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Photographer of the Week: Brian Matiash

Posted by Teresa Hanafin  September 29, 2008 12:30 AM

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Charlestown HDR
Charlestown HDR
I was trekking through downtown Boston with two good photo buddies when we noticed that a significant storm was approaching. The onslaught of clouds plowed through the sky rapidly. Fortunately, I was able to grab this scenic shot of Charlestown before the heavy rain set in.
Canon EOS 40D, 90mm, f/6.3, ISO 100, 1-exposure HDR (-2, -1, 0, +1, +2)

By Brian Matiash

HDR -- High Dynamic Range -- is a post-processing imaging technique that allows a photographer to display a much wider tonal range from light to dark in a photograph than today's cameras can actually capture. By taking several shots of the same scene at different exposures and then tone mapping them, the result is often a much more dramatic depiction and closer to what the human eye actually sees.

I remember exactly how I discovered HDR: I was browsing through random Flickr photostreams and came across a photographer, "Flying Dutchee". His photostream contained shots with stunning detail and style unlike anything I had ever seen. I noticed the recurring keyword 'HDR' on his shots and decided to write to him. I started to research this technique, a first for someone like me who typically learns by doing, not by studying. It was through this chain of events that I became completely and totally obsessed with HDR.

How do you use this technique? In a nutshell, you shoot the same scene with five different exposures from -2 to +2, and then combine them in your editing software. The result is a photo that captures the darkest shadows and the brightest highlights.

First choose a scene that has a wide range between the shadows, mid-tones, and highlights. Shooting with the intent of using HDR processing requires that you either use a tripod or have an extremely steady hand, as any motion in the shot will lead to unwanted ghosting and artifacts.

If your camera allows you to shoot in RAW, you also can process in HDR from a single exposure, creating copies of that one photo in your software with different exposure levels. You would want to process in HDR from a single exposure if there is a lot of movement in your shot, such as people walking or cars in motion, because capturing five shots of the exact same scene would be impossible. About 85% of my HDR shots are derived from a single exposure.

For all HDR-processed shots, I use a combination of Adobe Lightroom 2.1, HDRSoft Photomatix 3.1, and Adobe Photoshop CS3 -- all on a Macintosh. I shoot with a Canon EOS 40D and use a range of lenses.

The assumption here is that I am working off of a single 0 (zero) exposure bias (EB) shot. The following is my workflow for a single exposure shot:

1. In Lightroom, I export the 0 EB shot as a 16-bit TIFF file.

2. In Lightroom, I decrease the exposure by one stop to -1 EB and export as a 16-bit TIFF file.

3. I repeat this process for -2, +1, and +2 EB shots. The end result is five unique TIFF files (-2, -1, 0, +1, and +2).

4. I load these five exposures in Photomatix and perform "tone mapping" on the HDR image. Once satisfied, I save the file as a 16-bit TIFF and bring it back into Lightroom.

5. In Lightroom, I'll make some basic modifications, typically to brightness, black levels, saturation, and contrast.

6. If needed, I will bring the image into Photoshop to perform more complex tasks (such as layering and masking) and run the image through a noise-reduction filter (I use Noiseware Pro).

7. VoilĂ ! The end result should be an eye-catching HDR version of the original exposure that you started with.

Refresca! original with zero exposure bias
Canon EOS 40D, 10mm, 1/3200 sec at f/3.5, ISO 200
Refresca! Exposures
Refresca! Bracketed Exposures
Created in Adobe Lightroom. Exposure bias from left to right: -2, -1, 0, +1, +2
Refresca HDR
Refresca! HDR
I took this shot during the 2008 Scott Kelby Worldwide Photo Walk (and ended up winning 1st place for Boston!). With all of the turmoil caused by the overspending on the Big Dig project, it was refreshing to see the upside of it all with these newly installed fountains near Boston's Faneuil Hall.

Another example:

HorseShoeBend 0EB
Horseshoe Bend original with zero exposure bias
Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi, 11mm, f1/60 sec at f/9, ISO 100
Horseshoe Bend Exposures
Horseshoe Bend Bracketed Exposures
5 unique exposures taken with camera. Exposure bias from left to right: -2, -1, 0, +1, +2
Horseshoe Bend HDR
Horseshoe Bend HDR
My old college friend, Albert Lim, and I planned to get a shot of Horseshoe Bend, near Page, Arizona, during sunrise -- only to be disappointed by an overcast morning. We ended up returning later in the day to be greeted by a much more dramatic sky and perfect lighting, all lending themselves to a great HDR shot. This is a five unique exposure HDR.

