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Spiral Staircase Architecture

How much of an inspiration an (un)usual staircase can be? It’s hard to say precisely. It depends on the day, time, how interesting the architecture is, or it simply depends on the mood. Sometimes you make (n)one, sometimes you make ten good photos. I’m not sure which mood I was in, but I could not help but photograph it from all possible angles. Any place or thing has many faces, you just have to be lucky or curious enough to try to reveal them. And to shoot them, of course. :))

Skylight

Although slightly derelict, the staircase looked very interesting with it’s shape and a skylight on the top. Yes, it really looks interesting, but how to capture it? If you want to know more continue reading, if you’re not interested, just skip this geek-part :))

It is not enough just to take your camera there and press the shutter. It always takes a lot more than just a nice idea… How can you capture dynamic range this high, without compromising a quality with editing a single exposure?  If you want to know more, read further :)

How to make a better HDR photograph in this light conditions?

Both of the photos (above and below) are HDR, stitched out of 6 different exposures. Why 6 instead of (usual) 3? Luckily, I knew I could not rely only on only three in this case, because the HDR software (I use Photomatix) is really sensitive on the details which are in the areas of very high contrast (parts of the photo where very light and very dark areas come close to each other). Therefore, it is usually necessary to make more than three exposures of the scene in order to get satisfactory result.

How do I expose for best results?

I used Auto Exposure Bracketing option on my camera, and set it to +/- 2 stops, let the light meter do it’s work (mostly I use center-weighted average metering on camera), and set the middle exposure to 0. After I make first 3 exposures, I set exposure compensation to either +1 or -1 stop. + or – depends on the result of first 3 exposures – I check photos and see if the lightest exposure has all the details in the brightest parts. If that is the case I set it to +1 (overexpose) for next three photos, to capture more details in the darkest parts of the scene. The same rule goes for the opposite situation – if the brightest parts of the photo are still too bright after first 3 exposures, I use -1 (underexpose) for next 3 exposures to capture more details in the brightest parts of the scene.

You can do all of that manually, of course, and shoot 6 exposures from darkest to lightest by adjusting exposure time manually. In any case, you need tripod and shutter release cable.

Conclusion

No HDR software algorithm is perfect, so you have to think in advance. There is not much use if you find out you cannot do a god job after you return home. Stop for a second, evaluate the scene, think of how big the light range is between darkest and brightest part, try to predict software errors and shoot accordingly. HDR software will do a great job if you ‘feed’ it with enough material.

In this particular case (HDR photos of the staircase) I’d tried to stitch only three exposures (lightest, darkest and middle as first measured by the camera) but the result was disappointing: areas around skylight had way too much errors – chromatic aberrations, unnatural dark stains and halos. But, three additional exposures, a bit ‘darker’ than what camera had measured on the skylight, saved the day.

Bottom line is, you can always make only three exposures and have satisfactory result if the photo is reduced to the web size, but if you ever do any pixel-peeping  or want to make a larger print of it, many flaws will pop out. Flaws, which could be avoided just by adding few more exposures.  Try it and test it, you’ll know what I’m talking about. :)

Half

When shooting in places like this, I always have uncomfortable feeling because any of the tenants might be unfriendly to the photographers, or they might take it as a privacy violation. Therefore, I tend to keep very quiet, but the shutter sound always gives me away.

Old

Here is black and white version from another angle. :)

Up and down

A view from upstairs.

Spiral