This Is How HDR Photography Works: A Complete HDR Photography Guide

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 In the last few years, DSLR cameras have added an automatic function that we are already familiar with from our smartphone cameras.

We're talking about HDR Photography mode. HDR stands for "High Dynamic Range" and in this article I would like to go into this special type of photography in more detail.

This Is How HDR Photography Works: A Complete HDR Photography Guide

This Is How HDR Photography Works: A Complete HDR Photography Guide

What does dynamic range mean?

In photography, dynamic range is the range of differences in brightness in an image. The larger this is, the more details can be displayed in the dark and light areas of an image. The problem is, even the sensors of modern digital cameras have a smaller dynamic range than our eyes.

empty street dim white light | HDR Photography

Nature vs. technology

Perhaps you've noticed this before. You walk the streets at lunchtime in sunlight and although there are areas of dark shadows and bright sunlight you can still make out details in these areas. They don't appear black or white to us. If we were to take a photo of such a scene, our camera would expose either the dark or the light areas correctly. Or anything in between. The dynamic range of the human eye is indicated with approx. 20 f-stops. For comparison: with a modern DSLR camera, depending on the model, it is only about 10-14 f-stops. Even if we record in RAW format (which has a higher dynamic range than JPEG), we cannot depict some scenes as our eyes see them.

High dynamic range

To increase the dynamic range of photos, there is the technique of HDR photography. Several photos are simply taken with different exposure (-> exposure series) and these are then offset with the appropriate software. In the meantime, this function is also available as an automatic function on many cameras, i.e. the camera processes the images independently. For most models, however, this only works in JPEG format, the results are halfway usable, but cannot keep up with external RAW processing.

How do I take a manual HDR recording?

Before we start post-processing, we first have to take our pictures. Since we are taking multiple photos of the same scene, a tripod is essential. If our image section were to change during the recording, this would later lead to ghost images.

Once we have focused our camera firmly on a subject, we can now take our pictures. Instead of taking a series of photos with different exposures ourselves, we can also let our camera do this automatically. Where the corresponding function is hidden and what it is called naturally depends on the manufacturer. Canon calls Beli.korr./AEB (Automatic Exposure Bracketing) , Nikon Bracketing . The best thing to do is to look in the manual for your camera and look for something like HDR, bracketing or bracketing. But watch out that you don't end up with the automatic HDR calculation again!

Once you have found the appropriate function, you can specify the number of shots and set their exposure. For example, we can define 3 shots, whereby one is correctly exposed (+/- 0 EV), one is underexposed by 1 f-stop (-1 EV) and the last is overexposed by 1 f-stop (+1 EV) (Fig. 1). To do this, we only have to press the shutter release button once, the camera does the rest (Fig. 2). A remote release * or the camera's internal self-timer can also be used to prevent camera shake.

3 differently exposed photos | HDR Photography
After pressing the shutter button once, the camera now automatically shoots 3 differently exposed images.

The settlement of the individual recordings

Special software is required to offset the recordings with one another. Fortunately, there are now many different choices on the market, both commercial and free. I just want to briefly discuss two programs here.

Since version 6 / CC, Adobe Lightroom has also been able to process HDR images (Fig. 3). The nice thing is, Lightroom creates a .DNG file from the images. This is Adobe's own RAW format, so we can process our HDR image as we are used to. Google's Nik Filter Collection also has an HDR module (HDR Efex Pro 2 - image 4), which has a number of presets and is now free of charge. Most other programs work similarly to HDR Efex Pro 2 or Lightroom. You select the appropriate images and then land in an editing module. The term tonal value compression is important here. Because the high contrast range of our HDR images can unfortunately not be displayed on our monitor. The programs compress the HDR images again to form an LDR image (Low Dynamic Range). I have a very hereFound a detailed blog on this topic, where the technology is presented again in detail and post-processing is also shown as an example.

With the HDR technology one can achieve very different image looks (image 5). In general, you should try to achieve a natural image look, because the effect can also be exaggerated very easily, which then leads to unrealistic and extremely high-contrast images.

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Exposure blending

Another method to combine multiple images is exposure blending. Several images with different exposure are opened as layers in Photoshop and then brushed into one another with the help of masks. Each level remains intact and can be edited according to your own taste. However, the whole thing requires a certain Photoshop knowledge and of course also takes a little more time.

Overall it can be said that HDR photography is an interesting method of photography, but cannot be mastered without a certain understanding of digital image processing. And the finished HDR images from the automatic camera are often no better than a single, well-edited RAW image.

Finally, a small software list:

• Google Nik Filter Collection HDR Efex PRO (free)

• Luminance HDR (free)

• Traumflieger DRI tool (free)

• Photomatix Pro

• Adobe Lightroom 6 / CC

• Affinity Photo

• Aurora

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If you need more product HDR Photography tips you can check out this article:

Or you can simply watch this video:

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