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HDR Photography Part 1

Author: Carl Heaton
He is our senior instructor and originally from Manchester UK. Carl teaches our Web Design and Online Marketing Courses.
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HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and is a technique or style of photography which can create stunning high contrast and highly detailed images which convey drama and strong emotions.

What Is HDR Photography?

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and is a technique or style of photography which can create stunning high contrast and highly detailed images which convey drama and strong emotions.

HDR photography is neither completely true to reality or your imagination, I like to think of it as the juncture between the two. HDR imaging techniques allow for a greater dynamic range of exposures than usually possible by taking just one photo at one exposure.

hdr photography rome

What’s exposure? Exposure simply refers to the total amount of light that falls on to the image sensor in your digital camera. This is something which you can control manually and determines whether a photo is under or over exposed. Although exposure preferences are completely subjective to each photographer and can be used creatively to get interesting effects.

The amount of detail cameras can record are limited when the sensor is exposed to light.  For example when trying to capture a photograph of a Lake with mountains and skies also present in the shot you have a very large range of exposures with strong shadows, highlights and mid tones  from the various elements in the composition. This often results in the loss of detail from one range or the other.

In other words, either your skies will be ‘blown out’ and over exposed with little contrast or your shadows will be extremely dark with little or no detail and variance. An example of this can be seen below when taken with only one exposure.

HDR techniques aim to maximize the detail in all areas of the image (both highlights and shadows), representing the wide ranges of exposures in the photograph accurately. HDR photography can be achieved in many different ways, and usually involves post processing using digital editing software or plugins for Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom.

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‘New’ Art Form

burning and dodging photography

HDR photography although some see it as a “new and emerging art form” has in fact been around for much longer, just without the label HDR! Photographers like Ansel Adams and W Eugene Smith used burning and dodging techniques in the dark room when printing to manipulate the exposure of an isolated area on a photographic print as far back as the 1950’s. You can see an example of one Ansel Adams landscape photographs below whereby he used these techniques to adjust the tonality of the picture from shadows to highlights and get superb clarity and detail in all parts of the photograph.

ansel adams photography

Don’t you have to be a professional?

Many people immediately dismiss the possibility of being able to shoot HDR photography as a beginner or amateur photographer. This simply isn’t the case! Anyone can capture and process HDR images and now with so much software available that practically does it for you it takes only a few minutes!

I won’t elaborate on how the software works in this blog post but below are 10 popular software programs and plugins for HDR photography which you can check out if you want to find out more. If you do want a review of the HDR software’s available and which ones I would recommend please let me know and I will write a blog post for this!

You can truly create stunning and compelling images through HDR techniques and turn an ordinary photo in to something quite spectacular full of life, contrast, color and clarity otherwise not possible!

  1. Photomatix Pro HDR
  2. Adobe Photoshop CS5 HDR Pro
  3. HDR Express
  4. Artizan HDR
  5. EasyHDR
  6. HDR Darkroom
  7. Luminance HDR
  8. Essential HDR
  9. HDR Photo Studio
  10. Dynamic Photo HDR

I Want to Shoot HDR, How Do I Start?

As I said before, there are lots of different methods photographers can utilize to create HDR images. Usually modern HDR imaging combines 3 or more images of the same composition (same subject, usually taken on a tripod for accuracy) taken at 3 or more different exposures to create one photograph in post processing, using one of the software programs listed above. This is done through the EV Compensation/AEB setting controls on your digital camera which is illustrated below. This technique is called Auto Exposure Bracketing.

exposure bracketing HDR photography

Auto Exposure Bracketing combined with post production HDR software,  produces a single HDR image from the 3 differently exposed shots that results in extreme clarity, detail and vibrant contrasts otherwise not possible. Some HDR photographers use up to 9 different exposures for more complex scenes to ensure precise detail and clarity in the final image!

In HDR Photography Part 2 I will tell you my top 10 tips for HDR photography.

If you want to learn more about your camera and photography, Web Courses Bangkok have a variety of Photography Courses to suit your goals in both group or private settings. If you are interested, contact us and we will provide you with a great photography course with plenty of support.


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