Reader Poll Results-Which Sunrise Photo Is Best

OK, its been a few days since I posted my "Which Photo Is Best" where I asked you to pick your favorite sunrise photo out of three different choices. Thanks to a bunch of you (11 to be exact), we can officially declare a "winner". Drumroll please.....................

The winner (by a large margin) of the competition is Sunrise Photo #3! Here is the image that won:

How I Processed The Images

As I said in the original post, the three images were just variations of the same basic shot. Now let's see what I did to create each image, starting with image #1:

Image #1 is the result of taking 3 bracketed shots (-2EV, 0EV,+2EV) and combining them into one HDR image using Nik's HDR Efex Pro 2. I've been experimenting with HDR techniques and on this trip I took a lot of bracketed shots, especially when the was a wide range of contrast. This sunrise scene was definitely one of those occasions. I figured that processing the image using HDR might allow me to get both the foreground and the sky exposed better than just one image. I ran the 3 images thru HDR Efex using one of the more neutral landscape settings. I then used Nik's Color Efex Pro to tweak the image a bit. The result was what you saw in image #1.

Image #2:

Sunrise photo image #2 is the result of taking just one of the 3 bracketed images, the "properly exposed" one and tweaking it as best I could to get both the foreground and sky to come out. This was the image that got the least number of votes (2) and that's what I expected. When compared to the other two images, this one is just "OK". Nothing really pops in it, despite my best efforts. I think the reason is that having only one image to work with

Image #3 (The winner):

Sunrise image #3 was made using the same bracketed images as I used in #1 but I processed them through the "Lightroom Enfuse Plugin" which is a different way of combining multiple images. Many people seem to think this technique produces the most "natural" looking results. And I guess, based on your feedback, you think the same :-) Compared to image #1 (the HDR) it is a bit brighter and doesn't have as much texture to it. I think this is a function of how the software combines the images.

My Favorite

Out of the three images I prefer image #1 (the HDR) but only by a little to Image #3. I just think that the end result is closest to what my eye actually saw that day. Both #1 and #3 are much better than #2 and I think it is because they are the end results of merging multiple images shot over a wider range of ecposure, which brings out more detail in a scene like this where there's a lot of contrast.

What's The Takeaway

Well, what have we learned by doing this little audience participation experiment?

I think the answer is a few things:

  1. Everybody sees things differently and there is no one "right way" to process an image. In the end, the only thing that matters is if YOU like it.
  2. Merging or combining multiple images shot over a wider range of exposure values can be a great way to bring out more detail in your images, especially if you have a wide range of contrast (dark shadows to bright highlights). There are multiple ways of merging the images and each has its pros and cons.
  3. Photography is supposed to be fun! I try never to forget that. Taking photos and processing them a number of diffeent ways to see what the end result is is one of the things that makes photography fun. As long as you like the end result that's all that should matter.
Thanks again to everyone who participated. I really appreciate your input and feedback!
I will definite be trying a few different post-processing options on a number of the images I still have to go through from our recent trip and I'll post the final results over the next week or two.
Happy Shooting!