It's not every day you get to see Shakespeare performed live in Okinawa, so when I heard that a theatre troupe from Cambridge University in England was on the island to perform a play, I was thrilled. Even better that it was free admission! I arrived there at around 3:45 pm in the afternoon and, while I was waiting for others to show up, I walked around the tiny campus. Looking up at the cross at the top of the chapel, I thought Why not snap a few pics before the play starts?
So, I went back to fetch my camera and tripod from my car and started searching for a good angle. I wanted a shot up at the cross with some trees in the immediate foreground and the sky in the background. Unfortunately, this was a tough shot to get because there weren't very many trees and none of them were in exactly the right spot. To make matters worse, the sun was on the other side of the building, meaning I was shooting the face of the building that was in shadow against a bright, cloudy sky, And, to top it all off, looking at the building from square on there was a very prominent high-voltage power line to the left side of the steeple, and a massive cell tower to the right. Hardly ideal shooting conditions, but whining is for amateurs. Nobody was paying me to take these shots, but every time I go out to shoot I like to imagine that I'm on the clock and that a client is expecting me to come up with something worthy of my fee. To make a long story short, this is what I came up with.
To get this shot, I had to literally stand in a small tree. This gave me the advantage of having lots of foliage in the immediate foreground to add interest and texture to the frame, close enough that I cold keep it in reasonably soft focus, even on a wide lens at a fairly low stop. Exposure was the real challenge. The building was quite dark against the sky, as you can see from the shadow of the steeple against the clock tower to the right, and the foliage was practically a silhouette at any stop that would give me enough detail in the sky. Fortunately, I was shooting RAW, so I knew I'd have a lot of dynamic range to work with in post. All I had to do was make sure the sky wasn't so hot that I could't recover colour and detail. I had to hope that I could boost the luminance of the foliage without getting adding too much noise.
From the result, it looks like my plan succeeded. In processing, the firs thing I did was correct the exposure downward by 0.15% of a stop. This brought the steeple into the right luminance range. It's still hot relative to how it looked to the naked eye, but I'm happy with the result. Next, I reduced the highlights, which were essentially the clouds and the brightest parts of the sky, This worked wonders to restore detail. Then, I boosted the shadows (but not the blacks) to bring up the leaves (which went from very dark green to a lighter tone). I then used the colour-separated channel sliders to selectively boost the luminance of the green channel very subtly, then increased the green chroma, again very slightly. I dropped the luminance of the blue channel, stopping just before an aliasing effect became visible along the edges of the steeple. Finally, I increased the blue chroma, applied luminance noise reduction and saved the result, a highly compressed version of which you see above.
Not bad, I think. Would a client looking for a shot to put on a post card or include in a brochure aimed at prospective students be happy with this? Probably yes. But it's not the kind of sexy, stylized, eye-popping shot pro photographers like to feature on their websites. For that, I waited until the play was over, at which point I decided to try a few night shots. This is the one I liked best.
This is a 20 second exposure at ISO 100. Even if I'd have a better camera than my 10 year old Canon Rebel SLR, I wouldn't have increased the ISO by much, because I needed a long exposure to produce the wispy effect in the clouds, which were crossing the sky at quite a good clip. What I really like about this shot are the ghosts on the grass. All kinds of people were milling around, but none of them stood still for long enough to form a sharp, opaque image. In contrast to the first shot, This one was totally unprocessed except for a slight boost in the green channel to bring out the grass and a bit of noise reduction.
I drool over new cameras whenever they come out, but I think I've shown that a skilled photographer can pull off some decent shots even on a very old camera in less than perfect shooting conditions.
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