Aug 16, 2010

Stairway to Heaven

Take this for a challenge: here’s a monumental and lavishly decorated stairway located inside a multi-dome hall. Polished marble and mirrors everywhere. Add a few statues and carved decorations, and a couple of antique tapestries. Lighting: a long wall of glass doors behind at ground level, above that on the first floor a row of windows. Beyond that, just a few bulbs inside in chandeliers, and one bright skylight way up in the back. Go figure!

Egmontpaleis - Ambassadeurstrap
Egmontpaleis - Ambassadeurstrap 
Let’s take care of the angle first. Obviously you have to go wide, very wide, because there’s not much possibility for backing up. Keep in mind receding lines when tilting upwards, not to forget distortions and symmetries. Tripod and spirit level at the rescue.

The two images above were actually shot with a 16mm full-frame fisheye lens, and later de-fished and perspective corrected using Lightroom 3. I am quite pleased with the capabilities of this new software, and amazed how good the end result can be (especially if you wouldn’t have known from the beginning…).

Egmontpaleis - Ambassadeurstrap
Egmontpaleis - Ambassadeurstrap 
Now let’s worry about the proper exposure. From harsh daylight to very dark corners: no way to capture that dynamic range even with the best FX sensors. So let’s go HDR, and take 3 to 5 shots with a 2EV exposure difference between them (on my D700, that means 5 or 9 ‘clicks’ as auto bracketing is limited to 1EV steps).

Exposure fusion in Photomatix Pro 3.2 for natural and realistic looking results. Extra care dealing with the color casts generated by different light sources. Global tone and contrast adjustment, perspective correction and some local brushing for adding (or removing) accents in Lightroom afterwards. Lots of patience behind my decent but anyway underpowered computer. And then a second pass to give all the images a somewhat consistent look.

Egmontpaleis - Ambassadeurstrap
Egmontpaleis - Ambassadeurstrap

I was taking these pictures surrounded by a small group of other photographers, all equally eager to take ‘their’ shots from the same ‘perfect’ spots, of course with no one else within the frame. And we had just two hours to cover the whole building (well, at least the areas we were given access to).

So when a few days later I was offered to come by for a second pass, I decided to pack light: I only took a few prime lenses and a sturdy monopod. That gave me a lot more mobility and better chances to quickly sneak in and take my shots.

At times it felt as if this stairway was leading me through hell…
Looking at the final pictures however gives me that soothing kind of heavenly satisfaction – and leaves me with a list of more images to capture and mistakes to avoid in case I could sneak into the Egmont Palace one more time. After all, who knows?

Gear notes: D700, 16/2.8D, 24-70/2.8G, 24/2.8

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

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