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Up for Discussion – HDR Photography

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Love it, or hate it, it seems to be everywhere at the moment, and has been for the last couple of years.  I did my first HDR image back in December 2011.  I believe this was the first HDR image I put on the blog.

schealesville_hdr1It would have been done with Photoshop, I didn’t get software for doing HDR until later.  I look at it now, as I do most of my early attempts at HDR and just cringe.  The colours are over saturated, they have a very surreal effect to them.  I am not sure that it is what I was after at all.

These, as I said, HDR is everywhere, some are good, some are bad.  I’m not saying which, but I thought we could talk about it here.

So what is HDR?

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range.  The idea of it, well my understanding, is that it will take the bright areas of an image and the dark areas and make an image that looks more like what we see with our eyes.  If you have an image, that has a very bright sky in it, behind a building or something like that, and when you take the photo the sky just takes over and everything else, like the building end up black, or a silhouette the an image like that is perfect for HDR.  You would take a series of bracketed images, so all taken at different exposures.  Then software like Photomatix Pro would take all those images, and make the best possible image.  I don’t know how it does it, but the dark areas will have detail and the light areas won’t be so blown out.

Let me show you in pictures.

This is the main dining hall at Montsalvat.  It is a very dark room.  You can see that looking at it now you can see what is out the window, but you can’t see what is inside.

This is the last photo of the bracketed shots, you can see a lot more detail inside the image now, but everything out the window is all blown out.

This is what the HDR software did to the images.  You can see both inside and out now.

When I first started doing HDR, I would make every image one.  I don’t do it anymore, and actually hardly seem to do it much now.  I find myself using single images, or if I do do a HDR I will only use part of the image.

When I look at images these days, I can nearly always tell if they are HDR, there are little things that give them away.  There is often a grayness to them, I’m told by Victor that is a lack of contrast.  There are often Halos, though halos can come from other things, but most often it is with HDR.

Victor Rakmil has written a post just recently on HDR Photography which you might like too.  He goes into the technical aspects of it more than me and gives more detail about what HDR is.

We were discussing it the other day, and something came up that I think is very true.  We think processes first and subject second, rather than trying to work out what is the best way to process an image to show the subject as its best.  It is something we can get bogged down with.  Rather than looking at a subject and asking if it would be better as a HDR, it is easier to just do it, regardless, which is where I used to be.  Now days, I’m more likely to still do the HDR, but then I compare it with just one image that I think is exposed correctly and ask myself which I think is better.  Often the HDR image is deleted.  The subject in the image always has to come first and then what is the best way to process it so the subject looks its best.

I’m coming down with a cold, so my brain is a bit scattered and I hope you can understand this post.  I just wanted to give you my views on HDR and explain it a bit better for people who don’t understand what it is.

Do you do HDR images?  What software do you use?  Do you do it for every image?  If you don’t do HDR then why?  Do you do HDR and then combine it with other images?

These posts are a great way to share knowledge, so please contribute.

I will approve them, as long as they are nice and not nasty in any way.  I am travelling home today, so I won’t be able to respond today, but I will try and get to them when I get home. I will approve them from my phone.

Feel free to respond or reply to other comments.  It would be good to generate some discussion.

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172 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great post. Let me add two thoughts. We all have creative freedom and in many cases people like the harder HDR, my post and this is about, the softer variety and how to achieve that goal. Secondly, I prefer someone to say beautiful landscape rather than beautiful HDR, or for that matter beautiful black and white.

    April 29, 2014
    • Thank you Victor, I see where you are coming from and I agree, I don’t like the harsh HDR. I totally agree with the second part, I would much prefer that.

      April 29, 2014
  2. I occasionally use HDR after a burst of using it a lot when I first got the chance but my view is that used indiscriminately, it makes all pictures have the same texture and should be used very sparingly.

    April 29, 2014
    • I think I totally agree tootlepedal, they do seem to end up with the same quality.

      April 29, 2014
  3. thanks for this post. This is a subject I need to learn much more about. Will also read Victor’s post and do some more research as I am really a beginner on all this technical stuff :)

    April 29, 2014
    • Good luck Tiny, if you have questions, you know where to ask.

      April 29, 2014
  4. very kewl thopughts to ponder when i shoot …inside out shots again and light vrs/dark and contrast etc etvc.. thanks for the inspiration :) . Q fly safe ” Q

    April 29, 2014
    • That is great, glad you find it good, thank you.

      April 29, 2014
  5. Good post Leanne. I also read Victor’s the other day. I use both Photomatix Pro 5 and Nik Efex HDR whatever-it’s-called lol. When I first started, my camera didn’t bracket so I’d create three images via camera raw and then merge them in to Photomatix. I still do bracketing sometimes but I’ve noticed I’ve been using Nik more. I think it’s because I can go right from adobe bridge and merge them into Nik. I’m grateful to have read your comment about only using part of the image. Isn’t that the truth! I forget that sometimes and do the whole image at the end when perhaps if I did the whole image and masked it with another part of one of the originals it would look better and using different opacities. Oooo…halos!! I was called out on that in google+ last year and I make sure there are no halos now. Even though I am so angelic there is one over my head LOL!!! :twisted:

    April 29, 2014
    • I can see that one over your head definitely, you are so angelic, haha. I don’t like halos and do everything I can to get rid of them too. I nearly always use Photomatix, there is something Nik HDR Efex does that I don’t like, too much gray, not sure what it is, but sometimes the images look too washed out, though am happy to use either. I recently found HDR Efex much better for night shots. I still bracket most of my shots, but most of the time it is so I can decide afterwards which is the best image to use. Thanks Laura.

      April 29, 2014
      • I think I need to be less lazy and use Photomatix more. The fact that it’s not connected to adobe camera raw is a silly reason really and it does produce lovely images. Nik HDR is good for some things to do quickly for general HDR work I think. Photomatix offers a lot more control. Thanks for the nudge.

