photography from the ground up

Harrison Wright Falls: a case for HDR imaging

This is an image of Harrison Wright Falls in Ricketts Glen State Park. Wright was a friend of R. B. Ricketts for whom the park is named. It, along with Adams Falls, is considered to be the most photogenic of all the waterfalls in Ricketts Glen.

Photographing the waterfalls in Ricketts Glen can be a challenge: the canopy of old growth hardwood trees can be as thick as a jungle in places, but elsewhere, the cover opens up allowing the sunlight to penetrate and illuminate the scene. Such is the case at Harrison Wright Falls, and as any photographer knows, this combination of highlights and shadows can make it difficult to make a good exposure.

While photographing this scene, I used a 3 stop neutral density filter to darken things enough to allow me to use a slow shutter speed. This renders the moving water as a silky blur, and in this case causes the falls to look almost like a sheer curtain. All of these measures achieved my goal of capturing the waterfall in an aesthetically pleasing way, but the shadows were almost totally blocked up, and there were several hot spots on the falls. Here is the image as initially processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

I decided that this image would be a good candidate for an HDR image (I had bracketed at least three exposures for each photo I took on this trip). I used Photomatix Pro, and tone mapped one using the details enhancer feature, and made another using the exposure fusion tool. I still could not get what I was looking for, so, starting with the original image, I created a second layer in Photoshop, and copied the exposure fusion HDR image to it, and then I adjusted the opacity of the new layer until I found what I was looking for. The result is the first image seen above.

There are many photographers out there who say that this kind of manipulation is not real photography, that it does not render an image that is true to the scene that the eye beheld. But, the eye has the ability to see detail in highlights and shadows, a dynamic range, that is far greater than the that of a camera. So, is this kind of processing really cheating, or is it just another tool in the photographer’s arsenal that will enable him to more effectively capture the scene before him, and share his vision with the world?

Equipment: Nikon D700, Nikon 17-35 mm f2.8 zoom lens, 3 stop ND filter, Bogen tripod.

Camera Settings: f 22, 1, 2, 4 sec., ISO 100

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