Hardcore at Higgins Beach and HDR Tutorial

HDR Photo Panorama - Breakers Inn at Higgins Beach Maine

If you stay at The Breakers Inn during off-season, you are hardcore.


FYI – Despite my best efforts, I am not being remunerated in any way for the links, photos, or names mentioned in this post. Also, I ate instant ramen for lunch again.
Andrew Marston taking an HDR photo

You can tell this shot was taken by Lori because I am in it. Also, that was the last time I wore those sneakers.

Maine beaches, in Winter, are for the hardcore. During summer, they’re a pleasant 80°F (that’s 27°C btw) with warm sand, cool water, and an ice cream stand usually a short barefoot stroll away. Tourists occupy cozy beach-side bed and breakfasts like The Breakers Inn (HDR photo panorama above and scroll down for a tutorial on how it was done) and frolic all day in their sandals and swim suits. However, during the cold and bleak months between October and April, these docile softies retreat to warmer environs and a different breed of beach goer emerges. I’m talking about winter surfers. With high water temperatures hovering in the low 40’s (about 4°C), they don’t mess around. Equipped with waxed boards, steely gazes, and dry suits (basically the winter jacket version of wet suits), they truly are hardcore. While photographing at Higgins Beach recently, I literally shivered just watching them paddling about in the Atlantic as if it was the Caribbean. (The shivering was partially because it was 37°F outside, but you get the point.)

As the light faded into a disappointingly gray sunset, I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by. I had to at least try capturing the stoicism of these peculiar surfer dudes and dudettes. Walking up as confidently as I could to one surfer who had separated from the rest, I briefly introduced myself and offered him my business card.

Before moving on, stop for a moment to consider that last statement… I offered a surfer my business card while he was surfing… o_O

He politely explained that he had no pockets and that the water would most likely would ruin the card. After some more brief conversation, it turned out that we had actually met before. He is a middle school teacher in my hometown. In fact we had worked together years ago at the local summer rec camp. What are the odds right? (In Maine, in winter, the odds of meeting someone you know are actually pretty high.)

He was very agreeable to posing for some photos. I ended up sacrificing my sneakers to capture the shot below, but I think it turned out like I envisioned.

Post Processing

  • 7 bracketed NEFs shot on a tripod at the cost of 2 tennis shoes
  • Tone Mapped in Photomatix
  • Tone Mapped image blended with sources in Photoshop.
  • Extensive adjustment layers, editing, and honey-roasted peanuts used to create the final image.
HDR Photo - Surfer on the Atlantic in Winter

Middle school teachers are hardcore.

Picture of Sandlings in Maine

These Sandlings are hardcore… hardcore adorable that is.

Photo of Lori Marston at Higgins Beach Maine

Lori is hardcore. Fo’ shizzle.

Photo of Andrew Marston at Higgins Beach Maine

My hands are not as hardcore as I would like.

hdr tutorial

For those interested specifically in my workflow to create a single HDR image, I’ve outlined the process sparing no uncomfortable detail in a series titled The HDR Life Cycle.

If you didn’t gather from the above infographic, this HDR tutorial covers step-by-step how I edited this HDR panorama to it’s completed state. This is certainly not the only way to accomplish similar results. HDR panoramas are fickle beasts, but my methods work for me. Hopefully this tutorial helps you find ways to refine your own work flow to achieve better results. Be sure to let me know in the comments if you do things differently. I did leave out screen shots showing the stitching and perspective adjustment in Photoshop this time, but it’s exactly the same as shown in this HDR panorama tutorial which used 30 source images.

Step 1) Create Each HDR Photo

With an HDR panorama, I only edit each individual HDR photo until the tone mapped image is decently blended with the sources photos. The color and contrast adjustments will be done at the end to the final stitched panorama. If we do them before stitching, there’s a greater chance the images won’t look the same and the stitch will be obvious.

