53/365: Swamp Thing53/365: Swamp Thing

A dreary day in North Carolina today. Lots of rain, and then some mist. Really beautiful, actually, in the way of dreariness. The wife and I pulled over into a 'Waterfowl Impoundment' off of Highway 54 in Durham, which is bordered on either side by swamp. An interesting location, one I plan to revisit when I have a little more time to shoot. I was able to squeeze off a few rounds of photos...

The mist was rolling around the area, and the sky was a flat grey-white. According to the Photo Rules, you want frame that kind of sky out, and concentrate on the smaller scenes rendered in soft light and saturated with color. But such a winter scene doesn't present a lot of color in a swamp, and the ambience of the area was made what it was by the big flat sky, the mirror of the swamp, and the fading tree snags in the mist. I shot the customary sequence of exposures to capture the entire scene's light range, but in such a flat, diffused light, the range from dark to light is quite compressed already. Some would say it's unnecessary to use HDR techniques for such a scene. Given my current 'assignment' I figured I had to try.

Running the software gave me the usual super-crispy detail and carmelized saturation that tonemapping can create, along with highlights and shadows that were compressed toward the middle tone. It pretty much killed the misty ambience by increasing the contrast in the areas that the mist had made flat. Again, as I'm more and more fond of doing, I used the HDR image in conjunction with another shot from the original sequence, only this time I increased the brightness of the shot to the point of blowing it out, a move inspired by my friend Alex, who sent me a sweet gallery today for inspiration. Then I masked the HDR shot so that only the middle of the frame blended slowly away to the overexposed shot on the top and bottom, giving it that misty feel again. Could I do this without the HDR processing? Probably, but not with the exact same results. Besides, even in Photoshop alone there are literally hundreds of ways to do any given processing.

So today's HDRs in themselves weren't great, but in both of these subsequent shots I used the pseudo-HDR processing on the single files and then blended them with the originals to some extent. In these examples, I used a special filter on the front of the lens, an ND filter, which blocks light to a measured degree. It allows you to use slower shutter speeds for a given scene, especially convenient when it's too bright outside to capture that sweet motion blur in a waterfall or stream. HDR hates motion though, it tends to look bad when the shot sequence doesn't line up. So using the one-shot processing gives me the detail and interesting contrast which I can then 'season' my original exposure with, as much or as little as I like, usually in areas I want to draw the eye to.

The bubbles floating by over these 30-second exposures created the streaks you see here. Like I said, I need to go back with more time, sometime.