Leicester’s Hidden Heritage – Shooting for HDR

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Central Baptist Church.

Much of Leicester’s heritage can be found in the form of buildings and other historic landmarks, many hidden from general view or regular public access, remaining unknown to the vast majority of the population.  Annually however, and for only a few days, we are granted free access to a broad range of these locations as part of Leicester’s ‘Heritage Open Days’ event, this year it was held between Thursday 7th and Sunday 10th September. This was an opportunity too good to miss, as apart from offering some exciting photographic possibilities, with historic buildings in particular, I was specifically looking for locations which could potentially be suitable for 360° panoramas.

Whether active faith buildings, limited access private, or now unused structures, all held their unique challenges in order to record them successfully, however one common denominator soon became apparent, that of the huge variance between highlights and shadows in each location. Since relying on a single RAW file and post processing just wouldn’t generate sufficient information at either extreme, HDR (High Dynamic Range) bracketing would need to be used, which itself introduced a new set of problems. Although shooting for HDR can be performed without a tripod, if outdoors in favourable  lighting conditions and limited to a three shot bracket, indoors however it’s a different story.

Shooting indoors required the use of a tripod to allow for perfect alignment of up to nine or more bracketed shots, as well as cope with exposures running into several seconds in order to record information in the darkest shadows. It is not uncommon when I’m photographing in ancient churches featuring small bright windows, contrasted by the age darkened timbered eaves, to require a minimum of an eight stops bracket to handle both extremes. However as crowds and tripods don’t mix, nether do moving people and long bracketed exposures for that matter, so I did try and undertake as much photography as possible on the Thursday and Friday. Today being a Saturday did restrict me somewhat due to the crowds in some locations, still leaving me others to have a go at!

I restricted my equipment to a tripod with ball and socket head and integrated spirit level to aid quick alignment of the Nikon D810 and Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 lens. Virtually everything was shot at 14mm and f8 at ISO 100, the exception being today when I used f11 to attain a little extra depth of field and ISO 800 to cut down overall exposure times. Much as I dislike using high ISO settings, when photographing on old wooden floors, the slightest movement by anyone is transmitted to the tripod, so anything done to speed up shooting was going to useful. More importantly I knew that I could gain access at other times to two of the locations both to re-shoot if required, also to take my 360° panoramas.

Processing the bracketed shots into a visually pleasing HDR image is another story, meanwhile here are a few simple examples from the Heritage event.

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St Peters Church – Highfields

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The former Midland Bank

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The City Rooms

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St Peters Church – Belgrave

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St Peters Church – Belgrave

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