HDR Tutorial

What is HDR

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range photography.

Since the human eye can perceive a greater dynamic range than is possible with a camera, HDR is a technique to create a photo that can show a greater range of light than would be possible with a single photograph.

– Human Eye   :       24   f-stops

– DSLR’s  :                 5 – 10   f-stops

– Film Camera  :     8 -12   f-stops

HDR photography is an attempt to capture this greater dynamic range by taking several exposures at different brightness levels and then combining them together.

So these three photographs,

-2 ev (underexposed)
normal exposure
+2 ev (overexposed)

can be combined into this.


The HDR Photo as can be seen has a lot more dynamic range compared to the single normal exposure. The darker and lighter parts of the photo have a lot more detail.

What you need

1. Camera in (A)perture priority or (M)anual mode – so the depth of field does not change while taking the photos.

Aperture Priority Mode

2. Bracketing turned on to 3, 5 or 7 shots – depending on the light.

3. Lowest possible ISO – HDR photos can get very noisy on conversion.

4. Tripod – for the reasons above.

5. Preferably shoot RAW – but this is not essential.

6. Adobe Photoshop or Photomatix Pro or any other software which allows you to combine images to produce an HDR.

My personal preference is Photomatix, a superb software which is easy to use and produces exceptional results.




How Photomatix Works:

Take 3 to 5 photos of a scene in Aperture priority mode such that the photos together gather all the details in the darkest places as well as the lightest places in a scene.

Open all the photos in Photomatix. Make sure the ‘Align photos’ and ‘Crop aligned’ options are checked. ‘Reduce noise and chromatic aberrations’ should also be checked.

Experiment with the settings to find what works best for you.

Press OK, let the software do its magic and you see an initial tone mapped image.

There are lots of different options and combinations to play with but I personally prefer either the ‘Balanced’ or ‘Neutral’ options for a realistic look in Photomatix 5.

Click Process and your image is ready.

As a final step, I usually apply some sharpening and tonality changes in Photoshop to get to a final image.

Single Shot HDR:

You can create an HDR from a single shot too. Open the photograph in Adobe Camera Raw, and using the exposure slider create 3 or 5 different files with different exposure settings. Then just proceed as you would to create a normal HDR.

Bad HDR – What to Avoid:

1. Avoid Halos

There is a clear halo around the CN Tower and other buildings.

2. Avoid dirty unnatural appearance

3. Avoid overly black clouds

Some Good HDR:

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