HDR Imaging – An Introduction

Over the past number of years a tremendous amount has been written about HDR imaging and the state of the art has evolved at a rapid pace.  This blog contains some of my thoughts about this topic, some of the work that I have done in HDR and a tip or two.

First off, what is HDR? High Dynamic Range photography is a combination of photographic and editing techniques for extending the dynamic range of luminosity of an image.  What this means in real-world terms is that some of the darker parts of a scene can be treated with more light and some of the brighter parts can receive a bit less light, so that the overall effect results in a more complete viewing experience of the scene when processed.

A view over the Connecticut River at Turner's Falls.
A view over the Connecticut River at Turner’s Falls.

The concept of extending the dynamic range covered in an image is not as new, as you might think: in the 1850s, French photographer Gustave LeGray combined multiple negatives of sea and sky to create seascapes that are stunning to behold with dramatic skies.  Significant additional developments were made in the 1930s and 1940s through manual dodging and burning (increasing and decreasing of exposure) of areas in a negative to create a more dramatic print; Ansel Adams was a true artist in this process, as can be seen in many of his famous landscapes.

The advent of massive processing power in desktop computers combined with Digital Photography has created a new level of interest, which has allowed many photographers to capitalize on some of the algorithmic advances that have been made in the 1980s and 1990s in image processing.

Cape Neddick, ME, is the location of Nubble Light an oft-photographed landmark.
Cape Neddick, ME, is the location of Nubble Light an oft-photographed landmark.

At this point in time, there are also numerous cameras available, which do the HDR processing on-the-fly, taking multiple images and combining them into a single HDR image with preset processing settings.

As touched on earlier, the HDR process extends the dynamic range of luminosity in an image; this enables us to bring the range of image capture somewhat closer to that available in the human eye.  Camera sensors have gotten better over the past years, so that the range of the camera’s sensor starts to rival that of the human eye, which may lead one to think that the need for HDR is diminishing.  This definitely is true from the perspective of being able to ‘see’ as much as the human eye with the camera.

The fair bathroom is a piece of Americana that looks best in the early morning hours.
The fair bathroom is a piece of Americana that looks best in the early morning hours.

From my point of view, there is no diminished reason to use HDR imaging, as there are several benefits to working with HDR that cannot be achieved easily through other means, such as:

  • The setting of very specific moods within the image.
  • Creating that dramatic sky, which Gustave LeGray was after
  • Surreal, hyper-realism

There definitely are other great reasons for HDR, but these are some of my personal favorites.  I have included a couple of samples from my work with HDR in this post to give a bit of flavor.

I mentioned tips in the beginning of this post, so here are a couple from my experience with HDR:

  • Bring a tripod!  It will make your processing work that much easier later – the Cape Neddick image was shot free-hand with the camera on HDR, so it is possible)
  • If possible, meter the light, so that you can set your bracketing up correctly for a good range.  As a rule of thumb, I use -2, -1, 0, +1 and +2 for my exposure values in a range of 5 shots; more or less will work, depending on the scene.
  • Have a vision of what you want to achieve with your shot, before you process it.  Aimless HDR processing is never very fruitful, regardless of the quality of the software; with a vision in mind, you will know when you have arrived at the sweet spot of your endeavor.
  • Experiment!  Not every image will make a great HDR image, which can only be found out through experimentation.

And, of course, most importantly, have fun when working your images.  You’re not going to convince everyone that you did the right thing when processing your ‘killer’ image, but, if you’re happy with the end result, you can smile despite what someone else says about it.

Author: jansenphoto

A Fresh Perspective Photography is more than just a vehicle for capturing the world around me; it provides me with a palette and a set of brushes, with which I paint not only what I see, but also look to express the emotions that are evoked by the scene in front of me in that moment. Growing up in the Netherlands exposed me to a wide cross-section of visual arts that laid the foundation of my photographic view of all that surrounds me. Early influences were the Dutch Masters of the 17th century, to whom I was introduced by my grandfather during museum explorations; favorites among them are the scenes of quotidian life depicted by Jan Steen and Frans Hals and the vivid landscapes of Jacob van Ruisdael. My classical high school education was supplemented by the Boijmans Van Beuningen museum, where I spent many a lunch hour exploring its great collection. Here I was introduced to surrealism with a particular love for the approach taken by Salvador Dali; Dali also rekindled my appreciation for the work of Hieronymus Bosch, who often showed the folly of us mortals. Universal Connections My approach to any photographic subject is to look for understanding first; in this I look to establish either a connection between the viewer and the subject or capture the connection of the subject with its surroundings. The captured image then aims to portray this connection from a perspective that is part of my personal interpretation. This interpretation is often a form of externalized introspection, which may alternately display the connection of isolated beings and items with their environment or highlight the whimsy of the profound world, in which we find ourselves. The universe is full of connections, many of which are waiting to be discovered; part of my journey as a photographer is to document these connections. Any assignment, be it an event, a product shoot or a portrait session is always approached through communication with the client; this is where the first connection is established. Ideas are exchanged and a collaborative plan of action forms, ultimately resulting in a set of images that aim to exceed the expectations of each client. And, lest we forget, it is important to have fun while practicing the serious business of photography!

4 thoughts on “HDR Imaging – An Introduction”

  1. Frank: Nice dramatic results! Did you combine 5 shots for your cape neddick and bathroom shots, or did you select a smaller number of exposures from the five originals?

    thanks
    -John

    1. Hi John,

      thank you! The number of originals in these images varies, as they were shot with different cameras. Both the Connecticut River and Bathroom shots used 5 originals, whereas I used 3 in the Cape Neddick shot. The latter was done hand-held with my Canon 5D MkIII, which grabbed the 3 in one fell swoop; the processed image was not the one that Canon came up with 🙂

      Be well,

      Frank

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