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Exposure Blending Tips For Architectural Photography

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Category: Architecture

Exposure Blending Tutorial - David Clapp explains how he uses exposure blending on architectural shots.

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Article by David Clapp - www.davidclapp.co.uk

Three blended images
 
Architectural photography has always been a passion of mine. If you are someone who follows my work, you will have noticed I seem to have gone off landscape, other than infrared. It's become the number one feature in my 2012 portfolio and this is because of the technological challenges and originality I find sadly lacking in modern landscapes thinking. Talking with workshop clients and photo friends, most can't believe that I actually think about processing images as I am taking them. Yes that's right, I'm often blending in my head while pressing the shutter, a complete nerd.

For me, photography is all about the marriage of computer and camera. My mind runs riot with ideas, then I choose a focal length, position the camera and press the shutter to 'collect the data' (how unromantic does that sound). Return home clear headed, assemble the parts with precision and voilà, unusual imagery to say the least. This image, taken in the City of Artts and Sciences in Valencia, stands out from the others so it warrants further explanation. Here's how I went about it.

Just looking up at the batwing pattern of shadows gave this image a huge draw, so I set about assembling a shot with as much sci-fi as I could. This is a one storey lift, a disabled lift. The entrance's arches in the top and bottom let a multitude of light sources inside and it is this that creates the intricate shadow patterns.

All the images were taken with a Canon 1Ds Mk III with a Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 lens at f/11 – f/8. The camera was in manual mode, using 10 second and 2 second exposures, as a result, a cable release was required.
 

Data Collection

Here are the images as they look out of Lightroom:
 
Three images to blend together
Shot One Shot Two Shot Three

Shot One – Blast Off (4 seconds, ISO100)
After shooting a lift in Prague a few years back, I knew exactly what to do. I beckoned the lift down and after the doors opened I pressed the button, before jumping back out. Run to the camera, press the shutter and capture the lights underneath the lift blasting upwards, just like a rocket.

Shot Two – Claw Hands (1 second, ISO200)
Wait until the lift stops and capture the second shot of the lift. The 'burners' are now visible underneath, so this adds another focal point at the top of the image. All these images seem somewhat underexposed, but that's because they are for the highlights. The shadows images are yet to come.

This image took precise alignment and Rachel, my partner, helped get me in position. The 'square head' is the end of a hydraulic piston, coincidentally aligned to head height when the lift is on floor one. Get the robot hands ready, deep breath and then Rachel takes the shot. The higher shutter speed stops me from moving.

Shot Three – The Bat Cave (30 seconds, ISO100)
Now a long exposure. This image is for the shadows, which blows out the highlights and renders all those wonderful shapes. As long as all the shadow data is captured, that's all that matters. 
 

Assembly

The first three images are easy to blend as they are all the same exposure times. They could be stacked using smart layers + layer blend modes, but I manually blended them as it wasn't necessary. The final layer was then added, to bring out the shadow detail and get the shot looking balanced. Flatten, then start working on contrast to push and build tonality into the shadows in particular. The more the image is pushed, the more the batwings appear. All contrast adjustments are made using multiple luminosity masks to control tone based on pixel value.

Finally the black and white conversion was performed using the B&W filter, then split toned to add blues to the blacks and reds to the highlights. It's subtle and you can barely know its there, but it makes the end result look inky, something I have never had the fortune of seeing in the chemical darkroom, but an attribute I love none the less.
 
Article by David Clapp - www.davidclapp.co.uk

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