Getting the Shot: Hogwarts

Sep 5, 2017 | England, Photography | 0 comments

Location

It’s not Hogwarts, per se, but the Great Hall at Christ Church College was a model for the one seen throughout the Harry Potter films. Harry Potter fans looking for a tour of the actual Hogwarts Great Hall used in the films will have to visit Leavesden Studios (20 miles north of London). Fortunately for the rest of us, the Great Hall at Christ Church College is superbly stunning and is available for viewing in breathtaking Oxford.

The Hall is the largest pre-Victorian college Hall in Oxford or Cambridge. It has a magnificent ‘hammerbeam’ ceiling and portraits of many famous members of Christ Church can be seen on the wall, including a few of the thirteen Prime Ministers educated at the college.

 

The Shot

There are several challenges in photographing this location. The Hall is massive and has exquisite detail from wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling. Capturing the wide expanse of the room requires a wide angle lens. I used a focal length of 26mm to capture the scene without introducing too much distortion.

The decor throughout the Hall consists of dark woods, dark wall paintings, and a heavy, dark ceiling. This is contrasted with floods of light that stream through the high windows on three walls. Using a camera with a wide dynamic range sensor can help capture the range of contrasts in the room, but it was still necessary to bracket my exposures to digitally blend everything together later in post-processing.

The final (and greatest) challenge is the crowds of people that visit the Hall. Tourist numbers have been steadily rising with numbers up to 400,000 annually – due in part to the ‘Harry Potter factor.’ In a situation where there are lots of people wandering around in a scene, I would normally mount my camera on tripod and fire off multiple shots. Later I would stack the shots in Photoshop and run a median filter to eliminate the crowds. Christ Church doesn’t allow the use of tripods, however, so I had to resort to plan B.

 

Crowds of tourists stream down the aisles between the tables and congregate at the end of the hall.

In this case, I stood in the same place for 8 minutes, firing off a shot every few seconds, trying to hand-hold my camera as steady and consistently as possible. I ended up with 42 images of the same scene with large crowds of people moving throughout. I could later combine these images in Photoshop in an attempt to remove the crowds and give the illusion of an empty room.

 

Post-Processing

With 42 images at my disposal, the time-consuming element of this images was stacking layers together in Photoshop, aligning all the layers, and painstakingly remove the crowds. I used a Wacom Intuos tablet to ‘paint out’ the crowds, using layer masks to show only the areas of each image that didn’t contain people. Because tourist tend to linger and move slowly, there were a number of shots that were completely unusable. The process took about 2 hours and required some additional creative cloning. In the end, there were two areas were people were continually standing, so I had to leave them in the shot.

I used an ISO of 800 to make sure my camera was capturing enough light for a pleasing exposure. However, the window at the rear of the room was blown out and all the detail was lost. I took a darker exposure (same settings but with ISO 200) and used it to blend the window in order to recover some of the blown out highlights.

The image on the left shows a proper window exposure, but the main image is dark. The image on the right has a proper exposure for the scene, but the window is blown out. A digital blend of exposures is necessary to even out the image.

At a focal length of 26mm, a bit of vertical distortion is visible in the image. I chose not to correct the distortion in post-processing because it reinforces the visual perception of the Hall’s massive size.

Christ Church

Settings

Sony a7r

Sony A7r
FE 24-70mm F4

Aperture

f/4.0

Focal Length

26 mm

Shutter Speed

1/60 sec

ISO

800

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