Category Archives: HDR

Making Custom Presets with Nik HDR Efex Pro

© Richard Harrington – Click to Enlarge

Learn how to use custom presets in Nik HDR Efex Pro.  Rich shows you which controls get results. Plus you can store your own looks for easy access.

A New HDR Pano

©Richard Harrington LLC

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  • HDR Panoramic
  • Nikon D300S
  • 5 Exposures per panel
  • 360 Degrees
  • HDR Efex Pro
  • Photoshop PhotoMerge
  • Only available light

The Golden Hour – Shooting at Sunrise or Sunset

When talking to a photographer or cinematographer, you may hear them talk longingly about the golden hour or magic hour.   This time refers to the first and last hour of sunlight each day.  This is often considered the best light by many, and really offers a unique look that can be very attractive.

©Richard Harrington | When shooting at sunrise, you’ll need to let some items fall into silhouette.

The lighting during sunrise and sunset tends to be softer and nicely diffused.  The hue is often warmer with nice rich shadows as well.  The best feature is how the skies can become quite dramatic with varied colors and nice glows.  If you’re shooting landscapes, sty skylines, or nature, this is a great time

Position is Everything

So the question is, are you shooting to capture the sunrise and sunset (such as a beautiful shot of the sun cresting over the ocean’s edge) or are you just trying to shoot at a time where the sun is the only light you have.  In either case you need to know where the sun is.

  • Shooting a sunrise: A sunrise is much trickier to catch if you’re up early.  The entire horizon may start to glow, but choosing exactly how to compose the shot is tricky.  I rely on my compass and SunPath calculator to show me the sun’s path.  This makes it easier to compose a good shot where the sun rises in my frame, I generally choose to center the sun.
  • Shooting a sunset: With sunset, things are pretty easy.  Just follow the sun as it goes down.  If you’ve lost track of the sun setting, look west.
  • Shooting a subject during this time: Try to keep the light in front of your subject (and to your back).  You may need to turn or rotate as needed.  Eventually, the light may become so diffused and soft that you’ll be able to let it backlight your subject.

Be Prepared for Fast Changes

©Richard Harrington

Keep in mind that the golden hour may not be an actual hour.  This type of light is determined by the altitude of the sun.  The closer you are towards the equator, the shorter the time will be.  While the further away you get, the longer the time can last. In fact, during certain seasons (like Winter) you may have no golden hour at all.

Also, realize that the posted sunrise and sunset is when the sun actually crosses the horizon.  This great light will often start before the technical sunrise and go slightly longer than the setting sun.

In all cases, I’d have a fast lens attached to the camera and be ready to change aperture settings.  If you’re shooting a sunrise and don’t have much to focus on, make sure the lens is set to the infinity setting for focus distance.

Determine your golden hour and shoot in it.  You can visit to help determine the best shooting time.

Want Better Photos or Video? Avoid Lens Flares

Pointing the camera up into the sun is an almost guarantee to get lens flares. You’ll see a washed out area with a geometric flare in the trees.

While the sun is generally incredibly useful to photographers, it can occasionally be annoying. If the sun hits your lens at an undesirable angle, you can end up with spots or flares that ruin a shot. Flares generally take on a geometric shape, and may be easy to miss while shooting.  Additionally, a flare can significantly reduce the amount of contrast and saturation in your image.

The flare is typically caused by a very bright light sources (in most cases the sun).  Flares are far more common in zoom lenses as they have multiple surfaces that are prone to light scatter. With a little practice you’ll learn to spot flares quickly. Getting rid of flares just requires a few strategies and modifications to your shooting style.

Use a Hood

When shooting, reverse the lens hood to protect your lens from flares and other issues. You can reverse it back for packing or shipping.

Most lenses include a hood attached at the end of the lens. Typically, the hood is reversed for shipping (to make the lens shorter and easier to pack). Unfortunately most people never bother to turn the hood around.

Once a lens is mounted to your camera, you should properly set the hood. With a quick turn (and perhaps a push of a release button) the hood can be removed. Reverse its direction and re-attach it to your lens in order to protect the lens from flare.

Sometimes a slight tilt to your camera can remove a flare. Photo by Robert Vanelli

Hoods are usually specific to each lens.  Some will have notches (called petals) to better accommodate the aspect ratio of your camera’s digital sensor.  These type have an angle of view which is greater in one direction than the other . Others will vary in length to avoid casting a vignette in your final image.

If you lose your hood, I recommend you purchase a replacement.  The hood is the best way to cut down on flares.  It can also help protect the front of the lens from accidental impact as well as contact smudges.

Keep the Lens Clean and Clear

The use of a cheap UV filter accentuated my lens’ tendency to flare when shooting on a bright sunny day.

Most lenses have an anti-reflective coating to cut down on lens flare. Of course greasy fingerprints and other smudges can also cause their own problems. When you clean the lens, be sure to use a proper lens cleaning cloth to remove smudges without damaging this coating.

If you’re going to use additional filters on your lenses (such as a protective UV filter or a neutral density filter) make sure you don’t skimp on quality. Cheap filters often lack good anti-reflective coatings). These filters can often cause flare through the introduction of additional reflective surfaces. If using filters, make sure you choose a quality that matches your lens.

Flag the Lens

I used a Rogue FlashBender to protect the lens from additional flare while shooting on a bright day.

One way to prevent lens flare is to block the light.  Typically the flare is caused by light entering from the side of the frame.  This light is rarely needed for a proper exposure and can be blocked.  If using a tripod, you can place your body to the side of the lens to serve as a wall.   You can also reach out with a hat off to the side to block the light.

You can of course use other devices to block unwanted light.  I’ll often attach a Rogue FlashBender right to my lens (  These flexible cards are normally used to shape an off-camera flash, but I find the built in flexible support rods bendable surface works well to flag a troubling flare.

Change your Position

I use the SunSeeker3D app to know where the sun will be during my shoots.

If you can’t minimize a flare, you have one simple recourse.  Move your camera until the flare is gone.  Remember flare is caused by light hitting the lens at an unwanted angle.  Often a little adjustment can be very effective at removing the flare.  You can look to frame the shot so objects are blocking the sun or light source (or even reposition your subject to block the light for you). You may find that tilting or panning the camera just a few degrees can remove the flare.

An Obscure, But Useful Toning Option for HDR Photos

The Diffuse filter is very subtle option in the Stylize set.  It may take a few passes to be noticed (especially on a hi-res photo). It attempts to diffuse an image to make the selection look less focused. This can work well to create areas of distress in a photo (especially when combined with blending modes).

1. Select the layer in the Layers panel.

The original image – © Richard Harrington

2. Choose Filter > Convert for Smart Filters.

3. Choose Filter > Stylize > Diffuse.

4. Choose a method from the window.

  • Normal moves pixels randomly
  • Darken Only replaces light pixels with darker pixels
  • Lighten Only replaces dark pixels with lighter pixels
  • Anisotropic shuffles pixels toward the direction of least change in color

For this example, I used Darken Only.

5. Press Command+F (Ctrl+F) to repeat the filter.

The edges are roughened and many details are darkened

For this example, I applied it three times.

6. Blend each filter by clicking the blending arrow in the Layers panel.

Double-click the blending arrows to access blending modes and fade options

7. Change the mode and opacity for the first filter instance.

Use Mode and Opacity to refine the effect

Options like Multiply, Overlay, or Soft Light tend to work well.

8. Repeat as needed for other instances

The blended filter creates both a pop in contrast and an organic distressing to image details