Monthly Archives: March 2016

HDR: Nik Software is now free!

Last week I posted about using software to merge HDR or High Dynamic Range images. Well, just a few days ago, that software went from $150 to free. So that means an awesome refund for me, and even more incentive to try Nik Software for everybody else. Nik Software includes an HDR merger and a variety of effects ranging from black and white to faux vintage. I’ve had the package for three weeks, and I’m still finding new and exciting aspects.

I spent the weekend in northern New Mexico and Taos. I’m behind on everything, but I still couldn’t wait to assemble a few images. Without comment, here they are below. Happy photo editing!

High Dynamic Range photography: beyond Photoshop

Have you ever taken a picture where the brightest areas were lost to white and the darkest areas were lost to black? It’s an old photographic challenge with fun new solutions.

For over a century, photographers have used clever techniques to incorporate large brightness ranges in images.  Ansel Adams used dodging and burning to compress the dynamic range of film to the smaller range possible on paper. For challenging scientific shots, scientists produced film with three layers, each capturing a different film speed. Today, given multiple exposures of a scene, computers can auto-merge the best parts of each image in a process called tone mapping. The resulting shot has become known as an HDR or High Dynamic Range image. In just the last decade, the process has become much simpler and more useful.

Photoshop is the most famous of the merging softwares, but it isn’t the best. For years, I wrestled with Photoshop’s clunky and artificial looking HDR outputs. If you think of HDR as a pejorative, Photoshop may be why. Fortunately, there are other pieces of software out there that do a better job. I recently purchased the Nik Software package, which includes HDR Efex 2. I have several hundred old captures that I gave up on in Photoshop that are new and exciting and beautiful again. If you’ve ever tried making HDR images and felt disappointed, you should check out the market again. The results from HDR Efex and Photomatix are glorious. Happy tone mapping!

A note to Mac users: as of March 2016, the HDR Efex plug-in for Lightroom does not always work. I had to email the company and get them to send me a module file. Their email was detailed enough to suggest that this bug is common. With the module file, it was an easy fix, so contact the company if you too encounter this challenge.


HDR Efex (left) and Photoshop (right)

In the case of the cave image, I vastly prefer the HDR Efex image. The Photoshop controls aren’t intuitive, and even their built in presets mostly look awful. Some of the Nik presets are too extreme for my usual preference, but many of them look great immediately. In the case of the waterfall image, I prefer the HDR Efex image, but I don’t dislike the Photoshop image. The light is more exciting in the HDR Efex image, and I did it quickly and easily.


I’ve had HDR Efex for about three weeks. The first two weeks are free with a fully functional trial copy. Below are some of the images I’ve assembled. I’m pretty happy with it so far, especially after years of feeling uninspired by Photoshop’s HDR function. Happy photographing!

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Writing prompt: Submarine day

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Submarine day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.  Because St. Pat’s would be too obvious!)


The sub was beginning to stink. It reeked of sweat and mildew. Jansen had been short-circuiting the timer on the air-lock. It was his fault, I knew it. We wouldn’t get fresh air for another month, and the filtration system was already going at max.

Something long and tentacled swam past my window. I knew why Jansen rushed the air-lock—there was something wrong about this planet. The little submarine felt like an oasis in a wet desert, a safe space in a world of monsters. The survey had revealed some large native lifeforms, but our sub, which apparently resembled a good meal, brought them out in numbers we couldn’t anticipate.

But the company said it was alright, and we had signed contracts, so we would stay until the next crew arrived.

Construction was behind schedule. The initial design specs were insufficient in light of the lifeforms in the ocean. If one of the large ones rammed the base, the original design wouldn’t take that.

Another creature, head like a folded umbrella, long like an eel, swam by. Several of its eyes blinked. I wondered if it could see me.

More Awesome NASA Space Travel Posters

Thinking about a trip to Mars or Ceres? Book today! Don’t forget to ask about your Pi Day discount.

NASA is in the travel agent business again! JPL released travel posters for Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and several moons. They explore some different styles from the first set, and are cool as hell. Below are some of the preview sizes. They are available to download free at high res, suitable for printing up to 20″ x 30″.

And if you’re a vintage poster enthusiast like me, also check out the Library of Congress site. Tons of WPA posters are available free at high res, among other historical documents. (Beware, though, their site requires patience. It’s not organized for quick browsing, but there are some real gems in their collection. I linked to some of my favorites in this old post. I decorated my bathroom with them. Yes, I have a poster about syphilis in my bathroom.)  And finally, the National Parks posters are amazing vintage posters, though they aren’t free. I just made a few of my own last week.

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Proof! I did indeed print and hang the travel posters. Also in this room: a tea towel with a graphic of the Very Large Array (VLA). Nerd factor infinity!

Writing prompt: Middle name pride day

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Middle name pride day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays. This one is a little dumb, but that’s what is freeing about writing prompts. Sometimes they can be dumb, but they didn’t take very long.)


“Hey Jane, what’s your middle name?” Anka asked, her voice swaying with song. She hung upside down from the hover monkey bars, her pigtails dangling by her ears.

“I told you, I don’t have one.” Jane walked toward the hyper see saw.

“Is that so? I saw you name on the attendance list. ‘Jane X. Stuart.’ You liar.”

“Well why should I tell you anyway! We’re not friends!”

Anka rolled down from the bars and pursued. “Oh Jane, are you keeping a secret? Your middle name’s not anything embarassing, is it?”

Jane went cold. Anka smelled blood. This wouldn’t end well. “No. Go away. Stop following me.”

“What could it be…” she mused. “Xylophone? No…. Xavier? No… oh no… it couldn’t be…”

Jane didn’t turn, she just kept walking.

“Could it be Xagolonix?!” Anka cried.

That was it, Jane couldn’t take it anymore. She turned and pushed Anka. “ I said, go away!”

“You’re named after a monster! Do you know how many people Xagolonix killed?”

“I was born before that. Before that, it was a perfectly normal Martian name.”

“Jane Xagolonix Stuart!” Anka sang. “Jane Xagolonix Stuart!”

“Anka!” Mr. Svetloff barked. “Are you picking on Jane?”

“No, Mr. Svetloff,” Anka simpered. “Jane was keeping secrets.”

“Miss Anka Hitler, I don’t suppose you see anything odd about your name, do you?” Mr. Svetloff intoned.

“No, it’s a perfectly normal Earth name,” Anka said.

“About that,” Mr. Svetloff began.

New Mexican travel post cards

I love the old-fashioned posterized postcards that many of the national parks have. Whenever I visit a park, I go hunt for postcards. I have a wall of 4×6 frames of postcards. Whether they are the old WPA posters from the 30s or the modern versions, I adore them.

Sometimes, I would go to a park, and they wouldn’t have any. So naturally, I had to make my own. Now I do it everywhere I go. Below are from my grand trip last weekend through southeast New Mexico. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, and White Sands National Monument. I also visited Three Rivers Petroglyph Site, a BLM property, and River of Fires BLM site, but no postcards there as of yet.

Happy travels!

Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky district. Near Moab, Utah.Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky district. Near Moab, Utah.Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky district. Near Moab, Utah.Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky district. Near Moab, Utah.Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky district. Near Moab, Utah.Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky district. Near Moab, Utah.