In my last photo story Quebec: Montreal In Black and White, I talked about how specific conditions (namely the white out blizzard) during my trip there last winter opened my eyes to the wonderful world of black and white photography. However the trip didn’t end there.
In fact the blizzard really only lasted the first three days of the two week trip, and after the snow had settled I made another stylistic leap in my photography, and yet again this was largely influenced by external circumstances.
Perhaps it was the fact that the snow and weather had accustomed me to a muted colour palette during my first few days in Montreal, or maybe it’s just a part of the character of Montreal and Quebec City; but as the weather softened, everything seemed to take on a vibrancy unlike I had experienced before.
I suspect both of those factors played into this effect, but I also think a large part of the vibrancy I perceived in the two cities had to do with the shock of finally experiencing winter in the truest sense after being sheltered on the mild west coast for the past 5 years, and the thrill of embarking on a long overdo travel experience. I had been craving travel ever since returning from a year long trip through Europe and Asia eight months prior, and the withdrawal was eating away at me.
Whatever the cause, colour and life seemed to jump out at me down every street, in the town squares, in the people I met. The cities were full of life and character, something that was readily apparent after living most of my life in the more culturally muted western half of the country.
As a photographer, this was a dream. I was inspired by my surroundings and the conditions which enveloped them, and all I wanted to do was spend every minute of the day exploring and shooting every corner and every angle of these magnificent, historic cities.
Right around the time of the trip I had recently bought the newly released Aurora HDR software after humming and hawing over it for the past few weeks. I had never been sold on HDR images before, I liked a lot of them, some even a lot, but sooooooooo many were over processed and poorly executed in my opinion.
It didn’t help that I wasn’t a fan of either the Photoshop or Lightroom HDR settings, and thus had never really achieved the results I was looking for. Finally however I decided that Aurora would be my Christmas gift to myself, and so right before I left for my new years trip to Quebec I downloaded the software.
Of course, whenever we get a new toy, that toy seems to become immediately useful in everything that we do, at least for a time. I don’t doubt that I would’ve wanted to try out Aurora wherever I was and whatever I was shooting. But during my trip to Quebec, the cities seemed to beg to be shot as HDRs.
So of course, what was I to do but oblige them?
Many of the photos I took during the trip I bracketed in either three or five shot sets. Even before I had dedicated HDR software, I would follow this habit, in the event that at some point in the future I would, or perhaps for some manual blending in the short term - a process that I still think often grants better results than HDR processing.
After processing the images from the trip, familiarizing myself with a new style of processing I was blown away with the results. I mentioned before that I’m not typically a fan of HDR, but done right and with some subtlety, I think the results can be awesome.
I find most of the presets in Aurora to be pretty heavy handed, so I settled on a process of either choosing one and then dialling everything back, or starting from scratch and processing the image myself.
I also found that after exporting from Aurora, the image was often still a bit gaudy. I found myself routinely exporting from Aurora into Photoshop and applying some masking and filters, maybe bringing in parts of one of the original bracketed images back in. One of my favourite processes is desaturating the image to mute the sometimes out of control saturation that the HDR process brings in. You can do this in Aurora as well, but I like the control and flexibility of Photoshop better.
It’s funny, you can see in my images from the trip that the first ones I processed, while I was still learning and experimenting with the new software are noticeably more “HDR-ish”. As I worked through the images, I found ways of toning down the effect to a style that suited my tastes much more.
I’m not usually one to turn to software for answers, generally preferring to improve my skills and knowledge rather than picking up new toys, but this is one program that I do really like and I appreciate having it in my toolbox, even if I don’t use it now as much as I did those first few weeks (which is probably a good thing…)
I don’t know how many people out there use Aurora or have experimented with other HDR softwares. It seems like it’s been a pretty big hit in the photography community over the past year, and I just heard they’re releasing a new, updated version later this year. For anyone who’s interested in checking it out you can go to Aurora 2017 and see what the fuss is about. It’s a pretty great deal for the software, and anyone who already has a prior version gets an even better deal to upgrade. I haven’t made up my mind yet, but for the upgrade price, it’s pretty intriguing.
What’s your experience with new software, lenses, toys in general? Is there any one in particular that has made a big difference in your work? What are your thought on HDR photography in general? How have you used it to achieve your photographic vision? Let me know in the comments!
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