Over the last few weeks my daughter has been watching all of the Harry Potter movies since she finally finished up all seven of the Harry Potter books. I watched the movie series with her and was inspired by the very dark visuals they used, especially in the last few films. I knew that I wanted to try this same visual approach on a few of my landscape photographs, so set about looking for an appropriate image to try it on.
A few years ago I was down in Utah photographing in Kodachrome Basin State Park. We just finished up a week of photography at Zion and Bryce National Parks, and were ending our trip shooting some lesser known areas.
The morning of this shot, I had just completed photographing a very large panorama of a mesa at Kodachrome, and decided to try and find something a little bit more obscure off the beaten path. I spotted this arresting spire and looked around the ground for an interesting element that might provide a visual anchor for the foreground. After a short search, I found these two weathered tree branches resting on the ground and pointed up towards the spire. I found it quite interesting that the branches formed the same general shape as the spire, so I worked my composition increase the feeling of repetition.
For this image I used a Nikon D7000 and a 10-24mm wide angle lens that I was testing out from Tamron Corporation. Since the foreground was in deep shadow and the spire was in the sun, I use a three frame bracketed exposure sequence, which I then converted to an HDR in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2. I used one of the black and white presets in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 to give it the dark and heavy look I was after. My next step was to open the image in Adobe Lightroom 5 to fix the dust spots and add a graduated filter to the top portion of the image.
I’m happy with the dark look I achieved for the spire and use it again for more of my photographs. There are at least two lessons here for those of you reading article:
1. You can use just about anything as your inspiration for creating images. In my case, I used the dark cinematography from the Harry Potter movies to form a mental image of a certain aesthetic.
2. As digital photographers, we need to recognize that achieving our vision begins with the camera but doesn’t until we have processed the image in software. I know a lot of people are reticent to spend time post processing images, but as you can see in this case, postprocessing is essential.
What will be your inspiration for your next great image?
A few days ago I took the new Nikon D600 to Destin, Florida to put it through it’s paces. My kit was simple, consisting of the D600 along with three lenses; the 14-24mm f2.8, the 24-70mm f2.8 and the 70-200mm f2.8.
One of my goals during the photo walk was to get a feel for how the camera worked for HDR photography. The D600 will only auto-bracket three frames in a sequence, compared to 9 frames in a Nikon D800 or D4. Previous Nikon pro-sumer cameras like the Nikon D7000 and the Nikon D90 also bracketed three frames in a sequence, but they were limited to two stops of exposure variation between each frame. A new feature on the D600 is that it allows up to three stops of exposure variation between each frame, which is approaching the bracketing range of the higher-end pro cameras.
I used the bracketing function on the D600 quite a bit and configured the camera to take three images, each 3.0 stops apart. This setting “3F 3.0” is just enough spread to cover most HDR scenarios such as this image of the staircase below. I performed the HDR merge in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2, then converted it to black and white in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.
Another one of my goals during the trip was to better understand the dynamic range of the D600 RAW files and see if its images are comparable to the Nikon D800. I’ve been amazed at what I’ve been able to pull out of the D800 (see this D800 post) so I shot a few high contrast images with the D600 that would put the camera to the test. In this first shot of the fishing boat, I shot a single frame in 14-bit RAW, then processed the shot using Adobe Lightroom and the Detail Extractor filter in Nik Color Efex Pro 4. As I expected, the D600 has an excellent ability to capture a full range from shadows to highlights.
This was a pretty good result, but I wanted to really push the camera to see what was possible. For the next image, I took a severely underexposed image of a hotel and worked it over in Lightroom to see what I could pull out. Sure enough, the RAW file on a D600 had more than enough data to produce a beautiful shot. See the before/after below.
I’m really liking this little Nikon D600 camera. The 24MP RAW files are excellent and I’m very pleased with the camera’s dynamic range. As I’ve said before, I love the smaller camera body for travel. This camera is a winner.