Archive for the 'Architectural Photography' Category

Slangkop Lighthouse

Slangkop Lighthouse, Cape Town

 

Slangkop Lighthouse, near Kommetjie, Cape Town

My wife Lorna and I took a drive out to Slangkop Lighthouse near Kommetjie this weekend hoping for some good sunset photography. It was a fun drive through the beautiful Chapman’s Peak, watching the storm clouds over the ocean, but it ended up being pretty cold and bleak at Kommetjie with not much break in the clouds. Still, it was fun to experiment with my under-utilised Lee filters and try some long exposure shots. This one was a thirty second exposure in rapidly falling light, and blurred the clouds and water in an interesting way. These big glass filters are fiddly and slippery things, and I’m waiting to drop one on a rock. That will be a sad and expensive day.

According to my googling, Slangkop (‘snake head’) is the tallest cast iron lighthouse on the South African coast. It started operation in 1919 and is the fourth most powerful lighthouse in the country. I hadn’t realised that lighthouses could be pre-fab cast iron structures, and it was interesting seeing close up that what I had always assumed was a masonry structure was actually made of large metal panels.

I have a slight niggle. I took this shot during the beautiful ‘blue hour’ period, just after sunset, when the sky fills with rich and mysterious blue tones. But if I shoot in black and white, can I still call it a blue hour shot?

 

Ephesus

Library of Celsus at Ephesus, Turkey

 

Library of Celsus, Ephesus, Turkey

This is the beautiful Library of Celsus at Ephesus in Turkey, now nearly 1,900 years old.

The building was built both as a library to hold some 12,000 scrolls and as a memorial to Tiberius Julius Celsus, a Roman senator, consul and governor of Asia. Consul Celsus was rich enough to leave enough money to build the library, and he was buried in a sarcophagus inside it, this somewhat surprising mix of functions being apparantly as unusual then as today. The Library was completed in 135 AD, and was one of the best stocked of ancient times. It burnt down in an earthquake about 130 years later, leaving only the facade. It was rebuilt as a nymphaeum, which is rather less racy than it sounds, and was just an elaborate water feature. This too was destroyed, including the facade, in the late Byzantine period. The facade was restored in the 1970s to the state you see it here, and today it is one of the highlights of Ephesus.

It’s a stunning piece of architecture, and the stonework is incredibly carved. Need I say it makes me very happy to see so much money and effort expended on a library? Yes, it does. Well done, Consul Celsus!

It’s also hard to tell that I was surrounded by about 10,000 people when I took this picture. This place is beset by tourists from dawn till dusk, and getting people-free photographs here is a serious challenge. In the parking lot outside, they were playing a game of ‘fit 100 tour buses into a parking lot designed for 20’ that involved a lot of hooting. It was quite a sight, and made me glad we walked the two kilmetres from the nearest town instead of bussed.

Contact

Telescope at Sutherland

 

South African Astronomical Observatory, Sutherland

This is one of over a dozen telescopes operated by the South African Astronomical Observatory at their main base of operations at Sutherland in the Northern Cape. They range from some rather old ones from the 1940s, to the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), inaugurated in 2005, which is new and quite, well, large.

The observatory was moved from Cape Town in the early 1970s because of light pollution, and Sutherland was selected as the new site because it was far from any light sources, and because it is one of the most cloud-free parts of the country. Funny that when we were there the clouds decided to come out and spoil our night time star-gazing (but aid our photography). The (usual) lack of clouds, together with the altitude here, also means that Sutherland is legendarily cold, and is usually the coldest part of the country every winter. This time we stayed in an old stone cottage in the town with lots of charm but no heating whatsoever, and so spent most of the time in several jerseys, trying to keep slightly warm.

I’ve made a few visits now to Sutherland in winter, and keep hoping to be caught in the snow, but no luck yet. For a South African, where we get almost no snow, it seems the most glamourous excuse in the world to call in leave at work due to being snowed in!

The image is an HDR composite of 3 hand held images, at exposure compensations of -2, 0 and 2, and they were tone-mapped in Photomatix Pro Software.

Photomatix vs Hand Blended HDR

View from a Cave House in Cappadocia (Photomatix version)View from a cave house in Cappadocia

Selime Monastery, Cappadocia, Turkey (Left: Photomatix version | Right: Hand Blended version)

In my previous post, I talked about how I used the concept of Luminance Masks from Tony Kuyper’s blog to make a hand blended HDR as an alternative to Photomatix. This post shows a side by side comparison of the Photomatix version of the image on the left, and the hand blended version on the right.

Bear in mind that I haven’t worked as much on the Photomatix version, which could be made to look a little better, but it still serves as a good comparison. Also bear in mind that I’ve only done one hand blended HDR to date and many, many Photomatix ones, so Photomatix has the advantage there. I’m not going to talk much about how to do hand blending as Tony does an excellent job of it on his blog, and I recommend that you read it.

