Captain’s Chair

During my visit to Patriot’s Point in Charleston, SC, I snapped this picture of the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier captain’s chair.

Aircraft carrier captain’s chair. Post processed.

Seemingly an easy exposure enough, but with the bright sunlight, it created a wide dynamic range (range from the brightest pixel to the darkest pixel) that it poses a challenge for most digital cameras. How so, you ask? Take a look at the original exposure below.

The original exposure. Details of the ship’s bridge surrounding the captain’s chair were lost in the shadows.

You can see that while the out-the-window view of the Ravenel cable-stayed bridge is about the same as the post processed photo, the details of the ship’s bridge is almost completely lost in the shadows. Even large portions of the captain’s chair is lost. So how do you capture a photo like that in the first image above, that shows a balanced exposure from the outdoors to the indoor elements?
There are actually a number of techniques. You can:

  • Wait until the outdoor light balances that of the indoor level. For this, you would have to wait closer sunset or come back the next day around sunrise. This is not practical if you are on a tight schedule.
  • Take a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image. An HDR image is actually taken as a three or more bracketed exposures (over exposed, normal exposed, under exposed) and composited together in Photoshop or similar tool. This usually requires a tripod to ensure the composition remains exactly the same across all three images, to facilitate the compositing.
  • Use fill-in flash: You could use a flash to raise the light levels of the interior to better match that of the outdoor elements. This will work well for small spaces that can be easily lit up with your flash unit.
  • Or you can take advantage of the newer DSLR’s wide dynamic range to bring out the shadow details using a raw post processing software such as Adobe Lightroom. Ah, this is the technique discussed in this article. Read on…

To do this, follow these steps:
1. Set your DSLR to capture images in raw (or raw and jpeg). Raw files have much greater information that can be used to post process the image. In this case, raw files have greater dynamic range in exposure. In the case of my Nikon D600, it has 14-bit raw images stored as *.nef files. The price of capturing images in raw is that the file sizes are substantially larger than JPEG files. My 24 Megapixel Nikon D600 produces 25-26 Mbyte raw files.
2. Taking the exposure, set your exposure by optimizing for the brightest area of the image. In my example, that would be the out-the-window elements such as the river and Ravel bridge in the background. Let the other portions of the image fall as they may (underexposed).
3. Load the raw images into an image post processing tool such as Adobe Lightroom.

Step 3. Load the raw image processing tool such as Adobe Lightroom. This is how the exposure looks originally.

4. The first adjustment is to bump up the Fill Light setting until the shadow details are visible and tastefully balanced with your vision of the image. In the case of my image, I raised the Fill Light setting all the way up to 100 (maximum).  The more Fill Light is raised, the more noise will be introduced in the same shadow areas that are lightened. Minimizing the noise artifacts is the reason why you only want to use the minimum amount of Fill Light as possible to achieve your artistic vision. During this process, don’t worry about the bright areas becoming over exposed. (We will compensate for this in the next step.)

Step 4. Increase Fill Light setting to 100, to bring up the exposure in the shadow.

5. Next, use the Exposure setting to reduce the bright areas if they were over exposed from the Step 4 Fill Light adjustment. For my example, I reduced the exposure by -0.67 (effectively 2/3 of the stop) to bring down the outdoor elements. This of course lowers the exposure value of the entire image, so the shadow details start to fade back into shadow again.

Step 5. Lower the exposure to -0.67 (2/3 stop) to reduce the out-the-window exposure of the Ravenel bridge to normal. Bump up Clarity to +5, Vibrance +5, and Saturation +5.

6. Repeat steps #4 and #5 iteratively until you get the results that is most artistically pleasing. That’s it!

To finish things off, I frequently set the Clarity the +5, Vibrance to +5, and Saturation to +5 to give the images some punch, especially if I am using my all-purpose Nikon 28-300mm zoom lens, which can use that little extra punch every now and then. Of course, these settings are optional and are not germane to the Wide Dynamic Range post processing technique that I discuss here.

U.S.S. North Carolina aircraft carrier at Patriots Point (left, background) with Charleston Harbor Cruise (right, foreground).

