HDR and Beyond – Seeing is Believing!

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A Guest Post by by Gavin Phillips

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What is High Dynamic Range Imaging? (HDR)

HDR is when you take 3-5 or 7 photos at different exposure settings, and then merge them into a single image using speciality software. What you get are beautiful photos with incredible detail, controlled lighting and accurate colour. You cannot reproduce an HDR image manipulating a single JPG or RAW image in Photoshop.

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Below is an example of a set of 7 images taken at 1-stop exposure increments. Then merged and tone mapped.

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The benefits of HDR

The human eye sees an outdoor or indoor scene quite differently than what can be captured with even top grade professional digital cameras and lenses. Not surprisingly, our eyes are far more complex.

Our eyes adjust for harsher light and render colors and detail more accurately than any single RAW file can capture.

With HDR you can produce wonderfully crisp images that have excellent detail and control of lighting. You do not need to worry about harsh sunlight or very contrasty scenes.

Below is an example of my regularly exposed single shot compared to my 7-shot HDR version. When printed, the HDR version has far more detail and an overall richer look to the image.

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You control your final image

There is a lot of misunderstanding about HDR. As with all new creative techniques with so many creative opportunities available, we all tend to overdo it at the beginning.

This is okay, it is our way of experimenting and finding what we like and don’t like. For business applications, you can simply say what sells; although this may vary from client to client.

When would you shoot HDR?

  • Landscapes
  • Architectural and Commercial
  • All interior shots
  • Select wedding shots (church interior, vows)
  • Wildlife (animals standing still)
  • Night architectural

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HDR in a Nutshell

  • Take 3,5 or 7 shots at different exposures
  • Merge bracketed sets into 32-bit images
  • Tone-map in HDR specific software
  • Finish in Photoshop

HDR Camera Set-up

Always shoot RAW. The RAW format is better for HDR than JPG. I have compared sets of JPG and RAW of the same scene and processed them in Photomatix and Artizen. The results are far better with the RAW images than the JPG.

Auto Exposure Bracketing Mode

Put your camera into the auto exposure bracketing mode. This allows you to run off a sequence of shots at different exposures by simply holding down the ‘shoot’ button.

It will depend on your camera as to how many you shoot in a sequence. Most DSLR cameras offer you up to 1-stop increments in bracketing mode. You would only ever go to a maximum of 2-stop increments. I shoot sets of 5 or 7 at 1-stop increments.

Some recent advanced compact cameras offer RAW shooting and Auto Exposure Bracketing.

Two that I know of are the Panasonic Lumix G3. It offers up to 7 shots at a max of 1-stop exposures. This is perfect for HDR. Also the Olympus E-PL3 offers RAW and up to 2-stops in AEB. These cameras are easy to carry around and offer a good introduction into digital HDR.

HDR Specific Software I Use

All these software programs are Mac/Windows compatible and offer free trial downloads.

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Photomatix Pro

Photomatix offers many features and an intuitive, easy to use interface. It’s strength is outdoor daytime HDR. It really opens up shadows and produces very pleasing colours that are easily controlled with the sliders.

The batch processing feature is a huge time-saver. Merging one set of three, five or seven images into a 32-bit image can take from 10 seconds to over a minute, depending on your computer speed and how many images are in the set. If you have more than a few sets of HDR, (at Yosemite I had hundreds of sets) this consumes a large amount of time.

Photomatix’s batching feature allows you to merge dozens/hundreds of sets of HDR into 32-bit images automatically while you do something else. You then open the 32-bit image instantly in your software of choice and apply the tone-mapping, which is the only part that interests you.

With interior shots, Photomatix often introduces a blue cast into sunlight coming in through windows. I often use ‘Artizen’ or ‘Dynamic Photo HDR’ for interiors.

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Artizen

I use Artizen for most of my interior HDR shots. Most of the time it gives me better results for what I’m looking for with interior shots.

Dynamic Photo HDR

I use DPHDR for some of my night HDR, and some daytime HDR as well. It depends how the image looks. It often creates more natural looking skies.

It’s also great if you want to go in a different creative direction. You can get a great variety of different colour effects.

But sometimes I see odd artefacts introduced into images; burnt skies or excessive noise. So I don’t recommend this program as your only HDR specific software. It is good to give you different creative ways to go.

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HDR Efex Pro

Like all Nik software, HDR Efex Pro’s user interface is intuitive and easy to understand. I liked the variety of one-click presets, and it is easy to keep your HDR looking natural. I still prefer the colour in Photomatix for outdoor HDR though.

Nik’s patented ‘U Point Technology’ is included. With this you can fine-tune very specific areas in your image without effecting the rest of it.

Photoshop CS5 HDR

New to CS5 are some basic HDR tone-mapping sliders and presets. I have worked with it on some sets of HDR and compared it to the tone-mapping I get in the other software. The results are far better in Photomatix, etc.

Photoshop’s great strength is finessing the image after you have completed your tone-mapping. Removing blemishes, cloning, color, lighting correction and sharpening are essential, and none of the other software does this.

Single-shot ‘Pseudo HDR’

All the HDR software reviewed here give you an option to create a pseudo HDR out of a single RAW or JPG image. You really need RAW with single shot HDRs. The advantages are that you do not have to take multiple shots, and there will be no ‘ghosting’ to remove of people moving in the image.

