The brief was simple – the client wanted a Christmas tree look for a magazine cover shot, the Christmas edition. Lots of lights from the city, the containers visible in the foreground, the cranes silhouetted. The only problem was that the overhead lights in the container yard were not all operational, causing a massive dark hole centre to my shot. And the southeaster was blowing the crap out of everything. And I only had this evening to do it. There weren’t really any other angles I could shoot, and the light above the mountains was fading fast into exactly the right intensity to allow for that magic moment when foreground and background light were balanced. The dark hole, however, was spoiling everything – I was hoping for the container yard lights lifting the exposure level in the foreground at least two stops to retain some detail, which would allow me to shoot slightly earlier and retain some more sky detail as well. But with the lights dead, it meant I had to wait until the background light was two stops less before I could balance foreground and background. And that meant that I would lose some of the beautiful sky detail. The only option left to me was an HDR shot (high dynamic range), a combination of a series of images shot locked-off on tripod keeping the focus and aperture the same, but altering the shutter speeds of the shots to expose for the sky, then the middle of the exposure range, then the dark areas, and combining the three or more images using specialist software. HDR images require a rock-solid tripod with absolutely no movement whatsoever, even using a wireless remote to trigger the camera without touching the tripod.

Hanging on to the tripod and shielding it as much as I could with my body, I got the shots, and got the hell outta there. Back home, I put the images through Capture NX2, rendered the raw files to 16 bit tiffs, and combined the images using NIK’s HDR EFEX Pro. The HDR shot was OK, but it lacked the really punchy feel that the client wanted. In her words, “Gaan bos met die filters.” That I did, selecting the dead spot in the centre of the frame and punching that up with a bit of bleach bypass and localised contrast enhancement, and I cooked up the sky to get rid of the inevitable banding, then added a bit of grain to even out the colour transitions and banding in the sky. I even cloned in an extra light on top of the nearest post (the dead one) to “decorate” the Christmas tree a little bit more. All the post-processing absolutely ruins the quality of the shot, making it noisy as hell, but that was inevitable, given the requirement. And it was done on time, which was probably more important.

This behind the scenes post is courtesy of Wordsource Productions.

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Comments
  1. Roxanne says:

    Ah, what happened to WYSIWYG? All that clever post-processing! A really good example of the challenges of photography and of Cape Town itself – and a great result!

  2. Eish! But the end result is beautiful, Jaco. Was the client thrilled?

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