Northern Lights HDR Photography
HDR means ‘High Dynamic Range’. Multiple exposures are combined to give the result that a single exposure couldn’t achieve. For northern light photography, the HDR technique means that you can include rich landscape or even foreground to make the scene more dynamic. The technique requires some practice and some experience because it goes beyond the Night Photography Basics and generally requires professional camera gear for really good results. Because the sequence of exposures is time consuming, it is essential to have your composition good to start with. I look for some water if possible for reflected light and shapes that might help the scene. It is fine to follow the basic rules of composition such as ‘Symmetry’ or the rule of thirds.
For this scene, I actually took a 3 exposure HDR. The first exposure was for the sky for 25 seconds, then the landscape for 225 seconds then the lights on the lighthouse for just 1 second. This final exposure was never used in the final image, so this is a 2 exposure HDR.
Here is the unprocessed 225 sec exposure open in Lightroom so you can see the histogram. From the histogram, I can see that all the shadows are preserved which means we I have processing control.
Lightroom shadow adjustment
All of the shadows are included in the exposure, so I can go ahead and increase the levels of the shadows by boosting shadows and blacks. Then using de-haze to introduce contrast I maintained a ‘Night Look’.
The 25 second sky exposure was given a similar treatment in light room to boost the shadows in the sky to give a better print.
The next step is to open both images as layers in Adobe photoshop. It is possible to open both files as layers, but I just open both files and used Select all > Copy > paste to add 1 image as a layer on top of the other. I selected the brighter pixels in the top layer (brighter image) by using ‘Ctrl+Alt+2’ to select the highlights, then holding shift, I was able to add to the selection until the whole sky was selected.
With my selection, I click the Mask Icon to turn the selection into a mask. Then I invert the mask (Ctrl+i) to allow the highlights from the bottom layer replace the highlights in the top layer. There are ‘High Dynamic Range’ software programs, such as Photomatix that will merge the different exposures automatically. In Photoshop and Lightroom it is also possible to merge exposures automatically.
Godafoss the Waterfall of the Gods is a fine location for photographers, both Summer and Winter.
This is one of many shots I take on the ice beach. The formula is basic, but effective.
The grass anchors itself in the black sand forming tussocks from the drifting sand. Small pools form after heavy rain or melting snow.