Manhattan Twilight

| November 25, 2010

Seven Exposure HDR Photo of Manhattan at Twilight

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I have been aching to get one of these shots up since my trip to New York a couple of weeks ago. I ended up flying to the other coast right after New York so that is why I am a bit delayed in getting this one going.

I love this city! I was extremely lucky to get a wonderful day of weather to take this shot. It was really the perfect ending to a perfect day. After a Sunday expedition in lower Manhattan that started at the Brooklyn Bridge, I planned a 4pm ascent to the top of Rockefeller Plaza for a date with the sunset. Once there, I hung out on the observation deck for a couple of hours and shot about 200 pictures as the sun made its way behind the city and distant horizon.

The shot above was taken just after the sun disappeared and the building lights began to turn on. To make sure I was getting the full dynamic range of the scene, I took seven exposures (-3EV, -2, -1, 0, +1, +2, +3EV) in camera RAW format with my 5D Mark II DSLR using my 24-105mm Canon f4L USM lens. No tripods were allowed on the deck so I had to rely on the ledge to steady my shots. Security came over twice to make sure I was not going to drop my camera on innocent bystanders below. Not in a million years! Do they know what this thing cost?

Once I got the shots home, I tried something new as I processed them. Here was my workflow for this image:

  1. Export the RAW imported images to a folder from Apple Aperture as 100% sized 16-bit TIFF files
  2. Open each file in Photoshop and run Topaz DeNoise immediately followed by Topaz In Focus to remove ISO noise and sharpen the images prior to the HDR merge
  3. Merge all seven files into an HDR image for tone mapping using Photomatix Pro 4.0 (this also aligns the images)
  4. Click process and save the file for more processing in Photoshop CS5
  5. Use multiple layers in Photoshop to adjust the image to my liking using native Photoshop tools as well as Topaz Adjust and On-One’s suite of Photoshop Plugins

Whew! Lots of steps but I love the look. I pretty much let each image take on a life of its own as it is processed. Not all images work out but there are many ways to skin the cat. The trick is choosing the right combination of tools and techniques to realize your artistic vision. I love not knowing where I will end up. It’s like slowly unwrapping a gift with all the surprise and delight that comes with it!

I know some of this will be greek to some readers. I encourage you to dig in and look at some of the tools I have mentioned here. I was once mystified by all this but slowly peeled the onion to reveal a whole new world of photography. I will keep posting as I learn and share tips as I have time to write. Stay tuned!


Category: Photography, Travel

Comments (12)

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  1. Nancie says:

    Bravo Lee! This is gorgeous. I plan to do a bit of digging into the tools you mentioned and the steps you did. Thanks for sharing your steps & work.

  2. Just bought a few tools and know nothing about them yet. Aperture and Photoshop for Mac ,.. I CS5. Anyway, I’ve got a lot of learnin’ to do! Beautiful photo.

  3. Lee says:

    Thanks Nancie. If you need anything just pop me an email. I really need to put a few basic tutorials on the web to help out!

    Wow Margaret, you are really going for it! Good for you. You have a lot of power at your fingertips now. I am sure you will like the tools as you become more familiar with them. Thanks as always for the comment.

  4. Chris Wray says:

    Really nice twilight photo, Lee! What were your metering settings? Do you find that processing more exposures in PhotoMatix helps you to achieve a more natural-looking photo?

    I was recently reading some pro-photography tips by Rick Sammon. To achieve maximum DOF with a DSLR, he states that he doesn’t shoot narrower that f/11, due to the fact that light passing through the narrow opening bends around the shutter blades, causing the image to blur slightly, particular in the center of the image. Do you observe this rule? Sammon says this is more true with digital photography than analog film.

  5. This is an incredibly good picture! Really gives you a feel for just how vast it must be. I’ve never been anywhere this huge.

  6. Lee says:

    Thanks Chris and Martyn. Chris, you actually want to use as few exposures as possible to get your range. Too much data can be a liability. The “more natural” look is primarily achieved the the slider controls in Photomatix.

    Martyn, New York is amazing. I have heard that the bummer about being born in New York is never seeing it for the first time. It is incredible for the first time visitor for sure.

  7. Nancie says:

    Lee – you are right, being born in/near NY does tend to change the exposure factor to the city. However, when I encounter tourists – either asking directions or seeing the skyline from the bus/train for the first time – I tend to smile. I can almost put myself into their shoes & “see” what they are seeing. And I feel a certain amount of pride too, after all, they are being amazed by “my turf!” And no matter how long you have been in the city, going to the top of one of these buildings that scrape the sky & looking out across the horizon — that view never gets old. And it can thrill as much the 22nd time as it does on the 1st!

  8. Lee says:

    Thanks for the follow-up Nancie. Always nice to here the local perspective. I agree, It would be tough to get used to the view. I have been about 50 times I guess and I never really get tired of it!

  9. John says:

    What a marvellous, luminous vista! Great timing and the processing has worked brilliantly. I’ve only been once to New York and hit the Top of the Rock at night, next time I’ll be sure to get there for dusk for that wonderful light.

  10. Lee says:

    Hi John. Thanks for the kind words about the image. This was a fun one to work on. I went up at 4pm (November) and the timing worked our great. No tripods allowed so I used the ledge. Thanks again for the comment!

  11. WTFoto!? says:

    Las week I was in NYC and took a very similar HDR with a gorillapod (only 3 exposure though).

    This spot is absolutely amazing for photographic addicts!

    And your work is sublime, congratulations!

  12. Lee says:

    Thanks a buch for the comment and visit. This is a cool spot! I love being able to get the Empire State Building in the frame standing all by itself.