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High Dynamic Range (HDR) digital photography is less complicated than its name might imply. This technique will help you create very dynamic looking photos because HDR emphasizes the highlights and shadows. The HDR process does this by combining multiple exposures of a digital photo with the use of photo editing software and HDR software. This will obviously require an investment of time and money to acquire and learn how to use both software programs; but you’ll discover it’s well worth it!
First, spend a small amount of your time reading this PhotographyTalk.com article to understand the basic steps of HDR digital photography.
Step #1: Shoot multiple exposures of the same image.
Before you can create an HDR digital photo, you must shoot three exposures of the same picture. A landscape photo is a good subject to try first. The first picture will have the correct exposure; the second picture should be a –2 exposure; and the third pictures should be a +2 exposure.
You want to use a tripod and a remote shutter release and carefully change the exposure on your camera; so all three exposures are nearly perfect duplicates.
Step #2: Combine the three exposed pictures with HDR software.
(The following directions are based on Photomatix software.)
Open the software.
Select “generate HDR image.”
Select the three exposed pictures (as either jpeg or RAW files), and click “OK.”
You’ll see a list of options: image alignment, noise reduction and moving-elements matching.
Select the options for your picture, and click “OK.”
You’ll then see a single image that combines all three of your exposures of a landscape.
Your computer monitor will not be able to reproduce the combined image realistically, but Step #3 will help you correct the look of the picture.
Step #3: Use the Tonemapping function.
Select the tonemapping feature next to the combined picture.
You’ll see a better looking picture, which is the default setting, and a new list of options that will help you modify your picture to look even better.
Strength: This is the critical adjustment to create the best HDR image.
Color Saturation: This setting improves the brilliance of all colors.
Luminosity: Emphasizes the shadows and enhances brightness.
Micro-contrast: Improves the contrast of the details.
Smoothing: This is also a critical adjustment, as it affects the dynamic range of highlights and shadows. Be conservative with this setting.
White, black and gamma points: Check the histogram and make sure these points align equally with both sides of the graph.
Temperature: Raise or lower the temperature of the combined picture.
Saturation highlights/shadows: Once you set the image’s saturation benchmark, you can use this setting to increase or decrease the saturation of the highlights and shadows.
Micro-smoothing: Moderate the picture noise, but carefully, or you’ll lose details.
Highlights/Shadow smoothness: If your combined digital photo of a landscape includes the sky, then you’ll want to use this setting to retain the sky’s natural highlights and shadows.
Shadows clipping: You can modify the clipping of shadows with this setting.
Review your adjusted picture carefully before clicking on “Process.” Then, save your best results.
Step #4: Use layer masks in photo-editing software to finish your HDR digital photo.
Now that you’ve modified the three-exposure combination of your digital photo into a tonemapped HDR image, open it in photo-editing software. This step will help you re-establish a perfect color that was captured in the correctly exposed picture (such as a blue sky) that may have become dull or changed using the HDR software. The layer masks function of the photo-editing software will also improve any movement of subjects or objects in your HDR image.