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FORUMS Post Processing, Marketing & Presenting Photos HDR Creation 
Thread started 01 Nov 2009 (Sunday) 22:19
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Zero Noise Extended DR Mini Tutorial

 
kirkt
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Nov 01, 2009 22:19 |  #1

Hi Folks,

I have been experimenting with Zero Noise, a really useful app written by forum member Guillermo Luijk ("_GUI_" avatar). You can learn all about the app and download it here:

http://www.guillermolu​ijk.com/software/zeron​oise/index.htm (external link)

Some of Guillermo's articles are translated from Spanish into English, others I usually just paste the URL into Google Translate. Works well enough.

Anyway, for the uninitiated, Zero Noise takes a sequence of RAW image exposures and combines the best of each exposure into a single 16 bpc TIFF. Unlike most HDR apps that combine exposures into a single HDR dataset by averaging pixels across exposures, Zero Noise segments the exposures and blends the best pixels from each exposure into a single, 16 bit dataset. This is similar to Enfuse or Tufuse, but with the benefit of greater bit depth. Also, the image remains sharp and the color remains consistent.

The absolute best part is that the shadow data where noise typically rears its ugly head when pushing data around in post becomes, for all practical purposes, noise free. With 16 bits of data and no noise in the shadows, you can tonemap the image with reckless abandon and not destroy the histogram. The data will be combined in a way that the resulting TIFF will appear as the darkest exposure in your sequence. You will have to perform some post processing to bring the image out of the data, but, no worries with no noise in the shadows you are good to go.

The idea is elegantly simple, the app is pretty straightforward, but it helps to review the workflow for those who have not tried this app.

Shoot your image sequence

IMAGE: http://kirkt.smugmug.com/Photography/Photo-of-the-Day/ExposureComp/700282383_bBvzT-L.jpg

Here is a composite of three exposures I shot today of a high dynamic range scene - bright afternoon sun bathing the field and trees in the background, with gothic arched stonework creating midtones and deep shadows, especially up in the dark brown roof of each arch. Incidentally, this was taken at Washington's Chapel, in Valley Forge National Historical Park. This is the kind of scene that would be a candidate for HDR, with the exposure sequence combined and then tonemapped in whatever app you choose. In fact, I have done this previously, with less than natural results:

https://photography-on-the.net/forum/showthre​ad.php?t=639742

Anyway, I shot these three exposures and combined them into a single 16 bit TIFF using Zero Noise.

Zero Noise - The Basic Workflow

So here is Zero Noise in Linux, running on my Mac Pro under VMWare Fusion:

IMAGE: http://kirkt.smugmug.com/Photography/Photo-of-the-Day/ZNWindow/700282284_HwTt8-XL.jpg

Let's orient ourselves according to the numbered areas listed in the figure above.

1) Image Window - this is where a preview of the RAW image that you feed into ZN will appear. You can interact with the image to pick the white balance area, for example, using the "Patch" option in the Raw development tab (5).

2) ... - this button brings up the file browser - select all of the RAW images you want to feed into ZN and have combined.

3) Status Window - gives you feedback on what is happening.

4) Raw Files Selected Window - gives you information about the processing and the results of that processing.

5) Raw development tab - this is where you start your workflow. Here you can select the white balance method (I chose Daylight preset). If you choose Patch, you can click and drag a rectangular or circular area on the image as a neutral reference. If you know the RGB WB coefficients, you can enter them manually. This WB data will be fed into the RAW converter that ZN uses to "develop" each RAW image prior to combining them. ZN uses dcraw to convert the RAW images to 16 bit TIFFs.

The DCRAW command line that will be fed to DCRAW is shown below (area 8 ). Briefly, the options shown in this example are automatically generated by ZN and include:

-v (verbose output)
-4 (16 bit output)
-T (TIFF output)
-q 3 (high quality output)
-o 1 (sRGB output color profile)
-r N1 N2 N3 N4 (white balance coefficients)

You can enter your own additional command line flags here. If you enable the "HL" button (highlight recovery) you will see an additional flag "-H N" where N will be 2, typically.

Leave the Saturation Level and Demosaicing Algorithm at their defaults, but feel free to experiment. The Saturation Level is the level at which the sensor saturates and varies by camera. DCRAW knows the typical values for this and will use the appropriate value automatically.

BOTTOM LINE - after you have loaded your images, you can pretty much use the defaults (maybe with the exception of using a preset WB where appropriate, or the Camera WB "as shot" equivalent). The Develop Button, grayed out here, will be active - hit develop and let the develop process take place. ZN will develop the RAWs into TIFFs, and will write these TIFFs to the same directory as the RAWs.

