An afternoon in Rock Creek Park

April 24, 2011  •  Leave a Comment
Since Congress is out of session for the Easter holiday, I was able to get off work a little early on Thursday and head over to Rock Creek Park to do some hiking and take some photos. The late afternoon sun gave me this great forest shot with the sun streaming through the leaves.

The dogwoods are in bloom here in the District and when I went to the park, I was hoping that I would see a bunch of them along Rock Creek. I would have liked to get a shot of a dogwood in bloom leaning out over some rapids. Unfortunately, I didn't find very many dogwoods. But I did find this one growing next to the creek. Since the tree wasn't actually leaning out over the water, I had to get a bit creative. To get the shot, I stood up very high on top of Boulder Bridge and use a telephoto lens. I think it turned out nicely. The setting sun provided some nice accents to the flowers and leaves.

While I was there, I also took a photo of Boulder Bridge. It is one of the most iconic structures in Rock Creek Park. (I'll definitely have to try this one again in the fall.)

When I took this photo, the highlights in the trees were too bright and all washed out. Likewise, the shadows around the bridge were too dark. So, I took three photos, one with the trees exposed correctly, but everything else too dark, one with the shadows exposed correctly, but everything else too bright, and one balance in between. Later, I used some software to merge (or blend) the photos into a single composite, which you see above.

This blending technique is called High Dynamic Range (HDR) processing. The idea is HDR processing will allow you to take photos of very high contrast scenes that can't otherwise be taken with a normal camera. The most popular software for HDR processing is Photomatix. I've played with the software and I find that it's very easy to exaggerate the HDR effect and very difficult to achieve natural or subtle results.

My experience with Photomatix and with viewing a lot of really terrible HDR images online had turned me off to HDR processing. However, a couple of things have caused me to reconsider. I recently read an article by landscape photographer Tom Till about the virtues of HDR processing and some of his HDR images are quite amazing. I also read about a new HDR processing plugin for Aperture called Nik HDR Efex Pro that promises to give more natural and subtle results than Photomatix. So, I downloaded a demo of Nik HDR Efex Pro and figured I'd try it out on some of the images I took last Thursday. So far, from my experimentation, the reputation of the Nik plugin is well deserved.

Without using any HDR software, the sky in the photo above was washed out, without any detail, and the creek was way too dark. I used the Nik plugin to generate this image and I think the results are nice. It's not obvious that HDR was used to generate the image and the effect is subtle. The new software is promising. I'll definitely have to experiment more with HDR in the future.


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