Thank you, everyone, for stopping by the blog and for your patience in waiting for my HDR tone-mapped video! This short test video has been a long while in coming, as I finally got the film to a point (with both the visuals and audio) where I was really satisfied with the results. (I must also give my amazingly, stupendously talented composer, Noah Potter, credit for really bringing these images to life. I am in his debt. Please check out his great website, and please use him for your film/TV projects. He is a professional talent of the highest order.) Check out the film below (please use full screen):
So, first things first: this video is not, and never was, intended as an HD-DSLR camera test. I’m not here to test the Canon T2i’s moire, aliasing, rolling shutter, and compare resolution charts, etc. If you want that, go here and here–there is a plethora of information on all of the above. As I’m a network television editor, producer, and motion GRFX designer by trade, this was really just a fun side project; a skunk-works endeavor that attempted to combine two of my passions–filmmaking and HDR photography. This video is, and always was, rather, a challenge to myself: to make ordinary, average HD video footage (from a $700 HD-DSLR) look like properly tone-mapped HDR photographs, like this stuff. For me, this film is more art than science.
I used a variety of video clips from my T2i, most of them handheld. Why handheld? Because it proves you can use this technique with just about any single video source. You DO NOT need dual cameras, set side by side, or an expensive beam splitter with and, to quote the great Stu Maschwitz, “Backrubs from supermodels” (although that couldn’t hurt), or any other such equipment. I also used handheld footage to differentiate this technique from time-lapse HDR video, which is an entirely different process altogether. HDR time-lapse is created from HDR photographs. This is ordinary, oftentimes shaky, video footage from one camera.
The other challenge to myself was to devise a true tone-mapped HDR video workflow that was actionable in a real-world setting–and that wouldn’t drive me stark raving mad. It wasn’t easy at first, but I came up with some pretty good solutions (and many that can be improved upon, I’m sure). Truth be told, this technique WILL NOT give you 6 stops more latitude on your T2i or even 4. I also really want to stress the tone-mapping part of all this: there’s a difference between capturing something with more dynamic range, like this awesome Epic HDRx clip, and giving something an HDR tone-mapped look, like my video. To date, there is no software that will give video this tone-mapped look, although I’m sure it’s being worked on as I write this. (Read my last blog post for more of my thoughts on all this.)
And (almost) none of this has to do with production. This technique is all about post-production, my specialty. In fact, the absolute best way to start down this road is to learn how to tone-map HDR photos really, really well. Start here. You can then simply apply all of the same photographic principles to your video footage. That being said, this technique will NOT work with all video clips. I did my best to use a variety of clips, all with some major light and dark areas to see what was possible, but you do have to shoot decent footage. And this is where the production part comes in: you must shoot a VERY flat image. The flatter the better, just like with color-grading this stuff. With an HD-DSLR (Red Epic and Arri Alexa may be exceptions, although I need to test them), you must not blow your highlights and you must not crush your blacks in camera. Keep it ugly, keep it grey, keep it simple.
So what are some of the glaring issues when using HD-DSLR footage and this technique? Aliasing, moire, resolution. Do the clips in my HDR test have moire? Yes. Do they have aliasing? Yes. Is the resolution great? No. Is there noise and blockiness in parts of the image? Yes. Does the T2i have these issues already? Yes. Will this technique solve any of these problems? Absolutely not. In fact, creating tone-mapped HDR video footage will probably (definitely) exacerbate all of these problems.
So why do it then? That’s very simple: I think it looks flippin’ cool. And this is where we may diverge. Many people HATE the look of HDR tone-mapped photographs (and video). I happen to absolutely LOVE them. I love how it evokes a stronger feeling, I love the process of creating them, and I love the look. It’s not some Photoshop plugin trick. It’s reality–times 10. You are seeing everything. That’s why the clip of that guy (me) drinking that beer looks kinda “Uncanny Valley” crazy. It’s real and not real at the same time, and it’s maybe even a little unnerving. But I like that. I like the extremes of this technique. The Chateau Chambord shot in the video is sort of boring and flat, but with the HDR tone-mapping applied, it looks like something out of a fairy-tale (to me). I wouldn’t necessarily use this technique on an entire feature film (unless you wanted to make some funky Richard Linklater “A Scanner Darkly” sorta thang), but it could work wonders on an opening title sequence, a dream sequence, a music video, commercial, Charlie Sheen, etc. You could also use this technique in a more subtle way to really make your video pop and add lots more detail in the shadows and highlights.
So what tools did I use? In order of importance:
- After Effects
- Final Cut Pro/Avid (or your NLE of choice)
If you don’t have a basic understanding of any of the above, this technique is going to be very difficult to pull off–you need to know them all. (You will be round-tripping between these programs again and again.) I happened, through much experimentation, to find a cocktail that worked for me, but I know it can be improved. Also, here’s some more software that I found indispensable:
- Magic Bullet Denoiser (to eliminate much of the, you guessed it, noise and blockiness in the footage)
- GBDeflicker (to tone down, what else, flickering in the footage)
The above software are not critical, but they will certainly make the finishing work on your HDR video a heckuva’ lot easier and make your image look a helluva’ lot nicer.
A few notes about the clips used in the video, all of which were shot full HD, 24p in the Canon EOS Rebel T2i/550d‘s video mode with various photographic lenses:
CLIP 1: I filmed this last spring on a busy Paris street while vacationing with family in France. (Parisians, please tell me where this street is!)
CLIP 2: I filmed this while back home in Minnesota last September at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska, Minnesota. (This is truly an amazing place. Visit if you can!)
CLIP 3: Same family vacation to France. I filmed this while wandering around the grounds of Chateau Chambord in Chambord, France. (Stunning location. You can see my HDR photography of this same scene here.)
CLIP 4: I filmed this while taking a walk along Dockweiler Beach in Los Angeles. It was a blustery day, so it made for some nice whitecaps on the waves.
CLIP 5: Who’s this guy?? That’s me. I made myself the human HDR guinea pig for this test. My sister Pamela shot this footage of me while we–my mom and two sisters–drank some good booze and soaked up the scene around Montmarte in Paris. (I apologize for the dark circles under my eyes in this clip. We hadn’t been in France too long at this point, so I was jet-lagged and under-slept. Beer helped. )
That’s about all I can think to say about the video at the moment. If there’s enough interest in the film, and the technique I used to create it, I would consider recording a video tutorial of my workflow. With the demands of my day jobs, I don’t have lots of free time, but I think doing a tutorial might be fun. So, please let me know in the comments below.
Thanks again for watching the video and stopping by to read the blog–your interest means a lot to me and is much appreciated! With that, watch out for more HDR video and more of what’s next to come from my bag of tricks. (And keep your eyes peeled for changes to the blog, as this site will continue to evolve in the weeks, months, and years ahead!) This is an exciting time to be a filmmaker indeed.
*UPDATE: Featured on Planet 5D, THE resource for all HD-DSLR news! Check it out HERE!