However, you do not have the same dynamic range that you would have with multiple exposures. Pseudo HDRs tend to be noisy and you don’t get the same detail. But when you have rapidly moving people, animals or vehicles, pseudo HDRs often look far more interesting than just working the image in Photoshop. And they are very quick to process.

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HDR and People

You can photograph people with HDR selectively. People posed, or a bride and groom standing still at the altar. Even if they are standing ‘still’ there is likely to be some slight movement between the frames.

This is referred to as ‘ghosting.’ The colour of the peoples faces will be incorrect as well. To correct this I use one of the bracketed set of regular RAW images and Photoshop to mask-in just the people into the HDR image.

It only takes 5-minutes. I only take a few HDR images with people in them. This captures the occasion in a way I could never achieve otherwise.

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My HDR Work flow

My HDR Work flow I download all my HDR sets into a folder. I sort the winning sets in

Photoshop/Bridge or Lightroom, and move them to a ‘Winners’ folder. Different sets must be kept together. Don’t mix a set of three with a set of five or seven, it will completely mess up the batch processing.

Batch rename the winning sets in Photoshop or Lightroom with a number sequence. If I have 20 sets of five bracketed images, it will be numbered 1 through 100.

I then use Photomatix to batch my 20 sets of five into 20 single, 32-bit images. While Photomatix is doing this, I’m in Photoshop or doing something else.

When Photomatix finishes it’s batching, I go in and open the 32-bit images in Photomatix for tone-mapping. The tone-mapping is very fast. Once I set-up the sliders for the first image, I usually stay pretty close to those settings for the other images. I then finish the image in Photoshop.

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Avoiding HDR Issues

Halos can be an issue with HDR images. Halos are usually found where the sky meets buildings or trees in an image. It is a line, or band, of lighter sky. It does not look natural and is very distracting.

You usually get if using extreme settings in your tone mapping, although sometimes you may still see halos even with conservative settings. In that case you may have to swap out the sky in your HDR image with the original sky in one of the bracketed images in Photoshop.

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Over saturation is easily controlled in all the programs I reviewed here. Once you have the settings the way you like them, you can save them as one of your custom presets.

You have complete control over your image. It is easy to stay within a regular color range, but still gain a significant advantage by using HDR. You have to watch you do not overdo it, particularly with skies.

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Finishing in Photoshop

Although the HDR specific software is great for the merging and tone-mapping

stage of your HDR sets, there is no substitute for the final finessing of your image in Photoshop.

I usually use a custom ‘curves’ adjustment. You can use the brush tool on the ‘curves’ mask to adjust how much of that curves is used in your image, and where it is used.

Another excellent, but often overlooked adjustment layer, is the ‘Shadow/Highlight’. There maybe areas of the image that require careful cloning out. Don’t forget that sometimes you can use the ‘spot healing brush’ to blend away something small in your image instead of always using the clone tool. Photoshop CS5’s new ‘content aware’ brush option is very handy for fast clean-up as well.

The last thing I do is selective sharpening. I use high pass sharpening for all my images that do not have people in the image. You find this under ‘Filter’, ‘Other’, ‘High Pass’. When people are in the image I use ‘unsharp mask’ or ‘smart sharpening’.

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Creative Freedom

HDR gets quite a lot of criticism because many of the images are over-worked.

For that matter, any image can be overworked in Photoshop or any software, not only HDR.

Some photographers have become so worried about being criticised for using HDR, their HDR images look exactly the same as a single image worked in Photoshop. HDR is different; it has a vibrance and detail that is great for certain situations.

For some images I go further and use a full range of Photoshop adjustment layers, filters, masking and plug-ins to go in many different directions. We have so many creative tools to work with today; I’m not going to limit myself to staying within a regular photograph all the time.

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As the late famous photographer Fred Picker stated, ‘Photographers owe nothing to reality.’ I offer my clients both types of images. Gavin Phillips offers HDR webinars and training movies. He also offers custom Photoshop ‘actions’ and Lightroom Presets. See his website for more information.

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  • Nice overview. Interesting that the writer discusses that haloing is an undesired outcome yet has posted examples of, apparently, good HDR imagery that contain halos.

  • That second image is just stunning. I have an odd relationship with HDR. Sometimes I love it and sometimes I think it looks ridiculous. It’s definitely a fun tool to play with! I’ve been waffling about whether to get Photomatix, worried I wouldn’t use it enough.

    Great article.

  • MAtt

    Love the Chicago shots. I’m re-thinking the shots I did at the Bean last night, now.

  • tom

    I enjoyed the images. I view HDR as just another creativity tool. It is not part of my normal workflow but I do enjoy the different results when I work with HDR. I am annoyed with these ‘purists’ who seem to be snobbish to HDR claiming it is a method for the unskilled photographer. These photographic purebred I think are shortsheeting themselves by limiting what is to be acceptable and what is not. Sometimes photography can be just plain fun. If someone finds a piece appealing, then it’s art. I shoot and process for myself and that’s plenty good enough.

  • John Hanlon

    I find with HDRs that the spread-out is glittery and distracting and leaves my eye nothing to rest on. Usually I find non-HDR images more powerful because they have a detectable light direction. However, the taste of the artist is what matters and I guess not every style is for everybody.

