Recently, I had the pleasure of introducing some of my photography students to Spanish Point in Osprey, Florida. With my photography classes, I like to split the classroom time with actual fieldwork. This is where the problems and questions are going to arise. The only bothersome part of the day was that it was 95 degrees out with humidity at 90%. Some call it summer in Florida, I like to call it a sauna. Either way, we were all in it to win it. Everyone was a great trooper and we managed to see everything that was there. Since this was a Photography 101 class, we focused on how aperture, ISO and shutter speed all come together to create a proper exposure for a photograph. I also took my camera gear, when I’m teaching I usually don’t as this time is reserved for students.
Here was my sideline experiment while we were going around. I have a HDR class coming up and I wanted to get some more material to play with. There are many structures on the property and this is a great place to capture some scenes for HDR photography. Our first stop was a church called “Mary’s Chapel”. This little church was built around the turn of the century. The inside is very quaint; it has wonderful stained glass windows and wooden pews. I was setting up my tripod and it wasn’t long when I was asked how to photograph this space. It was DARK and had no electrical lighting. The only available light was coming through the windows and the open door behind us. Even to get a straight shot, you would need a tripod and use a long exposure. This is what we did and everyone got a nice photo. I set my camera to exposure bracketing and rattled off nine shots from dark to light. Here is what the final photo looks like.
You will notice that all of my HDR’s look realistic. Working with magazines, I have to produce HDR photos that don’t look like HDR photos. Confused yet? Me too. Oh, by the way, as I mentioned that there wasn’t any electrical lighting in this space. Well, guess what. There wasn’t any air conditioning either! After five minutes inside, I looked as if I just stepped out of the shower. It was a little warm. Anyway, I have been trying a new plug in for Lightroom that renders an HDR photo using “exposure blending” instead of “tone mapping” (think Photomatix). I had heard of other pro photographers using this for their interior photos, as it didn’t shift the color and was very easy to use. I paid the $10 and installed it. I loaded my +4, +2, 0, -2, and -4 exposures in Lightroom and launched the plug in. I pressed the process button as there really wasn’t too much adjustment available. I see this as a good thing as it doesn’t let you get into trouble as fast. A few moments later, it was finished. I was amazed; it was really close to what I had seen with my eyes when I was there. The only issue that I had was with the windows. They were a little blown out for my taste, but this is an easy thing to fix if you have Elements 9 or any version of Photoshop. I loaded the finished HDR in Photoshop CS5. Then I opened my -4 exposure that I originally captured. A few minutes later and with a layer mask, I had the windows just where I wanted them. The -4 was way to dark when I composited it together. I ended up adjusting the opacity of the “dark window” layer to 40% and I was off to the races.
The next stop on our outing was the old citrus packinghouse that is on the bay. This was the main income for the family when they lived here a hundred years ago. The packinghouse is walled with old tools and literature on how this place used to operate back in the day. In the corner, I noticed that there were some old boards left over. I thought that these looked interesting, so I set up the camera on the tripod and took another bracketed set. Here is the final version of the scene.
As we moved on we came upon the boathouse. With light coming in from all directions, I thought this might be another great scene for HDR. I was surprised how close the plug in got the rendered results to what I had seen when I was there. All this needed was a little contrast adjustment and sharpening to finish it off.
Up the hill was the main house. For me this was going to be the main event, the most difficult type of photography, interiors where you can see outside and inside at the same time. The volunteer that was overlooking the property was very accommodating and let us in. This structure was also built at the turn of the century, but this structure has been fitted with AIR CONDITIONING! YAY! By this time in the day, this meant a lot. A few of us ventured into some of the different rooms and started firing away. I especially liked one of the bedrooms that was upstairs as it looked like it was a young boys room at one time. So here we are, open curtains and a dark interior. There are two different ways to handle a scene like this. First, you can light the room to the same light level as the light outside with strobes or flashes. This is usually how this is done in all of the real estate magazines. Or, you can try it with HDR, the HDR option is quicker on the capturing end and takes longer on the processing. If using strobes, it takes a little longer on the set up during capture, but once it’s all set up, when you press the shutter button you are basically finished. You have to pick your poison. As before I set up my tripod and took my nine exposures. I was again pretty amazed with what the software had come with, even with a hands off approach. For this scene, I thought it looked ok without layering in a darker window as this is what I saw when I was there.
I guess back then it was common to build the kitchens off the main house. I would guess that since there wasn’t any air conditioning that this might have been a way to keep from heating up the main house. This was the same deal as the bedroom, only it was a kitchen. As I processed this scene, I thought the windows could use a little boost. Like the church, I pulled in my -4 exposure and masked it with the merged HDR photo.
If you get a chance, stop by Spanish Point in Osprey. It’s a neat place with a lot of history. The admission is cheap and you will get your moneys worth. The grounds are VERY photographer friendly and tripods are allowed. All I recommend is that you go during the cooler months.
I’m looking into another piece of HDR processing software and when I have experimented with it, I will post some images for your review. HDR has had a bad name for quite some time, however I think that it’s slowly coming around to being viewed as another tool in the photographer toolbox.
Until next time…
Keep Your Glass Clean