HDR photography

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Everyone has heard of HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photography as it has made quite a spectacular entrance into digital photography’s world.

But only a few know what exactly HDR photography is all about. HDR is a process that is accomplished by taking numerous exposures of a high contrast scene, mostly a landscape or cityscape) with different brightness levels, combining these images gives one image with the best light from each exposure.

HDR photo in city night

This is done to produce a stunning resulting image and very closely resembles the view of a human eye.

This digital manipulation process is a bit controversial and part of a heated debate in the photography industry as it leads to over-cooked images. Despite that, one thing remains clear that HDR photography is here to stay no matter what the critiques say.

It has a lot t of benefits if it is done right because it produces unique and in-depth images due to its processing technique, thus resulting in beautiful works of art that mimic our way of viewing and remembering a landscape or scene.

HDR photography has made capturing high-contrast scenes less frustrating and easy for you. Now you won’t be disappointed by your images not doing justice to the real scene.

Now you won’t have to worry about your position and your camera to capture the perfect exposure or deal with blown-out highlights and flat shadows. It is a solution to all the photography problems that are encountered when shooting a classic image.

HDR processing has made it possible to find a happy medium for all types of situations and has solved the age-old dilemma of capturing magical pictures.

Let us give you a quick rundown of what it HDR photography is, its requirement, hoe it works, its types, and its use and abuse:

What is HDR photography?

HDR might sound like high-tech shutterbug lingo, but it stands for “high dynamic range,” which is just the difference between the darkest dark and the lightest light you can capture in an image.

As it is notoriously difficult to capture an image that produces both ends of the spectrum, thus using modern techniques and advanced post-shooting software has become necessary.

Photographers have devised a way to make it happen through HDR, which leads to a photo with an unusually high dynamic range that couldn’t be possible without it.

HDR images can be range from stunning reproductions of what your eyes view to mind-blowing and surreal works of art that can transform reality into a dreamscape.

mountains view HDR photo

HDR Photography is just a post-processing technique that mostly uses multiple images shot at different shutter speeds, capturing the same scene and then combining them into one spectacular photograph.

The resulting image produces the most details of both shadow and bright areas resembling the human eye. Although ideally HDR is done through multiple photos, you can also create an HDR image using a single image, as long as it is in RAW format.

Here are the things you need to capture an HDR image:

HDR Requirements

To capture an HDR image, you should have the following tools and equipment:

  1. Digital camera (a DSLR preferably)

  2. Tripod (multiple exposures)

  3. An image-editing tool like Adobe Photoshop

  4. HDR software (like Photomatix Pro or other) (optional)

  5. Noise Reduction software (Nik’s Define or Noise Ninja) (optional)

Although you can shoot without a tripod by shooting hand-held in brackets and use the HDR software to align the images automatically, shooting with a tripod is recommended to gain the best results.

Aligning images will work most of the time, but the consequences will be losing a portion of the image.

Types of HDR photography:

There are two methods of creating an HDR image: the first is rarely used, which is HDR via a single image, and the second is HDR using multiple images. Here is a brief explanation of both methods:

HDR Photography Using a Single Image

You can create HDR images just from a single image, too, if both the darkest and the brightest parts of the image are recoverable. This means that the brightest part of your image should not be blown out completely, while the darkest part of your image should not be black.

Thus, only those images can be used that are correctly exposed and have as many details preserved as possible.

Remember that RAW images like 14-bit+ RAW images contain many data that you cannot see when viewing it from Photoshop or Lightroom unless you increase and decrease the exposure. I create HDR from a single image just for fun.

Multiple images to create an HDR.

This is the right way to do HDR. Think, if we can get so many details from one image, how much more details we can recover from many images! Using three images shot at 2 EV -2, 0, and +2 will be fine and work well for most cases.

So if your camera only supports three brackets, then set the exposure difference to two full stops. If your camera supports five brackets, set EV to a single stop, which will let you shoot -2, -1, 0, +1, and +2. 5)

How does it work?

It is just about two to nine photos of the same scene taken at different exposure levels at the basic level. Then these are mashed together by using software to create a more enhanced picture.