        April 29, 2014
      • I usually try some when I’ve been out and compare which I think is better. I often don’t use them now, but sometimes I will use part of the image. I haven’t worried about it not being connected, the think that drives me nuts is that it can use the raw files, but it can’t give you a preview, so you really have to know exactly which images you want. You’re welcome with the nudge. Thanks Laura.

        April 30, 2014
      • :D

        April 30, 2014
  6. There is an article on luminous landscape about using HDR. Some of the shots were typical HDR, but some were not, so I am thinking about trying it.

    April 29, 2014
    • The luminous landscape, I am not sure about that, but I do think HDR has a place, and it is another tool to add to the box Ron, no harm in trying. Good luck.

      April 29, 2014
  7. Leanne, I like HDR when it is done very well. I’ve seen too many photos (especially of real estate) that are so poorly processed that I want to bang those people over the heads and tell them to go get a job!

    HDR can be so beautiful, so well done, so enticing–like the samples you showed here. I use it now and then when the subject would look better for having it done. But it’s not automatic for me. I agree with all that you’ve said in your addled-brain way!

    Having said that, I think there are at least two drawbacks: 1) everyone has been doing it and so everyone is expecting photography to look that way when a perfectly exposed and composed photo is still just as beautiful. And 2) if you choose to NOT shoot HDR, others begin to think you don’t know your stuff. Surreal photography is just so popular now and we do have to–somewhat–follow trends.

    And that’s my two cents worth….. Jann Gentry

    April 29, 2014
    • Haha, I know what you mean Jann, there is a lot of bad HDR out there. I used to do a lot, but I slowly realised what I was doing.

      I think it can be beautiful too, I like it to look natural, so you can’t tell it is one. It isn’t automatic for me anymore either, I hardly ever seem to do them now.

      I am not sure about that, I do hope that beautiful images will always win out. I don’t understand why surreal photography is so popular, it is so ugly, well in my opinion.

      I like your two cents worth Jann, thank you.

      April 29, 2014
  8. That was helpful. I like HDR sometimes. I’d like to learn it better as well as all photography. Thanks.

    April 29, 2014
    • That is a good way of thinking about it. Thank you.

      April 29, 2014
  9. I suppose its down to taste, and although I don’t have HDR softwar myself, I would like to try it, and don’t have an issue with it if its subtle. My own personal “line in the sand” would be that I’d be happy to use it to achieve similar results to a graduated filter, or where the bright area is the wrong shape to use a filter, as in the window in your example above. I do blend exposures, or two versions of one raw file, in Gimp (similar to photoshop, but free), to try to achieve a graduated filter type effect. Sometimes a filter just won’t work with a horizon that isn’t straight, or will be too obvious where trees or mountains extend above the horizon.

    April 29, 2014
    • I think HDR has a place and it can be good, but it can also be over used. I don’t think we all have to learn to do HDR, and I think there are lots of ways of achieving the same affect, as you have worked out. Good luck with it and thank you.

      April 29, 2014
  10. Feel better, Leanne. :)

    April 29, 2014
  11. Jackie Saulmon Ramirez #

    What a difference! That was awesome! ;)

    April 29, 2014
  12. I have never done HDR but would love to try someday, primarily because of the pictures I’ve seen on this blog: http://www.epbot.com/2014/02/a-little-more-disney-hdr.html. I think they can be waaaaay overdone… the pink one on top is just over the top, but sometimes the details are really interesting. However, now that you’ve mentioned the gray and the halos, I’m definitely seeing them in these photos. I see it more as an artistic thing to do with a photo as opposed to something that should be passed off as an image that can be captured in camera.

    April 29, 2014
    • It is a good thing to give it a go, and for night shots it can be wonderful, you will get better shots, as long as you tone it down somewhat. You have to be careful and remember the idea of HDR is so the image shows you what your eye sees, so if you eye would never see grass that green, then perhaps it isn’t right. But then again, it can be a matter of taste, I don’t like the surreal over the top HDR’s, that is my taste, but others obviously do. Good luck and thanks Dakota.

      April 29, 2014
  13. Hi Leanne, Great pot to stir! I think we will find the Landscape photographers bracket all the time and they swear by HDR, and then the Portrait people do not have much of fondness for it. I am primarily a people person, but my Alter Ego (Nature/landscapes) appreciates and swears by bracketing. Almost out of necessity. I currently use Photomatix Essentials, some settings are certainly overboard. If I can figure it out, I am about to explore the world of merging in Photoshop. I have never bracketed more than three images at once, may be trying 5-7 soon. Should be interesting.

    April 29, 2014
    • Thanks Phil. I bracket all the time now, for everything really except portraits. I do it, not necessarily because I will do a HDR image, but more so if I get home and think what the camera thinks is the correct exposure and I don’t think it is, then I will use another image. I often don’t use the one the camera says is best. I haven’t used the photomatix essentials, I do have the pro version. I love merging in photoshop and taking bits and pieces from different images. Good luck with it.

      April 29, 2014
  14. gorgeous. Thanks for the examples!

    April 29, 2014
  15. sandlera #

    Hi Leanne, I have so much to learn–still–before I start doing HDR. I actually bought my D7100 so I could do it. I agree that it’s over used and some of it looks bad. However, it does add an artsy look to some images. It just depends on what you want to achieve. Since I’ve been following your blog, I have enjoyed your HDR images because you haven’t taken it to the extreme.

    April 29, 2014
    • There is no denying it can be good, and I think there is a place for it Anne, but so much of it is over done. Thank you Anne, I try hard to help mine look natural.

      April 29, 2014
  16. *Holds hand up at the back of the class* Guilty!

    Although not as much now, I did get a little obsessed at one point. Using Lightroom to bracket then pushing them through Photomatix. Nowadays, if I do it at all, I can’t even be bothered to go through all the different exposures manually and just get Lightroom to generate live versions on different exposures. I know you don’t actually get the full dynamic range but as I said, be bothered!? One that I did do is now on the local football team’s facebook page as their cover photo but think it was mainly the tonemapping of the sky (also in Photomatix) rather than the HDR effect.

