High Dynamic Range Photography (HDR)
HDR is a type of photography that opens new horizons for photographers. It includes an endless amount of possibilities and most photographers I know enjoy working in this field. It is also one of the fields that are greatly appreciated by the viewers as it is one of the most appealing forms of photography. We basically use a software to assist is in obtaining the final result of an HDR image. High dynamic range images are extremely detailed as they capture details from shadows, and over exposure as well as the normal exposure levels. HDR adds a little more essence to the photo and makes it more of an art compared with an ordinary photo.
It is an enhanced form of an image that pulls out details from the shadows and the overexposed. It has an increased dynamic range to pull out the details that a normal image would not hold. An HDR image is a combination of the same picture taken at three different exposure settings. Of course, these settings are low, mid and high exposure. We can also call them the under exposed, normal exposure, and the over exposed images. The software uses the under exposed image to extract the details that are blown out in the normal exposure and extracts the shadow details in the over exposed image. This allows the image to be livelier and contain a wide dynamic range.
Things needed to create an HDR image
First of all, we need a camera that allows the user to have control over the settings, for example a manual setting mode. We need to be able to control the exposure levels in the photos being shot. An automatic camera or an auto mode adjusts the setting for you so are powerless in controlling the exposure levels and it won’t serve our purpose. If you go out looking for a camera for such a picture shoot you might want to look for one with AEB which is a short for Automatic Exposure Bracketing. The useful part of AEB is that it allows the user to set increments for exposure for the pictures to be shot in series. If you have a high end camera it might be fast enough allowing you to hold the camera in your hand while you take shots. However, if this is not the case with your camera and it lacks the AEB function then you can simply mount the camera on a tripod and take pictures at different exposure levels. As mentioned above, you will need special software to combine your images and extract an HDR image. We will explain that later in the article.
What are some of the best scenes to shoot in HDR?
When shooting HDR we need to make sure that we are shooting a scene with high contrasts. The first types of images that come to mind are sunsets, sunrises, sky, glass buildings, ponds and lakes etc. Almost all of us have tried taking a sunset or sunrise picture and we often become victims of over-exposing or under-exposing our photos. It has been decided that sunrise and sunset images are awesome for HDR modification but I also would like to add that overcast days are great for shooting HDR photos. If I recall my HDR photo shoots I must say that I use HDR for weather photography such as storms, snow, hail, and even cloudy weather. Go out in an over cast weather and try for yourself and I promise you’ll be amazed with the types of images you shoot.
Things to stay away from when shooting in HDR
It’s simple and I’ll say it straight up. You do not want to shoot portraits in HDR! We don’t want to see too many details in the person when looking at their picture and most people will not like to see all the small imperfections in their looks and complexion. Another thing to avoid in HDR are when shooting macro images. As we already know macro images are taken at a very small scale and it takes very little effort to ruin a great shot. We don’t want to experiment with HDR and waste what could’ve been that perfect shot. We also don’t want to capture HDR shots of moving objects such as sports events etc. because it is nearly impossible to find three same positioned shots. An athlete runner is not going to stay at a fixed spot for you to take shots at different exposure settings. As stated above, it is always good to experiment and you don’t have to live by all the limits, go ahead and break the rules once in a while. It will only make your life more fun.
How to take an HDR image
Let’s assume that your camera doesn’t have the AEB function. One thing to point out is that you’ll need a tripod so go out and invest in one. You won’t regret it ever! Tripods are cheap as they go for around $20 and they’ll help you expand your photography. Try looking for the best view and picture the image in your head before releasing the shutter. As in all pictures we want the best possible place to shoot the image. We want to cover the entire scene or at least as must as possible. We need to use wide depth of field as we don’t want anything to be blurred out. Remember our goal is to capture every detail available. First try taking the image at auto levels to give you an idea of what a normal exposure is. You can always use a metering device to do this as well. Make sure the image is correctly metered and the exposure is correct. Then we can move on to shooting the other two shots (over/under-exposed). It is proven that the more images at different exposures you have the better the HDR will come out but let’s stick to three images for this article. Once the normal image is taken we want to use exposure compensation function and take two other images one at +2 exposure compensation and one at -2 exposure compensation. Remember that you are using the tripod as we don’t want to record any movements. It is crucial to keep the camera still and away from any movements. Try using a wireless or cable trigger if you have to. You can also use the timer function.
Combining our images and finalizing our work
In the above step we gathered the three images essential for HDR processing. Now, let’s go to the software and combine the three to make an unforgettable HDR image. You can google and find the right software for yourself as there are many choices out in the market. However, one of the most popular software is Photomatix Professional. I use this software when I go out for a HDR photo shoot. You can make it look artistic or you can make it closer to reality and the compositions are simply amazing. If you have an older version of Adobe Photoshop then you might want to download Photomatix or another software because it just doesn’t meet the standards that some others do. However, the newer versions of Adobe Photoshop are well equipped for high class HDR composition and editing. With the release of Photoshop CS5, Adobe has stepped up big time. I am thinking about moving to CS5 from my Photomatix because it’s simply better and easier than its competitors. I will be making the Photoshop tutorial on HDR and it shall be up shortly. Now go out there take some shots, upload in Photoshop and get yourself some stunning looking HDR photos.