Category Archives Photography


I remember showing someone one of my black and white prints a few years ago—and I could tell there was something they really didn’t like about it. They stared at it for a minute or so, and then said, “Why is it in black and white?”

I told them that the shot was originally taken in color, and that I had converted it to black and white in Photoshop, and they said something along the lines of “Why would you do that?” After talking a little longer, they just told me flat out that they just didn’t like black and white photography. Never had, and they couldn’t understand why anyone would take a perfectly good color image and remove all the color. (Sigh).

I understand that everybody has different tastes, and some folks just don’t like black and white, or duotones, and some people don’t like Split Tones (like me), and some don’t like panos.

You Mean, Like HDR?
Now, when it comes to HDR, I’m kinda of in the middle. I enjoy shooting my own HDR shots, and I get a kick out of processing them. If someone shows me a great HDR image, I’m like “Wow!” If they show me a few more, I’m like, “Those are good.” If they show me a book of them, after about the eighth page, I’m dying to see a regular un-HDR’d image. The novelty can wear off fast on me.

I know some people are at the complete other end of the spectrum. They hate any HDR that doesn’t look natural and photorealistic, (of course, if it truly does look natural and photorealistic, I guess that kind of really means “it doesn’t look like HDR”).  :)

What They’re not Telling You About HDR Images
There’s a secret about those “over the top” HDR images that you don’t hear a lot of non-HDR photographers talk about. While many of these photographers don’t like HDR images at all…

….non-photographers absolutely love them!

That’s right—-regular, non photographer people love those over-the-top HDR images. Even though it’s seldom talked about, I think that’s incredibly important to know.

Matt pointed out something a while back while we were talking about this, and it has proved itself time and time again. Matt mentioned that if he sends a group of images to a magazine, or a Web site, etc., for them to pick a photo to highlight, they always (always!) choose the HDR shot.

Now, I fully realize that by saying this, there are photographers who will now post comments that say “My wife hates HDR” or “my boss won’t allow HDR in any of our marketing materials,” and so on, but save yourself the time and trouble, and just think about it. Think about how other people (not photographers) react to images with the HDR effect. It’s been my experience, time and time again, they love ’em.

My Love/Hate Relationship with HDR
You see the shot at the top of this post? That’s a pretty obvious HDR shot, taken on my vacation to China, and I didn’t even include the HDR shot in my post about my China photo book (link), because it was so over-the-top that I knew I’d catch some heat from HDR-hating photographers, so I intentionally left it out. The next day, I had a follow-up Q&A post (link), and that was the only photo that didn’t make the cut, so I thought—what the heck—-I’d run it and it might just go by unnoticed, and I’d be spared a nuking by the anti-HDR crowd.

I guess you can say I was incredibly surprised when I read stuff like this:

“That boat shot is killer! Good balance with HDR technique and the whole composition has “interesting story” written all over it. Quite frankly, I think it’s one of your best.”

“Love the shots from the trip, and your HDR on the ferry is FANTASTIC!”

“I like allot of your work, but this is my favorite shot of yours. It’s amazing. Love it…”

“First, that was an amazing image you used for the lead to this post. Great depth, detail and lighting. Well done sir!”

“I love the HDR Shot you posted! My fav of the bunch.”

“Fantastic HDR, the lighting and tones are beautiful.”

You’d think I would be ecstatic with comments like these, but instead I was really depressed. That’s because the regular un-HDR’d photo looks like this:


It’s a nothing photo. It’s not terrible. It’s not good. It’s what I call “A three-star photo.” Not so bad that you’d delete it, but not so good that you’d ever let anyone see it (by the way, the only reason I’m letting anyone see it now, is as a teaching tool). So, it was the HDR-Toning that transformed it from a three-star image to what embarrassingly for me, became an image that some called “my best ever.” (sigh).

My Case for HDR
I’ve read again and again how photographers who hate HDR-effected images feel that when a photographer uses HDR for the “Harry Potter Look” or goes for the classic over-the-top HDR look, they are somehow cheating. They feel it’s a trick to take a mediocre image and turn it into a masterpiece, so it’s not “real photography.” Sadly, I think my before/after actually helps to make their case to some extent.

However, this is where my case for HDR comes in.

Taking the mediocre regular shot took very little effort. I did have to compose the shot (and I think the composition is actually “OK”), but outside of that, I just pressed the shutter button, and the camera did all the work. The post-processing in Photoshop (in Camera Raw) was minimal—-it took all of 15 seconds, so the entire image has a total of less than 20-seconds invested it in.

However, for me to create an HDR image, I (as the photographer) have to work a LOT hardert. First, HDR doesn’t work for just every shot. There are certain types of shots that lend themselves to HDR (images with lots of texture, or metal, depth), and over time you learn which types of shots work (and which don’t). So, the first thing the photographer does is scope out subjects that would make ideal HDR images (it’s harder than it looks). When I saw the rusty, peeling wheel house, and the thoroughly worn wood deck, and old coiled up lines (rope), I knew it would make a good HDR image.

