A Quick Intro to HDR Photography

High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography is a technique that allows the photographer to use far more of the available light in a scene than a standard single exposure. With it you can create stunning and original images that would be next to impossible to render using conventional photography. In this video tutorial, photographer Trey Ratcliff gives an introduction to some his favorite methods for working in this creative genre:

As Ratcliff mentions, a typical camera can see only three stops of light, while the human eye can see about 11. HDR photography makes up for this and allows us to incorporate far more light in our end result than a single exposure could give us. You start by taking different exposures of a single scene and then combining or ‘stacking’ them in post-processing. From there, you can play around with the editing settings until you find something creative, interesting, and unique to your own sense of style.

Before HDR

Trey began with the photo above using a Sony A7-R with an NEX 10-18 mm lens. In this scene, since there were no closer subjects involved, he set his F-stop to 8 (he always shoots HDR in aperture priority mode) with an ISO of 100 to avoid noise. He then set his camera to shoot in continuous auto-bracketing mode with -2, 0, and +2 as his exposure settings.

Much of the magic of HDR photography happens in post-processing and, as you can see, the out-of-camera shot above needs a bit of work.  The highlights are blown out in the background, and the foreground is dark. The entire photo lacks texture and definition.

To begin his post-processing, Ratcliff started by importing his photos into Lightroom and making some quick adjustments. He then exported to Photomatix Pro to “make it look interesting.” In Photomatrix Pro, an application dedicated exclusively to HDR photo-processing, you can choose a style— from natural to painterly or surreal—and then adjust settings to get the look you want. He then imported a couple of different looks into Photoshop and used layer masks and blending modes to give more texture and detail to the foreground and more color and definition to the landscape beyond.

What he ended up with was an entirely different photo:

HDR after

 Tips for Shooting with Subjects in Your Foreground

  • Take a couple of clean background shots (without your subject) so that you always have a backup.
  • Once your subjects enter the picture, feel free to drop down your f-stop. Since you already have your free-standing background shots, you don’t have to worry about losing your detail back there.
  • Don’t forget to increase your ISO if you need a quicker shutter speed (i.e. if your subject is moving): every time you double the ISO your shutter time goes in half.
HDR With People

For this shot, the camera was set to ISO 200, f/4, and auto-bracketing set to -2, 0, +2.

For Ratcliff, HDR photography isn’t just for creating beautiful images, it helps him develop his own sense of artistic self.

“Photography plus post-processing is one of the greatest self-discovery tool of our age.”

The full tutorial can be found here: Trey Ratcliff HDR Video Tutorial

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