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Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Monongahela River - Mount Washington

A few weekends ago I was invited to photograph sunrise by a relative who lives on Mount Washington, which overlooks the city of Pittsburgh. Though the city is famous for its three rivers, only one, the Monongahela, is seen in this shot. It joins the Allegheny River just off to the left of the frame, at which time the combined river is called.......geography quiz time.......the Ohio River!

However, out on that balcony this is not the scene that the eye could see. It was before sunrise and the group of trees framing the bottom right of the image were barely lit and looked like a black blob on any single photo that I took.The sky, though dark, was the brightest part of the scene, followed by the water, the lit buildings and then the dark trees and distant hills. This was a classic situation for using HDR.  

For those unfamiliar with HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography, it is a process whereby you take multiple shots of the same scene (preferably on a tripod to avoid movement since the images will all be blended into one) at different shutter speeds in order to allow optimal exposure for both the dark and light areas of the scene and then use software to blend them all into one image. This can be done in a way that gives a natural appearing result or a gritty, grungy, comic-like result. I tend to favor the end of the spectrum that is more natural appearing.

The Monongahela River and Downtown Pittsburgh  from Mt. Washington    © Howard Grill

The photo above was made by blending 5 photographs with shutter speeds ranging from 2 seconds (the exposure for the sky) to 30 seconds (the exposure required to allow detail to be seen in the patch of trees). The five images were merged into a 32 bit file by using the "Merge To HDR Pro" function in Lightroom. That 32 bit image was then processed in Adobe Camera Raw and finally converted to a 16 bit image. From that point, there were a few more routine adjustments made in Photoshop to yield the final result.

And there you have the city of Pittsburgh at sunrise. The blue color of the water is 'real' by the way. That is what it looks like when you photograph it when the sky is a deep blue before the sun is up. The deep blue sky is reflected in the water and imparts the color.

Time for the city to wake up!