Tram under Lanchid

Trams under Lanchid

This is one I’m particularly proud of. It’s a picture I’ve been envisioning for several months. One of my regular running routes follows the wide foot and bike path that runs along the western bank of the Danube, the entire length of Budapest. It’s a beautiful place to run, because you have 19th C buildings right beside you, the Danube, and across the river, Parliament and other 19th C buildings. Depending on how far you go, you can pass every bridge in the city (and I do on my 20 milers), most of which are beautiful or interesting in one way or another. The trickiest part of the run comes when it runs under Lanchid, the Chain Bridge (and for pronunciation nerds, imagine a British spy novel character named Lance Heed introducing himself – “LAHNTS-heed”), where the trams make sharp turns at either side of the bridge to describe a 180ยบ turn under the bridge, in the process cutting deeply into the path, making it no wider than a narrow sidewalk, there’s a blind tunnel under the bridge, and in the winter, a frozen puddle that sometimes spans the pathway. I know I’m not selling its beauty very well with this description, but I like it for the break in the monotony of cruising along the sidewalk for an hour or more.

Anyway, as I run past this spot, I look into the train tunnel and imagine an HDR image that shows a lot of detail in the tunnel & rails, as well as trams using the tunnel. One afternoon with a rare clear sky (we get a lot of haze, clouds and fog in the winter here), I set out to shoot the parts of this photo. You don’t often see two trams in the tunnel simultaneously, and when you do, they aren’t in the “right” place. Of course, this rightness is a completely subjective thing. I was pretty sure that in addition to the 5 photos to make a good HDR image, I’d need two separate photos to get the trams. I thought about trying to get trams within the set for HDR, but the blurring and ghosting that would result would just be too much. So in the end, I spent about a half hour shooting various angles and variations, and then, just this morning, 2 hours building the picture from 7 images.

A moment to talk about Brian’s HDR Philosophy. Many photographers who use High Dynamic Range Imaging (HDR or HDRI) want you to know that they’ve done so. The relationship of buildings to sea or sky is very dramatic, and the colors and contrast very intense, making for a potentially overwhelming picture. Done well, it can be gorgeous. Done badly, it looks like a digital image.

I use it in a completely different vein. The great strength of HDR is that it can make pictures that look similar to the way we see the world. Our eyes and brains do amazing things, so that you can stand in a deep forest, looking at the dark needles of the trees, then turn your attention to a snowy mountain visible between the trees, and see details in the bright slopes, with almost no noticeable gap. Photography can’t do that. You can shoot the needles, or you can shoot the mountain, but to get both you need a little scientific magic, which comes in HDR. With your camera on a tripod, you shoot several versions of the same photo, going from brighter than the needles ought to be to darker than the mountain ought to be, and software combines them into a rough approximation. The photographer then twiddles some virtual knobs and makes the image look as he wants. In my case, I use it to make the scene look as real as possible, with details clearly visible across the range of important subjects.

If I hadn’t used HDR for this picture, either the tunnel would be completely black, or everything outside the tunnel would be almost completely white. Instead, I wanted you to see the tunnel entrance, into the tunnel, and the trams, and to feel that everything is in appropriate balance.

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