Sometimes you have to look no further than your own backyard for wonderful images. That was the case when I chose to explore Richmond, Virginia for my first blog post. Richmond is the only city in North America located on a whitewater river and offers spectacular photo opportunities along the James River. My goal this particular evening was to take advantage of the city skyline while exploring proper exposure. Dusk and dawn are great times for landscape photography, but varying light levels in the scene can still provide challenges.
This evening, the subject was automotive light trails along interstate 95 next to historic Main Street Train Station. The iconic clock tower next to the highway is the focal point in this image. It is rather common to hear photographers discuss their use of HDR (High Dynamic Range) software to create images with more color gamut. In complex photos, I have to agree that it can be a useful tool. In this photograph, however, we have three exposure points: the clock face, the sky, and the road surface.
My camera of choice is the Nikon D800, but even point and shoot cameras have enough dynamic range capability to capture the full reflected light from each of these exposure points. Now, we have three images, each point properly exposed. HDR software merges the information from all photographs, even if it is not needed. This can produce unrealistic areas in parts of the image. This photograph has clearly defined exposure points, so masks were used in my favorite editing program to reveal the properly exposed clock face, and the properly exposed sky. It was a bit of a surprise, while editing the image, when I viewed the histogram and realized that the sky and road surface were both properly exposed in the same image. Now, there were just two images to combine. After masking the clock face, the brush tool was used to slightly underexpose the sky and increase the contrast, highlighting the clouds.
And there you have the final photograph. Use the right tool for the job. In this instance, HDR would be like using a sledge hammer to drive a common nail. Use your camera meter to measure reflected light at different points in the scene. If the lighting is complex, HDR may be the way to go, but if the various light levels are clearly defined, masking may yield more realistic results.