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Posts Tagged ‘railroad’

I took the exposures for this during my trip to Minnesota last summer, but only just got to process it this week.

Minneapolis is a vibrant, growing metropolis. But down by the Mississippi a district of old buildings has been preserved near St. Anthony Falls. This falls is the only falls on the Mississippi and its potential as a source of power – the engine of industry – was not lost upon those who built this place. The Stone Arch Bridge was built in 1883 to carry railroad cars as part of a major engineering project that included complex waterworks diverting the river’s power to turbines which in turn powered the numerous mills that grew along the shore. Many of those mills remain household names in America: Pillsbury, General Mills, Gold Medal, and many others.

I had very little time to explore this structure (people were waiting), and rain had started spitting from the storm clouds that turned the sky a vibrant purple in spots. This shot was made standing on the bridge (now a pedestrian and cyclist walkway – the last train traveled its length in 1965) looking back at the city. Sturdy, old, Midwestern mills frame beautiful modern structures reflecting strong sky light and clouds illuminated by the sun.

If you get up that way I suggest checking it out – photo ops abound!

Notes on making the picture

The scene was actually rather flat, but bright highlights in the distant window reflections and small shadows of the brick-lines contained key visual elements. So, while not a “typical” HDR scene, the small very dark and very bright bits had to be dealt with. So a 5 shot bracket was made (I should comment that my basic policy is “when possible and practical, bracket.” It’s cheap insurance: these days, with Digital cameras and digital film, banging off an extra few exposures is trivial and painless).

So here was a scene in which those distant windows, though tiny, were key. They were vibrant and colorful (I suggest viewing the image large on Flickr, then look closely at those distant building windows – you can make out the stunning cloud-scene reflected there). It’s accurate to say this is the subject of this photograph – “storm clouds reflected in distant windows- storm light on buildings”. There lay the other problem. The foreground buildings were in shadow from the clouds, flattening the scene. Worse, the muted yellow/brownish color of the bricks can suck the blue out of a bright sunlit sky, in shadow their colors turn downright dark and muddy, lifeless.

All of this was going through my head while setting up and taking the shot (complicated by, no tripod, wind and spits of rain).

Back at the computer, I processed the raw files with photomatix using the default settings. I then corrected the image for lens and convergence distortion (5 degrees) using a great little utility called PT-Lens (setting up the shot I knew I wanted the image as rectilinear as practical). Then it was off to Photoshop (and a couple of plugins) for contrast, color, sharpness and noise adjustments. The tricky part was that the brightnesses of the chimney and surrounding brick structures (i.e. what they’d look like in B&W) were very similar. However, the colors were sufficiently different that they could be successfully accentuated by pushing the saturation. The overall effect was adjusted to get the tonalaties of the foreground structures right – they “read right”, but those colors are more like what you would see on a sunny day. With these setting the distant newer buildings take on an other-worldy appearance – and the window reflections border on over-the-top… and for now, I decided to leave it that way. It further highlights the differences between the new and the old, the surreal and the real…

Then I’m sitting there looking at the image on-screen, and the light goes on in my head and I say – that’s what I wanted when I snapped the shutter.

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