Philly Creative Guide

Creative Personality

Robert Lott | Photographer

Interview :: Robert Lott
by Juanita Berge, 1 Mar 2009

After working as an engineer for 43 years at the DuPont Company, Robert Lott is now directing his creative juices toward wildlife, nature, and floral photography focusing on Eastern Pennsylvania as well as locations out West. (Longwood Gardens is one of his favorite sites for shooting florals.) Robert also does volunteer photography at various fund raising events for the American Red Cross of the Delmarva Peninsula. His photographic education has included participating in various workshops, shooting in the field, as well as reading as much as possible about concepts in photography.

Robert's photography can be seen on his web site at

PCG: How did you come to the field of photography?

RL: I started taking pictures of my daughter's volleyball team 5 or 6 years ago using a digital point-and-shoot camera. Prior to that time, my wife did all the picture taking. I soon realized that I needed a camera with more capabilities and purchased a Nikon D70 digital SLR camera and lens capable of shooting in low light often encountered in volleyball courts. As my daughter moved beyond volleyball, I have become more interested in nature photography.

I found that the technical aspects of photography appealed very much to my engineering background.

PCG: What type of photography do you do?

RL: I shoot mostly flowers, nature and wildlife, including macro (or close-up) photography. I like being outdoors.

I also do people photography through volunteer work with the Red Cross, photographing fund raising activities, etc.

PCG: You have a very nice website and portfolio. I understand HDR is one of the hallmarks of your work. Tell us about that.

RL: I first heard about HDR or High Dynamic Range photography two years ago from professional photographer George Lepp during his keynote address at Meadowlark Photography Expo in Vienna, VA. George discussed some of its advantages in landscape photography and some of the tools becoming available. At that time I never really followed up, but the topic came up again several months later at the New England Camera Club Conference in Amherst, MA. It piqued my interest, so I decided to look into HDR. I did some research on the internet and downloaded a trial copy of Photomatix Pro to take with me on a trip to Hawaii in August of 2007.

While in Hawaii, I experimented with the technique on beach scenes and waterfalls where I wanted to capture details in these scenes with high dynamic range. Graduated neutral density filters have traditionally been used in landscape photography to hold back the light above the horizon in order to capture details of the landscape. However, this technique does not work very well in scenes without a reasonably well defined horizon, for example, waterfalls. One of my early successes with the technique is shown below. The dynamic range of this image is far beyond the capabilities of normal display and print capability. As you can see, there is quite a bit of detail in both the dark and light areas of the image.

Robert Lott | Photographer

Based on early success in Hawaii I ordered an official copy of Photomatix Pro and have been shooting HDR images quite often since then when it is appropriate.

PCG: What project stands out for you because it was interesting, unusual or fun?

RL: In the past year and a half I have photographed in Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks in Wyoming, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks & Monument Valley in Utah, and Badlands National Park in South Dakota. I really enjoyed these adventures and shot a lot of HDR, particularly in Badlands National Park. On all of these I developed a lot of new friendships.

However, I think the most unusual and fun project has been shooting graffiti in an area along the Delaware River in Philadelphia. In February of 2008, graffiti/street art was the subject for our camera club competition. I enlisted the help of a friend, John Hanrahan who lives in Philly, to help me find good graffiti locations. After shooting around John's apartment and some old warehouses along the river, John remembered this abandoned area along the river. One of the HDR images that I took captured first place in our camera club competition. Later in the year, I shared some of my HDR photos from this graffiti area with professional nature photographer, Tony Sweet, and he wanted to go. Due to Tony's hectic workshop schedule, we were unable to go until November of 2008. Tony, Ed Heaton, a friend of ours and Doug Dinkle, a friend of Tony's from New York, made the trip and all captured some great images. Since the December trip, I have gone back to the site with Tony three additional times. Another professional nature photographer, John Barclay, and his friends Stan Silverman, Robert Atkins and Michel Taupin also joined us. It is really interesting to see nature photographers so caught up in photographing graffiti. The site offers so many possibilities for good photographs with each of us building on each others ideas, as we plan the next shoot. Most of the images captured are HDR images or HDR panoramas. What fun!

PCG: Describe what HDR does for the photograph.

RL: If you have ever photographed a room with lots of windows you have probably experienced images that capture detail in the room with the windows overexposed (very light) or properly exposed windows with a very dark room contents. HDR photography allows you to capture images containing detail in both the shadows and highlights, not possible with traditional techniques.

The technique can also be used to capture images of water falls, for example, during the middle of the day when the lighting provides a very wide contrast. Many of the images in the waterfalls gallery of my portfolio were captured using HDR techniques at varying times throughout the day.

PCG: How is that accomplished?

RL: HDR photography involves taking multiple images (3 to 9 depending on the scene as well as the capabilities of your camera) of the same scene at different exposures by keeping the aperture constant and changing the shutter speed. This is more easily done using the autobracket feature of your camera. The HDR images are best captured using a tripod. These images, varying from dark to light, are combined in software to provide an image with a very high dynamic range (high ratio of dark to light). Unfortunately, today's displays and printers are not capable of showing this HDR image. Tonemapping is used in HDR software such as Photomatix to represent this broad dynamic range on today's displays and printers, showing detail in both the shadows and highlights of the image. While there are several software products such as FDR Tools, Dynamic Photo HDR & Artizen HDR which provide similar capability, Photomatix seems to be most popular. An example, using 3 images is shown below:

Robert Lott | Photographer

The resulting tone-mapped image was generated from an HDR of the above 3 images and further processed in Aperture:

Robert Lott | Photographer

PCG: You seem to be an early adopter of this technique. Is the process widespread?

RL: The past year has shown a lot of growth in the number of photographers, both professional and amateur, that are using HDR techniques. We are beginning to see HDR images posted to sites such as Flickr, and HDR forums exist in many different venues. Existing software is maturing somewhat and new software is coming on the scene. The interest in HDR will eventually convince camera manufacturers to include some of this capability directly in their camera offerings. At least one monitor manufacturer offers a monitor capable of displaying HDR images (without first tonemapping), but they are very expensive at this time. One day we may even see printers capable of printing HDR images directly.

PCG: How is word getting out to the photography community?

RL: Many photography professionals are beginning to offer special HDR workshops or include some HDR work in their normal workshops. Several books on HDR have appeared in the past year and many professionals are authoring articles on HDR. Last November I, personally, presented an overview of HDR for the Chester County Camera Club of which I am a member. I also ran an HDR workshop in February and plan to offer more if there is sufficient interest.

I am using HDR for some of the images at our camera club monthly competitions and I have an HDR gallery as part of the Portfolio on my web site. So, I guess you can say we are spreading the word by example as well.

PCG: What equipment do you use?

RL: I use a Nikon D300 digital SLR with an assortment of both Nikon and Sigma lenses. I have a Nikon D200 which I use as backup. I have a very light weight Gitzo carbon fiber tripod with Markins ball head. My darkroom is a Macbook Pro laptop with multiple external hard drives for image storage. I use Apple's Aperture software for image manipulation along with several plug-in filters from Nik software. For HDR image processing I use Photomatix Pro.

PCG: What's ahead for you in terms of photography?

RL: In March, I retired from DuPont after 43 years of service. I plan to spend more time with my camera taking pictures. I also plan to participate in more gallery shows and other competitions as often as possible, as well as hold additional workshops. I am taking Red Cross training that will allow me to be deployed as a photographer during emergencies. Due to retirement, I am now able to pursue my photography professionally.

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