HDR, okay…So what is it?

I’ve mentioned HDR, but given it’s relative nascence in photography, compared to exposure zoning developed by Ansel Adams or the contemporary flash setups in studios… okay you know what? Photography does not have to be complicated. I sure wouldn’t be able to pull it off if it was inherently so. The whole reason people are passionate about photography or the visual arts in general is ultimately for that end result payoff. The moment immortalized in your medium where your hard work, regardless of skill shows something new, inspiring, evocative, or just cool. HDR is a tool that is fast becoming a part of the casual set’s repertoire (just look at the iphone 4’s built in camera feature; although that can be debated). Regardless of what is still not understood, right now, HDR images can be the thing to make pictures that much more desirable.

So it’s totally self explanatory?

Well, no. HDR is not snap and go. There is more than one way to go about it, but the most used technique is the 3-5 exposure method. In other words, you would stabilize your camera (traditionally on a tripod) point it at something interesting, with many colors, textures, shadows, angles, etc. and take three to five shots of the same subject with different exposure levels. This is called exposure bracketing and it is essentially allowing you to take accentuated shots of the darker, mid, and lighter tones in your picture respectively. Here is an example of a bracketed set of pictures:

The numbers in red represent the value of the exposure for each shot. The “EV” stands for “Exposure Value”. The “0” would mean that is the best exposure measured by my camera for the light in the photo. In other words, without HDR, this is what my final shot would look like. It’s shadowy, and has no detail and has a gigantic red “0” on it. In other words, I rate it “meh”. The -2 EV and +2 EV mean that it is above and below two stops from the “0” exposure, or how much light is allowed to hit the camera’s image sensor. As you might guess, different detail are, again, accentuated with each exposure. -2 has bluer skies and shadowier clouds. +2 shows details in the trees and the colors of the house. These details would be described as the dynamic ranges of the photographs. The higher the dynamic range, the more detail the photograph has. When we merge these photos in post, we can pull out the wanted details of each EV and apply them to create our HDR image. Here is the finished HDR photo created from the three above:

A marked improvement over any of my original photos. HDR pulled off what the camera could not and came much closer to the way your eyes would see a scene like this. It is possible to “overcook” HDR images and have them look psychedelic which is what some people go for and not to my aesthetic, but look – I am definitely not here to tell anyone how to make an interesting piece of art or that there is a wrong way to go about it. I won’t get into the specifics of processing because there are people that can do that much better than I can. But I urge you to try it and see how your pictures can turn out. Here’s a tip though. Don’t do people. Unless you are going for a see-every-pore and wrinkle-look, your subject may not be too impressed with your newfound aesthetic. Landscapes work beautifully and certain animals so long as they stand still.


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