Lately, I’ve been having fun teaching myself new photographic techniques and practising some that I learned a while ago. I’ve been playing around a bit with HDR (high dynamic range) photography to see what I can do and what I think of it.
I won’t talk here about how to make HDR images — there are lots of good tutorials you can find using Google. Here’s one that’s pretty straightforward. Yes, you do need special software to combine the exposures. I use Photomatix Pro. Photoshop can also do HDR but I’ve never been able to get good results with it.
Here is a recent image of Hutchinson Island beach at sunrise made with three exposures, two stops apart. I was quite pleased with it. The technique did a good job of capturing the scene with all its inherent drama.
Not everyone loves HDR images. We’ve all seen some poorly done and pretty aggressive uses of HDR with unnatural and psychedelic colours. I’m not fond of these, personally. But I’ve also seen many images that use HDR to enhance an image and make it look more like what the eye saw at the scene. Done well, even the more extreme applications of HDR can be beautiful and pleasing to the eye and can convey artistic visions that stop you in your tracks.
Check out Toad Hollow Photography for some great examples of HDR and some useful tips and tricks.
The fact is that no matter how expensive your camera is, it’s just not as good as the human eye. Our eyes are able to look around us and simultaneously see the detail in dark areas as well as bright areas. This is called “dynamic range,” and our eyes have a lot more of it than any camera (11 to 14 stops versus 4 to 6 stops for a camera.)
Your camera has to meter a scene, which means it picks a part of the image and tries to expose it correctly (not too dark and not too bright), and trusts that the rest of the picture will adjust accordingly.
That’s why, after you shoot a high contrast image, it can be disappointing. It doesn’t capture the scene the way you remembered it. The highlights are blown out or the shadows have no detail.
A couple of weeks ago, we were over at a relative’s house at dusk. The sun was setting in the west (to the left of the image) and the whole scene looking out over the lagoon and into the waterway beyond had a magical look to me. People in the surrounding houses has started to put their indoor and outdoor lights on and they were illuminating the water. A heavy, dark cloud cover was coming toward us, adding drama to the scene. The water was glowing.
I knew from experience that a straight shot wouldn’t capture the true beauty of the scene as I was experiencing it. So I shot three exposures, using my bracketing function and a tripod to keep things still.
It’s when you import the shots into Photomatix that you have all the creative decisions to make. You can be as conservative or as crazy as you like playing with the sliders. I tried to remain as true to what I saw as I could.
Then, the other night, we were having dinner with a friend by the pool. The water was a beautiful shining turquoise colour against an ink blue sky and the palms were illuminated. I tried another set of brackets.
And then I turned my attention to the palms and their reflections in the canal and the Manatee Pocket at night. I find HDR opens up a lot of possibilities for capturing images at night.
I have lots more experimenting to do with HDR and plenty of work ahead to refine my techniques, but I’ve come to the conclusion that HDR is worthwhile to pursue. This is just the beginning…
What about you? Have you tried HDR? What do you think of it?