The Story of the "Unintended" Illegal HDR Photo

Last June I wrote a post called “The Story of the Illegal HDR” (link). It was a story about how I captured my HDR photo of St. Patricks Cathedral in New York City. It spurred over 400 comments in 2 days and some of them got pretty heated. Most people were on my side, but there was a good portion of people that thought what I did was dead wrong (to put it lightly) 🙂

Fast forward to last week. I was asked by Adobe to come be the keynote speaker at Professional Imaging 2011 in the Netherlands. My wife came with me and we decided to make a small vacation out of it. We took the train to Paris after the event for a few days. Unfortunately the weather was pretty bad. Absolute blah gray skies (no clouds or contrast) and it was cold and windy. It made being creative outside nearly impossible because you just wanted to get back inside as soon as possible. Since Paris has just as much beauty indoors as it does out, I figured I’d do my best to come back with some photos that captured that beauty. HDR photos seem to do that well.

One morning we set out to Notre Dame. I walked in with my camera backpack and tripod across my shoulder. The only signs I saw prohibited large luggage inside. But I carefully looked and never saw anything prohibiting tripods. So my wife did the tour of the church (I’m not much for museums and tours) and I set out to the front of the church. I opened the tripod, attached the camera and waited for the area to clear in front of the altar. Once it was clear, I put the tripod down and started a 9-shot bracket.

Since it was indoors with bright light shining through in areas, I needed the -4 EV and +4 EV that the 9-shot bracket (on a Nikon that is) offers. After the bracket was done, the longest shutter speed I got to was 30 seconds and the photo was still too dark. It was probably due to the fact I had the aperture set to f/16 because I love when the lights have those little starbursts (mmmmm…. Starbursts) on them. At this point, I hadn’t captured all of the detail that I wanted in the shadows so I put the camera on BULB mode and grabbed a 60 and 90 second exposure too. All totaled, one HDR photo took me about 3-4 minutes. I moved once to let some other folks get the center photo, and when it cleared I went in again to get a different angle. I did this two more times. So basically, I camped out right in the middle of the altar for about 15 minutes. Seriously, I might as well have set up a tent and a camp fire I was there so long. And no one said a word to me. I saw people moving things on the altar, walking around yet nobody said a thing about the tripod so I figured I was OK.

Here’s my favorite one processed with Photomatix 4. I took it into Lightroom where I adjusted the white balance, exposure, blacks, along with some detailed brushing with the Adjustment Brush to darken some areas. I also used the Lens Correction panel a little but I personally like the vertical perspective here so I didn’t correct it all the way. Finally, I finished it off in Photoshop with Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro Tonal Contrast and the Smart Sharpen filter.

(Click for a larger version)

(Taken with a Nikon D3 with a Nikon 14-24mm lens at f/16)

Later that day, I met up with a friend of the blog, Serge (who kindly offered to show me around Paris to his favorite photo spots). When I told him about Notre Dame he was really surprised because he said tripods were prohibited. Even living there, he was never able to bring a tripod in. When I got back to my room, I did some searching on the internet and found plenty of stories about people not being able to use tripods in the church. Oops 🙂

I guess I got away with it. Now, I wasn’t trying to get away with anything mind you. I really did look for signs or anything that prohibited tripods and found nothing. Maybe they’re there, but I sure didn’t see them.

But now it begs the question… if I had seen a “no tripods allowed sign”, would I have taken the photo anyway? 😉