HDR – shooting and editing techniques

HIGH DYNAMIC RANGE (HDR)

In the last post we discussed how HDR techniques can be used to reveal the details in highlights and shadows by using the HDR setting on the camera or by editing the image in various types of software. To be honest we only really scraped the surface of this vast topic.

HDR photos were really fashionable a few years ago and we saw many photographs that had been over processed (overcooked), resulting in garish, unrealistic images. As with many fads, things calmed down after a while and photographers are using HDR effects more subtly and realistically.

One method of getting a good dynamic range in photos, especially landscapes where it can be hard to expose for both the bright sky and the land, is to use an HDR technique of blending several different images taken at different exposures. Here’s a quick outline of what you need to do:

  • Use a tripod to guarantee that each picture is identical other than the exposure.
  • Use the Auto Exposure Bracketing setting to take several photographs. The usual number is 3 or 5.
  • Alternatively you can take a number of pictures setting the exposure yourself. The tricker the light conditions the more you should take and the more accurate the results you will get.
  • You need to use editing software like Photoshop Elements, Photoshop or PhotoMatix to combine the images. You have the option to merge a number of images automatically or to merge them yourself in layers, by masking off areas.

OK I have to admit I’ve never actually merged images in this way before and I might give it a go this summer, but frankly it all seems like a lot of work and it’s not really my thing. If, however, it sounds like it might be yours, then there are lots of tutorials online – here’s one that positions itself as for beginners…I’m not convinced about that!

Personally I would rather aim to get the exposure as good as I can in camera and shoot in RAW, may be cover my options by doing a few different exposures, and then select the best one to edit. RAW files contain enough information to allow me to recover the highlight and shadow details later.

Let’s take a look at a sunset that I photographed on the Isle of Lewis this time last year.

So when I shot the image I knew it would need some editing afterwards but I had exposed correctly for the brightest area which was also the focal point. It was a pretty easy job to lighten the shadows in Adobe Camera Raw and then lift a few more specific areas in Photoshop Elements. If you haven’t tried it yet, you literally paint light or dark where you need it. There’s slightly more to it than that but not much.

The good news for people who don’t use Photoshop / Elements or Lightroom: you can do this in the Snapseed app! Of course you don’t get the same level of subtlety and control but you can brush on light and dark with your finger. I use the Brush tool and the Exposure effect. Enlarge the image to do it more accurately. Alternatively try the HDR effect but don’t overdo it!

 

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