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Theory n Technique, What Makes a Photograph

What Makes a Photograph #9


Well, it’s been a while (again!) since my last post in this series – it’s been a while since I’ve done any sort of post at all, actually – but I’m back now, with a new “What Makes a Photograph” article, and today it’s something rather new, and unusual. For me, at least

If you know me or if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’d know that I’m more of a street shooter. A landscape photographer. That sort of thing. I rarely take architectural shots. Having said that, one of my more recent posts in this series (the previous one, actually!) discusses a shot I took of another building, but it’s still quite rare for me to shoot architecture and buildings and this sort of thing; and rarer still to discuss two architecture/building photographs back-to-back. But that’s what is happening here!

Anyway, let’s get to the picture that I’m discussing today. Oh, and if you’re new to pixelogist and you don’t know what goes on in this type of post, have a look at the rest of the series to get an idea! Hint: I choose a picture, usually one of my own (like today’s) and discuss what makes it look like it does – and as I usually choose a good photograph, it’s basically why a photograph looks good! Alright, that was more than a hint. Let’s see this picture then:

The Haunted House

The Haunted House

Yeah, that’s the picture. I like it. I regularly title it the Haunted House, although there’s nothing really haunted about it. It’s just an old, abandoned house that looks good, and the post-processing I’ve done lends that haunted, spooky sort of look and feel to it, so the title just seemed fitting. And that leads me directly to my main point in this image: this photograph works because of the post-processing. By itself, it’s not bad, but it’s nothing too striking. Sure, the basic elements (focus, exposure, composition) are there but it’s the post-processing that makes it stand out, if you ask me. I’m not the type who relies a lot on Photoshop, but in this case, I was able to enhance the image and get what I wanted out of it by editing it and pushing it in the direction I felt was right; and that’s a good thing

Anyway, let’s take a step back and start from the beginning. Alright

Ok, so I was walking around Da Lat, Vietnam, and I saw this house. And it looked great. But I knew that, in that day’s flat, boring, cloudy light, it was not going to look as good in a photograph as it did to my eyes. Something had to be done. Definitely. And that ‘something’ would mean something to be done in Photoshop/Lightroom. And to give myself a chance of doing this ‘something’, I thought it best to shoot in RAW. Get the most out of it, right? And to give myself the option of going HDR, I bracketed my exposures – three exposures, 1EV apart. Check out my post on HDR photography if you’re not sure what I’m going on about! So yeah, three bracketed exposures, in RAW – and that was it

Composition: I knew straight away that this would look best with a dead-center, symmetrical composition. This sort of composition usually works well with buildings, but it wasn’t just that. Something about this house looked symmetrical, the entire thing just looked right when I was standing in the middle and viewing it straight on; so that’s what I shot. Note that it’s not as easy as it sounds to get a perfectly symmetrical, centered composition of a building. Due to parallax errors and whatnot, this sort of shot can very easily go off center and look amateurishly off-balance, if you know what I mean. You need to consciously work towards this composition. Start by moving yourself right to the center of the building, then look at all four of its borders, making sure they’re all straight. If not, move yourself as well as your camera, until you find the composition you’re looking for. Don’t count on Lightroom for this – cropping will not be good enough. But yeah, that’s all I did for composition: nothing fancy, just a simple, centered, symmetrical framing

The exposure itself was easy enough. Especially as I bracketed, and as I shot in RAW, I was not too worried about this. Three shots were shot, 1EV apart, and I was on my way. The rest would all be processing. Like I always say, processing is a part of digital (or any form of) photography – and I apply processing to every picture I take (and keep). This one just happened to need a bit more work in this area, that’s all!

Ok, so once I was back home and the shots were loaded to Lightroom, I knew the picture wasn’t working as it was. Tweaking the tone curve helped, but it still looked ordinary. So, as the more experienced of you guys must’ve already noticed, I went the HDR way

Yeah, so I opened up Photomatix, the app I used for my HDR work, added the three bracketed exposures, and processed it. Usually, HDR software tends to overdo the HDR look by default, and I always need to tweak it and turn it down a bit to get something that looks  realistic – but the default HDR that Photomatix produced in this case was very nice indeed! All that was necessary was a bit of fine-tuning and that was it. Hit the Process button and load the result into Lightroom! Job almost done

Once in Lightroom, I adjusted the usual stuff: contrast, saturation, sharpening, noise reduction, tone curve, and so on – and my result is what you see above. Nothing major was adjusted here – I slightly desaturated the image to give this sort of spooky look, and bumped up the contrast as I always do to RAW images. Oh, and I think I adjusted the white balance a tad, giving it a slightly cooler look that adds to the spook! And that was it

Yeah, it looks good. And what makes it good is rather simple. Starting off with an interesting subject, there’s the reasonably good composition, and the foresight to do some solid editing – the foresight to shoot RAW and bracket exposures. After that, it was pretty simple editing. Heavy, but simple nonetheless. The light is a bit uneven, due to the natural lighting conditions as well as the HDR processing, but I think it all adds to the feel of the shot. And the result looks good. It has something about it, doesn’t it? I think so, at least!


Alright then, that’s it for today. Thanks for reading. I’ll be back with a  new post (probably a review of a very cool new piece of gear!) very soon, so stay tuned for that. Leave a comment if you liked (or disliked!) this photograph. Until next time

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By Heshan Jayakody
All content in this post is my own
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Discussion

4 Responses to “What Makes a Photograph #9”

  1. wow, that’s a stunning picture. thank you for sharing how you took it. it really is beautiful. amazing feel

    Posted by Ben | September 8, 2013, 07:03
  2. nice work…really got a haunted look alright. the HDR looks good. ive seen ones that look really fake. this doesn’t look very ‘real’ either but its got that surreal feel that makes it look great

    Posted by Victor | September 8, 2013, 09:24

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