Deal 10: A hot topic, at a hot price!
HDR Photography has been around since the days of film, but has become extremely popular in recent years. High Dynamic Range, or HDR, is essentially a way of processing photos that allows for a wider and deeper range of colors. This type of processing makes an image appear much closer to what the human eye sees as opposed to what your camera’s sensor allows. In example, the photograph above shows the natural rich colors of the building as well as the natural rich colors of the sky. Without HDR, the sky could either be well exposed and the building silhouetted, or the building well exposed and the sky blown out. Creating an HDR photo however will allows both elements to appear natural and rich in color.
One method of making an HDR photograph is to combine multiple images with different exposures together. This tutorial will explain how this photo was created and in using the same process, how you can create your own HDR photos.
Step 1. Bracketing Your Subject
Bracketing is done when several shots of the same subject are taken with varying exposures. This can be used for almost any occasion or type of photography and is a good way to ensure that you’ve gotten the shot you wanted when you sit down to edit. For example, you will set your camera on a tripod and take one shot at 1/200 another at 1/400 and another at 1/80. Now you have 3 different shots of the same image, but each shot will have a different exposure. Each setting and subject will vary obviously when it comes to bracketing, but many cameras have a built in bracketing feature that will do the work for you.
For this photo there are only two key elements, the building and the sky. So the first shot that will be taken will be to get a proper exposure of the sky:
As was mentioned above, the sky is well exposed but the building is silhouetted. This was taken with a faster exposure to ensure the colors of the sky would be rich and deep as opposed to blown out.
Now the second shot will be taken to get a proper exposure of the building:
The building is well exposed in this shot, but again, the sky is blown out. This was taken at a slower shutter speed in order to reduce the silhouette effect the bright sky gives.
Now that we have our two images, we will combine them to get the best of both.
Step 2. Combing the Photos
Photoshop is a great tool to use in HDR photography because it is fairly easy to combine photos. So let’s bring both images into Photoshop.
The photo with the correct exposure for the building (left) will be moved on top of the photo with the correct exposure for the sky (right).
Now that the photos are layered on top of each other we will combine the two. Our top layer has a well-exposed building and a blown out sky, so let’s remove the sky of this image. In order to remove the sky we will first select the top layer, and then choose the magnetic lasso tool. With the magnetic lasso tool we will select the entire sky. This is where an ok HDR photo can turn into an awesome HDR photo. The more time you put into being exact and making sure that you don’t miss any pieces, the better and more natural your photo will look.
Then we simply hit the delete key and voila! Our well exposed sky replaces the blown out sky.
The photo is then put into Lightroom and edited a bit more…
HDR photography can have some amazing results if done correctly. The key is to not go to the extreme and combine dozens of photos leaving every pixel of the photo well exposed. Leave room for natural shadows and use moderation when combining images.
Nicholas Moeggenberg is a photographer from Cincinnati, OH and runs the photography contest – May the Best Photo Win.
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April 5, 2013 06:26 am
Does a person have to have the expensive route of Photoshop, ie. CS5 to achieve HDR images or will Photoshop work?
August 2, 2012 06:36 am
Thanks for the article. It was helpful to some degree. The main part I was hoping to find was the only thing that was really left out: the editing. I was on the edge of my seat saying, "Yes..yes...YES?...and then....." And just when I thought I was getting a How To, I see "The photo is then put into Lightroom and edited a bit more..." The anticipation was almost too much to bare. All in all, thanks for the article. I'll figure out this "HDR" thing eventually ;)
October 7, 2011 09:06 am
This HDR= Handmade Dynamic Range. Inspired me to simplify. Thank you.
September 22, 2011 08:47 pm
Lets sidestep the "this is not HDR"-issue by stating that there are a lot of techniques to compress the dynamic range of a scene so it fits into an image. Exposure blending is one of those techniques, so is tonemapping and even exposure blending or tonemapping with 3 versions of the same RAW file.
I agree with many that there are programs on the market today that will allow you to produce some pretty grungy-looking results which is not always something I like - depends on the subject really.
Your technique is the basis but it is also nice to use plugins to Photoshop that automate this by generating layer-masks and fuzzing up the seams so the selections are really invisible. There ar actually plugins that will allow tripod-less shots to be properly aligned before merging.
