HDR Boston Photo Tutorials -AND- 1142 Photos in an Epic 3min Vid!

HDR Photo - Harvard Yard

I want to treat my blog readers right so today you get a double feature: A new photo AND an epic video

Scott and I shooting in Harvard YardRecently, Lori and I spent a very full 24hrs in Boston. We drove in on Friday evening (which is how I snagged that grim looking blue-hour HDR photo of Harvard Yard above) and then packed in as much as possible from 5:00am until sundown on Saturday. Why such a cramped schedule? Well, for one it’s more fun that way (arguable, I know); and secondly, Boston has so many photographic hot spots that it would feel like a waste not to. Don’t miss the sub 3:00 minute photo montage video below to be amazed by our super-human stamina and see all 1100+ photos from our 24hr adventure ^_^.

Getting back to what you’re really here for though… the photography (I hope). Harvard’s campus had a lot of cool buildings and Lori and I had to drive several loops through the campus before we finally settled on calling my friend Scott (who you may remember from Japan By Bicycle) to ask for a recommendation. Scott happens to live about 8 minutes away from Harvard and is fairly familiar with the campus. He’s also familiar with my photography habits from our bike trip, and patiently waited while I took photos until my memory card ran out of space (jk, but I like to think he’d be cool with that). To me, Harvard Yard at sundown was the epitome of creepy/cool (crool?). Although I’m sure it’s a totally friendly place, I was really getting a Tower of Terror vibe and tried to play that up in the editing (more on that after a short video break).

Epic Video Time! 1142 Photos in Under 3min

Post-Processing of the Lead Image

To create the lead image of this post, I followed my usual workflow outlined in my series The HDR Lifecycle. 7 Bracketed photos tone mapped in Photomatix and then blended and edited in Photoshop. This sucker took about 2.5 hours to finish and also as usual I did a jig when it was done.

Straight out of the Camera

(This is the +2 bracketed exposure)

HDR Photo - Harvard Yard - Before Photoshop Edit

Final Photoshop Edits

HDR Photo - Harvard Yard - Photoshop Edit

Before/After Photoshop Edits

(Slide the slider to compare the before/after shots. Best viewed in Firefox.)
The left side is after layer blending, but before adjusting contrast and color. The right side is the final HDR photo

[beforeafter]HDR Photo - Harvard Yard - Before Photoshop EditHDR Photo - Harvard Yard[/beforeafter]

Faneuil Hall HDR Panorama

HDR Photo of Faneuil Hall in Boston

Mooching off friends is the best. My awesome amigo Scott lives in Boston (yep, the same Scott that biked the length of Japan with me, and also looks really awesome in a Japanese beetle hat). Wanting to tour the city but not wanting to pay for a hotel, Lori and I totally took advantage of the friendship and stayed the night at his apartment in order to get an early start the following morning. Thanks Scott! (I’ve already posted too many links pertaining to him, he runs an insightful music blog which is where I go to discover new music.)

Although I shot all day, I only came back with a few keeper shots. Sometimes that happens. I’ll take several cards worth of shots, but upon reviewing them on the computer I realize that I have a steaming pile of junk pixels. Usually, I try for several hours to tone map and edit a few of the mediocre ones into a passable state, but in the end I just have to let them go… poor photos never really had a chance.

This HDR panorama from Faneuil Hall is one of the exceptions from the day. I particularly enjoy the movement created by the links, and richness of the lighting and colors.

It’s Cool to Be Smart

Boston’s Faneuil Hall (dubbed America’s 4th most visited tourist site by Forbes Traveler magazine) has been a symbol of Boston since 1742. Sometimes called “The Cradle of Liberty”, Faneuil Hall has a rich history of hosting important historical events in America. Admittance to the hall is free and the guards on duty are happy to answer any questions you might have about the building. Also, surrounding Faneuil Hall are three indoor/outdoor marketplaces with specialty shops and restaurants.

Workflow of this HDR Panorama

Planning, shooting, and processing HDR photographs is like one giant mental Everlasting Gobstopper. Rather than blather you to death with intricate descriptions about my workflow for how I created this HDR panorama, I decided just to show you in a somewhat hastily thrown together graphic seen below (it was also faster for me… which means I can sleep sooner o_o). One thing I left out is a critical step at the beginning. Before loading the bracketed photos into Photomatix, I always correct my lens distortion and chromatic aberration.

HDR Tutorial Infographic - Faneuil Hall in Boston

30 Shot HDR Panorama Christmas Tree

HDR Photo Panorama of Boston

After exiting historic Faneuil Hall with the winner HDR photo above safely captured, Lori and I nom’ed on some asian-fusion noodles from Wagamama and waited for Blue Hour to set in. Blue Hour (the hour after the sun sets when the sky is a-particular-color-that-I-bet-you’ll-never-guess) is perfect for HDR photography, but I’m always a bit tense since it’s so brief. This time, I had done my homework so that my tripod was in position right as the Christmas Tree was turned on in Quincey Market. The issue I quickly realized was not timing but angle, specifically my 18-200 just wouldn’t capture the whole scene in one shot. Visually explained below, I decided to shoot a 30 frame panorama. I’m slowly ironing out an efficient workflow that starts with lens corrections in Lightroom, moves straight to tone mapping in Photomatix, then ends in Photos where I merge, blend, and edit the final HDR photo to perfection.

