Friday, April 11, 2014

Photo Friday: What is HDR?

Have you heard of talk of HDR images, but aren't quite sure what it means? Have you run into a situation where you want to capture a scene with very bright and very dark areas? If so, then you may want to see if HDR images will be a good fit. Creating them is not as difficult as you might think. Today's post is not intended as a tutorial on how to create HDR images, but rather to introduce those to what these images are and how they are created.

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. The basic idea of HDR photography is that you combine several photos of the same scene into one image that properly (what "properly" means is left to the judgment of the photographer) exposes a wider range of light and dark than a single image would include. This is accomplished by taking a series of pictures at different exposures, some under-exposed, some over-exposed, and some close to what the camera light meter would regard as "correct." Typically, HDR images will include a series of three photographs, but some scenes call for seven, nine, or occasionally more exposures. A variety of software programs (I use Photomatix) can then combine those series of images into one and offer a handful of built-in images and a myriad of options for processing. Like many aspects of photography, you can quickly create images or spend hours processing, depending on your comfort level with the software and how picky you are about your finished product. A few minutes in Photomatix (or similar software) can create a pretty stunning image, while the incremental gains from spending more time in the software may only be appreciated by you or a few people who will see your image. Whether or not that is important, is up to you.

Let's take a look at a couple examples


Take a look at the image below. It was created by taking three pictures on my digital SLR camera and combining them in Photomatix. This image used one of the built-in Photomatix templates, with no further processing, so it only took a few minutes for me to click through the choices built-in choices in the software and then save my final product.

Here are the three original pictures that were combined to create the final image. Look at how dark the shadows are in the first image and then notice how washed on the light areas are in the last image. HDR lets you take the "best" (obviously, that term is subjective) parts of each picture to create your finished product.


This next photograph is one of my favorites and was taken with my Canon Powershot point and shoot camera. It shows that you don't need an expensive DLSR camera to produce great results and/or to create HDR images.

This camera does have a "bracket" feature that automatically takes a series of three images at different exposures

The Beach in Atlantic City

One feature my point and shoot camera does include is the ability to "bracket" a scene. When this option is turned on, the camera will take three pictures, each exposed a little differently. Notice the different shades of orange in the sky from the three images below. Combine that with some of the brightness in the foreground and have end up with a more attractive final image.

You may also notice that I didn't hold the camera completely still for this series of pictures. Photomatix was able to adjust for the slightly different composition (look at the trees on the left or right of the screen to see how the camera moved) and automatically crop the part of the image that was the same in all three pictures.


This is one of my more ambitious HDR projects thus far. I was an image of the France pavilion in Walt Disney World's Epcot, taken a night. I wanted to capture the attractive fountains in the foreground, then lighted topiary near the center of the image, along with the faux-city streets and building surrounding the scene.

As you can see from the series of photographs I took, no one image shows the best of the whole scene. Since this required many pictures, each with long exposures, I used a tripod to be able to hold the camera still and pointed at the same place.

The fountains look great in the first image, but most of the rest of the scene is too dark. The last couple images illuminate some of the brickwork on the buildings, but there isn't much else that looks good. Some of the images in the middle look pretty good, but the windows and the fountains are much brighter/more washed out than I wanted.

I hope this gives folks an idea what HDR photography can look like. There are many more examples out there, but these illustrate how you can get started. Let us know if this helps and be sure to share what you've created!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Summary of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Live Chat

This afternoon, the Disney Parks Blog hosted a live chat with Dave Minichiello, Imagineer and Creative Director for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Minichiello answered questions, mostly from the moderator, Disney Parks blogger Jennifer Fickley-Baker. Below is a summary of what was covered.


Minichiello explained that construction is on schedule and at this point, "pretty much every day is a milestone."  He spoke of the recently unveiled Dwarfs Cottage, "which is going quickly and looking amazing" and how trees are now being planted so "we’re starting to see [the attraction] as a part of the forest." On the outside of the attraction, Minichiello said that the "final rockwork is being completed" and "thematic painting" continues, while the progress of the interior of the ride is "going very well."  Now that we see ride testing taking place it is easy to get excited about when soft openings or guest testing may occur, but when asked about an opening date, Minichiello only offered, "spring."


