The Golden Gate Bridge in HDR

Check out a larger version of this image here.

Thanks to some inspiration from Trey Ratcliff after interviewing him for the This Week in Photography podcast, and reading his book A World in HDR, I decided to see what all the fuss is about and give this technique a try for myself.

I grabbed my Nikon D700, a 14-24mm lens, and a tripod, and drove up to San Francisco to see what I could capture. The obvious place to shoot from was the Golden Gate Bridge, I wasn’t trying to create “art” per say, but rather to gather some pixels with which to try out this technique… so the GG was just as good of a spot as any.

I set the camera to auto-bracket five f-stops (+2 and -2) — I realize that I could’ve gotten similar (or the same) results with just three exposures, but then this was all an experiment, and I had a blank 16GB CF card in the camera after all… so what was a few more megabytes? Oh yea, I was shooting in the raw file format.  

Once everything was set up (camera settings, vantage point, composition, etc) it was surprisingly easy to snap the shots. As Trey instructs in his book, and in the free HDR tutorial on his blog — I was sure to pay attention to moving elements in the scene. In the case of this photo, nearly everything was moving; the surf, the sailboat, the clouds, and yes even the unfortunate naked person walking along the surf. I figured regardless of all the movement, this would be a good test to see how Photomatix handled the scene.

After importing everything in to Lightroom 2, I did some spotting on one of the images. As it turns out, I had to do ALOT of spotting. I somehow managed to get what seemed like the entire beach onto my sensor. But thankfully I only had to invest time spotting ONE image in Lightroom, then all I had to do was sync those edits to the other four images. What a time saver!

Once the images were spotted and cropped, I exported them using the Lightroom Photomatix export module. I played around for a while with the sliders in Photomatix, figuring I’d read the instructions later to figure out what the sliders were actually doing. After I seasoned the image to taste, I hit a button to send the image back to Lightroom. Once back in the LR, I boosted the blacks a bit, added a slight vignette and that was it!

It was surprisingly easy to do this I must say. And as I played around with the sliders in Photomatix I saw how easy it was to create that controversial “over done” HDR look. My aim in the above image was to not make it an obvious HDR image, but rather just make the actual scene better. I think I accomplished that, and I’m looking forward to experimenting more with this technique. It’s a blast!

Here’s the shot with no processing:

Baker Beach - Golden Gate Bridge

If you’re interested in experimenting with HDR, here are some resources to get you started:

A World in HDR – Trey Ratcliff
Free HDR Tutorial – Trey Ratcliff
Complete Adobe Photoshop CS4 for Digital Photographers – Colin Smith

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