Edmond Wildfire HDR Time-lapse

Posted on August 09 2011 by Cooper Ross

When I saw a huge tower of smoke billowing over Edmond this weekend I couldn’t miss the opportunity to get out and shoot some time-lapses. I actually went outside to look at the cumulous clouds from a storm that was rolling over the north edge of town and when I saw the smoke I immediately knew this would be a good opportunity to shoot bracketed.

I’m not one of those camera geeks who uses all the cool photography jargon without explaining what the heck I’m talking about so I’ll do my best here. Shooting with bracketing simply means every time I press the shutter button the camera actually takes 3 pictures really fast. Each of the three pics are shot at different exposures. One is accurately exposed, one is under exposed and the other is over exposed. Some photographers depend on bracketing when they are in a busy environment and they don’t have time to properly expose each shot. Like a paparazzi following a star down a sidewalk, for example. You can’t control all the shadows from buildings and the sun peaking through trees so if you take bracketed photos you stand a better chance of getting a properly exposed picture.  Some photographers even bracket with 5 or 7 photos.

Here’s the coolest part about bracketing. If you’re shooting on a tripod or holding it super steady by hand you can take each of the differently exposed images and fuse them together to get an HDR image. HDR means High Dynamic Range. In the example chart below you’ll notice that even on the perfectly exposed image there is missing detail in the dark areas of the trees and foliage and missing details in the whitest area of the clouds. By shooting two stops above and two stops below I’m able to grab all that missing detail and combine it into one image using software that was developed specifically for HDR tone mapping. What you’re left with is sort of a Harry Potter looking dreamy look but if you’re careful not to over do it in the tone mapping process you can get some really cool images – and if you’re willing to add thousands of shutter actuations to your camera’s shutter count you can create HDR time-lapse sequences like the one I posted above.

You’ll also notice some of the time-lapse sequences have movement to them. That’s because I’m using a motorized dolly specifically made for time-lapse shooting. 

Unfortunately this fire burned nearly a dozen homes. I did see some ambulances whizzing by at one point but to the best of my knowledge no one was seriously hurt. When I went back out almost 24 hours later I could still see smoke and small flames coming from some hot spots.

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