HDR has been gaining a lot of popularity lately, and there is no shortage of good online material discussing the technique. There is also a growing number of books that focus on HDR available for purchase at or your local bookstore.

A few more HDR shots:

Boston at Night HDR
Boston at Night HDR
Membership has its privileges, or so they say. A member of the Boston Photo Mob (more later), Diane Hanlon, was kind enough to bring me up to the 48th floor of the John Hancock building in Boston just in time to catch a beautiful sunset. The warm glow from the surrounding buildings and traffic added to the overall tranquility of this HDR shot.
Canon EOS 40D, 10mm, f/3.5, ISO 100, 5 unique exposure HDR (-2, -1, 0, +1, +2)
Camden Harbor HDR
Camden Harbor HDR
I woke up early that morning and disembarked from the Schooner Mercantile to try to grab a shot of the harbor before the hustle and bustle of the Camden, Maine Schooner Festival kicked in. I can't remember living in such a quiet moment in my life as when I stood there above the harbor that morning.
Canon EOS 40D, 17mm, f/8, ISO 100, 1-exposure HDR (-2, -1, 0, +1, +2)
Antelope Canyon HDR
Antelope Canyon HDR
This was one of the few moments when I had enough time to fire off five bracketed shots without a gaggle of tourists walking through the slot canyon. If you find yourself in or near Page, Arizona, I strongly recommend visiting both the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons to experience these mesmerizing scenes.
Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi, 10mm, f/8, ISO 100, 5 unique exposure HDR (-2, -1, 0, +1, +2)
Sunset Waves HDR
Sunset Waves HDR
Shortly after dropping anchor near Rockland, Maine, aboard the Schooner Mercantile, I couldn't help but stare at the little push-boat we were carrying in tow, just floating in the calm water against this beautiful New England sunset. A perfect end to a perfect day.
Canon EOS 40D, 15mm, f/5.6, ISO 100, 1-exposure HDR (-2, -1, 0, +1, +2)
Brooklyn Bridge HDR
Brooklyn Bridge HDR
Despite living in Brooklyn for most of my life, I had never crossed the Brooklyn Bridge with a camera in hand. I was glad that I corrected that oversight when crossing the bridge that day, since the clouds moving through brought a pleasing dramatic quality to the New York landmark.
Canon EOS 40D, 17mm, f/9, ISO 100, 1-exposure HDR (-2, -1, 0, +1, +2)

I do not consider myself an academic photographer. I have never taken a class in photographic technique. I learn best by real-world application. I am a good photographer because I surround myself with great photographers.

While my life behind the lens began during my early college days at Syracuse University, my first quantum leap in the medium was made on Oct. 25, 2003. That was the first time I went shooting with my newly purchased Canon Digital Rebel dSLR. Walking around Kennebunkport, Maine with then-girlfriend (now-wife) Lisa, I vividly remember my amazement at how wide I could focus with my kit lens. I was now the master of my lens' aperture, my camera's shutter speed, and could meter off of any specific point within my viewfinder. It was epic. Of course, I had no real idea what I was doing at the time. You can equate it to placing a 5-year-old behind the wheel of a bumper car and letting him go nuts. I had no direction other than to go wild with my shutter release.

Since then, I can remember some important milestones in my development as a photographer. And this is where surrounding myself with great photographers comes into play. I am very fortunate to know such talented people and will always seek out their advice on my shots. From debates over post-processing styles to enlightening conversations about the correlation between aperture and shutter speed, my growth as a photographer can be directly attributed to real-world application and the photographers I surround myself with. Despite having the fortune of knowing such talented artists, the one person who I owe it all to is my loving wife, Lisa. She is my greatest fan and is constantly on the lookout to help me find 'my next shot'. Her patience and support is simply amazing.

Brian Matiash
About Brian
Brian was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, and now lives in Framingham with his wife, Lisa, and super-dog, Zilla G. By day, Brian is an Integration Consultant at Omgeo, LLC. He is the founder of the Flickr-based Boston Photo Mob Meetup Group. His work can be seen on his website, Brian Matiash Photography, as well as at his Flickr account. In addition, selected pieces are on display at the Hudson Street Gallery in Boston's Chinatown.

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