Sunday, December 14, 2014

Festooning the Foliage in Festive Fashion

There are more and more lights beginning to appear in our neighborhood yards at night.  Some people put a lot of effort into holiday decorations, and some of them do a wonderful job of creating an artistically balanced winter wonderland of colored lights.  Many of us have admired one yard in Oak Park for several years now.  This home has also been done up with some humor, such as a mechanically animated "whack-a-penguin" display.

I want to capture some of the festivity this winter (I've usually been so busy that I could barely manage a few snapshots), so to start things off right, it seemed appropriate to set up some good equipment on a tripod.  I used a tilt-shift lens, a Canon TS-E 17mm.  With the tripod head leveled, I composed so that shifting the lens fully to the left and right would cover the scene as I wanted.  I then did three exposures: full left shift, centered, and full right.  The lens can be shifted 12 mm in any direction.  When the three exposures were combined (in Photoshop®), the result was an image equivalent to having a sensor measuring 60x24 mm (the normal 36x24 mm "full-frame" sensor dimensions augmented by an extra 24 mm width).  This gives a horizontal angle of view of about 120ยบ, with minimal distortion.  When you were a child, did you ever hear an adult say "I've got eyes in the back of my head!" to discourage you from misbehaving when out of their sight?  This view isn't quite like that, but it's wide!

I did an HDR* sequence for each of the three shots, which yielded this (upper image) result, showing foliage and other dark details.  However, I preferred a single optimized exposure, leaving more mystery and emphasizing the decorative lights that were my subject.  That's the lower image,  displayed a little larger.

*HDR stands for "High Dynamic Range", and is digital photography jargon for a process of combining multiple exposures in order to capture a greater range of tones from dark to bright than could be captured in a single exposure.  We are then left with the issue of how to render (depict) that great range of brightness in a medium (a print or a computer monitor display) that has a smaller maximum range.

Given a little time to play with things, I may ultimately prefer a compromise between the two versions, or rather than compromise, I'll describe my aim as a combination of the best characteristics of each.  In the mean time, here is the single-exposure panorama (actually three stitched exposures to get the wide angle, but not 3x4 - a dozen exposures, total! - as in the HDR panorama):



  1. "Whack a penguin"? I need to come visit! :-)

    1. Yes! Like whack-a-mole at the State Fair, but with a couple of penguins who pop up randomly. There's a snowbear who whacks them with a croquet mallet. I don't suppose the "proprietor" would be happy if I threw balls at them, but if we were to get enough snow for snow balls, it would be hard to resist!


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