HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photography for Beginners

Have you ever noticed when you take photos when the sun is shining bright, parts of the photo are either way too bright or way too dark? Because of limitations in film or with your digital camera, It’s hard to get fine details in the shadows and in the bright areas at the same time. Is there any way around this so that all of the parts of the photo show up as you see them with your eye?

Well, it turns out there is, and it’s called High Dynamic Range Photography. This type of photography takes multiple photos taken at different settings and averages the best parts of each photo. The result is a new photo that has a higher dynamic range and more information – that is you get more detail out of the extreme white and black areas in the photo and everything in between.

There are many tutorials online on how to do HDR photography, but this is the short version of the the basic and most common technique:

Take a digital camera and put it on a tripod. Frame the scene and set up the camera for bracketing (taking multiple photos at different exposure settings). You want to take 3 photos, one at normal settings, one at +2 exposure, and one at -2 expsosure settings (consult your camera manual – I know most canon digital cameras do this). +2 means twice as bright as the photo at normal settings, and -2 means twice as dark.

Take 3 photos and import it into an HDR program such as Photomatix (available here. You will have to adjust the final image a bit to your desired settings – you can make the photo lighter or darker within the program. I won’t go into the details here because you can just read the tutorial within the software. Photoshop CS2 also has an HDR function if you already own a copy of that. Once you are done and the software does it’s magic, you’ll have a single image that is the result of merging 3 images together. Enough talking – here is a look at my first HDR image. This is the view outside of my living room window in Austin, TX.

Photo taken at normal settings – notice how the buildings are dark and there is a large white spot on the right with no detail.

Photo taken at -2 exposure settings – notice how the buildings are extremely dark but we can see much more detail in the sky – all of the clouds are visible.

Photo taken at +2 exposure settings – the buildings are properly exposed, but the sky is totally white and we can’t see the clouds or the sky at all.

Resulting image #1 – Notice how the sky has all of the details of the darkest images, and the foreground with the buildings and the city have the details of the brightest image. Using the HDR technique, I effectively brought out all of the detail that you could see with the human eye.

Resulting image #2 – This image is an example of what HDR can do at it’s most extreme settings. Saturation, strength, and contrast were turned very high on this one, giving an extrordinary amount of detail and a very artistic, surreal looking photo with an almost oil painting feel to it.

For more info, a Wikipedia link to HDR Photography can be found here.

Visit this HDR Flickr group for more examples:

Here is a link to an in depth HDR tutorial using Photomatix: via Vanilla Days.

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