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High Dynamic Range Photography

Guest Author - Kerry Estey Keith

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range Photography, and more people know it by its abbreviation, than by it’s full name. As the name implies, it is a technique that takes full advantage of the entire range of light, from the deepest shadows to the brightest highlights. There are many programs that we can use to accomplish this. We don’t need to know what a histogram is, or what the “curves” setting is in Photoshop. We only need to have the desire to want to take full advantage of the” range of light” that our eyes see naturally, and the interest to want to replicate that in our photographs.

A digital camera is a wonderful device, but it isn’t very effective in balancing scenes that have complex combinations of brightly lit and heavily shadowed areas. The human eye is far superior in balancing these ranges of light and dark and, essentially, we are going to try to mimic what the human eye sees.

To have success in shooting HDR images, you will need a tripod and a camera that has manual settings. You will also need to be able to set your camera on aperture priority (AV on most cameras,) and have access to a shutter release cable (actual cable or remote.) It is extremely important that your camera stay still during the exercise. You will be shooting between three and seven images of the EXACT same scene with different shutter speeds. However, your camera can take care of picking the shutter speeds for you if you can set your camera to “bracket.” Consult your manual for how to set up a bracketed photo series. Generally, if the scene is very complex (huge range between highlights and shadows) set the bracketing for seven shots; if the scene is less complex (less range between highlights and shadows), set the bracketing to only take three shots.

You have a beautiful scene before you: a rippling lake with dense complex clouds and salmon pink boulders in the foreground. You set up your tripod, get your camera set on AV ( aperture priority ), and set your bracketing to seven (due to the wide range in the lighting.) You attach your shutter release cable and you are ready to go. Keeping your camera and tripod steady, you take the shots. Now what?

Load the images (preferably raw format) onto your computer. The bright images may look completely over-exposed, and the dark ones completely underexposed. Don’t be alarmed; this is what we want to work with. We are going combine the most important information (data) from each photo to create a new image.

What program should you use? There are many to choose from. My personal favorite is Nik Efex HDR pro 2. It is very easy to use and pretty reasonably priced and, as most software companies do, they offer an academic discount. I have used the stock HDR program within Photoshop, and if you already have Photoshop, this is a fine program. Photomatix is less expensive, but the look is a little more cartoonish at first until you get used to it. Try several (free trial downloads) before you decide. You will inevitable like one more than the others and find one that is easier for you to navigate through.

Drag your three – seven files into the HDR program of your choice and it will guide you through the rest of the process. You will be able to choose from many presets, and sometimes this is all you will need. It will depend on the images and the quality of light within each. Experiment with different settings. Try new things. Check out other artist’s work on Flickr or in Google images. Join the forum and post an image there, if you like.

If you have questions, please feel free to ask in the forum or send me an email through the site. I look forward to seeing your work!
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Content copyright © 2014 by Kerry Estey Keith. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Kerry Estey Keith. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Ewa Sapinska for details.

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