Some of the criticismes of tonemapping are pretty harsh but like with any tool: abuse does not make a good image. Exposure blending is somewhat more forgiving but even ther you'll need to tweak the results a good bit!
Thanks for the article, it makes good reading!
September 21, 2011 03:41 pm
To many people do not know how to or why HDR is effective. That is a shame. Just as much as your image could have been more dynamic had you had more bracketed exposures allowing you to have a better luminosity within the image. The whole dark, dramatic feel, that is so 2008.
September 20, 2011 02:25 am
Thank you very much for the information.
September 19, 2011 10:53 pm
Just an opinion based on experience, although many photographers hate extreme or even slightly overdone HDR, I have seen many people overjoyed when presented with a print personal to themselves with a pretty strong 'HDR' effect. I guess it's a bit like how tabloid newspapers sell better than broad sheets, even though it is fairly obvious where the reporting is best. Just saying!
September 18, 2011 01:41 am
I don't mean to sound rude, but that's a bit like asking how long is a piece of string...
You use the aperture you need to get the depth of field you want. You adjust the exposure (to get the under and over exposed versions of the image) by adjusting the shutter speed, and not the aperture. If you adjusted the aperture for each image to be combined, you will get small differences between each one (depth of field being just one) that will make combining the images harder.
You will (or should) be using a tripod or some other support, so you won't have to worry about needing a wide open aperture to get faster shutter speeds. So I would say, depending upon the amount of depth of field you want, stick to f/5.6 to f/13 as that is where most lenses are at their sharpest (unless, of course, you need more or less DoF).
September 17, 2011 12:50 pm
I'm a beginner and I would like to know what F/ to use in an early morning low light picture, if I want to make a HDR photo?
September 17, 2011 05:52 am
For Rodrigo's question: "How do I do this with Gimp?"
I don't own a Windows computer and I don't own a Mac. Therefore, I don't own or use Photoshop, Photomatix, Lightroom or any of these other tools. I *do* however use Linux and (therefore) use Gimp.
For the most part, I shoot images "pure" and enjoy them for my purposes (without much in the way of manipulation by Gimp/Photoshop/whatever). However, I have several images that I have blended, merged, fused, HDR'ed or whatever term won't get me flamed. My purpose has been to capture areas of the image that exceed the dynamic range of the photo sensor.
Rodrigo: for *my* style of (won't say HDR), I do exposure bracketing on a very steady tripod. (Yes, my method requires a tripod.) Then, I open *all* of the images (or at least the ones that I like) into Gimp as layers. (File menu, open images as layers.) Pick the image that has the "most" area that is well exposed and put it at the bottom of the layer stack. Add an alpha channel to all other layers and start deleting the areas that are not well exposed. I use a combination of the selection tools and the "quick mask". The "nice" or "well exposed" sections of the higher layers sit on top of the base image and gives me an image that I like.
It takes a lot of practice to get the boundaries right without creating halos between the higher and lower EV images.
Hope this helps...
September 15, 2011 02:43 am
This has been such great help, I didn't really know a lot about HDR and I am looking forward to experimenting!
September 12, 2011 01:18 am
This was a very interesting string. In my opinion, what ever method is used to get the desired result is a good method. Remember in the old B&W films they used chocolate syrup as blood because it looked more like the real thing on screen. And alot of those are considered masterpieces. Was that cheating? Just a thought.
September 11, 2011 12:41 am
I agree that to do HDR properly you need to bracket your exposures, working with a single raw file, can occasionally work wonders, but you have to be aware of boosting the noise levels when increasing the exposure in the shadows.
I too cant seem to get to grips with Photomatix, but have used Qtpfsqui, which gives some nice results.
September 10, 2011 02:38 am
This debate about what is HDR has gotten ridiculous. You can make up any definition that you want but until and unless we agree on definitions we may as well be talking in different languages. In the broadest sense any technique that results in greater range than a single image can produce is HDR. If you insist on further restrictions in YOUR definition, then you just changed "the language" and if others don't agree, useful communication just became IMPOSSIBLE. Enough said!!!
