HDR Explained! How High Dynamic Range Will Make Your Digital Images Better…

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What is HDR?  HDR or “High Dynamic Range” is the process of taking multiple images with varying range of exposures that are “layered” over each other to form an extremely detail rich image that is strikingly beautiful.

High Dynamic Range photography is not a new concept; however, with the advent of digital photography it is now easy for photographers to manipulate their images with processing software and even in camera with much better efficiency.

Images shot with normal or “standard exposure” often lack detail in the highlights and shadows due to single exposure limitations.  Traditionally cameras are only able to record a single exposure per image.  While some of the newest cameras to hit the market (including the iPhone) do have a built in HDR function, the more popular method is via post processing software.  This is because the software approach allows for much greater control and flexibility. Though logically we can expect that in camera HDR capability will continue to grow in leaps and bounds over the next few years.

The Process

The process of taking multiple images all at different exposures and allowing photographers to capture a greater dynamic range and thus more details is in essence HDR or High Dynamic Range photography.

One image captures perfect exposure within the shadows, one with excellent details in the highlights and one standard exposure.

Blending the multiple images enriches a photograph, dramatically; HDR imaging allows an image to attain maximum details, at all exposure levels.

By using HDR techniques, amateur and professionals alike can deliver images with stunningly vivid details. Details, like these, are normally only able to be seen in real-life situations. Photographs that once appeared flat, lifeless and washed out can now appear spectacular and full of detail.

There are numerous methods that add HDR like effects to photographs including the dodging and burning techniques like those once used by Ansel Adams. However cameras and software specifically designed for HDR photography uses high end design to capture HDR effects, with rich detail.

While higher -end cameras with greater bracketing ranges may be out of reach for some you can still achieve great results with virtually any camera that offers AEB or auto bracketing.

Tone Mapping

Tone mapping is one of the most common methods for accomplishing the HDR effect. This is the process most professional photographers are referring to when they speak of creating HDR images.

HDRsoft’s Photomatix software uses layering techniques to combine several SDR images into a single image, merging the tones and color values of all images.

Remember when shooting your images; begin by taking at least three images at three different exposures, preferably spaced 2 EVs apart (EV 0, EV -2 and EV +2).

Use an ISO of 100 or 200 when possible and the Aperture Priority or Manual mode.

As a good rule of thumb, always try to use a tripod when taking any HDR images as the images should be crystal clear and free of motion for the best results.

After processing your images with a program like Photomatix, you will want to post process your images in Photoshop, Aperture, Lightroom or some other similar photo editing program. The Tone Mapping or Exposure Fusion methods can sometimes leave your image a little flat or lacking saturation.  In most cases, post-processing involves saturation of color, color correction, contrast and sharpening.

The post processing HDR software available today can achieve breathtaking effects fast with an ever shortening learning curve.

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