Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Experiment 3: HDR and microstock

HDR photography or High Dynamic Range photography is a processing technique that I am using quite a lot to process my pictures. To have a quick glance to what HDR is all about you can read an article on wikipedia. HDR processing is always followed by a step called tone mapping, needed to convert HDR in a viewable format.

For the story, I came across my first HDR picture a few months ago on Flickr and was immediately intrigued by the vivid colors of the thumbnail. It was an architectural shot with stormy sky and the picture was spectacular, certainly different to all have seen before. I started playing with Photomatix and Artizen , two programs to process pictures as HDR and when I got familiar with them I started uploading pictures on FT then later to all the other microstocks including SS and IS.
HDR is hugely popular on Flickr (257,230 results for photos matching HDR and 7660 groups !!) but what about microstock ?
At the time of writing, a search with the term HDR returns 455 hits on SS, 443 on DT and only 217 on IS. HDR pictures seem to be a tiny fraction of pictures on microstock but it still difficult to know their exact numbers since I think only few people use HDR as keyword…

To talk about to my experience with HDR and microstock here are some numbers:
HDR pictures represent 60 and 65 % of my portfolio on SS and IS respectively.
Among the 5 top sales on SS, 4 are HDR. SS and IS are certainly very picky for noise so HDR processing has to be light. Others sites like FT or 123RF currently accept more extreme HDR shots.

How do I work with HDR?

My personal experience might be different to other people because it depends on your material i.e the camera(s) you are using.
I always process HDR from 3 JPEG (bracketing -1/0/+1). I just cannot get the same results using the RAWformat of my Olympus E-20…. but it is possible to do HDR with a single RAW.
Before processing the 3 pictures have to be perfectly aligned and often the software does not do it correctly. I do it manually with a very handy software called HDR Alignment Tool v2.0 developed by a photographer that you can find here.
You can always use a tripod of course but it is not always convenient....
Then it is just trial and error playing with the settings of artizen or photomatix to get the effect you want.

Pro and Cons about HDR in microstock

+ Boost sales
+ Increase the dynamic range of pictures
+ Produces vivid colors

- Increase the chance to be rejected (noise)
- Processing time consuming
- Storage ! (especially if you use 3X JPEG)
- It is easier to get “unnatural ” pictures than aesthetics pleasing pictures that will sold on microstock

Finally HDR does not work for all the subjects but with some patience and practice very interesting results can be obtained with architecture and landscape for example.

Some of my HDR microstock pictures are visible on the bottom of this page and for more example you can visit my Flickr page .
If you want to share your experience with HDR and microstock, feel free to comment this posting.

Good luck !


Flickr groups:

HDR artists:

1 comment:

Freezingpictures said...

Laurent,HDR on microstock is an interesting subject, thats why I linked it :)