Lightroom Tips

The Story of the Illegal HDR Photo

I was recently in New York and made a trip to St. Patricks Cathedral with the specific intention of taking an HDR photo (click the photo on the left for a larger version). I got my photo but I also got a pretty funny story along the way so I thought I’d share.

First, the details. This was a 9 shot bracketed series taken on a D700 with the Nikon 14-24mm lens. The aperture was set to f/11 and the shutter speeds varied throughout the series. I processed it from Lightroom using Photoshop’s Merge to HDR Pro, then some minor retouching to remove distractions and then back to LR for some post-processing. On to the story…

I walked in to the church with my tripod and camera in hand. As you know, anyone with a tripod is automatically treated like a criminal so I was prepared ahead of time. The security person at the front informed me that I could take photos but not use the tripod in the main isle for safety reasons. Knowing the shot I wanted was in the middle I went for plan B (even though I didn’t have a plan B yet). I walked around the church for about 15 minutes trying to work a different angle but I just wasn’t happy with anything. So I decided to throw a Hail Mary.

I saw my opening. The people had cleared the center isle for a few minutes. Off to the side, I set the camera to a 9-frame bracketed series, turned on continuous shooting mode and tested the height of the legs for the shot I wanted. Then I quickly and covertly walked into the center and put the camera/tripod down. Nobody was in site so I just kinda fake-leaned gently on the camera and held my finger on the shutter. Almost making it look like I wasn’t really shooting (yes, I’m sneaky like that). Since I had my camera set to continuous mode it would continue the auto bracketed series as long as the shutter was pressed.

“Click” – went the first shot. “Click” – 2nd shot. “Click” – third. YES!!! I thought I was in the clear. But as I got to the 5th and 6th frames the shutter speeds started creeping into the 8-10 second range. “Uh oh!” I thought.

Now, anyone who shoots HDR knows that these are the most crucial frames because they give details in the dark areas. Well during the 10 second exposure a security guard walked up and told me I had to move. I asked if I could just have 1 more minute and she said no. Then I asked if I could come back later (“Click!” – only 3 more frames to go) in the day when no one was there. She said no. I proceeded to ask if I could come back early in the morning, maybe before they opened. Oh and by the way “What time do you open?” I asked. She said they opened at 8am but that I had to move now (“Click” – 2 more shots to go).

At this point I still had a 20 and 30 second exposure to go so I had to start talking really slow. I was really getting desperate so I asked if she was married and would like to go on a date. She said no 😉 (just kidding on this one). I did ask if there was a place I could go to for media credentials. I was being as verbose as possible though. When she said they had a media contact I asked for the name, number and email address (“Click” – 1 more to go – the long one though). My keen ability to read people (or maybe the irate tone to her voice) told me she was getting frustrated by this point. Knowing I only needed about 25 more seconds, in desperation I asked if she could explain why you weren’t allowed to have a tripod where I was standing. I’d hoped she would give a long answer but to my dismay I received a simple “Because we said so”. I said OK and took my finger off the shutter (the shutter was already open and it was the last shot). I bent down to pick up my bag (making sure I didn’t touch the tripod). I zipped it closed, opened and closed a pouch on the bag a few times. Right at this point another guard approached and said “Sir, we really need you to move out of here now”. Click!. I said “Sure thing!” and being the ever-so-obedient photographer I am, picked up my tripod and walked away.

The Moral of the Story
Ya know, I don’t know what the moral of the story is. I guess I kind of felt like I beat the tripod police for once. I totally understand the need to keep the walkways clear for safety reasons but there wasn’t anyone there for me to pose a safety concern to at this point. So I’m OK with my choice. All in all, I got the shot I came for, didn’t get arrested and didn’t hurt anyone along the way.

What would you have done? Thanks!