Great Photos with HDR Photography Part 1

Great Photos with HDR?

As a true realist when it comes to taking photos, I was at first reluctant to begin using HDR in my photography. I felt that my ability to take very good images would surpass the artistic effect of HDR effect on photos. I decided to take the plunge and give HDR a try. In my opinion, the HDR process helps the photos look more…intriguing.

HDR is short for High Dynamic Range. It is a post-processing task of taking either one image or a series of images, combining them and adjusting the contrast ratios to do things that are virtually impossible with a single aperture and shutter speed.

How is an HDR Image Made?

Generally, an HDR image is commonly made by taking three photos of the same scene, each at different shutter speeds. The result is a bright, medium and dark photo, based on the amount of light that got through the lens. A software process then combines all the photos to bring details to the shadows and highlights them. This helps to achieve the same task in the final photograph that the human eye can accomplish on the scene.

HDR photography is present in many pictures taken through modern day digital cameras. A few years ago, many imaging experts regarded HDR photography as the future of digital photography, however the discipline has long been in existence.

HDR – The Beginning

Charles Wyckoff developed HDR photography during the 1930s and 1940s. He is the one who took the mid-1940s Life Magazine cover of nuclear explosions – an image that would later change the world. Of course, the technique didn’t have the acronym HDR, but the principles remained the same – combining multiple images that allow a greater dynamic range of luminance between the lightest and darkest areas of an image.

Philosophy Behind HDR

Now, let me give you my take on the philosophy behind the HDR photography style. The way the human brain keeps track of imagery is not the same way your computer keeps track of picture files. There isn’t a single aperture, shutter speed, etc. Have you ever noticed when you are in a beautiful place and you take photos — when you return and show them to people, you have to say, “Well, I wish you could have been there.” Even great photographers with amazing cameras very rarely grab the scene exactly as they saw it. Cameras, by their basic nature, are very good at capturing images, shadows and shapes — but they are not good at capturing a scene the way the mind remembers it. When you are actually there on the scene, your eye travels back and forth, letting in more light in some areas, less light in others and creating a patchwork-quilt of the scene. If you ever wondered why the picture you took was different from the scenery you actually saw, then maybe it’s time, like it was for me, to learn HDR photography.

In addition, you will tie in many emotions into the imagery as well, and those get associated with the scene. As I learned, you will find that the more you explore the HDR process, photos can start to evoke those deep memories and emotions in a more tangible way. It’s really a wonderful way of tricking your brain into experiencing much more than a normal photograph.

Taking an HDR Image

Taking the images is the first stage in HDR photography. You can use a simple point and shoot camera or a full DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera. However, you will need a camera with configurable exposure settings. All DSLRs and most point and shoot cameras have this. Most DSLR cameras have a bracketing function which makes it easier for photographers to change exposure settings.

For starters, you can use the following setting: ISO 200 and Aperture Priority Mode. And you can take the picture with three different exposure settings: EV 0, EV -2 and EV +2. You can experiment more on these, but generally speaking, the more exposure versions you can have, the better your final image will be.

It is recommended that you use a tripod when taking an HDR photo. This is because the tripod stabilizes the camera and you need to get the clearest image you can get since you are experimenting on exposure values. The best way to do this is to use a shutter remote or if your camera doesn’t have one, just make sure you press the shutter button lightly. If you have a camera and/or lens that has image stabilization, you may not necessarily need a tripod.

Post processing is the last stage in HDR photography that you can really control. This is where technical skills merge with creative sensibility. And with the introduction of advanced digital cameras and photo editing software, HDR image post-processing is made a lot easier.

Processing HDR Images

Post-processing generally involves color correction, saturation, contrast and brightness and darkness adjustment and other image element manipulation. But in HDR photography, we need to concentrate on contrast and brightness and darkness adjustment. Brightness and darkness adjustment is the direct digital translation of exposure manipulation in the picture taking stage. If, in the camera, you adjust exposure settings, in the post-processing stage you will adjust the brightness.

The main advantage of post-processing is the ability to surpass the limitation of actually configuring your camera in different exposure levels. While some cameras may have eight exposure settings and therefore eight different images, post-processing can simply give you a limitless number.

Post-processing software also allows you to blend photographs with different exposures. This clearly increases the dynamic range of the final output photo. There is also tone mapping which reveals highlight and shadow details in an HDR image made from multiple exposures.

Personally, I use Photomatix HDR software. However, there are many other brands of post-processing software.

Part 1 Conclusions

Since we are all visual individuals, a photo or a painting can spark great memories, just like a song or a nice smell. But the way to trigger some of those intense memories on a deeper level is to adjust the light levels in the photograph, so that the effective light levels and color match those that are buried in your head. The HDR process can help achieve these goals.

If you are hesitant to delve into HDR photography, cease and desist that type of thinking! Utilizing HDR photography techniques is a great way to enhance your images.

Great Photos with HDR Photography Part 2

Jayden Miller © Copyright 2012

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18 thoughts on “Great Photos with HDR Photography Part 1

  1. Pingback: HDR 3 (high dynamic range) final | Andy: Photographer, Traveller & Chef

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  3. Pingback: Great Photos with HDR Photography Part 2 | Jayden Miller Photography

  4. Pingback: HDR Photography: Deer and Elk | Jayden Miller Photography

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