High (Dynamic Range) on Houston

Original image before and after HDR processing

Enjoy a photo of Houston, captured on a taxi ride on an early August morning in 2010.  Since we were going at 75 miles an hour,  I had to set the ISO to 500 with aperture at f/2.8.  I have posted the original image below.  Some photographers are purists, meaning that they subscribe to the belief that as little alteration should be made to a photograph upon its presentation.  It’s where the expression “SOOC” (Straight Out of the Camera) comes into conversation.  Other photographers believe that their images need some degree of processing in order to be content with their creation and presentation.  I understand both points of view, but I subscribe to the school of post-processing to bring out the best of an image.  HDR Photography (High Dynamic Range) will always be a topic of contention in the photography community.  These are images that are enhanced by combining the same scene captured, or adjusted, at different levels of exposure value (or brightness, to be less technical).  Think of it as trying to get the precise frequency when tuning into your favorite radio station.  You cannot turn the dial too far to the left or the right because there will be noise or static.  You must center the dial to the right frequency.  HDR is metaphorically the equivalent to frequency tuning in photography.  It’s true that some forms of HDR photography can be taken too far, to the point that they appear like abstract paintings, cartoonish, or an image that simply does not appear as though it could have been produced by a camera.  However, my point of view is that a photographer is also an artist, and should feel free to express and present images in the way they would like it to be seen.  I used to have a lot of fun with HDR, and will use it if I have a photo that truly needs saving because I love it that much.  I have done so with this image of Houston, and typing this article has made me realize the reason.

Houston is a *DIFFICULT* place to get beautiful cityscapes.  It’s not that Houston’s skyline is unattractive.  The city just doesn’t have vantage points that are easily accessible by car, foot, or bicycle.  Left up to me, if I knew I would survive, I would park my car along the shoulder of Route 59 or Interstate 45, and get as many shots of the skyline as I could.  The highways of Houston offer many of the best vantages, which is part of the problem.  When cars are speeding between 75mph and 90mph across six or seven lanes, it is at your own risk to try to get a long exposure of Houston.  One solution is to capture Houston from the air — from an airplane (which can be hit or miss), or a helicopter, which can be expensive, but priceless for capturing the beauty of Houston.  I have done so twice without remorse, courtesy of  Paradigm Helicopters.  The only disadvantage is that you cannot get phenomenal long exposures in a moving helicopter at night, so one is left to become very, very creative with night scenes of the city (at ground level) while being mindful of personal safety in the process.  To date, I have only had my person attacked twice while photographing — in Buenos Aires and in Los Angeles.

In conclusion, I have a very, very small soft spot for H-Town.  I started taking photos of this city when I was a teenager, from the passenger window of the backseat of my father’s car as we drove by, listening to country music.  Think what you will of country music, but this is Texas, mind you, and sometimes a good song just complements what you’re doing at that precise moment in time.  You usually don’t forget it, or will remember the event when you hear the song later in life.  One particular night, back in the Summer of 1988, there was a song playing on the radio, as we drove by the beautiful lights of downtown Houston.  The downtown skyscrapers in these images I have posted remind me so much of that summer night, gazing at the lights of the city.  This is probably why I’m dedicating so much time to Houston this evening.  The song, I believe, was called “Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On” by Mel McDaniel.  Oh well, if you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading and reminiscing for a few minutes.  Have a good weekend, Houston.

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