There was some discussion about the thought process that went into the creation of the Mine Train Ride.  The Mine Train ride was described as the "centerpiece" of New Fantasyland and that it will "create kinetic energy throughout the land." Minichiello said that Imagineers were "looking for a family coaster type of experience" and chose "Snow White and a Mine Train type of vehicle." This was in contrast to the design process of many other attractions, where Imagineers start with a story and then develop the ride.  The discussion of the ride vehicle continued (see below), as this was clearly one of the talking points Disney wanted to make sure we focus on as we anticipate the opening date.


Many of the questions addressed details about the Mine Train. During these press events, Disney is always careful not to reveal too much, while it introduces the terminology the company wishes us to use in describing a new attraction.  Along those lines, host Fickley-Baker described this attraction as "a combination of a family coaster and a dark ride." Disney was very successful in combining a dark ride and a moderately-paced thrill ride (albeit not a "coaster") with Radiator Springs Racers in Disney's California Adventure park, so it will be a tall order to see if the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train can live up to that standard.

Other details that were revealed or confirmed, include:

  • When asked how the coaster compares to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Space Mountain, Minichiello described the experience as "unique" and "unlike anything else in our parks"
  • When asked if all the major characters from the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs film would be present (specifically Snow White, the Prince, and the Evil Queen), Minichiello offered a vague reply, "you’ll be able to experience many of your favorite characters from the film"
  • Regarding views from the attraction, Minichiello said, "we wanted to showcase those sightlines and see Storybook Circus, a little bit of Mermaid."  He also added that after leaving the mine you see Prince Eric's, Beast, and Cinderella castles.
  • When asked what to expect when the ride slows, Minichiello offered only "to allow the guests to enjoy the details of the scene"
  • When asked about music on the attraction, Minichiello spoke only about music in the queue, which will be all instrumental, as though it were played by the Dwarfs. That queue music will include a "surprise song" that was written for the Snow White film, entitled 'Music In Your Soup' (this appears to be the song)
  • Continuing with the queue, it was revealed that it will contain "some interactive elements," including "an area where guests can sort and wash jewels"
  • When asked about Hidden Mickeys, Minichiello did not offer and specifics, but spoke about the wood grain on the ride vehicles and "throughout the attraction," so look for Mickey in the wood grain
  • Guests will be able to make FastPass+ reservations for this attraction
  • The height requirement to ride will be 38 inches


Many of the questions that were selected and some of the moderator's own questions focused on the mine car ride vehicles, which Minichiello said will give "the guests a new sensation they've never had before."  The ride vehicles, described by host Fickley-Baker as "unique to this attraction," offer what Minichiello describes as "the sensation of pivoting back and forth." Riders should be able to "feel differences in the various terrain around the mountain," though the ride is still described as "very smooth." The mine cars will operate at different speeds, slowing down for some of the more detail-laden parts of the attraction, which it sounds like will primarily be inside the mine (in the "dark ride" part of the attraction).  The weathered appearance of the faux-wooden cars was also discussed, as Fickley-Baker noted each car will be "individually handpainted and aged."

Disney also shared a video combining their CGI concept model shown side to side along with a ride video showing the current ride in its current form:

You can read the chat in its entirety by following this link:

Friday, April 19, 2013

Photo Friday: What's in Your Camera Bag?

I recently talked about some of what I carry when I travel to support my electronics, but today I want to focus on the items in my camera bag.  These items are ready to go whenever I leaved the house with my digital SLR camera.