  • “Another excellent, but often overlooked adjustment layer, is the ‘Shadow/Highlight’. ”

    Perhaps it’s overlooked because it doesn’t exist? ‘Shadow/Highlight’ is indeed very powerful, but it’s not available as an adjustment layer. You can use it as smart filter however.

  • I use HDR for all of my architectural work, which is the bulk of my business. It is the increased detail and natural look that draws me to this process. My thinking is that HDR somewhat mimics how the eye sees in that there are tonal adjustments made within zones of similar lighting, and also smoothing between those zones, which might explain why people like the results when not overcooked.

    One issue that comes up from time to time, particularly with outdoor shots, is halos. Even the examples in this posting demonstrate this problem. Rescuing with Photoshop has more of a lessening effect rather than correction. For shots that require near perfection (is anything ever perfect?), a fine tuning of the micro contrast is required, but that can compromise other aspects of the overall HDR. One way around the compromise is to process the HDR twice, once for the problem area and again for the majority of the image, and then blend the two results in Photoshop. This is much more labor intense, but a workable approach when the time is justified.

    The benefit of not having to use flash for natural looking indoor lighting gets somewhat offset by the issue of mixed lighting color mismatch. There are several techniques to deal with this that are not too time consuming (with practice). The main technique is to process the photo sets twice, one set for indoor lighting and the other for outdoor (white balance and contrast curve). In Photoshop the windows get masked and the images merged. Nik filters, selective color adjustment layers, and subtractive Red/Blue contrast curves can be used where needed to eliminate overly yellow light spill, blue reflections on tabletops, etc.

    At the end of the day, HDR gets a big thumbs up from me. Not a perfect one size fits all solution, but a great tool to have in ones photographic tool kit.

  • LA Photo

    The problem with what we call HDR (really tone re-mapped ) images is that monitors (and certainly prints) can not display the range that we can see. So what you end up with is a compressed tone space, banding around high contrast areas, and unrealistic reflections on water and glass.

    The intent is good, but we do not yet have sufficient mechanisms for displaying a TRUE HDR image, although we can build one, so while we can create interesting surreal composite images, until there is a method of displaying HDR content, what we now call HDS is really non-linear distortion and compression of the color space.

    I find that a Canon RAW file holds enough expansion range to play with the highlights and shadows adds just enough to the image to make it less flat than a jpeg of the same thing, without going overboard with the problems I mentioned above relating to what we are calling HDR for now.

  • I think HDR shots are more natural then normal shots. Its just that we have had a century or so of photographs without it and people are used to that and think its normal. Of course HDR is time consuming, but no doubt it will be done in camera soon, if its not already.

  • Jose Jimenez

    I disagree that HDR looks “natural”. Actually, I think it’s quite the opposite. What I dislike about HDR is that rarely can you look at a photo processed with it and not know it. Also, anyone proficient with Photoshop or any number of other programs can obtain the same results if so desired; there’s no need to keep re-inventing the wheel. Different strokes, I guess.

  • cathode

    HDR=

    Hideous
    Distracting
    Rubbish

  • Simon

    The problem with HDR is that it’s so rarely done well, and so often done badly – even in an article attempting to promote it. There are several very good examples in this article – the Louvre by night, the reflective lake.

    Unfortunately, there are also some poor examples, where everything ‘glows’ in a most unnatural fashion – the second image (the old town), or the saddle store. Such efforts are heavy handed, and look bad to many eyes…

  • HDR is a great opportunity to show better what’s around us, as well as being more creative. The article is well done and interesting, Hope this will help to increase the awareness of this technique. I use it quite often on my photoblog.

  • JohnP

    I’m not a great fan of full HDR. I sometimes do use HDR but I usually then include the HDR image as a layer over one of the original images in Photoshop and adjust the opacity to my liking &/or brush out areas that distract from the image. I find too much HDR overloads the eye preventing the main theme of the image coming through to the viewer. Again it as all subjective, each to their own.

  • FSS

    My opinion is that HDR is like makeup. When used properly, it enhances the original but is undetectable. I use the minimal or “natural” settings sometimes (on a single RAW) to bring out the shadows. With these settings, you can’t tell it is an HDR but looks much better than the original.

  • “HDR and Beyond – Seeing is Believing” – Or “Here are some very very overprocessed HDR shots!”

  • Fredrik

    I agree with simon “..it’s so rarely done well, and so often done badly…”

    Less is more…..

  • jim

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/22176685@N07/6857371677/in/photostream

    Thats hdr. I shoot hdr all the time but I rarely push it to its limits. I also do a lot of post on my shots. Halos are the worst in hdr.

  • HDR does not have to look cartoony or false but can be processed as photorealistic. It does bring out more tones than a single shot:

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/European-Trees-and-tree-scenes/G0000bfuYMit4B.A/I0000mDcqurgjKlg

  • I’m not too fond of HDR for the same reasons already listed here. Most of the the time it looks overdone, cartoonish, CGI’ish or just plain bad. It can be done realistically , but most of the time it isn’t.
    ¨
    Some of these images are really good, but some look over processed. Even in an article where this is addressed, it is still an issue. The same goes for halos, which is present in almost every picture here.

    I have only one HDR on the web, taken after the tsunami in Thailand. http://yngvethoresen.com/forces-of-nature/

  • HDR has often been used too much lately, and because of that, people have been overdoing things. The resulting photos look cartoonish and unrealistic. It’s bad if it was done just to get an HDR effect, but well it can be good if that was really the intent in the first place.

