- Best Camera Settings for Landscape Photography
- Beginner Landscape Photography Mistakes You Need to Avoid
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High Dynamic Range HDR photography is a method and technique allowing a photographer to capture an extremely wide range of light and dark areas in the image. In this HDR photography tutorial, we will show you how to do HDR and some useful HDR photography tips.
In order to understand what is HDR and the HDR photography benefits, it helps to know what the concept of dynamic range in photography is in the first place.
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As we look at a scene with our own eyes, we take in a lot of information that the vision center of our brain processes automatically, rendering a mental image of everything within that scene. We see the things that are stationary and in motion, we discern all sorts of colors, and we can make out things in deep shadow at the same time we see other things bathed in light.
No film or digital sensor can capture all of that at once. In fact, film and sensors can only capture a range of the total information of exposure value within any scene. If you are at a beach in broad daylight and look at a log of driftwood casting a deep shadow on the bright sand, that is a dynamic range of exposure values that is likely beyond what the camera is capable of recording. Either the highlights or the shadow detail will suffer, or both extremes.
Taming Dynamic Range - GND Filters
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A method that has been used in digital as well as film photography to help narrow the broad range of exposure values is using a graduated neutral density (GND) lens filter. The idea is that you use the density side of the filter to lower the bright highlights down to an exposure value that can be captured along with the lower value in the shadow or darker side of the exposure range.
It takes some work, but the results are really great looking. It isn’t a perfect solution, though. Especially if there is fine detail that is important to the image in the highlights, shadows, and middle range of the scene’s exposure values.
Dodging and Burning
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Another method that was used regularly in B&W film photography and is a basic tool in most digital photography post processing programs is dodging and burning.
The way this works is that you expose for detail in either the highlight or the shadow end of the range, and then remove or add light in the printing process to portions of the image that need more or less exposure, which is mimicked by the dodge/burn tool in your image manipulation post processing software.
Shoot in RAW
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The image file format of camera RAW is an uncompressed recording of the image information captured by your camera sensor. It has more exposure value (EV) and color information than a camera processed JPEG which is a compressed file format.
Since the RAW file holds more EV information, you could expose for better highlight detail and use post processing to pull out more detail in the shadow part of the image’s EV. This works for many situations but it isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. For one thing, you will lose detail in either the shadow or highlights, just not as badly as in a JPEG.
Just because we can pull out some detail from the shadow side doesn’t mean we captured all of it that we could have. Additionally, if we lose any highlight detail in our in camera exposure, there is no way to retrieve any of it. If you don’t capture accurate highlight detail, it’s simply not there.
Benefits of HDR Photography
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All of these reasons are why HDR photography was invented in the first place. HDR photography is totally dependent on digital photography. This is because it works by adjusting image files in a computer program.
The benefit in HDR photography is that you can capture accurate highlight and shadow detail in separate exposures and blend them together to make an image with a high dynamic range of exposure value.
And that also clearly answers the question of “what is HDR photography?” It is exposing separate images for different exposure values and blending these images together in HDR photography software for a single final image with all of the detail of the captured EVs present.
How To Do HDR Photography
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Now we come to the nuts and bolts of how to do HDR photography. The first step is to calculate correct exposure for the scene.
Wait a minute! Isn’t HDR a way to fix exposure issues? Actually, what it fixes is the dynamic range issues specified earlier, but the image still needs a good starting point of correct exposure settings for the EV of the scene.
One of the most useful HDR photography tips is where to start in regards to the base exposure. The base exposure is the middle of the dynamic range exposure setting. A good practice is to place an 18 percent gray card in the scene and meter from it. Try to place the card in what looks to you to be the middle value of light, not sitting in deep shadow or the brightest and strongest light.
Another method for calculating the initial exposure is to set your camera for averaging meter mode, which averages the scene’s exposure values. This method works well when you can’t place a gray card in the scene. Either way you do it, this is your starting point.
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At the core of HDR photography is that you are blending multiple exposures of the same scene into one image. The one image is what comes out of your HDR photography software, what you enter into your software are at least 2 image files, with 3, 5, or 7 images being most common.
From that base exposure that you figured in step 1, now you also take extra exposures at different settings or EVs. Since you want to capture shadow and highlight detail, you will now increase and decrease the next exposures. Plus and minus 1 or 2 stops of EV will give the HDR photography software something to work with for blending. You can see what I mean in the video below by Anthony Turnham:
The more multiple exposures or the larger change of stops will allow for a wider dynamic range to be rendered. Many new digital cameras have a feature that helps, AE bracketing. Your camera can be set for 3 to 9 exposures to be recorded in one burst, changing settings up and down by ½ to 3 full stops. You can even use this feature in the automatic exposure modes, but setting the base value manually ensures consistency throughout your HDR photography workflow.
Because of how the HDR photography software does the blending, another of the important HDR photography tips is to use a tripod so that the camera doesn’t move between exposures ensuring proper registration of all image elements.
Since AF changes can sneak in when shooting multiple exposures, it’s also a good idea to set focus manually too.
HDR Photography Software
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Besides the methods and equipment for taking the multiple exposures for HDR photography, you also need to have a program that blends the images together. Not any post processing program will have that capability built in.
There are two types of post processing programs that can be used as HDR photography software. A stand alone program or a full featured with a blending mode available. A fantastic choice for a stand alone program is Photomatix Pro. A good program for general photography that also works for HDR photography is Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.
Both of these programs allow for quite a bit of variation in how subtle or extreme to render the final image. You can adjust for a very natural look, such as you see in hotel brochures or real estate photography which both rely heavily on HDR photography, or you can create a very artsy rendition of the scene, or anywhere in between.
One of the HDR photography tips we like to emphasize is that you aren’t required to make it completely obvious that this is an HDR image. Sometimes, it’s just a little bit of extra dynamic range that is needed to capture and show a wider dynamic range than is capable of being captured in a single exposure.
Smartphone HDR Photography
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Several of the newer smartphone cameras offer HDR photography modes. The Apple iPhones and Android Samsung Galaxy smartphones have this capability, as so several others. Check your manual or the in phone camera menu to see if yours does.
Smartphone HDR photography works in the same basic way as regular HDR photography, but is usually limited to a little bit of extra dynamic range. The camera quickly takes 3 pics
at once and blends them with a preprogrammed set of instructions, giving you a pretty good example of HDR photography.
How Much HDR?
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How much HDR do you want in your image? That artsy look can really turn out some beautiful images, but the subtle, natural rendition can also be fantastic. How much HDR you want to do is totally up to you.
Take a photo trek to your favorite spot and try out all the methods for capturing an image with a high dynamic range. You will quickly find out what you like in regards to HDR style and then you will be hooked on HDR photography jst like we are.