I had to set-up my camera to shoot an HDR bracket of five photos, and then try and steady myself while on a moving ferry in the harbor, while leaning on a railing, and trying to keep very, very still while all five exposures are captured.

Later, I have to work with five images—not just one—then I have quite a bit of post-processing work to do, including using Camera Raw not just once, but twice, along with HDR tone-mapping, and final editing and sharpening, beyond what I’d normally do. In short; it’s dramatically harder to capture a good HDR image, from the moment of capture, through the post processing stage, and the image wasn’t rescued by HDR—-it was created to be an HDR image from the outset. I didn’t just press a button and out popped a winner—I had to work it.

It’s Not Fair!
Normally, this extra photographic effort would gain the respect and admiration of fellow photographers, but when it comes to HDR, it generally gains scorn. I don’t get it. Just like that person at the beginning doesn’t “get” black and white photography. I know HDR isn’t for everyone, but like any effect, it can be fun to do, fun to look at, and like any other effect, you can get sick of it after a while. But each image should be judged on its merits, and not dismissed because “You don’t like HDR” or “You don’t like Black and Whites.”

So, in the past few months, I did learn that non-photographers love HDR shots (and all the photographers I polled asking about how their HDR work was viewed by non photographers, agreed 100% that non-photographers seem to absolutely love HDR images). But I learned two other things as well:

(1) You don’t seem to find people who are really good at creating HDR images, that don’t like HDR images. Just like you don’t find people who are Photoshop experts, that don’t like Photoshop. The people I find that scorn the use of Photoshop, aren’t very good at it.

(2) I find that no matter how much I look at that HDR image I did at the top of this post, and no matter how many people tell me they love it, I will never like it. When I look at it, I know what “it really looked like.” In my mind’s eye, I always see the original, 3-star regular exposure image I showed earlier, and so I’ll never look at it as a great image. I guess I feel like it’s kind of cheating too, even though it took me more time, effort, and skill to get there.

For those of you that do shoot somewhat over-the-top HDR shots, how do your clients, friends, and co-workers react to these types of shots? Do they dig ’em? And, how do you feel about them after the fact (after all, you’re probably the only one who saw the original single exposure). Do you feel like I do? (and did anyone get that subtle Peter Frampton reference?). I’m anxious to hear your thoughts.


I only do one landscape workshop a year, and I only do it with my good friend, and world famous landscape photographer Bill Fortney, and we only have 15 spots open, and I’m hoping you snag one of those, because I promise you—-you are going to learn a ton, laugh a lot, and come away with some amazing photos and new techniques.

This time we’re headed out to the Moab, Utah area (Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park), and if you’re comin’ along, plan on gettin’ up early for some amazing sunrise shooting, then later we’re back in the classroom for Lightroom, Photoshop, and Photography, and afterward we’re back out for a sunset shoot in some of the most scenic landscape locales in the country.

Joining Bill and I are photographers Wayne Bennett (who was with us last year in Savannah) and Richard Small, so we’ve got a great crew on board once again.

The workshop runs Wednesday, October 6th thru Sunday October 10th, 2010. The cost is $895 per participant, and once those 15 slots are gone, they’re gone, so if you want to go, reserve your seat right away (there will be 30 participants total, plus leaders; the other 15 slots went to participants from our workshop last year in Savannah).

To reserve your seat, call (606)-528-6119 or (606)-344-0455. Hope to see you out West with Bill and the gang. It’s gonna be a total blast!

P.S. you can read my report from last year’s Savannah workshop with Bill, right here.


I am just thrilled to announce that our online training class called “A Day With Jay Maisel” is now live at Kelby Training Online (link).

This class chronicles my “Day with Jay” as this living legend of photography walks the streets of New York City, shooting as he goes, and sharing some of the most amazing, insightful, thought provoking, and just plain brilliant ideas for taking your photography to the next level, that you’ll find anywhere. It truly is absolutely fascinating.


In this video, I’m the student, and Jay does all the training. You’re there as we start out at Jay’s studio, then head out to the streets of Manhattan, shooting everywhere from the Subway to Times Square to a quaint Italian restaurant in Jay’s neighborhood. It’s an experience like no other, and the feedback we’ve been getting from Jay’s class is literally just out of this world. Photographers are blogging about it, raving about it, and learning from it around the world (There is only one Jay Maisel!).


The class went live last Friday, and one of my readers, Sebastien Dalahaye posted this on my blog about the class:

“…Don’t know if that’s something related to what you learn from Jay Maisel in NYC, but I just watch the class on Kelby Training and whoah, amazing stuff. Class itself is worth the annual subscription.”

The class is produced kind of like a documentary, kind of like a reality show (because it’s pretty live and uncut, complete with Jay’s own “colorful” New York language), and kind of like a roving class, where whatever Jay sees, he shoots, and then he teaches. Seriously an amazing experience, and I hope you get to catch it. Here’s the link.


