separate him from other photographers doing similar work. In order for him to produce each photograph he has to first be able to stabilize his camera without a the assistance of a tripod by finding a means to keep his camera steady in order to make the desired amount of bracket exposures. He believes that"A tripod obviously gives you way more flexibility (and stability) in framing a shot; but, when I'm shooting informally, I kind of like relying on luck. It makes the shots that really work seem that much more satisfying." I agree with him on this.

As far as software the software he uses, he gets very creative using photomatix and photoshop to produce the final image. "For editing software, I first merge the exposures using Photomatix. Then, a lot of tweaking. Photomatix is great, but it has some quirks. I've found that, in some cases, it'll add a lot of noise to neutral colors -- especially water and sky (and especially if you've radically under-exposed any of the shots). The strength, light smoothing, micro-smoothing and luminosity controls are a very delicate balance here. Another quirk: I've had almost no luck getting good shots that involve vivid sunsets. Everything I've tried ends up looking like a pile of melted crayons."

"Once I've got the Photomatix adjustments where I want them, I save the photo and re-open it in Photoshop. Another Photomatix quirk: the light smoothing and micro-smoothing process seems to add a pretty significant blur. Sometimes it's ethereal and pretty; other times, it just looks out-of-focus and bad. Running the unsharp mask filter in Photoshop usually takes care of that. For this shot of Memorial Bridge, I also sharpened using the high-pass filter, just to see what would happen. One last trick: in the Court Square shot, I tried to deal with the noise that had crept into the sky by 1) creating a duplicate layer; 2) hitting that layer with the dust / scratches filter to blur it; 3) masking that layer and 4) using the eraser to reveal the blurred (and much less noisy) sky. I think it worked OK as a quick fix."

I admire Greg's photographs and find his creative methods to be very inspiring. Greg has fully embraced his ability to create HDR photographs and has been able to find the best possible compositions in which to apply his processes. I hope you look forward to seeing more photographs from Greg, as we are always happy to have him as contributor here on Lenshare.

Words by Jeffrey Byrnes and Greg Saulmon. Photographs by Greg Saulmon, photographed during his "break-time walks around Springfield"

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