I’ve photographed this scene several times over the past few years, since getting in to photography. One good upload with each camera, each representative of a different place I was at in my technique and artistic vision.
I took the first one with the Canon Digital Rebel XTi - my first camera. This was 6 years ago, and I’d probably been photographing for less than a year. I had experimented with HDR at this point, and knew enough to shoot multiple exposures anyways just in case, though the camera limited auto bracketing to 3 shots. My processing represents my thought process at the time - the camera severely limited detail at all but the lowest ISOs, so processing is going to require serious creativity to get anything nice looking. Fine detail was completely missing, and there really isn’t anything to see at a resolution higher than Flickr’s. In better hands than mine, perhaps the camera could have captured this scene more accurately and with more detail. But all things considered, I am extremely happy with what I was able to do with the skillset and tools at my disposal.
Several years later, and the Digital Rebel is replaced with the Nikon D200, and again I return to this scene. Better tools and technique allowed me to capture a dramatically more detailed and less noisy image. I was firmly in the realm of the HDR panorama at this point - three parallel images of 3 exposures each, all processed direct into HDR. The results look really good - but I took a lot of shortcuts along the way. Although the picture looks great at regular viewing, closer inspection reveals problems. Serious issues with edge distortion are noticeable - the result of me not knowing how to warp the panorama nearly as well as I do now. Also noticeable are issues with chromatic abberation, blow-out blacks, and inconsistent noise levels.
The Nikon D200 is a great camera, though. I may be able to re-process this picture in such a way as to eliminate these issues.
Lastly (for now), we have this version, taken with the Nikon D800E. More subtly processed than the others, at least at first glance. In actuality, this one has more layers and more edits than any of the other photos. They are just less obvious, and done more carefully. Still, just like the previous two photos, this still uses HDR data from multiple RAW files, and like my technique with the D200, still is a panorama.
The detail captured with the D800E is incredible though - far more information than either of the previous cameras. And having all of this detail makes me more hesitant to eliminate with large-scale massive vivid edits. Such edits are fine for saving a low quality photo, like with the first shot above, but in a situation where you have perfect dynamic range at the brightest and darkest areas of the image, it would be a waste to destroy that. I want to aspire to do more with my art.
More than anything else, my modern technique is about not taking shortcuts. The warping was done painstakingly to eliminate distortion. Chromatic abberation was corrected, even in places where it wouldn’t be visible at web sizes. The entire thing was processed for ultra high resolution - far beyond what Flickr can display. But still - processing for quality causes me to approach the photographs in a different way. And I like the road this approach is leading me on. I still have a lot to learn, but I always have, and I’m enjoying learning it through experience.