My thought at the time was “I’ll just edit them together in Photoshop.” Anytime you hear that voice in your head, it’s code for “Given 5+ hours, I could pull this together in Photoshop.” The next weekend I went out and bought a proper 11-16mm wide angle lens (something I should’ve done a long time ago).

If you’re unfamiliar with HDR photography, it’s quite interesting stuff and I recommend you read the (creatively titled) article “What is HDR Photography?

Bracketed Photos for the Panorama

Each one of the six shots below represents 5 bracketed photos. That makes 30 total photos used in making this HDR panorama. Note how much the frames overlap. In this case, I was a bit excessive with the overlap, but the more similarities Photoshop can find, the more accurately it can blend the photos. I usually aim to have about 33% overlap.
HDR Photo Panorama Bracketed Photos

Initial Panorama Stitch

Rather than use Photoshop’s Photomerge plug-in, I prefer to employ only the Edit > Auto Align. Then I mask and blend the aligned layers by hand to make sure no pesky ninjas got in and misaligned the source frames during processing.
HDR Photo Panorama Before Photoshop Edit

Final Photoshop Edit

After correcting the perspective, I’m left with a tone mapped HDR panorama. From here it’s a fairly straight forward matter of editing the image as if it were a single exposure.
HDR Photo Photoshop Edit

Boston Public Library

Renaissance style Coffered Ceiling of Bates Hall in Boston Public Library

Bates Hall in Boston Public Library, just before Officer Grump E. Pants showed me the exit.

30 seconds before this picture was taken – With closing time minutes away, already the Boston Public Library security guard had been happy to ask me to pack up my camera (“Officer Grump E. Pants” was the name ironed on his uniform if I recall correctly). With only minutes left my selective hearing kicked in and I race walked through side rooms toward Bates Hall to avoid being herded out with the other stragglers by Officer Pants (BTW, the difference between race walking and running is all in the hips… if that helps your mental image). Consistant with the librarian’s advice earlier, nearly all of the 150 preppy smart people studying in the grand room previously had cleared out. With camera already mounted, I had only a few moments to set the tripod and shoot.

5 seconds after this picture was taken – Officer Pants walks into the room. Awesome. He attempts to make friends by giving me the nick-name, “Sir-with-the-camera!” and explains that Bates Hall is not the Exit. I already know it, but let him finish to allow one last bracketed series of shots to click through. I apologized for holding him up and followed his directions to the exit.

It’s Cool to Be Smart

“…vast and hushed and illuminated with a profusion of green lampshades like fireflies.”

Boston Public Library is the first public library in the U.S. and was established in 1848 (that’s before the US Civil War!). On opening day, the library had 16,000 volumes available. Now it holds over 8.9 million books as well as numerous periodical and A/V archives. Over the years it’s added several branch libraries and upgraded its technology, now equipped with free WiFi.

The room in the picture, Bates Hall, has a Renaissance style coffered ceiling and is the primary study room of the McKim building which was built in 1895 and houses the library’s research collections. Boston Globe writer Sam Allis described it like this, “Bates Hall, the great reading room of the BPL, vast and hushed and illuminated with a profusion of green lampshades like fireflies,” and as one of Boston’s “secular spots that are sacred.”


Sorry guys, this shot has almost no tone mapping blended into it. Only the wall and floor textures have a little Photomatix kick added. As you can see in the Photoshop screen shot below, I pulled most of the texture and detail in the final image using mostly Curves Adjustment layers. There were a few people to paint out which took the better half of 2 hours, and also I finally took time to get savvy with the Selective Color adjustment layer in order to snipe some rogue Magenta in the Yellows (and they thought they could escape me… mwuahahahahaha!).

Before/After Photoshop Edits

Before Photoshop Edits
Renaissance style coffered ceiling of Bates Hall in Boston Public Library - Before Photoshop Edits

After Photoshop Edits – (as always, click to enlarge)
Renaissance style coffered ceiling of Bates Hall in Boston Public Library - Photoshop Edits

Before/After Slider

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

The left side is one of the original bracketed photos (the +1 to be exact). The right side is the final edited photo.

[beforeafter]Renaissance style coffered ceiling of Bates Hall in Boston Public Library - Before Photoshop EditsRenaissance style coffered ceiling of Bates Hall in Boston Public Library[/beforeafter]

New England Aqaurium in Boston

Jellyfish - New England Aquarium while traveling in Boston

Is this a jellyfish, a brain sucking alien or both?! Ahhhhhhhhhh!

There’s nothing like reaching the end of a great aquarium (like the New England Aquarium), and finding that they keep a whole display of just jellyfish in the basement. Let’s face it, jellyfish are the main reason we go to aquariums anyway. They’re so peaceful, but freaky-beautiful while they just float through the water. The New England Aquarium in Boston knows this well and keeps a whole display devoted to these living lava lamps in the basement down the stairs near the coin lockers. Ya, the giant shark is cool, and the penguins are cute, but the jellyfish are so enchanting that they can’t even be near the other fish or else they would steal the whole show. So next time you’re in the New England Aquarium in Boston, don’t miss these captivating creatures.

