Creating the Corner Tower at Night - Forbidden City, Beijing


Nighttime view of a corner tower of Beijing's Forbidden City. Down the moat, the illuminated rooftop peaking above the trees is the exit for the Forbidden City.

Night photography frequently means working with high contrast lighting conditions. I shot a bracketed five exposure sequence in order to capture the brightly illuminated corner tower as well detail in the shadowy trees. I combined these exposures using HDR Efex Pro. Creating the initial blend is the starting point, as it gives me the entire tonal range of the scene in a single image. Here is the initial blend:

Hilz_130910_0506_HDR - Version 2

The most significant influence on my processing decisions is the mood I envision for an image. In this night scene I wanted to create a quiet subdued feeling. I used a mix of global and selective adjustments to shape the image. When working with HDR images I give a lot of thought to what the shadows and midtones would look like in the given lighting conditions. I find it easy to end up with those tonalities being too light. I also made targeted adjustments in order to produce more realistic details. For example, notice how (in the initial blend) the tower and the wall in front of it are about the same tone as their reflected counterparts. A reflection and what is being reflected should not be the same tonality. The reflection should be darker. Using selective darkening techniques is a powerful way to give shape and form to a scene.