Blue hour in Oia © 2011 to2hov. All rights reserved.

Blue hour in Oia, Santorini

I will always remember 11th of October 2011. It was a weird day, everything was going so wrong in the beginning. I had troubles fixing some of my paper work in Fira’s town hall. It started raining at the exact same time I decided to go out etc. but later +Mike Shaw made my day by posting my picture on his stream as a “Picture of the day”. I also made a screen shot of the words he said about me. It was the most beautiful thing I ever heard. Thank you +Mike Shaw one more time.

In one of my comments down bellow I promised to post another picture with “in depth” explanation about how I made it, only because It’s not so often to hear so many good things about my photography especially when Its just the beginning of it. I mean… you all know that I started with HDR photography in the beginning of September 2011 right?

Before I start with the “Little info…” and “Workflow” part it will be a pleasure for me to show you the top of my profile picture so you can all say now… “Ewww Its not HER Its HIM why the hell did I circled a dude!”

Why the hell do you think – we think you are a girl?
Because at some point yesterday somebody said “her” by mistake and then you all started resharing “her” instead. I hope that was a mistake! If not… c’mon, no boobies… her? Ewww!

Little info about the picture taken

As I said in my comment, the photo was taken at the exact same position in just 20minutes interval so if anyone of you wants to learn where this photo was shot from please scroll down and read the description on the previous post.

Canon EOS 7D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM,
10mm, 2sec. (main-shot), f/11, ISO 100, 7 exposures


As you all know when we do something very often we improve ourselves doing it, meaning we do it better. So the last couple of days I was doing my workflow differently, not much just a little different but not because I wanted to… it was because I needed to. As you can see from the “little info about the picture taken” I use Canon to shoot HDR which is not the best solution (this doesn’t mean that you can’t make HDR with Canon) because Canon allows only 3 exposure bracketing at a time. This means if you have high dynamic range into the area you want to photograph, you won’t be able to do it right or you will but it will take longer than some other cameras, longer meaning you need less moving objects into your picture.

Before I share my process of shooting/merging images I would love to say that I’m not a professional. Its all based on personal experience.

So here is how I do it. I have my custom camera functions preset. C1 is set to bracketing -2, 0, +2. C2 is set to bracketing -1, 0, +1 and C3 is set to -3, 0, +3 this means by switching fast between the custom camera functions I summary take 9RAW images. At the end I have 3 similar at 0 stop exposures. Note that in order to do bracketing right you have to adjust your camera on “Self-timer: 2sec./Remote control” when using Canon.


I work with Photomatix Pro 4.1 through all the post-process but I only use 7 of 9 images I shot. I usually delete the the second 0, keep the first one for later and use the last one into my final image, as the last one is the closest to the final bracketing shot.

Here is the small difference I mentioned before. I actually do 2 tone-mapped images. The first one is the one I already mentioned (the 7 images one) and in the second one I use the exact same Photomatix adjustments but only on the first 3 images (here is the time when I use the first 0 exposure I mentioned I’m gonna keep for later). Note that you don’t have to do that always. I do it when I have very windy weather and my clouds are moving too fast or if you use Nikon which allows 7 bracketing straight no need of it too. So actually the second tone-mapped image I use only to avoid any ghosting.

In Photomatix Pro 4.1 I’ve created a preset I use very often. Usually all my HDRs are going around this preset with some small changes. Presets I will share later on another tutorial but for now I can tell that I keep the Strength always at 100, Color Saturation between 55 and 75. Micro-smoothing from 1 to 3 and Detail Contrast I keep on 5+. Luminosity is a lot of fun if you want your image to look more real you use less amount of it and the opposite if you want it to look wild you go for more. I keep Luminosity between -3 an +3 depends what am I looking for. Lightning Adjustments is also very important I never use the presets, I use the scale and I twist it from -10 to +10, again depending on what I am looking for. I don’t touch the other stuff so much maybe if I want some more drama I touch the Black and White Point but drama I usually add after the masking with some Photoshop plug-in effects. All the rest I leave as it is. In this image I used:

Strength : 100
Color Saturation: 75
Luminosity: +3
Detail Contrast: +5
Lightning Adjustments: -0.5
White Point: 1.055%
Black Point: 0.030%
Micro-smoothing: 1.5

After I finish with the tone-mapping I import the tone-mapped image as well as -1, 0, +1 (sometimes I also import -2, +2 and in very rare situation (when I make night shot) -3 too) to Adobe Photoshop CS5.1 so I can start with the masking. The masking takes usually a lot of time, that’s why I will explain it into another tutorial or maybe even a video (not sure how to do it yet).

When all the masking was finished I added 2 Topaz Adjust plug-in effects on a duplicates – Portrait Drama and Crisp and I kept both duplicates with only 30-35% of its real. Note that using those 2filters you lose a lot of the colors on the sky. Save and Export to Adobe Lightroom 3.3 where I actually didn’t do much on the final image I just added some sharpness on.

Lightroom helped me out more with the second tone-mapped image created in the beginning. As I mentioned before I needed the second image only to avoid ghosting but I actually kept with another reason too. I wanted to make the sky look prettier. In Lightroom I added some highlights, lights, orange, yellow and blue to it with the exact amounts:

Tone Curve
Highlights: +35
Lights: -5

Color Saturation
Orange: +10
Yellow: +15
Blue: +30

Noise Reduction
Luminance: +50

Note that for sharpening the first tone-mapped image you can use Nik Software Sharpener v3.0. It’s a one click great tool. I had it before on a trial and it worked perfect for me but now I’m using Adobe Lightroom – Sharpening functions.

There is one more thing left to do and this is to go back in Adobe Photoshop, mask the colorless sky with the beautiful one you just created and thats it.

Wait! My image doesn’t look the same.
Of course it doesn’t! Sometimes when you stack a lot of Topaz Adjust plug-ins or any other plug-ins you have to keep in your mind that those plug-ins also change the colors of your image a lot and the masking after can cause funny looking images by mixing beautiful and colorful sky with colorless sea reflection.

I hope this was helpful and you enjoyed reading it. The image wasn’t supposed to appear into my Google+ stream but I did it because of you.