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What Is HDR And How Can It Help My Digital Photography?

High Dynamic Range, Combined With Tone Mapping, Can Really Open Up Some Great Possibilities...

HDR Comparison

HDR. No, stop, don't click away! I know that high dynamic range techniques can be controversial, mainly due to the way that the extreme forms of hdr - alien skies, over saturation, halos, are more like computer generated images than real photos. But if you have a go, and take it easy, you may find that the results are pleasing to say the least.

I'm no expert, I've only been playing around with hdr for a couple of weeks, but I have been extremely impressed by the effect it can have on some images. I've found that it really makes up for any shortfalls in the quality of pictures produced by camera, and can't wait to play some more.

So what is HDR? High Dynamic Range is creating images that contain more data than normal, usually by combining three pictures. This enables you to pull out details in the darkest and brightest areas of the image, without having to resort to lots of dodging, burning, gradients, or pasting two pictures together. A HDR photo in its original form is in no way a finished product - you have to use further processing to pull out these different details, this is usually called Tone Mapping, and tools in Photoshop CS3, or the very popular Photomatix achieve this.

Another HDR comparison

What you do is take three or more pictures of the same subject, one underexposed, one overexposed, and one just right. You can use auto-bracketing on your camera if you want, or simply dial the exposure up and down using shutter speed variations. You don't even need to use a tripod, but it helps. I've been using Photomatix, and it's very good at combining images, even if the frames are slightly different or something's moved.

So you take the pics, then import them into Photomatix and ask it to tone map the resulting hdr. You then play around with the various sliders and settings to bring out the features you want.

hdr comparison 3

Of course it doesn't end with Photomatix, once you're happy, save it as a Tiff and open it up in Photoshop, or any other photo-editing program, to add your finishing touches.

It is of course debatable whether you could achieve similar results with one image, and I'm sure if you're good with Photoshop you could, but I've found HDR helps my pictures really "pop", and I've become a bit addicted. Sometimes using HDR and Tone Mapping brings out some unsuspected detail, or adds an atmosphere beyond one of the originals. I have to admit that I now take auto-bracketed shots almost every time, just to see what Photomatix will come up with.

I think that HDR really helps photographers with cheaper cameras keep up with the big boys, and also to shoot good looking images when the light isn't perfect.

Yet another hdr

I myself sometimes struggle as to whether I really like these HDR images, or if they're just a way of getting around shooting in the wrong lighting conditions with poor technique.

You need to make up your own mind up about hdr, all I will say is give it a go, and see what you can come up with, and I'll see you on Flikr.

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