The Devil’s Punchbowl and other problem spots

While leading a photo safari this past May along the Oregon Coast, we stopped at an interesting location called “Devil’s Punchbowl.” This is one of those interesting coastal rock formations that seems really cool until you actually try to photograph it. The punchbowl, for all its uniqueness, is a real pain to photograph.

  • The interior isn’t illuminated until mid-day
  • Even in mid-day light, there are significant shadows
  • You have to photograph it from a viewpoint looking down

In other words, just about every conceivable “problem condition” is manifested in the Devil’s Punchbowl. So, our plan was to just grab some snapshots, which we did. I used my Nikon D3s and 16-35mm f/4 VR lens. I also fired off a 5-shot exposure bracketing sequence just to see if I could get something interesting later with a little HDR processing.

The default “snapshot” with just the Camera Standard settings applied looks pretty crummy– high contrast and blocked up shadows (click to enlarge).

Devil's Punchbowl, with in-camera (standard) settings applied.

If I used traditional shadow recovery techniques, I could recover the shadow details, but the shadow contrast was poor and the image loses saturation (click to enlarge).

Devil's Punchbowl, single image processed with shadow recovery

Finally, I gave the 5-shot sequence a whirl in HDR Efex Pro. I enabled image alignment and didn’t go overboard with the HDR Method strength (I used the “Subtle” setting and a strength of 10). While the result isn’t the same as a single image (there is more local contrast), you can clearly see improved tone and contrast in the shadows, and the rocks gain a little more texture (click to enlarge).

Devil's Punchbowl, processed in HDR Efex Pro (5-shots)

You may or may not like the HDR shot, but pixels are cheap. It never hurts to experiment! I can always use one of the single exposures for a different look.

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4 thoughts on “The Devil’s Punchbowl and other problem spots”

  1. I remember that spot. As a general rule, are you always shooting 5-shot sequences and using the properly exposed image when you don’t want to process HDR, or is it just one of those things where you are evaluating the shot, and then deciding on a 5-shot exposure bracket or a single shot?

  2. I am assuming its a big place? Just lay down tonnes of light…….light painting or strobes how many would it take? πŸ˜‰ jk I am in a fun mood tonight πŸ™‚

  3. Hey Tim,
    In this case I absolutely recognized that the harsh light was presenting very strong shadows. I shot the 5-shot sequence as a result. I don’t shoot HDR sequences in conditions where I can get the proper exposure in normal light, unless I’m going for a very stylized look.

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