Friday, October 28, 2011

Adventures with HDR


I feel I need to preface this with a disclaimer: I'm not much of a photographer.  Photography's not my hobby: taking better pictures is, for the most part, something motivated solely by my desire to better present toy soldiers that I've painted.

Also, HDR is a thing that's been around for 160 years, with software-based approaches being invented while I was still in high school.  So, this is nothing new... but it's new to me, and that means it merits a post. :)

I'd never heard about it until I saw a post that HDR Fusion was free for a day.  Free's my kind of price, so I grabbed it and immediately learned that it's terrible for taking pictures of cats.  (Because they barely sit still long enough for one exposure, nevermind two.)

The short version is that, rather than taking a single picture, you take multiple pictures at varying levels of exposure, then run them through a process that pulls them together into a single image: the dark parts are darker and the light parts are lighter, resulting in a more vibrant, interesting result.

I really love this example from the Wikipedia article linked above:


There are some more gorgeous examples here.

Inspiration seized me to try it out on minis.  Unfortunately, I was at work, so I only had MOTUC figures, and not minis, handy.  Here are the results: the same figures photographed using the normal camera and the HDR function, with both images run through Picasa's I'm Feeling Lucky.


As I've mentioned before: Picasa's I'm Feeling Lucky makes everything look so much better; given how negligible an effort's involved, everyone should be using it.  Really.

Still, this... was not very impressive.  I actually think the Normal + Picasa looks the best out of the four, but Gygor's undeniably a much more vibrant neon prehistoric Eternian ape warlord in the HDR + Picasa shot.

I figured that this is because they're just in front of the bland, off-white my office walls are painted.  For HDR to produce interesting results, it probably needs contrasts: more brights to brighten against more darks to darken.

So, after I got the dining room table cleared off (amazing how messy the house can get when everyone but the cats is sick for a month) and the lightbox out to photograph the Ratwyrm, I figured I should grab some terrain and fiddle with HDR some more.  Here are the results. (Make sure to click through to see them at the full resolution.)

Warlock Engineer:


Librarian:


(I'm glad I only did the two: pulling together the comparisons in GIMP isn't difficult, but it sure ain't fast.)

I stuck them on some Pegasus terrain; it definitely made a difference.  For better effect, I probably should layer some terrain to obscure the white backdrop (and consider replacing the white with black, but I don't know if that won't just change one boring background for another).

As expected, I'm Feeling Lucky made everything better, and I think the HDR results (modified by Picasa or not) look better than the normal photographs.

In both cases, the HDR produced warmer results.  It's even more pronounced with the Engineer, because I took his "Normal" shots with my the camera I normally photograph minis with (which means it got the setup I normally use for mini photography); all of the Librarian photos were taking with the same cameraphone using the HDR app.

I think that, in both cases, the Normal (unmodified) produced truer colors, but I don't think any of the other shots distorted them significantly.  Rather than some of the crazy effects that I linked to above, I've gotten fairly accurate pictures of my minis, just more striking.

Another thing to consider is that these HDR images were done with HDR Fusion: the phone's camera natively supports HDR (apparently), and I've read that Pro HDR is the go-to HDR app.  Never mind the fact that this is all being done with a freaking cameraphone.  A real camera would be sure to produce even more interesting results.

What do y'all think?  Useful?  Interesting?  Helpful?  I'm curious!  Maybe if there's enough interest, I'll put some different HDR apps up against each other.
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