High Dynamic Range photography has been around for a few years but has recently gained popularity and acceptance among many photographers. Some thought it was just a fad and would fade away, but it is here to stay like it or not. There are two schools of thought on the subject, 1 it is an over Photoshopped effect and not real unless it comes straight out of the camera and 2 as a new age digital photography tool to enhance your images producing realist to artist photos. Hdr is a photography technique that uses multiple images ranging from very light or bright (over exposed) to very dark (under exposed) and blending them together using computer software. The aligning and blending of these images will give a wider range of colors, tonality and detail. The first generation hdr software was known to have a grunge look or a comic book type effect. While many enjoyed this look many others did not. Over the years hdr software has developed into a customizable tool that will give a variety of results. Some hdr processed photos can have an unnatural look to them but still have a wow affect on its viewers while other photos can have a lite touch of hdr that can bring out the finer details and vivid colors, but doesn't have that over cooked look. Like all art' its in the eye of the beholder. Personally I think that each style has its place for best use. Strong hdr processing works well with dimly lite scenes such as indoors photos, architecture and urban shots. While lite processing works well with landscapes and situations where you need to bring out detail in shadowed areas. Blending images into hdr is a fun and exciting way to take an average photo and give it a little pop or added dramatic effect. And the beauty of it all is that anyone can easily do it.
Here's What You Will Need
- For easy and accurate software photo alignment use a tripod
- A minimum of 3 bracketed images (I set my camera to take 3 images 1 full stop apart adjusting the shutter speed automatically )
- A computer (newer technology will speed up processing times)
- Hdr software (Photomatix, Nik HDR Efex Pro, Dynamic Photo HDR, HDR Darkroom)
- Photoshop (optional)
- Denoise software, I use Topaz Denoise (optional)
- The above software have trial downloads, give them a try before you buy
Once you have your images of different exposures it's time to merge them together using your choice of hdr software. No matter what software you use the process is pretty much the same.
- Start up your favorite HDR software
- Select Create or Generate HDR
- Browse and Import your selected images, make sure you have at least 3 images (1 under exposed 1proper exposure and 1 over exposed
- Choose your options eg auto align, reduce noise, reduce ghosting etc.
- After the images have been auto aligned its time to tone map
- Most tone mapping steps will have slider adjustments, eg strength, saturation etc, play around with the sliders until you achieve your desired effect then click process
- Once processed save the image to your working photo folder
- Open up Photoshop and import your hdr image
- Use your denoise software plugin to reduce the amount of grain (hdr software can produce noticeable grain)
- Adjust color saturation, contrast, brightness to your preference
- If you have any plugins that auto correct such as Topaz Adjust give that a go to correct color or saturation or use one of its presets for added effect
- Use unsharpen mask under the filters tab to add sharpness
- Save your final image
Recommendations / Tips
- Moving objects such as people, waves and trees do not blend well resulting in ghosting, avoid them if you can
- Bright colors can look muted with a black haze if over processed
- Images can produce undesirable levels of grain, use a low iso setting
- Bright areas next to dark areas can produce a unnatural halo affect if over processed
- Over processing can produce color banding, halos and heavy grain
- Choose a hdr program that will auto align the images
- The better software available will also have presets for different styles and effects
- Raw files can give better results but jpegs can be used as well
Tone Mapping is sometimes referred to as HDR. Don't confuse this as the same process. Tone mapping is the step after the images have been merged. In fact a single image can also be tone mapped the same way as the merged image. The results are similar with each file but the tone mapped merged file has more tonal range and color. Tone mapping is a good option to use when using one image that has moving people, trees or waves.
So for your next photo shoot bracket your images and download some hdr software for post processing fun. It will give new life to your every day photos.