    Loving the blog. (I’m new to all this!)

    April 29, 2014
    • It can be quite addictive, and I don’t think you are alone there. I haven’t tried anything like that in Lightroom yet, just doing basic editing so far. I do do a lot in Photoshop. Good luck with it all, and thank you.

      April 29, 2014
      • Thanks and you. Yeah, I use it if I have a shot that I’d like to see what it could look like in HDR without the manual bracketing during shooting. There’ll be YouTube tutorials no doubt, think that’s how I learned it.

        April 29, 2014
      • You should go and see Trey Ratcliff’s site, Stuckincustoms, let me get you the link

        http://www.stuckincustoms.com/

        He does a lot to teach and help people learn HDR. You might find it really useful.

        April 29, 2014
      • Brilliant. Thanks.

        April 29, 2014
  17. I remember posters from the 60’s, they were pretty surreal too. Some great, some not so great. I think it’s the same today, unless it is like you have shown, to fix a scene.

    April 29, 2014
    • I agree Robert, there is a place for it, but not for every image. Thank you.

      April 29, 2014
  18. Reblogged this on Kira's Corner and commented:
    Well written and informaive.

    April 29, 2014
    • Informative. Sorry, my keyboard isn’t being cooperative today.

      April 29, 2014
      • Your keyboard, my head, LOL, thank you Kira.

        April 29, 2014
      • :)

        April 29, 2014
  19. Interesting timing Leanne. I just got RC Concepcion’s HDR book(2nd Edition) today in the mail since I am just starting to dabble in it. My old camera did not have bracketing but now with a new camera in hand, I have more opportunities to give it a try. I used to be plain and just old fashioned when it came to taking pictures. I always had that notion that “photoshopping” pictures really didn’t tell the story that the picture was trying to portray. I guess as I got older, I got a little soft with my convictions and have gone into long exposure and just recently HDR. Guess I needed a little convincing that “post processing” was not all that bad and allowed me to show my creative side. So yes….I was bitten by the bug and now on a quest to see how “real” I can make my HDR pictures and if surreal brings out the best in them, so be it. Hey, we all do that with color right? If it doesn’t look right, we just convert it to B&W and voila!.

    April 29, 2014
    • I don’t know that I would call it getting soft, but perhaps coming to the realisation, the editing can be really enhance an image. People have been enhancing images for generations, it isn’t a new thing. I love how creative you can be with editing. It does bug me that people think that you are cheating if you do enhance an image, and usually they are people that never worked or developed their own images in a darkroom. A lot of manipulation went on in there, a lot. I wasn’t very good at it, but I certainly tried. Good luck with learning how to do HDR images, it is fairly easy.
      Um, no, we don’t all that with the colour, I rarely touch colour, more likely to tone it down, rather than make it more saturated. We do all work differently though. Thanks

      April 29, 2014
  20. I just completed a group of images that I took this weekend and I used an HDR “filter” in both color and black and white. I maybe one of the few that like that surreal effect that you mentioned. The program I use is an old one called ReDynaMix. I’m not sure it is still available, but I like it and use it for my grungy industrial shots. It has a lot of grain that brings out the detail in rust, rock and old wood. I’ll have my blog posted mid week and you will be able to see the results.

    April 29, 2014
    • You will have to send me a link to make sure I see it Cate, I follow so many people. I would like to see how the filter works though. I am not a fan of the surreal effect, but that is me and I think I’m big enough to say that I understand everyone has different taste. If you like it, then go for it. Thanks Cate.

      April 29, 2014
  21. Reblogged this on Ed Velez Photography and commented:
    I myself am just getting acclimated to doing HDR. Each photowalk I do, I try to take a few bracketed shots just to see how I can manipulate them. I have Photomatix Pro 5 now along with RC Concepcions new 2nd edition of his “The HDR Book” (that just came in today). There will be naysayers and those that just can’t live without it. What are your thoughts?

    April 29, 2014
  22. Haven’t done much HDR myself. I do like some of the HDR stuff I see but like many of the commenters above me, I find most of it to be overdone and extremely unnatural in appearance.

    I have to admit that what bothers me is not the idea of HDR itself, but the term “HDR Photography”. In my opinion, “HDR” and “photography” are almost completely different endeavors. It requires great skill to make a good looking HDR image (a skill that I don’t possess), but that skill is almost completely different from that which makes a good photographer. Although I suppose that line is becoming ever more blurred by the year…

    April 29, 2014
    • I find it exactly the same now Zach.
      I am not sure what you mean there Zach, I think the term photographer covers a wide range of things, while HDR photography is like another skill that photographers learn. Like black and white photography, perhaps. It is something you do to get the best image. I put it under the heading of editing. I do HDR images, but I also do images that aren’t, and sometimes I merge them together. It is what I do in the post processing to get the best image I can.
      Thanks Zach.

      April 29, 2014
  23. I’m so happy I read your post. I am just learning about HDR. At first, I was struck by the vibrant colors and dramatic lighting in HDR. But after seeing a lot of HDR (I belong to a photo competition website) the process has lost its appeal. So many HDR images look more like gaming software computer graphics. Then I discovered a photographer’s web page (Trey Ratcliff) and I saw what HDR done well can look like. Like your photo above, the process doesn’t dominate.

    April 29, 2014
    • Trey Ratcliff is a master when it comes to HDR and is a great person to learn from. I find the same with many HDR images, they can be very loud. I like them to be more subtle. See what Trey has to say, and good luck Marie, thank you.

      April 29, 2014
  24. Great post. I have not dabbled a whole lot in HDR but its something I’d lime to try in the future

    April 29, 2014
    • It can be fun and you can get some great images, but sometimes constraint is good to apply to them as well. Thanks Nora.

