Making people disappear

The first couple of days in Leh is usually reserved for getting acclimatised to the high altitude and the resultant lower blood-oxygen levels that one experiences. A good place to walk around and soak in the ambience is definitely the Main Market in Leh. Most people usually head there on their first couple of evenings – to just walk around, shop and eat at the wide variety of eateries in and around the market.

The last time I was in the Leh Market, I had shot a couple of HDR images which I liked. This time around I wanted to take multiple shots of the market and then stack-merge them into one single image – the basic idea being that I could make the transient people disappear and make the crowded market seem quite empty.

As I walked down the market, I was looking for any interesting place from which I could attempt this. I spotted a cafe at one end of the market (in this image it is down the row of shops on the left, at the end on the first floor where the market takes a right turn) that seemed quite promising. But it wasn’t quite what I wanted.

I then sauntered over to the end of the market (that’s a right turn at the end of the picture and a 250 mtr walk). A Police Chowk at the end overlooking the market seemed like a good vantage point, so I climbed up the stairs to check out the view (also hoping to get a nod from the cop). But I didn’t quite like the view from there – it wasn’t high enough and the banners that stretched across seemed to block out a big section of the market – plus the light was all wrong. I tried a few shots from the corner but didn’t quite like the perspective.

All of this, at the slow pace at which one usually does things in Ladakh, had taken some time – with no vantage point having been located, I had given up on my plans and had mentally packed up for the day. By now,  I was feeling a little hungry as well and decided to find a nice place to have dinner and head back.

That’s when I stumbled upon il Forno, a lovely pizza restaurant on the 2nd floor (above the famous German Bakery) across the road and overlooking the market. As luck would have it, they had outdoor seating a perfect view of one arm of the market. Just like that I was back in business – with some delicious wood-fired pizzas thrown in while I was capturing the images that I needed.

The sun was setting right behind me and the sky was nice and clear, with some wisps of clouds floating across lazily. I could see the Leh Palace on the top left of the frame, a hint of the dome of the Jama Masjid above the buildings of the market and below the Leh Palace. Given the play of light and shadows in the frame, I decided to shoot 5 HDR images for each shot to ensure that the exposure for the highlights and shadows are well covered. I also then set up for a sequence of shots – 30 seconds apart, for 45 minutes – my estimation of the time we would take to order and get through our pizzas. While these shots seemed quite close to each other, I thought that I would end up discarding at least half the frames leaving me with sufficient images to process – with 450 shots for a single final image it was an overkill for sure, but I knew that I had just this one chance and wanted to make the best of it.

The processing itself took quite a while – first processing the batch of 90 HDR images and then picking up specific images from these 90 to run a “File >Scripts > Statistics > Median” process to arrive at this final image. The crowded Leh Market has been cleared out of the people, most of whom were transient, leaving behind a couple engrossed in a long conversation (sitting on the first platform), some sleeping dogs (let them lie!!) and a van that decided to just stay put. Quite close to what I was hoping to achieve.

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