HDR Imaging – What Is It

A lot has been written about HDR Photography in recent years.  Many photographers have become quite prominent using HDR techniques. Having used Adobe Photoshop for quite a while, I became intrigued with using my old, trusted tool for High Dynamic Range photography. And since starting my exploration into HDR imaging, I’ve also incorporated Nik software into my processing work flow.

This definition from Wikipedia gives a brief overview of HDR or HDRI:  “High dynamic range imaging (HDRI or just HDR) is a set of techniques that allow a greater dynamic range between the lightest and darkest areas of an image than current standard digital imaging techniques or photographic methods. This wide dynamic range allows HDR images to more accurately represent the range of intensity levels found in real scenes, ranging from direct sunlight to faint starlight, and is often captured by way of a plurality of differently exposed pictures of the same subject matter.”  For more information, please check out the full article or just go to the web and search for “HDR photography techniques” for more than enough information.

Some have mentioned that the ultimate HDR expressions are achieved with software specifically designed with a unique approach to digital imaging.  That usually refers to specific tone mapping algorithms that have been developed to give an image a look that is not quite realistic.  But, by using a more conservative approach, extremely realistic images can be produced; images that portray reality much better than straight, right out of the camera photos.

I have been using various techniques and have found that, despite what some purists say, very acceptable, well balanced HDR images can also be produced with only one raw image. It’s almost like using a well exposed negative and using dodging and burning techniques in a darkroom – A reference to the old days. :-)

I am currently shooting camera raw images with .5 to 1 f stop (ev) ranges between shots.  I have used up to 9 images, 4 evenly spaced below normal exposure and 4 above with interesting results.  But, the 3 shot technique that most photographers use, seems to work well also. For most of my work, I prefer using 5 or 7 images to get slightly smoother tonal variations.

This is a simple example of a 3 image, realistic High Dynamic Range photograph. Yes, the color is that intense. The HDR technique allowed me to maintain lots of shadow detail and left enough highlight and shadow to manipulate the final results for a well balanced image.

The image below was created with nine exposures at .5 ev increments from -2 to +2 ev. Notice the very smooth tonal presentation.

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2 thoughts on “HDR Imaging – What Is It

  1. Edith Levy

    Wonderful post and images Mark. I find that when I shoot handheld there are times where I’ve moved the camera slightly and the images don’t line up properly. In thoses cases I have tonemapped 1 RAW file and the results have been acceptable.

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