Wednesday, April 30, 2008


You may not have heard of Albert Hoffmann, but without him Lennon & McCartney would never have written Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Timothy Leary would be unknown, and a lot of bad art and incomprehensible poetry would never have seen the light of day.

Hoffmann was the chemist who first synthesised LSD, in 1943, and died this week at age 102, suggesting acid may not have the life-threatening impact we'd imagined. He didn't just discover the drug, he was also the first to (accidentally) ingest it. The resulting trip led him to believe that acid could help with psychosis and an understanding of how the brain works, all of which echoed Freud's earlier hopes about cocaine. Both got it exactly wrong, but if you've ever read Aldous Huxley's Doors of Perception or anything about Synesthesia you wonder about how much the world you and I perceive is anything like the world others see, hear, or smell, and how fluctuating and subjective things are.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Snap on Schmap

My HDR photographs just get worse, but picked one of my pictures from a trip to the Boston Harbor National Park for its guide to Boston.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

HDR Photography

I started using Flickr last year and while cruising photographs of my home town Newcastle Upon Tyne came across some startling pictures of the quayside. The detail in the pictures was amazing; rich blue sky with tendrilled vapor clouds, and yet the details in the shadows of buildings was just as rich, giving the impression you could see every individual brick.

It turned out they'd been shot using high dynamic range imaging, something that's been around for a few years but somehow I'd missed. There's a bunch of different groups on Flickr: the main HDR group has over 20,000 members and more than 120,000 pictures. There's many others, and this group has a collection of winning pictures voted on by Flickr members. Some landscapes can we startling, like this picture taken in Germany, others looks entirely unreal.

Pete Carr has a great beginners guide on HDR that uses Photomatix software to create the HDR image and do the tonemapping. Ryan McGinnis has a nice post too. There's other software you can use - Panotools has a nice wiki summary. I downloaded the free trial of Photomatix and have produced a couple of images - terrible, but you can see the potential. I've set my Nikon D50 to bracket at +/-2EV and used the three images to generate the HDR. I also had to lock the ISO rating at 200 (the lowest setting), and now realise I'll have to work in apeture priority mode to get around depth-of-field issues. Even at ISO 200 I can see noise artifacts, and Photomatix can quickly generate its own artifacts as you adjust settings. But even at default settings the resulting image has amazing tonal depth.

If anyone has advice on software, techniques or how to get the best results with HDR let me know.