Photo Corners

A   S C R A P B O O K   O F   S O L U T I O N S   F O R   T H E   P H O T O G R A P H E R

Enhancing the enjoyment of taking pictures with news that matters, features that entertain and images that delight. Published frequently.

Friday Slide Show: Gingerbread Houses Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

19 December 2014

One of San Francisco's holiday traditions is its gingerbread houses. Several downtown hotels put up elaborate constructions in their lobbies each year to prove dreams do come true.

Gingerbread Village. No one goes hungry here.

The St. Francis has its Sugar Castle. The Fairmont is famous for its two-story gingerbread house. And the Sheraton Palace, which once used to hold a gingerbread house contest, puts its baker to work on a new scenario every year.

Earlier this week, we found ourselves at the Palace. We had been looking all over the city for Strathmore Photo Mount Cards for our Holiday photo cards. Our usual supplier, Flax, was strangely out of stock.

But in a flash of pure genius we decided to hunt down an art supply store near the SFMOMA and the Academy of Art University. We found Blick Art Materials in the old Utrecht store and they had just what we wanted at half off. So we know what we're doing this weekend.

On the way back to the streetcar, we popped into the Palace Hotel to see the decorations.

This year the gingerbread display is three buildings tucked into the usual corner of the lobby. There are also a couple of giant snow globes featuring gingerbread figures, too.

Just the ticket. We pulled out our camera to take a few shots.


The lobby, though, is dimly lit. Very dimly lit. So most visitors resort to flash. Which completely floods the stage lighting on the houses.

This is really one of those situations that calls out for a real camera. You need all the magic baked into your camera to capture a scene like this.

No matter what ISO you select, you're going to be shooting wide open so Aperture Priority doesn't do anything for you. In fact, it can be a liability, letting the shutter speed slow so far down that every shot is blurred (which you may not detect until you get home).

So we decided to shoot in Shutter Priority mode, setting the shutter to 1/30 second, which we can handhold with our 18-200mm lens. And we wisely removed the polarizer from the lens, too.

We bravely stuck with ISO 400, although we might have safely used ISO 800 on the D300. But we had a plan.

The plan was, shooting Raw, to kick up the Exposure in Lightroom. Knowing in advance that we could compensate for quite a bit of underexposure gave us the confidence to shoot away at our preferred settings.


In Lightroom we could barely see the image. The thumbnails were very dark.

The snowglobe got about a stop and a half extra Exposure. The gingerbread houses need 2.30. The tree in the Garden Court needed nothing, as did our last image down the hallway. The Nutcracker, which was nearly invisibile in the darkness outside the Garden Court, needed a couple of stops.

That was the real trick to these captures. Underexpose and recover in Lightroom. You couldn't do that if you didn't have control of your shutter speed or weren't able to shoot Raw or didn't plan to spend a minute in your Raw editor.

We did, as we usually do, punch up Clarity and recover the Shadows but that was it for the most part.

We had to take a little different approach this time, but we're happy we could.

BackBack to Photo Corners