All of the debate and H8ING may just become pointless anyways. The major camera manufacturers are quietly exploring the possibilities of expanding dynamic range IN CAMERA with the greater processing power available today. My Canon 7D has duel processors now. Imagine when they can put duel, multi-core processors into cameras!!! With that much power at hand, many things become possible and we might not even need to shoot RAW anymore except for archival purposes. Photomatrix may just become pointless EXCEPT to produce what some call Clown Puke that has become an art form of its own. For those who love the over-the-top tonemapping, you will have what you want. Today Impressionism and those who practiced it are revered in the art communities and their work demands insane prices. Who is to say that the "clown puke" might not end up as a revered art form 100 years from now? Van Gogh never made a living off of his painting, but try to buy one now!!!!
September 5, 2011 06:25 am
I do a lot of HDR. When I discovered this technique, I've performed it with "stronger" images (not too much anyway). Now I prefer more natural looking one, often where HDR effect is hardly noticeable. It's a question of taste :-)
September 4, 2011 05:03 pm
@ gary jacobs.
Using same RAW image to make an HDR will take you half the way there. The use of more shots will provide you a much larger spectrum of details that a single shot cannot do. Some scenes would even require up to 5 shots to give the full tonal range that you need to replicate in the image what your eye could see. The secret is - as mentioned several times above - not to overdo it. Colours and scene should look natural.
September 4, 2011 02:03 am
I will not get caught into the discussion about what is and what is not HDR. I know what I like and which methods come to those results best, with or without Photomatix.
What I'm more interested in is your Lightroom editing at the end, to come to the final image. What exactly did you do? Because that looks awesome!
September 4, 2011 01:20 am
Why did you put the image in Lightroom to continue editing it? Is it not possible to do further editing in Photoshop?
September 3, 2011 02:38 am
I have a technique question. If shooting raw, do you get the equivalent of bracketing if you simply make multiple copies of one image and do the exposure adjustments in Lightroom or PS? Seems like you could avoid any issues related to camera movement, etc.
September 2, 2011 02:21 am
HDR is just another tool in a photographer's bag. Granted, it is being REALLY misused lately by people who don't have a clue what they are doing with the software, but when used in correctly it works wonderfully. At the end of the day when a viewer looks at one of my images and it sparks an emotion from them, that is all that matters to me. Does it really matter what tools I used to get the emotion? Does the emotion not count because I "cheated" and used HDR instead of getting it right in the camera? Just my 2 cents....I love HDR and appreciate what it can do to overcome limitations in recording the entire dynamic range of a scene that one exposure just cannot do.
BTW...although the the example in this article is a nice image, it is hardly considered HDR...there just is no dynamic range in the image.
Photography is supposed to be about the image. I can't figure out why so many people are up in arms about the use of HDR. These same folks must have gotten bent out of shape if they saw somebody put a filter on their film camera back in the day....just sayin'.
September 2, 2011 02:06 am
This answers almost all the questions I had. The first that you need to use a tripod, the next that there's some significant editing involved. I don't know if my hands are steady enough to cut out a sky with such precision. I will have to try. I am betting that the right subject matters more than I thought. So I'll give it a try now and maybe I'll get something nifty.
September 1, 2011 03:22 pm
We get it. We liked the first one we saw, too. Maybe even the 10th. But it’s an overused gimmick that prevents people from making good photos that stand on their own. HDR needs to go the way of the animated gif and blinking HTML text.
September 1, 2011 11:57 am
When using a technique like this (using any name you prefer 8-) ), instead of deleting the pieces of the top layer, I would recommend using a layer mask:
Follow the procedure here through the selection, then (instead of hitting delete) click the layer mask icon instead. This will hide the parts of the image you want to show, so press Ctrl-I to invert the mask.
The advantage is that if you make any mistakes with your selection you can trivially correct the image, since it isn't actually gone.
August 30, 2011 08:50 pm
Without getting into the HDR debate, I would like to share my method of ‘blending’ bracketed images together in photoshop, that doesn't require masking or using the lasso tool.
Using the original examples posted here, in photoshop I would use the same order with the layers, however instead of using the lasso tool and deleting etc., I would right click to top layer and choose blending options and in the ‘Blend If’ section ‘This Layer:’ I hold the alt key down and drag the white (right) slider across to the left (black) (half a white triangle should move and half should remain). I don’t touch Layer 1 (the bottom layer) at all.
