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Published 14 January 2011 by Pauline & Nicolas
Photography

Interview Matmaxx, the world in HDR

We interviewed Matmaxx, a German photographer specialized in HDR photography. He talks about his passion, the HDR technic and also gives some tips to the beginners. The full interview is just below!

MatmaxxHello Matmaxx. Let’s start with the beginning: can you describe yourself in a few words?

Hello. Well, on the internet, I am known as matmaxx. But everywhere else my name is Matthias. I am 34 years old and I live in southern Germany in the beautiful old town Regensburg. I earn my money as a software engineer in the automotive area developing all these fancy gadgets of today’s cars. So for me, photography is just a hobby. Although I would not mind making some extra money with my images – just to be able to afford some better equipment ;-] I am happily married for about a year now and we have a bunch of ‘wild’ animals (like rabbits and guinea pigs) living together with us in our house. Apart from photography I am into all kinds of art from painting to music, theatre or even the opera. But to keep this thing on the ground I also enjoy more simple things like bowling or a good board or card game.

When did you start photography and why?

I got my first point-and-shoot in 2001 – a Canon Ixus with 2.1 Megapixels (which was about 600€ at that time). I started very ‘normal’, taking pictures on holiday and whenever we were celebrating with friends or family. It didn’t change a lot until 2007 – except for various new point-and-shoot cameras. In 2007 we went to New Zealand for holiday and that was the time a bought a FZ-50 bridge camera from Panasonic. Also at that time I took some photo-classes just to get some basic knowledge about all the stuff a photographer has to deal with when leaving the automatic mode. At the end of 2008 I finally started with HDR after I accidentally saw some of Trey Ratcliff’s images in a magazine. I did my first HDRs and since that photography is no longer some documentary toolkit for me, but my passion and a great way for me to play with both creativity and technology at the same time. At the end of 2009 I got rid of my Panasonic (although I shot some of best images with it) and upgraded to a Nikon DSLR.

“ I did my first HDRs and since that photography is no longer some documentary toolkit for me, but my passion and a great way for me to play with both creativity and technology at the same time. ”

You often use the HDR in your photos: Why do you love it? What is the main interest of HDR?

After coming home from our New Zealand trip in 2007, I was working through this massive amount of images that I shot down there. While doing so, I recognized that a lot of images just could not transport the mood and the atmosphere that I had on my mind when I was thinking of that particular scene. Today of course, I know that these doubts came from the technical fact that the dynamic range a camera can capture is not enough in just so many cases. Imagine you are inside a church with some amazing color windows. I just came back from Italy, so currently that’s my favorite way of explaining this. If you are shooting a single image – and even if you are shooting in raw – you have to decide whether you want to correctly expose on the interior of the church and overexpose the windows or if you want to expose the windows right and probably get the rest of the images pitch black.

And that’s when HDR comes in place: By taking multiple exposures of the same image with different shutter speeds, you are now able to expose both the interior and the windows correctly. And since this is pretty much the same technique that our brain uses to assemble an image of wide dynamic range that was captured with our eyes, these HDR images just show a more natural, authentic picture of the scene you were photographing. I know there is a lot more to the process of human vision than that, but let’s keep it simple. And of course, there are a lot of HDR images flooding the internet that have nothing to do with reality – but that’s not the kind of HDR images I am talking about.

Do you think integrated HDR functions in SLR are useful or do you only rely on post retouch?

I don’t have any integrated HDR function in my Nikon – and I probably would not use it if there was one. One main issue about real bad HDR images is that a lot of people take their multiple exposures, throw them into Photomatix, Bracketeer, HDR Studio or whatever software they are using, do the same brutal, over-the-top tone mapping on every 32bit image and upload the results of what they call post processing straight to the web. For my images, the settings for tone mapping are really unique for every image and the result from the tone mapping is just the beginning of the post processing. There are so many additional steps I do in Photoshop like masking bad areas, perform real anti ghosting, artificial filters and all that stuff – and this is again completely unique for every image. So a camera built-in HDR function in my opinion can never replace a real human controlled post processing. There is so much creativity to this process. It’s just like you would think about developing a set of paint brushes that are shipped with some kind of a ‘Van Gogh’ mode – It just does not work!

“ For my images, the settings for tone mapping are really unique for every image and the result from the tone mapping is just the beginning of the post processing. ”

What advices can you give to beginner to make great HDR photos?

1. Don’t do HDR just for the sake of doing HDR. In a lot of situations, there is no need to take multiple exposures because the camera can quite well capture the complete dynamic range of a scene and HDRing it will not give any benefit to the actual image.

