HDR technique

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From the Editors: Interview with Wojciech Toman who is Polish landscape & travel photographer. He often deals with difficult light conditions and very wide dynamic range so he uses HDR technique quite a lot in his photography, but keeps his photos natural and realistic.

How would you describe your photographic style?

Tough question as my photographic style is evolving all the time so I can only say what I currently like in my photos. Basically I'm landscape photographer using quite a lot of HDR in my works (but try to keep it as natural as possible - I use it basically to overcome limitations of my camera not to create surreal images). I love vibrant colours that you can find during sunset and sunrises and during blue hours.

How did you come to the world of photography?

It was a long process that took several years. At first I owned a simple analogue camera for many years but wasn't photographer by that time - I just occassionally took snapshots (I was young, and costs of film develeopment for me were quite high). Then I got my first DSLR, Canon 400D, and after some time out of curiosity I decided to learn what those A, ISO, M, RAW symbols on it really mean. I started reading a lot and also started experimenting with various techniques. I also got my first tripod, switched from automatic modes to manual ones, started to learn editing photos in GIMP (later I moved to Photoshop), discovered HDR and sooner than I realized, I started to make photographs. As I said - it was a long process.

Is there any particular technique that you could share?

I'm great fan of HDR technique. When you say "HDR" a lot of people immediately say they don't like it because it's artificial and unrealistic. I believe that when done correctly it can produce very natural looking images. It allows me to capture light as I see it, not as my camera does. I can capture details both in shadows and highlights even for the scenes that have very wide dynamic range. For me HDR is light that our eyes see, but camera doesn't.

Your typical day?

I'm working as developer for HDRsoft (Photomatix) so most of the day I spend in front of the computer so it's rather nothing interesting for typical photographer. Writing code, testing what I did, writing some more code, etc. In my free time I try to post-process photos from my ever growing collection of unedited images. But when I'm travelling and shooting photos I often get up early to shoot sunrise or morning light. Then I relax till late afternoon (batteries are recharging during that time!) and grab my gear and shoot sunset and blue hour. If I'm in a location where Milky Way is visible I might also grab my camera and try to shoot it in the night.

What is your greatest achievement to date?

Quite frankly as a photographer I don't have many big achievements to date (but I hope they're coming!) but I would say that my blog http://hdr-photographer.com/ is quite a big achievement for me as I spent many many days writing content for it and I think that it includes quite a lot of useful photography and post-processing tips and tutorials.

Favorite gear?

My favourite gear is currently Canon 5D MK III with a wide angle lens such as Canon 16-35 f/4 L IS (I love image stabilization in it!) or Canon 24 mm f/1.4 L, which allows me to shoot starry skies with ease. However, I'm recently a little fed up with Canon's relatively low dynamic range so probably in a few months I will switch to Sony (but will still use Canon lenses as I really love them!).

Please describe your post-processing workflow?

I start working on my photos in Adobe Lightroom where I apply basic adjustments like white balance correction, lens corrections, reduce noise a little bit, remove dust spots, crop images if necessary and so on. Then I either go directly to Photoshop or to Photomatix Pro first (if I shot HDR image). Sometimes I also make some basic adjustments to contrast and exposure.

In Photomatix I usually try to apply realistic tone-mapping. I don't focus on colour there but rather on making sure that I restore as much highlights and shadows as I want. This often results in a flat, even dull image that's nowhere near what you usually think of HDR photos. But this way I have much more options to edit the image later on in Photoshop. And yes, Photoshop is the next step.

In Photoshop I start with additional noise reduction if it's necessary (I use Topaz Denoise for that) and improve clarity of the image using Topaz Clarity plugin. After that I use luminosity masks to get contrast and colours of the image the way I want. This is the step that generally takes most time - from half an hour to a few days. After that I save my image and apply some sharpening.

Is there a place you've shot that you would like to go back and shoot again? Why?

There are many places like that. As a landscape photographer I often wonder how locations I shot would look in different light, at different time of day or year, under different weather conditions. For instance I love returning to Polish Tatra Mountains. Each season of the year be it autumn or winter they look gorgeous but so completely different! Like two different worlds. I would also like to return to Railay Beach in southern Thailand. Even though I captured a lot of gorgeous sunsets there I still feel that it's not enough.

Of all the types of photos you shoot, which are the most inspiring for you? Which are the hardest for you to shoot?

Despite of that I'm mainly landscape photographer, I like to take documentary type of photos from time to time and they are the most inspiring ones for me (and at the same hardest ones to take because I'm stepping out of my comfort zone to capture them). With landscape photography it's pretty tough to tell some powerful story (of course it's possible but not that common), with documentary photos you can do that easier (but I don't say it's easy!). I also find my photos of starry sky quite inspiring as they can often look out of this world.

What are the three biggest mistakes you see amateur photographers make when taking shots of the landscape?

1) not using tripods when trying to shoot sunset or sunrise thus limiting their creative options
2) for me they seem to focus too much on the techniques they use (e.g. HDR, long-exposure) that they use it all the time no matter scene requires it or not. They also often don't really understand how to apply it correctly
3) composing the images in a boring way (no foreground, empty cloudless sky occupying half of the frame or more, distracting water, no interesting background, etc.)

How displaying your work on social networks has affected your photography?

At the beginning, when I started sharing my images on Flickr and later on Facebook, it boosted my motivation and skills because looking at the images of others I was trying to accomplish the same what they
were doing so I was learning a lot. I was reading, practicing and so on. So basically my photography became much better. Later as my experience and technical skills grew, however, social networks started to affect my photography in a bad way. I started to take images that would have got a lot of likes rather the ones I felt I should take. So I started to loose my style a little bit. Fortunately I realized that soon enough and nowadays I don't really care if my photos scores 92.6 on 500px or gets 11 likes on Facebook as long as I myself like the image. Of course that's great if gets a lot of attention but that isn't that important anymore for me.

Your experience with publishing your work in Camerapixo? 

Publishing in a magazine is always a big thing for any photographer. And publishing in a magazine that is photo-drive, instead of story-driven as most of the magazines are, and that has such high quality standards for its images is a really unique experience (and I would say Camerapixo's standards are one of the highest). And being awarded Editor's Choice is huge. It makes me very proud as a photographer to be among such great artists many of whom are inspiration to me.

Thank you Wojciech for taking the time to do this interview.
We are happy to welcome you on board among other photographers.
Your photography is very valuable in this community and very beneficial for our readers.

Camerapixo Team

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