Clubbing At The Clubhouse – North Port, Florida

I have a property release for these photos so I’m able to share this interesting tale with you. If you are shooting ANY type of property, whether it’s food or a building, you better have a property release. This is just as important if you take someone’s photo, you better have a model release. These pieces of paper are the only legal iron door that you have for your rights. There are many templates that are out there, find one, modify it to your needs (even if you are a amateur or for commercial purposes) and have a lawyer look it over. When you are standing in front of a judge is not a good time to decide to get into this practice.

One of our clients called and asked if we could do a food shoot. The answer is always yes, even if you have no idea what you are doing. Luckily, I have shot many, many restaurants in the area so this was very familiar for me. We arrive at the location and I have it in my head that we are going to photograph food. It makes sense that I’m pulling out all of the gear that one would need for a food photography shoot. As I’m hauling in all of the gear for the shoot, one of the members of the administration asked if we would mind taking a “few shots” of the clubhouse. “Ugh…sure.” This is why I like to bring all of our stuff; you have no idea when your well laid plan, goes out the well laid window!

This location is a very prestigious golf and country club in North Port, Florida. They built the clubhouse on a hill so it can be seen from all over the property. Those of you who aren’t really familiar with Florida’s landscape, let me clue you in….it’s flat. So flat that I have no trouble getting radio stations 90 miles away. Here is why this is important. First of all for the first time the SUV had to upshift to go up the “hill” and, second there wasn’t any shade. It was about 5:00 in the afternoon with clear sky. Looking into the lobby, this place looked like a nice cave. The polished floors were gleaming and the windows at the other end were pouring in with light. Everything in-between was dark. Also, this was a two-story building and I was able to see both stories at the same time. I’m thinking to myself that this is going to be an interesting ride.

Like all other photographers, we are thinking inside, “What am I going to do?!” Everyone is looking at you and you better have a good answer and fast. I smiled and told them to give me a few minutes to get set up. I was informed that they paid a team of photographers to come in the week before and shoot the property for their marketing materials. This always helps, nothing like a little pressure to go along the way.

Looking at the scene, I knew it was going to be impossible to light the space with strobes and compete with the sun. This is where plan “B” come in. I slid all of the equipment in an empty room and grabbed my tripod, cable release and camera. I fitted the camera with a 12mm lens. This is one of Nikon’s better lenses, as it doesn’t distort too much around the edges. I fitted the camera on the tripod and started to think about composition. I could tell by the faces of the administration team that they were puzzled. I’m sure that they were thinking, “Where’s the rest of the equipment?” I explained that we are using a new piece of technology and this is all of the gear that we need for capture. They still didn’t look convinced, but they let us do our thing.

For the first area, I wanted to get the foyer, lobby, pro shop and dining room in all in the same scene. To make all of this fit, I was backed up against the entrance door. I set the camera up for HDR shooting. I don’t recommend shooting everything HDR but this is a great time to pull it out of the toolbox. I set the camera to aperture priority at f/16 and switched on the continuous shooting. I set my auto exposure bracketing (AEB) to nine frames in one-stop increments, as this is the max that the Nikon will do. I pressed the release down half way and checked what the camera focused on in matrix mode and turned off the focus. This will ensure that the camera doesn’t attempt to grow a brain in the middle of the sequence and lock focus on something else. I rattled off the nine frames and checked the histogram. I want to make sure that I have a gap on both sides to make sure that I have captured all of the dynamic range of the scene. It’s common with a situation like this that I need to take more. This is simple, I switch the camera to manual mode and all I change is the shutter speed. This way I know that everything will line up. Here’s an example, if my darkest exposure (-4) is 1/500 and I need a darker frame to capture all of the detail in the highlight areas, I speed up the shutter to 1/1000 and take another one. I check the histogram to see if I have a gap. I continue this process until I get the detail I need in the highlight and shadow areas. Here is what the finished lobby looks like.

 Please, come in.

As you can see from the photo, the dining room windows are at the center of the frame, and at the bottom center, is the doors to the pro shop. As far as merging goes, I have pretty much abandoned Photomatix. Photomatix is great for giving you a painterly or surreal look. Clients such as this one, aren’t going to be to happy when you show them a processed HDR with 20 different white balances, color casts, halos, and the softness that Photomatix brings to the party. I have been using a new plug in for Lightroom. It works on “exposure blending”. The reason why I like this way of merging the frames together is that it doesn’t amplify noise and it doesn’t mess with the white balance. So far, this has been my go to for realistic HDR’s. After the plug in does it’s thing, I still wasn’t happy with two areas. The first area that I thought could use a boost was the windows. Here is where the extra frames that I took will come into play. I took the darkest frame that I had and layer masked it back into the HDR in Photoshop. At first, this looks absolutely horrible. After all of the masking is done, all I need to do is lower the opacity until it feels right. I don’t want it to look so dark that it doesn’t seem natural. I usually leave the window areas a little lighter than the rest of the scene. This is the way I saw it while I was there.

The other area that I thought that needed some help was the pro shop. This was still a bit darker than I would have liked. I used the same method described above however; I used the lightest frame that I had. After it was masked in, I lowered the opacity. This pretty much fixed any of the exposure areas. Finally, I looked around and thought it would look nicer if I get rid of some of the emergency lights, speakers and miscellaneous caps that were on the ceiling. This was a fairly easy task with the patch tool in Photoshop. Just to give it a once over I ran it through the lens correction filter to check that the columns were straight.

 Doors to the course.

This was processed the same way as the lobby shot. I liked how the lamps took on this look as I tilted the camera. Also, using a wide angle lens such as this also makes the space look much bigger than it really is. If you are wondering, a mask job like this takes quite awhile. I like to zoom in at 1,600% at the pixel level and get everything as close as possible. In the end, if the client is happy, the check will come.

 How many for dinner?

For this scene, I tried something different. I decided not to mask in all of the windows. I noticed that the areas under the table needed a little light. I could sit there and mask in a lighter frame and make everything perfect. In a business, time is money. This is where the power of Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) comes in. I opened the file in ACR and opened up the exposure just a bit. I also used the recovery slider to help wrestle in the detail in the windows. For the darker areas, wait for it…….the fill light slider. I moved this over quite a bit and it was as if I let the ambient space with a strobe. I used the tone tab to create a slight contrast curve and sharpened it in Nik’s Sharpener Pro and I was done. Total time spent, five minutes. I have seen photos in magazines that look like this and this would probably also pass without a lot of effort.

This is probably the most challenging type of photography. Anytime there is a window involved, you better put on your photography helmet because it’s going to be a bumpy ride. I have had great results with photographing spaces where I don’t have to shoot out the window. This is my first option. Here is another little tidbit, not all HDR programs process the same way. Download a few as most have a trial period and see which one works best for you. Don’t be afraid to use a product that is not “main stream”.

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


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