I'll leave out the camera itself, since when I travel that often spends more time around my neck than actually in the camera bag.  I also left it out of the photo because I was using it to take the picture above.  The rest of the items in my camera bag are as follows:

  • An Extra Lens
    • I still use the "kit" lens that I purchased with my camera years ago, a Canon 18-55mm zoom lens (pictured above).  Lately, more often than not I've had a Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens that I purchased on Ebay attached to the camera body
  • Extra Batteries
    • In addition to my digital SLR, I also often carry a point and shoot camera as a backup and a small video camera.  Extra batteries for both these and the SLR live in my bag
  • Battery Chargers
    • Even carrying extra batteries doesn't mean I won't have to charge them before return home, so the chargers always come with me on the road.
  • Extra Memory Cards
    • Both CompactFlash and SD cards to accommodate the different cameras I carry
  • Cables to Connect to a Computer
    • Both the still and video cameras connect to my laptop via USB cable.  I try to download whatever I shot before the end of each day to my computer in case I need to clear the memory cards, as a backup if something happens to my camera and/or memory card, and to see how the pictures and videos from the day turned out (in case there's something I may have a chance to reshoot before I return from wherever I'm traveling)
  • Cable to Connect to a TV
    • I rarely use this anymore, but there's still a cable with an RCA connector in case I want to plug the camera into a television and look at pictures
  • Remote Shutter Release
    • keeps the camera from wobbling when you're shooting on a tripod.  It is very difficult not to move the camera a little when you actually press the shutter button, so this inexpensive device solves that problem.  It's also a big help for long (bulb) exposures, so you don't have to hold your finger on the shutter button. Here's a link to the one I bought, but you can find similar items for your camera.
  • Lens Cleaning Stuff
    • I've been fighting a losing battle against dust and smudges on my lenses for awhile now, but some things that help are a lens cleaning pencloth, and wipes.
  • Neutral Density Filters
    • I have these mostly to allow longer exposures of fireworks photos, but any time a longer exposure is needed these are a great addition to the bag.  I bought an expensive Hoya 77mm Neutral Density ND-400 filter a year ago, which I haven't really mastered yet, but I'm liking the adjustable NEEWER® 77mm (ND2 to ND400) filter I bought a couple months ago.
  • Extra Lens Cap
    • Though I have not yet actually lost a lens cap, I've dropped one in my backpack or otherwise misplaced one for an extended period of time on more than one occasion, so I finalized purchased a spare, though I now need another for my Sigma lens
  • Cheap Poncho
    • I've spent enough time in Orlando over the past year that it pays to be prepared if the weather takes a turn for the worse.  This isn't very durable, but I got this four pack for under $5.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What's in Your Bag? (Electronics)

After listening to a recent WDW Today podcast about technology some of the hosts of that show carry with them while visiting Disney World, I've chosen to document what's in my travel bag.

All of the items below are permanently reside in my carry-on luggage, which I'll bring along for short one or two night trips or longer vacations.  When I arrive at my destination, the chargers that plug into wall outlets stay in the luggage, while the smaller items find their way into a backpack that I carry around just about everywhere I go.
  • Extra Cell Phone Battery
    • I bought an extended life battery with my Droid 2, so I carry it's original battery just in case
  • Portable Cell Phone Charger + Charging Cable
    • In ancticpation of buying a phone without a removable battery, I bought a Motorola Portable Power Pack to charge my phone on the fly.  This has worked well enough that I seldom use the second battery anymore.  Those with needs for more battery life can purchase similar gadgets that will charge their phones multiple times in one day.
  • Camera Battery Charger
    • I have two of these, one in my camera bag and one that with my carry-on luggage.
  • Cell Phone Charger
    • I bought an extra phone charger that I leave in my luggage, so I don't have to think about packing the charger that lives in my house.
  • Cell Phone Car Charger
    • I also have an extra car-charger for my phone, since I often use my phone as a navigation system while driving away from home and that runs the battery down pretty quickly.
  • Video Camera Charger
    • Even with two batteries for my video camera, it's not unusual that I'll need to recharge while on the road.
  • Laptop Charger + Extra Laptop Battery
    • I just about always bring my laptop computer along while traveling, so the charger and an extra battery (not pictured) come along too.
  • Gorillapod
    • This has been great for my point and shoot camera at night or any time a long exposure is needed and it can sometimes be useful for setting up a video camera if there's a rail or something else to lock onto.  I now have two small Gorillapods (they also make a larger model).