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Picture this: You’re on assignment in Brooklyn to capture the landscape of New York City’s largest borough. The skyline is a tapestry of new glass skyscrapers, 19th-century brick-and-mortar edifices, public green spaces, water towers, and a latticework of bridges spanning the East River. The foreground is paved over with trafficked roads, roundabouts, cyclists, and pedestrians. Billowy clouds pattern an otherwise blue sky—heat this intense and light this direct can only be experienced here in the dog days of summer.
This was the scene Frédéric Lagrange, this year’s winner of the Sony Emerging Talent Award in the PDN Photo Annual, found himself in for a recent shoot.
He was enthralled by the drama of the scenery, but hard-pressed to find the best way to expose the bright summer afternoon light with the textures in the greenery, the clouds and the architectural facades in the foreground of a given vantage point.
Lagrange is often on the road shooting portraiture and fashion, and documenting his travels for clients like Vanity Fair, The New York Times’ T Magazine, GQ, The New Yorker and Travel + Leisure. But here, in his home borough, he relished in having Sony’s PlayMemories camera apps in his toolbox. It allowed him the ability to “show more textures in areas where there are extreme differences of exposure,” he notes, like on a rooftop where he wanted to visually collapse the disparate elements of the landscape.
There are many imaging apps on the market today, but few have built-in technology that gives the professional photographer an edge on balancing the light in a complex landscape. When the clouds are shifting rapidly, why take the time to bracket a scene at different exposures or balance a light sky with a dark foreground if there’s an app that integrates with your camera to do it for you? Why make a composite of perfectly lit elements, when the job can be completed in-camera?
The SkyHDR app from Sony’s PlayMemories camera apps is not only a tool to create dynamic images by combining two shots of one scene at different exposures and shutter speeds, but it also leaves behind the concept of using graduated filters on a lens or HDR technology that exposes for an entire frame instead of portions of the image.
“The control of the exposure on half of the image makes it a very good and handy tool to have. It is very easy to control and balance the exposure of the image, even with extreme highlights one might face when shooting a landscape with an open sky,” Lagrange explains. “The app could complement the use of post-production tools like Photoshop. It could also help photographers avoid having to shoot plates with different exposures, as the app allows one to shoot a single file with a near-perfect exposure even with extreme differences of exposure within one frame.”
Further, he says, using the app has allowed him to start thinking about and seeing landscape in a different way: “The app helps create a new vision and possibilities.”
Tips for using the SkyHDR app:
- Adjust your settings to the specific scene you’re shooting. Enter the settings for adjusting the boundary between the land area and the sky area. Next, adjust the exposure settings and white balance of the sky area. The land area will be displayed as a fixed image with the effects applied.
- Stillness is key. Lagrange recommends using a tripod and choosing a scene with still elements while using the app: The final image is composed of two exposures shot within a second or two of one another.
- Don’t be afraid to play. “I used the app for only a few days and it was pretty fun to use. I can see myself using that app on assignment or a personal project. It felt to me that the more one uses the app and the more one gets comfortable with it, then creative possibilities and range of use grows,” Lagrange says.
Learn more at sony.net/pmca and view more shots from this series below. All images were shot with a Sony α7R II camera and a Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS lens. All images © Frédéric Lagrange.