Nik HDR Efex vs. Photomatix Pro 4

November 3rd, 2010

Nik HDR Efex vs. Photomatix Pro 4

Originally uploaded by Tukay Canuck

HDRSoft’s Photomatix Pro has been the undisputed leader for HDR processing for years. Now Nik Software, which produces amazing filters for Photoshop, has released HDR Efex. I am a Photomatix user, and recently gave the Color Efex demo a whirl. I also recently upgraded from Photomatix release 3 to release 4.

These two images were created with what I considered my favourite presets from each of the applications.
I definitely like the presets available in HDR Efex better than Photomatix (and there’s more of them).

I’m sure you can get a picture of similar quality (saturation, tone and contrast) in Photomatix as you can in HDR Efex using the sliders, but the bottom line is – which of the two improves your workflow?

Photomatix Pro has 12 presets to choose from. These are divided in 3 methods of HDR tone mapping: enhancer, compressor, and fusion. The ability to see previews of the presets is a new feature in version 4.

The Nik Color Efex has over 30 presets, which are more than just HDR settings, but add effects like gradients, vignetting, and tonal contrast. Since these are things that I will typically add post-Photomatix in my workflow, this is a significant workflow improvement.

One key difference between Photomatix version 3 and 4 is the addition of (semi) manual ghosting handling. What version 4 does is allow you to circle parts of the image that have ghosting problems, and it will focus on those components. Nik Color Efex has ghosting handling too, but it only offers automatic.

I haven’t put ghosting handling to the test in these versions, but this blog has a great comparison of the different versions and how they handle ghosting, and clearly Photomatix handles ghosting better.

When I shoot, I try to avoid situations that lead to ghosting (i.e. people walking, animals, wind blowing vegetation, etc), so fixing ghosting is usually a non-issue.

In my personal opinion, although I’ve only just started playing with the HDR Efex demo, and I’ve just only started using Photomatix version 4 (having recently upgraded from 3), I  prefer the output from HDR Efex. I’m not sure if I like the difference enough to warrant shelling out US$150, as I do own the less expensive and still very powerful Photomatix Pro, but it is tempting.

“What a nice, sunny day for taking pictures”

September 13th, 2010

One of the biggest misconceptions I hear from people is that a nice sunny day is a good time to take pictures. Wrong.

The sun is a harsh light source. It creates harsh shadows that are not flattering on even the most beautiful of us.

One of the best times to take photos is when it’s cloudy out. Clouds act as a giant diffuser, casting soft light on your subject and removing the harsh contrast of shadows.

Direct sunlight can lead to harsh unflattering shadows

So let’s say you know that the sun is bad, so let’s move the subject under the shadow of trees. Wrong! Unless the trees cast an absolute shadow on your subject, any light shining through the leaves creates nasty distracting contrast.

Shadow from trees looks better than direct light, but light shining through the trees is distracting

If there isn’t a cloud in the sky, you have more options.

1) Shoot with the sun at the subject’s back, and add a bit of flash or reflector to light up their face. The sun will act as a hairlight, and the reflector or flash should add a hint of light to fill in the shadows and bring out the subject’s features. You can place the subject between the camera and the sun, so you don’t get flare from the sun, and the sun casts a nice halo behind your subject.

2) Shoot the subject in perfect shade. Even if it seems dark relative to in direct sunlight, it’s probably bright enough for your camera. If not, add a bit of flash.

3) Add a diffusion panel between the sun and your subject. This is a semi-transparent material (even a bed sheet will work). This is a bit harder because you will need 1-2 assistants to hold the panel, and if it’s windy, good luck. But the results are like shooting in a cloudy day or having a giant softbox.

Shooting with the sun behind the subject looks best, with flash or reflector to fill in the shadows

I also prefer to shoot in the morning or evening, when the sun isn’t directly overhead. Overhead sun is the harshest, and can leave shadows in the subject’s eye sockets. A reflector or flash fill will help, but getting good results at noon is a tricky proposition. Evening sun at sunset casts a warmer light, and looks better.

Need your help!

September 8th, 2010

Focus on Ottawa needs your help! It will not cost you a dime though, and it will not take much of your time.

Focus on Ottawa is looking for a new logo. We have started a contest for graphic artists to submit logos for consideration. Now we need your help to decide which one to choose.

Take a look at the submissions at the following website:

Please vote on your favourite by indicating the artist name and a brief description – unfortunately the submissions are not indexed in any way.

You can let me know via comment here, via tweet at @tukaycanuck, or email at, or our Facebook page.

The deadline is in a couple of days. Thanks for your assistance!

The best camera…

September 4th, 2010


Originally uploaded by Tukay Canuck

World renowned photographer Chase Jarvis says “The best camera is the one you have with you.”

