Enhancing The Light

Photographers are basically light chasers—we get up early and stay out late to seek out and capture the best light. When we find that light, we look for a cool subject and determine our composition. We shoot knowing that image capture is just the start of the image-making process. When we enhance a digital file in Lightroom, Photoshop or other digital imaging programs, we’re filled with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

This column is about that creative start-to-finish process: finding the best light and then enhancing the light in the digital darkroom. To illustrate this concept, I’ll use a photograph that I took of the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Park in New York (home of the 1964 World’s Fair and featured in the 1997 movie Men in Black).

Using Photomatix, an HDR program from HDRsoft, I created what I call a digital HDR negative. I call it a negative because the HDR file is only the start of the creative HDR process. You see, by opening up the shadows and toning down the highlights, you create an image that looks f lat.

The first step in the creative image-making process, as I mentioned, is finding the best light—determining where the sun will be at the time of your photo session. Many apps and websites are available that show sunrise and sunset times, as well as the angle of the sun in relationship to a subject.

The second step, as simple as it sounds, involves walking around a subject and viewing it from different angles, and looking for one—and only one—place to make the very best photograph. Sure, you could find several good photo locations, but if you force yourself to pick just one, you may look just a bit harder and be a bit more selective when it comes to composition.

While walking around the Unisphere, I found a position that showed the structure backlit. I knew that if I set my aperture at ƒ/22, shot with a wide-angle lens (my Canon 17-40mm lens set at 17mm) and had the sun just peeking out from behind part of the structure, I’d get a cool starburst.

Because I was shooting directly into the sun, the Unisphere would be in the shade. To bring out the detail in the structure, I knew I needed to use HDR, so I took four handheld exposures at one ƒ-stop increments, making sure to capture the dynamic range of the scene.

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