Blackwell Lighthouse – An HDR Collaboration

The HDR collaboration group in which I participate is back!  I previously hosted entries here and here and here and I hope to be posting a complete list of all collaboration posts on everyone’s websites soon. The participants this round are the usual crew of Mike “TheaterWiz” CriswellJimmy Denham, Scott Frederick, Jacques GudéRob Hanson, and Bob Lussier (I feel like a talk show host). In addition, the last time I hosted I had the honor of introducing Scott for his first appearance in the group, and now I have the pleasure of introducing our latest addition, Mark “Silent G” Gvazdinskas. This is a nice way to return from my blog hiatus. I’m very glad I took the break. It was very refreshing, and perhaps the best part was not feeling the need to check my site stats constantly, which is something I hope to carry forward. On to the images, starting with my version followed by the gang in reverse-alphabetical order this time.

This Blackwell Lighthouse, on the north end of Roosevelt Island in the East River between Queens and Manhattan.  The image is looking roughly northeast up the East River towards Hellgate and Randalls Island, with the Triboro Bridge aka RFK Bridge in the distance. Astoria Queens is directly behind the lighthouse and across the water. Roosevelt Island was know as Welfare Island before it was renamed after FDR, and before that it was called Blackwell Island. This entry is going to get long enough, so I’ll cut short the history but you can follow links to Wikipedia for Roosevelt Island, Wikipedia for Blackwell Island Light, and Lighthouse Legends.

I created, by far, the darkest version of the image. Perhaps it’s because I remember how I had to squint when shooting directly into the sun, even if it was just barely peeking over the horizon and around the side of the lighthouse. I made certain that despite the darkness you can see the detail in the lovely brickwork that makes up the lighthouse. I also donated an image to the group that required some basic technical fixes. When I shot, due to lens distortion, the original image had the lighthouse sitting straight but the horizon was askew. I fixed both of those issues, and also eliminated some dust spots. I chose not to eliminate at least one ghosted seagull. Other than that, I tried to keep it simple.


Bob Lussier

Thanks for the great lighthouse to play with, Mark! These structures tend to draw photographers like magnets and this one is no exception.

Added bonus, you shot it during the Golden hour.  I love the solar flare and the way the light makes the bridge in the background pop.

In processing this, I wanted to maintain the integrity of the original light. After running the brackets through Photomatix, I brought the image into onOne Phototools. I used two filters: Blue Dawn Leonidas to pull the blues back a bit and Golden Hour Enhancer to bring back some of the glow.

Rob Hanson

Sun flares!  Gotta love ’em.

Thanks for the brackets, Mark. Since I’m not likely to be visiting NYC any time soon, you take me to places I never see.

For this round, I actually took a path I’m not accustomed to traveling – HDR Efex Pro from Nik Software. More often than not, I use HDR Express & 32 Float or Photomatix Pro (shaken, not stirred), but I found that Nik’s software produced the result I most wanted to use.  From that base, I did blend in parts from other programs, but only in homeopathic amounts.

I didn’t like the typically ‘soft’ output from Photomatix, so Nik’s ‘Structure’ slider helped clarify things quite a bit, along with an interesting High Pass filter technique I’ve been working with lately.  Toward the end, I wound up increasing saturation just a bit — it was a brilliantly clear sky, so the color needed a bit of juice.  While tonemapping brought out a lot of detail in the tower, I actually had to darken it a bit to make it look more realistic. (If you were staring into the sun, your eyes would not adjust well to the detail on the wall, so darkening made it seem more natural.) Balancing this just enough was a challenge. I felt that the glass at the top of the tower needed a bit more color, so I lit it up.

Dust spots, straightening the curves, and snuffing out a blurred seagull were some of the other things I worked over. All in all, I’m pretty happy with the result, and hope you enjoy it as well.  It was a great subject to work with.

Mark Gvazdinskas


First, what an opportunity it was to work with such a talented crew of photographers! Thank you all so much for letting me participate in this round of the HDR Collaboration project and an extra big thanks to Mark for sharing. I’ve been following this project, along with these guys’ work, for quite some time now and finally worked up the nerve to ask Scott Frederick if I could try my hand at some Eastside brackets. This set was truly a treat to tackle. (I’d really love to go see this location some day!) The clear sky and exposed lighthouse definitely required some attention. This set went through Photomatix several times as I messed with different bracket combinations. I finally settled on a few of the brightest. Photomatix > Lightroom 3 > Nik Color Efex Pro for Pro Contrast, Brilliance and Warmth, Tonal Contrast and Glamour Glow (just a few filters…) > Focal Point 2 > Lightroom for finishing touches. All in all nothing like what these guys came up with but an absolute blast, nonetheless! Thanks again, Fellas!

