Lesson from the Shop: High Dynamic Range Photography by Gavin Phillips

By Gavin Phillips
http://www.photoeffects.biz/

Note: Mouseover pictures to see non-HDR version.

 
High Dynamic Range Photography (HDR) is a creative technique in which one combines 3-5-7 images shot at different exposures, which are then merged into a single image.  The advantages are far more detail, vibrant color, and control of lighting than you could ever achieve by manipulating a single JPG or RAW image in Photoshop.
 

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Taking an HDR image
 
Start with at least 3-frames to create an HDR image. Make the 1st frame a regularly exposure; the 2nd frame, 2-stops overexposed; and the 3rd frame, 2 stops underexposed.
 
Many “point and shoot” cameras allow manual exposure settings. Advanced consumer cameras and DSLRs feature a bracketing mode. These more advanced cameras make it easier to take sets of HDR images.

 

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Bracketing
 
Bracketing allows a three-frame set to be taken at different exposure levels automatically. Once the camera is set-up, simply hold the “shutter” button down for automatic exposure of 3-5-7 frames at the exposure levels desired.
 
Most HDR projects require a tripod to eliminate any camera movement between the frames. One could take HDR sets handheld, but keep the camera perfectly still during exposure. Try leaning up against a railing or wall in order to keep the camera perfectly still.
 
 
 
 
 
 
JPG or RAW?
 
Both JPG and RAW images are usable. However, shooting RAW is preferable for exposure flexibility during post processing. Don’t’ worry if your particular RAW camera file can’t be opened up. All the camera manufactures provide software compatible with their respective RAW file formats. Also, Photoshop’s Camera RAW filter is constantly being updated to support different cameras manufacturers RAW formats. 
 

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Merging your images with Photomatix
 
Although Photoshop has a “merge to HDR” feature, many HDR enthusiasts use Photomatix for merging and tone-mapping image sets. It’s easy and intuitive to use, providing great control over the photos.
 
The following images were processed with Photomatix.
 
 

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Photographing people with HDR
 
One can selectively photograph people with HDR. A good example of photographing a church wedding in HDR may produce color detail that could not be achieved by any other method.
 
 

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Avoiding Over Saturation or Surreal HDR
 
It’s important to remember that HDR provides greater control over the image. It is easy to stay within a regular color range, but still gain a significant advantage by utilizing HDR techniques. Be careful not over saturate, especially the skies. Try keeping the Photomatix saturation slider of between 50-60.
 
Also be aware of the “over processed” look, that’s often seen on Flickr. There’s a balance for HDR creativity. On one hand, processing all images in HDR may look redundant after a dozen images. On the other hand, being too conservative with HDR produces virtually a non-effect as if it’s simply a regular image.
 
 

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Creative Freedom
 
There are no limits to creativity. Many HDR enthusiasts use a full range of Photoshop adjustment layers, filters, masks, and plug-ins. It allows a spectrum of techniques one could use on certain photographs. 
 
Today, there are an abundance of creative tools available. Why limit yourself to run of the mill photographs? A famous photographer, the late Fred Picker said, ‘Photographers owe nothing to reality.’
 

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Learn more about the HDR training and services that Gavin provides at his Web site and use your WeArePhotographers.com purchase code wearephoto to receive a 10% discount off the price.

 

FTC Notice: Gavin Phillips has provided content to the WeArePhotographers site free-of-charge and, by using the WeArePhotographers purchase code, WeArePhotographers will receive some consideration through an explicit business relationship with Gavin Phillips.