Beautiful light… Tripod… Bracketed exposures… Photomatix… Camera Raw
Last night a few of us set out on an adventure to try some light painting… both Eric Curry and Dave Black style. This has been a recent passion of mine, so I plan to start posting my light painting work. However, while we were getting set up, I saw this beautiful sunset and snagged this this image just in the nick of time, before the sun disappeared for good. Please keep in mind, it takes some work to get a shot like this. You need to take several different exposures of the same scene, then you need to blend them together for optimal exposure. I took six bracketed images, to get a variety of exposures, then I used Photomatix and Camera Raw in my post production process. In some of my shots of this old International, the truck was very dark, almost black, but the sky was great. Others show more light on the truck, but the sky was blown out (much too bright to show details.) The idea here is to get all different areas of the image exposed properly without artificial light. Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to using auxiliary lighting. I do it all the time. However, it is fun to meet the challenge to get a great image without using additional lighting.

In case you have a a DSLR and are interested in the details…

Here are Ten Steps to a Fascinating Image:

1. Set your camera on a tripod. 
2. Set your ISO to 100, and be sure Auto ISO is off.
3. Turn off your VR (vibration reduction) feature on your lens. (Always do this when you are on a tripod. VR helps when you try to handhold in low light, but it actually produces a little movement when you are on a tripod with no movement at all.)
4. Take a test shot in Manual Mode and determine your settings.  In this case, I chose 1/60 with f/16 as my starting point. It looked fine and gave me some good color in the sky. I usually start with a shot that is fairly underexposed.
5. Turn on Bracketing or AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing). You may want to start with three frames at 0, +2, -2. I used six frames with this image, but it not that necessary to have more than three.
6. Use your self-timer to avoid camera shake from pressing the shutter. You may want to set your timer to take three successive shots. On a Canon, I think you need to set your shutter release to Continuous for this to work. It is best to read your owners manual about how to bracket exposures. NOTE:  Be sure you turn off the bracketing feature, or you will keep getting 0, +2, -2 in a rotating patter and you will wonder why you get light, dark, then normal shots after that.
7. Take the shot and your camera should take all three shots automatically. One will be the way you set it up, and one will be darker and one will be lighter.
8. Take these images into an HDR processing software application such as Photomatix, or Dynamic Photo. You can get free trial versions of both these programs. You will be blending all three (or more) exposures to get the best possible light in each area of the image. Then you can “Tonemap” the image to finetune your contrast, saturation, etc.
9. If needed, open your image in Camera Raw to adjust lighting, clarity, etc.
10. If needed, mask in parts of the original image. I also often open the merged HDR image with the original image in Photoshop and do some more blending. I like to mask in some areas that look better in one of my originals. This is good if you get some funky skies or dark shadows, etc. from the HDR processing.

Have fun looking for a nice location, then wait for the perfect light, and set up your tripod to start your way through these ten steps to a fascinating image.

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