Monday, September 8, 2014


Night Time HDR Cy-Fair Campus

According to Saint Ansel of Adams "Craft facility liberates expression, and I am constantly amazed how many artists think the opposite to be true."  Simply put technology sets free an already freed mind for a freed vision.  Adams was a technology freak he predicted the digital age and the digital darkroom and if he were alive today he would be a digital uberman (superman) but he was not a slave to technique-technology,  he did not allow his vision to be compromised nor superseded by technology. He struck in my opinion a productive balance between the two.

HDRI ("High" Dynamic Range Imaging) , HDR for short is nothing new, it has been the goal in photography from its inception and the first HDR image was produced by Gustave Le Gray in the 1850s, that's right 1850.  Like the "Zone" system HDR is nothing more than a CONTRAST MANAGEMENT TOOL (here forth "CMT")Contrast is the difference in luminance and/or color that makes an object , its representation or literal image distinguishable. Contrast is how we paint with light (photo-graphe). The luminance differences gives birth to our tones and the range of these tones  from the high to the low gives birth to the tonal range in a scene or image and is the DYNAMIC RANGE (DR). Simply put the DR is the difference between the lightest detail and darkest detail in the scene or image and is the ZONE of tonal values.  Thus this completely captured tonal range or zones  with its subsequently controlled contrasts has been and is the desired goal in Photographic history starting with that first 1850s "High" Dynamic Ranged Image (HDRI) by Gustave Le Gray, moving in to the 1940s with Adams and Archer's "ZONE" system and presently with our current HDRI digital dark room tools (Photomatix Pro, NIK HDR, PS blend modes HDR,

There are those today who would have you convinced that the "ZONE" system was all Adams was about, that it has no place in the digital age and is  strictly for film. This assertion is absolutely false!

I put the "High" in HDR/HDRI in quotes because the term HIGH is subjective, it is relative, if something is  high then there must be a "low".  All scenes have their own unique tonal range and these ranges are best expressed in exposure values or EVs. These EVs are the individual exposure readings in all the tonal areas of your scene and is how your camera's sensor or film sees these zones but does not necessarily captures all these values.  Our digital camera's all have unique DYNAMIC RANGE values expressed in EVs or stops which can be found on line here ( I will use my D3 and P7100 as an example; the D3's value is 12.2 EVs and the P7100's value is 10.7 exposure range of capture. This does not mean that if I point and shot at a scene with a range of 10 EV's that I will get a raw file with all 10 perfectly exposed zones with one shot and exposure setting. I have to collect images exposed for those tones/zones and merge them together.

Proper Exposure is the key and your work flow is important, it is not hard, just important. So one needs to really understand exposure and what our cameras are doing exposure wise. Most Landscapes, properly exposed should only take 3 exposures and no more than 5 in order to blend into your HDR software of choice (mine has always been Photomatix Pro, I do have NIK's and have used PS). Some night scenes might take as many as 7 depending on the EV difference from the high-lights to the shadows.  We are talking about exposure bracketing here look it up in your manuals. Some of us  are blessed or cursed with auto bracketing functions. 

Let us assume I have spot metered(SM) my scene's lights and darks, I carry a hand held spot meter, you can use the spot meter function in your camera with your zoom lens and you have a spot meter. I have also metered the whole scene with my matrix averaging meter(AM) mode. The High-lights, the brightest SP meter reading is f-16-1000-ISO 200, the Shadow detail SP meter reading is f-16-60-ISO 200 (HDRI-ing we want the same F-stop for each blended image) and the overall AM metered  scene reading is f-16-250- ISO 200. The results are +2 stops(EV) from the averaged metered middle reading and -2 stops (EV) from the middle reading.  In making the spot readings remember to set the exposure for the tone, if it is white and you want white the exposure reading needs to be increased by 1-2 stops (EVs) if not your whites will be gray and the shadows if you want them black you will need to decrease the spot exposure reading by 1-2 stops (EVs) are your blacks will run to gray. Remember to keep light from entering the eye piece of your view finder as that will affect the cameras meter reading and thus give you a false reading.

Using a tripod with a preset white balance (I do not use auto white balance for Day light Panos or HDR, I will use it for Night time HDR)  I will manually shoot the -1, -2, +1 and +2 exposures and Aperture Priority the middle averaged meter exposure. If the + and - EVs fall within the auto bracketing function of my camera I will often use that function.

I am well aware of the "Spray and Pray" group who never use a tripod and blast away with hand held AUTO-bracketing including white balance set at auto. If that fits your vision of the image then there is nothing wrong with that. I have done it (sans auto white balance) when a tripod was not allowed or available.  However the results are always  better with a tripod! Slow down and use the tripod as to tool to help / force you to pre-visualize your image. Use the live view function with your camera on the tripod and a black tee shirt as a viewing cloth if needed,  people might think you had the world's smallest view camera.  

