Welcome! This week we are tackling HDR Photography. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, which is the range of the lowest to the highest luminosity. To simplify it, let’s think of it in terms of highlights and shadows.
The human eye has a wide Higher Dynamic Range than your camera. Calculating the eye’s DR and how it all works, has filled numerous books on the subject. So, let’s just say that our Dynamic Range changes depending on light conditions. (If it’s too bright, our range diminishes so we seem to do better in lower light conditions – up to a point).
Think about it this way. You’re standing in front of a beautiful beach. The sky is sunny and blue, the rocky beach with its wet rocks is just gorgeous. The perfectly still water like a mirror is reflecting that amazing sky. You marvel at the range of colors of the wet rocks, the color of the water and that amazing sky perfectly reflected in the still turquoise waters. Can you “picture” it? Good.
Thinking how incredibly lucky you are to be in such a fabulous place – I’m already jealous of you by the way, you decide you must capture the moment. Armed with your camera in one hand and a Mai Tai on the other (wait, what are you doing? Put that drink aside and focus!). That’s better, now you take a shot, you pixel peep aaaaand… you’re disappointed.
The picture simply doesn’t look quite the way you see it. Hmmm, you’re going to play with your settings a bit. You really want to get that blue sky, but when you do, the rocks are dark and under exposed. You take another shot, this time you expose for the darker rocks. Great, now your sky is completely washed out and your water has lost its pretty turquoise green. One more click and this time you expose for the water. Gosh, you like the features you exposed for in each picture, but absolutely hate the other parts of the pictures – if only you could take the sky from one, the water from the other and the rocks from the third one and combine them into one picture, you would have the perfect picture! You take another sip of your Mai Tai as you ponder your dilemma. Fortunately you don't have to ponder too long and risk letting your Mai Tai get warm because The good news is that you can.
This is precisely what HDR does. It takes the area that is properly exposed in each picture and combines it into one photo so that in theory you get the best of each photo into one. Let's take a look at two Examples. First we have Luna. I had to set the shutter to high speed continuous to manage to get three photos before she moved. Let's just say that HDR was not made for moving subjects - remind me to tell you about Ghosting.
The example above shows Luna's three bracketed shots and the merged file (bottom left) - I could have adjusted each photo individually before merging, but for purposes of this blog, I merged them exactly the way they came out of camera (except that I cropped my husband out). He's camera shy - not a good trait for a photographer's husband to have! Wait, weren't we on a beautiful sunny beach? Yeah, sorry!
The second example below is a more appropriate use of HDR. Non moving subjects and challenging lighting situations.
I know what you’re thinking. Why go through all the trouble of combining these photos, buying additional software. Why can’t you just take one photo, middle of the road then recover the highlights and the shadows and call it a day? The truth is you can, we as photographers do that all the time. However, in challenging situations and depending on your camera, sometimes you won't get as good a result. If you take photo and your shadows are very underexposed, your sensor may not have recorded much information for you to recover and the area could be very ugly and noisy. Let’s take a look.
Both photos have had their shadows and black areas recovered as far as lightroom will allow (100%). The picture on the left is significantly noisier than the HDR one on the right. Note: Normally I wouldn't push the highlights or the shadows 100%, but for illustration purposes, I'm breaking some of my rules.
The same thing happens with the highlights on the picture below. The highlights and whites have been pushed down as far as lightroom will allow, but since these areas are so over exposed in the original picture in the beginning, the camera didn't record any information in these areas, they are pure white. Therefore there is nothing to recover. If we apply a filter and duplicate the effect, we will just get gray areas.)
HDR has its limitations. It’s normally not used for moving subjects because you need to line up the three images to avoid ghosting. It’s also not good on windy days, because your subjects keep shifting with the wind or are in essence moving. You also want to avoid it in portraits, especially of women. In men's portraiture, depending on the effect you're going for, HDR can enhance a look and ruggedness of the subject as it would enhance every wrinkle, shadow and fold - something we women do not appreciate to have enhanced. If you’re photographing a building, a car, landscape or other stationary object HDR can be your friend. Where I like to use HDR is in Architectural or Real Estate photography.
When it comes to HDR less is more. Shadows and Highlights add dimension to our photos. Years ago, HDR got a bad rap due to its artificial results.
So what happens when you use HDR to photograph moving objects? Well, you get this little thing called Ghosting. When you're merging your photos, the software will warn you about Ghosting because the image of the moving object appears as a faded semi transparent object in your photo.
In the picture below, a friend of mine her dog and I were talking when we came across this house. I took 3 shots of this building so I could combine them. While looking through the viewfinder, I completely forgot about my friend's dog. He was in three different locations in every single photo. I removed him from the photo during the merge, but I missed one instance of him. There isn't much you can do about Ghosting when you take multiple shots other than correcting in post-processing. There are one shot HDR techniques I've heard about but I haven't tried. Can you find the ghost of Mr. Zinc in the photo?
If you want to give HDR a try. Here's a simple way to get started if your camera doesn't have a built-in feature and all you have is Lightroom.
On the back of your camera adjust your dial until you get your bracketed exposures where you want them. On mine, I can increase in increments of 1/3 stop, but you will get more dramatic effects the higher your bracketing stops, (+1, -1; +2, -2 or more). It will depend on your lighting situation. After you've taken your photos upload them into lightroom.
Select the three photos you want to combine then from the top menu bar select Photos, Photo Merge, HDR and be patient. When Lightroom gets done, you will have one file three times the size of your original and it will be a raw file. Now when you go to make additional adjustments there will actually be data you can recover and you will not get all that noise you got when you tried to recover before.
Just be careful. One of the reasons HDR got a bad rap is because in our attempt to replicate what our eye sees (we do see in HDR) sometimes we adjust those shadows too much. After all, shadows and highlights are what give our images that 3D dimmension. If you make your highlights and shadows just as bright as the rest of the photo, you will get an artificial look
The photo below shows where to access the HDR functions of Lightroom. After you have merged your files, feel free to adjust them just as you would have adjusted a single photo. After all, the camera doesn't have your vision - your creative vision that is.
Here's Luna's final HDR picture.
Now for some adorable puppies not photographed in HDR (Believe me, they woulnd't sit still even in their sleep) because this is a pet photography blog after all and they are just so darn cute!
I hope you enjoyed this week's blog. Maybe you will want to venture into the world of HDR. This blog was created as part of a weekly challenge. Each subject encompassing a new focus or photographic technique or subject.
To see more examples of HDR photography, by some awesome photographers please visit:
Tracy Allard of Penny Whistle Photography fetching portraits in Coppell and surrounding communities in Dallas - Fort Worth Texas.
This is a blog circle so keep on clicking those links to keep on seeing some pretty amazing photos. When you get back to this site, you'll know you made it all the way around.