28mm, f/8, 1/20, 1/80, 1/320s, ISO 800.

Do you ever get a craving to go make a picture? An urge that just won’t go away? That kind of urge is distracting, and may be hazardous to your health; you should probably take a sick day to get it taken care of. I’ll sign a note for you.

I had such an urge the other day, so I strapped my kid in the car and went searching. We strolled downtown and visited the park, all to no avail. We drove a small road on the edge of town that wandered through a forested hillside. Surely there’s an image here! I thought to myself. Finally, after we had driven through this tunnel three times, I found a picture that intrigued me. I liked the bend of the road leading to the arch of the tunnel, and the lazy, elephantine curve of the brick work. The tunnel punctuating the whole and the line of lights in the ceiling also made me smile. So, I put a snack in my kid’s hand while I framed this up.

As I began to make the exposure, however, I realized that the light wasn’t cooperating with my vision. The sky was overcast with diffuse light shining straight down on everything. The road was worn and light gray, so that ended up being the brightest tone in my image. I planned to finish the image in black and white to emphasize the graphic composition, but the brightness of the road would end up dissecting the image and leaving it quite bland. Thinking about tones made me realize that HDR would be just the thing to preserve my composition and use the tones to influence it for the better.

I shot three frames, each two stops apart (this is called bracketing, making a series of pictures at different shutter speeds so that they are different brightnesses). I knew the darkest image would have a richer, darker tone for the road, and the brightest image would give me details inside the tunnel. I used the camera’s automatic bracketing function so that when a passing car was in the right spot I just had to fire off a three exposure burst.

Back at home, I used Photomatix Pro to created a single image from the three exposures. I hadn’t used Photomatix since 2009, so the latest version was totally new to me. My daughters snack was disappearing quickly, so I didn’t take the time to use a tripod and I shot this handheld, squatting down on the side of the highway with traffic zipping past.

I was concerned that the images may not align well enough, but Photomatix did a perfect job aligning them; I was impressed. I chose the Exposure Fusion process, clicked on one of the black and white presets to get started, and adjusted the sliders until it looked the way I had imagined when I shot the image.

I love the highlight at the mouth of the tunnel which continues the line on the road–this is what I had planned, and Photomatix help me realize that vision. Otherwise, I’d have been stuck with a roadway surface that was too bright, and a black hole for a tunnel. I finished with a vignette in Lightroom and also applied my favorite copper tint preset in the Split Toning tab (Highlights: Hue 24, Saturation 3; Balance 40; Shadows: Hue 14, Saturation 7).

There have been so many times when I have not taken an image because I felt the light was wrong for the composition. Now, I’ll constantly be considering how the tones of my image affect my composition, and I’ll use HDR to keep my vision intact.