Bite Size Tips: How To Use HDR Well To Enhance Your Images

HDR photography is a much-debated one in the world of photography and it has been very difficult for some photographers on deciding when to use HDR and how to create a successful HDR.

Chances are that you have at some point experimented with this technique and either liked it or hated it or it could also be that you either did it right or did it all wrong by overdoing it.

HDR photography is High Dynamic Range Photography and it is a process where you take multiple exposures (bracketed exposures) of the same scene and blend them later in a post-processing software. You will need a minimum of three exposures (one with correct exposure, one underexposed and one overexposed), but you can also create HDR from a single image which is not recommended much!

Note: Shoot in steps of 2 EV if you are doing three brackets (-2, 0, +2) or 1 EV step if you are doing five brackets (-2, -1, 0, +1, +2).

So Why HDR?

Some photographers just create HDR images for the look and feel of it, while in a real sense, photographers use this technique in situations where there is a huge variation (dynamic range) in light and tones.

In order to avoid losing details in the shadows and highlights region and to reproduce what photographers exactly saw in location, they use this HDR technique, as camera sensors just cannot reproduce this huge dynamic range.

For example in a sunset scene, if you expose for the sky, the foreground may be very dark and if you expose for the foreground, the sky may be blown out and it is in situations like these and similar others, HDR comes in handy. You need to create an image that is an exact replica of what you saw in the location for the image to be effective.

Shooting and processing HDR isn’t that tough if you practise and learn the post-processing techniques.

Image by 12019

Here Are Some Tips On Effective HDR:

For creating an effective HDR image, all you need is a camera that can shoot manual, a tripod, optional cable release, HDR processing software and a good location along with your compositional skills.

Always Use A Tripod:

With most HDR images, you’ll be creating the image by merging 3, 5 or 7 bracketed shots. Of course, the app used to create HDR images will have the capability to align the images, but you may lose important elements in the frame in this process and any inconsistencies can cause ghosting or blurry areas in the frame.

Even if you are going to be creating an HDR image from a single image, using a tripod will give you greater flexibility over composition and will help you to focus on the shot.

Moreover, landscapes are shot at low ISO and narrow apertures which will slow down the shutter speed a lot thereby requiring the camera to be on a tripod.

Image by Tobias Aeppli

Know When To Use HDR:

Sometimes photographers can go overboard and convert literally every single image they capture into an HDR image, thinking it is too surreal. As a photographer, you need to understand light and judge if the dynamic range in the image is too large to capture in a single image. In that case, bracket shots and create HDR.

Example situations are, sunrise and sunset shots, internal architecture to bring out details in the structures and the light can be too bright near open doors and window while other regions could be very dark.

Image by Depaulus

Just Recreate What You Saw:

When post-processing HDR images, simply do not stop with applying the presets that the software may have (although this can be helpful for a start), instead play around with the sliders to fine-tune the image and create an effect that suits the image; one that makes it look like how you saw it on location.

Don’t be too generous with dragging the sliders to the extreme end as these can make the image look unreal and very awkward, instead keep things to a minimum and just recreate what you saw.

Some important settings that you need to keep an eye on are strength, gamma and luminosity as these have a huge effect on your image. Remember to use different settings for different images as no two images have the same colours or dynamic range.

Image by Tim Gouw

Some more quick tips:

  1. Do not tone map an image (that is a single exposure) and call it HDR because the data from one image is not the same as data from 3 or more images.
  2. Images that have a very large dynamic range may require 5 to 7 brackets in order to be able to extract details from all points in the frame.
  3. Make sure you have a scene where elements are not moving.
  4. Keep an eye on the histogram
  5. If you have problematic areas after creating the HDR, blend it with the original image that was normally exposed and replace problematic areas with cleaner areas from an original image

If you are a fan of HDR and make HDR images quite often, what tips do you have for photographers who are just starting with HDR? Please leave your tips in the comments section below.

If you want to create stunning HDR images to wow your audience, you need to check out Jimmy McIntyre's Art of HDR Photography where you will learn to create powerful HDR images while also mastering Photomatix along the way.

Further Resources:

  1. How To Create Realistic HDR Panorama
  2. What You Did Not Know About The Story Of HDR Photography
  3. How To Do HDR Photography – Gear And Process
  4. HDR Tips: Getting The Dynamic Range In Your Shots
  5. 10 Common HDR Photography Mistakes And How To Avoid Them
  6. Capture All The Details Of A Scene Using HDR

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About the author

Dahlia Ambrose

Dahlia is a physicist and self taught photographer with a passion for travel, photography and technology. She can sometimes get obsessed trying new photography techniques and post processing styles using Lightroom or Plugins in Photoshop. She occasionally writes articles on topics that interest or provoke her. You can check out her photography on Instagram, 500px and Flickr


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