Then switch to the next tab - Calc EV/Build Map - area 6 in the figure.

6) Calc EV / Build Map

Here is where the developed RAWs (now 16 bit TIFFs) will be thresholded and segmented. THe result will be a grayscale map of the image areas that will be extracted from each image and used for the final composite image.

IMAGE: http://kirkt.smugmug.com/Photography/Photo-of-the-Day/CalcEVTab/700282453_eZiTM-L.jpg

a) click on the Calc EV button. This will make ZN figure out the relative exposure of each RAW (in EV). You will see feedback in the message windows (3) and (4).

b) click on the Build Map button. This will build the grayscale segmentation map, a PNG file that will be written to the same directory as the RAWs, etc. This map will be used in the final combination step in the Image BLending Tab.

Just a note - the sliders here control how the map is built - the threshold, anti-ghosting and progressive blending sliders will vary how much data is taken from each source image. Play with them. Early on, just accept the defaults.

Here is an example of the Progressive Blend map for the above composite:

IMAGE: http://kirkt.smugmug.com/Photography/Photo-of-the-Day/Mapblending185956/700282364_J3ctD-L.jpg

The number of gray scale values will be equal to the number of images you feed into ZN. Black represents the pixels taken from your lightest exposure, white represents the pixels taken from your darkest exposure.

7) Image Blending tab

Here is where the magic happens. For now, just hit the "Colour" button to combine the data into a single 16 bit color TIFF. The blending map that created previously will be automatically entered in the field at the top of the window. As you can see there are other options which, frankly, I have not used. This operation will write a TIFF file to your drive that will have a filename that reflects a serial number and some info about the color space and gamma used in the production of the image. Recall that the image ZN produces will be equal in luminance to your darkest exposure in the sequence you feed into ZN.

IMAGE: http://kirkt.smugmug.com/Photography/Photo-of-the-Day/ImageBlendTab/700282633_P57E8-L.jpg

Here is what the output image of the above exposures looks like straight out of ZN, opened in PSCS4. Note, when you open the image, you will be prompted to assign a color profile - make sure to assign the same profile you specified in (5).

IMAGE: http://kirkt.smugmug.com/Photography/Photo-of-the-Day/ZNTiffwHistogram/700282298_6yD9u-L.jpg

Pretty dark, huh? Never fear.

Here is what would happen if you tried to tonemap the lowest exposure RAW into a decent image, in terms of luminance distribution:

IMAGE: http://kirkt.smugmug.com/Photography/Photo-of-the-Day/MG0021-curved-noise/700282478_RHNJq-L.jpg

BAD NOISE!

Here is what you can get with a bunch of massaging of the ZN TIFF:

IMAGE: http://kirkt.smugmug.com/Photography/Photo-of-the-Day/ZN174700sRGBg2/700282325_KQATd-XL.jpg

Taaadaaa! Much more natural than your typical tonemapped HDR, in my opinion - for whatever that's worth!

This is a brief overview of Zero Noise. Next, I will put together a little tutorial about how to tonemap the resulting TIFF. For starters, check this out, from Guillermo's site, translated through Google into English:

http://translate.googl​e.com …ir=es%7Cen&hl=E​N&ie=UTF-8 (external link)

Have fun and experiment!

Kirk

PS - Guillermo - I apologize if I have screwed the pooch on anything here. Feel free to critique and clarify!

Kirk
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images: http://kirkt.smugmug.c​om (external link)

  
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kirkt
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Nov 01, 2009 22:40 |  #2

Any suggestions or questions, just post 'em here - I'll try to answer as best I can.

Kirk


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JohnnyEgo
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Nov 02, 2009 11:15 |  #3

Kirkt:

As a new person to photography, I have been following your work with Zero Noise for a few months now, and I have been very impressed. I downloaded the application, but had some difficulty in using it due to my limited understanding of both photo processing and Spanish. This tutorial and the link to the translated instruction set were greatly appreciated.

I have been playing around with the application for the better part of the morning, trying to see what I could salvage from some mediocre honeymoon pictures. Given my limited understanding of what the software can do, I am quite impressed with it's ability to recover details.