    You mentioned “Landscape” on your when to shoot HDR list. Well, in Automotive Photography, it also applies (car standing still). As car photography is essentially landscape photography with the car as the subject.

    I recently held a photo contest on our car photography club, and the winner of the January 2012 challenge has used HDR really well. The resulting photo is just downright awesome. Check it out:

    http://custompinoyrides.com/2012/02/january-2012-car-photographer-of-the-month-jay-cee/

  • S RoyC

    One of the best articles I have read here…thank you so much

  • Does anyone know of an idiots step by step guide to using Photomatix, perhaps with some sample images to try locally? I’ve tried several times and although I seem to be able to work through the process my end result is always disappointing, granted some of my starting images might just not be good enough in the first instance but I can get passable output using Photoshop’s HDR so I must be missing something in Photomatix.

    Thanks

  • Average Joe

    STUNNING images! I especially love the first one. This was an awesome introduction to HDR for me and I hope I can get into it soon! So cool.

  • Jessica

    Thank you for explaining this so clearly! Before, I really had minimal idea of what HDR is. In fact I had a slight dislike for it because most HDR photos I’ve seen look too overdone and fake looking. The example shots in this article look great! Thanks for “dumbing” it down, I might have to give it a go now!

  • Walt

    Interesting article, but I would love to see/read how one might attempt to achieve some of the same results using software for Linux. What would be the best tools to use? My other thought off the top of my head is that a person could spend so much time in post-processing that s/he would have little time for actually using their camera for its intended purpose – taking pictures. Or does the process become easier/faster with experience?

  • I have been a fan of HDR since I first saw it used.

    I am one of those that most here would describe as overusing or overcooking my HDR images.

    At times I like intense color.

    I like the separation from reality HDR gives me. The graphic effect is very pleasing.

    HDR is just another way of expressing my vision.

    I also do a lot of realistic work.

    In the darkroom days I did a lot of special effects along with straight black and white and color.

    The article did not mention that you can do HDR from a single or multiple film frames

    This image (#13 plus #14 and #15) was done from one or more film frames.

    http://www.barryjacksonphotography.com/p769366861/h1653ba6d#h1653ba6d.

  • GT

    OK, at the top of the article- “The BENEFITS of HDR”- the shot of the hotel and fountain; the 7 image one…

    HALOS around the buildings (a COMMON problem with boring, bald skies)

    Then a few paragraphs later, under the “AVOIDING HDR issues” section- and I quote:
    “Halos can be an issue with HDR images. Halos are usually found where the sky meets buildings or trees in an image. It is a line, or band, of lighter sky. It does not look natural and is very distracting.
    You usually get if using extreme settings in your tone mapping, although sometimes you may still see halos even with conservative settings. In that case you may have to swap out the sky in your HDR image with the original sky in one of the bracketed images in Photoshop.”

    So at the beginning of your article you promote this WORST part of poorly done HDR, Then you tell people it’s not cool to have halos?

    just sayin’…

  • @Gavin — thank you very much for the highly detailed and full of examples post on your specific HDR techniques. I have bookmarked this post for future reference and having been a long time user of Photomatix Pro, but increasingly shooting more interiors, I will be sure and look into HDR Efex Pro.

    For problems with clouds in HDR coming out too dark and ominous looking, I wrote a tutorial for blending one of the single exposures with the final HDR image to keep clouds looking white and fluffy:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2011/12/14/how-to-fix-black-clouds-in-hdr-images-using-layer-mask.html

    I use a lot of your techniques in Photoshop for final editing, save for using curves, but I really like using the spot healing brush for small blemishes and selective sharpening for sure, and the reverse, selective noise reduction for the areas I do not sharpen in some images.

  • Excellent, thank you for writing this article.

  • ksporry

    I don’t disapprove of HDR. I think it can have greta artistic merrit. I do however believe that often HDR does look unnatural, and sometimes not pretty at all.
    It is easy to overdo HDR. I’m trusting that the author of this article exagerated teh HDR effect to bring acros shis point, but from a photographic perspective the example images mostly look over exposed, unnatural, and have a lot of HDR halo effects. I have seen some truly gorgeous HDR images. The example images here are not amongst those.
    I think the author should have selected some truly beautiful images to illustrate hwo powerful HDR can be. Unfortunately the rather poor examples seem to be actually doing th eopposite: illustrate how HDR can be over done…

  • CJ

    Well done HDR is actually the most realistic representation of a scene based on our vision. Because of the limitations of film/sensors, photographs tend to distill a scene down for us by default. In my opinion, good HDR shows things as they are, while good traditional photography shows things as we would like them to be.
    No HDR = limited, but often pleasing representation of reality.
    Good HDR = most realistic representation possible.
    Bad HDR = caricature of reality.

  • dgenac

    The first photo, of the Trump building in Chicago, looks completely fake to me. You would have similar results pasting the buildings over a background of sky taken at another time. Honestly, that’s what I thought had been done with the photo when I first saw it, expecially due to the fact that the color of the sky reflected in the river does not match the color of the sky above.

    The second photo would be better as a monochrome. It looks like the photo was difficult to reproduce in true color, and HDR was unsuccessfully used to try to save it.

