Brenham Fire Department in HDR

A few weeks ago I was driving through Brenham Texas near sunset. As I was passing the fire station, I saw that the bays were open and I thought that it might be fun to try make some HDR photos of the fire engines. As a bonus, the sun was setting behind the fire station, so the sky above the fire station looked nice as well.

The fire engines were inside the garages and I thought that it would be a fun challenge to get good exposure of the fire engines in the dark garage along with the trees and bright sky outside. The image below is an HDR merge of 6 images. I shot this with a 16mm lens, f/8, ISO100, and exposures in stops from 1/250s to 1/8s.

fire truck brenham

For this next picture, I went across the street and noticed the sun setting through the trees and I thought that this would make a good picture if I could capture the sunlight.  There was so much contrast in the scene that I ended up with 8 exposures to merge, as I was trying to get the sunshine nicely exposed.  This image really captured the yellow in the sun shining through the trees beautifully, I think.  I shot this with a 16mm lens, f/8, ISO100, and exposures in stops from 1/1000s to 1/8s.


Fire truck Brenham HDR

The firemen noticed me out taking picture and came out and offered to move one of the fire engines out for me shoot. There is a historical marker in front of the fire station and I thought it would frame well with the fire engine behind it, so I used an aperture of f/16 to get a deep focus depth. In looking at this photo later, I regretted not trying to get the front of the truck completely in frame. I think that the red of the fire engines really pop out here, though I may have been a bit heavy-handed with the color saturation. I shot this with a 16mm lens, f/16, ISO100, and eight exposures in stops from 1/1125s to 1.0s.

Fire truck Brenham HDR

The next picture is focusing on the fire engine only. Again, I regrettably just clipped the front of the truck.  I was going for the detail in the darker parts of the fire engine. I shot this with a 20mm lens, f/16, ISO100, and seven exposures in stops from 1/60s to 1.0s.

fire truck Brenham

I processed these photos using Ligthroom and Photomatix. First, I imported the RAW images into Lightroom and applied the lens correction filter. I then inspected the histogram data and selected the photos that I wanted to use to create an HDR merge. Lightroom has an HDR merge feature, but instead I exported to Photomatix as it provides a wider range of adjustments. This automatically opens the images in Photomatix and the first thing I do is determine if I want to apply any de-ghosting. There was a lot of movement from image-to-image in the trees and clouds, so I experimented with de-ghosting these parts of the image. Next, the images are aligned and merged and you can apply various presets and adjust for things like strength, tone compressions, color saturation, etc.  See below.

When you have the settings you like, you can then save the image and add it back into the Lightroom library. Using Lightroom once again, I went to the development tab and adjusted the exposure, color saturation, etc. until I had the image that I wanted.

One problem that particularly vexed me with these images was the ghosting of the clouds as they were moving subtly from shot-to-shot. This resulted in the clouds in the merged image looking blurry and I want them to be more defined. I experimented with the Photomatix de-ghosting, but I never quite got exactly what I wanted. This was also an issue with the trees to a lesser extent, but this didn’t bother me as much.

Another issue with HDR merges is mild haloing around the trees and the building.  I didn’t get much of this, but it is present to a small degree. You can see this on a lot of extreme HDR images online.

My thanks to the Brenham Fire Department for indulging me in my photo shoot that day.



  • Nikon D5300 DSLR
  • Nikon F-S DX NIKKOR 16-80mm f/2.8-4E ED VR Lens
  • Tripod
  • Remote Shutter Release
  • Adobe Lightroom
  • Photomatix Pro 5.1


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