Here is one set of images that I combined with Zero Noise, then used the Tone Compression in Photomatix via the process suggested by Sr. Guillermo:

The first input image:

IMAGE NOT FOUND
IMAGE IS A REDIRECT OR MISSING!
HTTP response: 404 | MIME changed to 'text/html' | Byte size: ZERO



The second input image:
IMAGE NOT FOUND
IMAGE IS A REDIRECT OR MISSING!
HTTP response: 404 | MIME changed to 'text/html' | Byte size: ZERO



The Zero Noise Output image:
IMAGE NOT FOUND
IMAGE IS A REDIRECT OR MISSING!
HTTP response: 404 | MIME changed to 'text/html' | Byte size: ZERO



The Photomatix Tone Compressor Output image:
IMAGE NOT FOUND
IMAGE IS A REDIRECT OR MISSING!
HTTP response: 404 | MIME changed to 'text/html' | Byte size: ZERO


I've still got a lot to learn, and feel that I could produce a slightly more realistic image with practice. However, your tutorial gives me hope that I will be able to salvage some more honeymoon pictures. Thanks!!

New guy with a camera.
JohnnyEgo.com (external link)

  
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kirkt
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Nov 02, 2009 12:15 |  #4

@JohnnyEgo - Nice work! You are welcome. That is a very nice example of what you can do with ZN and produce nice, natural results. Part of the trick is the post processing of the ZN image, as I stated above. I will try to put together an example of PP'ing an ZN image to give you an idea of one approach. As with most things, there are many different ways of getting to the final image, so go for it and experiment. You can apply curves and other tricks in PS, Tone Compressor in Photomatix, blend all of that in with one or more of the original RAWs, all sorts of approaches. In my example above, I stuck to massaging the ZN output in PSCS4 with curves and other tricks, just to use a "limited" set of tools. The idea is to first redistribute the tones in the dark ZN output image - I usually do this with a curve. Then, with the redistributed tones, apply a gentle "S" curve to get some global contrast back. Then do some thises and thats to get more local contrast.

There are a lot of ways to go with all this data, and the fact that you can do it without the halo-inducing, color-shifting HDR tonemapping operators is nice - although, you can run the TIFF through those algorithms too and blend that with your output, etc. - Plenty to explore.

Keep at it! Nice capture and fantastic first attempt.

Kirk


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JohnnyEgo
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Nov 02, 2009 12:26 |  #5

Thanks, Kirk. I look forward to your post-processing tutorial. I recently purchased Photoshop CS4, but have yet to install it. (Need a desktop less then 10 years old, first). I've been playing around with curves a bit on Gimp and DPP, but as of yet, my understanding is too limited to produce good results. I love the concept of HDR, but my own tastes definitely trend to the more realistic approach. Your work gives me hope for my piles of under and over exposed images.


New guy with a camera.
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_GUI_
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Nov 02, 2009 17:58 |  #6

kirkt wrote in post #8938082 (external link)
Leave the Saturation Level and Demosaicing Algorithm at their defaults, but feel free to experiment. The Saturation Level is the level at which the sensor saturates and varies by camera. DCRAW knows the typical values for this and will use the appropriate value automatically.

Great tutorial Kirk. I would just like to point that setting the appropiate saturation point is very important since DCRAW's defaults are not correct for some cameras. If your camera is in the list for which DCRAW's values are not adequate (I have found so far Canon 30D, 40D, 50D, Olympus E-510, Fuji S2, and those cameras are included in the sat. point combo box), using the proper saturation point is A MUST not to get magenta artifacts in the blown highlights:

Canon 40D image developed with DCRAW's default saturation level

IMAGE: http://www.guillermoluijk.com/tutorial/dcraw/sat1.jpg

Same RAW file using proper saturation level
IMAGE: http://www.guillermoluijk.com/tutorial/dcraw/sat2.jpg

I recently wrote an article explaining the importance of the RAW saturation level in digital cameras and how to measure it for your camera: THE RAW SATURATION LEVEL (external link) (just online translation available from SP).


An important thing to understand about Zero Noise is that it is not a tone mapping tool that will produce a finished image. ZN just merges the source information in an optimum way into a neutral underexposed image. It's up to the user what to do next, from manually tone map it with curves in PS with a reallistic result in mind, or even build several replicas at different exposure values and feed them into some terrific HDR tone mapping tool such as Photomatix, Dynamic HDR,...

The idea is to make a new version of Zero Noise with a DNG undemosaiced output instead of a TIFF, so that everyone can develop it according to his preferred workflow in his favourite RAW developer.

Regards.

IMAGE: http://www.guillermoluijk.com/workshop/vitoria3/catedral.jpg

IMAGE: http://www.guillermoluijk.com/workshop/vitoria3/catedral2.jpg

IMAGE: http://www.guillermoluijk.com/workshop/vitoria3/catedral3.jpg

http://www.guillermolu​ijk.com (external link) to subscribe click here (external link)

  
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kirkt
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Nov 02, 2009 18:50 |  #7

There you have it folks! Those captures are mindboggling. Is that a rehab project on a cathedral? In addition to the image quality and DR, the juxtaposition of the ancient building structure with the modern engineering materials and structures is really fantastic.

