Silly Mountain or only Mildly Amusing?

As always, sunsets are something of a cliché but they can be very pretty.  This one is definitely a cliché Arizona sunset but I think it is pretty.

The photo is taken looking East (kind of  hard to take a sunset picture looking west) towards Phoenix from Silly Mountain State Park.

I noticed that the name of the road the park is on is now something other than Silly Mountain (I forget exactly what).  I guess the state isn’t amused by the name “Silly Mountain”.

Anyway, I know the photo looks like it’s an HDR but it’s not an HDR. In order to get the sky and the foreground balanced in exposure I did a two-image composite. That is, I shot a photograph with the sky properly exposed (which left the foreground dark) and then a second with the foreground properly exposed (which left the sky blown out). This was done on a tripod to make sure both images were perfectly aligned.

Then, I used Photoshop to composite the two images. I started with the sky picture as the background image, brought in the foreground picture as a layer and then masked out the foreground picture’s over-exposed sky.

When shooting something like a sunset with a very bright region and a very dark region a photographer will often have to do some sort of this kind of trickery. That’s because your eye is an amazing thing–It can see detail across somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 or 13 stops (a stop is a measurement of the intensity of light)  of light.  This is also known as dynamic range.  Unlike your eye, a camera can only make out detail in 6 or 7 stops of dynamic range.  That means to faithfully reproduce a scene the photographer has to find a way to capture more dynamic range than is possible in a single exposure or they have to find a way to compress the dynamic range of the scene down to something the camera is capable of capturing.

That’s why HDR is becoming so popular. It lets you capture more stops of light by taking multiple images. This image also uses this trick but not so extensively and only using two exposures.

The old school solution would have been to use a graduated neutral density filter.  This kind of filter allows you to block out some of the light from part of the picture (the bright sky, for example). That reduces the total dynamic range of the scene because the high intensity light is reduced in intensity.  That helps balance the exposure. The drawback with this solution is that you don’t capture more dynamic range–you lose some of the light. I prefer methods that capture more dynamic range.

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