The 30 Second Challenge

This series of jellyfish photos is slightly different than the usual Monday travel post. The post-processing screen shots are lower down, but allow me to talk about my approach to photogrpahy for a moment. Usually I only select the single, most beautiful photo from my travels, edit it for hours (like “Queen of the World” above and post it with behind the scenes Photoshop screen shots. After last Friday’s interview with Japan photographer Martin Bailey I was blown away to learn that Martin usually only spends around 30 seconds per picture! He admits that there are better photographers out there, but at the end of the day his photos of Japan are still breathtaking and support him as a full-time professional photographer. That number, 30 seconds, stuck in my mind since I heard it. Even if I cut my average processing time in half, Martin still has me by over an hour (I bet I spend around 2.5 hours per picture) AND he has more images to share on his blog and podcast.

Do they all make it to his portfolio? No.

Is it ok that he shows the world some of his non-portfolio shots? I think so. In fact, I’m very glad he does because I loooove visiting his site to see them.

I challenged myself to get out of my somewhat jaded, post-processing comfort-zone of meticulously massaging a single shot in Photoshop for hours.

So back to this 30 second thing. Here I am sorting though my images from the New England Aquarium. I see several shots of jellyfish I like and my first thought is “I like these… but none of them stand very well on their own. Plus, there isn’t a whole lot to edit in Photoshop. I’d probably just use Lightroom and call it good.” So I pass them by. But then I think about Martin’s approach, and I also think about how my initial reaction to the photos was positive and also how I’ve been wanting to share more photos on this photo blog. So, I challenged myself to get out of my somewhat jaded, post-processing comfort-zone of meticulously massaging a single shot in Photoshop for hours.

I made 30 seconds per shot my goal.

I ended up caving and took about 15 minutes total for the whole batch… in one way I failed. But at the same time, this still means I ended up with an extra 135 minutes I don’t normally have AND more pictures to post than usual. The key though is that I’m still happy with the shots.

I really enjoyed this challenge even though it was quite difficult. In the future I hope to progressively become less jaded in my Photoshop-to-death mindset. Just because I have several tools in my tool bag, doesn’t mean I need to use them all every time, however most likely I’ll still spend more than 15min per image in the future.

Cheers Martin!

Jellyfish - New England Aquarium while traveling in Boston Jellyfish - New England Aquarium while traveling in Boston Jellyfish - New England Aquarium while traveling in Boston Jellyfish - New England Aquarium while traveling in Boston Jellyfish - New England Aquarium while traveling in Boston

Post-Processing Screen Shots

Yep, I really only used two masks in Lightroom. It nearly killed me, but oddly, I’m still really happy with the final images. 🙂

Lightroom Screenshot of Space Jellyfish 1 Lightroom Screenshot of Space Jellyfish 2

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12 Responses to HDR Boston Photo Tutorials -AND- 1142 Photos in an Epic 3min Vid!

  1. Laura Parker August 16, 2012 at 8:38 am #

    You are doing a great job. The photos are so stunning. So, fantastic HDR.

  2. Brylle April 11, 2012 at 1:20 am #

    You had a great idea doing this photography..I love the shoot its really perfect for me..Hope you can share more photo..Thanks for sharing with us..

  3. Julie April 10, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    Such a beautiful HDR image! Great job!

  4. Mark Summerfield April 10, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

    Great use of HDR here, Andrew. This is the sort of image, together with your explanation, which should be used to sell the virtues of HDR and show people how to produce realistic images and not the over-blown, highly saturated ones.

  5. Len Saltiel April 10, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

    Really super image Andrew. Beautifully processed and shows why HDR is a great process when used right. You are a bit of a lightweight though – only 1,200+ images (this coming from someone who was in Boston overnight to see Springsteen and did’t shoot more that 50 images). Cool video too, looks like you had fun.

  6. Adam Allegro April 10, 2012 at 8:11 am #

    Love the video Andrew. The picture is fantastic as well. Nice work with the detailed explanation as always my friend!

  7. Dave DiCello April 10, 2012 at 7:33 am #

    Love the processing on the HDR man and that video is so cool! Love your style of writing as well. Awesome post.

  8. Josh April 10, 2012 at 12:18 am #

    Hi Andrew,

    I agree with other comments, you’ve done a great job. Keep it up. I’m sure you’re gonna be real famous.

  9. Joe Frazee April 9, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

    Great work Andrew. Also love the montage, I got tired out just watching it. Whew! I think I’ll go take a nap now.

  10. Siddhartha Joshi April 9, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

    Pretty cool man, totally enjoyed the post 🙂 And the slider on the last image is darn cool as well!

    I am getting more and more excited to try the HDR bit myself and see what all can be done…seems exciting and the world really seems to be moving in that direction…

  11. Cardinal Guzman April 9, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    Great HDR-work!


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