Group brings HDR photo technique to video

In a new demonstration, the nouveau style of high dynamic range photography meets the frontier of SLR video for a dreamy look at San Francisco.

A San Francisco team has married two cutting-edge trends: the ethereal look of high dynamic range photography with the relatively new ability to record video on SLR cameras.

HDR combines images taken at multiple exposure levels to better show information that might otherwise be lost in murky shadows or washed out in bright highlights. But the production process can also be used to create an eerie, post-apocalyptic, grunge look, and that's what Soviet Montage Productions did.

The team shot video with two Canon EOS 5D Mark II cameras--currently the cat's pajamas when it comes to video SLR. One was set to overexpose the shot by two exposure values, and the other to underexpose by the same amount. The team then made a composite of the two channels showing scenes from San Francisco and posted the HDR video demonstration at Vimeo.

The result is something you're not likely to have seen before, but are likely to see later, given the cinematography and videography industry's ravenous hunger for a new look. There are millions of HDR images on the Internet, but few of them involve people, because it's hard to get subjects to hold absolutely still while the necessary multiple shots are taken.

Soviet Montage, though, demonstrated the technique with a moving person in the video. However, the clip did show some issues with artifacts in the gravel on the rooftop behind the person.

Soviet Montage Production's HDR video technique works with people, a tough subject for still HDR photography.
Soviet Montage Production's HDR video technique works with people, a tough subject for still HDR photography. Soviet Montage Production

The group didn't reveal many details of its method. On the Vimeo site, the group said they used a beam splitter to direct the same scene to the two cameras. How they composited the bright and dark channels--Adobe Photoshop? HDRsoft's Photomatix? Pixel Bender in Adobe After Effects?--remains a mystery, though they said they used "a variety of HDR processing tools."

"We're still working out how much we want to reveal about our process, so keep an eye on our website for more info in the near future," group member Michael Safai said in a brief interview with Planet 5D blog.

The video showed both the affected style of HDR and a more realistic style; HDR can be used in a more understated way to deal with challenging lighting.

"Not only can HDR video create interesting effects, it can also allow for even exposure where artificial lighting is unavailable or impractical. For example, when a subject is backlit, one camera could be set to properly expose the subject, the other the sky, resulting in video with perfect exposure throughout," the group said on Vimeo.

The team has day jobs, but is considering commercializing the approach. "We'll likely spend the weekend figuring out which way to go, but ideally we'd love to get some investors who can help us refine and improve our methods. We think we've just scratched the surface here," Safai told Planet5D.

The two video sources, one underexposed and the other overexposed, here showing San Francisco.
The two video sources, one underexposed and the other overexposed, here showing San Francisco. Soviet Montage Production
The eventual HDR look when the two channels are combined.
The eventual HDR look when the two channels are combined. Soviet Montage Production

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About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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