This particular photo showcases the unique lighting used on Cinderella Castle during Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, and much like the lighting on Main Street about which I’ve complained extensively, this lighting is harsh, uneven, and a bear to process. But, also much like the lighting on Main Street, this lighting is pretty awesome! Since I can’t get enough Cinderella Castle photos, I always make a point of stopping and getting a few each year during the Parties. Can you imagine if they had these parties at Epcot and had unique lighting on Spaceship Earth?! The “serious” Disney fan in me would cringe that the parties would be occurring in Future World, but the photographer in me would overlook that and go crazy at the chance to photograph Spaceship Earth with a new lighting package!
While I’ve talked up the Nikon D600’s dynamic range recently with a series of sample photos, I found myself turning to HDR to process this scene. Luckily, I shot multiple exposures of Cinderella Castle, realizing on site that I might need more than one exposure to properly capture the highlights and colors as well as detail in the steps. In the realm of photography, “need” is an interesting word, and in a strict literal sense, I did not actually “need” multiple exposures. I could have processed a single photo and had a perfectly fine photo with a dark sky. However, when I saw the image I had taken exposed for the sky, and how prominent the stars were in that frame, I knew I had to make an HDR image, combining that correctly exposed sky with the correctly exposed Castle for this resulting image.
In the end, I had to darken the sky a bit to make the photo look more natural. Otherwise, it would have looked like a really dark Castle against a really bright sky, which just didn’t look right in the photo, even though it was closer to what you would have seen in person (as evidenced here, the full moon on this particular night made for a very bright sky). I still think you can see the stars fairly well here, especially if you view the image full size.
Those who aren’t photographers might read this (kudos to all two of you you have actually read this far!) and wonder why two photos combined into one makes for a more realistic image than a single photo. It’s counter-intuitive, right? The reason is because your eyes can actually see much more dynamic range than a digital camera (meaning that your eyes are better able to adjust for dark areas and bright areas in the same “blink” than a camera is in one photo). So many times, in order for a photographer to replicate what the human eye saw, it takes combining more than one photo to accomplish that. That’s HDR.
In recent years, HDR photography has become synonymous with a certain surreal editing style, but that’s a bit of a misconception. HDR can look ultra-realistic or it can look grungy and completely unrealistic. Neither style is a characteristic inherent to HDR. It just so happens that many photographers who specialize in HDR photography also use a certain processing style. It’s like the whole causality versus correlation thing. There’s a correlation between that processing style and HDR photography, but photography doesn’t cause that processing style to be used. Similarly, there’s a correlation between living in Indiana and being a crazy hillbilly, but living in Indiana doesn’t cause one to become a crazy hillbilly! 😉