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My HDR Learning Curve

Friday, December 21, 2012

I'm having an early Christmas with my family this week, so thanks for being patient while I catch up on posts, guys! In the mean time, here's a little more botched-up Disney HDR for you. ;) 

I know now what I was doing wrong with these shots (I had a camera setting goofed up), so I hope to try them again the next time I'm out at Disney. Still, even though they're plagued with technical errors, I thought you fellow Dizgeeks might like seeing a few shots, if only because it's always fun to see crowd-free photos of the Magic Kingdom. (Well, fun for ME, anyway. It always reminds me of my Skipper days there, walking through the silent streets, and it never stops being magical, either.)

There's no real secret to getting people-free shots at Disney: all you have to do is stay past closing. They start clearing the park out around an hour past park close, and you can stay in the hub or on Main Street for an hour and a half or more. You'll see plenty of other photographers with tripods around, and it's kind of fun to see this whole other fan group emerge as the regular tourists slowly trickle out.

I'm pretty shy around the photogs, since I know practically nothing and end up staring wide-eyed when asked anything even remotely technical, but John will strike up a conversation with anyone toting a big camera. He's actually picked up a lot of tips and equipment recommendations that way.

This is my most true-to-life shot of the night; it doesn't have the typical HDR surrealness to it. It's also not very interesting, which is a shame; I think I failed to capture the real majesty of the Liberty Tree.

You can really see the technical problems in these next few, and I'm absolutely kicking myself for not getting those settings right:

Ug. So grainy. (But a neat view, right?)

And try to imagine how pretty this next shot would have been if I hadn't messed it all up:

John and I waited a solid 30 minutes to get this shot, too, poised over the timer, having countless takes spoiled by guests wandering down the corridor or in front of the carousel... Oh, the pain. 

(Don't worry, I'm not TOO broken up - I know we can always go back and try again. Heh.)

At least this black and white is a little smoother:

And I purposely made this next one surreal, since the graininess was killing it anyway:

My favorite shot of the night was actually the over-exposed version I took for an HDR pic:

Everything looks like colored glass!

And here's the resulting HDR of the same shot:

It's, you know, not great. But like I said, I'm learning, and sometimes it's fun to share the "failures" along with the successes.

Some of you have asked for tips or tutorials on HDR, but I think it's obvious from this post that I don't have any to offer personally. :D I can tell you I use a Canon 7D with a 17-50 lens, and I could probably show you how to take the bracketed photos necessary for HDR now, but that's about it. So, if any of you have suggestions for good online tutorials, please share them in the comments!

Today John and I are heading out to Epcot with my parents, and we'll all be toting camera bags and tripods. (So if you see a nerdy family standing around discussing F-stops, be sure to say hi.)

[UPDATE: I've had a few requests to add the black & white castle shot to my DeviantArt gallery, so you can see it here, and even purchase a print, if you like. Thanks for the kind words and for making my ego inflate, guys; it's the ultimate compliment to have someone request a print of your photo!]

Posted by Jen at 12:54 AM Labels:


  1. My five year old was looking over my shoulder as I read this post and her comments,

    "oh wow!"

    "how would it be if we went there momma?"

    "are we going there" (with hope in her voice)

    ....we live in Germany so, no we wont but she can dream!

  2. If you want to get crowd-free daytime shots, make a reservation at Crystal Palace for before the park opening. You generally don't get as much time, and they don't like you to wander outside the hub, but it's pretty awesome.

    Oh, and you have to get up early while on vacation. But some sacrifices must be made.

    These are pretty awesome shots, even with the graininess.

  3. Happy early Christmas with family!

  4. Love your composition!! Only thing i'd suggest is what you already know. Watch that ISO...and don't make the mistake I made for our Christmas Tree Hunt: Go with the large file size or RAW. I don't know how it happened, but I somehow started shooting with the medium size files and they just weren't what I wanted!! I wish we lived nearer WDW, because that sounds like fun!! (awesomejim.blogspot.com)

  5. I LOVE the black and white one. Beautiful and haunting...haunting in a good way, of course.

  6. these are very cool.... i just wish you wouldn't be so hard on yourself. as far as i am concerned, you didn't mess them all up, you are just learning. and even more impressive, you are teaching yourself! everyone has to start somewhere... as a total amateur myself, i look at these and think, "someday i hope to take shots this good." anyway, i think they are awesome, and would buy prints in a heartbeat.

  7. My husband is a photographer and I asked him why he wasn't doing cool pics like this. He rolled his eyes at me and said he just learned how. We live in NYC so I quickly told him I want HDR photos of my city. Thanks Jen!

  8. I am a Disneyland geek, and LOVE it there, but live about 12 hours away, so I only go once a year. I haven't ever been to Disney World, but want to desperately. I'm living vicariously through your photos. They're beautiful. Thank you!

  9. I actually really dig the "failed" Tomorrowland shot. Makes it look more sci-fi-y (sci-fi-ish?)

  10. Jen, please tell me you've heard of Tours Departing Daily! They do HDR shots of the California parks so it would be great to have someone doing the Florida parks!

    And your shots are coming along beautifully, btw. :)

  11. Bad pictures/good pictures. They're still pictures of the most magical place on earth!

  12. Girl, those pix are head and shoulders above anything most people could/would take, so stop appologizing! Love, love, love them all; even the grainy ones have a nice old-timey(whimey) feel to them. And once again, jealousy is rearing its pointy green head over the fact that you can go to Disney whenever you want. *sigh* 2 1/2 more years... I'm aiming for when my princess is 5. :-)

  13. Even your "failure" shots are beautiful. Have fun today!

  14. The 'boring tree' one was actually my favourite, it's magical! I liked the blacka and white one of the palace, too.

  15. Fantastic! Stop downing your work, young lady! You may just have a certain "style", because these are certainly wondrous. I'm a photog myself (Nikon D80), but I'm not up on the latest tips and tech. I will absolutely be trying HDR. I think I already have some photos that would be fodder for experimentation. You guys have a great holiday!

