Some people think that the scent of a new automobile is the most exhilarating thing around, but I have to think that the scent of brushed aluminum, fresh electronic chips, and computer plastic beats out the automobile category. At least it does for me.
A friend recently received his new Nikon D300 camera, and as soon as he had a battery charged he went out picture taking and shot his images in the RAW format as was his usual practice. He stopped off in his travels at a another friend’s house to show off his new camera and to share some of the test pictures. Not satisfied with the small view on the camera back he sought to transfer the images to his friend’s Mac computer.
Film has never been able to capture the dynamic range of reality, and trying to achieve that result has been the goal of photographers and chemists, and then later lens and film designers, since the early beginnings of the photographic process. But digital imaging has brought us to the possibility of producing images that contain a higher dynamic range than is possible with any type of film. With digital imaging and the proper techniques it is now possible to produce a dynamic range in an image that fast approaches that which the human eye perceives.
The press release from Rocky Nook says it quite neatly:
"Once Hollywood’s best kept secret, this cutting-edge imaging technology is a method to digitally capture and edit all light in a scene. It represents a quantum leap in imaging technology, as revolutionary as the leap from black and white to color imaging. HDRI is the final step that places digital ahead of analog.
With this technology now available to everyone, the only problem was that it was poorly documented…until now. THE HDRI HANDBOOK is the manual that was missing."
As a photographer, having given up film for a digital camera, I have struggled and read forums, kept up with journals, and exchanged notes with other photographers as I have attempted to master the fundamentals of High Dynamic Range Imaging (let’s call it HDRI for short). But I have not until now found a complete WHAT, WHY, and HOW in one package until now. THE HDRI HANDBOOK by Christian Bloch will take you from understanding the concept of HDRI to the production of quality images."
"Who is Christian Bloch?" I had to ask when I started reading THE HDRI Handbook. Somehow I had missed out on his name as a reference in regard to HDRI. I like to think that I am at least familiar with most of the names of those who are photographers and who write about photography, but I had been reading in the art business and the photography industry rather than the cinematography, television, and computer graphics areas.
Christian Bloch is a highly acclaimed German visual effects artist who works and lives in Hollywood, California. During his professional career, he has created effects for several TV shows; StarTrek:Enterprise, Smallville, Invasion, Lost, 24, and Studio 60, as well as a number of commercials.
His work has been rewarded with an Emmy Award, and a nomination for the Visual Effects Society Award. He has been a pioneer in the practical application of HDRI in postproduction, specifically under the budgetary and time constraints of the television industry.
I have to quote Rocky Nook publications again:
" Bloch earned a degree in multimedia technology. Years of research and development went into his diploma thesis about HDRI, which was honored with the achievement award of the University of Applied Sciences Leipzig. Since his thesis was published online in July 2004, it has been downloaded more than 15,000 times, and it has been established as the primary source of information on HDR in Germany."
THE HDRI HANDBOOK is the successor to Bloch’s diploma thesis. It has been rewritten completely from the ground up in English, and it has been heavily expanded and updated through May 2007. Continuing updates are available from the HDRI Community Forum website (http://www.hdrlabs.com/cgi-bin/forum/YaBB.pl). Careful illustrations and step-by-step procedures are outlined in a wonderfully logical manner. They take you from a basic understanding of the image formats used to define imaging software, through the structure of the camera’s imaging hardware, to the final assembly and production of an HDRI end product. Literally, hundreds of high quality samples and precise screen shots leave no question of the author’s intent to convey—most specifically—the ideas and procedures that he discusses in the text. The overall feeling of the book is one of loving preparation that is evident in the page layouts and quality of the printing. There is a definite "class act" feeling to the volume when you hold it in your hands.
Contributing to the updating and information are other writers as well. Dieter Bethke (with more than 17 years media production and artistic photography), Bernhard Vogl (one of Vienna’s finest panoramic photographers), and Uwe Steinmuller (owner and chief editor of DigitalOutbackPhoto.com) all add their contributions to the overall package.
Included on the accompanying CD are trial versions of Photosphere (Mac), FDRtools (Mac and PC), PTGui Pro (Mac and PC), Photomatix (Mac and PC), and Picturenaut (PC). Also included are all the tutorial images you need to follow along with the chapter examples.
THE HDRI HANDBOOK topics include:
- Understanding the foundation of HDRI (What it really is and why it works that way).
- Tools for a high dynamic range workflow (The available software as of the present time, and the imaging chip which records the data)
- How to capture HDR images: today and tomorrow (The "how it all works"—the chip and the software—and how to set up the digital camera properly)
- Tone mapping to create superior prints (Setting up the range of exposures for the optimum result)
- HDR image processing and compositing (Processing and assembling the exposures)
- Shooting and stitching HDR panoramas (The problems that arise in panoramic shooting and how toovercome them)
- Image based lighting and CG rendering (Understanding lighting for Computer Graphics creations)
- World premiere of Picturenaut and Smart IBL (New software to play with)
- Creative uses and unconventional applications (A lot of things you never thought of)
I read the HDRI HANDBOOK from cover to cover in six days, but this was without working out the samples and seeing for myself each provided software demonstrated and examined. From the academic standpoint I look at the HDRI HANDBOOK as a semester’s worth of work…or longer. But having finished it overall on the one reading I can say that I now have a volume with a couple of hundred small, colored, annotated sticky tabs scattered around three sides of the book which refer me to specifics that seemed important on the first reading. Maybe I understand 10% or 20% of the hard data—perhaps more—but I can say that I no longer feel as though I had been working strictly hit-or-miss at the idea of High Dynamic Range Imaging without understanding so much of the limitations or possibilities; now I feel that I know where I am and how to systematically explore the pros and cons of each software and to open up the unexplored vistas of the creative aspects of the whole concept of HDRI. Now it is up to me to tackle each concept that Mr. Bloch and his colleagues have demonstrated, and work out an appropriate workflow of my own. Sometimes that will mean listing workflow steps that he has given to define the order that certain processes should follow, and other times it may mean camera and software settings to try as base lines. Only when I understand the basics will I be able to logically experiment and seek creative and aesthetic solutions. Lots of practice will be in order; but now I have a much better understanding of the "rules of the game" in HDRI. The rest is up to me.
I recommend it totally.