      April 29, 2014
  25. lensaddiction #

    Apparently Nikon cameras offer a better range of bracketting than Canon does, My 7D only does 3 points, but I have seen a Nikon that did 5 points!!! which makes so much more sense when using HDR. In my opinion, a more natural response is gained if you have several closer together exposures rather than a few too far apart, so to achieve that I have to have a couple of goes at it and end up with too many exposures and get a bit confused :)

    I can see where HDR can add value like your indoor shot, but too many people use it all the time and with too little care and process it so that it is obvious its HDR. Not really a good thing in my opinion. I got Oloneo to process my HDR because I feel it does a much more natural effect, there is a lot of fine control in the sliders. You can go all over the top if you wish but you have to push it a long way before you get there, and I like that there is more capacity for a natural effect.

    I havent bothered much with HDR tho I am a big fan of Trey Ratcliff and was lucky enough to attend a day session in CHCH a couple of years ago where he took us through his post processing techniques and all the different software he uses, and I was interested to note that the HDR was only the beginning of his process

    Trey offers a free beginners tutorial and he also uses Photomatix – stuckincustoms.com is the link.

    April 29, 2014
    • I don’t know, my camera does up to 9 images for bracketing, is that what you mean by points? Though I usually only do 5. I tend to do the same, and will only use the images that I think I need. For the 5 images, I nearly always discard the 5th as I find it to bright and blown out.

      I agree with how people use it too much, I used to be one of them, but I really only use it now if I think it will help an image, and I do compare the HDR with a single image. I tried Oloneo once and found it to be great, but not good if all your images don’t align already. I tend to hand hold too much and so it couldn’t cope with it.

      I love Trey’s work too and he really is the master of HDR. How wonderful for you. I have watched some of his tutorials on KelbyOne, I learned a lot from them. Yes, it is only the beginning, and that is how it has been for me, it was always the first step.

      Thanks for talking about him here.

      April 29, 2014
  26. Most poorly made “HDR” makes me sick, especially the ones you simply let the computer to mix it up for you. I don’t mind the good one that is well done and look rather natural and realistic. Do whatever you will, just don’t be obvious that you’ve done something to it.

    That being said, doesn’t mean I don’t know how to do it.

    April 29, 2014
    • I think also when it comes down to it, it probably is all about taste, I feel pretty much the same as you when it comes to how they should look, but many people do like that overly done ones.
      Thanks.

      April 29, 2014
  27. As always a great post :-)
    I have been using HDR since 2010 myself and think it is wonderful. My use of it is subtle. The over processed/creative HDR has it’s place and I like it as well but it is just not my style right now.

    April 29, 2014
    • Thank you.
      I am not a fan of the overly done ones, but I do like HDR and it certainly does have a place.

      April 29, 2014
  28. I do HRD a bit, but more often than not I blend (in Photoshop) the HDR image with the best single image from the group – this give me added control so I don’t go too far and get the “bad” HDR effect. Thanks Leanne!

    April 29, 2014
    • That is the direction I am going in now, that is when I do HDR, I tend to blend it with a single image as well. I agree Robert, thanks.

      April 29, 2014
  29. I am still very new at HDR, although you can get an interesting “artistic” finish I think it has to be used like tabasco sauce, with parsimony. I really need to experiment a little with HDR and work with it. So far I noted that some light conditions will give better results at HDR than other, this is what I want to work on.

    April 29, 2014
    • The best conditions for HDR seem to be when there is a lot of contrast between light and darks, and HDR then helps to minimise that. Good luck with it Nelson. Thank you.

      April 29, 2014
  30. Leanne, I really like HDR photos and have a version of Photomatix Pro. Personally, I think the 3 bracketed shots you took turned out great! I used this featured software well many times before Lightroom 5 came along. I am always learning and trying to push my photographic skills but as a novice I certainly have so much to learn. Keep up the beautiful work you do. Stay creative.

    April 29, 2014
    • It is good learning new things, keeps your mind going and makes you experiment more. Though HDR is only one process and there are so many, and I think that is the best to think of it. Thank you John, and good luck with your HDR.

      April 29, 2014
  31. This really helped me as a beginner. I just posted a photo of a small church and used the “fake” HDR on Snapseed for iPad. I went back to it after I read this and I’m sure it’s way overdone. I think I’ll go back and see if I can edit it so I get what’s best for the subject. Thanks so much for the insight.

    April 29, 2014
    • I think it is all a learning curve Jan, and as you get better at it, you start to get more picky. I thought my first attempts were great, now I think they are horrible. Good luck Jan.

      April 29, 2014
      • Thanks so much for the encouragement. :)

        May 1, 2014
      • You are welcome. :)

        May 1, 2014
  32. HDR is a tool and a skill that needs to be used in a refined way. The best HDR images are those that don’t look like a HDR image, but just a very good exposure. The problem with a lot of HDR images is that they have just come out of the filter and the photographer has said, ok done. HDR processing is just step one then the image needs to be edited; importing exposures halos, greyness, oversaturation and uneven skies as well as noise reduction, creative sharpening and colour toning.

    I wrote a post a few weeks looking at using HDR to improve image quality, http://wp.me/p2DjHx-1aY.

    Just like you Leanne, I used to create HDR images of everything and now I bracket my exposures when I am out shooting but I don’t always create a HDR. I have HDR Efex and Photomatix. I use HDR efex for architecture shots and photomatix when I am using exposure fusion.

    April 29, 2014
    • I agree Ben, it should be considered a tool, and something that you should do if your image needs it.
      I am sure the post will be helpful to some Ben, thanks.
      Thank you Ben for your thoughts on this. I got my extension tubes today.

      April 29, 2014
      • I can’t wait to see the images you make from the extension tubes.

        April 29, 2014
      • I have to learn how to use them first Ben.

        April 29, 2014
      • I would start with a 50mm lens and a simple subject, add one tube play then add another continuing with different combinations. I also use live view to make sure all is focused.

        April 29, 2014
      • So how do you focus, I am assuming manually. I will do that Ben thanks, I will email you if I have any more questions.

        April 29, 2014
      • Yes manually, focus to infintu and the move in closer until in focus. Any questions will be welcomed.

        April 29, 2014
      • Thank you Ben, I will let you know how I go.

