A couple of days ago, I posted a bunch of photographs from the ROT Rally Parade that took place last week, here in Austin. The light was good and I shot it all handheld but the parade ended after sundown and the darkness was approaching quickly. My friends and I broke out our tripods and started shooting long exposures with the benefit of a stable base. But how do we catch the range of light from dark to light? Having a tripod will allow for longer exposures but it won’t improve the dynamic range. Look at the scene above. We got some nice looking lights in the marquee but if I expose for them, the foreground motorcycles will look like dark, shapeless hunks of metal. I won’t be able to see any details. Of course, if I properly expose for the motorcycles, the lights on the Paramount theater will be blown out. What to do? One technique I use is HDR, high dynamic range photography. Yeah, I know. A lot of photographers have visceral reactions against HDR. Some have embraced it but most seem to hate it. But I’m here to tell you that not all HDRs have to look like “Technicolor Vomit”, to quote my friend Kirk Tuck. HDR is a tool, a technique, and it can be applied subtly or be amped up. Like many techniques it can be done well or not so well.
I’ve always been fairly subtle in the use of HDR, though the level of subtlety varies on the subject and my “artistic mood”. And I’ve really decreased the number of HDRs that I do; I now only use it when it’s warranted. I have to admit that early on, I used it quite a bit but as my photography matured, I’ve decreased its usage. Or maybe I’ve gotten more lazy. You see, doing HDRs properly does require more effort on the image capture side as well as post processing. In this case, I used an Olympus E-P3 and set the auto-bracketting mode to 5 shots with 1 stop in between. I put the camera on a tripod and mashed the shutter down until the camera took all 5 photographs. Post processing wise, I used 3 software packages to achieve the result that I like. Like many people, I use Photomatix Pro to do the initial HDR but then I use layer blending techniques in a program called Pixelmator, which is a poor man’s version of Photoshop. Finally, I do color correction, saturation adjustments and sharpening using Aperture 3.
The result is, I hope, an image that looks believable and matches more or less what people saw on that Friday night. This is the effect I was going for, but you have artistic license here. There is no correct way to do this. Some people like to process their photos to look more surrealistic and you can do this and still have a beautifully done image. For my next post, I’m going to get a bit wild with my HDR. A nice counterpoint to today’s sedate image.
Please make sure to click on the photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.