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Vapour Trails
updated: Dec 17, 2013, 12:53 PM

By Andrew Langley

Did anyone catch the vapour trail show at sunrise this morning? It looked like the trails were shooting straight out from the sun. Unfortunately I didn't have a wide enough lens to capture the entire show I was witnessing but this is the closest I got to it. Alas, the purists may find fault in the fact I had to use HDR techniques to best represent what my eyes were seeing. But I kept it subtle enough not to offend… too much.

HDR, or high dynamic range, is a method of blending multiple images together to capture the details in the shadows, mid tones and highlights that the eye can see but cameras often don't. Ever notice that the shots of bright subjects often leave silhouettes of shadow areas you could see details clearly in real life? That's because your eye can see between 16 to 22 stops of light (a stop is the doubling of light from one exposure/brightness level to the next) and most cameras see 5 or 6. So with HDR one takes an exposure to get details in the highlights (underexpose so shadows and mid tones are truly dark), a normal exposure and one to get details in the shadows (overexpose so highlights are totally blown out and mid tones overly bright). These 3 (or more) exposures are then blended in Photoshop to give an image with good details in the extreme ranges of brightness of the subject.

The problem with HDR is that it is often associated with over the top "artistic" representations that are surreal in a grungy, edgy sort of style. Many find this type of processing disturbing and distasteful. But there has been a renaissance in HDR to keep it real and use it as a tool to better represent photographically what the eye can witness. Personally I laboured intensely to make this image as true to what I saw as possible rather than take liberties to improve it which is my natural tendency.


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I took a photo of the vapor trails this morning from the Daily Grind on Mission and De la Vina. (Daniel Seibert)

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