        April 29, 2014
  33. Hi, I like looking at your work; it is inspiring.
    I do HDR most of the time, especially for landscapes.
    I am usually shooting against the sun.
    I use Photoshop.
    I’ve been doing HDR for years; long before I knew that was what it was called.
    When I heard about the process, I was excited that it was an official practice and that other photographers do it too.
    I always shoot with manual settings on my DSLR and then I merge shots, erasing parts of them using a soft brush setting on a Wacom tablet.
    I’ve never been a fan of unprocessed images, since I don’t think the camera does half the work the photographer does.
    If we didn’t have computers, I’d be doing the same thing in the dark room.

    April 29, 2014
    • Sounds like a great way of doing it. I always bracket shots and have been doing it since I was shooting with film. Thanks for sharing how you work.

      April 29, 2014
  34. KG #

    I have recently started playing around with it. I don’t like to do HDR to all my images, except for the ones that has varied colors in it which can be little bit enhanced and may be even give a surreal quality to the image. But again I am just a novice in it so I wouldn’t know if that is the right thing to do. I do use some free versions of some softwares to play around like Luminance HDR and Photomatrix Pro.

    April 29, 2014
    • I don’t think you should do it to all images, but some do need it and benefit from it. We all start as novices and slowly we get better. Good luck with it KG

      April 29, 2014
  35. Good discussion! For me, HDR is all about trying to capture what the eye can see. Rick Sammon has called it Extended Dynamic Range. I agree with the comments about poorly executed HDR shots-ugh! I use Photomatix Pro in the default mode, but I only use three adjustments. I start with the white point and black point adjustment sliders, then I adjust the lighting slider. Then the picture is imported to LR5 and photoshop for vibrance contrast, sharpening, etc. One other tip: You do not need an equal number of exposures to the left and the right (under/overexposed) of the normal exposure. The tonal range you are trying to capture may mean that you need 5 shots underexposed and only two overexposed. In the case of trying to capture a lot of shadow detail you may introduce more noise if you use more shots then necessary. Blending an HDR picture with another picture-sure why not…whatever works!

    April 29, 2014
    • Thanks Pat, I use the default mode as well, though I play with a couple more settings as well, I don’t use equal number either, I usually use 4, is my favourite number, I usually find the 5 exposure to over exposed. Thanks for your tips Pat.

      April 29, 2014
  36. mmm, I don’t use a specific software, just a generic raw converter because I can work with just one file, and I help that hdr with physical graduated filters (a reverse grad specially) but that isn’t because I like hdr but I like to get a picture that represents what I see. But certainly it’s a bit as make-up to women if it is done in a way that hide the beauty instead of just enhance or accompany that natural beauty, well, so something went wrong.

    April 29, 2014
    • That is a great reason for doing HDR, I think it is the best reason, to do it for what your eye sees. Thanks for sharing Francis.

      April 29, 2014
  37. Interesting read (also the different comments). Photoshop has many shortcomings especially when it comes to HDR. I work with a Sony A77 camera (similar to your Nikon; in fact it’s all Sony inside a Nikon ;) ). Until recently (and still sometimes) I experiment(ed) with PhotomatixPro for HDR-processing and although it’s better than NIK-Efex, for the same reasons you mention, I’m not content about it. At this stage I’m also using Ps plug-ins of Digital Film Tools, DxO Optics Pro 9, and Capture One Pro 7. Just have to find out with which software (or combinations there-of) I can make the ‘perfect’ HDR-image. One thing I figured out already: I don’t have to merge bracketed images all the time. With some of the mentioned programs it’s possible and fairly easy to ‘enlighten’ dark areas and darken light (slightly over-exposed) areas in a single image. ….. And add detailing…

    Thanks for your posting!
    Herman

    P.S. The first images using non-HDR-specific software will appear on my blog from the midst of May. ;)

    April 29, 2014
  38. I use HDR sometimes, usually if I want something old and abandoned to look more so, or to create a more surreal effect with something. So I think I am looking at subject first, then applying the effect!

    April 29, 2014
    • That sounds like a good way of doing images Sue, that is what I do too. Thanks. :)

      April 29, 2014
      • :)

        April 29, 2014
  39. Timely post! I just came back from Cambodia and took many bracketed shots to work on my first HDR. As you mentioned it was too surreal, felt as if it was “layered” and din’t seem natural. But i guess as one refines the skill, the quality of images using the HDR technique improve.

    April 29, 2014
    • If you don’t like the surreal look I am sure you will work out how to tone it down somewhat. You do refine your skills, good luck with it.

      April 29, 2014
  40. nzsnapper #

    Fascinating post and comments, I usually end up taking bracketed shots for HDR but almost always these are now used for small parts of a finished image. HDR images can be great but you have to start with a great subject and composition.

    April 29, 2014
    • I do the same, I always do the bracketed shots, but rarely do I use the images for HDR, I am doing a lot more of what you talked about as well. That is a great point. Thank you.

      April 29, 2014
  41. I do not use HDR often. When I do, I use Photomatic or Nik. Both are easy to use.

    April 29, 2014
  42. My new compact does that burst thing sometimes in intelligent (ie automatic for lazy people like me) mode. Thanks for the explanation Leanne. I didn’t know it was called HDR but I have been pleasantly surprised by photos in extreme light/dark conditions using the feature. I can see there might be some occasions when the creative control of a single shot is more effective.

    April 29, 2014
    • I don’t know that the burst thing the compact does is the same as bracketing shots, with bracketing it changes the exposures with each image so you get over exposed and underexposed images. As I said I don’t know, but if you find it helpful, then that is wonderful. Thank you Bronwyn.

      April 30, 2014
  43. What a great conversation Leanne.
    All the input is so valuable to read.

    Ive only just started researching HDR recently. Presently Ive dabbled a little and dont like the overdone methods so usually hit the undo button.
    Must start bracketing whenever possible.
    Trialled the HDR in Topaz Adjust 5 and it seems ok. There are a few different levels, but I still havent completed one HDR image yet…. Will keep attempting here and there.

