How HDR Photo Editing Can Ruin Your Travel Photos

Barcelona HDR
MorBCN, Flickr

When I was hiking last year in northern Laos, I came to a break in the​ forest near the top of the hill. The view was astonishing. The sky was filled with shadowy clouds and where bright sunlight broke through cloud cover, it settled on karst formations hanging with vivid green foliage. I whipped out my DSLR and snapped some shots so I could relive it later. When I loaded up the photos that night, I was beyond disappointed. The greens were dull and the forests were too dark to make out any detail. In my longer exposures where I could see the forest, the sky was blown out. My eye (or rather my brain compensating for my eye) saw the bright colors and dramatic shadows. My camera didn’t.

The human eye is still miles better at imaging a scene than even the most powerful DSLR. That’s why spectacularly lit scenes will often look terrible on a laptop screen. Enter post-processing. On-board camera programs, be they Instagram or other native digital filters, can do all sorts of things to improve your photos. It used to be that red-eye filters were all the rage. These days, even freely available photo manipulation programs can saturate, contrast, tint, blur, invert, soften and cross process. The more powerful tools, like Lightroom and Photoshop, can do pretty much anything imaginable to a photo.

These tools are a blessing, but unfortunately they’re not inherently good for travel photography. These tools are just as readily used for evil. For every photographer who has fixed a screwy white balance in post-processing, there’s another who has maxed out the saturation bar in Picasa or applied an infrared effect just for the hell of it. I, too, have been guilty of these sins. But if there’s one image-editing gimmick that really brings out the pitchforks, it’s HDR: high-dynamic-range imaging.

Unnecessary HDR of a house
Chris&Chris_17, Flickr

You’ve certainly seen HDR images before. They’re often eye-wateringly vivid and look off. High-dynamic-range imaging allows a photographer to take multiple exposures of the same scene, and combine them digitally to achieve a better combination of light and dark in the photo. Say you’re trying to capture a beautiful sunset. The range of light intensity is simply too high for any standard camera to pick up both foreground details and the beauty of the sky. HDR offers a magical digital fix for this problem.

Early HDR techniques were massively involved and complicated. Even when digital photography came around, computers were still too slow to handle the complex algorithms. But now, it’s extremely easy for anyone to apply the effect to any photo. In business terms, the barriers to entry are low and everyone’s doing it. The glut of faux-HDR filters and simple HDR compositors like Photomatix has opened the door to runaway misuse. Few people use HDR correctly. And when done incorrectly, HDR images look terrible.

The point of HDR imaging is to make the image look more natural. The high range of tones that the camera can’t pick up by itself can be manipulated and expressed digitally. More often than not, though, HDR images end up looking fake and weird. Why is that? Simply, it’s because people tend to go overboard with the effect. Since the shadows and highlights are easily manipulated during the process, it’s easy to end up with glowing buildings, apocalyptic clouds and cartoonish people. The key to proper HDR use is restraint. The effect works best if no one can tell you’ve used it. If you apply HDR to a set of exposures or you’ve used an HDR filter, ask yourself: Does this scene look real? If it looks weird, don’t use HDR. If you think it looks cool anyway, it probably doesn’t. It looks weird, and don’t use HDR.

Take a look at these two photos, which don’t glow and hum with cartoon colors, but rather use HDR to highlight shadows and tones that would be impossible to capture in one exposure.

Wheel HDR
Foxspain Fotografia, Flickr
Creek HDR
peter pearson, Flickr

Even the second one gets a little saturation-happy. It just goes to show you that it’s easy to let the reins slip.

The backlash against HDR has been extreme. If you Google “HDR sucks” you get numerous websites decrying the glowy menace. Sample blog titles include: “I Hate Your HDR“; “HDR Is Stupid And It Sucks“; and the somewhat hyperbolic “HDR Is Bad For Amurrica, And Kills Kittens.” There is a subreddit devoted to shaming particularly egregious examples. Even the Washington Post was obliged to explain itself after it used and HDR photo on its front page.

When you’re traveling and you’re desperate to capture an unforgettable scene, oftentimes using HDR is the only way to pick up on the light and tone variation that your eye is loving. But everyone knows that the Hong Kong skyline doesn’t glow white in the day, and that forests aren’t technicolor. If you’re going to use HDR, show some restraint and don’t just slap on filters willy-nilly. As for me, I deleted my crappy photos of the Laos jungle. My memory of the scene is more vividly colored anyway.

Take a gander at these egregious uses of HDR, and think long and hard if you want your travel photos to look like stills from “A Scanner Darkly.”

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Photo Of The Day: Airplane Over Houston

With modern photo editing techniques, it’s often difficult to tell the real from the, well, embellished.

Today’s Photo of the Day was snapped by Flickr user Neil Marek with an iPhone during an airplane descent on George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas. Its vintage feel is courtesy of Snapseed, an easy-to-use photo editing software for the iPhone, iPad and desktops, which offers much of the functionality of fancy photo programs like Adobe Photoshop, but at a fraction of the cost.

Does it have the purity of an unedited photograph taken by a fancy DSLR camera? Maybe not. But it’s still a very cool image.

