Marywood University’s Regina Hall, at the southwest corner of the Italianate Garden, makes a frequent, if sometimes secondary or even tertiary, subject in the sunset images I take on campus.
I’m pleased with an image of the hall I took yesterday (figure 1): I captured the delicate geometry of the building’s glazed skylights as they were lit by the golden sunset. I’d never even noticed them until I saw them in my viewfinder!
The Nikkor 70-200 mm f/2.8 lens crisply resolved the attractive geometry of the backlit mullions as they rise above the dark, solid mass of the building. The delicate silhouettes of two old trees also interrupt the roofline, framing the skylight. The rising masses of the chimney and, less pleasing, a big fat utility shaft, just come with the scenery. Some wispy clouds give structure to the sky above the silhouettes. I’m happy with the tones of the sky, golden above the buildings rising to an autumn blue.
If I’d had a tripod I’d have bracketed the image for an HDR composite. As it was, I made about twenty tradeoffs, doing some things to get a little structure out of the buildings (so, f/7.1, which is close to the sweet spot of the lens, ISO 400) while doing others to dim down the sun, still immensely bright even though it had just passed behind the building (-1 ev and 1/1600 sec. exposure, the camera’s recommendation). The lens was set to 70 mm, which would translate into 105 mm on a full-frame camera.
In post I brought the exposure down even more, took down the highlights, boosted the shadows, and strongly split-toned the image, going blue in the shadows and golden in the highlights. The balance favors the blues.
I used Affinity Photo’s haze removal filter to get the rather attractive effect of the gold sky fading into blue along a transition roughly paralleling the skyline. It’s there in the RAW photo, but Affinity did a nice job of bringing it out without overdoing it. As a test and a check on my edit, I ran the image through SnapSeed’s HDR filter and the result was, to put it mildly, gruesome (figure 2). It’s a patchwork of luminosities and there are artifacts I can’t begin to explain all around the tree on the right. SnapSeed is a good editor; I just gave it something beyond its powers.
Aurora HDR, on the other hand, produced on its own something rather similar to my edit (figure 3). It avoids entirely the Frankenstein look of the SnapSeed edit and of course brings out the dark buildings better than I was able to. It also did better, I think, in the area of interest right around the skylight, maybe a bit poorer in the blues of the sky. Aurora is perfectly capable of boosting the blues with more time spent editing.