High Dynamic Range Photography gives you the power to produce perfectly exposed, noise-free images. You can capture and output a broader range of light than is currently possible using any other of today’s photographic techniques.
I promised to show you some high dynamic range ( HDR ) photography. Are you ready?
In order to produce a good HDR image you will need several things. First, you’ll need a high contrast scene in which you would like to capture the full dynamic range, or as close as possible. You’ll want to choose a scene without too much movement, ie. water, clouds, foliage in the wind. People are challenging to shoot for HDR images, but it can work if they stay still. You should use a tripod for the best results, hand held shots are challenging at best. Change only the shutter speed to achieve the EV’s you’re looking for. You don’t want to change the aperture because that will change your depth of field and that variable needs to be constant for your HDR image to work.
You’ll need to shoot three images, with different exposure values, although you can use less, or more images. The easiest way to do this is to use your camera’s auto exposure bracketing to capture the same image at varying exposure levels, to include all of the tones in your image. For example, use Auto Exposure bracketing to capture 3 images of a scene, one at -2EV, one at 0EV, and one at +2EV. You may need to include more exposures than this for your image. For instance, I used 4 shots to produce the image below. The images used to produce the HDR image below were shot with the following EV’s, +1EV, 0EV, -1EV, and -2EV. I found that adding a +2EV image was too much, that blew the highlights out, it really takes a judgement call as to how many images, and at what EV range you’ll need to capture the full dynamic range of your scene. I learned that sometimes less is more in this case.
Here’s the 0 EV image processed in Canon’s Digital Photo Professional software. I tried to get as close to the above exposure as possible. As you can see, no comparison.
If your camera has Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) that allows you to predefine the number of images and exposure variation for your set of images, and if your camera offers continuous shooting mode, all the better because you’ll just need to press and hold the shutter release once to shoot all the exposures for the set.
Once you’ve captured the images for your soon to be HDR image, you’ll need to combine those images into one image. You can use several different apps to do this, including; Photomatix Pro, FDR Tools, Dynamic Photo HDR, Adobe Photoshop, or Artizen HDR. Many offer free trials. Today I tried Photomatix Pro, to process my HDR images. In addition to the fact that they offer a video tutorial, I found the program to be intuitive, and it produced good results, once I figured out what each image needed. I processed various images of different exposures until I got something I liked. You do have to get familiar with the process. You get out, what you put in.
Using Photomatix Pro, I chose to generate one HDR image to begin with. It will allow you to batch process, but I’m not there yet. Producing one HDR image is easy, just press the button for one image (Generate HDR Image), a dialog box comes up allowing you to drag and drop your images, or to browse for the images you want to use to generate your HDR image. Once you’ve loaded your images, and you have chosen the appropriate options, press Generate HDR. In a few seconds, it really doesn’t take that long on a newer machine, you’ll have your results. They WILL be disappointing at first. You see, the tonal range captured is too great for your monitor or printer to render, the image has to be “tone mapped”. Photomatix Pro offers several options for tone mapping your image. One option is to use the Details Enhancer, and the other is to use the Tone Mapper. The results you achieve with each will be quite different, see below for examples. The Details Enhancer will give you a more detailed, or painterly, or even surreal version of your image. The Tone Mapper will give you a more realistic photographic effect. The one you use will depend on the effect you’re after and the image your using.
If you save your “raw” HDR image you can then process it in different ways to see which results you like the best. I’m really excited about the possibilities available to photographers with this new technology. It can only get better.
Here are some examples of today’s experiments. I call them experiments. because I believe the possibilities are endless.
By combining three different exposures in Photomatix Pro’s Exposure Fusion, I got this result. This is easier than producing an HDR image and it doesn’t require the tone-mapping step that’s necessary with a true HDR image.
This shot of Tyler was made from three exposures. The scene was backlit and very contrasty before the HDR image was produced.