HDR with film

A HARSH, blown-out sky can make a real mess of a photo but in some lighting situations it is unavoidable.
With digital, ways around this – taking multiple shots and merging them, or making different exposures from the same RAW file and combining them, are well documented.
So I asked myself, why couldn’t I do the same with film? And the answer was that I could.
Using a negative that I had shot around midday in the harsh Arabian sunshine I scanned it first for the shadow detail in the boat:

Then I scanned it again (without moving it in the scanner) with the settings adjusted to pull all the information I could out of the sky (and maybe out of a bit of the background fog in the negative):

From here it was a simple affair to drag one layer on top of the other and align them perfectly in Photoshop (there are plenty of tutorials about how to do that on the Net), I went to the blue layer, selected everything from the bottom of the buildings downwards and, after applying a large feather value, I deleted it.

The blue cast over the flag needed selective erasing as did the mast and then I tweaked the colour balance a little in each layer so that they looked right together before flattening the image.

Finally, a minor adjustment with NIK software’s “brilliance” control and a little work on the image contrast and I was done:

Previously (this photo is a couple of years old) the best I could do was strike a compromise between the sky and the detail on the boat, which was still an acceptable picture but was certainly inferior to this version.

All in all, this is a bizarre marriage of old and new. The camera I used was my Ensign Commando folder from the 1940s and I think its low contrast lens helped to retain detail in the shadowed area of the boat.

The final result is now available for licensing as stock here or for purchase as a fine art print here (that link shows a much larger version of the final picture).

About ambientimages

Paul Cowan is a former journalist turned full-time photographer.
This entry was posted in Colour film, Folding cameras, Photographic techniques, Photography, Photomerging, Scanning and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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