More HDR Panorama – Honolulu At Night

posted by tucker




I’ve been pretty busy lately doing video/photo shoots as well as continuing work for the High Museum, and when you combine that with the epically long time it took to edit this, you end up with the reason that I haven’t posted in a while. It’s worth it though! This pan is one of the largest photography-related projects I’ve undertaken, and that’s the main reason I put off editing it when I got back from Hawaii. The original photographs were taken around 10pm from the balcony of a cousin’s house in Honolulu. As you can see, the balcony had an absolutely unmatched view of the entire city of Honolulu, and the only reason I didn’t extend this further left was that it would have caught the house and deck in the frame and I wanted the focus to be on the city, houses, mountain, and clouds. Always clouds! The setup wasn’t hard, the only annoying thing was that the long exposure shot of each bracket was hitting the 30 second ceiling, so the overall process took about half an hour to get all of the brackets I wanted. I’ll go ahead and post the final shot for those of you who just want to see pretty pictures and don’t care about the text (I myself am guilty of this!)

The final product, after a week in Photomatix and Photoshop. It came out OK for what it is; I can't wait to do even more experimentation with HDR panoramas!

 

I really, really wish I’d been there about 2 hours earlier for this. HDR and night photography do not mix well (there are exceptions, but they are rare) and generally result in less than awesome images. This is because at night, there is no sun (…….) to create scenes with ultra-high contrast. Usually when you’re shooting at night, the lighting is pretty even (non-existant) and bracketing doesn’t add anything. Still, I bracketed away for this and thought to myself “meh, I may not end up even processing these because they’ll just be orange.” Sure enough, when I processed them, they were all that awful sickly orange color of the sodium lights that are on every single street around the world at night. The first few times you do long-exposure night photography in a city the lights are cool, but very, very quickly they become ugly and unwanted. Still, you sometimes have to make do. That would have been another benefit of being there earlier; the streetlights would have been off, allowing for a real difference in contrast between the sunset (bright) and the houses and mountains in shadow. Oh well. To give you an idea of what I had to work with, here’s an example of a single RAW file (unprocessed) and the HDR version of the same shot (processed only in Photomatix):

This is the neutral (0ev) exposure from the first bracketed set in the panorama.

This is the same shot, with the 3 bracketed RAWS processed into an HDR image in Photomatix.

So, admittedly, the HDR does help here as it gives me much greater tone in the houses and trees, and adds a bit to the sky and clouds but not much. The overwhelming problem here was the ORANGE… something had to be done. I processed the rest of the shots in Photomatix and began piecing it together in Photoshop. The orange problem became even more apparent at this stage:

 

Orange! Yuck!

It was flat, not dynamic and contrasty and “wow-inducing” like HDR should be. I hate sodium streetlights. It can’t be said enough. It’s one of the best things about night photography in places like Maine, because you can get just the tones that are there naturally. Anyway… At this stage, it would seem as if the hard work is over, in that I’ve pieced the 5 shots together and blended them so it looks like a continuous shot. That is usually the hardest part of doing the whole pan process, but it was not the case here. I then embarked on a crusade of de-oranging the shot, a process that took me all week mostly because I’d work on it some, get fed up, and come back the next day. I used a combination of selective color, color balance, and layer masks to slowly remove the orange from the places I didn’t want it, which was 95% of the panorama. A few days later, I had something like this:

 

Less orange, but less color in general... still not dynamic... getting there, but not done.

With the orange having been banished (or at least somewhat tamed), I was able to claim the first major victory. It still wasn’t right though, because in the process of de-oranging the image the clouds became white which they normally are, except when there’s a sunset, and that was half of the point of this picture to begin with. I made the decision to attempt to recreate the sunset that night by whatever means necessary, and that ended up meaning using much more Photoshop than I usually employ. I usually post-process my HDRs in Photoshop in order to add a bit of selective contrast and saturation, but for this I ended up having to do a ton of coloring, shading, and just generally breathing some life back into the shot. You can see the final result above but I’m finally pleased with it. Man was it a process though! The final shot is just how I like it: a bit over the top, a bit over-saturated, and bit over-contrasty, and a lot “wow!”

I’ve been using the pan as a dual-monitor desktop wallpaper which is pretty fun as it’s the first one that I’ve ever made. I’m adding it to the Desktops section now. Enjoy!

One Response to “More HDR Panorama – Honolulu At Night”

  1. AMNeSia says:

    Well…as always, love your work. To be honest…and IMHO, the orange actually looks good. Of course, the final image is always excellent, but I feel the orange actually looks good. It gives a kind of dusty, desert winds blowing feel to the place, and overall, looks a great image. Of course, as I said, it’s my opinion and I’m just being honest about it. If you have that image, could you post it?

    And BTW…what happened to the idea of posting the original image along with the modified one? Is it underway, or not yet? I understand you’re a busy person, so of course, I can understand, but just saying.

    Keep up the good work and have fun.