Night urban photography is something I really love. The city looks completely different from what we can see during the day. Add to this that my home town is an ancient medieval city and you can easily imagine the kind of light games you can catch during the night on the old stone walls of the buildings!
Imagine the reflections on the paved roads that are thousands of years old, worn-out by horse-drawn carriages.
Night urban photography can be very challenging. Since my move to Sony cameras, dynamic range is not a big problem anymore. But shooting a medieval town during the night is a nightmare, even with the best available camera sensor.
To add a bit of thrill and excitement, I decided to opt for a panoramic picture of the central square of my town. Bologna is gorgeous and renowned for having the most ancient university in the world. You can imagine how many students walk around every night, enjoying the great nightlife – students spend hours having a great time hanging around in the streets and squares.
So, summing it all up, today I will explain my technique on long exposure-HDR-panorama imagery. Nice challenge, don’t you think?
First of all I had to find a good spot. My goal was not to stay in the centre of the square because I wanted to create leading lines from the buildings’ walls. I did some exposure checks, as the luminosity is not equal along the entire field.
The idea was to capture five bracketed frames and combine them in one panoramic frame. Each bracketed frame had to be of a long exposure in order to avoid recording people. Everything had to be done manually: for every frame, I took three exposures, dark, medium and bright. This would help me to control the overall exposure in post processing.
Post processing and stitching
Here are the frames I captured, straight out of the camera.
I was aiming to achieve a very natural look and not the dreaded HDR one. So I decided to use the HDR photomerge feature in Lightroom. Although at first I was not happy with this feature, I have to admit that for ‘pano-HDR’ images it works well.
Here are the 5 HDR frames
No tuning had been made in Lightroom thus far. Now, I selected the five frames and merged them in a panorama by stitching them. It took around ten minutes on my Mac to create a 12,600-pixel panorama, from five 36Mp raw files!
The result was a huge dng file. Now was the time to do some basic tuning in Lightroom: highlight - 100, shadows +100, fixed the contrast using the whites and blacks sliders and changed the temperature to warm the picture up a bit. Sharpening, noise reduction and then export to Photoshop.
The reason I opened the final result in Photoshop was because I had to get rid of some small details like the electric wire as well as some ghosting from people moving. I worked on local contrast, dodging and burning here and there.
And voilà, the featured picture at the top of this page is the final image!