a teatray in the sky

journey to the center of the earth

Posted in 5D Mark II, Luray, Photography, Virginia by firthefirst on December 20, 2010

back in september we took a trip down to shenandoah to see luray.  luray is a tiny little town that probably hasn’t increased in population since the civil war, but it’s got one of the most magnificent cave systems in the country (not the biggest, but really beautiful).  this meant the best of all things for me, testing out the 5D mark II in some really difficult lighting situations.  like, total darkness.

when there actually is light in a cave system, it actually makes things even more challenging, because it totally blows out small areas of the scene while leaving the majority of the space dark.  the contrast is certainly full of drama but its also almost impossible to expose correctly.

the secret is twofold: a tripod, and multi-exposure frames.  luray is really awesome because the path is paved and visitors are allowed to bring tripods in (provided you are very careful about where your tripod legs are when you are walking around and setting up).  this allows multi-exposure frames, most commonly described as HDR.  personally, I hate overdone HDR.  and it’s hard not to overdo HDR, sort of like its hard not to overcook a chicken with a flamethrower.  so I actually don’t really do HDR, I use something called exposure fusion.  a lot more control over the result, and a lot more subtle.

the other hard decision comes when you start to process the images.  the lamps used in caves are usually orange-cast (if not other even more bizarre colors).  I tried initially for a black and white look, but the lack of color  and the complex textures gave the images an extremely harsh and fragmented feel.  so in the end I kept a slightly warm tint, which felt very natural, although I have the feeling in real life that limestone is whiter than that.

love luray.  I’ve since moved away from 3-shot brackets and have started doing 7-shot brackets, meaning I would really love to go back to luray again.  and again.  and again.

6 Responses

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  1. Aisling said, on December 20, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    Fantastic shots, your camera was certainly up for the challenge!

  2. photobyholly said, on December 20, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    Wow – beautifully done!!

  3. thedreamwords said, on December 20, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    these joints are crazy dope. Great job.

  4. Don Komarechka said, on December 21, 2010 at 9:12 am

    Stunning reflections, simply stunning – really great job in your tonemapping here. I also hate overdone HDRs, I prefer it to be enhanced to the dynamic range of human vision, possibly slightly more but not to the point of “clown puke”. Nicely done.

    Curious what some of them would look like as high-contrast B/Ws too. Nice series!

  5. Vicki said, on December 21, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    wow. just wow. so gorgeous!

  6. C Phillips said, on September 18, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    These are beautiful! I am surprised your camera doesn’t have something similar to the “manual” over-ride white balance that the Nikon’s have where you can shoot at the light slightly out of focus and take a corrected white balance shot. Anyway, I know from the old viewmaster reels there are some colors in Luray Caverns. Of course you know your camera better than I do. But if you go back…might want to check it. Anyway, you take great pics!!!

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