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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.
I really like shooting panoramas. I’m President of the Louisville Photographic Society which has been in existence since 1941. One of the reasons for the club’s longevity is that each month there is a member competition which fosters a level of commitment to continual improvement by the members. Each year the board meets and decides on the categories for each year’s competition. We try to evenly split the categories between camera skills and subject matter so that our members learn new skills or explore areas that they may have never tried before.
For me the competition category of Panoramas was one of those areas that I hadn’t pursued until challenged by the club competition. I started studying how to shoot them and in so doing I fell in love with the process.
For the shots in this post I shot 5 frames at approximately 30 degrees apart. I also shot 5 frames at each position so that I could produce HDR frames before merging them in Photoshop CS5. I liked the process so much that it has become second nature to me when I see a scene that would benefit from being shot in panorama.
Though both of these final panoramas were shot on the same evening they have completely different overall feels. I shot the top one just after the sun had slipped below the horizon which captured the warmth and fantastic color of sunset. When composing this shot I wanted to get as many of the Ohio River bridges in the frame as possible.
The second image was taken a few minutes later after the sky had begun to cool down and the sun was much further below the horizon which made for a much cooler overall feel to the scene. I use a free iPhone app “Darkness” which tells me when sunset occurs as well as when dusk occurs. Since using this app I’ve learned that there is nearly a full hour after sunset when there is still enough light in the sky to produce good images.
It goes without saying that I use a tripod since I’m shooting HDR as well as Panorama but another key factor in getting these images to work is that I shoot at a low ISO. On my Nikon D90; ISO 200 is the setting I use. I always shoot in RAW because the amount of data in the image is so much larger than is possible with Jpeg.
My processing for these images was to merge them in Photoshop CS5 and save them as TIFF files. After that I took them into NIK HDR Efex Pro for Tone Mapping etc. Then they went back to Aperture 3 for final sharpening and output.
Today’s shot is stitched together from two frames I shot from Waterfront Park. I used Photoshop CS5 to stitch them together and then finished the image in NIK HDR Efex Pro. I like the way the silhouettes of the bridges give structure to the scene.
I like shooting panoramas because they allow me to include so much more of the scene than one image usually can accomplish. Panoramas take a little more time to setup and shoot but the end results are almost always greater than I could accomplish by simply cropping into a single image to produce the panorama format.