    The photo of the saddle shop looks like an illustration, not a photo. If the goal is to distort the photo so it looks like it is not a photo, that is fine. The next challenge should be to manipulate it so it looks like an oil painting, with all the individual brush strokes.

    The photo of the hotel and fountain has more issues than the halos around the buildings. The lighting is uneven on the building as if dodged in, while the water in the fountain looks too dark at the top. Photoshop out the crane, and the “before” picture is substantially better than the “after”.

    Ultimately, HDR is not necessary. I have successfully made photos look fake in Photoshop using only layers and filters.

  • Joey Monk

    I love HDR….when it’s done right, but what is “right”… depends on your opinion… and this is the great thing about digital photography, it’s becoming more creative day by day… and what’s wrong with being creative? my hdr samples here..

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/joeymonk/6898889039/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/joeymonk/6569462155/

  • I love HDR. Love it Love It LOVE IT!

    I agree with those that have mentioned some of the examples look halo’ish. 99.999 percent of the time an image is not done after being tone mapped in Photomatix. There is much more processing to be done in Ps! And credit to the writer for mentioning this to get rid of halos.

    Notwithstanding halos, however, I think HDRs are allowed to look purposefully “overcooked” when going for a desired effect, like artistically enhancing reality. Otherwise, I like HDR to appear as if I’m looking at the scene through a waterglobe, pulling my imagination into the scene.

    I feel bad for this, but here it goes: I don’t mean to sound like I’m trashing the article, but it barely begins to explain what HDR is and how it’s achieved. I mean, it doesn’t even define tone mapping or the intricate algorithm of blending the very best pixels from a bracketed set of photos. So I hope people who’ve read this will not believe they can be instant “HDRtists” merely by picking up a Photomatix license. And yes, you can produce an HDR image from a single RAW. And no, they won’t be wonderfully crisp by pure magic of tone mapping — your camera still needs to be focused, steadied, and with the appropriate aperture setting. And you don’t necessarily need 9, or 7, or even 5 bracketed images. I would be so bold to suggest that most of the time 3 will do (with caveats). I think the writer could have gotten away with the “primer” if some the examples would have been better (though there were some I really did quite appreciate).

  • Rona

    HDR, like many other creative applications in photography/darkroom, is more of an art than a science, in my opinion. It hasn’t been that many years when people would ooh and aah over selective color on a photo. Like other art forms, there are many degrees and styles of HDR, and whether one likes or dislikes it is really just a matter of taste. I happen to love the look of HDR as an art form. I don’t care if I know that HDR has been used to achieve a look in a photo any more than I care that I know that a beautiful sweater was made by the art of knitting. To each his own, I say. If we all had the same tastes in photography, the art would be pretty boring, don’t you think?

  • OnyxE

    I think HDR is intriguing and interesting once in a long while in small doses, but familiarity breeds contempt for it pretty quick.

  • http://www.seeyoubehindthelens.com/2012/02/weekly-photography-challenge-h-high.html We chose to work with some HDR this week as our own weekly photography challenge. Would be interesting to see other folks work as well.

  • I am an HDR specialist. I enjoy using it on stop action sports photography. Here is an example of my work.

    http://rossimophoto.smugmug.com/People/11-8-2011-Sapin-Beach-Photo/20038903_5dL8Gb#!i=1579710405&k=3LB5gjp

  • I just wonder, can we make HDR-like photograph by just adjusting Shadow and Highlight in Photoshop…????
    I’ve tried it, but i am not sure wether it resembles the quality of HDR or not

  • I really like the examples given in this article.

    I personally am a big fan of HDR photography.

    Here some examples of my own HDR work:

    http://www.michielhulst.com/hdr/

  • hdr is fun not sure about weddings thou

  • Thanks for posting this article. I’m just starting to experiment with HDR photography and could use the pointers! Beautiful photography work as well!

Some Older Comments

  • jess January 5, 2013 03:41 am

    Thanks for posting this article. I'm just starting to experiment with HDR photography and could use the pointers! Beautiful photography work as well!

  • bryan March 11, 2012 11:37 am

    hdr is fun not sure about weddings thou

  • Michiel March 7, 2012 08:28 am

    I really like the examples given in this article.

    I personally am a big fan of HDR photography.

    Here some examples of my own HDR work:

    http://www.michielhulst.com/hdr/

  • Dedy Elfika March 1, 2012 04:45 pm

    I just wonder, can we make HDR-like photograph by just adjusting Shadow and Highlight in Photoshop...????
    I've tried it, but i am not sure wether it resembles the quality of HDR or not

  • Ross Minkin February 29, 2012 12:43 pm

    I am an HDR specialist. I enjoy using it on stop action sports photography. Here is an example of my work.

    http://rossimophoto.smugmug.com/People/11-8-2011-Sapin-Beach-Photo/20038903_5dL8Gb#!i=1579710405&k=3LB5gjp

  • Dakota Visions Photography, LLC February 27, 2012 11:15 am

    http://www.seeyoubehindthelens.com/2012/02/weekly-photography-challenge-h-high.html We chose to work with some HDR this week as our own weekly photography challenge. Would be interesting to see other folks work as well.

  • OnyxE February 27, 2012 07:00 am

    I think HDR is intriguing and interesting once in a long while in small doses, but familiarity breeds contempt for it pretty quick.

