HDR photography can seem like a confusing subject for people but it’s actually a simple concept that you can understand in minutes. So let’s start with the basics. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, or in plain English, a big difference between the brightest and darkest parts of an image or scene. When people talk about HDR photography what they are usually talking about is a method used to overcome the problems of trying to take a photo of a scene with a lot of very bright and dark areas.
Cameras don’t have the same capabilities as our eyes to process such a great range of brightnesses. Below is an image that has some dynamic range issues.
See how the window is overexposed to pure white and there are many black areas in shadow. The camera doesn’t have the ability to handle such a great range of bright and dark. You could choose a higher or lower exposure to make the image brighter or darker but you would just be making the image overly bright or dark. Below is the same image overexposed.
Now we’ve fixed the dark areas but the image is so bright we can’t even see some of the pot plants, let alone the window.
To fix this we use HDR photography. Some cameras will have an HDR option but many others will do what is called bracketing. Bracketing is simply telling the camera to take multiple different exposures of the same shot. We take some bracketed shots, usually between 3 and 7, and then merge all the best parts of each image together using specialist software. Some cameras will do this merging inside the camera, but that doesn’t give you much control over the image.
Let’s take a look at the merged image once it’s been processed. I used a software called HDR Darkroom.
So we get a nice balanced image without blown highlights or crushed shadows. To get the image looking like this it did take a bit of work in the HDR software. HDR photography has a bad name among many photographers, including me, because of how some people choose to edit their images. Let me show you an extreme example of what i’m talking about.
Ha ha, disgusting! But you still see photography with this kind of effect all over photography websites and magazines. Please don’t do this, it’s the Comic Sans of photography and it’s embarrassing. The effect that is mostly responsible for this eye-crime is called Tone Mapping. Just turn it down to 0% or thereabouts and never go back!