One Shot From Nine Shots


Last night on Facebook I posted one picture from Saturday’s trip to New York City. It was one of the first ones I looked at and among the last I shot. In case you’re interested I’ll tell you how this shot came to be.

First, it is not really one shot. It is nine shots! Each was exactly the same–shot from a locked down tripod. The only difference was how long the shutter was open. The fastest was 1/8 second. The slowest was 32 seconds!

That’s a 256:1 ratio between longest and shortest which is easily seen as brightness.


Shooting a wide range of exposures is a workaround for a weakness of cameras and the human eye. In both cases (though worse with the camera) we can see a large range of light levels, just not at the same time! To get an image bright enough to see detail in the shadows, we must also ‘blow out’ detail where it’s bright.

I ended up with lots of detail in bright and dark spots, but in nine separate images. Enter Photoshop. It is programmed to combine those images, preserving the most detail from each. There are other standalone programs (including Luminance (free) and Photomatix, the standard for this kind of work) which will do the same job.

The technique is called HDR for high dynamic range. When done judiciously the result is pleasing and looks more like reality than any single photo. When done poorly it looks like Elvis painted on velvet!

The images were shot with a Canon 7d DSLR using a Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens wide open. ISO was set to 100.

Many thanks to the development team at Magic Lantern who have produced ‘firmware’ for my camera to allow it to do things it was never designed to do! The process for getting the nine separate photos, all with different shutter speeds, was automated by Magic Lantern which is free! HDR automation is just one tiny feature of Magic Lantern.

More pics to come.

A Few More Vegas Pics And Their Stories

Las Vegas is very photogenic. That’s indisputable.

Las Vegas is very photogenic. That’s indisputable. In addition I’ve found it very conducive for HDR photography. HDR is the technique which extends the range of brightness levels seen in a photograph by compressing the range. I know–confusing.

Your eye sees can see dark darks and bright whites at the same time. Cameras can’t. HDR produces a photo closer to what the eye sees. The raw material is usually a series of three photos taken in rapid succession.

Using different shutter speeds you end up with one underexposed, one overexposed and one properly image. A computer program combines the three produce the HDR.

Unfortunately it’s easy to overdo HDR and come up with some “Elvis on Velvet” results. I read complaints from the photo cognoscenti all the time. I mostly agree.

The reason I thought this shot would work was because of the bright clouds above and deep shadows within the Mirage Volcano. A standard photo would show detail in one or the other but not both.

I’ve already posted one photo from our little journey to Blue Diamond, NV. It was very dark and very cold! We really had no idea what we’d see. Actually the photos from Blue Diamond produced detail not visible to the naked eye. It was just too darned dark!

I am disappointed in most of this series of photos including the one I posted earlier. The exposure was too long allowing the Earth’s rotation to smudge the stars. This is one of the shorter exposures–only 22 seconds which cuts down on the motion.

For those interested it’s f/3.5 ISO 400 using a Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens at 44mm. I tried manually focusing by looking at stars, but mostly just trusted the infinity mark on the lens. There’s a little help from Photoshop in bringing down the ambient brightness of the sky and helping illuminate the dimmer parts of the butte.

I have no idea how close the butte is, but probably a mile or more away. We were standing on Bonnie Springs Road just off Route 159 pointing reasonably north.

One night we went downtown to Fremont Street. Years ago before the Strip was developed Fremont Street was the heart of Las Vegas. Nowadays it’s an open air pedestrian mall surrounded by older, seedier casinos. There’s entertainment in the street and a pretty good atmosphere.

As we waited for the overhead lightshow to start this guy walked by! I have no idea what he was doing or why he was there. I only had one shot! What you see if what I got with no cropping.

My Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 lens was on the camera. That’s a lot of lens for a darkened area. I dialed up to ISO 1600 and 1/250 second for the shutter. The image still needed a little Photoshop help boosting the levels and killing the noise. It looks a little soft and runny to me probably more because of ISO 1600 than anything else. It’s still worth showing.

In the movie this guy will be played by my friend Rick Allison.

Finally a shot from our first night in town. We went to dinner at Mon Ami Gabi a restaurant attached to the Paris Hotel with an open air patio overlooking The Strip.

It was cold that night! Luckily Mon Ami Gabi (and loads of other places) have these radiant gas heaters.

This was a shot I visualized before shooting. It came out just as expected. The soft background is what I wanted and very pleasing.

This was shot with my Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 lens wide open and fully extended. ISO was a noisy 1600 and the shutter speed was 1/125 second.