Monday, December 29, 2014

Fused exposures with the Nikon D810

Early winter sunsets lend themselves to dramatic cityscapes filled with light. The interiors of office buildings are still lit at the end of the work day, and street traffic is at its height during rush hour. This evening there was also a lot of plane travel leaving jet trails criss-crossing the sunset sky over lower Manhattan.

I set up to do the photo below with a Nikon D810 and the new Nikon 20mm f/1.8 lens taking sequential images over the 30 minute period around sunset that usually yields the best light for a night view. The atmosphere was very clear and the sunset intense causing the overall lighting to have quite an extensive exposure range. To capture the greatest amount of detail under these circumstances I decided to take several images of varying exposures and fuse them later in post processing.

Download a high res file of this image that is 60% of the original file by clicking here.
I took six images, one full stop apart, but ended up using only four of them (shown below) to stack together for the fusion. You can do this in the latest version of Photoshop, but I prefer to use a program called Photomatix, which does both HDR and image exposure fusion. In general I do not use HDR because I find the results to be too extreme and false compared to simply fusing several exposures.

By repeating the image sequence over the period of a half hour, I was later able to choose the exact right exposure sequence that yielded the most dramatic results with the city building lights balanced for the sunset and the light from the city traffic causing blurred streaks to draw attention to the area around the Flatiron Building. Nothing was done to alter or enhance the colors.

The Nikon D810 sensor has such an extensive dynamic range so I decided to experiment with opening the shadows and burning in the highlights on one of the mid-exposures to see the results. As a comparison, you can download a high res sample of the this final file by clicking here. The results are quite impressive for a singly exposure, but a lot of the shadow details were lost to noise when they were opened up.

These four images taken one stop apart were fused to form the final image. 
While the Nikon was tied up on a tripod and couldn't be moved for a half hour, I used my Fuji X-T1 with the 18-135mm zoom to take some variations of the same scene. Three separate images were combined to form the panoramic silhouette below.

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