January 07, 2009

Technology marches onward

My son recently commented on the rapid changes in technology. He asked, "does technology change every single day?" I had to respond that I think it probably does. People have new ideas and invent new products and new ways of doing things all the time.

With this in mind, let me say that a mere five years ago I was strongly opposed to digital photography. I was certain that digital imaging technology would never overtake film as the medium of choice. I had sold some of the early digital cameras and was strongly unimpressed by the lack of quality in the resultant photograph and by the seemingly high price for such a low quality product.

Then my wife's portrait studio switched from medium format film cameras to Nikon D70 DSLRs. I tried my wife's camera one day and have touched my high end professional film SLR exactly one time since then. I was instantly sold on digital photography. I purchased my first digital SLR shortly after trying out my wife's work camera. I am now on my second advanced DSLR and have no intention of going back to film unless a client requests it, which has not happened since the last time I touched my film camera (about four years ago).

Hand held night scene taken with image stabilization lens

And digital photography continues to improve at a rapid pace. Higher resolutions, greater light sensitivity, less lens aberration, increased speed, more accurate metering, image stabilization, and more continue to improve at a dizzying pace. And new technologies that are mind-bogglingly useful have begun to spring up recently. My new camera and my son's new camera (both Christmas presents this year) have a new technology called "face recognition." These cameras recognize the human face and bias the focusing on the faces in order to make sure that the faces are in crisp focus—even if the human faces are in different planes of focus. My son's camera has an on-or-off setting. Mine cycles through off, single face recognition, and group face recognition with a simple spin of the scroll wheel.

And then there's the new understanding of High Dynamic Range photography. I have just discovered this new way of handling a problem that has plagued photography for more than a century. Our eyes are capable of taking in contrast far greater than anything that can be captured by negative film, transparency film, or digital imaging. High quality black & white film came the closest to reproducing high dynamic range images, as seen in much of Ansel Adams' work. But photography has remained hopelessly unable to capture ultra high contrast scenes ... until now.

HDR composite photo

With new ways of handling digital darkroom processing, the technology known as HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography has begun to provide excitement for us photography nerds. The technique is to take multiple photographs (typically at least three) of the same scene, each exposed at a different level. The standard is to take one photo exposed to reveal the details in the shadow areas, another with overall (average) exposure, and another exposed to reveal the details in the highlighted areas of the scene. Then the three resultant photographs are combined through the use of HDR imaging software and the details and richness of the color saturation is maintained in the end product.

I have not yet tried this with multiple exposures, but I have given it an attempt with a few RAW images, which allow for advanced exposure adjustment prior to the digital processing of the image. I will post some more of these as I find the opportunity to try these new techniques. But for now, the photo of the girl at the coffee shop was originally metered to give an overall proper exposure. That photo showed the girl as a silhouette with the glass windows and doors showing as completely white overexposed areas. I adjusted the RAW file to reduce the exposure for the windowed areas and then increased the exposure to reveal the detail in the girl's face. I created an image of each of these exposures and combined them in Photomatix HDR software and the photo you see here is the result. Very interesting.


  1. Okay, I'm confused, but that picture is so "warm"!! It makes me feel like I am there, observing. So whatever you were saying, yeah, it works.

  2. I'm sorry. Did I get too technical there? See ... I told you I was a photography nerd.

    I'll have to send you the original of that photo. You can't even see the girl's face in it.


No personal attacks. No profanity.

Please keep your comments in good taste. Leave a name so we know who you are. Your comments are welcome, but anonymous flames and sacrilege will be deleted.