Photography,  Travel

France and HDR, Again

Although I actually post much more often than I thought I would when creating this blog, it’s been a little while since my last post – in part, because I spent much of last week in France on a business trip to try and reduce the complexity of some of our products. Most of this trip was spent in Strasbourg, France – a city with a population of under 300,000 that sits at the easternmost point in France, very close to the German border.┬áThe thing that’s amazing about France – and about Europe in general – is that it seems like every time you turn a corner, you might just be staring into the face of an intricate, beautiful, historical building. Strasbourg is no exception to the rule; look down an alley, and you might see this:

That’s an entrance the main cathedral in Strasbourg, at 6:30am when I was walking around before the start of the meetings for the day. Being close to the summer solstice is nice; in the winter, it’s dark when you head the office and dark when you leave. Here’s another view of the same building:

In an attempt to make these posts more RSS-friendly, more thoughts and the HDR comments are after the jump… if I configured WordPress correctly.

The main cathedral is one of the bigger buildings there, but there are plenty of nice smaller ones too. In fact, on an earlier trip to Strasbourg, I wound up being late for dinner – I was told that the restaurant was right across from a large cathedral and that I couldn’t really miss it. So after walking out from my hotel and encountering a large cathedral, I searched all around for the restaurant but couldn’t find it. Turns out that less than a kilometer away was the bigger cathedral pictured above – all walking distance in a relatively small city!

Even zipping by smaller villages on the TGV (France’s bullet trains, which run at around 300 km/h), you see a good number of classic structures beyond what you’d expect to find in most North American cities. That’s what having a long history will do, I guess! And Paris is no exception; I’ve been many times there (as my company has many offices around Paris), yet every time, walking some random street I’ll hit yet another stunning building; there must be hundreds, if not thousands of them. Saturday morning, I was walking briskly to Gare du Nord to catch the RER (a regional rail line) to the airport, and just passed a random buildings like this:

There’s many buildings just like it in Paris, but my travel there is still infrequent enough that it hasn’t gotten old running into these places.

On most trips to Europe, I wind up with a little time there on the weekend simply because this allows for some jet-lag adjustments and often reduces the airfare to 50% of what it would otherwise be. This trip was an exception (though I had to fly via Zurich for the ticket to be affordable), and I very nearly didn’t bring my camera at all as I anticipated having no time to walk around. Fortunately, I did, because even just heading to/from the train station there’s things worth remembering!

Figuring I might not even take my camera out of the bag depending on how things went, I brought just one lens, the 18-200 that I started taking pictures with a little over 3 years ago. It’s still fantastic when I want to bring just one lens that has great coverage, and since business travel is one of those rare circumstances in which my kids aren’t around, having a fast lens isn’t nearly as critical – VR works just great on buildings. While I rarely use it around town, it’s definitely great for travel.

So what does HDR have to do with any of this? Well, this trip provided a single but compelling example of the point I was tried to make in an earlier post on HDR – specifically, that with the massive dynamic range of modern DSLRs (and the D7000 in particular, though the D5100 gives you the exact same sensor), unless you’re really going for absolute image quality (as a professional should, but a non-photographer capturing memories doesn’t need to), HDR is truly unnecessary. Here’s a shot of some random building in Strasbourg, taken at 9:30pm at night (at which time the sun was just getting below the horizon), at default settings:

Worthless, right? A fairly straightforward set of Lightroom adjustments later, and it was looking a little more interesting:

I liked that building for some reason, don’t ask why! The sky was really nice that evening, I didn’t capture it will in this photo, but the contrast was very nice. Still, the point is that if you can pull all that detail out of the shadows, then shooting multiple exposure bracketed shots and applying some HDR tool after the fact just seems unnecessary. ┬áMost of the above was just apply lots of fill light in Lightroom with a single slider. If you click for the larger image, you’ll see that while image quality isn’t spectacular – remember, this is the 18-200 at f/5.6 (close to wide open for the 18-200), hand-held at 9:30pm, and the effective ISO on the building is probably approaching 2000 – it’s good enough for me to remember where I’ve been!

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