HDR Photo 1: Sources

HDR Tutorial: Pano Piece 1 Sources

HDR Photo 1: Tone Mapped Image

This is an improvement over any single source image, but the house looks quite dull and depressed. Also the sky is a tad blown out in places.

HDR Tutorial: Pano Piece 1 Tonemap

HDR Photo 1: Tone mapped image blended with source photos

This is a good starting point for stitching. I haven’t used any adjustment layers at this point.

HDR Tutorial: HDR Pano Piece 1

HDR Photo 2: Sources

HDR Tutorial - Pano Piece 2 Sources

HDR Photo 2: Tone Mapped Image

Notice how black and stormy the clouds look. This is a bit over-dramatic for my taste and it’s also inaccurate since it was just a grey day. I’ll use both tone mapped images straight from Photomatix to create a test panorama before investing several more hours into adjustments and edits.

HDR Tutorial - Pano Piece 2 Tonemap

HDR Photo 2: Tone mapped image blended with source photos

I didn’t bother blending the house since I’ll be using the house from the other HDR photo in the final stitched HDR panorama.

HDR Tutorial: Pano Piece 2

Step 2) Stitch the HDR Photos Together and Edit the Final HDR Panorama in Photoshop until the Coffee Pot is Empty

To stitch panoramas together, I use Photoshop CS5’s Edit > Auto Align. Then I try Edit > Auto Blend which almost always succeeds in producing seams that don’t align properly. After cmd+Z’ing the Auto Blend I just mask the Auto Align layers with a soft brush. To correct the perspective warp, I use either the Puppet Warp or Free Transform with control handles. Finally, with the stitch completed, I edit the HDR photo panorama as if it were a normal image in an adjustment layer fiesta. Arriba!

HDR Photo Panorama - Breakers Inn at Higgins Beach Before Photoshop-Edit

HDR Photo Panorama – Breakers Inn at Higgins Beach Before Photoshop-Edit

HDR Photo Panorama - Breakers Inn - Higgins Beach - Final Photoshop Edit

Finished HDR Panorama

HDR Photo Panorama - Breakers Inn at Higgins Beach Maine

Before/After Photoshop Edits

(Slide the slider to compare the before/after shots. Best viewed in Firefox.)

[beforeafter]HDR Photo Panorama - Breakers Inn at Higgins Beach Before Photoshop-EditHDR Photo Panorama - Breakers Inn at Higgins Beach Maine[/beforeafter]

Similar Articles

8 Responses to Hardcore at Higgins Beach and HDR Tutorial

  1. Dave DiCello March 13, 2012 at 7:49 am #

    What a cool series of shots here man! I love the one of your reflection too, that is awesome!

  2. Deb March 12, 2012 at 10:04 pm #

    Waterproof business cards perhaps? Great shots, like the silver and gray effects.

  3. Jimi Jones March 12, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

    Now this is hardcore for sure. 🙂

    Great shots, Andrew. So nicely or should I say “icely” done. This is one sure way to get the beach to yourself. LOL Love the post!

  4. A.Barlow March 12, 2012 at 4:54 pm #

    I have to agree, freezing is not the funnest thing. That is hardcore.

  5. Cley March 12, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

    Fun! Hardcore it is! 🙂 I enjoyed watching your photos.. Nice shots! 🙂

  6. Steven Perlmutter March 12, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

    While not a surfer, and definitely not hardcore, I do enjoy Maine beaches in the winter. Although I guess not as much as during the summer of course.

    Really nice work with the surfer shot. Definitely captures the mood.

  7. Len Saltiel March 12, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

    Really like your style in writing these posts Andrew. Great images and truly hardcore…

    • Andrew March 12, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

      Thanks Len! Writing isn’t my strong suit so it usually takes me a long time to come up with worthwhile text. Usually I find it easier to look at the photos, pick a theme from theme and then write. Still, this post took about 2 hours after photos were finished. That includes writing, editing, and wailing with frustration (this took up about 1hr 45min of that time tho).

Leave a Reply