HDR Photography – what it is and how to do it

The term HDR means High Dynamic Range and is becoming quite a popular photography technique to enhance images. Kevin from [tp lang=”en” only=”y”]Kevin Thompson Photography[/tp][tp not_in=”en”]Kevin Thompson Photography[/tp] is here to share a little more about HDR photography, situations that might require it and ultimately how to use it.

Sometimes a photograph seems like more than just an image, with an almost lifelike or surreal feel about it. In some cases, it’s exactly as the image was captured or possibly some editing was done to it. However, in many cases it would be impossible to capture a perfect picture with all the detail of light and shadow that some images posses with a simple click of the camera. Our eyes are capable of seeing a much wider range of light than the film or sensor in a camera is capable of capturing.

A great example of this type of photography would be to photograph the interior of a church at noon on a sunny day. The windows would be extremely bright while the interior would have some harsh shadows. With a traditional photograph, the photographer would need to choose to focus on either the details of the interior or on the stained glass. However, using HDR technology allows the photographer to take multiple images of varying light and combine the best part of each image to create these almost lifelike images. Essentially, you are able to combine the best of both worlds and don’t have to choose what to focus on. You can capture it all!

Another example of this is to photograph a shadowed scene with a harsh sunset directly behind. The sun and sky are often too bright to show any detail, and the scene is simply a silhouette. Sometimes you might be lucky and be able to use a variety of external lighting to overpower the bright sky lights. But in many cases you can’t bring that many lights or you don’t have the amount of time necessary to make such a setup possible. This is again where HDR photography becomes your best friend.

So here is how to create an HDR image:

Normally a camera has the ability to adjust the settings manually. Hopefully your camera has this setting. If so, there are a few choices you need to decide upon.

1) How many steps of light between each exposure? The finer the steps, the more subtle the image will appear. This will also increase the build time and file size.

2) How many images do you plan to assemble to create your final image? You can use fewer to speed the process, however the image will not have as much detail.

3) What type of HDR processing do you wish to apply? There are many presets that have varying styles or you can create your own.

Setup your camera for a normal exposure with a balanced light setting. The following exposures will have under and over exposed images that capture the highlights and shadows. The next step involves software to merge the images together. There are several software choices out there that offer HDR image creation. The software you choose will most likely be based on price and/or popularity by reviews.

The HDR settings you choose can make subtle changes to an almost cartoon effect. You can choose to enhance colors, shadows, sharpness or just about anything. But be sure to use a keen eye and adjust wisely.

Another option you might be able to benefit from is using the Auto Exposure Bracketing setting built into your camera. If your camera has this great feature, you can setup this option to take multiple exposures with a single press of the shutter button or remote switch. I recommend using a tripod and a remote switch if the exposures are of any duration over 1/50th sec to avoid vibrations, which cause blurriness.

If your camera doesn’t have a manual setting, you might have an HDR option built in. It might not give you all the flexibility and choices, but it will certainly give you a new option that you didn’t have in the past. Now go out, take some pictures, and enjoy this new feature! I hope this opens a whole new world of photography for a lot of you.

This post was written for TechPatio by Kevin Thompson, a professional photographer in Denver, CO and owner of [tp lang=”en” only=”y”]ktprophoto.com[/tp][tp not_in=”en”]ktprophoto.com[/tp].

9 thoughts on “HDR Photography – what it is and how to do it”

  1. Awesome post! The HDR process isn’t that easy, and requires good starting photographs in order to produce a good final image, in the same way producing electronic music requires good samples to contribute to the final composition.

    Definitely took some notes! Thanks Kevin!

  2. This is really interesting and I am surprised about how much things have evolved recently. I will study the HDR process, as I usually like to experiment new technologies.

  3. I’m not really that good when it comes to taking hd photos, looks like I’ve already found a nice tuts to start with though..

  4. As an architect i use to click the pictures of building which needs details and the feel,your post is simply amazing it helps me ,thanks for sharing 🙂

  5. Great post. I’ve dabbled with HDR a bit over the last year, it makes for some spectacular landscapes, and it’s particularly useful for interiors.

  6. HDR is cool as you get much better detail in the pics, but I think they do tend to look a little bit cartoony. They look nothing like a real image, more like a painting!

    I’ve been think about using it for weddings and stuff, but I don’t reckon many couples would go for it for the reason I’ve just given.

    Until a camera can work as effectively as the human eye, then their will always be some limitations (And unfortunately, we humans have 100,000 years of evolution on cameras!)

    Just a thought….

  7. I am still an amateur photographer but I am always keen in knowing all the options which is there in the Sony NEX. I will definitely try HDR mode now using the tips you shared.


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