So – how do you capture a scene like this one? This is one of the more difficult situations to work with. First, the range of light is extreme – dark shadows and blinding highlights mean I can’t capture the entire dynamic range in a single exposure. And since the light beams reach below the horizon line and the dark trees stretch above it, a Graduated Neutral Density filter will cause as many problems as it solves.
The solution? Bracketing. I took three exposures to capture most of the dynamic range. One shot exposed for the darkest shadows. One for the mid-tones. And one for the highlights. I let the brightest area inside the sun remain over exposed, since we can’t see details there in reality and reducing the brightness of the sun would create a very odd, unnatural look.
Once I had those three images, I needed to blend them as smoothly as possible. I processed each image carefully for the area it would represent. I used the mid-tone image for most of the sky, and used the other two images to bring out details in the trees and foreground… and of course, the bright areas around the sun. Then, using layers and very careful masks in Photoshop, I blended the three images. I use the “iHDR” manual blending technique that Jay and I have developed over the years. It’s much more effective than your standard HDR software because it allows us to apply blending only where it’s really needed.
When blending was finished, I removed a bit of lens flare (which is often a problem when you are shooting directly into the sun). I chose to leave some lens flare because I liked the visual effect of all that scattered light.
Does the scene feel natural and real to you? Does it evoke an emotional response?