    A question if I may? Please dont laugh… :D I have no idea… : P
    “Is tonemapping HDR?” Im curious and Im sure I should know this!

    April 29, 2014
    • That is one thing I do really enjoy about these posts is the conversation.
      It is fun to play with and it is something you have to keep playing around with to get the hang of and to find out how to get the images you like. I haven’t used that software, I haven’t heard much about it either. I always use Photomatix, or HDR Efex.
      Yes tonemapping is HDR, though don’t ask me what it does, I have no idea, haha, I’m not that tech savvy I’m afraid, I just know it works.

      April 30, 2014
      • Thanks ha ha… I thought it was? :)
        I’ll work up to HDR Efex… Been looking into it myself.
        A really interesting post and discussion. Thanks Leanne.
        Feel better soon.

        April 30, 2014
      • Thanks Robyn, so many different views and ideas. :)

        April 30, 2014
  44. I make extensive use of HDR and it’s not supposed to be noticeable whether or not that is the casein the final images. For example, in my most recent post on Jain Cliff Scultures, one image is HDR: http://murrayfoote.com/2014/04/28/jain-cliff-sculptures/ You may disgree but I don;t think it’s obvious. Most of my images of Scotland that I was earlier posting and that I will return to are HDR.

    HDR shouldn’t imply lack of contrast. I’ve been doing fewer HDRs with my India images partly because I was with a tour group, taking most of my images on the fly and the Fujifilm cameras I was using have only a three stop bracketing range instead of nine for my Nikons.

    I have Photomatix but haven’t used it for a long time and didn’t find it very good for sensitive results. I also have Nik HDR Efex Pro which is OK but I mainly use SNS HDR or 32-bit Photoshop Merge to HDR Pro or manually combine different images in Photoshop using masks. I don’t usually find a need to merge an HDR image into a non-HDR image.

    April 30, 2014
    • I think the images in the post you sent are perfect examples of when to use HDR. I wouldn’t have know they were if you hadn’t said, and I think that is really good.
      I find a lot of people who do HDR’s have over saturated colours and there is no contrast in them, I’m sure you have seen images like that. You just want to say to them, but where is the black, there are no blacks in this image. There is nothing dark. I find I am doing less and less HDR these days, and I am using other things as well.
      I like Photomatix, but I am doing more and more using it and merging it with other images, just taking the best parts of the HDR. I haven’t heard of that one that you said you used. I might have to look into it. Thanks Murray.

      April 30, 2014
  45. When HDR first became popular, it seemed all the images were harsh and not realistic. I’m not a fan of that look and unfortunately, when I hear HDR that is what comes to mind. I have seen images more recently that are HDR and beautiful. LIke any processing, whether HDR, color or monochrome, everyone sees something different and not every process will appeal to every person.

    April 30, 2014
    • I am with you, I think so many are still like that. The problem is the images that aren’t like that, you don’t realise are HDR, which is really how it should be. Good HDR shouldn’t be noticeable. It should be like changing the exposure or what not. Yes, you are right there too, it is all personal taste and that is something we all have to remember I think. Me included. Thank you.

      April 30, 2014
  46. The Editor #

    You touched a very hot topic, Leanne. I probably wrote a many kilobytes of words on this subject and regarding my failure to understand, for a long time, what the HDR fuss was all about. I kept looking at images trying – and failing – to comprehend how something that was supposed to be an advance in technology aimed at overcoming the limitations of our photo sensors could, literally, ruin photographs.

    The answer was simply that a lot of people use HDR techniques, but very few are able to produce results that reflect more closely the reality or, as you put it in your post, the scene the way we see it with our eyes. Sure we can expand this discussion, it could be argued, for example, that giving this cartoon or video game look to the image was the real intention of the photographer and that his/her objective was in fact achieved.

    The end point is perhaps that photography is a form of art that uses technology as well as talent, therefore nobody can say what looks good and what doesn’t. I was recently looking at some of Matisse’s work and kept wondering who was the incredibly talented marketing genius who managed to turn him famous – but then, who am I to say that Matisse’s work simply doesn’t cut the mustard? Perhaps I simply am an incurable ignorant :-)

    Back to HDR: after a lot of experimentation and many hours spent trying to achieve results that matched as closely as possible the scenes that I was photographing, I came to the conclusion that HDR is a rather difficult technique to master. The ingredients that in my view must always be in the mix are bracketed images, a software capable of managing 32-bit files and advanced tone mapping skills. Without these three fundamental ingredients I haven’t managed to push the technique to the point where I could be happy with the results. To explain what my view of “good HDR result” is, I mean a final image that looks realistic, with colours, lights and shadows all reflecting the way the scene looked when I shot the images and, last but no less important, no halos and artifacts.

    It’s hard work and not all subjects and images are suited to go through this treatment. In fact, from the observer’s point of view, there is the issue that “fake” is not well defined either. For example, the observer that expects a photograph to be subject to the constraints imposed by the latitude typical of photo sensors and films, may find that even the best HDR image is “strange” as it doesn’t exactly look like a photograph.

    So in the end beauty really is in the eyes of the beholder and HDR is yet another way of proposing reality in its own beauty.

    April 30, 2014
    • So not a HDR fan, ;) haha, I think it has a place, but only in very specific images. Though I am tending more and more to use the part that works of the image and then merging it with single images. I think it can work, but you also have to be prepared to learn what you are doing, and I think a lot of people don’t do that. They just use the presets and tad ah, there is their image. It is quite fashionable to do HDR too I think. I can’t imagine why anyone likes the hyper real images, they are hurt my eyes, but apparently people do, I guess it is the we are all different and different things appeal to each of us.
      So yes, in the end it is in the eye of the beholder. Thanks Raul, I enjoyed your comment.