  16. I LOVE your Disney photos! I just got back from there last week and toted around my tripod. I'm an amateur as well.

    I sent a ton of your links to my new Fiance before we left....

    He proposed at EPCOT on Friday 12/14~!

  17. I'd love if you could post some photography tips for beginners. I just got myself an Olympus Pen and I'm looking into where to begin using anything other than auto-focus.

  18. There is a technique for removing people from public shots that might let you shoot before closing. It involves using a neutral density filter and very long exposers (10 sec+). The filter keeps the shot from over exposing with the slow shutter speed, and anything that moves will vanish from your shot.
    <a href="http://www.digitalcameraworld.com/2012/03/09/long-exposure-how-an-nd-filter-clears-crowds/”> I found a link to an article that does a great job explaining how it works. </a>
    If you take your time you could shoot 3 shots like this to build a HDR image.
    Happy Shooting

  19. I actually just got back from a surprise (to my five-year-old) trip to Disney. It was my very first trip so your tips on Disney were kinda my input when we were planning for what we were going to do...and the first time I check up on Epbot after coming home I see those beautiful photos. It was pure Disney magic moment. (Though I did groan and point out to my husband that we should have gotten Very Merry Christmas tickets after all if just for some Jen-spotting lol)

  20. I think these "failures" are gorgeous!

  21. the black and white one literally made me gasp. I don't know what you were hoping for but I hope you know what you've got there. fabulous.

    -Barbara Anne

  22. What's wrong with that shot down the corridor to the carousel? The one where you said "Oh, the pain."

    It looks lovely!

    -Awesome Aud

  23. depending on where your exposure levels are at - a longer exposure will make moving bodies disappear....

    disappear, disappear, disappear.
    Aye. Back. Over the falls

  24. I've just started toting a camera and tripod at Disney. I got some decent shots during Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, but if I'd gone with a different lens, they would've been fantastic. I completely went blank and forgot to pack other lenses, so I was left with only a 50mm. It just wasn't wide enough.

    I'm always impressed with your composition. I'm still in the habit of trying to line everything up directly in the center of the frame. That photo of the Haunted Mansion is so cool!

  25. I actually really love some of the grainy shots. It kinda feels vintage-y to me that way. Keep it up!

  26. The second one looks like a painting! I love that and would gladly buy a print of it.

  27. Beautiful. Take it from a former printer--even with the noise you don't often see photos like yours. Experience will come, you've got the care and the patience already.

    A program I've often heard suggested to help is Noise Ninja, a Photoshop plugin that has camera profiles.

    Have fun at Epcot!

  28. Jen, you are so hard on yourself! Those are amazing shots. Love all of them.

    I've never posted comments to you before, but I love both of your sites. CW just cracks me up, and I have now become a grocery store bakery dept. stalker. Unfortunately mine doesn't seem to have any interesting wreaks :(

    I wanted to pass on this info to you because I think of you every time I see anything that's cool and steampunky. This artist, Diego Verhagen,came up on Fab.com today, and I found a great site that sells lots of his stuff: society6.com You may already know about this, but just in case...

    Thanks for giving us all such wonderful images and humor every day. I hope you and John and your families have a lovely Christmas.

    Cindi D
    in CT

  29. I really don't know anything about photography, but I think some of these are really pretty. Especially the black and white one.

    And, even if you're not completely satisfied with your photography yet, just know that it's an inspiration to be able to follow someone who keeps trying, learning more things, and growing. We should all be trying to do this with at least one aspect of our lives every day. Thanks for being the kind of woman that people can look up to in yet another way!

  30. Thank you for posting these!! I miss going to Disney World every other week, while I'm in Japan for a couple of years, and it is a joy to see these and feel like I'm a little closer to home! :)

  31. Ok, srsly?? Did I actually spell wrecks w/ an "a"? Good grief!

  32. I LOVE looking at your pictures of Disney. I cried the first time I went there (at age 24).

    My husband fiddles with cameras as well as has played with the HDR. It's hard. But you'll get it! In the meantime, I love seeing your pictures.

    Merry Christmas!

  33. These look amazing so don't be too hard. My hubby is a photog and took a seminar with Nat Geo and they suggested that instead of the usual 3 shots for HDR, use 5 or more. It builds the composition better.

  34. Jen your photography is amazing!!!. My husband and I are budding photographers and he is just learning HDR. I think your shots at Disney are wonderful. Y ou know as an artist how critical you are of your own work...I don't see the mistakes..only the beauty!

  35. Hi Jen - can you comment on what mistakes you think you made? It would sure be helpful just I can't tell what was wrong. Thanks!

  36. I am sitting here wondering just what your mistakes are??? Love the photos!

  37. I want a print of that B&W! Please let me know what you charge!

  38. @ Ronja - I've just added it to my DA account, so you can grab a print there, if you like! And thank you!

  39. I actually really love the haunted mansion shot - the graininess adds to the overall effect for me. LOVE. And I agree with others comments about the black and white of the castle. You know, I never realized you could get extra time post-park close. Guess who's going to be a foot dragger on our next trip :)

  40. those photos are absolutely gorgeous, i don't know what you're talking about! ;) i love them. you're a fantastic photographer. i can't even imagine how they would've come out if you'd been able to have them look the way you'd envisioned them!


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