Thanks for sharing Guillermo - keep up the great work. I am convinced that the this approach is really an important step forward in the marriage of computational photography and aesthetics. This is really where you get to know your data and make the most out of it to achieve your vision of the image you are creating.

Great point about the saturation - I thought it was a little too advanced for my tutorial, but it is definitely worth mentioning. I had read your article to which you linked - I was notified via your RSS feed. Great stuff!

And, to finish this post off - if anyone who follows this thread starts to experiment with Zero Noise and the other tools and written content from Guillermo's excellent website, please consider donating. This is an unsolicited endorsement because I have personally found his work to be exemplary.

Rock on folks. A Zero Noise DNG would be killer.

Kirk


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kirkt
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Nov 02, 2009 18:54 |  #8

Helpful Hint - you can manually edit the progressive blend map if you find there are some blending artifacts showing up in your final ZN TIFF file.

Kirk


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kirkt
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Nov 02, 2009 19:52 |  #9

Here's another from a slightly different angle:

IMAGE: http://kirkt.smugmug.com/Photography/Photo-of-the-Day/ZN150541AdobeRGBg2/701477009_KztZX-X2.jpg

I like how the bloom is preserved from the direct sunlight on the arches.

Kirk

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SlvrScoobie
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Nov 12, 2009 10:40 |  #10

Having some problems with my windows version
I cant get past the Develop step - says my command line is to long by 108 char.
Beyond that - I cant get to the build or color options :(
can anyone help?




  
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kirkt
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Nov 12, 2009 11:01 |  #11

I experienced a limitation with the character length of the full path to the files on Windows. Easiest thing to do is copy the source RAWs to a directory closer to root on your machine, so your full path to the RAW files will be nice and short. That corrected the problem for me, on Windows XP running under VM Ware Fusion on a Mac Book Pro.

As far as the "Build" and "Color" options - do you mean that you cannot see the Tabs for the "Calc EV/Build Map" and "Image Blending" dialogs? Again, I have had problems in Windows XP running on my Mac Book Pro, under Snow Leopard, with those tabs not showing up. If you click where they are supposed to be, the dialog will change - if this is the problem you are having, take a look at the screen shots above and guess at the location of the tabs and click there. Incidentally, my "..." button is also not displayed, but I click in the right area and I get the RAW file browser.

Make sure you can load your images first by shortening the full path filename via relocating your images, and then have at it! Post here with any other problems you might have.

Have Fun!

Kirk


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SlvrScoobie
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Nov 12, 2009 11:32 |  #12

Ok - that fixed it - could be annoying to move files around :(

Edit - whats with the watermark!?




  
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kirkt
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Nov 12, 2009 12:05 |  #13

On the PC version, if you use more than 2 or 3 (I can't remember which) RAW images to compose your ZN output, it will mark the output. Experiment with ZN - if you like it, email Guillermo and let him know, maybe donate, and he may be able to disable the watermarking restriction. A donation will also help with the development of the DNG output version that is in the works.

Glad that worked.

Kirk


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Stoli4naq
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Nov 30, 2009 07:04 as a reply to  @ kirkt's post |  #14

Hi guys :)
I'm not exactly new to the site, but've only registered a couple of days ago. I got a 450D for my birthday, so found your forum and 've been reading ever since - and envying your skills :p:o
Decided to give this programme a try, dowloaded the 0.9, then updated with the 1,5 - but the thing keeps giving me an error message: "DCRAW not found in C.." when I press to browse for a raw file - that is with the upgraded version. The "original" version does let me browse for a raw file, but it adds as many as possible - i.e. ten - instead of 2-3 and still does not allow me do anything to them -no preview or whatsoever, they just appear in a list on the right.. To make the long story short, just cannot get the programme to work :cry:




  
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kirkt
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Nov 30, 2009 09:04 |  #15

Stoli

you need to have a working copy of dcraw on your machine, in the search path so that Zero Noise can use it to process your RAW files:

http://www.cybercom.ne​t/~dcoffin/dcraw/ (external link)

^^you can download it here.

dcraw is David Coffin's open RAW decoder.

Also, with respect to the RAW files you load for processing within Zero Noise - create a directory, close to root, with just the RAW files in it that you want to load into Zero Noise. Once you navigate to this directory and click on one of the files in that directory, all of the files in the directory will be loaded into Zero Noise for processing.

Thanks for giving us the heads up that there is a new version for PC - I took a brief look and it appears to be more streamlined interface. Very nice.

Enjoy - if you have any more problems just post back here and I'll try to answer your questions, etc.

Kirk


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Zero Noise Extended DR Mini Tutorial
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