There’s something amazing about a building which is still standing after nearly 1000 years. This is St. John’s Chapel in the White Tower…in the Tower of London. This image is from 3 handheld exposures — part HDR, part composite. The dynamic range was extreme here with the dark shadows and the bright light streaming in the windows.
Those of you with siblings probably remember putting your finger right next to one of them and taunting with “not touching” — frustrating both that sibling and parents who got to hear the complaining from the one being almost being touched. The kids sometimes like to join in my photo fun, especially when they get to goof off in them. I “sold” the concept for this shot to my son and he liked the idea and was patient enough to sit for a few shots. My goal was to try out a simple composite like this in preparation for a future photo I have in mind. If it’s not obvious, the subjects are the same son with a different shirt on.
This was really simple. Lighting is just the room’s ambient. [Update...I'm thinking I actually used an on-camera flash pointed back at the wall behind me. That's the only way I'd have that glare on the couch. I'll check the photo's exif sometime soon.] I put the camera on a tripod and didn’t move it between shots. Since I planned to composite two images I sat my son on the coffee table rather than the sofa. The wrinkles and creases made on the sofa in the different seating positions might be too difficult to merge in the composite. I took a shot with my son on the left side then used that picture (on the camera’s LCD) to help position my son’s finger in the second shot. In Photoshop I used one layer as the background and masked in my son from the second layer — very simple. I gave the final image some extra contrast, etc…just played around until I get something I thought was fun.
On a recent evening I dropped my daughters off at the IMAX theater downtown and decided to poke around with the camera while waiting for them. I had in mind a particular shot of the Capitol (which is only a few blocks away from the IMAX). The planned shot was one of the Capitol’s reflection on another building. I had been inspired to get this planned shot after noticing the reflection on our drive home from the Texas Longhorn volleyball matches. In these drive-by glimpses it seemed like such a cool place for a shot, not so much in person though. It turned out not to be compelling at all and I never even put the camera up to my eye when I arrived at the spot.
While trekking around I noticed this a puddle in the parking lot above and decided to get some images of the Capitol in the reflection. While shooting a car approached at one point. I realized that if I stayed where I was the car would be forced to drive through the puddle, messing up my glassy reflection. So, I quickly grabbed the tripod and backed away to allow the car to go around the water. Turns out it was a security guard and I think I aroused his suspicions after grabbing my stuff and running off a bit. He quizzed me a bit but was satisfied that I was up to no harm and let me continue.
The shot above was a single exposure which was tweaked a bit in Lightroom. I shot this with several apertures — f/16 in hopes of awesome starbursts from the lights (f/22 was beyond my 30-second manual exposure, I did not have my remote along, and I was not going to hold my shutter button in bulb mode), f/2.8 in case I liked the bokeh of the background. I decided that I liked the background (parking lot) mostly in focus to make it clear what the scene was about.
The following shot started life as a 7-exposure HDR but I bet I masked in enough from the original exposures to make it more of a composite in the end.
[Yes, I know the more proper title may be "To Tonemap or Not to Tonemap" but it just doesn't sound as good]
HDR is fun — a downright blast I’d say. It’s very easy to get caught up in it to the point where you (1) always bracket your shots and (2) always tonemap in Photomatix or similar software. Why? The images are often stunning.
Lately I’m finding more and more high-dynamic-range situations where tonemapping isn’t my preferred option. Take, for example, these exposures of 6th Street in Austin taken on a photowalk organized by Alex Suarez during SXSW. I wanted to tone down the intensity of some of the lights yet show detail in other areas.
After tonemapping, I got this:
I played with combinations of settings and some were better than others. In the end though, no tonemapping settings produced an image which I was personally happy with. I decided to start with my center exposure as the base layer and see what I could do with it. I rather like the final result and I’ll explain below how I processed it. I’m sure there are better ways to do this but frankly I’m a CS4 novice and this fits in my current skill set.
Here’s the short description of what I did: I started with the layer which contained the normal (“0″) exposure on top. I placed the -2 exposure underneath, created a layer mask and blended the darker layer into some of the blown-out areas (neon signs for example). I darkened a few other spots according to my taste as well. Using the same masking process I blended in parts of the +2 exposure to bring out some detail in the shadows — went very easy on this because I still wanted this to look like a night shot under the streetlights. I also played with all the layers to get the look I wanted with the moving traffic.
Next, I had to do something with the people on the sidewalk. Ideally I would have taken them from the normal exposure but there was too much motion blur. The only acceptable exposure from this standpoint was the -2, but the subjects were far too dark. I simply duplicated the -2 layer and gave it some treatment — bumped up the exposure, played with the contrast, etc. — in order to make the sidewalk and people roughly match the normal exposure. This allowed me to blend them in reasonably and obtain the (roughly) still look I wanted. I also used that layer to touch up a few other areas. One of the guys in the foreground still ended up without an arm…but I worked with what I had and he was moving in all the exposures
Of course I finished off with curves, sharpening, etc.
So, that’s it…I hope you like the shot and I also hope I’ve inspired some simple non-HDR experimentation. I’d love to hear your comments, particularly related to what approach you might have taken to process a shot like this.