      April 30, 2014
  47. Our eyes are used to seeing life when we don’t have a camera but they are used to seeing pictures when we are looking at a 2d object on the wall or screen. Our eyes and brain have hundreds of thousands of years of developmental partnership which creates the image of the world we see. Photography only has 150 years or so of working with our brains and we have already trained ourselves to know what a “realistic” photograph looks like.
    I only use HDR on my iPhone with an app called Pro HDR. I love what it can do in awkward light situations of still subjects and the ghost images it sometimes creates of moving subjects. Otherwise I have never even tried it. I will some day but I think I am waiting for two more iterations of the technology before I sign on. I do think within 10 years or so many high end cameras will be :”Automatic HDR” because the technicians will have better learned how to “trick” our brains and we will have ten years more experience with HDR..

    April 30, 2014
    • I forgot about phone apps that do HDR, I used to have one on my phone, I must see if I can find it again.
      Really, all you want from HDR is to give you some details in the shadows, which is what your eye sees, and detail when the light is too bright, to be able to see both. Artists have been doing that for centuries, so we are used to seeing detail where our cameras can’t. I hope our camera won’t be automatic HDR, I like having the choice, and I like to make the decisions about my images, that could be horrible. Thanks Robert, lots to think about here.

      April 30, 2014
  48. In case anyone is interested, I have a different take on processing bracketed images on my post ‘You Don’t Always Need HDR Software'; here is the link http://kkeithphoto.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/you-dont-always-need-hdr-software/ .
    Recently used the same technique on my most recent post ‘Welcome Spring!.

    April 30, 2014
    • Thanks for the link KKeith, I’m sure others will find it useful.

      April 30, 2014
  49. With my D90 I also used bracketing for HDR. But, since I have my D600 I still use bracketing, but only as a backup. The sensor of the D600 is so good, that I usually only use the slightly underexposed frame and develop it by using CaptureNX2. I used to do pseudo-HDRs in GIMP as well as Photomatix. But I liked Oloneo PhotoEngine more, because it’s much easier. Unfortunately it’s not available for Mac, although they proposed it, when I bought my license (in that time I have used Win7).

    April 30, 2014
    • I am finding the same with the D800, that I rarely seem to need to do HDR now, but I still always bracket my shots. I like Oloneo, but they aren’t any good for images that aren’t perfectly aligned, I do a lot of my bracketing hand held, so much good for me. I did like it though and though it gave the most natural result. I don’t know CaptureNX2, I nearly always use the slightly underexposed image as well, I like the results it gives me. Thanks Solaner.

      April 30, 2014
  50. gtonthenet #

    HDR is, to me, a means to an end. There are times when the contrast in a scene or landscape exceeds the dynamic range of my camera. At this point, I will automatically look to capture the scene using HDR. I’ll try to use it to capture all the highlights and shadow details as I see the landscape – after all, the combination of the human eye and brain gives us a dynamic range that far exceeds that of any camera. HDR is (to me) a means of compensating for this. As for software – Nik HDR EFX Pro is my choice – I can merge a few images in a matter of minutes – it is a very easy to use application that does exactly what I want. If I can capture all the tones in a landscape in a landscape in one image – I’ll do that. If not – I’ll try HDR. it’s just another tool in the photographers toolset, to allow us to capture things the way we want to.

    April 30, 2014
    • Sounds to me that you use it HDR the way it is meant to be used, and that is pretty much what I am trying to make myself do more as well. I don’t think every image should be one anymore. I agree, it really is just another tool for us to use. Thank you.

      April 30, 2014
  51. Johann Briffa #

    Depends on the scene. I do use HDR, or rather I do take multiple shots at different exposures sometimes. But then I just blend them manually, as at least one other commenter mentioned. I find the effect comes out more natural and it lets me fine tune more easily. I can point you to a few posts where I did that, if you wish.

    April 30, 2014
    • I think other people do that Johann, they often refer to it as manual HDR, which is fine and something I really want to start doing a lot more. Thanks, you can add links if you like, would be interesting to see.

      April 30, 2014
      • Johann Briffa #

        Yes that’s it; I’ve also seen it called exposure blending. What I had in mind when I commented earlier was this interior shot of the chapel at Petworth: http://jabriffa.wordpress.com/2013/08/12/the-chapel-at-petworth-house/. I use manual blending from time to time, though generally I don’t bracket shots any more, I just manually expose for various scene elements as needed. Details on my methodology are here: http://jabriffa.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/managing-exposure/ and for other photos where I applied this just follow the tag: http://jabriffa.wordpress.com/tag/HDR/.

        April 30, 2014
      • I think that is a really good way of doing them. I would do that more, but I think you really need to use a tripod, I’m not very good at that. I should get better at that. Thanks for sending the links Johann.

        April 30, 2014
      • Johann Briffa #

        Thanks! A tripod helps, but is not essential. E.g. I did not have my tripod with me when I took the Petworth chapel images.

        As long as you can take bracketed shots without much camera or subject movement you’ll be fine. You can import the shots as different layers and align them in Photoshop (and, I’m sure, other software).

        April 30, 2014
      • Really, maybe I should try it again.
        That is true, I can see how I can do that, I might have to try it, thank you for that.

        April 30, 2014
  52. Hi Leanne. It’s one of those subjects that everyone will have a different view on and I think it should be that way! We’re all artists in our own right with our own approach to our work. Yes, sometimes I see images where I feel the HDR and some other effects are over-exaggerated but, hey, that’s just my opinion! I’m always encouraging people to experiment with their art. Your image above is a perfect example of when HDR is completely appropriate! I do often take photos, particularly B&W where I want lots of contrast with the intense darks putting emphasis on my lit subject. HDR would ruin that! Many landscapes and architectural images benefit greatly from the process though. I’ve just been teaching my partner, Simon, how to create an HDR style effect within Lightroom with single image and he’s a very happy bunny now! He’ll be playing with adjustments all night I expect :-)

    April 30, 2014
    • So very true Sarah. I couldn’t agree more with you. Thank you so much.