Then you do further adjustments as required.
August 30, 2011 12:27 pm
August 30, 2011 08:27 am
HDR jumped the shark a while back---there are so many examples of it, and how to do it, online it's just gone way past being interesting in my opinion.
August 30, 2011 07:58 am
I appreciate everyone's input on this article, it was definitely fun to write. I don't want to throw my hat in the ring on the debate of whether it's HDR or exposure blending, so you can decide for yourselves. To "B", I purposefully only used 2 exposures based on my own taste, but everyone has their own preference. I love natural shadows and as I said in the article, I didn't necessarily want every piece of the image to be perfectly exposed. Happy shooting to everyone!
August 30, 2011 03:01 am
I agree with Rick. Though this photo uses the principle of HDR it is actually exposure fusion. Visit this link to check out the difference : http://www.hdrsoft.com/support/faq_photomatix.html#differences and also Henry Maddock's Comment in this page : http://www.flickr.com/groups/myfirsthdr/discuss/72157622378865133/
August 30, 2011 02:20 am
I use this method often, especially for landscapes where you want to preserve cloud detail. It's even easier there because you can usually simply apply a gradient to your layer mask -- this tutorial skips over masking a bit which is an extremely valuable tool. This also highlights the advantage sof shooting RAW, since you can develop multiple exposures from one RAW file to blend. To weigh in, I do consider this HDR but I don't really care about being so prescriptive.
In this particular example, I see at least four different areas that could be blended, not just the two "key elements" Nicholas picked out. The sky is obvious, but I'd also add a separate layer for the first floor of the building (lower 3rd of the photo), the sign and clock since they're so bright, and the rest of the building.
August 30, 2011 01:46 am
If you really want to be semantically correct, then not only is this image not HDR, but the final output of tone-mapping programs like Photomatix is also not HDR. A true HDR image contains a greater dynamic range than your monitor -- or even the JPEG format -- is capable of displaying. When you combine multiple exposures into a 32-bit image -- but BEFORE you apply tone-mapping -- that is your HDR. Indeed, the entire point of tone-mapping is to convert a HDR image into a SDR one.
August 30, 2011 12:09 am
this tutorial is very helpfull but, How can create HDR photography with GIMP ?
August 29, 2011 09:54 pm
I also agree that this is exposure blending and not HDR. The two are very similar, but quite distinct. I think it's useful to give tutorials on exposure blending too.
"I would add that, please stay away from Photomatix and co. which are powerful pieces of software but which gives you terrible results when you don’t know what you’re doing (and sometimes even when you do) and prefer this approach !"
I would add that, please stay away from cameras, which are powerful pieces of equipment, but which gives you terrible results when you don’t know what you’re doing (and sometimes even when you do)...
August 29, 2011 05:54 pm
A viola is a bowed string instrument.
The word we were looking for is "voilà". If you can't do the accent aigu, just skip it. But please get the o and i in the correct order.
August 29, 2011 05:08 pm
HDR = High Dynamic Range.
Anything which produces an image which shows a greater dynamic range than the camera could actually capture is a HDR photo. Just some people are used to thinking of it in a different way. The usual way is tone mapping. This is exposure blending, then you have exposure fusion... Lots of ways which give different results, but ALL of them are HDR.
Whether you like certain types of results is the real issue which is the one which should separate us. Personally, I can't stand the usual tone mapped results (with the odd exception)
August 29, 2011 11:44 am
There are so many local (St. Petersburg/Clearwater) hobbyist photographers I know that pretty much only do HDR photography, and it is the kind that most people (myself included) cannot stand. For myself, sometimes HDR photography is a necessity for the indoor commercial real estate/hotel photography I do.
In my own HDR process, I really make sure to tweak as much as possible in Photomatix, where before I would almost always just use defaults and edit into a usuable image via my typical editing processing. Just recently I added a technique similar to the one in this post: after I process the image in Photomatix, then do my other normal editing, I take a single frame from the bracketed shot (usually 7 shots) and blend it with the HDR image.
