HDR Northern Neck

Coles Point, Virginia, USA

A high-dynamic range (HDR) shot of shades lawns overlooking the Potomac River near its mouth, on the Northern Neck of Virginia, USA.
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My darling wife Nancy just told me this is her favorite view. We are sitting on the screened porch of her sister’s river cottage, here on the Northern Neck of Virginia overlooking the Potomac River. Nancy loves coming to the river. When here she likes to just sit on this porch, playing her guitar, blogging, writing a travel article, reading a book, or just sitting and daydreaming. This morning she is just “watching the world go by.” It is August in northern Virginia: hot and humid. It is mid-morning. The sun is up, filtering through the trees and illuminating the scene. Nancy explains that she loves the play of sun and shadow. It evokes a lazy summer weekend day: Nobody expects anything from us and there is nowhere we have to be. Today there is no schedule, just the river. The coolness of the shade under the trees invites a nap in a hammock, listening to the waves on the river bank and the sound of motorboats cruising past.

I am challenged by the scene. The sun is very bright and creates a brilliant, bright blue scene on the river with dark shadows in the shade under the trees. While our eyes and brains immediately capture the full scene, a camera will make it boring — just another snapshot with dark foliage and bright highlights. Exposing for the river will make the shadows too dark, but exposing for the shadows will wash out the river background. This is a perfect chance to try high dynamic range (HDR) photography. I break out the tripod, set aperture small to maximize depth of field, and take seven identical exposures, bracketing exposure from the camera’s “correct” exposure to cover a range -3 to +3 ev. This will take some post-processing. Back at home later, I bring all the images into my preferred image management tool, Adobe Lightroom. In Lightroom I adjust exposure (“develop”) settings to make the camera’s “correctly” exposed image look best, and then apply exactly the same adjustments to all other copies. Then I export all of the exposures from Lightroom and reprocess them into a combined HDR image using Photomatix Pro. The result reasonably approximates the full high dynamic range that my lovely wife’s eye registered when she fell in love with that view — with good lighting through the shadows in the foreground and also reasonable balance in the bright background.

(Nikon D300, Nikkor wide-zoom at 31mm, ISO 200, f/20, 1/25 sec. exposure from a tripod. Above is seven exposures processed into an HDR image using Photomatix Pro. For comparison, below is the best image from the camera at “optimal” exposure.)

Yards at the River (original image)