Newer and updated cameras have inbuilt HDR facilitates, which exclude the need for external software. So now you can even shoot HDR in-camera, but this would result in lesser-quality JPEG rather than RAW.

We have simplified it for you, but it is a bit more complicated than that in reality. We have given you the gist.

In reality, most of the photographer prefers to take a range of bracketed photos, which means the same scene is captured many times with varying shutter speed, resulting in a set of images with varying luminosity.

It is preferred to conduct HDR photography with a tripod so that the camera stays completely still.

By utilizing advanced post-processing software, all the images are blended by the photographer, creating a single image with the most focused, colorful, and well-lit parts of the scene.

Mobile HDR

It is not only mirrorless cameras and DSLR, which are capable of capturing HDR images. In present times, even your smartphone can produce impressive HDR images.

Innovations have led to HDR becoming a part of Android and iOS, both having shooting modes within their stock camera applications. There is a separate application like Adobe Lightroom for you to implement HDR editing on your own as well.

The process for conducting HDR photography on your smartphone is similar to capturing it on a camera. The only difference is that HDR photo capturing via smartphone is very easy and less complicated due to their updated software.

Now rather than capturing separate images at varying exposures and then merging them to get the best tonal range, you have to turn the HDR mode on and click the shutter. Your smartphone will do the rest for you.

HDR on iOS

Apple devices come with three distinct HDR options that are available with any of the still image modes. These are On, Auto, and off.

If the HDR option is “On,” then the iOS device will automatically shoot three distinct images and combine them into one and also automatically save it in your camera roll. If the iOS device is set to “Auto,” then the phone will only use HDR mode if it comes across a high-contrast scene.

If the option is “Off,” then obviously, the device will deactivate HDR mode. In updated iOS like iOS 11 and later, you have only Auto and Off. The best part is that iOS devices allow you to save both the HDR and normal exposure images of the scene. You only have to enable the Keep Normal Photo option in the camera settings.

HDR on Android

The HDR mode is also offered on Android. It is not very straightforward to use as the manufacturers have added it to their default camera apps leading to an experience that isn’t the same across the board.

The experience isn’t very different, as you will find HDR mode within the camera app. It sometimes may be called a “Rich Tone” mode or something else.

When using this camera mode, your device will automatically capture multiple exposures in a sequence and combine them itself without manual interruption to produces a final HDR photo.

HDR video

HDR imagery hasn’t only impacted still photography forms of visual media. Thanks to the increasingly compatible TV sets and capable video cameras, even HDR videography has become possible.

It uses different processes than HDR photography, but the result is identical to still HDR photography. HDR video is different because it is captured by various means.

Instead of capturing multiple images and then merging them post-capturing, HDR video is often captured as a single exposure.

HDR video is possible, employing both hardware and software. Upgraded camera sensors can shoot more dynamic range than before.

Combined with the new impressive sensor technology and the increasingly-capable color profiles used in the video, it ends up with an outstanding image with excellent color and exposure information.

HDR Use and Abuse

Professional and renowned photographers like Trey Ratcliff and HDR groups has led to the increasing popularity of HDR Photography. While most people who use HDR are amateurs and beginners, the number of pros is also increasing significantly.

People out there that are now making use of HDR for architectural photography and commercial landscape. By making use of a DSLR, it has become cheaper and convenient to deliver outstanding results within no time.

While on the other hand, HDR has opened up avenues for “Surrealism,” which means that many pictures are being converted to cartoon-like images.

Most of the time, it feels like the Internet is being filled with overemphasized and ugly HDR photographs, which diminishes its benefits. So whether HDR is evil or beneficial is a matter of usage, and there is no fine line defining it.

Personally, for me, I think that HDR is a good technology if it is used moderately and adequately. It has opened up new vistas and horizons for photographers and allows them to capture and see things in a new light.

HDR photographs that are done to perfection produce excellent results and delight the viewer, and you won’t be able to differentiate between reality and the HDR image.

So HDR has brought realism to photography. I believe that all photographers should learn how to capture HDR images!

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