Louisville Waterfront at Night

One of the difficulties inherent in shooting night scenes is the large dynamic range needed to capture the scene. The artificial light in the image is usually much brighter than the surrounding areas. When this occurs the highlights are blown out which is almost always in the street lights. This image is one such situation. I shot this image using a five shot bracket series from +2 through -2 stops. Even at that range the centers of the lights are blown out in this image.

My studies of my images at night have led me to adopt a wider range of exposures to offset this undesired effect. My current practice is to go as many as five stops underexposed if I encounter scenes that have large ares of manmade lighting such as this one. I watch my histogram very closely and underexpose until I see the right hand side move completely away from the end of the histogram. I have discovered that by doing that I can subdue the blow outs that occur in the lights themselves.

I merged the five exposures in NIK HDR Efex Pro and then used the default setting as my base to tone map it. I then tweaked the sliders until it was where I liked it and finally returned it to Photoshop CS5 to sharpen it using the unsharp mask tool.

Compositionally I framed the shot with the sunset in the right hand third of the frame in order to balance it with the waterfront on the left. The sky counterbalances the architecture and the complimentary colors of the deep blue sky and the orange waterfront create a harmonious whole.

My point in sharing this image is to show you that the conventional practice of using an automatic bracket set to shoot the scene is not always going to give you control of the entire dynamic range. By using the histogram as a tool to analyze the images in your HDR shoots you can take control and prevent blown highlights such as the street lights in this image.


4 thoughts on “Louisville Waterfront at Night

  1. Nice colouring and control.
    (A word of observation – I’ve occasionally entered my local photo club competitions and any architectural shots which don’t have vertical verticals usualy get marked down. You sound as if you have all the tools, and know how to use them, so I was wondering if iyou’d thought about using a little ‘skew’ transormation to bring the verticals in the picture square so to speak – just a thought.)

  2. Yes Stephen, I considered using the skew command but opted not to use it because it would cause cropping at the ends of the frame where I wasn’t willing to sacrifice that part of the composition. In addition to those considerations I have to say that I already like the way that the scene is out of camera.

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