My camera was in the shop for repairs, and I saw this flower. I could have kept walking past it, resigning to the fact that I didn’t have my good SLR camera with me. But instead I took this picture with my phone (iphone). And I think it turned out pretty good.

Most people have cameras on their phones, which means most people always have a camera with them. So if you see something interesting and you don’t happen to have your SLR with you, don’t give up. You could have a top end super camera, but if you come across something rare and extraordinary, the best camera isn’t your top end camera, it’s the one you have with you.

Lens compression (Perspective Distortion)

July 1st, 2010

Lens compression is a peculiar effect that occurs when you change the focal length of the lens.

There are two effects of changing your focal length (either by zooming in and out with your telephoto, and/or changing to a different lens size on your SLR camera).

The first effect is the potential distortion of your subject at a small focal length, such as at 16mm, or a flattering perspective at a larger focal length (such as at 200mm).

The second effect is the relative size of background objects in relation to your subject.

Let’s take a look at these two effects in an example.

When you look at these images, if you haven’t seen this effect before, it can be quite astonishing. There’s no trickery here – we didn’t move the trees or the model or the vehicles in the background. This is all done by changing the focal length of the lens and repositioning the camera either further or closer to the subject (the model).

Focal length of 86mm

In the first image, note how flattering the capture of the model is. There is no distortion of the appearance of her body.

Also note how close the black truck and the background tree appear to be in relation to the foreground tree and model.

Read the rest of this entry »

DIY: Do-it-yourself Beauty Dish

May 20th, 2010

Let’s face it, photography equipment is expensive. A beauty dish, which is just a reflector that wraps around your studio strobe, can cost you up to $1000. Take a look at some of the prices here.

A beauty dish casts a harsh(er), direct light onto the subject. But since the light is reflected outwards, it makes a larger light source. And since there is a go-between that blocks the light from coming directly from the bulb, the light is not as harsh as a bare strobe or a strobe with a reflector.

Short definition: basically a beauty dish is harsher than a softbox, but softer than a bare light.

So if you want to experiment with different light modifiers, but don’t want to mortgage your house, why not build your own?

Now professional beauty dishes are typically bigger, and they are engineered to evenly distribute the light from the small reflector into the larger dish, but we’re just playing around here – this is good enough for us to play with, unless you are shooting for a high end glamor magazine (IMHO).

I purchased the metal bowls at Wal-mart, in a box of 5 mixing bowls for under CDN$13. A great bargain!

Note I am building this for my cheapy Cowboy Studio strobe. I wouldn’t recommend jamming this DIY beauty dish on an Elinchrom or Prophoto strobe – it does scuff it up a bit.

Items needed

34cm metal bowl

16cm metal bowl

3.5 inch, 1/4 machine screws x 3

1/4 hex nuts x9

Black spray paint (optional)

Equipment needed

Dremel tool for cutting and cleaning

Metal cutters




Protection glasses!

Work gloves!

Step 1

Step 1:

Take your 34 cm metal bowl, place your studio strobe on the bowl. Center the strobe.

Using your marker, draw where you need to cut the bowl to fit the studio strobe through.

Step 2

Step 2:

Use your Dremel tool with a cut-off disk to make a triangular incision in the middle of the bowl.

Step 3

Step 3:

Use your metal cutters to work out from the incision, to cut around the circle you drew for the diameter of your strobe.

Figure 4

Step 4

Step 4:

Use the cleaning tool and/or sanding tool to smooth out the inside cut in the bowl. You don’t want any sharp bits that could cut you.

Figure 6

Step 5

Step 5:

You now have a bowl with a nice clean circle in the center. Congratulations! You won’t be mixing any salad in this bowl anymore.

Step 6

Step 6:

Test fit the bowl around your studio strobe. You may have to widen the hole a bit if you cut too conservatively.

Hopefully you didn’t make it too loose. (You can use a speedring from a softbox if you made it too loose, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that).

Hold the small bowl in front of the light so you can see what the end result will look like.

You can move the bowl forward and backward to see the optimum position of the small bowl for the most even light distribution.

Step 7

Step 7:

Mark where you will be drilling to place the machine screws on the big bowl.

Put the holes at equal distance near the center – but don’t put it too close

to the center where you might break the edge.

Do the same to the small bowl – but again – not too close to the edge.

Step 8

Step 8:

Drill your holes. Make sure you are wearing your saftety goggles! Metal will fly everywhere.

Note I didn’t really drill on the ground, this is just for demonstration purposes.

Step 9

Step 9:

Drill your holes on the small bowl too. Use a workbench, not the ground!

