A little over a year ago I was down in St. Augustine to photograph wading birds at the Alligator Farm. Friend’s of mine live down that way and so while I was down I spent several days off with them as well exploring the Old City and its coast. Sitting here at my desk yesterday trying to get this issue of the JWP wrapped up and planning a trip back down to St. Augustine for April, I decided to pull up some of those old RAW files I never finished working on from the last trip. Though they are something of the B side photographs, I decided to post a few of them up here anyways.
At the time of this past trip I had yet to experiment with HDR photography. Sure, I had heard about it but for the most part the stuff I had seen by then was rather cartoonish looking in nature. Over the summer while photographing in Jackson Hole Wyoming, I decided to give it a whirl. Sure, many situations still produce a cartoonish look depending upon the program you are using, however with Photomatix you can dial back the strength of the blend and tweak pretty much every aspect of how the program handles the photograph. This allows you to create a much more realistic looking photo. Being that digital sensors still only record between 5 to 7 stops of light, HDR allows you to bring in as much as 20 stops of light. At least that is what some folks claim. Either way, the results inevitably are going to be a photograph that just feels different than a traditional photograph.
Photographing within a forest always provides a number of obstacles and challenges that you must overcome – namely the contrasty or dappled lighting. Sometimes this can be used to your advantage, i.e: shafts of light beaming through the forest canopy, a spotlighted bird on a branch, etc. . . Often times however you are not able to overcome this contrast for landscape photography and instead the tradition was to wait for an overcast day to photograph the scene. Well HDR changes all of this. Since combining multiple exposures allows you to express the full spectrum of light in the photograph, even on sunny days you can photograph into the canopy of trees.
My personal preference in this regards is to use as few exposures as needed to make the photograph. Folks are still very much accustomed to looking at a photograph in the same way they were 20 years ago. They expect certain limitations in the amount of detail and stops of light captured in the photograph and anything beyond that gets labeled “photoshoped.” For this reason I only used two exposures for the live oak photograph. Even then however, I still went back in with curves and levels to tone down the HDR feel and pull out some heavier shadows in the tree to bring it back into the realm of what we expect from a photograph. Some might argue that we should be pushing the bar of photography and art higher than this and embracing the seemingly limitless possibilities that digital has offered us. I agree with this.