This night shot features the castle of Ooidonk (near Gent, Belgium), taken around ten o'clock on an April evening, after a day of open air shooting in the beautiful surroundings of the Leie river.I passed by the spot the picture was taken from earlier that day, and the idea of returning there after nightfall had come up immediately. I really should have gotten out a few hours earlier to take advantage of the 'blue hour' - just after sunset, for a better light in the sky. But at that time I was enjoying dinner with a fine group of friends/ photographers...
I realized it would take some care in shooting and post-processing to preserve the mood of the moment. So I came prepared with my tripod, set the D700 to ISO 200 (bye bye noise) and to RAW (keep all options open!), and shot three frames at 1 EV difference, by varying exposure time:
Post-processing started in Lightroom, moving to Photomatix Pro to combine the three images in 'exposure blending' mode. I much prefer this dynamic range processing approach to the 'traditional' HDR techniques, as it leads to a more natural 'photographic' look of the final result.
The -2 EV image still shows burnt highlights (most noticeable on the tower roof in the middle of the frame); so I created an additional -4 EV variant in Lightroom (making a virtual copy of the -2 EV NEF file and reducing exposure by -2 EV), and then went back to Photomatix for a blend of now 4 images. Still not ideal, I should have made more bracketed shots to begin with, but anyhow a noticeable improvement.
A couple of graduated fills helped balance the various parts of the image (top/bottom, left/middle/right): there was for example a very bright spotlight barely out of frame at the right hand side, which required some local darkening. I warmed the colors and pushed the saturation (or rather, the vibrance) to get closer to my recollection of the scene. Finally, I added a more panoramic cropping.
I have taken the habit of exploring how my shots turn out in a black & white version. The one below came by playing around with contrast, adding a touch of vignetting and pushing the crop a little further. But I still prefer the color version!
Gear notes: D700, AF-S 24-70/2.8
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