Inside the pianosm

Let me get this out of the way right up front. This challenge kicked my butt.

I could give you a half dozen or so excuses why I wasn’t able to get out to shoot some of the people and places I had planned on, and blah, blah, blah….but the fact is, I didn’t, and I wound up having to shoot right around my house, and well…I took 18 shots total—none of them good.

I felt like I should post something, so I’m posting the last shot I took (in desperation mind you), of the inside of a piano (shown above) because I knew as I was taking the other 17 shots that I didn’t have anything. However, even though I didn’t get a decent shot; I still really enjoyed the challenge.

NOTE: Here’s a link to the flickr Group I set up for anyone who participated in the challenge, where you can upload images you took during the weekend (and following the challenge rules). There are already lots of cool images up there from people who clearly did a better job than I.

The “Oh No!” Moment
I hiked over to a large pasture near my house, with these beautiful cypress trees with a perfect glassy mirror-like reflection. I got set-up to shoot (and it didn’t look nearly as good through my viewfinder as it did as I’ve driven by it a hundred times), but I took the first shot, and then immediately looked at the LCD monitor on back of my camera (which of course was turned off), and even though I was all by myself I had to laugh. How I’ve come to rely on that little monitor!

Click: 22¢ Click: 22¢ Click: 22¢
I remember back when I actually did shoot film, and how hesitant I would be to press that shutter button because each time I did I knew it cost me 22¢. I had that same feeling all over again, of making darn sure that before I took the shot, that it was composed properly, that my settings were right, and that I was really holding the camera steady (By the way, none of that helped).

Time won’t let me…..
Of course, it was the wait that got me. If I thought I really had gotten something, it would have killed me, but knowing I had pretty much blown it, it was easier waiting than I thought.

I didn’t get extra credit
Although I did set my ISO before I started (and didn’t change it, though I was highly tempted to on one occasion), I didn’t get extra credit for not post-processing, because I  had to tweak the White Balance as I had been shooting outdoors and had pre-set my White Balance to cloudy, and needless to say, the Piano wasn’t outdoors. The fact that I needed to change the White Balance was just another reminder of how much we rely on the ability to change WB on the fly with digital, any time the light changes, without having to pop in a new roll of film. I also added contrast and an edge vignette in post (Oh the shame!). Anyway, I didn’t get extra credit for no post-processing, but do I get any love for hand-holding the shot at 0.6 of a second? No? Didn’t think so.

Of Course the Real Winner From All This Is….
The children of the Springs of Hope Orphanage in Kenya. Just a few hours after I announced the challenge on Friday, I got an email from Molly Bail at the Orphanage, letting me know that she knew something was up, because all of a sudden donations were literally pouring in (she didn’t know we were doing this, so it caught her totally by surprise).

So many people really pitched with donations—-it was just amazing. Even people who couldn’t participate still donated, and that really warmed my heart. There were posts from people who went way above and beyond, and literally donated hundreds of dollars (people like my friend and fellow photographer Janine Smith who has an incredibly big heart, and reader Eric Harmon, who couldn’t shoot this weekend, but gave a big donation anyway).

I am so genuinely thankful to everyone who went that one optional step further, donated the cost of a roll of film, and helped  move the orphanage closer to self sufficiency. Your compassion never ceases to amaze me. I feel very fortunate to have you guys as my readers.

More Challenges to Come
Although we won’t be helping the Orphanage every time, I’m planning a new challenge each month, and the goal will be for us all to try new things photographically and creatively (including some techniques in Photoshop and/or Lightroom that will be new to a lot of us), and I hope you’ll share some of your ideas with me of things you’d like to see in upcoming challenges.

By the way….
Did I mention I have big news tomorrow? :-)


My buddy and Photoshop User TV co-host Dave Cross just launched a great-looking new blog, and it’s got a slightly different address than the old site—it’s now at

When Dave announced on his old site that he had redesigned his blog from scratch using WordPress (same thing we use here), he gave RC Concepcion a shout-out, because he learned how to do it by taking RCs online “WordPress for Photographers” online class at Kelby Training Online. How sweet is that!

Anyway, make sure you check out Dave’s new digs. I love the layout, the look….the whole thing. Well done Dave!


I’ll be in Atlanta, Georgia next Friday (May 28th) with my “Photoshop for Digital Photographers” tour, and I want to make sure you’re there, so go snag a seat right now (here’s the link), and spend the day with me learning all the latest new stuff (including the new CS5 stuff for Photographers).

Also,  I’ll be coming in to Atlanta on Thursday, so if anybody’s got any ideas on a great place to shoot, or a sporting event I can weasel a media credential for, make sure you let me know and we’ll go a shootin’. Otherwise I’ll be sitting in my hotel room watching How I Met Your Mother and Rules of Engagement. ;-)

I hope I get to meet you in person in Atlanta next week! Can’t wait!!!!