Now with the 3-5 properly exposed images go to your favorite CMT (Contrast Management Tool) AKA HDR software be it Photomatix, Nik, PS, and season your image to taste. The only thing holding us back is ourselves. What's the best way to master the CMTs available , that's easy sit down and use them, the free tutorials all the software producers have and You tube.  

If anyone wants a face-to-face tutorial on the proper exposure and capture as delineated here in, I can have you up and running in less than 2 hours (most only take 1 hour). You will have the skill sets to properly expose and captured images to run through your CMT of choice and NO you do not need a separate hand held meter.  What's the cost of such instruction, absolutely nothing,  except your time to invest in yourself.

Learning is not always easy, but it is extremely useful.

Until Next Time- Safe Imaging Photo Fans.

Michael L Young

Photographic Reality, Realism and the Truth

The word photography comes from two Greek words meaning “light” and “drawing” and has four founding Fathers;  Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765–1833) who took the first photograph c. 1827. However, his process needed eight hours of exposure, and the picture was fuzzy. Then in 1837 Louis Daguerre (1787–1851) created a sharp but one-use image in a few minutes. In 1839 William Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877) presented negative film and prints and finally George Eastman (1854–1932) who invented flexible film and mass produced an inexpensive camera in 1888. The initial goal of the first three  was to produce a way to copy maps, charts and drawings as the copy machine was a century + in the future. Eastman saw the future and rewrote it not based upon the past.

The realistic image produced by the early processes set the stage for photography is not art argument  because it was too easy and made by a machine and it was reality, it was real or so the opponents would argue.  In considering this age old argument surrounding photography there are three questions to ponder:
Does It matter what reality is or is not behind a Photo?
Does Sharpness matter?
Is the photograph the subject, or is the subject the photograph?

I think these questions have been at the center of the photographic zeitgeist since 1839, when Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre announced to the world that he had invented the daguerreotype process. Thus photography as a medium to capture a ''truthful likeness" was born. The historic San Francisco Group f.64 argued these questions when Ansel Adams was a young photographer.

Those very first images compared to today's high resolution standards were not very "real." And they were not very sharp, which in my mind's eye affects to an extent the reality quotient. But that brings us to the question of what is reality and how sharp is sharp? I also think somewhere along the way, like Dorothy going to Oz, we will find the answer to the subject vs. the photograph question.

Photographers, unlike other artists, work backwards. Our medium requires us to start with the real -the real still life, the real landscape, the real figure, the real portrait, etc. The very physics of our medium captures as realistic a representation of the subject as a given camera system can achieve on the first take. We know, or we should know that the image is not real; it is surreal! The court system knows this. As a crime scene photographer, the very first question the state asks before I submit photos as evidence is "Officer Young, are these the photographs you took at the scene, or of the victim, etc." Answer, "Yes." "Do these photographs represent an accurate representation of the scene at the time the images were taken?" Answer, "Yes." They do not use terms as real or reality. That is because a photograph is not real. It is surreal. It is a two dimensional representation of a captured four dimensional object. We use our eyes -the best camera system ever created. Our God-given camera allows us to see in real time, four dimensions, with a dynamic range which far exceeds anything the camera manufacturers have to offer, with a Depth of Field that far exceeds our best lenses. As photographers, we filter that image through our mind's eye using our emotions, logic and learned experiences. We then make the real into the surreal by the placement of the camera to our eye or our eye to the camera and compress the four dimensions into two via the camera. We further make the real into the surreal with in-camera cropping, selective focus, depth of focus, the play of studio lighting and post processing magic via the digital or wet dark room. The end result is a two dimensional work product, whether it is a print or shown on screen. A painter, sketch artist or water colorist starts with no-thing and ends up with something. His is an additive art process.

A relief sculptor takes the whole stone and removes the negative space, creating the final object out of the remaining positive space. That is a subtractive art process. A constructive sculptor starts with no-thing and builds until he has his object of art. His is an additive art process.

It is this, the surface difference between the "classic" art mediums and the surface "realism" of photography that has often held the art community at odds with accepting photography for decades. It is this surface realism which often prevents photographers from fully exploring the photographic imaging universe.  In the grab-the-shot "Point and Shoot" we capture the "realism" in the viewfinder, four dimensions into two. It is not real; it is still relatively real. If we selectively crop the "real" image from our grabbed Point and Shoot image so that the viewer is restricted to a small segment of the original "real" object, then a new realism is offered the viewer.

If we take multiple "real" objects and combine them into a single image via Photoshop or Jerry
Uelsmann ( or Dan Burkholder ( wet techniques, then our art becomes additive and subtractive but it all begins with "real" objects -"real" objects we cut, crop and manipulate into a single image.

So "Does it matter what reality is or is not behind a photo? In my opinion the answer is both yes
and no. Yes. in the beginning, "real" is where we start. We start with a real subject, then use our
God-given camera (our eyes and mind's eye to see), then move to our man-given camera. We end up rendering the subject at whatever point of "reality" the image maker wishes, i.e. as "real" as the camera can capture or as surreal as the image maker wants to go in the post processing phase.