Step 10

Step 10 (optional):

Spray paint the outside of the small bowl to make it look professional-like. Make sure none of the paint goes on the concave part of the

bowl, because that side needs to reflect. (You can use the Dremel polisher if some paint does get on the reflective side).

I used Tremclad glossy black spray paint.

Step 11 (optional):

Use masking tape to cover the big and small holes on the big bowl, and spray paint the rear of this bowl too.

Step 11

Step 12:

Feed the 3 machine screws through the small bowl.

Step 12

Step 13:

Put two hex nuts on each screw. One hex goes on the opposite

side to the machine screw head (against the small bowl) to keep it from sliding. The other hex will be pressed against the

Step 13

large bowl to prevent sliding.

Feed the machine screws into the large bowl. This might require some “persuasion”- i.e. brute force.

Step 14:

Secure the machine screws with hex nuts on the outside of the large bowl, then tighten the “inside” hex nuts against each

bowl to properly position and secure the small bowl. Again, refer to figure for Step 13 for this.

Step 14

Step 15

Step 15:

Attach your dish to your strobe head – hopefully it should just slide on with a snug fit.

Turn on your modeling light and bask in your success.

Some sample pictures taken with the beauty dish will be forthcoming.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posing help

May 10th, 2010


If you are an aspiring model, you should check out this link. It has great tips on posing, and other things you should concern yourself with when modeling.

This is also a great resource if you are a photographer learning to pose models.

Vibration Reduction / Image Stabilization

May 7th, 2010

No VR versus VR

Originally uploaded by Tukay Canuck

If you’re shopping for a lens, you may want to consider vibration reduction (on Nikons) or image stabilization (on Canons). These are marketed as “VR” and “IS” on the lens model name. Other brands have this technology too, and may have different marketing terms.

Image stabilization is a technology that stabilizes the lens even if your hand is shaking (your hand shakes – trust me). This allows you to shoot at slower shutter speeds and still get sharper images.

As a rule of thumb, you should shoot at 1/ (without using image stabilization). So if you are shooting with a 50mm lens, you shouldn’t shoot any slower than 1/50 of a second. If you are shooting with a 200mm lens, you shouldn’t shoot any slower than 1/200 of a second.

This is a rule of thumb, but you may be able to hold your camera more sturdier than the average person, and may be able to operate at slower shutter speeds.

Without image stabilization, if you are shooting at slower speeds than you can hold and keep the camera stable, then you will need to lower your f-stop (increase the aperture size), or boost your ISO.

Lowering the f-stop is a good option, as this will allow you to use a faster shutter speed. But if you are at your widest aperture (in this example, I’m at f2.8, which is as wide as this lens goes), then you are stuck.

Boosting the ISO is an option; this will also allow you to use a faster shutter speed while keeping the same f-stop. Boosting the ISO however introduces noise into the picture, and this may be undesirable. The more you have to boost your ISO to get the optimal shutter speed, the more noise you get. If it’s very low light, you may get a lot of noise due to a high ISO.

Vibration reduction/image stabilization introduces a new option – you can shoot at a slower shutter speed while keeping your f-stop the same and without having to increase your ISO as much (or not have to increase it at all).

In the example provided, I shot the freezer at f2.8, 70mm at 1/3 of a second, at ISO 200. Using my rule of thumb, I would need to quicken my shutter to 1/70s to get a sharp picture. Since I’m at the lowest f-stop number (2.8) that my lens will allow, I would have to increase my ISO to get 1/70, and the picture would get noisier (if I didn’t have VR).

In the second image, I have VR enabled. Note that even though I am shooting much slower than I should be able to steadily hold, the picture still looks reasonably sharp.

This is the great value from VR.

(Note: anther option in addition to boosting the ISO or lowering the f-stop is to mount your camera on a tripod. This is sometimes a good option, but a tripod is not always convenient, and sometimes not allowed.)

Great resource: Lastolite School of Photography

April 25th, 2010

Another great resource for photographers is the Lastolite School of Photography. Lastolite is a company that manufactures an array of high end photography gear, and their “School of Photography”, although is mostly geared towards Lastolite product knowledge, does provide great tips on photography (lighting, portraiture, etc.). The format of this School is online videos, hosted by the very knowledgeable, professional photographer Mark Cleghorn.

The tutorials can be downloaded from iTunes, or from the following website:

You can spend hours browsing the videos, so what are you waiting for?

The Excitement is Percolating

April 12th, 2010

The Excitement is Percolating (102/365)

Originally uploaded by Tukay Canuck

Aside from photography, my other passion is hockey. The NHL playoffs are starting soon, and Ottawa is percolating with energy. I will be cheering my Ottawa Senators as they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.

Go Sens Go!