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.
- 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.
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 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 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 Photo 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 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.
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!
Finished HDR Panorama
Before/After Photoshop Edits
(Slide the slider to compare the before/after shots. Best viewed in Firefox.)