In today’s DSLR photo tip, we will discuss HDR photography, how to do it, and why.
For some reason, this has become a real hot button issue with photographers. Some swear by it, others hate it!
First, what is HDR photography?
Defining HDR photography is one of those areas where it can get very detailed and packed with mathematical formulas and whether or not a certain image qualifies and on and on!
For this article, we are just going to keep it light and explain the basics. Please, all you technical types, don’t bother sending me all the calculus formulas.
HDR stands for High Dynamic Range.
In our past discussions on getting great sunset photos, I alluded to several problems. If you expose for the sky, the ground will generally be underexposed and will go black. If you expose for the ground, the sky will be overexposed and get washed out.
This is because of the dynamic range of the film or digital sensor. It can only record just so much detail. This is generally known as the standard dynamic range (SDR). When the details in the scene exceed the standard dynamic range, they get lost.
Think of a sunset shot with a silhouette of a person. In SDR you lose all the detail in the person and that is what creates the flat black shape.
As I’ve mentioned before, some of the detail can be recovered by using split or graduated neutral density filters. They would hold back some of the light in the sky, allowing the exposure to be more friendly to the ground. But, there is a better way.
What if we took multiple shots? We could take a shot of the sky at its perfect exposure, and another of the ground at its perfect settings, then later in Photoshop or some other program, we could combine them.
Then we would have a perfectly exposed sky AND a perfectly exposed ground!
This is a very simple shot with two exposures. Typically, there would be at least three. One of the sky’s settings, one “normal” exposure, and one with the ground’s ideal exposure.
I’ve seen some HDR photos that go as high as 7 bracketed exposures! Bracketing means that you are shooting at exposures both above and below the “correct” exposure. You are bracketing it.
Now, let’s say you’ve done a series of 7 exposures, from way over exposed all the way down to way underexposed. When you combine them, you are going to get a dynamic range that is higher than your computer monitor is capable of showing.
That is HDR.
It has to do with bits and luminosity and so on… but let’s just say there are several programs that are designed to deal with this issue and work their magic with “tone mapping”
That’s a whole ‘nother article.
I think the debate over HDR is that it isn’t a “pure” image created in the camera. To work in HDR you MUST have some sort of computer program to combine the images. The HDR haters are the same ones that used to object to retouching negatives or adding filters, etc.
To my way of thinking, it’s the image that counts. If you like it, it doesn’t matter what techniques were employed to get there.
The whole point to HDR photography, how to do it, and why, is that—if well done—the final result can more accurately display what you saw with your eyes and give you some pretty stunning results.
Like everything else, a lot of photographers have gone overboard with the technique and produced some really bad results. I think this is what fuels the anti-HDR crowd.
Your assignment is to look up some HDR photographs and see if you like the technique or not. If so, give it a shot and create some simple ones of your own. Then you can look into some of the HDR programs and become an expert!
About the Author
Dan Eitreim writes for ontargetphototraining.com. He has been a professional photographer in Southern California for over 20 years. His philosophy is that learning photography is easy if you know a few tried and true strategies.
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