Jacques Gudé

Man, oh man, Mark!  What a tasty set of brackets you gave us this time.  I can’t tell you how long I’ve wanted to shoot and work some fotofreqiness on a lighthouse, and while I did not take these myself, working these is the next best thing.  First thing I did with this one was to run a little lens “correction” on the shot to level the horizon a bit, and then adjust the perspective a tad.  Cleaned up some pesky dust spots, and then went to work.  After much experimentation with brackets over the last several weeks, I decided to toss all but the -2, -1, 0, +1 and +2 brackets, actually finding I got a cleaner results with this sunset shot that way.  In Photshop, I used the Nik Software Color Efex suite to get things to where you see them in this shot, and then added a lens flare for fun.  Thanks for sharing those great brackets with us, Mark!

Scott Frederick

I really enjoyed working with this set and I wanted to thank Mark “OG” Garbowski for hosting this round!

Over the years, I’ve found that editing an image that was shot into the sun to be a difficult task, but I’ve learned that less is more when working with these types of captures.  I left the default strength around 70% while tone-mapping in Photomatix.  I also applied a few filters in PhotoTools like Blue Dawn Leonidas, Daily Multi-Vitamin and Golden Hour Enhancer.  Then I applied some tonal contrast with Nik’s Color Efex Pro.

Thank you for reading my little blurb as I look forward to the next round!

Jim Denham

A big welcome to Mark “Silent G” Gvazdinskas! Looking forward to seeing your work within the group!

The other Mark G shared an AWESOME set of brackets with us this round and it was a whole lot of fun working on them! The sun flare really gave a dreamy feel to this frame and that’s the direction I took in processing. Focus was placed primarily on the lighthouse and the space immediately in front of it and used Focal Point to apply a blur around most of the outside. Tried to darken up the shadows but still keep detail on the house. After completed, I did notice the horizon line being a bit off, but thought it even added to the effect!

Thanks for sharing this great set with us Mark! Well done!

Mike Criswell (TheaterWiz)

Thanks for the brackets Mark, quite challenging for sure, and a lighthouse I never knew existed, and a special welcome to the new member of our group “Silent G”!

I ran these through Photomatix to start, then quickly realized how challenging this set was. The sky was my biggest challenge, there was serious Halo’s no matter what I did when I got it to the look I liked. I had dig deep into my bag of processing tricks to get this where I wanted it without Halo’s, then the banding started….ugh!

I finally got to where I wanted to be, I tweaked everything with a bit of Topaz, some Nik and other treatments.

There were also a couple of distractions I opted to clean up, I used my anti seagull filter to remove a few ghosting birds. I also removed a light post that I did not like in the shot. I tweaked the lens distortion a bit and then cropped this to eliminate some buildings on the horizon that didn’t agree with me. Finishing touches were to add a slight darken/lighten center from Nik.

Thanks again for the brackets Mark! very nice flare!


This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Great set of brackets Mark and a big thanks for hosting! Great work everybody!

  2. Thanks for the great brackets and for hosting Mark, nice job by everyone!

  3. Mark, thank you for hosting this week and providing the excellent brackets! Everyone did a great job with them!

  4. These are all terrific photos. Just goes to show that photography is indeed art.
    Len Saltiel recently posted..ShadowsMy Profile

  5. This collaboration series is great to watch and very useful for people like myself taking their first steps into HDR. I particularly appreciate the discussion of which software/filter has been used and how. This is great in combination with referring to the final output pictures.

    I was previously unaware that banding was an undesired effect like halo’s until Mike Criswell brought it up. Banding has cropped up in one of my latest efforts and I will be looking to eliminate it in future. Any tips? I’m using Photomatix, PS CS5, Topaz and onOne Phototools. For instance my beginners tip for reducing halo’s would be to bring the strength slider down on edge glow.

    HDR Efex Pro from Nik Software gets a mention here so I’ll be taking a look at that. Many thanks to Scott Frederick for bringing onOne Phototools to my attention first. The discount coupon came in handy too.

    I’m a TV Cameraman to trade and long term hobby photographer and am enjoying my first serious ventures into HDR. I live in Scotland and the light here is often very flat due to overcast skies and can make images appear the same. HDR definitely changes all that and my images are really beginning to pop even with the dullest of lighting.

    Looking forward to examining more collaborations past and future.


  6. I really love it when you guys do up a collaboration like this, it gives us a great sense of how the same picture processed by differing artists can have such drastically different results. A very dramatic and emotional piece here today, guys, for me the sunflare and the exquisite details in the brickwork are the highlights. There is NO WAY I can pick a favorite though, so don’t even ask. Great jobs all ’round!
    Toad Hollow Photography recently posted..ArchitectureMy Profile

  7. I can’t speak about banding issues in this particular image. I didn’t come across them during processing. This might be a function of the program used to merge the brackets, or something else entirely.

