HDR can make the simplest of photos pop and create truly remarkable prints. HDR photography better mimics what we see with our eyes by better exposing details outside the camera’s capable range. When someone comments that an HDR photo doesn’t look like a photograph, that’s good. Many of the HDR images we see on the web are often pushed way out to the edge and highly stylized, but when it’s toned down and processed with some finesse, it does the job of handling dynamic range.
What is HDR?
It’s an acronym for High Dynamic Range. Typically, 3 exposures are used (sometimes as many as 5 to 7 exposures).
- (+2)Very bright exposure. This one is utilized to better expose the darker range for details.
- (0)Average exposure. The base for most details.
- (-2)Very dark exposure. This exposure is used to better expose the lightest range of details.
Note: +2, 0, -2 signify exposure values.
Here are the 3 exposures we used to this example…+2, 0, -2.
Any average photographic exposure (in the middle) on it’s own is limited. The human eye is an incredible organic scanner. We’ve all taken photos, looked at them afterward, thinking, “It’s just not the same”.
If we put aside for the moment those far out HDR photos and look at one that’s a little more natural looking, we run into a strange problem. It doesn’t look like a photo. That’s because we’ve been looking at unnatural looking images for so long, we’re not used to seeing an expanded range of details.
HDR fascinates the eye. While all the good shooting basics (perspective, angles, light, composition, depth of field, etc.) still apply, the eye gets a lot more than it’s used and can get drawn into the details of a well rendered HDR image.
I remember this scene very well. In this shot, not visible, are the large glass patio doors on the left, the main source of natural light. Then some secondary light from the small window in the back of the room. Being there, I could clearly see the details of everything across the back ofthe kitchen better than the resulting photo. The table cloth colors were deeper and the contrasts richer. The hostess (the delightful Sandra Bruni) was not so abruptly shadowed by the light either. I like the photo, it just does quite fell like what I had experienced.
I’d define HDR photography as “dynamic range restoration”. The small window and curtains at the back aren’t so washed out anymore and everything in the background has a nice gentle light with details coming out from the shadows. The pretty details in the table cloth are more discernible and Sandra is more evenly lit. The overall scene is richer in visual details.
(Click to enlarge the After image shown)
HDR Software Applications
Photomatix Pro has been around for a long time. It hasn’t been that easy or intuitive for beginners requiring hours of practice. However, recently with version 4.0.1, they now have “one click” presets to satisfy newcomers and let them have fun while they better master the art of HDR if they want to.
In recent years, a whole host of other HDR apps have joined in the market place. I’ve test driven some, but having worked with Photomatix so long, I understand how it performs intimately. If you’re just starting out, test drive some of them. They all have free full functioning trial versions.
The overall success of HDR photography relies on :
- A good photograph as a base. HDR is not intended to fix photos, it’s designed to enhance.
- Hours of practice with your HDR software.
- Skill at post editing HDR with a photo editing application like PhotoShop or PhotoShop Elements using a layer masking technique as outlined in the lower half of this diagram in this article.
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