Earlier in the summer, Kevin and I got a chance to see digital photographer George Lepp give a free talk down in Loveland. In the talk, he mentioned a piece of software called Photomatix. This software takes a number of images with different exposures and combines them together. Here’s an example from some sea caves at Owen Point on the West Coast Trail.
The exposure of this photo was 1/200 at f8. This shot, along with all the others, was taken on a tripod- a necessity to use this program. Clearly this shot is too dark. The archway of rock is completely in the shadows. About the only part of this picture that is correctly exposed are the hills across the bay.
I then started shooting the same scene at the same aperture, but with a longer exposure, at increments of 1/3 a stop. Here’s an example from the middle of the series – 1/30 second. Note that in this shot the background is already completely blown out. Some of the foreground looks good, but there are also extensive shadows.
The last shot in the sequence is below. Shot at 1/4 of a second, the details in the rock arch are clearly visible, but the background is completely overexposed.
Remember of course that the exposure range of the human eye is much more than a digital sensor (or film for that matter) can record. My eyes didn’t see any of the scenes above. I could see the details in the arch, and the opposite shoreline at the same time.
What did I see? Well, I loaded the series of pictures into Photomatix. I fired it up with all the default parameters and came up with this:
I haven’t played around with any of the options yet. I suspect that if I remove some of the more overexposed photos in the series I could tone down the “glow”. And paying $99 for the real version will let me get rid of the watermark that the free trial version adds to the result. But for now, I’m just stunned…