I find this Wide Dynamic Range technique a quick way to capture tough exposures by taking advantage of the newer DSLR’s dynamic range, as captured by the camera’s raw file. It is easier than having to wait until sunset when the light is more even outdoor vs. indoors; quicker than taking HDR exposures and its HDR processing; more viable when you don’t have a tripod with you, or not allowed to use one; or when you don’t have a flash unit on hand to balance the light. The trade off is more noise in the shadow areas. But otherwise, Wide Dynamic Range exposure is yet another technique of Harvesting the Light to realize your artistic vision.

[(Ô] HtL.

Biltmore Hotel

We visited the famous Biltmore Hotel in Coral Cables, Florida during our weekend vacation to South Florida last month.

Biltmore hotel

Biltmore hotel. Nikon D600 with Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G AF-S lens @ f/9, 1/200 sec, iso 400, 14mm. Lightroom post processing: exposure +0.33, fill light +60, vibrance +10, saturation +10.

We arrived late in the day for a quick self-guided tour. It was about an hour prior to sunset. The clouds were low in the horizon, acting as a light diffuser for the low setting sun and providing the soft, low contrast lighting for these architecture shots.

Biltmore hotel

View of the Biltmore hotel from the center terrace. Taken @ f/16, 1/320 second, iso 1600 @ 14mm. Lightroom post-processing: fill light +60.

Beautiful light for a beautiful subject.

Biltmore hotel courtyard

Biltmore hotel courtyard. Taken @ f/16, 1/125 sec, iso 1600, 14mm. Lightroom post processing: exposure -0.4, fill light +75.

I particularly liked the arch ceiling in the main lobby. Beautiful.

Biltmore hotel lobby

Biltmore hotel lobby. Taken @ f/5, 1/50 sec, iso 1250, 14mm, hand held. Lightroom post processing: exposure +1.25, fill light +20, vibrance +10, saturation +10.

It’s definitely worth a visit when you are in South Florida. Just park (for free) in the parking lot on the West side, walk in and have a look around. They do offer guided tours on Sunday afternoons at 1:30, 2:20, and 3:30 p.m. Call the hotel at (855) 311-6903 or email general@biltmorehotel.com.

Note to fellow photographers: With the Nikon D600’s excellent dynamic range, I used Lightroom in post processing to pull out the shadow details using the fill light setting, as noted in the picture captions above. When increasing the fill light, watch the overall exposure and compensate accordingly, as the fill light setting can cause portions of the image to be overexposed. For the interior shot of the lobby arch ceiling, I bumped up the vibrance and saturation slightly to give the colors a slight pop without over doing it.

[(Ô] HtL | like us on facebook

At the End of the Rainbow

Thunderstorms in Florida in the summer is a daily occurrence. Nothing unusual. This storm was a little bigger than usual as there were flood warnings throughout town. Just before sunset, however, it let up a little bit, enough for the sun to peak through before setting. And then this magic happened…

Rainbow after the storm

Rainbow after the storm. Nikon D600 with Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G AF-S lens @ 14mm focal length, 1/80 sec, f/4.0, iso 200.

Behind-the-Scenes

After dinner (though not immediately right after), I was taking a dip in the pool while the rain was still coming down as a drizzle. After just a few minutes of my being in the pool, the evening sun peeked through the storm clouds low on the horizon and rendered the eastern sky a pretty orange glow. “Hmmm”, I thought to myself. I wonder if the light drizzle would render a rainbow. I turn around and looked east. Voila! There is the rainbow. I contemplated whether I should immediately get out of pool and grab my camera (as opposed to finishing up my swim before doing so). After a few seconds of hesitation, I got out, dried myself, and mounted the Nikon 14-24mm ultra wide angle lens on my Nikon D600 DSLR and went out to my front yard and began to snap away in the light drizzle. I took care not to get the front element of my lens too wet. The drizzle was not a problem with my camera and lens, as the D600 DSLR body has dust and moisture seals, as is the fully gasketed professional grade Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G AF-S lens.

Caution: Take care when shooting the rain with consumer DSLR bodies and lenses, as they do not include the same level of dust and weather seals and could result in premature failure.

In hindsight, I am very glad I took the opportunity, because in less than five minutes, the sun was lost behind the storm clouds again.

