Radiant recently had the opportunity and challenge to shoot the Oldenberg “Flashlight” sculpture on the UNLV campus for Desert Companion magazine. I say challenge because the shoot required an evening shot of a matte black sculpture, lit only by mixed ambient lighting, on a college campus that has students walking about. So I packed up my tilt-shift lenses one Saturday night and headed on down to UNLV to see what I could do.
Being a weekend evening, I didn’t have too many bodies walking through my images. I was also able to pull long exposures to yank some color out of the sky, courtesy of the reflected light pollution from the Las Vegas Strip. Now the challenge was getting a three-story matte black object to maintain detail and color fidelity from top to bottom. The area was lit with a mix of high-pressure sodium vapor, mercury vapor and halogen light sources…a perfect white balance nightmare. However I brought along some flash heads and a battery pack so I could at least fill the shadowy sculpture with some color correct fill light, right? Well, kinda. I did a bit of light painting, but with the intensity of the light needed to light the black monolith, there was just too much flash spill onto the surrounding trees and cement. So I went the multi-exposure, multi-white balance route.
A series of exposures were made for the highlights all the way to the shadow details that I’d later tone map in Photoshop (no, I don’t use tone mapping software, as I prefer to do it manually layered in PS). Same thing for the various white balances, although much of the scene was lit under high-pressure sodium vapor lamps which are nearly impossible to white balance, due to their spectral output. It’s light nerd stuff I won’t get into here. Anyway, back at the office I processed all the exposures and pulled an under-, over-, and properly exposed frame from each composition. I then layered those and used masks to tonemap the final image, which has greater highlight and shadow detail than any single exposure I captured.
All in all a great challenge and fun image to work on. The image below is the magazine layout and unfortunately is quite compressed, so the detail is lacking. I’ll post up a better shot soon.