    Things to try to reduce banding: Start with the RAW files, not JPG or TIF versions. Lower the strength slider. Increase Highlight Smoothing, as skies are usually in the highlight region. Topaz DeNoise has a setting for ‘RAW – Strongest with DeBanding’ that often saves the day. Other times, you can smooth things out by applying a gradient filter in Photoshop.

    Hope this helps. There’s no one way to do anything!

  8. This collaboration series is just awesome and a wonderful rescource of inspiration. Thanks for sharing your work guys!
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  9. Rob Hanson- Thank you for your swift reply on the banding issue Rob.

    I started out with RAW files in Bridge>Photoshop as currently I prefer that route to photomatix. Experimentation being the key, I will try some of the ideas you mention and as you say there is never just the one way to do something. The banding did seem to become evident after I introduced some Topaz effects.

    Loved the way you lit up the top of the lighthouse.

  10. Reg — Yes, some Topaz filters will do that. I get it a lot in Adjust. Is that what you were using?

    You could always apply the Topaz filter you want, then mask through to the smooth sky in the underlying layer. In this case, the sky was rather featureless, so there’d likely be no mismatch in overall appearance.

  11. Yes Rob, it was Topaz Adjust4. Specifically “spicify” and the banding appeared in the sky which is cloudy. Maybe I’m just getting lazy, but it is annoying when effects introduce artifacts that need to be masked out. I’m also annoyed that Nik Software want $100 dollars more in Europe for HDR Efex Pro than you guys pay in the USA.

  12. Awesome work by everyone. But you know I’m a fan of dark gritty images and I love all the detail you kept in the bricks while globally darkening everything. Awesome processing and comp.
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  13. Hi Reg!

    I’m glad your finding these collaborations and PhotoTools useful for your workflow. I believe the banding can be intensified in certain images by applying too much Strength during HDR Tonemapping. This with the addition of further contrast adjustments will bring them out further. A possible solution is to make sure your brackets are spaced out by 1EV and that your taking between 5-9 brackets. Also make sure all of the RAW presets are set to zero if your using Aperture or Lightroom before exporting and that each bracket has the same white balance setting. A final adjustment to make would be to layer mask in original brackets to smooth things out! Hope this helps.

  14. a great bunch of shots! it’s always interesting to see just how different one can be from another, it shows a tremendous amount of imagination and perspective on the part of all these great photogs, thanks for sharing Mark

  15. Hey Scott!

    This is all new to me and I’m still very much experimenting.
    Typically up till now I’ve used 7 bracketed shots at 0.7EV steps, but these have been a figures arrived at with no particular guidance. I’ll try 1.0EV steps. I do zero everything out in Bridge before exporting to HDR. I can see that layer masking in an original bracket will smooth things out, thanks for that nudge in the right direction. HDR is clearly and art in it’s self. I guess the only way to become competent is to keep trying and make the mistakes that one learns from. The good thing is that you guys are providing a bench mark to aim for in these collaborations and sharing some route markers for us newbies. Smooth transitions seems to be the most difficult thing to achieve. My work flow has tended to run from the surreal preset and then work in reverse backing everything off. Now that I’m getting a handle on things, I’ll try working from a neutral preset to see if I get smoother results. There’s bound to be something max’d out in surreal that is causing me grief.

    Now, back to the lighthouse. Having viewed all the pictures repeatedly over the last few days, I will stick my neck out and say that I have two favourites. Rob Hanson’s and Mike Chriswell’s.

    They are all great and there isn’t much in it, so don’t be offended, but for my subjective eye the warmth and saturation in Rob’s is very appealing and the addition of the golden light in the lighthouse window near a third is compelling. I also like the grungy foreground detail.

    The detail in Mike’s lighthouse and foreground is also punchy which I like. I suspect there might be a bit of Topaz adding grungy colour to the foreground – nice. The removal of the ugly lighting post and the tweaking of the noticeable lens distortion also wins points from me.

    Thanks all for contributing.

    1. Hi Reg. I’, glad you found this helpful and got some answers. Thanks to Scott and Rob for answering my call for volunteers to respond. I think this might be my most gratifying experience with the HDR collaboration yet because of this exchange.

  16. That’s great Mark, nice hosting. I’ve heard it’s more gracious to give than receive. I’m already a friend of Scott Frederick on facebook. Why not look me up and see a few of my early efforts in HDR. I could definitely use some practical criticism. I don’t mind my efforts being torn to shreds as long as I learn something useful to improve them. I’m not sure the time has yet arrived for me to create a website gallery, because of that facebook will have to do for now. As far as I can tell my name is unique on the www.
    Thus far my efforts have all been lacking direct sunlight. However, my job takes me to lots of sunny locations and I’m looking forward to eventually finding some great light to work with soon.

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