  • Rona February 24, 2012 10:55 am

    HDR, like many other creative applications in photography/darkroom, is more of an art than a science, in my opinion. It hasn't been that many years when people would ooh and aah over selective color on a photo. Like other art forms, there are many degrees and styles of HDR, and whether one likes or dislikes it is really just a matter of taste. I happen to love the look of HDR as an art form. I don't care if I know that HDR has been used to achieve a look in a photo any more than I care that I know that a beautiful sweater was made by the art of knitting. To each his own, I say. If we all had the same tastes in photography, the art would be pretty boring, don't you think?

  • Jeff February 24, 2012 07:51 am

    I love HDR. Love it Love It LOVE IT!

    I agree with those that have mentioned some of the examples look halo'ish. 99.999 percent of the time an image is not done after being tone mapped in Photomatix. There is much more processing to be done in Ps! And credit to the writer for mentioning this to get rid of halos.

    Notwithstanding halos, however, I think HDRs are allowed to look purposefully "overcooked" when going for a desired effect, like artistically enhancing reality. Otherwise, I like HDR to appear as if I'm looking at the scene through a waterglobe, pulling my imagination into the scene.

    I feel bad for this, but here it goes: I don't mean to sound like I'm trashing the article, but it barely begins to explain what HDR is and how it's achieved. I mean, it doesn't even define tone mapping or the intricate algorithm of blending the very best pixels from a bracketed set of photos. So I hope people who've read this will not believe they can be instant "HDRtists" merely by picking up a Photomatix license. And yes, you can produce an HDR image from a single RAW. And no, they won't be wonderfully crisp by pure magic of tone mapping -- your camera still needs to be focused, steadied, and with the appropriate aperture setting. And you don't necessarily need 9, or 7, or even 5 bracketed images. I would be so bold to suggest that most of the time 3 will do (with caveats). I think the writer could have gotten away with the "primer" if some the examples would have been better (though there were some I really did quite appreciate).

  • Joey Monk February 24, 2012 05:30 am

    I love HDR....when it's done right, but what is "right"... depends on your opinion... and this is the great thing about digital photography, it's becoming more creative day by day... and what's wrong with being creative? my hdr samples here..

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/joeymonk/6898889039/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/joeymonk/6569462155/

  • dgenac February 24, 2012 04:31 am

    The first photo, of the Trump building in Chicago, looks completely fake to me. You would have similar results pasting the buildings over a background of sky taken at another time. Honestly, that's what I thought had been done with the photo when I first saw it, expecially due to the fact that the color of the sky reflected in the river does not match the color of the sky above.

    The second photo would be better as a monochrome. It looks like the photo was difficult to reproduce in true color, and HDR was unsuccessfully used to try to save it.

    The photo of the saddle shop looks like an illustration, not a photo. If the goal is to distort the photo so it looks like it is not a photo, that is fine. The next challenge should be to manipulate it so it looks like an oil painting, with all the individual brush strokes.

    The photo of the hotel and fountain has more issues than the halos around the buildings. The lighting is uneven on the building as if dodged in, while the water in the fountain looks too dark at the top. Photoshop out the crane, and the "before" picture is substantially better than the "after".

    Ultimately, HDR is not necessary. I have successfully made photos look fake in Photoshop using only layers and filters.

  • CJ February 24, 2012 03:25 am

    Well done HDR is actually the most realistic representation of a scene based on our vision. Because of the limitations of film/sensors, photographs tend to distill a scene down for us by default. In my opinion, good HDR shows things as they are, while good traditional photography shows things as we would like them to be.
    No HDR = limited, but often pleasing representation of reality.
    Good HDR = most realistic representation possible.
    Bad HDR = caricature of reality.

  • ksporry February 23, 2012 03:22 pm

    I don't disapprove of HDR. I think it can have greta artistic merrit. I do however believe that often HDR does look unnatural, and sometimes not pretty at all.
    It is easy to overdo HDR. I'm trusting that the author of this article exagerated teh HDR effect to bring acros shis point, but from a photographic perspective the example images mostly look over exposed, unnatural, and have a lot of HDR halo effects. I have seen some truly gorgeous HDR images. The example images here are not amongst those.
    I think the author should have selected some truly beautiful images to illustrate hwo powerful HDR can be. Unfortunately the rather poor examples seem to be actually doing th eopposite: illustrate how HDR can be over done...

  • Carlos Taylhardat February 22, 2012 06:50 pm

    Excellent, thank you for writing this article.

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer February 22, 2012 07:10 am

    @Gavin -- thank you very much for the highly detailed and full of examples post on your specific HDR techniques. I have bookmarked this post for future reference and having been a long time user of Photomatix Pro, but increasingly shooting more interiors, I will be sure and look into HDR Efex Pro.

    For problems with clouds in HDR coming out too dark and ominous looking, I wrote a tutorial for blending one of the single exposures with the final HDR image to keep clouds looking white and fluffy:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2011/12/14/how-to-fix-black-clouds-in-hdr-images-using-layer-mask.html

    I use a lot of your techniques in Photoshop for final editing, save for using curves, but I really like using the spot healing brush for small blemishes and selective sharpening for sure, and the reverse, selective noise reduction for the areas I do not sharpen in some images.

  • GT February 21, 2012 05:19 pm

    OK, at the top of the article- "The BENEFITS of HDR"- the shot of the hotel and fountain; the 7 image one...