      April 30, 2014
      • No, thank you Leanne for another great discussion! :-)

        April 30, 2014
      • Pleasure Sarah, thanks for contributing to it, it would be boring if no one said anything. :)

        April 30, 2014
      • You always have plenty of responses Leanne and I often run out of time to get involved in the discussions! I’ve just started playing with Nik software but have a lot to discover before I feel that I could comment on its virtues. As ever, I’m learning through experimentation ;-)

        April 30, 2014
      • I understand the time issue it is hard sometimes. Nik software is good, though I tend to only use Silver Efex and Color Efex the most. Good luck with it all Sarah. :)

        April 30, 2014
      • Thanks Leanne!

        April 30, 2014
  53. In my shooting I do come across situations where the range of light is beyond the capability of a simple exposure. I will take several exposures – usually three, rarely five – a stop apart for HDR processing in PaintShop Pro. Often these will be hand-held shots. PSP does a good job of aligning them provided that I did not move laterally too much.

    Lately I have used the “pseudo-HDR” effects in such software tools as onOne Pefect Effects to bring out detail in the shadows that would look essentially black otherwise. This is not to achieve an”effect” but rather to make the resulting photo show the details in a natural way that our eyes see it. These tools do an amazing job with little effort. It could be done in Photoshop or other editors, but with much more work.

    Ludwig

    April 30, 2014
    • That sounds interesting Ludwig, I’ve been hearing so many different approaches to how people do HDR, it is quite amazing. Thank you so much for sharing what you do.

      April 30, 2014
  54. I absolutely love HDR images as long as they are still real looking. I’m not big on the ones that look too manipulated. I’m not sure I’d have the patience to try it in photoshop but it’s tempting to give it a whirl. Your result is lovely. :-)

    April 30, 2014
    • I am exactly the same Isobel, if the image doesn’t look real then I scrap it. Thank you. :)

      April 30, 2014
  55. I love natural looking shots that capture the beauty of the light. To date I have not used HDR, but am starting to just mess with it – interesting but yet to be convinced. MM 🍀

    April 30, 2014
    • I think there is a place for HDR, but not every image and these days it is becoming something I hardly do. I do find shots like night images can be so much better with HDR. Thanks MM.

      April 30, 2014
      • Thanks for that Leanne – I have taken a grand total of 3 so far (none appearing on my blog). Will have to try the night time with HDR. 👍

        April 30, 2014
      • Yes, try it out for night shots, I find it can really make them pop, though be careful with grain. Good luck MM.

        April 30, 2014
      • You are just too kind, MM 🍀

        April 30, 2014
      • That’s just the appearance I give, ;)

        April 30, 2014
  56. I rarely do HDR (although I have just posted one on my blog). I think when it’s done well and for the right subjects/situations it can look really good, but most of the time I find HDR images to look unnatural (even though the intent is usually to create a more natural-looking image) – they tend to appear over-processed, over-saturated and to be full of artefacts.

    April 30, 2014
    • I agree with everything you have said, and that is what I try to do as well. Thanks Stevie.

      April 30, 2014
  57. I love it when done with a ‘mild hand’. I find it is a great post processing tool to uncover things hidden in the shadows. I like the style so much that I have been publishing my HDR pics on both my blog and Redbubble site. Not everyone’s taste, but I especially like the atmosphere that HDR and the right filter can add to a scene.

    April 30, 2014
    • I find I am moving away from HDR more and more, and looking at other ways. I do like experimenting. Thanks Shayne.

      April 30, 2014
  58. Very nice and interesting article. I do HDR sometimes and use only Picassa (HDR-ish), so it is not a proper tools to do it actually as it cannot process for more than one photo, but I like it still.

    I would like to take at least two different shots next time and start learning to do HDR with a proper software. :)

    May 1, 2014
    • It is a fun thing to do and you can learn a lot doing HDR, so think you should give it a go and see how you go. There is some software from one company and it is called HDR DArkroom and it isn’t too expensive and not too hard to use. You can download a trial, but they will put their watermark on it for the trial, but not a bad way to try it. :)

      May 1, 2014
  59. I’ve just started experimenting with HDR and this is the best example and explanation I’ve found of it yet. Thank you. I learn so much from your posts.

    May 1, 2014
    • Thank you, I am glad you understood what I was saying. I wasn’t sure I was explaining it very well. that is great to hear.

      May 1, 2014
  60. This is too advanced for me – but the top photo, Grand Hotel – I’m not too keen on because it looks artificial, but the dinning room’s last image – really like it. What a brilliant difference.

    May 1, 2014
    • Exactly Viveka, that first photo is horrible, and that is often how HDR images come out, unfortunately. Thank you, I think there is a place for it, but it is about knowing when to use it. Like when to use the curves tool, or the levels tool. Thanks Viveka.

      May 2, 2014
      • HDR is something far over my head … *smile – If we don’t play around with our cameras … we never learn neither.

        May 2, 2014
      • So very true.

        May 2, 2014
  61. Hi Leanne! I’ve never attempted HDR and I’ve no intention of trying. To me, HDR images look false – I suppose its the one aspect of digital photography that I really don’t like. Adrian

    May 2, 2014
    • That is a very definite stand on HDR, haha, I think it can have a place, but you have to be careful with it. I think it should be used as one step, and not the only step. I am slowly seeing how I can incorporate it into images, but it shouldn’t be what defines the image. If that makes any sense. Thanks Adrian.

      May 2, 2014
  62. Ann #

    This is a great discussion! Lots of interesting ideas to try out. I have played with HDR off and on, and I’ve found that you have to really pick the right images for it and I’ve had better luck with real bracketed photos rather than one raw photo processed with multiple exposure settings (does this make sense?) I rather liked what I got on my first try, http://therepublicofann.wordpress.com/2013/12/06/playing-with-hdr/ – I was roughly following the steps outlined in http://www.dr-lex.be/info-stuff/luminancehdr.html as I was learning how to use the software.

    May 9, 2014
    • Yes, it makes perfect sense, I find the same. You are right though, you do have to have the right image, it doesn’t always work out better. I enjoy experimenting, though I don’t do much now. Thanks for the links.

      May 9, 2014

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