2. Compose your images well. A bad composition in your image will not get better just because you are using HDR.

3. Keep the sliders low. There are too many overdriven HDRs on the net already. What might look weird, crazy and cool to someone who is new to HDR will likely not be appreciated by a lot of people that are familiar with HDR – I know that since I of course did that myself in the beginning.

4. Go to photo walks with other HDR guys. Nothing is more valuable than someone personally telling you how to do it. If you do not know any other HDR photographers – hey there’s flickr, facebook, twitter and all that social media stuff where you can find people in your area.

5. One last tip which is not HDR specific is: Listen to photo-podcasts. I have a list of podcasts that I listen to regularly on my website. Some of them are in German but most of them come from the United States. So apart from learning something about photography it helps me to constantly improve my English.

What subjects do you prefer to photograph?

Obviously it’s not subjects that draw my attention. Whenever I go out shooting, I look out for scenes that will go well in HDR – That’s why I do a lot of photography in urban areas when it’s getting dark outside and all that artificial light is turned on. At that time of the day, there are so many possibilities to find some scene that has a huge dynamic range. In addition to that I always try to explore new locations and I am in the fortunate position that I travel a lot due to my job, so I get around quite a lot.

If I had to nail it down to the classical subjects, a lot of my work shows architecture either in my hometown or the cities I visit. But e.g. I rather try to capture the atmosphere of some illuminated building than trying to show it 100% accurate – This is why I use this wide angle, tilted and down-to-the-ground perspective that much.

Another thing I focus on is vehicles – maybe that also has something to do with my job. I think I visited every car museum in Germany (and we have a lot of them) – for example the Porsche and the Daimler Benz Museum.

And one last, let’s call it subgroup of architecture that I recently did a lot is football or soccer stadiums. But this one is not just for fun; I do this for a friend of mine from Hamburg who runs a business with selling fine art prints, canvas, dibonds and all that stuff for football fans. You can check this out at www.footballart.de and I am sure you’ll see right away which images were contributed by me.

“ There are too many overdriven HDRs on the net already. What might look weird, crazy and cool to someone who is new to HDR will likely not be appreciated by a lot of people that are familiar with HDR. ”

What SLR and lenses do you use?

Currently I am the proud owner of a Nikon D90 that came with the Nikkor 16-85mm lens. I absolutely love that camera because when I got it, I uninstalled all that noise ninja and noiseware stuff I had to use so frequently in the days of my Panasonic. The lens is a perfect all-rounder, especially due to the images stabilization. For the lower end I have the Sigma 10-20mm f/4.0 which I almost use all the time because I just absolutely love that 10mm-super-wide-angle (even though it is ‘only’ 15mm due to the crop factor of the D90). On the upper end I have a rather old and cheap Tamron 100-300mm f/4.5, just to be complete and to be able to play around a bit in the upper focal lengths. But of course the image quality cannot reach out for one of these 70-200mm f/2.8 Nikkor monsters, but man, I got this one from eBay for 35€.

My latest toy is a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 prime. From the first shot I absolutely fell in love with that tiny little barrel. It really seems to suck up all photons that are around and the image quality you get is just amazing. Whether you are using it down at f/1.8 to create that maximum bokeh or crank it up to f/22 and get a sharpness that I’ve never seen before, it just feels great. And you get all that for a little more than 100€. But I do not intend to use this one for HDR very much because 50mm on a crop sensor is not the type of focal length that I typical use when it gets to HDR, but the next time there is some celebration going on with my family or friends, I’m going to stick to this sneakerzoom-lens and leave my flash at home – no wait, I can’t leave my flash at home, I don’t have one ;-]

And of course for my HDRs I use a sturdy tripod (a SLIK 700 Pro) with a Bilora Ballhead, a remote cable shutter and all that stuff. One gadget that I’d really like to have is the HDR Promote Control, but 300€ for an intelligent cable shutter is far beyond my limits – so unless some donates it to me for a longterm-indepth-ontheroad-test, I’ll have to keep dialing my shutter speeds manually.

Do you want to add something?

If you want to know more about my HDR workflow you can read all about it on my blog. And to see my complete gallery, you can go to www.flickr.com/matmaxx. Well, last but not least you can follow me on twitter where guess what, my nickname is matmaxx. But all these links are also on the top of my blog at www.matmaxx.com.

Finally I want to thank you for featuring me on your great site; I really enjoyed doing this interview. Keep up the good work and always keep in mind: These pixels were born to be punished.

Thanks a lot for this interview.

Discover the website of Matmaxx, his Flickr, and follow him Twitter.

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