by Jim Austin MA, ACE, www.jimagesdigital.weebly.com
HDR processing uses two main techniques, tone mapping and exposure blending. Tone mapping is a way to compress the tones, often using Photomatix® from HDRsoft to bring out an adequate range of tones for monitor display. Exposure blending uses layers and masks, either in Photomatix, Photoshop® or both, to select the best parts of many images and blend them together in a manual process. There are countless references and tutorials online for tone mapping and exposure blending.
What if I am Just Starting Out with HDR?
For beginners, a key to mastering the HDR process is to approach it flexibly and experimentally. After installing the software, newcomers to HDR will find their photography enlivened and energized. Doing HDR invites photographers to explore places or contrasting scenes they had not thought to photograph before. They learn to see unlit, deep dark worlds as a challenge. There are few “Do’s” and “Don’ts” when starting to learn HDR.
Answering HDR Critics
Critics often misunderstand images made with the extended dynamic range process. Early HDR experimenters of tone mapping have been criticized for trying something new.
While tone mapping is merely an equation in an HDR software program, it’s designed to keep details while reducing contrast. It can produce halos or a saturated contrast look to photographs. However, tone mapping can also be subtle, producing a natural effect. Tone mapping has become a topic of technical debate in photography.
Bashing the appearance of HDR pictures, repeated in countless web discussions, is now a tired cliché. Fact check ― tone mapping is sparingly employed to maximize detail without image noise by experienced HDR image-makers. Think of non-subtle tone mapping, perhaps, as the heavy metal of the HDR music world. It has its place at one end of the spectrum of HDR techniques. It’s not a matter of good taste vs. bad. It’s a spectrum of expression to show the subject matter in all its symbolic meaning.
Critics charge that pictures made with HDR are “over-cooked”. On the surface, it looks different. Tone-mapped HDR does not meet the viewer’s expectations. Intelligent criticism comes from the love of tradition. It also mistakenly attacks photographers if a viewer expects a photo to be an accurate document.
Often, criticisms of tone mapped nature scenes arise from viewing photos as not natural. Yet, nature photographers have never accurately documented the landscape. They have always used photography to interpret nature.
Interpretation vs. reality will be a long debate, one with no clear pathway as an art form or photographic technique.