Here’s what I think so far:

    • Ease of Use.
      Cave with a View (Photomatix Settings)

      Photomatix tonemapping settings used for this image.

      Photomatix is far and away the easier of the two techniques to use. Tonemapping your three bracketed images in Photomatix takes all of a minute, and the final image can then be cleaned up and adjusted in Photoshop, which should take from a few minutes to an hour at most. Hand blending requires far more decision making, followed by a lot of selections and actions in Photoshop. These can be speeded up by automating in Photoshop, but even so this first image took me three evenings to complete. With practice, I could reduce the time a lot, but it would still be nowhere near as fast as Photomatix.
    • Control. Photomatix has a few sliders to twiddle and then it throws out a tonemapped image. There’s not much control, but it does what it needs to do very well. The downside is that you can only work on the overall image, and you seldom get it that you are happy with the entire image. Hand blending lets you have an incredible amount of control. You can split your images into as many zones of tonal range from light to dark as you like, and you can decide exactly which ones to blend together in which part of your image. The choice is so open that it’s quite overwhelming, but that’s the fun of it. On the image above, I think Photomatix has flattened the rock texture in the cave too much, and has done odd things to the sky, but has improved the texture on the light ground outside the cave. Hand blending allowed me to improve the inside rock texture, although I think I could have done a better job on the outside ground.
    • Picture Quality. 
      Cave with a View (Photoshop Layers)

      Photoshops layers used for hand blended HDR instead of Photomatix tonemapping. The bracket set is arranged from darkest on top to lightest on the lowest layer, and the luminance masks are carefully created to ensure the best blend of the three images.

      The way in which the techniques differ makes a big difference in final image quality. Photomatix blends your three bracketed photos together into one tonemapped image, and in the process can increase the amount of noise in the image considerably. If you go too aggressive on the settings, you can also get unpleasant looking haloes forming on edges between light and dark  areas (for example at the rock / sky edge of the above image). With hand blending you layer your bracketed photos on top of each other in Photoshop. You then use masks to determine which parts of which image you want to see. Because you aren’t processing the underlying images, you aren’t increasing noise, forming haloes, or producing other undesirable effects on your image. The difference is very apparent to me when I look at a full size version of each of these images, but makes less difference at web sizes.
    • Look. Photomatix has a look that has become quite prevalent in the world of HDR. Some people love it, some hate it. I enjoy it, especially when not overdone, but it remains a very distinctive look. What I’ve enjoyed about hand blending so far is that it doesn’t seem to automatically have a look, or at least it’s more natural, and you are far more free to make the HDR image match your memory of the scene.

In summary, Photomatix will allow you to process your HDRs quickly, they will look pretty good, but will have a distinctive Photomatix look. Hand blending will take considerably more time and Photoshop skills, but will allow for a better quality image with a very high degree of control in the blending and final look.

Cave with a view

View from a cave house in Cappadocia

 

Selime Monastery, Cappadocia, Turkey

If you were a monk living in the Selime Monastery, this is the lovely view you would have from your room … of the volcano. Maybe to remind you of the fire and brimstone that awaits you in the next world if you don’t behave yourself in this one? The volcano is the reason this room is carved from the rock, and why there are so many cave houses in Cappadocia. This volcano, and the two others in the neighbourhood, have over time covered the whole area in a volcanic rock called tuff, which is quite soft as rock goes. From about the 5th century AD the area became popular with early Christians who were hiding from the Romans and later from the Turks, and they accommodated themselves by carving dwellings out of the tuff. This entire monastery complex is carved from the rock, with chapels, sleeping rooms, store rooms and stables, and dates from about the 13th century. There are several other churches nearby, also carved from the rock, and some are still covered in beautiful wall paintings dating back many centuries. Nearby there is even an underground city carved from the rock, which descends 11 stories and 85 metres underground. The whole Cappadocian region has long been distinctive for its cave dwellings and many are still in use even today. It’s an amazing place to visit, and totally weird and alien.

 

Before and After

This is my first attempt at manual HDR, and I’m quite pleased with the results. I used the usual -2, 0 and +2 exposure bracketing and hand held the shots. When it came to tone mapping, I abandoned my usual Photomatix and used the luminance mask technique of Tony Kuyper to manually blend my three shots. This let me carefully select which parts of each exposure to use, and allowed me to keep the HDR look quite subtle. The down side is that it took many more hours to produce the final result, and the Photoshop file was approaching a gig in size at some points. Even with 4 gigs of RAM my iMac turned into iMolasses. I’m sure more practice will speed the workflow up considerably though.

The before and after shots show the 0 exposure compensation shot on the left, and the hand blended HDR on the right. Next time I will post a before and after with the Photomatix version of this image, and chat about how the techniques differ.

 

View from a cave house in Cappadocia (before)View from a cave house in Cappadocia



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