Heidelberg Germany Part II
I have always held an aversion for High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography. Much of this probably stems from the awful, technicolor, hyper-tonemapped and unrealistic images I have seen using the technique. It was not until I recently viewed a video by Gavin Hoey titled “Shooting and Creating Photo Real HDR” that I thought there might be a place for HDR in my photography. I have always been an advocate of getting it right in camera. Therefore, I try to compose my images so minimal cropping is required, wait for the light to be right and in regards to overcoming the limited dynamic range of digital sensors, I use neutral density filters. However, there are instances where even grad ND filters are no match for a given scene. One such instance was in the photo above.
How to get this type of shot
Most of the day was very overcast in Heidelberg, Germany and I was hoping the conditions would improve as I made my way up to the Castle. I arrived around 1.5hr prior to sunset and could see to the west that the cloud cover was breaking on the horizon, but low overlying clouds still obscured the sun. I waited until the sun was low enough to break the clouds and was rewarded by a brilliant sunset. The sun bathed the entire scene a beautiful orange glow about 10 minutes prior to sunset and enhanced the already vibrant clay tiles on the roofs of the city below. I manually made a 6-shot bracketed exposure starting with 1/15s all the way up to 2s in 1-stop increments (I probably could have done 2-stop increments but chose 1-stop for reasons explained below). I still used a 2-stop graduated ND filter and was hoping for a single image that retained highlight and shadow detail so I would not have to apply HDR, thus the 1-stop instead of 2-stop brackets. However, the scene’s dynamic range was far too great so I was forced to use a 6-stop photomerge which I did in Photoshop (if you are interested in the technique, click the link to the YouTube video in this same post).
Recently, I shot the San Diego skyline under different lighting conditions to show the viewer the different looks one can achieve at different parts of the day. I chose to do something similar for the vista of Heidelberg. The image above was made around 2pm in the afternoon during an overcast day. The contrast of the scene was controllable due to the cloud cover. There is no dramatic lighting, but I think it still makes for a pleasant image.
The image above was made with a slightly different composition as I wanted to include more of the sky in the image. About 10 minutes after sunset the glow reflecting off of the city was mostly gone, but the clouds lit the sky up a brilliant orange and purple color. As with the shot taken prior to sunset, I used a 5-shot exposure bracket ranging from 1/8s to 2s in 1-stop increments and merged it into a HDR image to capture the full dynamic range of the scene.
I think you will agree that HDR photography definitely has its advantages in being able to, through multiple bracketed exposures, greatly increase the limited dynamic range of sensors without sacrificing ultimate image quality by stacking multiple filters.
The final photo of the day was shot around 40 minutes after sunset. Some light remained in the sky which balanced the lights coming from the city lights. I always like to shoot “night” cityscapes during this period since I always feel that having a pitch black sky (as would be the case if the shot was made any later) does not add anything to the image. I would much rather have some light remaining in the sky with the detail it provides to the clouds rather than a black void without structure or detail. Since most of the light was gone, I had to use a 118s shutter speed to achieve the desired exposure. As with all of my shots that are made from a tripod, I applied Liveview for focus and exposure using the live histogram and tripped the shutter with a remote release with the camera in bulb mode to achieve the long exposure.
If you want to see more images of this beautiful city, please visit