Yes my friends, this is my HDR photo of the Reflecting Pool which is located between the Lincoln Memorial (Look close. You’ll see it way back there) and the WWII Memorial in Washington DC. Sure it’s not what you would expect but it will be nice when they’ve completed construction (or reconstruction?).
My real intention in this post is to kind of challenge the idea that truly realistic High Dynamic Range (HDR) photographs can be achieved with a single image. As you’ll see, raw images have enough data to get pretty close. I think I’ve read that there can be a latitude of up to 5 ev with raw images. But, even with that, I have to really increase my post-processing effort to even come close to the results that can easily be achieved by using five or more images that are shot at 1 ev intervals. I hope that makes sense to you.
- Through the Fence – Singe Image HDR Balancing Act
I’ll now compare a single shot of this image (the middle of the brackets) showing my starting point on the left and what it looks like after tone mapping on the right. I had to do lots of adjustments in Photoshop Camera Raw to produce the starting image.
I’m thankful that Adobe Photoshop is such a powerful tool. The clouds needed burning in at the shadow areas and the dirt areas and trees were warmed up with Hue/Saturation. The sky was also darkened a little using Hue/Saturation.
The hardest thing to achieve when simulating HDR (pseudo-HDR) with a single image like this is to get a good balance with highlights and shadows. After doing the Shadows/Highlight balancing act, I had to work each area individually to get this result. This single image approach takes much more work to get the balance that comes automatically when multiple exposure images are combined.
- Through the Fence – Let’s Take Five
So, why do multiple image, true HDR? I hope you’ll see why with the photos below. This before and after Tone Mapping was produced with five images that were exposed 1 stop apart from -2 to +2 ev. The first image is what came out of Nik HDR Efex Pro without any post processing; just the combined shots.
Right off the bat, you can see a smoother tonal blending between the light and shadow areas. There actually is more depth in the shot since it looks more realistic than the single image example. After all, the camera can’t record what our eyes naturally see, with only one exposure.
The tone mapped, messed with image on the right has even more depth since the highlight and shadow areas have retained much more detail. And I’m sure that those of you who have used the HDR tools can see where I’ve enhanced certain areas for a more dramatic effect. Like the foreground areas; more structure and color tones; warmer yellow and red. And since it’s rare that we actually see total black and total white in nature, I’ve left those out. (Well maybe the fence and a couple of really dark spots.)
True multiple image HDR is the best simulation of what we actually see. But, the best visual end result, either true HDR or pseudo-HDR, can only be determined by personal choice.