Photo Essay: Rappahannock Hunt (December 11, 2010)

This photo essay is posted at KLM Images.


Stacked ridges ending in the Blue Ridge (HDR)

I am far from satisfied with my skill at capturing landscapes and am constantly experimenting for better results.

In this essay, I post-processed some of the images for high-dynamic range (HDR) contrast, so let’s look at the results.

Ordinary cameras are more limited in their ability to respond to contrast than the human eye.  We see very well in both dim light and blazing sunshine, but for a camera we must choose those conditions in our settings or be disappointed.  Depending on the settings, the camera decides to set the exposure to maximize the overall utility of the resulting image, but this reduces the range of absolute darkness and absolute brightness compared to our own vision.  The theory behind HDR is to take multiple versions of the same image with different exposure settings, then blend those together so that the overall exposure is much broader than the camera can capture on its own, and closer to what we actually see.

The point of these shots is not the riders but the overall scale of the landscape they are in.  In these photos the mist between ridges allows you to see the details of the landfolds.  Even the far mountain has visible details instead of just dissolving into a blue wall.

Distant riders, rolling land (HDR)

Visible details on the blue wall (HDR)

What does it look like without this artificial enhancement?  Here are two versions of a similar view, one captured by my husband’s prosumer camera, which does a decent job of capturing colors and landscapes, and one post-processed for HDR from my camera.

They have different virtues.

Ascending ridges (HDR)

Blue walls (not HDR)

Still, let’s not forget that none of this enhancement is necessary for the right shots.

Military placements (not HDR)

Here we have one of those very tricky achievements — showing a panorama of the military nature of a foxhunt.  My husband successfully captured the deployment of the paired whippers-in (for joint meets, which this was, these positions are often filled by one from each hunt) on a distant ridge ahead of the pack to keep them from getting too close to the road while the pack itself is hunting below along the stream.  All of these players are very far away, which is a good thing since you couldn’t otherwise capture them in the same shot.

Notice that the landscape ridges are nicely articulated by the alternating fields and hedgerows.

Below we have a different sort of landscape, as background to a close-up view of the hunt.  The landscape is medium distance, not far, since the mountains are low and less interesting, and all the interest is in the nearby rolling fields and building, cut by the ribbon of road.  The three redcoats recede nicely in a line like an illustration of perspective.

Rolling farmland (not HDR)


Every now and then you get a shot you love that has something wrong which can’t be overlooked.  Sometimes you can salvage those.

There were three lovely shots of whippers-in sailing over a log jump, but it happened suddenly and I was too close for good focus.  The photos were unacceptably blurred, but I didn’t want to give them up.

The various “artistic” treatments in products like Photoshop can sometimes help.  Here you can see the original and the published version after it has been “posterized” lightly in Photoshop.  Treating the image like a graphic instead of a photo simplifies the edges, and that removes most of the problem with the original light blur while keeping all the dramatic impact of the composition.

Since the published version is no longer just a cleaned-up photo, I always indicate that in the caption in the published essay.



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