See the results in the lead shot of the new Salvador Dali Museum here:
I have found this particularly useful for clouds. Often in HDR shots, clouds come out looking quite black, so I just take a single frame with well exposed, fluffy white clouds, and blend it with the HDR shot, and then I get the benefit of HDR while maintaining clean looking clouds.
August 29, 2011 11:29 am
I agree with Rick, this is not true HDR, it's more like exposure blending. This technique is often used to replace backgrounds or boring skys. A very useful technique, but not HDR processing.
HDR gets a bad rap by those new to it who go crazy with the sliders and produce over the top images. However, there are lots of really, really good HDR images out there. Just my 2 cents...
August 29, 2011 07:24 am
@Greg, looks like they gave credit to me.
August 29, 2011 06:29 am
Oooops, my bad. I'm so confused....
August 29, 2011 06:12 am
By the way, someone just reposted your article here (http://nikon.fansontwitter.com/nikon-news/how-to-hdr-photography/) without giving you credit. Is that how blogs normally do things?
August 29, 2011 06:10 am
let's be honest - this has nothing to do with HDR. This is - it's already been said - exposure blending, something completely different - imho. Photomatix is an excellent piece of software, nothing wrong with it, but abused by *so* many! When you're more experienced it's not difficult to get beautiful and natural results with it - and when you want to go over the top, that's a personal choice. Plus - plus, with the exposure blending technique demonstrated above, you *must* shoot from a tripod, while I shoot all my HDR stuff (except at night of course) out of my hand! That's a major PLUS, so Photomatix is the way to go.
My example (no tripod) to try and prove it :)
Have a nice evening!
August 29, 2011 05:18 am
I see your point about HDR versus blending.
I may have finally gotten the distinction sorted out in my mind. Now to see if I can articulate. (Pardon me if I get all geeky here.)
The blending (aka fusion) process describe here is selectively trading one set of 8 bit tones for another set of 8 bit tones in given areas. This is akin to what is done in a darkroom with multiple negatives.
If i get the HDR algorithm right, for each pixel in the image it takes the 8 bit values from each exposure and uses them to determine a 12 or 16 bit value. This 12 to 16 bit value is what is "high dynamic range". Since a monitor or print can only display and 8 bit range (Low Dynamic Range.) the luminosity data needs to be "compressed" to an 8 bit range. This is where the tone mapping algorithm comes in. As near as I can figure out, the tone mapping trades tone "color" for luminosity "brightness" to effectively show the HDR range of brightness as color shifts on an LDR display or print.
Now that all sounded a lot better in my head than it came out in when I read it back.
August 29, 2011 05:15 am
What's interesting here, is it's showing a method for creationg a high dynamic range image that does not require the use of Photomatix, FDRTools, HDR Efex Pro, or Photoshop CS's HDR Pro.
All HDR imagery is, is an image that incorporates a high dynamic range of light tones. And HDR imagery, when done properly, can be quite amazing, or truly garish. It depends on what the author (artist) is trying to accomplish. Take, as an example, this image, where my goal was to capture all of the detail of the wrecked boat. It took what was already a decent image and simply made it stronger. An image like this one was best served by allowing software to do the work... there's too much detail. (This was produced by using Photomatix.)
The tonemapping that's available in some of these programs can be a wonderful tool, also, when it's used correctly. That means that careful attention is paid to any halo effect that may appear, to keep it to a minimum. This tonemapping can be a wonderful boon to help "pop" the colour and make it appear in the image as it was originally seen.
HDR is the most maligned photographic techniques used, but can be SO powerful when correctly used, regardless of the method. Some scenes and subjects simply scream to be treated this way, IMHO, while others don't need it so much. In the end, it comes down to the decision made by the photographer on how to portray the image. And do we like it? Well... beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There will always be proponents and opponents to it. The final deciding factor is this: do people like your images??
August 29, 2011 05:08 am
If anyone is insterested in photorealistic results, go check ENFUSE. It's a great blending software. Simple, somewhat limited (cause it remains realistic) but can give superb results.
August 29, 2011 04:32 am
Ah, where's the popcorn.
I was waiting for the "this isn't HDR" fight to begin, and so it has. But I would agree this isn't what you could (for want of a better description) call proper "HDR", even if its purpose is the same/similar. There's a little bit more to it than splicing two images together.
