Strobist HDR

It's no secret that I love HDR photography. I've also been enjoying strobist photography lately. Two great things...can they work together? My photog friend Atmtx and I decided to find out. We worked with Model Eight to create some scenes where the blend would be appropriate. Atmtx got some great shots in a dark alley way and you can check his results out here. I was so impressed with his images that I had to try my hand at it. I thought a sunset would make a great background for this sort of image and I'm happy with result.

So, how do you go about combining a strobe lit model with an HDR image? Well, the model and the background get shot separately. I captured the background first. My camera was set up on a tripod and I shot into a sunset, grabbing 6 exposures at 1 stop intervals. I shot in manual mode at f/16 for good depth of field. In retrospect, it would might be better to capture the image with the model first. This is because you may need to tweak the lighting and the model's pose, which takes time. In my case, I was losing the sun with each passing moment! Assuming a simple lighting setup that you can pull out of the scene quickly when you're done with the model, I'd suggest doing the model shot first. Here is the image that would become my background, after HDR processing.

I captured the image of the model with an off camera flash. A single light fired through an umbrella was sufficient to provide some fill light on her against the sunset. A big, close light source is important to avoid any harsh shadows. I opened my aperture up a couple of stops to get a bit more ambient light as well. The aperture change didn't matter since I was just going to be masking the model into the background image. Here is what the model shot looked liked. It doesn't matter that the umbrella is in the shot; I'm only using the model herself from this image.

Using Photoshop CS5 and Topaz Labs Remask, I carefully masked the model into the HDR image. At first, she seemed to pop off the background a bit too much. I tweaking the image further by blending in a bit more of the surrounding area around the model in places and using a dark Curves layer to add some faint shadowing where appropriate. This is rather painstaking work to make it look right! Here is the result:

There is a bit of a surreal feel to the image. Followers of my HDR work know I tend to process things just on the edge of reality. I could have added some tonal contrast to the model or even tonemapped her single exposure to make her more of a fit in the HDR surroundings. No, I didn't think that was the way to go. I rather like the contrast of an ordinary person placed into an HDR world. What do you think?

Check out another glimpse behind the scenes of this shot and a humorous look at why photographers can be terrible assistants!