Do you have any impressive mobile photos? Upload your shots, edited or unedited, to the Gadling Flickr Pool and your image could be selected as our Photo of the Day.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user BearkatBran]

Gadling Gear Review: Booq Python Courier Camera Bag

The Booq Python courer bagAs digital SLR cameras continue to grow in popularity, new buyers will inevitably be looking to purchase a good travel bag to protect their investment. A high-quality camera bag not only allows them to tote their gear around safely, but also keeps it well organized and close at hand. It doesn’t hurt if that bag provides a healthy dose of versatility and happens to look great too.

The Python courier from Booq certainly meets that description and then some. This sling bag is made of high-quality ballistic nylon that is both water resistant and incredibly durable. In fact, everything about this pack screams quality, including the thick interior padding, rugged buckles and seat-belt style nylon shoulder strap. The result is a camera bag that should securely and comfortably carry all of your camera gear for many years to come.

While the Python’s exterior is certainly impressive, Booq hasn’t skimped in any way on the interior either. The cavernous main pocket has plenty of room for a digital SLR body with an attached lens, as well as up to four more additional lenses. Adjustable padded panels give the pocket a measure of customizability to accommodate a variety of different equipment sizes. A second internal organizational pocket keeps other items, such as spare batteries, memory cards and pens, neatly in place, while a handy clip ensures you won’t misplace your keys while traveling either.

A third pocket on the back of the bag features a water-repellant zipper and is large enough to comfortably carry an iPad, MacBook Air or other tablet or small laptop. Those devices have become indispensable tools for professional photographers and travelers alike and the inclusion of this well-padded, extra pocket is a nice touch on the part of Booq. I found that while testing this pack, having this extra pocket actually made it possible for the Python to serve as my carry-on bag. With plenty of room not only for my camera gear and iPad, but also an iPod, smartphone, earbuds and just about everything else I needed for a trip, I generally didn’t see the need to carry anything else.The Booq PythonBooq’s attention to design extends to the look of the Python as well. At first glance you wouldn’t suspect that this is a camera pack at all, as its general outward appearance resembles that of any traditional messenger bag. In fact, the Python can actually become a full-blown courier pack when needed. The inner padding that serves to protect and organize camera bodies and lenses can actually be completely removed to allow other items to be stored inside. That means that this pack can pull double duty, acting as a workbag for day-to-day use and a tough camera bag when on the road.

I found the Python to simply be a joy to use. It is as comfortable and durable as any camera bag I’ve ever put to the test and far more organized than simply throwing your lenses and SLR body into a daypack, which is often my typical modus operandi. Booq has a legendary reputation for creating high-quality products and this bag more than lived up to that reputation. Not only have they created a bag that looks great and provides plenty of versatility, but it is also logically designed for ease of use as well. While I personally prefer a backpack for most of my travels, this is a sling pack that definitely won me over and has me reconsidering my options for future trips.

I’d be remiss in writing this review if I didn’t mention Booq’s Terralinq program. Each of the company’s bags comes with its own unique serial number ID and bar code displayed on a metal label somewhere on the pack. When the bag is registered with Booq, that serial number can be used to connect an owner with his or her gear in the event that it becomes lost or stolen in the future. Of course, we all hope that we never need such service, but it is nice to know it is available just in case.

If there is a knock on any of the products offered by Booq it is likely their price. The Python retails for $179.95, which definitely puts it at the higher end of most camera bags on the market. But much like the various options for buying luggage for your travels, you often get what you pay for. Anyone who has ever purchased cheap luggage knows that it typically doesn’t last long and you end up replacing it sooner rather than later. The same holds true for a bag like this one. The Python is likely to last you a lifetime, while a less expensive bag will show the wear and tear of travel much sooner. Besides, after spending hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on your camera equipment, don’t you want to protect it with the best bag possible? Yes, the Python by Booq is more expensive than some of its competitors, but it is also worth it in every way.

Gadling Gear Review: Lowepro Urban Photo Sling 150 And Flipside Sport

Lowepro Reviews: Urban Sling 150One of the biggest challenges for travel photographers, both amateur and pro, is finding a way to comfortably carry all of our gear while also keeping it well protected. As digital SLR’s have become more affordable and ubiquitous, more and more of us find ourselves carrying extra lenses, filters, tripods and other equipment when we hit the road. After all, we definitely want to have all the right gear with us to capture those amazing sights on our far-flung adventures.

Lowepro is a company that makes excellent bags for all levels of photographers and we’ve written reviews of several of their packs in the past. But some of those were definitely designed for a more professional shooter, while most of us have decidedly more modest needs. Here are two more options from Lowepro that will likely be of interest to amateur photographers looking for an efficient and safe way to carry their precious photography equipment on their travels.

Lowepro Urban Photo Sling 150
The Urban Photo Sling is a versatile and compact bag that puts an emphasis on comfort and convenience. As with all of Lowepro’s bags, the interior is fully customizable for carrying a variety of equipment including a single DSLR body, multiple lenses, an external flash, extra batteries and other personal items. The Urban Sling even has a nicely padded pocket for an iPad or other tablet, which is definitely a nice touch for a bag that isn’t particularly large to begin with.

