Photography (for me) is about pushing one’s limits. As a photographer, I continually strive to expand my horizons, techniques, knowledge, quality of work, and most of all, my creativity. There is always room for improvement. Always something new to learn. Always new and exciting images to shoot.
The image above is one example of trying something new. One night while at an overlook of Willamette Falls in Oregon City, I was hoping for a decent sunset. Sunsets are always hit and miss. You never know what Mother Nature is going to provide. This particular evening as the sun was going down, I was doubtful anything useful would appear. There was some colors brewing in the sky but not much was happening. So I decided to shoot some panoramas with my 45mm tilt-shift lens. The sun had set. But as with most sunsets, the best light is after the sun dips below the horizon. The sun went down and Mother Nature did not disappoint…the sky lit up with a magic glow. The river added to the magic by reflecting those wonderful colors. I knew I had to act fast. Mother Nature turned on the color but I knew she would not keep it on for long.
Prior to this magic moment, I was not overly happy with my shots. The dynamic range was beyond the capabilities of my camera (the skies were much brighter than the darkening land below). So I thought “What about combining tilt-shift panoramas with HDR?” So I decided now was as good of time as any. No time to think…act now! Luckily I was set up and ready to go. What did I have to lose? Here’s how this shot was created…
NOTE: Once set up, DO NOT move the camera during this entire process. The lens will do all the moving. That’s one of the many benefits of tilt-shift lenses.
- Start by determining the optimum exposure with the lens in its normal position (not shifted or tilted). Then set the camera to Manual mode and lock in those exposure values (in this case ISO 100, Av=f/8, and Tv=0.4s).The reason for determining the exposure at the normal lens position and locking these values in Manual mode, is that shifting (or tilting) and tilt-shift lens “fools” the meter in the camera causing over or under exposure.
- Shift the lens left and then right to determine the limits of the composition.
- Return the lens to its center position and take the first shot.
- Shift the lens to the left (or right) and take the second shot.
- Shift the lens to the right (or left) and take the third shot.
- It’s that simple!
HDR Steps – taking the bracketed images:
Bracketing means taking a succession of photos at various exposures to expose for the bright areas, the overall scene, and the dark areas. For example, 3 images taken 1 stop apart (-1 EV, 0EV and +1 EV).
For panoramas with tilt-shift lenses, three images are taken with the lens “shifted” in three separate positions (in this case, left, center, and right) and stitched together with software. This is done three times at different exposure levels for bracketing.
- Start by taking the 3 panorama images at the optimum exposure (from step 1 above). I determined this by using evaluative metering which takes into account the entire scene and metering on the scene. This is what I’ll call the ‘neutral bracket’.
- The next bracket will be for the bright areas (the sky in this case). I could have assumed a 1-stop difference for this bracket (1 stop darker) but the neutral bracket seemed like a fairly close for the sky and I didn’t want to make it too dark. Normally I would take the time beforehand to meter for the bright and dark areas, but I was on mother nature’s schedule so I had to hurry or chance missing the great light. So I decided to bump the exposure down only slightly. Remember, I am in Manual mode which means I can adjust the aperture and shutter speed to what ever I want. I always want bracketed exposures to have the same depth of field so I adjust the shutter speed only. I set the shutter speed to 0.3s (about 1/3 stop darker than 0.4s) and repeated steps 3-5 from the panorama steps.
- The next bracket is for the dark areas. Here the neutral bracket looked fairly dark in this area so I wanted to brighten it up quite a bit. I set the shutter speed to 1.3s and repeated steps 3-5 from the panorama steps. I was praying that I was at least close, but would not know until I processed everything at home.
Processing steps (based on the software I use):
- Import the RAW files into Lightroom 4.
- Choose the center image of the neutral bracket and apply Develop settings for color, tones, and sharpness.
- Select all other images for the this bracket and the other brackets (9 images total).
- Sync the remaining images with the same settings used in step 2.
- Export all images to a thumb drive (this could be a hard drive, CD, DVD, or any other storage device).
- Open PhotoShop Elements 9 (PhotoShop CS would also work).
- Select File > New > Merge Panorama…
- Select the three images for one of the brackets and let PhotoShop do its stitching thing.
- Repeat steps 7 and 8 for the other brackets.
- Merge the layers for each stitched bracket.
- Save each bracket to the thumb drive (or any other device).
- Open Photomatix Pro.
- Load the three bracketed images from step 11.
- Process the merged brackets as desired.
- Save the final image back to the thumb drive.
- Open this image in PhotoShop Elements.
- Crop as needed and save.
Many of you know about HDR and bracketing your images. You may notice that the steps I took are different than the “normal” process of taking bracketed single images. Many cameras have auto exposure bracketing built in. This means telling the camera how many brackets to take (usually 3), how many stops apart the brackets will be (1 EV in the figure below), and where the neutral bracket will be. In the figure below, there are 3 brackets spaced 2/3 EV apart with the neutral bracket at -1 EV. Once AEB is set up all you have to do is compose the shot and take the 3 images. Since the brackets I used here were made from 3 separate panoramas, this process with not work.
For more on tilt-shift panoramas, click here.
For more on tilt-shift lenses, click here.
Canon EOS 1D-x w/ Canon MF 45mm f/2.8 TS-E
Av=f/8 (on all photos)
ISO=100 (on all photos)
Camera settings: Manual mode, mirror lockup, 2s self timer
Manfrotto 055CXPROB4 tripod w/ Kirk BH-1 ballhead
Tv (bracket #1)=1.3s
Tv (bracket #2 – neutral)=0.3s
Tv (bracket #3)=0.4s