Glen Avon Falls, Beaver River, North Shore of Lake Superior. Shot with a Nikon D3x and a Nikkor 17-35mm lens at 17mm. See story for capture details.
Hi everyone and welcome to today’s post. Today I am returning to Glen Avon Falls on the Beaver River. This is the companion shot to the composition I posted on August 22 and was taken the following morning from the top of the rock chute and just below the upper falls. On this day a light morning mist filled the river below the lower part of the falls and diffused the sunlight rising just behind the large rock on the left. I want to talk about this image in regards to some recent discussions I have heard concerning HDR photography. So if you don’t want to hear me get on my soap box then please stop reading here.
As a former 4 x 5 shooter I used to compose my shots and expose for one take. I had to use whatever means necessary ranging from composition to use of filters to get the shot in one take. Even today, as I have professed in this blog, I am still kind of a one shot guy. Get it right in camera can save hours of time in post production. But I have found that digital offers me a far greater opportunity to “craft” a shot that quite honestly would be nigh on impossible to do in one take. The above image is a prime example. I am shooting almost into the sun with a misty, shrouded fog, dark rocks, and rolling water. In terms of exposure I could get close but not where I needed to be to hold detail in the rocks, water and the mist. The solution is to expose for each and combine the files. My argument is that this shot is an example of HDR-high dynamic range photography. I am extending the capture range of the shot, which could not be covered by the sensor, through multiple exposure brackets.
HDR photography in its broadest terms is generally exhibited through what I might refer to as “wacked-out, over-processed, haloed, grunge” shots where multiple exposures are cooked in an HDR software. If it sounds like I don’t like this style then the answer is yes. I do enjoy looking at those that are well crafted but for the most part much of what I see is akin to velvet paintings. And before anyone jumps on me for that statement please understand that I do not begrudge anyone their art or practice thereof. If it makes you happy then I am all for it. There is plenty of room at the table for all of us to share what we do and love.
But the recent argument I heard, and I won’t say where to protect the innocent, suggested that the concepts behind HDR are not legitimate, partly because it is associated with the over-cooked look” or the “I did not capture it in one take argument” is puzzling to me. Is the fact that I shot and combined three exposures to craft the above image mean it is not a legitimate photograph? In my honest opinion it is legit. This photograph is not over-cooked, or wacked-out through over processing in an HDR program. It is true to my vision for this image and represents what I saw and experienced that morning. It is in fact a high dynamic range shot crafted through multiple exposures. HDR software such as Photomatix, Oloneo, and even Photoshop HDR are excellent programs to help you extend the dynamic range of a shot. All of them allow you, the photographer, to make processing decisions based on your perceived vision of the image. Wack it out if you want or keep it natural. Its your decision. The Glen Avon shot I posted on August 22 was processed in Photomatix. That shot, processed in Photomatix’s Fusion engine, is not over-cooked, in my opinion, but rendered in a natural look to create an image based on my vision. Today’s image was created through layer blends in Photoshop. Both images have a similar look but were achieved using different tools from my toolbox.
The argument that goes along with this that I, or anyone else who shoots in this way, and does not get it right in camera, is either lazy or not skilled just floors me. This might be true for a percentage of shooters but I just don’t think it holds water. If I was lazy and not skilled I would take one shot in .jpg, let the camera make the decisions, and move on. The image above took planning. It was scouted and included test shots for compositional decisions. Then on the day of the shot I had to deal with the light, the water, compose the final composition, think about the foreground, the corners, how I envisioned the final image, processing decisions, color or black and white, and the list can go on. It is the same for all of the other skilled photographers I know who use these techniques. HDR capture and processing is but one tool in our kit. I don’t shoot everything this way but its there when I need it for difficult situations. But to say it is not legitimate because it was not captured in one take or is practiced by lazy, un-skilled photographers is just bunk. I will now stand down from my soapbox.
Technical Details: Three images were combined to make the final shot. Exposures were at 1/4, 1/2, and 1 second. The RAW files were processed in Lightroom and moved to Photoshop where I used layer masks to paint in the parts of the shot I wanted. Once I had the file components to my general satisfaction I made the conversion to black and white. Just so you know I envisioned the shot at capture as a black and white. From there it followed a typical path with curve layers for various parts of the image, dodging and burning, and a mid-tone contrast layer.
Walk in beauty.