I also disagree with the comment on Photomatix - it's not the software (other than perhaps the defaults it is set to), but the user that creates the over the top and crap effects. It's the same with many tools and effects - it can be a fine line between good and terrible, and terrible can happen often if you don't know what you're doing (or know better).
But perhaps the point of this article was to stir things up a little?
August 29, 2011 04:06 am
care to share how you put to images side by side in PS? yes, some of us don't know ;)
August 29, 2011 03:24 am
Thank you for this tutorial. The final combined image is stunning. I'm still new to a lot of photography and the examples of HDR that I've seen in the past have not appealed to me. I like this method.
August 29, 2011 03:07 am
@Etienne: I think we're just talking a difference of semantics. Check the link right above you that's right here on DPS for a good explanation of the difference. The two techniques yield vastly different results, and are more or less appropriate than the other in a given situation. For that reason, I think it's important to maintain a distinction between the two terms.
HDR often gets a bad rap because of the millions of terrible examples that are out there. The example that was given here is exposure blending, and not necessarily HDR.
Now, what did I say earlier about this topic being a hot button for photogs? :-)
August 29, 2011 02:53 am
Excuse me but this is precisely HDR. Like David said, HDR is just a technique to extend the tonal range of our cameras to reproduce what the eye sees. But today, HDR has become a graphic style more than a technique and you just prove it the way you talk about it.
So please, consider HDR as a technique and not as a style, unless you want to fall into "the HDR effect" which is like I said before, horrible in 90% of the case.
I watched the photos on your website and they looks (almost?) all HDR, but controlled HDR. I appreciate it :)
August 29, 2011 02:39 am
This is not HDR, it's exposure blending. Although it can produce result similar to a tone-mapped HDR, it's not the same thing. HDR calculates the absolute brightness for each pixel, which then gets tone-mapped down to something that your monitor displays. As you're not creating an HDR image, you're not doing HDR.
You have a good explanation of the differences here:
August 29, 2011 02:30 am
I would disagree that this is not HDR. HDR is a process to show a a greater dynamic range in a single image than is possible with a single exposure. The human eye does this by effectively taking multiple exposures as you scan the scene, then the mind "stitches" them together into a single memory.
What people are so polarized about is not HDR per se, but the tone mapping. In HDR processing you first have image data with more dynamic range than can be displayed on a monitor or printed. As near as I can tell, tone mapping changes this dynamic range of luminosity (brightness.) into a range of tones (colors). It is this mapping that can look subtle or garish base on how subtle or extreme it is.
People like different things. This all reminds me of years ago when sepia tone prints were all the rage and people had very strong opinions about them. I never cared for them as it seemed they were just imitating bad darkroom technique. Or to put another way; I like Norman Rockwell but don't care for Picasso. This does not meet I dislike Painting, I just prefer some styles over others.
August 29, 2011 02:16 am
I jumped down the HDR Wormhole over a year and a half ago and immediately generated some over the top images. I was slider happy! Since then, I have learned when it is appropriate to even consider shooting brackets, and now tend to use HDR more prudently to generate a more realstic treatment. I am encouraged that even some well respected and seasoned veterans, like Bill Krist, are also exploring this new medium.
Here is an example of a "clean" HDR of Oceanside Harbor in California
August 29, 2011 01:54 am
I would add that, please stay away from Photomatix and co. which are powerful pieces of software but which gives you terrible results when you don’t know what you’re doing (and sometimes even when you do) and prefer this approach !
Those who don't know how to use Photomatix properly haven't really taken the time to learn how to do so. The example that was given here really isn't HDR, but just a blend of different exposures. It's not a bad photograph, but it's really not HDR.
And let the flaming begin. This topic is a hot button for many photogs, so it will be interesting to read the comments from all of the fallout.
August 29, 2011 01:42 am
Thanks for this article.
I 100% agree with you about nowadays HDR which extreme and ugly in 90% every time it is used. I use the same approach, take shots at different exposures then combine them manually in Photoshop by choosing carefully what to expose and what to keep dark.
I would add that, please stay away from Photomatix and co. which are powerful pieces of software but which gives you terrible results when you don't know what you're doing (and sometimes even when you do) and prefer this approach !
Btw, great photo, especially love the tones here !
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