May 17, 2011

Stair Whispering: A Collaboration


Through the wonders of social media, I’ve had the pleasure to “meet” many, many talented photographers. Like me, a lot of them are practitioners of HDR. I don’t know about them, but I often look at their work in absolute amazement. Processing HDR is an art unto itself, so every couple of weeks, a few of us HDR geeks get together and challenge ourselves. One of us offers up a set of brackets for the other to process. It is a friendly collaboration.

This go-round, I offered up an image of 150 year old stairwell for my friends to tackle. The image was captured in a great old storage building in a mill complex in Lawrence, Massachusetts. It was shot about a year ago and is just hitting the blog today. I’m really thrilled to be able to share, not just my take on it, but that of some really talented friends.

Taking on the challenge are Mike “Theaterwiz” Criswell, Jim Denham, Jacques Gudé, Mark Garbowski, Scott Fredrick, and Rob Hanson. Please take some time and check out their work. You won’t be disappointed!

My version:

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I have nothing to say … on to my guests …


Mike “Theaterwiz” Criswell:

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Thanks for the great brackets Bob, I really like the lighting you captured in this set of brackets as well as the angle you shot them from. I tried to keep most of the gritty details you captured and enhance them a bit with some Topaz adjustments along with some OnOne Focal Point. My favorite part of this shot was the nice angle of the shadows as the light was shining through the railing of the steps. Again, thank’s for the great set of brackets Bob, it was a pleasure to process your brackets and to be involved with such a talented group of HDRtist’s.


Jim Denham:

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What a treat to be able to crush pixels on a set of stair brackets from the stairwhisperer himself! Not much better than that! And what great set of brackets – Thanks Bob!

The key focus for me in this image was the shadows. The sources of light in the stair area produced some nice shadows, but the HDR process takes them out – I needed to add some of that contrast back in, but not to the extent that the brick wall was totally underexposed – I liked the brick wall. Fortunately, darkening the shadows on the risers in the foreground really brought the detail of the bits and pieces of crud sitting on top of the steps – another element I wanted to highlight.

What good fun! Thanks again Bob!


Jacques Gudé:

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As many of you out there know, Bob is the undisputed Stair Whisperer. So you can bet your a$$ that when he offers up a set of bracket of abandoned stairs to work, I’ll be all over them like ants on a cheese doodle!

I sure did have fun gettin’ Freqy with it! As there were certain things I wanted to emphasize in the shot, I tweaked things by brushing in various parts of the original brackets. I also decided to clone out the red light in the upper left, because it distracted my eye somewhat from the places I wanted emphasized. I spent a little time burning and dodging to focus attention on the stairs, particularly those in the foreground. I burned pretty heavily in the lower rear stairwell, and around some of the walls to really get the eye back on those awesome old stairs.

I sure hope my interpretation did them justice!


Mark Garbowski:

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Another fun set of brackets, and an especially sweet set of stairs from the whisperer himself. I was torn between going real dark and letting the shadows play with the light, and ended up opting for the latter. I also took the color cast in a slightly unreal direction, but only by a hair. The last touch was to emphasize the blue in both windows


Scott Fredrick:

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Thank you Bob for the mill brackets.  I would love to visit what seems to be very calm space. Since your nickname is the “Stair whisperer” what can I say, great shot!  I was excited to utilize some of the new NIK plug-ins that I just received.  I’m still using Photomatix for most of my tone-mapping but have found great uses for Nik software.  I had a little trouble with the window on this one, but I think masking the darkest bracket helped a lot.  The glare on the railing was a hard one to conquer!

As always thanks for including me in this talented bunch of collaborations, until next time…


Rob Hanson:

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I always seem to take a bit more time whenever working on a set of brackets from Bob. It’s obvious that the care he takes when shooting the mills deserves the best we can do in processing.

The overall effect I was going for was to have a subtle warm-to-cold effect, with the warm light in the upper part of the stairwell leading to a colder lower level. I find that this sort of play creates a tension and contrast in an image. Gritty details were punched up using a high degree of tonal contrast, and then tamed with a glamor glow effect, brushed away where details needed to come through. I left the crop intact save for skewing the image just a bit to bring the verticals a bit more in line. This changed the feeling of the image quite a bit, and I bounced back and forth between the two until I finally decided on the adjusted version.

Thanks for donating this set of brackets, Bob. I always love working with your compositions.

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  1. Fantastic work from everyone. Love the setup and each take is so different. Great job to all of you skilled togs!

  2. Wow. Its really amazing to see several versions of the same set of brackets being so diverse when processed by different people. I find it really hard to pick a favorite among this bunch. Great stuff. I hope y’all will do it again soon.

  3. Very interesting to see the different approaches. Looks like everybody built a very different house with the same materials. All on a solid foundation provided by a great original set of brackets. Well done!

  4. great set of brackets and lovely to see how all process them. I’m not going to pick a favorite – I don’t think that would be fair, however each of you has captured the shadows really well.

    Tom marks to all!

  5. It’s always so amazing to see the variety and differences in processing HDR brackets. They are so very different and wonderful in their own way.
    I love your work Bob, and often come here and stare at your stairs to see it will make me better at HDR 🙂