Intro to HDR – High Dynamic Range

I think one of the most challenging aspects of photography is understanding that the camera doesn’t see the same thing that I do.  My brain (and yours) can compensate for what it sees in ways a camera can’t.

I took these three photographs using different shutter speeds, by setting my camera on Aperture Priority at f11 and using exposure compensation at -2, 0, +2.



If you click on the first, it will bring up a larger size in a shadowbox window and allow you to scroll through the 3 photographs. Also note that I’ve labeled them with either a 0 -2 or + 2 exposure compensation.

The 0 is what the camera takes as it’s normal exposure, the -2 is underexposed by two stops and the +2 is overexposed by two stops.

Notice on the 0 exposure that you can see detail under the roof of the building but you don’t see a lot of detail away from the building. The – 2 exposure (underexposed) is dark under the roof, but the area away from the building has more detail than the 0 exposure. The +2 has a lot of detail under the roof and the rest is blown out. None of them on their own is ideal.

What these 3 photographs illustrate is that this scene had a contrast range too great for the camera to capture in a single photograph meaning the difference between the darkest shadows and the brightest highlights was too big.

In comes HDR technology to the rescue. In Photoshop, I used HDR Pro which took the 3 photographs and produced a single image. I couldn’t really explain the secret sauce behind what it does, but it ends with the best parts (exposure wise) of each photo.

This was my end result which looks the way I remember it.

Train Station – HDR



Lessons Learned:

  • The camera doesn’t see the same thing as your brain and eyes do
  • Sometimes the contrast range is too great to capture in a single image
  • HDR is a way to compensate for a high contrast scene
  • There are several software programs that will process HDR photos
  • You don’t need an DSLR to do HDR photography. Some point-and-shoot cameras and camera photos have the ability to create an HDR photo in camera

Homework:

  • Read about Exposure compensation in your camera manual
  • Check your software, does it include the ability to process HDR
  • If you have a point and shoot or camera phone, learn if it has the ability to do HDR.
  • Check out the resources below. Even if you don’t want to tackle HDR yourself, there are some people who produce some amazing results with it

Resources:

  • Stuck in Customs Trey Ratcliff specializes in HDR and travels the world to do it. This link is to his portfolio, but his website also includes how-to tutorials and videos
  • Places to Explore Talke Photography was some cool motorcross photos along with landscapes
  • AboutRC Not everything on Photoshop Guy’s blog is HDR, but he did write a book about HDR.

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