Panoramic HDR Sunsets Over Louisville Waterfront

Snow Cover in Waterfront Park HDR Panorama
Panoramic Snow Scene of Louisville Waterfront Park and Louisville Skyline at Sunset in HDR

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This panorama was captured yesterday evening as another winter storm was approaching Louisville. I wanted to shoot in Louisville Waterfront Park while it was covered in snow to capture the feeling of winter there. Louisville hasn’t had a winter with this much snow in many years and I wanted to get as much as I could before the temperature changes and it melts. I was walking up the access ramp to the Big Four bridge but didn’t take time to set up my tripod when I shot a three frame bracket set of +2, 0 and -2 EV exposures at f11. That decision was made in order to shoot quickly and get as many photos as possible before I set up my tripod on the bridge itself and the light faded. In retrospect I should have opened up my aperture because the overexposed frames were blurred due to the long shutter speed needed to capture the low light levels in the scene.

Once I started processing the bracket sets I discovered that all my handheld frames that were overexposed were blurred from camera movement. This left me with only an underexposed exposure and a normal exposure to work with for my HDR merger. I decided to use only those two exposures, -2 and 0 EV, in NIK HDR Efex Pro 2 and see what sort of results I would get. Much to my surprise the merged files had great detail in the shadow and highlight areas even though I wasn’t using any overexposed frames. I merged the two frames, applied the Balanced preset, adjusted the Detail slider to Accentuated and the Drama slider to Deep and saved the resulting HDR files back into Aperture 3. After I had done that for the nine frames I shot for the panorama I took them into Photoshop CS5 and ran the Automate/Photo Merge to create my panorama. After they were merged as a panorama I flattened the layers into a single image which I then returned to Aperture 3 for final adjustment and cropping.

Snow Covered Waterfront Park at Sunset in HDR
Snow Covered Waterfront Park at Sunset in HDR

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I followed the same basic procedure for this image except that I used my tripod which gave me a bracket set for each shot of +2, 0 and -2 EV exposures. I again used NIK HDR Efex Pro 2 to merge each section of the panorama and applied the Balanced preset with the Detail slider set to Accentuated and the Drama slider set to Deep. I then took all eleven merged HDR images into Photoshop CS5 and created the panorama. After that it was back into Aperture 3 for final adjustments to Saturation, Luminance, White Balance, Definition, Contrast, Mid-Contrast and Sharpening before making my final crop.

Snow Covered Waterfront Park at Sunset in HDR
Sunset over a Snow Covered Louisville Waterfront Park and the Ohio River in HDR

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The last image is another tripod mounted series of bracketed images shot with +2, 0 and -2 EV exposures and merged in NIK HDR Efex Pro 2 with the same preset settings as the other two images in this post. I followed the same processing steps using Photoshop CS5 and Aperture 3 to create the final image. I moved a little further north on the Big Four Bridge when I shot this set to give it a different perspective too.

Though I was able to salvage the handheld images I shot by discarding the over-exposed frames I still prefer to have a three frame bracket set of +2, 0 and -2 EV exposures to work with whenever I’m creating HDR images.



13 thoughts on “Panoramic HDR Sunsets Over Louisville Waterfront

  1. My take on this web post and finished photos is that there are many ways to look at this.
    Is photo realism really meaningful or should we remain constricted to the limits of a single digital image.
    Is the photographer’s status successful and his methods generally accepted in his market.
    Is the viewer being forced to see more than his eyes would see if he or she were actually at the scene.
    Many hold that less is more when using HDR methods with multiple photographs.

    Personally, I like the results as an artistic expression of the photographer’s visual experience. The works as shown
    do have acceptance of most of the general public.

    Purists, on the other hand, would not use the methods shown, but would return several times over time to catch
    the perfect light of the depicted scenes.

    Each to his own, and the devil may care who is correct.

    1. As an artist who uses photography as my primary medium and I happen to love to use vivid colors in my work. I want my viewers to experience the scene as I saw it when I captured the image. Everyone sees the world through their own experiences and influences and these images are my personal visions.

      I am not concerned with meeting the expectations of the so called purists or those who claim to dislike anything done in HDR. As for capturing the “perfect” light that too is a matter of personal taste not a rigid definition. I feel that the perfect light is the light when I release the shutter; as a photographer I believe that my concept for the image is realized when I take the photo and ultimately process the final image.

  2. Beautiful images, Nick. The large photos show lots of detail and give a very realistic feel of “being there.” Are your final shots 8-bit JPEGs or something else? Thanks.

    1. Liz, Thanks for your kind comments about the realistic nature of my images. As for my final output I export them as 1920 X 1080 at 72 DPI when they are going to the web. I do that to discourage downloading them for personal use or piracy. I was advised to use those settings by several web design professionals that I meet with in a local WordPress Meetup group.

      I export them as full size TIFF, 300 dpi files when they are going to my printer.I generally print my work on aluminum using dye-sublimation in order to maintain the brilliance I see when I edit them. I use whatever file format my client needs if they are going to print or other reproduction.

  3. Nick, as a novice photographer, I am sometimes quite disappointed when I download my pictures and they don’t live up to what my eyes saw/brain registered. The colors are never as bright and sharp in the digital file as they were in person. Your eye for a scene, the vividness of your photos and the hdr process you use all work together to bridge that gap for me. I love these shots!

    1. Thanks Maggie. I know how frustrating it can be to shoot something and then when it shows up on your screen it isn’t as you remember it. Landscapes and sunsets are tough to shoot under ideal conditions due to the way cameras are designed to meter the scene and determine the exposure. That is why I am willing to spend the time it takes to shoot and process in HDR.

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