Friday, February 18, 2011

Shooting HDR at Clifty Falls,
along Ohio River in Madison, IN

I had this week off from work, so I used the opportunity to do a long-delayed trip to southeastern Indiana, where I got to shoot a Hanover College home basketball game and visit "The Point" -- a much touted scenic overlook of the Ohio River on the campus -- but also make a stop at Clifty Falls State Park east of Hanover then continue the drive on east State Road 56 to the riverside community of Madison, Ind.

I came home packed with photographs; I wasn't sure where to start. I wanted to do the basketball game shots, but there were so many of those, and because they were shot indoors (where light is always a challenge) I knew I'd want to do an intensive edit of those. So ... I elected to first process the shots from Clifty Falls and Madison, which I undertook almost entirely as another high-dynamic range (HDR) project.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, HDR is something many photographers turn to for practical reasons when they want to capture a scene with contrasting light conditions -- very bright in one spot, but harsh shadows or shade in another. By melding three differently exposed images -- one overexposed to pick up more detail from the dark area, one underexposed to protect detail from the bright area and one taken with exposure metered as "normal" to derive the scene's primary detail -- a photographer can produce an image culling optimum -- and sometimes stunning -- detail.

Photographers also like to use HDR to enrich detail even under normal lighting conditions. I like the idea of doing so for scenic landscapes and images where I want to emphasize certain moods. It sort of shifts the final image from that of a photograph to a different level of fine art; I've heard some people describe it as something that resembles a painting. I do see and agree that these scenes often do look like that afterward.

The decision to shoot Clifty Falls and Madison as HDR images fell into the second category. Dense clouds blocked out the sun the entire day, so I wanted to enrich the details ... and because these photographs were being captured primarily as landscapes, such as the lead photograph of the small barge nearing the bridge in Madison. I never did see any of the four falls in Clifty, but then, I saw markings to only two of them (Hoffman and Tunnel) along the main thoroughfare; never saw a single marker for Big Clifty or Little Clifty. Perhaps on another trip ...

Along the way, I stopped at the courthouse square in Scottsburg, Ind., the seat of Scott County, which is on State Road 56 right off I-65. Some of the images in this post are from there.

To see a full gallery of images from this shoot, visit my online site at

Above and below: At Clifty Falls State Park, a look down and up different sets of rock-based stairs. These are the more tame ones I came across in the park. The most dramatic gradients -- and extremely difficult -- were near the one falls (Hoffman) that I tried to reach. But I stopped short; I was lugging a lot of camera equipment and a tripod, and the radical-elevation steps on some climbs were getting too cumbersome to traverse.

Above and next three below: These shots were taken from the Observation Tower in the southern portion of the park, near the Clifty Inn, a lodging place on the park grounds. Above is the Ohio River, looking upstream, or east.

Above: A vista that, on this day, proved much more striking when viewing after HDR treatment than what I remember seeing with the naked eye. I captured this less than an hour after sunrise. On the other hand, this vista must be breathtaking in the heart of autumn ... and perhaps even in summer.
Above: Including smokestacks from the Indiana-Kentucky Electric Co. in a river overlook vista from the Observation Tower.
Above: This vista of the Ohio River behind the trees on the left looks west, downstream, with State Road 56 curving into the horizon on the right. The one disappointment I had in the Observation Tower is that those trees on the left block a clear view of what would be a gorgeous western vista of the river. And if they present this much of an obstacle in winter, when there are no leaves, then the river must be impossible to see most of the year. The leaf colors in autumn would be the one redeeming factor I can think of.

Above: This view across the river into Kentucky is from the park's Lilly Overlook.

Above: This frame of some timber comes along one of the hiking paths, which shows you the dramatic gradients involved. 
The picture above and the next several below were taken along the Ohio River banks on the Indiana side in Madison. This view looks west.

Above: A radical crop of a huge coal-carrrying barge, one of several pieces of river traffic I saw while I was there.

Above: Catching some waves lapping at the shoreline with the Kentucky bluffs in the background. 
Above: I'd seen this yellow barge vessel move downstream without the cargo auxiliary about 15 minutes earlier. It now was pushing the unloaded piece upstream. I held off shooting until I could frame it between the two beams in the foreground.

Above: The same vessel as above, only a little farther upstream on its journey ... and not far from the bridge, where I captured it in the photo at the top of this post.

Above: These gentlemen were relaxing on one of many benches along the park-like setting on the Indiana shoreline.

Above: A monument not far from the Jefferson County courthouse in downtown Madison. 

Above: The commercial district in downtown Madison is filled with many interesting structures reflecting architecture dating to the 19th century. I tried to capture a few of them.

Above: My rotten luck, construction going on around the Jefferson County Courthouse has this fencing up to keep away pedestrian traffic on the sidewalks. But I wanted a shot or two of the structure ... 
Above: The Scott County Courthouse in Scottsburg has an interesting front, back and east side. Above is a gazebo situated on the back side.

Above: On the courthouse's east side, these white rails in the stairway fence juxtaposed with the building's brick facade begged for a photo exploring patterns. A sunny day might have done better justice to the rails' true white color.

Above: On the courthouse's front side, there is an extensive war memorial devoted to soldiers who served in all of the country's major conflicts dating to the Civil War.

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