HDR Photography Explained: Learn the Secrets of the Masters

Illustration for article titled HDR Photography Explained: Learn the Secrets of the Masters

You've probably seen a few of those seemingly-impossible high dynamic range (HDR) photos. They reveal magnificent details by combining a series of differently-exposed pictures of exactly the same subject, using image editing applications such as Adobe Photoshop CS2 to bring out the highlights, midtones and shadows.


Get in on this specialized style of photography with help from a $7.99 58-page PDF by Jack Howard entitled HDR: An Introduction to High Dynamic Range Photography. Here's how to get it, along with some free alternatives and helpful links:

Howard's PDF book looks like a great place to start, or you can just search the web and find lots of free tutorials on how to shoot and edit HDR photos, lens to screen. To get you started, here's the HDR group on Flickr, and here's a good HDR tutorial. Go ahead, violate that large-scale tonal hierarchy.

HDR: An Introduction to High Dynamic Range Photography [O'Reilly, via boing boing]

HDR: High Dynamic Range Photography [Cambridge in Color]



@bandit: I'm glad you put that "more accurate" in quote since I never said that. The point you bring up has been the subject of endless discussion over the years. Just how do we see? Yes, our eyes adjust dynamically to the light. However, we don't see everything at once. To adjust for the bright parts, we look at the bright parts and see them; at that moment, we don't see what's in shadow. And vice versa. In that sense, photography that employs a long tonal scale at the expense of detail at the extremes of that tonal scale is, indeed, more accurate in that it more accurately reflects our natural ability to see a scene *as a whole.*

HDR takes a different tack. It allows us to render on the page every part of the scene as if we were looking at that part, only. There's detail everywhere *at the same time,* something our eyes cannot achieve in real life. We've now moved from recordation to interpretation in a sufficiently strong way that we've entered the realm of the mind, not the eye. That's not a bad thing but it's generally not the way I want to see things. Thus, my reactions to HDR have been pretty negative.

Over the last few hours since I wrote my first post, I've been thinking about when, in the past, I've encountered a situation that would have called for HDR techniques. To my surprise, I've thought of a few. Many years ago, when nudes were what floated my boat, I did some testing in a dim barn. The place was rough and atmospheric, a wonderful contrast to smooth, light skin, if I could just pull it off. I shot some tests with various light colored, textured objects and eventually reached the conclusion that if I trucked in ton of lighting euipment and several assistants to hold reflectors, I might be able to bring up the ambient light level to a shootable degree so that I could see detail and still maintain the mood. The problem was that I would then lose the arresting "pop" between light skin and the rough surroundings. Worse, I ran the risk of completely blowing out the skin texture. Ultimately, I dropped the project. I didn't have enough lighting equipment to do a Playboy style shoot and wasn't willing to rent what I needed because I decided I was in over my head.

I would like to see HDR in a situation like that. I notice that the "pop" I was looking for all those years ago seems to be preserved in these photos even though the tonal scale looks all wrong to me. There's something to this HDR stuff and I get more interested the more I look. I think I'd prefer to experiment with something other than landscapes, but I may wind up experimenting, nonetheless. If I had to bet, I'd bet that I'll wind up treating this the same way I treated infrared back when I fiddled with it - interesting and educational, but ultimately not for me.

Still, does anyone know where I might find some HDR shots of environmental nudes? Shooting nudes always inspires me to give a fair chance to a new technique.