One of the surprising things about this pack isn’t just how much it can carry but also how easy it is to get to your gear when you need it. The Urban Sling provides access through both the top and front, which means that you can easily get to you camera and an extra lens without ever taking the pack off and yet when you do need to dig deeper it isn’t a cumbersome or frustrating process either.

Lowepro incorporated a number of other nice touches into the design as well including a dedicated memory card pocket, a stow-away waist belt that adds extra stability and side pockets that provide additional organization options. The bag is even designed to be worn on the front, back or side depending on which is more comfortable and convenient at the time.While testing the Urban Photo Sling I was consistently impressed with its comfort and versatility. I loaded it up with my Nikon D90, three lenses, an iPad, extra memory cards and a few other small items and it carried the load very nicely. I loved having all of my photography gear close at hand when I needed it, but also appreciated the ability to quickly tuck it out of the way when I didn’t. It is a lightweight, yet durable, bag that many photographers will find useful no matter where their travels take them. Don’t let the “urban” in the pack’s name fool you either; this is a sling that is more than capable of accompanying you on your adventures to remote corners of the globe.

The Urban Photo Sling carries a price tag of $84.99, which is actually surprisingly affordable for a pack that will serve most photographers exceptionally well for years. It also makes a great secondary bag that serves in a support role for professionals looking to scale back at times.

Lowepro Flipside Sport 10L AW
Lowepro Flipside SportIn our last Lowepro review we took a look at the Flipside 500 AW backpack, which is specifically designed for a pro photographer who needs an option for carrying heavy gear through all kinds of conditions. That pack is simply fantastic but it is also not exactly the best option for most of us, who never have the need to carry a 500mm lens. For us mere mortals, Lowepro offers the Flipside Sport line of packs, which are smaller and more compact while still maintaining the same level of quality and versatility as their big brother.

The Flipside Sport 10L AW is designed to comfortably carry a DSLR body with an attached telephoto lens, an additional 1-2 lenses, an external flash, extra cables, memory cards and other accessories. The pack features a dedicated external tripod holder and provides access to the fully customizable interior through either the padded back panel or a zippered side door. In short, it has everything an amateur photographer needs to carry his or her gear on a globetrotting adventure.

This pack was definitely designed with the adventure traveler and outdoor enthusiast in mind. For instance, the Flipside Sport features a side pocket for carrying a 1-liter water reservoir, which is always handy for staying hydrated while on the trail. It also has a built in weather cover that protects the pack and its expensive contents from the elements including rain, snow and sand. Trekking pole and ice axe attachments are a nice addition as well, rounding out a great package for active photographers who need to easily carry their gear while hiking, climbing or running through remote locations.

Of all the Lowepro packs I’ve tested this is by far my favorite. It is comfortable to wear, handles a heavy load with aplomb and has a fit that keeps it locked in place even while hiking or mountain biking a difficult trail. The Flipside Sport feels less like a photography bag and more like a daypack, and I mean that in the best possible way. It is a fantastic option for active travelers who need more from their camera bag than simply a way to stay organized while on the go. The price is right too. The Flipside costs just $124.99, which puts it into the same price range as other daypacks from outdoor gear companies that are not specifically designed for photographers.

If you’ve been searching for the right camera bag to fit your needs, Lowepro will certainly have something of interest. If it isn’t the versatile and comfortable Urban Sling or the active Flipside Sport pack, then perhaps one of their other models will meet your expectations. All of their bags are durable, designed with the photographer in mind and priced right. Check out the entire catalog at Lowepro.com.

Canon Offers Free Photography Workshops In US National Parks

Yellowstone Park, site of a national park photography workshop from CanonCamera manufacturer Canon has once again teamed up with the American Park Network to offer free photography and videography workshops in U.S. national parks. These workshops, which include video for the first time, will be available in a variety of locations and offer park visitors a chance to learn new skills, or hone existing ones, in some of the most photogenic environments on the planet.

The Photography in the Parks program has already been wrapped up in the Grand Canyon, Zion and Yosemite National Parks this year, but new opportunities begin in other parks as early as today. For example, workshops in Yellowstone run from July 21-31 and are held three times daily. Anyone wishing to participate can join in the fun at 8:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. at the Old Faithful Lodge. Participants are encouraged to arrive 15-30 minutes early. Other upcoming workshops will be held in Grand Teton National Park (August 1-2), Rocky Mountain National Park (August 5-11) and Acadia National Park (August 18-29).

Instructors will be on hand to provide tips on how to get the most out of your digital camera or camcorder. They’ll also have a variety of Canon products available to test as well, including their wonderful EOS DSLR cameras, EF lenses, PowerShot point and shoot and Vixia camcorders. Those expert photographers will demonstrate fun and creative ways to capture the exact photo you’re trying to achieve.

For more information check out the Photography in the Parks website and start making your plans to sit in on one of these classes soon. This is a great opportunity to get a free workshop that could improve your travel photography skills.