Panem et circenses!
For as long as there have been people, once we ceased fighting to survive, we have sought entertainment to tickle our brains and spark interest outside of the drudgery of mere survival. Rome had their bread and circuses, we have table-service movie theaters and professional sports. For the uninitiated, New York City is home to thousands and thousands of restaurants, hundreds of bars, dozens of nightclubs and concert venues galore and more than a few Starbucks. Featured this week in Faces of New York: East Village’s Webster Hall, which serves as a little bit nightclub, a little bit rock and roll venue. The hall is situated just south of Union Square and north of St Mark’s Place, a short stumble from the dining and drinking heart of the young, hopping East Village.
The day I shot these was bright and sunny, with great mid-afternoon shadows and high contrast lighting. As a result there are a few High-Dynamic-Range (HDR) photos included in the bunch to show details otherwise lost in shadow or overexposed highlights. I mentioned briefly in an earlier post how HDR is accomplished but felt a little more in-depth explanation was merited since I am using it more and more frequently.
HDR photography consists of taking multiple different exposures of the same scene and combining them to make a composite photo that includes details that would otherwise be hidden because of the circumstances of light in the shot. This technique can be achieved through in-camera HDR functions–e.g. HDR modes for the iPhone and several offerings from Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Casio, Sony et al. The standard HDR photo composites together three photos, with exposure values (EV) of “0″ for the baseline, and then at least an “EV -1″ and “EV +1″ (in terms of whole f-stops darker or brighter) to bring out highlights and shadows respectively. Exposure Value is explained here. When I’m shooting around town I usually eschew the tripod; as a result all of my photos are hand-held. HDR requires that all the photos be precisely the same: shaky hands, moving body- or machine-parts or other artifacts distort the final image and ruin the effect.
I use two methods to combat this: first is to use auto exposure-bracketing to take a normal exposure and automatically shoot one shot over exposed and one under–all with one steady press of the shutter button. This still takes three shutter cycles, giving me plenty of time to add some distorting camera- or even SLR mirror-shake exacerbated by the long telephoto lens I frequently use for the Faces of New York project. The second method is to take one picture, properly exposed, in an uncompressed RAW file format. Shooting in RAW keeps all the raw, untouched photo sensor data available from the time of the shot rather than processing a final, compressed image. The files are massive–my camera averages 21-30MB per photo. However, this extra data allows the photographer to tweak exposures, contrast, white balance and a few other key settings well after the fact to create a more usable image or to save a shot that looked fine on the small camera screen but failed muster on the monitor.
What’s great about this technique is that I can take a photo that is a normal exposure and, with a little luck, create my EV +/-1 or even +/-2 shots in Aperture from duplicates of the original and merge these in Photoshop to effect a high-dynamic-range photo without having to carry a tripod.
This leaves hands free for carrying other very important things, like coffee.