The day dawned ugly, the sky dark with big bruised clouds heavy with rain. Not the typical Southwest Florida sunny morning. But it is Hurricane Season after all, the mean season. Ever hopeful for the perfect shot, the one with the sun breaking through the clouds with streaks of gold and vermilion, off I go to a dock at the end of the island, camera, wide angle lens, and tripod in hand. The resulting photo of San Carlos Bay shows thunderstorms over Punta Rassa to the southeast and moving my way.
Not the shot I imagined, but I did not come back empty handed. I had taken several seven bracketed shots and chose this one to process in Photomatix Pro. The resulting HDR 32 bit tiff image was imported into Lightroom where I converted it to grayscale, applied the usual tonal adjustments and applied graduated filters and adjustment brushes. Then the image was warmed just a little by applying split toning. Lastly, I cropped and straightened the image and applied a subtle vignette.
This morning the eastern sky was bright with just a few clouds playing with the sun’s early morning colors. So back I go to the same dock for essentially the same shot. But with different results. Still not the brilliant sunrise one hopes for but I am pleased. The processing is essentially the same with the exception of the grayscale conversion, of course. It is always difficult to get great results shooting into the sun. This is where HDR processing really shines (pun intended). By compositing seven bracketed exposures the resulting image has a greater dynamic range between the lightest and darkest areas than would otherwise be possible. And because of the dynamic range increase the final image is often more dramatic.
A final thought. While HDR photography is popular it is not suitable for every situation and can’t turn a bad image into a good one.