HDR Photography: What is it, and how can you try it?

hdr1High Dynamic Range photography is something has been looming on the digital photography seen for a little while, and is gaining in popularity. The images are surreal looking, and at the same time sharply detailed and strangely lit. Just try typing HDR Photography into Google and see what I mean.

But is this all just a Photoshop trick? Actually no, there’s more going on than just your average retouching wizardry. HDR photography is actually an ingenious answer to a problem that has vexed many students, as well as masters, in the field. The problem is this: when shooting a photo with both a brightly lit and shadowed object, only one or the other can be exposed for correctly. This means you either get the really bright sky to look right, or the shadowed person in front of the sky. Can’t have both because of the physical limitations of how a camera works. But with HDR photographic techniques, you suddenly can get both.

Basically the concept behind this type of photography is to take a tripod, setup your shot, and then shoot a set of photos at different exposures, from underexposed to overexposed. Then when you’ve gotten 6-10 shots that cover the whole range of tones in the photo you take them home and combine them all into one shot using Photoshop. This means that all of a sudden both the bright sky and the person in shadows are correctly exposed in a single photo, a seeming impossibility from the stand-point of the camera alone.

hdr2Examples of what can be done with this concept are ubiquitous on the internet and, as I said, then to be a bit surreal. But they can be really cool looking too. Photoshop CS2 and above has a handy little tool that will automate the process for you a bit, but to really get some of the stunning kinds of shots you will have to do quite a bit more to the photo using something called tone-mapping. The technique can be tricky and time-consuming, but for those who want to branch out and try something new, it’s always worth trying.

Some good sites for learning more about HDR Photography are at the following addresses:

http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/high-dynamic-range.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_dynamic_range_imaging

http://range.wordpress.com/2006/07/15/modern-hdr-photography-a-how-to-or-saturday-morning-relaxation/



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