Blake Before Newsletter

Blake After Newsletter

Topaz:  

How did you get started with HDR photography and what draws you to this style?

Blake:

I shot my first set of HDR brackets on February 28, 2010.  Pretty crazy that I remember the exact day, but that is the impact the HDR process had on not only my photography, but my life!

Just before becoming an HDRtist, I was about to drop the camera and go back to what I knew best, Painting and Sculpture.  I was so frustrated when I scanned the web at how awesome every other photographer’s pictures looked.  I was missing a huge step in the process of making beautiful photos, post processing.

As I looked into the photos I found most beautiful, I noticed they all had one common thread, High Dynamic Range (HDR).  I was drawn to the detail and accuracy of the scene the photographer was representing and I wanted to do it myself.  I researched the process and very soon became addicted, you can ask my wife!  I would stay up way past my bedtime processing photos, I would discuss it at the dinner table, I ate slept and breathed brackets.  This passion eventually turned into a website to help others find inspiration through their trade that took me so long to do myself, EverydayHDR.

What has me so captivated by the HDR style is its ability to replicate a scene with incredible detail.  I am a very detail and process oriented person, therefore, the HDR method fits me like a glove!  I have run the gamut of the art world from Drawing, Painting, Sculpting, Printmaking, and Ceramics to Photography and I must say I have found my artistic purpose in life!

Carmel-River-State-BeachTopaz:

Many of your images have landscapes and architecture as subject matter, are there specific elements you are looking for when choosing a scene to photograph for HDR?

Blake:

I will HDR anything, especially landscapes.  I do like to seek out certain things depending on where I live.  In California it was the ocean.  I would take 8 hour excursions going up and down the coast without a care in the world for the time of day as long as I was shooting the rocky California beaches.

These days, living in Missouri, I am not too particular about what I shoot.  However, I am more interested in when I shoot.  I find myself only shooting landscapes at sunrise, and the golden hour through the blue hour.  I never thought I would be that kind of photographer, but the results of a sunrise in an HDR photo are just breath taking!

No matter what I am photographing, I like to study the scene pretty closely before shooting.  I am not an abrasive photographer, as a matter of fact, I prefer to be alone when I shoot.  It is more an act of therapy for me, a de-stressor of sorts.  Just me, the camera, a tripod, and my shutter release ready to capture whatever comes in front of me.

Church Before-Adjust

Church After-AdjustTopaz:

What does your typical HDR post-processing workflow look like?  Any tips to avoid over processing or halos?

Blake:

My HDR Process from start to finish is 4 steps:

  1. Good RAW brackets free of camera shake.
  2. Conservatively tone mapping the brackets to extract the detail and dynamic range from the exposures.  I avoid going too light, too dark, or too stylized during the tone mapping, I do that with post processing.
  3. Post processing the tone mapped 16 bit TIFFs in Camera Raw and Photoshop to get the best looking image.
  4. Creative post processing, vignettes, borders, cross processing, and any image manipulation to create a certain mood.  This is where I use a lot of Topaz Adjust!

I thoroughly explain a lot of my HDR processing techniques and ideologies in my publications, Exploring HDR and 11 Things Every Photographer Should Know About HDR Photography.

Avoiding over-processing and halos is really a subjective step.  What I find over processed someone else may find gorgeous.  This is where an individual’s style comes into play.  However, a style is developed over time, a first time HDRtist with only a couple of photos in their HDR portfolio cannot really say they own a style.  A style is developed over time through a refined workflow, trust me if you saw some of my first HDR images you wouldn’t be impressed!

Knowing what is over processed is very similar to the psychological looking glass self.  You have to step out of your own box as a photographer/photo editor and look at your images as a viewer or a fellow photographer and really critique yourself.  I have found that no one is really going to tell you the truth about your photos, especially in the social media scene of passive +1’s and Likes!

Autumn!Topaz:  

You’ve been teaching about Topaz plug-ins for a couple years now, do you have a favorite Topaz tip?

Blake:

My best advice would be to look at Topaz Plug-Ins, and any plug-in for that matter, as a means to an end.  Many people purchase plug-ins with the hopes that they will receive amazing results with the push of a button.  That is rarely the case!

I suggest using the built-in Presets to give you the ideal look, but experiment with the powerful adjustments that are offered to you in the Topaz products.  You are only limiting yourself by using the Presets that come with the product.  Expand your horizons and exploit all that Topaz allows you to and create your own Presets for future use.

With that being said, my favorite Topaz Labs products are Adjust, Clarity, ReStyle, and DeNoise.  The 4 of them combined can help to create an awesome professional grade photo in a matter of minutes!

Missouri-SunriseTopaz:

You’ve just started a new project aimed at helping photographers grow and expand their skills called LearnPhotoNow, could you tell us a little more about that?

Blake:

Thank you for mentioning that, I would be honored to!  I have recently joined minds with my business partner, David Dubé, to create inspiring photo training courses!  We are revolutionizing the way photography is currently being taught through the use of informal lectures, hands-on student-instructor interaction, and cutting edge post processing sessions that include the use of Adobe Photoshop and the powerful Topaz Labs product line.

We are taking these courses on the road from city to city starting November 8-10 in Kansas City!  We are offering three 8 hour courses, Beginning, Advanced, and HDR Photography.  You have the ability to come to one class, two classes, or all three and we offer killer discounts if you bundle or bring a friend!

I have to add, that we are shying away from hotels and convention centers.  We are bringing these courses to places that make you want to use your camera, like the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City.  We are also limiting the space to 20 students per course to maximize the learning experiences of each student.

Beyond photography, David and I are highly qualified classroom instructors with a sincere passion for helping people.  What makes our training so unique is that we place a strong focus on inspiring people to want to become a better photographer.  That is very different from showing someone how to use their camera.  People will not remember what you do for them; they will remember how you make them feel!  We will be inspiring people and we are very excited about it!

In-flight

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

About Blake:

My passion for photography came in the form of a Canon AE-1 handed to me from my mother in 1999. I loved that camera and had a passion for developing the film in the darkroom. Despite my love for the photo process, I received my BFA from the University of Delaware in Printmaking. I diverted from the path a bit, but got sucked back into the realm of apertures and shutter speeds when I discovered HDR Photography! I became addicted very quickly and my passion for the camera returned full force! I started EverydayHDR in the middle of 2010 with one idea in mind, make the most accessible, informative, and free HDR website on the planet! Through the plethora of tutorials and several self-published eBooks, I quickly learned that I have a passion for teaching photography!

Links:

LearnPhotoNow:  www.learnphotonow.com

Website:  http://www.everydayhdr.com/

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