At first glance, a picture of Barista’s coffee house hanging inside the downtown Tracy shop appears to be a painting by a local artist, but it’s not.

It’s a photograph.

The image was created using high dynamic range photography, and the artist is local amateur photographer Jim Haskell.

A fire captain with the Tracy Fire Department for 14 years, the 41-year-old said he has tinkered with semiprofessional photography since March 2011.

“I kind of got interested by a fluke,” he said. “I wanted a hobby. I needed something to do. I got a camera that I was not too happy with, and I thought, well, I should buy a new camera.”

Haskell went out and bought a Nikon DSLR D7000 digital camera and started experimenting with photos of his backyard trees and plants. But his first successful true HDR photo was that of the coffee shop exterior.

“I bought my camera down to Barista’s to learn more about it,” he said. “I was reading about HDR photography, and I said, I’m going to give this a shot.”

The result resembles a semi-surreal painting of the coffee shop’s exterior, right down to the ash-gray sidewalks, a parked royal blue pickup reflected in the windows and rust-colored leaves falling from the trees.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Ben Spragge, a barista at the shop.

He pointed out that the bicycle leaning against the lamppost in the picture is his.

“A little history of Barista’s,” he joked.

Barista’s owner Harish Patel said the picture is an intriguing conversation piece.

“I see customers’ reactions — ‘Beautiful’ and ‘How do you do it?’” he said. “My wife fell in love with it instantly.”

Haskell said he got a sense of what is possible with HDR photography when he first saw the website of photographer Trey Ratcliff in January. The website, www.stuckincustoms.com, showcases pictures Ratcliff has taken around the world in vibrant, surreal colors.

To make his painting-like photographs, Haskell said he meshes a series of five images of the same scene together. In that series, he said, is a top layer that is bright and overexposed, with a dark, underexposed image at the bottom layer and three moderate exposures in between. By using the programs Adobe Lightroom, Photomatix Pro, Tone Mapping and Photoshop, the photos are manipulated and transformed to Haskell’s liking.

“Every picture is treated different to craft its uniqueness,” he said. “Every picture is an experiment to see what is wonderful and magical.”

“I’m still learning, too, constant learning thing,” he said. “What I’m trying to do is achieve something that catches the eye, almost confuses the eye. Captures the light and adds dimension.”

However, not every picture looks good as a faux painting, he said. In portraits, for example, skin tones can be darkened too much. The best subjects, he said, are those that remain still, such as landscapes.

Since his first HDR shoot outside Barista’s on March 24, Haskell has focused his camera lens on fire engines, iconic buildings of Tracy and its water towers, Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, Central Valley barns, Hollywood, Venice Beach, Beverly Hills, classic cars — including his own 1967 Mustang — and, most recently, a stack of tires at Dell’Osso Farms in Lathrop.

“Anyone can do it,” he said. “It just takes the desire to learn something new.”

To date, he has taken more than a hundred photos, all of which are available for purchase $80 for a 12-by-18 inch print or $125 for a 24-by-36-inch print. Most can be viewed on the website www.flickr.com/photos/haskellimages, and anyone looking to buy a print can contact Haskell by email at haskell.images@yahoo.com.

• Contact Denise Ellen Rizzo at 830-4225 or drizzo@tracypress.com.

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