This shot was taken in Queenstown, New Zealand, a place not to miss for anyone traveling to our wonderful country. This was one of my first attempts at HDR photography. Thanks to Trey Ratcliff with all his great tips and tutorials on his travel blog.
I took this photo atop Bobs Peak in Queenstown facing south west. From this vantage point I'm just high enough to avoid capturing the bustling Skyline tourist park directly below me.
The time this photo was taken was around 3:30pm in the afternoon.
The lighting was very glum and melancholy. The sun was only falling on the valley floor and parts of the mountain ranges which beautifully accentuated the rolls and ribs in the landscape almost silhouetting every ridge against the valleys. The most striking feature was the sunlight passing through the clouds which made for a stunning display of wispy white clouds being contrasted against the ominous dark background.
I used my Canon EOS 550D with 18-135mm IS zoom lens, I would normally use a tripod for these darker scenes but unfortunately I left it in my car 450 meters below me.
The dark sharp ridges cracking a divide between the mountains and the ominous sky was a major draw card but the sky was equally impressive like something straight out of a horror flick. There was so much angst spilling over the ridge-line to the West yet the sun soaked valley looked tranquil and inviting, it was an uncanny mix of emotions all represented in a single photo.
Yes much like I do with all of my photos I took 3 bracketed shots of the same scene each 1 stop apart. Each bracket allowed me to capture the details from all aspects of the scene and avoid loosing what would normally be over or under exposed areas. I later merged these exposures using Nik Tools HDR Efex Pro to produce a High Dynamic Range composite. I'm not a fan of raw untouched HDR's because they're usually full of ghosting, color imperfections and harsh details so I always take an HDR composite into Photoshop afterwards and manually merge the best parts of the HDR back with the original capture to achieve a realistic result more inline with what my eyes saw on the day. The nifty thing about HDR is it can often reveal subtle features that were otherwise unseen by the naked eye, in my case the moody looking mist in the valleys amidst the mountains became more apparent after post. This was a nice addition.
In my camera bag
I normally pack my bag according to my needs on the day but when I take everything my bag will contain my Canon EOS 550D and 18-135mm IS zoom lens, a bounce flash for those dimly lit areas, a remote shutter trigger for when I need the steadiest of shots, my very handy B-Grip belt, my tripod when/if I need it, a variable ND Grad filter and UV filter, lens cleaning kit, two spare batteries and a spare SD Card.
I am a big fan of Trey Ratcliff's work, he has an excellent ability to execute stunningly realistic High Dynamic Range photos. His photos inspire me to aim for similar results and I hope this is reflected through my images. Getting back to the question though; my advice is HDR can be a powerful tool, but controversial too. If you're going to give HDR a try you will enjoy the results but like any skill it takes practice, don't publish your earliest work because it will look like a kindergarten scribble! This is what makes HDR a very controversial subject, many people post their raw HDR's on the web for the world to see. Unfortunately raw HDR's are often over cooked and full of flaws and imperfections which is what gives the process a bad name. Two methods that have really helped my HDR processing for the better are 1 - merging the best features of raw HDR's back with their original counterparts, this brings the realism back whilst keeping some of the pop achieved by the HDR. 2 - Walk away from your display! Play with your kids, your dog... or your wife ;-) just leave the screen for a bit. I find that processing an Image is like wearing cologne, you wear the same cologne too often and you loose the scent, too much of the same thing dampens the senses. If I've been editing too long I find that If I leave the photo i'm working on and return a little later I see aspects I don't like and want to change, It gives me a more refreshed view of the photo.