There is freedom in the "reality" of the relative reality of our medium of photographic imaging. It
is the freedom to be a subtractive artist, an additive artist or both.

If our photographic universe is bound by this relative reality, then does sharpness really matter? The answer to this in my opinion is again both yes and no. In the photographic equipment race, we strive for the sharpest lenses, the most accurate color engines and the highest resolution sensors. We want our chosen purchase to render the tack sharp images we see in the trade magazines, right? Yet we see advertised cheap selective focus lenses which are little more than a flexible radiator hose with a plastic lens stuck to the front. The advertisers say if you are going to be a hip artsy photographer you must use one of these to make blurry out-of-focus, poorly contrasting images with your mega bucks digital camera. Maybe I am a simpleton but to me, sticking a $100 piece of plastic on my 12 mega pixel multi $1,000 camera body just seems strange. I think the reason the answer is again a yes and no answer lies in the reality of the intended purpose of the photograph. For example, if I am making a classic portrait of a woman, I do not want the photograph to be tack sharp; I do not want her portrait to look like it should be in a dermatologist textbook. I am going to want a Little softness in the image. lf the photograph is a portrait of a tough-as-nails hard rock miner and I want to convey the hardness of the job and the toughness it requires, then I want to create a sharp-as-nails image of my subject so that the photograph tells the viewer what I want it to say. If the photograph is of a subject who has seen a degree of hardness and sorrow in her life, then perhaps a balance somewhere between the tack sharpness of the mega lenses and the fuzzy-buddy lenses is called for.

Again, the answer is a relative one. The answer lies in what I as the photographer want my final two dimensional rendering of the once real (four dimensional) subject to say to the viewer. How do I want to convey the real subject? Or what do I, the photographer, feel and or see the real subject to be in the final surreal flat image we call a photograph?

If the aforementioned relativity and the level of required sharpness are based upon the desired final result or statement that the image maker wanted to achieve in his final flat two dimensional
representation of the original subject, then I would say the argument has been made and the final question answered. The answer to that question is, The image or photograph is not the subject, but a surrealist visual entity separate and apart from the real subject.

I trust the reader has come away with the under lying theme that photographic imaging is a medium of "real" freedom. Therefore, we're free to explore the variations of this reality to wherever our mind's eye would take us.

I will leave you with two quotes on the subject from two of our imaging ancestors;

"Photography's greatest gift is its ability to render three dimensional reality in a two dimensional form and that photography's greatest weakness is its ability to render three dimensional reality in two dimensional form". -Rudolf Amheim

"Because of the protean nature of photography and its many uses, critics and non critics have trouble seeing photographs for what they are rather than for what's in them." -William Eggelston

Until Next Time- Safe Imaging Photo Fans.
Michael L Young

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Photographic imaging is my passion.

Photographic imaging is my passion.

The path for photographic expression is my obsession.

I was born in Texas, and being a Texan and an American has contributed strongly to my belief and sense of freedom: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to be who you are meant to be, and the freedom to pursue one´s passion and vision.

I follow my freedom, passion, and obsession in the creation of my images. This freedom allows me to create images that fit my vision and or the intended purpose at the moment in the time the camera clicks. Be it a crime scene, a classic portrait session, or a photographic exercise to stretch the mind and/or medium in order to explore the limitless paths of this journey we call life.

I subscribe to no particular school of photography or art. I enjoy all manner of visual expression and I would encourage the world as a whole to liberalize its embrace and pick up on the good vibes to be had in such an open embrace. My images might be labeled an eclectic smorgasbord, running from the "real" to the surreal.

One might ask, why place the word "real" in quotation marks?

The answer is simple. By the very physics of photography, no photograph can be real; it can only be relatively real. A photograph is a two dimensional representation of a four-dimensional object or subject; therefore, it is not real; it is relatively real or surreal if you please. It can have varying degrees of reality but never truly be physically real thus the word "real" in quotes. This given physical characteristic of this medium with its subsequent freedom from true realism allows us to explore the world visually from as "real" as the camera can capture to as surreal as the imager´s
mind´s eye can envision. This allows the photographer to embrace the diversity of the visual environment with the freedom to follow his or her vision.

My personal History or Biography is as eclectic as my tastes in photography, music and art.

I received my first serious introduction to photography in high school as a newspaper and yearbook photographer.

I studied photography, art, history, engineering, and architecture at Texas A&M where I graduated Class of 77.

My career has been as varied as my tastes in photography. I was an engineer for 15 years, during which I photographically chronicled engineering and construction projects, shot corporate brochures, and photographed forensic equipment failures for my employer.  I had a 21 year career in law enforcement serving as  a Crime Scene Photographer , instructor and Accident Reconstructionist.  I am currently the director of the advanced technology instruction at Lone Star College Cy-Fair / Cypress Center;

I am also in partnership with my Best Friend, my Lover and my Woman; My Wife Lesa,  in Young's Photographic Imaging (
Michael L. Young, 2014