    HALOS around the buildings (a COMMON problem with boring, bald skies)

    Then a few paragraphs later, under the "AVOIDING HDR issues" section- and I quote:
    "Halos can be an issue with HDR images. Halos are usually found where the sky meets buildings or trees in an image. It is a line, or band, of lighter sky. It does not look natural and is very distracting.
    You usually get if using extreme settings in your tone mapping, although sometimes you may still see halos even with conservative settings. In that case you may have to swap out the sky in your HDR image with the original sky in one of the bracketed images in Photoshop."

    So at the beginning of your article you promote this WORST part of poorly done HDR, Then you tell people it's not cool to have halos?

    just sayin'...

  • Barry Jackson February 21, 2012 04:57 pm

    I have been a fan of HDR since I first saw it used.

    I am one of those that most here would describe as overusing or overcooking my HDR images.

    At times I like intense color.

    I like the separation from reality HDR gives me. The graphic effect is very pleasing.

    HDR is just another way of expressing my vision.

    I also do a lot of realistic work.

    In the darkroom days I did a lot of special effects along with straight black and white and color.

    The article did not mention that you can do HDR from a single or multiple film frames

    This image (#13 plus #14 and #15) was done from one or more film frames.

    http://www.barryjacksonphotography.com/p769366861/h1653ba6d#h1653ba6d.

  • Walt February 21, 2012 03:34 pm

    Interesting article, but I would love to see/read how one might attempt to achieve some of the same results using software for Linux. What would be the best tools to use? My other thought off the top of my head is that a person could spend so much time in post-processing that s/he would have little time for actually using their camera for its intended purpose - taking pictures. Or does the process become easier/faster with experience?

  • Jessica February 21, 2012 11:12 am

    Thank you for explaining this so clearly! Before, I really had minimal idea of what HDR is. In fact I had a slight dislike for it because most HDR photos I've seen look too overdone and fake looking. The example shots in this article look great! Thanks for "dumbing" it down, I might have to give it a go now!

  • Average Joe February 21, 2012 03:00 am

    STUNNING images! I especially love the first one. This was an awesome introduction to HDR for me and I hope I can get into it soon! So cool.

  • Chris P February 21, 2012 02:55 am

    Does anyone know of an idiots step by step guide to using Photomatix, perhaps with some sample images to try locally? I've tried several times and although I seem to be able to work through the process my end result is always disappointing, granted some of my starting images might just not be good enough in the first instance but I can get passable output using Photoshop's HDR so I must be missing something in Photomatix.

    Thanks

  • S RoyC February 21, 2012 01:01 am

    One of the best articles I have read here...thank you so much

  • THE aSTIG @ CustomPinoyRides.com February 21, 2012 12:19 am

    HDR has often been used too much lately, and because of that, people have been overdoing things. The resulting photos look cartoonish and unrealistic. It's bad if it was done just to get an HDR effect, but well it can be good if that was really the intent in the first place.

    You mentioned "Landscape" on your when to shoot HDR list. Well, in Automotive Photography, it also applies (car standing still). As car photography is essentially landscape photography with the car as the subject.

    I recently held a photo contest on our car photography club, and the winner of the January 2012 challenge has used HDR really well. The resulting photo is just downright awesome. Check it out:

    http://custompinoyrides.com/2012/02/january-2012-car-photographer-of-the-month-jay-cee/

  • Yngve Thoresen February 20, 2012 11:54 pm

    I'm not too fond of HDR for the same reasons already listed here. Most of the the time it looks overdone, cartoonish, CGI'ish or just plain bad. It can be done realistically , but most of the time it isn't.
    ¨
    Some of these images are really good, but some look over processed. Even in an article where this is addressed, it is still an issue. The same goes for halos, which is present in almost every picture here.

    I have only one HDR on the web, taken after the tsunami in Thailand. http://yngvethoresen.com/forces-of-nature/

  • steve slater February 20, 2012 10:11 pm

    HDR does not have to look cartoony or false but can be processed as photorealistic. It does bring out more tones than a single shot:

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/European-Trees-and-tree-scenes/G0000bfuYMit4B.A/I0000mDcqurgjKlg

  • jim February 20, 2012 02:37 pm

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/22176685@N07/6857371677/in/photostream

    Thats hdr. I shoot hdr all the time but I rarely push it to its limits. I also do a lot of post on my shots. Halos are the worst in hdr.

  • Fredrik February 20, 2012 02:18 pm

    I agree with simon "..it’s so rarely done well, and so often done badly..."

    Less is more.....

  • OsmosisStudios February 20, 2012 11:55 am

    "HDR and Beyond - Seeing is Believing" - Or "Here are some very very overprocessed HDR shots!"

  • FSS February 20, 2012 10:35 am

    My opinion is that HDR is like makeup. When used properly, it enhances the original but is undetectable. I use the minimal or "natural" settings sometimes (on a single RAW) to bring out the shadows. With these settings, you can't tell it is an HDR but looks much better than the original.

  • JohnP February 20, 2012 09:51 am

    I'm not a great fan of full HDR. I sometimes do use HDR but I usually then include the HDR image as a layer over one of the original images in Photoshop and adjust the opacity to my liking &/or brush out areas that distract from the image. I find too much HDR overloads the eye preventing the main theme of the image coming through to the viewer. Again it as all subjective, each to their own.

