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Photo Testing & Killing Time

June 12 through 26

Written July 1

Dear Friends and Family,


While Marianne was gone visiting kids, I was at home looking for things to do. I did the required yard work and even a bit of house work, but I did indeed run out of things to do -- it's rural Germany after all. However, one activity I was able to try out was photography, including some things I am just beginning to learn.

The first of these is HDR, High Dynamic Range. Basically, it means taking three or more pictures with one "correctly exposed" and at least one more over- and another under-exposed. In the modern darkroom, computer software combines the three shots to record a range of exposure from the very bright to the very dark. It takes much more preparation, patience, and follow-through than regular snapping, but that's OK -- once I have enough time.

Here are results from just a quick tour of the neighborhood coffee and cakes restaurant, overlooking our neighbor's palace.

HDR does skies particularly well.

Since I do still work full-time, my next opportunity came on Thursday, a holiday in our part of Germany. I chose to drive home slowly, stopping by a pair of tourist attractions: Mespelbrunn Palace, just outside of the Frankfurt area and Marienberg Fortress on a hill over Würzburg.

First stop: Schloss Mespelbrunn (Wiki or Official Site) Mespelbrunn was an elaborate hunting lodge and it is still in use. Unfortunately for me, it also has limited opening hours and I was limited to a view from outside the fence.

Normal Exposure
A normal exposure just can't do much with an overly bright sky, but HDR lets an underexposed version show what's there.
In a shot without so much light variation, the HDR effect is less.
On a strongly backlit scenes, the difference was less than I would have thought.
Here, a simple rotted stump, shows a nice result from HDR. The cracks and crannies that are too dark normally are clearly visible in HDR.

My next stop was the fortress overlooking Würzburg, Fortress Marienberg (Wiki or museum). It is a very dramatic building from afar, but I was going to try a closer visit.

The entrance to the fortress runs in elaborate passages through thick walls. This HDR shot shows how the multiple-exposures can capture a range that is impossible with a single shot.
Inside one wall, facing a walkway over a moat, we can again see the HDR difference in the sky.
This is a shot over the moat, across a wall, over to a church. (Also called Marienberg.)
Along the pathway, a small house has been preserved. The day had very dull light, but overdoing the "darkroom controls" makes an interesting little picture.

So, what did I learn about HDR. First, it is more complicated, from setting up the tripod everywhere to the darkroom time. But on tourist scenes with bright skies, or even with bright gray skies, the difference is quite nice. Finally, not every shot is better this way.

The next technique I wanted to try was "off-camera flash". This too seems easier than it is. Every photo book or article says flash taken from on top of the camera gives bad light and we have all seen the deer-in-the-headlights look they refer to, the one with red eyes and scary skin colors. From time to time I had been reading a website, called the Strobist, and the author advocates all sorts of interesting ways to take better pictures , primarily by taking the flash off the camera and thinking about where the light should come from.

Of course, good light is the bread and butter of professional photographers and studio lighting is an art in itself. The "strobist" approach is somewhere in between professional lighting and just getting by with available light. Like HDR, it involves more set up than just snapping a Kodak moment, but cutting down on the number of pictures shot in favor of better ones can't be all bad.

First I tested in the barn. I want to try lighting with next week's big BBQ, so I needed to see if I could follow the instructions I had seen. First, I had to locate some old camera flashes I have bought over the years, ones that can be manually adjusted. One of the advantages of the strobist approach is one can use old or second-hand gear. A disadvantage is that almost everything is manual.

After I found my old flash and fed it with newly-charged batteries, I was almost ready. I connected a pair of electronic gadgets connecting my camera and the flash so I didn't have to run wires, and I was set. The secret to the technique is trial-and-error. Really. With modern digital cameras, we get to see results right away so I just manually adjusted the camera and snapped. And then manually adjusted the flash and snapped. And then repeated again and again until the result was OK. In the olden days, the film days, this was not practical and one needed high quality light metering to get the shot but now, just snap, look, and try again. Given shooting time, I think I can handle it. However, I do have to admit the end product looks pretty normal, not special at all. At least the car didn't end up with redeye and bad skin color.


After killing an hour or two in the barn, I moved to an indoor "studio" shot. In this case, I set up the camera and two old flash units on the kitchen counter to try a close-up of an orchid. Again, lots of trial and error and this time I had two flashes to manually adjust. In the end, the result was OK, but I have to say that the best result was that I learned more about light .

So that's it. I learned a bit. I was reminded once again that I need more play time (retirement?). And I was certainly ready for Marianne to come back so I wouldn't need to work so hard killing time. But that's the next story.




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