London photos are singing in the rain after HDR treatment

Picadilly Circus, LondonPicadilly Circus, London / Photo by Joe Newman

After playing around with Photomatix the last two weeks and seeing what it can do, there were several photos that I shot in the last year that I wanted to take another look at. In particular, there were some I took during our trip to London in October that I could never seem to get right during my original editing session.

It was one of those situations where when I took the shots, I thought to myself, “these rock,” only to be disappointed in post-production. The one I took in Picadilly Circus had some great elements — foreboding clouds, a slick roadway, the lit up Ripley’s building and a giant neon sign. But my Lightroom skills weren’t good enough to get a picture where the neon sign wasn’t either completely washed out or the rest of the picture too dark.

However, by processing it into an HDR image, I was able to get a photo that is more in line with what I had envisioned when I snapped it. The composite picks up the cars and people without losing the detail in the neon sign. I didn’t even notice the guy in the red rain coat on the right edge of the frame in my original photo. There’s quite a bit of grain because the original photo was shot at 1000 ISO but I’m going to pretend that I did that on purpose.

Palace Theatre, LondonA perfect night for “Singing in the Rain” / Photo by Joe Newman

The second shot was one I took in front of the Palace Theatre’s “Singing in the Rain” marquee. That night there was a light but steady rain and a lot of foot traffic in front of the theater with people hoisting umbrellas. The marquee, with it’s blue neon, was really popping. The obvious shot was to get people carrying umbrellas walking past the “Singing in the Rain” marquee.

When I imported my photos into the computer, I wasn’t happy. They seemed kind of flat and dull, though looking at them now, I think I could have made them work. The biggest difference between the original theater photo and the HDR composite is that there’s a lot more detail in the crowd of people gathered under the theater’s overhang — it reminds me of an Edward Hopper painting. The HDR processing allowed me to capture that detail without washing out the marquee, while also keeping some of the dramatic shadows.

Of course, maybe there was way to get these effects through normal Lightroom manipulation. I’m not claiming to be anything more than a novice in Lightroom. Whatever the case may be, it’s clear that Photomatix makes me a whole lot better at post-production than I really am.

For all the debate about the legitimacy of composite photos, what I got through the HDR processing seems to me much more “true” to what my eye saw that night in London.

Below are some comparisons of some the photos used to make these HDR images.

circus composite

rain composite

Joe Newman

I'm Joe Newman, multi-media story teller, non-profit do-gooder, international street photographer, serious poker player, intrepid traveler. Bourbon drinker.