  • Massimo Belloni February 20, 2012 09:35 am

    HDR is a great opportunity to show better what's around us, as well as being more creative. The article is well done and interesting, Hope this will help to increase the awareness of this technique. I use it quite often on my photoblog.

  • Simon February 20, 2012 07:29 am

    The problem with HDR is that it's so rarely done well, and so often done badly - even in an article attempting to promote it. There are several very good examples in this article - the Louvre by night, the reflective lake.

    Unfortunately, there are also some poor examples, where everything 'glows' in a most unnatural fashion - the second image (the old town), or the saddle store. Such efforts are heavy handed, and look bad to many eyes...

  • cathode February 20, 2012 06:31 am

    HDR=

    Hideous
    Distracting
    Rubbish

  • Jose Jimenez February 20, 2012 05:29 am

    I disagree that HDR looks "natural". Actually, I think it's quite the opposite. What I dislike about HDR is that rarely can you look at a photo processed with it and not know it. Also, anyone proficient with Photoshop or any number of other programs can obtain the same results if so desired; there's no need to keep re-inventing the wheel. Different strokes, I guess.

  • Raf Val Photography February 20, 2012 05:14 am

    I think HDR shots are more natural then normal shots. Its just that we have had a century or so of photographs without it and people are used to that and think its normal. Of course HDR is time consuming, but no doubt it will be done in camera soon, if its not already.

  • LA Photo February 20, 2012 05:13 am

    The problem with what we call HDR (really tone re-mapped ) images is that monitors (and certainly prints) can not display the range that we can see. So what you end up with is a compressed tone space, banding around high contrast areas, and unrealistic reflections on water and glass.

    The intent is good, but we do not yet have sufficient mechanisms for displaying a TRUE HDR image, although we can build one, so while we can create interesting surreal composite images, until there is a method of displaying HDR content, what we now call HDS is really non-linear distortion and compression of the color space.

    I find that a Canon RAW file holds enough expansion range to play with the highlights and shadows adds just enough to the image to make it less flat than a jpeg of the same thing, without going overboard with the problems I mentioned above relating to what we are calling HDR for now.

  • Gene Lee February 20, 2012 04:55 am

    I use HDR for all of my architectural work, which is the bulk of my business. It is the increased detail and natural look that draws me to this process. My thinking is that HDR somewhat mimics how the eye sees in that there are tonal adjustments made within zones of similar lighting, and also smoothing between those zones, which might explain why people like the results when not overcooked.

    One issue that comes up from time to time, particularly with outdoor shots, is halos. Even the examples in this posting demonstrate this problem. Rescuing with Photoshop has more of a lessening effect rather than correction. For shots that require near perfection (is anything ever perfect?), a fine tuning of the micro contrast is required, but that can compromise other aspects of the overall HDR. One way around the compromise is to process the HDR twice, once for the problem area and again for the majority of the image, and then blend the two results in Photoshop. This is much more labor intense, but a workable approach when the time is justified.

    The benefit of not having to use flash for natural looking indoor lighting gets somewhat offset by the issue of mixed lighting color mismatch. There are several techniques to deal with this that are not too time consuming (with practice). The main technique is to process the photo sets twice, one set for indoor lighting and the other for outdoor (white balance and contrast curve). In Photoshop the windows get masked and the images merged. Nik filters, selective color adjustment layers, and subtractive Red/Blue contrast curves can be used where needed to eliminate overly yellow light spill, blue reflections on tabletops, etc.

    At the end of the day, HDR gets a big thumbs up from me. Not a perfect one size fits all solution, but a great tool to have in ones photographic tool kit.

  • Johan February 20, 2012 04:48 am

    "Another excellent, but often overlooked adjustment layer, is the ‘Shadow/Highlight’. "

    Perhaps it's overlooked because it doesn't exist? 'Shadow/Highlight' is indeed very powerful, but it's not available as an adjustment layer. You can use it as smart filter however.

  • John Hanlon February 20, 2012 04:46 am

    I find with HDRs that the spread-out is glittery and distracting and leaves my eye nothing to rest on. Usually I find non-HDR images more powerful because they have a detectable light direction. However, the taste of the artist is what matters and I guess not every style is for everybody.

  • tom February 20, 2012 04:10 am

    I enjoyed the images. I view HDR as just another creativity tool. It is not part of my normal workflow but I do enjoy the different results when I work with HDR. I am annoyed with these 'purists' who seem to be snobbish to HDR claiming it is a method for the unskilled photographer. These photographic purebred I think are shortsheeting themselves by limiting what is to be acceptable and what is not. Sometimes photography can be just plain fun. If someone finds a piece appealing, then it's art. I shoot and process for myself and that's plenty good enough.

  • MAtt February 20, 2012 01:48 am

    Love the Chicago shots. I'm re-thinking the shots I did at the Bean last night, now.

  • Erin @ Pixel Tips February 20, 2012 01:37 am

    That second image is just stunning. I have an odd relationship with HDR. Sometimes I love it and sometimes I think it looks ridiculous. It's definitely a fun tool to play with! I've been waffling about whether to get Photomatix, worried I wouldn't use it enough.

    Great article.

  • Bob Fisher February 20, 2012 01:34 am

    Nice overview. Interesting that the writer discusses that haloing is an undesired outcome yet has posted examples of, apparently, good HDR imagery that contain halos.

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