May 11, 2009

The enchanted castle

This night shot features the castle of Ooidonk (near Gent, Belgium), taken around ten o'clock on an April evening, after a day of open air shooting in the beautiful surroundings of the Leie river.

I passed by the spot the picture was taken from earlier that day, and the idea of returning there after nightfall had come up immediately. I really should have gotten out a few hours earlier to take advantage of the 'blue hour' - just after sunset, for a better light in the sky. But at that time I was enjoying dinner with a fine group of friends/ photographers...

I realized it would take some care in shooting and post-processing to preserve the mood of the moment. So I came prepared with my tripod, set the D700 to ISO 200 (bye bye noise) and to RAW (keep all options open!), and shot three frames at 1 EV difference, by varying exposure time:

Post-processing started in Lightroom, moving to Photomatix Pro to combine the three images in 'exposure blending' mode. I much prefer this dynamic range processing approach to the 'traditional' HDR techniques, as it leads to a more natural 'photographic' look of the final result.

The -2 EV image still shows burnt highlights (most noticeable on the tower roof in the middle of the frame); so I created an additional -4 EV variant in Lightroom (making a virtual copy of the -2 EV NEF file and reducing exposure by -2 EV), and then went back to Photomatix for a blend of now 4 images. Still not ideal, I should have made more bracketed shots to begin with, but anyhow a noticeable improvement.

A couple of graduated fills helped balance the various parts of the image (top/bottom, left/middle/right): there was for example a very bright spotlight barely out of frame at the right hand side, which required some local darkening. I warmed the colors and pushed the saturation (or rather, the vibrance) to get closer to my recollection of the scene. Finally, I added a more panoramic cropping.

I have taken the habit of exploring how my shots turn out in a black & white version. The one below came by playing around with contrast, adding a touch of vignetting and pushing the crop a little further. But I still prefer the color version!

Gear notes: D700, AF-S 24-70/2.8

Click on the image(s) to see a larger version

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