Tip: Never pass up a “Kodak moment”. They don’t always come, but when they do, they would surely go, and go quickly. Be prepared and seize the moment.

Post Production with Lightroom

"Rainbow after the storm" Lightroom post processing

“Rainbow after the storm” Lightroom post processing

I usually take pictures in raw format in order to get the most post processing flexibility from my images. In Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3, I used these settings:

  • temp (white balance) = 3954 (lowered from 4650, to get bluer sky)
  • exposure = 0 (unchanged)
  • fill light = 40 (from 0, to get more shadow details)
  • brightness = +50 (LR default)
  • contrast = +25 (LR default)
  • saturation = +40 (get to richer colors)
Basically, I used Lightroom to bring out the beauty of the colorful rainbow and details in the picture particularly in the darker areas of the image. I achieved this by tweaking the white balance (temp setting) to get a bluer sky and increased the saturation to get a more colorful rainbow. I increased fill light to bring out the shadow details. For comparison, here is the “before image” prior to processing.
Rainbow after the storm, original.

Rainbow after the storm, original.

Kind of gray and drabby, huh?

Finally, when I generate the JPEG image for exporting, I always choose the resolution of the target image (in this case 1000 pixels on the long side for this blog), choose 85% quality and sharpen for it the screen.

[(Ô] HtL | like us on facebook

Architecture: Florida Hospital East Orlando

The thought of hospitals conjures up all kinds of memories and emotions. For me, I am reminded of emergency rooms and urgent care and anxiety; birthing rooms and newborn nurseries and the overwhelming excitement and love for my newborn children, nieces and nephews; operating rooms and intensive care units and the worries that come with such situations. Surely, hospitals and the attending physicians, nurses, staff, and volunteers play an important part in our lives.

As buildings, hospitals are very functional. Some even have architectural flair. While function take precedence over form, there is still form. For example, take the new addition to East Orlando Florida Hospital. The new building is built with a gentle curve, serving as an architecture point of interest for the facility and a compelling architecture photographic subject.

Florida Hospital East Orlando is architected with a gentle curve.

Florida Hospital East Orlando is architected with a gentle curve. Taken with Nikon D600 with Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 AF-S lens @ 14mm focal length, 1/80 sec, f/13, iso 100.

In the shot above, I composed the flower bed into the bottom of the frame to give the image some foreground interest. Serendipitously, though it was late morning, the sun was positioned behind the building, leaving the building evenly lit with indirect light. I framed the sun into the shot to add a sun flare that diagonally stretches across the image (as if to remind us of the flowers’ need of the morning light). I cropped the original image using Adobe Lightroom with a cinematic widescreen aspect ratio of 2.4:1 for an epic effect, re-composing the flower bed in the bottom third of the frame (using the composition rule of thirds). Other Lightroom settings included temp 5333, +0.33 exposure compensation, recovery 100, contrast +50, vignetting -10. View the larger 1200 x 500 pixel image.

click to see larger photos

Playing with geometric shapes. Taken with Nikon D600 with Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 AF-S lens @ 14mm, 1/200 sec, f/11, iso 200.

In the shot above, I played with the geometric shapes. I composed the rectangular directory sign at an angle allowing my Nikon 14-24mm ultra wide angle zoom lens to dramatically distort it as a foreground compositional element. Its angular shape offers a sharp contrast to the curved building in the background. I cropped the bottom of the original picture to re-compose the elements in post production to a 16:9 aspect ratio. (Other Lightroom settings included temp 6253, +1 exposure compensation, recovery 100, contrast +50.) View the larger 1200 x 675 pixel image.

click to see larger photos

Nikon D600 with Nikon 50mm f/1.4 AF-S lens @ 1/800 sec, f/2.8, iso 100.

For context, the pull-back shot below shows the relative positions of the flower bed and the directory sign relative to the curved hospital building.

click to see larger photos

Nikon D600 with Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 AF-S lens @ 14mm, 1/100 sec, f/11, iso 200.

The point of this blog post: you never know where you will find your next architecture photographic subject. While of the most functional buildings can serve to inspire (and give hope) to its staff and occupants, these same buildings can be a source of inspiration for the amateur photographer. See larger pictures from this article.

[(Ô] HtL | like us on facebook