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Review: Practical HDRI

Practical HDRI by Jack Howard (Rocky Nook)Practical HDRI by Jack Howard (Rocky Nook publishing) is a no-nonsense guide to high dynamic range imaging (HDRI).

Read the rest of the review and find out how you can get a free copy of this book.

You’ve seen the photos. But hopefully you haven’t let the abundance of bad examples turn you off to HDRI in general—it is a powerful technique that can help you create stunning images that can’t be captured any other way.

I like this book because the author, in a scant 168 pages, has condensed a ton of practical advice and tips into a useful and unintimidating reference. Howard writes, “It is my goal to get you ramped up in HDRI as quickly and as painlessly as possible. This book focuses on pragmatic workflows, a healthy dose of tips and tricks, and real-world advice.”

The introduction lays a solid foundation for understanding HDRI and 8 bit vs 32 bit color spaces. It’s good information and I recommend reading it if you are serious about improving your craft… but if color space geekery makes your head swim, you could safely skip ahead to other topics.

Chapters 1-3 focus on gear and composition techniques with a bias towards HDRI. For example, the author talks about basics like shutter speed and lenses but always in the context of how those choices affect your images.

But chapter 4 is where things really start to get interesting. In this chapter, the author gives practical advice for actually capturing the basic images necessary for HDRI in the field. He covers metering, bracketing, manual mode, RAW and JPG, file organization and, importantly, how to recognize HDRI opportunities and non-oppoertunities.

The rest of the book deals with the actual business of using software to generate HDR images and gives detailed instructions for using Adobe Photoshop CS3, Photomatix Pro 3.0, FDRTools Advanced 2.2, and Dynamic Photo HDR 3.x (software not included, free trials available for download from the vendors). These four chapters are absolutely packed with useful information.

A bit of a warning: HDRI is a technical, often tedious, and time consuming process. Although the author strives to shield the reader from too much camera and software shenanigans (and he does a pretty good job, too—no one is going to have a nerdgasm from reading this book), the subject is inherently technical and you can only go so far without at least a willingness to try and bask in the geekiness of it all.

Definitely recommended for anyone interested in HDRI from absolute beginners to folks who have a few HDR images under their belts and would like some tips for improvement.

Click here to buy this book from Amazon.com.

Want my review copy? Leave a comment with a valid email address. One reader will be chosen at random this weekend to receive a free copy.

This book was provided to Photodoto free of charge for review.

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Christmas Gift Ideas Using Your Own Photos

If last week’s funky Christmas gift ideas weren’t enough for you and you’re still struggling for inspiration here’s a few more ideas. These one’s are things you can make with your own photos.

  • First off there’s the traditional photo book. Check out John’s screencast to see how easy that one can be to make.
  • If photo books are just a bit too traditional for you how about a pair of Keds? You can design your own shoes using photos, text, or your own designs over at Zazzle. Costs from $50 to $60 and come in lace up or slip on styles for women or kids but they don’t seem to offer any mens styles.
  • Struggling to find a gift for your teenager? Zazzle also offer custom skateboards you can add your own designs to. Starting at $60 with $1 shipping (current promotion) and Zazzle claim to have them shipped in 24 hours.
  • If you’re looking for a more family orientated gift check out the Celebrate Everyday Life Book or the Year in Review Book on Shutterfly, going a bit further than a photo book, these require you to combine your photos and some writing and add them to the digital scrapbooking layouts provided. Costs $60 for a 12×12 book with up to 20 pages. Check out the Ali Edwards’ (designer of the Celebrate Everyday Life book) blog to learn more about digital scrapbooking and see her guide to using your photos to make a Christmas themed scrapbook by hand at home.
  • Want to keep warm and admire your photos at the same time? Looking to spend a bit more on that special person? How about a photo quilt, or a blanket and pillow set for your toddler. These usually take 3 weeks to be made and delivered so if you want this to be under the tree on Christmas morning you’ll need to pay an extra $15 (toddler set) or $35 (quilt) for the rush delivery option or you can buy a gift certificate and let the recipient design their own. Quilts start from $160 and are handmade of 100% cotton, toddler sets start at $120 and are made of heavy weight polar fleece.
  • Left it too late for your gift to arrive in time for Christmas? Or all looking a bit to pricey? Make a mosaic over at Big Huge Labs, print it out big (or take it to a store if your printer can’t handle big) and either frame it, or if you’re on a budget back it with some sturdy card board (like the boxes all those other gifts have been arriving in) and leave it unframed. While you’re over at Big Huge Labs make a free personalized letter to Santa for the kids. [BigHugeLabs.com and Photodoto.com are both owned by me. -John]

Screencast: Creating a photo book

This is the fourth or fifth book I’ve created at Shutterfly. I really like their book maker. It’s easy to use, provides a good selection of layout choices, has a couple of different ways to pre-fill your book to get you going quickly, and there is no software to install—all the magic happens in your web browser. This video shows me creating my latest book (at about 6x speed). Highlights below.

(Larger version of this video here.)

Some highlights from the video:

Music by duckett (cc-by)

0:00 Choosing the overall style…

0:18 Choosing photos…

0:33 Using the storyboard to do a first-pass guided layout. The storyboard lets you choose which photos go on each page and then Shutterfly automatically picks an appropriate layout. Later you can tweak the layouts for each page by hand.

1:20 I was having some trouble getting a wide panorama photo to fit on the 8.5×11 page without cropping. Shutterfly doesn’t seem to offer an option to fit without cropping. So…

1:40 I fired up GIMP to alter the canvas size to 8.5×11 and re-upload. And while I was at it I did the same with a square aspect photo that I knew would also give me trouble.

2:21 Added altered photos to book in progress and continued.

4:30 Trying out different border styles.

4:49 The book is done! In real time it took about 33 minutes—not counting the time it took to upload the photos or select just 60 photos from the entire year. I ordered two copies of this 25 page, 8.5×11″ book with the leather cover:

  • First copy: $44.99
  • Second copy: $22.50
  • 2nd day shipping: $19.99 (ouch!)

If I hadn’t procrastinated I could’ve saved $10 on shipping. Next year I’ll get these earlier—yah, right.

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