Photographing a high-contrast scene can be really frustrating when the pictures you just snapped don’t do much justice to the subject. However, you shouldn’t worry much about it as most photographers deal with this problem every now and then. Despite the fact that it’s almost impossible to capture the best photographs under these circumstances, there is a solution: HDR processing.
What is HDR
High Dynamic Range (HDR) is a dynamic range that is found in the difference between the lightest shade of whites and the darkest shade of blacks. Through HDR, you can recreate the subtle layers of whites and blacks in your photos as they are seen by the naked human eye in real life. Without a proper dynamic range, photographs tend to look over or under saturated. Despite running into complications while taking photos that truly capture both ends of this spectrum, photographers have now found ways to deal with it. In simple words, this is what HDR generally is. It’s the perfect solution to the high-contrast issue that almost every photographer has to deal with at some point.
How it Works
If you want to talk about HDR at the most basic level, then it’s really a set of photos that are taken at different exposure levels.
When mashed together using a software, these photos look very high quality with vivid life-like colors. Although it’s a bit more complicated that than but just to give you a gist of how things work, this is pretty much it.
Technically, the photographer has to take a range of bracketed photos (photos of the same subject/scene). These bracketed photos have different shutter speed/aperture combinations which are distinct from one another. This results in an image that has varying luminosity and depth of field – giving it an exemplary look photographers usually strive for.
However, the real part comes right after the photos have been composed. With the help of post-processing software such as Photoshop, Lightroom or Aurora HDR software (this is what we prefer using), the photos are blended together to create a single image which is more focused, well-lit and reveals the intricate layers of colors found in the actual scene. Here is how it looks:
How to Create an HDR Image
Here are a few things you need to know before you head out to create HDR images that are mind boggling and awe-strikingly beautiful:
Choosing a Camera
Choose a camera that has an AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing) function. Although this isn’t 100% necessary, it can make it very hard to line up all the pictures perfectly without this feature. AEB allows the camera to quickly take three to nine photographs so that they come out sharp and distinct.
Today, almost every DSLR camera has this function but some compact cameras don’t. So be careful if you’re looking to buy a camera specifically for HDR photography. We recommend buying an entry-level DSLR camera which would be well worth the investment.
Take Shots of Immovable Subjects
HDR isn’t meant for objects that move since it’s a mixture of multiple photos and exposures. In the end, you’ll have a blurry image which doesn’t look as appealing as it should. Unless you have a high-end DSLR with higher shutter speeds and a good source of light, you won’t get the desired effect. This is why it’s better to choose a scene that does not dramatically shift in a 10 second period – the less the better.
Keep an Eye Out for High Contrast Scenes and Subjects
Believe it or not, but one of the best HDR photographs are taken by looking at the contrast between light and dark areas of a subject or scene. Finding these spots using your naked eye can be a little daunting at first but in the end, it definitely pays off.
Higher contrast scenes or subjects product better dynamic range which yields a superior HDR photograph. These shots are also the ones that benefit the most from HDR post-processing since the software is able to work with more pixels.
Always Try to Shoot in RAW
Shooting in RAW format is one of the best ways to allow the camera to process the image better which results in improved post-processing. This is because RAW is a lossless format whereas other formats such as JPEG undergo heavy compression which leads to a loss of detail in your photos.
Post-processing software requires data to provide better HDR photographs – the more you feed it (with data), the better the image would be in the end. Since shooting RAW images takes a bit longer for your camera to process and write, we recommend buying a Class10 memory card that helps reduce the time it takes to store RAW images.
Post-Process the Image(s)
Now it’s time to do the actual legwork that brings HDR images to life. For Mac users, we recommend everyone to use Aurora HDR, a software by Skylum that has been frequently used by professional photographers such as Matt Granger, Richard Harrington, Trey Ratcliff etc. But if you don’t use a Mac then go for Lightroom by Adobe. It’s much easier than Photoshop and would suffice for creating HDR images.
Of course, if you feel you can handle the power Photoshop, go for it!
Remember, these tips are not a strict set of rules that you absolutely have to follow. Instead, it would benefit you to pay heed to this advice and we recommend you not to impede on your artistic impulses. Instead, experiment and play around with your photographs. This is what has made other photographers prestigious in their work as they always invent new ways to shoot. Happy shooting!