Painting with a camera

A couple of days ago I met a friend for dinner and drinks and long-winded technical conversation. The place we picked was noisy, food ok, cute friendly waitress, and incredibly packed. So packed that the closest parking was across the railroad tracks in the commuter lot (luckily not a busy spot at 7 on a Friday evening!).

Coming out at dusk, I noticed a bit of fog settling in down the tracks. It looked interesting… so grab the camera out of the car, dial in a couple of settings, take a peek at the first photo, re-adjust, take that deep breath and snap in the middle of a slow exhale… and I got a couple of good exposures.

But when I viewed the shots a day later… meh. So I decided to peak it up a bit, and play around some more with pseudo-HDR via Photomatix Pro.

Here’s the original photo:

Original photo f/5.6 1/20s 142mm ISO 3200.
Original photo f/5.6 1/20   ISO 3200, 142 mm focal length. Pentax K-20D

All right. I mean, it’s not bad, given the circumstances. But let’s look to improving it. First bit, crop it down, get rid of a couple of distractions – the left foreground stuff and that slice of bright sky over Cushetunk Mountain. Then it’s time to brighten up the dark matter hiding in the deep shadows. While we’re at it, also apply some noise reduction… at ISO 3200 there is a lot of “noise” – random pixels which need to be blended away.

That produced this image:

After Lightroom enhancements.
After Lightroom enhancements.

Improved it; and with a bit more work this will likely be a stunning print. But let’s see what Photomatix does with this.

Photomatix is dedicated software – it only does one thing, creating HDR images – but it does it very well. Most of the leading proponents of HDR imaging swear by this product, and after playing with it just a few days, I agree. So I’ve been using it for years. In version 4 they added a nifty capability, a ‘pseudo HDR’ mode which attempts tone-mapping from a single JPEG input file (traditional HDR requires at least three images at differing exposure levels). Usually this works best in photos which inherently have a high dynamic range… and with this image going from nearly pure white to deep black…

This is the result, using default settings all the way. I’m happy with it!